Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/17/2010
* On September 23, 2010, President Obama will meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the margins of the UN General Assembly. They will discuss a wide range of topics touching on bilateral and international issues, among them U.S.-China economic relations, global rebalancing, and North Korea. This meeting underscores our two nations' commitment to a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship.
Also on September 23 in New York, President Obama will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Kan. The two leaders will reaffirm their mutual commitment to strengthening bilateral ties. The leaders are expected to discuss pressing issues such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and the global economy. This will be the second meeting between the two leaders.
2:25 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me button my coat and give you all a quick look at a week ahead.
On Monday, the President will participate in a live town hall meeting on jobs hosted by CNBC. That is at noon at the Newseum here in Washington. Later that day, the President travels to Philadelphia for an event for the DNC and an event for Congressman Sestak.
On Tuesday, President Obama will award Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger of the U.S. Air Force the Medal of Honor. Chief Etchberger will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in combat on March 11, 1968, in the country of Laos.
On Wednesday, the President will hold an event here at the White House on the Patient’s Bill of Rights. In the afternoon, the President will travel to New York City for the U.N. General Assembly. He will also attend an event for the DSCC and the DCCC’s joint committee that evening.
On Thursday, the President will address the United Nations in New York City. Later, the President and the First Lady will join President Bill Clinton to address the 2010 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. The President will also hold bilateral meetings with Chinese Premier Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Kan.
On Friday, the President will attend meetings as part of the U.N. General Assembly, including attendance at a U.N.-hosted meeting on Sudan to look ahead to the critical 2011 referendum. The President will also host a meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in New York. The President has invited the leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states, as well as the ASEAN Secretary General, to join him for the second ever U.S.-ASEAN leaders meeting. In the evening, the President will return to Washington.
We will have more on the President’s bilat schedule a little bit later on for that week at the U.N.
Q Robert, the President said that Elizabeth Warren will play a pivotal role in helping him determine the best choice for the director of the new consumer protection bureau. Does that rule her out as --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think as you have seen from her blog post and from the President’s comments, the President offered her the very critical and important job of standing up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- something that the President fought for, Secretary Geithner fought extremely hard for in the financial reform, and based on an idea conceptualized, as we’ve talked about, by Elizabeth Warren.
So she has the critical task of -- because Treasury has under the law the powers to set this up, the President will nominate a director and Elizabeth will be instrumental in helping the President fill that position.
Q So she is not a candidate for that position?
MR. GIBBS: Again, she’s going to help the President find new leadership.
Q Could she be a candidate?
MR. GIBBS: Guys, I think her focus right now and I know the President’s focus right now is to get started on the very critical work of standing this up. This is unlike -- well, unlike any nominee that the President has made, what he’s nominated her to do was just create it. It needs to stand up in its own existence; that is, this bureau will pull together functions from seven different departments and agencies into one to protect the consumers and middle class of this country as the President discussed. The power to set that up rests in the law with the Secretary of Treasury and with the Department of Treasury, and that's who she’ll report to.
Q And can you address the criticism from Republicans and some business groups about circumventing the Senate? Was that the --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, I think it’s very important to understand that in the legislation passed by the Senate, is exactly as I just described it, this is -- she is not the director. She is -- she works for the Secretary of Treasury and the President of the United States and has the duty of standing up something to protect consumers that, as we just discussed, doesn’t currently right now exist. There’s a team of about 30 or 40 people at the Department of Treasury working on this.
She will lead those people in setting this up. But the law specifically writes into it that the Department of Treasury is to stand this agency up -- again, pulling the strands of seven different departments and agencies into one Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
So this is -- she’s not the director. As I said earlier, the President will appoint a director. So there’s nothing to go around.
Q Will you commit to making her available to testify on Capitol Hill, which is what some Republicans are --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that, and I will certainly check.
Q Robert, so you’re not ruling her out as a candidate?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. She is focused on setting this up. I think you heard the President and I think you’ve heard her over the course of the past many years talk about what would the financial crisis have been like if when people went to get a mortgage or when people got a credit card, instead of a 30-page contract that most people -- I guess including myself and many in here -- probably don’t read the whole thing; a credit card that might -- whose interest rate might explode without you knowing; fine print. That’s a big task and a big job.
Q When does the President hope to name a director, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: I think over the course of the next several months.
Q Next several months? And if she isn’t named as the first director, would she remain a special advisor? How long is that job actually going to be --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there’s an end date for that. Obviously the President very much values her advice. And we’re here to talk about the job that she begins today, not when she ends.
Q Robert, why was she not given the job of director? Why go this route as an advisor?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think first and foremost the President wanted somebody like Elizabeth Warren, with her background, with her experience, and most of all with her passion, to get this going on the right road. We’ve got -- again, we’ve got to stand this up.
Secondly, nominating -- anybody that gets nominated, it’s going to take months and months and months before they’re ready to be involved in the standing up of this position. And we know from the appointments process that the Republicans in the Senate have virtually ground to a halt; nearly 200 nominations are pending. Nobody was going to be confirmed anytime soon.
So how do you -- what the President was focused on was how do you get this agency started, how do you get this agency stood up -- and this made perfect sense.
Q So then you were trying to circumvent that whole process --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no, again --
Q -- that could have been contentious and would have delayed the process, right?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Dan, let’s -- again, I think this is very -- this shouldn’t be hard, but I think it bears explaining. There is a -- there will be a director. That director will go through and must be approved by the Senate. But, again, there isn’t -- this isn’t -- you might drive by the Department of Commerce as you come to work today. You might drive by the Department of Treasury. Those buildings physically exist and their functions exist within those buildings.
Right now, we’re in the process of standing up the function of the CFPB. The task of setting up and standing up that function rests in the law with the Treasury. Elizabeth Warren is an advisor to the Secretary of Treasury to do exactly that. So there’s no circumventing of the law in any way on this.
Q Okay, and just -- I’ll take a stab again at just her future role. By taking on this current role, does that preclude her from putting her name in the pool, as it --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m just going to -- I’ll repeat that the President will nominate a director and Elizabeth will be instrumental in picking who that is.
Q We’re going to beat this dead horse many times during this briefing, I’m sure. But she said she doesn’t want the job. Why would you not rule her out if she doesn’t want the job?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, then let’s put it in her words. I mean, look, I’ll say this, Chip, I think the -- I hate to use the Washington versus America argument, but I will.
Q No, you don’t. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: All right, I don’t hate it, but I’ll use it anyway. I got to tell you -- and, look, I think this goes for -- I’ll actually -- I’ll make an amendment to my original argument. I think there are a lot of people in this town that do care about what the function of this bureau is going to be.
How are we going to make sure that mortgage contracts are in simple English and are understood? How do we enforce the credit card law that the President signed just last year that doesn’t allow for fine print, it doesn’t allow for the types of shenanigans that we’re used to and that some of us have probably fallen prey to?
There’s -- that's what she’s focused on. That's what the President wants her to be focused on. The President will nominate a director. That director will go through -- rightly go through Senate confirmation. But right now, her job is to stand up what the President believed was an important priority and did not want to wait, as you heard him say, in standing that agency up.
Q Well, let me try the America versus Washington thing. We’re asking you a very simple question -- is she on the list of possible nominees -- and you give these long answers without answering the question yes or no. I think the average American concludes --
MR. GIBBS: Again, if she said she’s not interested, then there’s your answer.
Q You’re going to take her word for that then, and that's the end of the discussion?
MR. GIBBS: It would be awkward to contradict her on the first day.
Q So you are ruling her out then?
MR. GIBBS: If you want to quote her, I’ll quote her.
Q Let me ask, we’ve been told by people in the West Wing that if she were nominated at some point, she would have to cease all activities related to getting this organization up and going. Is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: That is -- that is, as I understand it, an agreement that both the parties in the Senate have on nominations. So I think that is -- that goes to the argument that I was making to Dan. You're talking about probably -- I mean, let’s just be clear and honest, you’re talking about probably a 10-month pause on getting something like this set up, right?
I mean it took 10 months -- you’ve heard me use this example before -- it took 10 months for our nominee for -- to run the GSA to get confirmed. It just --
Q Right, but I’m saying it would make it impossible for her to be the nominee here because in her position now, her dual role that she has at Treasury and the White House, she would have to stop that job if she became the nominee. She would have to stop setting up the agency.
MR. GIBBS: Again, she could not be involved in, yes, in the functions of setting a lot of this up. But, again, I think it’s important to understand why the President did not think delaying -- through any nomination -- delaying setting this structure up.
Q Robert, you have several measures in front of Congress right now designed to stimulate small business job growth. Obviously, we saw the President out on the campaign trail last night. Any regrets about this being proposed during the campaign season when it’s such a political time of year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think let’s be clear, the legislation that the Senate finally passed yesterday with the help of a couple of important Republican votes wasn’t -- I guess if you want to say the silly season is all of every election year. I don't think that's true.
This has been pending for a long, long time. This has been pending for months. You’ve heard the President discuss the importance of small business tax cuts and small business lending on event after event after event. This passed the House, it went to the Senate, and it took an inordinately long time to be dealt with.
But let’s understand, Mike, I don't -- there is a political calendar that the Constitution and law has set out for a long period of time. The economy may or may not -- usually won’t -- bend to a political calendar. And if the President sees that there are things that need to happen to strengthen our economic recovery, he’s not going to look at the political calendar to decide, well, if this is what the economy needs -- helping small businesses get an infusion of capital, cutting investment taxes on small businesses -- he’s not going to delay doing that.
I will say this. I think the delay is the politics that are -- that get played by some on Capitol Hill. I’ve said this a hundred times and I'll add one more to it. If at any point in the last two years you listen to what is said on the floor of the Senate, it would be mind-boggling to think that Republican senators that voted against legislation yesterday, based on their support for cutting taxes for small business, and increasing the amount of capital that they have access to it, you wouldn’t in a hundred years bet they’d be opposed to it.
In fact, the very argument that they make on extending the tax cuts for the wealthy are what? Helping small business. That was yesterday. That was yesterday’s vote. And yet despite using one argument to prop up one political act, for some reason that same logic didn’t carry to something else.
Q Does the President regret, though, that some of the small business aspects were not included in the original stimulus last year, feeling like we’d be further along with job development at this point?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, some of the expensing, the 50 percent expensing that was in the small business legislation for 2010, was in the 2009 Recovery Act. In fact, it was -- it’s such a fairly non-controversial idea, it was actually in effect in 2008 as part of the prior administration.
So, again, I think, Mike, your question is a perfect example of, can people put politics aside to do what they support and what is right to strengthen the economy? Yesterday I think 61 -- there were 61 “yes” votes for doing exactly that -- putting aside politics and doing what’s right for the economy. There were 38 people that said, no, we can’t put aside politics to help small business. That is, regrettably, where we are in our political system. It should not be where we are in helping the businesses that we know create jobs get the help that they need and deserve.
Q The City of Los Angeles Controller did an audit, says two of the agencies that got $111 million of Recovery Act funds have only created 55 jobs so far -- about $2 million a job. Does the President find that upsetting, outrageous --
MR. GIBBS: I would have to get -- I have not seen the report from the Controller. I'd have to get some information from the Recovery Act guys.
Q Two questions. Just a quick follow-up on the Ms. Warren issue. When will the public start to see the intended benefits of the legislation? And will it hinder their ability to receive those benefits if there’s no director --
MR. GIBBS: No, look, again, there is a process of setting this up. Right now the rulemaking function of -- the rulemaking function of the agencies that will be drawn into what will eventually be the CFPB lie in those agencies and departments right now and will continue to.
I do think it is regrettable, Mike, that regardless of who we nominated, that nomination would likely have taken months and months and months. I think there’s a whole separate line of important questions about why the basic function of our government takes so very long to confirm. Just this week we confirmed a judge after nearly 300 days of waiting. You cannot function like this. There is certainly an “advise and consent” -- a very important provision. It is not “advise, delay and consent.” It should not be -- it should not be that way.
Elizabeth will start -- she was here today, obviously, and will start bright and early on Monday, standing up an agency that I think consumers will begin to see the benefits of very quickly.
Q Speaking of politics, the former Governor of Alaska, Ms. Sarah Palin, will be in Iowa this evening for a --
MR. GIBBS: A beautiful state. (Laughter.)
Q You have some experience there.
MR. GIBBS: I love Iowa.
Q In the past, you and even the President --
Q And ethanol. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: More fried food, but, yes, I’ll go with the ethanol too, Mark.
Q In the past, the President has been, I think it’s fair to say, dismissive of some of her expertise in particular areas or perhaps her expertise in general. But there’s no doubt at this point that she is a very politically influential and powerful person that could -- the result of her endorsements could influence what you do from here from the White House, depending on the composition of the Congress. I’m wondering, given the fact that she is going to Iowa, given the fact there is going to be speculation about a possible run for President, does the President view her as a political threat?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, Mike, I don’t think the President has up until this point or does currently spend a lot of time thinking about the political season of 2012. That’s -- I think we’d all admit we’re in the midst of the 2010 election season, but 2012 is a long way away. So I don’t think the President spends a lot of time thinking about this.
Look, I don’t think there is any doubt that she -- we saw this in 2008. She can rally a -- the very conservative elements of the Republican base. That was I think, as you mentioned, quite clear in her ability to impact who becomes the nominee in Delaware or in other places around the country. I don’t think that’s in any doubt. We saw her ability to draw quite big crowds. I don't doubt that the Republican Party fundraiser will be quite the recipient of that big crowd tonight. And she drew -- she’s always drawn big crowds back to 2008.
At some point, if she decides to become a contestant for President of the United States, there will be a whole series of questions that each has to go through and answer for the people of Iowa, the people of New Hampshire, and throughout this country.
I think it’s a healthy process to go through. I think -- I will say Iowa is a great place to start it. I think most of the people in here have probably been to more events than they can remember in a place like Iowa. You are -- you stand up there with a microphone and you call on caucus-goers and answer their questions, and you have to build support and a following very methodically. It takes a lot of time.
But I have no doubt that she is a formidable force in the Republican Party, and may well be, in all honesty, the most formidable force in the Republican Party right now.
Q Do you interpret this trip tonight as the first step in a run for President?
MR. GIBBS: I like Iowa. I think it’s a great place. It’s normally around this time of year you go to dip your toe in the water, and my guess is that President Obama about this time in 2006 did I think what would be considered a somewhat analogous event. And that's my guess is, is she’s going to dip that toe in.
Q Robert, in starting up the bureau, isn’t Elizabeth Warren going to be director in everything but title?
MR. GIBBS: No, obviously, there are legal functions that a director and only a director can perform. The President will, with the help of Elizabeth Warren, find somebody who’s qualified to do that. But there are a host of things that have to be done, again, to functionally set a bureau up. There’s a group, as I said, working at the Department of Treasury under -- as stipulated by the law to do exactly that.
Q She was named to two jobs. Will she get double pay?
MR. GIBBS: No. If that was the case, I would be busy writing my memo to be hired by three additional departments. No, she will report to and work for the Department of Treasury. She’s paid by the Department of Treasury. I don’t know the exact amount, but she’s paid at the level comparable to an Under Secretary of Treasury.
Q And I noticed the other day the President re-nominated Donald Berwick for the Medicare/Medicaid post, even after the recess appointment. Is he looking for a confirmation during a lame-duck session?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we -- obviously a recess appointment only takes you so long.
Q The end of next year.
MR. GIBBS: Right. And we believe that this is somebody who deserves a full confirmation. Again, I'd go back to the -- an unfortunate thing that’s happened along the way of trying to create a government, and that is virtual gridlock in getting very important folks into important jobs. And it is a process that has to be fixed. And I say that not as a Democrat or Republican, but just the simple functions of what we as Americans expect out of our government are hard to do without the people there to do that.
Q So can he act as the recess appointee director when he is up as the nominee for the same job?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, under the laws of recess appointments.
Q He can?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Senator Dodd said today that until a director is named to head the consumer agency, it will have no teeth. So, I mean, what kind of sense of urgency -- you’re saying it’s going to take months to get someone actually approved.
MR. GIBBS: It’s going to take months to get somebody through a process. Again, that is the sad reality of where we are, whether it is in appointing somebody as non-controversial as the GSA; judges go through the committee process unanimously, they get voted out 70-something to 20-something -- it only takes 300 days, which is I think nothing short of ridiculous.
Q So following on Mike’s question --
MR. GIBBS: But I will say this. I don’t -- the important function of -- again, the rulemaking function of agencies that will be collapsed into the CFPB continues with those agencies, but there are a lot of important functions that Elizabeth can do in setting this up and in beginning the process of putting our laws and our regulations back on the side of consumers.
Q Anything in particular that consumers will be able to see before --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we’ll send out some stuff on that, yes. Again, I think you’ll see people -- there -- the functions of this I think will be felt by consumers rather quickly.
Q And what are the administration’s goals going into next week, into the U.N. meeting next week?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you’ll -- the President I think has a number of important meetings -- I mentioned three here this afternoon -- one with China, one with Japan and one with a larger group of Asian nations. I think many of the issues that we talked about last year at the United Nations remain on the docket: concern about Iran, concern about North Korea. Obviously we go having made progress yesterday on a START treaty that we still believe that the Senate will ratify before the end of the year and mark an important accomplishment on both nations’ path towards reducing our stockpile of nuclear weapons.
We will have a longer briefing call on Monday to walk through the longer list of scheduled events that the President will take part in, additional bilateral meetings that he will participate in.
Q And what about China’s currency? Will that come up also? How important is that?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that issues around the global economy will be mentioned.
Q Robert, do you have the topics of discussion for the bilats planned?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I'll get that and we’ll shoot that out.*
Q Robert, last week in Wisconsin, Ohio, and again yesterday in Connecticut, the President has been using some language about Social Security, protecting Social Security. Who is that directed at?
MR. GIBBS: Which language in particular?
Q Protecting Social Security from privatization.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, you have -- there are candidates that are -- well, there are candidates out there now that are discussing privatization, going back to the ideas -- I think proving the point that the President discusses going back to some of the ideas that were had in 2005 by the Bush administration.
Let’s be clear, there are some candidates that are out there that want to go way past privatizing Social Security and just do away with the whole darn thing. So there’s no doubt that ensuring that a very successful idea is there for future generations is something that will be debated in this election and certainly in years to come.
Q Yes, Robert, one more question on the General Assembly. There was some talk of the President -- you’ve mentioned New START -- the President attending a fissile materials treaty meeting also. Do you know if that’s on the list or not?
MR. GIBBS: I will check when we get a -- I get a longer list and see if we can put that out.
Q Robert, the Chief of Staff has been doing some polling on the Chicago mayor’s race. He has consulted with people. He has also held some meetings. Do you anticipate that he’ll be making a decision about his future before the November elections or probably afterwards, or do you know when?
MR. GIBBS: Peter, I’ll say what I’ve said and I think what others in the administration have said on this. Obviously, the Chief of Staff is going to take some time to make a decision. He talked about earlier this year and talked about -- has talked about in the past his interest in that job. Those of us who’ve spent time in Chicago understand why. He will, I presume, over the course of the next little bit make that decision and announce what it is.
I will say -- and I’ve certainly said this before but it bears repeating -- and that is we start each morning and we end each day with meetings in the Chief of Staff’s office, as we should. Those meetings are focused on our tasks at hand, not on some decisions that he needs to make.
Q Will he make his announcement to the Tribune Washington bureau specifically? Or will he more generally -- (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You know, I’ll check and see if any of my friends from the Sun Times are here. You’ll have to work out -- that's, I understand, a sticky political question which I am not dare going to wade into.
Q Robert, was anything wrong with Elizabeth Warren’s voice today? (Laughter.) We noticed that she didn't say anything at the announcement, and I was wondering why.
MR. GIBBS: No. In fact, I think she’s got a busy TV schedule here this afternoon. I spent some time talking to her and she appeared fine. But I will pass along your cares and concerns. (Laughter.)
Q We have some lozenges downstairs. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Excellent.
Q Another question about sort of the Chief of Staff. Do you think Tom Donilon would make a good Chief of Staff?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I -- (laughter) -- that's good. I’ll give you credit for that.
Q Or any other suggestions you might have. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Should I just start rattling off a few names? Let me say this. There are a number of talented people in the event that the President need to make -- needed to make that decision, Glenn. I think it is important -- I’m certainly not going to get ahead of a decision that the current Chief of Staff makes. I think -- again, I think that that's a decision that the President will ultimately have to make in the event that Rahm decides to run for mayor. But there just isn’t a lot of time that I have seen or been involved in, in addressing that question up into this point.
Q Robert, are any sort of conversations going on in terms of prepping for the eventuality? He occupies a huge space in the West Wing. I mean, clearly you guys must be talking about what you might do.
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I don't doubt that at some place there may be planning going on for a whole host of things. I will say this, Glenn. To say that it’s taken up even a marginal amount of time, I think, would be inaccurate. There are -- Lord knows there are -- there’s enough stuff on our plate to keep us busy far past five o’clock this afternoon and well into this weekend. Our current Chief of Staff normally jokes that Friday presents just two more work days until Monday. So that’s the mindset that we have and we will see what decisions need to be made based on decisions that the current Chief of Staff might make.
Q Thank you, Robert. First of all, let me say thank you again for getting back to me so promptly on Tuesday about the advance the President received for his books. Is he going to donate the remainder of the advance to the cause that the publishers mentioned, the scholarship fund?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I’m relying a little bit on my memory here, but the advance for --
Q For three books.
MR. GIBBS: -- for the children’s book, which on a contract signed in December of ’04, I think, was $200,000. If I’m not mistaken, that advance is split three ways. The second and third portions of that are received at the completion of a manuscript and at publication, so all of that $200,000, along with the proceeds from the sale of the book, will go to a charity.
Q And that will be about what time?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I can check on the advance. I don’t know the answer to that. Obviously, the proceeds for the book -- I’m now going back on memory on a book tour in 2006 -- accrue and at some point will be given out to the charity. I don’t have the exact time.
Q The other thing I wanted to ask you was right now we’re seeing the start of the trial of a very influential lobbyist, Paul Magliocchetti, who had great contacts throughout the Democratic Party. Did the President ever meet him when he was a senator or President?
MR. GIBBS: The name doesn’t ring a bell, and I don’t have any knowledge that he did. But I don’t know the answer.
Q He worked for John Murtha for many years.
MR. GIBBS: The name doesn’t sound familiar.
Q So from a pragmatic perspective and a governance perspective, I can definitely understand why President Obama would want to have Elizabeth Warren in this position of standing up the agency. But as a constitutional law expert with a long view of history, does he have any concerns that the partisan nature of the times has -- is creating a situation where more power is consolidated inside the White House beyond the scope of confirmation and --
MR. GIBBS: Based on what --
Q Well, like, okay, so for example, like John Brennan maybe could or could not have been confirmed, but doesn’t have to be, right? Or in another -- let’s say the next President.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just -- let’s take a few of these examples at a time. The legislation that the Senate and the House passed and the President signed on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides that the Department of Treasury has the sole responsibility in setting up this bureau.
Q I know, I understand it’s legal. I get that. I’m asking a different question.
MR. GIBBS: I guess -- I’m not a lawyer, but I don't think we should just skate by the “we get that it’s legal” because I think that it’s important to understand that's where the job responsibilities derive from.
In terms of John Brennan, John holds a position quite similar to a job that was held by Fran Townsend and others in a previous administration because -- you know, look, you have a Director of National Intelligence, you have a CIA, you have NCTC, you have other agencies that John helps to coordinate on behalf of the President. So I don't -- John’s role, Elizabeth Warren’s role, are not either out of bounds in terms of the law or the Constitution.
And I’ll let you finish in a second, but, look, do I think that -- and this doesn’t relate to what you’re saying on consolidated job responsibilities inside the White House, but I don't think there’s any doubt and no one should doubt that this -- the confirmation process is -- if it’s not broken, it is severely damaged, and it has -- and it does affect the pace at which our judges are confirmed, our nominees are confirmed, to the point of slowing down I think the important functions of our government. It’s a sad state, and it should be repaired on a bipartisanship basis.
Q Because that -- I mean that's my question. I’m not trying to say that the President is doing something wrong. What I’m asking is, are Presidents nowadays forced into a situation where they have to basically consolidate decision-making inside the White House beyond the reach of senators being able to grill someone in committee sessions because the confirmation process makes it not worth going through that?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I don't think that -- I don't think the positions that were either -- that have been constructed in the past for whatever administration, I think are -- I don't see them as sort of structured outside the -- outside that process. I think obviously some functions have -- look, John provides, as Fran Townsend did, important information and policy information and policy coordination on counterterrorism, which is something that has increased in importance over the past few years.
But every government depends on an able and capable functioning Cabinet to provide the President with advice on issues but also on running the everyday functions of a government. Look, I think if you look back at -- take you back to -- in April in the oil spill, you had -- look, without a functioning government, you have the Department of Interior that has purview over the well, you’ve got the Coast Guard that has purview over the water, the EPA which has purview over the land and the air. There’s a whole host of functions that are performed in a normal structure of government.
Q Two days I asked about a Washington Post report, whether the administration --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know where I am on that answer, but let me ask again today.
Q Because you said you were going to check. Thanks.
MR. GIBBS: I will say, David, not -- sometimes the bureaucracy does not cooperate with said Press Secretary, but I will --
Q You got back so quickly to him. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I had the answer to his question. I’ve got to go find the answer to your question.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Ken, and then I'll come over.
Q Robert, is there any discussion yet in the White House about any kind of disaster assistance to New York after yesterday’s “finger of God” storm up there?
MR. GIBBS: I will say normally, Ken, the -- I don't know if the state of New York has or the city has, through the state, asked for or petitioned for a disaster declaration. Normally those disaster declarations come through the process into FEMA from the state, and I’m unclear if the state has asked for assistance on that.
Q Okay. Unrelated, any discussions inside the White House about perhaps finding a position for Mayor Fenty?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’ve heard. None that I’ve heard.
Q Thank you, Robert. The President is concerned about the North Korea, you said earlier, and the President will hold a bilateral talk with China and Japan. Why not then the President hold meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I don't -- let me -- I don't have a full schedule of bilateral meetings in front of me for next week, so I don’t know if South Korea is on that list or not. Give us a little bit more time and we’ll get you some information.
Q Thank you, Robert. Afghan elections this weekend, a lot of violence targeting Afghan candidates. First, is the President concerned about some of the escalated violence recently undermining the elections? And secondly, has there been any concern that a lot of these polling sites are predominantly Pashtun areas of the country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll say this. The security of and the function of the elections occupied a decent space of the time that the President -- when the President and his team met earlier in the week in the Situation Room. They discussed specifically ensuring that there was security -- a significant security apparatus in place and there are, as you mentioned, very serious security concerns in many areas in the country. We know that there are those that will seek to draw attention by disrupting these important elections. That was something that General Petraeus and the team discussed with the President.
There -- in terms of other concerns, whether it’s fraud monitoring, things like that, obviously there’s -- we have -- ISAF and others have worked with bodies and committees that have been established to monitor any fraud claims and to deal with any of those complaints expeditiously. I know we did a background call on this yesterday.
I do think it’s important to understand that while we are monitoring for fraud and while we have serious concerns about safety and security, we do look forward to successful elections. I do think it’s important to understand there are I think more than 2,500 candidates seeking a little less than 250 posts in one -- in the lower house. So understand that on average you have 10 candidates for one job, nine aren’t going to win.
Q You thought Iowa was bad --
MR. GIBBS: Exactly. So I think that we’re -- there’s a functioning arrangement to deal with fraud and complaints. I do think you’re going to hear -- again, you’re going to have nine people that aren’t going to get as many votes as one is, and you’ll hear a number of claims. We take those claims seriously, but we think that the Afghans have set up a structure to provide for a successful election.
Q The fact that there is not going to be polling stations, particularly in Pashtun areas, people in the toughest areas of Afghanistan -- areas that you’re trying to win -- doesn’t that in itself just undermine the election effort right there?
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, again, I think the Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election. And I think that’s what will happen.
Q Could I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back over there in one second.
Q Senator Whitehouse came out of a meeting with the President yesterday saying the President had told him he was really relishing the fight over taxes; that he’d be there all the way with them. Can you talk about what he told them? And is this something where he is going to go all the way through; he’s not going to cut a compromise on -- that will surprise the senators?
MR. GIBBS: Well, George, I think the President -- I think there is a compromise to be had. There is, if it will just be taken. And the President has outlined that. The President believes that we must make permanent the tax cuts for those in the middle class, for those that make less than $250,000 a year.
As I understand, the -- and it’s taken a bit to get back to the position that they held last week. There was a bit of a kerfuffle on Sunday and Saturday at what the position was earlier in the week. It appears as if Mr. Boehner has gone back to the position he had before he taped “Face the Nation.” And that is, he wants the middle-class tax cuts and the tax cuts for the wealthy.
The President believes that there is perfect compromise. We agree on the middle class and they say they want the middle class. Let’s get the middle class done. We can get that done this week. We can get that done -- or we can get that done next week. And then, let’s leave what is -- what we disagree on for later to debate. And we’ll have time to debate that. But let’s provide the certainty that is needed for middle-class families that, as you heard the President discuss today, have been hit hard over the past decade.
And I will say this, to go back to my America versus Washington analogy here, almost everywhere else in the country except a little place called Washington would two sides agreeing on a big chunk of this not be viewed as the perfect way to move this issue forward. I agree. You agree. Let’s agree on what we agree on. Let’s move that forward. And let’s take what we disagree on and save that for another time to debate, because we do know we’ve got until the 31st of December to have that longer debate. But let’s provide the certainty for middle-class families right now by extending those middle-class tax cuts.
Q And on Senator Whitehouse’s point that the President said he really relishes this fight?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- I think the President believes that this, in many ways, illuminates the choices that we have in this election. And that is -- and that’s our -- you’ve got a group that doesn’t -- that wants to address spending, yet I have yet to hear a good argument for borrowing $700 billion to extend tax cuts for the upper end. There’s a whole series of choices that each side is going to make in this, and I think it highlights a lot of what we see.
Sam, and then I’ll come back over there.
Q This week, we’ve seen the Vice President on the “Rachel Maddow” show, and some of the comments the President made last night seemed to be aimed at making sure that liberals who may or may not be disappointed with the pace of some of the policies here turn out to vote in November. Does this reflect a concern on the part of the White House that the base isn’t in line for November?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in fact Vice President Biden had a long scheduled interview with Rachel Maddow that had to be cancelled at one point, and I think fortuitously for them, fell the day after the Delaware election.
Look, the President is going to make an appeal in this election season to everybody in this country, not just one political party and not just one ideological bent. The steps that he’s taken to strengthen the economy and address many of the fundamental problems that our country has faced for many years, that's a case that he wants to make to the whole of the country.
Q Should we expect to see any events or language specifically, though, targeting some of these groups who --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you’ve -- I guess in that regard I would point you to the schedule that the DNC earlier released on some specific events the President will do, not next week but starting the week after and into the election season.
You had an Afghan question and then a tax question.
MR. GIBBS: Well, presumably a tax question.
Q Yes, on Afghanistan, you’ve got something like 15 percent of the polling places have already been closed. You’ve got the Taliban warning people not to vote. You’ve got less international monitors than you had in the elections last year. You’ve got people terrified to vote and they’re expecting a very low turnout. Doesn’t this mean that the legitimacy of the election is in doubt?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t -- I would disagree with that. Look, the Taliban terrorizes people in Afghanistan every single day, okay? Their terrorizing people in that country is not simply reserved for near an election. They’re -- is a brutal regime that wishes to do the people of Afghanistan harm every single day. That's why the people of Afghanistan don't want to see them return to the position of power that they had. That's why these elections are so important.
Of course the brutal minority of the Taliban would seek to do anything it possibly could to undermine these elections. I think you will see brave Afghans disregard the thuggish warnings of a brutal regime and instead cast their votes, as I said, in a very important election. We will monitor that election and others will monitor that election as we go down the road of progress in Afghanistan.
Q On middle-class tax cuts, you mentioned a compromise. Well, a few days ago you said there was an overlap in this area. Wouldn’t the only overlap be the first two years, because you have people that want it -- the administration wants it permanently -- but there are others who say we can only afford it for two years. So isn’t the real compromise, the real overlap, just extending them for a few years --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the real compromise is moving forward on the middle-class tax cuts.
Q Right, but you’ve also said -- I mean, if I can put my decoder ring on here for a minute -- the first -- the overlap is --
MR. GIBBS: Do you have a decoder ring? (Laughter.) That's the coolest thing I’ve heard. (Laughter.)
Q No, sometimes it’s a mood ring.
MR. GIBBS: Bill ate Cracker Jacks and told me he had a decoder ring, but I didn’t really believe him.
Q Okay, all right. The second part of my decoder ring is now you, in the last few days, you keep saying you have until December to -- the end of December, while the fiscal commission comes out with its reports December 1. If they were to throw up their hands, which some expect them to do, and say, we can’t figure out how to do long-term, medium-term deficit reduction, doesn’t that really bring the affordability into question for doing anything beyond two years?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President has stated his position on the middle class. My mentioning the 31st of December was not to preclude what the fiscal commission may or may not bring to the table, and we’re not going to prejudge what they may or may not say. That was simply to mention that we’ve got some time left in this year before the tax cuts legally expire, as part of the 2001 legislation, to deal with areas that are of disagreement. But it only makes sense before Congress leaves to agree -- to vote on and to pass what it appears as if most sides agree upon, and that's the middle class.
I do not think -- and you’ve heard the President say this on a number of occasions -- we should not hold hostage the middle class, as some want to see the high-end tax cuts extended for a series of years or made permanent. That doesn't make sense. It certainly doesn't make sense in what we can afford. But most of all it doesn’t make sense in what we know we both agree on.
Let’s move forward on what we agree on. Let’s not hold the middle class hostage. That would provide some needed and important certainty for middle-class families that have seen their incomes drop over the course of the last 10 years.
Q Well, would it be holding them hostage if everybody agrees at least to extend it for two years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President’s position is clear on moving forward on those middle-class tax cuts.
Have a good weekend, guys.
END 3:17 P.M. EDT