Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5/20/10
1:47 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: All right, everybody got their recorders and BlackBerries going? Mr. Feller, fire away.
Q Thanks, Robert. I have two questions.
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t mean to get yours out, Chip.
Q I thought you were going to do this by BlackBerry.
MR. GIBBS: No, I still don’t have mine up here.
Q About the sinking of the South Korean naval ship, can you tell us what steps the White House is considering against North Korea, if any, in defense of its ally?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me first just talk broadly. We have -- we’re involved in and have carefully reviewed the results of the international investigation. As I said in a statement last evening, the report is an objective and scientific evaluation of the evidence that points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.
Obviously we strongly condemn this act of aggression against the Republic of Korea, and send our condolences to those families of the 46 sailors that lost their lives.
Obviously we are -- we have and enjoy an extremely strong and close relationship with the Republic of Korea, and we are in consultation with them as they contemplate their next steps.
Q What about the White House’s next step?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re in consultation directly with the South Koreans as they make their next set of decisions.
Q Is it -- is the next step something that the United States’ preference would be an international one or something --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- in addition to the South Koreans, we’ve been in touch with neighboring countries. We’re been in touch with bodies of the international community. And I would -- I’d say that North Korea is a country that has, because of its actions over the past many years, isolated itself even further from the international community. That’s what resulted in a very strong set of sanctions last year. And I think these -- this act of aggression, this clear violation of the armistice agreement further sets them back and further isolates them.
Q Do you think it’s fair to say in some form or fashion that there will be consequences?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I’ll be honest with you, Ben, I think there are consequences already for the North Koreans. Again, they’re further isolated from the international community based on the steps that they’ve taken to isolate themselves.
Q Just one more on this. To put this in perspective, North Korea is saying any retaliation would mean “all-out war.” I just want to frame this the right way. Does the President have any real concern that this could actually lead to war?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t want to get into a series of hypotheticals except to reiterate the -- our strong consultation, as part of the involvement in this investigation as well as in discussions with the South Koreans about what’s next.
Q Follow-up -- what does isolation mean?
Q I have a follow-up, too.
MR. GIBBS: What is isolation --
Q What’s the definition of isolation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the actions that they’ve taken have led them to the point in which they don’t share a very healthy relationship with virtually everybody in their region. They have watched the international community align against the actions that they’ve taken as it relates to their nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and now these actions.
I think the quality of life of their citizens demonstrates that the actions that they’ve taken have isolated them from the world community.
Q In terms of the next steps, Japan has said it would back a U.N. resolution. Is that in the works? Is that something the United States would be willing to take --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’re in consultation with a host of different entities, including the Security Council in the U.N. and working closely with the South Koreans.
Q Does that mean it’s a possibility?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there’s a lot of things that are on the table.
Q And I know you don’t want to get into hypotheticals, but has South Korea given the United States any assurances that they won’t take military action?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the private discussions that the two countries have had except to say they’re in close consultation.
Q Can you shed some light on the announcement -- or not the announcement, the direction from the EPA to BP yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we -- I think first and foremost, we are seeing -- as a result of the scope and the size of the spill in the Gulf, we have seen a large quantity of dispersants used, primarily on the surface, some underneath the sea. Monitoring and testing has continued to take place during that. But as we move forward, the EPA believed best to use the least toxic dispersant, again, as we are into -- well into the fourth week of what has happened in the Gulf.
Even as we continue to monitor air and water quality, we have asked and are asking BP to be transparent about the measurements that it is taking as it relates to air and water quality. And we’ll be asking them to more publicly provide, as I talked about last week, the video that they may have of the structure on the floor of the sea. This is -- again, even as EPA continues to monitor the area.
Q But BP was telling the public that the dispersant they were using was essentially soapsuds. My understanding is that the dispersant is actually not used in several Western countries because of its toxicity. Should they have been using a different dispersant from the beginning?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the dispersant that they’re using is part of a broader list of approved dispersants. Our feeling and the EPA’s feeling is given the extent to which they are -- we are having to continue to use them, that to use the least toxic of those makes the most sense.
Q And just a follow-up on the election victory of Joe Sestak the other night. First of all, this makes four candidates that President Obama has endorsed -- Deeds, Corzine, Coakley, and Specter -- that have lost. He’s 0-4 in terms of his campaigning for candidates. Is that a concern at all of this administration, or the President, the political operation?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And Sestak -- several months ago, I asked you on February 23rd if you could find out more about what Sestak said about the White House making him an offer to not run. And I know that in March you said whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. But I’m wondering since this has become an issue in Congressman Sestak’s campaign and will likely be -- continue to be an issue, if you could -- if you want to put it to rest right now, what exactly was the conversation?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I don’t have anything to add to what I said in March.
Q But you never -- you never really explained what the conversation was.
MR. GIBBS: Then I don’t have anything to add today.
Q But if the White House offers a congressman a position in the administration in order to convince that congressman to not run for office --
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I don’t have anything to add to that.
Q But you’ve said a number of times that you would get something for us on that.
MR. GIBBS: And I did. And I gave that answer in March, and I don’t have anything to add to that.
Q But do you really think the American people don’t have a right to know about what exactly the conversation was?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I don’t have anything to add to what I said in March.
Q Can I ask a quick follow on that, because yesterday Congressman Sestak was on CNN and said, in fact, that he was offered something. He wouldn’t say more, but he said he was offered a job. Would you deny that?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, I don’t have -- I wouldn’t give you --
Q But that’s correct?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything to add to what Jake asked me.
Q So you can’t rule out that a job was offered?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything to add to what I said in March.
Q Is that because the Counsel’s Office said to, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q On advice of the Counsel’s Office?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Could you seek more information?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything to add to what I said in March.
Q I know you don’t now, but why can’t you -- it sounds like you’re saying you don’t -- you have no interest in getting information.
MR. GIBBS: I will just refer you to what I said in March.
Q But what does “problematic” mean?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Can I ask on BP -- when you answered Jake, you said we are asking BP to be more transparent about air quality, about how much oil is spilling out. Asking is a lot different than what the Interior Secretary said this morning, and you’ve said before from this podium, that we’ve got the boot on the throats of BP. Asking them for -- why are you not demanding it?
MR. GIBBS: It’s just -- I will provide you with the letter that will soon go out which, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, we are asking for them to provide the data, put it on a website, update that website daily, provide whatever access they have to video to both -- fully to the government and to the public. We think that is what the company owes, again, both us and the American people as we work through our response and as the public has questions about their operations.
I will say my guess, Ed, would be that they’re not going to want to hide that data, that they’ll, based on this letter, provide it.
Q Yet this video you’ve been talking about, you’ve been asking for, the media has been asking for for days. They released a small one, I think, but there’s a lot more that you want. Why does that give you --
MR. GIBBS: Which is why we’ve asked --
Q -- why does that give them any credibility that they’re going to turn it over?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, I think they will respond favorably to this letter.
Q This morning a spokesman for BP, Mark Proegler, said that he now believes that it’s actually spilling more than 5,000 barrels a day, but he couldn’t say exactly how much. And I think this gets back to the point -- these oceanographers were on the Hill testifying yesterday saying that this government, the Obama administration should be doing more to demand of the company this data and how much is really spilling out and how four weeks later could you not know?
MR. GIBBS: That’s why the letter -- that’s one of the reasons the letter is going, is to find out more information. Ed, I --
Q Do you really think a letter is going to force the company -- I mean, it doesn’t sound very tough.
MR. GIBBS: Ed, let me -- well, do you have a better idea?
Q You say you’ve got a boot on the throat --
MR. GIBBS: Maybe we could -- maybe a story on CNN? Ed, let me -- I think you heard the President say in the Rose Garden last Friday that -- I’m not sure it is -- I’m sure there are many different estimates. NOAA is conducting testing through many different research vehicles on the degree to which -- and we now have evidence to believe that likely there is oil in the beginning of the loop current. So we’re trying to find out the degree to which more of that will go into the loop current, how much. There’s testing that’s going on to determine the size and scope of underwater oil. And there is -- we are having -- there’s a group of people that are looking at the flow.
It is, Ed, hard. It is -- you’re talking about an incident that is 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea for a well that is an additional four miles below that one-mile surface. It is, as Thad Allen said, the first response that he has had to deal with at this level in 30 years.
And I would mention this: Thad Allen was supposed to retire -- he is not. He has agreed to stay on as the national incident coordinator, even as a new head of the Coast Guard will come and focus on those duties. But Thad Allen said that in 30 years he’s never been a part of one of these things that you couldn’t see.
So, look, there’s -- there are people that are trying to figure out the best -- to the best of their ability the degree to which there’s -- the flow, the rate of the leak, the size of the plume, continued air and water quality testing for what oil is leaking in, what the effect of the dispersants are, just as the EPA has always been testing air and water quality standards around the local berms.
First and foremost, we’re doing everything we can to try to stop that leak.
Q The very last thing is, the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, said at the beginning of this he would not leave the country until this was fully dealt with. And CNN was reporting last night that he’s now leaving the country. He’s planning to attend a board meeting in Europe, and there are even allegations he’s going to some sort of a birthday party. Is the administration going to stop him from leaving the scene of this?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to -- I would have to get some more information on this. I don’t -- I can’t answer where the CEO believes, based on the headquarters being in Britain, whether he needs to be in Britain or not.
Q Sure, but when you say you’ve got the boot on the throat, I know it’s not literal, but are you -- (laughter) -- what are you really doing?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I got loafers on, but --
Q It seems like he’s leaving, even though --
MR. GIBBS: Ed, I don’t -- well, let’s not oversimplify the fact that we think that somehow the CEO is controlling the robot that’s going to stop -- I mean, there’s -- I’m not a spokesperson for BP, so if you have a question for the activities of BP, there’s many well-paid spokesmen --
Q What about the government oversight of BP?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I just don’t -- Ed, I just think that the notion that if -- again, I don’t know that the CEO of BP being on a ship somewhere in the Gulf is going to make a whole lot of difference.
Q On the amount of oil coming out, obviously it was, 5,000 barrels a day -- that was the long-term estimate. Now BP says they are siphoning off 5,000 barrels a day, but it is still gushing out. What is the administration’s estimate of how much --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have an updated estimate. I don’t -- again, there are people that are looking at that. I assume, quite frankly, there may be different estimates at different times.
Q Do they believe it is dramatically more than 5,000 barrels a day?
MR. GIBBS: As Thad Allen said, our response is not predicated off of the flow. It is predicated off of the notion that you have a catastrophic event. And that catastrophic event has created a response on land and on sea to deal with whatever we face. So there are certainly many reasons to find out the degree to which that flow is happening. It has not in -- though, in any way, Chip, impeded or curtailed the response that we’ve deployed.
There’s not a -- hey, there’s a thousand-barrel-a-day response, now it’s five, get this notebook out and check. There’s -- it’s always been a catastrophic response, and I think if you look at the updated sheet that goes out each night about the level of the response, you can see that it is meant to deploy something of this size -- understanding, Chip, we have, to the best of my ability, not faced -- certainly, the Valdez was a larger spill, but, again, a little bit different because, one, it’s a different environment, and two, a different process where there’s a fixed quantity. This is unique and unprecedented.
Q There are some scientists who believe it could be 2 to 3 million gallons a day coming out of there. Is that a possibility in the eyes of the administration? If so --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know how many -- well, what does that translate to in barrels?
Q In barrels -- darn good question. Anybody have a calculator?
MR. GIBBS: On your BlackBerry.
Q But it would dwarf the Valdez, if that is true.
MR. GIBBS: Two to 3 million --
Q Gallons a day.
MR. GIBBS: For how long? There’s 11 --
Q Since the beginning --
Q Already --
Q Since the beginning, continuously.
MR. GIBBS: Eleven -- I have some figures on my desk --
Q It would be a Valdez every two or three days.
Q Yes, exactly.
MR. GIBBS: Is that -- okay.
Q Let’s not have a roomful of humanities majors doing math. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly. Thank you for the mathematical admonition, which I think is well taken. You know, again, Chip, I don’t have an updated estimate. I would say one of the reasons that we continue to do monitoring, NOAA continues to do monitoring of -- both at a -- and satellite pictures that are taken at a surface level and testing that’s done at a subsea level, is to try as best as we can to understand just how big this is. An Exxon Valdez every two days -- I’m not a scientist on this, but my rough belief is --
Q I hate to venture into math, but I think it’s actually every three to four days because that was --
MR. GIBBS: Okay. But I do think -- again, and I’m not -- I’m way out of my technical depth, but my sense is that you would see far more of that on the surface if that were -- if we were looking at -- I mean, as I recall, the Exxon Valdez was several million barrels of oil in one event. That would be -- again, my hunch is you’d see just a lot more of that on the surface than you do right now.
Q Well, in fact, that’s one of the other issues that’s going on here. Some scientists believe that the reason BP is so big on the idea of using dispersants -- well, first of all, they say they believe that the oil can do just as much damage below the surface as it can do above the surface after being -- even after being dispersed. They say the real reason BP wants to use dispersants is so the public doesn’t see it, so the TV cameras don’t see it. Has the administration looked into that argument or are they fully onboard with the use of dispersants?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- well, we have worked with BP in terms of, again, the water quality and subsea testing of the subsea dispersants which, when we first started this process, had not, to the degree to which we’re doing it, been tried. At that depth there also is -- there are natural processes that deal with some amount of oil. I’m not suggesting that if it was doing -- if the rate was exponentially higher, that all of that could happen. Obviously there’s -- on the surface there’s some evaporation that takes place in terms of some of that oil as well.
So I do not believe -- again, the response isn’t just for surface oil, so if it were leaking X thousand barrels of oil a day, but that was -- only half of that was getting to the surface doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a problem that has to be dealt with inside the water column at a whole bunch of different depths. I’m not entirely sure that the scenario of hiding it would necessarily be accomplished.
Q Barbara Boxer says there’s been a cover-up on the amount of oil coming out and seems to be suggesting that government agencies are involved with BP --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the notion of a cover-up is ridiculous.
Q Who’s in charge of this cleanup? Is it BP or is it the federal government overseeing it, directing it --
MR. GIBBS: BP is responsible for and will be paying the bill for the cleanup. The cleanup is obviously overseen by a whole host of federal agencies --
Q Well, let’s unpack that --
MR. GIBBS: Understand -- let me explain this.
Q -- because I think that’s --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me unpack it a little bit. Remember, the drilling decisions that are made are made by now a collection of bureaus that used to comprise MMS in the Department of Interior. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is overseeing part of that response. Once oil hits land the Environmental Protection Agency would take over, as well as monitoring the and water.
Q In terms of how do we stop the leak? Who’s in charge of that, those ideas?
MR. GIBBS: BP with our oversight.
Q Okay. Are you confident in BP since you’ve entrusted this great task to it?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not -- the law entrusted this great task of it, Savannah. But judged by the implication of your question, there’s not -- the best and brightest minds in all of this government and in the scientific community and in the world of commerce are focused on this problem. Everything that can be done is being done. We have, as I said a minute ago, an unprecedented catastrophe.
We have a well that is leaking some amount of oil 5,000 feet below the surface. The technical equipment to deal with that type of activity is not possessed by the federal government. The Department of Defense does not have a submersible that can reach 5,000 feet with the mechanical arm power to do the types of things that BP and other oil companies buy equipment to do.
Q So you’re kind of in this arranged marriage with BP on the cleanup?
MR. GIBBS: That’s seems like a strained analogy. Again, I would simply say what I think I’ve said throughout this process: They are responsible. They will get the bill; the taxpayers won’t. And it’s being overseen by -- as I just unpacked for you -- many elements of the federal government.
Q And last thing on the Sestak thing, so what you said in March was you knew -- you were aware of the facts and there was nothing problematic there. So but here you won’t confirm or deny, but that statement, just leaving it there, seems to tacitly acknowledge that something had been offered.
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to unpack any more of that statement than I made in March.
Q Okay, so but the impression is left that there was something and you’re comfortable with that. You don’t want to clear that up?
MR. GIBBS: I would just refer to you what I said in March.
Q Going back to North Korea, Robert, you’ve used this isolated formulation before and you’re part of a long list of spokespeople for various administrations that have used it. Do you really think the North Koreans care about this? It’s had no effect on them for decades.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s had -- I think to say that it’s had no effect on them, if you look at their people, I think that’s not -- I don’t think that’s the case. I think when you have people that can’t get enough to eat, it has most assuredly affected your ability.
Q So it’s our policy to punish their people?
MR. GIBBS: No, but we have sanctions, Chip, on the North Koreans, which if you have rational leadership generally lead to a change in --
Q But the leaders -- the leaders who call the shots -- Kim -- he doesn’t care about this, based on the -- based on this behavior.
MR. GIBBS: I can’t be a spokesperson for or get in the mind of the leader of North Korea.
Q Well, based on you -- based on what you describe as an unacceptable behavior, this has been the same behavior that has a long track record.
MR. GIBBS: It hasn’t become any more acceptable, I can confirm that.
Q On Korea, there’s been a suggestion that the U.S. should put North Korea back on the list of countries that sponsor --
MR. GIBBS: There’s a process that is done at the State Department for that, and I would point you over to them on the criteria to do so.
Q Also, I’m not asking you to comment on the day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market, but there’s a lot --
MR. GIBBS: But what about the day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market.
Q Well, the Dow has been down by as much as 350 points today. There’s a lot of uncertainty -- the national jobless claims report, Europe, also reg reform. What can the administration do to infuse some certainty into the marketplace?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m going to be careful not to break my admonition of commenting on what happens on a day-to-day basis. Let me take individually -- for instance, we saw a weekly increase in the number of jobless claims. It is -- I think it is safe to say that those are numbers that, based on seasonality, have a tendency to jump around. We saw an increase particularly in claims from two states that had experienced some severe weather, including Tennessee recently. I think the four-week average for those claims was down, which generally is also a number that looked at -- looked at in order to smooth out some of those seasonal fluctuations.
I think you’ve heard others in the administration discuss continuing to take the steps that need to be taken to put the economy on a firmer foundation. A committee passed out the President’s small business lending initiative in order to move more credit to small businesses. Other committees have worked through things like our retrofitting proposal. And the President still believes those are necessary actions. We’ve got -- Europe is having to deal with the problems within Europe, and we continue to believe those are some tough steps that are going to have to be taken.
In terms of financial reform, the President and the team here have a strong belief that we have to have some very tough rules going forward; that the type of activity that led to what happened in -- starting in 2007 and through 2008 can’t continue to happen. I actually think that provides some certainty, not just to the market but to investors and taxpayers that they’re no longer going to be on the hook for the risky decisions of a very few at a very few large banks.
Q But as long as there isn’t movement, that provides uncertainty --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we are coming to the conclusion of the Senate process. And I ventured to guess earlier in the week that we’d have something on the President’s desk in the very near future.
Q A couple policy things. The extenders agreement that Congressman Levin and Senator Baucus announced this morning, are you familiar with it? Does the administration have a position in favor of it?
MR. GIBBS: I will check with Legislative Affairs. I have heard some talk about it, but not an in-depth amount.
Q You don’t have a formal position yet?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, but I will ask them.
Q Okay. Governor Jindal has been appealing to the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite consideration of his request that he be allowed -- and others be allowed to build these barriers or these berms to protect. Can you describe to the degree that’s been briefed here where that process is, and is the administration sympathetic to that request, think it’s a good idea?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me check specifically with -- I don’t know -- I assume that falls under the purview of EPA. Every day, there is a call that happens with the five Gulf state governors to go through what is happening on the ground, the actions that we’re taking to deal with the response -- both from an environmental and an economic -- both environmental and economic impacts. I know that when you say has it been briefed here, I know that Governor Jindal has mentioned that on one of those calls. I will check with EPA on where that is.
Q Okay. The President in his Friday comments about the spill talked about the quantities of dispersants deployed, wasn’t favorable or negative, but he did quantify that as part of the federal response. Has there been data that the White House or BP has received in the last 24 to 48 hours that has raised significant concerns about toxicity issues? Or is it just the amount that they’re beginning to wonder about?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is --
Q -- the original toxicity of what was being applied in the first place?
MR. GIBBS: We continue to do testing. I am not aware of any testing that has shifted the focus to a different dispersant. Our viewpoint is given the sheer magnitude of what we’re facing, and our reliance on -- both at a surface and a subsea level -- on those dispersants, that as a matter of practice, at this point, using the least toxic is the most optimal.
Q Can you in any way quantify this event in South Korea in the history since the armistice? By my calculation, the largest loss of South Korean life since the war was ended and the armistice was agreed to. You said in remarks last night that you would -- the administration supports the South Koreans’ attempts to obtain justice for the loss of these 46 South Korean sailors. First of all, can you give the American people a sense of the magnitude, the gravity of this event and what you mean by obtaining justice for the loss of 46 South Korean sailors?
MR. GIBBS: Well, on the second part, again, we’re in close consultation with the South Koreans --
Q That can be defined by the South Koreans.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’re -- in consultation with us. But this is something that -- obviously, as I said earlier, we have a very strong relationship and are committed to their defense. But I believe the South Koreans will be addressing the second part of that.
Look, in terms of the magnitude of this, I mean, I’m not a historian to go back through Korean relations, but, again, I think if -- I think the notion of a military event between two countries that has caused this type of loss of life is extremely troubling and is a deeply significant event in the history of those two countries.
Q A couple things on politics. Will the President raise money for Barbara Boxer next week in California?
MR. GIBBS: I think that is on the schedule, yes.
Q And does the administration view Tim Burns as a Obama Democrat, as somebody who, now that he’ll be in the House, can advance the Obama agenda? And if so, how?
MR. GIBBS: Tim Burns?
Q I’m sorry, Mark Critz.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say --
Q I transposed the names. Mark Critz.
MR. GIBBS: You didn’t transpose the names, you -- I mean, you got the -- I think -- I will say this, Major, about the elections that we watched on Tuesday. I’ve said here many times that I doubt there are many in Congress that agree with each and every thing that the President agrees on. We have the luxury of enjoying a party with a big tent. I think that was proven in Pennsylvania 12 by somebody who, while doesn’t agree with every one of the policy decisions or policy proposals of this administration, there are common values that we enjoy as members of the same party.
I think if you look at the events that have transpired in the Republican Party over the last -- let’s go back 13 months -- Arlen Specter was running a Democratic primary largely because he was run out of his own party. Right? Charlie Crist went from, 18 months ago, being on the very short list of a Republican vice president to being run out of his own party. And a Republican senator from Utah that was elected six years ago with 70 percent of the vote finishes third, receiving slightly more than a quarter of the convention vote to be renominated.
I think if you look at the direction that both parties are going, we are happy to enjoy a large tent with common values but diverse viewpoints. I think the Republican Party is having an internal battle with themselves and they’re shrinking the size of their party.
Q Can you name the most significant issue where the President and Mr. Critz agree?
MR. GIBBS: Strengthening the economy.
Q Hey, Robert, looks like there’s going to be another cloture vote tonight on financial regulation, maybe then they could move very quickly if that happens to a final passage. Could you talk about how significant the administration -- assuming that happens, when that happens -- how significant the administration sees that in the context of your achievement? And obviously there’s some more -- you’ve got to deal with the House and getting them together, but at some point do you go out and sell this thing to the American public? It plays a big part in the elections this fall? Talk a little bit about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is -- I think, as you mentioned, Mike, when we get -- when cloture is invoked we’ll be past a very big step toward final passage. As I said earlier, I think you have two very good proposals on the House and Senate side. We will have to mesh those two proposals.
But you are going to have very strong rules of the road. The Senate bill includes bringing derivatives out of the shadows and regulating them. It includes -- both sides include very strong consumer protections, which in many ways is where middle-class families interact with the financial system -- getting an auto loan, getting a college loan, getting a credit card. So that’s an enormously significant thing; the Volcker Rule, which limits the size and the scope of the activities that a bank can be involved in.
I’ve been asked a couple of times whether -- why is the President talking about financial reform; why isn’t he talking about the economy? Well, the lack of a set of strong rules is a big reason for why we’re -- why we have experienced the economic downturn over the past several years that we have. And putting rules in place that prevent that type of risky behavior from impacting the economy to the degree it has is a jobs issue and an economics issue. I think it will play a very big role in what the President talks about over the next several weeks.
And I have no doubt that voters will have very clear decisions that they’ll get to make in November about whether you supported -- whether you supported ensuring that the taxpayers never got the bill again for the risky decisions of Wall Street or whether you supported the risky decisions of Wall Street. I think those are the votes that people will get a chance to make.
Q Is there any concern that the thing is very complicated, just because it deals with complicated financial --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t doubt that it is enormously complicated. I will say, as I said a minute ago and the reason I talked about the consumer financial protection provisions, because, again, this is -- in many ways, this is where people intersect with the financial system. I hazard to guess many of us don’t deal in derivatives. So -- Peter does -- (laughter) -- but just a little on the side.
So, again, I think where you deal with the financial system, with a credit card -- with a credit card, with a loan to buy a car, to buy a house, to finance an education -- the type of protections that are there, those are tremendously significant based on the fact that that’s that intersection that happened.
Q Robert, I would ask you about derivatives, but -- (laughter) -- I have to be able to define it. Dr. Abdullah, the former Afghan foreign minister and presidential candidate, is here in town just a week after President Karzai was here, but nobody from the administration will see him. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about why that would be.
MR. GIBBS: I will check with NSC on that. I don’t know the answer to that, Peter.
Q Well, then that leads into my second question, which is that on Monday, our last chance with you, there were 10 questions you said that you would check with somebody on and get back to us on, and I’m wondering if you had a chance to --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t believe it was 10, but I’ll go --
Q I got a list.
MR. GIBBS: Well, what are they? What’s one?
Q One was, has the President read the Arizona law -- you said you would find out.
MR. GIBBS: No, I said he -- I said --
Q You said you’d asked for information about it.
MR. GIBBS: I said ask for information about that. He did in a meeting that we had before that, and he has read the law, yes.
Q He read the law, okay.
MR. GIBBS: So that’s nine.
Q The Glass-Steagall amendment, you were going to --
MR. GIBBS: Glass-Steagall is -- the administration strongly believes that the Volcker Rule that limits the size and the scope of banks fully addresses what needs to happen in that area of financial reform.
Q So you don’t need to reimpose the Glass-Steagall because the Volcker Rule would take care of it.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q You’re really going to give him 11 questions?
Q No, I’m --
MR. GIBBS: He’s following up on your behalf.
Q I was just kidding.
Q April asked a great question the other day about who met with whom when it came to the civil rights groups and Elena Kagan.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I asked Josh to follow up on that, but I will follow up with Josh on following up with you.
Q Thank you, Peter. (Laughter.)
Q There was a question about --
Q This is great. Can you do this every day? (Laughter.)
Q -- the no-bid Halliburton contract.
MR. GIBBS: I see our friend wasn’t here to -- isn’t here to illuminate us on the meaning of his question, but since I haven’t gotten the follow-up question on what his original question meant, I do not have an answer for the question he lacked a premise on.
Q All right. I think it was Wendell who asked about the Center for Public Integrity report suggesting that BP -- was it two? -- two BP refineries were responsible for more than 90 percent of the flagrant violations. You said you would check on it.
MR. GIBBS: That I have not checked on.
Q Sorry? You’ll take that? All right. The West Point speech, you were going to look at and see if you could give us any more about --
Q And I was going to ask about that. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that’s -- well, I don’t know if this counts as one of yours. But -- no, the President has received -- is in the process of that. There’s a draft of that, but I don’t have anything additional for that.
Q All right, then I’ll let it go with this one, but I asked on Monday about whether Karzai had asked for a changed timetable on the operations or --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I will-- again, you -- well, I think you had started your question out by saying that the -- it was your understanding that the operation -- the beginning of the operation in that had been delayed.
Q No, no, there’s a report that says some aspect -- some of the military operations, not the whole thing.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I -- did you ask if that -- did you ask if it was some aspects or the whole thing?
Q I believe I read it correctly --
MR. GIBBS: Well, how about you do this -- you go check on that, and I’ll go check on the --
Q I’ve got the transcript right here.
MR. GIBBS: Do you? What’s the question?
Q I have to search for it.
Q This is his iPad. Okay, the McClatchy report --
MR. GIBBS: He brought his iPad in. Wow, that’s --
Q Some of the military operations were going to be postponed until the fall. And the question was, was that something that President Karzai had requested --
MR. GIBBS: Right. That was your question, right?
Q That’s the one I get the answer to.
MR. GIBBS: Yeah, that’s the -- you buried the lead. Again, I want to see the phrasing. I believe you asked the -- I will check on whether Karzai -- I believe -- I thought the answer -- I thought the question had premised, had the entire operation been moved, but maybe I misunderstood.
Q All right.
Q Can you loop me in, too? Our editors would be interested in the response --
MR. GIBBS: Are you now piling on to Peter’s question? Yes. That I think is eight, do you have two more?
Q Well, I do, actually, you gave us -- (laughter) -- information about the MMS official who stepped down that you hadn’t --
Q Chris Oynes.
MR. GIBBS: I would -- I will be happy to -- I think that was extensively covered in the newspaper.
Q No, I know, but you were going to give us your response to whether or not this was --
MR. GIBBS: This was a personal personnel decision that I understand that he made.
Q Okay, and then the last question --
MR. GIBBS: Which, again, I think most of you wrote about, but --
Q That doesn’t help TV.
Q The Federal Reserve Bank of New York --
MR. GIBBS: I apologize.
Q The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said the recovery was slowing, and you were going to look into that.
MR. GIBBS: I have not read the Federal Reserve’s New York report on economic slowdown, but I’ll print a copy and we can -- we’ll share that.
Q So that Peter doesn’t have to do this every day, is there any way we could have like an organized system, where there’s like a list of the questions you say you’ll check on --
Q No, no, no --
MR. GIBBS: That seemed calmly organized -- I love that. I love that.
Q Previous administrations would actually post responses for every --
MR. GIBBS: I understand. Go ahead.
Q Now, maybe -- could we do that? Could we request that?
MR. GIBBS: We could. Go ahead.
Q He’ll get back to you on that. (Laughter.)
Q What’s your -- is there any reaction to the Salahis being stopped near -- (laughter) --
Q Okay, which do you prefer?
MR. GIBBS: No, this one is -- you know, look, I heard about this last evening. I shook my head. Once again, the Salahis were not on the guest list. At some point, that would provide a hint as to the degree to which you should show up.
Q Were they trying to get in?
MR. GIBBS: I have no information that they were trying to get in. I think the Service has talked about stopping a car that had been seen repeatedly in the area.
Q But didn’t the President make them feel unwelcome at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner with his comments? (Laughter.) No, but I’m serious. He made a joke about them.
MR. GIBBS: Well, if every time somebody makes a joke about somebody they take it that personally, I don’t think -- I don’t know whether he made them feel uncomfortable, April. He hasn’t invited them to come to the White House. I don’t know if that’s a level of discomfort that would chagrin them from attempting to come here. I am reminded that it seems to me like their 15 minutes of fame were up almost six months ago.
Q Some in Congress say it’s inappropriate for a foreign leader to come to the White House and to the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives and criticize American law, American state law, and the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Was there anything inappropriate in what President Calderón raised yesterday about both the Arizona law and the guns?
MR. GIBBS: I can’t speak for -- I don’t know -- when you say “some people,” I don’t know --
Q Several members of Congress have issued statements today saying his comments were inappropriate.
MR. GIBBS: Well, he is on Capitol Hill and I think they could take it up directly with him.
Q But he said it there, too. That’s why they issued the statements.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it seems to have not worked. Ann, I would say that he has viewpoints on issues; some of those, as you heard yesterday -- related to the Arizona law -- are shared by the President, even as we all have to be mindful of and take steps to implement comprehensive immigration reform.
Q And does the President feel that -- did Mrs. Obama tell the President all about her encounter with the school student yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m -- I don’t know the answer to that, to be honest with you.
Q Robert, speaking of President Calderón, this morning in his address to Congress, he asked lawmakers to reinstate the assault weapons ban, something the President has supported in the past. Does the President still support that and does he plan to lean on Congress to make progress?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- because the President largely got asked this question yesterday about both drugs and weapons moving across the border, I’d point you to the answer that he gave about increased inspections on cargo that’s moving from the north to the south.
Q And can I just really quick just follow on -- a while ago I asked if he’s expressed -- (laughter) -- no, he took care of my other follow-up but I have one more about if he’s expressed any opinion at all yet -- obviously the boycott is growing; people are joining. Does the President have any opinion? He opposes the immigration law. Does he support the boycott?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think he’s been pretty clear about the law. I think he thinks that the effects of it are potentially quite harmful for many in this country. I’ve not heard him speak specifically about that, except to laud during his Cinco de Mayo remarks the Phoenix Suns for the jerseys that they wore during that game.
Q Two things. On the proposal from the Iranians this week, is it your view that this slows up the drive toward sanctions? I know that you guys are proceeding, but do you think there needs to be a pause to weigh the Iranian proposal before going forward?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, we -- I think Susan Rice outlined a consensus proposal that the P5-plus-1 have worked on for many months, after the agreement and proposal that was discussed by the Iranians, the Turks and the Brazilians. I think it’s important to understand that the proposal that Iran says they’ve entered into now is less than what they agreed to eight months ago. They did not agree to, as they had in October, sit down with the P5-plus-1 to have a broader, fuller discussion about Iran’s nuclear program. They have not agreed to provide unfettered access to nuclear facilities such as Qom. And the proposal does not address in any form the increased enrichment that Iran said it was undertaking in order to provide material for their research reactor.
So while we acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of the Turks and the Brazilians, I think it is important to understand that that agreement alone does not address -- or that proposal alone in its limited form does not fully address all of the concerns that the P5-plus-1 and the larger international community have with Iran’s nuclear program. And, again, I’d point to the things that Iran agreed to eight months ago that are left out of this proposal.
Q Is there an effort afoot to get them to expand the parameters of their proposal? For instance, did that come up in the President’s conversation with Prime Minister Erdogan?
MR. GIBBS: I have -- I will check on whether that came up with Prime Minister Erdogan or not. Again, there are responsibilities that the Iranians have and that they must undertake. While the proposal that was outlined on Monday would be a step in the right direction because of the amount of low-enriched uranium that would be transferred -- again, assuming that the Iranians kept up their end of the deal, which has not -- has almost never been the case -- we have had eight months of progression. That progression has included increased enrichment. And the proposal, again, fails to live up to even what they wanted to do just eight months ago.
Q Is there any point then in getting the Turks and the Brazilians to try to press for some changes --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think the role that they -- again, I would again acknowledge the role that they played in trying to get Iran to live up to its obligations. I think the international community, by releasing the consensus of the P5-plus-1 after that, understands that -- the international community understands that there is more that has to be done.
Q Thanks, Robert. Earlier in the briefing in talking about the oil spill, you had said -- about the volume of the spill, you had said there are certainly many reasons to find out the degree to which that is happening. Could you spell out what sort of the top, I don’t know, three or four reasons to want to know that is? And then also, is the administration firmly committed to coming up once --
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this, Margaret, and I will double-check this because I want to make sure that I’m clear in understanding a portion of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and that is that there -- if I’m not mistaken, there are some penalties that are derived from the amount. But I want to make sure that that -- that what I’ve heard is, in that way, correct.
Again, we’ve got scientists that are working on evaluating, testing, and setting a whole host of issues, from subsea oil, to loop current, to flow. I guess my main answer was that our response efforts have not been predicated on a different flow --
Q Right, but that I understand.
MR. GIBBS: -- or on a magnitude of that flow.
Q But once -- the priority is to stop it.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And everybody agrees that’s the right priority. Is the administration committed though at the end to coming up with an official sort of final number? And are you concerned at all that --
MR. GIBBS: Margaret, again, I think that to some degree I would ask -- I’ll ask a scientist whether that is -- whether that’s obtainable. I mean, I’ll be honest with you --
Q Yes, that’s my question is once it’s out, can you go back and figure out how much came out?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt it. I doubt we’ve -- I mean, I don’t know what the margin of error would be. I mean, again, one of the reasons that we know -- one of the reasons that you can predicate a question on the degree to which, or on the amount of oil that the Valdez spilled was because you had in a container in a ship a defined amount. You have, again, several leaks coming from a structure and a pipe 5,000 feet below the surface. And as I think Thad Allen has said, again, even the video that we see is two-dimensional. There’s not -- when you’re seeing it on the screen, there’s a depth that you would need, I assume, to make that measurement that is not completely apparent at first blush.
Q I’m sorry to keep going, but even though it’s not the priority, it seems like it is increasingly a priority. What are the -- what’s changing --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think at some point you’ll have -- again -- no, no. I don’t think anything is changing. I think this is part of the response. Again, I just -- without having the scientific background, again, I just don’t know whether -- I don’t know the degree to which and with what accuracy you could come up with what that number is. I mean, in all honesty, I think if you go back and look at over a several-week period since the spill has happened, I’ve seen estimates -- and I think largely from reporting -- that have ranged each day by tens of thousands of barrels. So, again, I think part of it would be the degree to which -- how accurate and how specific can you get, and I just don’t know the answer to that.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q On the BP oil spill, and going to this last question, the sentiment out in the public is if this thing was built, why can’t it be repaired, and what can’t -- in an expeditious manner? And why isn’t the government acting in an expeditious manner to even go into the private sector to help rectify this issue?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. April, the private sector is -- again, BP is an active member of the private sector and is working in conjunction, as I understand it, with many different oil companies.
Q That’s what I mean -- the people that I’m talking -- I’m not just talking about just BP, not the people who are involved, but the people beyond them -- there are other ocean-type persons, marine-type persons, whatever -- (laughter) -- oceanographic, I guess, whatever, okay -- okay, whatever. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The decision I’m contemplating in my head is to ask you, again, to be more specific as to said “oceanographic” people, because I don’t -- I’m not trying to be flip, I’m just trying to figure out -- I mean, are you talking -- there’s a scientific element to --
Q That’s the point they’ll make. People who have mechanisms to go down to be able to repair equipment, machinery --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, let’s be clear.
Q I am being very clear -- with machinery as well as pods that you can go down in, robots --
MR. GIBBS: April, are you asking me or are you telling me that there is a -- there are a series of machines that -- no, I’m not trying to be flip here. But the predicate of your question is that there is -- hold on -- that there are a series of machines that exist that have not been deployed in order to deal with what’s happening 5,000 feet below.
Q This is the question that’s out there. This is the question that’s out there. People want to -- if this thing could have been built that far down, it was built some kind of way, and there are machines and equipment --
MR. GIBBS: And it’s failed in a catastrophic way.
Q Right, but there are machines out there and other marine technology --
MR. GIBBS: I just -- I don’t --
Q -- private sector organizations that could be tapped by the federal government.
MR. GIBBS: I want to be careful here, April. I want to be careful because -- can I just, for a second?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I want to ask -- you’re predicating your question on -- and I’m happy to look at whatever you have -- about the notion that there are a series of people or machines that could solve this that are somehow not being asked or used to solve this.
Q That’s my question that I’m asking that we are getting, that people are saying, if this was built, if this could be built, and you could have siphoning of oil out of a well, as you’re saying, four miles down, and then the actual equipment is a mile down, why not -- how can you not tap other resources out there -- marine technology resources -- to possibly help fix the problem? Not just deal with BP and Halliburton group, deal with other people, tap other organizations.
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I’d point you to BP to get you a list of the people and entities that they’re working in conjunction with in order to plug the hole. But understand that --
Q But that’s where everybody is coming -- do you actually trust BP? You’re talking about -- you go to BP, go to BP. Why not do something --going to BP. Why not do something independent --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think they have -- I do not think it is in their business model to continue to have the leak that they’re having in the Gulf. I think that -- I’m under the strong impression that they have asked companies throughout the world that deal with these type of situations for technological and brainpower expertise in order to deal with this, because -- I mean, I think -- the larger point that I’d make, April, is the equipment that is -- the equipment that’s used to look at and deal with what is going on a mile beneath the surface, that’s equipment that is owned and possessed by those companies that have an expertise in that. There’s not a federal government division of -- that has, as I said earlier, a submersible at 5,000 feet with the mechanical ability to lift many tons of --
Q But, again, you just tapped on in your answer basically the issue of trust with BP. They’re not giving out information on the video. Why totally rely on them instead of going out to some other private sector organizations to possibly get some help?
MR. GIBBS: We’re going in a circle here, April. But I got to say -- hold on one second, let me just finish this. I do not believe that there is an entity in this country or, quite frankly, outside of this country that hasn’t been looked at or tapped into in order to try to make progress on this. It just -- there is nobody that believes that what is going on, continuing to happen, is in anybody’s best interest. Therefore, everybody is trying to seek a solution.
Q What about the Woods Hole Center that found the Titanic?
MR. GIBBS: Again, April, I’m way out of my proverbial depth. Locating a ship resting on the floor of the ocean for many decades is somewhat different than finding a submersible to get to that depth and plugging many leaks in a riser pipe and in a blowout preventer.
If it was just about pictures, if it was just about taking pictures, we’ve done that. This is -- I hate to -- well, I’m not simplifying it because I’m not --
Q And lastly in follow up, I asked you something a couple of times on the issue --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- on the cost -- the cost of jobs. Has the President been working with people about the jobs that are lost down there, the fisheries that are affected? Also on the cost of gasoline, as well as on the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is -- as I’ve said before, this was not production oil. This was exploratory drilling. So the oil lost is not lost in a marketplace that expected a certain amount of deliverable oil on a schedule. So, look, I think gas prices go up normally at this time of year as there’s blend switching and increased demand for driving.
So in terms of jobs, SBA has been on the ground for now at least a couple of weeks, as NOAA first closed a portion of the Gulf and has now expanded the closing of the portion of the Gulf to commercial fishermen. And that I think expands throughout the Gulf in order to deal with legitimate claims for economic loss or damage.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Glenn.
Q Robert, just two quick questions. Does the President still support Blanche Lincoln in her runoff against Halter?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And does he plan to do anything in terms of fundraising or cutting ads?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we’ve been asked to do anything by the campaign.
Q And the lesson of -- a lot of people have speculated on the lessons of the Specter loss. Do you think that’s a signal to the President that he might in the future want to support a candidate who more closely represents the base of the party like Sestak, rather than a candidate -- an alliance with --
MR. GIBBS: Again, Glenn, we -- Senator Specter was -- Senator Specter made a series of important and courageous votes on economic recovery and on health care that the President was enormously thankful for. He was, because of his switch, a member of -- an incumbent senator and a member of the Democratic Party and he enjoyed our support. The President traveled there and raised money for him. Vice President Biden traveled there a number of times as well.
Q Has he spoken to Specter?
MR. GIBBS: He has.
Q And could you just sort of --
MR. GIBBS: I think it was -- he left him a message I believe on election night. I think they connected today. I will try to get a readout of that. I think it happened not long before I came out here.
But, again, Glenn, I don’t think I’m going out -- way out on a limb to say this is a -- this is an anti-incumbent year, and Senator Specter had spent 29 years in one party and switched parties and was running in the Democratic Party in an extremely tough year for any incumbent.
I will say this, as I said earlier, I think the -- what happened with -- what has happened with the Republican Party, and is the evidence you see in somebody like Arlen Specter, they are not even welcome in the party in which they’ve been serving for 29 years.
I missed you over here. Yes, sir.
Q Can you please elaborate a little bit on what John Brennan said about Hezbollah of Lebanon, that the administration is trying to -- some moderate elements within the party that was --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get -- let me get something from John on that. And not -- George, I think it’s your birthday, so let me -- (Laughter.)
Q Well, I have 12 questions. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Who do you think you are, Peter Baker? (Laughter.) I’m joking. I will say this, can I just point out for the record that since Peter asked his 12 questions, he and Mike have been playing with that iPod virtually continuously since that point. (Laughter.) So I hate to bust them like that -- yes, the --
Q We’re looking up --
Q They’re organizing a system for you to get back to us.
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to Google that when I get back.
Go ahead, George.
Q Mexican officials are privately very frustrated that no matter how many times they bring up the trucking issue with President Obama, they don’t see any movement toward the United States honoring its treaty obligations there. Is that frustration understandable? And was any progress made --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get NEC -- I will get NEC to get something on that. I know obviously that it came up as part of the two delegations in the Oval Office. I know that it’s been something that’s been discussed around here, so let me get some greater clarity on that.
I’ll go with Mike, and then I’ll go back to work.
Q The President made very clear yesterday that he supports President Calderón’s efforts in the war against narcotraffickers. When it comes to Afghanistan, he’s talked a lot about revaluating things as time goes on, looking at metrics, relooking at strategies. The metrics in Mexico are not very good, and they haven’t been very good for a while. Is this something that’s sort of set in stone, or is there an active process at all, looking at whether their strategy --
MR. GIBBS: Our support or whether --
Q Whether we support their strategy or whether there’s possibly a better strategy or another strategy to deal with these issues?
MR. GIBBS: I do not believe -- and, again, I’ll check with our Mexico guys whether or not a discussion of changing that strategy was part of these discussions. Obviously, as you heard the President say, what President Calderón has done has been courageous and at the risk of safety and his own political standing has not been easy to undertake.
Let me talk to them and see if there’s anything that came up throughout those discussions.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Q Robert, quick thing on the Rand Paul -- does the White House have any comment or any position on his position on the civil rights act?
MR. GIBBS: I have not -- I saw clips of the interview; I’ve not watched the whole thing. I think I would go back to the answer I gave a little bit ago in terms of the narrowness of or the expansiveness of which -- of the party. I think the issues that many fought for in the ‘50s and the ‘60s were settled a long time ago in landmark legislation. And a discussion about whether or not you support those I don’t think has a real -- shouldn’t have a place in our political dialogue in 2010.
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