Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/30/2010
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. A few follow-up questions on the meeting with lawmakers. On taxes, the President outlined this accelerated negotiation process to come up with some sensible common ground, as he called it. Did he suggest at all that he would be open to a temporary extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy? Did he lay any markers down at all?
MR. GIBBS: No, the -- I think both sides started and discussed where each had been on -- that our priority was ensuring that, as you heard the President say in his statement, that we make permanent tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of this year, and to reiterate our concern for borrowing $700 billion over the next 10 years in making tax cuts for those in excess of $250,000 permanent.
I think the Republicans restated their notion of making the wealthy tax cuts permanent.
So the President wanted to -- as, again, you heard him say -- get to the process of having some of those discussions by asking Secretary Geithner and OMB Director Jack Lew to sit down with four members or senators appointed by -- one each -- by Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Speaker Pelosi and Representative Boehner. And I anticipate that those conversations could happen as early as later today -- or start as early as today.
Q But you had -- it sounds like you started -- I’m sorry, it sounds like you ended where you started with these broad philosophical differences about those tax cuts for the wealthy. So what gives the President confidence that this negotiation process is going to be productive?
MR. GIBBS: What I think was the foundation for this -- for, quite frankly, the whole meeting was we have to do -- we have to do things that ensure continued economic strengthening and job creation. We have to deal with our long-term -- with our short-term deficits and our long-term debt. And we have to ensure the safety and the security of the American people.
So Secretary Geithner and NEC Director Summers both said -- both gave very quick descriptions of sort of where we thought the economy was. And everybody, I think, as the President said, in the room agreed that this was an issue that we needed to get finished by the end of the year, before the tax cuts expired. And that’s the charge that he gave to Tim and to Jack. And I anticipate -- again, I anticipate they’ll meet relatively soon.
Q A couple other quick ones, please. Senator McConnell said that his caucus was united on doing the tax issues and the appropriations issues in lame duck first, and then if there’s time left getting to some of the other pressing matters. The President brought up START in his own description but didn’t seem to acknowledge any forward progress. Is the White House willing to take up that issue in January if need be?
MR. GIBBS: I think there was a robust discussion about how that could be done in a lame duck. I think you’ve heard senators even today discuss the likelihood of being able to get that done.
Look, the tax issue may take a little bit. But the Senate and the House will be here. And I think we believe that that’s an issue -- START is an issue that can get done this year.
Q You still think it is?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, absolutely.
Q And, finally, on the broader issue of cooperation, I heard Representative Boehner and Cantor say, in their words, that the President -- I’m paraphrasing -- the President acknowledged he had not reached out enough to them. Is that a fair portrayal?
MR. GIBBS: It is. I think the President acknowledged that he needed to do better and acknowledged that -- rightly that he would do his part. I think there was a -- there was common ground reached in the notion, again, as you heard the President say in his statement, that the American people didn’t vote for gridlock. They didn’t vote for the continual games that we see played in Washington. They voted for two parties working together to get something done. That’s going to take -- it’s going to take just that, bipartisanship. And that’s the only way we’re going to make progress. And I think this meeting, which we -- which we set up, is the beginning of that.
Q Robert, thanks very much. To come back to this idea of common ground on the tax cuts, specifically, what would the White House be willing to compromise on? For instance, would the President favor extending --
MR. GIBBS: I was in the meeting, but the President did not tap me to be one of those negotiators. So I’m going to let Jack and Tim get into that as soon as we have the appointment of those members and senators from the designated leaders. And, again, I anticipate that they’ll begin talking as early as today.
Q But does the President favor extending all the tax cuts for two or three years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President’s most urgent desire is to see that taxes do not go up on the middle class. And we’re going to go from there.
Q The President mentioned a possible meeting out at Camp David. Is there a timeframe for that? And also a sense of who you’d invite -- would it just be restricted to lawmakers? Or could it be extended to the business community, for example?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the meeting that the President talked about with -- and I should -- just for a second, let me step back and talk about a little bit of the structure of the meeting because I’m going to speak about this, but I was not in this part of the meeting.
The meeting lasted approximately two hours -- probably a little less than two hours. The last 35 minutes was the President and the Vice President and the members of the House and the Senate, without staff, without Secretary Geithner, without OMB Director Lew in the private dining room right off of the Oval Office. So in that 35 minutes, the President -- that’s where the President brought up the idea -- and they talked about it throughout the meeting, the idea of continuing these conversations, and threw out the hope that -- and I think it was agreed -- loosely agreed upon that sometime in the beginning of next year, they would continue this meeting at Camp David.
Q Why did the President ask the staff to leave? Was it that they were no longer needed at that point? Did he want to have a more intimate conversation?
MR. GIBBS: I think to have a little bit more intimate conversation.
Q And when you talked about the President telling Republicans, as they describe, that he had not done enough to reach out to them, did he offer an apology at all?
MR. GIBBS: No, he said that -- he took responsibility for that. And as I said, in order to have bipartisanship, we have to do this both ways. And the President is ready to do his part.
Q I’m still a bit confused about the divide that still exists on these tax cuts. If the President still thinks that $700 billion is more than the country can afford, how can there be any compromise at all? And I know you don’t want to negotiate this now, but it seems like the divide is so wide.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’m not going to enumerate -- I wouldn’t enumerate all the property lines, but I think it’s safe to say that -- I think it is safe to say, the President reiterated, that the notion of a -- the notion of a permanent -- the notion of making permanent tax cuts for those on the upper end of our income scale, the predominance of which go to millionaires and billionaires, is not something that -- not something that making permanent would -- he doesn’t believe would make sense. It’s a $700 billion expenditure over -- because we do these in a 10-year budget window. So I think that’s -- I think as he did in his statement -- enumerated where he is on that.
Q The President is scheduled to leave for Hawaii December 18th. Given this very lengthy agenda, what are the odds that he’s going to have to delay --
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I think it’s largely unknowable, but the President will be here for as long as he needs to be here to get progress on and to make progress on the issues that are -- that he outlined in the meeting.
Q You said the President in a way apologized or expressed regret for not reaching out enough. Did Republicans offer any sort of apology?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. Not that I have in my notes.
Q Does the President sense that there is compromise possible on these issues that Republicans are willing to give?
MR. GIBBS: I think there was -- I think there was a sense in the room in discussing a whole host of issues the understanding on both sides -- let’s take taxes -- that we -- there was an economic imperative to provide certainty before the end of the year when these cuts are scheduled to expire.
The President also mentioned, as you heard him say in his statement, there are things like AMT, the college tax credit and other issues that are set to expire and will impact those at all income levels.
So I think an agreement that we needed to get this solved by the end of the year, and an agreement that we all have a responsibility to work together to make progress and that in order to do so we’re going to be required to sit in the same room, have conversations and discussions like this and come to some common ground and agreement. And I think the President believes and I think -- without speaking for them but having read some of their comments after the meeting -- I think everyone thought it was a productive beginning in hopes of finding some of that common ground.
Q Republicans have expressed concern about the fact that Majority Leader Reid has discussed bringing up the DREAM Act and “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal that might eat up a lot of time that could be spent on the tax cuts or START. Does the President share their concern?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President shares Senator Reid’s concern -- or I should say the President shares Senator Reid’s -- believes that it is also -- those are also issues that are important to the American people.
And I don’t -- I think we talked about this a little yesterday -- I don’t -- I think, again, I think the Senate is going to be -- this is -- the tax issues is not going to get solved in -- not likely to get solved today. The Senate is going to be here and there’s time to do -- there’s time to do the people’s business.
And I’m not going to get into a long discussion about “don’t ask, don’t tell” because I think as many of you know, that very shortly Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and others are going to discuss the public release of the Pentagon’s review. But -- and we’ll have a statement from the President on what that review has found. But I think, in discussions that the President has had on this issue over the past few days, this is an issue that if we don’t solve legislatively is going to get solved in the courts. And solving that issue in the courts is not going to provide the Pentagon with the type of orderly transition that they’ve said they need. But we have the pathway to do it legislatively, make progress, and I think the President -- obviously the President still wants to do that.
Q So just to put a period on this, the President thinks that funding the government, passing unemployment insurance extensions, “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, the DREAM Act, tax cuts and START all can be done --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- in the next 18 days?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Good luck.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Well, thank you. You’ll have a lot to cover.
Q You said that the President, and in fact, the President said that he acknowledged he had not reached out enough and would do his part. But you just told Jake that the Republicans did not make a similar statement. Does the President believe that they should have?
MR. GIBBS: Let me do this, Chip. No, I don’t -- look, I’m not -- I’ve got my hands full being the spokesperson for the President. And, look, this was not something that was prompted. The President -- I think the President just laid out that in order for us to work together we’re going to have to communicate better. We’re going to have to reach out --
Q But he also said he had not reached out enough. Does he believe the Republicans -- it’s a two-way street -- does he believe they have not reached out?
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t ask the President that. Again, I’d leave that up to others. The President was, I think, pretty clear about the fact that -- in acknowledging that he needed to and would do better.
Q Even if they don’t?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I can only speak for the actions of what the President intends to do and what the President told leaders today.
Q So his reaching out is not -- reaching out more is not contingent upon their returning the favor?
MR. GIBBS: His reaching out is contingent upon the fact that he’s the President of the United States and in order to get things done in what will now be a divided government requires working with the other side.
Q It sounds like he’s willing to bend even if they don’t.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- the President is willing to have a better line of communication with Republicans on Capitol Hill to get something done. I don’t -- I’m not sure I’d call that “bending.” I call that trying to work together.
I think that’s incidentally likely what the American people call it, too.
Q Yes, and I don’t want to get too much into semantics here, but you talk to people --
MR. GIBBS: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
Q On common ground.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the -- yes.
Q Self-criticism lesson?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s that sign that said, “Last chance to not get into semantics.” And we might have passed that a few miles ago.
Q We never do that. (Laughter.) We never parse words, either. But speaking of parsing words, you said that what Jack and Tim had been tasked with is finding common ground. Would it be accurate to say that they have been tasked with finding a compromise that can pass by the end of the year?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes.
Q Okay. Just wanted to make sure. And on the tax issue, do you think there was a breakthrough in the meeting? Was this a meeting that constituted a breakthrough?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say two things. One, there is a -- we have an agreed-upon, appointed process for the continuing of those conversations to happen very quickly. And, again, I will try to get as much information as I can throughout the day and share with you all about the progress and the scheduling for those meetings.
I also think that the notion that there was agreement that this is an issue that needed to be dealt with by the end of the year, I think those two things give -- I think they give the President and I hope they give others hope that we can work together.
Q Do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that the tax issue will not be resolved by the end of the year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would hate to say never. I think there is a extremely strong likelihood that the issue is resolved prior to the tax cuts expiring at the end of this year. And I think there is -- I think there was strong agreement to do that. And I think -- I think there was an acknowledgment on the part of all those involved that we have a window of time to work together on this issue. We’ve got a little more than a month to come to a conclusion on that and we ought to be able to do so. So I think the President believes we can get that done.
Q More than a month? We could be here like New Year’s Eve, I take it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess we’ve got 31 days. I don’t know how many --
Q It sounds like New Year’s Eve.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t anticipate being here on New Year’s Eve, but we’ll see.
Q So, Robert, is the next step the OMB director, the Treasury secretary and representatives of the different camps getting together and trying to hammer this out? Or what’s --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And, again, I will -- the way they left it in the meeting, there was an agreement that we would have this group of people do this. The Vice President, I think rightly so, pushed to have a meeting as quickly as possible. And like I said, it could happen as early as today.
Q Is the Democratic position on the tax cuts truly unified? I mean, publicly it sounded like maybe the President was ready for compromise, but perhaps some of the leaders on the Hill were not as eager to compromise.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, maybe they were just saying it’s got to be the middle class and no higher-income extension.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, everybody went in with the position that they brought to that meeting. And I think the President enumerated the position, as he said in the statement, that he and his fellow Democrats hold, and that is our priority is to ensure that those that are in the middle class in this country that have, as he said during the meeting, have been hurt throughout the past decade in terms of watching their wages go down even as they were working longer and working harder, that we had to do all that we could to ensure that for that group of people, their taxes didn’t go up. So I think that -- I think Democrats are very unified in that.
Q Are you freer today to talk about the State Department cables, or are you choosing not to?
MR. GIBBS: No. The law continues to not allow me to speak about classified information, so --
Q It’s worth a shot.
MR. GIBBS: It’s unclear whether there’s a period in which that becomes operable for me, but --
Q Can I follow up on that?
Q There have been several significant stories on the agenda the past couple of days. But over the holiday weekend, obviously, there were great concerns about Korea. What’s your read of the situation in Korea right now? Are we on the brink of war? Have temperatures calmed a bit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say I think that there have been a series of meetings throughout the holidays and the weekend here at a deputy and a principals’ committee level. As you know, the President spoke with President Lee in South Korea. We dispatched for joint exercises the aircraft carrier George Washington. And we remain committed to -- as you heard the President say a few days ago and during our trip to Seoul -- remain committed to the common security of our allies in the Republic of Korea.
And as I said yesterday, Mike, I think the Chinese have a duty and an obligation to greatly press upon the North Koreans that their belligerent behavior has to come to an end. And I think you’ll see progress on multilateral discussions around this over the next few days.
Q Just a quick follow-up. Does the United States government believe China has done enough so far?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that I’m going to get into grading them, Chuck, as much as I’m going to say that there’s an obligation there, and we expect them to live up to that obligation.
Q Should we let the record show that you didn’t have praise for what they’ve done so far but said an obligation --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that the bottom line is movement and progress with the North Koreans.
Q Back to the meeting with the congressional leaders, was there an agreement among everybody in the room that there wouldn’t be a whole bunch of votes on the floor until this smaller group with Lew and --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, I can go back and check with others and see what their impression was. But, again --
Q So it’s still possible that the House -- it’s still possible that there are other votes on --
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that the -- I think the next vote on taxes, if I’m not mistaken, and I’ll double-check on this, is that there will be a vote in the House on making permanent middle-class tax cuts. I anticipate that --
Q So there was no agreement of taking that off the table while --
MR. GIBBS: I’d anticipate that that --
Q -- while this group worked itself out a compromise?
MR. GIBBS: I think that goes forward.
Q And the other thing, on START, did -- was there any attempt by -- conversation between, for instance, Reid and McConnell with the President sort of mediating and saying, okay, if he takes something off the plate, if he takes DREAM Act off the plate, and then START or any of those --
MR. GIBBS: No, that was not a -- that was not something that was discussed. The President spent several minutes walking through why he believed that this was most important -- why this was so important to our national security in verifying what’s going on with the Russian nuclear arsenal; obviously the reduction in deployed nuclear weapons that we all know is a danger; and our efforts in the world to continue to press on Iran and others like North Korea for the strongest possible sanctions and how all those efforts work multilaterally.
Again, I think the President believes and I think -- the President believes that we can -- we have enough time to get this done, while acknowledging that there’s going to be a process to this. That process also has included 18 hearings. This has been something that’s been discussed for going on seven months. But I think the President is optimistic we can get this done.
Q Was there consensus on extending unemployment benefits in the room, or was it more of an urging?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- that’s not clear in my notes, but I will double-check with others. I think the President was very clear that -- and this was also clear from both Larry and Tim in speaking in the meeting -- that unemployment benefits are given to those that have lost their jobs. That’s money that is, almost dollar for dollar, put back into the economy. And, look, the President brought up the fact that we’re seeing the beginning of the expiration of unemployment benefits and that even as we have these discussions about extending tax cuts for those who make $250,000, those who make a million, those who make $10 million a year, we certainly in no way can afford to look past the fact that there are those that have been hurt extensively in losing a job and need to continue to have those benefits.
Q Was that argument met with any sort of Republican agreement on this, or did --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I recall in my notes, to be honest with you.
Q And is this a bright line? I mean, has the President said, look, if he doesn’t get this, we’re going to yank this off the table?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- Chuck, I don’t recall any bright lines in it, Chuck. I think the President simply laid out, as Tim and Larry did, the importance of ensuring that this be and must -- that this must be part of the solution.
We can’t -- again, we’re going back and forth here on the permanence of tax cuts for those that make a lot of money.
Q Was there an okay -- were you guys agreeing on any way of paying for it, saying, look, if you guys -- because Republican stance has been, find a way to do this, find a way to pay for it. Did you guys offer up, here is a way to pay for it --
MR. GIBBS: No, the President mentioned that this is normally and has historically been considered, rightly so, a measure of extraordinary importance and extraordinary times and should be considered the same now.
Q Thank you. A couple questions. One, the President said in his statement that on the tax cut negotiations he hoped to get some answers back over the next couple of days. So does that mean that he’s hoping that there is an agreement within the next couple of days?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we can -- look, if you could get an agreement today, that’d be great. I think what the President is saying is we want to continue to see forward progress on this.
Again, the agreement to come out of this meeting with those that would sit down, again, as soon as later today, I think give the President some hope. And as soon as I have updates on that schedule, we’ll let you know.
Q I mean, but is he setting up an expectation that he’s hoping to have a deal within a matter of a few days?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is setting up the expectation that we’ll all get in the same room and continue to make progress on this over the next few days.
Q And this was quite a long meeting. Can you talk at all about what else came up? Did “don’t ask, don’t tell” come up? Did DREAM Act come up?
MR. GIBBS: Both of those came up, yes.
Q And was it a matter of people just going around the room and stating their previously stated positions?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think that -- again, the meeting started out with the President opening up, and then I think each of the eight members and senators spoke about what they saw as important in the short term and in the medium term. I’d say the tax issue took up by far the majority of time.
Again, the President asked both Tim and Larry to give an update on where they thought we were economically. Again, I should note that my timing and my percentages here does not include the 35 minutes in the private dining room without staff.
Q So those two issues came up -- did the President bring this up, or did others?
MR. GIBBS: The President started on the issue agenda after everybody had had a chance to say something, walking through and talking about taxes. And that’s when he offered to have Secretary Geithner and OMB Director Lew sit down with Democrats and Republicans.
Q And besides the offer of the Camp David gathering, do you know anything else? Can you tell us anything else that was discussed during the 35-minute closed portion?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have a readout from that, and I don’t know that the President would give that to me to read out.
Q Robert, did anybody raise the nature of the campaign rhetoric that came up before the election?
MR. GIBBS: Do you mean Slurpees?
Q Well, I wasn’t going to mention that by name, but as long as you brought it up.
MR. GIBBS: Slurpees were not mentioned. My apologies to 7-Eleven. No, I mean, look, I think there was an acknowledgment, honestly, Mark, by everybody that an election had come and gone, and that after elections there is a time in which both parties are responsible for governing the country. The President mentioned and I think others mentioned that -- the acknowledgment that not soon after one election passes, you enter the political season again, but that he believed -- the President certainly believes that there’s a time in which we can seek common ground, that we can work together and that we can make progress on these issues; that there’ll be plenty of time for -- there will be plenty of time for a political campaign in 2012. And I would -- I think the President’s line in his statement that -- acknowledged and agreed to by those in the room -- that it’s time to put our focus on their jobs, the jobs of the American people, not on the jobs of the elected officials that sit in that room.
Q Any reaction here to the Senate vote on earmarks?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some on that. I missed that because I was in the meeting. But let me take that question.
Q I want to shift over to the debt commission. Apparently Erskine Bowles and Senator Simpson were down here just recently here today.
MR. GIBBS: I think they were having lunch with the Vice President, if I’m not mistaken.
Q Paul Ryan is saying that the debt commission is having trouble getting a vote and that they’re going ask for a delay until Friday. Can you fill us in on that? Do you know anything?
MR. GIBBS: Roger, I would -- I don’t -- I would point you to the commission and their staff to answer that question. I don’t know definitively the answer to that.
Q All right. Another question, Senator Schumer has suggested as a possible compromise in the tax cuts of raising it from $250,000 up to $1 million. What does the President think of that? Does that have shades of a compromise?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t, quite frankly, see that it has -- I don’t see that it has moved any Republican, and I think the President has restated the case today for a $250,000 threshold for those filing together.
Q Has the President put any limitations on concessions that Geithner and Lew can make in these negotiations, or is he willing to accept anything that they agree on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, they’re negotiating for him, so I don’t --
Q So how closely will he watch these negotiations, then? I mean, will he keep tabs on the back-and-forth?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I anticipate that the President will on occasion ask his Treasury Secretary what are the byproducts of said negotiations. Yes, I mean, obviously this is -- I mean, again, the majority of the roughly hour and 25 minutes that was spent with staff in the Roosevelt Room was done on taxes, and as Laura mentioned, that part of the statement where the President hopes to see some progress in the next few days. I think the President will be eager for -- and all the participants -- were eager for getting together as quickly as possible.
I think Senator Reid said to Secretary Geithner and to Director Lew, you just tell us what time and we’ll have our people there. So, again, I think this will happen quickly. The meetings, I mean.
Q Right. Why didn’t the President do a better job in the last two years of reaching out to Republicans? When he’s been asked that question in the past he’s rejected the premise.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President -- without looking too much backward -- I think the President understands that we are in a period of, as I said earlier, we’re going to enter into a period of divided government, that in order for a piece of legislation to make its way through the House and the Senate to get to his desk it’s going to go through a body that’s controlled by one party and then go to a body controlled by a different party. So if -- that’s going to require better communication; that’s going to require more communication; it’s going to require a better relationship in understanding on both sides what’s important.
And I think the President is acknowledging that and willing to do his part in changing that.
Q Was there a particular reason he decided to move the meeting from a larger gathering to a smaller one? Was there something particular that happened in the larger session that made him decide that something could be accomplished --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President just wanted to give everyone an opportunity to speak as -- I mean, people were speaking pretty freely, but if people wanted to do so without note-takers and such, that they’d feel free to do that. And I think it was productive.
Q Did the President mention to Senator McConnell his statement about his first priority being to deny him a second term?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I recall.
Q And moving to a different subject, do you --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I -- as I said to Mark, I think there was an acknowledgment that there will be time for a political campaign, but that now is a time for those responsible for governing the country to get about doing so.
Q Did the President discuss his priority for whether Senator McConnell is reelected?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I recall that, either. (Laughter.)
Q On a different subject, President Medvedev in Moscow gave his State of the Union equivalent address today and said that there might be a new arms race if there wasn’t a cooperation agreement on missile defense; expressed some frustration that things hadn’t gone as far as he wanted in Lisbon. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- I mean, look, I think the President mentioned in the meeting with the leaders just a little bit ago that we had actually made great progress on missile defense. We had -- what was -- what had been a contentious issue just several years ago now is part of an agreement with NATO with the cooperation of Russia, and that that made -- look, we had made -- and I think there’s been an acknowledgment that we’ve made -- both parties have had a priority on protecting our friends and allies in Europe, and obviously the United States. And our agreements in Lisbon make concrete years of effort into a missile defense apparatus that provides greater protection for Europe and for the United States, and that he was pleased with that progress, and that that was not -- nothing in that, nothing in START constrained our ability to do that. That was clear, even as you had the head of NATO pushing and advocating for ratification of START; was also working through getting NATO on board for missile defense.
I will say, taking this a step back, the President reiterated to those in the Roosevelt Room the genuine importance of -- and why it made so much sense for our security and in working with Russia and Medvedev, why it made so much sense for us to get this done and get this done now; that this was not something that the President was doing for political purposes or that the opposition was based on politics, but that this just made good sense and made common sense for our security and for our relationships around the world.
Q Do you have any response to the information the Wall Street Journal reported about the Russians moving tactical weapons, nuclear weapons, closer to NATO countries in recent months?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just get something from NSC on that. I mean, obviously that’s -- tactical is not something that’s -- those are different from launchers and deployed missiles in START.
Q Thank you, Robert. North Korea warned today that the continuing military exercise by the U.S. and South Korea in Yellow Sea could lead to all-out war any time. So how effective does the administration believe the military exercise could deter North Korea’s --
MR. GIBBS: Well, their -- I guess I would disagree largely with the statement that exercises that are going on now or have -- that are similar to exercises that have gone on in the past are -- will lead us to where they said in that statement. I don’t think that’s true. I think the exercises demonstrate our strong desire for common security with our allies in the Republic of Korea.
Q And also could you -- sorry, could you give us some detail about the coming meeting between the U.S., Japan and South Korea next week in D.C.?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get that from State and NSC.
Q Did the President secure from the Republicans any commitments on the two-year pay freeze for rank-and-file government employees? And did he urge them to do the same for their own congressional staff?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think the latter came up. I know that --
Q Why not?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I don’t -- it just wasn’t something that they talked about. I mean, again, legislative branch appropriations govern the salaries of those working --
Q But the President would like to see it extended, wouldn’t he?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t asked him, Ann. But, again, that’s something that members of Congress -- based on their appropriations -- have the power to do.
Several members mentioned, on both sides, that -- spending and the deficit obviously was something that was talked about quite a bit, and that we’re going to have to make a series of decisions that might not be popular in individual districts, particularly around the Washington area, but that are hard decisions that ultimately have to be made if we’re going to make progress on our deficits and our debt.
And the -- several applauded the President for making that decision. I will be honest in saying that some believed that non-uniform military and others they thought should have been covered in what the President announced yesterday. But I think what -- the President believes that, as you heard yesterday, that we all have a responsibility to do our part.
Q And now that the embargo has been lifted on the military review on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” what kind of value does the President put on the kind of poll, the survey done of American military personnel -- about 28 percent of them responded. They basically said they saw no problems, foresaw no problems getting rid of the policy. Does the President put a lot of weight in that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President -- the President wanted to and the Pentagon conducted a study of the attitudes of those serving in our armed forces bravely each day and asked directly their attitudes on ending what the President believes is a divisive policy in “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And, again, we’ll have a statement on this shortly, but the President has been clear that this is a policy that should end, needs to end. And I think that the survey demonstrates that those that serve in the military believe it can be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt unit cohesion and that --
Q The survey didn’t ask whether it should. It asked do you think the military can --
MR. GIBBS: Right, no, no -- and I think the overwhelming majority said that they thought it would -- could be done with little to no disruption. And I think the President certainly shares that.
Again, I think you’ll hear from Secretary Gates -- well, you’re hearing from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen -- and the President’s strong belief that doing this through a legislative process provides for a transition that -- an orderly transition that the military has sought and that the President believes is the right way to go about doing it.
Q Robert, I’m curious about that private part of the meeting today. Does he -- has he done that before, where he sends all the staff out of the room? That’s not unusual?
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s not unusual.
Q Was that --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, I don’t -- I’ll say this. It’s not unusual writ large in meetings. I don’t know that it -- I’d have to go back and check notes and see whether that’s happened before in -- I do not recall that it’s happened before in the bipartisan meetings.
The ones that were had in Cabinet Room, as best I can remember, were always what was set forth in the room and not -- and they didn’t generally repair to somewhere else.
Q You made note a minute ago that note-takers were out of the room for that. Was that private part of the meeting specifically to interrupt the spin cycle that the President talked about happening?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it just -- I think it provides people with a candid -- they can be even more candid than they could be in a room full of people. And that’s why the President would -- sought to do it. And, again, I think the President believed that both parts of the meeting were productive.
Q And someone in that meeting -- in that part of the meeting, brought up the spin cycle. He said it was “one of my friends” or “my friends.” Do you know who brought that up and what was said about it?
MR. GIBBS: No, I was -- no, I don’t. I don’t know the answer to that.
Q President Obama acknowledged that he needed to improve his communication. Is some of that going to include some more informal talks, or off-the-agenda discussions between him and Republican leaders like Secretary -- Senator McConnell and Boehner?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think that -- look, they’ve had -- he’s had occasion to talk with Senator McConnell and Speaker-to-be Boehner during some of this time period. I anticipate that those are conversations that you’ll see more of.
I do not think that -- well, I know that what the President discussed and what the President means in terms of improving that outreach and that communication is not simply reserved for meetings that happen here or meetings that happen at Camp David. I think you’ll see just an increase in all types of that communication.
Q And one more quick one about START. The President talks a lot about what might happen in January if this process is pushed back in terms of re-educating new members about the treaty and what’s in it. Did he bring that up in the meeting with Republican leaders? And did they have any response or acknowledgment of his --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t remember that coming up. Obviously they’re -- again, it’s been -- I think there’s a pretty long record of hearings, formal written questions back and forth out of those hearings on where -- on different aspects of the treaty, and I know that members of our national security team continue to brief members on it, and I think anybody that has questions can get those answered.
Q Robert, on a historic story -- stick with what you have right now -- on that side of Pennsylvania Avenue, the House is getting ready to pass Cobell, Black Farmers and the water rights issue. What does the White House have to say about this, after 15 years it’s finally going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think based on hard work both on Capitol Hill and in the administration that we are about to or on the cusp of seeing a much deserved settlement for these two important cases. It is, as you mentioned, April, justice that is overdue and has been a priority, again, of the administration and those on Capitol Hill to see something done by the end of the year.
I think it demonstrates that it’s possible to work together. I think it demonstrates that we can find common ground on issues that are important to both sides of the political aisle. And I think it gives people hope for what we can do.
Q But a couple questions on the Black Farmers issue. It’s been raised the anti-fraud issue, the anti-fraud language that’s in the bill. Some Dems on the Hill feel that it could be a tool for intimidation against the farmers. What say you?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to ask -- I guess I would point you to USDA on what their reaction is to that.
Q And one more. Why is there a difference in the stringency for judgments when it comes to women and Cobell versus the Pigford II climate -- the Pigford II people had to go -- go through a much more arduous process to get --
MR. GIBBS: April, I don’t -- again, I’d point you to USDA on the specifics of that settlement.
Q Will there be a signing ceremony, since this is one of the largest civil rights payouts --
MR. GIBBS: Let’s get it to the President’s desk and then we’ll go from there.
Q Thanks. I want to follow up on a question from yesterday’s briefing that you might have read out, but I don’t think I got a readout on it. It was about the meeting between the President and the service chiefs yesterday. And the question was, what did they talk about? And did the President specifically ask them to stop opposing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” or to get onboard?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- the President asked -- I was not in the meeting, as I said yesterday, because of being out here. The President wanted to have a private conversation with the Joint Chiefs and asked that that conversation be private, and I’m not going to violate the President’s wishes on that. Obviously the -- I’m told that the -- “don’t ask, don’t tell,” obviously, was the entire topic of the meeting.
Q Okay, but so the reason we haven’t heard more is because we’re not going to hear more?
MR. GIBBS: I tried, and the President was clear that this would be a private meeting.
Q Thanks, Robert. What’s the White House view at this moment on what’s happening in Haiti with the presidential election and the cholera epidemic?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some guidance from these guys on Haiti.
Q Since Secretary Clinton’s strong message yesterday regarding the WikiLeaks, has the President felt compelled to call any of his -- any of the leaders -- for example, Prime Minister Cameron or anyone else?
MR. GIBBS: The President, to my knowledge, has not made -- not made any calls on this. Again, I think this continues to be handled at the State Department at the foreign minister level. And I would say -- I would reiterate largely what we said yesterday. Our foreign policy is far stronger than one website.
Q To follow up on Laura’s question about timing, Senator McConnell said in his news conference that the Senate might be able to take up START if they could quickly clear the decks of tax cuts and stop-gap spending, or an extension of omnibus spending bill. So is part of the understanding in the room, behind the President’s comments about wanting answers quickly, is that you’d get a quick deal on tax cuts in order to leave time for a START debate in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President understands the desire to have a discussion on START and believes that that can be accomplished. But I think the President was clear with the leaders that he has -- he’s faced with two roles: ensuring our economic strength in creating jobs and protecting the American people. He does not have the luxury of deciding only to do one of those things. And I don’t believe that the President thinks that the Senate can only do one of those things, either. And I think we can make progress.
Q Thank you. A follow-up to Peter’s question about the missile defense. The Russians, when they discuss the issue, they keep sounding as if they -- they keep saying they want real partnership and they keep sounding as if they don’t believe the U.S. is ready for a “real partnership.” After Lisbon, do you have a feeling that both sides understand what each one means by “real partnership”? And is the U.S. ready for such a partnership on missile defense?
MR. GIBBS: I think that Lisbon demonstrates that an issue that had been contentious can be cooperative. Again, I think it’s clear that the administration through its phased adaptive plan set forth a missile defense apparatus and program that we believe more greatly protects our security. And we pursued and got NATO to sign off on the pursuit of that.
I think writ large in our relationship with Russia we’ve made -- and the President mentioned this today -- we’ve made tremendous progress. We’re working together on issues that two years ago separated us. I think Iran sanctions is a good example. I think that only because of the strong and real partnership we have were we able to see the type of sanctions that are having a real bite and a real impact in Iran. And that relationship is important to this country and to this President.
Q And one thing on the same subject. President Medvedev actually referred to a “strike capability.” He said that if this partnership does not materialize, then within that 10-year period that he described Russia will have to take a hard decision on the strike capability, that it will have to deploy. Was it the way that the Russians framed this issue in Lisbon, and do you have any idea what strike capabilities they are talking about?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to your comrades in Russia.
Q Thank you, Robert. One quick question. On the way in I saw President Carter headed into the Oval Office. Was he going to meet with President Obama?
MR. GIBBS: I believe his schedule had a meeting with our National Security Advisor and I believe the President also asked President Carter to stop in.
Q Regarding Korea?
MR. GIBBS: That is all I know, and I will try to find more.
Q And will he be available for reporters?
MR. GIBBS: That’s not my bailiwick.
Q Tell him to go the stakeout.
MR. GIBBS: But I will say that you guys both wanted to see him, how about that? I will try to get some more information.
END 2:38 P.M. EST
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