Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 8/30/2010
2:22 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let’s start with one very quick scheduling update. On Monday, September 6, 2010 -- Labor Day -- President Obama will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he will attend the Milwaukee Laborfest, organized by the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, and make remarks there on the economy. So, more details on the exact time of departure a little bit later on.
Q Obviously two big elements of foreign policy in play this week. Does the President think that ending the combat mission in Iraq in any way affects the prospect of Middle East peace?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I would say, first and foremost, that throughout the President’s time in the White House -- and as you know and remember, that one of the very first things the President did upon walking into the Oval Office was to initiate calls around -- into the region about a lasting, long-term Middle East peace process. So we have always believed that it was in the interest of those in the region to seek that long-term, lasting peace, separate and apart from any other regional issue. And I think the White House still continues to believe that's very much the case.
I will say -- and you’ll hear this a little bit from the President tomorrow -- as we are ending our combat role in Iraq there are additional national security priorities and additional domestic priorities that we can and will be focusing on as a result of that.
Q Is there any connection, though, between your ending a divisive conflict in Iraq -- does that lay any groundwork for going into these Middle East peace talks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think part of that is -- part of it has always been in the best interest of those involved to seek a lasting peace. That's been our belief since the beginning of this process. I think if anything, the two represent long-term commitments that this President and this White House have made and sought through to the end.
On Iraq, we are completing a drawdown of almost 100,000 troops that even when the President -- not to mention when the President talked about during the campaign, but even when the President walked through a plan at Camp Lejeune, many did not think was possible.
And in terms of direct talks, obviously it’s the beginning of a process and an important one at that.
Q And then just with his visits with troops today and tomorrow, obviously he’s grateful for their service, but how does he speak to them about their mission in Iraq when it’s a mission that he disagreed with from the beginning?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you’ve heard the President say this a number of times and you’re likely to hear this again tomorrow evening, regardless of whether you agreed with that decision to go or not -- and as he said there are patriots that were for going into Iraq and patriots that were opposed to going into Iraq -- the President always believed that his mission was finishing what we had to do to get our men and women out of Iraq -- not to re-litigate what happened in 2002 or 2003, but to focus on, first, 2009, and ultimately now, in changing the direction of our mission.
So, look, regardless of whether you were opposed to or for going in back in 2003, that does not change his role as Commander-in-Chief in talking to -- and in I think lifting up the amazing contributions of those in our military that continue to serve our country so well -- obviously at Walter Reed talking to those who have as a result of that sacrifice been harmed. And I think you’ll see in both tomorrow’s events at Fort Bliss and then ultimately during the speech, lifting up all of those who serve, many of whom served two, three, or four missions in a very dangerous area.
Q The President clearly believes that meeting a timeline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq is an achievement, and that’s obviously why he’s planning a speech in Texas tomorrow. But how is he going to avoid this being looked at as a “mission accomplished” moment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost, you won’t hear those words coming from us. Obviously tomorrow marks a change in our mission. It marks a milestone that we have achieved in removing our combat troops. That is not to say that violence is going to end tomorrow. We understand that those that would foment violence will still continue to try to do so.
I do think it is important to remember, as you said, this is a commitment that the President made and a commitment that he intends and will keep. What it means also is that this redoubles the efforts of the Iraqis. They will write the next chapter in Iraqi history, and they will be principally responsible for it. We will be their ally, but the responsibility of charting the future of Iraq, first and foremost, belongs to the Iraqis.
Q The President is also going to be hosting the relaunch of Middle East peace talks later this week. But just almost as soon as things get going, the process is going to be threatened by the September 26th expiration of the moratorium on the Israeli settlement construction. What is the White House doing to avert a crisis on that point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we are -- as you mentioned, the President -- and I should have mentioned at the top of this -- tomorrow, I think around 10:00 a.m. for your planning purposes, it’s our hope to have Special Envoy George Mitchell here to give an update on where we see the talks and what we see moving forward, as well as what we assume and believe the President’s schedule will be for Wednesday, prior to the Secretary of State hosting the bulk of those talks on Thursday.
So I think we are focused on, in terms of the Middle East, September the 1st and September the 2nd. I think it is very premature to get ahead to September -- later in September, or September 26th, before we focus on what’s going to happen this week, and that is the parties in the room discussing the issues that can lead to a long-term peace. We have always said that the best way to work out these issues is sitting at that table and negotiating them through, and that's what the focus will be on.
Q Is the reason the President is not pushing for a bolder move on the economy because he doesn’t believe there is one, or because he doesn’t think he could get it through Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, I think you will hear the President -- you heard him today after meeting with his economic team, and you will hear him over the course of the next several weeks outlining a series of ideas, some of which are stuck in Congress and some of which we continue to work through the economic team, that will be targeted measures to continue to spur our recovery and to create an environment in which the private sector is hiring.
Q But these are smaller-bore type proposals. These aren’t $787 billion stimulus packages.
MR. GIBBS: No, they’re not. But let’s understand -- when you mention small bore -- some of you probably saw this article today -- “Small businesses sit in holding pattern.” “Small businesses have put hiring, supply buying, and real estate expansion on hold as they wait out the vote on a small business aid bill that is stalled in the Senate earlier this summer.” Right?
As the President said in the Rose Garden, 60 percent of our job losses have come from small business. Small businesses are waiting for the Senate to act on a bill that would cut their taxes and provide them greater loans and investment opportunities with which to expand.
The Republican Party talks a lot about their support for and their helping of small business, and I think the question that the President put toward them today is, if that’s what you support, why are you standing in the way of something that small businesses acknowledge would help with their hiring, with their purchasing, and with their expansion?
Q Okay, but the question I asked was, do you think -- does the President think that there should be a bolder move taken beyond a $30 billion small business lending initiative --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think --
Q -- and there aren’t the votes for it, or he just didn’t think there is such a thing?
MR. GIBBS: I think, Jake, I think the President mentioned several ideas today that he believes are important to continue that recovery that we will pursue. I think these will be areas and initiatives that are targeted towards spurring recovery and creating an environment for hiring, not some --
Q But does that mean he believes that that is the right approach, or he believes that it’s the only politically possible approach?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think there’s any -- I think there’s no doubt that there are -- there’s only so much that can be done.
Q Not having to do with politics?
MR. GIBBS: Not having to do with politics.
Q In retrospect, was the stimulus too small?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we always -- I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. If you look at -- and I don't think anybody had -- and I think we’d be the first to admit that nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp at the sheer depth of what we were facing. I think that's, quite frankly, true for virtually every economist that made predictions. You had -- the chart that I generally show, adding the job losses for the last three recessions up doesn’t get you to the job loss that we’ve seen in this recession alone.
It took us a long time to get to this point. We got here not simply because of one thing but because of many things. We’ve seen the housing market collapse. We saw what happened to credit markets. We saw what happened to the stability of our financial system. All of that accumulated after many years into one big pothole that -- the size of which any stimulus was unlikely to fill.
I think that for all of the political back-and-forth on the Recovery Act, there should no longer be any doubt -- despite some Capitol Hill nonbelievers -- that what the Recovery Act did was prevent us from sliding even into a deeper recession, with greater economic contraction, with greater job loss, than we have experienced because of it.
Q What is there to say tomorrow night beyond the obvious, which is, “I kept my promise”? What else -- where are you going to go with it? And how are you going to apply it to Afghanistan, where -- are you going to hold that up as an example for Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, Bill, I think the President will focus on several things: obviously, outlining for the American people what’s involved in our drawdown, the missions that have been changed, the number of troops that have been moved out, and where that leaves us in Iraq.
Obviously -- somebody asked the “mission accomplished” question. Obviously, there’s still work to be done without doubt on the political side in terms of government formation -- and you know Vice President Biden is there now to continue to help spur that.
I think, secondly, the President will honor those that have served there, as I mentioned before. He will meet with some of them, obviously, today at Walter Reed and tomorrow at Fort Bliss. And I think the President will put this into a bigger context of what this drawdown means for our national security efforts, both in Afghanistan and in Southeast Asia and throughout the world, as we take the fight directly to al Qaeda, as well as the priorities that we have and must be -- and we must address here at home.
Q Is he going to hold up the Iraqi experience as a template for Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that that's directly in the remarks that I’ve seen, but let me double-check and see what -- the latest draft.
Q Given the political situation both in Iraq and Afghanistan, he might not want to take too much credit.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, I’m not entirely sure that they’re equally analogous situations, not the least of which because of the emphasis that was ultimately put on Iraq we do know took away from the emphasis that needed to be put on Afghanistan. The President said that throughout the campaign, even as he kept his commitment to get us out of Iraq as soon as we could.
Q The President again today talked about how on the economy there’s no magic bullet. Is there any frustration at all that he has not been able to convey a more optimistic message to the American people to put them at ease?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, in some of the polls that we’ve had and we’ve also seen from others, Americans still don't feel good about where the economy is going. So is there frustration that no matter what the President says -- he comes out and he talks about putting more pressure on Capitol Hill for his jobs bill for small businesses -- that people still don't feel good about where the economy is going? Is he frustrated by it?
MR. GIBBS: No, Dan, because I -- well, look, I think those in America are frustrated. I think those in the West Wing are frustrated. I think people across the country are frustrated, largely, as I mentioned earlier -- and I think this in a way takes into account what the President said in terms of -- there was not one thing to do. This was not like -- there was not one flip -- switched a flip and then the economy would somehow get better overnight. I think as you heard the President discuss, we did not get into this problem and did not get into this crisis in a short period of time; it took a number of years. And it’s going to take a while to get out of that crisis. We have said that from the very beginning.
Look, would we want to see the economy expanding more rapidly and hiring taking place at a greater rate than we're seeing now? Absolutely. That does not mean that the President won't continue to focus on how we get to that point.
Q Can I follow? Another stimulus out of the question?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think you’ll hear over the course of the next many days and weeks the President outline what he and the team think are important in terms of targeted initiatives to help spur the recovery and create an environment where the private sector is not simply investing, but also hiring as well.
Q On Middle East peace talks, has either -- have the Israelis or the Palestinians given any assurances behind the scenes that would lead the administration to believe that this time around it might be different?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to get into negotiations before they begin. I think we are -- I think each side has had to take some important steps to get us to this point, which leads the administration to believe that the sides are indeed serious about a comprehensive peace. That is not to say that this is going to be in any way easy. This has been tried over the past more than three decades a number of times, and I think it’s going to take some time to get through the issues that have stood in the way of that for those three decades.
Again, we will send out a notice on having Ambassador Mitchell here to walk through some of this stuff tomorrow.
Q The President said yesterday to Brian Williams, “The economy is still growing.” Now, when economists look at the GDP numbers they see 4.9 percent, then 3.7 percent, then 1.6 percent. It’s still growing as compared to zero, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, it’s still growing as compared to negative 5.6 percent, which was I think the number at or around the quarter that the President was elected or came into office. I mean, I think it’s important to understand --
Q But in relationship to the three quarters when his policies were not only passed by Congress but in full force or moving into full force, we’ve seen this trajectory downward.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. Let’s understand --
Q -- in those GDP numbers.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, but let’s understand, we didn’t just wake up at 4.9 percent, Major.
Q I understand that.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand.
Q I understand what’s going on since then --
MR. GIBBS: Just for context, let’s understand that we got -- we were at -- again, I don’t have the figures for quarter four of 2008, I don’t have them for quarter one of 2009, but we were experiencing an --
Q They were lower, I'm sure.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that's a --
Q I’m just saying, what accounts for what we’ve seen the last three quarters, the most recent data that’s on the minds of the American public and quite clearly on the minds of the economic team?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we have seen -- one of the things that we discussed -- it was discussed in the economic daily briefing today were some of the signs for why that is happening. I don't think there’s any doubt that you have seen -- first and foremost, you’ve seen, as has happened throughout the world, there were concerns earlier in the summer and late in the spring about where Europe was. Certainly Greece and other countries had -- have had a negative impact on world growth since that time. I think that is certainly -- that has no doubt played a role.
Q When the President said last night we anticipated that the recovery was slowing, when did that realization take hold?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think if you look back to -- I think you’ve heard the President discuss over the course of the past many months exactly what I just referred to as --
Q -- talks about the economy, he sounded much more optimistic than that -- than anticipating that the recovery would slow.
MR. GIBBS: Again, Major, I think it’s important -- I'd have to go back and see the first time the President started mentioning what had happened in Europe and Greece as part of his public remarks, but I think there’s no doubt that -- and I don't think anybody would argue with you that certainly from our perspective in here that that didn’t signal that the economy was on a different trajectory.
I don't think there’s any doubt, if you look at where we were earlier in the spring and where we were, again, later in the spring and then earlier in the summer, there’s no doubt that the trajectory of the recovery was not headed at the same vector as it was earlier in the spring.
Q Does the President believe it’s likely to continue to go down unless there’s some other ideas that he’s going to put on the table?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President and the team discussed the notion of what needs to happen to ensure that we get out of the -- and lessen the chances for something like that happening.
Q How does extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class fit into that as a matter of timing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look --
Q Some economists have said the sooner you declare that, the sooner the Congress does that, the better. Do you agree?
MR. GIBBS: The President has discussed -- we're having some technical audio difficulties here at Casa Blanca today. Look, I think the President has mentioned for many, many, many months his commitment to extending beyond their expiration on December 31st, the tax cuts that impact those making less than $250,000 a year as an important signal for our economy.
Q Well, when I talk to economists like Mark Zandi, they’ll say the sooner the President says that the better, and that it would have more effect in the national economy than, for example, having the Senate move on this package of small business tax cuts. Does the President believe that that would have a bigger effect?
MR. GIBBS: If he did what? If he acknowledged --
Q -- extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class sooner rather than later. Would that have a bigger economic impact, a bigger bang to the buck, than this lending package in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, Major. I don't -- while there is not one magic bullet, I also don't think there are -- I don't think the President -- the President certainly doesn’t view extending -- cutting taxes for small business and increasing their ability to borrow and expand competing with middle class tax cuts. I think the President believes -- and I think you heard him say in the remarks today -- quite honestly, we can and should do both; that an important signal to the economy would be for the Senate to pass the small business bill and put it on the President’s desk and let him sign it, as well as it would be important to extend those middle-class tax cuts. I don't think those are necessarily --
Q Should that vote happen before the midterm, before Congress recesses for the elections?
MR. GIBBS: I think that the President hopes -- well, certainly hopes that the small business bill passes as soon as possible, and believes that it is important to send a signal to extend middle-class tax cuts as soon as we can.
Q Given your concern about small businesses and the President’s statement potentially to take whatever action, however small, to help the economy, if that's what we should do, if you extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, the over $250,000, that would swoop in a bunch of small businesses.
MR. GIBBS: Two to three percent.
Q Right, which represent two-thirds of the profits that small businesses make, as I understand it.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I think you just answered --
Q But the chunk of --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, two to three --
Q -- the economic activity that small businesses --
MR. GIBBS: Two to three percent of small businesses are impacted by tax cuts, or by -- would be impacted by tax cuts that stop at those making $250,000 or less. I think it’s important to understand what the tradeoff -- what are the tradeoffs? The tradeoffs are, depending on how long you extend the upper-end tax cuts, they get very expensive -- $30 billion for next year, $700 billion for 10 years.
And then, Savannah, I think the question you ultimately have to ask yourself, if you’re either an economist or an advocate of extending those tax cuts -- because first and foremost, they do, if you’re a Republican in Congress, they do sort of come anathema to what you’ve been talking about, and that is cutting spending. When you’re adding $30 billion to $700 billion on to the deficit, that doesn’t -- this isn’t exactly in line with cost-cutting and budget crunching.
Q Does extending any of the tax cuts --
MR. GIBBS: And secondly, you have to ask yourself, is the thing that you can do to provide the greatest stimulative effect to our economy extending tax cuts for those that make above $250,000 a year? The CBO looked at, I think, a series of 10 to 12 different ideas for tax cuts and found that the least stimulative thing would be to extend the tax cuts for those that make $250,000 a year -- because, again, if you’re making more than $250,000 -- if you’re a millionaire in this economy, I don't think you’ve hit on vastly hard times.
Q I was just talking about the small businesses. But has the President asked his economic team to come up with new ideas to help the economy, not what we heard today?
MR. GIBBS: The President has, throughout the last many months and today, went over different ideas and different proposals, some of which are new, yes.
Q Are you planning to -- I've heard you hint at this, that they’re going to roll out some next week --
MR. GIBBS: I think you will -- again, I think you’ll hear the President discuss a series of these ideas over the course of the next many weeks.
Q And then the last thing, kind of the thing that Jake was asking -- does the President feel that, in terms of dealing with the economy in the way he thinks best, his hands are tied not because of economics but because of politics? Does he think a big second stimulus is advisable but he just recognizes that he can’t get it done?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President has asked the team to look at a full series of ideas, all of which he has asked them to ensure have some greater stimulative effect on the economy. Obviously part of the debate that you and I were just talking about was if you’re going to have this debate on the Bush tax cuts, if there are 10 different ideas for using that $30 billion that would go to those making more than $250,000 a year, wouldn’t you want to put that $30 billion in a category that was more stimulative than anything else? I think the answer to that obviously is -- at least from our perspective is yes. It’s not necessarily clear that that’s the same perspective of some on Capitol Hill.
Look, I think there are a whole series, Savannah, of considerations. I think the President wants to hear from his economic team and from others on what the best course of action is.
Q I was just going to say, speaking of Bush real quick, does -- he called former President Bush before the Lejeune speech. Do you think he’ll call him tomorrow or plans to see him in Texas?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t believe there are plans to see him, but my sense is that it will be one of the calls that he makes tomorrow.
Q Just a quick follow, Robert. Does the President want these new ideas you’ve put forward passed or considered by Congress before they recess?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President will outline a series of ideas that he thinks can stimulate the economy.
Q Will the Congress hear from him right about when they get back? Is that the kind of timeline we’re looking at?
MR. GIBBS: Around there, yes.
Q Piecemeal or all at once?
MR. GIBBS: As soon as they get the ideas --
Q It’s already before Congress and because of the urgency he’s going to ask them to pass it, isn’t he?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is not an academic exercise.
Q May I follow on the Bush --
MR. GIBBS: Laura.
Q Thank you. Last week a court threw out the administration’s stem cell policy. The Justice Department has already said it will be appealing that decision. But would the White House like to see Congress act this year to overturn that decision?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some guidance on the legislative. I think that in terms of an appeal I think you’re likely to hear something from Justice today on that appeal. And let me find some guidance more on the legislative side.
Q And is the White House at all concerned that this week with this focus on the Oval Office address on Iraq and then Middle East peace talks later in the week, that this will essentially send a message to people whose concern is obviously the economy that the White House is not focused on the economy as much as they would like?
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, again, I think today is a pretty good example of why that narrative might not work --
Q -- nothing by a political operative. I’m just talking about regular Americans, what they’re going -- the big news they’re going to see out of the White House this week is about what’s happening in other countries.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, again, I mean, I think people throughout this country have a sense that the President is and has to do more than one thing at a time. That’s, by nature, the job of being President of the United States. But, look, just as the President had a meeting today about the economy, that’s not to say that he also didn’t have a meeting about intelligence. When he meets on Iraq, that doesn’t mean he’s not hearing from and working through the ideas on the economy. I mean, they’re just -- it’s more than one topic a day.
Q So you’re not concerned?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Robert, following up on something you said earlier about the Iraq speech, how is this new strategy going to affect taking it to al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously you’ve seen -- and I’m going to let the President talk about this tomorrow -- I think you have seen a commitment to taking our fight directly to the leadership throughout the world, all over the world, in different places, be it in and around Africa, be it in Southeast Asia. I think the President made a commitment to increase the tempo of that fight and that’s exactly what he’s done.
Q One other question on something else, the rally that was here over the weekend, just following up on something about that, the theme of it. Does the President think there’s anything about the nation’s honor that needs to be restored?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Peter, I think I’d point you to what the President said yesterday in the interview that he did, where we live in a rich and beautiful country that -- and I don’t mean rich in terms of wealthy -- rich in terms of diversity of opinion and a Constitution that affords anyone an opportunity to speak out and say and have a rally on what they deem fitting to have a rally on -- that’s the beauty of United States of America.
Q But is there anything about the country’s honor that he feels needs to be restored, as the proponents of this rally say?
MR. GIBBS: I would say this. I think the President has throughout his campaign and throughout his time in the White House -- to restore responsibility, to restore values that lay an economic foundation for long-term growth, and I doubt that if you polled -- my guess is if you polled everybody, people would say there’s something they’d like to restore about this country -- we would like to restore the American Dream, restore a vibrant middle class, one that’s growing and one that’s able to pass the notion of this American Dream onto their kids.
Q Thank you. In searching for new things to do on the economy, has he talked to Fed Chairman Bernanke at all in the last few days or couple of weeks at all?
MR. GIBBS: I do not know the answer to that. I do not believe that’s the case, but I can double-check.
Q Okay. And when he said this morning, talked about additional measures, I take it that he’s talking beyond middle-class tax cuts, beyond the tax cut package for small business, beyond the infrastructure for clean energy --
MR. GIBBS: Again, and I think what -- the President wants the economic team to look at a whole host of ideas.
Q Beyond all those that he mentioned?
MR. GIBBS: Beyond -- some beyond that he mentioned in helping to spur our recovery and to create and environment for private sector hiring.
Q And we would hear about this, whatever he comes up with, before the election? You said that he wanted to --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think you’ll hear him talk about this over the course of the next many days and week.
Q Would he perhaps do a speech to the joint session?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think -- I have not heard that talked about.
Q Is he going -- he’s going to call on President Bush. Is he going to mention President Bush in the speech tomorrow night? Would he give him any credit?
MR. GIBBS: Anne, I have not seen the final draft of what the speech --
Q Does he believe that President Bush deserves any credit for the surge, laying the groundwork for troop withdrawal?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Anne, I'd point you to the many comments that the President has made throughout a number of years about the role that increasing the number of our troops has played, just as a Sunni Awakening has played, just as a better political environment has played. I think that the President will get a chance to talk about a lot of that.
Q When it comes to next year, does he see any flexibility in the Status of Forces Agreement about leaving troops beyond next year, or is that ironclad?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to let -- I’m not going to focus on next year quite yet.
Q Is that something -- will he mention that tomorrow night? He mentioned it in the radio address over the weekend.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I have not looked at -- I have not seen the latest draft of where we are in the speech.
Q How about the last draft you saw? Does he talk about 2011? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'll save that for tomorrow.
Q Just following on Anne’s question, more simply, does the President believe the surge worked?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Sheryl, I'd point you to the same comments that I would point Anne to -- that the President always believed that you would change part of the security situation by vastly increasing the number of troops. But again I think it was important -- and the President was criticized for this throughout the campaign -- and that is saying that we were not going to accomplish all of what needed to be done in Iraq simply militarily, that there had to be a political accommodation.
We understand, again, that if you look at what happened with the Sunni Awakening, there were a whole host of factors that led us to a point in which the President can make good on his commitment to take almost 100,000 combat troops out of Iraq, to fundamentally change our mission in Iraq, to put the Iraqis in the lead for not just their security but their politics and their future. And I think that's what’s ultimately tremendously important.
Q And can I just elaborate briefly on what he intends to say to President Bush tomorrow, why he’s intending to --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to preview the call --
Q But what is his -- he’s got a reason for calling him.
Q To what extent is the President going to talk about his belief not that Iraq was -- may have been the wrong war, but Afghanistan is the right war and needs to be --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that as you heard the President discuss during the campaign, the emphasis and the commitment that was made in Iraq without a doubt took our emphasis and our commitment off of Afghanistan. In many ways we are having to make up for years of that; years of not having the type of and necessary number of combat forces in a country that poses an actual threat to our own security. That's where 9/11 was planned. I think the President certainly will mention that. This is not an Afghanistan speech, but he will mention that.
Q Why the Oval Office? What does that setting do for the President in terms of talking about Iraq? And why not do it at Fort Bliss? And what at this point does it say about his broader vision of -- well, does he go broader than just Iraq or Afghanistan on America’s position in the world?
MR. GIBBS: I think, first and foremost -- let me take the second part -- I think the President will discuss what this means -- what does this now mean for our -- what does this drawdown now mean for our national security and for our interests, and where do we go from here.
The Oval Office because I think, without any doubt, this has been, over the course of the past seven and a half, eight years -- this has been one of the biggest, if not the single biggest issue that has dominated the past eight years. It is important to hold up -- and I got the questions about the surge, which I -- it is important to hold up the efforts of those who -- again, whether you were for the invasion or whether you opposed the invasion, you had our men and women in uniform who undertook the commands of their Commander-in-Chief and should be held up and celebrated for what they’ve done in allowing combat troops now to come home.
Q And why not give President Bush credit for ordering the surge?
MR. GIBBS: I think -- again, Ann, I’d be happy to circulate the President’s comments that go back to 2007 and go back to 2008 on this. I think they're instructive and we’ll do that after the briefing.
Q Robert, Republicans are planning -- House Republicans, instead of measuring the drapes, they're kind of measuring the subpoenas, and they're planning sort of a wave of committee investigations if they win back the majority in the House -- everything ranging from the bailouts to the New Black Panther Party. What do you think of that as a strategy on their part?
MR. GIBBS: Have at it. I mean, I don't understand, Glenn -- I’m happy to answer a series of questions about what’s going on. It’s hard for me to look that far into the future and discuss --
Q What do you think that says about their -- what they’ll do if they win back the majority?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to say I think, first and foremost, this is unrelated to -- I think the American people want to see two parties that can work together in moving our country forward, whether it’s on Iraq, Afghanistan or, most importantly, our economy. I think that's where the President is going to be focused on for the next many months, and I think that's what the President would expect everyone to be focused on over this --
Q Robert, just two questions --
Q One quick other thing.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q A lot of folks have been talking about the first-time homebuyers tax credit sort of propping up the housing market. Is that one of these new measures that he might be considering?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously, there was -- that was something that was done originally. I don't -- while I have not see, obviously, a final list, that is -- I think bringing that back is not on -- is not as high on the list as many other things are.
Q Robert, AP reported that Stanford University professor Clarence Jones, who served as Dr. King’s attorney, said on Saturday that he believes that Dr. King would not be offended by the Glenn Beck rally, but “pleased and honored”. And my question, first of two, does the White House believe that Professor Jones was wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Lester I think you just asked me if I could interpret the remarks of an adviser to a civil rights leader that passed away in 1968 -- that would have made it three years prior to my birth.
Q But you’ve got a long memory?
MR. GIBBS: But I had very few conversations with Dr. King which would impart to me the wisdom in which I could offer to comment on how seriously --
Q You’d just like to evade this question.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I will -- I may be the first person ever to say this in this room. I have absolutely no standing with which to offer a comment on a Stanford University professor who formerly advised Martin Luther King that I presume last talked sometime in early April of 1968.
Q All right. What is the White House reaction to U.S. News & World Report’s Mortimer Zuckerman’s description of the Obama administration as “the most fiscally irresponsible government in U.S. history”? I am curious --
MR. GIBBS: You have a boundless curiosity one could say, Lester. Look, I think with any reading of what has happened over the past eight years, I think you can see what decisions were made that got us into the fiscal mess that we’re in. They weren’t the decisions of the Obama administration. You can’t -- Iraq is fitting -- you can’t invade Iraq, you can’t go into Afghanistan for seven and a half or eight years with an endless, open-ended commitment and not have a way of paying for it, you can’t add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and not pay for it, you can’t have a 10-year tax cut that cost $2 trillion and not pay for it, and expect that somehow the fiscal situation in the country is going to get better.
When the previous administration came in, there was a $200 billion or so surplus, and when they left, there was an American Express bill for $1.3 trillion.
Q Thank you very much.
Q Thanks. So I have two questions. I was going to ask you about Iraq, but I just want to follow on --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, so did Lester take your Stanford question? (Laughter.)
Q Yes. I started out with three questions. (Laughter.) So is that a point that the President intends to --
MR. GIBBS: Which point? I’m sorry.
Q Your last point that it’s basically -- I think your point was that it’s President Bush and the Republican Congress’ fault that we’re on the economic trajectory that we’re on in terms of spending, right?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not -- I mean, I think -- again, that is my opinion based on a series of facts of which I just outlined. We did not go from, in January of 2009, a $200 billion surplus to a $1.3 trillion deficit. That happened over the previous eight years.
Q Do you expect that that is going to be something that we’ll hear the President expound on in the weeks to come?
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ll hear the President begin to -- or continue to discuss that, partly because, quite honestly, if you watch television, you would think that -- and I would say it’s somewhat illuminating to watch John Boehner in the last Roosevelt Room meeting with the President -- they started talking about the fiscal impact of the Bush tax cuts, and Boehner said, “Well, Mr. President, you and I weren’t here for that.” And then Congressman Hoyer said, “No, John, you were here. You -- not only were you here, but you voted for that.”
So again, I think there’s a lot of fiscal amnesia that has happened over the past 18 months about the actions of and the votes of those in the previous eight years.
Q One question, please?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll come back for it.
Q So on Iraq, did the President consider delivering tomorrow night’s speech from Iraq itself? And did he decide not to because he had to be in D.C. for direct talks, or because it’s too dangerous to go there?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean -- no, I do not believe there was ever a serious discussion about delivering what the President will deliver tomorrow in Iraq. Obviously, the Vice President is there because of the continue work that has to be done to make progress on the political side. Obviously, an election that was certified in June and a government that has yet to fully be formed continues to require the work of this administration, and particularly the Vice President.
Q There are still a lot of questions about the surge and whether or not to give President Bush credit for it and stuff. But I’m wondering, in sort of the final analysis, understanding his desire to make sure to honor the troops that have fought, does President Obama still think that the country and the world would be better off if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq in 2003?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I will say this. If the President had been President during that time, we wouldn’t have gone. Obviously that’s the way the President felt. That was -- he said that in a speech in 2002 and repeated that throughout this year. And I think -- well, I’ll leave it at that.
Q On the peace talks, can you tell us a little bit more about the format? Will the President meet with each leader individually? And will they meet for the first time over dinner before they meet together?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as -- and I don’t have the schedule in front, and we’ll go through some of this tomorrow, but as I understand it, over the course of the day, Wednesday, the President will host a series of bilateral meetings with Netanyahu, Abbas, Abdullah, and Mubarak. There will be a leaders dinner that evening, I believe in the Residence. And then the Secretary of State the next day will host the formal talks themselves. But the President will have an opportunity to see each of the individual -- each of those leaders individually, as well as at dinner.
Q Can we expect a statement from the President on Wednesday?
MR. GIBBS: I believe in the -- again, I’m going through some of this by memory -- I think sometime late in the afternoon you will likely hear from the President on where we are.
Q Thanks, Robert. I have three quick questions. First, does the President have any reaction to renewed calls for Alan Simpson to be removed from the deficit commission, based on an email that he sent to the president of the DOW, comparing America to a --
MR. GIBBS: Senator Simpson sent an email that he’s now apologized for. We regret that he sent that email. We don't condone those comments. But Senator Simpson has and will continue to serve on the commission.
Q Second question: Yesterday the President said on Beck’s rally, he said, “It’s not surprising that somebody like a Glenn Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country. That's been true throughout our history.” What portion of the country is he talking about, and what are the historical touchstones he’s referring to?
MR. GIBBS: I did not speak with him about what the meaning behind that statement was.
Q And finally, during the Bush administration, opponents of the war were constantly asking for a definition -- what is victory going to look like. And so, is that what this is? Is this what victory looks like?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we are used to -- in thinking about victory in a war, I think we are used to the pictures of some type of ceremony on a battleship at sea. I don't think you’re likely -- based on the wars that we’re involved in, I don't think you’re likely to see those scenarios.
What you’ll see tomorrow is the changing of a mission from one of combat to one of support. You have seen more than a -- or nearly 100,000 troops leave, millions of pieces of equipment, hundreds of bases that had been transferred to the sole control of the Iraqis. And they will be at the forefront of both security and political decisions, and we will be their supportive ally. But I do not believe that -- this is not something where you’re going to see the type of formal ceremony that we’ve seen in the past.
Q Back to -- can you circle back --
MR. GIBBS: Let me do David, and then --
Q I just want to know if you could circle back on Beck?
MR. GIBBS: I'll see what the President’s schedule is.
Q Related to Iraq, when the President was campaigning in ’07, he said that the war in Iraq had not made us safer. He pointed to it as one of a series of terrible decisions in foreign policy, and that's one reason why we’re not safer now. But yet last week when he gave the video of saluting the troops, he thanked them in part for having made America safer, the troops who had served in Iraq. So I was wondering if you could sort of square those remarks. In ’07 he didn’t think the war was making us safer, but he seems to indicate now that he does believe that their efforts have made America safer.
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to go back and look at the exact statement that's in the video. I will say this, David. I think that what the President alluded to in 2007 and I think what the President would tell you now is we made -- a decision was made in 2003 to dedicate a limited amount of resources to focusing on Iraq rather than identifying or focusing on the problems that we had in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think you’ve heard the President say since 2002 that’s not a decision that he would have made. You heard the President be critical of our lack of focus and resources in Afghanistan, and I think that’s in many ways why we are where we are in Afghanistan today.
I’ll go there and I’ll come back.
Q When you talk about the economic advisors and the President looking at ideas for creating new jobs, targeted measures, is he considering the tax reform option? Because the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, often say that if you lower corporate tax rates, if you lower capital gains, you can create an environment for --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say, first and foremost, I mean, well, one, broad-based, broad-scale tax reform is probably not going to happen overnight. But if you’re -- if you have a desire to cut, say, taxes on capital gains as it relates to small business, there’s a bill pending the Senate to do exactly that. If you want to improve the environment as it relates to taxes and small businesses, then you’d walk down to the floor of the Senate and vote yes on the small business lending initiative. You’d have to ask the Republicans and the groups -- groups like the Chamber and NFIB and others where they are and what they’re encouraging senators to do on that.
Q But didn’t Senate leaders right before recess agree to -- I think that one of the issues was limiting amendments --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q -- Republicans and Democrats --
MR. GIBBS: Again, limiting amendments is one thing. What we need is, because what always -- well, what happens now in the Senate is 60 is the new 50, right? So you got to get 60. There aren’t 60 Democrats. And if Republicans believe in cutting taxes for small business, if Republicans believe that small businesses are the engine that drive the economy and create jobs, then the best way to demonstrate that support is to support cutting their taxes and giving them the ability to borrow more money and expand.
Q If all the Republicans want are more amendments, is the President willing to call on the Democratic leadership to allow more amendments on the bill and get it moving?
MR. GIBBS: I think that wanting more amendments is what you say when you’re just trying to drag things to a halt, as many in the Senate Republicans have tried to do throughout the year.
Q Robert, does the White House agree with General Odierno’s remarks over the weekend that the U.S. was naïve going into Iraq, didn’t understand it, and that that might in fact have made things worse?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there is no doubt that -- I think if you look back to the debate in 2002 and in early 2003, I think there’s no doubt that there were a series of miscalculations that were made as we got into Iraq. There was a fairly robust debate on the number of resources that would be needed to undertake what was being undertaken. I think an economic advisor or two lost their jobs by insinuating that somehow this might cost -- this whole excursion might cost more $50 billion. They’d probably give that guy the Nobel Prize for economics today. We were blowing through that kind of money by the end of May in any year, given the tremendous commitment that we had to support.
I don't think there’s any doubt that both the way we went in and with the type the resources that we went in with, we made some pretty huge strategic and tactical errors.
Q Robert, two questions, unrelated. First one, anything new today on Elizabeth Warren?
MR. GIBBS: No, and I don’t expect any announcements at either consumer -- with either consumer or CEA this week.
Q Okay. Second question: We have some ecumenical leaders meetings with Justice Department officials late this afternoon in part in response to the stabbing of the cab driver over the weekend who acknowledged he was Muslim and that’s when the attack occurred. Also, there have been other incidents around the country, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Two questions: Is there anything that the Justice Department or the Obama administration can do about circumstances like this, in reality? And perhaps more importantly, what is the White House reaction to an incident like what we saw over the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: You know, Ken, let me get some better information from the Department of Justice and get you a more informed answer to both those questions.
Q But you have no statement on the violence in general that you can’t --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously anybody -- I think anybody in this country that is targeted for, as you’ve heard the President say, targeted for violence because of who they are, what they look like, how they talk, what their sexual orientation is, is not in keeping at all with the value system we have as Americans. That kind of violence is deplorable, and as a society we must do everything that’s humanly possible to prevent it.
Thank you, guys.
Q Robert, does the President have formal remarks tomorrow at Fort Bliss?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes, yes, he does speak.
3:20 P.M. EDT
May 23, 2015
May 22, 2015
May 22, 2015
May 22, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 20, 2015