Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/15/2010
11:50 A.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Before we start, let me just do a couple of -- just one quick scheduling announcement for tomorrow.
Thursday, the President will host two events focusing on the administration’s work to increase America’s competitiveness and ensure long-term economic growth. In the morning, the President’s Export Council will meet to discuss the administration’s ongoing commitment to export promotion. In the afternoon, the President will make an announcement on the expansion of his “Educate To Innovate” initiative to improve science, technology, engineering and math education in order to better prepare students to lead in the 21st century economy.
Thursday’s events highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to doubling exports in the next five years, while laying the groundwork in preparing our workforce to lead the world in this global economy.
And with that --
Q Will there be a spray or anything?
MR. GIBBS: I think they’re both -- well, the second event I know there’s remarks, and I think the first event I presume there will be a spray.
Q A couple questions on tax cuts, which the President is really laying out as a wedge issue for the election. But there seems to be a lot of divisiveness among Democrats on the Hill. Is the President going to ask Democrats to bring a vote to the floor on Wednesday to cut taxes only for the middle class, ahead of November elections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to get into what Congress may or may not decide to do in terms of how they want to bring certain things to the floor or what have you. I will reiterate what the President has said, that we should -- as you heard him say on a number of occasions last week -- make middle- class tax cuts permanent and not hold the middle class hostage in that to borrowing $700 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.
If you listen to part of what Congressman Boehner said over the weekend, there appeared, at least earlier in the week, to be a willingness to go along with that. We would certainly hope that there would be a willingness to go along with that. It appears as if that has largely been walked back to the original position of holding the middle class hostage and the price of that, the ransom price for that is $700 billion that we can't afford.
Q But now that the President has put this issue out there in the forefront doesn’t he have to take some type of ownership in this? And is he reaching out to some of the conservative Democrats who have questions about whether this is an issue they want to take on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think the President has been clear about where his position is. Look, we are a big party and I don't doubt that there will be differing viewpoints, just as -- well, the Republican Party appears to have some differing viewpoints as well on a whole host of issues.
But, look, I think the President has laid out where he is. Whether or not this gets solved in the next couple of weeks, during this session, whether it gets kicked over to the lame duck, I don't know the answer to that. But I will say this. I think there’s enough overlap in -- and as the President said, enough -- if there’s a willingness to provide the very type of certainty that we hear many Republicans would like to provide, we can move forward on the middle-class tax cuts. And I think that's what the President believes we should do.
Q And then if I could just ask on the consumer protection agency -- there have been -- there’s been talk about the possibility of appointing Elizabeth Warren as an interim head of the agency. But there are senators on the Hill, including Senator Dodd, who have said that in doing so you would de-legitimize that post. Does that do anything to change the administration’s thinking on whether or not that's a viable option?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I think the President spoke clearly, and has over the past several weeks, about how he views Elizabeth Warren. Obviously this was -- the concept of a consumer office is something that she created. I think obviously she is among the people that the President is looking at to implement the provisions of the legislation that Congress passed. I don't have any personnel announcements; the President doesn’t have any personnel announcements today, though they could come later this week.
Q And making her an interim head is still an option that's on the table?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm not going to get ahead of any announcements that the President may or may not make until he does.
Q Also on Warren, with these reports that she might be an interim head or she might be made a counselor to the Treasury Secretary, are you worried that that would be seen as some kind of a half-measure, especially given that she’s been endorsed by groups like the National Organization of Women?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to play hypothetical until there’s a personnel announcement. I think that, as I said a minute ago, as the President has said over the course of many weeks, I think she is -- based on the work that she has done over the course of her career, the fact that she -- again, this is an idea that was born largely by her -- I think it’s the President’s right to consider her for a role in implementing what the Congress has passed.
Q Can I just ask a couple of currencies question?
MR. GIBBS: A what question?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, let me save you the time and point you over to Treasury, so I do not --
Q So you have no comment -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, if you want to borrow five bucks I could probably do that. (Laughter.) But I will leave the yen and everything else to my good friends at the Department of Treasury.
Q Christine O’Donnell, who won the Delaware senatorial primary last night for Republicans, in 2008 said that then-Senator Obama was so liberal that he was anti-American. Does the White House have any comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: I just saw a couple of clips on that right before I came down. If I'm not mistaken, that was probably an election -- she was, at that time, running for the same position she runs for now -- right?
Q I'm not sure if she was a candidate or a pundit.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think she -- or maybe both. If I'm not mistaken, she ran in 2008 against then-Senator Joe Biden and I think lost fairly handily, close to 2 to 1. I think -- look, I think last night showed that there is a very vociferous debate going on inside the Republican Party for the hearts and minds of Republican voters. I think if you look at what people like Karl Rove or people like the state GOP chairman have said, the Republicans in Delaware nominated somebody that they don't believe can win -- I think in the words of the state party chair -- couldn't be elected dog catcher.
I think comments like that is probably what led to her losing 2 to 1 in Delaware in 2008 and I think obviously is why you have people in the Republican Party structure in Delaware saying that she will be hard to elect because her views are outside the mainstream of what people in Delaware think now.
Q Is the White House concerned at all that a lot of the voter anger that Republican incumbents have generally been feeling will now be directed at Democratic incumbents now that, other than Hawaii, the primaries are over and now it’s general election time and a lot of this enthusiasm and a lot of this energy and a lot of this anger is going to be focused on the Democratic incumbents?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take this two ways. One, I think you have to look at the practical implications of the anger that you just spoke about. I think there is no doubt and I don't think anybody would disagree that that intraparty Republican anger has changed the complexion of a number of races at a state and a district level. And that has real-world practical implications for the outcome of what happens in November. Again, last night I think is a pretty good example both in a congressional race and in a Senate race in Delaware that makes winning those races for the Republicans a fundamentally harder task.
I will say this, Jake, and I’ve said this --
Q You're talking about the House race in Delaware also?
MR. GIBBS: Delaware, yes. And I’ve said this on a number of occasions, in all honesty, for about two years. There is -- there was two years ago, not just because of the collapse of something like Lehman two years ago today, there was a frustration in the electorate about where we were economically. That frustration I think in many ways is still in the electorate.
It was -- I spoke about this after Massachusetts. I think that same type of frustration was there and I have no doubt that it continues today.
We’ll see what that produces in November. I remain confident, as I’ve said, that on Election Night we’ll retain control of both the House and the Senate. But I don't think anybody would tell you that there’s not a frustration particularly based on what has happened economically and where we are in that recovery. And the President shares in some of that frustration.
Q Robert, if I can try the currency question in a different way. The Washington Post reported I think last week that 41 White House aides owe the IRS over $800,000 in back taxes. Is that correct? Have you been able to check that out? And are they being paid?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the answer to that, but I can check.
Q Would we be able to get a list?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that's a currency question, but -- (laughter.)
Q It was kind of a joke, but --
MR. GIBBS: Let me --
Q But in all seriousness --
Q A lot of currency there.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me -- I don't know the answer, but I’ll check on that.
Q Okay. And just a second thing, on General Odierno. What kind of advice do you think the President is getting from him? What was the purpose of bringing him in? And with the war in Iraq still continuing -- even though it’s not officially combat, we still have 50,000 U.S. troops there -- you’ve got the war in Afghanistan, obviously. A few weeks back there was a lot of speculation about Secretary Gates’ future. What’s your sense right now, what’s the President’s sense of how long he’s staying? There’s some ambiguity as to whether -- is he staying through the end of the year? A lot of people are wondering because of continuity in both wars, obviously.
MR. GIBBS: I will -- let me take the second part. I do not know -- I have not heard any update on that. I would point you over to Geoff and Doug at the Pentagon for an answer on Secretary Gates.
I will say this. I think somebody -- I think Secretary Gates has provided an enormous amount of leadership at a time, as you said, in which we were -- which we’re involved in a war in Afghanistan and still involved in assisting in Iraq. I think if you look at the steps that he and the President have talked about taking as it relates to restructuring the Pentagon, those are tremendously important not just from a budgetary perspective, but for a readiness -- from the perspective of readiness. The debates we had about the F-22 and the second engine for the F-35 obviously are very important.
In terms of the first one, I don't have a readout of their meeting. I know that Vice President Biden has spent time both in Iraq and in the United States recently with General Odierno and the General gave an update on government formation. Obviously, that's the biggest, more pressing outstanding question about where we are in Iraq.
I know that the President and Vice President wanted to bring the General into the Oval Office and thank him for his service and his commitment to what he’s done for our men and women in uniform and for our effort in Iraq. I will try to get a more fulsome -- if there was -- the advice stuff.
Q Is the President meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas next week, either separately or on the fringes of the U.N. meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- I don’t have an update. There’s been some talk about at the end of the U.N. meeting, though there was also -- and I’ve heard conflicting -- about whether each of those participants is going to be there for the whole time. So I don’t have any scheduling update, but let me check on whether that’s something that could happen at the end of next week.
Q Does the President’s schedule stay the same for the U.N.?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. As far -- I think we go up sometime Wednesday, late Wednesday afternoon, and we’re there through Friday kind of early evening. So I think -- and we will have, over the next couple days as the schedule sort of firms up, a list of -- and I think some of this will start coming out today -- a list of some of the bilateral meetings or multilateral meetings that the President will be involved in.
Q But if he does meet with them, does that suggest that the peace talks are actually making progress, as Secretary Clinton suggested?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- and look, Senator Mitchell, our Middle East envoy, briefed yesterday from Sharm el Sheikh. The President continues to believe and I think the team continues to believe that we are in the midst of very serious direct talks, that both parties seem willing to engage in very frank discussions, and that we are slowly but surely making progress. Obviously this is going to take some time. But we continue to believe that each of the parties at this point continues to demonstrate a serious willingness to discuss the issues at hand.
Q Yes, but a presidential meeting might suggest that they’re at a point where it’s going to take a push.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I will say this, Bill. I don’t think we’d be at this point were it not for continued U.S. engagement and involvement in this process.
Let me double-check the schedule and get a scheduling answer for you on that. Regardless of where we are in that process, this President and the team will continue to become -- continue to remain very engaged in an effort to bring about peace. When we’re not involved in that engagement, when we’re not, as you said, using our ability to push, we have tended not to have results that would lead you to think we’re moving towards a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Q Robert, the CNBC television network is hosting a town hall next Monday with President Obama, and an invitation has been extended to the Princeton Alumni Club of Washington, D.C. Was the White House aware that they were being invited to attend the event and their questions pre-screened?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly, Mike, don’t know the answer to any of that, but I can have somebody check in on that.
Q You have recently embarked -- or the White House and you personally have embarked on an effort to sort of vilify John Boehner.
MR. GIBBS: Not vilify.
MR. GIBBS: I think that John Boehner is a leader of an effort to take the House from Democratic control. The effort that the President has been involved in, the effort that I and others have been involved in, is simply to illuminate the beliefs of John Boehner.
Q Many of them negative, in your opinion.
MR. GIBBS: I am -- well, I don’t think that comes as a large surprise to most people watching this --
Q My question is that the Republicans in turn tried to do the same thing to Nancy Pelosi in 2006 and in 2008, were largely unsuccessful, evidently. What makes you think that this effort will bear any more fruit than the GOP was able to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say, Mike, I think that having been involved in many of them from a campaign perspective, that elections are about choices. And I think it is important for people to understand what those choices are and what -- and I think in John Boehner you have somebody who has been in Washington for a long time. And I think it’s instructive to illuminate that choice. Let’s look at -- look, The New York Times did a fairly large story on his special interest lobbyist connections, where he told the stories of handing out checks from the tobacco industry on the floor of the House of Representatives.
I think the debate that we are in the midst of on taxes is illuminating about a choice, and that is do you hold the middle class hostage to providing them permanent tax relief in order to borrow $700 billion that we can’t afford to give them -- to tax cuts to people that don’t need them. I think that is a -- I think that is part of what the President is going to take about that, part of what Democratic candidates all over the country are going to talk about.
Q Given all the issues surrounding the election in two months, do you think it’s appropriate to have a vote on something as momentous as this tax cut extension in a lame duck session?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, if it doesn’t get solved in the next few weeks, that’s where you’re going to have to solve it before the tax cut expires.
Q Well, I mean, they could certainly stay in through the course of October. I mean, they plan to split the first week in October.
MR. GIBBS: That’s a question I would direct towards --
Q Should they stay to take care of it before the election?
MR. GIBBS: What should happen is there ought to be a willingness from -- again, what John Boehner said on Saturday and broadcast on Sunday was -- appeared to be an agreement to move forward on the middle-class tax cuts. That was the position the President talked about extensively the week before. Now, I understand that those comments seemed to get the leader in a bit of hot water and he moved back to what appeared to be his original position, and that was the ransom for the middle class was $700 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Q Is the President registered to vote in Washington, and did he vote yesterday, if he was?
MR. GIBBS: I presume the President is registered in Illinois and I know participated earlier in the year in that and will vote from there in November.
Q Okay. The President is going to be going to Connecticut on Thursday --
Q For Rahm? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there’s an election that would -- go ahead.
Q The President is going to Connecticut on Thursday to raise money for the attorney general. Could you tell us anything more about his plans for fundraising, for politics, and what he -- how he aims to kind of try to reassemble the Obama vote of 2008?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jonathan, I think if you go back over the course of the past many weeks, the President has been involved, as leaders of the party are, in helping to raise money for the campaign committees, to raise money for candidates. I think just recently we -- the President donated money, leftover money, out of the presidential account to the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC. And, look, I think the President will continue those efforts throughout the election. I don’t have with me or have not looked at a full schedule that takes us through Election Day.
Q Does that schedule exist?
MR. GIBBS: Somebody has it, I’m sure, yes.
Q And one more. David Plouffe told us a couple days ago that he is ready and willing to rejoin the political team in a more formal sense if asked. Is he going to be asked?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not the person that would make that decision. I assume that would be a taller guy.
Look, I think we are -- we all understand David’s contributions from 2008. We also talk fairly regularly to David, and I think he’s one of the smartest guys in the country involved in politics. And if the President -- I have no doubt that if the President asked him to take some sort of formal role that he’d be willing to serve.
Q Robert, back on the tax cut debate. Do you see any prospect at all for compromise on this, especially on the extension of the upper-bracket tax cut, perhaps a limited time or something like that?
MR. GIBBS: The President’s position on this is quite clear. Because let’s understand that the Republican position isn’t really an extension for a limited period of time, okay? They tried that sort of last week and then -- even in the enumeration by Leader Boehner of a two-year extension, I think the next sentence or half a breath away was “making this permanent.” So let’s -- I don’t -- I think there are -- I don’t see that there’s a willingness on Capitol Hill by the Republican Party to seek only a limited extension of the upper-income tax brackets.
I think what the President has made abundantly clear is we can’t -- we simply cannot afford to extend the tax cuts for those that make beyond $250,000 a year. I do think it’s important to understand -- let’s just take for one second what that means. Everybody will enjoy a tax cut. Everybody enjoys a tax cut. If you make less than $250,000, it’s on all of your income. If you make more than $250,000 a year, it is on your income up to $250,000 a year. The President believes it’s that latter part that borrowing $700 billion for is simply not affordable.
Q Can you talk a bit more about the President’s trip to Connecticut tomorrow and why he decided to go there?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything immediately on that. Obviously, again, as I said to Jonathan, a continuing effort to -- obviously he’s got events here, as I talked about at the beginning of this, but obviously continued event around these elections.
Q How many requests is he getting to stump for candidates and lawmakers?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’ve -- as I said to Jonathan, I don’t have the full schedule, but it’s not the first or the last time that you’ll see the President out prior to the November elections.
Q And what does the President expect to get out of the meetings at the U.N. General Assembly next weekend? Is Iran going to be the major topic?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Iran will certainly be a big topic, obviously. There are a series -- again, we’ll announce these over the next day or so -- a series of bilateral meetings, some of which will and some of which probably won’t touch on the topic of Iran. I don’t doubt that that is going to be some part of what is discussed. And I think it is likely that the President -- when the President travels to New York next week, it will be as a President who has I think moved one important step closer to passing a ratified START treaty through the Senate to reduce nuclear weapons here and in Russia.
Q Could you give some guidance on the Cabinet meeting and the President’s statement this afternoon?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the President will meet with his Cabinet. The predominant item on the agenda will be the economy. And then afterwards, instead of doing the statements sort of sitting down in the darker room, we’re going to go outside. The President will talk about the economy, specifically efforts underway in the Senate to move the small business package of tax cuts through, as well as the larger tax cut debate.
Q Robert, on the President’s upcoming book, you urge the press corps not to write about the First Family, particularly the President’s daughters, to keep them out of the public spotlight. But they’re central to this book project. And I’m wondering if you see a contradiction in that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think our encouragement is to keep their private lives private. I think that if you read the book, it’s, I think the President would tell you, an inspirational book about the country they live in and about their ability and the ability for children throughout this country to dream, as the President talked about yesterday, to dream big and accomplish whatever they want to.
I think the President and the First Lady would be the first to underscore that you all have done a great job in keeping the lives of two individuals, quite frankly, that really weren’t as involved in making a decision about running for office and moving to Washington -- allow them to live as normal a life -- a set of lives as they can. And I will say, having known each of those two children for seven or so years, it is remarkable; I think it’s a great testament to the stability of what the First Lady has provided each of them in creating an environment of normalcy even amidst the White House.
Q Do you know if they’ll be involved in marketing the book at all?
MR. GIBBS: No, I do not believe they’re -- they will not be involved in that and I don’t anticipate that the President will be heavily involved in that at all.
Q Robert, you mentioned earlier the tax cuts, the $700 billion for the upper-income levels, being something we can’t afford, and the President has said that many times. But if we can’t afford the $700 billion over 10 years, how can we afford the more than $3 trillion, which is much more than that if you add in the interest on that debt? Why is that affordable?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jackie, I think we all -- our viewpoint is that we are in the midst of great economic turmoil. For the middle class, that isn’t -- that didn’t start two years ago today when the stock market dropped because of the collapse of a big bank. It started years and years ago when their wages declined, when their jobs were moved overseas. And we’re at a period in which for a long time the middle class has gotten the short end of the deal. We believe that this is not the time to change that equation on the middle class.
I will say it was illuminating reading some of the stories today about the newfound excitedness of the deficit commission even from those who opposed it. And I think the President has -- the President couldn’t get the Congress to authorize that, but set up himself a commission that will look at our immediate and long-term fiscal picture in order to make the decisions that have to be made and we know will be made to put ourselves back on a path toward fiscal responsibility.
Q The argument for keeping the so-called middle-class tax cuts is because of the economic weakness right now. Why not make them temporary on the assumption that the economy will be much better, say, in two years or in three to five years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, certainly it’s our great expectation that it will. I think that for middle-class families, they’ve been, as I said earlier, they’ve been getting the short end of this deal for quite some time and I think providing them with a much needed break is important.
Q Can I go to Iran, and specifically the release of the hiker? The bail that was posted -- I know the United States government in various forms has denied paying it. And to the extent that we were involved with the discussion that led up to the release of Sarah Shourd, doesn’t the payment of that bail come close to being a payment of ransom for someone that we believe is innocent?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the U.S. government does not post bail for detained citizens and did not do so in this case. I’d point you to the Department of State for any additional detail that they may provide. Obviously, there are a number of countries that have been helpful in our efforts in communicating with and concerning the release yesterday. We are happy that Sarah is back with her family.
My message to the Iranian government, though, would be the same the President had yesterday, and that is, there are still two remaining hikers that have committed no crime in custody and detained in Iran. And there’s absolutely no reason that those two shouldn’t be immediately released by the Iranian government.
Q Just to be clear, the United States government had no role in the payment of the bail?
MR. GIBBS: They did -- does not post bail for detained --
Q It was not posed in discussions?
MR. GIBBS: -- does not post bail for detained citizens and did not do so in this case.
Q But is not -- is not involved in discussions that led that --
MR. GIBBS: Again, as I said, I’d point you to State if there are additional details that they want to provide.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. One, a lot of people are using and misusing religion in the name of religion, a lot of things are going on. You think time has come now for the President to use opportunity at the United Nations another message for -- in the name of religion so that with the confusion and all the misunderstanding going on around the world?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the President has -- will have weeks before the U.N., particularly last week where we saw what was potentially transpiring in Florida and what we know did transpire throughout the world in relation to the threat of that activity. So I think the President, in all honesty, has been -- has taken the occasion, on more than one occasion recently, to speak directly to that.
Q And second, as far as immigration is concerned, it’s not only question of legal immigrants, but also it’s affecting small businesses because they cannot hire by and large and they are hurting. But Senator Harry Reid has a new idea to make illegals legal. Is President aware of that, that they should go to school or to go to military, or what is --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, Goyal, what you’re referring to is the DREAM Act, which affects the children of parents that are in the United States. The President was a supporter of the DREAM Act as a senator. The administration is supportive of that legislation. The previous administration was supportive of that legislation. And certainly it’s our hope that working with Congress we can see progress on that. And none of that will replace what has to happen from a comprehensive level and a comprehensive perspective to deal with the issues around immigration reform.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q The DREAM Act may be included, as you know, as part of the defense authorization bill.
MR. GIBBS: That’s what Senator Reid has said, right.
Q Right -- as well as “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Will the President -- does he still plan on potentially vetoing that defense authorization bill if it includes money for the alternative engine?
MR. GIBBS: I know of no position change on our veto threat around that.
Q So even if it includes “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and the --
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if I can get further guidance, but I think an earlier statement said that. And as I mentioned earlier, the President is enormously -- has spent an enormous amount of time, as Secretary Gates has, on the tasks at hand in reshaping the way the Pentagon spends money, contracting a whole host of issues that go directly to the resources that come from our government and go through and to the Pentagon.
Q So no change on that position?
MR. GIBBS: I know of no change on that.
Q Robert, is the President concerned about the diminishing number of moderate Republicans in the Senate? And does he think he can work with some of these Tea Party senators if they win?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what remains to be seen is whether or not these are candidates that are going to win. I mean, again, I think their nomination in and of itself has changed, as I said earlier, the complexion of many of these races. That’s a process I think that’s important to understand.
That did not happen -- that did not start this summer. That did not start a month ago. Go back to I think some of the races that you saw in -- go to the special elections that you saw in New York last year. This happened in those places as well. We saw it continue in New York last night in the gubernatorial race.
Look, the President, regardless of who that makeup is, will seek to work with anybody in Congress, in the Senate or the House, that is serious about moving the country forward and addressing the problems that we have, whether it’s our medium- and long-term fiscal situation, whether it’s the economic recovery, whether it’s education, whether it’s immigration.
I will say that working with somebody on Capitol Hill is a -- it’s a two-way street. This President came here wanting and hoping to do that. But you’ve heard Senator McConnell and others say they had a conscious strategy from the very beginning not to do that. They didn’t propose alternatives; they just said no.
It’s what’s led to the Senate now proposing and considering legislation to cut taxes on small business that most Republicans are going to vote against. And if two years ago you would have said, I envision ending capital gains on investments in small business, do you think Mitch McConnell would support that? You’d say yes before I finished my hypothetical question. Yet you’ve -- they’ve worked themselves into a corner of saying, no, we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to do this, we don’t want to do that -- no, no, no. That’s what you get.
Q Does the President find offensive any of the themes of the Tea Party movement? For example, some people suggest there are racist undercurrents.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that -- I think as the President said -- obviously I think in the Tea Party there is a strain of frustration with where this country is and where we are economically. The President understands that. I don’t -- I think there are some pretty outlandish things that people have said in the past week that aren’t reserved for just Tea Party candidates.
Q Also, just one quick thing. The President has added something in the Rose Garden to his schedule today at 4:30 p.m. Can you give a general topic?
MR. GIBBS: Again, it’s going to be on small business legislation and tax cuts. There’s no personnel announcements.
Q May I follow up on that, please?
MR. GIBBS: Which part?
Q The second part of your answer.
MR. GIBBS: I’m kidding. Go ahead.
Q I’m sorry, the second part of your answer right now. You moved this to the Rose Garden, and you did say you’re going to take up the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and you certainly seem emboldened after the Boehner statement. Would you rule out -- wouldn’t this be a perfect storm for the President to call on Congress to move forwards and put a middle-class tax cut on the floor?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President did that last week. Again, I --
Q That was before Boehner’s statement that he did appear to jump on as soon as he said it.
MR. GIBBS: Because I think -- again, this was Saturday and Sunday John Boehner. I don’t know about Sunday evening, Monday- Tuesday John Boehner. But there was -- there appeared to be a willingness to accept the President’s position that those in the middle class shouldn’t be held hostage to tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
Q Wouldn’t you want to get that out before they leave?
MR. GIBBS: You know, if there’s a willingness by Republicans to do that, sure. But again, that was Saturday, early Sunday John Boehner. Then there was sort of Sunday evening, Monday-Tuesday John Boehner that seemed very quickly to go back to last week’s John Boehner. So this may be a better question for the willingness of leader Boehner to not hold the middle class hostage.
Q Ellen Tauscher said in the run-up to the vote on the New START treaty there’s been an aggressive effort led by the President to talk to Senate Republicans. Who has the President called? And has he been in close contact with the Russian President?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the last time he talked with Medvedev. Let me find a call list of those that -- I know that the President, the Vice President and the security team have all been involved in discussions over the past many weeks since the treaty went up. And so let me try to find the list.
Q Are there specific members that they're targeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there are members -- senators that have, through their statements, discussed a willingness to be supportive of a reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. I saw I think a clip yesterday from Senator Corker mentioning specifically that he thought that efforts over the past sort of four to six weeks had strengthened the treaty.
Obviously, the President has a very good relationship with both the chairman, John Kerry, and the ranking member, Senator Lugar -- good relationships with both, and I know has, as well as the Vice President, been in contact. Let me get a more specific list.
Q Robert, speaking of phone calls, has the President made any calls to the winners or losers in the primary elections?
MR. GIBBS: He I think made some calls last night. I don't know the extent of it. I can try to see --
Q Could you tell us who?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I will try to get a longer list.
Q To what extent was the friendship between President Obama and Adrian Fenty? Was it a political friendship, or was it a genuine friendship that encompassed politics?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to ask the President more specifically. I
think the President believes -- I believe there was both a personal and a political relationship obviously that each of those shared. And I know that at some point he’ll get an opportunity, if he hasn’t already, to call Mayor Fenty and wish him well.
Q And also, on New York, Charlie Rangel -- he’s won the primary going into November. But is Charlie Rangel’s win an albatross around the Democrats’ neck for November? Some have said that, to include members of the GOP.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any updates on or anything new to say on that race. I think the President has talked about that in the past.
Q Thanks. I realize that in the case of Delaware, last night’s win may actually have made it harder for the Republicans.
MR. GIBBS: That’s what the Republicans seem to think.
Q But does it send a turnout warning? And I’m wondering if you -- if the White House was trying to figure out how to advise maybe Democrats in California or in Connecticut, are there some ominous signals or lessons for Democrats to take away from last night’s election results?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, if nothing else, there’s certainly a very motivated portion of what’s become Republican voters.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you’ve certainly seen in surveys for many months that base Republican voters are very energized. I think if you look at a place like Delaware -- you had two very different visions. These were not -- I look back at our race in 2008. Save probably a couple of very -- save a couple of issues, you had pretty broad agreement between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on a number of things. I don’t think you could say the same -- certainly from the comments that I’ve seen today, I don’t think that Mike Castle and Christine O’Donnell seem to share the same viewpoint on a number of topics. I think the question for them is going to be where do the voters that end up on the other side of the outcome of these exceedingly divisive races that change the complexion of the map, where do those voters that weren’t on the winning side go?
I think if -- that’s certainly going to remain to be seen, because I think, by all accounts, again, there’s a significant ideological difference between those two camps.
Q But when it comes to kind of the “throw the bums out” message, do you think that that’s being more driven by the economy, or do you think that President Obama himself deserves some responsibility for it? After all, I mean, that was his rallying cry a couple of years ago.
MR. GIBBS: I think there has been an antiestablishment frustration in the electorate for a lot longer than we’ve been in Washington. There was a -- again, two years ago today, Lehman collapsed. There was a pretty -- both then and in the days after -- a pretty strong view on that, and quite frankly, there was before.
Look, I think last night was -- last night demonstrated, in as clear as I think any way, that you will take away a lot of things from this election. But I think the notion that -- I mean, look, we didn’t play a role in last night’s Delaware election. That was, as I said, a very pointed intra-party squabble. And I think there are clearly -- as a result of what happened in 2008, there’s a process that a party goes through after you lose an election like that. It is playing out. It is narrowing their map. And I think it is providing the candidates that we have with -- and I think the American people -- with some stark choices.
You have candidates that have questioned the decision to set up something like Social Security, to end Medicare, to -- I mean, those are -- to do away with a Department of Education. I think those are going to be interesting choices for some of those -- particularly for moderate voters. And, obviously -- there’s obviously a whole section of the electorate that isn’t going -- isn’t or doesn’t participate in an active primary or caucus process that will be part of a November election.
Q Thanks, Robert. On Afghanistan, last week, The Washington Post reported that the White House or the administration had asked John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to release a report it had completed on corruption in Afghanistan. Is that true?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer, but I can check.
Q Okay. And do you believe, though, that the American public deserves sort of full transparency on what’s happening politically in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: In what way?
Q Well, in terms of reports like this?
MR. GIBBS: David, like I said, let me check on the report. I don't --
Q Well, so but you can and you’ll get an answer on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I can check on that.
Q Robert, two questions --
Q Following up -- thank you. Les, I’m sorry.
Q Oh, all right. Sure.
Q On Iran, is there any mechanism to prevent Ahmadinejad from speaking to the U.N. unless he brings the two hostages out? And are there any negotiations to try to arrange a deal with him to come here with those two hostages?
MR. GIBBS: I’d point you to the Department of State on that. I don't know. None that I know of.
Q How about preventing him from speaking at the United Nations --
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not heard anything.
Q Can you look into that, please?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’d point you the Department of State.
Q Robert, two questions. In Virginia, Teresa Lewis is scheduled to be executed in eight days as an accessory to murders committed by two male accomplices, both of whom were sentenced to life by the same judge who sentenced her to death. And my question: Will the President extend clemency rather than allowing this monumental injustice?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not familiar with --
Q It was public. It was all over The Washington Post.
You do read that paper?
MR. GIBBS: I’m a subscriber. Can I finish my answer before you protest and gesticulate?
Q Exactly -- excuse me. Please forgive me.
MR. GIBBS: I know that's a high bar for me to ask, but what the heck, right? (Laughter.)
I’m not legally familiar with the details of the case. I assume that she is not sentenced under federal law but is sentenced under Virginia law.
Q Yes, a Virginia judge.
MR. GIBBS: Right -- through state law. And I think that is a clemency process that goes through the governor’s office.
Q I know, but the governor is not liable to -- he is not liable to do it. Will the President extend mercy to this woman?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think this is a process that the Virginia legal process will have to play out.
Q Could you give us just a rough estimate -- of more than -- the more than 200 Democrats running for reelection to Congress, how many have invited the President to speak in their districts this and next month before November 2nd?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that.
Q You don’t know the answer?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead, I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q Thanks. The German Marshall Fund of the United States today released a poll saying that 78 percent of Europeans approve of Barack Obama’s foreign policies. Any comments on that? And do you think the President would ever have a chance to get those numbers here in the States? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Good question. Look, I think that what the President has set out to do from the very beginning was to improve our relations with the rest of the world after I think what could easily be said was a rocky period in our bilateral and multilateral relationships around the world. And I think the priorities that he’s focused on are the priorities that -- certainly that the American people have, but also that citizens of the world have. That is to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of those that would do those in Europe and those in America harm; to be actively engaged and involved in a Middle East peace process that will result in a long-term lasting peace and a two-state solution; and to, probably most importantly, deal with al Qaeda and its extremist allies in places like Southeast Asia and throughout the world in order to make this country and the world a safer place to be.
I will say that -- I mean, I’m reminded as we go through this process of ratifying a START treaty -- again, the committee vote will be tomorrow -- that on so many of these efforts in the past, you have seen these reductions in strategic nuclear treaties pass with vote totals that were in the 90s -- because we’re reminded that the progress that we need to make on reducing that threat has been one that was supported by Presidents like Barack Obama and Presidents like Ronald Reagan; that by foreign policy has traditionally enjoyed a very bipartisan tenor and a bipartisan support. And certainly our hope is that as the Senate goes about processing the treaty in the committee and then ultimately on the floor, that that type of bipartisanship will be engendered in meeting the goals of making our planet a safer place to be for everyone.
Q Do you have the numbers of the people who he’s called -- is that what you got from Bill?
MR. GIBBS: No, Bill gave me another -- if I had your answer, April, I would have given it to you.
Q Thank you.
12:42 P.M. EDT
November 22, 2014
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November 20, 2014
The President Awards the National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation
November 20, 2014
November 19, 2014