Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/7/2010
1:31 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: It’s been hours. Good afternoon. Before we get started, let me just confirm for you all what a number of you are reporting and some of you are seeing.
The President will not sign H.R. 3808. Our concern is unintended -- the unintended consequences on consumer protections, particularly in light of the home foreclosure issue and developments with mortgage processors. So the President is exercising a pocket veto, sending that legislation back to Congress to iron out some of those unintended consequences.
Q You can do that even though the pro forma session is going on in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: It’s our understanding, yes.
Q I’m sorry, what bill is that?
MR. GIBBS: H.R. 3808.
Q I don’t know it by number. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know it by title. (Laughter.)
Q We’re at an impasse.
Q Interstate recognition of notarization --
Q It’s the foreclosure --
MR. GIBBS: It’s the IRON Act. It has to do with notarizations -- out-of-state notarizations for financial documents.
Q I had a question about two other topics, Robert. First of all, on domestic politics, I wanted to ask you about something the President said last night: Unless we’re able to maintain Democrats in the House and Senate, then we’re going to be stalled for two years or four years, and we could even go backwards. And I’ve heard him talk about what he sees as obstructionism. But to say that this election is going to be stalling the next two years if Republicans win, is he just basically giving up there? I mean, there’s two more years of his presidency, even with a Republican Congress.
MR. GIBBS: No, and, look, I think we have seen Republicans for the previous two years stop and say no to virtually everything that the President has proposed. I think obviously the concern -- the concern he expresses there is if they were to gain control of some branch of the -- some house of the legislative branch that they would continue doing the same thing.
Q There are I’m sure many people who voted for the President who would expect him to continue to advance his agenda and work towards it even with a Republican Congress. Is he going to try to do that or is he just --
MR. GIBBS: Ben, we’ve tried to do that since the day we got here.
Again, there have been -- there’s been a strategy on behalf of -- exercised by Senator McConnell and Congressman Boehner to say no and to try to stop each and every thing that’s happened. That’s why they want to roll back Wall Street reform. That’s why they want to go back to the rules of -- that had banks in charge of making some of the decisions that got us into this mess. Those are -- that’s what we don’t want to go back to.
Q Well, there have been instances in the past where a President has lost seats or lost a house in the midterms, and then adjusted and got things done. Do you think the President is hopeful that he can do that?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is working hard every day not to lose a house.
Q And what about on the Mideast peace process? Can you update us specifically about whether the President is having a role here trying to keep these talks going?
MR. GIBBS: I know that the President met earlier in the week with Secretary of State Clinton to get an update on where we are in the situation. I know that both the Secretary of State and former Senator Mitchell, our Middle East envoy, have worked throughout the week with both sides to try to continue these important direct talks.
I don’t have anything new or specific on that. Again, as Senator Mitchell said I think over the weekend, we continue to work back and forth with both sides in order to move this process along.
Q Robert, on that bill that would make it harder for homeowners to challenge foreclosures, why not just a straight veto of that? Why do a pocket veto? And also, were you guys blindsided by this? I know you said you had meetings on this today.
MR. GIBBS: No, again, we’ve heard from -- let me check on the second one with counsel. On the first one, Caren, I would say we have heard from officials around the country about the concern that they have about the possible unintended consequences of this legislation, certainly in light of what we’re seeing in the mortgage processing.
So out of an abundance of caution and to ensure that those unintended effects don’t harm consumers, the President will send the bill back, and believes that Congress did not intend for those unintended consequences to be in the legislation, and we’ll -- and we will as an administration work with Congress to fix this.
Q So you talk with people on the Hill and you think maybe they’ll send it back in another form? Is that --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have an update on that. I know they were certainly informing the Hill of the President’s action and certainly we’ll work with the Hill in whatever capacity we need to to fix any legislation so that it doesn’t complicate the process.
Q And then also I had another question. Just following up on the discussion about Pakistan, I’m just wondering how extensively is this going to be dealt with in the December report? And can you talk a little bit about what we can expect in the December AfPak report? There’s been some reporting saying that this is not going to be a decisive report, it’s not going to be as extensive a review as last year. What is it going to be? What can the American people expect?
MR. GIBBS: Look, well, remember, last year we were making some very broad and fundamental decisions about the direction of our policies, some resource decisions that needed to be made. I do not expect that the -- that process will be as extensive as the process that we went through last fall and early last winter. Obviously the President wants to evaluate, as we do each month, where we are; decide whether or not there are any adjustments or changes to make. I think it’s important to understand that we got an increase in our force structure; the troop resources got into Afghanistan, as we promised, by the end of August.
So this will give us a chance to evaluate several months of a full complement of those resources in the country. It’s hard to say whether -- what we expect ultimately out of the review. I think obviously the President wants to take stock of where we are and see if there are any minor adjustments. I don’t expect any major adjustments.
Q And what about Pakistan? Is the review an important chance to have a look at where things stand, especially with everything that’s going on now?
MR. GIBBS: We have a very difficult and complicated situation in Pakistan. We have worked hard on this relationship. We understand it’s important to our security. Later this month representatives of the government of Pakistan will be here to continue the strategic dialogue that the President began at the beginning of his administration in order to have very regular conversations about what is in our mutual interest, particularly fighting insurgents and extremists that we know threaten Pakistan, threaten the stability of Afghanistan, and ultimately threaten the security of our homeland.
Q Who will be in that delegation? And is the President himself going to be in there?
MR. GIBBS: I will see if there’s a longer list of who that is.
Q Has the President called, or does the President intend to call, Roy Halladay? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t --
Q Could we talk to him, too?
MR. GIBBS: You could -- you wire that through David Plouffe, he’d be happy to be on the phone, too. I don’t know if he has. I can check on that.
Q If you could let me know, that would be great. (Laughter.) And the other question -- I went back and I read the August 4th --
MR. GIBBS: I was waiting for like Zardari or somebody -- Netanyahu -- (laughter.)
Q First things first, right?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q I went back and I read the August 4th briefing with Allen, Lubchenco, you and Carol Browner, after Carol Browner went on the morning shows and gave what you acknowledge to be, and the oil spill commission says is erroneous information about -- when she said that 70 percent, three-quarters of the oil was gone. And that was overstating the case. And I didn’t really see any -- while it’s true, absolutely, that Lubchenco gave the precise information, I didn’t really see any correction that -- or any alerting of the public that however many tens of millions of Americans had been given incorrect information a few hours before. And I’m wondering if --
MR. GIBBS: I brought the report out, I didn’t bring my briefing out. Let me go back and look. I would point you, I guess, to what Director -- Dr. Lubchenco said in that briefing as she appropriately represented the viewpoint of NOAA.
Look, I think it is important to understand that our response attacked the oil spill in an unprecedented way. It was the largest environmental disaster that we have ever faced and we attacked it with the largest federal response. We did all that was humanly possible in the most challenging of environments.
Q Right, but this is more about communication, about communicating an overly optimistic -- whether it was a misunderstanding or not, an overly optimistic prognosis of what was going on in the water. And the White House has acknowledged that Carol Browner misunderstood, misspoke, what have you. And I’m wondering if not only does the White House regret that she did that, but that the White House didn’t make more of a point, because there were headlines the next day -- 75 percent of the oil gone -- to make it clear that she had misspoke.
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I think we were -- I will go back and read it. I think we were abundantly clear in the briefing that was done in here on the 4th of August exactly what the oil budget represented. It represented the fact that there was very good news, that oil had biodegraded, that oil had been skimmed, that oil had been burned, that the very worst-case scenarios that many people thought we would be dealing with never came to fruition, largely because of that federal response.
Again, I’m happy to look through the briefing. Look, I think it is fair to say that Carol probably did hundreds of hours of interviews and may have misspoke once, which is a pretty darn good track record and one that we made sure was accurate certainly just a few hours later.
Q But should you have been more precise? Carol Browner gave information that was not -- I forget the word that Jonathan used earlier, but not as nuanced as it should have been?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would point you to the briefing. I think the briefing on the 4th was rather clear.
Q Who in OMB decided to withhold the information on the worst-case scenario on the oil spill? And did somebody in the White House know about this?
MR. GIBBS: Again, no information was altered. No information was withheld. And nothing in the report had anything to do with the robust response.
The report that NOAA sent over did not include in its modeling -- it’s not a flow-rate document -- in its modeling did not include any activity that was being done, as I just mentioned a minute ago, to mechanically recover, skim, to burn, to disperse, to boom oil from spreading along the coast and up the Eastern seaboard, which we now know it didn’t do.
OMB is a regular part of a process that reviews government documents before they’re released. NOAA, as we put out in a statement yesterday, understood that the analysis did not include that, went back and included that, and that report was released and is on the Internet for anyone to read today.
Q But did they know about the initial worst-case scenario before they released that information?
MR. GIBBS: Did who know?
Q Did NOAA or OMB know about the initial worst-case --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the worst-case scenario was being discussed on national television -- in fact, on CNN, at that very time that our worst-case scenario was 100,000 barrels of oil leaking a day. We know that wasn’t happening. We know that the response was robust in ensuring that every step possible was taken to protect the coastline and prevent more damage from being done.
Q So you’re saying that on page 10, when the report says staff was told that the Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA’s request, you’re saying that is simply false?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, if you read the other two paragraphs -- I guess I have in front of me -- there’s a discussion about whether or not this is a flow-rate document. This is not a flow-rate document. This is basically a document that goes through the likelihood of shoreline impacts, and assesses a series of 500 models for where that oil may or may not go.
The report did not include any efforts that were being done or would be done over the course of -- I think the modeling went 120 days -- that none of the modeling took into account that things were being done to prevent the oil from spreading from the wellhead. So therefore it wasn’t an accurate representation of what the larger environment would have looked like.
Q Okay, but -- so OMB did deny a request from NOAA, just not that request?
MR. GIBBS: OMB sent the report back to NOAA to include that in the 500 different modeling analysis that were done on shoreline impact. That report is on the Internet now for people to look at. The worst-case scenario -- and if you look at those maps, the worst-case scenario was oil off the coast of what looks like probably the Hilton Head/Charleston area in South Carolina, which is, as you know, several hundred miles, maybe a thousand or so miles from where the oil actually did get to because the response prevented it from spreading.
Q On health care, on the health care waivers, the 30 or so health care waivers that have been granted to McDonald’s and some other businesses and health insurers, where’s the stop? I mean, if you give them to some, why don’t you have to give them to anybody who asks? And if there are a lot more waivers, doesn’t that undermine health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: No, health care reform passed and is being implemented. And the waivers are about ensuring and protecting the coverage that people have until there are better options available to them in 2014.
Q These are only one-year waivers. Aren’t they going to ask for them year after year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, our job is to protect -- a lot of these plans are called mini-med plans. They’re very -- they’re basic coverage below a number of what I think most people would consider kind of minimal standards.
We want to ensure that in the time that it takes to implement the law and to give people better options, that they don’t find themselves at the mercy of an insurance company jacking up their rates. And that’s why those waivers were granted.
Q But now that the dam has kind of broken, why would anybody not ask for a waiver? Anybody who feels that this law burdens them in any way is going to ask for a waiver.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think that’s the case because that’s not been the case thus far.
Q Well, is that -- maybe that’s because it hasn’t been known that widely that 30 have been granted. You’re not worried that the dam is going to burst here?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not worried that the dam is going to burst. Health insurance reform is going to provide far greater opportunity and far better coverage to millions of Americans to ensure that they get the right health care and the right care.
Q And quickly, a new CBS poll shows the President at 38 percent on approval of handling of the economy -- that’s the lowest yet. And only 15 percent say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate supported by President Obama; 31 percent say less likely. Any comment?
MR. GIBBS: Not really. (Laughter.) Look, I think the -- you’ve spent a lot of money to find out that we’re in a very tough economy. We are in the midst of, as I’ve said in here, dealing with 8 million jobs that have been lost, a financial calamity, a mortgage crisis that’s going to take some time to dig out of.
Q Well, with everything the President is doing and saying and talking about signs of the -- glimmers of the recovery, why would it be getting worse, not better?
MR. GIBBS: Because it’s not getting better fast enough -- which is understandable and the President is as frustrated as I’m sure the 605 or so respondents to that poll.
Q It’s over a thousand.
MR. GIBBS: Is it?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I didn’t include the other 295. No, I don’t know. Go ahead.
Q Does the President find the 30 waivers or so on health care troubling, perhaps a flaw in the law if you need to offer that many waivers?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, this is about implementing a bill correctly. This is about ensuring that people have -- as health care reform ramps up, that we don’t -- we protect consumers and we don’t put them at the mercy of health insurance companies.
Q One of the waivers went to the United Federation of Teachers in New York. What about the criticism that this may be returning a favor to a supporter?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve never heard that. I haven’t seen anybody make that. Given the questions that were asked about our so-called relationship with business, I think that would be a charge that would be hard even for most to make.
Q You guys have been pushing back pretty hard on the findings in this report, and I guess I just wonder, isn’t the whole point of this presidential commission to learn from mistakes? And you guys are pushing back insofar as the conclusions are damaging to you.
MR. GIBBS: No, let’s -- I think let’s be clear, these are staff working drafts. They stipulate on them these don’t necessarily -- are not necessarily the opinions of those on the commission.
The President appointed a commission to ask some very tough questions. But I also think, Savannah, it doesn’t help anybody in understanding the oil crisis if what’s set out in the report doesn’t actually match with what happened in reality.
Q Well, you guys are fighting the conclusions pretty hard. I take your point that it’s a draft, but, you know, it’s the President himself that said he told Graham and Reilly don’t wait, tell me now. Don’t hold the results of your review for six months and then tell me; tell me when you find out.
MR. GIBBS: Savannah, as you reported last night, the report says clearly “does not necessarily reflect the views either of the commission as a whole or of any of its members.” But again, Savannah, I think -- the President wants -- the President appointed the commission and looks forward to the commission’s final conclusions. But understand, Savannah, it doesn’t do anybody any good to look into a situation and not have the full story. It doesn’t -- if -- the document that NOAA sent to OMB is not a flow-rate document. It has -- there is nothing in it that talks about worst case, and there’s nothing in it that computes a flow rate.
Now, if you read the upper part of page 10, you’d come away with that feeling. That’s why Dr. Lubchenco will send a letter today to the commission ensuring that they have an adequate understanding of what was happening in that process at that time.
Q Well, given that, on the flipside, are you then concerned about the analysis that’s going on, on a staff level? I mean, why would you have any confidence in the findings if -- it’s garbage in, garbage out -- if you think this report is so flawed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, what we have answered questions on -- yes, do we have concerns about the breadth of that analysis and the fact that they haven’t taken into account or lead people to conclude different things that we don’t believe shows the full context? Absolutely.
Q Is there any point of criticism in these staff reports that you guys would accept and say, you know what, we could have done that better?
MR. GIBBS: Look, no, no, there isn’t anybody in this building or anybody that was involved in this that would tell you that everything was done perfectly. Everybody --
Q Is there anything specific --
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to go through my copy of it. I would say this. Savannah, we were dealing with an unprecedented situation. You heard Admiral Allen, in the very first days, discuss 40 years of dealing with disasters and never dealing with a disaster that you couldn’t either see or walk right up to. This was 5,000 feet below the ocean, the greatest environmental disaster that our country has faced, met with the greatest federal response.
But we think it’s important that as the commissioners get the staff drafts, that they include what was actually and wholly taking place, not simply an analysis based on only part of that.
Q Okay, and then last thing on the notarization bill. Is this an example of incompetence by Congress that they passed a bill that was about to lay on the President’s desk, not really recognizing the full consequences?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this was -- I think that, and you’ll see in a statement that we put out -- we believe that certainly people had best intentions in mind, but because of a confluence of events we’re seeing particularly around the processing of mortgages, we thought it was important to ensure that none of those unintended consequences affecting consumers came into play.
Q Robert, when OMB intervenes in a report, to what extent do politics play a role?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this was career OMB staffers dealing with career NOAA scientists. Again, it’s important to understand none of the science in any of the report was changed. Nothing in the report dealt with or impacted at all the response that you are seeing.
Again, the report didn’t accurately convey what would have gone on in the modeling over a 120-day period about the possible shoreline impacts geographically of that oil.
Q And on another issue, are you aware of the problem that kept some diplomats from getting to the reception on Tuesday afternoon?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. As I understand it, there was information that was inputted into the WAVES records incorrectly that prevented some. I believe -- we certainly apologize for that inconvenience. I believe the State Department has also made phone calls about that, expressing our regret on any of that error.
Q On -- briefly referenced it -- but has the President called Zardari on Pakistan?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. The President has not spoken to him recently.
Q What’s being done to -- I mean, is there anything beyond a Patterson apology? What’s being done to mend fences or unwind tension there? I mean, you have these fuel convoys aren’t getting in.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously you saw the statement from Ambassador Patterson, which I think in many ways speaks for itself. Obviously she is very much in contact with the Pakistani government as are other officials at the State Department. And I would say, Hans -- I said this earlier -- we expect that the government of Pakistan will do what is necessary to ensure the safety of those involved from militants and insurgents. That’s their responsibility, too.
Q But aside from the embassy in Pakistan, nothing is being done here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if there is anybody else at NSC that’s in touch with them. I do not know that anybody -- certainly the President has not talked to President Zardari.
Q And just to shift gears real quick, earlier today, Donohue over at the Chamber of Commerce accused this administration of “suffocating the entrepreneurial spirit.” Can we get your comment?
MR. GIBBS: I think he did that in unleashing a series of new ads. And I would reiterate what I have said and what you’ll hear the President say later today about third-party ads. If every one of the donors that have gone into contributing for those ads, the identities of those individuals or groups should be known. Certainly Mr. Donohue wouldn’t -- I assume -- have any problem with listing those -- listing any donors that might have contributed to such an ad campaign.
Q So your concern is the process, not the actual substance of what Donohue is saying?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not generally concerned with what he’s saying, no.
Q Robert, what’s the status of the scientific integrity guidelines --
MR. GIBBS: They are still checking on those and I will -- HHS was working on them and we’ll get them to you later today.
Q I’m sorry -- the guidelines --
MR. GIBBS: This is the -- you’re talking about what you asked about earlier today, the stem cell stuff?
Q No, this is the -- when the President announced that he was going to change the federal funding for stem cells he also signed an executive order --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, the scientific guidelines. They’re working on that through HHS, and I’ll try to find out.
Q Okay. And can you just go over -- you talked a little bit this morning about the role that OMB plays as kind of a traffic cop --
MR. GIBBS: They are part of a regular process of reviewing agency reports, of speeches, testimony, releases, policy decisions, to ensure that the material is accurate and reflective of reality. And that’s the role that they played in this instance as well.
Q It’s not sort of a graveyard for scientific reports?
MR. GIBBS: No, because, again, no scientific data was changed in this. Again, the --
Q I’m not saying specifically about the oil --
MR. GIBBS: Right, no, but I want to say, in general, it’s not true, and in this specific instance, none of the scientific data was changed whatsoever -- the entire situation that was taken into account in the modeling of potential shoreline impact.
Q Thanks, Robert. Could you shed some light on what’s been some confusion around whether or not the United States has offered Israel any guarantees, any incentives to keep this --
MR. GIBBS: Scott, all I will say on that is what I said earlier about our process in terms of the Secretary of State and Ambassador Mitchell working with both sides to bring them closer to a comprehensive peace and to a continuation of direct talks, without getting into diplomatic specifics.
Q What’s the administration’s message to the Arab League tomorrow on whether or not to continue?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, that is -- in many ways, that’s what is going on right now. That is what former Senator Mitchell is working through. And we believe -- we saw in their participation in Washington and ultimately in direct talks in the Middle East that there was a seriousness of purpose that we thought was productive and could lead us on a path to something that generations have been seeking. And we hope that even in the disappointment of a decision on settlement moratoriums that we can continue those direct talks and we hope to do that.
Q Robert, thank you. There’s a large group of veterans who participated in Afghanistan and Iraq and they’re demonstrating today. They’re asking that people with PTSD and traumatic brain injury not be sent back, and they’re saying that this has contributed to quite a large amount of suicides in the military. Is the President aware of this? Is he communicating with them in any way?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know about the protest outside. Obviously TBI -- traumatic brain injury -- PTSD is something that the President worked on as a member of the Senate. Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have been working with veterans, veteran service organizations, along with General Shinseki, around the alarming and high rate of suicides both in theater and back here, and it’s an issue that we can and should take extraordinarily seriously.
We know that combat in both of those theaters puts an enormous strain on individuals, and both those in combat and those coming back ought to have access to every benefit that they deserve and that they’ve earned. We, through the Recovery Act, increased the funding for the VA to historic levels and we will continue to ensure that those that serve have access to the best services.
Q If a soldier says he or she does not feel fit to go back into combat, back into the battlefield, is there any sympathy for that soldier?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, what I just said -- obviously that concern can and will be taken seriously. I would point you specifically to DOD about the operational procedure for how that might happen.
Q Thank you, Robert. The Washington Post reports that Obama’s administration is trying to escalate the international trade war on China’s currency. Is that true?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you have heard the Secretary of Treasury and the President and others in the administration discuss the need for China to take steps as it relates to its currency, that we are watching and evaluating the measures and the steps that they take. We understand Congress -- before leaving, the House passed legislation relating to that, and expressed the same concern that the President and the Secretary of Treasury have. We continue to believe that China must take steps.
Q So that legislation is helpful?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the evaluation of the legislation. I think the legislation demonstrates that there is a bipartisan recognition -- a recognition at both end of Pennsylvania Avenue -- the concern that we have for China’s currency.
Q Would the President sign such legislation?
MR. GIBBS: That would be part of the evaluation process, and I don’t know the answer to that.
Q So will the President discuss the issue with Secretary Geithner this afternoon for tomorrow’s IMF --
MR. GIBBS: I have no doubt that when the President and Secretary Geithner get together, that will always be a topic of conversation.
Q Back on the working documents of the national commission, now that you’re at a briefing where we can record your answers for use, one of the fundamental -- well, we couldn’t record you earlier.
MR. GIBBS: No, you can make copious and accurate notes and reflect them in -- go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q One of the fundamental points that the working documents make is that the optimistic expression of information from the administration showed the government was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid. Was it either of those?
MR. GIBBS: This was an unprecedented environmental disaster met with an unprecedented federal response, which prevented any of the worst-case scenarios to coming to fruition. It prevented the spread of oil along the East Coast. We took --
Q Were you always candid about the information the government had?
MR. GIBBS: When we had information, we gave it to the public. That was -- that has always been our charge. We were -- throughout this process, we got better information. When the rig exploded and the blowout preventer failed 5,000 feet below the ocean, nobody could see what was happening. Through the course of several months, we got better information. We got cameras 5,000 feet below the surface. We enhanced the video that we saw. We were able to do more three-dimensional modeling. And then we directed, at Secretary Chu’s insistence, British Petroleum to --
Q It’s just BP.
MR. GIBBS: Just BP -- I’m sorry, it’s just a habit -- to install pressure monitors at the site to get the best available data on the flow rate. And that’s what we did. We always sought to provide the best information as we were engaged in the most robust federal response that we’ve ever seen to an accident of this magnitude ever.
Q Back on Ann, and then another question --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, back on?
Q Back on what Ann was saying, and then another question, but the AP article says that this White House did block scientists. So are you saying unequivocally that --
MR. GIBBS: That’s not the case. That is -- again, the report, after it included what was -- what was included -- what NOAA had specifically not included in its modeling, that report was released and is on the Internet today.
Q Now, on a couple of other things. One, the President goes to Bowie today to talk about education and to help the O’Malley-Brown ticket, but in the long run, the President talks about education helping the economy. Where does it stand? How do you reconcile this on the short term with education -- his promotion for education when jobs are needed now and money needs to be moving now? How do you reconcile that on the short term with education?
MR. GIBBS: Reconcile? Maybe I didn’t follow.
Q How is education in the next couple of months going to help the economy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as you saw just this week with private and public partnerships with skill training and in our lifting up of community colleges that Dr. Biden is so passionate about, just in those two aspects alone you see us partnering with educational institutions and in businesses to create training for and a skill set for the jobs of today even as we understand that education will create the foundation of preparing a workforce for the jobs not just of today, but ultimately of tomorrow. A society without a strong educational system is not a society that will long flourish economically, as without a skilled workforce, you’re not going to attract the type of jobs that are necessary. I think that is -- that’s true in virtually every community in this country.
Q But, again, it goes back to the fact that that’s somewhat medium to long term. I’m talking about --
MR. GIBBS: I guess -- ensuring that we have the type of education that is necessary today isn’t done -- we’re not doing that in -- we’re not doing that in place of ensuring that we have a strong and robust economic recovery. If it ever becomes either/or, we go back to the scenario I discussed a second ago, and that is you’re not going to find a society that will flourish.
Q And also, Elizabeth Warren delivered a presentation to the economic team of the President yesterday. Was this her first presentation to the President in her new role?
MR. GIBBS: I believe it was her first attendance at the President’s economic daily briefing.
Q Was it a formal --
MR. GIBBS: You know, I have to say I am almost always in there and I was not in there yesterday. So I don’t know the answer to that.
Q Back to the Afghan policy review, this is not expected to produce major changes to the strategy. Will the evaluations be used to start to make the decisions on how pronounced the beginning of the drawdown will be in July 2011?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some better guidance from NSC on that, Stephen. I think that -- the President, again, receives a weekly update from commanders in Afghanistan and from our diplomatic corps in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan; receives -- there’s monthly Situation Room updates, and obviously this is part of the review to ensure that we evaluate where we are, chart the progress that we’re making, and identify places that we know we have to improve on.
And I think it is likely that in each of those meetings and in each of those memos, there are some positive things that are happening and some things that we understand we have to change. That will be what’s involved in the December review.
Again, we will have a better chance of and a better way of looking at where we are several months after the full complement of additional troops are into Afghanistan.
Q Thank you, Robert, and back to the Middle East, if I may. It was reported today in Israel that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked President Obama to abide by the agreement between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon in 2004. Essentially it allows for the annexation of large settlement blocks as part of a final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Could you be able to tell us what’s the position today of the White House on this agreement?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen that statement, so let me look at some of that reporting and see if there’s anything that we can do.
Q Robert, the President is going to Illinois today to help out in the Senate race there. Can you tell us what other Senate races are now on the schedule, the President’s schedule?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have -- Bill, I don’t have a schedule in front of me, but let me pull some of that information. I know later in the month we’ll be out West. Obviously, earlier, the President was in -- a couple weeks ago or within the past couple weeks, in Connecticut.
Q -- the next few weeks.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I don’t have it right in front of me, but I can --
Q On Delaware, Sarah Palin said this morning she is going to Delaware to campaign for Christine O’Donnell. Does the President have any plans to go to Delaware for Chris Coons?
MR. GIBBS: I know that -- I know the Vice President has been there and -- but let me check on the schedule to see if the President will travel to Delaware.
Q Robert, just a quick question about the Ghailani trial. I’m sorry, it just --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me come back here and then I’ll come back.
Q Let me -- I just wanted to ask about -- yesterday we asked you about the teleconferences with Karzai. You were going to check how regular they were.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me -- I thought that was gotten back to, but I will -- if not, I will -- we’ll send that around.
Q Let me ask it in this sense -- was there a policy change made in how regularly the President will have direct --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, but let me go -- let me -- we’ll get that to you this afternoon.
Q The lame-duck session -- I had a question on the agenda. You said what you’ve been listing hasn’t been all-inclusive. Are you also planning to promote legislation to discourage companies from shipping jobs overseas and paying for it with the closing tax loopholes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, that’s certainly been a priority of the President. It’s been a priority of a number of members of Congress. And we would certainly love to see those loopholes closed and to ensure that we’re not rewarding companies for moving jobs overseas, absolutely.
Yes, sir, and then I’ll --
Q Thanks, Robert. Just returning back to politics, the midterms here. As you know, the President has made a real push over the last few weeks to sort of reignite enthusiasm among the young voters. You had that rally in Madison, Wisconsin. On the 14th he’s having the MTV town hall. Can you talk a little bit about how important this demographic group is to Democrats in the midterm elections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we saw young people get involved in big numbers in 2008. We saw people that had never been involved in these type of political campaigns before registering the vote, exercising -- not only exercising that right but getting involved in actively participating in campaigns, which is good for our democracy.
So always in an off-year election you see a drop-off in terms of the types of participation that you normally see in a presidential year. We want to ensure that what’s been referred to appropriately as the “enthusiasm gap” is closed, and certainly a number of national polls show that that is indeed happening. And this is some place I think the President has a real affinity for young people being involved in the political process, and ensuring that what they have at stake, they have a chance to participate in in this election.
Q As I’m sure you know, the judge ruled in the Ahmed Ghailani trial that one witness would not testify -- that’s the man who allegedly sold Ghailani the explosives used in the U.S. embassy bombings. And a lot of critics of terrorists being tried -- or alleged terrorists being tried in civilian courts are seizing on this as an example of exactly why they should be prosecuted in military tribunals. I was wondering if this -- what your response is, what the President thinks of this, and whether or not this does indeed, in the President’s mind, underscore the need for some of these cases to go to military tribunals.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say, first and foremost, Jake, we were active participants in reforming a military commission system to allow that to be an important avenue in dealing with alleged terrorists. In this particular case, I believe -- and I’d point you specifically to Justice -- it’s a pending criminal matter that I don’t want to wade deeply into because of it. I understand that they’re certainly reviewing the order and making plans, I believe, to appeal what the judge issued yesterday. And we continue to believe that, as we saw in the case of Mr. Shahzad, that there is an appropriate avenue for these courts to play in dealing with -- and in Mr. Shahzad’s case -- arresting, interrogating, getting valuable intelligence information and ultimately locking him up for the rest of his life for his actions in Times Square.
Q Will the President and First Lady be hitting the campaign trail together? And what does --
MR. GIBBS: Segue. (Laughter.)
Q And what does --
MR. GIBBS: That was not a setup. (Laughter.) That just happened to be -- let me answer the first part of your question by announcing that on Sunday, October 17th, the President and the First Lady will travel to Cleveland, Ohio. The President was scheduled to be there -- to be in Columbus later that day. He will travel for a fundraiser for Governor Strickland. They will then head to Columbus, Ohio, for the previously announced DNC rally. Sunday --
Q Cleveland proper?
MR. GIBBS: I do not have a -- it says Cleveland, Ohio. I don’t know exactly where --
Q City limits?
Q The suburbs, Cleveland City --
Q What block?
Q -- the city of Cleveland or the suburbs?
MR. GIBBS: This is not my iPad map, so I don’t -- did you have a second one?
Q What do you make of West Virginia’s lawsuit against the administration regarding the EPA’s coal-mining policies?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t have any information on that but I’ll --
Q Robert, if the Hill says it’s not appropriate to pocket veto, will the President just veto it then?
MR. GIBBS: Has the Hill said that?
Q We’re just getting some kind of befuddled reaction from the Hill, so I’m just double-checking --
MR. GIBBS: The President has -- my understanding from counsel is the President certainly has a constitutional -- the constitutional ability to do that and that’s what he’s exercising.
Q Do you plan to spend two hours with us every day? You really like us that much?
MR. GIBBS: Two or three, maybe four. (Laughter.)
END 2:20 P.M. EDT
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