Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 07/07/2010
1:46 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Ms. Werner.
Q Can you say anything about these reports of the spy swap that apparently is being arranged?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on that. Obviously we are -- this is, as we've said earlier, a law enforcement matter that is being handled that way, and I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Nobody is talking. Everybody is declining comment. Why should you? Let’s find -- you be the first one to talk.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I don't want to be a trend-setter, Bill.
Q Actually the stuff is out there. The guy -- the brother of one of the people being held in the Soviet -- I'm sorry -- Russia -- excuse me -- said that he saw a list of 11 people who were about to be exchanged --
MR. GIBBS: He’s a trend-setter. (Laughter.) Again, Bill, I appreciate the question, I just don't have anything to add at this point.
Q Can I just ask a question about the oil spill, which is whether the White House has any concerns about the fact that BP evidently has many government contracts, particularly with the Defense Department, that they’re getting a lot of money from?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything specifically on that. I would -- I can see about some of the defense contracts. I know different agencies are reviewing different things as it relates to that.
Obviously our focus at the moment with BP is to ensure that they’re doing all that they can. Obviously weather has, over the past several days, complicated our efforts to introduce additional containment vessels -- the Helix is a device that was -- its date has been pushed back in terms of additional containment capacity, as the Enterprise and the Q4000 continue to average above 20,000 barrels of oil a day accumulating in from the leaking well. I don’t have anything, though, on the additional --
Q But you don’t have a problem with BP benefitting from taxpayer money in these contracts --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’d have to look -- I think you’d have to look at the specific contracts to see when they were let, to see what the job was for. Obviously our focus is on ensuring at the moment in the Gulf that they’re doing each and everything that we believe must be done to plug the well and to contain what is leaking from the well, and ultimately they’ll be responsible for environmental damages to the surrounding environment caused by the oil spill.
Q Thanks, Robert. On trade, the President said today that he was committing to submitting the free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia to Congress as soon as possible. Do you have a timeline on that? And given his commitment on South Korea, why not aim for the goal of ironing out any other sort of outstanding concerns on Colombia and Panama with Congress by November so all three can be submitted to Congress in early 2011?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’m not going to jump ahead on the timeline, whether it’s November or January or what have you. Obviously you heard the President -- what the President had to say about exports and about Colombia and Panama. You heard what the President said in Toronto about South Korea, that there are outstanding issues that we see that we believe can and should be resolved prior to the President’s trip to Seoul in November in hopes of bringing something to the Congress on South Korea early next year.
Q Just to follow, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second, I’ll come around.
Q It certainly appears that unemployment is going to be a problem for quite some time. And given that, I was wondering why should unemployment insurance extensions be considered emergency as opposed to being paid for, given that we’re going to be facing this problem likely for several more years?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we face an emergency situation in the sense that we are dealing, Jake, with long-term unemployed like we’ve not seen -- my guess is likely since the last Depression. I don’t have the exact figure with me, but I know that we’ve entered into an era of that long-term unemployment that is dire and severe. We’ve seen as a result of this recession -- and I don’t have the facts, the figures with me, but we see this is also not your typical recession in terms of the fact that you do have higher-skilled, college-educated workers facing employment prospects that are worse than you would see, say, in previous recessions in the early ‘90s or even in the early ‘80s.
There’s no doubt that this is an emergency situation because those that are losing their jobs are out of work for a far longer period of time than we’ve seen in quite some time.
Q That’s my point -- why not budget for that? Why not -- since the President supports pay-as-you-go, why not have --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, because I think this is a unique emergency that we believe should be addressed immediately. We understand that you’re giving insurance and benefits to those that have lost their jobs. These are people that are -- because they don’t have income -- are using what they’re getting from their benefits to pay their rent, to take care of their average household expenses. They’re using that money and putting it back into the economy. It makes sense certainly for the workers and it makes sense for your economy.
Q I know, but you're not answering my question, why not budget for it given that this is going to be a problem for several years?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Jake, our viewpoint is just that it’s a unique emergency and should be treated as such.
Q Philosophically, do you think that -- well, there’s this debate that’s emerged within the Republican Party, given voice by Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky, that perhaps unemployment benefits constantly being extended discourages people from going out and getting work? I recognize that’s not supported by a lot of economists. But is there a limit to how long people should be able to be on unemployment insurance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- I think you can establish some -- look, we don’t look at it as something that is done on a permanent basis, but --
Q Well, should -- I mean, is two years, three years, four years?
MR. GIBBS: I think the Recovery Act extended it through -- I'd have to look up what the exact number is that the Recovery Act extended it through. But, Jake, I don’t think there’s certainly any -- there’s certainly no economic research that if -- that in a situation where I think there are five applicants for every job, that people are somehow sitting at home on the sidelines, not hoping to gain long-term employment but to gain temporary benefits that obviously are never going to replace the amount of -- are certainly not likely in any way to replace the type of income that one was getting as a salaried or even an hourly wage employee.
I’ve seen those arguments. I just don’t -- I shudder to think -- my guess is that people that would make that argument, I don’t think they’ve ever met anybody that said, well, you know, look, I’ve had all these job offers but it’s just way more -- way easier to sit at home and draw unemployment insurance.
I just -- given the fact that you have -- I mean, I’ve seen articles, read articles by economists who say in a not-so -- in a recession that’s not that intense, you may have applicants that become choosier about the next job that they take. Given the fact that there are five applicants for every job right now in America, I don’t think those that are unemployed and are offered a job find themselves being overly choosy. I think they find themselves desperately wanting work.
And that’s what the President is working for -- whether it’s increasing exports, whether it’s continuing our investment in clean energy jobs and manufacturing, the President is working to try to continue our economic recovery as -- understanding each and every day, we have much, much more work to do.
Q Can I ask one question about Dr. Berwick? Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on Senate Finance, said that he requested that Berwick be given a hearing a couple weeks ago. And obviously, Chairman Baucus did not schedule that. Republicans say they were eager to have the hearing. They wanted to talk about Dr. Berwick’s views and things he said in the past, and it was Democrats who flinched.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, two things. We have -- whether everyone likes it or not, we’ve passed a very important Affordable Care Act, many things of which have to be implemented by the beginning of next year. Whether it’s Medicare and Medicaid innovation, whether it’s increased investment in health IT technology to ensure greater cost savings and greater quality of care, so we need somebody on the job now.
I think if you look at the appointments process such as it has been over the past 18 months, I'm not entirely sure somehow that a hearing was the hurdle. We have had more nominees waiting longer than any administration in recent history. Martha Johnson, who’s probably not a name you know -- she’s the head of the -- she’s the administrator for the General Services Administration -- it took her 10 months to be confirmed to a job of which certainly I can’t recount that her nomination or her name derived some great controversy. Yet it took 10 months and the vote was unanimous.
Q I'm not talking about Martha Johnson, I'm talking about Dr. Berwick.
MR. GIBBS: And I'm talking about a process that is clearly broken; that the President currently has a total of 189 nominees pending before the Senate. The Senate generally has acted on the President’s nominations one or two days before a recess. We have people that are waiting -- 49 of those nominees have been pending for more than six months.
There is no doubt, Jake, that there is a process up on Capitol Hill right now that was not in any danger of moving forward in a way that was quick enough and needed somebody at HHS to run CMS -- that is an important job. This is somebody who has been -- who all involved say is uniquely qualified. And by that I mean the last two CMS -- the last two people that had run CMS from the Bush administration both strongly supported Dr. Berwick’s appointment.
Q But Republicans say Berwick supports health care rationing. That's why they wanted the hearing. I mean, is that true? What’s your reaction to that criticism?
MR. GIBBS: I think that Dr. Berwick made the point that we have rationing right now; that health insurance companies are deciding, based on their bottom line, who gets care. Dr. Berwick -- I doubt if Dr. Berwick was a supporter of whatever theory that is supposed to be, that Mark McClellan and Tom Scully, the previous CMS administrators for the Bush administration, would support his nomination.
Again, I think it’s the type of politics that demonstrates just how badly broken the appointments process is. And the President is going to install people that need to be installed for this government to run effective and efficiently. In this case, because the appointments process is clearly broken, he did so through a recess appointment.
Q Did you want to avoid a hearing because of some of Dr. Berwick’s statements on income redistribution, on praise for the national health service of Britain?
MR. GIBBS: No. The President appointed somebody who he believed -- and people, both Democrats and Republicans believed -- was uniquely and supremely to run an agency of the size of CMS.
Q You and the President and Thad Allen have talked about 90 percent -- or up to 90 percent of the oil coming out of that well being captured by the end of last month. We're now at July 7.
MR. GIBBS: Right, again, which is one of the reasons I talked about the notion --
Q So the weather -- are you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, yes. Understanding that the latest flow rate estimate that we have is 60,000 barrels per day -- with the Helix online, which was scheduled to happen at the late end of June, you had the potential capability of almost 53,000 barrels, which is 90 percent.
Q So what’s the timeline now?
MR. GIBBS: I believe there are a series of things that have to happen, but given the weather and the size of the seas, the waves, we're looking at something toward the end of this week -- Friday or the weekend.
Q On another issue, 20 Republicans sent a letter to the Attorney General alleging that the lawsuit challenging the Arizona law -- they say that it reveals Obama’s administration’s contempt for immigration laws and that they’re suggesting that this was done for political reasons. What’s your reaction to what Republicans are saying about the motivation?
MR. GIBBS: Political reasons -- how?
Q Well, political reasons because there are a lot of Hispanics out there, Latinos, who have been pressing the administration to act on comprehensive immigration reform and they’re pressing the President to take this action, this legal action. They did that at the meeting last week --
MR. GIBBS: The President believes we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. And I don't think that just Latinos hold that viewpoint or that position. I'd refer you to DOJ specifically on the lawsuit, but obviously as their release said yesterday, you constitutionally cannot have a 50-state patchwork of immigration laws. The only way we're going to solve that is through comprehensive immigration reform. It would be better -- I think we’d all be better served if the 20 Republicans would sit down with Democrats in the House and the Senate and we could come up with something on comprehensive immigration reform that the President and members of Congress can see acted upon, so that we can solve this problem.
Q What did Under Secretary of State Burns and Russian Ambassador Kislyak talk about in their meeting this morning?
MR. GIBBS: I've not been briefed on their meeting.
Q Really? It doesn’t have anything to do with this possible spy swap?
MR. GIBBS: Bill, I just said I hadn’t been briefed on their conversation.
Q You ought to get in the loop.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you. I will cc Bill Burns on that.
Q You just talked about the badly broken process. Is using recess appointments to circumvent the Senate part of that badly broken process?
MR. GIBBS: The result of the badly broken process, yes.
Q Does the President think recess appointments should be used sparingly?
MR. GIBBS: The President believes that we have to have people to run government effectively and efficiently.
Q Does the President think there’s something --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on --
Q Oh, oh, sorry, sorry.
MR. GIBBS: -- that the process should entitle one to quick disposition. That's clearly not happened. The example that I used of the GSA administrator -- I mean, in the first year of the Bush administration, no nominee had to go through the process of invoking cloture because somebody wouldn't agree to unanimous consent. Basically, one person can stop this whole process. It’s happened 21 times in the Obama administration. So 21 times -- most of these, again, end up like our administrator for the GSA -- they’re approved unanimously. If it takes 10 months to get a unanimous vote, what is one left to believe the 10 months was about?
Playing the type of politics that people are tired of in order just to stop things from happening -- that's not what the function of --
Q -- nomination was blocked by Sherrod Brown
MR. GIBBS: I understand. And --
Q So it’s Democrats and Republicans you're faulting?
MR. GIBBS: On Mr. Berwick, I'm faulting the Republicans.
Q Does the President think that if he had gotten a hearing he would be confirmed?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q The perception is that this recess appointment makes it unnecessary to have these controversial views aired in the public forum.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- well, first and foremost, this is an appointment obviously that is not permanent. There’s still an appointments process that has to be gone through to make even a recess appointment a permanent one.
But there are aspects of the health care law that have to be implemented on a timeline that I’m sure many who oppose Dr. Berwick for political reasons didn't want to see implemented. We are not going to have the viewpoints of a few hold up the law of the land.
Q Quickly on the DOJ lawsuit, the President has spoken in the past a couple times about his concerns that it might lead to racial profiling, although he didn't use that exact phrase. Is he disappointed that this lawsuit makes no legal arguments in that regard?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, the President, rightly, believes that what has been filed relating to -- and he was obviously briefed on this prior to the Department of Justice filing -- that the President believes that we filed a strong case based on the fact that you can’t have -- and he’s said this and I’ve said this -- you can’t have 50 states making a patchwork of immigration decisions. That's not going to work for anybody.
Q Is the omission of that, though, an acknowledgement that that's a weaker legal claim?
MR. GIBBS: I’d point you to DOJ.
Q Thank you. Are the export initiatives that you’ve announced over the last couple weeks a recognition that the austerity versus stimulus debate that you’ve been having is politically unproductive and that you really need to change the subject on economic growth?
MR. GIBBS: The President made the exports pledge in January -- on January 27, 2010, so I don't see how what he pledged five and a half months ago plays into, quite honestly, a fairly stale political back-and-forth.
Q But you certainly stepped up your attention to this issue in the last recent days and weeks, clearly trying to change the subject on how to achieve economic growth, doesn’t it seem?
MR. GIBBS: I think I know where you’re going. I don't understand how you’re getting there, given the fact that, again, this was a subject that the President outlined -- I mean, maybe we were just that good and outlined it in January thinking what a great way to change the subject say the 7th or so of July. But I think that would be maybe giving us a shade too much credit.
Q Robert, when is the next time the President is going to publicly address the oil spill situation?
MR. GIBBS: We have talked with scheduling today about the next time that the President will go. I don't have a date, but I think it will be in the next few weeks. I know the First Lady is making a trip down there soon and the Vice President will return again.
During the senior advisor meeting today, the President was updated on where we are, as well as there was a little more than a half-hour briefing with him at noon to go through sort of where we were in terms of containment and a whole host of issues surrounding oil.
Q Not necessarily go there, but when do you think he’ll talk about it again?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he’ll have anything to say about it in the next couple days or not.
Q And what’s the status of the Mabus end of the recovery effort?
MR. GIBBS: Meaning what? I mean --
Q Secretary Mabus --
MR. GIBBS: Sure, he’s down in the region -- was down in the region yesterday and is down in the region today, working with state and local officials to develop a plan over the next several months on Gulf restoration, to develop the process for gathering what that plan will look like.
Q So it’s still a long-range --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, absolutely -- look, this will take several months to construct. But again, he’s in the Gulf as we speak meeting with folks, and we’ll have more on that as that process gets closer to finishing.
Q Robert, back to trade. The CEO of Ford has been critical of the South Korean free trade agreement. Mr. Seidenberg of Verizon, and on behalf of Business Roundtable, has been critical of the administration for some of its economic policies -- too much intervention reaching too many areas, creating uncertainty in jobs and so -- today these two were appointed to the advisory -- or the export panel. Why was that?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not entirely sure how you -- let me make sure I’m not misunderstanding. You’re not linking necessarily the quote of one to the quote of the other are you?
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Look, I think obviously these are representatives of business that have -- that are promoters of our increased -- increasingly doing business overseas. We understand that unless we have balanced growth, unless we have not just consumer demand here, but are selling things -- selling our products overseas, that long-term sustainable growth is going to be hard to achieve.
That's what the President and his counterparts have talked about in the G20. And I think each of these represents industries that are important to making sure that happens. Obviously, we have concerns about -- you heard the President enumerate those concerns back even several years about some of the auto provisions in the South Korean free trade agreement that was submitted by the Bush administration.
Obviously, we would take some -- not necessarily obviously agree with the notion that we have somehow been bad for business. And I think corporate profits in the past year have demonstrated that.
Q But they have been critical of the administration for a variety of reasons. Have they -- and they’ve been recently to lunch here, just within the past week or so.
MR. GIBBS: I know the CEO of Ford was here not too long -- I think he was at the lunch, yes.
Q Did they bring those grievances -- do you know? Did you talk to --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I did not go to that lunch with the CEO of Ford. I know that -- I would be shocked if the CEO of Ford didn’t sit at lunch with the President of the United States and discuss his concerns about the previous South Korean free trade agreement.
Again, I think the reason -- one of the reasons we still see outstanding issues -- and we talked about this in Toronto -- were some of the auto provisions in that. I will say this -- I did hear one thing out of the -- I don't know how this reconciles with what the second CEO said, but the President took some -- took strong action to ensure that we had a domestic auto industry that was restructured, but that protected the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people that wouldn’t exist today if he hadn’t taken those steps. And that was something that was mentioned by the CEO of Ford.
Q Yes, well, Seidenberg of Verizon, his point was that there’s so much action on the part of government intervening in the markets, it creates uncertainty. Therefore people are less willing to hire -- or wouldn’t hire as much because of the uncertainty.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the actions that this President has taken to stabilize the financial system, to increase demand, to inject a Recovery Act into our thinking that -- where we’ve seen economic demand created, where we’ve seen positive economic growth over the course of many quarters, and as we’ve seen positive job growth for I believe it is six straight months and seven of the last eight months, we’ve seen positive job growth -- so I think I would argue that the actions that this administration has taken have been squarely on the side of strengthening this country’s economy and bringing it back from where it was when the President took office and 800,000 people were losing their jobs and our economy was contracting at more than 6 percent in a quarter. I think that's a pretty strong resume.
Q Robert, back on unemployment compensation. You clearly have a stalemate with the Senate. Is the administration open in any way, shape or form to offsetting if not all, a portion of the unemployment compensation costs in order to break that stalemate and get benefits --
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly see if there’s anything --
Q -- to the folks who are going to lose them now and are losing -- in the process of losing them?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think this is something that has -- we have seen for many, many administrations. This has been and should be treated as an emergency, as it makes economic sense to provide benefits to people that are -- because of what happened in this economy two years ago -- with the type of support that they need.
Q So you’re not open to it? Your position will be --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I said I didn't know of any additional efforts in changing that. But I’ll check.
Q And on the trade issue, I want to make sure I understand the scheduling correctly. Korea would come first, is that correct? Before Panama and Colombia?
MR. GIBBS: I would show you what the President said today on Panama and Colombia. Obviously, we have a --
Q As soon as possible, but that does not mean any time before the --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a timeline on that. Obviously, South Korea we talked about as the President will travel in early to mid-November to Seoul, and our expectation is that the outstanding issues can be worked through prior to his getting there.
Q Might either -- any of these three be submitted in a lame duck Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I certainly believe it’s possible. I don't know that --
Q Is it a priority?
MR. GIBBS: I think a priority is getting, first and foremost, the issues that we see with -- outstanding resolved. Until we do that, the process can’t play itself out.
Q And just to clarify on Berwick, the White House received what it -- I believe if I heard you correctly -- regards as concrete proof that the Republicans were going to block Berwick, whether there was a hearing or not? Is that correct? Is that what you’re representing to us? Or is that an assumption based on the pattern of previous nominees?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I would say there’s probably a hefty dose of both.
Q A hefty does of both?
MR. GIBBS: Of both.
Q So you received information that said Berwick was going to be blocked --
MR. GIBBS: I think if you look the statements --
Q That's not an assumption; you were told?
MR. GIBBS: I think the statements that you -- look, this isn’t anything that Bill Burns told me. This was -- you just -- you know if you go on Google, I think you can see that --
Q You saw it on -- okay.
MR. GIBBS: -- that the Republican Party had no intention of moving this nomination forward.
Q Okay. Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday said next to the President “concrete steps in the next few weeks”. How did the President interpret that? And does the White House regard and have expectations about those concrete steps being? And “in a few weeks,” what does that mean? Does that mean before the moratorium expires?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President said that he believed that we have made good progress in proximity talks. You heard Prime Minister Netanyahu discuss directly -- no pun intended -- his desire to get to direct talks. The issues that will be decided in direct talks I’m not going to prejudge. Nobody in this administration is going to prejudge. Those are -- many of these are final status issues that can only be worked out through direct talks.
Our hope is to create an atmosphere by -- through confidence-building in steps that both sides take so that we can transition from proximity talks to direct talks -- not simply to get to direct talks, but to have those direct talks succeed. And I think we’re making progress in that environment.
Q Thanks, Robert.
Q Hey, Robert, on immigration, the politics of immigration are going to play out over the next few months in the 2010 cycle, and then there’s a broader sense of both parties trying to appeal to a growing Latino population. Can you kind of assess where you think that political debate is both short term and long term, and whether or not the filing of the lawsuit alters or in any way changes that?
MR. GIBBS: The filing of the lawsuit is based -- I would put it in the rubric of where I would put a number of the decisions, some of which I’ve talked about in here, things that are the right thing to do but may or may not be, according to your polling or others, the most popular thing to do. But the President wasn’t elected to do what’s popular. He was elected to do what was right.
Our strong belief is that you cannot have 50 states passing a patchwork of immigration laws; that only through federally passed comprehensive immigration reform will we truly have a national standard for how we’re going to deal this. That's the reason that the lawsuit was filed.
Q Okay, but having said that, how does that position play out both short term and long term for Democrats whom the President wants to get elected in --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this --
Q -- 2012 or for the President’s relection --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I don't think that the politics of -- I think this is true for both Democrats and Republicans -- I think more Democrats than not support comprehensive immigration reform, but it is certainly not a monolithic viewpoint. I am sure different people based on different constituencies and geographies see the politics of immigration reform as very multifaceted.
The President -- and I think you could -- I think if you look at the polling that all of you all have done on this law in the short term, it’s pretty safe to see that the President did this because it was the right thing to do, not because it was the popular thing to do.
Q A couple of scattered questions. Following on the immigration question, will he be talking about immigration when he’s in Nevada with Harry Reid? It’s obviously a big issue out there.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think -- I think the event there will focus more on the economy. It’s not -- the President just gave a fairly comprehensive speech on the topic of immigration. Certainly if the topic were to come up, he’d address it, but it’s not the focus of the luncheon.
Q Is it a Q&A? Is it a town hall --
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it is.
Q Okay. And then on trade, does the President have a commitment from Democratic leaders in Congress to take up those trade agreements?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that we’ve gotten complete assurance. I know that -- and look, I know that there are some that are opposed to this. I think part of that opposition may well have to do with many of the shortcomings that the President as a candidate saw in the previously negotiated free trade agreement. We believe there are outstanding issues that can be addressed, and believe that most will reserve judgment on that until there is a product that one puts in front of Congress.
Q So I guess the question is, how confident are you that you can address those outstanding issues to the satisfaction of members of the Democratic Party?
MR. GIBBS: Our U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Kirk, is -- was here yesterday in the White House for meetings on this and will work with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill as this process moves forward on addressing these outstanding issues, to take into -- to take to the table the viewpoints of those in Congress.
Q And then finally, on unemployment -- I don't want to sound thick-headed here, but I don't understand why, if the President thinks that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be budgeted for, why would you not want to either budget for these unemployment benefits or somehow offset them in order to --
MR. GIBBS: Our viewpoint is that these always have and should be -- this should be emergency spending; that this is -- granted, this is a unique time. And we have seen long-term unemployment the likes of which, as I said earlier, we haven't seen in quite some time. But this is important and needs to be done, and should be done as it’s always been done, as emergency spending.
Q But it does sound like you are reluctant to admit that this is a long-term problem and that if you were to go offset this --
MR. GIBBS: Sheryl, I hazard to say I would not make a lot of news if I stood up here, as I'm about to do, and say that I think we're going to be dealing with unemployment for a long, long time.
That has been said by members of this administration. It’s been said by economists of all political stripes. You can't look at what we've been through, you can't look at -- I should just have this thing cued up, my favorite graph, which demonstrates the depth of job loss as a result of what happened and led up to the financial collapse in September of 2008.
You cannot look at the depth of that hole -- and I've said this when we've done different briefings -- if you look at -- and granted, I'm going to make this -- it’s a different type of apples comparison because the recessions going back to the ‘80s have a different size in their labor force -- but if you add the dip in the three recessions that are on that and add them together, right, in the early ‘80s, in the early ‘90s, and in 2001 and 2002, it does not equal the dip that started in the recession of December of 2007.
So the notion that somehow anybody is up here saying, oh, unemployment is some temporary thing, nobody in this administration has said that, and quite frankly, it’s not news to say we're going to be dealing with it for quite some time.
Q But how is this any different from the rationalization that Barack Obama criticized in George Bush’s administration when he said, look, the Afghanistan or Iraq spending is emergency spending and we're going to do it off books, we're not going to pay for it, and the President said --
MR. GIBBS: Because it’s not always been done like that, Michael. This was -- the emergency spending that was done in the previous administration were in many ways accounting tricks, right?
Q But this not an administration that has used as an excuse, it’s the way we’ve always done things. This is an administration that said we need to change the way things work in Washington.
MR. GIBBS: Did we laugh when we said it like that? (Laughter.)
Q But, Robert -- wait, you guys done? Sorry.
Q We’re done.
MR. GIBBS: Major is not.
Q And I have an issue of transcendent importance: Where does the President LeBron James should play his basketball?
MR. GIBBS: We were talking about this earlier today.
Q With the President?
MR. GIBBS: Indeed. After the news of Miami’s apparent acquiring of Chris Bosh. I think the President still believes that he would look quite good in a Bulls uniform. I hope that does not lead to NBA tampering charges because -- (Laughter.) I don't know -- that's a good question.
Q Has he made his view known to anybody?
MR. GIBBS: I think he did a sports interview not too long ago and was asked if LeBron would look good in a Bulls uniform and said that --
Q Are you worried -- in all seriousness, are you worried that that might annoy people in Cleveland who are --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I’m sure it would. (Laughter.) But I will say, I think the people in Cleveland -- we all have seen people that -- I’m an Atlanta Braves fan, right? I’ll say something that's not popular in this town. I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan, right? Now, if I pretended because I lived in Washington that I’m a Washington fan, that -- it’s not a genuine thing. It’s -- we all see people that go to the ballpark and all of a sudden they become the fan of a certain team not because they’ve always liked that team but because they're at that ballpark. That's why the President wore a White Sox hat to a Nationals game -- not because he expected to get an ovation for that, just that's the team he roots for. I think if --
Q Go, Cubs. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: And I’m not surprised. But I don't -- again, I don't think the President would -- look, do I think the people of Cleveland have a strong desire to see largely a home state guy -- largely a hometown guy and a home state guy play in Cleveland? Absolutely.
I think, though, I think the people of Ohio and the rest of the country would respect that the President is going to root for the team he’s always rooted for, not the team that -- you know? He’s not -- I’m not going to sit up here and tell you that we’re hoping that Ohio State and Florida play for the national championship every year in all four major sports in order to garner the greatest number of endangered purple state electoral votes prior to 2012.
Q I told you transcended --
Q I know. Amazing.
Q In a somewhat serious follow-up, and I will disclose my bias being from Cleveland -- (laughter.) There was actually -- people in Cleveland did take it sort of -- they're very sensitive when it comes to these things -- as sort of the President rooting against them and they never catch a break. And sure he doesn’t want -- he roots for the Bulls, but this might actually really bother people.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m sure it will. If the team you rooted for, if the star left that team to go to anywhere, I’m sure it would bother people. I don't -- it should. Again, I don't think that the President --
Q Is the President (inaudible) --
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Robert, two questions. One, as far as trade is concerned between India and U.S., most of the CEOs who came to meet with the President, they are members of -- or their companies are members of the U.S.-India business council across the street. And the President and Prime Minister met in Toronto -- as the trade between the two countries, where do we stand since the President is going to India in early November also?
MR. GIBBS: In terms of anything new with trade with India, obviously, it’s an important partner. Obviously, we’ll be going soon, but I do not have any updates on Indian trade.
Q And second, on immigration, what message do you think the President has for those small businesses who are seeking to hire legal people, but they don't have those kind of people they are seeking to hire? And what about the people who are seeking legal status?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll say this, Goyal, the President as part of immigration reform, while he was in the Senate, worked with Senator Grassley on a hiring database to ensure that people weren’t hiring illegals. That's -- obviously, when we ultimately get to comprehensive immigration reform, that's something that is -- that we’re going to have to spend some time making sure we get right.
Q And the longer this issue goes, there’s a hatred going on among the illegals and among the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, this is -- there’s no doubt that this is a topic that engenders spirited debate and discussion. I also don't doubt that there is frustration on both sides of the argument even in Arizona for the federal government not living up to the responsibilities that it has in what is so clearly a federal issue. The President simply believes that that frustration going to 50 states’ different laws isn’t the answer to the problem. We got to focus that energy into something that's comprehensive.
Q With two fundraisers on this next trip, is this the beginning of a new level of involvement by the President in the midterm elections?
MR. GIBBS: No, the President has been involved -- as I’ve been reminded on many occasions on some of the trips that we’ve taken for candidates that didn't work out -- the President has been involved in midterm races for quite some time, dating back to special elections last year.
But I think there’s no doubt that we are entering into a -- obviously, we’re getting much, much closer to the fall elections, and the President will have -- will do more things leading up to that. But I think he’s -- he has been very involved in raising money and in making an argument and he’ll certainly continue to do that.
Q And will he -- how partisan will he be in his tone? Will we hear about the Boehner ant comment tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Likely. (Laughter.) You’ll probably hear about Joe Barton, too.
Q Thanks, Robert. First I’m going to put aside what you said about being a Dallas fan. I’m just going to pretend that didn't happen. (Laughter.) On another more important topic, one thing as you have mentioned several times today, the President directed Justice to look at the Arizona law because he doesn’t want a patchwork of state and local laws. But right now there are dozens of so-called sanctuary cities that have their own policies that might potentially conflict with federal law, something that's led Governor Brewer to say that if Arizona is in violation of federal law, then so are these localities. So my question is, why did the President only ask DOJ to look at Arizona and not everywhere?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, let me see if I can get -- I don't know the answer to that, but I will try to seek some answer on that.
Q Robert, did the President accept the invitation to visit Israel yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: The President certainly traveled there during the campaign, traveled there while he was a senator. We do not have currently on our schedule travel plans to go there. But obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu extended an invitation, and I assume at some point the President and the First Lady will visit. It’s just not on the books for this year.
Q Under what circumstances will the President go?
Q For this year?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not on the books for this year.
Q Are you ruling it out, or just saying it’s not on the books?
MR. GIBBS: I’m just --
Q We know not it’s not on the books.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess I’m stating the obvious.
Q So it won’t happen this year?
MR. GIBBS: Again -- (laughter.)
Q It’s not a silly question --
Q Is there a possibility?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I’m not saying -- it’s not a silly question. You asked me if it was on the books or if I’m ruling it out. All I’m simply saying, which apparently is stating the obvious, that it’s not on the books at this point. I don't know if it changes or not.
Q Can I just ask you this one question?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Would the President go to -- would he speak in another Muslim capital before he visits Israel?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we would rule that out. I don’t -- that’s not a --
Q But that timing is not --
MR. GIBBS: No, that’s not sort of -- that’s not how --
Q Thanks, Robert. I’m Tommy and I’m a Jets fan. Sorry. I have three quick questions, Robert. First, do you -- or does the President have any reaction to the former DOJ lawyer who is making the rounds on television, and I believe he’s testifying before the Civil Rights Commission that the dismissal of charges against the new Black Panther party in the Philadelphia voter intimidation case is indicative --
MR. GIBBS: I have not -- I don’t have anything on that. I can see if there’s anything on that.
Q He’s saying that it’s indicative of the administration not caring about the rights of white voters. You haven’t heard that at all?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t paid any attention to it.
Q Second question. Does the President have any reaction to Glenn Beck’s August 28th rally, which some are taking as an insult to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech? Has the President said anything about that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen -- let me go back and see what Glenn Beck has said. I just -- you’re going to be surprised, but I don’t spend an inordinate amount of my time watching --
Q I mean, it’s my understanding that the permit is under review right now at the National Park Service for use of the Lincoln Memorial -- he was going to do a rally on the steps.
MR. GIBBS: I will check on that. I don’t know anything about that.
Q One more, really, really, quick. During the President’s visit to Vegas, does he plan to get in a poker game?
MR. GIBBS: They play a lot of Spades on the plane, Reggie and the President, with Marvin and Pete. I don’t know if they’ll play -- I doubt he’ll go down to the tables. He may play a little bit in his room.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q Thank you, Robert. Yes, just a couple more follow-ups on the -- Dr. Berwick’s nomination. As far as some of the -- among the controversial comments that he’s made in the past that would have come out in a Senate confirmation hearing are that excellent health care is -- “excellent health care, by definition, is redistribution.” Some of the others were mentioned. Does the President actually agree with that comment?
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is somebody who is uniquely and supremely qualified to run an agency that is important to our government, it’s important to seniors, it’s important to implementation of the new health care law. And this is somebody supported not just by Democrats but by, as I said earlier, Tom Scully and Mark McClellan, who ran this agency -- both of whom ran this agency for George Bush.
Q But does the President agree with the previous statement?
MR. GIBBS: I know that this is the exact type of political game that the American people have come to understand dominates Washington and doesn’t actually make their health care more affordable.
Q One more on this. You said it would have been -- you’re confident there would have been a confirmation had there been a hearing. But do you also think it would have been politically troublesome in an election year to have all these comments aired out about rationing, redistribution that Dr. Berwick had talked about in the past?
MR. GIBBS: You just read comments. Is there like a secret comment book that somehow you got that nobody else got, and you just read a couple of them to me -- (laughter) -- and somebody they wouldn’t have come out?
Q These aren’t --
MR. GIBBS: Did he say things like, “rationing happens today; the question is who will do it”? Did he say that? Did he say that?
Q That was one comment. The comment that I just read --
MR. GIBBS: Actually, that was Paul Ryan. That was Paul Ryan.
Q Okay, okay --
MR. GIBBS: He’s a Republican in Congress.
Q All right, that’s fine. You got your own comments. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That’s not my comment. That’s Paul Ryan’s comment.
Q Okay, that’s fine -- okay, that’s your own comment book. But the comment I just read to you came straight out of a speech he gave in Britain --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, that came out of Paul Ryan’s mouth, the one I just read.
Q No -- okay, that’s fine --
MR. GIBBS: “Rationing happens today; the question is who will do it.”
Q The quote that I read to you --
MR. GIBBS: But you thought that Dr. Berwick said that, right? You told me that?
Q You asked me -- I thought -- it sounded like -- the quote -- I read a separate quote to you --
MR. GIBBS: It sounded like it, but it seems to be the viewpoint of the member of Congress that has spent a lot of time talking about health care, right?
Q Yes, but --
MR. GIBBS: Go talk to Paul Ryan and I’d be happy to take that question at a later date.
Q Okay, but I read a separate --
Q Robert -- okay, thank you. Robert, back on the issue of comments, you just said that the President’s going to talk a little bit about Joe Barton. Is he concerned -- does he feel that something more should happen to Joe Barton? Because he continues to bring it up weeks afterwards.
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is an issue for Republicans to decide whether they want -- whether Republicans want Joe Barton to be the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee --
Q -- keep putting it on the table to get them to deal with the issue, is that what you’re doing?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, that’s for them to decide to deal with. I mean, I don’t think that they would be surprised that it’s caused them some pain and consternation. It apparently caused so much so on that day that he was called in to apologize.
So, again, I think it is emblematic, whether it is what John Boehner said or whether it’s what Joe Barton said, it’s emblematic of a mindset -- a mindset that believes that financial reform is basically akin to something the size of an ant, or what caused and precipitated the need for financial reform is something like that. Or somebody who believes, as the ranking member of the Energy Committee, that the apology is due not to the people of the Gulf whose lives have been altered but to the company that caused it.
Q Now, I want to get to the issue of messaging on this racial profiling in Arizona and its challenge to their law. You say the President did this as it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s popular. What kind of message are you going to give to the American public? How are you going to generate a message as, again, going back to the prior question, polls are showing that most Americans are for this racial profiling, not just for Latinos but also Caribbean nationals in Arizona?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would simply say that -- go back to my earlier answer, in that the President did not make a determination about what to do -- or has not made a determination about what to do on immigration based on what’s popular, and the Department of Justice didn’t make a determination on filing this lawsuit based on what’s popular -- they did it on what was right.
Q Are you going to go into the community and talk about it to generate more support on your side versus on the other side?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President has spoken clearly on his desire to see comprehensive immigration reform -- the reason why we believe it needs to happen and the reason why -- understanding the frustration, but believing that the output of what happened in Arizona actually makes it harder to get a comprehensive immigration reform standard that the whole country can deal with.
Q Thank you --
Q And the fifth anniversary of Katrina is next month --
MR. GIBBS: I’m trying.
Q I know you are, but I’m -- the fifth anniversary of Katrina is next month. And how is the President -- is that going to be overshadowed totally by BP, or is the President going to have a separate --
MR. GIBBS: I’ll look at the schedule and have some -- let me go to Sam and I’ll go home --
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Not go home, just --
Q Back on the economy. You talk about unemployment is going to last a very long time. Looking at the next couple days, how does the President sell this concept of recovery summer when people aren’t seeing a recovery?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, I think it’s important to understand, Sam, that the President is going to continue to make the case for the steps that we took being the right steps to take. Again, they may not have always been politically popular, but they were the right thing to do.
Long ago, even when we were talking about the Recovery Act just as legislation, we always said that it was never going to -- it was never the size and scope of the output removed from the economy because of the recession -- it was never going to totally fill that hole. But we believe it has put us on a path to recovery, that the economy is stronger now than it was -- certainly than it was then, and that we continue to make progress.
The President and the Vice President particularly will highlight the steps that are being taken this year and this summer on specific recovery projects, a big ramp-up in infrastructure, whether that’s safe drinking water projects or road construction projects.
But I will say this, Sam, the President was never under the illusion that economic recovery was going to happen overnight. It is going to take some time. We will deal with the political ramifications of that. I think the biggest -- the most important thing is, are we moving in the right direction? Are we making progress? And is the economy getting stronger, even if the pace is not altogether like we’d want to see?
Q But, I mean -- I’m curious, is the President frustrated? I mean, even some economists that I’ve talked to say, look, this would be so much worse if these steps hadn’t been taken. Is the President frustrated that that’s not getting through?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, because -- well, frustrated in the sense that, look, obviously you would like everyone to look back and say, here’s where I am and here’s where I could have been. It’s understandable why people don’t necessarily think that. And the President will be frustrated, just as I think the American people will be frustrated, as long as there are people that want desperately to find work and are either working part-time or can’t find full-time jobs. That’s understandable on their part; it’s understandable on his part.
The question is, are we taking the steps each and every day to build that consumer demand, to increase our exports, to create jobs here and sell products overseas? Are we taking all the steps -- and the President has certainly tasked his team to make sure that’s happening.
2:44 P.M. EDT
August 23, 2016
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