Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/7/2010
12:16 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am. Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon. Robert, there’s a church in Gainesville, Florida, that says it’s going to go ahead and burn copies of the Koran to mark the 9/11 anniversary. Is the White House -- is there anything the White House is doing to discourage that or prevent them from going ahead with that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the best place to look for the views of this administration would be to look at the -- look at what General Petraeus said over the weekend. We know that that type of activity -- we know that that type of activity is being transmitted back to places like Afghanistan, when General Petraeus obviously is our lead commander. As he said, it puts our troops in harm’s way. And obviously that -- any type of activity like that would be -- that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.
Q But is there any thought from anyone at the White House to reach out to the pastor of the church --
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard of any.
Q Are you ready to say what the President is going to do Saturday to mark the 9/11 anniversary? MR. GIBBS: The President will attend a memorial service at the Pentagon. I believe the Vice President will go to New York. And obviously the First Lady and former First Lady Laura Bush are in Pennsylvania. I don’t have the times on the event at the Pentagon with me.
Q The economic package that you’re rolling out, what is the President’s legislative strategy for that? Is this something he thinks can be passed before Election Day? And also, is he seeking passage of these measures as one big package or separate measures?
MR. GIBBS: On the second one, I don’t know the answer to one package or several packages.
Look, I think what the President -- the President will tomorrow outline a series of the proposals, many of which you all have read about and reported on over the past several days, that he believes continue our strategy to getting our economy moving again and, more importantly, for long-term economic growth.
Look, I don’t think we’re under -- we understand what season we’ve entered in Washington. We know that Congress won’t be here for a lot of time. We certainly hope that there are measures, including some of the ones that the President will outline, that Congress will consider. If they don’t do that prior to the election, the President and the economic team still believe that these represent some very important ideas in continuing along our path toward economic recovery.And as I said, most importantly, this is about -- and look, you’ll hear the President talk about this a lot tomorrow in Cleveland -- this is about long-term economic growth. This isn’t about the next 60 days or the next 90 days. This is about how do we get our economy fully back on track, how do we get the millions that want to work back to work, and how do we repair the economic damage that’s been going on not just over the past two years but over the past 10 years. We didn’t get into this overnight, as I’ve said countless times.
But I think one of the things the President will do tomorrow is will go through the notion of for 10 years we saw rules written for the special interests. We saw a blind eye turned to some of their activities. We saw wages decrease. We saw families rightly more concerned about the future of their children and whether or not the economy that they were going to raise their children in was going to be one that was capable of passing on the American Dream to each and every one of their children.
Q Are we likely to get an announcement this week on either the Consumer Agency job or CEA?
MR. GIBBS: No, I have not gotten white smoke on that except to say -- obviously nothing that I know of today. I can’t rule out that at some point that may come during the week.
Q Your former budget director, Mr. Orszag, wrote in The New York Times today that the administration and Democrats should compromise with the Republicans in Congress and extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years and then get rid of them.
One of the reasons for that, he said, in terms of keeping the tax cuts in place, is, “Higher taxes now would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt.”
So your OMB director is saying that if you guys go ahead with what you’re proposing, which is allowing them to expire on the richest Americans --
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I think that -- I think Peter was mostly -- if I read the article correctly, I think Peter was mostly discussing the permanence of and the extension of those that involved the middle class.
Q But I’m specifically talking about this one -- yes, you’re agreed --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I understand, I understand what you’re reading.
Q -- on the middle-class part of it.
MR. GIBBS: I think, in all honesty, in reading the article, I think Peter had a congressional relations hat on in terms of what political price Congress might have to go through to extend different things. That’s not the viewpoint that the President holds. The President --
Q So you disagree that higher taxes, in terms of the Bush tax cuts expiring, would crimp consumer spending -- you disagree with that?
MR. GIBBS: I think that if you make $250,000 a year in this economy, you’re probably not putting off the purchase of a big-screen TV. I just -- I don’t think your consumer demand is if you make a quarter of a million dollars or $400,000 a year in this economy, I don’t think you’re putting off the purchase of a new suit or a new car because you make $400,000 a year. If you made $40,000 a year, I think you’re putting off a lot of purchases based on the fact that you don’t have it, and that impacts consumer demand.
Q So you disagree with Peter?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- the way I read the article, Jake, is that Peter is not making that argument about the high-end tax cuts. He’s making that argument about the middle-class tax cuts, which the President certainly agrees that not extending them will certainly have an impact. The President will argue tomorrow that we should extend those middle-class tax cuts as in not doing so would most assuredly hurt our economy.
But again, I think if you’re making $250,000 or $400,000 or $600,000 or $800,000 in this economy, you’re not putting off the purchase of -- there’s not a great crush on -- or pullback in your consumer demand. This economy is not hurting people that make $800,000 a year, it’s hurting families that are making $40,000 a year.
Q And if could do a follow-up. There’s a lot of polling out today, including an ABC News/Washington Post poll that indicates more Americans feeling negatively about the President and his job performance, especially about the economy. For the first time, numerically, more Americans think that the President’s policies have hurt the economy than have helped the economy. Why -- I assume you think that they’re wrong -- why are they wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I -- first and foremost, Jake, obviously, as I’ve said in here a number of times, there is and continues to be great frustration with where we are in this economy. Among those frustrated is the President of the United States. We’ve seen a recession unlike virtually anything that anybody has seen in any of their lifetimes. And it’s going to take, as the President will discuss on Wednesday, more than a two-year or less than two-year time period to get out of that hole. That’s why what he’ll talk about he believes will continue us on a road to recovery, but that recovery will certainly take some time. And I think in the end this President and this administration will be graded on what happens at the end of this road, not some place in between.I think -- I’ll be honest with you, I think the American people are not concerned about the President’s poll numbers. I think the American people are concerned about whether or not they have a job, how they’re going to pay their bills, the future of their children. I think that’s what the American people are concerned about, and that’s the task that the President will spend every day worrying about.
Q But a plurality think that what the President is doing is making matters worse.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think by virtually any measure, our economy is in a better place than it was two years ago. There are, I think, Americans rightly concerned about our debt and our deficit, and the President understands that and has taken steps to introduce a budget that includes a freeze on non-security discretionary spending, and obviously will spend a decent amount of time in the next many months going through the medium and long term -- things that we need to do in the medium and long term to get our debt and deficit under control.
Q Robert, since you mentioned the jobs picture, I just wanted to ask one more question about Peter Orszag, because he said specifically that letting all the Bush tax cuts expire will make the job situation worse. He said, “No one wants to make an already stagnating jobs market worse over the next year or two, which is exactly what would happen if the cuts expire as planned.”
MR. GIBBS: Again, my reading of this is that --
Q You were talking about consumer spending before on jobs --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake was talking about consumer spending and I was responding. Again, I do not believe -- I think if you -- if you are looking at -- Ed, if you’re looking for a broad band of economists that will tell you the best way to get the economy moving is to extend those tax cuts, I don’t think you’ll find them. When the President -- when President Bush signed the 2001 tax cuts into law -- I believe it was June of 2001 -- we were in the midst of a recession. Including the month he signed those tax cuts into law, the economy shed jobs for 15 of the next 16 months. So I don’t -- if your argument is that these jobs -- or these tax cuts spur a great amount of jobs or economic growth, I don’t think you’ll find an economist or series of economists -- certainly the CBO put together a list of all the things that might be done to get the economy moving again, and I think it was either 10 out of 10 or 12 out of 12. And certainly there’s no historical data that would -- that you would point to.
Q But you also have a lot of economists saying that if you raise taxes on the rich they’re going to be less likely to hire people. Doesn’t that hurt the employment picture?
MR. GIBBS: Again, 2 to 3 percent of small businesses would be affected in this. And most of those -- let’s understand what those small businesses are. It’s a white-collar law firm that meets the technical definition of not a large number of people that are employed, okay? It’s just -- we’re not talking about the mom-and-pop hardware store. That’s just not what we’re talking about.
Q Related on the President’s economic plan, last week from that podium you basically said there’s not going to be a second stimulus plan. And then as the details start coming out and you add it up, the President is already proposing at least $350 billion in new money.
MR. GIBBS: The net cost of the expensing is not -- is 30 --
Q If you can get Congress to agree to the offsets, which is a big “if.”
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, the net -- no, that’s -- you’ve got the R&E -- research and experimentation tax credit funded by closing corporate loopholes. The expensing tax -- the increase in the expensing and the pulling forward of that in 2011 has a net cost over 10 years of $30 billion, because what you’re doing is taking a schedule for investment and depreciation that would be written off as part of your taxes; instead of over a several-year period of time at half, you’re pulling all of that investment forward to one year. But that money then isn’t written off in each of the successive years that the 10-year budget window is part of.
So I think if you look at -- I think if you were to add up infrastructure, the R&E and this, it’s certainly less than $200 billion.
Q Okay, you add it up, $200 billion, even if it’s $200 billion, that’s big money.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it would be less -- $180 billion, $180 billion.
Q Okay, so $180 billion -- that’s a lot of money.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I’m not saying it’s not a lot of money.
Q Okay. So why are you not calling it a stimulus plan? I mean, can’t the President be straight with the American people and say, look, the first one, we think it saved or created 3.3 million jobs, but we need a second one?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, that’s -- Ed, I listed a series of things that the President had done over the course of the last -- let’s see, what’s today -- it’s September. If you go back to last August, not a month ago but a year and a month ago, we had Cash for Clunkers. We’ve extended unemployment insurance because -- for those that were -- for unemployed regardless of the number of weeks up to 99 you were going to lose your benefits. We’ve ensured that states aren’t going to lay off teachers and firefighters when we need them most. The President has taken steps along the way, beyond the Recovery Act itself, to do things that were necessary to continue to spur our economic recovery, and that’s exactly what’s being done here.
Q So it’s not a stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not.
Q Thank you, Robert. You said a little while ago that we know what season we’ve entered in Washington. I assume you meant the political season, when not much gets done on Capitol Hill. So why, then, did the President wait until now to introduce these tax cut proposals for businesses that Republicans have been calling for for not just months but for years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, then we ought to be able to get this done pretty quickly.
Q No, because it’s the season you just said, it just doesn’t get done. MR. GIBBS: But if you supported --
Q Why would the President wait for exactly the point --
MR. GIBBS: But if you supported --
Q -- when he knows things don’t get to Congress to introduce this?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, let me just take the premise of your question. If you support -- if you, as somebody who’s running for Congress, representing the other party --
Q Robert, you know very well, you just said --
MR. GIBBS: But hold on, I’m just trying to --
Q -- this is the season when things don’t get done.
MR. GIBBS: Just help me understand the logic here. So then would you concede that the logic of it not getting done is simply because of politics?
Q Yes. Well, then you have to concede that the logic of the President introducing it now is because of politics.
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- well, first of all, I don’t know that -- I don’t know who -- maybe there are people that have proposed 100 percent expensing of -- I don’t know that that’s the case.
Q McCain did it in 2008.
Q In the campaign he did it.
MR. GIBBS: The R&E is --
Q A lot of this has been proposed by Republicans in one form or another.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know if the expansion and the --
Q Why would the President not have done it earlier this year or even last year?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure that the permanence of R&E, we’ve been talking about that for years. I’m not sure that the expansion and the simplification of research and experimentation has been --
Q But this is all about politics and producing a law, isn’t it? You can’t possibly get it through Congress and you know that.
MR. GIBBS: But, Chip, Congress doesn’t stop thinking about what it’s going to do after November. The President is putting on the table a series of what he believes are important economic ideas. Q Why didn’t he do it a year ago or six months ago?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, if you look at the expensing provisions -- in 2008, the former administration had a 50 percent expensing provision in law. The Recovery Act contained a 50 percent expensing provision in 2009. In 2010, the small business bill that is before the Senate continues the 2009’s 50 percent expensing threshold. We’re saying that for 2011, we believe that 50 should go to 100. It builds off of an effort to get capital off the sidelines and into the economy. Some of this stuff is -- builds off of what has already been done. So the notion that these are somehow either pulled out of whole cloth for the first time I think is -- it’s not an accurate reading of any of the policy --
Q Speaking of McCain, he says that coming up with it now is just a sign that the administration is flailing around, looking for anything they can sell as an effort to get the economy moving.
MR. GIBBS: I think -- this is -- I guess in a sense, Chip, I want to separate -- look, we’re in the political season; we get that. This is -- these are not -- this is not simply something that the President is proposing to get us somehow through the next seven weeks of how we get our economy from where it is to where we want it to be. The President, as I said a minute ago, is focused on the problems that the American people have -- the economic situation that we all find ourselves in. It may or may not overlap well with a political calendar. But that’s -- again, that’s not what -- the President isn’t here to solve the nation’s problems on a political calendar. He is here to solve the nation’s problems as they exist. That’s what he is elected to do and that’s what he’ll focus his time on doing.
Q And just quickly on the Koran story, have you heard the President comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not. I have not.
Q Did the President misspeak yesterday when he said the infrastructure improvements would create jobs immediately? About the same time, officials were saying on background it would be 2011 and maybe late 2011.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think some of that obviously depends on when something would pass. If you pass something in -- if you pass something in the next few months, I think you could certainly see jobs created for the summer construction season, yes -- or I’m sorry, the spring construction season.
Q You just told Ed it’s not a stimulus package. Does that mean it won’t stimulate the economy?
MR. GIBBS: I think there are a series of things that would help put our economy on a stronger road to recovery. More importantly -- Savannah, you could dump whatever you wanted into the economy to get the economy to do certain things in a very short period of time. None of that, though, is going to -- let’s take the infrastructure, for instance.The infrastructure is built off of what Congress will ultimately do as part of a six-year transportation reauthorization plan, partly because we know that one out of every five people that’s unemployed used to spend time in the construction industry, back when we had fairly easy loans to buy a house, and back when millions of units of homes were being built annually. We now know that because of foreclosure, because of credit, because of the economy, there’s a vast surplus in those homes.Q These measures are designed to stimulate the economy, correct?
MR. GIBBS: They are designed to continue our economic recovery.
Q You’ve announced pay-fors for some of these proposals, notably the ones that would be permanent, but not all of them. And I wonder how that runs up against your discretionary spending freeze; how it’s consistent with your policy not to spend unless it’s paid for.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously on, I think, on the call that Wendell was talking about, there was a discussion about closing tax cuts for oil and gas companies to pay for an increased amount of infrastructure spending, which would fall -- which would certainly fall in the non-security discretionary spending.Q Just wondering how you decide, because some things you did identify pay-fors. Others you don’t --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think some things are designed to -- some things are designed as part of, as you said, a bucket of otherwise discretionary spending, and some are designed to -- for tax incentives that will take capital and money off the sidelines and put it into the economy.
Q I guess, in other words, you’re prepared to deficit-spend right now, notwithstanding this spending freeze.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are certainly proposals in here that would do that, yes.
Q Okay, and a quick one. On our poll, 58 percent believe that if the Republicans get control they will have different ideas than the Bush administration; 35 percent believe they’ll fall back on Bush policies. It stands out because it seems like voters are directly rejecting the very argument that the President has been making forcefully for some months --
MR. GIBBS: They seem to be rejecting the very argument that the Republicans’ head -- both of the congressional committees made on NBC as well. I think Pete Sessions said very verbatim that “We want to return to those policies.” Q That may be the case, but it seems voters don’t know that.
MR. GIBBS: We will spend the next couple of months sharpening that argument, if need be, to ensure that people do.
Q In the Peter Orszag piece, he also, besides making an economic argument, made a political argument about extending the tax cuts for the upper-income bracket by saying that that may be the cost of a deal with Republicans. And he says that would be a tradeoff worth making. Do you think that would be a tradeoff worth making?
MR. GIBBS: The President’s viewpoint is that we cannot afford to extend the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. Let’s understand what that means. For most of these -- most of the spending for extending those tax cuts comes from -- almost all of it, the bulk of it comes from incomes that surpass a million dollars. It’s roughly, for a millionaire, that’s a $100,000 tax cut. I don’t think the President believes that we are a $100,000 tax cut from a millionaire away from an economy that works for families that are making $40,000 a year.
Q So is he ruling out signing legislation that would extend the tax cuts for that group?
MR. GIBBS: Again, our viewpoint on this is that we should and must pass legislation that extends the tax cuts for middle-class families. But we cannot afford in this environment to -- in our budgetary and fiscal environment -- to extend the tax cuts for those that make more than $250,000 a year.
Q So, therefore, you’re ruling out -- are you ruling out that legislation?
MR. GIBBS: I’m simply stating what our position is.
Q Why are you so dead set against using the term “stimulus,” especially for the public works component of this series of proposals? It very much resembles things that were in the Recovery Act.
MR. GIBBS: Some of them build off of what was in the Recovery Act. I do not think -- as I said last week, I do not think that this is anywhere near the level of what was enacted at the beginning of the administration.
Q And also, Robert, you said a few minutes ago that the President wants to put on the table this series of economic ideas. How do you see the prospects for it getting off the table anytime soon?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think if you go back and look at, and as has been pointed out here, these seem to -- some of these ideas have some support. Look, at some point we’re going to have to stop playing politics and start getting about fixing the economy because that’s what’s right for the American people. At some point, the other party will begin to do that. And we have a series of proposals for them to look at.
Q You talk about Peter’s -- putting on a congressional relations hat. In terms of White House relations, did he give you guys a heads up at all that he was going to be writing on this subject?
MR. GIBBS: We certainly didn’t see Peter’s column before it appeared today. I mean, obviously I think it was reported late last week that he was going to start writing a column, but --
Q Right, but the substance, the grist of -- yes --
MR. GIBBS: Nobody that I’m aware of saw the column before.
Q And just -- sorry to belabor this point, but you just said the President is very -- deeply, deeply troubled. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly. I can see the pain -- the smirk on your faces is -- seems to underscore the tremendous emotional pain with which I’m now putting you through, huh?
Q I’m glad we’re having this moment.
MR. GIBBS: I’m glad we could do this together.
Q Do you want us to leave? (Laughter.)
Q Extending -- extending -- you were just were very clear, the President does not believe extending -- it’s not affordable to extend tax cuts for -- but I believe Orszag’s point was it’s not affordable to extend them for the middle class. That’s his point. And if we can get your comments on that.
MR. GIBBS: The President disagrees with that. Q Can you talk about --
MR. GIBBS: See -- you didn’t seem very pained at all. That was --
Q The President disagrees with his former OMB director that extending the middle-class tax cuts are not something that we can afford?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Were these arguments he made when he was budget director?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I obviously was not in every meeting that Peter was in. I did not -- I did not hear him make this argument. He may have made this argument in some meetings. I certainly don’t recall it. But that’s not to say that he didn’t.
Q Can you talk about what the President discussed this morning with Secretary Clinton and the NATO Secretary General?
MR. GIBBS: I think -- if I’m not mistaken, the Clinton meeting is part of their regular weekly meetings. I don’t have a readout on that, but we will have a readout on the NATO Secretary General a little bit later on. My guess is that most of that had to do with Afghanistan.
Q And also, to what extent is tomorrow’s speech a direct response to Congressman Boehner’s speech on the economy in Ohio a couple of weeks ago?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s certainly -- it’s in the same city and I think the President will use that opportunity to contrast a vision of returning to a decade of policy and value decisions that got us into this mess, which if you look back at what Congressman Boehner said in that speech, he seemed to lay out a strong predicate for the very same type of decisions that had been made over the past 10 years that got us into this mess. I anticipate the President will spend a decent amount of time discussing it.
Q And the venue, a community college versus the City Club?
MR. GIBBS: That I -- look, I think it’s in this case Cleveland and Cleveland.
Q Did you choose Cleveland because Boehner had given his speech there?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.) I didn’t want to put you through the same emotional racking that I just put Hans through. So I just figured “yes” was probably an easier answer.
Q Robert, can I ask you about the Oval Office rug and the quotation that you folks attributed to Martin Luther King?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think -- well, just to be fair, I don’t -- I think --
Q He said it.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say. Let’s -- well, I think we should stipulate for history that it was not us that thought he said it. It was many people that believed, I think rightly so, that he said that.
Q He did say it on more than one occasion.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q It’s been pointed out that Dr. King himself often pointed to the fact that these were the words of Dr. Theodore Parker, an abolitionist. Is Parker -- was the President aware of these antecedents?
MR. GIBBS: I have not -- Mark, I have -- we have not covered the rug today in our discussions. I would say this. I read some of the back-and-forth on this. I read the column in the Post, which we certainly all learn a lot of important history on.
Again, I’d point out that I think what King said and what Parker said are not the same thing. What’s on the rug is what Dr. King had said.
Q Does the President or does the White House not believe that Parker should get some credit for --
MR. GIBBS: Well, nobody gets credit on the rug. I mean, there’s -- I mean, it’s just the quotes. I don’t -- and Mark, I have to say, if I see you in there writing on the rug, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. (Laughter.) I’m just -- I want to get that sort of out before --
Q The names aren’t -- I haven’t seen the rug, but the names aren’t on --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it’s just around the edges.
Q Robert, today Charlie Cook joins other analysts in forecasting that estimated the Republicans could gain over 40 seats and very possibly substantially more. Do you see that’s --
MR. GIBBS: That certainly hedges your bets. (Laughter.) Q Well, 40, do you think that’s --
MR. GIBBS: Forty or more.
Q Do you see a political landscape right now where the Republicans --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’m not going to take business away from Charlie or Stu or others by making a lot of predictions.
Q Do you think -- you don’t think that isn’t going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: I think I said a few weeks ago that I thought Democrats would retain the House and the Senate. I still believe that.
Q Oh, yesterday, when the President ad-libbed that his critics talk about him like a dog, what was he -- what did he mean?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that, but I assume that if you look at some of what is said about the President and matched them up against the facts, on occasion dogs get a better representation.
Q Who was the “they” that he was referring to?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s probably -- we could probably find you several hundred thousand quotes.
Q Robert, I was looking forward to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in a couple of weeks, and I was refreshing my memory on what the President said last year. One of the things he said to the Assembly is that he was -- one of his goals was to reduce the skepticism and distrust of the U.S. abroad. Have you -- what do you think? Have you talked about this with him lately? Does he think that that is --
MR. GIBBS: I have not. I can certainly see if some of the national security folks have. Look, I think that -- I think the -- if you look at where the views of those across the world have of this country now, and how they thought of it when the President came into office, I think we have seen an improvement in world opinion.
But I think what’s important is that the removal of skepticism and distrust in world opinion is not a means or an ends to itself, it’s -- I’m sorry, it’s not an end, it’s a means. And that is we -- it helps our ability to bring along those on a world stage to do things that are important to increase the security of people throughout the world.
I think if you -- look, this certainly -- this action predates what the President said last September, but starting with North Korean sanctions, extending to sanctions on Iran. I think there are a whole host of things -- an additional START treaty pending before the Senate to cut the threat of nuclear weapons in this age -- all are a result of better relationships that we have with other countries.
Q And can you -- looking forward to the meeting coming up, is there any particular focus that you can highlight, or something the President is asking for?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I have not spent a lot of time on what the program looks like yet, but as we get closer, we’ll get a chance to.
Q Robert, the President was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had a lot of economic struggle when he was a kid. Why doesn’t he talk about that more when he’s out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he talked a little bit about it yesterday and I think he’ll talk about it a little bit more on Wednesday. It obviously was part of what he’s talked about for many years. I have not looked back at all his speeches about whether or not that’s been a lot of what he talked about or how much that has changed.
I think a lot of his speeches have tended to walk people through their -- likely what they’re experiencing in their lives, vice what has happened in his.
Q But that’s an interesting distinction because Presidents who have been pretty successful at making these arguments before -- looking at President Clinton, even President -- second President Bush, to some degree, have certainly talked about their personal experience. It’s been a way of sort of making those points. Do you think he needs to do a good deal more of that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, as I said, I think you’ll hear some of that tomorrow. I think you heard some of it yesterday. I think it’s a good part of what -- the type of decisions and the type of values that lead to the decisions that he makes as part of our economic recovery. So I do anticipate you’ll hear more of it.
Q Robert, following up on Jake -- on his question about Orszag, was Peter Orszag someone here who was known as a dissenting voice, somewhat -- to push back on proposals periodically? Or was he someone who just pretty much followed through on giving the President ideas or implementing things that the President wanted? What was he, or was he a mixture of both?
MR. GIBBS: April, I wouldn’t want to generalize about anybody here. I mean, look, I think probably like a number of people that work here -- and if you walked into any meeting, people have opinions that may or may not vary with those that are in the room.
This is a longer way of saying I think it would be hard to put just anybody in a box, for two years of service, in one neat box so quickly.
Q So would you at least say that he did maybe push back on some economic issues, maybe give other ideas a twist or turns? Because, I mean, he made a persuasive argument in this story that he wrote about a nation, two deficits and how to come out of that.
So, I mean, you were saying about Congress -- he was trying to make the point about Congress, but he made a persuasive argument bringing facts to what he said. So did he bring something to the table -- people talking about that morning, that he brought that to the table, to the President --
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I’m just not sort of hearing your question. Look, I think Peter has, again, depending on the issue, depending on -- has had varying opinions on what to do when and how best to execute it. And I think that’s true for a whole host of different policies.
Q All right, and also on the issue of Cleveland. There are some in Cleveland, in actually the city proper of Cleveland, who are concerned, saying that Cleveland is a prime example of a city who can benefit from any kind of stimulus package. And the President continues to go on the outskirts of Cleveland. They’re saying that the city has a 20 percent unemployment rate, 17,000 vacant homes. And Wednesday, the President goes to a place called Parma on the outskirts. And before he’s gone to -- if I’m getting it right, Stoneysville or something like that before, on the outskirts of Cleveland. And why not go into Cleveland proper?
MR. GIBBS: You know, April, I don’t know that the -- look, I just don’t -- I don’t think that -- what you talk about in Parma doesn’t also mean -- look -- I’m trying to figure out the best way to say this. Look, I think if -- what the President is talking about is companies that are in Cleveland proper or around Cleveland, these tax cuts would help them -- infrastructure spending, building new roads and bridges and runways is going to help -- it’s going to help everybody.
This isn’t a suburban economic speech or an urban economic speech, because I just don’t think that the President and the team have -- I don’t think they’ve dissected this quite down to that level in terms of the types of things that we need and the types of problems that we face.
Q Robert, just two questions. Two Washington Post editorials were headlined, “The Scourge of Rape In Prisons” and “A Tolerance of Rape,” and they ask why has the Justice Department dithered for a year? And could you tell us, because the President does care about this, doesn’t he?
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t necessarily read what you’re referring to, Lester.
Q The two editorials in The Washington Post and I have them right here.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you should -- if they reference the Department of Justice, I think that’s probably a pretty good place to start.
Q And then, you don’t believe that any of us would talk about you like a dog, do you?
MR. GIBBS: Can I get back to you on that, Lester? (Laughter.) And I’m simply -- I’m going through those same sort of tortured soul that I can only imagine Hans was going through in asking his questions.
Q BP is going to release its report tomorrow into the causes of the oil spill. Has the White House had an advance look at this? And secondly, given the past relationship between the administration and the company, what level of confidence do you have that this is going to produce a genuine finding into what caused the accident?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’ll say this. I know of no one that has seen it here. I’ve certainly seen emails alluding to the notion that -- and clips alluding to the notion that this is -- this will be released. Obviously I think we’d want a chance to look at the report. I think an important partner of that investigation, Stephen, ultimately is going to get -- is going to be a look at the blowout preventer itself, which only recently, in the last few days, has been brought to the surface, and will give us a chance to see whether was this a design flaw, was this something that was just a problem that this blowout preventer had to deal with, and a whole host of things.
So we’ll certainly look through the report. Obviously -- look through the report and may have some comment about it. But I do not know of anybody who has seen an advance copy.
Q Thank you, Robert. About Secretary General Rasmussen’s visit, is the President worried with NATO and actually diminishing role in Afghanistan, this becoming a heavier burden on U.S. soldiers on the ground there? And secondly, has General Petraeus expressed or requested more NATO involvement in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know about the second part. Look, as part of what the President announced last December at West Point, NATO contributed an increase in forces on the ground in Afghanistan, a contribution that I know commanders at the time at ISAF believed would play a crucial role in our overall strategy. Obviously this is not -- the problems that we face with -- in Afghanistan and in Pakistan dealing with al Qaeda and its extremist allies, their potential return, an environment that allows, if they were to return, unfettered planning for an additional terrorist attack -- that’s not something that’s simply in the interest of the United States in preventing. It’s of international concern. And that’s why there is an international security assistance force there. And we’re certainly -- I know that the commanders -- our commanders are thankful for that involvement.
Q But does the President feel that the NATO leaders are not conscious enough of the general danger for themselves of a --
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q -- of a terrorist --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, look, I think if you look at -- if you -- look, I certainly wouldn’t say that. I think if you look at what has happened over the past couple years in places -- past few years, not just a couple, but past few years in places like England and Spain, I don’t think that -- I don’t think you could make a very eloquent point that there aren’t those in the NATO alliance that haven’t also experienced the type of terrorism -- certainly, maybe not quite on the scale of 9/11, but certainly they’ve hardly been immune to it.
Q Robert, yes, there’s been growing alarm in the judicial community about the vacancies at some of these federal courts. Forty-seven vacancies have been labeled “emergencies” by the judiciary because of heavy caseloads. You’ve talked a lot from the lectern about GOP obstructionism on this front, but what is the White House going to do differently, either with the remaining time in the recess, perhaps, or afterwards to actually get people appointed --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Sam, I don’t have the statistics in front of me. I think obviously we have sent up a comparable number of judicial appointments up to the Senate. As you mentioned and as I have mentioned on many occasions, we have seen a lack of any sort of cooperation in moving a number of these nominees along.
And look, every President and Congress of differing parties is going to have some fights about this, but there are -- there continue to be an absurd number of judges that have passed -- and again, I don’t have the stats in front of me, but we’ll get them -- that have passed unanimously out of committee that need to be considered quickly by Congress. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense if there’s -- that we can’t move a judicial nominee through the process if they have received a unanimous endorsement from the committee that is most tasked with looking at these judicial appointments.
Q We just had this recess, though, and there hasn’t been a recess appointment, as far as I’m concerned -- or as far as I know, of any of these nominees. I’m wondering if we should expect something in the week ahead, or why haven’t you taken advantage of the recess appointment?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t have any -- I can’t look into my crystal ball to tell you what’s ahead.
Q Robert, can I ask a question on economic strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Someone is -- a Brookings Institution senior fellow William Gale about a month ago said that whether you can afford it or not, the only politically feasible thing to do is to have at least a one- or two-year extension of 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Now, can you afford not to do that if you hope to address long-term business uncertainty -- which I believe is what you’re trying to do with your --
MR. GIBBS: Well, some things are designed to address, as I said earlier, money that may be on the sidelines that isn’t being used for investment, for research, or for expansion. But, look, again, I don’t think that anybody at the Brookings Institute would tell you, from an economic standpoint, that the best way to address business uncertainty is by extending a tax cut for somebody that makes a million dollars a year. Q He didn’t say that. He said if you want to get anything through, politically feasibly, the only way politically feasibly getting anything through would be to do it in order to get what you want to get through, which is business uncertainty and addressing --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, maybe I agree some with what -- I said I thought that’s what -- the argument that Peter was actually trying to make in the newspaper today was, again, a political and a congressional relations argument, not an economic argument.
Q I’m sorry, but at his swan song, Orszag did say you can’t afford a 10-year extension of all the 2001, 2003 tax cuts, because that would cost $700 billion.
MR. GIBBS: That $700 billion is a 10-year extension of the upper-end tax cuts, not the 2001, 2003 middle-class tax cuts.
Thank you guys.
END 1:04 P.M. EDT
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