Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/4/2010
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Mr. Gibbs, a few questions about the terror threat aimed at Europe to start with. First of all, does the White House, the administration, have any reason to believe that that threat applies to the United States?
MR. GIBBS: Ben, just let me talk largely for a second. Obviously the alert that was issued by the State Department is based on information about potential threats in Europe. We want travelers to be alert and aware. The particular threat information, as I said, deals with Europe and isn’t related to the United States.
Having said that, we certainly know that al Qaeda and its affiliates seek to do us harm and attack us here. So we are -- we remain vigilant about protecting our homeland. And I think that's all I have to say about that.
Q Can you update us on the President’s activities as it relates to this over the last day or so in terms of briefings or calls to other world leaders?
MR. GIBBS: I am not aware of other calls. Obviously the team at State and inside the building have worked in conjunction with our European allies in talking through information and steps that we're taking. The President was briefed on this on Saturday here in the White House. I assume there was some discussion about this in the daily briefing, but I don't have anything specific.
Q Some people who this applies to or traveling in Europe can find this kind of unnerving. They’re asked to be more vigilant but not really sure exactly what that means as they’re going about a trip or seeing family members. What does the President -- what’s his message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, let me say this. There’s obviously an extensive amount of information on the State Department’s website. This is --in many ways, I think you should think of this as taking some very common-sense, precautionary steps -- again, many of those are listed on the website with the alert. This is not a warning, travel warning, telling people not to go. This is simply to raise awareness and alertness of those that are there -- report specific activity; be very aware of your surroundings. That stuff is listed on the website and I think those are -- many precautions that are good to bear in mind as you continue traveling in Europe.
Q And finally, are you aware if the administration has received any pushback from European allies about this alert from the State Department, particularly as it could affect tourism there?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Ben, none that I'm aware of. We have worked in conjunction with our close European allies on this. As you know, the British took a similar -- or issued a similar alert for its citizens traveling in parts of Europe. So we have for many days been working deeply in conjunction with those in Europe.
Q It’s an entire continent. Why so broad?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, to give the best available information for those traveling in the area to be alert.
Q Okay. And a U.S. drone strike killed eight Germans in Pakistan today. Do you have any information about that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t, and if I did, I wouldn’t get into it, no.
Q And what about these reports that you may be leaving us for the DNC?
MR. GIBBS: I would refer you to what I said on Saturday about that. People in this building are focused on what they’re doing here now, much like I am. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
Q But does that mean you’re staying around?
Q Yes or no?
Q Are you ruling it out?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t had any conversations about it, so --
Q But are you thinking in your mind -- not about conversations -- are you thinking about staying or leaving? Is it a possibility?
MR. GIBBS: April, I love my job.
Q We all love our jobs, but sometimes --
Q Well -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I would say the ferociousness with which you’re asking this question might be a signal to your employer that you have some deep-seated --
Q No, no, no, no, no -- I love my job. I’m asking about you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You know what, I’m not going to talk about my job.
Q There’s been a lot of talk about what kind of legislation the Congress might consider after the elections, during the lame duck session. And I’m wondering if the President would have any problem with any specific legislation passed in lame duck. For instance, would he be concerned at all if an energy bill, a major energy bill, were passed, finalized, in a lame duck? Would he be concerned at all about a major immigration bill passed, finalized, sent to his desk from lame duck?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, it’s hard to know what that would mean based on -- we obviously need to look through --
Q I mean as a philosophical concept, not -- I’m not asking you to sign off on legislation.
MR. GIBBS: I would just say this, Jake. There are obviously -- and I mentioned this last week here -- there are a number of important things that need to -- that continue to need to be done that didn’t get done at the end of the regular legislative session.
We’ve got a START treaty that we believe needs to be ratified through the Senate. Obviously a fairly large tax debate is going to have to be settled before the end of the year. We have the reauthorization of the children’s nutrition program. There are a whole host of judgeships that have languished for far too long. And I anticipate that we’ll have a new budget director that will be confirmed by the full Senate. So there are a number of things that certainly have to be done. I can’t look into my crystal ball in terms of what you said. Obviously the President continues to believe that energy and immigration are tremendously important priorities.
Q But would they be important -- let’s specifically talk about energy and immigration because they’re obviously -- it’s vast and bold legislation; it’s controversial legislation; it’s legislation that there have been problems with introducing during the Congress. Does the President think that because they are so big that they should be considered by the next Congress, or would he be okay philosophically with immigration or energy being addressed by a lame duck Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Jake, again, it’s hard to get around the hypothetical. Obviously these are issues that -- look, let’s take immigration. I think the President has been very clear that -- and the courts, in many ways, upheld that we can’t have a patchwork of immigration laws for every state in the country or every border state in the country. That just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Obviously the President was supportive of the Senate taking up and passing the DREAM Act before Congress adjourned, and that obviously didn’t happen. We continue to look for ways to work with Democrats and Republicans to move forward on immigration.
Q Okay, thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Robert, just to follow up on the threat. Is it a -- can it be described as a new threat, or a series of patterns that are leading authorities to believe --
MR. GIBBS: Dan, for a lot of reasons I don't want to get into the nature of our intelligence. Obviously, we are concerned enough to alert those that are in Europe to be alert to their surroundings. That's what the State Department’s job is in issuing such an alert, to ensure that those that are traveling, that they're aware of that and that they remain safe.
Q But did something change from perhaps like last week or the last two weeks? Was there something that -- specific that happened that led to this?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll just say, look, we have been tracking various threats for a while. This is -- I don't think this is tremendously out of the norm in terms of ensuring that those that are traveling in Europe are aware of what’s out there.
Q And in terms of the next two years, how does the President view going into the next two years? Sort of as he sits back, what is his vision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we’ve got to finish -- Dan, I don't want to write the rest of this year since it’s the first week in October. We’ve got a lot of stuff, as I just mentioned to Jake, that we need to get done. And, look, we’ll have time to think through and next year or the year after that, at some later date, we -- I’ll be honest with you, we have not spent any real amount of time discussing legislative tactics or a strategy for January. We’ve got a lot left to do in October and November.
Obviously, I mean, I think you’ve heard the President say when he’s out talking about what’s important to the American people and what’s important to him, a number of legislative priorities that we haven’t finished. Obviously, I mentioned a few -- Jake mentioned a few, I mentioned a few in terms of what we need to do to continue to finish the business that the President saw that we have this year. That's what our focus is.
Q Thank you, Robert. In one of the statements that came out over the weekend on the terrorism in Europe situation, it said, from the day that we became aware of this latest plot, the President made clear we need to do everything possible to disrupt this plot. Is it a specific plot that we’re talking about here?
Q Chip, I -- obviously, I think that sort of speaks for itself. I don't want to get into the nature of our intelligence as it relates to all this. Again, as I said a minute ago, we have been tracking streams and threats for quite some time. The President has -- meets frequently with his counterterrorism team both in the Situation Room and in the Oval Office. He has made sure to ask them what tools they may need to deal with threats that are either overseas or those that could impact here at home, and to do all that we can to share information and to ensure that we’re taking all of the necessary precautions as it relates to those threats.
We know and we have known for quite some time -- and this isn’t based on anything that you read there -- that al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates seek to do us harm here.
Q You mentioned earlier that the State Department and his team here are -- is dealing with them. Is he also dealing with heads of intelligence agencies and speaking with them directly?
MR. GIBBS: I think that, as it relates to that, my sense is that that’s happening at CIA and with John Brennan. They’re interacting with many of those. Obviously the NSC writ large is dealing with their counterparts all over the world.
Q On politics, if you could put your DNC hat on for just a moment-- (laughter) -- was that the first you had heard of it in any way whatsoever?
MR. GIBBS: I have not had any discussions with anybody here about it.
Q Have you had discussions with anybody outside? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know how -- I said on Saturday I have not been involved in any conversations -- here, there.
Q Here, there?
MR. GIBBS: No, I was in Alabama. I haven’t talked to anybody there about it. I haven’t talked to anybody in Virginia about it.
Q Anybody on your behalf?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) Let me tell you, I’m sure for Ethan DNC does not stand for what it stands for with you. So I -- no, I'm not involved in that.
Q Well, getting past that, do you share the assessment -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: You just let him get into another question.
Q Do you share, and does the President --
Q What does DNC stand for with Ethan. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Daddy -- (laughter.) Do you share the assessment of some Democrats in the last few days that things are tightening, that things are not looking as bad for Democrats in the election?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you have seen over the course of several weeks, you see a tightening in the public polling, if you look at the generic ballot. You see a tightening in the so-called enthusiasm gap. Those on Democratic and Republican sides that talked to pollsters and say that they are certain to vote in the next election, I think you have seen a tightening in that. I think part of that is a broader swath of the electorate now focusing more broadly, quite honestly, on the upcoming elections.
There have been a whole host of things that have helped that. I think the President has made the case effectively about why people need to be involved and what’s at stake, and I think those -- look, I think those trends will continue up until Election Day.
Q Do you still believe the Democrats could lose the House?
MR. GIBBS: I still believe that the Democrats will control the House after Election Day in 2010.
Q The Senate? Is it in jeopardy?
MR. GIBBS: I think we'll control both after the election.
Q No doubts?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Following on that, it still sounds like obviously the margins will be different probably after the election. I'm not making a prediction one way or the other. Is there thoughts internally about how this may affect the legislative approach on the Hill about -- conventional wisdom is kind of the first two years for the big things and perhaps you’ll go for singles as opposed to homeruns from this point forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'll say this, unrelated to the question. Obviously we have a couple of things that are important to what we did in the past two years that will be important going forward. And that is implementing both health care reform and Wall Street reform -- obviously, as you mentioned, pretty robust legislative packages that have to be -- many facets that have to be implemented. We have not spent any appreciable period of time, though, here worrying about or thinking about legislative tactics and strategy for next January. We just haven’t.
Q So it’s too early to say whether he will follow President Clinton’s approach, perhaps, and go toward the center?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I -- there just hasn’t -- we’ve got, what, is it four weeks from tomorrow until Election Day. And in terms of the political calendar, that's what the focus is on, not several months from now.
Q Will Pete Rouse mean perhaps a different relationship with the Hill, compared to with Rahm being the Chief of Staff?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, look, we discussed, I think, their fairly obvious stylistic differences. Look, Pete has been very involved in dealing with the Hill in his role as a senior advisor. Obviously Pete has got relationships on Capitol Hill that go back longer than the -- certainly longer than the President has been here. And in different legislative battles, those relationships -- he’s used his knowledge of and relationships with different senators to talk to them about issues. So I think in many ways Pete was very involved in strategy relating to Capitol Hill, and obviously as chief of staff will have an even larger role in that.
Q I have three questions, two on politics, one on the terror alert. Just to get a sense of what you expect people to do with the information about the travel alert, what would you -- if you had a conversation with your close relative or family -- or sibling or friend, what would you tell them, if they’re going to Paris or Rome or Berlin? How should they act differently? What plans should they change or avoid?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say, again, and I will mention, if you go to travel.state.gov there’s a list of things that are important: Obviously, in terms of being aware of your surroundings, understanding how to move throughout those surroundings; where to go in the event of an emergency; how to act in terms of traveling alone, traveling at night; things that are important to be aware of -- again, suspicious activity, who to go to, what to tell them, and what to be on the lookout for. All of those I think are -- I mean, look, that’s a very cursory top line of I think that people should be thinking about when they -- if they’re traveling and what they need to be cognizant of.
Q So you wouldn’t tell people close to you to be worried or overly concerned?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, we would not -- let me take this from a governmental perspective. We would not be advising administration officials to do something differently than we would be advising the American people. And the example I would use is General Jones is in Europe today. So the information that came out Sunday was an alert to -- again, just to do that: to make people aware of and alert to that information, not to dissuade them from travel there in the beginning.
Q And then after the midterms in terms of the legislative agenda, how concerned are you -- there’s been a lot of talk among Republicans about wanting to defund or stand in the way, block implementation, which you just brought up, of things like the health care bill. How concerned is the White House about those efforts and how success they could be if the dynamics change?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously some of that would depend on what the numbers end up being. Again, as related to earlier questions, I think we’ll wake up the day after still with majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Look, I think you have heard the President talk about, and other officials talk about, what walking away from health care reform would mean. What’s gone into effect allows people that are sick not to be discriminated against. It allows for preventive care to be administered without charge. To walk away from that, we’ve extended the life of Medicare. We’ve made some tough decisions in health care that impact the deficit and debt in a positive way. Walking away from that will have real-world implications that those opponents would have to -- or need to tell the American people what that would mean for real Americans.
Walking away from -- why on earth do you go back to -- and I know that Senator Cardin and others have talked about this as recently as just last week, going back to the rules that we had in place that related to Wall Street, that related to derivatives, that related to a whole host of risky financial transactions -- why you’d want to go back to the same rules that we had that caused this, versus what’s now in place to prevent something like this from happening, is, I think, a discussion that some Republicans are having with donors, but necessarily with voters.
Q And final question. Do you think you’d do a good job as head of the DNC? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to -- I will say this. I think we have a wonderful chairman at the DNC right now who is doing an extraordinary job. And I think all you need to do is look at the news today at their ability to excite the base and the grassroots to contribute in the very same way that folks did in our election, and that was not -- they don't take money from PACs and lobbyists. They’re getting small donations from people out in America.
Q You’ve said, and others in the White House have said, that many times you’ve reached out your hand to Republicans, tried to work with them, and they just decided they wanted to be obstructionists and block --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I didn’t say that. Mitch McConnell said that. I mean, Mitch McConnell said in The New York Times that their strategy was to oppose everything. So I don't think --
Q You’ve said it, as well, I think it’s fair to say.
MR. GIBBS: Right, I’ve quoted Mitch McConnell.
Q Do you believe that the -- if you’re looking at how things deteriorated in Washington, that 100 percent of the blame goes on Republicans, or do you think that the White House and Democrats share some of the blame?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- look, I guess if you were to ask us if we’d done 100 percent of everything right, the answer to that would be no. But understand, again, it is -- bipartisanship has to be a two-way street, and if -- whether the example is Mitch McConnell saying that in the beginning we had a very defined strategy of opposing everything, which is borne out in many of the votes, or if -- the President still tells the story of we are -- I think we were in the Oval Office or the outer Oval Office; we’re getting ready to get in the motorcade to go to Capitol Hill to meet with House Republicans and their caucus and talk about the Recovery Act, and somebody hands us a statement that says the Republican caucus is going to oppose it. I mean, that was before we could -- the cars were idling, but nobody was sitting in them to go up there and have a discussion about that before they said no. I think it was a very well executed strategy.
Q So you are -- just to be clear, the White House does share some of the blame, or it doesn’t?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not going to tell you that we’ve done 100 percent of everything right. But if the leader of the House Republicans opposes an economic Recovery Act before the President even gets a chance to go up there and talk to the members of his caucus, minutes before he’s supposed to arrive -- or the leader of the Senate Republicans says, we’re going to say no to everything, I got to tell you, it’s hard to get bipartisanship. It’s just -- it’s hard when the leaders of both the House and the Senate of the Republican Party say, no.
Q The reason I ask is I’m wondering if looking ahead to next year, you feel the White House needs to make any adjustments in how you work with Republicans, or if it’s up to them to change completely?
MR. GIBBS: No -- well, if their strategy is --
Q I mean you can’t -- just to be clear, I mean I don't expect you to speak for them. I’m just asking you to speak for yourself.
MR. GIBBS: In this case I will. (Laughter.) You can’t get them to cooperate on anything if their answer to everything is no. If they're starting position is no -- look, who would have thought we would have judges who would sit for 230 or 240 days that pass out of a committee unanimously? Who would have thought that somebody would sit up here and say that for three months a small business bill that cut and eliminated capital gains taxes on small business would be almost universally opposed by Republicans -- except for a few, obviously, in the Senate that helped get the bill through -- it’s unprecedented what they’ve said no.
I will say this. There are a lot of -- and we’ve gotten a decent number of questions today about sort of, what do you do in January, what do you -- our focus right now is on the remainder of October, November and December before we get to January.
Q But it sounds like -- the take-away I get from that is that really it’s up to them to change, that you guys have, for the most part, done what you need to do.
MR. GIBBS: We have -- the President has reached out to and asked Republicans to participate in the activity that we know of as government. Regrettably, the strategy from the very beginning, from Mitch McConnell to those that serve in the Senate, from John Boehner, from those that serve on the Republican side in the House, was to say no. It’s hard to overcome that when there is a specific strategy of saying no that comes from the leadership.
Q I’ve got two questions about fuel and fuel shipments in two different places. What, if anything, is the administration doing to get fuel and other supplies across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan? And -- well, and then I’ll ask you my second one.
MR. GIBBS: Obviously we are in discussions and working with the government of Pakistan to address the concerns relating to the closure of the border there. We believe we are close to yielding -- close to producing some results on that and may have more on that in the future.
Q At what level are those discussions?
MR. GIBBS: I believe they’re happening right now at the Department of State.
Q With their diplomats?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And then the other fuel question, Robert, is what, if anything, is the administration doing to stop the flow of fuel, fuel trucks specifically, going from Iraq into Iran?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any guidance on that but let me try to find something from NSC right after this.
Q On the first one, you said “in the future.” How far in the future? Could it be today or --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’re working government to government. Obviously we have expressed our condolences for what happened several days ago in Pakistan with ISAF and their forces, and we’re working through the border closing right now.
Q Are you aware of the shipments from Iraq into Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some information on all of that up to you.
Q Might the new political climate after the election present an opportunity for the administration to renew efforts reaching out to business -- the business community to try and find places of agreement on the legislative issues you mention like climate change or immigration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we’re continually looking for opportunities to work with business. I think today’s event in focusing on the -- working -- a public-private partnership with business on addressing the skills challenge, certainly that's one. I think there are a whole host of things. Certainly, energy, immigration and many others present opportunities to work Democrats, Republicans, business, labor across the political spectrum get some of that stuff done.
Q Is it important for the administration to appear to be pro-business?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think it is -- obviously, the President is very focused on being pro-American business overseas, increasing our exports. I will say this. The steps that have been taken to secure financial stability, to secure and strengthen the recovery, to ensure that auto companies don't go bankrupt and out of business, I think is very pro-business. I think had the economic situation been allowed to get worse, I don't think it’s likely that business would have seen a recovery without consumer demand.
Q Does being pro-biz include being pro-Wall Street?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we want to make sure that what’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street. We have to ensure that there are rules and responsibilities for everyone -- not a new set of rules or just one set of rules for Wall Street.
That was -- the common-sense sort of axiom behind Wall Street reform was we had to have a set of rules that worked for everybody. We had to have a set of rules that ensured that those on Wall Street had responsibility for their actions, and that we didn't unnecessarily weigh heavy risk-taking ahead of everything else.
Q Can you give a sense of what the next four weeks is going to look like in terms of the President campaigning? It seems like you suggested that you feel like Obama has been an effective messenger. Do you feel like there are certain venues that --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a block in front of me in terms of his schedule. Obviously, just this week, he’s -- there’s a DNC event, I believe. I’m doing this from memory, so -- I think he travels to New Jersey on Wednesday, to P.G. County and Illinois on Thursday, and then I think on Sunday, he’s in Philadelphia. I don't have the whole block in front of me, but obviously, I think the President is going to be out there making the case and discussing what he thinks is at stake in this election.
Q Do you have a sense of whether or not like rallies are effective in a way that say, backyard barbecues aren’t? Or is there going to be a similar mix?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President will continue to do a mix of different events. I think -- look, I think the anecdotal information that we’ve gotten in Wisconsin around the Madison event has been quite positive.
Q Robert, you said earlier that there wasn’t a -- that there’s a difference in sensibility, or I think you said style between Pete Rouse and Rahm Emanuel. But I wonder in a broader sense if you can talk about the personnel changes that are being contemplated that we already know about in the White House staff. Is the President looking to change direction at all, tweak things in a particular way? Or is it -- is the guiding principle more to continue the course?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, first and foremost, as I talked about last week, prior to any change in personnel in the chief of staff’s office, Pete was undertaking, again, a very natural reorganization as we were ending the natural life expectancy of some staffers’ work here. People were, not surprisingly after two years, going to go back to teaching, going back to business or what have you. And so he was undertaking that project.
And obviously some of those -- the President is weighing through some of these decisions and some personnel changes based on people leaving. And obviously there’s a lot, honestly, Christi, that goes into any of these picks. You’ve got to have people that work together, people that drive a policy process, people that come up with ideas. There are a whole host of different things and some of it depends on who’s already there around, in the group where a job opening is impactful or is in that realm of those issue areas -- for instance, looking for an NEC director that complements all of the other members of the economic team as well.
So I don’t know that there’s just one thing that anybody is looking for. I think it’s a whole host of different decisions, all of which go into those personnel changes.
Q Robert, three questions. Can you discuss now, since it’s Monday, the rally that happened Saturday and its significance to the midterm elections as it relates to your base?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that the President and the folks that are working here, as well as folks in the Democratic base, understand what’s at stake four weeks from tomorrow. They understand the work that’s been done and the work that’s left to do. I think that -- look, our hopes of what we want to see out of this election are largely the same, and we’ll continue to work with folks on the Democratic side of the aisle as well as folks that want to on the Republican side of the aisle to make progress on those issues.
Q Now, on the terror alert in Europe, can you specifically talk about some things, any nuances, about this hunt for Osama bin Laden as this new terror alert --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't think it’s my place to get into the nature of our intelligence, except to discuss what the alert does, what it means, and that the President meets regularly with the counterterrorism team to ensure that they have all that they need to keep us safe here at home and abroad.
Q Is he concerned himself that it’s taken this long to capture Osama bin Laden? Granted he is one part of a whole --
MR. GIBBS: Look, April, I doubt that anybody has stood here in the last -- this administration or the two previous that wouldn’t liked to have captured or killed Osama bin Laden by now. You can -- I think that's certainly the case. We will continue to take the steps necessary to keep us safe from him and others like him who plot and plan to do us harm.
Q And the last question to you: You know the importance of words, and you’re very strategic in what you say to us, especially from that podium. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say -- (laughter) -- I’m looking out, there’s a fastball coming. (Laughter.)
Q No, it’s not a fastball. (Laughter.) Well, brace yourself, okay? (Laughter.)
Q It’s a curve. It’s a curve.
MR. GIBBS: It is a hanging curve. I’m digging in.
Q Can you say for sure -- stop it -- (laughter) -- can you say for sure that you love this job that much that you’re not even considering the DNC? I want a straight answer. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Wow. Well, April, I do love this job. I haven’t had any conversations about the future. I don’t intend to have any conversations about the future in the next few weeks because -- and I don’t mean this to be sarcastic, but everybody that works here is focused on the thousands and thousands of things on their to-do list that they have to do every day. I promise you I was here almost all of Saturday on what might well be considered one of the prettiest -- last pretty days of the year. I would love to have been running around outside, but there were tons of things to do here and we’re focused on doing those.
Q I’m hanging on every word you say -- (laughter) -- and you said the next few weeks you’re not going to have any conversations. So what happens in the next couple of weeks?
MR. GIBBS: You know, April, I am happy to answer questions about the travel alert. I’m happy to answer questions about --
Q You are the news. You are the news --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no --
Q -- no, it was in the -- we got it Saturday. You are the news. You could be leaving. You’re the President’s mouthpiece and you could possibly -- I’m not flattering him, but seriously -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: She’s obviously not flattering me. Who in the world thought she was flattering me?
Q No, no, no, no -- but you are the President’s mouthpiece --
MR. GIBBS: I know. And you know what, I’m going to try to be --
Q -- and then to leave here to go over to run the DNC --
MR. GIBBS: I am going to try to be -- I’m going to try to just give the information on a whole host of issues that I know are far more important than me.
Q No flattery -- no flattery --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not coming over there to get flattery, I know that, too.
Q I’ve got two really important ones on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Does the administration still believe that the two governments are strong allies, or have they been co-opted by the Taliban and al Qaeda? And do you think the American --
MR. GIBBS: Are we talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously we have strong and important partnerships with Afghanistan and a strong -- in Pakistan, a strong ally in common pursuits to address extremism and the threat that it poses. I don’t -- I mean, we would not be in Afghanistan were it not in their interest and our interest for us to be there to ensure that what the Taliban once held in control they don’t ever control again, because we understand what that means for us -- the unencumbered ability to plan and execute attacks against our country.
In Pakistan, we have seen over the course of the past several years a renewed effort by the Pakistanis to address the threat that not just impacts us but impacts their existence, as well.
Q Now, in many ways the upcoming elections are a referendum on the way the war has been conducted. Are you comfortable that the majority of the American people support the sacrifices made for Pakistan and Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I think that the American people understand very much what’s at stake and what -- the important mission that we have over there. Obviously there are political viewpoints that vary across the spectrum. The President, though, understands that -- understands what we must do in addressing the threat to those countries and to us. And that's what -- that's why he made the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. That's why we have increased our cooperation with the Pakistanis in order to make progress against those that seek to do us both harm.
Q In the Middle East, in the last few days there’s been a frenzy of diplomatic activity by Senator Mitchell. At what stage do you think the President will be involved personally to save the talks from collapsing, and whether any guarantees has been given to either side?
MR. GIBBS: Well, former Senator Mitchell and Secretary of State Clinton are very involved on this on a daily basis. They’re the President’s representatives. They are working actively with both sides on a way forward. I would quote to you what former Senator Mitchell said this weekend -- that despite the differences, both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority asked us to continue these discussions and efforts. They both want to continue those negotiations. So we are working with both parties to try to find the appropriate way forward.
Q Any guarantees were given by the President to the Israelis or the Palestinians?
MR. GIBBS: We have -- I don't want to get into what Senator Mitchell -- what diplomatic negotiations might have gone on. But I know that they are actively working each and every moment of the day to try to find a way forward on direct talks.
Q It looks like the defense authorization bill and, with it, “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal is sort of barreling toward a dead end. Sixty-nine House members and now 16 senators have signed on to a letter urging the President to instruct his Justice Department not to appeal a recent decision that ruled “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional. Is that something that's even being discussed within the walls of the White House right now, not appealing that decision?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you over to the -- I think the Department of Justice, the last I heard, was reviewing the case. Obviously the President has a deeply held view that this is a law that can and should be changed. We worked to make sure that that happened in the House, and we, regrettably, were unsuccessful in the Senate. That is not going to stop the President from trying. And I know that -- without being totally aware of all the discussions in here, I know the Justice Department is weighing a series of arguments as they make those decisions.
Q Right, but ultimately that power resides with the President. I mean, he can instruct is Justice Department not to appeal.
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I'll be honest with you, I don't have an update on whether that's something that's happened in here or not.
Q Any contingency plans at all? I mean, I’ve listened to you talk about the priorities for lame duck. You’ve rattled through them on Thursday, Friday and today, and not once has defense authorization been mentioned.
MR. GIBBS: I will say, and I think I’ve said on a couple of occasions, that off the top of my head -- I wouldn’t necessarily say which list is completely exhausted. But let me see if I can get better guidance on that -- understanding, again, the President’s deeply held belief that we have to get this changed.
Sam, and then I'll go.
Q Yes, I was just curious, from your perspective, what are the most notable and immediate differences with a new chief of staff these first couple of days?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I thought it would feel or look a lot different. I don't think know why I thought that. It didn’t, honestly. We were -- look, it’s the same -- it’s in many ways the same group of people, minus Rahm, meeting in the same room at the same time, to discuss the issues that we had on Friday when he was here.
Look, obviously, again, as I said, Pete has got some stylistic differences, obviously, from Rahm, but Pete was also involved in every one of those meetings, every one of those discussions. We continue to be very focused on many of the things that we had in front of us on Friday when Rahm was chief of staff and are continuing to do so with Pete, though we -- I will say I can’t stay awake that late so I watched “Saturday Night Live” today and -- (laughter) --
Q Was it accurate?
MR. GIBBS: Wow, that was -- I can’t speak to its accuracy. It was quite entertaining.
Q Did Pete see it?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if Pete did. (Laughter.) I might have to go show it to him.
1:55 P.M. EDT
August 23, 2014
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