Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6/1/10
2:21 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Sir. Two topics I’d like to ask you about, Robert. On the Mideast, does President Obama condemn Israel’s raid of the aid ship headed to Gaza?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, let me simply restate what the international community and the United States supported early this morning at the U.N. Security Council through a presidential statement. The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. The Council in this context condemns those acts, which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families. The Security Council requests the immediate release of the ships, as well as civilians held by Israel.
Q So that would seem to cover President Obama’s personal feeling, while some of the allies are looking for a stronger statement from him directly.
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is supported not just by the United States but by the international community.
Q And does the President feel like he is still in a position of gathering facts about what happened or have you ascertained enough to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the Security Council, the statement that I read, calls for an investigation that is prompt, impartial, credible and transparent, conforming to international standards of exactly what happened. And we’re obviously supportive of that.
Q On oil, on the spill, was this latest attempt to try to contain the well one that BP came up with or is this an administrative directive?
MR. GIBBS: Is this the top cap?
MR. GIBBS: I believe in conjunction with a number of scientists, this was one of the options that has been before us for quite some time. Obviously any action undertaken by BP to deal with the wellbore and to deal with the well itself requires the signoff of the federal on-scene coordinator.
Q What’s the President’s level of confidence about this effort given the lack of success of the ones before it?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I’m not in the odds prediction business in terms of this, as Carol Browner said on television this morning. Obviously this has gone on far too long. I think everybody is enormously frustrated with that, and rightfully so. We are closely monitoring the events as they start and are hopeful that this is a situation that will contain the oil coming from the well.
Obviously we’re in a little different situation. This is -- this procedure -- and I don’t know if you all had a chance to listen to Admiral Allen’s briefing a little while ago; the transcript will be put out by the Joint Information Center and we will forward that around as well.
The solutions for -- the solution with the top kill, first in stabilizing the well with heavy drilling mud, ultimately would lead to the cement capping of that well. We’re now working on something slightly different in terms of containing, through this cap, what is coming out of that well.
Q Just a couple more quick ones on this. The President said when the top kill procedure failed over the weekend that the leak was as enraging as it is heartbreaking. Have you seen the President enraged about this?
MR. GIBBS: Throughout this process, absolutely.
Q Do you think that that has come through to the American people?
MR. GIBBS: I think the American people are frustrated. I think the people of the Gulf are frustrated. I think the President is frustrated. I think the White House is frustrated. I don’t see how anybody could look at what’s happening in the Gulf and not be frustrated and heartbroken -- absolutely.
Q And is there any consideration given to the President cancelling his foreign trip?
Q We can’t hear you.
Q Your mic isn’t on.
MR. GIBBS: My mic’s not on?
Q I don’t think so.
MR. GIBBS: I said all those really important things and you guys --
Q Start from the beginning.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, so I was going to tell you tomorrow’s lottery numbers, but -- (Laughter.) Can somebody figure out -- did it work now? Are you sure? This is sort of awkward. This never happens to Bill at karaoke.
Q And you complain we all ask the same question over and over again.
MR. GIBBS: Exactly right. (Laughter.) Now there’s at least a good excuse. (Applause.) First time anybody has ever clapped for what I said. Go ahead, I’m sorry. Yes, exactly -- don’t start from the top. Lord knows I’ll -- Bill will lip-sync the transcript when it comes out, so you can -- go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q I’ll just go to my last question, which was, is there any consideration being given to postponing or canceling the President’s upcoming foreign trip to deal with this?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I don’t know the answer to that.
Q Before returning to the Gaza flotilla incident, quick question about the oil spill. The President said that if laws were broken, then justice would be done for those responsible. Can you give a sense of when a criminal probe might emerge in the spill case?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously the Attorney General is in the Gulf today to meet with U.S. attorneys and state attorneys general. I would refer you to the Department of Justice for those answers.
Q Okay, and in light of what happened with the Gaza aid flotilla, is the President considering at least backing international calls to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces?
MR. GIBBS: No. Well, look, obviously, as we have said before, we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and continue to work with the Israelis and international partners in order to improve those conditions. And as the U.N. Security Council statement says, obviously it’s an untenable situation.
Q Should the blockade be lifted?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’re working with those to improve the humanitarian conditions. I do think it’s helpful to understand that this is a blockade of -- to not allow weapons to get into the hands of Hamas.
Q And humanitarian aid.
MR. GIBBS: And we have said that -- well, I’ll just leave it at that.
Q And what are the President’s concerns that the Gaza incident -- the flotilla incident might -- has poisoned the atmosphere to the extent that indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians won’t go forward? Will there be delay of some sort here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say, obviously we’re
-- the President spoke on three occasions yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and obviously we regret that but understand completely why he went back to Israel and had to cancel the meeting.
The schedule for Mr. Abbas coming is still the same. And we think more than ever we need a comprehensive Middle East peace plan.
Q Mitchell is back in the region tomorrow, I believe --
MR. GIBBS: He is.
Q -- for the Palestine Investment Conference. Will he be shuttling between Abbas and Netanyahu for talks?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get -- I don’t off the top of my head know his schedule, but I’ll -- let me see if I have anything additional to --
Q But you expect indirect talks will go forward?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Does President Obama believe the Israelis’ version of events?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q Does President Obama believe -- does he believe the Israeli government’s version of events?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jake, I’d refer you to the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an investigation so that everybody knows exactly what happened.
Q Let’s talk about that investigation. Is it important that it be run by the Israelis? Does the President want the international community to be involved in the investigation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that -- obviously what I said earlier, the resolution calls for a prompt and transparent investigation. Obviously we are open to ways to assure a credible investigation, including international participation.
Q And there were Americans on the flotilla. Has there been any -- do you have any information about whether any of them were hurt? There was an unconfirmed report that an American student lost an eye in the incident. Do you know anything?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’re in contact with the Israelis in order to get an accounting as to whether any American citizens -- obviously American citizens were -- acting as private citizens -- were on some of these ships. We’re working with the Israelis to determine if any of those individuals were injured, and as the resolution says, would call on the Israelis to release both the ships and any of those people.
Q Is the President concerned at all that after all his work to repair relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world that a situation like this destroys it overnight?
MR. GIBBS: The U.S. relationship with the Muslim --
Q The U.S. relationship with the Muslim world by standing so steadfastly with Israel?
MR. GIBBS: No, again -- again, I would point you to
-- I think it was a pretty clear statement by the international community that the United States --
Q I wouldn’t call it that -- I mean, it condemns acts that were taken that led to the loss of life, but it doesn’t say whose acts. It could have been the flotilla’s acts, or it could have been the IDF’s acts. It’s not clear from that statement.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think our opinion is this is a pretty clear statement, and obviously --
Q Whose acts -- whose acts are you talking about in that statement? Is it the IDF or is it the --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’re talking about series of facts that will be determined by an appropriate investigation as I just said.
Q Okay, so there’s no specificity as to whose acts it’s condemning?
MR. GIBBS: Well, maybe you have information as to exactly how this went this down that the rest of the international community may not be completely clear on, Jake. But, again, I’m saying, and let me get --
Q Well, it looks like you don’t even know what -- you don’t know what happened.
MR. GIBBS: We can play circular ball all day long, Jake. Obviously we condemn the loss of life and we regret it deeply. I think that is knowable, correct?
Q That’s correct.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, good. So I would simply say -- reiterate what is in the statement. In terms of our relationship with the Muslim world, I think the President has obviously spent a lot of time on improving our relationship with countries throughout the world, and special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world. I do not think that this will have a great impact on that.
Q Thank you. I just wonder -- I wanted to talk about oil a little bit. You mentioned Thad Allen briefed earlier today. Why did it take until day 43 for the administration to decide that you have to speak with one voice and have Thad Allen doing it, not BP briefing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first of all, I think there were joint briefings that were held at the Joint Information Center in Robert that had a component of both BP and the Coast Guard. Today is the beginning of hurricane season. Rear Admiral Landry, who was the federal on-scene coordinator, has naturally rotated back to her position of hurricane preparedness in the Gulf. Obviously, given the prediction by NOAA that this is likely to be a more active season than we’ve seen in the past, those preparations are enormously important.
This has been a little bit of a difficult situation because, as I’ve explained here on a number of -- a number of times, there are a lot of different agencies that go into what’s made up of the larger federal response. When Admiral Allen was here last week we talked about some of the commitments that he had last week in his retirement from the Coast Guard as he even -- as he remains the National Incident Commander. The briefings that he has won’t be at a regular time, they won’t be at a regular location. They’ll be wherever he is, whenever they’re conducive to his schedule, given the enormous amount of work that he has to do in ensuring our response.
Q Administration officials are also telling us today that part of the problem was that BP was not always giving accurate information in their briefing.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, administration officials didn’t tell you that today, they told you that on Sunday when Carol Browner on two news shows wanted to ensure that people adequately understood the possible risks involved to the top cap procedure which --
Q So, but --
MR. GIBBS: Let met finish this -- when we --
Q -- why did it take until day 41 at that point?
MR. GIBBS: When we cut the cap, our scientists, as part of the flow rate group, estimate you could see a 20 percent increase in the overall outflow of hydrocarbons. This was something that our scientists and others had told us about. Obviously we were uncomfortable with Saturday’s briefing when somebody from BP didn’t acknowledge that.
Q Right, but people have -- critics have been for weeks saying that BP’s information was not adding up. You had outside experts saying that it was leaking far more than 5,000 barrels a day. They were saying that --
MR. GIBBS: Which is why we set up a flow rate group to determine adequately using the best technology possible, Ed --
Q Right, but then it took until Sunday, day 41, for Carol Browner to say, you know what, BP’s information is not accurate. Why did it take so long?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, let’s not -- I think you’re confusing about eight issues into one. Let’s understand -- no, the flow rate is an important aspect to talk about, and let’s discuss it because I’m not sure we’ve briefed since the flow rate group talked about this.
The initial estimates that were done used overhead photography to measure the amount of oil on the surface, right? We know that through the use of subsea dispersants it’s likely that not everything is going to the top, right? So -- and even with the picture that many of you guys are using on television, it’s a -- it’s not sufficiently of the dimension to fully measure the flow, right?
We’ve never been dependent upon BP for information about the flow. In fact, I think you’ve heard many in the administration discuss accurately that -- because fines for BP will largely be determined by the amount of pollution emitted, that they may not altogether have the same transparent public interest that we do in ensuring the public knows exactly -- to the best of our scientific ability -- what’s coming from the well.
Q The President today in the Rose Garden talked about throwing more resources at it, the personnel, something he talked about in the region on Friday, about tripling the personnel along the coast, et cetera, in key areas, and yet it still hasn’t been capped, despite all those resources. Are you worried --
MR. GIBBS: Well, those -- again, let’s understand, Ed, I don’t -- those are resources -- the tripling of resources are in the parishes in which we see the greatest -- where we’re seeing the greatest amount of oil hit land, right? So obviously there continues to be a frustration with the well not being capped, even as we try to do everything in our power.
I think it is important, as many administration officials have said, our interests line up on this, the American people’s interest and the company’s interest line up on trying to do everything humanly possible to plug that leak.
Q Right, but I’m acknowledging the President is saying he’s throwing unprecedented resources at it, and yet you still can’t solve it -- does that cut into the administration’s credibility? The President ran in part on this idea of competence in government, being able to solve these big problems. I understand it’s unprecedented --
MR. GIBBS: But I think I’m hearing you --
Q But you’re throwing unprecedented resources and you can’t solve it.
MR. GIBBS: No, again, you’re -- the unprecedented resources that are referred to are the resources that are on land to deal with the oil that’s coming in. Ed, I think that inherent in the premise of your question is somehow we’re not -- there’s something that we know that we could do that we’re not doing to cap the well. I can dissuade you of that.
Q So the American people basically are told nobody really knows how to fix this thing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Ed, I don’t know if the premise of your question is that somebody in and around this room knows how to do it and we’re not doing it.
Q Okay, last thing, the President at his news conference was talking about how from day one the administration has essentially been in charge, that any big decision you’ve got to sign off on. But the previous week when various people here, starting with Jennifer Loven, were pressing you on why doesn’t the government step in, you repeatedly said the government can’t, that this is BP’s, that the federal government is not in control, legally you can’t really be in control. So which one is it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no -- we’ve always -- no, we’ve always directed those resources. And as -- whether it was the top kill, whether it was the top cap, any of the exercises that needed to be signed off on by the federal on-scene coordinator in order to make happen, those were done.
Q The -- our initial reaction to this flotilla massacre, deliberate massacre, an international crime, was pitiful. What do you mean you regret when something should be so strongly condemned? And if any other nation in the world had done it, we would have been up in arms. What is the sacrosanct, iron-clad relationship where a country that deliberately kills people and boycotts -- and we aid and abet the boycott?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the initial reaction regretted the loss of life as we tried and still continue to try to gather the relevant --
Q Regret won’t bring them back.
MR. GIBBS: Nothing can bring them back, Helen. We know that for sure because I think if you could, that wouldn’t be up for debate. We are -- we believe that a credible and transparent investigation has to look into the facts. And as I said earlier, we’re open to international participation in that investigation.
Q Why did you think of it so late?
MR. GIBBS: Why did we think of --
Q Why didn’t you initially condemn it?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the statements that were released speak directly to that.
Q You said earlier that the President is enraged. Is he enraged at BP specifically?
MR. GIBBS: I think he’s enraged at the time that it’s taken, yes. I think he’s been enraged over the course of this, as I’ve discussed, about the fact that when you’re told something is fail-safe and it clearly isn’t, that that’s the cause for quite a bit of frustration. I think one of the reasons that -- which is one of the reasons you heard him discuss the setting up of the oil commission in order to create a regulatory framework that ensures something like this doesn’t happen again.
Q Frustration and rage are very different emotions, though. I haven’t -- have we really seen rage from the President on this? I think most people would say no.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve seen rage from him, Chip. I have.
Q Can you describe it? Does he yell and scream? What does he do? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He said -- he has been in a whole bunch of different meetings -- clenched jaw -- even in the midst of these briefings, saying everything has to be done. I think this was an anecdote shared last week, to plug the damn hole.
Q Does the President still have confidence in BP? Is he losing confidence in BP? Is he trying to separate himself from BP?
MR. GIBBS: Based on what?
Q Well, based on, number one, Thad Allen basically taking over the daily briefings. Number two, today, that shot across the bow about prosecution; Eric Holder being sent down there. I mean, he’s getting tough with BP. Is that because he is separating himself from BP and making clear it’s their problem?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this, Chip, we have -- it has been their problem since day one. It is also our problem, and we’re doing everything that we can to both plug the leak as well as to respond at the subsea and on the surface to the pollution that’s coming out. Let’s understand the reason that Thad is doing this -- again, I spoke about this with Ed -- in terms of being uncomfortable with the nature of their answer as it related to the increased amount of flow --
Q Well, they kind of lied, didn’t they? Why would he be just uncomfortable? That would -- there I can imagine rage. I mean, they said nothing more was going to come out but the experts say --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I think that if you look at what Carol said on Sunday, despite the fact that it is not our oil well, we believe that it’s tremendously important that the American people have the best information as accurately and as quickly as possible, which is why she said clearly that, one, there was -- there could be an increase of 20 percent of hydrocarbon coming from the riser when it’s sheared off. We discussed -- I mean, look, I think that’s the prime example of what she said on Sunday.
She also said, I think obviously very accurately, that the long-term solution to this is the drilling of relief wells, right? And that’s likely to take until mid-August.
Q Right, so I’m saying you’ve got this difference over the 20 percent, which the administration, you say they’re uncomfortable -- it seems like that’s a pretty mild response to it. And then at the press conference, the President said that they have an interest in minimizing things.
MR. GIBBS: I just said that.
Q It sounds like you’re suggesting --
MR. GIBBS: I just said that.
Q But it sounds like you’re suggesting BP is lying to the administration. Wouldn’t you have a stronger response then than saying you’re uncomfortable?
MR. GIBBS: Do I think that BP was forthcoming on what the impact would be of cutting the riser off? No, obviously.
Q Do you think they’re intentionally misleading -- in other words, lying to the administration?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not in their meetings on what their scientists are telling them. I’m simply conveying to the American people precisely what our scientists are telling us is likely to be the result of cutting the top of the riser.
Q Does the President overall trust BP?
MR. GIBBS: We will continue to push BP to do whatever we feel is necessary to respond to the leak and to adequately respond to the spread of the oil and to ensure that they pay for all of it so that taxpayers don’t bear any of this cost.
Q Recognizing you’re in fact-ascertaining mode, let’s take some facts not in dispute -- the ship was boarded in international waters. Do you think Israel violated international law in doing that? Does the administration think so?
MR. GIBBS: I have not asked -- I’m not an international law expert.
Q Correct. Does the administration have a position on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that.
Q Was it appropriate, do you think -- does the administration think for a humanitarian ship to attempt to break a blockade?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’m not going to get into the international law implications of all this, Savannah. I think the administration --
Q I’m just asking was it appropriate for a humanitarian ship --
MR. GIBBS: -- and international community has spoken on the actions and look forward to a full accounting of the facts.
Q So rather than the U.S. having an independent reaction, you’re aligning yourself entirely with the U.N. Security Council’s statement. Does that mean the U.S. ratifies and accepts everything coming out of the Security Council in this regard?
MR. GIBBS: Things we vote for, yes. I mean, we supported the -- what came out of the U.N. Security Council.
Q So verbiage about there being a humanitarian crisis in Gaza --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- and the blockade needs to be looked into?
MR. GIBBS: There’s not -- we didn’t -- we don’t always support the first several paragraphs. We supported and voted for the entire resolution, yes.
Q Would you concede that the notion of boarding a vessel in order to stop it from breaking the blockade was poorly conceived?
MR. GIBBS: Savannah, you’re asking me to be a -- I am many things; I am not an international law expert and I am not a military tactician.
Q I’m just trying to get the administration’s position.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I serve some roles but neither -- I’ve never been in a military where I’ve been asked my opinion on either international law --
Q Well, obviously I’m asking for the administration’s position.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything to add.
Q Can I follow?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come around.
Q Has the administration considered invoking the Stafford Act regarding the oil spill to speed resources to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the Stafford Act is a set of -- is what is typically done when there is not a responsible party for a disaster, right? So if a hurricane has caused flooding in Tennessee, governors normally request a Stafford Act declaration to cover damages. As I understand it in discussing this with the lawyers, the appropriate set of responses is contained in the Oil Pollution Act.
Obviously I would say -- let me just add, there are aspects of different types of Stafford responses such as the program that SBA has began I think the 10th of May offering low-interest loans and providing loan forgiveness for people that have been hurt as an economic consequence of a disaster.
Q You spoke earlier about the balance of responsibility between the federal government being in charge and -- or perhaps earlier indications they were relying on BP to run this. Has there been any shift in your mind in the balance between who was controlling this operation between the federal government and BP since this started?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I would refer you to what the President said last week.
Q So you’re saying that there has not been any shift since the beginning?
MR. GIBBS: No, we have, again -- and as Thad Allen said here a week -- not a week ago, I guess a week and a day ago -- if there are things that he needs BP to do, then he calls BP. And if they don’t -- ask them to do them, requires them to do them, and that has the force of law.
Q Thank you. It’s pretty obvious that there was tragic over-reaction on both sides, but could you please look into two competing conflicting reports -- one report says Hamas and some terrorist groups provided the financing for this flotilla; another report claims that Israel has actually been giving a lot of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. If you could look into both of those before --
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if there’s any direction that we have on either one of those.
Q Did the U.S. know in advance about the Israel raid on the --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And part of the Indonesia trip is going to be about Muslim outreach. How will that be shaped given this latest news?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It is important to our efforts and we work in conjunction with them on counterterrorism and a whole host of issues of mutual concern. That trip -- I’m not aware of any change in the planning for what will be done on that trip as a result of this.
Q And Robert Reich says BP should be put under a temporary receivership to ensure that the President is in charge. What do you think of that idea?
MR. GIBBS: What law would that -- I’m not entirely sure what legal mechanism one would have to do that. Do you --
Q But do you think there should be an effort --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t -- maybe I misunderstood -- what did he -- under what law did he ask that be done?
Q I’m not sure legally, but there’s --
MR. GIBBS: Well, before I wade in -- I just told Savannah I was -- a fact she I think readily knew -- that I was not an international expert. I’m probably not a domestic law expert either, but I’m happy to look at whatever Mr. Reich has.
Q Robert, on the flow rate projections you guys put together, is it possible that if this maneuver doesn’t succeed and the cutting of the riser, could that increase for some period of time the flow rate by 20 percent if it doesn’t work?
MR. GIBBS: I think there is --
Q Is that a possibility that the American people should brace themselves for?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as Carol said clearly on Sunday, that -- well, the flow rate group estimated -- I think this is right -- 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day. We believe that that could increase, say, 20 percent with the cut of the riser. So that puts the bottom at -- I can do that math quicker than I can the other -- 15,000 for the bottom end of that. I think cutting -- and, again, we’ll send out Admiral Allen’s briefing -- there will be a time between the cut of that riser and the placement of a cap.
So I’ve seen varying estimates, but let’s assume several days of increased hydrocarbon pollution in the time in which it takes to install some sort of top cap. Some of that, again, as Thad Allen said, is based on the cut that’s made by the saw.
Q Right, but it’s possible, considering the history of all the other efforts undertaken technologically so far, that the cut won’t be as clean as they need, there will be too much push, there will be too much --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there’s -- I think there’s a couple -- as Thad said, there’s a couple of different caps, again, based on that cut, that may seal more hydrocarbon pollution than the other. Again, this is not without risk in terms of --
Q Is it without risk in making things worse?
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s not without risk at all, no. It’s very -- I mean, I think as the President’s statement said on Saturday, that -- look, there’s very little that is done now based on where we are in the efforts to contain the well, again, understanding that obviously we have done things in varying degree of risk. If this was less risky than, say, the top kill, we would have done that before.
Again -- and I think just to be completely transparent, I think you’ve seen Admiral Allen say today that there is also some concern about the condition of the well and the wellbore relating to the explosion that happened on the 20th of April.
Q Would you say this disagreement over the flow rate is the only incident in which BP has not been as forthcoming as the federal government would prefer, or part of a series of incidents where it has not been as honest as you would --
MR. GIBBS: I forget exactly what Tony Hayward said last week in terms of the degree to which -- whether or not there was any real pollution involved. Obviously I don’t see anybody -- how anybody could come to that conclusion. We -- I clearly on Saturday did not feel comfortable with their explanation on the possible increase in flow.
Q Yesterday it was noted in the daily assessment of things that the -- one of the relief wells being drilled is 10 days ahead of schedule.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Are you satisfied with BP’s efforts in that regard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I understand it, that well is 12,000 -- about, as of last night, about 12,000 feet down. That includes the roughly 5,000 feet of ocean. As you said, that’s ahead of schedule and that is the long-term, permanent solution to the problem that we have at the well site right now. So regardless of the success of the operation currently ongoing, that’s the permanent solution, which is -- again, in top kill, forcing the mud down and creating the stabilizing pressure ultimately would have led to the cementing of the well. Drilling that relief well, placing another blowout preventer obviously on that well as it’s drilled and ultimately cementing it is the long-term solution for what’s going on now.
Q Can you tell us the degree to which internally the conversations come from the President -- hey, can you sketch out for me what this is going to look like if we have to wait until August for this relief well to be the final, ultimate solution; what kind of ecological damage are we talking about? And is there a point at which we have calculated, no matter how much we legitimately and legally we hold BP, Transocean, Halliburton responsible, there may not be enough money to deal with all this and we may need a federal response, a taxpayer response that deals with this --
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not heard the latter, because the responsible party per the law will pay that back. We have, in sending legislation to improve a number of the regulatory structures around the relationship between oil and the government, one of the things that we called for was a lifting of the economic liability cap to an unlimited level that we feel comfortable -- that’s where we feel comfortable at given the enormity of the disaster that we’re looking at right now.
In terms of the --
Q So, wait, are we talking about both sides of Florida, parts of the Mid-Atlantic -- I mean, all these sorts of things, has that been conveyed to the President?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the degree to which the full -- a full damage assessment has been worked up to that level based on the Loop Current and the wind direction and things like that. Obviously, Major, we can -- taking the flow rate figures that the group came out with last week, understanding, again, the floor now at 15,000 after the riser is cut, look, you can begin to quickly do the math to figure out the millions of gallons of oil that will be in the Gulf and could spread, and I think that’s a -- those are sobering figures. And you can understand, as the President said today, we are dealing with the largest environmental disaster in our country’s history.
Q The long-term, permanent solution -- is August the outside date by which that is expected to work, or could it be even later?
MR. GIBBS: I assume it could be both earlier and later. I think the target date was mid-August in terms of drilling to the level at which you would need to go in order to construct that relief well.
Q Let me ask you, there are credible reports that the al Qaeda number three has been killed in Pakistan. How important a blow is that? Some have described it as being as important or even more important than getting bin Laden.
MR. GIBBS: Well, in talking with -- obviously al Qaeda has commented on the loss of this individual and we welcome his demise. In speaking with John Brennan and others today, I didn’t ask specifically the question of in comparison. John was quite clear in saying this is the biggest target to be either killed or captured in five years and is somebody who intricately understood and was on top of the financing of al Qaeda. So it is a -- unquestionably is a severe blow.
Q When was the President informed?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the answer to that is sometime yesterday, but I will double-check on that.
Q Robert, I wonder if you could talk about whether the President is worried that the spill is going to so consume everything until August that the rest of his agenda is hobbled to some extent. He’s got a lot of things on his plate. He promised at one point that this year would all be about jobs, jobs, jobs. He’s obviously spending --
MR. GIBBS: Look, the truth is we’ll get -- before you -- look, I think we sort of periodically obviously get economic figures in order to gauge where we are in the recovery -- today an increase in the manufacturing index above what had been expected, and the largest spending increase in construction in 10 years aided by the Recovery Act. And we’ll get a sense of where we are in the continuum of that jobs recovery with the new figures on Friday.
Q Is there an opportunity cost on all the different things that the President had in mind for this year that may be --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I mean, look, I was asked several weeks ago, what did this particular incident do to the likelihood of a clean energy bill or a comprehensive energy bill. Look, I think you -- it becomes clearer -- and the President said this last week in visiting a solar factory in California, that it becomes clearer that we can -- if we are going to be less dependent on foreign oil, then we’re going to be more dependent on domestic oil. In order to not be -- not simply take the dependence of one and move it to a proximity closer, we have to invest heavily in a clean energy economy, largely what was done through the Recovery Act, but creating a marketplace for that to continue is tremendously important.
So I don’t think it -- I think it adds to the urgency of getting something done on energy. And I would say this, Peter -- one of the things we have learned throughout our time here is you do not get to pick what events you deal with. And the President doesn’t have that luxury -- including rain yesterday.
Q Can I ask on a different topic then? On Friday, after our last chance with you last week, we received this memo from Bob Bauer on the Sestak matter. In three months -- this is the response after three months of questions. I’m just wondering, if it’s not a big deal, as you guys are saying, then why did we wait for three months to answer that question?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to ask Counsel for a better answer on that. I don’t know the answer.
Q Don’t you have something to do with that as the chief spokesman for the White House? You were asked on a number of occasions and don’t you think that that kind of created --
MR. GIBBS: If I bear some responsibility for that, I can understand that.
Q When President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, did he just suggest the time has come to either change or alter the embargo --
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head.
Q And was the United States blind-sided by this incident? Certainly a lot of other countries including Turkey knew that this flotilla was headed --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the question that I took earlier, just to be clear, was, did we have knowledge of the military operation. And the answer to that was no. Obviously, this is not the first flotilla that has happened. So, again, my answer previously was based on previous knowledge of the military operation, which the President did not have.
Q And when do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu might come back? And what -- and how about President Abbas’ visit next week?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's on schedule I think the 9th of June, if I’m not mistaken.
Q There’s no reason to cancel that?
MR. GIBBS: No, not at all. That schedule is moving forward. For the Israeli answer, obviously, he’s got an open invitation. But I would direct the scheduling -- the particulars of that schedule to their government.
Q Egypt has apparently opened the -- one of the entrances to Gaza now in response to this to allow more traffic in and out. Does the United States think that's a good idea?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC. Again, I understand that we have -- we do have concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q The aid ship the Rachel Corrie is scheduled to arrive in Gazan waters tomorrow.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry --
Q The aid ship the Rachel Corrie is scheduled to arrive in Gazan waters tomorrow and the Israelis are planning to intercept it. Would you consider calling on them not to do that?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some information on the extent of that --
Q Will you get back to us on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure, I will find that answer out.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. One, there is a big delegation from India in town for a U.S.-India strategic dialogue to be held at the State Department starting tomorrow with Secretary Hillary Clinton and India’s Foreign Minister Krishna. And I understand President Obama will be the guest of -- guest at the reception on Thursday at the State Department. Do you think the President will have a special message for this U.S.-India relations? And also, if U.S. is supporting India’s entry in the United Nations Secretary Council?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get -- I don't know what the remarks are for Thursday, but I’ll take a look at that.
Q And second, as far as this oil spill is concerned, I understand State Department said that there’s many nations who has offered help in this connection. It’s too long, and I understand President is frustrated and Americans are frustrated, but you think there is no technology who can help? So many scientists are there and are you seeking really international outside help?
MR. GIBBS: I think as Admiral Allen said today and has said in the past, we have -- several countries have offered, and we have taken their help -- some on boom, some on additional skimmers -- and so obviously throughout this process, if there are those that can aid in the disaster in the Gulf, we have accepted.
Q If I may, as far as presidential trip to Indonesia is concerned, do you think President feels that now there is a need for another clear-cut message which he had in Cairo and in Turkey for the Muslim world now in the largest Muslim country, in Indonesia?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me -- I don't want to get too far ahead on the foreign trip. We’ll have a chance to talk about that.
Q Thank you, Robert. Does the United States have support for additional sanctions against North Korea?
MR. GIBBS: Do we support additional sanctions?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously South Korea and others have taken the concern about them, the investigation that was conducted, to the United Nations for further actions. We're obviously in close communication with the South Koreans and are supportive of their efforts to respond.
Q Robert, Robert, can I just ask one two-part question?
MR. GIBBS: If your name is Margaret.
Q Will you come back to me?
MR. GIBBS: I will.
Q Does the President believe that Israel is becoming a burden politically to the United States --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, what was the question?
Q Does the President believe that Israel is becoming a political burden to the United States?
MR. GIBBS: Based on? Based on? No. Let me be clear here. The United States and Israel -- as I have said on countless occasions, we have a trusted relationship. They are an important ally and we are greatly supportive of their security. That's not going to change.
Q How about the Palestinians’ security?
Q A quick follow. Does the President believe that Mr. Netanyahu is in control of his government? And finally, what does this situation --
MR. GIBBS: That's not for me to talk about, Margaret. I'm happy to try to convey information but I don't have an answer to that.
Q Well, what does the situation do to U.S. relations with Turkey, specifically? Can you talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President spoke with Prime Minister Erdogan seven to 10 days ago. They had a good conversation about things like Iran. I anticipate that in the coming days the President and Prime Minister will talk again. Obviously they’re an important friend in all this and a relationship that we value greatly.
Q They have not spoken in the wake of this?
MR. GIBBS: They have not spoken, no. I know that they have not.
Q Thanks, Robert. Just a couple of quick things on the Sestak thing again. The counsel’s memo on Friday said that efforts were made in June and July of 2009. Were there multiple efforts and were all those made by President Clinton?
MR. GIBBS: Whatever is in the memo is accurate.
Q Okay, but, I mean, with regards to June and July, I mean, were all those President Clinton or --
MR. GIBBS: I think the relationship on how that happened, yes, is explained in the memo.
Q Joe Sestak said he had one conversation with President Clinton.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check.
Q And just one more. As far as -- it said this is an unpaid position. Does that make a difference in the view of the White House, that it would be an unpaid position as opposed to a paid position?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. The situation was an unpaid position and didn’t constitute a lot of what you’re hearing.
Q Okay, and just one more -- sorry. But the Intelligence Advisory Board, which most reports said this offer was for, that would be a position a member of the House could not serve on. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: That’s how I understand the way the PIAB is written.
Q But the memo, it said that this would be a position to serve in the House and serve on a presidential advisory board.
MR. GIBBS: Correct.
Q Well, how could he sit on the board?
Q Yes, how would that work?
MR. GIBBS: He couldn’t.
Q So why was your offer --
Q So that wasn’t the offer, then?
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to --
Q What position, what board, was it then? Do you know?
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to the memo.
Q But the memo didn’t specify.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Carol Browner said that BP had a financial interest in keeping the numbers on the flow rates low so that they would avoid fines. Do you think that that raises the possibility of any sort of fraud or criminal misstatement? And BP’s stock --
MR. GIBBS: On BP’s part?
Q On the part of BP.
MR. GIBBS: Again, let me, before I -- again, there were estimates that they made, there were estimates that NOAA made, again based on surface photography, that we had always felt was important to get a better understanding of, when we got a better look at what was happening 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. So we stood up the flow rate group in order to get a better accounting and we’ll continue to look at as we make cuts --
Q But she made this connection between them saving some money and --
MR. GIBBS: Because, again, as she said and I’ve said, the penalty that will be given to BP is based off not only on the environmental record, but based -- or can change based on the environmental record, but is also impacted by the amount of ultimate pollution entered into, in this case, the Gulf.
So as we’ve said, they have -- while they may have a financial incentive to have a lower number, the estimates that we made were based on a group -- a team of scientists that had been peer-reviewed by other scientists in order to come up with as accurate a gauge as we can. Understanding -- and this is not to minimize, but we are -- again, we’re talking about something that’s happening 5,000 below. It is not something that you can see and touch except using a remotely operated vehicle.
Q And the other thing is BP’s stock price took a big hit today and there’s been some speculation that if this thing turns out to be as big as folks think, this could really hurt the company, perhaps, some folks have speculated, that it might have to be broken up. Would it concern the administration that the price would become so onerous to BP that they would either go bankrupt or be broken up?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard that expressed because I believe you’ve got a company with the type of market capitalization that can -- and will -- fully pay for the damage caused on the disaster that they’re responsible for.
Q Some Senate Democrats have said that they were told by the White House that the President would be making recess appointments. Will there be any appointments this week? And are you just talking about a handful or --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I have not gotten any guidance on that, George, thus far, but let me take a look into that.
Q Robert, Robert --
I’ll go with Lester and then I’ll go --
Q Thank you very much. A two-part question relating to yesterday, Memorial Day. As a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, the President has never protested --
MR. GIBBS: He didn’t graduate from Harvard, Lester. He graduated from Harvard Law School, but he graduated from Columbia undergrad.
Q I’m sorry, I correct that. Thank you very much.
The President has never protested the memorials to Harvard’s war dead in World War I and II, which include the names of Harvard alumni designated as “enemy” because they were soldiers of the Kaiser and of the Fuhrer. Has he -- he’s never protested that, has he? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You know, Lester, I honestly don’t have -- I don’t have any knowledge.
Q Does the President believe it is right for Harvard to have memorials mentioning these three German enemies, but no memorial at all to 71 Harvard alumni who died in the Confederate Army? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Wow.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys. (Laughter.)
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