After Hiatus, Snow's Happy Return

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't get him wrong. Tony Snow appreciates all the cards and flowers and prayers. He's likely to choke up talking about the outpouring of support he has received since learning that his cancer has returned. But after weeks out of the office, Snow says, "you get buggy."

So the White House press secretary plans to return to duty today, raring to get back to representing a besieged president and jousting with journalists. With investigators bearing down, various appointees under fire and the president in a veto showdown with Congress, there will be no shortage of hard questions. And Snow can't wait.

"I'm feeling great and I'm in good shape," he said in an interview Friday. "I'm eager to get back at it. I actually don't feel any different from when I left."

The return of Snow's colon cancer a month ago sidelined President Bush's best-known champion and triggered a wave of public sympathy for the smooth-talking former television and radio show host. Snow has spent the past four weeks recovering from surgery and planning his treatment, staying out of public sight until his surprise appearance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner this month.

He looked thinner and more drawn that night but delivered an impromptu speech filled with the upbeat energy that has characterized his public response to misfortune. Now, he said, he plans to return to work full time while receiving four months of biweekly chemotherapy treatments, beginning on Friday. Although the cancer has spread, including a tumor attached to his liver, Snow said his doctors told him the chemotherapy will be "less toxic" than the type he endured in 2005, when he continued working at Fox News six days a week.

"If it turns out it's tougher on me than we anticipate, then we'll adjust," he said.

Even before his diagnosis, Snow had turned over one daily briefing on Fridays to deputies in order for them to get more experience handling reporters' questions, so that will help ease his load on treatment days. Bush has committed to doing whatever might be needed to accommodate Snow, other aides have said.

During his absence, deputy press secretary Dana M. Perino has filled in, and although she did not bring his long broadcasting experience and television celebrity to the lectern, White House officials said they believe she rose to the occasion and showed herself able to handle the pressure of the briefing room. If necessary, they said, she could pick up any duties for Snow.

For now, at least, Snow expects a busy pace. He returned a phone call Friday from the airport as he headed to North Carolina for a Davidson College reunion. He will conduct his first off-camera briefing, known as a "gaggle," this morning and will return to televised sessions later in the week.

He has a hectic extracurricular schedule lined up: His rock band, Beats Workin', has a benefit gig on Thursday and then another one at the National Press Club on May 14 alongside CBS newsman Bob Schieffer's honky-tonk band. And he plans to deliver the commencement address at Catholic University on May 12.

Jennifer Loven, an Associated Press reporter who takes over next year as president of the correspondents' association, said Snow appeared ready for action at the dinner. "He looked really vigorous, actually," she said. "He was anxious to get going. He said he's been close to his BlackBerry and eager to be in touch."

Still, she and other reporters said sympathy for Snow will not keep them from asking tough questions. "When he walks in the door, he'll be welcomed warmly and with great affection. And it'll last 30 seconds," said Mark Knoller of CBS News, who has covered the White House for most of the past three decades. "We'll start asking about missing e-mail from Karl Rove and what did the president think when George Tenet said it was a 'slam dunk.' The honeymoon period will have an extremely short shelf life."

Snow's Democratic adversaries said they look forward to sparring with him again. "Once Tony steps to the podium, all bets are off and it's back to hand-to-hand combat," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), whose office issues daily e-mails proposing barbed questions for Snow. "He's a very skilled operator and very good at what he does. Having said that, he's going to have his hands full the next few weeks."

Snow said he would not have it any other way. He noted that one of the kindest people in the briefing room since his cancer returned has been Helen Thomas, the liberal Hearst Newspapers columnist who has been his chief tormentor. He said he does not expect -- or want -- journalists to go easy on him.

"The fact is, my life is not in danger," Snow said. "I'm not doing this to come back and have it be 'brave Tony' and have people take pity on me. I expect people to be every bit as tough as they were before."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company