Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/9/2010
1:32 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Sorry for the delay. Good afternoon. Take us away.
Q What is your reaction to Iran saying earlier today that they’re going to release one of the American hikers this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: We are -- the State Department, I believe, is working to actively confirm with the Swiss government the veracity of those reports.
I would point out that, as we have said throughout this process, that these are three innocent children, innocent kids, who committed no crime, all three of whom should be released and released immediately by the Iranian government.
Q If I could switch to next week just a little bit. This week the President had two speeches on the economy. There is a news conference tomorrow where the economy is probably going to be a large part of that. Is the economy theme going to continue -- is the President going to continue the economy -- talking about the economy next week also?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has spent more time on any -- more time on the economy than on any issue since he’s been here, and I expect that that will continue next week. I expect that will be the focus of his opening remarks at tomorrow’s press conference and throughout next week as well.
Q Robert, will the White House reach out directly to Terry Jones and request that the Koran burning not take place?
MR. GIBBS: I think there are discussions inside of the government about the possibility of doing that. I don’t know that a final decision has been reached on that. If anything does happen, we will certainly keep you up to date and up to speed on who might be called -- who might call and what was said.
Q What kinds of things would be discussed in making that decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, as you’ve seen General Petraeus, General Odierno, the Secretary of State and the President all say, this puts the lives of our troops in direct danger. This is a recruiting bonanza for al Qaeda. And this goes against every one of our values, as the President discussed yesterday, for -- certainly for those three reasons alone. This is a monumentally terrible idea.
I will say, judging from the publicity that this individual is attracting, I doubt it is hard for him to have missed the commander in Afghanistan, the former commander in Iraq, and the Commander-in-Chief all discussing the potential impacts of troops that we have deployed throughout the world that are in harm’s way protecting the very religious freedoms that we all enjoy.
And as the President said yesterday, I think there is no doubt that this is -- this should and could be seen as nothing more -- nothing less than a big recruiting bonanza for al Qaeda.
Q Robert, is one of the options a call from the President himself?
MR. GIBBS: I have not necessarily heard that discussed. I think -- but, again, there are discussions inside the government about what might happen.
Q What is the FBI’s role now? Has the President or anyone else in the administration asked the FBI to go -- any kind of special security precautions tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I have seen reports that the FBI has either met with -- I know there are a series of local ordinances that govern burnings in and around this area of Gainesville. I do not know of any special instructions and I would point you over to the FBI.
Q Why isn’t this a hate crime?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- let me be careful not to label something that hasn’t happened yet.
Q I’m wondering is there anything legally --
MR. GIBBS: But I will say this. Let me say this. I think there’s no doubt that this is, as you have heard each and every one of -- of folks in this government say, this is a hateful act. This is an offensive act. The burning of a religious book is something that I think a great many people -- and I think you’ve seen the reaction -- the interfaith reaction has been overwhelming on this. I think this is -- I think people of all religions understand the hatefulness of what could transpire.
Q But so is the government response, a worldwide bulletin to travelers to be careful as they travel.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, there’s no doubt that this is -- look, we understand -- we’ve seen what happens when the potential for something like this happens. It is smart for the State Department to caution those that are traveling overseas, and we certainly continue to take all the necessary precautions to ensure that Americans that are overseas, and as you’ve heard General Petraeus and General Odierno say, take precautions that we need to protect our troops.
Q You talk about a lot of local ordinances that are being looked at, but is there anything on the federal level legally that’s being looked at that could potentially block this?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, let me point you over to FBI because I don’t know the answer to that. And my understanding of the local ordinances is mostly through reading. It’s not through a briefing or anything like that.
Q The White House is seen as -- one of its achievements -- changing the tone of how the Muslim world views the U.S. in the wake of the President’s speech. Do you see something like this as a potential setback to the gains that have been made?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt -- and I will say this. I think there are many -- there are very few issues that we have seen unite across a political spectrum in the past couple of years. This is certainly one of them. There have -- Democrat and Republican have spoken out against this. And I think there’s no doubt that this has the potential to set back our ability to keep our soldiers safe, our abilities to keep our country safe, set back efforts to demonstrate that we are, as both this President and the former President have said, we are not at war with a religion. We are at war with those who have perverted the values and the beliefs of that religion and who, I would point out, have killed more of their own religion than anyone else.
Q Just on the speech yesterday, President Obama mentioned John Boehner’s name I believe eight times. Why did he think it was so important when our CNN polling shows that 55 percent of Americans aren’t even familiar with him? Why was it so important to hammer away at his name yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Congressman Boehner represents, as the President laid out yesterday, a series of economic ideas that are rooted in the ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.
The campaign committee chairman for both the congressional campaign and the Senate campaign went on “Meet the Press” and said, we want to return to George Bush’s ideas; we want to return to the ideas of those eight years that got us into this mess.
And we were in Cleveland, the same place that Congressman Boehner was in where he outlined a return to the past, and the President wanted to outline what he believes a hopeful and vibrant American future looks like.
Q But what was the strategy, though, behind hammering away at his name so many times? You guys don’t do anything by accident, so clearly that many times, you were trying to make a point here about John Boehner.
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think taking the lack of new ideas and giving them a little lift is something that I think you’ll hear the President do very often. Look at Congressman Boehner’s interview on “Good Morning America.” The first thing he said is we have to cut spending. And the second thing he said was we should spend $700 billion extending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of our country.
Now, how that makes any sense is something that we will certainly let John Boehner explain. And if it helps to use his name so that he gets a chance to explain that, I’m sure the President will continue to do it.
How many times did I? I only used it once -- no, a couple times.
Q No, a couple times. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Chip.
Q Back on the pastor in Florida, the discussions -- is the President personally involved in those discussions?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I think they have largely been held from the National Security Adviser -- with the National Security Adviser inside this building.
Q And have you heard the President talk about this? Can you relate specifically that he said other than -- other than in interviews?
MR. GIBBS: What he said yesterday is what we have heard in here. I don’t think he’s said anything that I can recall that’s different than what he said in that interview yesterday.
Q And is there any discussion of who the likely person would be in the administration to talk to this man?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there are some of those discussions. I’m going to -- when we have something more concrete about that we’ll certainly -- we’ll read it out.
Q On a little more philosophical level, have there been discussions or -- does there come a point, even in a nation of laws, where when you have this kind of danger and you can’t pin any particular law on it other than public burning, does there come a point where you just say the danger is so great? For example, there are people now being held in indefinite detention -- a lot of people think there’s simply no legal grounds for doing that, but the determination has been made that they’re so dangerous you’ve got to keep them there. Does there come a point where this man presents such a danger that you take him into custody or you do something without pinning it on a particular law and you say it’s --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I would direct you to the FBI. I’ve not heard a discussion.
Q But you haven’t heard any discussions like that in the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard a discussion.
Q Nobody is talking about taking him into custody or anything like that?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. Again, I -- as I said earlier to a question about the FBI, I would talk to the FBI.
Q Are you worried about giving this man and his flock more attention than they deserve? (Laughter.)
Q Where’s the looking glass here?
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say. I don’t own a television network, Wendell. I don’t -- the fact that the man has more people at his press conference than he does in his pews on a Sunday service -- (laughter) -- I think is an illuminating thing. I don’t know if he’s passing the collection around for -- (laughter.)
I will say this. Look, that was sort of a softball, and I think I put that kind of deep in the left field seats. But, Wendell, look, you have somebody who has -- there are more people in here than go to his church right now.
I will say this -- and I don’t want to single anybody out, and I shouldn’t -- but parking a TV camera in front of a banner on the side of a truck and giving lift to something like that -- I think there comes a point when you have to wonder what is the utility of this.
You have heard from our commander in Afghanistan that this puts our troops in harm’s way. This is a desperate man seeking the attention of the better part of the world. I think we would all be served, for the safety of ourselves and for those that protect us each day, to cover something besides him every hour on the hour.
Q Who are you blaming there -- I’m sorry, go ahead. Him or the media?
MR. GIBBS: My simple point on this, Chip, is the question -- the utility of parking a television camera in front of that banner for every hour on the hour -- I think there’s some utility in asking ourselves the question of whether that’s the right way to go about this.
Q Do you think he’s doing this to boost church attendance? I mean, you said it. I mean, seriously, do you think this was -- do you think this was initially done to bring --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, when you’ve only got 30, I would guess that it wouldn’t take much.
Q But just to be clear, you are pinning a portion of the blame on the media here.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I just -- to be fair, I was asked a question. I think it is relevant that there are, as I said, more people at his press conferences than listen to his sermons.
Q On the Minority Leader, do you think you can make the midterms a referendum on him in much the same way the Republicans would like to make the elections a referendum on the President?
MR. GIBBS: Wendell, I think the midterms will, as the President talked about, be a -- I think any election is about a choice. And I think the President laid out yesterday the choice that he sees, and that is: Are we going to go back to the type of ideas and the type of policies and the type of actions that led us into this mess, or are we going to take steps to continue to strengthen and grow our economy and add jobs? I think the President is certainly comfortable with that as a choice that he thinks more and more Americans will look at as they make decisions heading into November.
I don’t think this is about one person. I think, though, that the one person in Congressman Boehner that we talked about yesterday, embodies every bit of an economic vision that says that the free market is in total control, that we should spend money we don’t have, that we should reward the wealthiest among us with tax breaks, and we should tell those in the middle class that you’re on your own. I think that’s -- that’s been the economic philosophy that we saw throughout a majority of the past eight years. And I think he embodies that to continue.
Q The President said that Mr. Boehner hadn’t offered any proposals, any economic proposals. The congressman says he has proposed rolling back the spending budget to 2008 levels and freezing all tax rates. Is that a practical proposal?
MR. GIBBS: Again, let’s be clear. Freezing our tax rates for the wealthiest among us -- for those that make $250,000 a year -- costs $700 billion, okay? He has certainly not proposed $700 billion in spending cuts. You can’t be for cutting taxes on small business, but when there’s a bill in front of you to cut taxes on small business you vote against it. That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t be for cutting spending and then adding $700 billion to the deficit. That doesn’t make sense.
I think the more and more people get a sense of the type of ideas that John Boehner and his colleagues are offering, that choice is one the President is more and more --
Q And on another matter, finally. There’s an Iranian opposition group that claims the country is building a nuclear site about 80 miles west of Tehran. Is the U.S. aware of this?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just say, Wendell, obviously we are -- we take the Iranian nuclear program, as you know, extremely seriously. We’ve instituted sanctions, and our Asian allies have added to the sanctions that have been introduced and passed in this country and at a U.N. level.
I am not going to get into, though, discussing intelligence matters. Obviously we are -- we continue to monitor the situation very closely.
Q But we are aware of it?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into discussing sensitive intelligence.
Q Back on the pastor, is there -- have you reached out to former President Bush or anybody from the previous administration to possibly be involved in any conversations with this guy?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of. But I can --
Q So that isn’t something that is among the discussions?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’ve heard, but let me -- it’s something I can check on.
Q The President this morning in the interview with ABC, he specifically would not draw a veto line in the sand -- and he has done that before, he has made veto threats before. He did not make a veto threat on this. Why?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s going to get to that, Chuck. I don’t think we’re going to find ourselves needing to veto it.
Q When it comes to the decision on the tax rates?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think legislation is going to come to the President’s desk that he would need to veto.
Q In August of 2009, the President answered somebody’s question -- a question about raising taxes in the middle of a recession. And the President said, “The last thing you want to do is raise taxes in the middle of a recession because that would just suck up, take more demand out of the economy and put businesses in a further hole.”
First of all, I know we’re technically not in a recession. But does the --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think we would argue that. I mean, again --
Q I was just going to say, do you argue are we in a recession or not? One.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look --
Q And if that’s the case --
MR. GIBBS: I’ll let a group of economists with nice degrees on their wall discuss when it began, when it ended, when it changed. That’s not --
Q But you act as if it’s a recession because America feels like it is.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. But I’ll say this, Chuck, I use the -- I talked about this a little bit the other day. There is not anybody in this country -- let’s be clear -- that takes home half a million dollars a year that is delaying their purchasing decisions, okay?
The consumer demand is not impeded by the millionaire that can’t make ends meet. That hasn’t been the case for 10 years. That wasn’t the case in the late ‘90s.
Q So in this case, he is okay with raising some tax rates in the middle of what feels like a recession?
MR. GIBBS: Because what you’re -- the example that he discussed and the example that you discussed doesn’t pertain to those individuals. There’s not a millionaire who is saying, you know I was going to buy a big -- the NFL season starts, I was going to buy a nice, new 48-inch color TV, but I just -- I only make a million dollars a year. Those people don’t -- if those people are out there, I don’t think anybody that I know has met them.
Now, there are families that -- of four that make $40,000 a year that are trying to figure out how to pay their power bill, how to send their kid to college, how to make ends meet, how to make their mortgage payment, and they’re having to make some tough decisions. And the President strongly believes that the tax cuts for those in the middle class should be, as you said yesterday, permanently extended. But the notion that somehow consumer demand is being driven down by millionaires that somehow can’t find enough money to buy and purchase goods, that’s just not the case.
And what’s important, Chuck, is that we are having to make -- everyone is having to make decisions about -- and take into account our fiscal situation. And it does not make any sense to add $700 billion to that already growing debt and deficit by extending tax cuts for those that -- whose activity is not going to change consumer demand.
Q Is this a line in the sand, or is this part of a negotiation? I mean, are you -- you know, since you wouldn’t say a veto threat --
MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck --
Q I mean, so --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t find ourselves -- I do not envision -- I don’t think it’s necessary to veto something that you don’t think is ever going to reach your desk at a point in which you’d need to veto.
Q You don’t think some sort of compromise or a temporary extension of even highest tax rate -- you don’t think that might not reach his desk -- that’s going to reach his desk?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think -- no, because the President believes that we can’t -- we simply cannot afford tax cuts for those that didn’t need them, they weren’t asking for them, and that we can’t afford it.
Q You just expect this to die in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think if there’s going to be a -- I think a majority of those in Congress believe that we should, as the President does, extend tax cuts for the middle class, and let the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us -- let the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, that we can’t afford expiring.
The President used the example yesterday of Warren Buffett. What’s Warren Buffett going to do with his tax cut? Going to go buy a bunch of color TVs?
Q No, I understand.
MR. GIBBS: Going to buy another house?
Q Is this idea of any temporary -- I mean, this idea, because it could be a one-year extension, too, that’s just off the table, or you just don’t think it’s coming?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s coming. I don’t think we can afford it. I don’t think -- as the President said yesterday, a two-year extension of this tax cut would cost nearly $100 billion. I don’t think there is any economist that would tell you that the best way that the government could spend $100 billion to get this economy moving again is to give it to a millionaire.
Q And that’s not negotiating. You guys aren’t -- because it sounds like you’re saying, we’ll take the $100 billion and spend it here.
MR. GIBBS: Well, if you said to the President, are there better ways to take and use that money? Absolutely. There are many economists that would tell you there are far better ways to use that money. One of the best ways not to use that money is not to spend seven times that amount of money on the tax cut for the rich.
Q Robert, thank you. On the New Zealand earthquakes, do you know if President Obama has telephoned or will telephone the New Zealand Prime Minister? And does the U.S. have anything to learn from the way New Zealand handled this quake and the hundred aftershocks?
MR. GIBBS: Let me find out from NSC if the President -- I don’t recall seeing that call, but let me check and get a better answer to the --
Q Do you know if he has the intention of calling him?
MR. GIBBS: Let me find that out.
Q Thank you.
Q Robert, are you saying that the government needs the $700 billion more than the people who earned it?
MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that we cannot afford $700 billion in tax cuts for millionaires, yes, or billionaires, or multibillionaires, absolutely. You can’t -- you couldn’t normally -- I shouldn’t say you can’t, because that would -- you couldn’t normally with a straight face go on television and bemoan the sheer amount of spending and then not even pause to breathe before blowing through another $700 billion in tax cuts that, again, the preponderance of them go to millionaires. A millionaire would get a $100,000 tax break. We are not a $100,000 tax break from a millionaire away from being in an economic position that strengthens us. We’re just not.
And then you hear -- then the next argument is, well, what about small business? Well, what about small business? What happened when there was a bill to cut the taxes on small business, to cut the amount of money that people can expense based on their investment or zero capital gains invested into small business? What happened? They voted against that. Yet their defense is, what about small business? Well, if you cared about small business, there was a bill to do that. It cut their taxes, right? If you care about spending, we can’t borrow $700 billion for tax cuts we can’t afford. That’s the President’s message.
Q Yes, but you don’t have to borrow that money.
MR. GIBBS: Do you have it?
Q That’s $700 billion that is revenue you won’t get to spend if the tax cut is extended.
MR. GIBBS: Do you have to pay on the debt? Do you have to --
Q Well, sure.
MR. GIBBS: Okay. The answer to that is yes.
Q But the government can cut spending on its end.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And, again, the President does not believe that that’s in any way a good use of that revenue.
Q The President met with Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday. Does that indicate that he is getting closer now to picking a nominee for the consumer agency --
MR. GIBBS: He has options to look through and is going through those options, and I anticipate will make an announcement. I don’t anticipate an announcement in the next couple days, but probably in the not-too-distant future.
Q Can you say -- was he talking with her about heading the agency or helping the administration set up the machinery for the agency?
MR. GIBBS: I think we have said on a number of occasions that Elizabeth Warren would be a highly qualified candidate to join this administration to help implement financial reform as it relates to the consumer bureau, and that the President and the team are interested in talking to her about it.
Q Is Michael Barr still under consideration?
MR. GIBBS: Michael is also among those that the administration is looking at.
Q How many others are there? About?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that there’s -- maybe one or two more, but I don’t have the exact count or number.
Q This morning the President on “Good Morning America” seemed to practically endorse the chief of staff should he decide to run for mayor of Chicago. Obviously the President is really popular in Chicago but doesn’t he risk some sort of backlash from voters who might think that he is sort of telling them who to vote for --
MR. GIBBS: I talked a little bit about this yesterday. The President said this yesterday and I would reiterate it; David Axelrod said it and I’d reiterate that too. I think he believes that Rahm has the qualities that you need to be a successful mayor. That’s his viewpoint. I think that’s the viewpoint of people that know Rahm. And I think the President was also pretty clear in that we are focused on a number of tasks at hand. We have a lot of things that we have to get done over the course of the next many weeks. And that’s the focus of the chief of staff and the focus of the staff here.
Q Wait a minute. Focus of the chief of staff -- that means you guys are fully anticipating he is here through November.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t -- I’m busy dealing with you guys. I’m not involved in some of these discussions. Chuck, as I said yesterday, I anticipate that he will take some time to make up his mind about what he wants to do in the future, which he can and should do. But I also said this yesterday. When Mayor Daley stepped down -- we begin -- senior staff here begins and ends their day in Rahm’s office. Many of you have seen this -- there is a little yellow pad and it’s got all these little things on it, and we go one by one through all these little things. That’s how our day ended that day. Our day began the next day with that same little yellow pad and all those little things on it. That’s the focus of what Rahm Emanuel is doing here.
Q Robert, can we go back to Pastor Jones? Can you tell us how did the President and the White House first learn of this? Was it from General Petraeus?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t obviously know the answer to that -- whether that was something that we had seen in the newspapers before that or not. Let me go back and try to find that answer somewhere.
Q And the President said on “Good Morning America” that what Pastor Jones was planning was not representative of America. Isn’t it actually very American, the whole idea of freedom of speech? And how -- are you guys worried at all about how you balance the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, whether or not the -- the President was obviously not talking about -- look, there are certain principles in the Constitution that we know are enshrined and protected. That does not mean that one should do that.
I think General Petraeus, General Odierno and the President have all enumerated quite clearly why that shouldn’t be the case -- the harm that it could cause our men and women, the harm that it could cause our ability to protect our own country. And that’s what the President was speaking of -- about in that.
Q Just one more. Given what we’ve had in the past month on the mosque in New York and now this Koran burning, is there any discussion within the White House that maybe this might be a time for President Obama to do a national sort of dialogue on Islam in America and America’s relationship with Islam?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m -- not that I’ve heard. Obviously the President spoke about why -- the interest that we had in improving our relationship with the Muslim world last year. And I know that the President and members of the national security team are constantly thinking about that in decisions that we make on a whole range of subjects.
Q Robert, I just want to make sure I understand what you just said to Chuck. First of all, my understanding this morning was that the President was saying that Rahm wouldn’t -- his understanding was that the President -- or that Rahm would not be making a decision about running for -- yes, right, too many characters in this, let me start over -- that Rahm would not make a decision until after the midterms. Is that not how you heard what he said this morning?
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m not parsing what the President said. I simply reiterated to Chuck that that’s a process that Rahm is going to go through. I wasn’t weighing in on the timing or the decision itself.
Q But it sounded like Rahm had told the President he wouldn’t make this decision until after the midterms. You don’t have that --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that, but I can --
Q And also, if -- regardless if he runs for mayor of Chicago, would the President get involved? Would he endorse? Would he be -- this is sort of a special circumstance.
MR. GIBBS: Christi, I would say this. Hard to make that judgment, not knowing who the candidates are.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. One, what’s going on? One wants to burn the copies of Koran. Another one wants to burn the American flags. And this man in New York, he wants to build a mosque where thousands of innocent people died, of all the faiths. As far as Florida is concerned, do you see any new legislation that in the future, something like what happened, that like you mentioned, that no religious books should be burned?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t know if a legislative effort on that behalf -- that probably is a better question for Capitol Hill. But, again, all I know is that we understand the impact of what this -- we understand the impact of this. We understand what this means for those in this country and those that are in harm’s way, that -- and because of that and because of its affront to what we believe, this is a hateful act that you’ve heard many in this administration -- and we’ll continue to say -- that this should not happen.
Q And to bring -- I’m sorry -- to bring harmony, as the mosque in New York is concerned, more than 80 percent of Americans are against. And don’t you think that the President should make some statement that there should be a kind of interfaith center where all the faiths -- people who died, and not just one faith -- many faiths, people died there -- there should be an interfaith center where everyone --
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think as it -- let me take this back to the discussion that we were having earlier, and I mentioned this earlier, that the outpouring of condemnation at this act in Florida by those of all faiths is -- I think is an important thing for that pastor to take into account before he does anything this weekend.
Q And second, if I may, a different topic.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me move on here.
Q Has the President reached out to Senate Republicans during the recess about the small business jobs bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I can check and see if the President has made any calls. I know obviously the last time that the bipartisan leadership was here, it was quite a topic of discussion in needing to and in believing that we had to move this legislation -- this important legislation -- forward. I don’t know if he has made any calls since then.
Q Robert, back on Pastor Jones, you said that the State Department has come out with travel advisories in other nations -- to other nations. But has anyone in this administration, including the State Department, reached out in a diplomatic way to try to quell the concerns by the Muslim nations as the potential for this incident Saturday could happen?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t know exactly what exact steps the State Department has taken as it relates to that. And I’d point you to them. Obviously I think the -- I hope that the entire world understands that there are those of all faiths, of all political beliefs that strongly condemn the idea of what this individual is trying to do.
I hope that that is a message that comes through much louder and much more clearly than the potential -- the potentially destructive impact that this act could have.
Q So has POTUS expressed concerns about making any calls or anything?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know of particular calls that he has made into Muslim nations.
Q And I want to ask you another question on this. Is this a challenge between freedoms and common sense? And do you think if indeed this does happen and there are pictures of this, it could, as you said, spur -- or be a rallying cry -- for the Taliban and al Qaeda, but what about homegrown terrorists? Do you think that there’s a threat too with that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I don’t think there’s any doubt, because -- look, we know that there are those overseas that are trying to recruit those that are here. This is a -- as the President has said and others, this is a recruiting bonanza. And that is certainly one of the specific reasons that this administration, our generals in Iraq and Afghanistan have cited repeatedly as a reason that this not go forward.
Q And the challenge of freedoms and just common sense -- is it a challenge between freedoms and common sense?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we’re all aware of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. But I think it is anybody’s sincere hope -- again, this is a belief shared across the political spectrum, across religious perspective -- and that is that the harm that this will do, the danger that this puts -- the danger with which this puts our men and women in uniform is one that I and everybody in this administration genuinely hopes that this pastor takes into account before he moves forward with his actions.
Q Could you get back to us on her question? I think you said whether the President has called leaders of any Muslim nations.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I am not aware of any that he has. I will double-check, but I think the calls that he’s made in the last few days to foreign leaders have largely been around --
Q Anticipation of calls possibly?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check. Largely been around Middle East.
Q Did anyone respond to the Indonesian President’s appeal? Someone else in government?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, look, I think that his appeal is a viewpoint shared by those in the administration that have already let the world know where they stand.
Q But if you’re talking about reaching out to the pastor, why not reach out to these Muslim nations if the threat is so significant?
MR. GIBBS: Well, April, I don’t -- I think that the world has heard what these generals have said and what the Commander-in-Chief has said over the past several days on this. I think that there are those throughout the world that understand where the vast, vast, vast majority of Americans are on this issue.
Q Robert, there’s a lot of reports that the Senate might forego a floor vote on the defense authorization bill before the midterms. Where does funding the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq stand on the President’s list of priorities heading into the midterms?
MR. GIBBS: I can check with Legislative Affairs on the notion that there’s not going to be a vote on the defense authorization. I don’t know the answer to that. Obviously funding our troops is tremendously important to this President.
Q So you wouldn’t -- the White House wouldn’t prefer to see a debate on taxes versus a debate on funding the troops heading into the midterms?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- I should check on the original premise of your question. I haven’t heard that. Obviously -- I think I answered that second part of the question.
Q So if they could do one or the other, have a tax debate or a funding debate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t -- look, Congress is going to be here longer than 15 minutes. I think there’s a lot -- judges, appointments, small business bill -- there’s a lot that can get done over the couple of weeks --
Q Do you really think the Senate is going to get all that done in a month?
MR. GIBBS: I am, by nature, a tremendously optimistic and hopeful person.
Q Since when? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Since at least four minutes ago.
Q -- really good vacation.
MR. GIBBS: No, no.
Q Thank you, Robert. What does the President think in general philosophical terms about what many see as a rise of anti-Islam sentiments in the United States, especially people overseas? And was he surprised how this debate over the mosque or what the pastor said escalated so quickly?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look -- I want to separate the two issues because I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to combine -- I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to combine those two issues. So let me speak about these very separately.
As it relates to the issue in Florida, as I’ve said here countless times, that -- we understand the dangers of what these actions could bring. And we have in this country -- this country was founded on the notion of religious freedom. And the offensive nature of taking the religious text of -- somebody’s religious text and burning it is among, I would assume, one of -- among the most destructive things that somebody could do.
That is not in line with our values. That is not in line with who we are as a people. And I think that’s a viewpoint, quite honestly, that is shared by, as I said, the vast, vast, vast majority of people.
Look, I think you’ve heard the President talk about the mosque and understand that the anniversary of 9/11 that we’ll celebrate on Saturday is one that is -- although nine years past, still and will always be very raw in people’s memories.
But, again, I’m reminded by a viewpoint that is shared by this administration and the last administration, and that is that those that we are at war with, those that we’re fighting, are not -- we’re fighting with those -- we’re not fighting with a religion. We are fighting with those that have taken and perverted through their extremist beliefs the religious views of many that have more than any other religion killed their own.
That’s an important lesson for all the world to know and to understand. And the President will continue and this administration will continue to work to improve our relationship with those all over the world.
Q Was he surprised to see, by the nature of this debate, how acrimonious it became?
MR. GIBBS: How what?
Q How sharp it became, how it escalated.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that -- and I think you heard the President say this yesterday, that there is -- the offensive nature of what is being proposed in Florida, I think it’s understandable that that has gotten -- that that has engendered quite a lot of response in this country.
Q Robert, the White House just issued a statement about Eid celebration. Will the President do also a video message? And will he talk about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me check on the video. I don’t know if he’s done a video on that or not.
Q Robert, in the colloquies about the Bush tax cuts, you referred to Warren Buffett and millionaires not necessarily needing the money. Could you shed some light as to how the $250,000 cutoff point came to be, when of course there are a number of couples who would earn $250,000, depending on where they live, who don’t necessarily consider themselves rich?
MR. GIBBS: No, but at the same time, again, I’d separate -- I’d separate whether it’s $250,000 or $500,000 from a family of four that makes $55,000, that -- I think for an individual it’s $200,000. That’s a pretty -- that’s a nice sum of money. That’s a pretty -- you’re making a pretty good living at $200,000 a piece. I think even -- again, it is hard -- it’s sort of hard to picture somebody clearing $200,000, again, that’s having trouble paying the light bill, unless you live in a house that has maybe too many lights. (Laughter.)
Q And conversely, if all of the tax cuts were to expire, all of them were to expire, CBO estimates that this current deficit -- this year’s current deficit would be cut in half by fiscal 2012. Why not --
MR. GIBBS: Because I do believe that the President -- well, I know the President believes that taking that family of four that makes $50,000 or $55,000 a year, taking that tax cut away, that’s a couple of thousand dollars out of their pocket at a time in which -- and let’s be clear, they have been struggling for a long time. This is -- look, I get that some on Wall Street got a little banged up in September of 2008 when the financial crisis hit. But a lot of those guys, even in the current environment, have done quite well. But if you look at -- you heard the President talk about this yesterday -- job creation and income generation hasn’t just fallen or stagnated since September of 2008, it’s been in that direction for eight or 10 years.
That’s why when we say we didn’t get into this mess overnight, that’s part of what we’re talking about. So, again, look, you could, as you mentioned, wipe away a significant portion of that deficit by letting everything expire. The President, though, believes that those tax cuts for the middle class are important particularly at a time in which we are faced with such economic uncertainty in the middle class.
Q Robert, just to help us with our curtain raisers, can you talk a little bit about the decision-making that went into the timing of this press conference tomorrow, how long it’s been in the works and why now?
MR. GIBBS: We announced it last week, so -- I’m trying to think. We probably had this discussion a week or so ago. We missed you guys. (Laughter.) All right, sorry, that shocked me, too. No, look --
Q Why now specifically?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, look, I think it’s as good a time as any for the President to talk about the economy, talk about what’s at stake in the upcoming election, just as he did yesterday. I think -- again, the President will have an opening statement and then answer questions I presume on a whole host of topics like we do in here each day.
Q Any interviews between now and tomorrow’s press conference?
MR. GIBBS: Pardon me?
Q Does the President have any interviews set up between now and tomorrow’s press conference?
MR. GIBBS: He did two this morning, yes.
Q What about tomorrow? We understand there’s some tomorrow. Tomorrow morning.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, he taped an interview today for tomorrow, and then did an interview, which I think will become public later today. La Opinion later today, and Tom Joyner Show today -- this afternoon, early this afternoon for tomorrow morning.
Q How long is the press conference, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Five, six hours. (Laughter.)
2:22 P.M. EDT
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