I often miss former White House Press Secretary Scott "The Lyin' King" McClellan. When there was a slow news day -- not that there have been many of those in the last few years -- you could always count on McClellan, who left his post earlier this year, to be a weasel in such an over-the-top way that, if nothing else, it was good for some humor.
I mean, McClellan was a weasel's weasel... Helen Thomas could ask Scott if Sunday would follow Saturday this weekend and he would say something like "Well, as you know, Helen, I can't comment on a hypothetical like that. I think the president has made clear that he's focused on the business of the American people and not whether Sunday will or will not follow Saturday."
He would then say "September 11" and "ongoing investigation" a few times and go on to the next question.... Sigh. Good times, good times.
But current Bush spokesman Tony Snow is a bit more to the point -- he generally just directly refuses to answer many questions, without the comical hemming and hawing that we got from McClellan.
But Snow came close to inheriting McClellan's weasel pelt yesterday when asked repeatedly about whether or not Bush supports Dennis Hastert remaining as House Speaker, despite having ignored Republican Mark Foley chasing teenaged boys around the halls of Congress.
Let's listen to questioning on the general Republican handling of the Foley, um, affair:
Q: Tony, you said that the President is talking about things that matter --
Q: Does it matter how Republican leaders handle this issue with Mark Foley?
Snow: I think this thing has to -- as we've said, you've got to find out what happened. This is disgusting and I don't think any sane person in any way condones what happened. The Speaker -- I'm sure the Speaker doesn't condone what happened. But they're going to have to -- they're dealing with the problem, and we'll just -- the President's concern is get the facts out. There are already hearings before the Senate -- I mean, the House Ethics Committee; there's also an investigation going on at the Justice Department. You need to find out what it is, you need to fix it.
Q: Well, my question was, does it matter how Republican leaders handled this information --
Snow: Well, again, I think -- yes. And I think it's -- let me put it this way -- it is important for all members of Congress to make sure -- and this is an opportunity for people to figure out whether they've got a systemic problem -- to make sure that when pages or other -- when people come to Washington, that they don't have to worry about this kind of behavior on the part of any member of Congress, or any member of congressional staff, or anybody working for the government. That's important because there's a public trust, and people around the country have not been all that happy with politics in recent months, at least if you look at the polls in the general way in which they look at it. And it's important for people to realize that we do take matters like this seriously.
Q: Okay, but I feel like you're ducking this a little bit -- what's an important question to me is, is this not a test of Republican leadership?
Snow: Is it not a test of Republican leadership? In what sense?
Q: The original question was, does it matter how Republican leaders handle this issue?
Snow: Okay, and I will dodge it and I will tell you exactly why I'm going to dodge it. Because this is a question that requires knowledge of a lot of details that are not in evidence, certainly not to me, at this point. So for somebody to try to --
Q: It isn't a trial, Tony.
Here's Snow ducking questions about Hastert in particular:
Q: Tony, has the President talked to Speaker Hastert since this whole thing started?
Q: Has he asked to talk with him?
Snow: No. No.
Q: Why not?
Snow: Just hasn't.
Q: He's not curious about his explanation or how he's handled it so far?
Snow: No. You've got to understand, again, in separate and co-equal branches of government, everybody here wants the President to come in and tell the House how to do its business. We don't know what happened. You don't know what happened. I mean, we know that there was some grotesque IMs and there were some inappropriate emails, and there is something that sickens anybody who has read even part of those. And that should never happen, ever. And that is something that people have a right to find out what happened and they've got to figure out how to fix it.
But the President is running the executive branch of government and members of the House are going to have to deal with it.
Q: Is this a separation of powers issue, Tony, or is this a determined effort to insulate the White House from this whole thing?
Snow: No, I don't think -- look, this is an issue that everybody cares about, but it's also an issue that -- the House has to figure out what happened; the House is the proper place for investigating the behavior of its members, although the Justice Department does now have an investigation ongoing. But let me also clarify, in case anybody wondered, this is not a White House that orders up investigations, and so we have nothing to do formally or informally with that investigation. Look, this is a horrible thing. People do deserve to know what happened, and they do deserve to know how to fix it, and there's going to be a lot of conversation about that. We understand that.
Here's the part where I really started getting misty-eyed thinking about old times with Scotty:
Q: Can I just follow on one point, Tony? It strikes me that you're trying to have something here both ways. The President does not believe that Speaker Hastert should resign, this is his position. Is that to say that he is satisfied with the conduct of Speaker Hastert and other Republican leaders on this matter?
Snow: I understand the question, but I'm just not -- as I said at the outset, I'm not going to get into discussing, evaluating, reviewing, rehearsing what members of the House have done.
Q: But in making the judgment that he shouldn't resign, you're not saying the President is making a judgment?
Snow: No. I'm just saying he's supporting the --
Q: How do you explain that?
Snow: -- he's saying at this point that the Speaker should not resign.
Q: We should not take from that -- that view that he should not resign -- that the President is satisfied with his conduct in this matter?
Snow: I'm just saying -- I know it's maddening, and I apologize, but we're just --
Q: That's a straightforward question.
Snow: No, it is a straightforward question and I'm given you -- going back to the caveat I issued at the top. As interesting and as inviting as it may be for us to try to stand and render judgment on the House's pursuance of this issue, I'm just not going to do it; including talking about whether we support or defend -- the President, again, has said that he supports the Speaker and doesn't think he should resign.
And just a little more -- and watch how the reporter really makes Tony Snowjob squirm with the contradiction of Bush having enough information to strongly support Hastert, but not enough to comment on Hastert's response to the Foley scandal:
Q: From this podium you have said that this is the party of ethical standards.
Q: And that is what this source from the Christian right said, that Hastert should have, at the time of hearing upon these overly friendly emails, he should have at least contacted authorities. And because of failed leadership, he should step down.
Snow: I understand all that and, as I said, all of these are things I'm not going to play -- I'm just not going to grade performance and I'm also not going to assume that I know all the facts that come to bear on making such judgments.
Q: Does the administration understand the Christian right's thought? As you say, you are the party of ethical standards. Do you understand --
Snow: We understand people's real concern about this. I mean, people ought to be concerned. It's a hideous thing.
Q: Failed leadership, and possible issues --
Snow: Again, April, perhaps you know each and every fact here. You know, I think it's incumbent on members of both parties to make sure that they behave properly when it comes to any individual or constituent. As I said before, there's a systemic problem they've got to deal with, but they certainly have a particular problem that they've got to get to the bottom of, they've got to find the truth, and they've got to deal with it.
Q: Tony, can you try to explain or clarify, why is the White House supporting Hastert in staying in the speakership job when you don't have all the facts? You've been saying over and over, we don't have all the facts. So why are you supporting his staying in the job --
Snow: Well, based on what we know -- again, if you have a situation where you say support or don't support, in absence of full information, we're sticking with what we've got.
Q: Well, why not say, we don't know -- we don't know whether or not he should stay in that leadership role because we don't have all the facts?
Snow: Because we don't think that Denny Hastert is the kind of guy who says, man, that's great stuff, I'm really glad Foley was doing that on the sly. We think that everybody who is -- that decent people were just absolutely sickened by this and we hope that people are going to work together on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans, to fix it.
Q: So you are saying that you believe that Hastert has handled the situation appropriately?
Snow: As I told you -- I knew this would happen and I'm going to be firm, consistent, and non-responsive.
Didn't you like the whole separation-of-powers thing? While the Republican Congress has certainly abandoned their oversight of the executive branch -- they believe in an impenetrable brick wall between the branches, damn the Constitution -- that's hilarious coming from a White House that's had Karl Rove meddling in every detail of what little legislative work has actually been done in the 109th Congress. No separation there, baby!
This all has me a little emotional. I'm going to curl up with a glass of good bourbon tonight, look at old transcripts from the McClellan era and remember when the press-relations weasels were more direct in their weaselly essence and roamed free every day, and not just on special occasions, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.