Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/21/2010
2:48 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q This week we are approaching the six-month mark since the President signed the health care legislation. And when he was talking to Democrats on the Hill about this legislation, he made a point of saying that this is something that you can be proud to campaign on come November. And we are not seeing hardly any Democrats that supported health care campaigning on that legislation. Why do you think that’s happening, and has the President asked them to do that now that we’re approaching --
MR. GIBBS: No, the President is not directing the messaging or ads for individual candidates. Obviously they’ll do what they think and what they believe is best in terms of what they want to talk about in their districts. I think it’s important, as you mentioned, that we’re arriving at a point in which a number of the important consumer protections will kick in for health care, including important protections on preexisting conditions, which represent truly landmark reforms.
Look, I don’t know -- again, we’ll leave individual messaging decisions to individual candidates. But I think, as you see over the next -- the course of the next few days these consumer protections kick in, I think you will -- you will see and notice the type of protections that many Democrat and Republican had long wished for -- that no longer can somebody be discriminated against simply because they’re sick. Those represent meaningful, tangible reforms for the people of this country.
Q But does it send any message about this legislation that these candidates who actually came out and voted for it feel like they can’t campaign for it, that it’s a negative for them to campaign on it?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, and, look, I turn on the TV all the time and see discussions on a large variety of topics that -- in the midst of political campaigns. But I think people that supported this and the families that they are working to protect can and should be proud of the accomplishment.
Q And then just to go back to the town hall yesterday, it was one of the first times that at least a lot of us saw supporters of the President ask him very pointed questions and say that they were disappointed in what they’ve seen since he’s taken office. Did the President leave that town hall feeling differently about sort of the mood in the country and could you kind of share his reaction --
MR. GIBBS: He -- look, the President gets letters from people all across the country all the time. The President has an opportunity to talk to -- whether it’s in town hall meetings or as he travels around the country -- to talk to people all the time. And I don’t -- the notion that somehow anybody is surprised that we’re not where we want to be economically, I can’t imagine -- we certainly weren’t surprised. I mean, I think the notion that people are frustrated at -- again, as I’ve said before, it took us a long time to get here, right? For 10 years we watched incomes decline. So that frustration built for 10 years.
I don’t think anybody believed it was going to turn around in a year or year and a half or in 20 months. And it’s understandable that there’s a lot of that anger and frustration out there.
The notion that people that supported us would be immune to that frustration when the President himself is frustrated I don’t think is something that the President believed.
Q The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged today but said it was -- stood ready to provide additional assistance to bolster the economic recovery. What’s the administration’s reaction to that, which seems to suggest a willingness to help -- to keep unemployment from rising?
MR. GIBBS: I am told by my friends at the Treasury not to comment on the actions of the Fed, and I don’t see today as a good day to disregard that sage advice.
Q Okay. And this -- China. The President said yesterday that China had not done enough to let the value of its currency rise. He’ll be meeting Premier Wen on Thursday, I believe. Will he be -- will the President be asking face to face for some kind of flexibility on the rise of the yuan?
MR. GIBBS: Matt, I think as the President said yesterday, this is a topic that comes up in conversations that are had at many different levels within the administration, be it with Treasury officials, White House officials, administration officials writ large. As he said, they’ve expressed a willingness to do so, but have not done everything that needs to be done; that we would continue to monitor that and it is obviously an issue of concern and one that was brought up on the recent trip that Dr. Summers and Tom Donilon were on. And I anticipate that it will be one of the many issues that will be brought up this week as well.
Q Now, the Chinese Foreign Minister said today that the U.S. should stop pointing fingers and take care of its own economic problems. Any response to that?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q John Brennan went to Yemen and, coincidentally or not, Yemen is now in the midst of a new assault. Some officials in the government there believe that they might have Awlaki cornered. How much was Brennan’s visit tied to this new military offensive, and what did Brennan say -- I know he delivered a letter, but what did he say?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’ve seen the reports of the actions in Yemen. I’m told they’re not tied to anything that John did or said or his presence there. I don’t have any information on those reports. Obviously the government has been involved for quite some time in a struggle against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in the region that have sought to topple the government.
So we -- I’m sure that John extended the continued message of our support for their efforts to do so.
Q Have they been doing enough against AQAP?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- without getting into operational details, I think that we have seen success there. Obviously there is a lot of work to be done to keep countries and their governments safe and keep the American people safe, and we’ll continue to do just that.
Q And on health care, WellPoint, CIGNA, Coventry Run -- CoventryOne, rather -- have all said they’re going to drop children-only health insurance plans because of these new consumer protections that the administration is heralding. I’m wondering what your response is.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s obviously very unfortunate that insurance companies continue to make decisions on the backs of children and families that need their help.
First and foremost, the Affordable Care Act provides a host of protections that many of these families could only dream of. The child-only policies represent a very, very small part of the individual market. Nonetheless, the insurance protection lobby, AHIP, had previously stated their willingness to abide by the law and not make the decision that we see several of these insurers made.
Obviously we’re very disappointed at the decision they’ve made. But in the end, the protections that we have are greater than, as I said, most of these families could ever have hoped for in terms of protecting their children from -- or ensuring that their children had access to the type of health care they could only dream of.
Q Did you call them the “insurance protection lobby?”
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what AHIP stands for, but some reason, “P” in my mind popped into protection. But it seems to fit, doesn’t it? (Laughter.)
Q I just wondered if this was new, okay.
Q Robert, on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Senator Collins, Susan Collins, confirmed to our group on the Hill that she has spoken with the Vice President -- he has reached out to her -- and that he understands in some ways her frustrations. This is somebody who agrees with the administration in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but says that Senator Reid -- because there’s not an opportunity for open debate or for offering amendments, that she cannot go forward and support the legislation. Is there a sense of frustration from the administration that you have an ally here who feels that because of the process, she cannot support repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell?”
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously we are -- we’re grateful for her support of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I obviously did not hear the conversation that the Vice President had. My sense is there is a tremendous frustration on the part of many involved that we hear all the time about the procedural hurdles that many Republicans want to throw into this process. That’s why it took three or four months for us to get a bill as seemingly non-controversial as small business tax cuts through the United States Senate.
It is obviously our hope that we can get the defense bill done. The President, obviously, as you know, supports the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and obviously the bill also included the DREAM Act, which is supported by Democrats, Republicans, and many in this administration. We’ll continue to work on all of those fronts.
Q Is Senator Reid being helpful or hurtful in the process?
MR. GIBBS: I think Senator Reid has done an incredible job at leading the United States Senate, and is being helpful on making progress on what’s important to families.
Q Is there anybody from the administration who’s encouraging him to perhaps change this so that there would be open debate, or --
MR. GIBBS: Again, let’s understand what Mitch McConnell and others want. Open debate is a grab bag of -- a grab bag of ideas that are probably left for a different time. Again, this was the notion that somehow we weren’t having open debate on a small business bill, and a very simple and non-controversial bill took three or four months. That’s why we have nominees waiting 500, 600 days that passed committee unanimously because of slowdown tactics. Again, we’ll continue to try to make all this happen.
Q And on another subject, Twitter had a bug this morning.
MR. GIBBS: I noticed.
Q Yes, you did. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I still don’t know what happened. I just emailed the tech guys and said I don’t know what just happened. But I don’t know whether it was -- there were a lot of characters and letters that didn’t seem to line up into anything.
Q Can you pause in actually using Twitter to disseminate information from the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, pretty safe to assume that all those letters and numbers and what have you, I don’t know that -- I don’t know what that disseminated. I didn’t seem to make any look like -- look -- I was going to say, look like a scene out of the movie “War Games.” I don’t know what -- no, I don’t -- look, you know, from time to time, I have no doubt that there will be those that want to gum up the system and things like that. I don’t hesitate to continue to use it. I thought I’d done something horrific to my own computer and quickly made sure I didn’t spill anything on my keyboard or -- because at one point on my computer it just had people’s names on Twitter and then all of their --
Q Personal information.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, all of their -- all of their message was blacked out as if the whole thing was redacted. I thought that was -- at first I thought that was somebody’s message and I thought, I don’t know what that means, but that’s kind of funny. But then I realized it was happening to half my messages.
Q But why doesn’t that concern you, that there might be some sort of security breach in the messages that you’re disseminating from the White House, that this could be scrambled or misinterpreted or redirected in some way?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, since the words didn’t equal -- since the combination of letters and numbers didn’t actually equal a message, I’m not worried about that code being misinterpreted.
Look, again, if that were the case then none of us would use computers, right? We would -- I mean, inherent in -- I think a few weeks ago news organizations were dealing with bugs that slowed down the system. I mean, again, if you didn’t do that because you were worried about that, like I said, you would -- we would all be writing on --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, parchment, or we’d be sending letters in the mail as press releases, which we used to do not too long ago. So it’s the vagaries of doing business.
Q On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” is the White House concerned that if they can’t get past this barrier that’s it for the year and next year, of course, who knows?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think that’s the case. The President obviously continues to urge Congress to act and is working as well with the Pentagon to see this come to fruition. So I don’t think this is the end.
Q A lot of people do, though. They believe that if they can’t get by it now, this is the last chance, a lot of supporters of repeal, and they’re saying that it’s because the White House just hasn’t pushed hard enough, done what they had to do to get this through.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I don’t -- if you look at today’s vote, I don’t see how you could come to that conclusion. It wasn’t -- I mean, there -- again, there’s a procedural hurdle that’s been put up by Republicans not to move to the bill.
Q Has the President spent a fair amount of time talking to wavering Republicans and Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said -- well, as Suzanne said, I know the Vice President has made some calls and administration officials made calls.
Q What about the President? Has the President talked to Susan Collins, to Olympia Snowe, to --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of.
Q Why not? Why not? I mean, this is -- this could be the decisive moment. You would think that this is --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I didn’t agree with that a minute ago and I don’t think that’s true now.
Q On -- following up on Jake’s questions about insurance companies, more broadly, it’s not just that insurance companies are not getting into the child-only plans, but some of them are hiking premiums. There was a report of premiums going down in one case, but there are a lot of cases here where premiums seem to be going up. And with the six-month anniversary, there’s going to be a lot of attention to health care reform. Is this bad news for the elections, for Democrats, that they’re going to be saddled with premiums going up when the administration said over and over they were going to go down?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- if you look at -- in the next couple days, the most sweeping set of consumer protections go into law. Because of health care reform, we’ve seen the life of the Medicare trust fund extended beyond -- extended -- the life of the Medicare trust fund extended 10 years, the largest it has been extended in the history of its existence.
So I think there are a number of subtexts within health care reform, which are enormously important for the American people. It is going to take some time. More protections will come online over the next few months and years as health care reform gets phased in, and we are going to continue and we’ve given states more power to look at what individual insurance companies have -- or decide they want to do, and blame it on something that can’t be blamed for some of the things that they’re trying to do.
Look, Chip, we’ve been fighting the insurance companies for a long, long time on doing what’s right for the American people. I don’t doubt that they’re going to stop trying to do only what’s in the best interest of their bottom line. And we’ll work to fight that.
Q And finally, was the President hinting yesterday, as some have reported, that his top economic advisors’ jobs are on the line, depending on how things go in the election?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think what the President was musing about was, I think, what is -- would not be a surprise that there will be people that have worked enormously hard over the past two years who make decisions to go back to what they were doing before the administration. I don’t think -- that is not and should not be looked at as what happens or what may or may not happen in the election.
Q But for the foreseeable future, are Summers’ and Geithner’s jobs safe?
MR. GIBBS: The President is enormously pleased with the efforts of each of them in what has been -- in what have been very trying times. Again, it’s not for me to comment on or to make decisions for individuals that decide, again, that they’re going to go back to doing what they were doing before.
As you well know, because quite frankly all of you are covering on a daily basis, the last two years have been at a remarkable pace, far more hectic than a campaign in which I think many of us thought, boy, is it going to get -- could it get any crazier than this? And many days around here, the answer is absolutely.
Q Robert, the President clearly makes an effort to get out to talk to average Americans. You mentioned he reads the letters. But still, having some people who’d identified themselves as supporters yesterday ask if the American Dream is dead for them, and express that they are exhausted defending him -- no shock there by the President?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the notion that 53 -- I think we had 53 percent of the vote. If you’re telling me that up until some time yesterday that I think 53 percent of the American people were immune to the frustrations of the economy, no. I would have to be living -- I wouldn’t be living in a bubble. I’d be living in a bunker. That’s just -- the notion of that, I think, is crazy.
Again, let’s -- I think sometimes we sort of fast-forward through what the President says in some of these things. As he said in Cleveland and as he restated yesterday, over the past 10 years, we have seen in a period of economic -- overall economic expansion, the slowest job wage growth of any decade since the Second World War, okay? So regardless of anything else, people have watched their incomes, the opportunities for their children, all that stuff, slowly erode. That’s understandable. If you weren’t frustrated, you wouldn’t be paying attention.
Of course people are -- all on top of that, their houses are worth less, 8 million people lost their jobs. That is the reality of what this administration has had to confront. And the notion that people are frustrated does not surprise the President.
Q Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, has expressed some criticism of the stimulus, saying it is not wrong to criticize parts of that stimulus as disproportionately saving jobs in the public sector and not stimulating private sector economic growth. It’s not something he says he is proud to say or wants to say, but it is true. Reaction from the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t have the California statistics in front of me. But let’s take wind energy as one. California leads the nation in wind energy projects probably on a factor of four than the next highest state. If you asked anybody in the wind energy business what was likely to happen to projects that depended on public financing -- or I’m sorry, on private financing during the worst economy in a lifetime, the wind energy in and of itself will tell you that you were likely to see a huge shrinking of wind energy projects and maybe the death of an entire industry, given the credit demand problems that we faced coming into office.
On just clean energy jobs alone, of which California is a huge beneficiary, private sector jobs -- tax credit for wind energy, tax credit for manufacturing and things like that -- I think we have seen a huge change in the fortunes of that industry. And, again, most of that, if not all of that, is in the private sector.
I think -- have we taken steps to ensure that kids that go to school in San Francisco don’t lose their teacher because of the budgetary problems that the state of California faces? You bet. Have we made sure that if somebody needs a police officer or a firefighter in San Francisco and doesn’t fall prey to the budgetary situation in the city or in the state? You bet.
And I think that -- I don’t know where the mayor is on that. I know the American people think that’s a good idea.
Q This is arguably the mayor of the bluest of blue cities. Do you consider that disloyal to rip the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if -- the first I heard about it was when you told me. So I don’t take it that personally.
Q You guys pushed back the other day on a story that suggested the Democrats were considering a national ad campaign portraying Republicans as all but taken over by the Tea Party. You said it wasn’t true. And I guess my question is, if Republicans are nationalizing this election and is making it a referendum on the President, why wouldn’t you guys consider a national campaign in response along those lines?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we pushed back on a story that wasn’t true because, having been on some of these emails, everyone wondered what meeting they missed where somebody wrote a story saying we were about to do a big national ad campaign when none of the people that would be involved in even thinking about that could remember that meeting.
Q So your pushback was just about it not being true? It’s not that you’re closed to that notion?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I mean, again, what was untrue was the fact that the story was predicated on a national ad campaign that was neither being -- that neither existed nor was being contemplated.
Look, I talked about some of the choices that as a result of candidates winning in certain states narrowed the electoral map for Republicans because of some of the candidates they’d nominated particularly in the Tea Party, and I don’t doubt that we’ll continue to do that. But we have -- nobody was making moves to and nobody had contemplated said national ad campaign.
Q I guess the question is, whatever it is, six weeks until the election, is the President planning to retool his message or change it? Or is it essentially, as we’ve seen, car in a ditch, just louder and more often?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- I think what you’re going to see the Republicans roll out on Thursday will help the President’s message of wanting to go back to the ideas of 2008. I think that’s exactly what you’re going to hear from them on Thursday. And I think that’s why the President will continue to talk about that message.
Q If that message has not been compelling to date to voters, I mean, doesn’t that suggest a retool?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, just that in many, many races, Democrats are running behind.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there’s six weeks and a lifetime to go on politics. So, I mean, again, your own poll showed that the second most potent argument against a Republican in Congress would be going back to the policies of the previous administration.
Q The President’s policies weren’t much better, right?
MR. GIBBS: They were better, actually, which is what an election is all about.
Q Robert, do you know when the President is going to assign the small business jobs bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t. I think the hope is that the House will vote on that in the next couple of days, and our hope would be to sign that quickly sometime maybe early next week, again, depending on when the House passes the bill and sends it down here.
Q Can you tell us what’s really going on on the North Lawn? I mean, it looks like -- it looks like they’re building something more than just pipes and cables. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Can I tell you -- as you all know, most of you -- if not all of you -- have been in my office. And you can see these steel beams and this oil rig that’s out on the front lawn. (Laughter.) I have to assume at some point that somebody is going to come in and tell me that they’re adding a parking deck to the North Lawn, because that is the only conceivable thing that we could be doing.
Q That would be good.
MR. GIBBS: It’s entirely possible that --
Q Something tells me it’s not for us.
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s a whole project to upgrade and modernize a whole host of things. Again, the banging and the clanging and the drilling and the -- it is --
Q Did you get recovery money for this project? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: If you want -- if you want -- our next infrastructure event will actually be right out there on the driveway. So it will be open press. I got to tell you, it’s --
Q Is there oil on this property? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Every, like, three minutes for the past four hours, that machine has clanged to get the dirt off of the drill bit to go back -- it is the single most unnerving thing that you could --
Q What are they building?
MR. GIBBS: A parking deck, I think -- I really think it’s --
MR. GIBBS: Or they’re moving the Washington Monument. (Laughter.) It’s the only two conceivable -- putting in the foundation to move the Washington Monument right out there, only two conceivable things.
Q You know, conspiracy theorists are going to say you didn’t answer the question.
MR. GIBBS: No, actually I just let you in on the biggest conspiracy theory and that is the Monument is going right over there. (Applause.)
Q And what is the deal between the President and Slurpees? (Laughter.) Why does he -- in every speech, he is portraying it as the official drink of obstructionist Republicans. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: After your fourth email, I went to talk to him about the Tater Tots, Mark. And now he’s hooked on Slurpees. So I don’t -- I will go ask him that as well.
Q News just came out that Senate Democrats failed to break the Republican filibuster on the defense -- so what’s the White House reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, I think as I said before, we’ll continue to work. I think you have in the defense bill obviously very important funding for the priorities of our Pentagon and our troops; the President also supporting repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the DREAM Act that are priorities of his. And we’re disappointed at not being able to proceed to the legislation, but we’ll keep trying.
Q I mean, not a single GOP senator agreed to open debate on the bill. What’s your reaction to that? I mean, was there a lot of outreach?
MR. GIBBS: Been there, done that. Again, 60 is the new 50, and I don’t mean age. To do anything in this town now, you have to get 60 votes. And it’s certainly not the way -- many of the people I think that work in the Senate, including senators, thought this was the way it ought to work.
Q And is the First Lady hitting the campaign trail because the White House is concerned about getting women to the polls this November?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the First Lady is an enormous asset of this administration, somebody that is focused on issues that are tremendously important to the American people, whether it is the health of our children or the priorities of those that are returning from serving our country. Those are her priorities and I think those are the country’s priorities.
She is, as you might guess, a popular ask on the campaign trail. And I think she will go out and make a forceful and positive case for what this administration has done over the course of the next several weeks.
Q And on the U.N. meeting this week, do you see an opening for negotiations if North Korea’s Kim Jong-il takes clear steps to name his youngest son as a successor at the party congress next week?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. North Korea -- it is within the power of the North Koreans to come back to the table and fulfill the obligations that they agreed to in giving up their nuclear program and in ensuring a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. So it is well within their own power to make significant progress on that issue. And I think that would be a tremendous benefit to the people of North Korea, who bear -- who often bear the consequences of a dictatorship that is not living up to its own responsibilities and obligations.
Q Would that be a positive step, though, if Kim Jong-il --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think there are a whole host of things that they can do. The easiest thing to do would simply -- would be to simply live up to the obligations that they agreed to, understanding that not living up to those obligations have seen a tightening of sanctions by the international community in a way that should demonstrate to the North Koreans the international seriousness with which countries all over the world view this issue.
Q Can you talk about reports that Israel is suggesting an agreement on a settlement freeze in exchange for the release of somebody who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve seen that, but I don’t have any comment on that.
Q And with the number of times that this White House has talked about making a strong pivot to jobs and the economy, is there any concern about pivoting away from jobs and the economy for the next three days in New York?
MR. GIBBS: No, because, again, the President -- I’ve done this a hundred times, but I don’t know why I wouldn’t do it 101st -- the President has been focused on the economy and is focused on the economy, and works on nothing more than he does on the economy each and every day. At the same time, I don’t think people expect that we’re not going to take the opportunity to improve our relationships around the world and in discussing, quite frankly, with a whole host of nations over the next couple days how to improve our economy, for instance, by increasing our exports, which I know is a big topic with a number of the countries with which we’ll be doing bilateral meetings over the next -- and multilateral meetings over the next few days.
So I think it will, again, present an opportunity for the President to talk about a whole host of things that we can and should do, because if you think about it -- going back to the very first G20 meeting that we had, the President talked about the fact that the American consumer could no longer drive, in and of him and herself, global demand; that there had to -- that we as a country had to export more, that through those exports we would create jobs. The President laid out ambitious goals to do that. And that will be a healthy part of the discussions that the President has over the next few days.
Q Six months ago, right after the health care bill was signed, President Obama went out and made a number of stops around the country showcasing the bill, what’s in it, how it’s going to benefit people, made a real push. Why, in your view, is it less popular today than it was then? What has happened in the public mind?
MR. GIBBS: Scott, I have not seen all the polling that you may have. Again, I think that -- I think a number of -- if you look at opinion polls, again, I think you overlay it largely with the fact that we’re dealing with 8 million jobs that have been lost and 9.6 percent unemployment. That affects a lot of what you’re doing and a lot of what you’re saying, regardless of what the issue is.
Q And it’s -- the President, will he continue to make the point throughout the campaign season that the health care reform bill is essential to economic progress in this country?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, the President did that yesterday at the town hall meeting. And I think if you look at and listen to -- if you listen to or go back and listen to what businesses said for a long time, they were getting crushed with health care costs. Small businesses that wanted to offer insurance to their employees couldn’t. Now they get a tax cut for doing that. Businesses get help; families get help; consumers get the protections that they need to ensure that they’re not a doctor’s visit away from going bankrupt. And all of those are important for the American people.
Q Robert, you talked earlier about people feeling frustrated about the economy and that the President understands that people are frustrated. Does he think that people are simply frustrated at the state of the economy, or does he think that they are frustrated with him personally and his handling of it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll say first and foremost, Sheryl, again this is -- I have long said that there is a frustration in where we are economically that has existed for many years. As I said earlier, we watched wages and standards of living decrease as jobs got shipped overseas, as a whole host of things happened.
I don’t doubt that people are frustrated that the pace of our economic recovery has not been faster under the President’s watch. But what is undeniable and that you heard the President reiterate yesterday is if you look at where we were and look at how far we’ve come, we’ve not come as far as the President would like -- not by a long shot -- but we’re adding jobs, eight months of private sector hiring, economic -- positive economic growth -- again, all of which is going to take -- this is going to take an enormous amount of time. No one in this administration ever said that this was going to be easy or that it wouldn’t take some time.
Q I guess what I’m asking, though, is how much does he perceive reactions like we saw yesterday as upset directed at him, directly at him, and not at just the general state of affairs in the country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the notion -- my guess is that’s hard to divorce, because, look, he understands he’s the President of the United States. But, again, you have -- look, at no point during the discussions of doing the Recovery Act did we ever say that the hole that 8 million jobs and several trillion dollars’ worth of output that disappeared was one piece of legislation going to fix. It helped in a big way ensure that losing 750,000 jobs a month wasn’t what happened every month.
And, look, if you look at the job loss over the course of the administration, again, you see us moving in the right direction. It’s just going to take some time. And I know the President always believed that, and everybody gets that that time may not correlate with a political calendar but there’s not much we can do about that.
Q Following on that, this morning former President Clinton said in an interview, kind of appealed to voters, said, well, give Democrats two more years and then if you’re not happy, things aren’t better, you can vote against all of them including President Obama, who will be on the ballot by then. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: Interesting deal to cut. (Laughter.) Look, I guess I don’t want to dispense with all the joy of the 2010 election and fast-forward all the way to 2012 just quite yet. But, again, I have no doubt that ultimately in four years that is how this administration will be judged. But I also think you’re going to -- I think this election and I think 2011 and 2012 are also going to be judged on the ideas that both parties put forward.
But I think I heard the former President say that the American people are frustrated and they should be. This President is frustrated. The former President is frustrated. And that is all certainly understandable.
Q But those questioners yesterday were frustrated and weren’t satisfied with his answers yesterday, and said so in interviews afterward.
MR. GIBBS: They also said they strongly supported the President. No, actually, I think -- again, I didn’t read all the interviews maybe that you did, but I saw one of them interviewed this morning who said they still were a strong supporter of the President. The first woman that asked a question said she was still a supporter of the President.
But, look, again, the notion of frustration being immune to people that supported the President -- nobody ever thought that was the case. I mean, again, understand that what people have gone through -- again, not just since January 20th or even September 15th of 2008, but for years. This was a frustration that built for years and years and years. Economic expansion that didn’t lead to job -- much job growth and led to income decline. We’ve virtually never had that before.
Q If the job creation and growth problems continue to be as persistent, is there any way that President Obama might look at an economy that still hasn’t moved far enough and decide not to run for reelection?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ann, I think the President, if he were here, would tell you that he spends next to no time thinking about his reelection in 2012 and spends his time with his team here working on how to strengthen our economic recovery, how to continue to add jobs for a 9th, a 10th, 11th and 12 months in a row; how to make sure that our growth is positive; and how to keep our country safe. That’s what the President is focused on -- not running for reelection in several years.
Q Robert, two quick things. Do you know what the First Lady is going to be speaking about to the Clinton Global Initiative?
MR. GIBBS: I do. But I don’t know if I can say it out loud, so I will have to check with the East Wing.
Q Why is she delivering the message there? The President is introducing her, isn’t that right?
MR. GIBBS: The President is introducing her and then I think the President, if my scheduling memory is correct -- she speaks; former President Clinton is there; current President Obama is meeting with -- has a Japanese bilat at that time.
So -- but, look, she was invited to be the keynote. I think that what she will talk about is something that follows on issues that she’s worked on and is something that is a priority of this administration and of hers personally.
Q Can I also ask you, the other day we heard that neither Abbas nor Netanyahu would be meeting with the President. I think Netanyahu is not even coming.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think he’s -- I don’t think that Netanyahu is attending. I think there’s a decent number of people who are.
Q Is there an effort afoot by the White House to get both of them there or to -- for at least --
MR. GIBBS: I think that we feel like the track that is ongoing, the direct talks, the commitment to do so every two weeks that Secretary of State Clinton and former Senator Mitchell are shepherding through is making real progress. And I don’t think there’s any big push to make sure that we have another one of those meetings in New York, as long as I think, again, we’re on the road to making progress on the direct talk track as we’re pursuing right now.
Q What’s the message he’s taking to the U.N. later this week, and what does he hope to accomplish in the Sudan meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I know there was a background call on this yesterday. I’d refer you to some of that. And I have not seen the final remarks yet in terms of the larger message. Obviously, if you look at the meetings -- again, bilats with China, bilats with Japan, the ASEAN meeting, the Sudan meeting are all somewhat unique but have overlapping concerns particularly on the global economy; will deal with the issues of North Korea and Iran. I don’t doubt that Middle East peace is something that, though a direct meeting is not on the schedule, will be the topic of quite a bit of conversation there.
Q Robert, two questions on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” First of all, we know that she’s been pushing out and extending her hand in conversation to senators, but has Lady Gaga reached out to this White House on “don’t ask, don’t tell”? She’s a part of this now.
MR. GIBBS: I do not -- she has not called me. I don’t know the answer to that. I have not heard -- in all seriousness, I’ve not heard of -- I’ve not heard that.
Q Can you name one song that she’s written?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, but I not dare going to do it on camera. (Laughter.)
Q Anyway, but on a serious note, on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” on the contradiction of civil rights issues and then the Department of Defense being one of the first organizations to integrate in this country, could you talk to me about what some perceive as a contradiction when it comes to this?
MR. GIBBS: Flesh that out for me a little bit.
Q Flesh it out? It’s a civil rights issue. They’re being denied the repeal. And then this --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, sure, okay. Look, April, this has been an issue that the President has believed was wrong and believed needed to be changed as a candidate in 2003 in a primary in Illinois, in a general election in 2004, as a U.S. senator, and as a candidate for President. This is -- I think the President believes, as former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe, that this is a policy that simply does not make sense on a whole host of levels.
And the House has passed a change in that policy. We are working with the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on implementing -- on steps to implement a change, and we believe that a change is coming.
Q So going back -- okay, going back to my original question, you’re talking about a change is coming. But isn’t it still, as some perceive, a contradiction because, again, the Department of Defense was one of the first organizations to integrate -- understanding that they needed all -- and now we have this fight about repealing or not repealing?
MR. GIBBS: Right, well, look, without getting it -- without really speaking much to the historical context, which I see where you’re going, the President believes this is a fundamentally unfair policy; has spoken out even when people, not just in the past couple years but over the course of his public career, even when this was not a -- the most popular thing to say or do. But the President believes the policy is unfair and should and will be changed.
Q Robert, on the economy, you said earlier this is going to take an “enormous” amount of time. How long?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s going to take several years from -- I think getting through a recession as deep as the one that we were faced with, the sheer amount of job loss, the shock to the system -- shock to our financial system, the change in our housing market. We’re dealing with, in many ways, if you look at what happened and what cascaded downward all at a certain period of time, you’re dealing with sort of the perfect storm.
As I said, you’ve got folks who’s lost -- they and their friends have lost their jobs; their housing values had decreased; for a long time the credit market was completely frozen. There are a whole host of things -- it wasn’t just one thing that needed to be fixed in order to get the economy moving again. And it took a long time from -- and I don’t have the exact figures in front of me -- but if you think about -- I think the job loss, monthly job loss probably started in December of 2007, and it was probably sometime the middle of 2009 or -- I’m sorry, probably toward the end of 2009 where you saw a month in which we added, on the plus side, new jobs.
That’s a good two-year period of -- followed -- or having been followed by a whole host of previous bad months before the recession officially began in December of 2007. I just think it’s going to take a long time to get out of the hole that we found ourselves in.
There weren’t any quick fixes. There aren’t any silver bullets. If there were, we would have done so.
I think that speaks to the frustration of what people are feeling. If you could hit a button or flip a switch or make something happen overnight, you certainly would do that. The problems that we face were long term, they were systemic, and they’re going to take some time.
Q Robert, could I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q The CBO has -- just on that same note, the CBO has projected that unemployment will remain above 8 percent until at least 2012. Does the administration have any kind of projections as to when it might go below 8 percent?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if in the mid-session -- I assume in the mid-session review there are some of those figures. I don’t have those in front of me. I don’t know.
Q Robert, given the frustration that was expressed with the President yesterday, is there anything that the President himself thinks that he may have done wrong on the economy, anything that he would want to take back in his handling of it at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I have not asked that question, Keith, of him directly. I know that the President, again, feels the frustration. I think we were probably on a different trajectory sometime in the spring and then things impacted our own recovery from Europe. But I think we have made a series of decisions -- and the President has made a series of decisions -- that while not altogether politically popular were ones that had to be made when they were made.
Q I mean, we used to ask Bush this question a lot. I mean, so no mistakes, he doesn’t feel that he’s made any mistakes so far in his handling of the economy?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, again, Keith, I haven’t put this question to him directly. I don’t know what he might say to that question. Again, I’d just say this. I don’t think he’s -- I think he understands that this was going to take some time. There weren’t the illusion that somehow, again, this was all going to be better in a very short period of time.
Q There’s already been calls for Congress to reconsider “don’t ask, don’t tell” during the lame-duck period after the elections. What’s the White House’s philosophy about legislative activity in that timeframe? And I have a follow-up question after that.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, Sam, there has not been a lot of discussion around here that I’ve been a part of on what happens sort of post-election in Congress. Obviously there may well be a whole host of issues including “don’t ask, don’t tell” that remain undecided.
Our focus right now is trying to get the business of the people done as Congress remains in session. I can try to get a better answer on the lame duck.
Q Thank you. And then the follow-up question is, I’ve had a couple progressive sources email me right now wondering why you’re not hammering Republicans harder from the lectern. They note that not only did DADT not get overturned but military funding was delayed today. And people I think -- Secretary Gates has said that the DREAM Act is essential not only to immigration but to help the U.S. forces readiness. Do you think that Congress ended up hurting military readiness today?
MR. GIBBS: Sam, I’ll repeat what I said earlier. I think that what we saw -- the delay is frustrating because the bill contained important funding for the Pentagon and for our troops; it contained important priorities of this President and this administration in the DREAM Act and in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And once again, you have the new normal of needing to have 60 people agree to move forward on simply providing the Pentagon with the funding that it needs for its troops, and I think that is -- it’s a sad, sad day where that’s the bar that everything has to go through in order to make progress.
Q Thanks. Two quick ones. The Afghanistan report?
MR. GIBBS: The Afghanistan report, I think Mike Hammer tried to get in touch with you, and I think the Kerry office said that they had not delayed that on any wish of ours. But I would point you over to Senator Kerry’s office to get the exact --
Q Second question, then. Do you think that Lady Gaga actually did more to help pass this bill this week than the White House?
MR. GIBBS: No, because we wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the President, David.
Q Robert, two questions.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on --
Q I’m sorry, I thought you were --
Q -- talking about Lady Gaga.
MR. GIBBS: Have you ever heard me give an answer that short?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there’s your answer. No, David, we wouldn’t be doing -- we wouldn’t be taking on these issues if it weren’t for the President. This was -- this is an issue that passed the House because of the President and this administration’s work and the work of many members in Congress. But understand, David, as I just said, it takes 60 votes just to get on a bill. Just to consider a piece of legislation that funds the Pentagon takes 60 votes. It’s something that is remarkable in our process, that we’ve come to this situation where simply funding the Pentagon takes the consent of three-fifths of those that are elected. And I don’t think that’s -- it’s certainly not healthy for the way our government works and it sets an awful precedent for getting things done in the future.
END 3:43 P.M. EDT
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