White House Press Briefing: March 30, 2009
Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/30/09
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 30, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Settle down. Settle down. I just wanted to say that.
Q Major had an idea -- we were all going to wait 10 minutes, give you the two-minute warning -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I do notice that class has started a little early today, and not everybody is in their seats. (Laughter.)
Q We trusted the two-minute warning. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: See? Yes. A little fiendish of me to actually abide by it today, wasn't it?
Well, I have no particular announcements, so take us away.
Q Robert, the President said in his remarks that he had no intention or no desire to run these auto companies. But the way this is moving along, hasn't the government and the administration effectively set itself up as a proto board of directors by all of the decisions it's going to make about how these companies do, in fact, proceed, or at least the veto power it has over these plans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the determinations that the President's Auto Task Force and that the President have made denotes the seriousness by which companies are asking for extraordinary assistance. And the President and the task force, understanding the request for that assistance, are going to take measures and steps to protect -- to protect the taxpayers, as well as seeking the best solution to put these companies back on firmer footing and on a path towards long-term viability.
I don't think in any way is the federal government running these companies or this industry. I think that's not fair. I think you've seen -- if you want to talk specifically about management changes, this is not the first entity receiving -- that's received extensive assistance that has seen a change in management or a composition structure of their board of directors.
Q Talk about forced -- forced change.
MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting real specific about what's happened in the past -- some of which we weren't here for -- I'm not entirely sure that some of the board and the CEOs of companies that we've talked about extensively in the past few weeks altogether might have gone willingly.
Q Just to follow-up, could you clarify on the warranty issue? Because the language is a little bit unclear in the document you put out. Does it apply -- the government backing of these warranties apply only to automobiles and vehicles made by Chrysler and GM? Or is there a buy-in of some sort -- other auto makers, including foreign makers with plants here?
MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check. Let me double-check the specifics of that. I will -- we'll get that -- for everybody to ensure that there's no confusion there.
Q Thanks. A follow-up on cars, a couple questions on cars, because -- and related to management as well. Does Wagoner's resignation -- is that a one-time thing or does that suggest a change in approach from the White House for companies that are getting bailout money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think if you go back and look at -- let me just say two things. One, I think as we -- as we look at all these individual circumstances, I would look at them exactly that way -- as individual. Secondly, as I said a moment ago, I think if you look back at -- and again, some of which this administration wasn't here for -- there have been management and board of directors changes in the past.
Q But you're tying this to the plan. You're tying this to aid.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but, again, I think -- and this was I think pretty clear yesterday -- that this was -- as we've said, this was something that the task force asked for. It's something that was agreed to. So I think this notion somehow of -- been said is a quid pro quo is incorrect.
Q A follow-up then specifically on GM. Why Fritz Henderson, why did he end up being the new CEO, when he actually designed the plan that's been rejected by the task force? Why --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously I think there is -- and I don't want to presuppose anything going forward because, again, to build on the original question, we're asking for a plan over the course of the next 60 days that we think meets the test of viability. We want to see -- the President strongly wants to see these companies do well, and the communities that these companies are rooted in recover and do well. We've had generations of -- generations of people working in some of these plans.
So in the interim, as the President said in his remarks, that this was a good way to start anew in this 60-day period -- and again, without getting too far forward as to what might happen beyond 60 days.
Q But I just don't understand how it's starting anew if you're choosing the CEO who submitted the plan that's being rejected.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think you've got some management changes, you've got some board of director changes, and I think you have, we believe, at least the beginnings of a new beginning.
Q With him.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Can you explain to Americans who heard the President today why there seems to be this disconnect -- a lot of tough talk and tough demands from the administration when it comes to the auto industry, but that doesn't seem to be carried on when dealing with Wall Street or the banking industry.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I -- initially I think the first thing I would say to anybody, including the American people, is, understand that we have taken and are prepared to take extraordinary steps to help the auto industry get back up on its feet, to put it on firmer ground, and to see it return to a stronger position; to support the companies, the workers and the communities they're in.
I think if you look at -- and I think this question was asked over the course of the last, sort of, 12 hours -- you know, the original agreements contemplated a March 31st deadline whereby you would either do -- you would either give additional assistance or call the loans.
So I think what the President and his task force are doing are taking a step forward to help these companies, at the same time expecting a term -- a plan for viability in the future. I would also say that the decisions that are made on any entity receiving assistance is done in a way that we think will help stabilize the economy, create jobs; in some cases, it's to protect jobs and create -- and to have a manufacturing base, like with GM and Chrysler. In others, it's to get lending moving again.
But I think that this administration is rightly matching and balancing the notion for responsibility; at the same time, understanding that we want to be a partner in ensuring a strong and viable auto industry as we move forward.
Q Just a -- you know, a brief follow-up. On Friday, you had a bunch of bank CEOs meeting with the President in the State Dining Room and then they came out and they talked and obviously it was a amicable but honest and frank meeting; at the same time Rick Wagoner was being told at the Treasury Department, you need to step down. Even if you don't support the premise of my question, there at least is an appearance, optics, of the administration being nice to one industry and tough with another one.
MR. GIBBS: Let me --
Q That's what it looks like. Whether or not you agree with it, that's what it looks like.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I guess let me answer -- ask -- answer your question with a bit of a question. Who represented at the meeting on Friday, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia?
Q Because they weren't there, is that right?
MR. GIBBS: Because those entities no longer exist. I think we've taken some tough measures and this includes -- on different administrations; I'm not -- we think that the decision that the task force and the President made today present the very best opportunity to move these companies forward, to create and protect these jobs, to ensure that America has a strong and viable auto industry in the future. And that's exactly what the President wants to see.
I think you heard him talk today about ensuring -- ensuring warranties, ensuring through additional staffing that people will be in auto communities and talking to workers about ensuring that they have the benefits that they need and that the communities that support these auto industries get what they need going forward. We've talked about in the past week or so, help for auto supplies who have also been part of the downturn that has seen jobs go away.
So I think all of the steps that the administration has taken are to put us on a path back toward viability.
Q Two quick questions. One, what happens to GM if there is no deal reached by the 60-day window?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- without getting too far ahead, I think what we're -- I think over the course of the next 60 days, in conjunction with the task force, and GM is going to discuss with all of its entities how best to move forward and how best to reevaluate and revamp the restructuring plan.
So I think what the President has asked GM to do today is to sit down and go back to that table, re-plan and come back again, and we'll certainly make a determination.
But I would underscore this: The President -- as I said a second ago, the President wants to see a viable, strong auto industry that supports the -- that's good for workers and is good for the communities that these workers live in.
Q And secondly, the President talked a bit about sacrifice today. He mentioned that 400,000 jobs have been cut from the industry in the past year. Michigan has been -- had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for several years now. How much sacrifice do you think that state needs to give in order to make these plans work?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- look, I spent some time last night on the phone with the Governor of Michigan. I think anybody that travels in the Midwest, we've done -- we've visited plants that -- some of which are not operational anymore -- over the course of the campaign. The President understands the tremendous pain that is going through these communities and that have seen the type of change that we've seen over the course of the last couple years in this industry as the recession has hit home.
The President today, though, set forward a plan that he believes will begin to turn this around, put these companies back on that firm path, and put us back in a position to be strong again. And I think -- look, the President understands the sacrifice. His charge to the task force and the decisions that he made were to ensure that the decision he made doesn't add to, but instead -- doesn't add to the pain, but instead puts us on a path towards a different place for the auto industry that has, in many ways, been an icon of our American economy.
Q Mr. Wagoner in his release said that he was asked to "step aside." Does he have another role with the company, or is he leaving the company?
MR. GIBBS: My understanding, he's leaving the company. I think he's also on the board of directors. But my understand that he's leaving the company.
Q Okay. Because I was wondering if the President had had -- you know, there was some consideration to his compensation package, so therefore keep him in some role and not have him leave the company.
MR. GIBBS: I think the best, honestly, to do is to check with GM on that.
Q Then on the issue of Fiat, what was it that the administration saw in this company -- that has not been able to do well here in the United States; has done well in turning around its company overseas but hasn't done anything here -- what was it that the administration saw that perhaps could give some indication that they could help Chrysler?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you've touched on it, and that is, we've seen their ability to restructure overseas and we believe there are, as the President outlined, strong commitments to ensuring that technologies that they've worked on and developed will be brought -- will be brought here, and that some of that technology can be utilized in the development and manufacture of more efficient cars, and to meet a demand in this market.
Q Going back to the bank CEOs, does the decision on Mr. Wagoner put them on notice that they could be asked, any one of them could be asked to step aside if the White House is not happy with their performance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it's imperative or important to ensure that we look at these things all individually. Look, I think that it is safe for anyone to assume -- and I don't mean just for CEOs, but, I mean, obviously we've got, there are, you know, 300 million taxpayers who any of us owe it to, to be responsible with their money. We're going to do what needs to be done to ensure and protect their money and to use whatever we use wisely to get our economy moving again -- whether it is assistance to a bank that we hope will turn around and lend that money to a family or small business, or whether that's in helping an icon like GM or Chrysler get back on its feet again and get back to the place that we all know it's capable of being.
Q Could you walk us through the President's decision? Did he simply accept in total all of the recommendations of the task force? Did he accept some, not accept others? And was this an agonizing decision in the end or was it an easy decision for him to make?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- in general I've heard the President say with some frequency over the past 68 or 69 or 70 days --
MR. GIBBS: Seventy days, thank you, Mark. (Laughter.) I knew I was grasping -- I was just waiting. You were supposed to cue a little earlier.
You know, I've heard him say frequently over the past 70 days that the decisions that land in his lap or the decisions that are put on his desk to make are the hard ones. Easy decisions never get to his desk or inside of his office.
I don't want to go through the whole tick-tock except, you know, the President has spent a lot of time in the last -- the last several days in extensive meetings here. He's been -- we've had many meetings as part of his economic briefings each day on the status of this and where this is going, because for, you know, quite some time, we've known that the 31st of March was out there.
And again, I think what -- the decision the President has made and the task force has made, we believe provide the greatest opportunity for GM and Chrysler. And that's -- that's the decision he made.
Q I want to follow a little bit about what Jake asked about with the CEOs and the difference between the auto industry and the banking and the financial industry. It's not just on the CEO front there's been -- there's time tables, lots more strings that are -- have been attached to everything that's happened to GM and Chrysler, including the March 31st deadline, the original deadline.
MR. GIBBS: Right --
Q The fact that they had a new viability plan -- AIG, did they have they had to submit a viability plan?
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q Do they have strings -- do they have a timing of when they're supposed to return money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, two things. One, as you well know, the original loan agreements are a function of either late November or early December.
Q But you never brought into -- I mean, they were working -- that was in the transition, it was clear that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we --
Q -- you guys were working with the outgoing administration.
MR. GIBBS: Well, please don't underestimate our ability to --
Q But at the time --
MR. GIBBS: -- change laws as the incoming White House staff --
Q But they ran it by you.
MR. GIBBS: -- so as not to get the -- draw the ire of, say, White House Counsel.
Q Did they not run it by you?
MR. GIBBS: Well, being apprised of something I think is far different than the full power of after one places their hand on a Bible at or around the 20th of January.
But again, I would also -- I don't want to be too foreshadowing or have my tone measured in any way, but I think the -- there are viability tests that are going on right now in the form of health assessments for banks that the Federal Reserve, in conjunction -- that the Federal Reserve is conducting to understand a worst-case economic scenario as it relates to financial institutions.
So, look, I think one of the things that has -- if there is one thing that has marked some change is that we are trying to get a full and complete assessment of what is out there. Since the activities of, sort of, mid-September of last year and where we find ourselves in the past 10 weeks is the desire -- and I've spoken about it a lot -- of the desire to ensure that we have a real sense of -- for these financial institutions -- what we're dealing with.
Q Why is it that there's the appearance that there's more strings for the auto industry than there has been for the financial industry --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think --
Q -- because --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- I think for -- I don't know the exact accounting, but we're I think talking about more than $20 billion for these two companies. That's no small amount of money.
Q No, but Citi and Bank of America and AIG are all --
MR. GIBBS: But again, Chuck, again as I said earlier, I would hesitate again to -- I hesitate to categorically look at these as a group rather than, in some ways, as individual cases. Let's take AIG, for instance.
The mechanism by which the Secretary -- the Secretary spoke about last week on Capitol Hill several times was the ability and the authority to render some conclusions for AIG to use some parts of it as good -- that are good and doing well, and some parts of it that aren't and breaking those up. But understand, even what we're talking about under that authority with AIG, or the authority of putting some entity in bankruptcy for the purposes of, as the President discussed, breaking apart and liquidating, is far different than what the President spoke about and is contemplating as part of this.
So, again, the path forward for each of these two auto companies isn't, in quite -- in all honesty, comparable because you've got different circumstances involved there. So I hesitate to draw these sort of easy and discernable --
Q And on the bankruptcy, you said -- you just referred to what the President said. It's fair to read this government warranty when the President stood up there, almost like an advertisement, and said, you know, we back all these cars; come on down to the garage and pay for this. Is this a precursor to the bankruptcy?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I think it is ensuring with our backing that no person that goes out today to buy a Jeep -- which I love to drive; I used to have a Jeep -- if somebody wants to go buy a Jeep, they should not hesitate to do so because that warranty will be ensured through that commitment. If somebody wants to go buy, as the President said, the Motor Trend car of the year, they can go do that.
Q And if Chrysler Financial files for bankruptcy tomorrow, or in 31 days, but then sells off all their cars, just sells them off, the government is backing up all these warranties?
MR. GIBBS: The government is ensuring that -- ensuring those warranties and giving people the peace of mind and the confidence to continue purchasing great American automobiles.
Q Under -- just who runs that? What does that --
MR. GIBBS: I believe out of Treasury and part of the task force. But we'll get more details.
Q Thank you. I'd just like to follow up on some of the -- that has been out there here. You've been asked a couple times whether the actions regarding these auto companies should be viewed as something that the banks should pay attention to because a similar approach may come their way. And you said, no, we should look at these as individual cases. So are you essentially --
MR. GIBBS: I guess what I'm trying to do is, I'm just trying to -- again, the example I just used with Chuck, I mean, the pathway for two auto companies is, based on the President's decision today, different. So I think to take any series of other entities and put them on that same scale, those paths may also be different. That's all I'm --
Q There's certain principles that underlie all of these decisions, though, obviously, and there is a certain willingness or unwillingness of the administration to dictate certain terms as a condition of receiving federal money. And so are you saying, by saying these are individual cases, are you trying to communicate that these banks really -- don't worry about this, this isn't coming your way?
MR. GIBBS: No, I --
Q I think it's a fair question.
MR. GIBBS: It is. It's a little general -- general and somewhat nonspecific. And again, what I'm -- I guess what I'm asking is, instead of looking at every entity as the same entity, I think that's -- I don't think that's hypothetically productive.
Q Well, do you want me to ask the question that way by inserting all the names of all the banks that have received aid and ask if it would apply to that? I mean, would that be more helpful?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, understanding that some of the circumstances are different.
Q But why Rick Wagoner and not Ken Lewis?
MR. GIBBS: Again, some of these things are -- I don't have anything specific on Bank of America. But again, I just don't want to be generalistic across the board.
Q So, in other words, you really don't want people reading anything more into this?
MR. GIBBS: I hope people read into it exactly what I said rather than reading into it what they want to read into it.
Q It's our job to help people -- to explain to people what it is that you're saying, and so I'm trying to make sure I understand it.
MR. GIBBS: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q It sounds like what you're saying is, no, you don't want us to interpret this as a sign of things to come for others --
MR. GIBBS: My hesitancy --
Q -- and if that's the case, why don't you just say --
MR. GIBBS: My hesitancy -- no, no, my hesitancy is just to look at every entity the same way, because, again, the circumstances by which any entity is at any certain point may well be different, even though it's the same type of entity, right? Again, I want to go back to GM and Chrysler. On the face, both are auto companies, right? Both have found themselves at a point where they're seeking additional government assistance, adding in to the additional loans that they got to put them on a path toward viability. But again, the examples by which we're using -- or that the President has made a determination about which direction they're going to go is different even though they're both auto industry.
Q Of course, and I'm not suggesting the exact same remedy would apply to any one of these things, but, again, if you look at the general case, you have, say, generically, contracts that at AIG were unbreakable because they're legal contracts but for the UAW, those are contracts that you fully expect them to modify if they're going to get federal assistance.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think this -- I think many people have made -- I think many people have made sacrifices, but, again, without looking through the individual instances of other entities, it's hard to make that generalization.
Q Robert, did you say earlier that there was no quid pro quo on Rick Wagoner's departure?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Does that mean -- do you prefer the language, "he was asked to leave" or "he was told to leave"?
MR. GIBBS: I would simply put out that -- exactly what we told many people yesterday, and that was, we asked and he agreed.
Q Following up on that, when did the President decide that Wagoner had to go, and who specifically asked him to go?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into a tick-tock.
Q Why not?
MR. GIBBS: Because I'm not.
Q All right. Why did the President think Wagoner should go?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President addressed this in his remarks today, and that is that, though he thanked him for his many years of service to GM, that now was a time for a new beginning.
Q In distinguishing between these -- Chrysler and GM, which you've asked us to do, could you distinguish them between why Mr. Wagoner had to go and Mr. Nardelli did not have to go? They both filed unviable business plans.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think you've got different entities moving in different directions. Obviously there's some degree of -- as the President talked about, Chrysler needing -- needing partners going forward in order to I think both meet the standard of viability as well as some additional assistance beyond what the President denoted is working capital in that 30-day period of time. Again, obviously they are also two very different companies.
Q Robert, can I follow-up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second. I can get back to you. Yes, sir.
Q The President talked about how bankruptcy, this pre-approved bankruptcy might be the best way to get these companies a fresh start. Was there some thought given to doing that now, or what's going to be different in 60 days or --
MR. GIBBS: I think in the 60-day time period you've got the ability for GM to work with -- work again with all of the stakeholders that are involved. The President and the team certainly have not ruled out the notion that if -- in order to ensure that viability moving forward, they wouldn't preclude the idea of, as they said, a quick, largely preplanned bankruptcy to make some of those changes.
Q Robert, the senior officials who spoke last night, they said that as part of the process for these two companies going forward, either we were looking at a bankruptcy or some other process where the bondholders would have to take a substantial reduction in the amount of money they expected to get back. One of the very big debt holders to these two companies right now is the United States government and the United States taxpayer. Is part of why it looks like the White House is being tougher on these companies the fact that that taxpayer money isn't going to come back, because once you go into bankruptcy or writing down debt, the taxpayer money is also in jeopardy -- unlike the banks, which claim they're going to pay it back eventually?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I mean, again, I think part of this is what's going to happen in this 60-day period. There may be -- and, look, this has been covered I think fairly extensively in the past few weeks -- there have been stakeholders that have not been as willing to come forward and come to the table and understand that greater sacrifice, along with others that are making sacrifices, is needed.
Q And are the taxpayers one of those stakeholders at this point that's going to have to make an additional sacrifice?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- the President believes that the decision will put these companies on the best path forward and ultimately putting them on that stable and strong path to where they're regaining market share and they're selling automobiles is the best way for the taxpayer to recoup the money that has been loaned to Chrysler and GM.
Q For the taxpayer that you're trying to protect, what can you tell that person will be different under the new management of GM that was not true yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q What will Rick Wagoner's departure mean in the next 60 days that was not achievable with him at the top of the company?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what we are -- what the President has asked General Motors to do is to reevaluate the plan that was presented to the task force and ultimately to the President, and to come up with a more workable, long-term and viable solution, whereby the President believes that these companies can be strong again. And the President and the task force determined that this was an opportunity for a new beginning at General Motors. And obviously we believe that the company will come up with a strong restructuring plan that gets this company to viability. We believe they can be strong -- a strong, viable, vibrant auto industry.
Q And the task force and the President's conclusion, that was not possible with Mr. Wagoner at the helm?
MR. GIBBS: I think they believed that this was a period of time that represented that new beginning.
Q Now, for the warranties, where will that money come from? Will that money come from TARP, or will that require a --
MR. GIBBS: I get additional information --
Q And can you tell the cost of those -- the estimated cost of that will be?
MR. GIBBS: I'll try to get you as much information as we can.
Q Thank you. Two questions. There are reports that Chrysler and Fiat have reached a partnership. Is that a report that the President was aware of when he spoke this morning? Or is that something that evolved -- do you have any details and --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen -- I mean, I think that -- I want to double-check, but Chrysler and Fiat have been working on some partnership for quite some time. Obviously the President discussed in the remarks today hurdles in the present -- hurdles in the -- I don't want to use "present," because then you're just introducing into the present -- entered into the idea that they've had for a couple of months, that still needs to be worked out in order, in our view, for the deal to work.
Q It's not resolved.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think there's a resolution. I will get better guidance when I get off here as to what might have happened as I was coming.
Q A quick follow-up, second question. The President spoke about incentives, spoke about guarantees where people could feel confident buying American cars. But there's one thing he didn't do directly, which was ask the American people to buy American cars. And I'm wondering, is it a philosophical issue that he doesn't feel -- protectionism? I mean, what's the issue?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Look, I don't think -- I don't think the President would have extended assurances that he did today if he didn't want to encourage people to do that. Again, as we discussed last week, he's the owner of an American car; I'm the owner of an American car -
Q Is he asking people, for your next car, please consider buying an American car?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. And I think he pointed out today that of the companies that we're talking about, like I said, he said in his remarks, he mentioned -- I don't want to turn this into an advertisement -- (laughter) -- you know, Chevy Malibu was the 2008 Motor Trend Car of the Year, or North American Car of the Year.
Q -- Buick again -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: But I think it bears mentioning that in the recent dependability study that was put out, you know, Buick was tied for first. I think it's important -- I think that's important to understand because that is precisely the reason by which the President came to this decision and determination, because we have seen -- and we shouldn't minimize this -- these companies have taken big steps towards restructuring; they've taken big steps in investing in the cars of the future, in showcasing what is possible from an auto industry -- whether it relates to electric cars or something like that.
And we should not in any way minimize that, or take that away, that that certainty and pride from the leadership and the workers in these plants and in these communities that have made that sacrifice and have worked hard every day, it shouldn't be minimized.
What the President has determined is we can make -- we need some more changes in order to assure that viability long term. The President is invested in looking for that and he's very invested in that strong, long-term auto industry right here in America.
Q Can I ask about -- it's moving onto the bill signing this afternoon. Can we move on to another topic or are you --
MR. GIBBS: I'm game. (Laughter.)
Q The President this afternoon is going to sign the land -- omnibus land bill. It was posted on the White House web site about noon on Friday and you guys announced it in the weekend guidance on -- about 6:00 p.m., he was going to sign it. That's only six hours for comment before he apparently made the decision to sign the bill. What's the purpose of having the five-day public comment period if you're -- you can make these decisions with so short comment allowed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President is committed to and has brought greater transparency to this White House. There are obviously situations that come up -- especially if the President is going to go overseas for a certain period of time while a bill is there. We have worked through and are working through differences in -- when bills are done in the House and the Senate, when conference reports that we know are going to be -- legislation ultimately ends up on the President's desk, putting that on a web site.
Although not perfect, I think the President has made a greater step forward in transparency and feels like we're making progress on ensuring the that American people can see and read what their President is going to sign into law.
Q Do you expect that those comments will at some point affect whether he does or doesn't sign a bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's certainly -- the intention is to let the American people make comments as to what the President is going to sign and to take any of that into effect as we move forward.
Q -- on the left, and the Heritage foundation on the right have both questioned the legality of using TARP funds for the auto bailout. Just wanted to ask you, since President Obama had said that he would consider bankruptcy as an option, why do you even use more TARP funds considering that it's legally questionable?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not a -- I said earlier I'm not a contracts lawyer, I happen to also not be a constitutional lawyer -- mostly because I'm not a lawyer at all. (Laughter.) Though sometimes I'm sure you think I sound like it.
I think the determination has been made both in the previous and in the current administration that this is assistance that is legal. Our goal is to ensure that taxpayers in any instance where this money is used feel confident that it's being done in a transparent and accountable way, and one that protects their interest.
Q The President said if Chrysler does not complete this deal with Fiat in 30 days there will be no more taxpayer money. So if for any reason if Fiat walks away from the table, does that mean that the government is willing to let Chrysler, essentially, liquidate? And is the government making any preparations for what the economic dislocation impact would be of a Chrysler essentially ceasing to exist?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously I think the 30-day period -- without getting into the hypothetical if a Fiat didn't work -- obviously there could well be somebody else that steps forward. I think it's important to let the 30 day process play out.
In terms of the second question, I think it's important to understand the role that the President enunciated today for Ed Montgomery. We are not waiting for either some 30- or 60-day window to elapse before somebody serving on the task force and working closely with the team and the President gets into the communities and talks directly to workers that would be impacted by any event, either going forward or that has already resulted in cutbacks or unemployment.
Obviously there has been changes in -- through the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that ensure benefits and health care, that we want to make sure everyone knows about. And I think the President spoke in his remarks about the idea of evaluating proposals that we've seen introduced in Congress and that we've heard from leaders -- like Governor Granholm -- whether it's increased economic development assistance or programs to spur the purchase of automobiles -- that we look into that immediately, and not again wait for any 30- or 60-day period.
Q And will the government propose or approve any of the new GM board members that are going to be named in the next few months?
MR. GIBBS: I truthfully don't know the answer to that, but I can certainly find it.
Q Thank you. There was -- a lot of minorities and women (inaudible) of the stimulus package. They're saying, if you're going to give the jobs to the unions, the unionized workers, then you're going to be leaving out a lot of the Latinos and a lot of the women -- they don't belong to the unions. What's going to be done for them?
MR. GIBBS: Relating to -- is this related to the auto industry or in general?
Q In general, with all the stimulus package, because that's given mostly to the union people.
MR. GIBBS: The stimulus? I'm confused.
Q Well, the way it is written and the way the President was talking before, a lot of the jobs is going to be going to the people in charge of the union workers, and a lot of the --
MR. GIBBS: No, let me -- I think I get where we're going.
I think the President wants to create good, high-wage, stable jobs in this economy, whether it is construction jobs, whether it is saving jobs for men and women in classrooms, whether it's creating clean-energy jobs, working on solar panels and windmills. The President is focused on making sure that we are creating -- saving and creating those jobs, that we're doing it in communities that need it. There are no requirements on that. We're looking only to ensure that the economy grows steadily and that we put ourselves on a strong foundation for that long term.
Thank you, all.
Q Thank you. Happy Birthday.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
1:40 P.M. EDT
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