Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/1/10
1:03 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before we get started with your questions, let me make a brief announcement.
The President and the First Lady will be traveling to Indonesia and Australia in the second half of March. This trip is an important part of the President's continued effort to broaden and strengthen the partnerships that are necessary to advance our security and prosperity. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, the third largest democracy; is home to the largest Muslim population in the world; and an important partner in the G20.
During his visit the President will formally launch the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, an initiative through which the United States will broaden and strengthen relations with Indonesia to tackle important regional and global issues.
In addition, this year also marks the 70th anniversary of U.S.-Australia relations. The President looks forward to commemorating that milestone and consulting with Prime Minister Rudd on ways that we can build on the strong relationship between our two countries and discuss issues such as global economic recovery, clean energy and climate change, non-proliferation and Afghanistan.
En route to Asia the President will visit Guam, where he will speak with U.S. service members on the island. We'll have more specific dates for you shortly after they are completely done with the pre-advance.
Q Before or after the NCAA brackets are announced? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I know that is weighing heavily on many traveling members' minds and we will seek to plan accordingly.
Q Will he visit childhood haunts in Indonesia?
MR. GIBBS: I'd anticipate that that will likely be one of the stops.
Q Is the whole family coming?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Coincides with spring vacation for two little girls?
MR. GIBBS: Likely, yes.
Q Any plan for India trip?
MR. GIBBS: Not on this trip.
Q Speaking of numbers, the budget -- it's hard to avoid a headline out of this budget that the deficit is going to hit another record this year. Next year, if Congress approves and the projections that are in the budget come true, the budget deficit will be back to basically what it was when the President took office.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Has he chosen the need to fight the recession to create jobs as a higher priority than fighting the deficit?
MR. GIBBS: In the short term, absolutely. We have to get our economy moving again because one of the reasons that we've seen the budget deficit grow is that the economy has slowed down. We all know the extraordinary measures that had to be put in place in order to jumpstart the economy and we've seen some of the impacts of that as recently as Friday, with increased numbers in economic growth.
The President, as you heard in the State of the Union and throughout the first year, discuss the need and the necessity to get that economy moving again, and then to transition to address our mid- and long-term fiscal challenges.
I think many of the proposals the President outlines in here we have discussed -- non-security discretionary spending freeze; the President has supported and Congress thankfully passed last week a reinstitution of I think very simple commonsense rules that -- for pay as you go, that if we're going to spend money we're going to have to pay for it -- rules that were absent for a decent part of the last decade in which we saw deficits and debts skyrocket.
Q His rhetoric, the words he chose today, talking about how we've got to stop spending money like it's Monopoly money and deficits matter and all that -- it sounds like he's saying that but saying, but we've got to wait on that part of it. In other words, he's, like, talking at cross purposes to the budget he actually submitted.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, we -- look, we all understand we had to take extraordinary measures, again, to get this economy going. Are we spending more money on unemployment insurance than the President would like? Yes, on two accounts. One, it's money that we're having to spend, and having to spend that money means more and more people are unemployed. Are we having to spend money on a Recovery Act that, all things being equal, the President would like to not have to do? Absolutely. We have to get our economy moving again, we have to create jobs. That will improve our medium- and long-term deficit picture.
Understanding, too, that the President has also taken some extraordinary steps, Mark, in terms of pay as you go, the -- we spent a lot of time in the past year talking about health care -- a proposal that the President laid out a specific path for paying for. We are where we are today partly because of this economic downturn, but partly because for a long time we had two wars that we weren’t paying for. We had tax cuts that we weren’t paying for. And we had a prescription drug benefit that, although very worthy, we never paid for.
We have to return to some very common-sense principles that everyday Americans live by every time they go to the grocery store or want to go to the movies or cash their paycheck, and that is you can't spend more than you have.
Q One more question stemming from the briefing that we just had. Christina Romer was talking about the jobless rate still being at 9.8 percent as we get to the end of the year. With all the additional money that's going to be spent on job creation incentives for a company to hire, is a $3.8 trillion budget getting its money's worth if that's the best we can do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand, Mark, again -- and I think we've seen this over the last couple of months -- we have to create 100,000 to 150,000 jobs a month just to keep that unemployment rate at -- roughly keep that unemployment rate steady. As the economy begins to pick up, that will also put increased pressure as we do begin to add jobs because more and more people -- in addition to that, just the sheer population growth -- but more and more people that had stopped looking for work will enter into the process of looking for work.
So it is going to take quite some time to bring down the unemployment rate and to -- particularly to add the number of jobs that we've lost. Again, I don't think anybody is -- I don't think anybody looks at this in any way other than in a realistic way. We have more than 7 million fewer jobs now than we did when this recession began in December of 2007. So it's going to take quite a long time to fill that hole.
Q Robert, two questions, first on China and on the budget. What's the White House's reaction to China's reaction to the decision to sell arms to Taiwan? Are you concerned about it? Are you concerned about how or whether this will hurt the U.S.-China relationship?
MR. GIBBS: We discussed many of the things that -- we discussed each and every aspect of our relationship with China when we met in China in November, including arms sales to Taiwan. The President was asked this in a town hall meeting also in front of the Chinese people.
We have always said that we want the type of relationship where we're working together on important issues of mutual concern -- the global economic recovery, our concerns about proliferation -- but when we have disagreements, we'll do so -- we'll voice those disagreements out in the open in public. I think that's the type of relationship we've had with China during this administration and one that we'll continue to have.
Q Well, they certainly voiced their disagreements. They're threatening to impose sanctions on U.S. companies. Is that something that the White House is concerned about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't -- I think our reaction to that would -- that would not be warranted. Again, this was something that was discussed with them when we met in November. And I'll say this -- again, we want to work on issues of mutual concern. I don't think that either country can afford to simply walk away from the other. That's not what we would do, and I don't think that's what anybody expects them to do either.
Q What do you mean by not -- a reaction wouldn't be warranted?
MR. GIBBS: Their reaction, in terms of sanctions.
Q Was overblown?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I'm saying my reaction to that is I don't think those would be warranted, given what we've know.
Q All right. And my quick question on the budget is a political one. What do you think your chances are of getting this budget passed by Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President had a productive session with House Republicans on Friday. I think the American people expect both political parties to work together to get things moved forward. So we're obviously optimistic that we can get a budget passed. It's an election year, and we all understand the games that Washington plays in an election year. But I hope that this will be a budget that will be taken up and passed. If people have disagreements about the priorities that the President has laid out, I think this is a perfect time for them to roll out and talk about what their proposals are.
I think the times are too important to simply lob a statement or email out a statement about what you think is wrong. Get into the arena and propose a series of ideas in which you think are better, in terms of funding the investments that we need to make to move our economy forward, to build that new foundation, and to take care of the future.
Q The President's executive order creating a bipartisan commission to look at debt reduction, why is it needed -- considering the fact that Democrats control the House, Senate, and the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's needed, because I think if you look at the budget documents, we're going to get somewhere slightly above 3 percent of our GDP taken up in our budget deficit. And I think most people would say 3 percent is about where you need to be. And it's going to take some tough decisions to close those gaps.
Q But why are the President and substantial majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate not capable of those tough decisions?
MR. GIBBS: Because we understand, Jake, that unless you get 60 votes in this environment, you can't make those determinations. Let's use -- in one particular instance, the debt commission itself. This was a legislative proposal -- and I'm sure many of you have heard me do this -- introduced in December, a bipartisan proposal by Senator Judd Gregg, Senator Conrad -- one a Republican, one a Democrat -- that enjoyed pretty broad bipartisan support.
Normally, 50 votes would carry the day. This proposal got 53 votes when it needed 60. Seven cosponsors of the legislation ultimately voted against the legislation. So you need 60 votes in this environment to get something done.
Q Democrats have 60 votes.
MR. GIBBS: No. I think very soon we're not going to have 60 votes.
Q But when you had that vote on the debt commission, you did have 60 votes.
MR. GIBBS: We did have 60 votes, but we didn't get the 60 votes we needed. We lost seven Republicans that supported the bill. Look, some Democrats don't support it. I get that. If we would have simply gotten all of the people that either voted for it or said they supported it, we would have gotten far more than 60 votes. Mitch McConnell, who I had the pleasure of sharing a Sunday show with, had supported this two months ago -- except when it came time to vote on it.
Q I guess my larger question is, aren't these the tough decisions that the President and members of Congress were elected to make?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. But, Jake, we're -- one party is not going to solve these -- not going to solve all these problems. One party is not going to make --
Q Why not? Why is one party not capable --
MR. GIBBS: Because of the --
Q -- when one party controls the House, Senate and the White House?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no -- welcome to Washington. One party is not going to get -- one party is not going to be able to solve all these. The American people want both parties to work together to solve these. We can make those tough decisions if people are willing to work together to do that.
Q Was that your message in October?
MR. GIBBS: Which one?
Q The one you just said to Jake.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it was kind of long. What was --
Q No, but both parties are here -- wouldn't you be making the case that you'd want Democrats to get elected?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to vote for a Democrat in November. But, Chuck, the American people want -- today is an election day, okay? Go back to what the President said: If every day is election day, then I can assure you we'll never solve any of the big problems.
Q But you're making --
MR. GIBBS: Well, hold on -- no, no, let me just finish the sentence. Chuck interrupted your time.
Every day is not election day, Chuck. We have elections -- sometimes we have special elections, but we have elections every two years for Congress. If every day is election day, we're never going to solve our problems, because everybody is going to be too busy not trying to save somebody else's job but trying to save theirs. The American people want Democrats and Republicans in government that represent them to work together to solve their problems.
Q You're making my point. The point is that Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House. Why are you guys not capable of making these tough --
MR. GIBBS: Jake, because --
Q Are you just saying that -- because it seems to me you're making the argument that, essentially, underneath it all is, right, Democrats -- these are going to require very tough decisions and the Democratic Party is not going to do it by itself because we're not going to go down and lose our jobs --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no --
Q -- without Republicans holding our hands.
MR. GIBBS: Jake, there's not uniform consensus in one party about how to do it. I think that's been pretty clear about health care. Lord knows we've talked a lot about internal --
Q -- willing to do health care, but just Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me just -- let me finish the question. We are going to have to make tough decisions, but in order to get this passed we're going to need both parties to work together. If you think one party can do it all, you know, I think there are examples not just from the past year but over the past many years that altogether that's not going to work. Jake, just because you're not in the majority doesn't mean you don't have an obligation to help solve the problems of this country. That's the message that the President had on Friday to the House Republicans. That's the message that the President ran on.
Even though the President runs as a Democrat, that doesn't mean that we're not going to work with Republicans on trying to solve problems. If that were the case, Chuck, we'd have elections, and then one party would just go about solving everything; the other party wouldn't even have to show up to work until it was time to have the next election. It may sound like a great idea, but --
Q You're making an argument for legislating -- I mean, you're making the argument for legislating, not for a commission that a lot of people say is a copout.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think the commission is a copout.
Q Well, it's not legislatively binding. And you don't have Boehner and McConnell signed off on it yet.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it was such a good idea that they supported it a few weeks ago. I don't -- Jake, you can ask them what happened. You can ask Mitch McConnell why sitting on the very same show he was on yesterday when he supported the Conrad-Gregg commission -- when it came for a vote he didn't support it. I don't know the answer to that. It's a fascinatingly good question.
But we are going to have to work together to solve these problems. It's not going to be one person or one party that solves them. I don't think it's a copout, because what the President will propose is that Democrats and Republicans should work together to agree on proposals that he believes should be voted on. Understand that the legislation that failed would have required that the recommendations that that commission came up with be voted on by the House and the Senate, like a base closure commission.
Q Right, and this executive order will not do that, because it cannot do that.
MR. GIBBS: The executive order will ask that based on the number of people that are chosen to serve on the commission -- some by Democrats, some by Republicans -- that a certain number of people agree in order for the recommendation to be voted on by Congress.
But, Jake, the power -- it is interesting that -- I think we've heard from some quarters that Republicans just may not appoint anybody. Well, tell me how you're going to solve the big problems of this country if in a very polarized country one political party is not going to join in working on that. It's just -- it's not going to happen.
Q I'm not going to -- and it's the last question I have on this, and I'm sorry, but I'm not going to challenge the notion that the other party may be behaving cravenly in this instance and with the vote that you're talking about. But isn't the whole point of being President and controlling the House and Senate to man up and make these tough decisions --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, absolutely.
Q -- whether or not it costs you at the ballot box in November?
MR. GIBBS: We're not -- the commission --
Q You are -- you're saying, we're not going to do it unless we have sign off from the Republicans.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. We're not going to make progress unless we have sign off from the Republicans. But again, Jake, there's not unanimity in one party on either way forward. Again, this President has instituted spending costs last year nobody thought we were going to get, including killing an F-22 program at the Pentagon. We've outlined a series of cuts this year. We've taken on the cost of health care and how it affects the federal budget. We've got some skin in the game, Jake.
Q But the President, in his remarks this morning, talked about how some of the cuts were painful. What was the most difficult thing for the economic team and the President to leave out of the budget?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to talk to those guys in terms of what -- I was not in every one of the meetings.
Q But the President didn't express that there was something that he really would have rather had, but in the end they took it out?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there are -- I have not heard him talk in particular. I mean, obviously there are -- budgets have to be a list of your priorities. And in tough economic times you can't afford everything.
Look, one of the easier things to do, going -- again, let's go back to what had happened for a while, one thing would be to propose a series of new spending and not have to pay for any of it. That's sort of what got us into this mess.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the process? Was there sort of a one team trying to make a case to keep something in the budget? What was going on behind the scenes to settle these cuts and these increases?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously when the President and Peter and the economic team decided on freezing non-security discretionary spending, there's no doubt that there were Cabinet officials that wanted to preserve certain things that mathematically just couldn't be preserved, or to take things out that they felt like weren't something that they would have left in. So, obviously, there was some give and take on that, but the larger numbers have been locked for quite some time. And the President obviously was in meetings on some of this back and forth.
Q And as the President goes to New Hampshire tomorrow, what's the real goal there? There's still a lot of frustration about the pace of job creation. What does the President hope to accomplish?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President will have a town hall meeting, but outline a proposal that he talked about in the State of the Union to increase small business lending through community banks. That will be specifically what he talks about. Look, I think in many ways we've -- the President gets letters from, we've heard from small businesses across the country that want to expand, that need a loan to make payroll. We want to ensure that for those that want to add jobs, for those that want to start a small business, that they have the capital to do so.
Q Following up on the commission, can you understand, though, the skepticism of people who look at this budget and say there really isn't a lot of specific cutting going on here, we're going to rely on this blue ribbon panel down the road, and don't you think the average American is going to say you're kicking the can down the road here?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, Chip -- Chip, I think if you look at what the budget does over the next several years in going back down to a percent of GDP, you'll understand that these are not decisions that are not being made. Secondly --
Q But you are relying very heavily on what this panel would do in order to bring deficits back.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think it's relying very heavily, but I think it's -- is there any doubt that we're going to need consensus to make some important changes? The answer to that quite clearly is yes.
Q And following up on Jake's question, the idea that -- I mean, you were certainly willing to have Democrats alone, or pick off a Republican if you needed one, push through on something as important as health care reform. Why not use your domination of the elected government to push through --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, again -- I mean, I think I answered this with Jake.
Q -- deficits, deficit cutting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we took on the cost of health care, which is a big driver in our federal budget deficit over the past year in the health care reform. We've taken on some of those fights. But, Chip, there's no doubt that we're not going to get all the way that we need to unless or until we get two parties working together as the American people envision their government working. I don't think it's -- right now there seems to be some blowback on whether or not the other side will even appoint members to a commission. I think if you're serious about talking about deficit reduction, appointing members, quite frankly, is the least you can do.
Q I mean, why would they appoint? If they voted it down in Congress, why would you think they even might appoint members to a commission?
MR. GIBBS: Why wouldn't they?
Q They already voted against it.
MR. GIBBS: No, 53 people voted for it.
Q You know that the key Republicans are not for it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, then I guess they'll get to explain to the American people what they're going to do --
Q Well, then you're just playing politics, you're not --
MR. GIBBS: No, wait a minute -- (laughter) --
Q If you're saying, "We know we're not going to get it" because the Republican aren't going to --
MR. GIBBS: We're appointing members.
Q What good is it if they --
MR. GIBBS: Let's take a walk a bit for a second on playing politics, okay? There's a proposal, one by -- by Republican and Democrat, to set up a commission -- let me just do this -- right? It needed 60 votes. It got 53. Seven people that said they supported it in December voted against it. Now, I'll let your definition of whether or not that's playing politics -- we'll just leave that aside.
If you can't set this up legislatively, then the President will, through executive order. And he'll appoint members on his side on this commission. Now, if you won't appoint members, I'll leave that aside whether you think that's playing politics with the issue.
But at some point, Chip, you have to get in the game. At some point you have to have a series of ideas on how to do this. This is -- regardless of who wins elections, everybody that's sworn into Congress and everybody that serves in the executive branch has an obligation to solve problems and make it work for the American people. Not supporting something that you did two months ago, or a month ago; not appointing members simply out of obstinance -- if that's not playing political games, then I don't know what the definition, Chip, would look like.
Q Well, I think you're right. It is. But aren't you doing the same thing by then harping on it rather than moving on to something that you could actually try to pass legislatively?
MR. GIBBS: No, the President -- we tried to pass it legislatively. The President lent his support to what Democrats and Republicans --
Q No, I mean actual cuts, not the commission. If the commission is not going to work, why not just move on?
MR. GIBBS: We outlined in the budget some specific cuts, and I think if you look at over the course of the next several years -- look, we didn't get into this budget problem and deficits overnight. If you look at the graph of where budget deficits go over the next three or four years, you'll see that on a decidedly downward trajectory, to get the rest of the way the President first asked Congress to pass a legislative commission, despite getting 53 votes and having seven people that supported a month ago walk away. The President is going to do this through executive committee and hopes that the Republicans will take part in the exercise of governing.
Q Two quick questions. Have you ruled out Abdulmutallab being treated as an enemy combatant?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I want to say -- I'll say this. Having been in a series of meetings about this over the past many days, decisions that are being reported as having been made have not been made. There's no doubt that a city like New York has serious security and logistical concerns about a trial, and those can, should and will be taken into account. The President, Chuck, believes that the forum that the Attorney General decided that these trials be held in are the best way to deal with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others.
Q My question was about the Christmas bomber, though, Abdulmutallab. I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry.
Q No, it's okay. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: Have we ruled him out as --
Q As treating him as an enemy combatant. Because it's possible you could still -- that has been done in previous --
MR. GIBBS: That certainly was done with José Padilla and Al-Marri were indicted -- transferred and indicted -- look, I think that very experienced interrogators at the FBI made decisions about interrogation, and the Department of Justice made determinations to seek an indictment, and the President believes that's the appropriate place.
Q So that means the administration is satisfied there's no more intelligence to be gained from Abdulmutallab?
MR. GIBBS: The White House is satisfied that the process of gaining that intelligence is working.
Q And was the CIA -- I mean, there was a report this morning, I think it was in the LA Times -- was the CIA and the DNI asked for their input on the decision before he was indicted, or was it just --
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this, and I want to be clear on this. When -- I forget the exact day but I can look it up -- when the President held a Situation Room meeting to go over the failures of the Christmas Day bombing -- I believe this was on a Tuesday, because we then were --
Q This was the 4th or 5th, right? When he came back -- a big meeting when he came back.
MR. GIBBS: This was -- right -- I think it must have been the 5th, it was on a Tuesday. In that meeting were the President, the Vice President, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the CIA. I don't know who else I've forgotten. Whoever that roster was -- the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All those people were present in a meeting where the Attorney General said that in the next day Mr. Abdulmutallab would be indicted for his crimes.
Q Are you saying there was no debate around that table on this topic --
MR. GIBBS: I will say that anybody that wanted or needed to register their concern, the notion that somehow a forum wasn’t readily available to register anybody's concern doesn’t certainly comport the way I understand events, having been in the room watching those present have an opportunity to ask questions about those procedures.
Q Did the President and First Lady vote tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: They I believe both voted by absentee ballot.
Q They've already voted?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Just to go back to your initial response to Chuck's question when you talked about New York, are you saying that there has been no decision yet, no formal decision to --
MR. GIBBS: I am.
Q -- to take it out of New York?
MR. GIBBS: I am.
Q Now on this New Hampshire trip tomorrow, along with the community bank theme, to what extent is this a "take the budget on the road" event?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously there will be certain questions on it and have an opportunity to talk about it. Our focus tomorrow is -- the proposal the President will talk specifically about at the town hall is the effort for increased lending through community banks directly to small businesses.
Q And going back to the Friday event with the Republicans, is there any follow up to that? Do you think he'll talk to Senate Republicans at some point? What other things along those lines --
MR. GIBBS: I believe we have been invited to speak to the Senate Republicans, and we will do so. Look, I think the President had -- I think the President enjoyed the give and take on these issues of importance. You guys seemed to think it was a worthwhile endeavor. And I think opportunities like this for both sides are important to talk through our ideas. I honestly believe, and I know the President believes this and said as much on Friday, that it may be very rare that everybody in Congress -- 535 members -- and the President agree on every single word in a bill. But there ought to be enough that we can agree on in a piece of legislation that can garner strong bipartisan support to solve the problems that the American people have.
Q Would you insist that the Senate -- if you do it with the Republicans in the Senate, that it also would be available for live coverage the way this was?
MR. GIBBS: We were -- we asked that it be open on Friday and I wouldn't have any problem with it being open if we spoke to the Senate Republicans too. But let me say, look, I think the two biggest things that are on people's minds in this country are creating jobs and two parties working together. And I think there's no better opportunity to show the American people that we're serious about their priorities than to work together on getting a jobs bill passed -- one that cuts taxes on small business, one that increases our investment in infrastructure to create jobs. I think we can show the American people that we hear their anger and frustration and demonstrate it in a way that moves the process forward by working together.
Q On the non-security discretionary spending, on one of the calls last night, I think Orszag kind of hinted at a veto threat. And I just wanted to get your take on that. When these appropriations bills wend their way through Congress and they don't adhere to that freeze, will the President --
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back and see what Peter said on the call. I know that the President spoke broadly about ensuring that we had, through the course of this, a non-security discretionary freeze and the President is serious.
Q I think Peter was answering a question about whether or not the President would veto the budget. So I think that it got kind of garbled because he --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I see --
Q -- well, because it won't go to him, but then it went back and forth until line-item veto and whatnot.
MR. GIBBS: Again, on Friday I think Congressman Ryan presented a proposal for a line-item veto that I think the President would be anxious to look at.
Q But, I mean, your chance for you to rule out veto threats on non-security --
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't in any way rule that out, no.
Q Peter Orszag and Dr. Romer were very cautious to couch the President's economic assumptions as in the middle of what private economists predict, and yet you're basing about $10 billion a year of your projected savings on passage of a health reform bill that is at least in question right now. On what do you base your optimism?
MR. GIBBS: We're one vote away from getting health care reform. We think it's good policy. And, Wendell, we -- I hazard to guess what your question would be if we didn't take into account any of that in what our budget was. The President has said we should be realistic about what our assumptions are, but also assume -- if we're going to propose something, I don't think it makes much sense to not assume that it should be in the budget.
Again, some of that got us into this mess, right? We had troops in Iraq. We had troops in Afghanistan. But we weren't paying for that on budget. I mean, that's certainly one way to look at how you do a budget -- is to have our brave men and women fighting half a world away, but pretend that we're not paying for it by not putting it in the budget. The President made certain policy assumptions and added those into the budget.
Q On another budget matter, Republicans have criticized the stimulus bill as containing too much government spending, not enough tax cuts and specifically tax cuts for small businesses, which you seem to be erasing now in this second jobs proposal. Were they right all along?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, there's -- I can get a list of the specific taxes that we cut. Understand this, when we cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans in this country, a whole host of --
Q But they said cutting taxes for small businesses would create more jobs faster, and that's what you're proposing now.
MR. GIBBS: How about we do this: How about if I agree that cutting taxes on small businesses has the opportunity to create an environment to create jobs? If they agree with me, I got an idea. Let's have those two ideas meet in the House and the Senate. The President has put forward a plan to cut taxes on small businesses for a tax credit for additional hiring.
What better message to send to the American people than both parties getting that to the President's desk so that small business in this country can start hiring and getting a tax credit? What better way to show them than, as the President will do tomorrow, let's take $30 billion that the big banks have paid back through TARP, and give that money to community banks to lend a small business? That would be another great idea. Let's reward small business by increasing our infrastructure spending, laying a new foundation for an economy for the future, building the highways and bridges and railways of tomorrow. That should have bipartisan support.
All three of those things, Wendell, we ought to be able to do pretty quickly with bipartisan support because we're all on the same page. We just solved half our problems, Wendell, and that was great.
Q Tomorrow Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen are up on the Hill testifying. What does the President hope comes out of the hearing? And will we be hearing from the President on the subject between now and then -- or tomorrow sometime?
MR. GIBBS: Look, if the President gets asked a question, I don't anticipate a statement other than what he said in the State of the Union. Scott, we'll have more on this later in the day on what we anticipate will be in their testimony. But I think you'll hear a frank discussion about the President's proposal to overturn this, and the support that it has to do so. I don't want to get ahead of where their testimony is and the different aspects of what's involved.
Q May I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: I'll come back. Hold on.
Q As you know, on Sunday is Super Bowl. A year ago on Sunday the President had a bipartisan Super Bowl party here, too, sort of a kickoff to the year. It didn't go so well. What did he learn from things that he can do now -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: I thought it was going to be a Super Bowl question. (Laughter.) That seems patently unfair to --
Q What does he think that he can do differently to engage with Republicans this year? Substantively, after the Friday's thing --
MR. GIBBS: Not invite Steelers fans, not invite -- no, I'm kidding. (Laughter.)
Look, I think -- look, I think that the President certainly was under no illusion that having members of both parties here to watch a football game was somehow going to wipe away years of rhetoric and mistrust.
I think instead of -- and I'm sure there will be Republicans and Democrats that will come to the White House this year to watch the Super Bowl, but I think activities like the President did on Friday, exchanging ideas -- you heard him talk about the desire to sit down and work together on these issues. I just mentioned a series of issues around the economy.
Our problems are big and only by addressing them together are we going to be able to move forward. I think the President wants to hear Republican ideas on how to get the economy moving and how to stimulate job creation. I think there's -- I think there has to be a series of give and take, there have to be a series of meetings, but I also think we have to understand, as I said earlier, if one side, either Democrat or Republican, is looking for a hundred percent of all of its ideas to carry the day on either side, that's not necessarily ever going to work.
If -- again, if you've -- to take Wendell's tax example, the recovery plan had about $300 billion in tax relief -- $70 billion for wiping out the alternative minimum tax, which if somebody would have posed two years ago that I can envision in the future Republicans opposing doing away with the alternative minimum tax, I think people would have thought you were crazy. But we may not get a hundred percent agreement on every idea, but we certainly ought to be able to agree on most of what needs to be done and at least look for ideas and legislation that can move the process forward. Again, even if you don't get all of what you want, you can get enough of what you want and enough of what your constituents need on something like jobs to make a big difference.
Q For this to continue will Republicans have to vote for at least some of his proposals?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think they're going to be his proposals, they're going to be our proposals. They're going to be -- look, Jeff, if people have a concept for a tax credit for creating jobs, we're certainly -- as you heard the President say on Friday, he's ready, willing and able to look at it. But I don't think the President is ready, though, Jeff, that if you don't agree with everything that he does that you have to agree with everything that they do in order for that to garner some series of bipartisanship. If that's the test I think that's not a healthy standard to try and meet.
Q Was there one thing on Friday that he was really struck by that he said that he would embrace, or intrigued by?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think specifically when Congressman Ryan mentioned a line-item -- I haven’t met many Presidents, but I daresay I doubt there are many that would miss the opportunity to use that.
Q Robert, just two -- just two questions.
MR. GIBBS: I like how he always goes like this.
Q Just two. That's all. There have been news reports that the President's nominee for EEOC commissioner, Chai Feldblum, and the ACLU support the acceptance of polygamy. Does the President believe our armed forces should begin recruiting polygamists?
Q Say yes. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to look at the information in the news reports you cite, but I don't have anything on that.
Q All right. Last June, Newsweek's editor, Evan Thomas, on MSNBC, said the President is "sort of God." Last week on MSNBC, Chris Matthews said the President is "post-racial. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour." What is the President's reaction to these two MSNBC revelations?
MR. GIBBS: Smartly, the President does not occupy his time watching cable television.
Q Oooh! (Laughter.)
Q Robert, do you think it made it more difficult for Sheikh Mohammed to get a fair trial with the comments you made yesterday and the fact that he would be -- why not?
MR. GIBBS: No, because I daresay, Ann, we wouldn't go to trial and indict him if we didn’t feel like we had a case that would lead to a conviction. And I think -- I don't have any problem saying that I think that conviction would lead to the death sentence.
Q And he would be in a civilian trial, with the same kind of protections other defendants would get, including innocent until proven guilty?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q And do you believe that the President still is insisting on civilian trials, even though a growing number on Capitol Hill are saying they would stop the money for those civilian trials?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President believes, particularly if you look at the southern district of New York, you've got experienced prosecutors at bringing these cases, experienced judges at hearing these cases.
We've all seen cases that have gone through that system and ended in the conviction of those that committed terrorism. And I go back to two of the bigger examples over the past many years: Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a plane over the Atlantic, in an operation masterminded and financed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was brought to justice in a courtroom in Boston; Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, was brought to justice in a courtroom about 10 miles from where I stand and you sit, heralded by the former mayor of New York's reverence for our justice system, after having testified in that trial.
I do see now that you have some members of Congress rethinking their, what appears to be, more than eight years support of that type of justice in the short term and what I think is a continuation of the type of games that people in this country are tired of.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two brief questions. First, the President was widely praised for the tone that he had with the Republicans, of conciliation and conviviality. On the other hand, one of his --
MR. GIBBS: Bill, look it up for me. (Laughter.)
Q -- major supporters, Andy Stern, of the SEIU, has used some very strong language about Republicans, of one who opposed health care reform, at one point liking them to terrorists. Is that the kind of talk the President associates with or repudiates?
MR. GIBBS: I have said this many times in this room about different policy debates. Nobody should be compared to people that -- to the people that have sought to do the world harm through terrorism. Nobody should be compared to Nazis. I think in the heat of these debates people tend to get overexcited on both sides of the political spectrum, in both parties, and I think that those types of comments on either side make no sense.
Let me take a couple more since I know these guys are -- yes, and then I'll come back here.
Q Robert, in his speech last week, the President mentioned immigration passing, but didn't go into detail. That obviously disappointed some immigrant rights advocates who were hoping he'd throw his weight behind a comprehensive bill that would include legalization. So my question is, if this is such a priority for him this year, why not go stake out a specific position and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President's position on immigration reform and what he supports is enormously clear. He campaigned on it. He worked on legislation that I think is quite similar to what would come up this year in the House or the Senate with people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham in 2005 and 2006 in the Senate. Like climate change, there are bipartisan efforts that are ongoing to bring legislation like this to the fore and to create bipartisan majorities to get it passed. The President hosted a meeting here not too long ago to keep that process going, and we look forward to taking part in it.
Q So I understand you don't want to get ahead of the testimony of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, but on "don't ask, don't tell," does the President envision a dual track for repeal where there's some alteration of the regulations within the Pentagon going on at the same time that they're pushing for congressional repeal?
MR. GIBBS: Give me a few hours -- (laughter) -- and I think --
Q Are you going to get back to me personally?
MR. GIBBS: I will. I think you'll see efforts on a number of fronts over the course of the next many months that will be outlined by Secretary Gates, outlined by Admiral Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs, to address what the President promised -- again, dating back to his Senate campaign in 2003 and 2004 -- to seek the overturning of "don't ask, don't tell" a number of different ways.
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December 17, 2014
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