Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/15/10
2:00 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Let me go through a quick week ahead and then I want to go through one announcement before I work through your questions today.
As you heard the President announce, tomorrow he will meet with former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush at the White House to discuss how to enlist the help of the American people in the recovery and rebuilding effort going forward in Haiti.
On Sunday the President and First Lady will attend services at a church in Washington, D.C., where the President will deliver remarks. Later in the afternoon the President will make a stop in Boston, for the campaign of Martha Coakley.
On Monday the President and First Lady will participate in a service activity in the Washington, D.C., area. In the evening the President and the First Lady will attend the Let Freedom Ring concert at the Kennedy Center, a musical celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy, where the President will also deliver remarks.
On Tuesday the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
On Wednesday the President will host an event at the White House in honor of National Mentoring Month.
On Thursday the President will meet with a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House to talk about strengthening the economy and creating jobs in communities large and small across America.
And on Friday the President will travel, as we've previously announced, to Lorain County, Ohio, for the next stop on the White House to Main Street tour. During the visit President Obama will hold a town hall meeting at Lorain County Community College in Elyira, with workers, local business leaders and small business owners about ideas for continuing to grow the economy and put Americans back to work.
One more thing before we take questions. The Website -- this is the Website that is now active for people to donate on behalf of the relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti that is being coordinated by former President Clinton and former President George W. Bush. That will be the centerpiece of the event that is had here at the White House tomorrow. As soon as we have details on the timing of that we will ensure that you all have that to appropriately plan your weekends.
Q Barney Frank says that if Scott Brown wins on Tuesday that health care is dead. Do you agree with that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think Scott Brown is going to win on Tuesday.
Q Well, it's looking like you might be wrong. So what are you guys doing to prepare for that eventuality? And what do you think the chances of a health care bill passing are?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Jennifer, the President has spent a lot of time over the last few days working through the few issues that remained between the House and the Senate to get an agreement that can move this legislation forward. He was here until late last night, and they're back in the room today, right now, continuing to make progress. So that's what we're doing to get health care through.
Q But getting a deal is somewhat separate from getting the votes once it goes to the floor --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q -- of either the House or the Senate. That's what this election could drastically impact.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we'll have time to talk about what happens next week.
Q Do you think the election on Tuesday is a referendum on the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think one of the reasons the President accepted the invitation of the Coakley campaign to go -- I think the President sees a pretty clear distinction between a candidate in Martha Coakley who's going to fight for Massachusetts and a candidate on the other side who feels comfortable fighting for the insurance industry and big banks.
Q Do you think it is in some ways a referendum on the health care bill?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's a referendum on whose side are you on.
Q A lot of the polling suggests that the problems that Democrats have had in places like New Jersey and Virginia, as well as Massachusetts, is based on public dislike of what they perceive to be the health care plan, and you're not getting any traction in places like Massachusetts. You got a candidate who was perceived to be a run-away -- a walk-away winner who is now in danger of losing. What's wrong with your message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's why we have elections. That's why we have elections. We're not on the ballot in -- there's a campaign that's going on in Massachusetts. We're happy to lend our support. And I think as you heard the President say yesterday, we're going to get health care done, and we'll be happy to have a campaign on whether you're for the status quo, whether you're for protecting insurance industry profits, whether you're for protecting bank company profits, or whether you're on the side of the American people. We'll be happy to have that -- we'll be happy to have that --
Q We've heard from polling that people aren't buying that. I mean, do you think the President can go and turn it around?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes he can be helpful, and is happy to accept the invitation.
Q Robert, the State Department today is issuing a formal diplomatic expression of concern to China about the Google incident. What does the United States need to hear to placate its concerns, and how do you keep this incident from hurting U.S.-China relations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jeff, as I said yesterday, you heard the President in Shanghai address his belief in the universal value of a free Internet. We don't carve out our values based on what country we're talking to. Obviously, as I said yesterday, as the Secretary of State has said previously, we have concern over events that have been written about. We wanted to and needed to hear from Chinese officials about them. And then we supported the efforts of Google to stop censoring their searches in China. I think that's been our posture and I think that appropriately stems from our belief in free Internet.
Q Right. And you said a lot of that yesterday. I guess my question today is, the Chinese so far have played down these concerns. What are you looking for as a response to this particular diplomatic message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm not going to get into specifics --
Q In terms of what you need to hear.
MR. GIBBS: Well, an explanation. I think people want to hear -- we've been briefed, others have been briefed, on what Google experienced. And as the State Department said, we need to hear now from the Chinese.
Q Is there a next step that you're discussing once you get some feedback from them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to get too far into the future on this. Obviously we're anxious to hear from them and I think in terms of -- Google will keep us apprised on their next steps as it relates to China as well.
Q Could you share with us how the President feels the relief and rescue efforts are going? I know that he was impatient early on, not understanding why more had not been down. How is he feeling these days about how things are proceeding in Haiti?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, I think as you heard the President say today, we have -- I think he is pleased with our efforts to move -- at moving resources to the airport, moving resources to Haiti. I think as you heard the President say, and I think this is -- I think your reporters on the ground will certainly attest to this, we are -- there are going to be tremendous logistical challenges to moving throughout the country and certainly throughout the capital, simply because of the damage sustained in such a devastating earthquake.
One of the things that the President had and Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen discussed in the Situation Room a few nights ago was ensuring that we had that lift capability in helicopters -- the USS Vinson has 19 of those helicopters now on site -- that when things are ready and capable we now have a much greater lift capability to move resources from staging areas either at the airport or other places -- maybe it comes over land from the Dominican -- into areas that need it the most.
I think obviously we're in a very critical period and I think you're going to see -- we are entering a very difficult situation in the logistical moving of those resources. And I think that's what the President has asked SOUTHCOM and others to help assist him in that coordination.
Q Some reporters on the ground are saying that there are Haitians there who resent the fact that U.S. efforts seem to be focused a great deal on rescuing Americans, where so many Haitians are suffering and need rescuing as well. I know it's a difficult balance for the U.S. to ride that, but how are the decisions made?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would just say this, I think the President's discussion with President Préval sums up the feeling of the Haitian people -- and I'm sure this goes, quite frankly, for the entire international community -- they've seen a tremendous outpouring of resources. There are going to be, as I said, a number of logistical challenges that we and many other countries are going to face in the next coming days in getting all of that distributed. We understand that and they're working through the logistics of that as quickly as we can.
I would point you to USAID in terms of -- or DHS -- in terms of some specificity on what you wanted to know in terms of the other thing.
Q If I can just follow up on a question I asked yesterday? Now that the details of the deal with the labor unions have been made public, why is it fair for individuals who have so-called Cadillac plans that have been negotiated through collective bargaining agreements to be exempt until 2018 from the proposed excise tax, whereas those who might be in the exact same situation but are not part of labor unions -- even if they want to be and their company resisted, or many they're in right-to-work states -- why is it fair for one group to not get a tax and others to --
MR. GIBBS: I would say this. I've asked to see what numbers they can run. We're talking about an exceedingly small number of people I think that the premise of your impact would impact.
Q It's a big tax, though, 40 percent.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's a 40 percent tax on the insurance company for the excess of their policy over the threshold, right? So the new threshold is at $24,000, right? So --
Q But if it wasn't a big deal, the labor unions wouldn't have pushed so hard to be exempt from it until 2018.
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand. What I'm just -- it's not a 40 percent tax. It's a 40 percent tax above a threshold on an insurance company, not on an individual or a family.
Q Well, I meant it's not an inconsiderable tax.
MR. GIBBS: I would say that obviously there is -- just like there is for the insurance fee, just as there are for fees on manufacturers and other businesses, there's a phase-in for this fee over a five-year period of time, just as there is, again, on -- the administration did not believe it made any sense to treat business and industry and insurance companies different than they treat workers.
Q Just to follow up on that, Robert, in terms of labor unions, the final negotiations seem to be basically the President, Democratic leaders, labor unions, in private rooms here at the White House negotiating. How does that square with the President's promise to put these negotiations in public?
MR. GIBBS: We discussed this, I think, two weeks ago.
Q I know you discussed it before, but now we're actually seeing it playing out. It's basically labor unions saying, we want this, and there's no other stakeholders at the table.
MR. GIBBS: Ed, again, I'd refer you to the transcript a couple weeks ago.
Chuck. Go ahead.
Q Why is the President having a hard time getting Democrats excited about his agenda? There appears to be now a pattern -- Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts -- this is the problem, this is the -- so why do you guys feel like you have to go? There's clearly some apathy or something going on with the Democratic base. Why do you guys think that is?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think some of this has to do with individual races and individual circumstances. Obviously off-year races, as you know, Chuck, are -- and special elections are a far different breed than regularly scheduled elections on every other -- or in even-numbered years.
Q But there's a ton of enthusiasm against your agenda up there. There seems to be no enthusiasm for your agenda.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President is looking forward to going. I think that there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm around a discussion that's being had up there right now about whether we're going to ask banks to pay the taxpayers back for the money that was loaned or not. I'm pretty sure there will be some excitement around that.
Q So that's going to be one of the messages he's going to get out?
MR. GIBBS: I think that will certainly be one of the things the President speaks about.
Q A Haiti question. Where is -- is there some sort of planning stage about what to do with refugees, Haitian refugees that can't or -- homeless Haitians that can't get back into their homes -- obviously they've been destroyed. Is there a plan about where to house these folks temporarily if they can't be housed in Haiti? Is this something that the United States -- the government has discussed? Is there planning going on? What's going on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously we're still in a search and rescue operation. I do not know specifically from USAID in terms of temporary housing in Haiti. I can certainly see what they have on that. But, look, obviously I think this is going to, as I said earlier, I think it's going to take quite some time to move resources --
Q But do you know of other countries -- the Dominican Republic or other countries that said, hey, we can take some folks temporarily --
MR. GIBBS: I know they've moved -- certainly they've moved medical cases to the Dominican Republic. We've got an additional ship on the way to deal with some of that stuff. I think all of this stuff is going to get sifted through as we get deeper into the week.
Q This is a next week issue, probably?
MR. GIBBS: Well, probably in the next few days. I mean, obviously the -- in that shorter window of time, it's our real and genuine focus on search and rescue.
Q I didn't quite get your answer to Jake's question. Are you -- were you trying to suggest that union members did not get a special arrangement with this -- with the health care deal that occurred, that they don't get -- that their plans don't have a special benefit by delaying the tax until 2018?
MR. GIBBS: Well, only if you consider that -- only if you think the insurance industry fee that phases in between 2011 and 2017.
I alluded to this yesterday, Keith. There are -- as there are in a lot of big pieces of legislation, there's a transition period for how things are done. There's a fee on medical device manufacturers that is phased in over a seven-year period of time between 2011 and 2018. There's an insurance fee that's phased in on the insurance industry between 2011 and 2017. These plans -- the tax also -- there's a phase-in period of five years for this tax, as well.
Q So you're saying it's comparable to what these other terms are.
MR. GIBBS: I'm saying we are treating workers just as industry, business and the insurance industry are being dealt with.
Q Some workers -- the union workers.
Q The ones that aren't in the unions.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we discussed the very slim number of people that that would involve.
Q Aren't all these essentially gifts by the President to special interest groups?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q I mean, isn't this -- didn't what we have in the White House was very typical negotiations with a special interest group, which is the unions --
MR. GIBBS: No. Keith, we have transition periods for how different things are treated in the bill. There's a transition period in dealing with the insurance industry and in dealing with another -- a number of phases that -- of aspects that have to be phased in as a part of this bill.
Q So essentially now union officials got their pound of flesh, too, in the bill by acting as a special interest --
MR. GIBBS: If you have an answer to the question --
Q I mean, the President promised not to let special interests into the White House to influence legislation. Isn't that what happened here?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q The question is, is it fair that some are exempted and some are not, even if the number of those who are not exempted in those initial five years is a slim number?
MR. GIBBS: We believe the agreement is structured in a way that is fair, just as it is fair to other aspects of the bill that have to be phased in.
Q On Haiti, President Obama said that in addition to short-term rescue and relief, he wants -- he was committing the U.S. to long-term rebuilding. Can you elaborate on what he means by that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously I think, as I said earlier, I think that's going to -- we'll get into that in the coming days and weeks. Obviously, as I mentioned yesterday, Mark, going back many administrations we have had -- we have had a stake in the outcome of Haiti, not just in our administration, not just in the administration of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or even his father -- not Bill Clinton's father but George W. Bush's father -- for a long period of time we've had a stake in that and obviously we'll continue to have a stake in that in dealing with the tremendous devastation.
Q Following up on Chuck's question, does the White House support either Senator Lugar's proposal to let Haitians in the U.S. overstay their visas by 18 months or an expansion to let more Haitians come into the U.S. for medical care?
MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about TPS or are you talking about --
MR. GIBBS: I would direct you to the Department of Homeland Security. It may have some more information on TPS later today.
Q And also, where do negotiations stand on abortion?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that's a topic that they're working on right now, but I know that, as I said earlier, I think at 1:30 p.m. they convened again to go through the differences in the bill.
Q What about the insurance exchange proposal?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if they've come to an agreement on that as well or not. I think they've been here late last night and again today. And as soon as we have stuff that's locked in on that we'll let you know.
Q We wouldn't have to ask if it were on C-SPAN. (Laughter.)
Q We'll even take a pool. Can we pool it?
Q How about a pool? I think it's an awesome idea.
MR. GIBBS: There's a pool right under here.
MR. GIBBS: That isn't a "who" -- it's just under here, right? (Laughter.)
Q Robert, you told us, when asked earlier this week, the President was not going to go to Massachusetts. What changed?
MR. GIBBS: He got invited.
Q That's it -- that's all it is? You don't think that her prospects, Martha Coakley's, are better now than they were two or three days ago and there's more likelihood the President can be productive in this trip and not suffer any negative consequences if she doesn't lose -- if she doesn't win?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that it will be a productive stop whether it was announced on Tuesday or now. We have an invitation from the Coakley campaign and we're going.
Q And you never had one until today.
MR. GIBBS: Until today.
Q How much has the President indicated to you and others to devote in his schedule next week to Haiti? Is this something that you are building in every day for the next week, next couple of weeks? Give us a sense of how he's indicated his personal involvement will continue.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Major, he wants to continue to be updated on our efforts. Obviously some portion of his daily intelligence briefing is dedicated to the situation in Haiti. He has received -- he continues to receive written updates throughout the day. I don't believe they were in the Situation Room last night -- I think he received another lengthy paper briefing on that.
As we described the meeting in the Situation Room a few nights ago, that the President believes our response to this is important for who we are as a country, for who we are as a good neighbor, and for the American citizens that are there, as well as Haitians that have had to live through such devastation.
Q I talked to former President Clinton this morning, and he said the next seven to 10 days could present some very tough things for Americans to watch, despite the most aggressive efforts by the United States and other nations. He said there could be looting, there could be people literally dying in public in the street, not because no one wants to help them -- because you can't move things to them.
He said the country should be prepared for some very difficult things to see. Does the President agree with that? And is there anything he's going to try to do to help the country understand that though he -- the U.S. government is trying to help, and others are?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Major, I think in some ways he -- he alluded a little bit to this in his remarks today. Obviously -- and I've discussed and he's discussed the physical challenges of the devastation and the challenge in taking resources that are arriving at a fairly steady rate at the airport and distributing them throughout the country, particularly in the capital.
Obviously it's taking -- I know a lot of you all have sent folks down there, and it's taking a while to get down there. People have driven from the Dominican Republic, and it's taken -- I saw somebody that said it had taken 10 hours to drive.
Look, I think there is no doubt there are a tremendous number of these challenges that we will see more and more of as we get deeper into the weekend and certainly into next week. Obviously we -- I don't think any of the pictures have been easy to watch. I don't think any of them -- and I don't think they'll get easier to watch. Obviously, as we get farther away from the initial event, we'll have greater information on the toll in human lives. We will see the physical strains of having to try to move resources. I can assure you that the President has asked Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to do all that is in their power in moving those resources down and then ultimately distributing those resources.
Again, I think the lift capability that arrived from USS Vinson, those 19 helicopters, is a good start. We've got security at the airport and hopefully with some smoothness can continue to get resources in and then deal with how to get those resources distributed. I don't have any doubt, though, Major, that it is going to be a tough weekend in terms of what I think everyone will see, exceeded greatly by how tough it's going to be in Haiti this week.
Q Back on health care, there are revenue implications to this arrangement made and announced yesterday. The unions say it's $60 billion. I know our briefing yesterday at the White House isn't committed to that figure. What I want to know is, is the President committed to recouping every dollar?
And the fairness question doesn't just apply to those who are now exempted but to where that revenue will come from. Why should those who already -- and I presume it will be the wealthy in America -- who are already facing higher taxes, Medicare and otherwise, be asked to pay for that additional revenue implication of setting aside something that unionized workers will not have to pay for an extra fives years?
MR. GIBBS: I think that some of the revenue questions are obviously part of the discussions that are ongoing. I will say this, Major. The President has made a commitment and it is a commitment that he'll keep to ensure this legislation is fully paid for.
Again, that's something that's a little different that's going on in Washington these days. This is a proposal that will be scored and it will be rendered a judgment as to the fact that the President will pay for every dime in this bill.
Q Will the amount that is lost be compensated for in taxes, or would you add additional Medicare savings?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think some of those discussions are ongoing.
Q Robert, on health care, the last month, six weeks, you all have proceeded with no Republican support, no Republican negotiations, as far as anyone can tell -- a bunch of 60/40 votes. You're now -- and it looked like you were on a glide path to passing it in the Senate with Democratic-only votes in support. You now face the prospect in Massachusetts of possibly needing a Republican vote. Is there some regret that there hasn't been that sort of effort of bipartisanship?
MR. GIBBS: Do I regret that more Republicans haven't worked with the White House to get health care? That's a good question. I'd say yes.
Q Okay. And then is there any thought about how you guys restart those discussions with a handful of Republicans who you think might be able to be -- I mean, is there any prospect of that, or --
MR. GIBBS: Look, our staffs continue to talk to many staffs on the Senate and House side in order to see who's interested in working with us on health care. I think I'll just leave it at that.
Q Two quick timing questions, Robert. Is it still the hope to get the financial stuff in the health care bill over to Congressional Budget Office today so they can score it?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know whether it's going to be today or whether it'll be over the weekend or the beginning of next week, but, look, obviously, as soon as they get agreement on this, it's our hope to move that as quickly as we can to CBO. Obviously that is a process that has taken in this a decent amount of time, and we want to ensure that we get that there as quickly as possible.
Q Do you expect these meetings that are still going on today to go through the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- honestly, some of that I think depends on how much they come out of, in terms of having made progress in this meeting and whether or not additional meetings throughout the weekend are needed.
Q One other timing question. We didn't get a State of the Union date in the week ahead. Is January now out?
MR. GIBBS: I can confirm for you the State of the Union will not be next week.
Q Do you think one of the difficulties that you're having in elections, that you had in Virginia, also in New Jersey, seem to be having in Massachusetts, is that your candidates just don't seem to have the fire that the Republicans candidates have, the hunger that they have?
MR. GIBBS: It'd be better to ask somebody that spent a lot of time watching those elections.
Q You're not spending a lot of time following those elections?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not spending a lot of time -- I do not spend a lot of time watching those elections, no.
Q Thanks. Could you give us a little bit more information about the church stop Sunday and what the remarks -- why he's decided to give a speech, what he wants to convey in the speech?
MR. GIBBS: He's going to talk about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and what it's meant for this country. Obviously for -- for obvious reasons I'm not going to give out the name of the church.
Q If I can just follow up on what Ed and some of the others have been talking about. I know that we can sometimes have an antagonistic relationship, but I don't think that's the desire. He really did say during the campaign that he wasn't --
MR. GIBBS: I understand what Ed was trying to do. I just -- I answered this question, I think -- I'm not trying to be antagonistic.
Q Can we go back? Because we don't really feel like it has been answered.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to add to what I said two weeks ago. So the reason I refer you to what I said two weeks ago is it would be what I would say to you today.
Q I guess, Robert, we don't think we're the equivalent of C-SPAN. I mean, you said we reported the story extensively -- everyone here agrees with that -- but that wasn't the standard that we heard in the campaign. The standard was different.
MR. GIBBS: The President believes that the standard of people being able to see what's going on, to understand what is being discussed and the details that are available --
Q Wait a minute --
Q But he also orders lawmakers and all of you not to leak about the meeting. So how is that --
MR. GIBBS: That works -- I'd say that's working like a charm. (Laughter.)
Q Well, how does that mean that the --
MR. GIBBS: That must because quite an admonishing --
Q How does that mean -- how does that mean that there's information about --
MR. GIBBS: You guys had the story up before we --
Q But just generally, Robert, there's been almost 20 hours of talks here in this building this week, and nobody has seen any of them.
Q Not even a -- not even a courtesy of -- nobody has even come out to the stakeout. I mean, you guys haven't done -- we get these little readouts from you guys, you know, "closer than ever before" --
MR. GIBBS: I got an email from you last night wondering if -- wondering if I had a readout.
Q And never got a response.
MR. GIBBS: No, you did. You got a little readout, didn't you? Did you get a readout?
Q I did get the readout.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, so you got a response.
Q At two in the morning.
Q That's not a readout.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but hold on, hold on -- hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. I'm happy to send out a readout of the meeting prior to it ending. If you'd like me to -- no, no, no, hold on, hold on. Hold on. I appreciate you don't want a readout at two in the morning. But if the meeting doesn't end until 1:15 a.m. or 1:30 a.m., I'm happy to -- Reid was here until 10:30 p.m. He could have sent it out at 10:30 p.m. I don't know that that would have been more informative.
Q I don't think the timing is the issue. The issue is what's in it and how much information is being released.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. We did a briefing call on what was in this yesterday, and we'll continue to brief you all on what was --
Q Well, with due respect --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand.
Q In previous negotiations on other issues --
MR. GIBBS: I feel like I have to move back there
because we've plied this ground, Major, and I -- if anybody has got a different question, I'm happy to entertain it.
Q Thank you.
Q -- you campaigned -- set a standard that was different than that.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. I refer you to a couple weeks ago.
Q I actually have -- I actually have two questions.
MR. GIBBS: Great.
Q There's been several reports this week that discussions within the Pentagon are sort of heating up around "don't ask, don't tell." Does the President plan to push for repeal this year in 2010?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously there have been discussions here; there have been discussions in the Pentagon that will continue. We don't have -- I don't yet have a timeline out of those discussions. But I know they do continue.
Q And one more thing. The Associated Press reported that the in-house counsel to Admiral Mike Mullen had advised that repeal be delayed by a year. Is the White House comfortable with what appears to be sort of a shot across the bow from the Pentagon?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't believe that that -- I don't believe the opinion of one person reflects the opinion of everyone in that building, nor does it reflect the opinion of everybody in this building, particularly the President of the United States.
Q Are you anticipating health care meetings over the course of the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Again -- Mark asked me that, and I don't know the answer, David; I think it depends on what they come out with today.
Q And also, what time is the President's meeting tomorrow morning?
MR. GIBBS: They had not set a -- they're working on logistics for getting the two former Presidents in, and as soon as we have that we'll --
Q Will they make a statement, the three of them together?
MR. GIBBS: I know the President will speak and we would ask each of the other two to speak as well, yes.
Q Back to Haiti, as the President speaks to foreign leaders, is he talking about the long-term security needs that are going to need to be addressed in Haiti, given the kind of -- the governmental vacuum? And is he prepared for U.S. troops to sort of transition from a more -- from the rescue/relief role to a peacekeeping sort of role if that would become necessary?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the great devastation that has been felt by the U.N. that had provided security in many parts of the capital and on the island are something that we're acutely aware of. I know that the security situation was something that was discussed in the Situation Room, and I think they'll continue to tweak that a bit and make sure that we stay on top of that situation. Obviously that is going to impact to some degree the movement of those resources, so I know that's on everybody's mind.
Q Robert, on Haiti, and another question. Is the President -- as this is the number one priority for him, is he looking at a window of possibly going down and assessing how the American contingent has worked in relief, rescue, and humanitarian aspects?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, as I said, the President is getting numerous updates throughout the day. April, I can say that the President would -- the President has no plans to go to Haiti right now. The impact of moving a President into an area like that would only serve to take resources away from the distribution of those resources at the airport that need to get to those people. The President -- one, I think the President believes he's getting timely and accurate information as to that situation now; isn't in need of seeing it firsthand; is acting -- has asked that we act accordingly in terms of dealing with that devastation and not wanting to pull away those resources.
Q On Tuesday, how high are the stakes?
MR. GIBBS: It's an important Senate seat. That's why the President is going.
Q But it's beyond an important Senate seat. The Kennedy family, Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy -- that was his seat. I mean, how high is this for you? I mean, how big of a deal is this for you?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President is going. I think that demonstrates its importance.
Q And also, the State of the Union, you said not next week, but is there a date? Have you picked a date? Has the date been negotiated?
MR. GIBBS: We haven't announced a date yet.
Q But have you -- so there is a date then? You said you haven't announced it, but --
MR. GIBBS: No, I know. I don't have any news on the State of the Union.
Q Senator Lieberman was seen yesterday on West Exec. Is he here in conjunction with the health care talks?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Was Senator Lieberman here on West Exec --
MR. GIBBS: Yes --
Q Was he here in conjunction with the health care talks?
MR. GIBBS: That's my understanding, yes.
Q He was not included on the list in the readout that you put out last night.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think he was -- I think there wasn't -- I'll check with Reid on this. I believe there was a smaller meeting, but I don't think he was in the larger --
Q Was this an effort to keep him in the loop so nobody feels, to coin a phrase, double-crossed in the end? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to buy into that premise. (Laughter.) I was going to say that obviously we would want to keep members in the loop.
Q Ben Nelson has now written a letter asking that the deal that he got for Nebraska be taken out. What is the President's position on that?
MR. GIBBS: I would check. I have not seen that letter.
Q One more question -- (laughter) -- short answer --
MR. GIBBS: -- say one more question, right? (Laughter.)
Q The President's fellow Hawaiian, Congressman Abercrombie, has desires to run for governor of Hawaii. Has the President spoken with him about delaying his retirement from the House until the health care matter is taken care of?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, but I can certainly check with Legislative Affairs.
Q I've got 17 questions. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: At least your starting with honesty is the best policy, right? (Laughter.)
Q Two questions on the President's -- on the anniversary next week of the inauguration. First off, in the week ahead you didn't indicate anything -- the President is not doing anything at all publicly to mark the occasion?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And second, behind the scenes, past White Houses and administrations have often had -- whether Cabinet retreats, or planning groups to set an agenda for the second year. Is there nothing like that going on in this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, we've had -- we don't lack for meetings. (Laughter.) We've had -- no, obviously there have been a series of meetings that quite frankly go back into late last year to think through planning through the budget, planning for State of the Union, and planning for the rest of this year. Nothing is scheduled in terms of those types of retreats, but suffice to say we've done a number of those meetings.
Q Thank you. Two questions on Haiti. All over the French press we read this morning that President Sarkozy is offering President Obama to do an international conference about Haiti as soon as it's possible, which President Lula and Prime Minister -- the Canadian Prime Minister wants direction of the White House. And also in here --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on whether that came out of the conversations that they had.
Q It's all over the French press today. And the other thing is in Europe, people, especially the media, began to restrict some of the footage to avoid worries about Haiti because they're saying that at one point it's not appropriate. How does the White House feel about that, because (inaudible) American media are watched now all over the world?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I've got my hands full with the American media, so let me -- I don't want to comment on Europe. Obviously we've got a number of people down there helping the media cover what is obviously I think the biggest story in the world. We'll continue to assist in making that happen. I don't -- look, just to build on a point that Major made, that President Clinton made in that interview, I do think there are -- I do think there are going to be, as there always are, but particularly in something as devastating as this, there are going to be some -- there's some very shocking video, but I don't -- I know of certainly no effort to restrict that from coming into here.
Q Turning to the election on Tuesday, in recent statewide elections, it seems like independents, independent voters, have turned away from the Democratic Party. It was the case in New Jersey, it was the case of Virginia. And if you look at polls, the internal polls, for Massachusetts, it appears to be the case there. Why do you suppose that is? Is it the candidates? Is it the policies of the President?
MR. GIBBS: No, because, look, we had these discussions at the end of the '09 elections. The Washington Post had done a poll that -- I forget the exact number -- 75 percent of the people didn't register their vote in the gubernatorial race based on the President of the United States.
I appreciate the easy transferability of one election to another and to draw huge, bright lines out of --
Q What do you draw?
MR. GIBBS: I draw that -- well, we can analyze Massachusetts after Massachusetts, but in terms of -- I mean, whether it's a New Jersey governor's race or a Virginia governor's race, I don't -- again, I said this before, I said this after: We don't draw national trends out of statewide races that are generally decided on state issues.
Q And then on health care, does it hurt in your view, Robert, the President's brand, the brand of being a new politician, a transparent politician, not to broadcast these negotiations on C-SPAN? Does it hurt that he has turned his back on a very outward campaign pledge?
MR. GIBBS: No, because, as you know and as you guys write, we have instituted a policy where you know every person that comes into this White House. There was -- I think it was the Associated Press, Ms. Loven, who wanted to know of all the people that had come into the White House for health care-related meetings.
Q Then why did he make the pledge in the first place?
MR. GIBBS: Let me finish the answer to this. That was a change in the way Washington worked -- a change in the way Washington worked since the beginning of Washington. The President believes that, and the leaders on Capitol Hill I think appropriately believe that, the process that we've seen has been extensively covered. You all have asked me about it for going on, gosh knows, many, many days. We've talked about the details of this and I think we have seen a very transparent process.
Q Why did he make the pledge, though? Why did he make the pledge, though?
MR. GIBBS: Because we were going to do things differently and we have.
Q Going back to Haiti -- although I'm still tempted to ask about C-SPAN -- on the matter of security there are reports that people are fighting for food, some people are leaving the city, and all the expectations of relief workers are that things will get more chaotic in the days ahead. Are there contingency plans being developed by the U.S. government, with or without other governments, to actually go and provide security in Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously what we do and what the international community does is being coordinated with the government of Haiti. Obviously security is a concern. It has been since this began, particularly based on the devastation that we saw at the U.N. that had provided great assistance in security before the earthquake.
Look, this is a situation obviously that has changed quite a bit to what normally happens. I don't know if there are specific contingency plans as much as there are continuing evaluations as to what is needed on the ground and where.
Q But in those talks with the Haitian government, has it come up, the possibility of the U.S. and other countries providing troops or police officers to provide routine security, not just --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, David, we've got the 82nd Airborne -- part of it is there; other parts of it are on the way -- in order to help secure the airport and to secure the area around it.
Look, there's -- we do understand that there are -- we are not going to be able to undertake the logistical -- to overtake the logistical hurdles of dealing with moving all these resources out without a sufficient security system. So I know that's something that is ongoing.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q Robert, back to the bank fee, the President suggested that the banks would be -- or at least he challenged them instead of paying the bonuses to pay the fee, as I understand the statement yesterday. In case they don't, there's legislation now introduced on the Hill to put a 50 percent tax on the bonuses if the banks give some of these bonuses. Is that a concept the administration is considering, could support?
MR. GIBBS: I'll check with the economic team on that bill. Look --
Q Because that could happen before you're able to get your legislation through Congress.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, but again, it's all on the legislative track.
Look, I would say this about the bank fee. I mean, I think you continue to see this in the newspaper. If I read the Wall Street Journal correctly this morning, the bonus pool for the 38 top firms on Wall Street is $45 billion this year in excess of what -- well, actually $55 billion in excess of what it's likely going to take to recoup what is owed to the taxpayers after additional payments are made.
I think the notion that somehow -- you see all these things -- "It's going to be passed on to consumers." Well, what are their -- are they doing that for their bonuses? Is that a good deal for their -- is that a good deal for their shareholders, that the people that use the company and own the company are being passed on the cost of excessive compensation? This notion that somehow lending won't happen because of this fee, it's the craziest argument I've ever heard.
There were some lobbyists in the newspaper today made the argument that this fee accounted for 10 times that in lending. Well, if that's true, then bonuses, as I read the math correctly, would take out nearly a trillion and a half dollars in lending. Granted, I don't actually see a CEO making that argument. I mean, leaving aside all the rational economic arguments that if a bank had a series of profitable loans, it can borrow money from the Fed at virtually nothing to make those loans. You see a number of -- you see a number of these straw men arguments made by lobbyists that when you look at, they just don't hold up at all. They just -- they're not based in any way, shape or form on logic.
Q The second question here is whether the bonuses are a fair target for a fee or tax, as well as the banks themselves -- those who receive the bonuses.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say this -- I would say this one thing, though. This is all -- it's all in the same group of money, right, this -- across the board at a bank. Whether that money -- you know, whether that money is used for bonuses, whether that money is used to recoup what the taxpayers lent, it's all that same group of money, and I think what you see people that want to defend big banks say just certainly doesn't make any sense.
Have a good weekend, guys.
2:49 P.M. EST
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