Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/18/2011
12:06 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. A couple topics. On the executive order and the President’s op-ed this morning, when you look at the timing of this, is the intent here at all to tap into the widespread concern, as voiced by the Tea Party, the business community and Republicans, about government intervention and government overreach?
MR. GIBBS: No, the -- Ben, and to others, this is something that the administration and elements of OMB have been working on for quite some time. And I think it sets out what the President believes should be our very commonsense approach, which is to ensure the health, the safety, the security and the protection of the American people, as well as understanding that we shouldn’t do anything that unnecessarily limits our economic growth.
That’s been our approach. I think if you look at the history, look at things like the rules around fuel mileage standards, I think you get a pretty good -- make a pretty good case of the administration working with all the stakeholders to improve the situation, to save us, as is mentioned, I think, in the op-ed, billions of barrels of oil over the course of the lifetime of this rule, and ensure, again, the health and safety and the welfare of the American people.
Q Well, then let me respond to what you just said. Let me look at it a different way, which is, if, in essence this is a call to the government to make sure that regulations are striking that balance, then why has that taken two years --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, we have had an approach since coming into office that ensures that what we’re doing makes common sense.
This is what the President wanted to do to outline and put in writing our approach to ensure that we look back and make sure that the efforts that we’re undertaking and the efforts that have previously been undertaken from the federal government are done so in a way that makes sense, that protects, again, the health and safety of the American people and balances the important need for economic growth.
Look, I am sure, as is everything that happens in this town, they’ll be wont to add a political label to this or that. The President believes it best defines a commonsense approach.
Q Does he think that that balance is happening right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that’s -- understand that in the op-ed we’re asking that there be a process where we look back at what is on the books and ensure that there has been an analysis as to the cost and the benefits, given where we are. And the President believes that is necessary and appropriate.
Q I wanted to ask you one quick thing on health care. The story line on the House’s effort to repeal the health care law has pretty much from the start concluded that it’s not going to go anywhere in the Senate, and therefore not become law. But I’m wondering, from the White House perspective, is there a negative consequence to the very fact that the House is aiming to do this? Does it impact the public or the debate in any way?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there is a -- on one hand, Ben, I do not -- I would share the belief of many, including, I think, enunciated by those who are going to vote for a repeal tomorrow, that this isn’t a serious legislative effort. I think first and foremost they’ve largely acknowledged that.
Secondly, I mean, let’s not misunderstand, though, what in essence the move says. It says let’s put insurance companies back in charge of making health care decisions, and with that, the option to deny health care coverage, drop health care coverage, limit health care coverage, or cap health care coverage. Let’s understand the practical impacts, as the Congressional Budget Office said just a couple of weeks ago, of the impact to the tune of several hundred billion dollars on our deficit in the short term and then over a 20-year period of time a significant increase in the cost to the federal government.
And understand the practical impact on what this means for seniors. It dramatically increases their out-of-pocket costs. No longer will they get the help that they need or that they got through the Affordable Care Act, with their prescription drug costs falling in that doughnut hole, falling in that sort of gray area of not getting any help until they spend a certain amount of money; having to pay out of pocket now for preventive health care costs -- a right that is now guaranteed for free in the legislation.
So I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I do think it’s an important symbol to the American people about what some -- who some people think should be in charge of making health care decisions -- not families or patients or doctors -- but let’s put health insurance companies back in charge, giving them the ability, again, to drop, deny, limit or cap your health care coverage.
And I would point, as I’m sure many of you have read the articles today, the notion that almost 130 million Americans have, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, some medical condition that would either trigger a loss of health insurance coverage or an increase in the amount of the money you pay to get that covered. That has real impacts on the American people.
Q A couple of questions on the Chinese summit.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q President Hu in his responses to questions from newspapers over the weekend suggested that he was resistant to U.S. pressure and advice to let their currency rise as a way of tackling inflation. How confident is the administration that they will get some positive movement from the Chinese on the currency issue? And --
MR. GIBBS: Let me take that first.
Q -- what kind of friction are you seeing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost -- look, I think this is a relationship that has, as you heard Secretary Geithner and our National Security Advisor Tom Donilon speak about last week, that has -- certainly generates positive economic benefits for the American people to the tune of $100 billion -- soon to pass more than $100 billion in goods and services to China this year.
At the same time, we believe more must be done in terms of their currency. Obviously with inflation, there are some impacts on the real value of the currency. They have made some -- they have taken some limited steps, despite the answers, to revalue their currency, and our belief, as you heard Secretary Geithner in here just Friday say, we believe that more must be done. That is an opinion that is held not just by this country but by many countries around the world.
Q Okay. Also, a lot of big corporate deals are expected to come from the summit. A large Boeing aircraft order is one of those that has been widely talked about as a possibility. Are you expecting one to come down the pike on that?
MR. GIBBS: I would direct you to what Tom said on Friday. This is a little different than our trip to India in the sense that, as I said, the economic relationship that we have with the Chinese is different on a scale with what we do with India, which is why some of the commercial diplomacy around the India trip was so significant.
So, look, obviously we are -- we continue to believe that American companies produce the best products in the world and that they have a demand from China. I have not been told of any big deals that will be rolled out tomorrow, but I’m certainly all ears if anything happens.
Q Because there’s some concern in the U.S. aircraft industry that some deals, including specifically the Boeing order, might be held up by political friction, might be held hostage by political considerations if other areas of -- if progress is not made in other areas in the talks. Is there any truth to that?
MR. GIBBS: From our side?
Q No, from the Chinese side.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- I think it’s important -- we have a relationship, as I said, that yields substantial benefits. At the same time, we have some direct and difficult challenges. Some of those will be discussed -- most of those will be discussed tomorrow. You heard, again, Secretary Geithner discuss the steps, as you have for many months, on currency that need to take place; the role that the Chinese have to play in that region of the world in dealing with countries like North Korea, just as they have been helpful in dealing with sanctions of the U.N. on previous actions of North Korea as well as sanctions around the Islamic Republic of Iran.
So there are a whole host of issues and topics that we anticipate that the two leaders will discuss tomorrow before meeting with you guys.
Q The administration and the President have talked quite a bit about pressing China on its human rights record, and Secretary Clinton in advance of this trip also said that that was going to be a major topic of conversation. Has there been any success in getting them to move on any human rights issues?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously that is a topic of some significant significance that the two leaders will talk about. President Obama was -- put out a very forward-leaning statement upon the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize with Liu Xiaobo on the -- that he should be freed, that he certainly should be freed to go to Oslo and accept his prize. These will -- we will continue to have difficult conversations, Jake, but necessary conversations that had to be had with China, and we’ll do that again tomorrow.
Q But no actual tangible evidence of success yet?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think this is -- this is a long road, and whether we’re dealing with economic discussions, whether we’re dealing with those in the security realm, or whether we’re dealing with those in human rights, I think this is an argument that we have and will continue to make to the Chinese and push them to do better.
Q But you said earlier that the effort to repeal health care in the House is not a serious legislative effort. Do you mean that just because it can’t pass the Senate and the President would veto it?
MR. GIBBS: I just don’t -- well, I just don’t think it’s going anywhere. And, look, again, I’m quoting some of the many members -- new members of the House that have said this isn’t a serious thing.
Q Okay, well, there’s a new ABC News/Washington Post poll I’m sure you’ve seen that has some nice news for the President, but also in the poll is the fact that the President and Republicans are tied on who you trust to handle health care. For the first time ever, the President has gone down nine points; Republicans have gone up four points. So whether or not this repeal effort actually has any hope of actually becoming law, which it does not currently, their public relations, their talking about this issue has been good for their cause.
MR. GIBBS: Except for this, Jake. I don’t -- I think you should be clear that that question, though, does not measure repeal. And when asked specifically in other public polls that we’ve seen repeatedly and recently about repeal, there’s a significant number of people -- and some of them I presume are Republicans -- that do not want to give up the very benefits that I outlined a minute ago, but want to see -- maybe they want to see something that’s worked on that’s improved.
That’s certainly not measured in a question where you pick A or B. So I think if you break some of that question out, you see that the notion that there is some vast, widespread support for doing away with the Affordable Care Act, raising the deficit, putting insurance companies back in charge, there are a whole host of things that even Republicans don’t find suitable or tenable about the effort.
Q Right -- I’m not taking -- I’m not talking about that specifically as much as I’m talking about the fact that Republicans seem to be gaining ground when it comes to the public’s support on the issue of health care. And the President is losing ground -- not on specifically repeal of health care, but just moving forward on the health care issue.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the question doesn’t measure the breadth of opinion certainly even around the health care issue.
Q Lastly, do you guys have any response to “Baby Doc” Duvalier arriving in Haiti?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously, this is an important and a crucial time for the people of Haiti. And we would --
Q Do you mind if I follow -- he’s been arrested. Haitian officials took him into custody, so if you want to update here.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you. I would mention that any political leader or any former political leader should focus not on him or herself, but on making progress towards a set of important elections and dedicate their time and their energy to the reconstruction of the country.
Q On the human rights question, Robert, does China have to make significant steps in addressing that issue before this relationship with the U.S. can really progress in a significant way?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, again, I think there probably -- again, I think as you heard others talk about -- again, as you heard Geithner and Tom Donilon talk about last week, there’s a series of baskets, I think as Tom called them, or themes on issues that will be part of the discussion here tomorrow. Human rights is certainly an important aspect of that. The economic relationship we have -- and then the security of that region of the world and of the entire world -- are important in the role that the Chinese must play as world actors.
So I think it is -- I think, again, there are a whole host of issues that will be on tomorrow’s docket that the two leaders will work through.
Q You’re not giving weight -- more weight to the human rights issue? They’re all equally important?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think there are a whole host of important issues that will be discussed and we hope will be ultimately addressed.
Q And on the President’s executive order, you talked about this process of looking back. Can you explain a little bit more about how this process will work, and is there a timetable to when we’ll see some of these --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me check and see on what the timetable might be, but, again, this is simply for the relevant agencies to go back and ensure that the regulations that are currently on their books -- again, go through a process that measures the costs and the benefits, that ensures, again, I think the very commonsense idea that we must protect the health and the safety of the American people without impeding our economic growth, something I think we can get a large number of people in this country to agree on.
Q And, again, improving the relationship with the business community did not play into this at all?
MR. GIBBS: This is something that has been long in the works.
Q Thanks, Robert. Secretaries Gates, Clinton and Geithner all had speeches, which some have described as kind of a shot across the bow beforehand with some fairly tough talk. Can we expect -- how tough is the President going to be, compared to previous meetings with Hu? Is he going to be more assertive, more confrontational with him than he’s been in the past on issues like currency and human rights and North Korea and Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think all those, Chip, are on the docket. I think all of those are issues that the President has brought up with President Hu in the past and will continue to do so.
I think you outlined --
Q Will he bring them up in a more confrontational style than he has in the past? Will he push harder?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t -- I think it is pretty safe to assume that some of those issues are not issues that China wishes to speak about, and the President brings up -- because they are important to our standing in the world and our relationship with the Chinese. And I expect him to continue to do so.
This is -- again, we have a cooperative but a competitive relationship with China. And as in many bilateral relationships, we have -- we see the benefits of that and we understand the difficult challenges that lie ahead. You mentioned Iran and North Korea in the security basket. Currency is an important -- I’d say, currency and trade in the economic basket, and the very important issue and real issue of human rights.
Q Well, let me put it this way. Will the President continue what he’s been doing in all his previous meetings with Hu, or will he ratchet up the pressure this time?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I think you’ll have an opportunity, one, to talk to the two leaders tomorrow, and I think the President will be firm in outlining the important beliefs of this administration and this country.
Q President Hu’s -- the end of his term is on the horizon, and pair that with the fact that there are a lot of reports out there that he simply doesn’t have the power that previous leaders of China had, that it’s a bit more diffuse. Does that change how the United States deals with China and the President deals with the President?
MR. GIBBS: Let me not speculate on that. I think that -- I think this is the eighth meeting between these two. We believe, again, this is an important venue and forum with which to raise some of the concerns that you talked about earlier, and I have not heard voiced concern that we’re not meeting with the right person.
Q Does the fact that the President, as last’s year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, give him additional pause about hosting the man holding this year’s Peace Prize winner in prison?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it might if we hadn’t spoken out so forcefully about that. But it doesn’t because, again, his -- our response both on the day of the awarding and the day of the ceremony were to call directly for the Chinese to release the award recipient so that they could rightfully claim that prize. And I have no doubt that that will be a call renewed again tomorrow.
Q On a different matter, Republicans have made clear that they want commitments to cut spending in addition -- in exchange for raising the debt ceiling; some are calling for not raising the debt ceiling at all. But is the President willing to go there, basically, to make commitments to cut spending in addition -- in exchange for raising the debt ceiling?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President is happy to have a very serious conversation with all those involved about the path to get us -- about the path we must take to get us back to some semblance of fiscal responsibility. This, Wendell, didn’t start either this year or even two years ago. We didn’t get in a situation -- we didn’t get in this situation in the short term. We got into this situation over a series of many years.
So I think you’ll see serious proposals, as you have in the past, where we froze non-security discretionary spending. You’ll see serious proposals in the budget to do that.
I also think we have to balance that against important investments that need to be made and ensure that we don’t see draconian cuts in things like -- particularly in innovation and education.
Q And finally, a series of attacks, that the State Department commented on, against Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria recently, has the President been briefed on this? Does he have -- is there a theory about what’s behind it?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I have not heard an overarching theory. Again, I’d point you to what State has on a number of occasions responded to this. And obviously this series of events that has happened, the President has -- is aware of, and I know both at State and at NSC they are closely monitoring that.
Q Why give the platform of a state dinner to the head of a country whose human rights violation -- whose human rights record is one that, as a country, we constantly criticize, we constantly -- and it’s one thing to have a bilateral relationship, I get that, but sort of the -- was there any pause inside this White House about giving them the state dinner platform?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I’ll say this again. I think -- and the President had occasion to meet with, late last week, again, those that express, as he does, reservations about their human rights record. Again, I think the notion of not being -- look, I guess you could take a couple of different tacks. You could either not bring it up or you could not put yourself in a forum that allows you to discuss them directly with those that are making those decisions. And the President believes that the latter, having that ability to speak directly with them, is important.
Q But the symbolism of the state dinner sort of -- I guess how can you tell the folks that really are upset about China’s human rights record that somehow giving them that symbolic state dinner almost gives them a little bit of a -- it’s like, well, yes, we bring it up, we do this -- you could do that with the same type of meeting you’ve met with the Chinese President without giving them the state dinner platform.
MR. GIBBS: And the truth is, Chuck, we have met with them on many occasions. We had a state dinner in China; it was brought up before that. We’ve had bilateral meetings at economic summits like G8 or G20, where it’s been brought up.
I think the President’s belief is it is important to speak out, as he’s done, and it’s important to bring this up directly with them.
Q Is he going to bring it up at the state dinner? I mean, we assume he doesn’t, but --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President will bring it up inside the Oval Office and bring it up inside of the Cabinet Room, where the expanded bilateral will be. That is -- that has been what he’s done on every other occasion in which he’s met with either President Hu, Premier Wen or others in the Chinese government.
Q And I want to follow up on Chip’s question because we’ve asked this question before and you guys have no problem answering it on Pakistan, which is the whole “who’s in charge” question, right? “Well, it’s a whole of government.”
How would you describe sort of the power -- when you’re asked -- when you’re given a briefing, when you ask -- when you get a briefing, how is the power structure of China described to you? And could you share that with us?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would refer you to the answer that I gave Chip. I think we’re meeting with the right group of people. I think it’s important to understand that you may have causes and concerns that you take up with a broad array of people. I think President Hu clearly is -- we’re meeting with the right person on that.
Q Finally, has the President spoken with Senator Conrad? Did he find out if -- did he get a heads up that Senator Conrad was going to not run again?
MR. GIBBS: We got -- I got an email on it; I know several of us were on it. I do not believe he has had an occasion to speak with Senator Conrad yet. But I’ll double-check on that and see if that has changed.
Q Going back to the regulatory initiative, the health care reform law, the Wall Street reform law, including the law to give regulatory power to the FDA over tobacco, are all very recent. Are they going to be part of the review on cost-benefit analysis? And perhaps more importantly, are they going to be part of this new effort to try to see how small business can be either exempted or given -- basically cut more slack for the new -- under this new regulatory regime?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me -- I think that the op-ed outlines areas that the President has directed agencies to look at, either going backwards or going forward; either rules that are on the books or proposed rules. So, obviously, some of that -- Jonathan, I think some of what hinges on your question is whether or not those rules are in existence or if they’re being promulgated that the idea of cost and benefit analysis in a way that ensures that commonsense rule that I outlined is important.
I would point out that small businesses get, for those that will offer health insurance to their workers, a healthy tax cut. And I think that would certainly show up in any analysis that’s done of anything going forward.
Q Right, but I mean, a lot of these rules --especially in the Wall Street bill, a lot of these rules are being promulgated and they really will be critical to how this legislation actually comes out. Is the President asking the regulatory agencies to rethink the way they approach these -- these are signature issues of the President.
MR. GIBBS: No, the President is demanding -- not asking, demanding -- that as we set forth rules that implement legislation that we take into account, again, the commonsense notion of balancing the safety and security and the health of the American people with whether or not that makes sense or drags on our economic growth.
But, again, that is -- that’s what the President expected us to be doing; that’s what the President expects as we move forward with any rules -- do these make common sense. I will say that, Jonathan, I think you can point to financial reform as the cure for a massive, massive regulatory failure. I have no doubt that the cost benefit analysis of what we have gone through and continue to go through over the past two years is one that would find both health care reform and particularly financial reform on the positive side of that.
Q Robert, is there a final agenda for tonight’s dinner?
MR. GIBBS: I do not have one. I think -- again, I think you understand the topics. I think the President believes, as he has done with other leaders throughout the world, that this provides a bit of an informal setting in which to have some of these discussions. The President will be joined by Secretary of State Clinton and National Security Advisor Donilon, and obviously an array of interpreters. And I think he believes this is an important venue in which to begin making some of the points that we expect to come out over the next couple of days.
Q Will we get a readout?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we’re planning a readout. I think we might have a photo that pops out on this.
Roger -- I’m sorry.
Q And if speaking directly to the Chinese is the right way to raise issues of concern, why does that policy not apply to Cuba?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q Why does the issue of speaking directly to the governments we have concerns with not apply to Cuba?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I -- and, look, we -- I think the Cuban government knows many of the steps that it needs to take to make progress over the course of many years that are important and that the American people demand. Obviously we have -- we want to ensure an engagement with the Cuban people. And that’s why you saw the President has, over the course of a couple of different times in the administration, taken steps to ensure that that engagement happens directly with the Cuban people without propping up a government that continues, I think in the opinion of many, to fail the Cuban people.
Q Is that what Friday’s directives were about?
MR. GIBBS: Mm-hmm.
Q Sticking with China, there’s a meeting with CEOs tomorrow as part of the events. Can you talk a little bit about that, what’s on the agenda, what are the goals, and about how many CEOs are going to be there?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I think we’ll get a list out to you a little bit either later today or first thing tomorrow. Obviously, as I mentioned, we have -- we enjoy economic benefits through the export of -- being on track to export more than $100 billion in goods and services to China this year. Obviously it is, as I said, an important economic relationship, and you will see those in business that have an important role to play that helps create jobs right here in America. And as we talk about trade, as we talk about intellectual property rights, as we talk about currency, all of those are things that this administration, along with American businesses, want to see progress on in China. And that’s what will be discussed between CEOs from both countries as well as the two Presidents.
Q Is this sort of a break-down-the-barriers meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ll see important commercial relationships that our CEOs have and want to expand in China that the President believes is important to make a forceful case in front of both the CEOs from China as well as President Hu.
Q And will any of that be open, or will there be a readout?
MR. GIBBS: There is a -- there will be a pool spray before that, and I think you’ll hear from -- I know you’ll hear from President Obama before -- in that pool spray. I don’t have the schedule in front of me to indicate whether that is at the top of or at the bottom of that meeting.
Q Just one other thing. Back on the regulations announced today, Robert, can you think of any particular regulations that the administration had in mind that agencies are being ordered to review that have hurt growth of the economy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q Can you name an example or two?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President talked in there about regulations -- in the op-ed -- that lack common sense. I think what he wants us to do -- and I’m not going to prejudge that review because I think it’s important for that review to happen -- that we go back and look at and make sure that the test that the President wants exercised on regulations going forward meets that test on those regulations that are already on the books.
I think that -- again, that’s not what the President is asking, it’s what the President is demanding, that agencies and departments --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not part of the review team, Roger. I’m sure that that -- I have no doubt that that review will find regulations that lack and do not fulfill the test that we’ve outlined. Look, the one outlined in the op-ed. You can put saccharin in your coffee, and the EPA asks you to treat saccharin as a dangerous chemical, a regulation that the EPA dropped last month, which -- as the President says, if you can put it in your coffee, you probably shouldn’t handle it as a dangerous chemical.
So I think the question is whether or not regulations that anybody might find burdensome meet a very simple, commonsense test.
Q On the saccharin example, groups that are skeptical of this executive order today say the amount of money spent on disposing of the hazardous waste saccharin is negligible. And if that’s the best example you can come up with, they say it shows that regulation really isn’t burdensome, it really is useful.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ari, I think it’s important that -- the President is outlining an executive order, not the end of a series of agency and department reviews of all those regulations. That’s the important test here.
I think what’s important most of all is that, again, we meet a very important and common-sense test, which balances the very important need for health, for safety and for security of the American people. And we understand -- look, go back 20, go back 30 years, go back to the late 1960s, when rivers were on fire; when there were very few rules that didn’t allow the emmitance of the types of pollution that cause asthma or threaten the health of the American people. We don’t want to go -- we’re not going to go back to that. There’s a reason why those are in place.
But let’s go review and ensure that as we’re protecting that health, that we’re not sacrificing unnecessarily economic growth. But at the same time, let’s not forget the important reason why a number of those -- a number of regulations are likely in place, and that is to protect the well-being of the American people.
Q Public health and safety advocates say unless you’re giving more money to these agencies, asking them to go back and review all the regulations is taking resources away from mine inspectors, oil rig inspectors, the people who are keeping Americans safe.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t see why that would be true.
Q Well, if there’s a limited pie and you’re saying do this thing with the amount of money you had before that you weren’t being asked to do before.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that would by -- that might, by definition, indicate a burdensome regulation. If a significant portion --
Q Burdensome on the agencies that are doing the regulating.
MR. GIBBS: If a significant portion of your money is to go to modeling as to whether what you were doing 20 years ago or 10 years ago or five years ago or two years ago or one year ago takes significantly away from your ability to do that, my guess is that’s a pretty darn good place to start.
So I don’t know if that was an overly simplistic example that was meant in order to elicit a response that didn’t have anybody go back and look at what they were saying, but I just don’t -- I don’t see how that would normally or logically meet the test of what the President is asking people to do.
Q There’s a reception for new members of Congress on Monday the President will attend. Can you talk about what the intention of that is, what you hope to achieve through that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously there are a host of new members and the President -- simply to have an occasion to get to meet them, to have them come here, come to the White House, I think all in a larger effort to hopefully understand not what divides us but what brings us together. And I think the President and the team here look forward to that reception and to meeting new members and finding, again, ways in which we can work together to make progress for the American people.
Q Robert, back again on the state dinner. Presidents have used state dinners in different ways and have had different approaches to them. President Bush liked to reserve them for very close allies to celebrate strong ties. I wonder if you could talk about President Obama’s approach to this particular state dinner and what his reasons are for wanting to honor President Hu with it.
And also if you could just address Speaker Boehner’s decline of your invitation.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- on the latter one, I’d point you to -- I don’t know what their response was in declining the invitation. We have invited -- and this goes to previous state dinners -- invited leaders from both parties. And we hope that because of the importance of the relationship that they would attend. I don’t know why he declined on this occasion. So, again, I’d point you to that.
Q Did you invite Nancy Pelosi?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and see what -- what the --
Q Considering her stance on --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the list in front of me on who’s coming.
On the first part, look, I think that -- this is the third state dinner. And I think that two of those three have -- in India and now in China -- have been in, as you heard Tom talk about last week, the fastest-growing region of the world, and one that -- India enjoys a very personal relationship with the United States and has through the administrations of President Clinton, President Bush and now President Obama; all taking important steps in visiting that country.
Obviously, whether it is the Secretary of State’s first trip to -- in her tenure to Asia, our visits back and forth to China, to Korea, to Japan, Indonesia, India, other countries in that region, this is -- again, this is a dynamic region of the world, one that is growing faster than any other, and one that needs to have the full engagement of the United States of America.
That hasn’t always been the case in this region of the world. And given its growth and its dynamism, that is something that our country can’t afford.
We would -- we have been able to -- again, in sanctions against North Korea or in sanctions against Iran -- place the toughest sanctions on those two respective countries because of our ability to bring a diverse set of countries on the Security Council to an understanding of the importance of those sanctions.
And we want to build on the cooperative part of the relationship with China and deal directly with some of those very difficult challenges.
Q Just two more fast follow-ups.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q The last time President Hu came here, his arrival ceremony was interrupted by a Falun Gong protester. I’m wondering are there any extra precautions being taken to prevent this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think in that case obviously --
Q And I had another question, but it’s escaping me.
MR. GIBBS: Obviously I think -- if memory serves, I think that was largely because the newspaper representing them was at the arrival ceremony. Obviously we want to ensure that we have -- the arrival ceremony that’s important, that it be respectful. But at the same time, I think the President, again, will bring directly up with President Hu in his many interactions his direct concerns on the issues of human rights.
Q The other question was just -- was it incumbent, or did the President feel it was incumbent upon him to have a state dinner because the Chinese gave him a state dinner? Did he have to reciprocate?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think this was -- this had more to do with the -- with what I outlined in the beginning, which is the important place that Asia and this region of the world represent in -- as a growing part of our important foreign policy.
Q Robert, last week the Justice Department filed a brief with the First Circuit Court of Appeals defending the Defense of Marriage Act against two lawsuits. President Obama has called this law discriminatory and said it should be repealed. But that seems unlikely any time soon now because given the current makeup of Congress. Is there any consideration in the administration to dropping defense of DOMA in court and declaring the law unconstitutional?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we can’t declare the law unconstitutional. But I’m just trying to make sure I understood that portion of the question correctly. Obviously I think the -- if you look at what was written, I think the President enumerates in there -- the administration enumerates in there our belief on this law as we balance the obligation that we have to represent the federal government.
The President believes, as you said, that this is a law that should not exist and should be repealed. But we, at the same time, have to represent the viewpoint of the defendant.
Q Do you still see legislative repeal of DOMA happening during the course of the Obama administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, as the President said, that that is -- look, given the current makeup of the Congress, that that is inordinately challenging. And I think he said so in interviews.
Q One last question. Any regrets about not pushing for DOMA repeal more forcefully when Democrats had control of both chambers of Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we are enormously proud of and grateful for the progress that we have been able to make. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was an achievement of -- I think what we thought of as an achievement not just for this administration but for all those involved; a monumental achievement in bringing equality and justice back.
And so I don’t think -- obviously we didn’t get everything we wanted to get done done, but we’re proud of what we did get done.
Q I have a question following up on the schedule for Thursday, where President Hu is going to meet with Senate and House leaders. There are a couple of senators, including Senator Schumer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz who are proposing that they pass a bill that is supposed to reprimand China for currency inflation. Does the White House have a position on that? Do you guys support that? Is there any coordination between you and Senate leaders as they go --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would point you to those individuals for some discussion on their legislation. I think -- as it relates to currency, I think you’ve heard Secretary Geithner and others outline that while they’ve taken some limited steps, that more has to be done. And that’s the message that the President will bring to his meetings.
Q Is the President supportive of the legislative effort by these senators who are members of the Democratic leadership?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- I think the message that the President will bring to his meetings with President Hu is exactly what others have outlined.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two brief questions -- first, to follow up on Jake’s question regarding former President Duvalier’s return to Haiti. You said that any former leader coming back should concentrate on human rights and rebuilding in Haiti, correct? Does that policy also apply to former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide --
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think we are in a period of obviously some uncertainty in Haiti. Current or former political actors and their supporters should be focused on not what is best for them but what is best for the people of Haiti. And that goes for anybody, either, as I said, in power or formerly in power -- that, first and foremost, we should be thinking about peace, we should be thinking about prosperity and we should be thinking about what’s in the best interest of the people of Haiti as they continue to deal with, more than a year later, the impacts of a devastating earthquake.
Q So you have no problem -- the administration has no problem with Duvalier or Aristide returning if they meet that criteria?
MR. GIBBS: Again, it’s not for me to divine who travels where on a Haitian passport. Again, it is our strong belief that the test is not a focus on themselves but a focus on the Haitian people, particularly in a time of uncertainty as we point toward an election.
Q My other question is regarding one of the President’s recessed appointments, that of William Boarman, a formal official of the Communications Workers of America, as the Public Printer. Now, his appointment came a few months after the President named a former top official of the Service Employees International Union to the NLRB. Does the President consult with some of the presidents of major labor unions before he makes appointments?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Robert --
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q I’m sorry, can you clarify the Haitian thing one more time? I’m confused. Do you support the government’s decision to bring him into custody or not? Or does the U.S. --
MR. GIBBS: I have not --
Q Okay, because that’s where I was confused. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.
MR. GIBBS: Mine was an -- look, obviously for somebody to come into the country of Haiti requires a passport for the country of Haiti, and I’m not going to get into that. And I’m not going to get into particularly diplomatic developments that have happened while I’m standing up here. Mine was a broader answer to, whether it is Duvalier or anybody else -- again, whether in power or out, coming into the country in a time of uncertainty, it is important that we focus on peace and we focus on the people of Haiti.
Q Does the American government’s position stand behind the Haitian government on what it -- on how it conducts its business --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure --
Q -- I mean, if that’s what they ask?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure that the Haitian government has not asked us or -- we’re not on a checklist on what they decide to do in terms of arresting people. And, again, this happened while I was out here. I have not had a long discussion since I’ve been out here, as you can understand, with the National Security Council about developments that have happened while I’m out here. So --
Q Could you get a statement before the end of the day if it’s possible?
MR. GIBBS: I will see if there’s anything to add.
Q Thank you, Robert. According to yesterday new poll, 53 percent of Chinese think U.S.-China relations are actually getting worse. So how will this state visit promote better relationship between U.S. and China?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that some of that may be somewhat dependent on what I just discussed in terms of there are -- there’s cooperation between these countries on different aspects of our bilateral and multilateral relationship; there are challenges. There are benefits and there are things that must be worked through.
So I know that in order to make progress on certain issues you’ve seen the two countries work together, despite, again, continuing to have differences on things like continued economic growth and human rights. And I think that’s what you’ll see the President -- the two Presidents discuss tomorrow.
Q And will there be any joint statement after the statement?
MR. GIBBS: Just at the press conference, and it will be coverage of the Oval meeting, there will be the coverage of the CEOs and there will be coverage obviously -- well, obviously the arrival, some sort of -- depending -- obviously there’s some weather balancing concerns that we’re working through for tomorrow’s state arrival -- but obviously the press conference and the questions tomorrow.
Q Following up on that in terms of a joint statement, shouldn’t we expect some form of deliverables for the United States out of this visit, given that the Chinese are getting the whole formality of the state dinner and all the optics that they desire? I know Tom Donilon sort of steered us away from expecting that on Friday, but if you were looking at the baskets, would you say --
MR. GIBBS: I would steer you back to what Tom said. That’s what I would --
Q Would you say that there’s any prospects of announcements of positive developments in any of those baskets, and would one be more likely than another?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we’re hoping for, and I think the President will outline -- President Obama will for President Hu -- the steps that we believe need to be taken. Whether or not those happen on a deliverable schedule -- we have a relationship with countries that isn’t simply marked by a visit and a series of deliverables. Our relationship is one, as you heard Secretary Geithner and National Security Advisor Donilon outline, that are vast and that are broad and that require constant engagement, which this administration will be focused in on.
Q Thanks, Robert. I have three quick questions. First, I noticed in the President’s op-ed he talks about baby formula regulations and saccharin, but there’s nothing about guns in there -- specifically the ban on high-capacity magazines. Does the President support that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s addressed in a rules and regulatory system. As I said last week, I’m sure there will be many proposals that will be made out of the events of last week, and we will certainly examine and look at what those proposals are, but I don’t have anything additional on that.
Q My second question was, recently the President told Jake that his personal view on same-sex marriage is evolving. I wanted to know if he’s reached any new personal opinion on that; if that’s something we might hear about in the State of the Union.
MR. GIBBS: I’m not aware that there is any change on that coming in the State of the Union. At this point I would say that what he told Jake is very similar to what he told a group I think in October that asked a similar question.
Q Is it possible he might bring up DOMA during the State of the Union?
MR. GIBBS: I have not finished going through the first draft, so I don’t know the answer to that.
Q I have one last question -- it’s silly, but people are asking. What happened to your lip? Did you take an elbow?
MR. GIBBS: No, I have apparently the skin of a 15-year-old today. (Laughter.)
Q Cut yourself shaving?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.) You know, you ask, and why not? I have a cut on my foot, too. I think I’m like Old Yeller.
Q On the State of the Union next Tuesday, how essential is the success of this visit to the heart of the State of the Union address, dealing with international relations, et cetera?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think we -- this is an important relationship. We have important relationships all over the world, but obviously this is one that comprises economic security, human rights, all of which are important to the American people and all of which are important to this President. But, look, these are the issues that the President will bring up, and the progress that the President continues to hope to see as we move forward.
It is -- as I was telling Sheryl, this is an important part of our new engagement in the world, as you heard Tom say on Friday, and I think we look forward to the visit tomorrow.
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October 11, 2016
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