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White House Communications Director Ed Gillespie remembers Tony Snow and says Congress is the only holdup to more oil drilling domestically.

Monday, July 14, 2008
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HH: I begin this hour with Ed Gillespie, White House communications director. Ed, always a pleasure to speak with you, but before we get to the news, and there’s a lot of it today, I want to give you a moment just to recollect your friend and mine, Tony Snow.

EG: Well, Hugh, Tony and I, as you know, went way back. When I was a press secretary for a junior Congressman from Texas by the name of Dick Armey, he was an editorial writer at the Detroit News. You know, we’d spoken quite a bit, and those were not jobs that Washington deemed to be important jobs. But he cared about ideas, and we stayed friends throughout when he went to the Washington Times, and then to Former President Bush as a speechwriter, and over time, as you know, became the cornerstone of Fox News and the Sunday news show host. And I was fortunate enough to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, and so we were in jobs that Washington considered important. But the thing about Tony I always remember is when he was important, or seemed to be important, and I was, and he was always just as kind to me as ever, and he was just one of the good guys. And I remember watching him one Sunday interview the prime minister of Israel on his Sunday show. And then I saw him about an hour later. We live in the same area, and I saw him in the grocery store standing in line in the same suit he was wearing on the air, and he had a gallon of milk in one hand, and a big pack of diapers in the other. And he was first and foremost a father and a husband and a family man. And because we lived in the same area, and our kids were in the same sports leagues, I saw that all the time. And that’s frankly what I admired and respected most about him, despite how good he was at everything he did.

HH: Ed Gillespie, Tony used to be on this side of the microphone, and when a bunch of us came back to meet with the President last year, he brought us in. In our business, there’s a lot of dislike for each other, I don’t know, it’s sort of inherent in the business, I guess. But Tony never was on opposite sides with anyone in journalism. I actually don’t think, among those who practice either broadcast or print, that he had an enemy.

EG: You know, I’ve never found anyone, even those who didn’t agree with him, and he was firm in his defense of the President in the briefing room, but even the reporters who cover the President with whom he had his fair share of jousting sessions, all loved him. And he never had a negative word to say about anyone, but he would make his case vigorously. I joked that his, Tony Snow’s press briefings not only could air on C-Span, you could air them on pay-per-view, they were so entertaining to watch.

HH: Right. Ed, I’m sure he would say over your shoulder, now Ed, make sure to get the message out, too, because he was awfully good at that.

EG: That’s exactly right.

HH: So we’ll continue to talk about Tony this hour, but I do want to give you the opportunity to do what Tony did so well, which is to emphasize that which the President did on an important news day. And today, he went out and lifted an executive order banning offshore Continental drilling, and that’s very important. And of course, the Democrats are denouncing it as a fraud, Ed.

EG: Well, and a month ago, little over a month ago, the President called on Congress to work with him and his administration to lift this moratorium on offshore drilling. And there are two aspects of it – one is an executive ban that is administered through the Executive Branch and the presidency and the administration, and then there’s a legislative ban as well. And the President said let’s come together, you pass legislation to allow for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, where we have, by the way, ten years worth of our current annual oil production. Ten years worth of all of the oil we use is on the Outer Continental Shelf, but it’s all off-limits. And he said you pass a bill, and then I’ll sign it, and I will also issue an executive order that matches the legislation, and lifts the restrictions where you do. Well, they didn’t do anything. I mean, literally, they didn’t do anything. They didn’t move a bill. They didn’t even have a hearing. So the President today said all right, fine, I’m going to lift the executive moratorium, carte blanche, the whole thing. I’m lifting it all. And now the only thing that stands between the American people and that vast resource that’s out there in terms of oil that would lift and ease pressure on oil prices and gas prices at the pump is the United States Congress. So let’s get something done. And hopefully, they will respond and they will hear from their constituents, and they’ll act, and we’ll have access to that reserve as well as ANWAR in Alaska, and the oil shale in, shale oil in the Western part of our country.

HH: AP is reporting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence.” Your response, Ed Gillespie?

EG: Well look, this has been the Democrat mantra for decades now, literally. And so they have fenced off, like I said, not only the Outer Continental Shelf, but the oil shale in Utah and Colorado, which by the way, there’s enough oil, domestic oil there that it’s equal to more than a century’s worth of our oil imports. And in ANWAR, in Alaska, this remote region of Alaska, there’s enough oil there that is worth two decades of imported oil from Saudi Arabia. So if we had access to that, it would clearly reduce our reliance on foreign sources of oil. And having more production to meet demand would ease costs at the pump. So I think it’s pretty apparent for people. They realize that we are literally now paying the price for decades of Democrat obstruction of domestic exploration of oil.

HH: Harry Reid said, “We cannot drill our way out of this problem,” and went on to say about the oil companies, “They are not using more than half of the public lands that they have already leased for drilling.” How do you respond to that, Ed Gillespie?

EG: Well, I guess Senator Reid doesn’t understand that just because there’s a lease doesn’t mean that there’s oil under the land. And the fact is, there are many of the areas, as I understand it, that are available for leasing that don’t have oil under them. That’s the nature of the energy business and the oil business. And so we already have what’s known as a use it or lose it law that says that if the oil companies aren’t exercising their prerogatives to drill in these areas where they have leasing, they have to give up their leasing rights. This is just one more example of distraction on the part of the Democratic-led Congress which has been unwilling to move to allow us to increase domestic production or domestic refining capacity, by the way. We haven’t built a refinery in this country, Hugh, in 25 years because of the rules and regulations that are on the books that stop that from happening. And the President and Republicans in Congress have been pushing for years, literally, to allow us to have greater exploration and greater refinery capacity, and we’ve been blocked every step of the way.

HH: Now Ed Gillespie, I want to trot out my own pet hobby horse here, which is I would go to the Department of the Interior and issue, conduct the auction on a contingent basis for these offshore leases, just to put them out there, so that when the Congress acts, and eventually they have to act when oil gets to $200 or $250 a barrel, that we’re ready to go. Why wouldn’t we want to have the Department of the Interior conduct a contingent auction so that the oil companies are ready to go, and everybody knows how much interest there is in these leases, which will put the lie to Harry Reid’s nonsense?

EG: Well, that’s a good question, Hugh. I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. I would say, I don’t even know if it’s permissible, given that there is currently a legislative ban on offshore drilling. So it may be that the legislation says you can’t do it. But I don’t know the answer, but you’re right. I think there is enough demand out there in the marketplace that companies would likely bid on them. I would say one thing, you may end up holding down the price of the bid in terms of the taxpayers getting their dollars worth, for getting the true value, because it would be contingent. And I wonder if the oil companies might not bid it up as high, given that there’s not, right now, there is a law banning it.

HH: Well, they might, but on the other hand, just to argue my pet hobby, is that it’s much more important to get the supply than the maximum dollar for the oil at this point.

EG: Yeah, for the taxpayer, there’s not doubt about that. They’ll get the benefit at the pump.

HH: Let me ask you before we run out of time here, Senator Obama is creating havoc with our German friends by wanting to talk at the Brandenburg Gate. That’s a hallowed place, and I think you may have had a role in the Reagan speech there. And of course, it’s the Kennedy speech. Is it appropriate for candidates, either McCain or Obama, to put our allies on the spot like this, Ed Gillespie?

EG: Well, Hugh, I wish I had something to do with the Tear Down This Wall speech other than revering it as so many Americans do, but I didn’t. And in terms of there, as you know, only President Reagan and President Kennedy have spoken at that spot. A candidate has not, to my knowledge. But I’ll leave this to the German government and the chancellery there, and the mayor of Berlin to work out. And I’m going to adhere to our guidelines here, which is to not weigh into the campaign.

HH: But just a factual question, then. Did Senator Obama contact the White House to see if it was a good idea, or if there was any objection to it?

EG: Not that I’m aware of. And contrary to some speculation in the European media, the President nor anyone in his delegation raised this with Chancellor Merkel when we were at the G-8 in Japan. She mentioned it, but the President never expressed a view one way or the other.

HH: Ed Gillespie, thanks for taking time today to not only explain the President’s position, but much more importantly, honor your colleague, Tony Snow, who will be greatly missed by us all.

EG: Hugh, thanks for letting me have that opportunity. It meant a lot to me.

HH: Ed Gillespie, thanks.

End of interview.

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