By: E&P Staff
On the eve of President Bush’s big speech on Iraq — almost certanly announcing an upsurge in U.S. troop levels there — White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to say as little as possible while still defending that notion.
He cheerfully admitted that there was a “”good chance”” the speech would set up a strong debate. He also seemed to admit that, contrary to earlier promises, Bush did not really consult with Congress but merely informed membes about his decision. And he joke about the “”funky”” music that emerged when one reporter’s cell phone went off.
Here are some key exchanges.
Q Tony, as you said, a public debate will probably ensue here after the President’s speech —
MR. SNOW: You think? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Good chance.
Q And so often in debate, obviously, language is very important. To your mind, is there a difference between an increase in troops, an escalation in troops, a surge in troops? Because in the last 24, 48 hours these words have all started to become weighted.
MR. SNOW: It just started to become weighted?I think a lot of times people are going to try to find a one-word characterization that allows them to make a political point without perhaps diving into the details in trying to give a proper —
Q Well, what’s the difference between an escalation and a surge?
MR. SNOW: Well, why don’t we talk about characterizations once we have a plan?
Q Because I think it’s part of a conversation that’s going on right now.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, and, guess what — it’s a conversation, as I’ve said before, that is a bit in a vacuum and I’m not going to get into the business of preemptively characterizing something that we have not released in full detail.
Q But, somehow, “”escalation”” has become this Democratic word — the Democratic Party language.
MR. SNOW: Well, ask the guys who do their focus groups. They’re going to have an answer for it. Look, the President is talking about a way forward, and rather than getting involved in trying to assess a description of a plan that has yet to be released publicly and, therefore, about which I am not in a position to characterize publicly, it seems a little silly for me to start quibbling about adjectives without discussing what they purportedly describe, don’t you think?
Q Is it fair to say, though, even as he still continues to meet with these lawmakers, his mind is essentially made up?
MR. SNOW: What I would direct you to do — there are two things. I have noted before that when you’re talking about a war, the idea that you have your mind made up, that you have absolute — this is in stone, this is it — what you have is a framework for moving forward.And within that framework, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for people to talk and to share their opinions. And the President has made it clear from the very first consultations with Democrats and Republicans that he intends to have more talks. So, to that extent, I think we are going to be open-minded and always looking for good ideas and good, constructive advice.
Q After yesterday’s session, and yesterday’s were just Republican senators who came, correct?
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q Thad Cochran came out and said, well, I told the President I’d be able to support him, but I was alone, I didn’t hear anybody else saying that. Is that an accurate reflection of what happened?
MR. SNOW: You know, as I said, we permit people to come to the sticks and say what they wish.Our ground rules are, we don’t talk about it, so I don’t talk about it.
Q I’ll try and make you talk about it.
MR. SNOW: You’ll fail.
Q Is this real consultation, Tony? Senators went in yesterday and came out saying that the President had, effectively, told them what he was going to do, that he was clear about his intentions. Some of these senators had not been in before to talk to the President about his plans for Iraq. So how can you characterize this as consultation?
MR. SNOW: Thank you. As you said, what you’re trying to do is to get me to characterize the conversations they’ve had, and I can’t do it, Sheryl.
Q No, I’m asking you to say — do you believe this is genuine consultation?
MR. SNOW: As I said, Sheryl, it’s one of these things that the President has made it clear that he’s going to have exchanges of views, but I’m not taking you in the room with them.
(Cell phone rings.) (Laughter.) Does Martha have a hip-hop ring tone? (Laughter.) Play that funky music, white girl.(Laughter.)
Q Tony, I apologize if this has been asked at some point before, but the President has clearly consulted with a wide variety of people on troop levels in Iraq. What happened to the statements that he had made for years that the people who decided troop levels in Iraq were the generals on the ground?
MR. SNOW: Well, he’s talked to them, too. And as you probably know, generals are not of one mind. Generals are independent individuals, as well, and there are a number of opinions within the ranks of the military about this.
Q That “”he’s talked to them, too”” is not good enough, because really what he had said previously was that those were the people who make the decisions, and those were the people that he was listening to. And now, very clearly, he’s talking to people outside of the military, people on Capitol Hill, generals not in Iraq — he’s talking to a wide variety of people on the issue. What happened to this rule, a real hard and fast rule that he —
MR. SNOW: No, no, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.