The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/13/2010
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:38 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q The meeting today with the Democratic leadership, was there any agreement reached on specific agenda items that will be accomplished before the August recess?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that they spent a decent amount of time talking about the -- I would say the next three agenda items that we think over the course of the next several -- the next two weeks will be -- we’d like to see both taken up and passed. Obviously the first is financial reform or Wall Street reform, which, if you look at the statements from Senator Brown, Senator Snowe, and Senator Nelson of Nebraska all in support of the bill, I think it is likely that that legislation will be taken up by the end of the week and passed.
Secondly, there was a discussion about passing an extension of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed. And then finally, a discussion about the small business lending facility and loan program that the President believes -- and you saw the comments from Chairman Bernanke yesterday about the need to get -- continue to get increased capital to small business and why that is so important in our economic recovery.
Q So does that mean that other priorities, such as an energy bill, wait until after recess, possibly a lame-duck session?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I mean, this was the focus of what they discussed for the next couple weeks.
Q On the drilling moratorium, can you just explain why you think this new moratorium, which doesn’t deviate that much from the old moratorium, will pass legal muster, since the old one did not?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this took into account what the judge had said. It took into -- it takes into account the varying circumstances of and the different types of technologies that are used for different blowout preventers in different depths of water in the Gulf. This was based on, again, their review of what the judge said and what we believe will survive a federal judge looking at it again.
Q Now that the President has named a new budget director -- the mid-session budget review is due out next week with some updated deficit figures -- will that in any way reflect an improvement in the near-term budget picture?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten the download on that. I think it’s coming in the next, as you said, I don’t know if it’s next week or the next two weeks. I have not seen the updated figures on that.
Q And given that the President’s debt commission has said that the -- looking at a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to tackle the deficit, will the President be ruling out any increased taxes for anyone earning less than $250,000?
MR. GIBBS: Matt, we’re going to let the commission do their work and take a look at their work.
Q How focused is the administration on the pending referendum in southern Sudan and making sure that that happens?
MR. GIBBS: I can get some guidance from you -- for you from the NSC on some of the specifics on that.
Q There are a lot of human rights activists who are concerned that Sudan has pretty much just fallen off the radar of President Obama. They’re very worried about a pending --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get you some guidance on that. I don’t have anything with me.
Q In terms of -- we have a new poll out, ABC News, and it shows some pretty bad numbers, about 51 percent -- bad numbers for the President, 51 percent would rather have the Republicans run Congress to act as a check on Obama’s policies. Why do you think a majority of the country would want the other party to take over to be a check on Obama’s policies?
MR. GIBBS: You, I assume, polled a fair number of respondents on that that can weigh in on what their --
Q I know what they think, but why -- are you not concerned that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s not what you asked. (Laughter.)
Q Are you concerned and why do you think there is this reaction to have a Republican Congress serve as a check on the President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say if you look at certain numbers in there, you ask them -- ask voters, particularly on the economy, who do you trust more to make the right decisions, and the answer is they trust more Democrats than they do Republicans.
So, Jake, I think I’ve said this over the past couple days as we’ve gotten into more of this political discussion, I think there is, rightly so, a great frustration in this country with where we are economically, and understanding the depths of the numbers of jobs that were lost, the length of this recession, what it has meant for people on Main Street, what it has meant for -- what we’ve talked about in this, the types of unemployment range much differently than would in a normal recession. You see this affecting not just lower-skilled workers, but higher-skilled, college-educated workers in a way that we haven’t seen in previous recessions.
Again, I think there is a very big frustration out there about where we are in the economy. The President is one of those that’s frustrated, and we’ll continue to work on where we are in this recovery to strengthen it.
I will say a couple different things. Obviously the President is going to go to Michigan on Thursday and talk about investments that have been made in the Recovery Act that are creating jobs through entirely new industries that we’ve brought to this country. We’re going to continue to work, as I talked about a minute ago, on ensuring that we have an extension of unemployment insurance to deal with the long-term unemployed; increased lending to small business.
All this stuff is going to take some time because it took us quite a bit of time to get into the economic situation that we’re in today.
Q Do you think that’s the only reason, is the economic reason?
MR. GIBBS: Looking at your poll, I think almost all of -- judging from what I read from the poll, I think that most of this frustration is from the economy, yes. That was my reading.
Q If I can follow on that, Robert, why then is the same poll saying that six in 10 Americans have little or no faith in the President to make the right decisions? That doesn’t seem to have anything to do with maybe the economy or even Republicans. It’s about him --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, actually Republicans they think less of. So it probably -- that number doesn’t probably have a lot to do with Republicans. I think -- Ed, I think, again, I think -- have my chart here. Let me go through my -- I think it’s that. That’s what I think it is.
Q Okay, but the President has been in office for 18 months; you’re going back to --
MR. GIBBS: I’m going back to December of 2007. So I’m going back more than -- almost a year more than the President was -- well, more than a year before the President was inaugurated. But, again, as we’ve talked about this, adding up the depth of this line, this line and this line doesn’t equal the depth of this line, right? This represents 8.5 million jobs lost. I think there is a --
Q So you’re not worried that the President is losing particularly -- Americans and independent voters particularly that he won in 2008 -- you’re not worried they’re losing faith in this President?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they are frustrated at the pace of our economic recovery. The President is frustrated at that pace. I do think -- we’ve talked about this -- I do think in an election we’ll have a choice. I do think one of the things that the poll probably doesn’t measure -- and I don’t think was intended to measure -- was necessarily forcing the choice between what got us here and what is getting us out. But I think that’s exactly what -- exactly the type of choice that we’ll have come November.
Q Is there at least a frustration here that some of the -- the President now has accomplished several things that he said he wanted to do, from the stimulus, health care, now the Wall Street reform bill that you mentioned a moment ago, but it seems like the American people are not really giving him credit. How do you turn that around between now and November?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, I think, one, we’ve got to keep working and pushing on improving the economy. Again, if you look at -- this is two, more than two years -- this is two years into the recession, and you’re finally seeing a bottoming out of the job situation, which means the economy is beginning to hire. As you can see -- these recessions don’t last the length of time -- this one lasted a pretty good while, but it’s not nearly as deep.
So, again, I think there is a -- again, I think there is a frustration with the economy, which is understandable. That’s why the President undertook many decisions that he did. Again, some not polling popular, some not -- some may not pay dividends in one or two months, but if you go to the Recovery Act, right, for $100 billion in investments, it leveraged an additional $250 billion in investments.
So when we go to Holland, Michigan, and break ground on the ninth of nine advanced-battery plants that will construct the electric batteries that we need to power the Chevy Volt that Chevy will produce 50,000 a year of, the question that you’re going to have to ask yourselves, are we going to import that battery? Or is that battery going to say, “Made in America”?
And before the Recovery Act, 2 percent -- we basically were in charge of 2 percent of the global capacity and the manufacturing of the type of batteries that you’re going need for the cars of tomorrow. As a result of the investment in the Recovery Act, by 2014, in just five years, we’ll increase that capacity by 20 -- 20 times. It pushes down the cost of those batteries.
Again, is that all going to make things perfectly -- is that going to fix things overnight? No, it’s not. But we didn’t get here overnight. That slope for that curve took a long time to get to. The President is making the investments necessary to create a long-term economic future for this country that’s more hopeful.
Q Would the President like to see a House vote on extending the Bush tax cuts before the November elections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we talked a little bit about this yesterday. I don’t know the timing -- going, walking through the schedule that folks here in Legislative Affairs has walked through, I don’t see that that’s -- I don’t see the timing that’s likely to make that happen before the House, which is here fewer weeks than the Senate is, and the Senate has got a lot on its plate with START and Kagan. I don’t think that’s going to happen certainly before August, the timing of which of that will probably have to be worked out with leadership in the House and Senate.
Q And also on timing, does the new OMB director need to be in place before the August recess?
MR. GIBBS: The selection of Jack Lew is obviously, from the President’s perspective, an important appointment. We are still processing his paperwork. That nomination is not likely to go up prior to the August recess.
We will work through -- Peter’s last day is the end of this month, and we will work through an acting director while Jack goes through the confirmation.
Q Thank you, Robert. With all these competing polls out today and all of them showing mostly bad news for the White House and for the President, did you hear the President have any reaction to them? He doesn’t pay any attention to them at all?
MR. GIBBS: He didn’t mention them to me.
Q In the CBS poll in particular -- I picked that one at random -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: Weird how Jake picked ABC. So I don’t know how that works.
Q We just flipped a coin.
MR. GIBBS: We’ll come to Chuck next and see if he can dislodge --
Q We’ll let them have their --
MR. GIBBS: -- that two weeks ago poll and --
Q Chuck’s using our poll today. They just call it the Washington Post poll. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Ah, interesting.
Q -- from two weeks ago. But anyway, you got news today, the polling numbers.
Q Obviously your timing’s a little off. (Laughter.)
Q Where’s Lester when you need him? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That was good.
Q One in particular, that -- “How have Barack Obama’s economic programs affected you personally?” Thirteen percent say they’ve helped. Obviously that’s a lot lower than you all believe, given what the President talks about at town meetings with the tax cuts and everything else. What would you say is the percentage of Americans who have been helped by the President’s economic policies, and why is it so much lower in the polls?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s take an example here -- well, 95 percent of working Americans got a tax cut.
Q So why does only 13 percent say that?
MR. GIBBS: Because my hunch is that even as the federal government cut taxes, they may live in a state or locality that changed their tax policy as a result of the economic downturn. I mean, I don’t -- I think that’s certainly one way of looking at it.
But, again, Chip, it’s -- I think the President said this a few months ago, if you call up somebody who has lost their job, or you call up somebody whose neighbor has lost their job, or whose brother or sister has lost their job, and ask them how the economy is going, or how they view the President, they’re likely to be negative. That’s quite rational and understandable.
Again, I think there is a frustration about the economic downturn, the causes of that economic downturn that the President has tried to address from the very first moments that he walked into this office. It will --
Q But it is frustration with him, too, isn’t it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this, Chip. It’s much more of a frustration that we don’t spend a lot of time worried about the political frustration of 13 percent. They do spend a lot of time in the economic team and at the President’s level worrying about creating jobs for the people that want to work. We have five job applicants for every open job. That is -- and, look, this is being done -- if you look at how we got out of some of these past recessions from ‘01 and ‘03, we had easy credit with credit cards. You had housing loans that were much more readily available and has gotten us into some of this mess.
So we’re trying to create a new foundation for economic recovery and economic growth along the lines of advanced batteries that gets America competing in the industries of tomorrow, again, so that we can -- so that when you open up the hood of your Chevy Volt, the battery says, “Made in America,” not made somewhere else. And those are the kinds of policies that the President is pursuing.
You have one more?
Q Well, just on -- you mentioned the amount of time they spend worrying about the economy and working on the economy. Fifty-two percent said that the President has spent too little time on the economy.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think -- I think, again --
Q Is there more he can be doing?
MR. GIBBS: I will say, Chip, there’s -- he has done an awful lot. And we have spent a lot of time and a lot of votes on Capitol Hill getting a recovery plan in place, reforming Wall Street. We’re going to continue working on that, but, again, I think -- my sense is that, again, the political numbers change when the numbers of unemployed Americans decreases. And that’s what the President is focused on each day.
Q When all these numbers come out at the same time, and they’re all bad, does it hurt morale at the White House? I mean, is it the chatter back there? Or does it not affect people?
MR. GIBBS: You know, in all honesty, Chip, I can -- there isn’t a website in the world that doesn’t have a new poll every day. And if you spent a lot of time sitting around worrying about polls rather than worrying about the people that you’re trying to help, I’m sure you’d get discouraged. But we’re way too busy to sit around looking at polls.
Q On the Gulf, quickly, does he have plans for going?
MR. GIBBS: The President -- I don’t have a date to announce. The President will -- obviously the First Lady was in Panama City yesterday. The Vice President will go, I believe -- I think it’s next week -- I will double-check on this. The First Lady also will return I think a second time. And I expect the President will go in the not-too-distant future.
Obviously -- I don’t know if you all watched or heard Thad Allen’s briefing -- obviously the sealing cap is on. The Helix Producer is being ramped up, pressurized as part of the greater containment. Obviously Thad Allen discussed the pressure test for the well and getting a sense and judging the intensity of the wellbore through pressurization, right? And by that we will know the integrity of what’s underneath the surface, and that will give us the next -- the protocols for the next steps in terms of killing the well.
When I -- right before I came out here, we had not begun the pressurization tests, but we expect that that will probably happen sometime today. I think Admiral Allen said that that would take about a six-hour time period. And what that will tell us is a lot, again, about the integrity of the well and the steps that can be taken next in terms of using the blowout preventer that we have to kill the well, what the next steps are in terms of its assistance -- the sealing cap’s assistance on the relief well’s containment.
And as we ramp up all of this containment, it’s our belief that we have a containment system now that would approach, on the high end, 80,000 barrels of oil a day that can be contained. There are -- there’s a lot of boats that are moving into the area and will be moved into the area. The cap itself is a stronger cap that can withstand what we know -- was predicted and we certainly know has come to fruition, and that is a much more active tropical storm and hurricane season in the Gulf.
Q Finally, you mentioned the First Lady in Panama City yesterday. And she said come on down, basically, encouraged people to vacation there. Does that mean the First Family is considering vacationing there, perhaps, instead of some of the other plans that have been talked about?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think their vacation plans have changed, no.
Q Why not? Why not vacation down there if they’re encouraging other people to do so?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the key is, for the First Lady and for everybody that travels there -- I have friends that emailed me also from Panama City that they had been down just this past week and not seen oil -- not dealt with oil on the beach. And I think sometimes the pictures have led people to believe that oil may be where they were planning on vacationing. And I think the First Lady’s message and the message of a lot of people has been that the Gulf is -- having vacationed there myself, is a beautiful place and it’s open for business.
Q You just mentioned in passing part of the Wall Street mess and some of the instruments that were put into place. Jack Lew was the chief financial officer of something called Citigroup Alternative Investments, which ended up losing hundreds of billions of dollars by the time he left in 2008. Did the President ask him about what he did when he was at Citigroup --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chuck, obviously -- Jack has been through a vetting process before --
Q But this is a different job.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, this is a different job. And let’s -- I mean, understand, Jack’s experience I think is relevant to the Office of Management and Budget. This is the only budget director that’s produced three balanced budgets in the history of the Office of Management and Budget. When Jack walked out of the Office of Management and Budget in 2000, there was a $237 billion surplus. I think that’s the type of experience that the President was looking for.
Q I understand that. Did he ask him about this and what was these instrument -- just to -- sort of the way you would --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that. I don’t know.
Q What was the job interview process on this? When did the President first approach Jack Lew about taking this job?
MR. GIBBS: I believe -- I can double-check. I think the timing of this was I think he spoke to Jack about this -- sat down with Jack last week. Obviously Jack is somebody that’s been involved in a number of -- based on his position at the State Department, Jack is involved in all of their Afghanistan review. He’s the person in charge at the State Department of ensuring that as we increase our military resources that we also increase our civilian capacity to match our military capacity in order to ensure that, as we clear areas, the type of governance is available for -- the type of governance that we need is available to not just clear an area militarily, but hold it from a government perspective.
Q Is his time relevant at Citigroup -- what he did there? Is that relevant in your mind?
MR. GIBBS: I know this has been discussed and I think his --
Q Do you think it will be relevant for the confirmation hearings?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure it was last time and I think those questions have been dealt with.
Q Going to this meeting with the Senate Democratic leadership, was there a schedule for, say, getting energy legislation -- I mean, how much detail did you guys get into in, say, the legislative calendar between now and November?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the focus was largely on the next couple of weeks, the three items that I mentioned. Obviously I think energy is on the docket for the Senate to consider --
Q Did it come up?
MR. GIBBS: A little bit, but, again, the focus on the next couple weeks -- and energy is something obviously that will come up before the Senate leaves, as will a number of things like Kagan and other things.
Q Are you going to -- the Republican Senate leadership coming over here, or is there a next round of this bipartisan --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know when the next bipartisan meeting -- monthly bipartisan meeting will be. I can check the schedule and see if there’s anything.
Q Just to follow up real quickly on what Chuck was saying, did the President -- I mean, did Jack Lew’s tenure at Citi come up during the vetting? And --
MR. GIBBS: He was vetted in 2008 as part of the transition team’s work for the State Department.
Q Right, but that was before the President and Paul Volcker declared that the kinds of activities that he was involved with -- hedge fund investing, private equity investing -- were fundamentally dangerous and could lead to the next crisis if they were not regulated and reined back.
MR. GIBBS: I think we were -- I think people ere having those discussions, as I recall, in 2008 as well.
Q About the Volcker Rule?
MR. GIBBS: No, about hedge funds.
Q Okay. On Elena Kagan, was Ms. Kagan, when she was Solicitor General, involved in any of the discussions about the constitutionality of the health care plan, and would she, in your view, have to recuse herself if some of those cases actually came to the Supreme Court?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, as she testified in front of the Judiciary Committee, she would intend to recuse herself in cases in which she played a substantial role in the government’s handling of a case. I think we are in receipt of a letter from Senate Republicans about this, that the team and Ms. Kagan will answer. And I have not seen the letter, but I would point you to her testimony.
Q But have you -- has anyone here said whether that -- whether she was involved in a substantial role?
MR. GIBBS: I think we will likely address that in a letter.
Q Robert, is there any disappointment here that the Judiciary Committee has delayed a vote on Elena Kagan for a week?
MR. GIBBS: No, Mark, as I think you know, the committee can use a one-week -- can ask for a one-week extension in the consideration of a nominee. I think this happened with Sonia Sotomayor. I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary. And we expect when the committee next week takes this up that she’ll clear the committee and be well on her way to confirmation in the full Senate.
Q Robert, is the President allowing himself increased hope that we may be very close to the end of the oil spill if the pressure tests work out all right?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, this is -- I think we’re in day 85 of this disaster. Obviously I think the sealing cap and the containment capacity that is soon to come online likely represents the best news that we’ve had in those -- in the preceding 85 days.
The pressurization tests will allow us to determine what the best next steps are. Secretary Chu and a host of other scientists that have been involved in this from the very beginning are in Houston now, going through a series of tests before anything is conducted at the well. Obviously seismic tests were done this morning in preparation for these pressurization tests.
So I would say we’re hopeful, but understanding that this has been a process, as I said, that has taken 85 days. And we are soon to be at a containment capacity that I think will allow people to feel that there isn’t oil actively leaking into the Gulf, and that will be a big moment.
The next step will be -- and, again, these tests will be important in determining those next steps -- is the decisions to attempt a kill using this blowout preventer or using this blowout preventer simply to assist the relief well drilling, containment and capping procedures.
And then, Mark, we’ve got a long, long way to go in cleaning up what’s in the water and restoring the health and the beauty of the Gulf to what it was not just 85 or 86 days ago, but the way it should be. And that’s going to take months to develop that plan and years to fix.
So I think we are approaching what we hope is the next phase in the Gulf, understanding that that phase -- that next phase is likely to take many years.
Q Did the President personally talk to Senators Nelson, Collins or Snowe and ask them to vote for regulatory reform?
MR. GIBBS: I can check his call list. I mean, obviously he has on a number of occasions -- well, let me check his call list and see which personally. I know that staff here have spent an awful lot of time with senators walking through it. And Secretary Geithner and others on the economic team have spent time walking through what’s in this Wall Street reform and why it will make a big difference in the lives of consumers and in preventing this from happening again.
Q And tomorrow the Chamber of Commerce is holding a summit on job creation, and the Chamber’s president is planning on sending a letter to the President, where he’s going to say that more regulation will hurt business. Do you have any reaction to that? The idea --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that -- look, I think the American people fundamentally believe that we need new rules of the road in terms of financial reform, that we need to -- if there’s a company like BP that’s drilling in the Gulf, we need to make sure that there’s a structure in place that ensures that what happened 85 days ago in the Gulf doesn’t happen.
We’re always happy to look and have been reviewing regulations dating back to the transition that people don’t find meeting the test of common sense. At the same time, we have to ensure the health and safety of hundreds of millions of Americans, and we will do so.
Q You’ve indicated the polls that suggest an erosion in public confidence in the President’s decision-making are mainly the result of the economy. But I wonder if there’s an element of partisanship in that as well? I’ll point to Darrell Issa’s using his position on the Oversight Committee to generate a report that accuses the administration of misrepresenting efforts in the Gulf, of him launching an audit basically of some of the TARP spending. Is this having more than an irritating effect on the President’s ability to govern? Is it getting in the way?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, no. You can ask Jake or Chip if that showed up in their polling. I don’t -- I’m not aware of it.
Q On another matter, Politico has an article that suggests the common thread in the big legislation the President has either managed to sign or is anticipating signing -- the health reform bill, possibly energy, financial regulation -- benefits low-cost upfront, higher cost things and things that are politically less popular taking effect later on in the legislation. Is this a conscious effort --
MR. GIBBS: Well, hold on, let’s -- I hate to oversimplify your question, but financial reform is fully paid for upfront. I’m not entirely sure what in financial reform puts off the benefits of some of that for later.
Q Some of the provisions that affect banks, capital requirements --
MR. GIBBS: Obviously you’re phasing in some of these requirements --
MR. GIBBS: -- as I think is normal to do. I guess I’m --
Q I’m wondering if that’s, in effect, to insulate the President and Democrats from criticism by putting these -- the medicine further down the road?
MR. GIBBS: I guess I’m having a hard time following your question here. Wendell, obviously, whether it’s health care, whether it’s financial reform, there is a phase-in period to the types of reforms that the President and others have instituted.
Look, when Congress added a prescription drug benefit, it took some time to phase in. I think that’s all been fairly normal.
Q Was Jack Lew re-vetted for this position?
MR. GIBBS: In the sense of how?
Q Well, either politically or was there -- is there a vetting process when someone moves --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there’s a series of paperwork that has to be filled out and that will go up with the nomination. But I think we had -- we’ve done this for Jack before.
Q Well, I guess I’m wondering are there different considerations when you think about vetting someone for this job versus the job he was doing before?
MR. GIBBS: The truth is there’s a fairly standard vet for most positions that doesn’t change a whole lot from job to job.
Q And what is the timing of when you want him to be? You said not before August, but what is the exact timing --
MR. GIBBS: My sense is that the nomination is not going to be completed prior to the August recess and will be done formally sometime by the Senate in the fall when they return from break. But, obviously, Peter is here until the end of July. There will be an acting director named at some point --
Q Who is that going to be?
MR. GIBBS: -- I don’t have that name now -- before Jack is confirmed by the Senate in the fall.
Q So when do you want him to be in the job by?
MR. GIBBS: Well, sometime in the fall.
Q So sometime in the fall?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And was there any concern about taking him out of State? Obviously he had an important role with the -- on a couple --
MR. GIBBS: Sure, yes, I mean, look, obviously the work that he’s done -- as I mentioned in -- the civilian capability in Afghanistan at the beginning of this term and throughout the review process or the policy process last fall and last winter, you have seen a big change in the amount of resources we have.
Jack is a testament to -- along with the people that he works with -- moving a lot of those good people into Afghanistan.
So, look, there are always concerns when you’re moving that -- moving people around. But the President believed that we head into a very important time period in implementing the President’s plans both for a three-year non-security spending freeze, and then as we begin to take steps in the medium and long term to get our fiscal house in order, that that was important.
Q Who are the draft choices?
MR. GIBBS: Pardon me?
Q Who are the draft choices?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that. (Laughter.) But nice try.
Q Do you regret saying that you think Democrats might lose the House? Do you think --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I said that there were enough seats in play, and I think that’s true.
Q And do you think that that helps --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, Ann. Can I just -- I also said I thought that the election was going to be about choices. I think those choices are more -- those choices are clearer every day. I mentioned these on the show. I think Joe Barton’s values of apologizing to BP, rather than the people that live in the Gulf; John Boehner equating the financial calamity to the size of an ant; Jon Kyl yesterday -- or Sunday, discussing that if you were unemployed because of what happened in this economy, you can’t get unemployment -- you can’t get the unemployment benefits -- your unemployment benefits extended unless they’re paid for. But if you’re a recipient of the Bush tax cuts above $250,000, that doesn’t need to be paid for. I think those are all the value judgments that voters are going to make in making that choice come the fall.
I think we will retain the House. I was asked if there were enough seats in play, and I think there are.
Q How can it be that the President goes out every week and speaks in Holland, Michigan, or Kansas City, talking about the things where he thinks that things are going right in the economy and there are jobs being created, and in one month time, his job approval rating for handling the economy in the ABC News poll dropped seven points in one month? Why is that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think --
Q Mainly because of Democrats.
MR. GIBBS: Right, I think if you look at -- again, I think if you go back to the late spring, early summer, April-May and you look at what’s happened in the -- what’s happened with the stock market recently and how that has been affected and impacted or caused by concern about what is going on in Greece and Spain and in different parts of Europe, I don’t think there’s any doubt that that has created some degree of uncertainty that has played into voters’ concerns and people’s concerns about the stability of our recovery.
Q Is there a reevaluation of whether that approach of giving a speech every week is having any positive impact at all? Whether it might be worth taking a different tack?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is -- I mean, let me tell you if a speech --
Q But a weekly speech, one would hope, would have some positive --
MR. GIBBS: -- if you could do a speech every day and fill that hole, Ari, then we’d do that. It’s just -- you got to understand --
Q Well, why just one a week? I mean, are the speeches helping at all?
MR. GIBBS: They keep you guys busy. I mean, you guys are our jobs program. No, look, again, I think it is important to understand -- look, the President talked about this in the very beginning of this administration, is telling the American people the choices that we’re making and the decisions that we’re making as we go through this economic recovery.
I think what happened in September of 2008 -- I’m not sure everybody was ready for the type of financial calamity and collapse that we saw. And the President believes it’s important to have a regular conversation with the American people about what we’re doing on the economy and the types of things that he’s seeing. That’s certainly part of his job.
Q Robert, a question on the three-year non-security discretionary spending freeze that the President called for again today. How much confidence do you all have that lawmakers will follow through on a three-year spending freeze when they’re having trouble just getting a long-term budget passed this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’ll get a sense of where that is in -- as we go through appropriations bills. And I think the President is -- discussed this at the last bipartisan meeting that we had in the Cabinet Room, and there was agreement in making the types of budgetary decisions that we were on that three-year freeze. So I think that we will get an opportunity, the President will evaluate the spending bills that come based on what he set out and asked Congress to do.
Peter. Margaret. One of you.
Q Thank you. There’s a very curious story about the Iranian scientist turning up in the interest section of the Pakistani embassy. Is there any light that you would be willing to shed on the back story, on whether the U.S. will get anything or anyone, including the hikers? And does the U.S. have any comment --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Margaret, let me just say -- let me take that first part. Let me just say, as the Secretary of State I think said an hour or so ago, this is an individual that was here on his own free will and he’s leaving on his own free will. He’s here and he’s free to go. We don’t hold him and therefore he’s not part of any exchange. I think it is important to note that, as the Secretary said, Iran continues to hold three hikers and we believe they should be released. There is an individual who has been missing in Iran for quite some time and we ask for Iranian cooperation in finding out about his whereabouts. But --
Q Are those completely disconnected events?
MR. GIBBS: They are, yes.
Q And do you have any concern for his safety upon his return? Do you have any ability to monitor his safety? Does the U.S. have an interest in his safety, or do you have no concern --
MR. GIBBS: I could check with NSC on that. Look, I think that -- again, he came here on his own free will and he’s free to go, and he’s exercised that. In fact, I think he was scheduled, as the Secretary of State said, to travel yesterday and there were transit agreements that were not completed in time.
Q Do you know yet or are you able to release any more information about the circumstances by which he came here on his own free will and the timing of his coming and going?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, is it odd that energy did not come up in this meeting today? And is it time for the President, given the lateness of the hour, to say something about what he would be willing to accept, perhaps not including a tax on carbon -- a price on carbon?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, look, Richard, I think, as I said, this is an issue that’s going to come up before the Senate prior to the Senate’s leaving in August, and I expect that the President will be active in that debate.
Q It’s a worldwide financial question -- you alluded to it before. The Prime Minister of Great Britain is coming next week. How concerned is this White House about the fact that if the unemployment benefits are not extended, it could be a contributing factor possibly to a double-dip recession and affect the world economy?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think this President will press and my belief is that the Senate will take up and I think we will pass next week an extension of unemployment insurance.
Q Why do you think that?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think the votes will be there to do so and I think there will be a vote by those that recognize the important impact that unemployment insurance and those extended benefits has on the long-term unemployed. And I think it will go to the political season that we’ve talked about and we’ll get a sense of where people sit on the spectrum of helping the long-term unemployed.
Q When is the next vote? When did they tell you -- when did the leadership --
MR. GIBBS: My sense is it will be sometime next week.
Q Next week?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, do you think your comments over the weekend helped invigorate a Democratic Party that’s not as enthusiastic as it once was?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I stated the obvious, April. I think that the Democratic Party will be invigorated by the choice and the discussion that will be had over the course of the next several months. I don’t think we have anything to be dispirited about. I don’t think we have -- I think we can take a robust case to the American people about the steps that we’ve taken to help this economy recover, to lay that foundation for economic growth in the long term, and I think we can have a debate about how we got into this mess -- the eight years that got us the type of -- and produced the type of financial calamity that we dealt with. I think that is a debate that will energize the whole of the Democratic Party.
Q How much strategy was involved in stating the obvious to invigorate the party?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to lift the curtain quite that much. (Laughter.)
Q Also, on the situation in New Orleans, police brutality after Katrina -- could you talk to me about this administration’s efforts to deal with that situation?
MR. GIBBS: April, I prefer to direct you to the Department of Justice on Attorney General Holder’s trip there today and on the indictments that were made.
Q Does the President consider it an urgent national priority that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed get a trial, whether by military commission or a federal court?
MR. GIBBS: That is -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being brought to justice is most assuredly in our national security interest.
Q What’s he doing to make that come to pass? Things are obviously at a political standstill. How is he working to do that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I mean, obviously the decision has to be made in conjunction with, as I’ve said many times, local authorities and Congress. And we’re working through many of those issues.
Q What is he personally doing to push this to the fore and make it a priority?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there have been discussions with him and there have been discussions with staff here and those on Capitol Hill and elsewhere to move this forward.
Q Does he consider it an injustice that it’s been so long and the person that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s been years. I mean, it’s been --
Q Correct. Does he consider that an injustice?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be brought to justice. That is something that everybody can be assured of.
Q We’re hearing from the Hill that part of today’s meeting, the focus was on messaging. And I’m curious what the President was suggesting to lawmakers about how to get on message. And is there a concern that there’s a lack of I guess cohesiveness for Democrats --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the issues that I’ve mentioned over the next couple weeks are going to focus on the steps that we’re continuing to take to ensure that this economic recovery continues; that whether it’s small business lending, unemployment, or financial reform, all of that is -- I think is an important -- are important -- will be important accomplishments for the American people and something that you’ll hear the President talk a lot about in the next couple of weeks.
Q Is he frustrated? I mean, does he feel like there’s a lack of cohesiveness on getting out the message that the Republicans are just -- are rooting for economic failure? Is there a way to simplify or coordinate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think if you -- I mean, look, I think over the course of the next -- whether it is small business lending, whether it’s unemployment, or whether it is financial reform, I think the message is going to be fairly clear, and I think you’re going to get to decide whether there are new rules in the road for the way banks and Wall Street works or you’re not.
You’re going to get to decide whether you’re for helping the long-term unemployed or you’re not. You’re going to get to decide whether you -- we think there should be increased lending for job creation and small business or not. And I think that is -- those are votes that will be important, and a conversation that will be important as we move into the fall.
Q Let me just ask one more way. There was a component today where the President said, this is what our message is going to be -- is that accurate?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think we -- the President discussed and the Senate -- members of the Senate discussed their priorities for the next couple weeks and how to get them passed.
Q Thanks, Robert. A couple of things. As has been widely reported, some Democrats are unhappy that the President teed up immigration so close to Election Day. Any reaction from the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President reacted to -- and the Department of Justice filed suit based on the actions of the Arizona law that is set to go into effect in the next couple of weeks pending that judicial hearing. So this is an issue that the federal government has failed to deal with over the course of many years, despite great opportunities to do so and great debates to get it done as recently as 2007.
So this is -- look, the Justice Department lawsuit was based on timing not of anybody else’s making except the legal calendar derived from what happened in Arizona.
The President understands the frustration of Arizonans and others throughout the country and the federal government not dealing with its immigration problems. And the President and the Justice Department made a decision.
Q But before Justice filed that suit, the President gave a speech on July 1 about legislation, comprehensive legislation.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q And so there was unhappiness that he’s pushing for legislation so close --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, if you’re going to file suit -- if the Justice Department is going to file suit saying that 50 states -- we do not believe the right approach is 50 states creating a patchwork of immigration laws throughout the country, the only way to solve that is through comprehensive reform.
That’s what the President talked about. That’s what the President is working on.
Q Is he going to do anything further to advance that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re having conversations all the time. But, Kirk, this is not about whether or not the President wants to get something done on immigration. As we’ve said before, this is largely dependent upon whether those in Congress -- particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, and particularly those on the Republican side of the aisle that have been for immigration reform before -- are willing to stand up and be counted about this again.
Q Thank you.
Q Any reaction to Mr. Steinbrenner’s death?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously, as somebody who is a baseball fan, there is a -- Mr. Steinbrenner had a unique and storied career in baseball. Any owner that wins seven World Series titles, that speaks for itself. I think you hear in many of the tributes today that his -- maybe his greater lasting impact will be the organizations that he worked with and the charities that he worked with over the course of a long and storied career that had a real impact on the lives of people all over this country in addition to the championships he brought home to New York on the baseball diamond.
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