White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow
HH: Welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, Tony Snow.
HH: Tony, how long have you been at the White House now?
TS: Let’s see…five months and one day. Six months and one day.
HH: When you signed up six months ago, did you expect you’d be spending a replay of 1986, ’87,’88?
TS: I don’t think that’s what I’m going to see.
HH: Oh? Why not?
TS: Well, a number of reasons. Number one is if you start taking a look at…you’ve got very thin margins in the House and Senate for Democrats, and furthermore, you’ve got a lot of Democrats who ran for election, or in some cases, re-election, on platforms that really did sound pretty Republican themes. I mean, you can take a look at, like, the Heath Shuler campaign and some of the others, and there’s pretty broad consensus that a lot of things, especially on domestic policy, that the President’s been advocating, have a number of champions in both political parties. A President has the ability, with both parties in opposition, to be able to do a lot of stuff. You think about Bill Clinton, and he was more successful as a president with opposition parties in charge of Congress than he was with his own party in control of Congress. And when it comes to things like spending discipline and so on, I think you’re going to have a president who is going to have a little more ability, if necessary, to wield a veto. But on the other hand, he can also do what the President’s been doing, which is sitting down with Democratic leaders and say okay, you’re now going to be in power, you’re going to be in charge of both Houses, and you, like me, have a vested interest in getting things done. So let’s start talking about things that we can do. And you know, I think you’re going to see a lot of activism, especially at the first year. Who knows what’s going to happen in 2008 when people start lining up for presidential races, but I can tell you here at the White House, a very aggressive agenda. Also keep in mind that in the Reagan campaign in 1984, was not one that had a whole lot in terms of what Reagan would do in a second term. A lot of symbolism, remember the bear in the woods, and all that stuff?
TS: In contrast, I mean, we’ve had meetings in recent weeks where we’re taking a look at things we still want to accomplish in the second term. And it is lengthy, in terms of the breadth and variety of things that the President wants to do. So you also have a lot more in your saddlebags, in terms of stuff that is going to get you through and sustain you through a couple of years that, even though Democrats are running the House and Senate, the President, as chief executive, still has considerable power to drive the debate.
HH: We know that, and I…especially in foreign affairs. But Tony Snow, the last quarter of the Reagan Presidency was dominated by Iran-Contra and the invention of Borking. I want to go right to the judges.
HH: You’re not going to get anything out of that committee.
TS: Well, we’re going to have to see.
HH: And how do you…Patrick Leahy has a record. Is this going to be something the President talks to Harry Reid about, about getting judges?
TS: I don’t know. I mean, look. I’ll tell you what the President’s going to do. He’s going to continue nominating qualified conservatives, and doing what he can to make sure that they get votes on the floor of the United States Senate. I mean, that’s what you do, and he’s certainly not going to back off, and he’s not going to change the way he does judges. And Democrats are going to have to decide how they handle it, knowing that a lot of people are going to be watching, including people who are going to be voting for all offices, including president of the United States in 2008.
HH: And so, you do not expect he would, if given the opportunity to appoint one or more Supreme Court judges, to part from the Roberts-Alito mold?
TS: No, he’ll stick with it.
HH: Okay. Now given that that’s there, have you talked about the recess appointment power for those nominees…
TS: Yeah, but I’m not going to get into any of that.
HH: (laughing) Have you talked about it, though?
TS: I haven’t talked about it, because I’m the Press Secretary. How’s that for a dodge?
HH: Okay, that’s a good dodge.
HH: Tony, why did we get wiped out…and I know it wasn’t a wave. I don’t think it was a huge wave, but we lost this long series by close margins. Why did it happen?
TS: Well, I think you can draw all series of conclusions. I mean, I’ve seen the piece that you’ve done, and I agree with virtually all of it. You had ten members who were tainted by scandal, who behaved badly, and forgot that in Washington, you don’t come here for profit, you don’t come here for self-aggrandisement. You’re supposed to be doing something. You also had a handful of candidates who simply, you know, they didn’t think they had to run hard. I mean, Jim Leach, I was told, didn’t take out a single campaign ad.
TS: In Iowa. Jim Ryun, I know, was caught totally by surprise. And there were a number of others. You put that together, between the scandal seats which were Republican, I mean, you know, you had Tom Delay’s district, you had to write in…
HH: Sekula Gibbs.
TS: Yeah, you had to write in Sekula Gibbs’ name twice. It’s hard to do that. You know, and the Foley seat, they came close with Negron saying punch Foley. I mean, those are seats that are pretty much Republican seats, and most of those cases, if not all of them, but you had Republicans who broke the faith with their constituents. So all of a sudden, you put those, either those who didn’t work it through, or those who behaved badly, and you probably have got enough to hold the House right there. But there are a series of things. I also think that there was frustration that Republicans did not take advantage of their powers they had in running the House and Senate, to be more aggressive in prosecuting an agenda, and people wanted to see that. And I think a lot of Republican voters were just kind of disappointed that things did not happen. And if there’s a real lesson here, it’s maintain your idealism, maintain your reformist impulse…on things like earmarks. Come on, you know, step up, start acknowledging people’s concerns about spending, and do something to deal with it.
HH: Have you had a chance to talk with Karl Rove yet about turnout? Who did and did not show up?
TS: I haven’t talked to him specifically about turnout. I mean, what ended up happening in a lot of districts is that frankly, were it not for very good Republican turnout, we could have lost upwards of fifteen more seats. There were a whole series…there were probably 25 races that were decided by very small margins, two points or less, and Republicans won, on the average, two out of three of those races. So there were very good get out the vote efforts. But you know, I mean, I live in Virginia, and I know a number of Republicans who for whatever reason, didn’t vote for George Allen. I think there was just unhappiness, I think, with Republicans, and the lesson here is never remember who you’re working for, and never take ideals for granted. That’s what…
HH: I think you meant never forget who you’re working for.
TS: Yeah. Huh?
HH: You said never remember who you’re working for.
TS: Oh, I’m sorry. Never forget who you’re working for. Thank you.
HH: (laughing) Yeah, that’s…I think we did the former.
TS: (laughing) Yeah, they made the mistake of never remembering. That’s right.
HH: Now let me ask you about the media, because a couple of interviews I’ve done recently with Tom Edsall and Mark Halperin here, and they’ve just very candidly admitted it’s 85, 90, 95% liberal and pro-Democrat in the elite media.
HH: What effect does that have? And how does it get counteracted, if mainstream media has just gone over to the other side?
TS: Well, number one, you. Again, you’ve got radio, you’ve got blogs, and I think a lot of times, people kind of see what’s going on. I mean, if you’ve got…Mark has also written about it, openly confessing these things. I think that’s true. Look, and there’s going to be plenty of competition in the media of the future. We’re in the wild west for the media. You see that the old mainstream press does not have quite the leverage it used to. You see growing influence in blogs, and in talk radio, and even on some of the cables. So I think people are pretty hungry for good information, and trying to get it unspun, rather than spun. In terms of dealing with members of the press, my view is flood the zone and give them facts, because a lot of times, there is complete unfamiliarity with conservative arguments, or in fact, the evidence used to marshall them. And if I can at least get reporters to put that stuff into stories, you know what? It can make a difference, because it gets you the ability to decide by reading the story.
HH: Do you have a strategy under development for when you combine a Henry Waxman subpoena hearing and Keith Olbermann? I mean, that’s the perfect storm for the destruction of initiative and reputation.
TS: Well, look. It’s a decision people are going to have to make, and my sense is that there’s probably not going to be a whole lot of proft in the long run, for overdoing it and trying to engage in savage attacks on people’s character. But as we said, we’re going to have to wait and see what happens. The Democrats have to make…they’ve got to make some decisions now about how to proceed. The President’s made it clear that he is ready, willing, eager and able to work with Democrats on issues of mutual interest, where they think they can get things done. And so far, the signals have been out of the House and Senate leaders, that they also want to work well together. So Hugh, we’ll have to see. I mean, if that sort of stuff happens, call me then and I’ll give you a good sharp answer.
HH: Do you expect Bolton to get a vote?
TS: Well, we’re going to find out. We hope to get him voted on in a lame duck session.
HH: All right, now, I want to talk about immigration, as obviously, the President is a pro-regularization Republican, as I am, once the fence got passed. Now, it’s all about regularization for me. However, a lot of conservatives are worried that he’s just waiting to do the deal with Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, that is an amnesty deal, and that the fence will never get built. So question number one…
TS: No, the fence is going to be built. I mean, we’ve already made a committment to that.
HH: When…that’s…I wanted to bore in on that. Who’s going to be the point person on that? Because if it is not built in two years, Tony Snow, we’ll get wiped out.
TS: Well, it’s Michael Chertoff, and no…look, it’s…some of these are going to take more than two years to build when you’re talking about 700 miles of fence. I think, Hugh, when people start seeing A) fences going up, and B) guess what? We’re going to provide plenty of metrics in terms of arrests, deportations, the kinds of legal activities that are going on, because we know a lot of people are watching.
HH: Tony, I’m going to bet you right now that it will be less than a hundred miles of fencing constructed by the time…
TS: No, I think…I don’t have the charts in front of me, but they’ve laid out what is sort of their ambitions on this, and you’re going to have, certainly, more than a hundred miles.
HH: Okay, well, we’ll look for that. Now the second thing is, though, what about regularization? And will the President abandon the conservative concern over things like social security benefits for years worked here illegally, a path for citizenship in voting, as opposed to just permanent resident status? Who’s going to protect the right flank on that?
TS: Well, look, the President’s been pretty clear about this, and I think…let’s walk through…let me reframe the issues, because you sort of spun it up in a way that makes it hard to answer. Let’s look practically what we have in the United States. First, you want to deal with the border problems. Second, there are concerns in this country about people who are here illegally, or those who are here legally taking jobs from Americans. Well, how do you solve that? The thing the President’s talked about is tamper-proof I.D. cards. Why? Because you have biometric I.D. there. You can’t fake it. You can’t go to your local convenience store, go in the back room, and have somebody cut a fake driver’s license that will provide deniability on the part of an employer. So the first thing you need to do is to figure out ways to identify who’s here, to have a way of tracking them, and having a way of knowing A) are they stealing a job from an American, B) have they broken the law, because as you know, under proposals that have been considered, and certainly we support, you’ve got people who are criminals, they get sent away. Bye. C-ya. Gone. Continuous employment, rather than living strictly off of benefits. That has been proposed. You’ve got a whole series of things where people can certainly work through and provide a system that is going to make sure that of the 11 or 12 million people who are here illegally, the question is how do you deal with it. And certainly, people are going to agree if somebody’s breaking the law, they should go. And if somebody’s not working, they should go. And if they don’t learn English, they should go. And if they’ve broken the law, they ought to be punished in terms of taxes and fines, and so special consideration when it comes to citizenship. And they shouldn’t be taking jobs from Americans. And people who are employing them ought to be subject to criminal sanctions and asset forfeiture, which is the term we have made. It’s no longer a…simply a fine. So you see, Hugh, you deal with the issues in a series of ways. First, you deal with the border. Then you deal with the taking jobs from Americans. Third, at the same time, you’re also trying to identify those who are criminals and committing crimes. You get rid of those. And so, you want to weed out as many bad actors, and get them out of here as quickly as possible.
HH: Okay, two follow-ups right there. One, is there a timetable for the border fence construction?
TS: No, I think you’re going to have to take a look at what’s in the budget. That’s a technical budget issue.
HH: You see, that…but it really isn’t, because that’s…
TS: No, it really is, Hugh. I mean, that’s the way it works, and don’t…
HH: No, people…
TS: What you want to do is you want to have the fence spring up overnight, and guess what? And you can ask this…I mean, Republicans are signing off on these budgets, and they’re the ones that signed the bill…
HH: No, people want to know that the President has eyeballed…
TS: …that there is nothing…Hugh,
HH: The people want to know the President has eyeballed a schedule that has a metric on it, and a plan, and they expect him to see through it.
TS: Yeah, I mean, there is, because the Department of Homeland Security’s putting together…as a matter of fact, that the President is asking. It’s not merely for the fence…you see, you’re focusing on the fence, and guess what? There’s still going to be hundreds of miles that are not going to be fenceable.
HH: Oh, I know that. I know that.
TS: And it won’t…but let’s deal with the whole problem, because also, you have an aggressive effort to go on, in terms of electronic surveillance, and also an aggressive program to get Border Patrol agents, and an aggressive program to make it impossible to get vehicles over the border in wild areas where you might be able to have all-terrain vehicles, or other such things getting across. So the point is not merely fence, because that’s not good enough. You also have to have the ability to provide security in places that may be remote, and may not be fenceable, but still have to be defensible, and the President’s working on that as well. So you’ve got us credit for a whole range of things.
HH: But Tony Snow, when people hear you say that, they think to themselves a walkaway. They’re walking the dog back. They don’t…
TS: No, they don’t. No, you’re saying that, because you apparently don’t like the answer, but that’s total spin, Hugh.
HH: No, it’s not.
TS: Sure it is.
HH: Because you did what I do right now, and you got the e-mails that I’m going to get, and they’re going to say you’re not going to build the fence. I’m just saying, because I want regularization…
TS: Well, I’m telling you. You know what? Let me put it this way, Hugh. Then they are calling their advocates of the fence, the people who put that legislation in, they’re calling Senator Sessions a liar. And they’re calling Tom Tancredo a liar. And I don’t think they want to say that.
HH: Did you see Mickey Kaus…Yeah, but no, the legislation is passed. It is up to the executive branch to get it built, and they’re not trusting the idea that it will show up. I want to move on, though, to the…
TS: Whoa, whoa, wait. I’m not letting you leave it at that, because what you do is you part by saying you guys are a bunch of liars, but I want to leave it at that.
HH: No, I’m not.
TS: Well, I’m not going to let you leave it at that. We’re going to get the fence built.
HH: I’m not calling you a liar at all. I’m saying that the public does not believe the fence is going to happen. In fact, the doubt is…
TS: Well, wait. Let me tell you something. The public needs to know, I’m telling you right now, the fence is going to be built. But I’m also telling you if you take a look, because we did a lot of work on this, too, the public also expects the rest of the stuff to get done.
HH: I agree. I agree.
TS: Well, okay, because guess what? That’s part of the problem here, is that you’ve got to take a look…the idea that everybody talks about a fence, and then turns a blind eye to 11 or 12 million, seems to me to be sort of missing the point here, and so…
HH: No, I think the first…
TS: …what we’re starting to do is to deal with all of them.
HH: I think the first allows the second to happen, and it should.
HH: But you said in the course of an earlier answer, no special consideration when it comes to citizenship. Does the President believe that someone who entered the country illegally ought to be able to eventually vote in elections?
TS: Well, it depends if they have citizenship.
HH: But does he believe that someone who entered the country illegally should be able to get citizenship, without having returned to their home country first?
TS: Well, that’s something that’s been under discussion. And frankly, you know, there were conversations…for instance, Representative Pence had put together a bill. So there are a number of ways to deal with that, and we’re perfectly willing to talk about it.
HH: All right. Now let’s get to the war, Tony Snow. The Democrats don’t like it, you and I agree it’s got to be waged.
HH: It’s not a war of choice. If we get into that Vietnam-era appropriations game, will the President just veto restrictions on the ability to wage this war?
TS: Well, I’m not going to get into…look, this is picking a fight that doesn’t exist, and so I’m not going to put up my dukes. I think what you have is a situation now where Democrats also understand that leaving without victory is not an option. And therefore, you’re going to have…people now are going to have to take a good sober look at how best to do this. But you know, the President has been very clear about this, and ironically, if you’ve listened to some of the complaints on the Democratic side, they’ve been talking about spending more, not less. They’ve been talking about…you know, having more troops, and expanding the military, and expanding the committment. So I’m not sure that there’s even a serious debate looming about cutting off funding for forces in Afghanistan or Iraq. Let’s wait and see what happens. Again, it’s an interesting this. Responsibility forces you to re-examine what you may have said on the campaign trail, no matter how effective it may have been, because now you have to deal with the real world.
HH: I want to close…I know we’re out of time, by going back to judges, Tony Snow. I think it’s probably the key issue that undermined the base’s enthusiasm the last time on Tuesday, and I know you won’t talk about the specifics. But is this the focus of continuing attention within the White House? Is there a plan, and especially if there’s a Supreme Court vacancy, will it be no surrender of principles whatsoever? We’ll have to fight on that line all Summer?
TS: Yeah, we think about this all the time. I’m certainly not going to make the entire public privy to things that go on, but Hugh, just take a look at what the President’s been doing in terms of appointments, and especially in terms of the Supreme Court. He understands how serious this is.
HH: And if Leahy is not moving them along, is it at least a possibility that recess appointments show up?
TS: I’m not going to play. Not going to play. Not going to play. Let’s just see what happens. When we get to a situation where that is not hypthetical, and it’s a real question, then we can talk.
HH: And how long of a delay is considered by you or by Counsel Miers, or the President, to be an unacceptable delay for nominees who’ve been up there already, for many, many months?
TS: Well, there are a lot of nominees that we think should have been acted on. I don’t know how I would define acceptable or unacceptable. Again, we had some situations where we couldn’t get Republicans to help us.
HH: I know. On Peter Keisler. Is there any chance in the lame duck session to get some of these people moved through?
TS: I don’t know. I mean, I think the two nominations that we’re most concerned about, just for practical reason in the lame duck, are getting Bob Gates and John Bolton through.
HH: The Gates decision, Tony Snow, I’m keeping you longer than I promised.
TS: That’s okay.
HH: The Gates decision. There was a kerfuffle yesterday about what the President said to an AP reporter about Rumsfeld and staying…and the Secretary of Defense staying.
HH: What happened there?
TS: Well, what happened was somebody said…I forget the exact wording of the question, but do you expect him to stay, and the answer was yes. This was certainly before he’d met with Bob Gates, and certainly before they had had conversations with Don Rumsfeld about resigning. So you know, you’re in a situation where that was the right answer at that time, but also, the President is commander-in-chief, and he does have the ability and the obligation to do what he thinks is best in terms of anybody who works for him.
HH: And is there any expectation of other senior cabinet members departing in short time?
TS: Not that I’m aware of, no. I don’t think so. But you know, the honest answer is don’t know. I haven’t heard any talk about it. There’s no water cooler talk. You know, we don’t actually have water coolers here, but you get the idea.
HH: Is Ken Mehlman leaving tomorrow, or the next couple of days?
TS: Don’t know. I mean, there are some stories that he’s planning on going. But again, that’s something…that’s a question for Ken, not for somebody who works at the White House.
HH: And last question. I asked this of Karl Rove on Monday. Has you, or anyone in the White House, had any indication from the Supreme Court that one or more of its members are contemplating leaving soon?
TS: No, but I wouldn’t be the guy they’d call anyway. But no, I haven’t.
HH: All right. Tony Snow, thanks for the time, and look forward to checking in with you as we go through these very interesting two years.
TS: Whenever you want, Hugh.
TS: Okay, thanks.
End of interview.