Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/16/10
1:12 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.
Q Hello. Welcome back from Snowmageddon, right?
MR. GIBBS: Well, welcome back to you. We were here last week. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We were, right here.
Q Your door was locked.
MR. GIBBS: Only to you, Jake. Everyone else has the secret handshake. (Laughter.)
Q The capture of Mullah Baradar in Pakistan -- do you know if the U.S. is talking to him directly? I know the U.S. is involved, but what does that mean?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into this topic and not going to discuss any details around this.
Q Why not? You guys have talked about kill rates of terrorists and al Qaeda and Taliban. Why wouldn't you talk about this?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think we've talked about it from this position, and we're not going to do it today.
Q Well, the President talked about it. The President said we've killed more extremists --
MR. GIBBS: We are no doubt prosecuting the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in a way that hasn’t been seen before. I'm not going to get into details about this individual or others.
Q How about generalities?
MR. GIBBS: Sure -- I just talked in general terms about prosecuting the war.
Q Right, but can you just explain why it would be important not to talk about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously there are -- this involves very sensitive intelligence matters, this involves the collection of intelligence, and it is best to do that and not to necessarily talk about it.
Q On Iran, the administration has been saying that the door is still open to negotiations, and yet their rhetoric is getting very heated, the Secretary of State saying that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship; Ahmadinejad today saying that any country that imposes sanctions will regret it. So --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, what --
Q Ahmadinejad was saying countries that impose sanctions will regret them.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Mr. Ahmadinejad has been making inflammatory statements for I think going on many years. I wouldn't simply cordon off today's outrageous statement. Look, I think what Secretary Clinton -- what Secretary Clinton said about the IRGC obviously is -- they're a powerful force in the country that has taken actions to support Iran's nuclear program, taken actions to repress the universal rights of its citizens, and to facilitate its state sponsorship of terror, which led the Treasury Department just last week to tighten sanctions on the IRGC.
So, look, our policy of engagement is not for the sake of simply engaging. This is not talk for the sake of talking. Engagement is a means toward an end. And if Iran is unwilling to constructively take part in that and change its behavior, then, as the President said in the State of the Union, and as the Russians and the French and the Americans said in a letter to the IAEA today, not changing their behavior will have consequences.
Q Would you say that cooperation between U.S. intelligence and Pakistani intelligence has never been better?
MR. GIBBS: I think we have over the course of many months seen an increase in that cooperation and I think we’ve seen -- dating back, quite frankly, to last spring, we’ve seen an increase in Pakistani -- I'm figuring out how to phrase -- Pakistani pushback on extremists in their own country, which I think is beneficial not simply for us, but I think the Pakistanis realize that extremist threats within its own border weren’t just threats outside of its country but were threats to their own country. And I think they have appropriately taken strong action.
Q Do you think this is because of a realization, after the incident last year in Swat Valley, that they were -- that the Pakistani government wasn't being threatened? Or do you think it's also a reflection in any way of the new foreign policy of the Obama administration?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we have had, through engagement, an increased amount of -- we've seen an increased amount of cooperation with them. I think we're working constructively with them, meeting with them regularly. We have a better intelligence-sharing capability.
I don't think it's an either/or. I think in this case, as I said in my first answer, I think their realization of what was happening within their own country and the threat that it posed also played a big part in changing their actions.
Q Also, over the weekend Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that John Brennan should step down because of comments Brennan made at NYU. And I was just wondering if you had any reaction to that. It's at least the second senator to call for Brennan to step down.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I reiterate what I said last week. I think nobody could hope for, in this administration or in the previous administration in which he served to stand up the National Counterterrorism Center, somebody more dedicated and less partisan than John Brennan, in doing everything that he possibly can at every hour of the day to keep this country safe. I think we owe men and women like him that work to keep our country safe a thank-you rather than to have them used as political footballs.
Q Does the President agree with what Mr. Brennan wrote in USA Today last week that some of the more politically charged criticism of the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies serve the goals of al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, what John said was that terrorists seek to strike fear and use fear to divide. I think what John pointed out was that these are not giant men, these are not great people. And I think -- again, I think John's service dating back more than two decades is something to be commended.
Q Does the President agree with the language Mr. Brennan used?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that we should not -- that our national security should not be a partisan political game that seeks to divide us; instead, something that hopefully will unite us in efforts, whether it's in Afghanistan in the efforts, military efforts and civilians efforts that you see right now, or in activities that are taking place around the world to make this country safer.
Q And if it doesn't, then it serves the goals of al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it seeks to divide and it makes -- it makes us working together to fight a common enemy much more difficult.
Q Following on Jake, you may have heard that over the weekend former Vice President Cheney was on TV.
MR. GIBBS: I might have seen a clip or two.
Q And, you know, he obviously had a lot of criticisms. He's been doing this for more than a year. When you get a high-level capture like this of a Taliban leader, is there any sense of vindication in this White House that you are prosecuting the war on terror properly?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we didn't need -- we're not looking for vindication. The President has taken strong steps to make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep our country safe, whether that is taking steps to eliminate that threat, whether that's taking steps to capture those that pose harm to our soldiers and our security.
Candidly, Ed, watching the Vice President this weekend, I felt as if -- and I've said this before, but I think it was more -- even more apparent this past weekend -- the Vice President seems to have been engaged in a number of policy battles in the previous administration. It appears as if he had great battles with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General; that he had battles with the State Department; that these appearances, in all honesty, given what he said this weekend, seemed more focused at litigating those battles from seven, six, five, four years ago as much as anything else.
Q Let me ask you about something he said, though, that has sparked a battle in your own party. There are some liberal commentators that are very upset that the former Vice President said that he’s a big supporter of waterboarding; he still thinks that waterboarding should be on the table with the Christmas bomber, for example. And there are a lot of liberal commentators saying, what is the President of the United States -- the current President -- going to do about this, when you have a former Vice President basically saying, I'm a supporter of waterboarding, and basically that the last administration did waterboard, when this current President has said that waterboarding is torture and is thus illegal?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, what are we going to do?
Q Yes, what are you -- you have a former Vice President admitting that we have waterboarded and still think there should be waterboarding, and this President has said that's against the law.
MR. GIBBS: We outlawed it. Our reaction to his criticism, again, I don’t think is anything new.
Q But you’re not going to pursue what happened before -- you're not going to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we’ve gone through that. The President focused on moving forward. I think the actions around the activities of the bomber on Christmas Day demonstrate that leaving to professionals to make these decisions is far preferable than getting into the political back-and-forth.
The one thing you notice -- just to take as a little bit of an aside -- the one thing that I'm struck by, when I watch these interviews and watch these shows, are the number of things that are now being reputed when this administration does them, and the lack of being able to go back and search transcripts and interviews and find any of that criticism when the very same thing happened over the eight years of the Bush administration.
Q What do you say --
MR. GIBBS: Well, hold on, let me just go -- Richard Reid was Mirandized five minutes after the plane landed in Boston and four times in two days, and the Vice President of the United States not only didn't say anything in opposition to that but defended the way that Richard Reid was being handled. So did everybody else. And now, in an almost completely analogous situation, everybody is a critic when it comes to how one is interrogated, when it comes to their status. You saw the Vice President this weekend -- you've heard this red herring, right? This, "Well, we didn't have military commissions." Well, there have been three military commissions under the Bush administration in terms of -- military commissions aren't about interrogating, they're about adjudication.
The notion that they didn't have military commissions is moot -- as the Vice President has to agree with this weekend. The Vice President said, sure, they could have detained him in military custody. They clearly made a definitive decision not to do that. In fact, the Attorney General lauds the facts that they're moving him into the civilian court system. Again, the criticism was nowhere to be found.
So I think building off of what several people -- several of these questions is, are you going to take the steps that are necessary in a bipartisan way to keep our country safe, or are you more interested in playing a political game? The President, John Brennan, and others on this team are far more interested in keeping this country safe than in the volley of talking points and press releases.
Q Quick follow on another subject, last thing, on nuclear power, the President's big announcement today. It was an olive branch to Republicans, but he didn't explain what he's going to do with the nuclear waste. He said he's going to have a bipartisan panel decide. I mean, the country has been trying to figure that out for years and years and years and it hasn't been able to figure out. This administration has said you're going to take Yucca Mountain off the table.
MR. GIBBS: The budget denotes that, right.
Q The budget denotes that. So will this bipartisan panel, though, be able to put everything on the table, or are you saying Yucca Mountain is off the table? The President is obviously --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think what has taken Yucca Mountain off the table in terms of a long-term solution for a repository for our nuclear waste is the science. The science ought to make these decisions. The President has a panel headed by Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, two very able individuals, to help decide a problem that, as you mentioned -- I think it was the -- I think the Nuclear Policy Act of 1986 is what began the process of collecting money to build a long-term nuclear waste repository. So this is something the country has struggled with for obviously several decades.
We've also struggled with the fact that as the demand for electricity generation and power have greatly increased, we have not in 30 years built any additional nuclear facilities. The President believed throughout the campaign, and said as much, that we need a balanced approach. He made good on that balanced approach today. We increased the loan guarantees in the federal -- in our current federal budget deficit to build more of these facilities to strike that balance and also to create -- begin to create a market for cleaner energy sources through comprehensive energy legislation.
Q But I guess just -- if you don't -- if you can't find a place to put the waste, the country is still going to be stuck and you're not really going to be able to build these new reactors.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, right now -- again, this policy started in 1986. We're at 2010 and we don't have a permanent facility. Right now waste is stored at individual facilities. The President understands that in order for this to be the type of source that it needs to be in the future, we do have to seek a permanent storage facility for that waste, and that's what he believes this commission will be charged to do.
Q Back on the topic of -- following up on Ed with waterboarding and torture, with the President having, as you said, outlawed waterboarding, what is the responsibility of his administration to make sure that this latest alleged captive from the Afghan Taliban is not waterboarded or tortured? Is it the President's and the administration’s responsibility -- I'm not talking about him in particular -- but is it their responsibility to make sure waterboarding doesn’t happen by Pakistani security forces?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I, for a number of reasons, as I said, I'm just not going to get into the details surrounding any of these events.
Q This really is a question of policy, not a question of this particular case.
MR. GIBBS: And I’d be happy to talk about it off camera.
Q Switching topics, then, to the stimulus, the Recovery Act. Tomorrow is the anniversary, I believe. What is the number of jobs now that the administration believes were created or saved -- what is the phrase, and how are you counting them now?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get you the CEA report that I think says 1.5 [million] to 2 million. And I can also send you the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan -- I think their number -- I don’t have it handy -- I think was something like 1.6 [million] to 2.4 [million]. As you know there’s a Web site for recipient statistics for a portion of --
Q But the numbers are -- that's really my point, that the numbers are so all over the map.
MR. GIBBS: No, 1.5 [million] to 2 [million] and 1.6 [million] and 2.4 [million] I think are very much in the same ballpark.
Q -- like counting jobs is they differ by a half a million.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chip, you should call Doug Elmendorf over at the Congressional Budget Office, who I think --
Q -- I'm just trying to get from you what is the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, what did he say?
Q Everybody quotes all these different numbers that are all over the map.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm not an economist. I don't know the theory that the Congressional Budget Office, which has scored pieces of legislation that we consider that gives those budgetary and policy impact scores -- I would point you to the report that says that's how many jobs were created.
But, look, I think -- understand, look at the recipient reports. Again, the recipient reports that I think are online cover a portion of the Recovery Act, but we've seen hundreds of thousands of teachers that, as a result of pretty drastic cutbacks in state and local government funding, would have required teachers to be laid off. Class sizes would have rose -- would have risen. Schools would have likely been closed as a result of those harmful budget cuts. That's why the Recovery Act has a significant amount of state and local assistance to ensure that police and firefighters and teachers and the like are not laid off.
Q The reason I'm asking this is because in CBS/New York Times' recent poll, one number just leaps out at you, and it's -- when you ask people, has the Recovery Act created jobs, 6 percent say yes. So either they are just massively confused by all these numbers, or they just -- you've just done a bad job of selling this and convincing people. Why do you think -- I mean, 6 percent is --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip --
Q -- so close to zero it's almost --
MR. GIBBS: Or it could be plus or minus 6 percent, building off your previous example. I mean, that's on a magnitude of 6, Chip, if you were to take --
Q Six percent is incredible. Why do you think it's so small, and is it because the administration has done that bad a job of selling it?
MR. GIBBS: I think we're living in an environment where the unemployment rate is 9.7 percent. I think we're living in an environment where 8.4 million people since December of 2007 have lost their job.
Chip, let me give you the answer the President would give when he's asked about his approval ratings in an economy with 9.7 unemployment. I'm sure it's very true, when you call somebody who lives in Elkhart, Indiana, whose unemployment rate has come down in the last year but is still probably 13 or 14 percent or close to 15 percent -- an entire industry -- motor homes -- has decimated -- you live in Elkhart, you just lost your job, your wife just lost her job, you're having trouble figuring out how you're going to pay for your kids' college, and somebody says, "How's the Recovery Act working?" I mean, you know --
Q Well, has it created any jobs, is the question. It's still a pretty --
MR. GIBBS: Again, every economist says the answer to that is yes. The problem, Chip, is, as I said before and as we've talked about, 8.4 million people since December 2007 have lost their jobs. The frustration of economic anxiety didn't start in December of 2007. It started -- it's been going back 10 years where people have seen their wages decline, people have worked longer and harder, they've seen their productivity rise, yet the money in their pocket doesn't rise at the end of every week when they cash their paycheck.
Home values have plummeted and continue to have a hard time sustaining their value. We have gone through an economic trauma unlike anything that we've seen in this country since the last 1920s. I think that's a significant number.
Q On the Taliban leader, is it helpful --
MR. GIBBS: The one I'm not going to talk about?
Q Well, is it helpful that if this is so public that we've captured him, why do we -- why did it become public information? Is this something that is endangering the mission, that it's public?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. Well, I'm not going to do this. I said I wasn’t and I'm not going to get dragged into -- look, anytime classified information becomes public it’s never helpful.
Q I want to read you a quote Evan Bayh said today. He said, “If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months.” Do you agree with that statement?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think we have seen continued job loss. I think the President has outlined steps, I think Senator Bayh has outlined steps that now we need to see Congress act on. They’re going to take the first of those steps when they get back from the recess.
Q Is that a true statement, in your words?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I think people are frustrated with job growth. Again, I think -- I've used this statistic before, if you take how many jobs were lost in the most severe recession I think in most people’s memories, the early 1980s, add that to the job loss of a recession in the early 1990s, and then add that to the job loss in 2001 and 2002 -- add those all together and you don’t have the job loss that we’ve seen since December of 2007. Of course people are frustrated.
Q Does the White House accept any responsibility for the environment that Evan Bayh was complaining about in his retirement speech, in that, you know, he feels like a lot of the system is broken, the Senate is broken -- does the White House accept any blame for this?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think what Evan Bayh identified in 2010 led Senator Barack Obama to run for President in 2008.
Q Why do you think he didn't want to stick around and help him, then, if this is a problem he identified and --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think people -- you and I have had this conversation in here before. I think people use a number of different criteria to make a decision for why they’re going to run. Obviously somebody ahead by 20 points in the polls and gaining interest on a $13 million political bank account is not worried about their electoral prospects.
But I think his frustration with the way Washington works, the President's frustration with the way Washington works, the American people's frustration with the way Washington works -- look, I think everybody involved is probably partly responsible. The question is what are you going to do to fix it? The President is trying to do all that he can to make this place work.
Q John Podesta said the White House lost control of the narrative. What do you think he meant by that?
MR. GIBBS: I've not --
Q This is your transition chief --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not in John's head. I don't --
Q He said they lost control of the narrative and that you had a problem knitting together everything that you've been trying to --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think we've been dealing with something unforeseen by an administration in 80 years. So --
Q You guys haven’t done anything wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Is that a follow-up to that question?
Q No, I don't know. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Was this something that was hanging out from like six weeks ago, that you decided to come --
Q No, but clearly this is somebody, an ally of yours on the outside saying that you guys could be doing things --
MR. GIBBS: Actually, I meant we've done nothing wrong, Chuck. (Laughter.)
Q No, I'm just being -- do you not accept the criticism?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't know what his criticism is based on. I don't -- I didn't -- I haven't read whatever you're referring to that Mr. Podesta might have said. Again, I think we have been dealing with an extraordinary amount over the course of the past little more than a year that we're working desperately to try to fix.
Q The President reiterated today during his speech a desire to have a comprehensive climate change energy bill. Did he secure any -- before announcing the nuclear reactor permits, did he secure any kind of concessions from the Republicans when he met them part of the way with this nuclear power initiative? And did they say, all right, we're going to come to the table on cap and trade, for instance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, understanding right now there's a process -- I guess you could call it tripartisan -- in the Senate with Joe Lieberman, Lindsay Graham and John Kerry to seek a comprehensive solution, the likes of which the President talks about.
There isn't -- there wasn't a negotiation around these nuclear loans. The President believes that this has to be one aspect of the way we generate power in this country. I think the President talked about -- look, the cheapest way to do it is with a coal-fired power plant. But even operators of coal-fired power plants understand that this isn't the way of the future. And the way of the future is to set a market for the innovation around clean energy. That is done -- one of the ways that's done is through a cap and trade comprehensive energy --
Q One of the ideas coming out of Republican circles on that is to have a cap and trade system only apply to the utility industries, so it would take care of that coal plant, but it would basically only cover about 40 percent of the economy. Is that something that the White House would consider?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Carol and others. I have not seen that proposal. Obviously we took steps in the recovery plan and have taken steps as a result of increased fuel mileage requirements, different ideas about that to deal with the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions, which is transportation.
Q And one last question on this. There's an effort in the Senate and I think in the House as well to legislatively prevent the EPA from going ahead with its regulations on greenhouse gases. Would the President veto legislation like that?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I don't know how that legislation would work. Obviously we wouldn't support that because, Jonathan, what the EPA is doing they were instructed to do as a result of a lawsuit by states to regulate those dangerous gases.
Q And one other thing. You said last week that the President would be coming out with his commission -- his debt commission. Do you have a clearer time frame on that yet?
MR. GIBBS: Later in the week.
MR. GIBBS: It will be this week, though, yes.
Q What role is the White House going to take in finding a Democrat to run in Indiana?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure they're having conversations with people that are interested. I don't -- I have not talked to folks here about whether they've made phone calls. Look, first and foremost, I think those that are in Indiana have to decide whether they’re interested in running or not.
Q And what role did the Chief of Staff take in trying unsuccessfully, obviously, to dissuade Bayh from --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t know all the conversations that Senator Bayh has had with people in Washington or in Indiana. He’s talked with the President on a number of occasions, he’s talked with the Chief of Staff on a number of occasions about a decision that he had to make again involving the direction of his life and I'm sure taking into account a lot of different criteria.
Q One trivial pursuit. You're taking --
MR. GIBBS: Which subject am I on? Do I get a piece of pie if I get it?
Q You're on Twitter now. Are you sending out all these tweets yourself?
MR. GIBBS: Inexplicably, yes. Bill probably has some matter of Twitter up now. I sat in that chair when the President was in here, admittedly hadn't spent a lot of time using that tool -- I was fascinated to watch it. It seemed, as I’ve said to some of you, an avenue that our voice would be important in. It’s been fascinating to watch just over the few days since I've joined it. I have enjoyed watching you all comment on women’s figure skating and ski jumping and all manner of -- (laughter) --I think it’s also very interesting -- look, there’s a tremendous amount of information that we all get and have to read and go through each day. This is certainly one way to get, on a rolling basis, to see a lot of that information in front of you. It’s an interesting thing to watch.
Q How do you think 140-character or even 140, even, word limit on the discourse in this room would work? (Laughter.) To each question and answer.
MR. GIBBS: I can't speak for you, but I would say this: I do not know yet if I have tried to type one of those out where the number right next to the box didn't say “negative” something, and then I'm trying to figure out how to shorten -- there’s a whole language, obviously, and typing with numbers and symbols that has evaded me. I'm sure my son could teach me that far better than I could pick it up.
Q That's what he meant when he asked if you were sending out these -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I have been. It’s an interesting thing.
Q Can I just go back to Baradar real quick and just try to clarify something? Are you guys confirming his capture?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not talking about him from the podium.
Q I was just wondering because there’s so many hypotheticals and generalities. On the Greek debt crisis, could you give us any indication how the President is monitoring it? Has it risen to his level? How concerned is he?
MR. GIBBS: As part of the President's economic daily briefing today, Secretary Geithner and Director Summers and Dr. Romer all talked to the President about the situation in Europe and gave him an update on what was going on, on the challenges that the Greeks and the larger EU face. We have confidence, as they told the President, that the EU is capable of dealing with this situation.
Q So he’s pleased with the European response right now, from the Germans and the French?
MR. GIBBS: He has monitored what -- through both news reports and what Larry, Tim and Dr. Romer have told him, and I think all are in agreement that the EU is capable of solving this.
Q The President's communications director says he’s refining the delivery of the message. How can a President who has conducted more prime time news conferences in his first year than any President in history, who made all five Sunday news shows one Sunday, feel that --
MR. GIBBS: I think we did six, actually.
Q I stand corrected.
MR. GIBBS: There you go. I could have Twittered that. (Laughter.)
Q You didn't do Fox that day.
MR. GIBBS: We did Univision, though, didn't we?
Q And we won't go into what -- (laughter.)
Q How can you feel -- how come the American public doesn’t know precisely what he wants?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Wendell, there’s a lot of different stuff that flies each and every day. The media is segmented in a way that it has never been before. We’ve been asked why does the President have to do so many interviews. Well, people get their information from now so many different sources. The one we just talked about didn't exist only a few years ago.
Look, so what the President will do and what we'll do as a staff is continue to find ways to make the delivery of what he's working on each and every day and how it affects people's lives more readily available to them.
Q Does his strategy also involve reminding people the President is the agent of change, and yet it would seem that what is in the way is old Washington ways, partisanship. Why can't you effect some change in that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're trying. But understand, Wendell, that with the presidency does not come the magic wand for changing the way this town works. You heard the President outline ways that he thinks this town can work better in the State of the Union; that we have to take steps to ensure that foreign corporations can't unduly influence our elections off of what the Supreme Court decided; that contacts with lobbyists are reported more readily so that people understand if you're working on behalf of the people's interest or the special interests. That's what led us to put online each month the visitors that come into this building for the first time in the history of this country.
Q On a different subject, one other thing. The Climate Action Partnership now is without the support of ConocoPhillips, BP, Caterpillar -- all announced today that they are dropping out of it. Your reaction? Problems it might cause for the President --
MR. GIBBS: I would be happy to -- I have not seen that, but I would be happy to take a look at it.
Q On the nuclear energy piece, going back a little bit to what Jonathan had talked about, as I remember it, the President has always talked about nuclear energy and additional oil drilling as part of a package -- you know, sort of a comprehensive package that would include climate change legislation. By peeling off this piece of it, is he essentially giving away one of this sort of trading chips that he could use with the Republicans by saying, you know, we're just going to go ahead and do the nuclear piece outside of a kind of an agreement that --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- look, two things. As a part of energy legislation that went through Congress, it opened up the possibility for loan guarantees to stabilize and incentivize an industry that obviously, as a result of no construction in 30 years, had dwindled. The President has demonstrated in his budget the desire to see more loan guarantees in the future.
I think this demonstrates that -- look, the President said in the State of the Union, the President said in the meeting with Republican leaders in Congress -- Mitch McConnell, I think, said, you know what, we support nuclear energy, we support offshore drilling. Well, the President said in that meeting, well, Mitch, you'll be happy with what we do.
Now, I don't think there's anybody that would tell you that today's announcement alone or more of simply doing what we did today is going to solve all of our energy problems. There isn't one aspect of any number of different sources -- wind, solar, biofuel, nuclear, hydroelectric, coal, any of that -- not one of those things is going to solve all those problems. Together, setting a market for and incentivizing clean energy, we have the ability to take the steps we need to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and to help clean up our environment.
We're certainly willing to -- and I think the President has demonstrated through this announcement, through the budget, his willingness to be part of this dialogue. We're heartened by Senator Graham's working with Senator Lieberman and Senator Kerry on a comprehensive piece of legislation that can get through the Senate.
Q So, just to be clear, though, you told Jonathan there weren't any negotiations specifically about this, but do you all see this as sending a pretty clear message to the Republicans more broadly on comprehensive climate change legislation, that this is a sort of an entree?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President a week ago in here said that he was going to make some decisions on energy, and I think he reiterated it today, that might not make everybody in his party completely comfortable. But again, I think that goes back to what I said a minute ago, which is there isn't an energy silver bullet. Only by working together and increasing our investment across a broad spectrum are we going to be able to deal with all of our problems.
I think the President's announcement today demonstrates his willingness to take part in that comprehensive discussion about a comprehensive piece of energy reform.
Q One quick Twitter question. When you all came into office a year ago, a lot of you were grumbling about the fact that you had to give up your social media -- Facebook and I thought Twitter and all of that -- because of security --
MR. GIBBS: Bill was probably on Facebook. I'm not nearly as young and hip as -- yes.
Q Clearly. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You weren't supposed to readily agree with me, Michael. That was sort of a segue thing --
Q Yes, you are.
Q Yeah, look at the tie. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You like the tie, don't you, Hans?
Q It's good.
Q Have you guys somehow resolved security concerns? Can you now be putting that stuff on --
MR. GIBBS: Well -- and this gathered some attention on the Internet when I said that our computers didn't necessarily -- didn't have access to Twitter. We have -- obviously we can't go -- there are sites across a broad spectrum of sites that are blocked from government computers. In order for me to get on a site like Twitter, the computer guys had to go do whatever the computer guys do and -- but at the same time -- (laughter) -- that's why we have computer guys, right?
Q Is that a technical term?
Q It has to do with -- it's the tubes, Robert, a series of tubes.
MR. GIBBS: But -- right, the tubes, right. But -- I meant that the reason that I can't fix my computer is because -- no, but I think also, look, you had to -- we have, dating back -- I don't know when it dates back to -- but presidential records requires that if I go on a site like this and send out a message, that message has to be archived for the future, just like any e-mails that I send or e-mails that I get are also archived for the future. So you can -- we can change the settings on our computers. It requires not just the IT guys but an explanation of what the Presidential Records Act entails.
As I say that, just as anybody wouldn't fear sending an e-mail, I don't think anybody should fear going on Web sites and reading what we write or responding to what we write based on the Presidential Records Act. It's simply intended to preserve the paper and the electronic records of the administration.
Q Robert, looking ahead, the President has talked about the health care summit and said he wants to use it to establish what the issues are, what the problems are, to lay the facts out in front of the American people and to establish factual accuracy about how different approaches work. Can you just put a little meat on the bones and talk about how he envisions this summit working? How is he going to do that in the short span of a day when we've been debating this for a year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think through the course of the debate we understand some of the issues that are involved. I think we're at the -- toward the end of the solution-finding. We understand the questions that the President laid out in the State of the Union, particularly around cost, what you're going to do about insurance reforms, how you're going to cover and give access to the millions that can't afford coverage, and lay out both a plan as he sees it and hoping that others that have been invited -- and that others will give information to those that have been invited -- to lay out in a detailed way what their solutions are for cutting costs, for providing reforms for insurance, and for providing access and coverage to those that currently lack health insurance.
And I think the backdrop for -- look, the backdrop of what we've talked about for almost a year, and certainly I think one of the backdrops for this event, will be we've now seen what has happened to the individual insurance market. People are getting letters in the mail now, they got them in California: Your health insurance is going to go up almost 40 percent from last year to this year. That's a preview of what's going to happen if we don't do anything.
Now, interestingly, the company that previously fought health insurance said one of the reasons that they did this was because we didn't have health reform. Well, I would say to this insurer: Welcome to the game. Come down and help us -- help be part of the solution for cutting costs and increasing coverage.
Q I guess what I was -- is he literally going to have people from CBO and OMB and the joint committee there say, okay, this is what this is going to cost, and this is what that's going to cost?
MR. GIBBS: I think both CBO and OMB will be there --
Q Are you expecting them to literally cost out proposals on the spot there on live television or --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will -- do I think at some point will the President, in engaging some person about their proposal, ask OMB and CBO the impact on the fundamental questions that he has on costs, on reform, and on insurance coverage? Absolutely. I think that's part of the process, is for the American people to watch an engaged discussion on these facts.
Q Can I follow on --
Q One more question --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second. Over here.
Q And what does he say when Republicans say, well, we can't afford to cover 30 million people; we can't -- you know, we simply fundamentally disagree with your goals here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that will certainly be part of the discussion. Again, understanding that -- what the proposal of the President laid out is paid for and doesn't add to the deficit; in fact, over the next 10 to 20 years, lessens the obligation that the government has for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as helping families with the cost of those that have insurance and providing access and help for those that don't.
But I think everyone will get a chance to watch and see -- we know the problems that people have. We know that small businesses are being crushed by these costs. We know that if you’re a small business in this individual market, you're getting this letter that says your insurance is going up 39 percent. So we know what the problem is. Now the question is, what is Washington going to do working together to address that problem? And I think the President will lay out his ideas and I would expect that Republicans will and others will lay out their solutions.
Now, if they say, look, we can't help the guy in the individual market whose insurance is going up 39 percent, he’s on his own -- then you'll have the parameters of that debate.
Q Have the Republicans accepted the invitation? And if they don’t will the President --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if --
Q They have indicated they have not accepted it. Would the President go ahead just with the Democrats and have a televised work session on it?
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this, Ann, I think it is -- right before the President issued the invitation the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the President to do -- if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the chasm that's there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do.
Q Some say it’s a trap.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it -- how so? To go sit down with the President and talk about the solution [sic] that's facing millions of people, including those that are getting letters each day about the rising cost of insurance?
Everybody that's in Washington, that works in the executive branch and the legislative branch, was sent here as part of representative democracy to solve problems. That's what this is intended to do.
Q Doesn’t he have the home court advantage in a way?
MR. GIBBS: How so? Because it’s at Blair House?
Q Well, he’s calling it on his turf. He’s the one convening it. He’s issuing the invite. He’s going to mediate --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand: The invites are the relevant committee chairs and ranking members for the committees that dealt with the legislation. So it’s not as if we’ve invited two people you've never heard of and all the smart guys are coming with us. I mean, at least I don’t think the Republicans would say that the people that we’ve invited -- since they're in a position -- they’re in a seniority position on each of these committees to deal with and take up this legislation -- that somehow we’ve hoodwinked them into dealing with the people that are charged by Congress to deal with these issues. I don’t know where the home court advantage is.
Q Would you be open if they wanted to bring some other people? If they said, we’d like to bring so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so -- you guys open to that?
MR. GIBBS: According to Ann we haven’t heard if the original invitees are coming. So I would suggest before the invitation becomes transferable that someone should RSVP.
Q And has the President put on the Internet yet his combined bill?
MR. GIBBS: Not yet, but that will --
Q When will that happen?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the exact day yet, but it will be in time for you and for others around the country to evaluate a plan. And I would also --
Q -- a merged House-Senate bill, or is that his own -- or is he going to come up with some bill?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get ahead of -- we’ll have a chance to go through that process. But I would say this, Sheryl, I hope that those that are coming, because they’ve asked -- they said the same thing -- remember -- we need to see what -- the American people need to see what we're discussing. We agree.
Q Actually, that's a different question, though. Will it be his own bill? Because they don't have a merged House-Senate bill. So is he going to be in the position of having to put his own bill out there?
MR. GIBBS: Stay tuned.
Q Sounds like a yes.
Q Can we get some questions over here?
MR. GIBBS: I was there Friday. Come on, Lester.
Q Robert, there have been several rounds of talks between the representatives of the Tibetans and the Chinese government, without tangible results. Is the President optimistic about the opportunity here for some kind of movement?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President would simply encourage the two parties to continue to talk.
Q But as he goes into this meeting with the Dalai Lama on Thursday, what are his hopes as he -- what is he hoping --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the best thing to do is to read out what they talk about at the conclusion of the meeting, rather than guess what they might go over and what they might not.
Q Can you just say will they appear, the two of them, on camera, after their meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Robert, I have a highly technical question about the new rough draft of history. But if your Tweets are part of the White House records, are the sites that you are receiving or following, is that going to be part of the record, as well? In other words, does that constitute as receiving a message?
MR. GIBBS: Meaning what? You know, it took me a year or so to get on this, so I may not be the guy that --
Q Will the sites you're following be part of the record?
MR. GIBBS: I believe they are. I believe they are.
Q Or people you follow. So if you're following Jake or you're following Mark, all of Jake's Tweets?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if every site that I visit on the Internet is documented for the presidential records.
Q -- you're receiving a Tweet as technically a message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can check with the lawyers --
Q What about your followers? (Laughter.)
Q Both of them? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say. (Laughter.)
Q -- incredible number of followers.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second. Michael, how many followers are -- how many do you have currently on the -- (laughter.) Yes, I don't want to compare --
Q -- just Tweeting. You're up to 21,000 --
Q Do your followers become part of the federal record?
MR. GIBBS: I will ask the lawyers. (Laughter.) I don't know --
Q That's a good rumor to start. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, but I think that's understandably -- but understand this. If you send -- Wendell, if you send me an e-mail, right, if you send me an e-mail --
Q I do. You never respond. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, and obviously I get to the important ones -- (laughter) -- but know this, that in --
Q I would never give you something --
MR. GIBBS: -- in eight years I'm sure the archivist will be entertained by yours. (Laughter.) No, but this is a serious question. I think it's important to understand that, again, if you e-mail -- Congress long ago passed a law that interactions with -- on e-mail have to be archived. They're not released for some period of time --
Q And my question was a refinement of that, because it's a different thing to e-mail you than it is to follow you on Twitter.
MR. GIBBS: Well, except, again, one of the reasons that you can't just log onto that computer and get onto a site like that is because interactions with us are governed by -- we follow the law. It's governed by the Presidential Records Act.
Now, I want to say that should not scare anybody from -- and judging from some of the criticisms that I've read, it has not -- (laughter) -- and those aren't your e-mails, Wendell, those are -- (laughter) -- those are others.
Q On Afghanistan, with the ongoing operations in Marjah, there is a concern that there's going to be a high number of civilian casualties. Do you worry that this might -- it's going to undermine your efforts of winning hearts and minds? And do you have trust in the Afghani government that might step in when and if Marjah would be cleared of Taliban forces?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it's important to understand that this is -- the size and scope of this operation has not yet been seen in the history of the war in Afghanistan. And in the lead are, in a civilian and a military way, the government and the security forces of Afghanistan -- which are important -- working together with our allies in the region, with ISAF, taking the steps that are necessary both militarily and, as you said, to come in behind that with economic development and show a better way of life and to show why that's important on a military and a civilian level.
We always regret in any way the loss of civilian life. I think that that always makes the job that you have to do that much tougher and, as I said, we regret that. I think this operation, though, demonstrates the security forces of Afghanistan in the lead, working with others as partners to make progress against the Taliban.
Q Robert, will the proposal or whatever you post online on health care before now and the 25th be scaled back from the House and Senate versions at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of what we post. We'll have -- once we post it we'll have more time to discuss it.
Q A political question then. Looking at Indiana and Bayh, and also looking at Delaware -- and those are two, there may be more -- for the lack of one particular Democratic candidate in each state, Democratic chances of keeping those states are severely diminished. Is there -- was there not and is there in the future, looking at other potential states, anything the President can do to stop this bleeding?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't -- the reports that I saw before I came out here was that there had not been a qualifier for the seat in Indiana. As I understand it, the State Central Committee will select a Democratic nominee among those who wish to run. So I think the notion that we don't have many exceedingly credible, well-qualified candidates on our side I think is very premature to say.
I think the same is true of our candidate in Delaware. I think the best thing that the President can do is to continue to work each and every day to create an environment for hiring in the private sector, to take the steps necessary to keep our country safe and secure. I think that's the best way forward for us.
Q Robert, just two questions --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, Lester --
Q Robert, this concerns -- since you're talking about clean energy today, representatives of the wind and solar industries love all the tax breaks that you guys are providing them. They say, however, that one of the most important things you could do -- and I think I asked you about this in Shanghai a couple months ago -- about the White House actually putting, say, solar panels on the White House, or maybe getting a small wind turbine. In Shanghai you weren’t really sure, you said a lot of things were maybe being discussed. Can you -- any more definitive --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get ahead of the architects around here. I doubt a small wind turbine is in the offing. But I will check on -- I know there has been discussion of solar panels, but I will --
Q Just as a quick follow-up about the tax breaks. The state of Wyoming, which is actually a very big producer of wind power, is now actually considering taxing -- in other words, taking away what you guys are providing with your tax break. Is it a good idea to tax an industry that's already struggling?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t have details of what the state of Wyoming is proposing. I can simply talk about the efforts that have gone into wind production tax credits that the President has supported for years and which were greatly enhanced and increased in the Recovery Act, which has led to dramatic increases in wind energy production and in the capabilities for future generations.
At a time in which the industry felt like, because of the lack of credit in the larger and broader economy, that investment in wind energy products throughout the country would likely -- you would see a regression in that, as a result of the Recovery Act we’ve seen instead greater and enhanced investment at a time of economic uncertainty, which has allowed the industry to grow exponentially like never before. The President considers it a good investment of money as we create our own energy from the wind and lessen overall our dependence on foreign oil.
Q May I follow up on Iran and terrorism, please? On terrorism, you used the term “extremists.” Do you make a differentiation between “extremists” and “terrorists”? And on Iran --
MR. GIBBS: When was I --
Q Well, you talked about extremists --
MR. GIBBS: I think I said earlier -- I think it may have been to Jennifer’s question -- I’d have to go back and look at the transcript, but I think I said, "al Qaeda and its extremist allies."
Q But do you see a differentiation between "extremist" and "terrorist?"
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would go back and look at the transcript. I think I was pretty clear about the type of activity we were talking about.
Q And on Iran, you said there will be consequences. Do you rule out military consequences?
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't rule out anything. Our focus has been on the process of engagement. The Iranians have at virtually every turn either ignored or disregarded that engagement, demonstrating to the world that its nuclear program is not of the means and type that they have tried to convince others that it's for; that as a result of that, not living up to their responsibilities, that consequences will follow.
And that's what the President, the P5-plus-1, have been involved in. And, again, the letter that's gone to the IAEA from the French, the Russians, and the Americans I think outline a united position in dealing with Iran.
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July 5, 2016
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July 1, 2016
President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
June 30, 2016
June 30, 2016