A week into his new job as White House press secretary, former Fox News pundit Tony Snow held his first "gaggle" this morning. Maybe he should have waited a little longer. TPM Muckraker has the transcript. Here are the highlights:
Alphonso Jackson: Asked whether Bush intends to fire his HUD secretary for making -- and then sort of retracting -- remarks in which he said he believed that the president's political opponents shouldn't receive government contracts, Snow initially said no. But when he was asked if Bush wouldn't want to wait to see the results of an inspector general's investigation before deciding, Snow said: "You're getting me ahead of my brief. I don't know any more than I've told you."
White House credibility: Asked how he's going to "make this administration more credible," Snow said: "I'm not going to answer questions about credibility, other than to say that I'm eager to be here and I'm happy to be working with you."
Bush's poll ratings: Asked about a new Harris Interactive poll that puts the president's approval rating at 29 percent, Snow said: "The interesting thing about the Harris Poll is it asks questions that have not been asked before, for instance, rather than strict approval, it's 'excellent' or 'very good.'" In fact, the Harris poll asks respondents to rank the president's job performance as "excellent," "pretty good," "fair" or "poor," and it has been asking the questions that way for a long time -- or at least long enough to show that the president's popularity has dropped by 59 percentage points since its high in the days after 9/11.
Telephone records: Helen Thomas didn't ask Snow why the United States invaded Iraq, but she did ask him whether the White House is confirming or denying USA Today's report that the NSA has compiled a massive database of information on Americans' telephone calls. Snow refused to answer, saying that the White House's "hands are tied on talking about any operational details." When a reporter confronted Snow with the fact that the president confirmed the existence of the NSA warrantless spying program when the New York Times revealed it in December, Snow said: "Well, in this particular case, again, we're neither confirming nor denying the existence of the program."
Informing Congress: Snow pointed reporters to "reporting in the American press today" as proof that some members of Congress were fully briefed on the NSA's telephone records database and didn't raise objections at the time. Who was briefed? Are they the same ones who are objecting now? "You will have to ask the Senate committees who has been fully briefed," Snow said, "and you can draw your own conclusions on that basis."
Foreign trade: Asked a question relating to World Trade Organization negotiations, Snow pleaded ignorance: "I will apologize as the new kid on the block," he said. "I am certainly not going to get myself into -- for today, I'm not going to handle international issues or currency issues. I do not wish to set off global tempests because I, frankly, just don't know enough on those. I will be happy to get back to you."
Immigration enforcement: Asked about reports that the Pentagon could station troops along America's borders, Snow said: "I don't want to get into the specifics of what has been in the papers about this, other than to say that there are -- well, I don't want to get ahead of my brief on this, but you're just going to have to wait and see."
NSA spying probe: Asked about the Justice Department's decision to shut down its probe into its lawyers' roles in approving the warrantless spying program because the NSA wouldn't grant security clearances to Justice Department investigators, Snow tried to punt to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. When reporters couldn't hear Perino, Snow took over, artlessly: "I'll tell you what, I'll speak up. You'll forgive me, but I'll just -- I will do the talking points on this because, again, as the new kid on the block, I'm not fully briefed into everything, but here it is."
Snow will give his first on-camera press briefing next week. We can't wait.