Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/12/10
* The President will depart the White House to Camp David mid-afternoon on Sunday.
** On Thursday in Denver, Colorado, the President will deliver remarks at a fundraiser to benefit Senator Bennet. He will then travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he will attend a DNC fundraiser on Thursday night.
12:58 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Let’s do a couple -- one announcement and the week ahead before we get started.
President Obama called former President Nelson Mandela this morning to congratulate him on the 20th anniversary of his release from prison. President Obama expressed the American people’s great admiration for President Mandela, who was very appreciative of the call.
Next, let’s do a quick week ahead. On Sunday -- I don’t have anything for tomorrow. On Sunday the President will travel to Camp David. He will return to the White House on Monday.
Q Do you have times for that, roughly?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t, but we will -- let me get that* -- are you pool duty? (Laughter.)
Q Just curious.
Q Are they doing anything for Valentine’s Day?
MR. GIBBS: I will inquire. I will assume that will be up there at Camp David.
On Tuesday the President will visit and tour a jobs training center in the capital region. On Wednesday the President will meet with King Juan Carlos of Spain at the White House. On Thursday the President, as we talked about yesterday, will meet with the Dalai Lama here. He will then travel to Denver, Colorado, where he will deliver remarks at an event for Senator Bennet, and then travel to Las Vegas, Nevada. On Friday the President will hold events with Senator Reid in Las Vegas, to include discussion with citizens and business leaders about working together to address the economic challenges facing Nevada and the rest of America. The President will return that afternoon to Washington, D.C. And I will find out your pool time for Sunday.
Q Robert, are those Reid events fundraisers?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that --
Q Campaign events?
MR. GIBBS: I do not believe any of those are fundraisers, but let me double check on that.**
Q And no events on Monday?
MR. GIBBS: No. No, he’s got nothing on Monday.
Q Signing the debt limit?
MR. GIBBS: It could be this weekend, but I don’t have a day yet.
Q It will not be today?
MR. GIBBS: No. Ben.
Q Thanks, Robert. I wanted to ask a little bit about the way things are unfolding on the jobs bill in the Senate. Does the President support what’s happened here with Senator Reid trapping this bipartisan bill and offering up a pared-back Democratic one? What’s his stance on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand, Ben, a couple of different things. One, I don’t think there will be only one piece of legislation that will encompass all of the ideas that members in the Senate or even the President have for strengthening our economy and creating a better environment for hiring. I think that will probably take many forms. We’ve never thought that it was going to go through in one package.
Senator Reid’s legislation, I wouldn’t characterize it as a Democratic-only plan, since the hiring tax credit is, as you know, the Schumer-Hatch -- legislation designed by Senator Schumer and Senator Hatch -- it has small business expensing, a reauthorization of the highway bill, and an extension of Build America bonds.
Again, I think this is just one of many vehicles that will likely go through the Senate during this process. I think there are a number of ideas that will garner bipartisan support that aren’t in the initial piece of legislation that Senator Reid will move: unemployment insurance extensions, COBRA health care extensions for the unemployed, an extension of the SBA lending program. I think there are a host of things that can and will garner bipartisan support, both in the vehicle that Senator Reid is moving when the Senate gets back and will move throughout this process.
Q Does the White House support the vehicle as it stands right now?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the jobs tax credit is very akin to what the President had in mind, and I think infrastructure investment is something he’s talked about, the expensing provisions, all of which the President would be eager to sign.
Q And what about this, the way this happened yesterday -- there was a statement released by you about the President’s support of a bipartisan Senate bill, and then by day’s end, it wasn’t a bipartisan bill. Were you surprised?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben -- let’s be clear, I think that the legislation that Senator Reid will move when the Senate comes back into town will garner bipartisan support. I think there are things that Democrats and Republicans alike agree on need to be in the mix, some of which we just went over, that will also garner bipartisan support. I don’t think there’s -- again, I don’t think there will just be one vehicle that moves, and I don’t think there was only one chance at getting bipartisanship. I think there are a series of ideas that all of us agree need to be put forward to stabilize our economy.
Q Just to finish that thought, though, understanding this might garner bipartisan support, the way this happened yesterday, did the White House see it coming? Did you know that --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the degree to which Senator Reid, who I see in media reports made his decision before he went to caucus, I don’t know the degree to which he talked to us about that.
Q Speaking of bipartisanship, are you encouraged by what appears to be growing signs of bipartisanship on financial regulation in Congress? Are you encouraged, one, that that might mean a bill could be finished by this summer? And two, do you have any sense -- or is the White House willing to compromise at all on what appears to be the biggest sticking point of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there are, Jeff, strong signals on a number of fronts that working together has its advantages, whether it’s on financial regulatory reform, which obviously the President believes is a big priority this year.
Look, one of the big points that was discussed in the bipartisan meeting on Tuesday was with Senator McConnell about moving nominees that -- I recounted this story a couple of times yesterday -- with 63 being held for more than a month, 10 times the number that had been held for more than a month at this point in President Bush’s administration. And the Senate passed nearly 30 by unanimous consent last night.
So I think whether it’s financial regulatory reform, whether it’s provisions to help small businesses, whether it’s moving qualified nominees forward, I think we can see certainly this week the benefits of working together.
In terms of the consumer office, I think it -- the President still believes it is a great priority to have the independent authority to ensure that consumers in this reform are protected -- protected from the type of loans that we’ve seen happen that have led to massive foreclosure; the type of tricks with credit cards that we had seen in the past that legislation that Congress approved and the President signed is intended to deal with.
So the President continues to be a very strong supporter of that function of the reform bill that we sent to Congress.
Q And does that agency have to be a separate entity? Is that something he would be willing to compromise on to get this through?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t know what the nature of the different proposals are. Obviously this is something that would need to have independent authority and I think that is what is important for -- and that’s what consumers want -- important for their protection.
Q But does that indicate, Robert, that maybe there’s some wiggle room as long as independent authority is preserved if it’s not --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, we will -- I think what the President would greatly resist is the notion that somehow this is -- the protection of consumers is unattainable in financial reform.
Q That’s not the question, though.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand, but what I’m saying is without knowing what exact vehicle might come in a bipartisan proposal from the Senate, obviously we would look at this assuming that strong consumer protections and authority was in that legislation. But I don’t want to get ahead of -- I don’t want to get ahead of what that proposal might look like -- what might look like.
Q Last month I asked you if the President had an opinion on some of the discussions in changing the Senate rules so that the Republicans or the minority, whomever in the future, wouldn’t be able to demand the cloture be invoked, 60 votes, as often; you said you’d check with Leg Affairs. My understanding is that one of the President’s close allies in the Senate, Dick Durbin, is throwing his support behind the bill that Tom Harkin brought up that would introduce a sliding scale so the 60-vote thing wouldn’t be required as often. Have you guys discussed it with Senator Durbin? Do you have a position on this?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check again on whether Senator Durbin -- whether we’ve had conversation with Senator Durbin.
Look, I know there’s been great frustration on either side of -- either on this side or on Capitol Hill about the sheer amount of times in which cloture has needed to be invoked.
We’ve certainly discussed the frustrations of -- particularly as it relates to non-controversial legislation or non-controversial nominees. We went through the -- and you heard the President discuss a GSA director that had been stalled for nine months, had to seek cloture, cloture wasn’t a close vote, and then she was approved 96-0. I think at that point you realize that this is the -- this is a rule that is being abused.
I will check with -- whether any conversations have been had with Senator Durbin about Senator Harkin’s legislation.
Q Okay. And then just to follow up on Ben’s question about the bipartisan jobs bill that Schumer, Hatch, Grassley and Baucus have been working on. The reason that was given, it’s my understanding, by Majority Leader Reid, for scrapping that effort, much to the dismay of the senators who have been working on it, is that there were protests from some of the more liberal or progressive members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. Isn’t this kind of bipartisan move that those four senators, bipartisan senators, had been working on exactly what the President has been talking about, and isn’t Harry Reid’s move to scrap it, regardless of what comes out of the Senate eventually, isn’t that contrary to what the President has been talking about?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, I think what -- again --
Q You guys put your support behind the bipartisan effort.
MR. GIBBS: And we certainly support working in a bipartisan way to get these things done. Whether the vehicle goes -- Jake, whether the vehicle is the four items that Senator Reid has now, whether that includes unemployment and COBRA extensions now, whether that includes extension for SBA lending, whether it includes tax extenders, whether it includes disaster relief, those are discussions that they’ll have.
Again, I believe that -- I believe that many of these -- many of these will be implemented and voted on and approved with strong bipartisan majorities.
Q Right, but you guys obviously had lent your support to the bipartisan effort. These four senators have been working hard on this bipartisan effort. And then Senator Reid, because of apparent concerns from liberal Democrats, scrapped it. That had to have been disappointing to the President and antithetical to his calls for bipartisanship.
MR. GIBBS: Well, what I’m saying is, I don’t -- I do not think that -- I do not think that taking -- first of all, the main part of the piece of legislation that Senator Reid will have the Senate vote on is the Schumer-Hatch jobs tax credit.
So I think there -- what legislative vehicle many of these bipartisan ideas -- whatever -- it moves on, I think, is in some ways not quite as important as demonstrating that we can work together. Putting as the centerpiece of a bill that’s going to move when the Senate comes back from recess a bipartisan jobs tax credit I think sends the appropriate message to small businesses around the country that Washington can work together to create an environment that incentivizes the additional hiring of workers at small businesses. I think that’s what the President has talked about.
Q But to paraphrase the President, bipartisanship can’t just be adopting one person’s set of ideas. And I understand Hatch and Schumer were working on the tax credit together, but that was something that was the President’s proposal. It was a Democratic idea ultimately. I mean, if the President --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know that -- well --
Q The hiring tax credit. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I think the hiring tax credit was -- is a proposal that the President offered -- I’m not sure you would consider Senator Hatch to be somehow overly sympathetic to the White House’s view on these issues. I think it demonstrates --
Q But it’s part of a larger package. That’s my point.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but a messier -- my messier way of saying I think if you look at both what’s in this legislation and I think if you look at what isn’t in this legislation but will ultimately move, I can’t imagine a scenario in which extending unemployment benefits for those that have been out of work and having those benefits expire isn’t going to garner bipartisan support. Extending health care --
Q It just looks like a jobs version of -- when the President was asked about, the other day when he was here, and he was asked about Mitch McConnell talking about how they could support -- Republicans could support nuclear energy or clean coal technology, and the President’s response was --
MR. GIBBS: What you assume --
Q -- the President’s response was, well, of course, they like -- I’m paraphrasing -- but of course they like that, those were Republican ideas that we’re offering, in the name of bipartisanship. So what’s going on here is the reverse -- Harry Reid taking out the one Democratic idea.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Do you think helping small businesses grow by allowing them to write off part of their expenditures is just something that’s a Democratic idea? Do you think extending the highway trust fund extension is somehow a uniquely Democratic idea? I think if you were to break the four components of that bill out individually, each of those would garner strong bipartisan support.
So I -- look, I think we are in some ways over-reading some of this because, again, I think -- personally believe that the four components of this bill, several components that were in the bipartisan bill but aren’t in the Reid bill, will still be bipartisan. I think -- I don’t think any of the ideas that I’ve listed here today are uniquely Democratic ideas that have dispensed with Republican ideas in their stead.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back around.
Q Robert, could you set us straight on the President’s role in deciding where the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously the decision was made appropriately in conjunction with an interagency process by the Attorney General. But obviously there are efforts on Capitol Hill through legislation to restrict either the type of or the venue of a trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators. That, by definition, involves the White House and ultimately the President.
So since this effort has moved from strictly a Justice Department decision to something that’s in the legislative arena, the White House and by definition the President are involved.
Q But it’s being depicted as if he is actually the person who is saying this is where it will be.
MR. GIBBS: He’s not in the Map Room with a big map picking a location. Obviously the President and members of -- White House staff have an equity in this, given what’s going on, on Capitol Hill legislatively.
Q Following up on that, though -- I’ll let you read your note first if you would like.
Q Is it a Valentine’s Day note? (Laughter.) Does it have Snoopy on it? (Laughter.)
Q -- passing notes --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will -- I was wrong earlier. If you want to let folks know, just got word that the debt limit PAYGO will be signed later today.
Q Behind closed doors?
MR. GIBBS: Not on my note. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q Following up on the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed question, on Sunday, when Katie Couric asked the President, have you ruled out trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, he said, "I have not ruled it out." Wasn’t he saying there that, by saying "I have not ruled it out," that he is essentially the decision-maker on this?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he’s part of -- I mean, obviously he’s the Commander-in-Chief. Obviously he said that he had not ruled it out; that we would take into account the security and logistical concerns that had been brought forth by New York City. And those will be, as he said, taken into account before a final decision is made.
Q And the final decision, as he strongly implied here, will be by him?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think -- I think he will have strong equities in this decision and will hear from a lot of different people.
Q When do you think the decision will come down?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I know that -- I know there were -- it was brought up in a meeting that I was in earlier today, but it was not a decision-making meeting.
Q And then you said he’ll be hearing from a lot of people, then the input is coming to him for him to make a decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think -- I think he will hear from a lot of people; he will be involved in a larger process.
Q So he’s much more deeply involved personally now that he was in the original decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- again, because of -- because Congress has become involved in this, because legislation could restrict the venue and the type of trial, the White House is more involved, yes.
Q Does the President think that there was kind of a political tin ear here to make the decision to try him in New York in the first place, since it looks like it’s heading in a different direction now?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, Chip, I’ll remind you that some of the people that -- some of the people that you hear now that are opposed to the trial in New York were in November supportive of the trial. Again, we’re going to take into account security and logistical concerns that those -- that those individuals now have. The cost of the trial obviously is one thing, and all of that will be taken into account.
Q If I could just follow up on Ben and Jake’s line of questioning here. I think your answer is basically that, in the end, most of the stuff will be taken up and hopefully on a bipartisan basis. But isn’t bipartisanship also about tone? And by doing what Harry Reid did yesterday -- here you had four members working together -- I mean, people were looking around going, what’s wrong here? We’ve got four people working together on a bipartisan basis -- and then we realized what was wrong here -- Harry Reid was about to slap them in the face, or as Chuck Grassley said, pull the rug out from under this effort again. It’s tone --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I just --
Q -- he destroyed the tone of bipartisanship.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think that’s over -- an over-reading of the situation. Again, the centerpiece of -- the centerpiece for job creation in the bipartisan legislation was the Schumer-Hatch small business hiring tax cut. That’s the --
Q Right. And now Hatch is furious, and so is --
MR. GIBBS: -- that’s now the hallmark of legislation that will move in the Senate.
Look, here’s what I think is most important, is, are we going to -- are we going to get these individual items and items that aren’t in this legislation passed to benefit the American people, and are we going to get them passed in a bipartisan way? I think the answer to both of those questions is yet.
Q So all that matters in the end is whether they pass with bipartisan votes, not whether people are actually working together in a concerted effort.
MR. GIBBS: No, because I think -- I think you’re going to have bipartisan votes because they’re working together on ideas that appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.
The President’s example -- the President’s example that he used that Jake brought up the other day was when you just have idea that appeals to one party on this side or just an idea that appeals to the party on the other side. Tax cuts to encourage equipment investment is not a partisan idea. Reauthorizing and extending the highway bill for a year always gets strong bipartisan support. Build America bonds will have bipartisan support. The hiring tax credit, written by a Democratic senator and a Republican senator by definition will have bipartisan support. What’s not in that bill, extending tax cuts, will likely have bipartisan support, including something like the research and development tax credit, which is extended year after year.
Extending unemployment compensation and health care for the unemployed will garner bipartisan support because it’s not a partisan idea. Extending a lending program --
Q Does the White House support the hardball partisan tactic of --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- I think you’re greatly over-reading and greatly over-simplifying what’s going on here.
Q The Republicans don’t -- they think it was a hardball political tactic.
MR. GIBBS: I just don’t see it.
Q Attorney General Holder’s comments to The Washington Post -- "At the end of the day, wherever this case is tried, in whatever forum, what we have to ensure is that it’s done as transparently as possible and in adherence to the rules" -- is that a softening of the administration’s position about holding the KSM trial in Article III courts?
MR. GIBBS: No, because the question that was posed to him asks if fair trials can be held in military commissions. And I can get you a transcript of --
Q We should not read it as a new openness to military commissions for KSM?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, understanding this, that military commissions had traditionally been something that had faced, through the Supreme Court, constitutional problems until this administration, working on a bipartisan basis with Capitol Hill, reformed that process.
Q Do you feel like, or does the administration feel, that military commissions are inferior to Article III courts?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think, again, I think the way that things have -- I think the reform efforts that had been brought about ensure the type of protections that would withstand constitutional and Supreme Court scrutiny.
Q Is the administration considering a military commission for KSM?
MR. GIBBS: I would just go back to what I said earlier in the sense that there are a series of things that are being looked at, most appropriately the security and logistical concerns of those in New York, as a decision is being made.
Q And very quickly, would the President be involved, as he is with the location of any civilian court trial, be involved in the consideration of whether it should be moved to a military commission or would that interfere with the Justice Department’s independence?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think I’ve discussed why the President is involved and how he’ll take part in that.
Q So just following right up on that, you said -- she asked if there were -- it’s been asked if there would be -- if military commissions were something you were considering and your response was, there are a series of things being looked at. So I would read that to mean that, yes, that is one of the things; is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: I would just say this. Without illuminating all of the factors that are involved, first and foremost there are, as I’ve said before, security concerns, logistical concerns, about where you would hold the trial in New York, what that would mean for the downtown area, that have to be taken into account. But as you heard the President say last week, he’s not ruled out the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would still be tried in a federal court in New York.
So I think that’s -- first and foremost, that’s what the President is focused on.
Q But he hasn’t ruled out the other option though?
MR. GIBBS: Focused on the decision at hand.
Q On the issue of recess appointments, when you talk about this issue you talk about people who haven’t had a chance to even come up for a vote because they’re being held by one senator over this, that, or the other. Does the President view it as an option to use recess appointments for somebody like Craig Becker, who did in fact have a majority but not the supermajority needed? And did -- obviously his nomination did come up a vote.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there are -- the President has nominated qualified, very qualified individuals for the positions that he’s nominated them for. We hope and believe that after the discussion that the President had with Senator McConnell on Tuesday, it’s clear that the Senate heard that conversation and acted.
But you heard -- you saw the President in a statement last night -- he’s not going to foreclose that if what continues to stall -- if the stalling tactics continue, he’s not ruling out using recess appointments for anybody that he’s nominated.
The best way to avoid that? The best way to avoid that is for the Senate to work through this process.
Q So in the case of Becker, would you view that as a stalling technique to --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So it is a possibility that you would -- he might be --
MR. GIBBS: Anybody that the President has nominated that hasn’t been approved is somebody that the President would consider --
Q What if he only got 49 votes? Would he consider it in that case?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to go through a whole host of different scenarios.
Q Does the President believe that’s what the founders had in mind with the recess appointment provision -- to give him the authority to circumvent a Senate action or inaction on nominees, when the Senate --
MR. GIBBS: I have not spoken constitutionally with the President about his theory on it. I think the practical measure is -- again, understand that while the -- what the Senate did last night, in moving a series of nominees that the President thought were qualitatively and quantitatively different than what had been held at that point in the Bush administration, is still that way, right? There are 63 that had been pending for a month. They dealt with about half of them, right? So instead of a 10-1 ratio with the Bush administration, we have a 5-1 ratio. I don’t think the President believes that’s an acceptable number either.
The best way to deal with this, though, is by having the Senate work through the process of voting up or down on these nominees.
Q Do you remember whether then-Senator Obama objected when Senator Reid kept the chamber in session during the last two years of the Bush administration so that he could not make any recess appointment?
MR. GIBBS: If you may have that --
Q I was asking if you recall.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t recall. I don’t recall.
Q All right. One other question. I wondered what you thought of a CBS News/New York Times poll finding last night --
MR. GIBBS: CBS News. Never really heard of it. (Laughter.)
Q -- that showed that only 12 percent of those surveyed believed they got a tax cut over the last year.
MR. GIBBS: I’d say they called the wrong people. No, I -- (laughter) -- yes, I know -- (laughter) -- no, look, I think what -- look, I think what happened, and one of the things that I think will go through this bipartisan jobs process is state and local aid, right? Understand, if you look at last month’s jobs report, the number of state and local government jobs lost was 41,000 out of that monthly jobs report, because I think in many cases -- and you see now, too, the importance of something like state and local aid, because as bad as state budgets were last year, they’re actually worse this year.
So I think even as -- even as people may or may not have felt what they got from the federal government, they may have gotten something different from their state and local government in order to make up for a collective budget shortfall among the 50 states in something that exceeded $125 billion.
So, look, I think that -- look, is it part of the frustration? Of course. Ninety-five percent of working people in this country saw their taxes cut last year.
Q What percent?
MR. GIBBS: Ninety-five. But only, apparently, 12 percent felt it.
Q Robert, back to the terror suspects. I want to make sure I’m clear here. What exactly needs to happen before we get a decision? Is the President, for example, is he awaiting some specific recommendations from Holder, given all the --
MR. GIBBS: No, they’re in the process of going -- they’re in the process of working through the many issues, some of which had been brought up by those in New York about the concerns of a trial there.
Q But is there -- you also have to wait for Congress to act on whether to restrict the funding also, too.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think the President’s decision is -- I don’t think the timeline for a presidential decision is held up by the timing of whether the Senate or the House act on -- individually on legislation.
Q Is he awaiting any particular recommendations from Mr. Holder?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the process of what’s going on, just to say that that process is ongoing.
Q Would he favor a military commission trial short of being ordered to do so by Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think Savannah largely asked that, and, again, this is a process that’s ongoing.
Q Just follow?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, what kind of message are we sending to the countries like India who are dealing in a tougher way with the terrorists, and also helping the United States on a global war against terrorism, as far as this trial and being soft on the terrorists and here, what they feel back home?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, I don’t -- I didn’t get the last part of that, Goyal.
Q Many countries feel that U.S. should be tougher than those countries that -- who are with the United States as far as dealing with the terrorists.
MR. GIBBS: Look, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- I forget the exact date that he was brought into custody, it’s been a long time. One way or the other, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be brought to justice by these decisions. I don’t think you can be any tougher than that. This President has, without going into great detail, taken the fight internationally to terror suspects. We will -- we are going to seek -- we will seek justice -- justice delayed, by the way -- on behalf of thousands that were killed on September 11th because of the hateful acts of somebody like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Q And one on the economy, please? Follow on the economy?
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back to Major.
Q On the Senate jobs bill, setting aside the political question for a second, does the White House believe it’s large enough to have a legitimate economic effect to create jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Major, I don’t think that -- I don’t think what has the umbrella of a jobs bill is going to be the only components that the House and the Senate deal with in creating jobs. Right? I think extending unemployment benefits is something that is important for those that don’t have work in sustaining their effort to help find work. That’s not in what the Senate will deal with at the end of this recess, but is a component of a series of measures that the President outlined either at the Brookings speech that he gave, at the State of the Union, or that’s in his budget.
So again, I don’t look at what --
Q -- not in there, either.
MR. GIBBS: Right. But I don’t look at what -- and the administration doesn’t look at what is going to happen at the end of February when the Senate considers these four provisions to be the end of that consideration of measures dealing with economic stability.
Q Would the administration therefore continue to prioritize whatever other follow-on legislation comes from the Senate and the House on jobs over any other issues, specifically health care?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Look, I think the President has --
Q By definition is to elongate the process of dealing with jobs legislation -- having it in smaller bills.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look -- well, look, the legislative process will work through itself. But, look, obviously some things you’re going to have on because for unemployment benefits or for COBRA you meet deadlines for expiring benefits that these individuals that are unemployed need.
I think we’re pleased with the pacing of this. This was something that, if you go from the State of the Union to what the Senate will consider, understanding that the House has already passed a fairly --
Q Much larger.
MR. GIBBS: -- big package, so you’ve got half that process done.
Q I want to give you a chance to address something that was in the Washington Post editorial -- or op-ed section today by former Attorney General Mukasey. Let me just read it to you and get your chance for response: "Contrary to what the White House homeland security advisor and the attorney general had suggested, if not said outright, not only was there no authority or policy in place under the Bush administration requiring that all those detained in the United States be treated as criminal defendants, but relevant authority was and is the opposite."
MR. GIBBS: Read the last part again.
Q Picking up where? "But relevant" -- "There is no authority or policy in place under the Bush administration requiring that all those detained in the United States be treated as criminal defendants," which Mukasey suggests your administration has said was the Bush administration policy. He goes on to write, "But relevant authority was and is the opposite."
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think that --
Q Do you disagree with his --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that either Judge Mukasey or Attorney General Mukasey would argue that in the process of somebody being an enemy combatant that they wouldn’t, in fighting their detention, have access, based on his ruling, to counsel. Right?
Q Access to habeas petition.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Not all other rights. As he goes on to write -- I don’t want to go through the whole thing -- but he says, in the Hamdi case, and in relevant Padillas dealings, habeas petitions were created as a legal venue but not all the other rights --
MR. GIBBS: Well, but let’s also --
Q -- that he says you guys are accusing the Bush administration of granting in a blanket way.
MR. GIBBS: But let’s also deal with what Attorney General Mukasey and others in the Bush administration, they’ve suggested that we didn’t -- because military commissions weren’t set up, that somebody like a Richard Reid, Mirandized five minutes after he was taken off of an American Airlines flight, couldn’t have been held because we didn’t have military commissions.
Military commissions aren’t a venue for interrogation. Military commissions are a venue for adjudicating justice. Is Attorney General Mukasey saying in his op-ed that the United States of America, the minute that they walked a Mirandized Richard Reid off of an American flight in Boston, didn’t have law of war detention? It’s a principle that has -- it’s a principle that we’ve had for as long as this country has existed. So I don’t know if he presumed that law of war detention didn’t exist on that day.
Q On the KSM trial location, how concerned is the President or the White House legislative team about what appears to be a growing number of Senate Democrats signing on to legislation to block all funding entirely? And to what degree is the President telephoning members to try to persuade them to either hold off or change their mind?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I do not know of calls that the President has made. There may have been calls from the Counsel’s Office or from Legislative Affairs to discuss people’s opinion on legislation or on potential upcoming votes. Look, I’d just leave it --
Q This would assume a very important consideration of Congress in this entire debate, would it not?
MR. GIBBS: There’s no question about it. And I think it is an important aspect of this. It’s an important aspect of our broader efforts in dealing with terrorism, and it’s something that the administration is working through actively.
Q And the President would not be personally involved why, if it’s so important?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I just -- I do not -- I’m just saying I do not believe he has made phone calls -- you asked me specifically about phone calls to Democrats about the legislation. I will go back and look at the phone logs that are sent around, but I do not -- nothing pops into my head, but let me double check.
Q Robert, I want to try the jobs bill thing again. On Chip’s point of tone, Senator Reid changed course, and then effectively challenged Republicans to oppose the bill. That was a fairly significant change in tone, and Republicans feel that they are being set up politically here, to some degree. Can they trust the President and Democratic leadership in Congress when they talk about bipartisanship if this is the first kind of experience they’re having since the State of the Union and a lot of this bipartisan talk?
MR. GIBBS: Of course Republicans can trust the President. They were in a room not far from where we’re sitting discussing many of the elements that will be voted on at the end of February on a jobs bill.
Again, I think that -- again, I think you’ll see a strong bipartisan vote. I think you’ll see -- and I think you’ll see a strong bipartisan vote on aspects that aren’t in this legislation but are part of what Democrats and Republicans alike believe is important for stabilizing our economy.
Q Does the White House understand Republican frustration over this, though? It sounds to me like you’re saying, what’s the big deal?
MR. GIBBS: If you’re asking if we’re -- have we been frustrated about bipartisanship for the better part of the past more than a year? Yes. I mean, we’ve --
Q Specifically on this point, on this -- that the White House came out yesterday, endorsed the process that was taking place; that changes; Republicans are angry and confused. Do you understand that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I -- the President didn’t talk about bipartisanship on accident. The President has throughout his tenure as President been frustrated that we haven’t worked together more -- not just about what we’re doing economically now, but what we had to do economically a little more than a year ago when the times were even more dire; when we were facing job loss in the, as we’ve discussed in here, the 700,000 range each month; when we didn’t know if we’d wake up and the financial system that day would have collapsed.
Look, I can understand the frustration of Democrats and Republicans alike that regrettably the process of Washington has overwhelmed a series of ideas that the American people want to see work for them on behalf of the cares and concerns that they have -- absolutely.
Q Robert, just two questions?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe come back at the end.
MR. GIBBS: Like a cherry on top of the sundae. (Laughter.)
Q Going back to Mark’s question on the public perception of the tax cuts, does that reflect a marketing problem?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think it -- look, again, it’s hard to demonstrate to people that did get a tax cut at a federal level if they saw based on a budget shortfall in a state that may had to have raised taxes and fees.
Look, that’s why -- you know, look, I think that -- I think that the American people look at a number of different factors that go into understanding and speaking to the frustration that they have about this economy. Right? These things -- they don’t happen in silos. Right? What happens at a federal level and what happens at a state level are felt by both -- both of those are felt by individuals on the ground.
I think what it demonstrates is that whether there’s four aspects of a package that’s moving through the Senate, that there are going to have to be a series of things that happen in coordination with all levels of government in order to get this economy moving again. If the federal government adds money through recovery to stimulate demand while states are having to pull back greatly, you’re going to create a situation where that’s not going to ultimately be felt. That’s why one of the big aspects of the recovery plan that was originally passed by Congress was state and local fiscal relief through FMAP funding, which cushioned that blow.
Q You also structured the tax cut in a way that was supposed to maximize its economic impact by adding it in these little --
MR. GIBBS: Maybe that’s --
Q Did that sort of minimize the political impact?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, you know, would I have liked to hire somebody to knock on everyone’s door, you know, like the Publishers Clearing House guys and the big check in the balloons and the TV cameras? Sure, maybe that would have had a -- maybe it would have had a greater effect. I think what the economic team found in the structuring of that tax cut was that if I hand you $350, and you know you’re not likely to get handed $350 every week, you’re going to pocket and save that money, because you’re struggling economically.
You’re much more likely to put that into the economy in increased consumer spending and demand if you understand that it is going to be something that you feel maybe not all at once but a little bit over a series of time, in that you can increase your demand by that much. That’s the way the tax cut was structured. Obviously the marketers got kicked out of that meeting.
Q Robert, you guys have been very critical of Republicans on filibusters. So what message does the White House think it sends when on the jobs bill Senator Reid is practically forcing a filibuster by filing for cloture before there’s been even a minute of floor debate and precluding the chance for any amendments?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is not going to be the last bite of the apple that the Senate has. It’s not -- these are four very bipartisan ideas. One of them is named by -- the name involves a Democrat senator and a Republican senator, by definition a bipartisan idea. Four elements that individually will garner bipartisan support and as a whole will garner bipartisan support. Again, this is not the last time that the Senate is going to take up measures that involve economic stability.
Q But you guys aren’t bothered by the way he’s not allowing for any amendments or --
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, we’ll have plenty of time to go back and do -- we’re going to need to extend unemployment benefits. We’re going to need to extend small business lending. All of that will be part of this.
Q Robert, there are reports that China has asked the White House to cancel its meeting with the Dalai Lama. Do you know if that’s true?
MR. GIBBS: I know that obviously we discussed the fact that this meeting would happen on our trip to Beijing. Before I announced it we talked to them and said we’re going to announce this meeting. I do not know -- I do not know if their specific reaction was to cancel it. If that was their specific reaction, the meeting will take place as planned next Thursday.
Q Will the President discuss the shift to Tibetan independence with the Dalai Lama?
MR. GIBBS: You know, instead of -- we’ll have a readout of what they do talk about as a result of that meeting.
Q What is the official U.S. position on Tibetan independence?
MR. GIBBS: I will get that information to you after that meeting. Nice try, though.
Q Robert, I have a question for you on "don’t ask, don’t tell." Yesterday there was a report in Politico saying the White House hasn’t provided Congress with a clear path forward on this issue following the President’s State of the Union announcement. What kind of guidance is the President giving lawmakers as the Pentagon undertakes its review? And is the President expecting repeal legislation on his desk this year?
MR. GIBBS: The last part again?
Q Is the President expecting repeal legislation on his desk this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President outlined in the State of the Union, and you heard Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen discuss a process that will take place, if that process results in legislation by year’s end, the President would certainly sign it.
I think most importantly, the President, the military, and others feel like we have the best process structure moving forward to end "don’t ask, don’t tell."
Christy, on your thing, obviously the President will discuss with the Dalai Lama there his belief that he and the Chinese continue to discuss the issues that they have relating to Tibet, and I assume we’ll have a readout after that.
David, do you have anything?
Q I have a follow-up, actually.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q Will the President support a legislative moratorium on discharges under "don’t ask, don’t tell" at this time until the Pentagon completes its review?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to what the -- the testimony from Gates and Mullen in what that process will -- the process that will take place over the course of the next year.
Q On Tuesday at the news conference when the President talked about the jobs bill, back then he mentioned doing this incrementally. He used that word, "incrementally" --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.
Q At the news conference on Tuesday when the President talked about the jobs bill he mentioned doing it incrementally. So even back then, was he talking about either splitting it or doing it --
MR. GIBBS: Again, they’re ideas that were outlined -- they’re ideas that the President outlined, again, in his speech in December and in the State of the Union that -- ideas that the House didn’t pass, partly because their jobs package happened before his speech in December. There were different ideas that the Senate was considering, not all of which included the President’s ideas. We didn’t think then and we don’t think now that this is a one-shot deal. And I think that’s what’s most important to keep in mind.
Q Given what you call the frustration with the sheer amount of cloture votes, has the President, the administration and through Senator Reid, ever talked about calling the Republicans bluff, making them go to an actual filibuster, especially over one of these non-controversial nominees --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, it’s a process that takes an inordinate amount of time on something that shouldn’t be controversial.
I think instead of -- I think the best way to move forward is to go through each of the very qualified nominees that are held for no reason other than, in some cases last week, because somebody didn’t get a couple of earmarks, and instead do this in a way that takes qualified individuals that have been nominated and allows them to serve in government. I think that’s the -- that’s the most important way.
Q Robert, just two questions.
MR. GIBBS: All right.
Q Chicago Tribune reports that five days after Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Illinois in the primary, Cohen withdrew after reports of beating his wife, using a knife to threaten a girlfriend prostitute, tax evasion, and use of anabolic steroids. And my question: Did the President ever have any concern about former lieutenant governor nominee Cohen being supported by Mayor Daley?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know who made what endorsements during the primary. Obviously the President, and many staffers here, were concerned about exactly what you read and think the right decision was made to leave the ticket.
Q As the honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, what is the President’s reaction to the New York Post report that because the Scouts have a policy similar to our armed forces, "New York institutions are barring scouts from meeting or recruiting in all public schools"?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the New York Post report and can have somebody --
Q Well, does he think that it’s fair for them to cut the Scouts out of this? How does he support -- does he disagree with the Scouts or what? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Where are you on this, Lester? Are you -- is this --
Q Nowhere. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I do know where.
Q I support the Scouts. Do you support the Scouts?
MR. GIBBS: My son is -- we’re constructing the pinewood derby car as we speak. (Laughter.)
Q He’s a Scout, your son is a Scout?
MR. GIBBS: He is, and I think he’s going to be disappointed if his car doesn’t do well, but his father tends to be constructionally challenged.
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February 27, 2015
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