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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
President Bush, Australian Prime Minister Hold News Conference; FBI Turnover; Troops on the Border; Tony Snow's First Press Briefing
Aired May 16, 2006 - 11:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A brief news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard and President Bush, answering a number of questions on the partnership that they share, both personal and political. And not surprisingly, a lot of questions for President Bush on the immigration reform proposal that he put forward in his primetime speech last night.
Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, right there in the room to tell us more about what the two leaders had to say -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, you could see that there was quite a rapport between Prime Minister Howard and President Bush. There was some joking between the two leaders.
That has to do with the fact that Prime Minister Howard clearly one of the staunchest allies for this president, particularly in this war on terror. When the president was pressed on some specific domestic issues here, quite some interesting answers.
On the NSA domestic surveillance program, for example, the president once again reiterating we will protect America against al Qaeda and do it within the law. And he said, "We will continue to do just that," emphasizing the last part.
He also insisted that the United States government does not listen to domestic calls. Something similar to what we heard last week. And he basically had an interesting defense where he pointedly noted that before 9/11, the American government was accused of not connecting the dots. The president now saying he is trying to connect those dots to prevent another terrorist plot, and saying yet they're still getting more criticism.
Also, pressed on the issue of immigration, of course the president's 21st nationally televised primetime address last night focusing on immigration reform. He was pressed on the fact that despite that address, he's still having a hard time bringing conservatives on Capitol Hill, along to his plan. He once again called for what he said was a rational debate, but he's having a lot of difficulty with fellow Republicans on the Hill who do not want that guest worker program, the deal, and put on a path to citizenship, the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants already here in the United States -- Daryn.
KAGAN: You know, interesting. Before the speech last night, much was made that President Bush's audience was this conservative wing of his party, and that's who he was talking to. And yet, during the speech and then again today, you keep hearing him use words like "rational" and "middle ground" and almost pleaing and saying, come on, you need to be rational and you need to go to the middle grond.
That's not the kind of message that that conservative wing wants to hear.
HENRY: No, it could make the conservatives on Capitol Hill dig in even more. I think maybe the president could be trying to bounce off a little bit.
We noted there was that overnight CNN poll suggesting that 67 percent of the people who actually watched the speech believe that they had a positive view of the president's plan. And I think the White House is confident that as he continues to push this and push this, this afternoon -- he has a meeting with members of Congress here at the White House on immigration, on Thursday he goes to the border state of Arizona to push this once again -- they're hoping that perhaps the country, if they rally behind this plan, can push some of those conservatives to the middle -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Ed Henry there at the White House.
Ed, thank you.
And I should have a chance to have an interesting discussion in just a few minutes, a chance to talk with David Aguilar. He is the head of the U.S. Border Patrol. My interview with him coming up in just a little bit.
And then at the bottom of this hour, Tony Snow, his first White House briefing ever as White House press spokesperson. We'll see how he handles it. You'll see it live here on CNN.
Keeping it on immigration now, there is a lot at stake for governors in border states. And as we have been reporting, the centerpiece of the president's plan calls for dispatching 6,000 National Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.
Earlier this morning on CNN, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told me that he has concerns about the president's plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: I wish they had consulted with us, because what I would have said is -- I would have said, "Accelerate the number of Border Patrol agents that you promised us." New Mexico was promised 265 new border agents from the last appropriations bill. Only a handful have arrived.
So my preference would have been to dramatically increase the number of Border Patrol agents, because our guardsmen, they're tired. Border protection is not one of their responsibilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: And now reaction from a Republican member of the House. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: I believe we have to acknowledge that, in fact, the National Guard should be shoulder to shoulder with the Border Patrol, supplementing the Border Patrol. And to the larger question, I think 6,000 agents is inadequate.
Indeed, if you take a look at what happens in my home state of Arizona nightly, between 6,000 and 6,500 illegals attempt to cross into the United States. And of that group, it's estimated that 4,000 to 4,500 make it. That's on a nightly basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: And as we continue to check in with other politicians in the Southwest, Texas Governor Rick Perry talks to Kyra Phillips about the president's plan to beef up border security with National Guard troops. That will be at the top of the hour on LIVE FROM.
Focus on New England. And there's our Bonnie Schneider.
Bonnie, you just kind of waltz right in.
BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
KAGAN: You look so casual. And yet things are kind of intense and important in New England today. Actually -- or you're looking at Florida.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
KAGAN: A flat-out denial from BellSouth. The telecom says it did not turn over customer calling records to government spies.
"USA Today" reported last week that BellSouth, along with AT&T and Verizon, handed over millions of phone records to the National Security Agency. Government officials have not confirmed or denied the existence of any such program. BellSouth says a review found no indication anyone at the company was ever approached by the NSA.
Years of secrecy ended. The Pentagon is revealing the names of all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Bush administration opened the prison after the 9/11 attacks. The list includes 201 names never disclosed by the Defense Department. But questions about the whereabouts of the most notorious terror suspects, their names are not on the list.
The Pentagon released the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.
We heard a lot lately about changes at the CIA. And it's not only the agency that's losing experienced people. The FBI has seen one departure after another since 9/11. Some argue the turnover hampers the bureau's ability to protect the country. CNN's Kelli Arena with a closer look.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An FBI agent for 31 years, Ronald Nesbitt has decided to call it quits.
RONALD NESBITT, FORMER FBI OFFICIAL: I knew that I had to make a decision while I was still relatively young, while I was attractive to the private sector and not much later in my career.
ARENA: Nesbitt, who is 52, ran the counterintelligence unit for the FBI's Washington field office. He says he was happy at work and wasn't job hunting, but got offers anyway. In the end, he says he did what was best for his family and accepted a security job with a large corporation.
NESBITT: I have two daughters that are adults and one is graduating, one is still a sophomore in college. I have a young daughter still, so I was really looking at expenses.
ARENA: Nesbitt is just one of several top officials giving in to the lure of the private sector. Gary Ball, the top counterterrorism chief, is leaving next month to work in security for a cruise line. In fact, since the attacks on September 11, at least six top counterterrorism officials have left. Alarming some members of Congress.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: He does...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are critical jobs at a critical time.
MUELLER: I understand what you're saying and it is an issue. We're wresting with.
ARENA: The FBI points out the officials who left spent decades working at the FBI and says it's well prepared to replace them.
MIKE MASON, FBI EXECUTIVE ASST. DIRECTOR: We know what the dynamic is in terms of the average retirement age of senior bureau employees. And as a result, are working hard to develop the bench we need to develop.
ARENA: But according to a study requested by Congress, the high turnover at the top makes it harder for the FBI to make necessary changes. Tim Roemer was a member of the 9/11 Commission.
TIM ROEMER, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSIONER: When you have six managers in the counterterrorism area in five years and you don't have that experience and that leadership at the top, even when you're bringing in creative new people, you are going to have significant morale and transfer and turnover problems at the bottom.
ARENA: Nesbitt says in his case there wasn't much the FBI could do. It came down to needing the money. (on camera): The salary for his government position tops out at $165,000. But in the private sector, his expertise commands a whole lot more.
Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.
KAGAN: Terror on tape. Next hour, a newly-released video from 9/11 will show American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. The public interest group Judicial Watch had long fought for the video. The government refused to release it until after the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
Earlier this month, the al Qaeda conspirator was sentenced to life in prison. Judicial Watch says it will release the tape on its Web site. The group says it hopes to dispel conspiracy theories involving the doomed American Airlines flight.
Standing by, about 20 minutes from now, Tony Snow, the new White House spokesperson, holding his first White House press briefing. You'll see it live here on CNN.
More news ahead. Right now a quick break.
KAGAN: We're about 15 minutes away. The new White House spokesperson, Tony Snow, holding his first White House press briefing. We'll see how he holds his own with reporters.
President Bush stressing the National Guard would support the Border Patrol and not replace it with his proposal. Few dispute that the border agents could use a few extra hands. Let's hear from the man who runs the show.
Joining us right now is the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, David Aguilar, joining me from Washington.
Chief, good morning.
DAVID AGUILAR, CHIEF, OFFICE OF BORDER PATROL: Good morning. Good to be here.
KAGAN: This is interesting news, indeed. How do you think this will work, this proposal of 6,000 National Guard troops coming and supplementing your Border Patrol agents?
AGUILAR: Oh, it's going to work out very well, Daryn. It's going to be a tremendous enhancement to our capability.
It will enhance our capacity to address more resources towards the border, because what the National Guard is going to be doing is going to be relieving some of our officers that are now involved with administrative support, and enforcement and operational support. But more importantly, they're also going to build tactical infrastructure for us and bring technology that we can use.
KAGAN: Let me offer up a few criticisms we've heard today, the day after.
First of all, the National Guard going through on these two-week rotations coming from other states. How efficient is that? Just when you teach them how to do one task, they're back off to their home state.
AGUILAR: Well, the one thing to bear in mind is we have been doing this for over 20 years. This relationship existed for a long time. So we know how to manage this type of cycling in and out.
One of the things that's important to note is that there will be constancy because the equipment, the technology will be left in place. It will just be the cycling in and out of personnel that -- that will come into play.
KAGAN: I talked to a number of politicians from the Southwest region today, Congress people, governors. They -- supporters of (INAUDIBLE) saying, well, skip this step. What they really need, what you really need, are more Border Patrol agents.
Wouldn't that be more efficient?
AGUILAR: Oh, absolutely. I don't think anybody disagrees with that. But people must understand that it takes time to recruit, to train, to hire Border Patrol agents. And that's exactly what this initiative is going to do.
It's going to bridge us towards getting us towards the number of Border Patrol agents that we in fact need. Bear in mind that in the end of calendar year '08, we will be sitting at about 18,300 Border Patrol agents. We will more than have doubled the size of the Border Patrol since pre-9/11.
KAGAN: Reading your bio, I get an appreciation that you have a unique view. You started as a Border Patrol agent yourself in Laredo, Texas. So you -- you have walked the walk and you've worked your way up.
From your view, what is it really going to take to solve the problem of protecting U.S. borders?
AGUILAR: Well, first of all, this is an issue of national security. The borders need to be controlled. It's going to be basically a three-pronged approach, as we've been talking about in the past.
One is obviously border security, which is -- this is what we're doing today, augmenting and increasing our border security by additional resources.
Two is interior enforcement, making sure that the draw is addressed. The draw of illegal immigration. And three is the possibility of any kind of worker program, guest worker program that may pass our legislation. It is that approach comprehensively that will help us bring control to the border.
KAGAN: So much focus on the Mexico border, but what about Canada?
AGUILAR: Canada is absolutely also at the forefront. There are vulnerabilities. There are threats on the northern border, and we are addressing them.
KAGAN: What is the most vulnerable area along the Canadian border?
AGUILAR: Well, there are several areas that we are very concerned about. The one thing to note is that we have actual tripled the number of resources, Border Patrol resources along the northern border post-9/11. And we're continuing to add technology. And this augmentation on the southern border will also allow us to continue adding to the northern border.
KAGAN: Some of the politicians we talked to today expressing frustration that we talk about these additional Border Patrol agents, these additional resources, it should have been coming a long time ago. Do you feel your agency is getting the kind of support and resources it needs?
AGUILAR: We are getting the kind of support that we have never gotten in the past. One thing...
KAGAN: But do you have enough to get the job done? Clearly, all these people are coming across the border.
AGUILAR: Well, absolutely. And that's what we're building towards.
We can't get to where we need to be overnight. We didn't get to where we are today overnight. So we're building towards that. And that's one of the things that's critical.
One of the things that I'm always asked is, what else do you need? Well, one of the things that we need is time, time to build up and get to where we need to be.
KAGAN: Chief David Aguilar, head of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Thank you for your time, sir.
AGUILAR: Thank you.
KAGAN: Thank you for your time.
As we move on, I want to move on now to more on that release of that 9/11 video. It shows the plane going into the Pentagon on 9/11.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more on that -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, just about 45 minutes from now, the public interest group here in Washington called Judicial Watch is expected to post this video on their Web site. This is the video from we believe security cameras here in the Pentagon parking lot that showed American Airlines Flight 77 striking the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Now, to be clear, it's our understanding that this -- some of this video has been seen in the past. But Judicial Watch first filed a Freedom of Information Act request, as did CNN. And then when they were denied, they took it a step further and they went to court.
Now resolution of that today. And it's very interesting why the video is now being released by the U.S. government. And largely, that is because the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui is now over.
They didn't want to release it during those trial proceedings, believing it would prejudice the case. Now that that's all over with, they are going ahead, and the federal government within the hour will make this video now available. It is expected that the video will show for the first time a more discernible image, if you will, of Flight 77 hitting the building.
KAGAN: Yes. Barbara, let me just jump in here for a second. Just to be clear, this is not the video we're talking about.
STARR: No. What we're...
KAGAN: This is video of our own coverage from 9/11.
STARR: Right, Daryn.
STARR: To be clear, this is what we of course call file video.
KAGAN: Right. OK.
STARR: This is the aftermath within moments and hours on that day of what happened here in the Pentagon. That is, the attack site.
But what we are going to see from this release of video is surveillance cameras that were in the Pentagon parking lot that were rolling at the time. It will be a somewhat grainy image, but it will show Flight 77 and the impact into the side of the building.
We have seen some of this before, but we have never really seen the discernible image of the actual aircraft hitting the building. And what we may see within the hour are the first images of the aircraft that we will actually see hitting the Pentagon -- Daryn.
KAGAN: It makes you wonder for a minute, stop and think about the families.
STARR: Indeed, let us remember, 184 victims of that terrible attack.
People who follow this issue have certainly known that this surveillance video was out there. One of the interesting mysteries, however, is whether or not there is additional video out there from surveillance cameras that were in other buildings, other areas surrounding the Pentagon.
There's been an awful lot of talk about it. We are not sure what we will see within the hour from this release of video. We believe it will only be very similar to what we have seen before. But of course, this also is expected to put to rest some of the Internet chatter, some of the sort of fringe comments that have been out on the Internet for years now about whether or not a plane really hit this building. And, of course, a plane did hit this building -- Daryn.
KAGAN: And we should see the pictures for ourselves very soon.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Thank you, Barbara.
KAGAN: We're about nine minutes away from the scheduled start of Tony Snow, the new White House spokesperson having his first White House briefing.
You'll see that live here on CNN.
Right now, let's fit in a quick break.
KAGAN: First order of the day, does Tony Snow run on time? We'll see. The new White House spokesperson has his first news briefing with White House reporters scheduled at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. You'll see it live here when it begins on CNN.
First, though, let's talk a little bit of weather, New England's deluge. Days of rain have turned normally placid rivers ferocious. Hundreds of people are still out of their homes and worried that they'll -- what they'll find when they go back.
Hundreds of roads have been washed out in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. The floodwaters have overwhelmed sewage systems as well. And there are also concerns about dams breaking. In the Massachusetts town of Methuen, officials are hoping the Spicket River Dam will hold.
Earlier today, I had a chance to talk with the mayor of the town, William Manzi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR WILLIAM MANZI, METHUEN, MASSACHUSETTS: We have 26 street closings that continue to be in existence. Approximately 1,000 people evacuated. Those evacuations are being evaluated.
We do not anticipate any reversal of the mandatory evacuations before today. We are evaluating them on a day-by-day basis. Thy also present both structural and health issues before we lift those restrictions. So as we evaluate that daily, we will send out building teams and health teams out before we let people go back into their homes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: Of course these flooding problems are taking place across New England. If you live along a river, you know the dangers. But even longtime residents are shocked at how fast the Exeter River rose up.
Reporter Danielle Schleisser (ph) of our affiliate WMUR reports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Take a look at these homes in Freemont under several feet of water. Some with just their roofs visible. The Exeter River here has overwhelmed the neighborhood of about 24 homes, leaving those who live here stunned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just happened so fast. It came -- unbelievable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Water quickly surrounded Barbara Hood's (ph) two-story home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But everything is floating away. I mean, you know. We just had the septic pumped. It cost me $225 last week. Now it's full again.
We just had the gas filled. You know? After a while, it's just too much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Neighbors here will tell you they're used to some flooding. It's part of life living on a river. But seeing roads like Route 107 impassable and scenes like this, raging water around this house, and even those like Diane Bouche (ph) say it's never been this bad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's never been surrounded by water before. This is the first flood that it's been totally surrounded.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just waiting. Hopefully the sun will come out pretty soon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow, maybe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow, yes. That would be nice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The force of the floods so great it pushed these cars, leaving the SUV tipped on its side. Other cars here in New Market sit under several feet of water. This is the intersection of Main Street and Route 152.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never saw that before.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how long have you lived here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, about 40 years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean Flattery (ph) came to try and bail out his brother's house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't bail it any faster than it's coming in. So you just have to wait it out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many who live here didn't wait long to evacuate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 11:30, the drain just stopped taking on any more water. And the level went up to the first floor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's when you got out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Red Cross set up shelter at the community center, where about 20 slept last night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out and we're all together. So that's all that counts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Air National Guard reported for duty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to do some sandbagging and shore up around the dam.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At first, even they weren't sure how they would get to the other side of town. But once through, they got right to work, filling 10,000 sandbags and stacking them at the New Market Dam. Part of it is cracked, and the Lanpri River (ph) shows no signs of slowing down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have never had water this high here. So we don't know what it can handle and what it can't.
KAGAN: But we are watching it.
And we go from a deluge of rain to a deluge of questions. That's what Tony Snow will get with his first formal -- it's actually his first formal White House briefing.
You might recall Snow held an informal session with reporters last Friday. That happened in his office. This is from the announcement date when President Bush announced his choice to follow up Scott McClellan. But instead of the briefing room, where these things are kind of normally held, that proved to be somewhat cramped. Reporters filled into the hallway and were unable to hear.
Cranky White House reporters, not a good idea. Snow ended up calling the whole thing a mess. Going back to how it used to be, to the White House briefing room.
And Tony Snow will join a courageous group of people who have bounced back after being treated for cancer.
Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has more on that.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm delighted to be here.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When Tony Snow announced he was accepting the job as White House press secretary, he made it clear he discussed the move first with his doctors. That's because Snow had recently undergone treatment for colon cancer.
These days, more and more high-powered people are returning to work after cancer treatment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench after a bout with colon cancer. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senator John Kerry went back to work after treatments for prostate cancer. And most recently, Senator Arlen Specter underwent treatment for blood cancer while conducting hearings on Capitol Hill.
Oncologists say new therapies and early diagnosis mean cancer in many cases is no longer a debilitating illness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancer is no longer a death sentence. Most cancers are cured. And the public needs to know that.
COHEN: A study from the American Cancer Society says 84 percent of surviving cancer patients return to their jobs. But is someone who just battled cancer up to a high-pressure position? The National Cancer Institute says research shows cancer survivors are as productive on the job as other employees, and that it's important for patients to get back to work, not just for the paycheck, but for their self esteem.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Returning to work is psychologically beneficial and is therapeutic. You get a sense of return to normal life.
COHEN: Snow, who says he's now cancer free, will face at least 15-hour days, usually getting up at dawn and keeping in touch with the press long after the evening news is over. Doctors say former cancer patients are stronger than you might think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancer makes you tougher individually, intellectually, spiritually, in many different ways.
Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, reporting.
KAGAN: And now he faces a different type of challenge. Tony Snow, about to go before the microphone and the cameras at the White House press briefing room. Within the next few seconds, we expect him to step to the podium. It's something we've seen many times, we just haven't see Tony Snow do it.
Also interesting to watch because he does come from a television background, and it's so easy to sit from where we are here and criticize about how somebody handles the White House spokesperson job. But what about when you have to step up and do it yourself? Tony Snow will have a chance to do that, and -- no, that's not him. As we said, he tried last week to try to do it in an informal way and do it from his office. And that didn't work because there wasn't enough room for all of the White House reporters. This time, from the White House press briefing room, here's Tony Snow.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I feel so loved.
QUESTION: Welcome to the White House press...
SNOW: Thank you very much. Well, it's good to be here. Thank you one and all.
Very quickly, as you know, President Bush today met with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia. The two of them shared their thoughts about the global war on terror. They have taken your questions, and they had very warm and cordial meetings as they look forward.
Also, a scheduling note of which I'm sure many of you are aware: We had placed on the schedule a bipartisan meeting with members of the United States Senate regarding the immigration bill. That has been canceled for the simple reason that members of the Senate are today working on the immigration bill. And since that was one of the chief action items -- the chief action item in the president's speech last night -- he thought it best not to get in the way of the United States Senate as it continues to do that business.
And with no further ado, we'll take questions.
QUESTION: In his news conference with John Howard, was the president giving kind of a backhanded confirmation of the stories that the NSA is compiling telephone lists?
SNOW: No, he wasn't. If you go back and listen to the answer he gave you, he was talking about foreign-to-domestic calls. The allegations in the "USA Today" piece, which we will neither confirm or deny, are of a different nature. So, no, he was not giving a backhanded confirmation.
QUESTION: Well, he said they're very aware of what is taking place. And he said the question he's asking about has been fully briefed to members of the United States Congress.
SNOW: Well, what he's talking about is that all intelligence matters conducted by the National Security Agency -- and we've said this many time -- have been fully briefed to a handful of members of the Senate Intelligence and House Intelligence Committee, the leadership.
QUESTION: So he's neither confirming nor...
SNOW: No, you're not getting any advance on previous news on that question.
QUESTION: Tony, let me ask about immigration. The president talked last night about a rational middle ground dealing with 11 to 12 illegal immigrants who are here.
SNOW: Eleven million to 12 million.
QUESTION: Eleven million to 12 million. Excuse me.
What he calls a rational middle ground, you know well, conservatives, particularly in the House, who have passed a very tough bill on this that the president presumably doesn't like, they call that amnesty.
What specifically is the president going to do to breach this divide?
SNOW: Look, one of the things that's interesting is a lot of people have reacted to the president's proposal without having had time to evaluate it.
This is an enormous and a complex series of proposals. And anybody who went to the briefing today in 450, I think, gets an appreciation of that. House members have expressed a number of different concerns. Different House members have expressed those concerns.
I think the most important thing to say is that the president is looking for a practical way, consistent with the American spirit, to make sure that we handle border security, that we handle interior security, that we go ahead and deal with a number of the chief concerns on immigration that we have always had.
And what he's really -- and he's going to wait for members of the House of Representatives to have a chance to look over the proposal.
To give you an example, a lot of talk about border security: Under the president's proposal, over the span of the president's proposal, he would commit more Border Patrol agents and more assets to the border than even the House of Representatives have proposed itself.
I think that addresses that specific concern. And I think, as conversations continue, members of the House are going to be able to express themselves. But the president was speaking last night to the American people about an issue that is of enormous importance to him. You see it every time he talks about it.
This is an issue for which he has real passion. And he's decided that, in this issue, he is going to demonstrate leadership by saying exactly what he wants. And that's what he did last night.
QUESTION: But what he said today was: Let's not get emotional about this and forget who we are. Is that what we should look for? Because these aren't new issues, Tony. And the House knows what everybody is talking about, which is a path toward citizenship for those who are here illegally.
QUESTION: It's not just about border security. They're saying that that's amnesty. The definition has not changed in their minds over time. They don't have to read the president's speech to learn about it. SNOW: What's interesting here is I -- don't leap to conclusions about what the House of Representatives is likely to do.
Amnesty, at least to me, means, as it did in 1986, all sins are forgiven; you've got a clean slate; go about your business.
In this particular case, the president is taking issue with the description of amnesty for a pretty good reason. He said: You will pay fines. You will have a criminal penalty. You will also have to pay taxes. You will also have to keep your nose clean. You can't break the law. You also have to stay continuously employed.
SNOW: During that time, you will have to pay your taxes. You will have to have a secure, tamper-proof identification. And when all of that is done, you get to go to the back of the line and you wait -- what? -- 11 years or more for a chance to become a citizen, at the end of which you're going to have to have a command of English, as well, to be able to become a citizen.
Now with all of those benchmarks, it is hard to square that with the idea of amnesty. You've got a lot of things you have to do.
And in addition, the people who would qualify under that would still have to pay all the fees and go through all the steps that those who otherwise have placed themselves in line to become citizens, that they've had to go through.
QUESTION: But, just to follow on this, that still doesn't address the issue that these people are here illegally, according to people in the House who wanted to...
SNOW: Well, they are here illegally. I mean, the president acknowledged that.
QUESTION: So what specifics is the president offering? He attempted to reach out to both wings of this debate. And in doing so, he's put himself in a middle course. Now he has attached all of his political capital to an issue that may very well be DOA? And what specifically is he giving to the House to move the issue?
SNOW: Well, again, what the president's trying to do: It's a middle course, but it's also a leadership course. If the president wanted to appeal to certain basic political constituencies, maybe he would have given it different kinds of speech.
But what he gave was a speech he believes outlines the proper parameters of a reasonable, practical solution that is also consistent with American ideals.
The president often talks, for instance, about what immigration has done historically for the United States.
He understands that we have a problem. We've got 11 million or 12 million people here illegally. But as he noted last night, you can't round them all up and deport them. What do you do? You look for a practical -- as he described it -- a rational middle ground for dealing with that problem. And that is something, the practicalities of which are very complex. And he hopes to work it out both with the House and the Senate.
And, interestingly enough, you will find that some of the people that you have already described have said: No, we never intended to deport everybody. That's not what we're talking about at all.
I believe what the president did was lay down benchmarks that now invite both parties and both houses of Congress to roll up their sleeves and get working to try to get something done.
QUESTION: The president today denied he'd ever broken the law in terms of wiretaps.
He also indicated that anything that was looked into, any calls, had some sort of foreign aspect, either to or from. And he says he's always obeyed the law.
Are all of these stories untrue that we've been reading for the last several days, that millions of Americans have been wiretapped?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) turned over to the government.
SNOW: OK, let's try to segregate the stories here.
What he said about the terrorist surveillance program is that these are foreign-to-domestic calls and they were all done within the parameters of the law.
He has not commented on...
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) said he didn't obey that law.
SNOW: No, he didn't. What he said is that he has done everything within the confines of the law.
The second thing is: You're mentioning the "USA Today" story about which this administration has no comment. But I would direct you back to the "USA Today: story itself. And if you analyze what that story said, what did it say? It said there is no wiretapping of individual calls. There is no personal information that is being relayed. There is no name, there is no address, there is no consequence to the calls, there's no description of who the party on the other end is.
QUESTION: Privacy was breached by turning over their phone numbers.
SNOW: Well, again, you are jumping to conclusions about a program the existence of which we will neither confirm nor deny.
QUESTION: Why? Don't you think...
SNOW: What's interesting is, there seems to be a notion that because the president has talked a little bit about one surveillance program and one matter of our intelligence gathering, that somehow we have to tell the entire world, we have to make intelligence gathering transparent.
Let me remind you, it's a war on terror. And there are people -- I guarantee you Al Qaeda does not believe...
SNOW: No. The president is not talking about breaking the law. But Al Qaeda doesn't believe in transparency. What Al Qaeda believes in is mayhem, and the president has a constitutional obligation and a heartfelt determination to make sure we fight it.
QUESTION: To obey the Constitution.
SNOW: Absolutely right.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Amendment.
SNOW: Absolutely right. And he believes in obeying it.
QUESTION: I think you might repeat the same thing, but why not declassify this? I mean, the president did talk about the surveillance program a day after the New York Times broke that story. This would seem to affect far more people. And it did sound like the president was confirming that story today. He was answering Terry's question...
SNOW: Well, if you go back and you look through what he said, there was a reference to foreign-to-domestic calls. I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program.
That is a decision the president has to make. I can't confirm or deny it. The president was not confirming or denying.
Again, I would take you back to the "USA Today" story, simply to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day. While there was -- part of it said 51 percent of the American people opposed -- if you look at when people said, "If there was a roster of phone numbers, do you feel comfortable with that?", I'm paraphrasing, and I apologize, but something like 64 percent of the public was not troubled by it.
Having said that, I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program, the alleged program, the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny.
QUESTION: But there are other polls that show Americans are very concerned about this.
SNOW: But the president -- you cannot run a security -- you cannot base national security on poll numbers. As the president of the United States, you have to make your own judgments about what is in the nation's best interest.
SNOW: Well, I did bring it up because what you were talking about is how people were concerned about privacy issues, and I tried to relate to you what happened. It was interesting. When people were given the specifics in that story, they did not seem to be terribly troubled.
SNOW: Well, that may have more to do with the way it's being spun than the way it's actually -- go ahead.
QUESTION: The news that is coming out today is part of the incentives for Iran to cede its enrichment program -- where Britain, France and Germany are prepared to offer Iran a light water reactor. Has the United States signed on to this program? Or what do you think about it?
SNOW: The United States has been pretty consistent in saying that Iran needs to renounce nuclear ambitions when it comes to nuclear weapons. We have also said, repeatedly, that peaceful, civil use of nuclear power for electricity generation, that's perfectly appropriate.
The key here is if Iran agrees to the stipulations that the United States and the international community have made, which is to back away from any potential nuclear -- the creation of nuclear weapons, that's a development we would welcome.
QUESTION: But you support the light water reactor? SNOW: I think the United States -- let me just make it very general. The United States is aware of and supports the continuing efforts of the E.U.-3 to work -- am I getting it wrong? OK. Well, OK. Thank you very much -- in any event, the E.U.-3 to make sure that Iran does in fact pursue peaceful -- and strictly peaceful -- applications of nuclear power, should it do so.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Governor Schwarzenegger's comments that border state governors were not consulted about the president's immigration proposal, about the troops on the border, and that they don't like the idea?
SNOW: Well, governors are going to have different opinions. And I think, also, as people begin to be read into the program, let's see what they have to say.
Obviously, we take seriously what Governor Schwarzenegger has to say about the issue.
There was consultation on the staff level. And I guarantee you there will be consultation on the principals level as well.
I'll give you another example. Governor Richardson of New Mexico has been saying that he would like to see more Border Patrol agents placed on the border. Well guess what? That's the heart and soul of the president's proposal.
So I think what's going to happen is that there will be continued dialogue with the governors and with staffs.
You've got to keep in mind that, as the commander in chief of California, in effect, Governor Schwarzenegger, will have the opportunity to request National Guard support to free up Border Patrol agents to work on the border.
In addition, there are provisions within the president's proposal to do things like a high-tech fence along the highly trafficked areas. Duncan Hunter, who's been very conservative on the issue over the years, supports the president's idea.
I think this is one of those things where, again, let's see what happens as they read into the details.
QUESTION: The White House did not reach out to (INAUDIBLE) specifically before the president made his speech?
SNOW: The White House -- there was consultation between the White House and gubernatorial offices. And I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: In talking to House Republicans, it really troubles them about the path-to-citizenship part of the debate over immigration.
Is the sticking point on whether illegal immigrants who wish to be citizens would be forced to leave the country, then get back in line? It seems to me the president supports at least allowing a certain pool of immigrants to go through the citizenship process without having to physically leave the country. That's accurate, right?
SNOW: Walk me through again what you're talking about. Look, there is a series of proposals. What the president did not do is commit himself to specifics about how people would enter the path to citizenship.
As you know, that is a topic of debate right now before the United States Senate, and I guarantee it's going to go to conference. So this is one where the president I think is willing to work with willing members of Congress to come up with a solution.
QUESTION: Have you heard him talk specifically about this notion of -- he's talked about treating illegal immigrants who've been here longer, who have roots, differently. Would that include not requiring them to physically leave the country, then...
SNOW: That back of the line -- that's a level of operational detail I'm not willing to address right now.
QUESTION: Tony, the president laid out this plan last night to bring the National Guard in, up to 6,000 troops. But back in December, his own homeland security secretary, I think on a program you, in fact, were guest hosting, said this is not a plan, quote, "The National Guard is really, first of all, not trained for that mission."
QUESTION: Why has the White House changed its position in the last few months, first of all? And second of all, does the administration regret not moving quicker to deal with this border security (INAUDIBLE) five years?
SNOW: Keep in mind the original proposal was for National Guard members to do law enforcement activities, and there is no sense that the National Guard is going to be doing that.
Instead, what the president is saying is we're going to make National Guard units available to do non-law enforcement tasks, such as doing various kinds of construction, doing surveillance, doing intelligence work, which would permit Border Patrol agents, who sometimes have to do other things, to go ahead and work on the border.
There is also talk of freeing up people who are at desk jobs within the Border Patrol who have been trained to do law enforcement to do so.
So the difference between then and now is, as Secretary Chertoff was saying, National Guard personnel are not trained to do law enforcement. Instead, what the president is trying to do is to take the people who are specifically trained to do this particular kind of law enforcement and get them out there. Get the assets on the border as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Tony, it sounds as though the president did not talk to any of the border state governors themselves. Is that correct?
SNOW: I'm not going to get you in on deliberations. Honestly, I'm not sure.
QUESTION: How about with...
SNOW: I know for a fact that there was staff contact. I don't know if the president called the governors.
QUESTION: How about with the Hill? Did the president -- or was it all left to staff...
SNOW: I'm not going to get into what the president did or didn't do.
QUESTION: You just a second ago said you guarantee it's going to go to conference, so you already know that the Senate's going to pass this?
SNOW: OK. You know what? I was being presumptuous here. But I think that there is -- you know, there's a good chance if you talk to people on the Hill, it looks as if the Senate has put together a series of rules. But you're absolutely right. I overstepped and should not be making predictions about what the Senate will do, and we'll leave it to the senators themselves.
QUESTION: The president has talked a great deal in the context of global policy, concern about an emerging since of isolationism and protectionism.
Can you talk about his concern that some of the criticism from the right on a guest worker program and a path to citizenship foments that isolationism and protectionism from within his own party?
SNOW: No, I think what the president was trying to do last night was once again appeal to people's sense of who we are as a country, which is a nation of immigrants.
As he said, there is a way to talk about border security and being a nation of immigrants in a way that fits together.
He was not trying to point fingers at either party or at either house of Congress. What he was trying to do was show leadership on the issue and to do it in a practical, principled and idealistic way.
QUESTION: One last question, if I can. The definition of comprehensive immigration reform that the president demands, does it have to include a path to citizenship?
SNOW: Does it have to? The president laid down exactly what he thinks is necessary. And keep in mind what he was saying is you cannot do one thing at a time. You have to do it all at once or it all falls apart.
QUESTION: Initial reaction from the House yesterday was largely solely about the National Guard elements and either ignored or derided the elements of a path to citizenship or a guest worker program.
As you know, the Senate is also taking up amendments today that would largely change very fundamentally the Senate bill, what the president prefers.
Would he veto a bill that emerged either without the guest worker program or without the path to citizenship?
SNOW: I think two things. First, I'm not sure I would share the characterization. You just gave a global view of how 435 people might regard a highly complex bill.
And I think you can agree that there's a pretty wide spread of opinion. Well -- no, I think so.
The second thing is it's highly presumptuous to talk about veto threats and that sort of thing when we haven't, as he just pointed out, even gotten a Senate bill.
QUESTION: Well, hold on. But, Tony, the speaker did totally ignore the path to citizenship. His statement in response had only to do with border security. SNOW: And as I said before, give members of the House time to digest what goes on. They've talked about one element; as the president pointed out, there are five separate elements.
QUESTION: First of all, welcome and congratulations.
SNOW: Thank you.
QUESTION: And my question is going back to immigration. I agree with the president that you cannot deport 12 million-plus, and also not amnesty. But we are getting a lot of calls from people who are legal in this country, paying taxes. They are here from five or 10 years, still waiting for green card or citizenship, and these people will get ultimately from illegal to legal status.
QUESTION: What is the future of those people who are still waiting?
SNOW: Look, those people are ahead in line. As the president said, nobody's going to be able to jump over those who have been waiting legally in the line.
QUESTION: He said today, and he said yesterday also, this will free up some Border Patrol agents. Do you have a number of how many bodies would actually be shifted to the border?
SNOW: Well, I think -- you know what? Rather than have me fake it, I will get a precise number to you. Because I'll tell you what the president -- what we have said. And here in the front row, if anybody wants to provide a precise number, I know that we've said a number of thousand people in desk jobs are being moved.
The precise complement on the border itself, I'll find out. QUESTION: I'm curious, why won't you comment at all on the "USA Today" story or at least talk in a limited way about how average Americans' phone records are handled by the National Security Agency?
SNOW: Because it's inappropriate.
QUESTION: Tony, has there been contact with other governors to see -- in other words, will we start to see some governors coming forward soon to say, "I support the president's plan"?
SNOW: We've already had Governors Napolitano and Perry expressing support for it, so if you're talking about the border states.
And again, you know, I think, based on the comments Governor Richardson makes, there is certainly an attempt to address his specific concern about Border Patrol agents.
The answer is, this is an issue of, obviously, broad and deep concern. And the administration's going to reach out to people all around the political system to make sure we do it and do it right.
QUESTION: Tony, last night, Roy Blunt, in the House leadership, issued a statement saying he still had serious concerns after the president's speech. What's the White House strategy going forward on how to bring some of these folks around? (INAUDIBLE) bully pulpit? SNOW: I think I've said it before is that members of the House -- Roy Blunt said that he was concerned about border security. Now, as I pointed out, the president's own proposal over the length of the proposal actually places more assets on the border than the bill for which Representative Blunt has already voted.
So I think there's a serious attempt to address that concern.
As far as outreach, there are going to be different ways to reach out to members of Capitol Hill. I can't tell you exactly how we're going to deal with Roy Blunt or Denny Hastert or anybody else.
SNOW: But I guarantee you, the president knows that this is an issue of sufficient concern that he is going to pay heed to friends and allies on Capitol Hill.
QUESTION: Tony, can I look ahead to tomorrow's tax bill signing? The president for many months now has been describing an economy firing on all cylinders.
QUESTION: Does the economy still need that much stimulus or is the danger posed by the continuing large deficits not greater at this point?
SNOW: Are you suggesting that we have too much prosperity?
QUESTION: I'm not suggesting; I'm asking... SNOW: Well, it seemed, if you're talking about too much stimulus, if you take a look at the revenue numbers that are coming in -- you just talked about deficits. The revenue numbers are coming in, in such a way, that the deficits are, in fact, below estimates.
I think if you want to have tax revenues coming in and gushing -- the president is committed to a path of growth. He has made it clear that he wants to make permanent all the tax cuts that have been enacted for the simple good reason that it's good to have people employed, it's good to have people making more money, it's good to have productivity up, it's good to have the most vigorous economy on the face of the Earth and he wants to continue it.
QUESTION: Has Karl Rove told the president that he will resign if he is indicted in the Valerie Plame affair?
SNOW: I am not going to comment at all on Karl Rove and his private communications with the president, nor am I going to comment on what may or may not happen.
QUESTION: Shouldn't America's immigration problems be solved in concert with other countries, such as Mexico? What is the president doing to convince such countries as Mexico to scare illegal immigrants from crossing the border into the U.S.?
SNOW: Well, the president is going to do American domestic policy, and he's not going to presume to speak for foreign leaders. He did have a phone call with President Fox, and the two of them talked about cooperating on trying to clamp down on illegal traffic between Mexico and the United States on drug and human trafficking and try to maintain the sanctity of the borders.
QUESTION: Tony, the president used new language today in actually making the case for immigrants to become U.S. citizens. And one thing he said, he said, "We're a nation of immigrants," but he went on to say, "We are not going to discriminate against people."
There are some who see this debate, particularly emotional rhetoric, in talking about Mexico illegal immigrants, as having racial or even racist overtones. Does the president agree with that? And what did he mean when he said today, "We are not going to discriminate against people"?
SNOW: Well, I think I will not try to improve on the president's words from today.
QUESTION: Hi, Tony. Welcome. Nice. Nice and zippy.
Couple personal questions. You've made a lot of...
QUESTION: What are your personal goals? What do you hope to achieve here? Will you continue to televise these briefings? And would you put into English the phrase (INAUDIBLE) the tar baby?
SNOW: Well, I believe hug the tar baby, we could trace that back to American lore.
Look, I don't see it as a personal sacrifice to answer a call from the president of the United States to come and serve. I consider it an honor. That's one that still gives me chills. I mean, I go out at the end of that lawn, I look back at the pillars and think, "Man, I'm working here."
I don't know if you ever do this, but if you don't, I suggest you do. It's an astounding thing. And whatever the cynicism you may feel about your particular state in life, this is a very special place to work.
What was the second part of the question?
QUESTION: Will you continue to televise...
SNOW: I have made no decisions about whether or not to televise. I am sure that the TV people here would have absolutely no problem with us going dark.
KAGAN: A little bit of humor there from the new White House spokesperson Tony Snow. You might like his answers, you might not, but it looks like he's been doing the job a long time. Instead, this was his first full White House press briefing in front of the White House press corps, handling questions very deftly, choosing to answer some and others not.
Most of the question coming, not surprisingly, about immigration after President Bush's speech last night. Also on reports that have been circulating since last week that the NSA would be watching patterns of domestic phone calls. More on that at the top of the hour.
Also coming up, the Pentagon today will release security camera tape. It shows pictures of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon on 9/11, where 184 people were killed in those September 11th terrorist attacks. The Pentagon security camera had been not released, and now the Freedom of Information Act was a request put in by Judicial Watch, a public interest group.
So you'll see that and more with Kyra Phillips in just a few minutes. Also, Kyra will be talking with Texas Governor Rick Perry about the president's plan to beef up border security with National Guard troops. That's all in just a couple minutes, the top of the hour, on "LIVE FROM."
As for me, Daryn Kagan, that's going to wrap up our few hours together. I will see you, though, tomorrow morning.
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