For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary December 23, 2006
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. As families across our Nation gather to celebrate Christmas, Laura and I send our best wishes for the holidays. We hope that your Christmas will be blessed with family and fellowship.
At this special time of year, we give thanks for Christ's message of love and hope. Christmas reminds us that we have a duty to others, and we see that sense of duty fulfilled in the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform. America is blessed to have fine citizens who volunteer to defend us in distant lands. For many of them, this Christmas will be spent far from home, and on Christmas our Nation honors their sacrifice, and thanks them for all they do to defend our freedom.
At Christmas, we also recognize the sacrifice of our Nation's military families. Staying behind when a family member goes to war is a heavy burden, and it is particularly hard during the holidays. To all our military families listening today, Laura and I thank you, and we ask the Almighty to bestow His protection and care on your loved ones as they protect our Nation.
This Christmas season comes at a time of change here in our Nation's capital -- with a new Congress set to arrive, a review of our Iraq strategy underway, and a new Secretary of Defense taking office. If you're serving on the front lines halfway across the world, it is natural to wonder what all this means for you. I want our troops to know that while the coming year will bring change, one thing will not change, and that is our Nation's support for you and the vital work you do to achieve a victory in Iraq. The American people are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers, and we will make sure you have the resources you need to accomplish your mission.
This Christmas, millions of Americans are coming together to show our deployed forces and wounded warriors love and support. Patriotic groups and charities all across America are sending gifts and care packages to our servicemen and women, visiting our troops recovering at military hospitals, reaching out to children whose moms and dads are serving abroad, and going to airports to welcome our troops home and to let them know they are appreciated by a grateful Nation.
One man who's making a difference this holiday season is Jim Wareing. Jim is the founder of New England Caring for Our Military. This year, Jim helped organize a gift drive by thousands of students from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Students from kindergarten to high school collected more than 20,000 gifts for our troops abroad. The gifts are being sent to troops stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Korea, Japan, and Africa. The care packages include books and puzzles, board games, phone cards, fresh socks, and T-shirts, and about 7,000 handmade holiday greeting cards and posters. Jim says, quote "It's probably always hard for troops to be far away from home, but especially hard on the holidays. I use this as an opportunity to try to pay them back for my freedom."
Citizens like Jim Wareing represent the true strength of our country, and they make America proud. I urge every American to find some way to thank our military this Christmas season. If you see a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or a member of the Coast Guard, take a moment to stop and say, "Thanks for your service." And if you want to reach out to our troops, or help out the military family down the street, the Department of Defense has set up a website to help. It is: AmericaSupportsYou.Mil. This website lists more than 150 compassionate organizations that can use your help. In this season of giving, let us stand with the men and women who stand up for America.
At this special time of year, we reflect on the miraculous life that began in a humble manger 2,000 years ago. That single life changed the world, and continues to change hearts today. To everyone celebrating Christmas, Laura and I wish you a day of glad tidings.
Thank you for listening, and Merry Christmas.
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary December 20, 2006
Press Conference by the President Indian Treaty Room
10:00 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Good morning. This week I went to the Pentagon for the swearing-in of our nation's new Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates. Secretary Gates is going to bring a fresh perspective to the Pentagon, and America is fortunate that he has agreed to serve our country once again. I'm looking forward to working with him.
Secretary Gates is going to be an important voice in the Iraq strategy review that's underway. As you know, I've been consulting closely with our commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the strategy in Iraq, and on the broader war on terror. One of my top priorities during this war is to ensure that our men and women wearing the uniform have everything they need to do their job.
This war on terror is the calling of a new generation; it is the calling of our generation. Success is essential to securing a future of peace for our children and grandchildren. And securing this peace for the future is going to require a sustained commitment from the American people and our military.
We have an obligation to ensure our military is capable of sustaining this war over the long haul, and in performing the many tasks that we ask of them. I'm inclined to believe that we need to increase in the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines. I've asked Secretary Gates to determine how such an increase could take place and report back to me as quickly as possible.
I know many members of Congress are interested in this issue, and I appreciate their input. As we develop the specifics of the proposals over the coming weeks, I will not only listen to their views, we will work with them to see that this becomes a reality.
Two thousand and six was a difficult year for our troops and the Iraqi people. We began the year with optimism after watching nearly 12 million Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a unity government and a free future. The enemies of liberty responded fiercely to this advance of freedom. They carried out a deliberate strategy to foment sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia. And over the course of the year, they had success. Their success hurt our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild their country. It set back reconciliation; it kept Iraq's unity government and our coalition from establishing security and stability throughout the country.
We enter this new year clear-eyed about the challenges in Iraq, and equally clear about our purpose. Our goal remains a free and democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and is an ally in this war on terror.
I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it's going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices, because the enemy is merciless and violent. I'm going to make you this promise: My administration will work with Republicans and Democrats to fashion a new way forward that can succeed in Iraq. We'll listen to ideas from every quarter; we'll change our strategy and tactics to meet the realities on the ground. We'll never lose sight that on the receiving end of the decisions I make is a private, a sergeant, a young lieutenant or a diplomat who risks his or her life to help the Iraqis realize a dream of a stable country that can defend, govern and sustain itself.
The advance of liberty has never been easy, and Iraq is proving how tough it can be. Yet, the safety and security of our citizens requires that we do not let up. We can be smarter about how we deploy our manpower and resources; we can ask more of our Iraqi partners, and we will -- one thing we cannot do is give up on the hundreds of millions of ordinary moms and dads across the Middle East who want the hope and opportunity for their children that the terrorists and extremists seek to deny them, and that's a peaceful existence.
As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. As we approach the end of 2006, the American economy continues to post strong gains. The most recent jobs report shows that our economy created 132,000 more jobs in November alone, and we've now added more than 7 million new jobs since August of 2003.
The unemployment rate has remained low, at 4.5 percent. A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country -- and I encourage you all to go shopping more.
Next year marks a new start with a new Congress. In recent weeks I've had good meetings with the incoming leaders of Congress, including Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid. We agreed that we've got important business to do on behalf of the American people and that we've got to work together to achieve results. The American people expect us to be good stewards of their tax dollars here in Washington. So we must work together to reduce the number of earmarks inserted into large spending bills, and reform the earmark process to make it more transparent and more accountable.
The American people expect us to keep America competitive in the world. So we must work to ensure our citizens have the skills they need for the jobs of the future, and encourage American businesses to invest in technology and innovation. The American people expect us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and increase our use of alternative energy sources. So we must step up our research and investment in hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid plug-in and battery-powered cars, renewable fuels like ethanol and cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, clean coal technology and clean sources of electricity like nuclear, solar and wind power.
Another area where we can work together is the minimum wage. I support the proposed $2.10 increase in the minimum wage over a two-year period. I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country. So I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing. I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to help both small business owners and workers when Congress convenes in January.
To achieve these and other key goals we need to put aside our partisan differences, and work constructively to address the vital issues confronting our nation. As the new Congress takes office, I don't expect Democratic leaders to compromise on their principles, and they don't expect me to compromise on mine. But the American people do expect us to compromise on legislation that will benefit the country. The message of the fall election was clear: Americans want us to work together to make progress for our country. And that's what we're going to do in the coming year.
And now I'll be glad to answer some questions. Terry.
Q Mr. President, less than two months ago at the end of one of the bloodiest months in the war, you said, "Absolutely we're winning." Yesterday you said, "We're not winning, we're not losing." Why did you drop your confident assertion about winning?
THE PRESIDENT: My comments -- the first comment was done in this spirit: I believe that we're going to win; I believe that -- and by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you got to know. We're going to succeed.
My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted when I said it at the time, and that conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. And so we're conducting a review to make sure that our strategy helps us achieve that which I'm pretty confident we can do, and that is have a country which can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.
You know, I -- when I speak, like right now, for example -- I'm speaking to the American people, of course, and I want them to know that I know how tough it is, but I also want them to know that I'm going to work with the military and the political leaders to develop a plan that will help us achieve the objective. I also want our troops to understand that -- that we support them; that I believe that tough mission I've asked them to do is going to be accomplished, and that they're doing good work and necessary work.
I want the Iraqis to understand that we believe that if they stand up, step up and lead, and with our help we can accomplish the objective. And I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task, but they can't run us out of the Middle East, that they can't intimidate America. They think they can. They think it's just a matter of time before America grows weary and leaves, abandons the people of Iraq, for example. And that's not going to happen.
What is going to happen is we're going to develop a strategy that helps the Iraqis achieve the objective that the 12 million people want them to achieve, which is a government that can -- a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself, a free country that will serve as an ally in this war against extremists and radicals.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. If you conclude that a surge in troop levels in Iraq is needed, would you overrule your military commanders if they felt it was not a good idea?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a dangerous hypothetical question. I'm not condemning you, you're allowed to ask anything you want. Let me wait and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground; I'm interested in the Iraqis' point of view; and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not. Nice try.
Q Would you overrule your commanders --
THE PRESIDENT: The opinion of my commanders is very important. They are bright, capable, smart people whose opinion matters to me a lot.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You have reached out to both Sunni and Shia political leaders in recent weeks, and now there's word that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani is supporting a moderate coalition in Iraq. Has the U.S. reached out to him? How important is he in the equation moving forward? And what do you say to people who say more troops in Iraq would increase the sectarian split and not calm things down?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't made up my mind yet about more troops. I'm listening to our commanders; I'm listening to the Joint Chiefs, of course; I'm listening to people in and out of government; I'm listening to the folks on the Baker-Hamilton commission about coming up with a strategy that helps us achieve our objective. And so as I said to Caren -- probably a little more harshly than she would have liked -- hypothetical questions, I'm not going to answer them today. I'm not going to speculate out loud about what I'm going to tell the nation, when I'm prepared to do so, about the way forward.
I will tell you we're looking at all options. And one of those options, of course, is increasing more troops. But in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops. And that's precisely what our commanders have said, as well as people who know a lot about military operations. And I agree with them that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before I agree on that strategy.
Secondly, whatever we do is going to help the Iraqis step up. It's their responsibility to govern their country. It's their responsibility to do the hard work necessary to secure Baghdad. And we want to help them.
Thirdly, I appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister and members of the government are forming what you have called a moderate coalition, because it's becoming very apparent to the people of Iraq that there are extremists and radicals who are anxious to stop the advance of a free society. And therefore, a moderate coalition signals to the vast majority of the people of Iraq that we have a unity government, that we're willing to reconcile our differences and work together, and in so doing, will marginalize those who use violence to achieve political objectives.
And so we support the formation of the unity government and the moderate coalition. And it's important for the leader Sistani to understand that's our position. He is a -- he lives a secluded life, but he knows that we're interested in defeating extremism, and we're interested in helping advance a unity government.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. Your former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, advocated for a lighter, more agile military force. Have you now concluded that that approach was wrong?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I strongly support a lighter, agile army that can move quickly to meet the threats of the 21st century. I also supported his force posture review and recommendations to move forces out of previous bases that were there for the Soviet threat, for example, in Europe. So he's introduced some substantive changes to the Pentagon, and I support them strongly.
However, that doesn't necessarily preclude increasing end strength for the army and the Marines. And the reason why I'm inclined to believe this is a good idea is because I understand that we're going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists, and we must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time. I'm not predicting any particular theater, but I am predicting that it's going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate.
I know you know I feel this strongly, but I see this -- we're in the beginning of a conflict between competing ideologies -- a conflict that will determine whether or not your children can live in peace. A failure in the Middle East, for example, or failure in Iraq, or isolationism, will condemn a generation of young Americans to permanent threat from overseas. And therefore, we will succeed in Iraq. And therefore, we will help young democracies when we find them -- democracies like Lebanon; hopefully a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel; the young democracy of Iraq.
It is in our interest that we combine security with a political process that frees people, that liberates people, that gives people a chance to determine their own futures. I believe most people in the Middle East want just that. They want to be in a position where they can chart their own futures, and it's in our interest that we help them do so.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the latest CBS News poll, 50 percent of Americans say they favor a beginning of an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq; 43 percent said, keep fighting, but change tactics. By this and many other measures, there is no clear mandate to continue being in Iraq in a military form. I guess my question is, are you still willing to follow a path that seems to be in opposition to the will of the American people?
THE PRESIDENT: I am willing to follow a path that leads to victory, and that's exactly why we're conducting the review we are. Victory in Iraq is achievable. It hasn't happened nearly as quickly as I hoped it would have. I know it's -- the fact that there is still unspeakable sectarian violence in Iraq, I know that's troubling to the American people. But I also don't believe most Americans want us just to get out now. A lot of Americans understand the consequences of retreat. Retreat would embolden radicals. It would hurt the credibility of the United States. Retreat from Iraq would dash the hopes of millions who want to be free. Retreat from Iraq would enable the extremists and radicals to more likely be able to have safe haven from which to plot and plan further attacks.
And so it's been a tough period for the American people. They want to see success. And our objective is to put a plan in place that achieves that success. I'm often asked about public opinion. Of course, I want public opinion to support the efforts. I understand that. But, Jim, I also understand the consequences of failure. And, therefore, I'm going to work with the Iraqis and our military and politicians from both political parties to achieve success.
I thought the election said they want to see more bipartisan cooperation; they want to see us working together to achieve common objectives. And I'm going to continue to reach out to Democrats to do just that.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, Lyndon Johnson famously didn't sleep during the Vietnam War, questioning his own decisions. You have always seemed very confident of your decisions, but I can't help but wonder if this has been a time of painful realization for you as you, yourself, have acknowledged that some of the policies you hoped would succeed have not. And I wonder if you can talk to us about that. Has it been a painful time?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thanks. The most painful aspect of my presidency has been knowing that good men and women have died in combat. I read about it every night. My heart breaks for a mother or father, or husband or wife, or son and daughter; it just does. And so when you ask about pain, that's pain. I reach out to a lot of the families, I spend time with them. I am always inspired by their spirit. Most people have asked me to do one thing, and that is to make sure that their child didn't die in vain -- and I agree with that -- that the sacrifice has been worth it.
We'll accomplish our objective; we've got to constantly adjust our tactics to do so. We've got to insist that the Iraqis take more responsibility more quickly in order to do so.
But I -- look, my heart breaks for them, it just does, on a regular basis.
Q But beyond that, sir, do you question your own decisions?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out, nor have I questioned the necessity for the American people -- I mean, I've questioned it; I've come to the conclusion it's the right decision. But I also know it's the right decision for America to stay engaged, and to take the lead, and to deal with these radicals and extremists, and to help support young democracies. It's the calling of our time, Sheryl. And I firmly believe it is necessary.
And I believe the next President, whoever the person is, will have the same charge, the same obligations to deal with terrorists so they don't hurt us, and to help young democracies survive the threats of radicalism and extremism. It's in our nation's interest to do so. But the most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned a need earlier to make sure that U.S. workers are skilled, that U.S. businesses keep investing in technology. You also mentioned that you want targeted tax and regulatory relief for small businesses in the coming year. Can you describe those ideas a little more? And also, can we really afford new tax breaks at this point, given the cost of the war on terror?
THE PRESIDENT: John, the first question all of us here in Washington ask is, how do we make sure this economy continues to grow. A vibrant economy is going to be necessary to fund not only war, but a lot of other aspects of our government. We have shown over the past six years that low taxes have helped this economy recover from some pretty significant shocks. After all, the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent and 7 million more Americans have been -- have found jobs since August of 2003. And we cut the deficit in half a couple of years in advance of what we thought would happen.
The question that Congress is going to have to face, and I'm going to have to continue to face is, how do we make sure we put policy in place to encourage economic growth in the short-term, and how do we keep America competitive in the long-term?
Part of the competitive initiative, which I have been working with Congress on, recognizes that education of young -- of the young is going to be crucial for remaining competitive. And that's why the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is going to be an important part of the legislative agenda going forward in 2007.
I also spoke about energy in my opening remarks. In my judgment, we're going to have to get off oil as much as possible to remain a competitive economy. And I'm looking forward to working with Congress to do just that. I'm optimistic about some of the reports I've heard about new battery technologies that will be coming to the market that will enable people who -- people to drive the first 20 miles, for example, on electricity -- that will be the initial phase -- and then up to 40 miles on battery technologies. That will be positive, particularly if you live in a big city. A lot of people don't drive more than 20 miles, or 40 miles a day. And therefore, those urban dwellers who aren't driving that much won't be using any gasoline on a daily basis, and that will be helpful to the country.
I'm pleased with the fact that we've gone from about a billion gallons of ethanol to over 5 billion gallons of ethanol in a very quick period of time. It's mainly derived from corn here in the United States. But there's been great progress. And we need to continue to spend money on cellulosic ethanol. That means that new technologies that will enable us to use wood chips, for example, or switch grass as the fuel stocks for the development of new types of fuels that will enable American drivers to diversify away from gasoline.
I spent a lot of time talking about nuclear power, and I appreciate the Congress' support on the comprehensive energy bill that I signed. But nuclear power is going to be an essential source, in my judgement, of future electricity for the United States, and places like China and India. Nuclear power is renewable, and nuclear power does not emit one greenhouse gas. And it makes a lot of sense for us to share technologies that will enable people to feel confident that the nuclear power plants that are being built are safe, as well as technologies that will eventually come to fore that will enable us to reduce the wastes, the toxicity of the waste and the amount of the waste.
I'm going to continue to invest in clean coal technologies. We've got an abundance of coal here in America, and we need to be able to tell the American people we're going to be able to use that coal to generate electricity in environmentally friendly ways.
My only point to you is we've got a comprehensive plan to achieve the objective that most Americans support, which is less dependency upon oil.
I think it's going to be very important, John, to keep this economy growing -- short-term and long-term -- by promoting free trade. It's in our interest that nations treat our markets, our goods and services the way we treat theirs. And it's in our interest that administrations continue to promote more opening up markets. We've had a lot of discussions here in this administration on the Doha Round of WTO negotiations. And I'm very strongly in favor of seeing if we can't reach an accord with our trading partners and other countries around the world to promote -- to get this round completed so that free trade is universal in its application.
Free trade is going to be good for producers of U.S. product and services. But free trade is also going to be the most powerful engine for development around the world. It's going to help poor nations become wealthier nations. It's going to enable countries to be able to find markets for their goods and services so that they can better grow their economies and create prosperity for their people.
So we've got a robust agenda moving forward with the Congress, and I'm looking forward to working with them. And there are a lot of places where we can find common ground on these important issues.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. This week we learned that Scooter Libby --
THE PRESIDENT: A little louder, please. Excuse me -- getting old. (Laughter.)
Q I understand, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: No, you don't understand. (Laughter.)
Q You're right, I don't.
This week, sir, we learned that Scooter Libby's defense team plans to call Vice President Cheney to testify in the ongoing CIA leak case. I wonder, sir, what is your reaction to that? Is that something you'll resist?
THE PRESIDENT: I read it in the newspaper today, and it's an interesting piece of news. And that's all I'm going to comment about an ongoing case. I thought it was interesting.
Q Thank you, sir. Mary is having a baby. And you have said that you think Mary Cheney will be a loving soul to a child. Are there any changes in the law that you would support that would give same-sex couples greater access to things such as legal rights, hospital visits, insurance, that would make a difference, even though you've said it's your preference -- you believe that it's preferable to have one man-one woman --
THE PRESIDENT: I've always said that we ought to review law to make sure that people are treated fairly.
On Mary Cheney, this is a personal matter for the Vice President and his family. I strongly support their privacy on the issue, although there's nothing private when you happen to be the President or the Vice President -- I recognize that. And I know Mary, and I like her, and I know she's going to be a fine, loving mother.
Baker, I'm not going to call on you again. You got too much coverage yesterday, you know? (Laughter.) Created a sense of anxiety amongst -- no, no, you handled yourself well, though.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. A question about the Iraq Study Group Report. One of the things that it recommends is greater dialogue, direct talks with Syria and Iran. James Baker himself, Secretary of State under your father, says that it's a lot like it was during the Cold War when we talked to the Soviet Union. He says it's important to talk to your adversaries. Is he wrong?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me start with Iran. We made it perfectly clear to them what it takes to come to the table, and that is a suspension of their enrichment program. If they verifiably suspend -- that they've stopped enrichment, we will come to the table with our EU3 partners and Russia, and discuss a way forward for them. Don, it should be evident to the Iranians, if this is what they want to do.
I heard the Foreign Minister -- I read the Foreign Minister say the other day that, yes, we'll sit down with America, after they leave Iraq. If they want to sit down with us, for the good of the Iranian people, they ought to verifiably suspend their program. We've made that clear to them. It is obvious to them how to move forward.
The Iranian people can do better than becoming -- than be an isolated nation. This is a proud nation with a fantastic history and tradition. And yet they've got a leader who constantly sends messages to the world that Iran is out of step with the majority of thinkers, that Iran is willing to become isolated -- to the detriment of the people.
I mean, I was amazed that, once again, there was this conference about the Holocaust that heralded a really backward view of the history of the world. And all that said to me was, is that the leader in Iran is willing to say things that really hurts his country and further isolates the Iranian people.
We're working hard to get a Security Council resolution. I spoke to Secretary Rice about the Iranian Security Council resolution this morning. And the message will be that you -- you, Iran -- are further isolated from the world.
My message to the Iranian people is you can do better than to have somebody try to rewrite history. You can do better than somebody who hasn't strengthened your economy. And you can do better than having somebody who's trying to develop a nuclear weapon that the world believes you shouldn't have. There's a better way forward.
Syria -- the message is the same. We have met with Syria since I have been the President of the United States. We have talked to them about what is necessary for them to have a better relationship with the United States. And they're not unreasonable requests. We've suggested to them that they no longer allow Saddamists to send money and arms across their border into Iraq to fuel the violence -- some of the violence that we see. We've talked to them about -- they've got to leave the democrat Lebanon alone.
I might say -- let me step back for a second -- I'm very proud of Prime Minister Siniora. He's shown a lot of tenacity and toughness in the face of enormous pressure from Syria, as well as Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran.
But we made it clear to them, Don, on how to move forward. We've had visits with the Syrians in the past. Congressmen and senators visit Syria. What I would suggest, that if they're interested in better relations with the United States, that they take some concrete, positive steps that promote peace, as opposed to instability.
Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, did you or your Chief of Staff order an investigation of the leak of the Hadley memo before your meeting with Prime Minister al Maliki? And if the leak wasn't authorized, do you suspect someone in your administration is trying to undermine your Iraq policy or sabotage your meeting with Prime Minister al Maliki a few weeks back?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm trying to think back if I ordered an investigation. I don't recall ordering an investigation. I do recall expressing some angst about -- about ongoing leaks. You all work hard to find information and, of course, put it out for public consumption, and I understand that. But I don't appreciate those who leak classified documents. And it's an ongoing problem here, it really is -- not just for this administration, but it will be for any administration that is trying to put policy in place that affects the future of the country.
And we've had a lot of leaks, Mark, as you know, some of them out of the -- I don't know where they're from, and therefore I'm not going to speculate. It turns out you never can find the leaker. It's an advantage you have in doing your job. We can moan about it, but it's hard to find those inside the government that are willing to give, in this case, Hadley's document to newspapers.
You know, there may be an ongoing investigation of this, I just don't know. If there is -- if I knew about it, it's not fresh in my mind. But I do think that at some point in time it would be helpful if we can find somebody inside our government who is leaking materials, clearly against the law, that they be held to account. Perhaps the best way to make sure people don't leak classified documents is that there be a consequence for doing so.
Q Mr. President, if we could return to the reflexive vein we were in a little while ago --
THE PRESIDENT: The what? Excuse me.
Q Reflexive -- reflective.
THE PRESIDENT: Reflective stage.
Q Part of the process of looking at the way forward could reasonably include considering how we got to where we are. Has that been part of your process? And what lessons -- after five years now of war, what lessons will you take into the final two years of your presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, absolutely, Jim, that it is important for us to be successful going forward is to analyze that which went wrong. And clearly one aspect of this war that has not gone right is the sectarian violence inside Baghdad -- a violent reaction by both Sunni and Shia to each other that has caused a lot of loss of life, as well as some movements in neighborhoods inside of Baghdad. It is a troubling, very troubling, aspect of trying to help this Iraqi government succeed. And therefore, a major consideration of our planners is how to deal with that, and how to help -- more importantly, how to help the Iraqis deal with sectarian violence.
There are a couple of theaters inside of Iraq, war theaters. One, of course, is Baghdad, itself, where the sectarian violence is brutal. And we've got to help them -- we've got to help the Maliki government stop it and crack it and prevent it from spreading, in order to be successful.
I fully understand -- let me finish. Secondly, is the battle against the Sunnis -- Sunni extremists -- some of them Saddamists, some of there are al Qaeda, but all of them aiming to try to drive the United States out of Iraq before the job is done. And we're making good progress against them. It's hard fighting, it's been hard work, but our special ops teams, along with Iraqis, are on the hunt and bringing people to justice.
There's issues in the south of Iraq, mainly Shia-on-Shia tensions. But primarily, the toughest fight for this new government is inside of Baghdad. Most of the deaths, most of the violence is within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad, as well as in Anbar Province. In other words, a lot of the country is moving along positively. But it's this part of the fight that is getting our attention. And, frankly, we have -- it has been that aspect of the battle, toward a government which can defend and govern itself and be an ally in the war on terror, where we have not made as much progress as we'd have hoped to have made.
Listen, last year started off as an exciting year with the 12 million voters. And the attack on the Samarra mosque was Zarqawi's successful attempt to foment this sectarian violence. And it's mean, it is deadly. And we've got to help the Iraqis deal with it.
Success in Iraq will be success -- there will be a combination of military success, political success and reconstruction. And they've got to go hand-in-hand. That's why I think it's important that the moderate coalition is standing up. In other words, it's the beginning of a political process that I hope will marginalize the radicals and extremists who are trying to stop the advance of a free Iraq. That's why the oil law is going to be a very important piece of legislation.
In other words, when this government begins to send messages that we will put law in place that help unify the country, it's going to make the security situation easier to deal with. On the other hand, without better, stronger security measures, it's going to be hard to get the political process to move forward. And so it's - we've got a parallel strategy.
So when you hear me talking about the military -- I know there's a lot of discussion about troops, and there should be. But we've got to keep in mind we've also got to make sure we have a parallel political process and a reconstruction process going together concurrently with a new military strategy.
I thought it was an interesting statement that Prime Minister Maliki made the other day about generals, former generals in the Saddam army, that they could come back in, or receive a pension. In other words, he's beginning to reach out in terms of a reconciliation plan that I think is going to be important.
I had interesting discussions the other day with provincial reconstruction team members in Iraq. These are really brave souls who work for the State Department that are in these different provinces helping these provincial governments rebuild and to see a political way forward. And one of the things that -- most of these people were in the Sunni territory, that I had talked to, and most of them were very anxious for me to help them and help the Iraqi government put reconciliation plans in place. There's a lot of people trying to make a choice as to whether or not they want to support a government, or whether or not their interest may lay in extremism. And they understand that a political process that is positive, that sends a signal, we want to be a unified country, will help these folks make a rational choice.
And so it's a multifaceted plan. And absolutely, we're looking at where things went wrong, where expectations were dashed, and where things hadn't gone the way we wanted them to have gone.
Let's see here -- Julie.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said this week that your microphone has never been louder on some of the key domestic priorities you've talked about, particularly Social Security and immigration. Your use of the presidential microphone hasn't yielded the results that you wanted. So I'm wondering -- the Democratic Congress, at this point, Republicans no longer controlling things on Capitol Hill -- why you think your microphone is any louder, and how you plan to use it differently to get the results that you're looking for?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, microphone being loud means -- is that I'm able to help focus people's attentions on important issues. That's what I was referring to. In other words, the President is in a position to speak about priorities. Whether or not we can get those priorities done is going to take bipartisan cooperation, which I believe was one of the lessons of the campaigns.
I will tell you, I felt like we had a pretty successful couple of years when it comes to legislation. After all, we reformed Medicare; we put tax policy in place that encouraged economic growth and vitality; we passed trade initiatives; passed a comprehensive energy bill. I'm signing an important piece of legislation today that continues a comprehensive approach to energy exploration, plus extenders on R&D, for example, tax credits. It's been a pretty substantial legislative record if you carefully scrutinize it.
However, that doesn't mean necessarily that we are able to achieve the same kind of results without a different kind of approach. After all, you're right, the Democrats now control the House and the Senate. And, therefore, I will continue to work with their leadership -- and our own leaders, our own members -- to see if we can't find common ground on key issues like Social Security or immigration.
I strongly believe that we can, and must, get a comprehensive immigration plan on my desk this year. It's important for us because, in order to enforce our border, in order for those Border Patrol agents who we've increased down there and given them more equipment and better border security, they've got to have help and a plan that says, if you're coming into America to do a job, you can come legally for a temporary basis to do so.
I don't know if you've paid attention to the enforcement measures that were taken recently where in some of these packing plants they found people working that had been here illegally, but all of them had documents that said they were here legally -- they were using forged documents, which just reminded me that the system we have in place has caused people to rely upon smugglers and forgers in order to do work Americans aren't doing.
In other words, it is a system that is all aimed to bypass no matter what measures we take to protect this country. It is a system that, frankly, leads to inhumane treatment of people. And therefore, the best way to deal with an issue that Americans agree on -- that is, that we ought to enforce our borders in a humane way -- is we've got to have a comprehensive bill.
And I have made a proposal. I have spoken about this to the nation from the Oval Office. I continue to believe that the microphone is necessary to call people to action. And I want to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get a comprehensive bill to my desk. It's in our interest that we do this.
In terms of energy, there's another area where I know we can work together. There is a consensus that we need to move forward with continued research on alternative forms of energy. I've just described them in my opening comments, and be glad to go over them again if you'd like, because they're positive, it's a positive development. We're making progress. And there's more to be done.
So I'm looking forward to working with them. There's a lot of attitude here that says, well, you lost the Congress, therefore, you're not going to get anything done; quite the contrary. I have an interest to get things done. And the Democrat leaders have an interest to get something done to show that they're worthy of their leadership roles. And it is that common ground that I'm confident we can get -- we can make positive progress, without either of us compromising principle.
And I know they don't -- I know they're not going to change their principles, and I'm not going to change mine. But, nevertheless, that doesn't mean we can't find common ground to get good legislation done. That's what the American people want. The truth of the matter is, the American people are sick of the partisanship and name-calling.
I will do my part to elevate the tone. And I'm looking forward to working with them. It's going to be an interesting new challenge. I'm used to it, as Herman can testify. I was the governor of Texas with Democrat leadership in the House and the Senate, and we were able to get a lot of constructive things done for the state of Texas. And I believe it's going to be possible here -- to do so here in the country.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Merry Christmas.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Yes. I've just two questions related to the amazing fact that a quarter of your presidency lies ahead. First, I keep reading that you'll be remembered only for Iraq, and I wonder what other areas you believe you're building a record of transformation you hope will last the ages. And second, a follow-up on Julie's question, what is your plan for either changing your role, or keeping control of the agenda, at a time when Democrats have both houses on the Hill, and when the '08 candidates are doing their thing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, one is to set priorities. That's what I've just done, setting a priority. My message is, we can work together, and here are some key areas where we've got to work together: reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, minimum wage. I hope we're able to work together on free trade agreements. We can work together on Social Security reform and Medicare reform, entitlement reform. We need to work together on energy, immigration, earmarks.
The leadership has expressed their disdain for earmarks; I support their disdain for earmarks. I don't like a process where it's not transparent, where people are able to slip this into a bill without any hearing or without any recognition of who put it in there and why they put it in there. It's just not good for the system, and it's not good for building confidence of the American people in our process or in the Congress.
The first part of the -- oh, last two years. I'm going to work hard, Michael. I'm going to sprint to the finish, and we can get a lot done. And you're talking about legacy. Here -- I know, look, everybody is trying to write the history of this administration even before it's over. I'm reading about George Washington still. My attitude is, if they're still analyzing number 1, 43 ought not to worry about it and just do what he thinks is right, and make the tough choices necessary.
We're in the beginning stages of an ideological struggle, Michael, that's going to last a while. And I want to make sure this country is engaged in a positive and constructive way to secure the future for our children. And it's going to be a tough battle.
I also believe the Medicare reform -- the first meaningful, significant health care reform that's been passed in a while -- is making a huge difference for our seniors. No Child Left Behind has been a significant education accomplishment, and we've got to reauthorize it. We have proven that you can keep taxes low, achieve other objectives, and cut the deficit. The entrepreneurial spirit is high in this country, and one way to keep it high is to keep -- let people keep more of their own money.
So there's been a lot of accomplishment. But the true history of any administration is not going to be written until long after the person is gone. It's just impossible for short-term history to accurately reflect what has taken place. Most historians, you know, probably had a political preference, and so their view isn't exactly objective -- most short-term historians. And it's going to take a while for people to analyze mine or any other of my predecessors until down the road when they're able to take -- watch the long march of history and determine whether or not the decisions made during the eight years I was President have affected history in a positive way.
I wish you all a happy holiday. Thank you for your attendance. Have fun, enjoy yourself. For those lucky enough to go to Crawford, perhaps I'll see you down there.
END 10:52 A.M. EST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary December 20, 2006
President Bush Signs the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 Room 450 Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office 11:43 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. Welcome to the White House. In a few moments I'm going to sign a bill that will extend tax relief to millions of American families and small businesses and add momentum to a growing economy. The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 will maintain key tax reforms, expand our commitment to renewable energy resources, make it easier for Americans to afford health insurance and open markets overseas for our farmers and small business owners.
This is a good piece of pro-growth legislation, and I'm looking forward to signing it into law. And I appreciate members of my Cabinet who have joined me in thanking the Congress for their good work here at the end of this session. I want to thank Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, and Ambassador Sue Schwab for joining us today. Thanks for your service. (Applause.)
I appreciate the Speaker for being here. Mr. Speaker, good piece of work. I thank you for your hard work at the end of the session. You deserve a lot of credit for this fine piece of legislation, as does Senator Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader. (Applause.)
I appreciate key members of the Senate and the House, who got this piece of legislation passed, for joining us today. I want to thank Pete Domenici and Mike DeWine and Rick Santorum for the Senate -- I'm going to save the Louisianans here for a minute -- and I want to thank the Chairman, Bill Thomas, for not only this bill, but a lot of other good pieces of legislation we were able to work together on.
I want to say something about these Louisianans. I appreciate them coming. This is a really important piece of legislation for Louisiana for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it will help provide money so that we can help restore the wetlands in Louisiana.
It's an issue that has united the people of Louisiana. People are rightly concerned about the evaporation of wetlands, and this bill is going to help deal with that important issue. And I want to thank Mary and David Vitter for good work on this important bill. Congratulations. (Applause.)
Texas people kind of like Louisianans. (Laughter.) A lot of us spent some of our youth in Louisiana. (Laughter.)
As we approach the end of 2006, our economy is strong, it's productive and it's prosperous. The most recent jobs report shows that our economy created 132,000 new jobs in November. That's good. We have added more than 7 million new jobs since August of 2003 -- more than Japan and the European Union combined.
The unemployment rate has remained low at 4.5 percent. More Americans are finding work, and more American workers are taking home bigger paychecks. The latest figures show that real hourly wages increased 2.3 percent in the last year. For the typical family of four with both parents working, that means an extra $1,350 for this year.
As we look forward, our goal is to maintain pro-growth economic policies that strengthen our economy and help raise the standard of living for all our citizens. The bill I sign today will continue important progress in four key ways. First, the bill will extend key tax relief measures that are critical to expanding opportunity, continuing economic growth, and revitalizing our communities.
To keep America competitive in the world economy, we must make sure our people have the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st century. Many of those jobs are going to require college, so we're extending the deductibility of tuition and higher education expenses to help more Americans go to college so we can compete.
And to keep our nation leading the world in technology and innovation, we're extending and modernizing the research and development tax credit. By allowing businesses to deduct part of their R&D investments from their taxes, this bill will continue to encourage American companies to pursue innovative products, medicines, and technologies.
The bill will also extend vital provisions of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act that I signed last year. The bill will keep in place key tax credits that we passed to help rebuild Gulf Coast communities that were devastated by the hurricanes that hit the region in 2005. It will allow us to maintain our commitment to provide a 50 percent bonus depreciation for GO Zone properties in the hardest hit areas. It will encourage businesses to build new structures and purchase new equipment in Mississippi and Louisiana.
There is a great spirit of entrepreneurship on the Gulf Coast, and the incentives in this bill will help our fellow citizens help revive those communities. It's in our nation's interest that this piece of legislation pass, and it's in our interest that the people of the Gulf Coast recover as quickly as possible.
Secondly, this bill will help expand and diversify energy supplies. The bill will increase America's energy security by reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy. And that's a key goal of the Advanced Energy Initiative that my administration has laid out. To encourage the development of new sources of energy, the bill will extend tax credits for investment in renewable electricity resources, including wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. It will encourage the development of clean coal technology and renewable fuels like ethanol. And it will help promote new energy efficient technologies that will allow us to do more with less. In other words, it encourages conservation.
Meeting the needs of our growing economy also requires expanding our domestic production of oil and natural gas. If we want to become less dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas, it is best we find some here at home. This bill will allow access to key portions of America's outer continental shelf so we can reach more than 1 billion additional barrels of oil and nearly 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
By developing these domestic resources in a way that protects our environment, we will help address high energy prices, we'll protect American jobs, and we'll reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
The bill will help open new markets for American goods and services around the world. I believe in free and fair trade. I believe free and fair trade is in the interests of the working people of this country. The bill authorizes permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam. And, Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.
Vietnam will join the World Trade Organization in January. Isn't that amazing? I think it is. You'd be amazed at what it's like to be in Vietnam; Laura and I just returned. You were there, Mr. Ambassador. You saw the outpouring of affection for the American people. There's amazing changes taking place in your country as your economy has opened up. Vietnam is demonstrating a strong commitment to economy reform. And I believe that's going to encourage political reform and greater respect for human rights and human dignity.
With this bill, America will broaden our trade relations with Vietnam. It's going to help the Vietnamese people build a strong economy that's going to raise their standards of living. It's in our interest to help those who struggle. It's in the interest of the United States to promote prosperity around the world, and the best way to do so is through opening up markets and free and fair trade.
The bill is going to extend a series of programs with other developing nations to give duty-free status to products they export to the United States. By encouraging exports, we're going to help nations in sub-Sahara Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America develop their economies and ultimately create new markets for U.S. goods and services.
Trade is an engine of economic growth, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the new Congress to open up markets for U.S. farmers and manufacturers and service providers, and provide new opportunities for people around the world and help eliminate poverty.
Fourth, the bill will help make health care affordable and accessible for more Americans. This bill strengthens health savings accounts, which we created in 2003. These accounts allow people to save money for health care tax free, and to take their health savings accounts with them if they move from job to job. So far, an estimated 3.6 million HSAs have been opened in America.
To encourage even more people to sign up for HSAs, the bill will raise contribution limits and make accounts more flexible. It will let people fund their HSAs with one-time transfers from their IRA accounts. It will allow them to contribute up to an annual limit of $2,850, regardless of the deductible for their insurance plan.
We'll give them the option to fully fund their HSAs regardless of what time of year they sign up for the plan. These changes will bring health savings accounts within the reach of more of our citizens, and ensure that more Americans can get the quality care they deserve.
With all these steps, we're working to improve the health and prosperity of the American people and to keep our economy growing. We're going to continue to support wise policies that encourage and enhance the entrepreneurial spirit in America so this country of ours can remain the economic leader in the world.
I want to thank the members of Congress for joining us. I appreciate the members of my Cabinet. It's now my honor to sign the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. (Applause.)
(The Bill is signed.) (Applause.)
END 11:53 A.M. EST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary December 19, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:44 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Before we begin the questions, just a couple of comments on bill signings today, and then I'll be happy to take any questions you have.
Today, the President, accompanied by the First Lady, Mrs. Bush, signed the following bills into law. First, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment and Modernization Act, H.R. 6143, which reauthorizes the Ryan White Care Act to ensure that Americans in need continue to have access to medical care, anti-retroviral treatments and counseling that will help them live longer lives. The Act also supports HIV testing to prevent the further spread of the devastating disease. The bill demonstrates the compassionate and generous spirit of America and the President was proud to sign it into law today.
Also, the Combating Autism Act. This bill will increase public awareness about autism and provide enhanced federal support for autism research and treatment by creating a national education program for doctors and the public about autism. The legislation will help more people recognize the symptoms of autism. This will lead to early identification and intervention, which is critical for children who struggle with the disorder. The President is confident that the legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's efforts to find a cure for autism.
Q You said today that a troop surge in Iraq was something that's being explored. Is the idea of a troop cutback something that's also being explored?
MR. SNOW: What the President is asking people to explore are ways to victory in Iraq, which would mean an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself, where the Iraqis, themselves eventually assume full control for the responsibilities of government: security, political, economic, diplomatic and so on. Anything that fits into that description the President will consider. And, therefore, there are a number of ideas that are being discussed and the President is leaving all options open.
Q Well, you confirmed the surge -- how about the cutback?
MR. SNOW: No, I confirmed that there are ideas and I have given you the proper metric. So if people think that that will contribute to the long term goal of victory, it would be reasonable to assume that it would be something under consideration.
Q Tony, senior military officials confirmed that General John Abizaid asked for a second carrier group in the Persian Gulf as a way to dissuade Iran from possibly provocative action in the region. Can you comment on that?
MR. SNOW: No. We do not comment on tactical moves, reported or otherwise, and I would refer you to the Pentagon for any comments they may wish to make, which I suspect are quite similar to the ones that I've just delivered.
Q Is the administration trying to send a message to Iran to --
MR. SNOW: As I said, we're not going to comment on those things. I think it's important, though -- the administration has been pretty clear about Iran's role in the region, which is Iran has to stop being provocative. It is important that the democracies in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon are allowed not merely to survive but to thrive and to provide an example and an inspiration for people in the region.
We've also made it clear that Iran needs to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. And to that end, the United States, along with some of its European allies, has been trying to persuade the Iranians to suspend those activities in exchange for being able to develop a peaceful civilian nuclear capability, and, at the same time, making available to the Iranian people a lot of things they want, including greater contact with the West.
So let there be no mistake what our position is toward the Iranians. But, again, when it comes to describing any ongoing military activity, that's not something I'm going to do.
Q Finally, can you address this story about a possible split between the White House and the Joint Chiefs in the decision about surging troops to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, there is no decision about the next step forward in Iraq. So the idea that there is a decision and a squabble would be wrong. I've also cautioned people that tonally, it is incorrect to say that the President is in any sort of contretemps with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They work together. The President has a great deal of respect for the chain of command -- in fact, the chain of command, starting with the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, the combatant commanders, all the way down to the people who are doing the fighting on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, and that are serving the nation in uniform. And he's made it very clear, and I think the respect also is shared up the chain of command.
So without commenting on any specific ideas that may be discussed -- and I won't do that -- I can tell you that the notion that somehow there is some sort of feud between the President and the Joint Chiefs would be wrong.
Q But you did tell me today, you were specifically asked if a surge was among the things being considered, and you said, "It's something that's being explored." So you did confirm that.
MR. SNOW: Okay, so I confirmed it.
Q Can I follow on that? The President had said in the past that he doesn't set the troop levels, that the commanders in the field -- has that changed?
MR. SNOW: What the President does -- let me put it this way: What the President does is he sets the mission. And then combatant commanders figure out how to conduct the mission. And when they ask for resources, he provides them. And that's how it works.
Q And so the President would go with their -- would still go with their advice on troop levels?
MR. SNOW: Yes. But, again, keep in mind the President sets the mission. So you define the mission, then you figure out what resources are adequate. This, I think, again, mirrors comments that General Conway has made and also Colin Powell has made, which is you -- when people were talking about surges, the answer is, if it fits into a military plan and you have a good plan for it, then maybe it would be appropriate. I am not commenting on surge; I'm just telling you that regardless of what happens in terms of troop posture or equipping forces or deploying forces or moving or redeploying -- any military decision obviously is going to have to be made in concert with the goal, which is to win in Iraq.
Q Does public opinion enter into his review at all, in terms of the election and --
MR. SNOW: The President -- in this sense, Helen, the President understands that you cannot win the war without public support. And it is important to continue -- because it's going to be a long war and it is going to need the determination of the American people --
Q Why is it going to be a long war?
MR. SNOW: Because as far as we can tell, terrorists don't have any desire to stop entertaining thoughts of terror any time soon. And that the global war on terror, which is not confined to Iraq or Afghanistan, but instead has people who are still committed to committing acts of violence on our shores. The President outlined some of those this fall when he was talking about particular operations that had been intercepted as a result of intelligence that we had gleaned from planners of attacks, that they have no desire to back away, that there's an ideology of hatred that involves not only destroying the United States of America, but also the notion of personal freedom.
So that being the case, it is going to require a commitment over a long period of time to make sure that we deal with the problem effectively. And that's not just militarily -- it means diplomatically, it means economically, it means by example, so that if you have a democracy that demonstrates to people in the Middle East you can practice your faith, you can pursue your future, you can vote for the people who are going to govern you, you can have control over your destiny -- these are things that have not been -- that people in the Middle East have not been able to take for granted. And when they see that they have those options, that in and of itself will probably be the most powerful discouragement to terror imaginable.
Q Why can you identify all the Iraqi resistance as terror?
MR. SNOW: I didn't.
Q We are the occupiers, do you realize that? And do you realize what an occupation is?
MR. SNOW: Do you also realize -- I do -- I think people not only understand occupation, people in Iraq also understand --
Q Your broad brush everything.
MR. SNOW: And that was a precise characterization you just gave me?
Q I am saying that you --
MR. SNOW: No, you just used a broad brush on responding. If you wish to get into pointillism, I'll be happy to go along.
Q Do you think that people are resisting our occupation?
MR. SNOW: I think that there are some people -- as a matter of fact, if you take a look at Saddam rejectionists, they're absolutely resisting the occupation. As a matter of fact, their avowed goal -- it's right here in the 90/10 report -- that says that their avowed goal is to push Americans out. Why? Because they want to reestablish the kind of supremacy they enjoyed during the days of Saddam.
There are many people who want to end the occupation and, in many cases, they want to end the occupation because they, themselves, want to restore or to create their own tyranny over the Iraqi people. They do not want to support the goal of a democracy in which the human rights of all are protected and --
Q What gives you the right to impose anything on them?
MR. SNOW: I think what we're -- you know, what's interesting is the government of Iraq and people of Iraq look upon us not as imposing. I don't know how you impose liberty. I think what you do is you -- you impose tyranny and you relieve tyranny by creating the possibility for freedom.
Q Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush's skin cancer? How is she doing? And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She's doing fine. And she said, "It's no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time." Frankly I don't think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she's got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She's a private citizen; she's not an elected official. So for that reason she didn't disclose it. But she's doing fine, and thank you for your concern.
Q She is often an advocate for women's health in the area of breast cancer or heart disease, advocating screenings, preventative care. Is she likely to talk about skin cancer in that way?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Fortunately, squamous cell carcinoma, at least in this particular case, was not dangerous. But let me just say, without having cleared it with her, I'm sure that she would be more than supportive of anybody to go out, and if you think you've got a problem with a change in a mole or some skin problems, go get it checked out by a doctor.
Q And she didn't feel any obligation as a person of public status to talk about this?
MR. SNOW: No, again, there are any number of -- this is a room full of public people who tend not -- and I know you say, wait a minute, I'm different than the First Lady. Well, no, she's a private citizen. And the fact is, she is entitled to her medical privacy. And, again, it's no big deal. In this case, it's just not a big deal.
Q May I follow on that? The President is also a private citizen, as well as being the President. So --
MR. SNOW: Well, he's an elected official. It's different.
Q He's an elected official and a private citizen. You can make the same claims of a number of people who have public lives. Mrs. Bush has made herself part of this party and this White House's very public face. So my question is, if this were to be something that is a big deal, would the White House feel obliged to share that with the public?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. She didn't feel obliged, and she believes that she has the same medical privacy rights that you and I have.
Q Did the White House doctor treat her?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. I didn't ask. There is the confidentiality -- and guess what? Medical privacy also applies to her case in this particular incident.
Q This morning you said you'd make that inquiry.
MR. SNOW: Yes -- you know what, I didn't.
Q But you will?
MR. SNOW: No. It's medical privacy, and I'm not going to get into this.
Q Was it done offsite or was she treated here at the White House? That's a question to add to your list.
Q May we ask, just so that you don't say, you never asked so that's why we haven't told you -- is the Vice President well these days? Has there been any medical incident that would be of interest to the American public?
MR. SNOW: As you know, whenever there is a medical incident involving the Vice President -- I've been an anchor when these things have happened -- you are notified promptly and immediately; cameras are dispatched to the scene, where people stand and wait and wait and wait and wait, until they can see the Vice President getting back into a limo and returning to wherever he is.
So as you know, the President and Vice President, being the two chief elected officials in this country, if there are important health developments, you hear about it. And we think that that's appropriate.
Q Tony, on this point, did the First Lady say she actually does not plan to come out in any way? You know, as someone who would advocate for people --
MR. SNOW: Let me repeat to you exactly what she said. She said, "It's no big deal, we knew it wasn't a big deal at the time." Apparently, she's wrong about this.
Q No, what I'm saying is, as far as encouraging people to be checked. What I'm saying is even though she may not be an elected official, she's a very public official and very well loved. And as someone who has two adolescents who don't like to listen to mother when she says, put on the sun screen, get out of the sun, she could potentially have a great influence on a lot of people's lives, especially young women.
MR. SNOW: She's also had colds, she's had the flu, she's had stomach aches --
Q When? (Laughter.)
Q But those tend not to be --
MR. SNOW: -- she's had a number --
Q Melanoma can kill, skin cancer can kill. It can be very serious.
MR. SNOW: This particular one could not.
Q But she could still -- it could be a platform.
MR. SNOW: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.
Q Tony, going back to terrorism in Iraq, now we have a new Secretary of Defense, (inaudible) with vast experience in CIA and also terrorism and he's done so many (inaudible) in the area (inaudible). So what do you think now, being a new chief of the Defense Department, how he will (inaudible) those terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. We swore him in yesterday. I mean, at this point, what Secretary Gates is doing is he's getting fully briefed on situations, he is getting to know individuals and operations within the Pentagon, he is getting briefed and briefing the President. He has made it clear that at some point soon he is going to try to visit the region.
So I think it is grossly premature -- again, going back to the conversations we've had over and over in recent days, when it does come to his rendering opinions or advice to the President, that will remain confidential, as well. So whatever moves are going to be made, obviously, are things that the President and the Defense Secretary will decide. And if they feel it's appropriate to make announcements, they'll do so.
Q One more, going back on Iran. The Iranian President looks like dictator, like Hitler made such remarks. He simply (inaudible) --
MR. SNOW: Are you talking about the Holocaust remarks?
Q The conference, and he again said that wiping out Israel from the world map -- what I'm saying is how seriously administration of President Bush is taking him or his remarks, because he's not only threat to the Jews or the Israelis, but also to their region.
MR. SNOW: Well, what you said, that they're outrageous and reprehensible comments. I think that almost goes without saying.
Also what is -- there are a couple of messages you want to send. First, you want to make it clear to the people of Iran, who have a long and proud history, that we do welcome closer relations with them. But their government is a problem right now, because it is serving as an agent of terror, it is openly talking about the possibility of nuclear arms development, and it is ignoring the stated will of the international community through the United Nations Security Council with regard to its nuclear program.
All of those things are a problem. Nevertheless, we think that with luck they're going to be resolved. We believe the people of Iran -- like the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and throughout the world -- deserve to have a free democracy so that they can explore, each and every one of them, their unique talents and genius, and to feel not only the joys that freedom brings, but also the fulfillment.
Q I know you said this story about the debate with the Joint Chiefs is tonally inaccurate. But the fact is --
MR. SNOW: I didn't say it was totally inaccurate, I said I'm not going to --
Q Tonally. Tonally.
MR. SNOW: Tonally, thank you.
Q Right. But the fact is, someone has put the message out there that there is this dispute, and it's not the first report that we've had about disputes, disagreements about the way to go forward on Iraq. I'm wondering if this is a reflection of paralysis within the administration.
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Well, why are there so many leaks coming out on this?
MR. SNOW: Well, you'll have to ask the leakers. They apparently are talking to you, so please consult.
Q Going back to Mrs. Bush, it seems that there are two things going on, in terms of not informing the public and the press. Which was it, was it that it was medical privacy that was the reason for not informing us, or was it that it was no big deal?
MR. SNOW: It was medical privacy, but also what we're trying to do is to console you with the notion that, in addition, it was no big deal.
Q So there was a conscious decision that, okay, we're not going to tell anybody because this is medical privacy, this is something for us, it's not for --
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know, if you'll be happy to share all your private medical information, maybe we can change it around. But I don't think that's appropriate, nor does the First Lady. She's got the same privacy rights when it comes to her medical information that you and I do.
Q But was the decision made not to share it?
MR. SNOW: Yes, in the sense -- let me put it this way: It never occurred to anybody that this would be a big deal. It never occurred -- but suddenly everybody is --
Q First it was described as a sore, and now, a month-and-a-half later, it's revealed that it's cancer. So there was one story out there that's been corrected.
MR. SNOW: Do you understand -- if you've been -- there are literally millions of Americans who have been through this, and you can ask them whether they thought this was a big deal or not. It was quickly diagnosed. They said, the sore is not going away, we're going to take a look at it. They did. They did a biopsy, they found out it was a squamous cell cancer and they removed it. They did local anesthetic; they removed it.
Q But the White House might have had an interest in correcting the record when bad information was out there.
MR. SNOW: No, there wasn't bad information. She had a sore. It wasn't bad information -- that's what she knew at the time.
Q Tony --
MR. SNOW: Again, it's just -- yes, let's -- Bret.
Q Just a follow-up. You said the President signed the Combating Autism Act today. For that community that fights autism, they are looking for a commitment, I think, from the administration moving forward. And the question for them is, is the President going to put specific autism funding for this new legislation in the FY 2008 budget?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're in the same position I've been in much of this week, Bret. We will wait to see a budget submission. There are two players in this, not only those who do the budget, but also members of Congress.
I'm not trying to be flip here, but I just simply do not want to be disclosing what we will be including and not including in the budget until the proper time, and that will begin in a few weeks.
Q But the fact that he signed this legislation means that perhaps he's going to be looking for making autism funding a priority?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: The President is confident that this legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's effort to find a cure for autism. And you can read into that what you will.
Q The latest round of talks on North Korea appears stalemated, even before they began. Will the President consider lifting sanctions on North Korea as an olive branch?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I talked today with State. Yesterday what you had was kind of a typical first day of negotiations with the North Koreans, where they took a maximalist position, and the rest of the people said, come on. And now they've having conversations. There will be continued conversations.
The idea that this is a juncture to start drawing conclusions about the ultimate outcome of the six-party talks is, again, premature. We expect that there will be talks through much of this week, and then they will reconvene at some time next month. We will see how serious the North Koreans are about meeting their obligations under the September 19th agreement of 2005. That really is the centerpiece of our efforts and will continue to be.
Q Tony, back on the troop surge issue, the Democrats and Republicans have been having almost intra-party debates about this. I'm just wondering if the President is going to weigh -- is that just a sideshow for those of us in the media? Is the President -- the point of the question being, is the President going to weigh the political aspects of all this and the decisions he makes, and the Congress is going to have to deal with them?
MR. SNOW: What do you mean?
Q About the troop surge.
MR. SNOW: The political -- the President's goal in looking at options for a way forward in Iraq is to succeed. And he thinks about politics in the following way: We have had an election where people made it clear that they think we need a new way forward in Iraq. They are not happy with the progress, and we agree. Therefore, the President is taking a good look at how to succeed, because the American people also want success. And there is a political opportunity for both parties to work together on this one to get it right.
So the President has made it clear to members of Congress that he is open to hearing their ideas about it. And he's had a number of discussions with Democratic and Republican leaders. He will continue to have consultations. He'll be at Crawford next week, but he will be talking by phone or whatever by other people involved in the process, and there will continue to be consultations until he is confident that he has found what he thinks is the best way forward in Iraq.
So to the extent that he thinks about it politically, it is engaging the political community in a constructive way to bring the American public together behind a plan to win, and that's how he looks at it.
Q But will he put all that aside in the end and ultimately make the decision, obviously? When he makes the decision? Just sweep it all aside --
MR. SNOW: Sweep what aside?
Q The political discussions that are going on around the --
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way -- again, I hate to keep saying that, but when you say, "sweep" it aside, the President is not going to be cavalier about people who come to him in goodwill with ideas that they think are going to be helpful. But on the other hand, what he really wants is members of Congress, once there is a decision, to move constructively to make sure that our forces have what they need, and also they have a mission that can accomplish the goal of a free Iraq -- a free, democratic Iraq that sustains, governs and defends itself, that helps us out in the war on terror, and also serves as an example to that part of the world.
So again, there is always a political dimension. People have to appropriate money and you have to build public support. And there has been considerable conflict between Democrats and Republicans. And we hope that this time around, as we move forward, that we will move forward in a much more unified way, involving members of both parties.
Q Tony, have you had a chance to look at President Assad's trip to Russia?
MR. SNOW: No, and I apologize. Call me and I'll get you -- get it to you.
Q Has the President -- or will the President take any steps to try to intervene in the issue of the Bulgarian nurses --
MR. SNOW: Again, I think we've made it clear that we're disappointed with the decision, and understand that there's an appeals process. We also hope that there's a way for them to get home. So that's our position there.
Q Two questions. Reuters reported this morning that the President has just delayed for another six months the 1995 Congress-passed transfer of our U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital city of Jerusalem. And my question: In how many other countries of the world do we refuse to have our embassy in their capital, but in another city which resembles Israel locating their embassy in Baltimore?
MR. SNOW: I'm aware of none, Les. Thank you. Number two?
Q Speaker-elect Pelosi has announced that she will be speaker of what she termed, and this is a quote, "The most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." My question: Did the President agree with Mrs. Pelosi's announcement, in view of the reelection of Democrat Congressman Jefferson, Hastings, McDermott, Murtha, and Mollohan?
MR. SNOW: I think -- look, she's got a noble goal. Let's hope she succeeds.
Q Is the administration's policy when it comes to Medicare or Medicaid health care coverage, as well as health savings accounts (inaudible) -- part of your policy is to encourage regular screening, health care screening, as well as the importance of early protection and treatment. And if you do that then it avoids becoming a big (inaudible). So I'm just trying to understand the message (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: The First Lady, at the first sign that she had not a nick on her shin but, instead, a squamous cell cancer had it dealt with immediately.
Q I know, but I don't understand --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- look, as somebody who has been through colon cancer, there's screening for that. The people who have been through breast cancer, there's screening for that. Perhaps I am ignorant, and I'm sure I am, of the situation when it comes to squamous cell cancer, but I'm not sure that there's a regular screening process. However, it's important that people take care of themselves. There is also an element of personal responsibility involved. I don't think, and I think it's a real stretch, Paula, to say that this is a mixed signal. What I'd ask you to do is consult your common sense.
Q I'm sorry, but there are -- and I know, personally, of instances where there is a chance of recurrence of this type of cancer. So isn't it important to stress skin cancer?
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, we consider it stressed. Absolutely, take care of yourselves. Get tested all the time -- still do. In fact, I have my next test tomorrow -- day after.
Q Good luck. How is your diet today? (Laughter.)
On the Bulgarian nurses, this is so horrific. The United States has all sorts of means of pressuring. Is there anything stronger the U.S. can do to pressure --
MR. SNOW: Perhaps. But I'm not going to tell you.
Q Are you working on a --
MR. SNOW: Look, our position is clear, which is we think that they ought to be able to return home.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EST
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary December 18, 2006
President and Mrs. Bush Host Hanukkah Reception at the White House Bookseller's Area
5:36 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased you all could join us. I appreciate members of my Cabinet who have joined us: Secretary Michael Chertoff, Ambassador Susan Schwab, and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten.
Tonight is the fourth night of Hanukkah, a holiday which commemorates a victory for freedom and the courage and faith that made it possible. Laura and I are honored to have this Hanukkah menorah here at the White House. It's a symbol that the White House is the people's house, and it belongs to Americans of all faiths.
The story of Hanukkah celebrates a great miracle. More than 2,000 years ago the land of ancient Israel was conquered, its most sacred temple was desecrated, and Jews were forbidden to practice their faith. A patriot named Judah Maccabee and his followers took a stand for freedom and rose up against their oppressors to take back Jerusalem.
When the Maccabees returned to reclaim their holy temple, the oil that should have lasted only one day burned for eight. The miraculous light brought hope. And today, by lighting the menorah, Jews around the world celebrate the victory of light over darkness and give thanks for the presence of a just and loving God.
We're honored to have a beautiful menorah here from Lisa and Alan Stern of Los Angeles. The ceramic plaques around the base feature biblical scenes of the Hanukkah story. And between the menorah branches are painted doves, which represent the eternal wish for peace.
I want to thank Ariel Cohen and her family for being here. Ariel, you did a wonderful job of saying the Hanukkah blessings and lighting the candles. I also thank the Indiana University's Hillel HooShir Choir for your wonderful performance. We're really glad you came. Thanks for coming.
On Hanukkah, we're especially mindful of the sacrifices that freedom requires. Our nation is grateful to the men and women of every faith who serve our country in uniform and who are away from their families this holiday. We pray for them and their families, and we pray that those who still live in the darkness of tyranny will someday see the light of freedom.
The word Hanukkah means dedication, and the message of Hanukkah calls on us to dedicate ourselves to recognizing the miracles in our daily lives. This dedication has the power to lift our souls and to make us better people and to make the world a better place.
Laura and I wish all the people of the Jewish faith around the world a Happy Hanukkah, and thank you all for coming.
END 5:39 P.M. EST
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