Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/22/2010
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two topics, please. On North Korea, could you give us some detail about the President’s thoughts on the revelation of this new enrichment facility? Well, let’s start with that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to get into intelligence or anything like that. I'll just say that obviously their claims, if true, contradict the pledges and commitments that they’ve made repeatedly to the international community. As you know, our representatives are traveling in the region right now to brief our partners and our allies and coordinating a policy response to their actions.
Q You said, “if true.” Is it still in doubt?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to discuss intelligence.
Q While the parties involved are trying to get North Korea to comply to the six-party process, does the White House view that this threat is deepening? Is this another example of that?
MR. GIBBS: I want to separate those for just a second. I think the six-party process can -- and the administration believes the six-party process can play an important role if and when the North Koreans take that six-party process to move toward denuclearization seriously. We do not wish to talk simply for the sake of talking. North Koreans have to be serious about living up to their obligations, and not having done so has put the sanctions regime in place that is the strongest the country has ever faced and has greatly increased the price of their noncompliance.
What was your second --
Q All the while, is the threat deepening from North Korea?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the threat has always been serious. We have certainly taken it as such and will continue to do so. That's why we went to the U.N. to get a stronger sanctions regime on their ability to move anything out of their country that could do others harm.
Q One other topic, please. On the controversy that's emerged about the security screening process at airports, does the White House have a view about the planned protests on Wednesday at airports and how that might affect both security and travel?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that our TSA Administrator, Mr. Pistole, addressed that in some interviews this morning. I would just remind people that -- well, a couple things. First I'd point obviously to what the President had to say on this Saturday evening in Lisbon, and that is we put in place enhanced security measures for the simple reason that for more than two decades al Qaeda and terrorists have sought to do us harm and have focused in on aviation and airplanes. Just in the past year we've seen the Christmas Day attempt by Mr. Abdulmutallab to blow up an airplane using a device that, as the President said, would not have and was not picked up by a simple metal detector.
Just in the past few weeks alone we’ve seen an effort by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to bring down an airplane using explosives in cargo. So we must do everything that we can to protect the public.
The President, again, as you heard him say a few days ago, in meeting with Secretary Napolitano and Administrator Pistole has said, our goal must be to maximize protection and security and minimize inconvenience and invasiveness.
He asked them then and continues to ask those that we do all that we can to protect the public and do so in a way that is the least inconvenient as possible. And it’s not an easy task. But we know that al Qaeda -- we know from intelligence that al Qaeda seeks to do harm through aviation security, through devices concealed on a body inside of a device that one might take onto an airplane or in luggage that's put on an airplane.
So our charge is to do all that we can to protect those that travel, but also to do so in a way that's, as I said, minimally invasive. And that's a balance that we will continue to search for. I think what’s important is -- this was a process that, based on intelligence and based on feedback, is and will continue to evolve and change. That's the nature of both the threat and the response to it.
So I think that -- we’ve been asked, well, will you take into account some of people’s concerns or complaints based on medical conditions or how they feel personally about some of this? Absolutely. We seek to do -- as I said, we seek to maximize the security and protection and minimize that invasiveness. So this is a -- these are procedures that will continue to evolve.
Again, the charge of the TSA is to ensure that when you or I or others get onto an airplane that we can feel reasonably assured that we can travel safely. And I think that’s what the President wants certainly most of all around travel for this Thanksgiving holiday.
Q Robert, what happened between Sunday, when the head of the TSA seemed to be signaling no ground on the searches and pat-downs, and Sunday night and this morning, when he is talking about the need for some flexibility?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t know that anything in particular happened except -- again, I think if you look at what the President’s charge has been in a flexible and evolving security process is to ensure exactly what I just told Ben, that we put the utmost importance on protection and to do so in a way -- have that carried out in a way that is the least inconvenient for those that travel.
Again, it’s -- and, look, the policies have to evolve. Remember, when we originally -- and this is years ago, so I’m going to use a couple of examples. When we originally did TSA screenings, you didn’t have to take your shoes off. Then someone tried to put a bomb in their shoes and X-raying shoes was something that was important.
Now, we’ve moved obviously to something where Mr. Abdulmutallab had a device on himself that walking through a metal detector is not going to go off. Because of that, we moved to AITs -- advanced imaging technology -- to provide security screeners with a better opportunity to detect whether or not somebody is trying to smuggle, again, something concealed on themselves, concealed in what would be a normal device or in their luggage.
Q I also wanted to ask about START. Do you feel that you’ve answered Senator Kyl’s concerns on this issue? At what point does it just become a political disagreement?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as the President said on Saturday, that we take everyone at their word that they are here to protect and do all that they can to protect the country. The President spoke with Senator Kyl last week --
Q Was that before or after he made his --
MR. GIBBS: After. After. The Vice President continues to speak to senators from both sides of the aisle on trying to move this process forward. Look, if Senator Kyl has questions we're happy to address them and to meet them. That's what -- that's an important thing to do in this process.
I think it’s important, if you look at what the series and range of statements that we heard over the course of the weekend from the military, from those retired in the military who had operational roles in our nuclear security, hearing from our allies in NATO and particularly our allies in Eastern Europe, those closest to Russia and the old Soviet Union, in saying clearly that ratification of this treaty is in their best interest and our best interest in getting it done quickly -- that's I think a tremendously important endorsement for those efforts in curtailing the number of deployed nuclear weapons and ensuring an inspection regime as it relates to the Russian nuclear program.
Q Robert, on the TSA rules, when Secretary Clinton was asked yesterday on CBS whether she would submit to this, she laughed and said that she wouldn't want to. How can you ask the rest of the public to follow through on these rules if a senior administration official laughs at them and says she wouldn't do it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, Ed, if you go back to look at the course of her interviews, I think she also says that -- look, I think we’d all love to live in a world and exist in a place where none of this is required. But as she said, we don't have that luxury because, as I said earlier, we've known for two decades that al Qaeda and terrorists of the like have sought to do harm using an airplane, inside the aviation -- inside the realm of aviation.
Look, first and foremost, to avoid something like that, one should go through the AIT. One should go through that screening device in order to be on a plane. But I think, Ed, what she was saying was if you look at -- we live in a world where, of course, nobody would want to -- it would be nice to live in a world where that wasn’t necessary. But again, just less than a year ago we know that somebody got on an airplane with the intent of blowing it up using a device that would not have been picked up by a metal detector and that's cause for quite a bit of security concern.
Q So if the regulations are so important now to prevent another Abdulmutallab, why did it take nearly a year to put this system in place? Why didn’t it happen in February, March, April -- it happened last Christmas.
MR. GIBBS: There are a series of procedures that have been phased in. We have AITs -- advanced imaging technology -- those are the machines at I believe 69 of roughly 400 or 450 airports throughout the country. Obviously there has been a process for the construction and the procurement of those machines. But it was not going to happen overnight.
And, look, I think that as the security system involving pat-downs, as I said earlier, has evolved, it’s not something that just started a week or so ago. This is something that has been phased in over a series of time.
Q Real quick on North Korea, various officials like Secretary Gates have said they knew in general North Korea wanted to enrich uranium, but they didn’t know about this specific facility. Is that a failure of U.S. intelligence then that it took the North Koreans to tell the U.S., here it is?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into openly discussing the intelligence on that.
Q We have a new poll on some of these security measures being taken. Nearly half the public says they’re concerned about the health risks possible because of the new scanners or unsure about the health risks. The administration’s position is that there are no health risks.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the administration’s position, based on studies through the FDA and others that the imaging technology provides so little in terms of -- you're exposed, the truth is, to greater exposure sitting in an airplane than you do going through one of those machines.
Q Well, why has the administration failed to convince so many members of the public that there are no health concerns about these new scanners?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I've not seen the poll but I don't --
Q Well, it’s obvious that there are a lot of people --
MR. GIBBS: Let me find -- if you have another question -- let me try to find this in my paper here, and I think I've got something I think I can talk to you about on that.
Q Okay. And the other question I have, also about the TSA, is that the public does support -- they do care about security. But when there is an intrusion on privacy they want it to be targeted and justified. You spend a lot of time on the Internet; you watch YouTube and you obviously spend a great deal of time watching cable. Don't you --
MR. GIBBS: -- all that you might presume, but I'll accept the premise of your question.
Q Do you think -- are you confident that the TSA intrusions onto people’s privacy have been targeted and justified?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll say this. There are -- we are used to the understanding of a profile that looks at a range of people, for instance, 18 to 35. Yet we've seen just in the past year, we know of people that have been arrested in this country for terrorism that would not fit into the range of those ages. We know specifically that AQAP was targeting in Mr. Abdulmutallab somebody that did not have the characteristics that those previously that had attempted to do us harm through an airliner -- that they shared.
We know that they are continually looking for ways -- and I think the cargo example is a very good one -- of ways in which they can take something that looks normal or a situation that appears not out of the ordinary, to augment that in a way that gets past security and does us harm.
So I think this -- what we would normally think of as, okay, these are the characteristics of what might happen -- understand that we have seen and we know about very specific efforts to find people outside of what security might normally be conditioned to look for.
We know that -- I mean, I don't think it’s an accident that AQAP through Mr. Abdulmutallab was seeking to -- through concealing this device on him, get onto a plane something that wasn’t going to be in a metal detector, that would be delivered by somebody that would not normally be seen as somebody associated or affiliated with AQAP, in an effort to get around what you would normally be constructed or set up to look for.
And I think it’s important that our -- I go back again to what I said to Ben -- that in and of itself provides the foundation or the basis for how security policy and screening has to evolve, because the nature of whatever the threat is today is going to be different in three to six months because they're going to be trying to find different ways around what’s been set up.
And I think that goes back again to what Secretary of State Clinton said. Look, we would love -- and the President said this -- we have an apparatus now that greets us in going into buildings or getting onto an airplane that didn't exist before. And we’d love to go back to a world in which none of that had to exist, but we have to continue to evolve and meet the threat that is out there.
Q You’re a parent. The President is a father. There are a lot of parents out there whose children have been subjected to pat-downs, and they’ve been very upset by it. There have been individuals with medical conditions who have been forced into humiliating situations. This is evolution?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it’s important to understand that anybody under 12 goes through something much more modified. I would say, first and foremost -- and I think if the TSA Administrator was here, he would say this to you as well -- has all of this been done perfectly? No. If somebody feels as if they have been unduly subjected to something that they find to be far more invasive than the line of convenience and security, they should speak to a TSA representative at the airport.
Again, without leaning too far into this, Jake, I think it’s important that it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that -- I’m trying to be somewhat careful here -- that those that wish to do people harm via an airplane haven’t looked at some of the ways through explosives in devices or luggage or on themselves that we know can get around and through security. And we have to be careful about that.
Again, I think we are trying -- and TSA is trying -- desperately to strike that balance. That will evolve. And, again, the evolution of the security will be done with the input of those that go through the security.
I do think it’s important to understand since the more stepped-up pat-down process has taken place, approximately 34 million people have been through the TSA system. I think the figure that I’ve seen is that about a percent of those that have gone through the process have gone -- through the overall screening process have gone through this more stepped-up procedure.
Q Thanks, Robert. During the period between the time the TSA Administrator made the comments that sounded like there was no give at all and later making clear that there was going to have to be some flexibility here, were there any conversations with him by anybody at the White House? Did anybody speak to him?
MR. GIBBS: I am sure people at the White House speak with TSA and to DHS constantly on security, on --
Q But about that topic, about whether there should be some flexibility? And were his later comments suggesting flexibility as a result of those conversations?
MR. GIBBS: Look -- again, Chip, I think what the President said on Saturday is he communicated that to TSA and DHS several weeks ago.
Q But I’m talking about between the comments in the morning that created this controversy.
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I don’t know every conversation, but do I assume that people here have constantly been in touch with them? Sure.
Q That’s not what I’m asking. I’m saying specifically with regard to the inflexibility he suggested in those comments, did somebody at the White House call him and say, that’s not our message?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I don’t know every conversation that happens with every person here. But if you are asking me if people are constantly in touch with and talk to --
Q I’m asking you did they specifically respond?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I’m acknowledging that I’m sure conversations have happened, yes.
Q About that particular lack of flexibility?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Chip, I don't know every conversation. I just assume that a lot of those conversations have happened.
Q You did not talk to him about that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him. I’ve not talked with the TSA Administrator.
Q Can I ask -- and I don't -- I'm reluctant to get graphic here, but everybody knows there are theoretical possibilities way beyond what Abdulmutallab did, with body cavities and such. Why respond so specifically to what he did with searches --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not saying --
Q -- in that particular area when there are so many other possibilities out there that I don't think anybody even dreams you would actually subject people to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- again, I think that -- let’s take this somewhat broader. I think you’ve seen the progression in screening writ large, right? We all remember you put your stuff on the -- it goes through the X-ray machine, you walk through a magnetometer, right? So you’ve seen the evolution of something that's going to detect something that's metal. We now know that -- again, if you look at the evolution of security of plots and attempts, now you’ve got shoes, liquids, again, based on specific attempts to use those very devices to do harm -- and again, the transitioning to an AIT, which gives you the ability to detect something that might be on someone hoping to do you harm but it’s not something that's metal.
Q Completely changing topics, on tax cuts, is the President -- you said the Vice President is working the phones with senators on both sides of the aisle on START. Is the President or anybody at a high level in the administration doing the same thing with senators on tax cuts?
MR. GIBBS: I have not -- look, while I’m sure that Leg Affairs and others are discussing issues like taxes that will be dealt with in the lame duck, the President to my knowledge has not -- other than the meeting last week, has not made calls.
Q On START or taxes?
Q Robert, on START?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q Can I just do one more? On the millionaires tax, there’s this group of millionaires now saying that they don't want to extend the tax cuts for millionaires; they say it’s their patriotic duty. What does the President think about that? Is it patriotic to campaign to pay more taxes if you're a millionaire?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not going to -- though I’d love to be the spokesperson for Warren Buffett -- (laughter) -- I’m not going to -- I bet that's a good gig. (Laughter.) I know he’s slightly above the millionaire threshold.
I don't necessarily have anything to add on that except, look, I think you’ve seen or heard from -- again, using Mr. Buffett as an example -- I mean, Mr. Buffett is somebody whose marginal tax rate based on where he derives his income is, as I think he said before -- pays at a rate that's far less than that of presumably his spokesperson -- though he’s his spokesperson -- than his secretary, because he derives a vast majority of his income from investments rather than from his paycheck.
Q Can I follow on two questions?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back over there.
Q Different subject. Steny Hoyer says -- not just in light of the Ghailani verdict --
Q Robert, don't forget --
MR. GIBBS: I’m -- (Laughter.) Forget you? Hold on one second. I’ll be back --
Q And in light of the election earlier this month, he says, it is, in his way of thinking, impossible that Congress is going to approve the money for federal civilian trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Are you willing to basically give up on that idea now?
MR. GIBBS: I said something different last week. I don't -- we spent the first row here talking about al Qaeda. We know al Qaeda uses the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a recruiting effort to seek those -- the participation of those interested in doing us harm because of that. I think to give up on that -- we’re not giving up on that goal.
Q Conversely, it’s almost two years into the President’s administration. You haven’t been able to close it. Are you willing to commit to closing it in 2011?
MR. GIBBS: I’m willing to commit to closing it as soon as possible to close it.
Q Any way you can put any possible time frame on that?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think I said last week that no one expects this to be easy, but I know that the President has not and will not give up on the goal.
Q This is on START, and my question will be whether or not -- is whether or not the administration is willing to hand over the entire START record? And let me tell you why I’m asking this. Because there’s a new Republican senator coming in, Mark Kirk, who has quite a shopping list of things he wants before he says he can even think about this, a complete negotiation record of the treaty, also the documents relating to the parallel discussions with the U.S.-Russian resale, all classified briefings about having to terminate liability of --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry -- the Russia resale?
Q With the U.S.-Russian missile defense, the talks that were conducted by Ellen Tauscher. This is according to “Foreign Policy.” He wants a whole written analysis of all U.S. Strategic Command information that supports a treaty. He wants all the planning documents. And he wants formal briefings with State, Defense and Energy. What is the posture of the White House -- will they possibly be able to accommodate a want list like this?
MR. GIBBS: I will say, not knowing specifically -- thank you -- I’d have to obviously have somebody look at the technical list. But I think a lot of what Senator-elect Kirk is looking for in way of documentation and briefing and questions, I don't know if some of that has been asked and answered and we’d certainly provide that documentation to him.
I think a discussion with somebody like General Cartwright on missile defense or others at a classified level -- those are conversations that are being had currently with senators right now. So I think if there’s information that we have that can help answer those questions, we’d be more than happy to provide that information, those briefings, that documentation to Senator-elect Kirk or anybody else in order to demonstrate -- General Cartwright would tell him this has no effect on our ability to conduct our own missile defense activities.
And I think a pretty good example of that is NATO agreeing to the President’s phased adaptive approach to protect Europe at a meeting that saw the Russians ultimately participate in at the same time they are arguing -- people like the head of NATO are arguing for ratification of the treaty.
So, look, I think -- I don't know if Senator-elect Kirk has talked to anybody on the national security staff here, but I don't doubt that if he hasn’t, that folks here will reach out rather quickly to provide information that he thinks is necessary.
Q Is it -- I heard that so far -- that some senators -- that the White House has refused -- or various entities in the administration has refused to turn over the negotiation record.
MR. GIBBS: I’m not familiar with, as I said a minute ago, Lynn, each and every aspect of -- I'm happy to ask NSC whether that's the case. Again, I think two of the best spokespeople -- three of the best spokespeople for our defense posture as it relates to this treaty are the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- that's General Cartwright -- again, he’s sort of the missile expert in that realm. And I think all of them are very good spokespeople for how this enhances our security and our protection rather than the opposite.
Q Real quick one. On North Korea, you mentioned that this latest regime of U.N. sanctions is among the strongest or is the strongest the country has ever faced. Well, then is there concern that these sanctions haven't been strong enough or working well enough to prevent this facility from being built?
MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into the timing of the facility, the sanctions that were put on North Korea and hinders greatly its ability to move product outside of the country are -- date back I think sometime to mid-last year. So I think that -- again, that was in direct response to the testing of a long-range missile in late March, early April -- I forget the exact date.
So, look, I think you can go back many, many years to the North Koreans walking away from their obligations in six-party talks, in discussions with their neighbors, their partners and their allies, and flaunting of those international standards. That, we've been aware of for quite some time.
Q But the sanctions don't -- I mean, are you saying that -- wasn’t this plant built rather quickly, in the last couple of years or year or more? So --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of what’s in the intelligence, but understanding that -- again, what you just asked and when the sanctions -- the sanctions based off of what the U.N. did last year are -- those don't line up.
Q And quickly on START, you guys have said that the midterms show that the American public wants Democrats and Republicans to work together. And so given that, why not be more direct in accusing the GOP or accusing Senator Kyl of being -- playing politics on START? The President seemed to really kind of shy away from saying that directly over the weekend.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President said that we live in an atmosphere in this town that normally, if one side wants to do something then the other side doesn’t want to do something. I think given who you’ve seen in terms of validators and supporters of this treaty, that doesn’t fit the mold of what we normally see in a political issue. And we don't think it should fit that mold given who those supporters are. We think this is something that can and should get done over the course of the next several weeks and certainly before the end of the year.
Q Last question. Senator Simpson, from the deficit commission, said something colorful about the fight to raise the debt limit. He said there’s going to be a big fight and there will be “hair and eyeballs all over the floor.” (Laughter.) So are you guys concerned that Tea Party Republicans or others will stand in their way --
MR. GIBBS: A little hair or eyeball -- (laughter.)
Q -- will stand in their way of raising -- of course, looking on the next Congress -- but are you concerned that people will stand -- new Republicans will stand in the way of raising the debt limit in a way that can really hurt?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think we've got a ways to go before we get to the situation and the scene that former Senator Simpson describes. I would point you to what I think the incoming House speaker said last week. It’s an issue that we’re going to have to deal with and we’re going to have to deal with, I think his words were “as adults.” We understand that we did not get into a debt crisis in the last year or two years; that this is something that has built up for many, many, many years. And we have to deal with that and put ourselves back on a path towards some fiscal sustainability.
Q Can I follow up Chip? You’re such a gentleman, Robert, but you didn’t answer his basic question, which is a very serious question. If somebody is hiding explosives in a body cavity, do these machines pick that up? And, also, the other thing --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Connie, you’ve got to understand that I am -- let me give you two answers. One, I think it is very safe to say that as the threat has evolved, our screening process has had to and has evolved. I think you can understand why I would not want to get into the intricacies of exactly what would be detected, how and when, because we do know that those that want to get around those procedures watch what it is we do and what we say.
Q But are you saying that at this point if under suspicion -- if they’re hiding something in a body cavity, it can be detected by the --
MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that in order to address the most
up-to-date threats possible, we have instituted the very best in technology and in screening efforts in order to detect that threat.
Q And what’s wrong with the Israeli system, where they’re questioning before they even get close to the gate? Is that --
MR. GIBBS: I would point out that I think the Israelis have, I think, it’s two airports -- two international airports. I think that’s right. It’s one?
Q It’s one, I think --
MR. GIBBS: -- in Tel Aviv. We have 450. This is -- there is a scale that is -- and I’ve seen -- look, I’ve watched and read the stories of, well, can’t you just do what -- understanding the scale involved is infinitely different.
Q A couple of questions. First, next week, Wednesday, the President’s debt commission is due to reach its conclusions. Does the President have anything planned off of that to try to pick up the ball where they leave off?
MR. GIBBS: I have not looked through next week’s schedule, Jonathan, and don’t know the process after that. But I can go back and check.
Q Okay. And on START, President and Senator Lugar both said if this treaty gets to the floor of the Senate, it will pass. So what kind of conversations are going on between President Obama or Vice President Biden and Harry Reid to make that happen? Because I mean ultimately it’s Harry Reid that will schedule that vote.
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is a priority of this administration, the President and the Vice President. It was a topic that came up -- it comes up, has come up in conversations between staff here and the Majority Leader’s staff, and in conversations directly with the Majority Leader. It is a priority of ours to see it put on the floor and acted upon.
Q Is it worse for U.S. international relations or U.S.-Russian relations to see this go to the floor and fail than to see it not go to the floor at all?
MR. GIBBS: It is a -- for us not to get this done is, as you have seen those not just in our administration, but again throughout the weekend at NATO, discuss its impact on our security -- those countries, again -- I make mention of this, that border -- that represent that easternmost border with Russia are as -- believes this has to get done as urgently as we do. And I think that is an overwhelming endorsement for why delay on this just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Q Robert, thank you. The news of the Irish bailout initially sparked only a short-lived rally in the financial markets, including the FTSE and the Dow this morning. How concerned is the President about the effect of the bailout on the U.S. and global markets? And I have a follow-up, as well.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we are -- we welcome Ireland’s intention to seek that assistance and for Europe to deal with the crisis that affects those countries. I don’t think there’s any doubt, and we’ve certainly made mention of it here, the impact of Greece on our recovery and acting quickly to deal with problems in Ireland by the Europeans is good news.
Q Do you think the bailout will stem the tide of other problems in the euro zone?
MR. GIBBS: I am not a euro zone expert. I think that addressing these causes and concerns quickly is a good step.
Q Robert, on Wednesday, the President pardons another couple of turkeys. Are there any people pardons in the pipeline?
MR. GIBBS: I'm guessing that those aren't one and the same. (Laughter.)
Q You would make news if they were.
MR. GIBBS: I will check with counsel to see the degree to which -- what’s the process for active pardons in the administration.
Q He hasn’t had any yet.
MR. GIBBS: No, he has not.
Q Do you know why?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t.
Q Jim Morrison in Florida -- that’s a governor --
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s a gubernatorial issue.
Q Is the Irish bailout coming up in the President’s daily briefings? I mean, how closely is he monitoring the situation there?
MR. GIBBS: It’s a topic that -- there wasn’t an economic daily briefing today, but I know it has come up in the past. I mean, it’s been part of his briefing.
Q Is there concern that Portugal and Spain will also need to tap into this fund?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you, I guess, more particularly to their governments on that. We have -- mostly I think the briefings that the President has got have focused primarily on -- well, primarily on Ireland and some on Portugal. I have -- that’s the extent that I can recall.
Q Do you know if today it came up at all?
MR. GIBBS: There wasn’t an EDB today, so that wouldn’t have come up.
Q Just one other thing. Will the President be speaking at a summit at the Chamber of Commerce in the next few months? And what is he doing to reach out to the business community?
MR. GIBBS: Well, in terms of the second part, I certainly would point you to the first several days in India. In terms of invitations from the Chamber, obviously we are and continue to be interested in speaking with them and their members and we’ll see if the schedule allows for that in the beginning of the year. I know that they originally had an event for early in December that I think has been rescheduled to some time in January.
Q Robert, following up to your response to Chip’s question, the President learned about these TSA procedures several weeks ago and he raised the concerns that he raised in Portugal at the time as well. Is that what you’re --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And the second question, have you personally went through either one of these AIT machines or the pat-down? I know it’s only been recently -- I was curious if you personally --
MR. GIBBS: Personally, I think I’ve been through an AIT. I’m trying to think. Most of -- as you might -- most of my travel is on Air Force One. I traveled to and from Atlanta a few weeks ago and I thought I went through one of the AITs.
Q Let me ask about Kokomo, the stop tomorrow. Part of it is at a Chrysler plant. I guess I’m wondering if this is a way of showing a little love for Chrysler, having lavished it on G.M. last week.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- this is a particular plant in Kokomo that because of some of the restructuring and some of the funding for retooling and modernization is a transmission plant that was able to retain more than 1,000 workers rather than seeing its plant shuttered.
So, look, we are -- we’ve been to and will continue to go Chrysler, G.M., even Ford facilities -- a company that didn't have to receive restructuring help. But, look, I think if you look at some of these places and plants that are located throughout the country, particularly in the Midwest, you’ll see -- and Kokomo is a pretty good example of a town that is very dependent upon those types of jobs for its economic livelihood.
So I think those are -- that's important, and I think the President is proud of our efforts to ensure -- whether there was a thousand there or more than a million people throughout the country whose jobs were saved as part of that restructuring, understanding that that restructuring was about making some difficult choices. Some plants were closed. We know there were corporate restructurings, particularly at General Motors, in order to get both of these companies pointed in the right direction.
Q Robert, why does the President believe --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, I called on Ann.
Q Robert, following --
Q Will you come back to me?
Q Following on what Mark asked --
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily.
Q What specifically in terms of stimulus does the President think he can still get out of the lame duck Congress, either specific, other stimulus items that he had talked about before? And is your to-do list for the lame duck session getting shorter and shorter? There’s less time left.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think there’s -- again, and I think we talked a little bit about this last week. I don't believe that -- I don't think many people believe that the week that we came back before -- basically last week -- we obviously know this week was largely held off for Thanksgiving and then they’ll be back again a week from today. I don't think many people believe that that first week back was going to be a period in which a lot of legislative business would be gone through.
It is traditionally an orientation and a caucus organizing process on both sides of the aisle. You’ve got members and senators that are leaving. You have new members and new senators that are coming in.
Q I guess my question is really more on what you're actually going to get done. You didn't have a chance to meet with the Republicans. But again, a lot of that is focused toward January. What’s on the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, but again, I think it’s -- but, Ann, I think you know that, if I’m not mistaken, that meeting is happening a week from tomorrow. Right. So again, I think moving a meeting from one week to the next does not stymie our legislative agenda.
Q What’s left on the to-do list? Do you have a specific list for us of what you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll say several things. This is not a totally exhaustive list because my memory is not what it used to be -- even from this morning. (Laughter.) Look, I think there’s no doubt, as you’ve heard the President say, we've got to deal with issues around taxes. We're going to have to deal with issues around unemployment insurance and compensation as well.
You’ve heard the President make mention of START. That's something that is crucially important to our national security and to our foreign relations. There are issues around "don't ask, don't tell" that the President and I think many people believe are best dealt with through a legislative process and not through a legal system. There are priorities such as the DREAM Act. There are several things that -- and again, I know I'm probably leaving out more than I'm mentioning, but I think we've got -- there’s no doubt we have plenty of work to do. I think we also have plenty of time with which to --
Q Did the President ask the Pentagon to hurry up to November 30th -- the report, its internal report on --
MR. GIBBS: I think the original date was December 1st. Obviously the report is being released a day or so early in order to have some informed hearings on the survey and its results. I think those hearings, if I'm not mistaken, start on the 1st.
But I think it’s important, if you look at what others have said, particularly -- take, for instance, Secretary Gates -- that we know -- we can do this legislatively -- the House has done this, the Senate can do this -- do this legislatively which provides an avenue with which to implement the policy. A court doing this is not likely to provide the Pentagon and others with a pathway for doing this. And I think in order to do this in a way that the President and others see, that doing this legislatively is the best way to do this.
Q Robert, on two separate issues. There’s such a focus on security at airports. We talked about how we know that terrorists are focusing in on using airlines as some of their ways to commit terror. But what about this country’s rail system? What about the security for rail? I mean, we saw it in London in the Tube; we saw Spain on the rail system there. What about the nation’s rail system and subway system in major cities?
MR. GIBBS: Without getting, again, into a lot of detail about what’s out there, I think -- let me say this -- I think to presume that only aviation is -- that only aviation security is a priority is not the case. Obviously there's passenger rail, there's cargo rail, there's a whole host of different ways in which we know terror can be brought into this country. Aviation is not the only thing that we are concerned about. We know that -- I think if I'm recalling correctly, the plot that Mr. Zazi was planning dealt specifically with some aspects of transportation beyond that of airports. The only reason I mention airports is, again, we know for quite a long period of time this has been a focus of al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Q I'm not finished. But is Amtrak working off -- I'm talking about passenger rail now -- because some of these corridors, particularly the East Coast corridor into Washington is very sensitive. Is there any pushback from Amtrak? Are you -- is this administration working with Amtrak to try to work something out to enforce security on the rail system, passenger rail?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a lot of this stuff in front of me, April, but I can assure you -- and I would contact both DHS and Amtrak to discuss in particular regional, transcontinental passenger rail, all that sort of thing.
Q All right. And also on my issue that I wanted to ask, we're now -- the midterms are over. You said expect change after the midterms as far as administration staff. Are we expecting to hear some names being dropped, of new moves, and are you going to stand at that podium much longer?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm going to be out here to answer a few more questions.
Q How much longer?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. That's a good question, Les. Do you have anything to do?
Q Yes, I do. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me answer April's question.
Q You'll come back?
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily.
Q Why not?
MR. GIBBS: Because there's a whole group of people and I think I called on you just last week.
Q Last week?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Well, we haven't briefed since then, for goodness sakes.
Q Yes, but you recognized one of the front here for eight questions.
Q Here we go.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, let me answer the question that's been posed to me. I'm going to pick on some other people --
Q And then you'll come back?
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily.
April, in terms of the reorganization, obviously that's something that the Chief of Staff, the President, and others are continuing to work on. I don't have a timeline for when any of those announcements would be made.
Q So what about you? Are you going to leave us?
MR. GIBBS: I have spent very little time working on that.
Q Robert, about a week ago a freshman Republican Congressman named Andy Harris from Maryland stood up apparently in a benefits session in the House and complained about how -- the time it would take, 28 days, for his government-subsidized health insurance to kick in. Do you think there is -- some progressive groups called for House members who want to repeal the health reform law to renounce their health insurance. Do you think there's an element of hypocrisy here and do you think it would be a wise idea for them to do that?
MR. GIBBS: I do think there seems to be an element of understanding the role that health insurance plays in the security of families regardless of their economic lot in life. I don't -- I'm not going to make a blanket statement about what Congressman-elect Harris should do. I would say that -- I think it's probably a pretty good demonstration of the fact that the rhetoric of what people say either throughout political debates or in campaigns, and the reality of how something like that impacts their lives, is apparently quite different just in this example alone. I think he's going to have to reconcile with himself the notion of health care that's subsidized by the American people and his statements surrounding that. I think it presents a particularly interesting dilemma for those that have castigated that in the past.
Q Do you think it's hypocritical?
MR. GIBBS: I would agree with you; I think you think it is. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, back on "don't ask, don't tell," the service chief of the Navy recently praised the Pentagon report and said he's eager to see what happens with the Hill regarding repeal. But the remaining three service chiefs, they're all on the record as saying they want to wait for the report to come out before Congress takes action. Does the President anticipate that once the report comes out, those service chiefs will be on board in favor of repeal?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think the service chiefs, as I understand it, are meeting with the Chair of the Joint Chiefs and with the Secretary as we get closer to this report coming out in order to discuss where they are based on that survey. The President has not yet seen that survey so I don't want to presume whether, based on those results, that would change their opinion or not. And I think it's best not to get too far down the road on commenting on that until we get a chance to personally see the substance.
Q Wasn't that the purpose of the study, though? You've said the President has been for repeal since you've known him and the President has said he wants to work with military leaders. In the State of the Union address, he said he wants to work with military leaders to get them on board with repeal. So what's the point of this report if not to get those service chiefs on board?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not saying that it won't. I'm just saying -- I think the original question you asked me is would that report change their mind. I haven't seen the report. The President hasn't seen that report. And neither of us have had an opportunity to talk with the chiefs. That's not to say that it won't. That's not to say that -- and quite frankly, that's not to say whether or not, whether you have unanimous agreement or not, that the policy -- look, the President has known where people have stood on this policy for as long as he's supporting changing that policy. So I think it will be important to, again, view the attitudes, to view -- and to use those attitudes to craft a pathway to implementing a changed legislatively policy. That's what the President has advocated through this process.
Again, I can't -- we may have a better sense of that when we get an opportunity to talk to those that have seen the report and get a chance to look at that report ourselves.
Q Robert, has the President had conversations directly with the service chiefs to get them -- repeal during the lame duck session of Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I know the President has spoken previously with the service chiefs on this subject and I expect that as this report is finalized and released, that he'll have an opportunity to speak directly with the Chair of the Joint -- the Vice Chair and the service chiefs as this process moves forward.
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February 10, 2016
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