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Questions for Tony Snow
"White House sources said Snow, who started on the job Monday and has yet to give his first public press briefing, is determined to aggressively counter what the administration considers unfair assertions in both news and editorials about Bush. At the same time, he is eager to make the notoriously secretive administration more accessible to the press."
Snow's primary weapon thus far has been memos blasted out to the press corps, ostensibly " Setting the Record Straight ." Under McClellan, they used to be few and far between. Snow is shooting them out twice daily.
One of Wednesday's memos was Setting the Record Straight: CBS News' Misleading Medicare Report .
Here's the video of the report in question, by Jim Axelrod .
And here, via CBS News's Public Eye blog , is Axelrod's eviscerating response to his own supposed evisceration:
"Very simply, the White House is cutting and pasting to make a point, something they accuse their critics of doing constantly."
For instance: "The White House takes issue with our reporting, 'less than 40 percent of seniors have enrolled in the program' . . . stating that '90% of eligible beneficiaries' have coverage. However they don't reference the next sentence in my story:
"Narration/Graphics [script]: 'The latest CBS News-New York Times poll shows less than 40% of seniors have enrolled in the program -- and nearly half say they don't plan to, mostly because they have other prescription coverage.' "
Axelrod writes: "I am always open to criticism and believe we should be as transparent as possible in how we put together our reports, especially on such important issues as Medicare, but if the White House has a point to make, perhaps they should furnish the full and proper context for everything that is broadcast."
Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush plans to address the nation Monday night on the immigration debate, trying to build momentum for legislation that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens.
"The White House said it was seeking time from television networks for the president's remarks at 8 p.m. EST. Bush is to speak from the Oval Office and his address is expected to run less than 20 minutes."
Impeachment (Non) Watch
Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Seeking to choke off a Republican rallying cry, the House's top Democrat has told colleagues that the party will not seek to impeach President Bush even if it gains control of the House in November's elections, her office said last night.
"Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told her caucus members during their weekly closed meeting Wednesday 'that impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it,' spokesman Brendan Daly said."
Lest We Forget
And oh yes, thanks to a Senate vote yesterday, Bush is now set to sign a $70 billion tax cut mostly for the nation's wealthiest taxpayers.
Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "The overwhelming share of the tax cuts the Senate voted to extend will flow to the wealthiest taxpayers. People earning $1 million a year would save about $42,700, and reap about 22 percent of the total tax cut, according to the Tax Policy Center, a research group in Washington. People earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year would save about $47 and receive less than 1 percent of the benefits."
I asked you readers on Tuesday to help come up with some tough, important questions for Snow which would give him a fair chance to show that he's serious about explaining White House actions more forthrightly than his predecessor.
I got more than 700 e-mails, and while most of the questions were more vitriolic than I was looking for, you came up with plenty of insightful and substantial questions on such issues as Iraq, Iran, torture, the Valerie Plame case, tax cuts, warrantless searches, and much more.
In some cases they have been lightly edited. I'll start with the questions on foreign affairs, then domestic.
* Can you explain the conditions that need to exist before the U.S. can leave Iraq? (Adam Blum, San Anselmo, Calif.)
* Most Americans support the troops, but want to see them come home from Iraq. Can the president be more forceful in getting the Iraqis to accept more responsibility for their own country and their own security so that we can leave? (Sandra Arnoult, Silver Spring)
* How many Iraqis have actually "stood up"? Has an equivalent number of our guys actually "stood down"? (Dick Lewis, Balboa, Calif.)
* If the plan to withdraw our troops from Iraq -- as the Iraqis stand up, we stand down -- gets derailed by sectarian divisions within the Iraqi forces, what's our plan B? (Tim Long, Hallandale Beach, Fla.)
* Speaking recently at a retirement community in Sun City Center, Fla., President Bush urged eligible seniors to act quickly to sign up for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. 'Deadlines are important,' he said. 'Deadlines help people understand there's finality, and people need to get after it, you know?' Couldn't this same logic be applied to the Iraqi government? Why can't we give the Iraqis a deadline to become self sufficient? (Louis Appleby, North Ridgeville, Ohio)
* Does the United States intend to have military bases in Iraq permanently, i.e., for the foreseeable future? (Francis Accardo, New Orleans)
* It has been estimated in some quarters that the cost of the Iraq war will could be well over $1 trillion dollars. What provisions has this administration made to pay for the cost of the war? What programs will have to be cut if increasing taxes are not an option? (Mark Blake, San Diego)
* Is the president really planning to leave the process of exiting Iraq to his successor? If so, is there a plan in place to make this happen in an efficient manner? (Alexander Smith, Woodbridge)
* With all that is happening in Iraq, President Bush has always remained very clear in his response: "We must stay the course." At what point do we not stay the course? Is there any sense of at what point the president would say to the American people that the time has come to try something different? (Adam Melerski, Hammond, Ore.)
* Who was responsible for the post-war plan in Iraq and why weren't they publicly fired from their job(s)? (Ed Gilgor, Atlanta)
* With apologies to Helen Thomas, why did we go to war in Iraq? (Joe Navratil, Campbell, Calif.)
* The intelligence that provided the justification for war with Iraq was wrong. Why should anyone believe anything the administration says regarding Iran? (Anne Graham, Atlanta)
* Why should Americans trust the Bush administration's ability to deal with the consequences of its decisions about Iran, when Iraq is such a disaster? (Jim Proctor, Minneapolis)
* Iran's President Ahmadinejad has sent President Bush a letter to try and avert war. Will President Bush write a letter back to President Ahmadinejad to try to resolve the differences? Doesn't President Bush believe war should be the last course option and having a dialogue is always productive? (Roger Wolvington, Boulder, Colo.)
* Does the president believe he has the authority to launch a preemptive attack on Iran? Does he believe he has that power as the commander in chief in a time of war, so that he doesn't need congressional authorization to launch such an attack? (Doug DeDekcer, Knoxville, Tenn.)
* In the president's view, what criteria would need to exist to warrant using a nuclear weapon? (David Rosenberg, Davis, Calif.)
* If Congress passed a measure forbidding a president to use nuclear weapons in a first strike against a non-nuclear country (Iran, e.g.), would the president be bound to comply, or is this another of those areas where the administration contends that the unitary executive as commander-in-chief cannot be limited by Congress or the courts? (Louis Dohme, Raleigh)
* What are U.S. intelligence agencies' assessments of Iran's current nuclear capabilities? What are the agencies' current estimates for the shortest and longest time periods it will take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon that could be launched against Israel or the United States? (David Rosenberg, Davis, Calif.)
* What does the president think the effects of an attack on Iran would be for the American people? (Eugene Stumpf, New York City)
War on Terror
* How will we know when we have won the Global War on Terror? What are our criteria for victory? (John Schmitt, Philadelphia)
* I understand the goals that President Bush and his staff constantly talk about in regards to the War on Terror but what specific, measurable, quantifiable objectives are in place to help us determine whether we are being successful? (Adam Melerski, Hammond, Ore.)
* Does the administration believe that terrorism can be defeated? Or should the administration reframe the message toward eradicating islamofacism? (Anthony Wheeler, Peoria, Ill.)
* Why did the CIA choose to establish prisons for the detention and interrogation of al-Qaeda operatives in foreign countries instead of establishing such sites in the United States, and why should these sites be exempt from congressional oversight, especially since they are funded with tax dollars and serious allegations of detainee abuse have been leveled against them? (Glenn Simmons, Lonoke, Ark.)
* Five years ago, President Bush said he had looked into President Putin's soul and seen a man "deeply committed to his country's best interests." Yet now Vice President Cheney says Russia's "government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people." Does the president agree with this assessment? If so, has President Putin changed, or did Mr. Bush misjudge him five years ago? (Caroline Jarry, Montreal)
* Why has the administration used hundreds of "signing statements" to reject parts of laws that were passed by Congress and signed by the president himself? President Bush could have used his veto power to challenge legislation he found unconstitutional, but has instead has relied on this quieter, technical way of obviating Congress. (Mary C. Ryan, Bethesda)
* How can the president state he will not honor portions of bills that he signs; isn't that the same as a line item veto? Is this practice legal? (Richard Myers, Brooksville, Fla.)
* From the president's perspective, how does the practice of issuing signing statements fit with the constitutional separation of powers? Why does the president think he can choose which laws to uphold? (Deb Junod, Eagan, Minn.)
* Why is it wrong for the judiciary to redefine the law but right for the president? Or: why is "activist judge" bad but "signing statement" good? Or: how is it a problem if the judicial branch takes power from the legislative, but not a problem if the executive branch takes power from the legislative? (Jonathan Krueger, Pleasanton, Calif.)
* Are there any statutes currently on the books whose express provisions the administration is violating, or declining to enforce, in reliance on "signing statements" or the "inherent powers" of the presidency, whether as commander in chief or otherwise? If so, do the American people have a right to know what are they? Does Congress? Will you provide us a list? (Vince Canzoneri, Boston)
* Why make a big show of trying to get lawmakers to reach compromises with the White House on legislation (see John McCain's anti-torture legislation) if he's then going to append a signing statement proclaiming that there's no need for him to observe the very law he just signed? Why bother going through the motions at all? (Lou Morin, Freeport, Maine)
* Why does the American public knowledge of these programs jeopardize U.S. security? Don't terrorists already assume that their communications are monitored? (David Rosenberg, Davis, Calif.)
* Do any other domestic wiretapping programs exist that have not yet been publicly revealed? (Chuck Slothower, Durango, Colo.)
* Is the Bush government spying, without warrant, on its domestic political opponents? (Alan Cossitt, Beaverton, Ore.)
Valerie Plame Case
* Your predecessor Scott McClellan often stated that the administration does not comment on ongoing criminal investigations, yet there is clearly a need for the public to know what has happened in the offices of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Recognizing that you won't be able to release any information that might hinder their legal defenses, will you disclose what sort of directives Libby and Rove received from the vice president and the president? (Matt Browner-Hamlin, New York City)
* Did President Bush know the extent of Dick Cheney, I. Lewis Libby and Karl Rove's involvement in the smear campaign against Joseph Wilson and the outing of Valerie Plame? If so, what did he mean by his statement that if anyone in his administration was involved, they would be fired? Did President Bush think they wouldn't be found out? (Mary M. Thompson, Salt Lake City, Utah)
* Was the president part of the discussions that led to the outing of Valerie Plame? (Richard Williamson, Dallas)
* Has Karl Rove revealed to the president exactly what his role was in the Plame matter and if he has, when did that revelation take place? (Jane Savoca Gibson, Richmond)
* Your predecessor declined to answer questions related to the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to members of the media, citing an ongoing investigation. What events will have to occur, in the president's judgment, for the investigation to no longer be ongoing and for him to tell the public what he knows about the events and any role he may have played in them? (Jeff Goodman, New York City)
* The president has declared Tom DeLay innocent, despite the fact that there is an ongoing investigation. First, what would it take for the president to reconsider that view? Secondly, is there a new -- and consistent -- policy about when you will comment about matters related to legal investigations and when you won't? (Sarah Gracombe, Jamaica Plain, Mass.)
* Why are U.S. taxpayers paying Karl Rove's government salary for him to focus on the reelection of Republican congressmen and senators? (Mary Fitzpatrick, Oakland)
* No company could survive by increasing expenses, slashing revenue, and assuming a heavier debt load. Why is the Bush administration running the country that way? (Juris Odins, Farmington, N.M.)
* Do deficits matter? At what point do we say that we have a deficit problem? How many years of $300B+ deficits will it take? (Sholom Simon, Fairfax)
* It is common knowledge that the federal deficits are being financed by the purchase of U.S. government securities by other countries. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 9 that by the end of 2006, China will hold more than $1 trillion in U.S. reserves. China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have the fastest growing foreign holdings of U.S. reserves. How will the president deal with efforts by such countries to manipulate U.S. monetary policy through these reserve holdings? (William Snyder, Waukee, Iowa)
* How does the president propose to pursue the goal of an "Ownership Society" when everyday Americans are taking on increasing personal debt, and the costs of housing, transportation and daily household expenses are rising faster than the growth of average incomes? (Thomas P. Mitchell, Manhattan Beach, Ca.)
* How does the president justify tax cuts in wartime, particularly now that it is clear that the United States is running massive deficits, with no indication that these deficits will be addressed any time soon? (D.W. Gregory, Silver Spring)
* In light of the recently released national plan for a bird flu epidemic and Katrina, what type of help should Americans expect from the federal government in case of a national emergency, and what type of help should Americans not expect? (Eugene Stumpf, New York City)
* This year's hurricane season is less than one month away. There are growing reports that the repairs on New Orleans's levees, pumps, and canals will not be completed before the hurricane season. Given that, what are the president's biggest concerns for this year's hurricane season and what specifically is the administration's plan for this hurricane season? (Jon Stewart, Arlington)
* It has been more than 9 months since Katrina. Is the president satisfied with the federal government's results in helping the people effected by the disaster? (Bruce Priddy, Dallas)
* What was the president's most important lesson learned from last summer's hurricane season? (Greg Guibert, Boulder, Colo.)
* What prompted the president to say our nation is "addicted to oil"? Why did it take so long for the administration to acknowledge this, given these factors were likely the same beforehand? Will this prompt the administration to attempt a "man on the moon"-like initiative to develop and distribute alternative fuels? (Jon Schwedler, Albuquerque)
* The president stated that America is addicted to oil. If he really believes that and wants to dramatically improve our national security and trade deficit, why doesn't he significantly raise the fuel standards for all cars and trucks? (Charles Kaseff, La Jolla, Calif.)
* With the gas and oil companies making record profits, why is the administration so against instituting a windfall profit tax to help that money make it back into the economy and not just into the pockets of a select few? (J. Crawford O'Brien, Bradley Beach, N.J.)
* To what extent is the current gas shortage due to the administration's Middle East policy? Did the president consider the consequences of creating instability in the Middle East in his war plans? (Henry E. Crawford, Silver Spring)
* The president and the vice president seem to be relying on a specific interpretation of the Constitution to justify their actions regarding wiretapping American citizens, ignoring the anti-torture bill and may other laws. What exactly is that interpretation? (Steven E. Lieb, Chicago)
* Please tell us as specifically as possible what limits the president believes there are to his exercise of executive power in the national interest during wartime and/or for national security purposes. (Jurretta J. Heckscher, Arlington)
* How does the administration define torture? (Brandon Garcia, Santa Fe)
* This administration continues to state that it does not condone torture, yet it refuses to publicly define what it considers torture to be and continues to fight for exemptions to any law or regulation that clearly defines and calls for the humane treatment of prisoners. Given what has occurred at Abu Ghraib, Baghram and Guantanamo Bay how can the public trust but verify that we are not torturing prisoners? (Norm Fox, Seattle)
* Why does the president choose not to open more of his administration's decision-making and reasoning to the public eye? (Deb Junod, Eagan, Minn.)
* Why is this administration so secretive to the point that it is reclassifying documents previously declassified from the national archives? What's the point? (Richard Myers, Brooksville, Fla.)
* Why does the president feel it is necessary to have so much secrecy, even from Congress, which is elected to provide oversight? Is this not obstructionist, and contrary to the intent of the Constitution, which provides for a balance of powers with clearly delineated responsibilities for all branches of government? (Margaret Koscielny, Jacksonville, Fla.)
* An estimated 1 billion people around the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition. This includes millions of American adults and children. During his remaining years in office, what specific steps will the president take to feed the poor? (Arnold Phifer, Pasadena, Calif.)
Politics and Policy
* Could you describe the president's view regarding the separation between policy and politics? (Anthony Wheeler, Peoria, Ill.)
* What criteria are used by the White House to determine if someone should be retained or asked to resign? (Rhoda E. Schollars, Tampa)
Uniting the Country
* The nominations that the president has made, be it for the Supreme Court or elsewhere, have been by most objective accounts highly partisan (John Bolton, John Roberts, etc.) Why can't the president, for the good of the country, make it his priority to nominate candidates to major government posts who will win the strong support of the majority of both parties? (Doug Jeffery, Medford, N.J.)
Honor and Dignity
* Two years ago the president pledged to restore honor and dignity to the White House. As part of this pledge, would Mr. Bush promise not to pardon any members of his administration who come under investigation for crimes they may have committed? (Rob St. Amant, Raleigh, N.C.)
* By not paying attention to polls, isn't the president ignoring the American public that elected him and relying only on a handful of people around him? Shouldn't the president be paying at least a little attention to polls to see what the mood of America is, rather than trusting that Americans will eventually agree with all that he does? (John Chescavage, Washington)
* Mr. Bush's poll numbers are just awful. Does the president believe that it is simply because people don't see the big picture, that he has made all the right decisions? Or does he think he possibly could have been wrong? Or does he think the polls are wrong? In the dark of the night, what goes through his mind about this? (Janice Hagen, Tehachapi, Calif.)
* What is the role of the press secretary? Will you allow for follow-up questions? Do you feel you work for the president, or for the American people? (Dolores Heeb, San Rafael, Calif.)
* To what extent do you think The Washington Post and similar news organizations help polarize our country thereby aiding the enemy? (J.R.Meyer-Cuno, Lake Wylie, S.C)
* In light of the interview he gave Bild recently , does the president really believe that catching that bass was the best moment in his presidency? And of not, what does he feel really are the best moments, or events, in his presidency? (Jeff Goodman, New York City)
I'll be on Washington Post Radio again today around 2 p.m. EST.