Pressed for time yesterday afternoon, I could not give the gaggle the attention it deserved. I had to cover Pony Blow accusing Helen Thomas of being a terrorist symp, but I was also struck by his tortured historical revision of Chimpy’s avoidance of the NAACP. With his notoriously low approval rating among African Americans you have to wonder why he would want to attend the NACCP’s national convention at all.
American Urban Radio Netwrok’s April Ryan kicks it off for us.
Q Tony, one other question on another subject, what you announced at the beginning of the briefing. Why did the President — why is he deciding to speak to the NAACP in person this year for the first time in his presidency?
MR. SNOW: Because he wants to. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious, he wants to because I think there’s a moment of opportunity here. I think the President wants to make the argument that he has had a career that reflects a strong commitment to civil rights. And I think the other thing he wants to do is to talk about some of the commonalities he has with members of the NAACP. Yes, they have political disagreements. Also, Bruce Gordon, the new head of the NAACP, he and the President have good relations. And I think it marks an opportunity to have a conversation, and beyond that, I’d say just listen to the remarks.
Q What was it such a hard decision —
MR. SNOW: It wasn’t necessarily a hard decision. It was just hard for us to tell you. (Laughter.)
Q Why is it such a precedent now, after all of these years? Why now?
MR. SNOW: I just told you, April, because he wants to.
Q No, but the President — the President in 2004 said there was a lot of bad blood between —
MR. SNOW: Well, at some point, you say — I think the President really does see a moment of opportunity. And he sees a moment of opportunity — you and I had this conversation the other day in this room. It is clear that in this nation, racism and discrimination are legally unacceptable, but there are also residues of the past that we have to address. We have to find ways to make sure that the road to opportunity is clear for one and all.
And I think the President wants to make his voice heard. He has an important role to play not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity. Because as long as we have a nation that, in any way, is divided along racial lines, or where politics become a source of division rather than one of simple debate and trying to perfect the democracy, that’s a problem. And the President really believes strongly in trying to foster a sense of true unity that takes you back to the roots of the civil rights movement, to the speech Martin Luther King, Jr. made on August 28th, 1963, to the sacrifices of men and women who paraded not for separatism, but for unity…
[Holden Note: Chimpy respected Dr. King so much that he chose to “join a Supreme Court challenge to a University of Michigan admissions policy that gives preference to minority students” on King’s 74th birthday.]
Q Tony, a follow-up on that, is this somewhat the President’s ways of “atoning” after the slow response for Hurricane Katrina last year?
MR. SNOW: No, this is — in fact, one of the things that is interesting is that he and Bruce Gordon have worked together on this and he feels — what is it?
Q No, you said — I didn’t understand.
MR. SNOW: No, he and the head of the NAACP have worked on this and they — so it’s an important thing.
Q Will the President address in his speech the opposition within the Republican Party to certain parts of the Voting Rights Act, to the Section 5?
MR. SNOW: You’ll have to wait and see. I’ll let the President give his speech.
Q — that some in his party have resisted Section 5?
MR. SNOW: You know what the President has done is he’s made it very clear where he stands on this. He wanted it renewed as written and that’s what he got. So the President’s position on it is clear, and you can read into the rest of it what you will.
Q Can you tell us, what are the conditions in 2006 that create that moment of opportunity that did not exist in 2004?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know, but I think what the President has is — the President wants to go speak to the NAACP now.
Q Follow-up? Does he regret his earlier decision not to speak to them?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I don’t think so.