Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/5/2011
12:51 P.M. EST
Q Where’s the cake?
Q It’s a standing-room crowd here.
MR. GIBBS: I noticed such a thing, and many cameras, and I see a number of Christmas ties as well.
Q Can you tell us a bit more -- in a bit more detail about what you're going to be doing next? You're not going to be lobbying or consulting. How would you define your next job?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me start by saying a few things, Ben. It is -- and you all know this because you do this as well, and that is it is an honor and a privilege to stand here, to work inside this building, to serve your country, to work for a President that I admire as much as President Barack Obama.
I've been a member of his staff for almost seven years, and it’s -- again, it’s a remarkable privilege. It is in many ways the opportunity of a lifetime, one that I will be forever thankful and grateful for.
What I'm going to do next is step back a little bit, recharge some. We've been going at this pace for at least four years. I will have an opportunity I hope to give some speeches. I will continue to provide advice and counsel to this building and to this President. And I look forward to continuing to do that.
Q In terms of advocacy for the President, are you looking forward to the potential freedom that will come with speaking for him and not being behind that podium?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, we -- we're in a very different political environment than we've been in a number of years in this country and I think whoever stands here or whoever goes on television to make the case for this administration should be an advocate of the decisions and the policies that are coming from this building. You certainly have to play that role.
I'm not going in order to be freed up to say a series of things that I might not otherwise say. I've enjoyed every time I've come out here and even on days when you -- even every day, even when you wake up at 4:00 a.m. and pick up the paper and groan that you have a sense of what the first several questions might be. But I think it’s important for this country and for an administration to come out here and advocate on behalf of and -- on behalf of its policies and answer your questions.
Q And you’ve talked about how long you’ve been next to now President Obama. Can you talk about the impact that you think your leaving will have in concert with David Axelrod and already Rahm Emanuel?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. One of the things you learn very quickly as you walk into this building each day, you’re struck by the sense that -- of the history of this place, and you realize that whatever your length of service here, it is temporary in the long and wonderful history of our country. And I think it does an administration good -- and I think it will do this administration good -- to have people like David Plouffe and others come into an administration who haven’t been here, who have been able to watch a little bit from the outside.
We all admit there’s -- you have to admit there’s a bubble in here, to some degree. So I think having new voices and having fresh voices, some of those voices that are coming back from having taken a couple of years off, are an important part of this process. I think they will serve the President well, even as people like David Axelrod and I go outside of the building and have a chance to talk to the President and people here with a slightly different perspective of not driving in here each morning.
So I think it’s unique. I think it’s -- but the truth is you walk around here and you see the history and such, and I'd just reiterate again, you realize that for however long you’re here, it’s temporary. But what endures is our government. What endures is the great experiment of democracy that’s proved to be such a wonderful thing for the world.
Q Just a follow-up, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Let me go around. I have a feeling we’ll be here for a little bit today.
Q I've got a couple questions, one domestic and one international. The incoming Republican budget chief of the House, Paul Ryan, is saying that he will demand spending concessions from the administration in exchange for an agreement -- a willingness to lift the national debt ceiling. Would the administration be willing to consider such --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Matt, I think we’re going to have to have a discussion -- we are going to have a discussion about steps that are going to be taken to get our fiscal house in order. We made some extraordinary decisions over the past several years, some in this administration, some in the previous administration, to deal with the financial calamity, to deal with the tremendous downturn in our economy and the job loss that it’s wrought.
But we are not here -- I think it’s important to understand we’re not here because of a series of decisions that just got made in the last six months. We’re dealing with a series of decisions that date back quite a long time, that the bills have continually come due for and we’re going to have to address them.
What the exact specifics of those look like, obviously that’s part of the process that we’re going to go through.
But I hope that everybody approaches not just the exercise of fiscal responsibility and fiscal restraint seriously, but I think it’s important, as you heard Chairman Goolsbee say this weekend, it’s important to approach the upcoming vote, as you mentioned, on the debt limit, in a way that’s responsible and in a way that doesn’t threaten the full faith and credit of our government.
Q The President obviously has President Hu’s upcoming visit on his mind. He stopped in at a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister at the White House yesterday. How hard is the President willing to push President Hu on China’s currency issue and on human rights when they meet?
MR. GIBBS: I think those two issues that you mentioned will be on the agenda and will be tremendously important. Those are issues that came up yesterday in the meeting, as you said, that the President stopped by. China plays an enormously important role in our global economy and China has to take steps to rebalance its currency, and the President will continue to make that point when President Hu is here, as he did with the Foreign Minister.
And I would say this. I would say that -- understand that human rights, the global economy, and currency are certainly on the list. I won’t go through all the topics, but of course the situation in North Korea I anticipate will also take up some amount of that time.
Q But the President has been accused of soft-pedaling human rights when it comes to China. Is he going to be maintaining that --
MR. GIBBS: I have -- he has -- I think if you speak directly to the President of China about your concerns about their record on human rights, I don’t think that’s soft-pedaling.
Q You referenced Austan Goolsbee’s comments about the debt ceiling and I wanted to read you this quote from a senator. “The fact that we’re here today to debate raising America’s debt is a sign of leadership failure. Leadership means the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”
I suspect you know who I’m quoting.
MR. GIBBS: Joe Biden? (Laughter.) I know, Barack Obama in 2006.
Q That is Senator Barack Obama in 2006 voting against raising the debt ceiling.
MR. GIBBS: And I think what is important is -- understand that raising the debt limit was not in question in the outcome --
Q It passed 52 to 48. It was close.
MR. GIBBS: -- in the outcome of that vote.
Q It was a close vote -- 52 to 48.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve had closer. I think it’s important that the outcome -- based on the outcome of that vote, as I mentioned, the full faith and credit was not in doubt -- the full faith and credit of our government and our economy was not in doubt. And the President used it to make a point about needing to get serious about fiscal discipline.
And we, as I said earlier, are dealing with the legacy of decisions that have been made over the past many years -- not paying for a prescription drug benefit, not paying for wars, not paying for tax cuts -- that changed our fiscal situation much more markedly than anything ever had.
So I think it is up to -- and it’s important for Congress, because we know not to play politics with this, not to play games, to find a way to raise that debt limit, understanding that we have to -- as I mentioned to Matt, we’re going to have to take some serious steps to get our fiscal house in order. But we understand, we know what happens, we know the catastrophic actions with things like Social Security and Medicare if you threaten the solvency of the government.
Q But isn’t that what he was doing?
Q So he only voted that way because he knew that it was going to pass?
MR. GIBBS: And I think, clearly, he was sending a message.
Q But he knew it was going to pass -- that’s why he voted against it?
MR. GIBBS: Again, his vote was not necessarily needed on that.
Q So I guess, then, just extending that, it would be okay for other senators to do the same thing this year, as long as they know that ultimately --
MR. GIBBS: There may be some that send a message. But I think what is important is that the ultimate bottom line is we shouldn’t upset the notion of that full faith and credit. We shouldn’t, as some have rhetorically done leading up to this, suggest that that’s a good way to deal with this, is simply to let -- to not pass that extension.
We understand, as Austan said -- and, look, Austan is a very bright economist. The effects of something like that, as he said last weekend, would exceed anything that we saw in the financial collapse in 2008.
Q And just a quick question about the assassination of the governor of Punjab in Pakistan. I was wondering if you could put the assassination on the context of the President’s AfPak review, whether you think it indicates anything about how successful efforts are to root out extremism. The governor was regarded as the best spokesman against extremism since Benazir Bhutto -- if you could just comment on that.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think -- first of all, I think it’s important that we -- that our government express our condolences. As you mentioned, this is an individual who had worked hard to promote tolerance, and his loss is a great one for Pakistan. Secretary Clinton met with the Pakistani ambassador yesterday to personally pass along the President’s condolences.
I would simply say, Jake, that we remain committed to the efforts that the Pakistani government is and must undertake to root out violent extremism and to bring greater peace and stability to that country and to that region of the world.
Q Robert, are you going to be endorsing a successor in your job? I mean, are you going to give the President any advice and counsel on who you think would be --
MR. GIBBS: I generally don’t speak publicly about the advice and the counsel that I give and I shouldn’t change that today.
Q Where do you think he is on the chief of staff situation? Is he leading in any direction in terms of -- it’s been made clear by various Democrats that if Pete Rouse wants to stay, he can. Do you know where the President is, where Pete Rouse is?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have a lot new for you than what I think was quoted as saying a couple of days ago. I expect that a lot of personnel decisions will get wrapped up in the next few days because the President and team understand how much work there is to be done this year, that our plate is full, and that we have many important issues that we have to address.
And I will say, I expect that the President is likely to make some economic team personnel announcements on Friday. I will not get into who that might be, but I think on Friday we will travel in the area, visit a window manufacturer that is -- that will take advantage of some of the expensing provisions that the President proposed in the fall and were contained in the ultimate tax agreement -- 100 percent expensing for the next year of investments that are made -- that they’ll take advantage of that. And he’ll draw some attention to that, as well as react to whatever the jobs numbers are.
Q Is he doing the NEC announcement at the window manufacturer?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- Friday.
MR. GIBBS: Friday.
Q Is Gene Sperling shopping for new windows right now? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that.
Q A real quick question on the Medicare regulation that administration officials this morning are saying the New York Times report is true that you’re going to take out the references to end-of-life planning that would have been covered in the health care reform law. My question is, it seems like you’re dropping it in part because, dating back to August of 2009, there have been these false allegations that they were going to be death panels. And so why -- it seems like you’re giving those allegations credibility --
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q -- by backpedaling now. Why not fight for this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the administration believed was important was -- and, look, end-of-life counseling is something that I don’t think is a partisan issue. I think people understand -- and we have had great national debates about these topics in the past few years -- it’s an important part of your relationship with your doctor.
The proposed rule did not have these provisions in there originally. We did not think it made sense, based on that, to necessarily include them in the final rule without having some discussion about that. And so those come out of this rule, but that doesn’t change I think bipartisan support for having an intelligent conversation with a medical professional about your choices for end of life.
Q But isn’t this one of the things that upsets liberals in the President’s own party that he doesn’t fight for these things sometimes, you give in on it and --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, Ed, we just -- we did not think that the process in the rulemaking was what we wanted it to be in terms of having and giving the public an adequate space in a public comment period to debate these kind of things. That does not change, again, our support and others’ support for these types of confidential discussions.
Q Robert, could you talk a little bit about your personal things that went into your making this decision? I mean, obviously you can make a ton of money giving speeches and you’ve been on a government salary for a long time. There’s also the issue of personal freedom; maybe you’re exhausted by this job and maybe you’re just sick and tired of us. (Laughter.) Could you tell us a little bit of what went into this decision?
MR. GIBBS: And I will say this. Look, guys, I am not good at talking about myself. Maybe that’s not a great trait to have if you live in Washington. (Laughter.) But, look, obviously this was not an easy decision. But again, I think there’s a very natural time period to make the decision to recharge a little bit. I think a bunch of you guys in here covered the campaign that went for a couple years, and then we’ve had a couple of probably the busiest years that Washington and a White House have seen in many decades.
So, yes, it’s -- look, you guys know this because -- again, because you guys cover this place, that this doesn’t stop. Only rarely does it observe holidays like Christmas, and sometimes not even that. And so there’s no doubt there is a -- this is a tough place to work.
Now, again, it is an amazing privilege. I would not trade -- as I told my staff this morning -- I would not trade the worst day I’ve had here for many of the best days that you might have in another job. I think the last two years have been extraordinary to watch, extraordinary to be a part of.
I work with a President that I love and respect. I work with a group of people who comprise my staff and comprise the White House staff that I’ve worked with almost nonstop, many of them, for four years. Some -- Tommy Vietor came here -- came to the Obama campaign for Senate a couple months after I did, well before anybody had given any DNC speeches and we were just running for the Senate in Illinois. So those are -- I don't consider the people that I work for just colleagues; I consider them among the best friends that I have.
But it’s time to take a little break. It’s time to -- there’s a little boy who probably needs a ride to school every now and then.
Q Vietor? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Actually, I was talking about Nick -- because the surfboard doesn’t fit in my car, so -- (laughter.)
Q Is that a tan or --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say, that is -- that, my friends, is not a tan. He’s tan, but that is -- those are the results of something a little bit more embarrassing.
Did I just mention -- are we on TV? Is this -- (laughter.)
Q I’m sure people will follow up on your situation. But if I could shift to health care for a moment. Obviously --
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I would much rather talk about health care than myself.
Q I know you do. Health care reform is going to be under assault, obviously, in the coming weeks and months. How active is the President going to be in -- is he going to let this happen on Capitol Hill? Or is he going to get out there -- are there any plans in the works for a major speech from the President defending health care reform? And are you reluctant to turn it into a political football like it was a year ago?
MR. GIBBS: No, because I think what’s important, Chip, is to understand that -- and you’ve seen this acknowledged, I think, by many proponents of repeal -- that this is symbolic. They understand that this is not going to land on the President’s desk. It’s not likely to pass the Senate, that this is a bit of huff and puff. This town does that great --
Q But they can cut off funding and have a significant effect on it.
MR. GIBBS: And those are important, but I think it’s important, though, to take just a step back and understand beyond the symbolism what this means. What this means is going back to a health care system where insurance companies are in charge and call the shots; where a child that is sick with a preexisting condition doesn’t have to get coverage in the greatest, strongest, most powerful country on the planet; where seniors don't get help with their prescription drug costs.
Q Will the President make a major speech making these arguments?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President’s position on it is fairly well known. I don't anticipate that -- I think as the debate continues and as the implementation continues -- which I think is the most important part of all this -- as the implementation continues, you’ll hear the President discuss this.
It’s not -- obviously the President is focused very much on the economy and on the job situation right now. He’s remarkably proud of the accomplishment of health care. We have now the tougher task of implementing and to ensure that what I talked about a second ago -- a family not having to worry about losing their insurance or having their insurance coverage capped by the decisions made by an insurance company; fear of skyrocketing premiums with no accountability; as I said, fear of discrimination on preexisting conditions. I don’t think that the American people want to go back to a health care system where those safety nets are in doubt, and that’s what the law is.
Q Robert, just to follow up on two subjects already covered and one new one. On your end of your tenure as White House press secretary, President Obama has already said some kind things about what an effective advocate you were for his policies and administration. How would you grade your own performance?
MR. GIBBS: Since I still have many more briefings to do before the end of the month, I'll defer that question until the end of the class.
Q You think you can pull it out still? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t do well talking about myself and --
Q Would there be anything you would wish that you had done differently?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you have any job and you say you don’t wish you would have done something a little differently you’ve probably not taken a good -- necessarily good look -- of course. I mean, I don’t -- there may be -- look, there may be something -- probably something every day. Look, again, I had -- I have the opportunity to work for and serve -- work for this President, serve this country, work with so many wonderful friends and be in the middle of what’s going on. It’s a tremendous -- it has been a tremendous honor.
Q But you would count yourself a success in what you did here?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I think that we have been able to -- and, look, I play a very small role in a big -- a very big operation. So I think that’s important to understand. I think if you just look at what the President was able, and the Vice President were able to get accomplished at the end of last year -- a START treaty that will make real, discernible reductions in our deployed nuclear weapons; repealing a law that he believed and had believed for many years was unjust in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”; ensuring our economic recovery by making sure that tax rates for middle-class families didn’t go up -- all of those are important things and might in a slow year count for -- or a slow two years, count for the entirety of what you were able to do. That was just two weeks here.
Q Two other things real quick. On the Medicare rule, your explanation that the rule was revoked because it didn’t meet your preferred standards for the rulemaking process leaves open the possibility that you would seek to reintroduce it in a way that does comport with your preferences for the rulemaking process. Is it dead for good?
MR. GIBBS: I would on the specifics for that point you over to HHS.
Q And lastly, getting to the question of how you expect to work with the House GOP majority, Congressman Cummings appeared on one of the Sunday morning talk shows saying that he would be vigilant to look out for the GOP majority, particularly of his committee, conducting witch hunts with subpoenas and that sort of thing. Congressman Issa appeared on three Sunday morning shows. He sent out a bunch of letters and made pretty plain his agenda as the chairman of that committee. I wonder, in everything you’ve heard from Darrell Issa so far, whether you think he is engaged in witch hunts or whether you think he is going to conduct that committee in a way that you think you can productively work with him.
MR. GIBBS: He and the Vice President I think had a productive meeting at the end of last year. I think what is important is to understand that everybody in government should -- and certainly everybody here does -- want oversight that ensures that the intent of the law or the intent of the policy is being effectively carried out without waste or fraud.
I think if you look at something the size and the scope of the Economic Recovery Act, you get a sense of how -- the degree to which -- the degree of importance that we put on that here. At the same time, I don’t think -- people want good oversight, but, as you said, we don't -- I didn’t mean to say, “you said” -- as your question said, people are not interested in relitigating everything in the past. We’ve got problems in the future that we need to focus on. So I think that we are happy to be a part of responsible oversight.
Q Then what do you think about what you’ve heard from him so far?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that Congress is not even an hour and a half old. So, again, I think we -- maybe he’ll want to wait for me to grade him like I did myself. But, again, I think the question is there’s a standard for responsible oversight that doesn’t exceed the type of partisan, ideological, political witch hunts that people like Congressman Issa have spoken out against in the past.
Q When is your last day?
MR. GIBBS: Sometime toward the -- probably the beginning of February. I don’t have a final last day yet.
Q Do you anticipate that your successor would be named before you go?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I do.
Q Do you think the President is going to call John Boehner today?
MR. GIBBS: I neglected to say I believe the -- there’s a tradition of hearing from the new Congress. He will speak to Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi I think on a call that they’re going to place to here about 3:30 p.m. this afternoon. I can check on whether he intends to speak with the new Speaker. Obviously he has had an opportunity to speak with him many times since the election.
And, again, I think what this administration hopes for is for the type of bipartisanship and the type of collegiality that was had during the lame duck. There were -- we dealt with some tough issues. We dealt with some stuff that had been on the books or on our plates for quite some time, but we were able to do that in a way that served the interests of the American people. I think that’s a good -- I think that’s a pretty good path toward what this President would like to see -- our ability to work in a bipartisan manner to make progress and move this country forward.
Q In the interest of collegiality, would the President invite him to play golf?
MR. GIBBS: I could see that happening, yes. I think the President -- that might require the President to practice a bit before that. I think the new Speaker is --
Q You’re leaving, so you can say that the President isn’t as good at golf. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think -- I would say that if I had just signed up for eight more years, and that is I think the President would be probably the first to tell you that whenever -- I don’t know what Speaker Boehner’s handicap is, but whenever you tell people what your handicap is, it sort of -- it indicates that you are -- you’re good enough to know what that number is. Having played on occasion with the President, neither of us have discussed our many handicaps in playing golf.
Q And then real quickly, has the President spoken to Bill Daley this week?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Do you anticipate he’ll speak to him today or meet with him this week?
MR. GIBBS: It’s certainly possible, yes.
Q Robert, is a Camp David retreat with the Republican leaders still being considered?
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s something that we continue to have interest in. I don’t know where that lies and I can check on that.
Laura, do you have --
Q Yes. In terms of the departures and replacements at the top of the West Wing, yours and others, a lot of the candidates who are being mentioned or who are certain to take those roles are sort of coming from within the White House or within the general Obama sphere. Is that -- what are the advantages of that, and do you see disadvantages to that in terms of not having --
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously some people will take on new roles that have been in here. And look, there’s -- and I think you guys understand that some sense of continuity is always important. Look, I look at somebody like a David Plouffe who, sure, he’s obviously quite well-known to the President, played a very important role in the President getting to the White House, but I think David will bring a perspective that is fresh because he hasn’t been inside of here for two years. And I think that’s important.
So I don’t -- look, I don’t think it’s a matter of necessarily just seeing totally different people. I think there’s a perspective that you gain when you’re not in here every day.
Q Does Plouffe have a start date?
MR. GIBBS: I believe Plouffe will start next Monday.
Q And in terms of your future, do you plan on -- are you open to working for people other than advising Barack Obama, advising other Democrats or other candidates?
MR. GIBBS: Political candidates?
MR. GIBBS: I have probably worked for my -- my current boss is probably my last political candidate.
Q And what about in terms of corporate clients? Do you imagine taking anything on other than paid speeches to earn money?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t gotten that far. Obviously I wouldn’t want to get into that while I had not made any intentions known about what my future held.
Q And lastly, do -- as an advisor to the President from the outside, would that be a paid position or would it be compensated in any way, or just --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we’ve gotten all through that. Sometimes the advice that several of us give the President here he might consider worth what he paid for. So that might not --
Q Worth the investment? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say that might -- we might not want to do that on necessarily a sliding scale. But I’ll work through some of those issues.
Q Why is he your last political candidate?
MR. GIBBS: Seems like a pretty good one to stop on.
Q Robert, when you’ve come out here, has it been a -- to the podium, has it been a help or a hindrance to be both a main advisor and the spokesman?
MR. GIBBS: To me, it’s been a help. And I think to you it’s been a help, because I think you want whoever is in this role, whether they’re somebody -- look, I have a pretty unique relationship with him based on just how long I’ve been here and the types of -- you spend two years on the road with somebody -- or almost two years on the road with somebody, you get to know them pretty well and you get to know how they think. And I think that’s helpful.
Look, I have always -- the way I’ve operated has been -- and when we first started here, there were people -- well, do you want to know this? Do you want to see these memos? Do you want -- look, I would rather know and have to be cautious than to go out here and say something that turned out to be false.
I haven’t done that. And I don't think you -- it ultimately -- I think once -- I think if something like that happens, it’s hard to do this job. So and, look, other people may be different. I’m answering from my perspective, and that is I would always rather know and understand what -- and, look, there have been times when I can’t get into stuff, I’m not going to get into that. But I’d rather know than to land on the wrong side of what the truth is.
Q Through the years there have been certain press secretaries who have been strictly mouthpieces, and others who have had the dual roles that you have. Would you advise President Obama to make sure that your successor has the same access that you’ve had?
MR. GIBBS: I will say -- again, I want to separate just slightly because I do think it is -- I do think I have, because I’ve been here so long with him -- or have been with him so long, that there is a uniqueness to that.
I think any press secretary has to have the ability -- and I don't think any press secretary would be hired in this building that didn't have the ability to go see the chief of staff, go the senior advisors, or go see the President or the Vice President when they needed to. I have had that ability. I think obviously most of the counterparts that have stood up here, I think most of them would tell you that unless you had that ability it doesn’t make any sense for you to do that job. And I don’t think anybody in this building would put any potential successor of mine in the position of not granting them the ability to know what those answers are.
Again, there’s always the times in which you know stuff that the President is going to make news on or you -- look, I read a certain amount and I’m involved in meetings in the Situation Room that you just can’t talk about. You will have those opportunities. But it’s important to be able to walk into his office and say, sir, I need to get your opinion on this.
Q Finally, might you write a book?
MR. GIBBS: Not in the near future, no.
Q You mentioned that on Friday there will be economic personnel team announcements. In addition to the NEC, what else could we expect that day?
MR. GIBBS: See, this is one of those occasions that I was just speaking of, Peter, where one might know and one might decide whether one wants to make -- let me do this. Because I don’t think all of those final decisions have been made, let me address that possibly tomorrow.
Q Okay. So the Recovery Board, could there be a new person for that or --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I do not believe that that is envisioned for Friday, no.
Q But it will be economic team, plural?
MR. GIBBS: Plural.
Q Okay. And is the President, as he finalizes these decisions and reshapes his economic team, is he looking for any changes in the direction of his economic policies?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, we talked earlier about at each different phase of the recovery there are different aspects that have to be focused on. Obviously fiscal discipline and fiscal responsibility -- after some of the extraordinary steps that the White House has had to take on the road to that recovery -- after those, obviously getting our fiscal house in order is an important one.
But, look, I think that ensuring our competitiveness and making sure that we are, as an administration, investing in the investments that will create a workforce that is more educated, more competitive, and able to better compete in a global marketplace, those are the types of things that are tremendously important to this President.
Q Could you talk if someone like Bill Daley were to join the administration, how they could be an effective advocate with the business community?
MR. GIBBS: Let me, without using that hypothetical name -- look, I think that this President is -- I think that we’ve taken steps that were important to ensure financial stability and to ensure that business was on the best footing possible in this country.
I think the President would be the first to advocate for what he believes are some strong pro-business policies. I think if you look -- to take a second and look at the auto sales numbers from yesterday. For the first time -- they were checking for me -- in I don’t know how long, the Big Three increased their market share. And you saw an investment in the auto companies that was made by this administration that restructured Chrysler and GM -- put them into bankruptcy, restructured them, took them out -- has led to I think what anybody would term as an unqualified success at this point.
A stronger economy has lifted auto sales. As I said, the Big Three have added market share for the first time together in a long time. And I think those are the type of pro-business policies that the President is proud of. And I think the President will have an opportunity to continue to and enhance his outreach to CEOs and to business leaders throughout the country.
Q Would it be helpful, though, to have someone of his stature be able to go out and --
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s always helpful to have more and more people who can do that for you.
Q Robert, why was the decision made to announce your departure before a replacement was found? It’s kind of unusual. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I don't know that it was that unusual.
Q That makes the search more public and more kind of fishbowl-like than if you did it all at once.
MR. GIBBS: As opposed to all of our un-fishbowl-like --
Q Well, there are degrees of fishbowlism.
MR. GIBBS: I don't see that. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Okay, my other question is a follow-up to Laura. If you’re going to have some kind of a major role, outside role as a paid consultant to the campaign, why wouldn’t you rule out taking corporate clients for the duration?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think I did. I just -- you got to understand I’ve been -- this is an announcement that's only a few hours old, and I haven’t totally figured out all of what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.
Q Right. No, I’m not talking about the rest of your life. I’m talking about for the duration that you’re a paid consultant to the reelection campaign. Are you saying that you feel it would be okay to have corporate clients at the same time?
MR. GIBBS: If that's something I decided to do, and I was comfortable with who those clients were, I don't think that necessarily -- again, I would not get into the hypothetical of that at this point because it’s just not something that is at this point relevant.
Q One last question on health care. To the extent that the debate is going to be relitigated, I’m wondering if you feel that the White House has kind of a chance to make a more effective argument and maybe persuade more people than ended up being persuaded of the merits of this last year. And you talk about the insurance reforms that are popular like children with preexisting conditions or the doughnut hole or caps and rescissions. What I’m wondering is, is the White House ready to defend robustly the things that are most controversial about the plan -- the expense of universal coverage and the individual mandate? You rarely talk about those two things.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think that's necessarily the case since the individual mandate is something that we’ve discussed in here recently because there are a myriad of court cases that have been brought around that. Understand what -- we talked about fiscal responsibility a few minutes ago. One thing that’s unique about what we passed was we paid for what we passed. So let’s understand what that means for repeal.
There’s -- it is interesting and unique to see when one pays attention to and when one ignores the Congressional Budget Office. The Congressional Budget Office, which -- how much is this, what’s the price tag on this, how’s it being paid for were questions that we answered a lot of during the debate, and were asked a lot of us during the debate by those who opposed what we were trying to do.
Repealing health care reform adds $140 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. So they’ve got to cut not just the $100 billion they’re talking about, but now I assume they’re going to pay for that, too. That doesn’t count the trillion dollars over the 10 years after that.
So we’re happy to talk about the expense of this. Let’s also be clear in talking about the expense of what happens if you repeal it -- not just for families with children that are sick, not just for families that worry that their coverage might have been capped, or, God forbid, an insurance company is making your medical decisions, but also what it means for our deficit and our debt.
Q So just again about what you’re going to be doing in the future --
MR. GIBBS: Have the Cowboys found a coach yet?
Q Yes, exactly. Can we say that you’re going to be a paid consultant to the campaign? Is that definitely what you’re going to be doing?
MR. GIBBS: At some point, yes.
Q And how, if at all, when in the future can we expect you to be on television or acting as a surrogate for --
MR. GIBBS: Hopefully, as we speak. (Laughter.)
Q -- in that new capacity?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that yet. Look, I assume that I will have an opportunity to continue being an advocate for the decisions that are being made or have been made in this White House. And I am certainly happy to do that.
Q Robert, once the decisions -- all the decisions on personnel are known, what --
MR. GIBBS: There will be a test. (Laughter.)
Q What will it say about the difference between now and the beginning of the administration -- what the next two years will be like versus the first two years?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, I think we have always talked about the fact that the next two years were going to be different than the first two years. We were able to pass health care reform and financial reform, things like the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” all of which now have to be implemented. And I think the President has always looked at the first two years as a period of legislation, and at least the next year is a period of implementation and a period of continued economic -- taking steps to continue that economic recovery.
So, I think you -- there’s a little bit -- there’s going to be a different group of people occupying the same desks that we have now that will play in a probably slightly different environment based on what I think the focus of this building is likely to be.
Q So how does that translate into the skill sets he is looking for? Is he just looking for individual people that fit in a particular round hole or square peg --
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is probably a better discussion to have when we have sort of a larger tableau of what all of those announcements will be.
But, look, there’s -- obviously within each different position there’s a skill set that, given the agenda and the environment, that may be slightly different than what you’ve had, again, in the past two years. Let’s -- we can do a little bit more of that as we get into this a little bit more.
Q There will be multiple announcements?
MR. GIBBS: On?
MR. GIBBS: There will be multiple on Friday, and I assume that there may be some more after Friday?
Q Multiple economic announcements?
MR. GIBBS: Multiple economic announcements, yes.
Q Any others?
MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware.
Q Chief of staff won’t be before Friday?
MR. GIBBS: I have nothing new on chief of staff.
Q Sticking with the big picture, Robert, given the number of and importance of the jobs at stake, is this a major overhaul, a minor tweaking? Is it a big change of direction? Is it just some retooling of attitude? Is it just shifting from legislating -- is it bigger than a breadbox or smaller than Yugoslavia? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That’s a good question. No, look, I think there are -- I think in many ways this is a pretty major retooling. But, again, this is -- part of this is based on the fact that there are a lot of us who just feel like we need a little bit of a break. So some of that happens because -- just as a natural cycle of this. I think that’s -- I should have layered that into my answer on Jackie’s question -- I think that’s certainly important.
Again, there will also -- again, there are new environments and there’s a new Congress. There’s a whole host of things that one has to and should take into account when you’re making a lot of these decisions. And certainly the President and the team here are doing that.
Q But it’s more than just new faces doing the same thing?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I think so. I think there’s -- the truth is, I mean, I think -- I wouldn’t necessarily think of the fact that -- there may be functions in one area or domain or in the box of one personnel position that may get moved or shifted. So I don’t -- I think anytime you have the natural change of a White House, it’s not simply just, okay, what you did -- somebody else sits where you did and does everything that you did. I think there will be some retooling of that as well.
Q But a major retooling for what purpose, or to correct what deficiencies? I mean, what’s -- major retooling for what?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the reason I would consider it a major retooling is obviously a lot of people that have been here for a while and certainly since the inception of the administration that are leaving. Again, as I've said to you guys countless times, some people -- a lot of people leave because it’s time to take a break, it’s time to do something different, or it’s time to -- look, some people here -- Dr. Summers is a good example, somebody who was going to serve for and told the President he would serve for two years. There’s a lot of people that have been like that.
Q Those people can leave without a major retooling. You just called it a major retooling.
MR. GIBBS: Let me be careful then in what I said. I said it was a major retooling because there’s going to be a lot of new faces.
Q Well, just to follow on there, to what degree is it because he’s dissatisfied with the performance of people?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would suggest that almost all of what you’ve seen is -- not all of what you’ve seen, but a decent amount of what you’ve seen is the natural attrition of an administration.
Q When you talk about natural attrition and the exhaustion of people who have been doing this for essentially four years when you count the campaign, that goes for the President, as well. How do you address his energy level?
MR. GIBBS: Have we not told you about the replacement of -- (laughter.)
Q Finally, a lead. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That's good. No, look -- I mean, look, there’s one -- I mean, look, you sign up for and understand that you -- as a President you can’t take a year off to recharge. So I think it’s important to put people around him that have the fresh perspective, that have come into a different job or have come into the administration, after having not been here for a couple of years, and give this place the vitality that it will always have largely because it’s the White House.
But I think it’s important that -- and I think the President believes that’s important, that there are a -- having additional voices, having different and fresh perspectives, having those come from, again, folks that haven’t necessarily been inside this bubble for two years or four years or seven years, that that’s really important to the process of running an administration, of running a White House, and of governing a country.
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thank you. Having been at this for two years, can you talk to us a bit about the value of the daily briefing? Do you think it’s helpful to the general public? Is it helpful to reporters? Is it helpful to the White House? Would you make any changes? Would you take it off camera? Do you like it being on camera?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we’ve experimented with a couple different things like -- I do think there’s a great utility in doing some off-camera gaggles. We probably, truth be told, haven’t done enough of those. I think there’s an ability to talk about things slightly differently without all these fancy lights.
I think it’s important, though, as I said -- I alluded to earlier, it’s important to, as a government, to come out here and talk about and answer the -- talk about the policies and decisions that are being made and to answer the questions surrounding those.
Like I said, there are days in which -- my guess is it will happen again this week -- where you pick up that newspaper or you turn on your computer at 4:30 a.m. in the morning while your coffee is still brewing and you groan and, oh, God, what -- you know, great, this is going -- and then you get on your BlackBerry.
But I think there’s a usefulness to that. I think there’s a reason that this has been an enduring quality. I do think there is -- look, I think there has to be -- I think there should continue to be experimentation, again, with gaggles. We’ve tried more stuff on social networking that I think will continue long past my existence inside this building because that, too, is important.
You now have the ability to -- look, I got on something like Twitter largely from watching you guys tweet while the President was standing right here. And it’s a fascinating concept. All this stuff moves much faster. I think that will endure. And I think the briefing will endure. And I think what gets added to and what complements the briefing in terms of breaking down any walls that exist between the people and their government will only accelerate.
Q Robert, back on the end-of-life counseling, could you say some more on the end-of-life counseling?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just go to Glenn and I’ll come back.
Q I was going to ask exactly the same question. (Laughter.) To follow up on a couple of the other questions regarding the retooling, there was a lot of criticism, some that came from within the administration, sort of self-criticism about messaging in the last year, on communications. You’re leaving. David Axelrod is leaving. You two are the principal architects of the communications and messaging strategy. Should we read anything into that?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t -- look, we’d be the first ones to tell you that we haven’t been perfect. It’s a difficult environment, given where we are economically. That's not to make any excuses.
You people in here hear me joke I haven’t been to a policy problem meeting yet. Every meeting I go to is the policy is fine, it’s just we’re not communicating well. I get that that's sort of some of the way that you go through problems here. But I think that there -- I think you’ll see continuity, obviously, in the message operation here. That is important. And again, you’ll see people like David Plouffe, who will come in and be a fresh perspective.
But I don't think it would be fair to read into the fact that the reason we’re leaving is we haven’t felt like we’ve accomplished anything.
Q Do you think you’d likely be staying even if the midterms hadn’t turned out to be so difficult --
MR. GIBBS: I didn't make a decision to step away and recharge because of the midterms. It’s just -- it’s a very natural time in the administration. It’s a good time to get, as I’ve said, some fresh voices, including somebody up here.
Q Thanks. You talked about how it doesn’t necessarily need to be a new voice; that it’s important to be a fresh voice. And even if Bill Daley and Gene Sperling aren’t the ones named to these new positions, they’ve obviously been given very serious consideration, are the frontrunners, or expected to be named. These are Clinton people -- originally. Is that a coincidence? Or is their service and what they represented and their experience back in the Clinton years something that you --
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this because I don't want --
Q I know you’re trying --
MR. GIBBS: Well, as Jackie pointed out, I’ve been pretty good at not making the news today. I will -- I don't want to get into -- again, I don't want my answer to be based on the names that you brought up.
Look, I think there are -- I guess part of the problem with this is there’s not like one type of person, right? You want people that -- there are people that are important to have in here that haven’t served in government, and then there are other positions where previous service in government, be it for Clinton, be it for others, is important.
We have people here, obviously -- I go down to John Brennan’s office; there’s a picture of he and George H.W. Bush. So there are people that have been here through a bunch of different administrations.
Again, I think some of it -- I hate to talk about it writ large because sometimes it’s -- I don't think the example necessarily carries as easily.
Q The economy was good during the Clinton years, though. I mean, is there -- does this administration believe that bringing -- that having some of those advisors who were responsible for bits of the economic --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- look, whether it’s Jack Lew at OMB, whether it -- look, Dr. Summers who had been obviously here before, obviously Secretary Geithner served also in the Clinton administration and others who --
Q Gene Sperling.
MR. GIBBS: And Gene, Jason Furman -- there’s other folks that have important experience, and I think that’s good to have. They understand and have -- as I said, they have important experiences. They have -- they understand what the job entails.
Q There was some discussion about you staying on in the administration but not as press secretary, and I’m wondering why you decided not to go that route. Was it a matter of just being too tired? Was it a matter of not finding exactly the right portfolio or --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I had some -- I think the best service that I can provide this President is for the next couple of years outside of this building. And that coincides nicely with my wanting to get a little bit of a break. And it all worked out that way.
Q Could you see coming back to the White House if he wins a second term, or are you declaring your White House service done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not going to -- I wouldn’t close the door. I told the President I’m happy to serve as ambassador to Italy in the second administration. (Laughter.) Begrudgingly I’ll do it, but -- okay, all right, you got me, I’ll do it. (Laughter.)
Q But seriously, could you see coming back here in a second term?
MR. GIBBS: One of my next tasks is going to be to make sure that he has the ability to make some of those decisions.
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back, I’ll come back, hold on.
Q -- can we come back to that?
Q What did the administration make of the unusually public way that the Israelis asked for the release of Jonathan Pollard yesterday? And is this decision in any way likely to be taken in the context of wider peace moves in the region?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the -- obviously the State Department answered this a little bit yesterday in saying that they received the request; they’ll take a look at it. I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged with.
Q Your use of social media platforms like you used to call the Twitter and YouTube --
MR. GIBBS: That was a joke, but, yes.
Q Yes, I know. The use of these kind of platforms, to what degree can you gauge its effectiveness in terms of sort of bypassing us, who are filters --
MR. GIBBS: Well, here’s I think a great misnomer, because I think it’s important -- social networking and the use of those type of tools I think -- I don’t look at it as, boy, I can now talk to people and you guys -- I'm going to go around you. I've never said that. Because, quite frankly, I subscribe to what you write; you guys subscribe to what I write. And I think what’s unique is we’ve done recently -- and I've greatly enjoyed them, though I realize that -- and I know you all agree -- that very few of my answers conform to 140 characters. But I think it’s interesting that you can have a dialogue with people who are going about their daily lives, who have questions for the administration about what it’s doing, and you guys have written off of that.
And I think that’s -- I just don’t think people should look at the increased transparency in their government, a greater explanation of the decisions that we’re making, as an effort to move around and go around you guys.
Q When was your last vacation?
MR. GIBBS: Serious vacation? That’s an excellent question.
When was the last time I took a vacation and didn’t take my BlackBerry? It’s been -- it has certainly exceeded -- it’s probably been almost seven years. I will -- that will be nice.
Q Are you still going to be a two BlackBerry man when you leave here?
MR. GIBBS: I hope not. I hope not.
You had an end-of-life question, I’m sorry.
Q Yes, end-of-life counseling, and if you could say a little more on that. Was the President concerned that by issuing this 1233 in executive order that he might be portrayed as something of a -- like President Kevorkian or something, given the tremendous opposition to that particular aspect of the health care bill from the U.S. population?
MR. GIBBS: No. Look, that obviously -- your characterization did not play a role in the administration’s determination of that. There is a -- I think if you look at polling, public polling, while there is concern from some about that provision, there is not -- at least, I have not seen something that would have people believe that a great majority of people believe in the concept of -- and I think it’s widely been debunked -- this notion of a so-called “death panel.”
Q But awarding doctors, giving them bonuses for having this kind of counseling, of course, would lead to more of it going on, pressuring a lot of people to --
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s a mischaracterization. I think that’s a pretty broad mischaracterization of what the rule would do. This is -- that’s not an accurate characterization of what’s going on.
Q Robert, will you miss us?
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November 22, 2014
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November 20, 2014
The President Awards the National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation
November 20, 2014
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