Intoday’s gaggle, if it quacks like a lame duck…
MR. SNOW: The briefing is in order. Questions.
Q My goodness, where is everybody? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: You guys have been — you’ve been briefing — I know, we’ve got the answer to briefing fatigue.
Please, questions. Anybody. Victoria?
Q Tony, we’ve just come off the weekend where Senators Clinton and Obama generated a lot of news coverage with their trip to Selma. We’re sitting here now in practically an empty briefing room. The President has said repeatedly that he believes he has the microphone still. But are you concerned that you are losing the microphone, and the President is losing his microphone?
MR. SNOW: No, if you’d come earlier, it was fuller. (Laughter.) The fact is, Sheryl, the President is not losing his microphone. And when you take a look — whether it is the conduct of the war on terror or domestic policy, the President is the one who is out there with not only a message, but proposals that are going to shape a lot of what goes on in terms of the domestic political debate, and they ought to. They’re good ideas, and contrary to the suspicions of some earlier on, he is somebody who has been bold and not cautious in terms of tackling big problems.
President No-Account Ducks Responsibility For The Mess At Walter Reed [I know, that’s two Duck headers in a row.]
Q Is it something the President should do, as Commander-in-Chief, to say, the buck stops here and take responsibility for the scandal at Walter Reed?
MR. SNOW: Well, in a sense, the President, and also everybody within the chain of command are taking responsibility. It’s time to shine a bright light on the entire system and find out where the failings may be, and address them. The people who have served have given us their best; it’s time for us to make sure that they get our best when it comes to treatment.
Q But the President hasn’t said in any way, shape, or form, this is my responsibility, this is on me?
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I’ll take the rhetorical flourish under advisement.
So, What Is Dear Leader Doing About Walter Reed?
Q Tony, back on Walter Reed, the V.A. system. Some have said that the V.A. system is a whole other monster all unto itself. Has the President been hearing from anyone particularly, reaching out, making phone calls, and just asking their thoughts or their personal experiences —
MR. SNOW: What the President is really trying to do right now is to assemble people who can devote their full time and attention to an exhaustive look, as I said, to shine light on the system and to take a comprehensive look at what’s going on. I’m not aware — as you know, April, he had a very busy weekend, and he was on the road Thursday and Friday, as well. I’m not aware of any reach out calls to ask people about personal experiences. But on the other hand, what he has been doing is making sure that people take a good look to find out what the situation is — no excuses, get the facts, get it fixed.
Q Two questions, one on Walter Reed and the veterans. Is there anything that the President is doing to facilitate immediate improvements in care? I understand there are long-term commissions, but anything to help people who are in need right now?
MR. SNOW: I know what’s going on is that there’s a full-court press both out of DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. DoD obviously would have the lead on Walter Reed, and I’d send you in that direction.
Q So nothing the White House knows of?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I’m not saying that. I’m saying what the President said early on is find out what’s wrong and fix it. And we have seen quick action. I know that there were some people from DoD who were out there last week, inspecting Unit 18. I just honestly don’t know, Jessica, precisely what’s been done. But he’s made it clear that he wants improvements done, and done quickly.
Why Is The President So Ignorant?
Q Why did it require media exposure for the President and the administration to act on this?
MR. SNOW: I think what happened was that people weren’t aware of it. And that was one of the sources of concern.
Q So none of the letters or the protests that have been expressed by the veterans’ families ever reached anyone in a position of power?
MR. SNOW: Well, apparently, what happened was that within the chain of command, things were not getting up high enough and, therefore, weren’t acted upon.
Q And the President and the administration wasn’t aware of other media reports that came out last year about these issues?
MR. SNOW: I don’t want to say that nobody was aware of them, but when the President saw the story in The Post, that was the first he was aware of what was going on in Unit 18. And as I told you the following day, he wanted to know what was wrong and get it fixed.
Ixnay on Atrinakay
Q Tony, maybe you commented on this already, but I saw the mention several times over the weekend that this line of analysis about Walter Reed, that the administration can’t afford another Katrina, and that Walter Reed is viewed as if it is another potential Katrina.
MR. SNOW: I think that was done by a polemical columnist, but I don’t see any parallel. Here you have a very rapid and definitive response on the part of the Department of Defense; you have a very rapid and definitive response on the part of the White House and the V.A. No comparison.
Q Is the “rapid and definitive” response, in some part, out of the memory of what happened when there wasn’t a rapid and definitive response?
MR. SNOW: No. It’s out of being concerned and alarmed by the reporting.
Q But, Tony, the reason there’s no comparison is that Katrina was a natural disaster, whereas this situation at Walter Reed is something over which the administration had control. And it would suggest there was incompetence or, you know, not —
MR. SNOW: And what did you see — and you saw the immediate holding of people accountable. Again, Sheryl, the first the President saw of that was in the pages of The Post. And that set in train without having to — the President didn’t have to call Bob Gates, people in the higher levels of the chain of command were not aware of it and that is a failing of the system.
Q But doesn’t it speak to the larger level of incompetence —
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t think so.
Q — or a failing of the system, that it happened on the President’s watch?
MR. SNOW: It is failures within the system that led to this.
Maliki Goes Off-Leash
Q Tony, when’s the last time the President had any contact with President Maliki?
MR. SNOW: Gordo? It’s a good question. We’ll find out. Couple of weeks maybe.
Q Is there any sense — I mean, there’s some sort of conflicting pictures coming out of Iraq this morning. On one hand, you have this implementation in Sadr City, more troops and the security plan. On the other hand, there’s a story about the intelligence agency in Basra. First of all, what’s the, sort of, assessment of how things are going with the implementation?
MR. SNOW: Well, okay, a couple —
Q And is there concern about what you’re doing out of Basra?
MR. SNOW: We’re still trying to figure out what the facts are. We don’t have a full readout on that.
Q Is it discouraging, his initial comments about the Basra incident seem to focus on the invasion into the office, as opposed to the apparent torture victims found there?
MR. SNOW: As I said, what you’re trying to do is to get me to comment. I’m aware of the news reports, just as you are. What we’re still trying to do is to unravel everything, and I feel a little uncomfortable about trying to do it simply on the basis of wire stories.
Finally, In Your Daily Les, Kinsolving Demonstrates Once Again Why He Should Be Tossed From The Gaggle
Q Thank you, Tony. The New York Times reports this morning that yesterday, in Selma, Mrs. Clinton recalled going as a teenager to hear Dr. King speak in Chicago in 1963, but she made no mention at all of what is in her autobiography, that in 1964, she campaigned as a Goldwater Girl, and Senator Goldwater opposed the ’64 Civil Rights Act. And my question: The President believes she surely should have admitted this at Selma yesterday, doesn’t he?
MR. SNOW: Oh, please don’t waste my time with this silly stuff. I’ve already told you we’re not commenting —
Q It’s not silly stuff, that —
MR. SNOW: Yes, it is.
Q — was from The New York Times. Do you think that’s a silly paper?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it’s a silly question because we have told you the President is not going to play pundit-in-chief. As much as you want to go —
Q — just want to know where he stands on this.
MR. SNOW: As much as you want to goad me into doing judgments about Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, it’s not going to happen. So don’t blow one of your questions by asking something you know I’m not going to answer.