Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/14/2010
See below for answers to questions(marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
*The meeting lasted roughly an hour, and Valerie Jarrett also attended.
**By the day of groundbreaking, Compact Power estimates it will employ 70 in construction jobs. This will rise to 200 by September and 300 at the peak of construction. The factory will hire more than 300 full-time Michigan workers when at scale.
1:44 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Thank you, sir. A few topics today, Robert. On BP, we're told the administration asked BP to stop work on the temporary cap because some scientific questions needed to be answered. Does this suggest that there are, in fact, serious questions about the viability of the cap?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give a broad answer here and walk through what you discussed, Ben. As I think you all know from Thad Allen’s briefing I believe yesterday, we want to figure out the structural integrity of the wellbore. And why that's important is a whole host of reasons, but particularly we want to judge the integrity for the use of the blowout preventer on the well either for a capping procedure now or in assistance in the capping procedure with the relief well.
And let me explain why that's important. So the sealing cap -- and I should stress here that this is not related to the containment architecture. And what I mean by that is we believe that the cap will work just fine in the containment, that through a couple of different areas, that cap will take oil to the surface as well as to the choke and kill lines. The Helix Producer that we've talked about coming online has increased and ramped up its production. And we think in the next day or so we will easily see a containment capability that exceeds any of the previous days, as we get to 60,000 to 80,000.
Now, why the pressure tests are important and why the wellbore integrity is important -- when you close the vents and increase the pressure, if the structural integrity of the wellbore isn’t strong, what you’ll get is oil coming out of -- let’s say there was a rupture in a disk -- you get oil coming out into the strata, which could lead to oil leaking from not the blowout preventer where it is now and what is being capped with the seal, but this could come out from multiple points on the sea floor.
Obviously that would complicate -- be a very complicated situation to deal with because, again, you could have oil coming from a lot of different, or several different places that don't have blowout preventers on top of them -- right? So we want to conduct structural testing in order to make sure that the well is safe and secure.
Before that testing begins, Secretary Chu, other government scientists and scientists in academia have asked a series of questions to ensure, out of an abundance of caution, that the steps we’re taking and that BP will take during the pressurization tests are done so that the integrity of the blowout preventer and the integrity of the well are preserved.
In other words, this is a “first do no harm” to the well. This has happened in many different occasions throughout this process in the past 86 days, when scientists have asked BP additional questions and insisted on information and calculations and that scenarios be run through before some movement happens in order to make sure that we’re not -- at a time in which we’re increasing our containment capacity, not doing any damage to the well.
So the scientists are in a meeting with BP as we speak and going through BP’s answers to these questions. And we’ll have a sense probably in the not-too-distant future, probably in the next few hours, what the next steps are.
I do not, again, consider this to be some giant setback. I do believe it is -- it’s a series of steps and questions that we’ve asked and that are being taken in order to ensure that what we’re doing is being done out of an abundance of caution to do no harm.
Q Do you have a sense right now of when people will have the information they need to continue the work?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the meeting they're in started at 1:00 p.m. So I anticipate we’ll have some preliminary judgment and information -- they're getting that right now -- and may have something in the next couple of hours that may lead to the next steps in terms of that pressurization testing. This does not, though, have to do with -- this is not connected to the relief well.
Q When is work on that going to be finished?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think BP mentioned that they had paused I think on some of the scoping on this. I don't have any information on that, but that was not something that we were involved in. And this has, again, happened at many points throughout this process. So this is different from that. And again, the containment architecture that will lead us to a containment capacity of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels is not in jeopardy.
Q Two other quick topics, please. On politics, the Speaker of the House apparently didn’t think you were stating the obvious when you talked about there being enough seats in play for Republicans to potentially win control. And she -- several reports, including her own that she’s lashed out at you for those comments. What is your reaction to that? Does it matter to you?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, of course the opinion of the Speaker of the House matters to me and matters to Democrats in Washington and throughout this country. Let’s be clear that the work that the House and the Speaker have done over the past 18 months in making tough choices, in making tough votes, and in passing the agenda of this President, have been monumental. I have not spoken with the Speaker. I --
Q Would you like to?
MR. GIBBS: If there’s an occasion to speak, of course. But I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I’ve said the last couple days on this, Ben, except to say that, as I said on Sunday, in three and a half months or so we’re going to have an election that will be based on a very clear choice.
The House leadership will be down here today to talk about the upcoming agenda for the next several weeks, extending unemployment insurance. The House has already obviously passed financial reform; they passed an extension of unemployment insurance as well. We’ll talk about funding for the supplemental. There a whole host of issues that will be worked on in the next couple weeks that will highlight the choices that voters will have. And I think in that choice, we are going to do very well. And as I have said throughout this, I think we will retain the House and the Senate.
Q In one report, she was paraphrased as saying of you, “I don’t know who this guy is, I’ve never met him before.” That's not literally true, right?
MR. GIBBS: We have met before. (Laughter.)
Q How would you describe your relationship with the Speaker?
MR. GIBBS: Cordial. I mean, I have not seen that report. But -- so I don't -- I haven’t seen that. I don't know what --
Q One other quick topic, please. On this controversy involving the Iroquois lacrosse team, the report today the State Department has dropped its demand that the team get new, higher- security U.S. passports and that allows them to travel. Do you know why the change of position?
MR. GIBBS: No, but I can -- let me get some information for you from the State Department on that.
Q A couple of topics, as well. On the economy, why is the administration turning to Bill Clinton with a meeting today? Is it a reflection of the fact that he’s seen as having better relations with business and more moderate economic policies?
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- one of the ideas that the President is here to discuss -- the former President is here to discuss with President Obama and clean energy CEOs is a Clinton Global Initiative effort at retrofitting large buildings, making them energy-efficient; training workers in gaining the skills needed to retrofit and weatherize buildings -- a project that is going on at the Empire State Building now is a example of that -- that creates jobs and creates training for those that are involved.
This is an idea that he has worked on through the Clinton Global Initiative that he’s spoken to the economic team about and will speak with the President about.
Q So it doesn’t have anything to do with the Buffett meeting, the Chamber of Commerce event, the CEA report --
MR. GIBBS: No. Warren Buffett was here earlier today. He and the President spoke about the economy in a fairly lengthy meeting, the efforts that we’re taking to get the economy -- continue to get the economy moving again. He wanted to come in and see the President, and you don't turn down the opportunity to talk to Warren Buffett.
Q So the timing is really just coincidental? A bunch of things have all happened at once -- it seems like it’s a very big jobs day.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have been working on this agenda for each and every day of this administration.
Q And a question about BP. Earlier today, the White House Natural Resources Committee voted to block BP from getting future offshore oil drilling leases. I wondered, does the administration --
MR. GIBBS: The White House Natural Resources Committee?
Q No, that's why I -- the House --
MR. GIBBS: Okay. It was --
Q -- Natural Resources --
MR. GIBBS: -- previously a committee I was unaware of. The House Natural Resources Committee.
Q I was aware of that --
MR. GIBBS: The what --
Q The House voted, as you know. Does the administration support that position? And do you think that it could stop BP from making the --
MR. GIBBS: I will be honest with you, I have not --
Q -- money it needs to clean up?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen what the committee did. I would be happy to go back and see if there’s reaction to that.
Again, as we have said on numerous occasions, including the President, that we have -- we worked out an agreement with BP to establish a $20 billion escrow fund to pay the claims that they are responsible for. We believe that that is something that they are very able to do and will be able to do in the future. So we do not have concerns -- again, I’ll check on this -- we don’t have concerns about their overall economic health.
Q Okay. And then one last thing -- the Iranian scientist. A U.S. official came out and said that the U.S. got useful information from Shahram Amiri. Wouldn’t saying something like that expose him to retaliation from the Iranians? It seems --
MR. GIBBS: I am not going to add to the ledger on that.
Q There have been complaints from independent marine researchers that NOAA is hoarding information as it relates to the Gulf, the spill in the Gulf, and that if --
MR. GIBBS: Hoarding what types of information?
Q Data about how bad the spill is, the environmental damage, any other data that NOAA has.
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to look at some of this. I have not -- NOAA has been actively involved in subsea testing. They are -- obviously have been heavily involved in monitoring the movement of the oil. They monitor -- they have monitored currents like the Loop Current. They are very actively involved in our response effort and I have not seen that type of information.
Q On a theoretical level, shouldn’t they be sharing that information with the public and with independent researchers, or is it proprietary and only belongs to them?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- again, I’m happy to look at what people think that is not being shared that should be. Again, Dr. Lubchenco and others at NOAA have, again, been very actively involved in this. They’re a part of and have been an active part of things like the flow rate group. I don’t -- again, I’m previously unaware that there was concern by some that they weren’t getting information.
Q Well, just on -- okay, so I understand you’re not familiar with these details, but on a theoretical level, shouldn’t organizations like NOAA share as much data as they can with the public and with --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not trying to be obstinate, Jake, I just don’t -- I don’t -- I’m happy to look at complaints that that’s not happening. I’m not under the impression that NOAA is hoarding data.
Q Do you have any response to the complaint from the Chamber of Commerce today -- here’s just one excerpt of -- Tom Donohue said, “Taken collectively, the regulatory activity now underway is so overwhelming and beyond anything we've ever seen that we risk moving this country away from a government of the people to a government of regulators.”
MR. GIBBS: I think it is ironic to make a statement like that as companies report, as Intel did today, record sales; when corporate profits are up 65 percent from where they were two years ago. Look, the Chamber of Commerce has a different approach to certain issues, but we have different responsibilities. The President -- we have not in any way instituted a regulatory structure that is in danger of doing anything like that.
Again, many of the things that they talked about in their letter that they sent were, how do you have tax cuts for economic growth -- 25 different tax cuts were contained in the Recovery Act. The notion that they would like to see increased investment in infrastructure is something that the President has talked about for years. So I don't think that what they’re saying in that letter squares very well with what’s going on in the business world in this country right now.
Is business investment based on the fragility of the economy -- is it governed by that? Of course. But I don't think that that is -- it’s certainly not a surprise.
Q Last question is some Republicans in Congress are complaining about the Recovery Act signs. They’re saying that that’s a waste of millions of dollars and should be better spent. Does the White House have any --
MR. GIBBS: Better spent? Recovery projects?
Q However you wanted to spend it, I suppose. But they’re saying it’s wasteful, that all this --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- look, I'm glad that Republicans have noticed the nearly 11,000 road projects that are underway this summer. We have encouraged states to let people know how their tax money is being spent. Some post signs, some don't. I believe that as a matter of spending, those signs account for about 3 cents out of every hundred dollars that is spent on the recovery.
Q Just to clarify, so it was Warren Buffett who initiated the meeting? He called the White House?
MR. GIBBS: He and the President have talked regularly. I think somebody brought up in a meeting within the past week that he wanted to come in, and the President said he’d love to have Warren in to talk about the economy.
Q And he wanted to offer advice or guidance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, they talked about a whole range of things.
Q Okay. Yesterday we learned that the decision to postpone that integrity test took place at 4:30 p.m., but that wasn’t made public until some five hours later. Why the delay in that information getting out?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what time the statement went out from the --
Q It was five hours later.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know why that statement went out five hours later. Again, Dan, the process that is gone through on many of these steps is -- and Secretary Chu and Dr. McNutt and others have spent days and days and days in Houston, particularly around big events such as this one with the sealing cap and the Helix Producer coming online. And we simply asked BP a series of questions that we felt -- wanted to know the answers to prior to Admiral Allen and the federal on-scene coordinator signing off on these pressurization tests.
I think what’s important is, again, we get this right. This is the 86th day. The containment architecture that we have in place is greater than at any point in this disaster. And we are -- our attitude is that we should be doing this in a way that’s cautious and not risky.
Q Getting that information out, that would have been Thad Allen who should have done that?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the statement came out from the Joint Information Center.
Q But in terms of making the call as to when this information should have gotten out there, that would be up to Thad Allen?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I’m sure it’s somebody who works for Thad Allen. I don’t know who in terms of the press release.
Q In general, is the administration still pleased with the level of transparency and the way that the details of what’s going on is being communicated?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, we don’t -- BP speaks for BP, right? We speak for -- obviously Admiral Allen, Secretary Chu, Carol Browner and others direct BP to do what we think is scientific and necessary in order to make the right decisions and order the right things be done at that structure. That’s what we’re doing in this case, is to ensure that we’re making these decisions based on science and that we’re doing so in a way that, as I said earlier, doesn’t create greater risk around the well.
Q Just to follow on the question about Bill Clinton. Not only is he involved today in discussions about job creation in the private sector, but also he will be going out there on the campaign trail quite heavily, assisting with the upcoming midterm elections. Has he sort of become a key lifeline for the administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, I think Bill Clinton has probably been campaigning longer than I’ve been working in politics and you’ve been reporting. I think it would be crazy not to have a former -- a very popular former President out campaigning, as he has in virtually every election cycle that I can remember in the last -- well, since 1992, so almost 20 years.
Q One final question. On this controversial mosque near Ground Zero, is the White House following that? Any comments?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any information.
Q Thank you, Robert. How do you respond to critics on the Hill, Republican critics on the Hill, who say that Bill Clinton is in this meeting because relations are so bad between the President and business --
MR. GIBBS: I think I answered that a minute ago. I think I answered that a minute ago.
Q The mediator -- they say that he actually mediates --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think -- the reason that Bill Clinton is in the meeting is one of the ideas that is being discussed in the meeting is an idea that they came up with at the Clinton Global Initiative --
Q Right, I know that. But I’m asking how do you respond to people who say that’s not the real reason --
MR. GIBBS: I just did.
Q -- the real reason is relations are so bad that he needs a mediator in there, and Bill Clinton is the guy who can perform that? Do you think the President’s relations with business are as good as Bill Clinton’s relations with the business community?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q You do? Based on?
MR. GIBBS: Based on the fact that I think we have done a lot to improve the business climate in this country, as evident today by the profit and earnings results that are being released.
Q On the oil spill, has the -- is the President spending much time on that now? What is he doing personally?
MR. GIBBS: The President receives updates throughout the day and I believe is going to speak at 3:30 p.m. with the scientific team down in Houston.
Q And finally on your comments on this weekend on losing the House, have you had conversations with the President about that? Has he spoken to you?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Has anybody else in the White House spoken to you with either -- either pleased or displeased with what you said?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Have you been contacted by anybody on the Hill -- even Democratic members or staffers, either pleased or displeased?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard from any Democratic members.
Q So it’s been total radio silence on the -- and telephone silence on the -- and email silence on the entire topic?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to any members on Capitol Hill.
Q Or emailed or had any conversations with anybody about the whole thing?
MR. GIBBS: No. No.
Q Why do you think there’s a disconnect with what we’re hearing from the Chamber of Commerce about business and the relationship with business and this White House? What do you make of this disconnect --
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s --
Q Because you sat there and you made the case about profits and tax cuts and this and that, but they're not hearing it. What do you make of it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip -- I’m sorry -- Chuck, I don't -- I think if you looked at the last -- I don't know, go back 10 elections, I think the Chamber of Commerce has tended to spend most of their money supporting Republican candidates.
Q You don't believe they're speaking for business -- fairly speaking for business?
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that there are members of the Chamber of Commerce that share their views. Do I think that they monolithically speak for business? No.
Q Well, one of the criticisms that you hear from CEOs --
MR. GIBBS: Any more than the FIB or BRT or --
Q But if you -- but I was just going -- the Business Roundtable with the President does seem to have a better relationship, sort of personal relationship with him. So their critique is uncertainty, that they're not sure how much health care is going to cost, they're still waiting to figure out what this energy bill is going to do --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chuck, let’s go back --
Q And so -- is that a fair critique from them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s go back to -- let’s go back to early April, right, when there was -- this is before what happened in Greece and Spain happened, and right after health care. You would acknowledge that the viewpoint before Greece and Spain happened was they were more excited about the coming economic recovery, right?
Q That would seem to be --
MR. GIBBS: Right, so that was after health care. So it’s not as if health care happened between April and now.
Q Okay, but energy has been another -- has been another talking point in this uncertainty, in this issue of uncertainty --
MR. GIBBS: Again --
Q And it’s an explanation of why they're keeping money, why they're not spending their capital.
MR. GIBBS: I think again -- I got a minor in economics, which means I took five classes --
Q Two is all I had --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think collectively our seven classes might come to the reasoned deduction that business spending at a time in which the economy is worse than it has been since the late 1920s might denote that business spending is bad.
Q But there still seems to be this disconnect at least between the rhetoric, between the relationship that you believe you have with the business community and the relationship the business community seems to be upset about.
MR. GIBBS: Again, and I think probably somewhere in between there is politics. Again, I don't -- I mean, do I think the Chamber of Commerce is going to spend tens of millions of dollars trying to elect a series of candidates that are different than the candidates that the President is going try to elect? Yes. But I think that was true in 2008 and 2006 and 2004 and 2002 and 2000 and 1998 and 1996 and 1994 and 1992 when Bill Clinton was there. What’s the percentage of money that the Chamber of Commerce donates to Republican candidates on each election cycle? I don't know the number, but my guess -- would you hazard a guess that it’s above 80 percent?
Q I would like to check the numbers, but it’s clearly a majority Republican.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll put my $20 down on above 80.
Q Senator Lugar today is calling -- wants more -- he’s calling it more clarity on this timeline and of Afghanistan. First of all, did Senator Lugar contact the President privately about the concerns he was going to raise publicly before he raised them?
MR. GIBBS: I will say, Senator Lugar and Senator Kerry were here I think yesterday to meet with the Vice President on the progress that the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate are making on START. I do not know if the President stopped by that.
Q You don’t know if he’s been -- were you -- was somebody in the White House aware that Senator Lugar was going to make these comments?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I can check with NSC.
Q And going back to your comments on Sunday. Would you have uttered them differently knowing -- is there anything you would change about what you would say, considering the criticism that’s being --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I might ask you all to read the comments before you do your stories.
Q Do you still stand -- not just stand by them, but you wouldn’t word things any differently?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think what I said was what I hear you do from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. most mornings on MSNBC. I don’t think I said anything that was politically shocking.
Q It’s a little different when he says than when you say it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know why you would say something about Chuck like that with him in the room but --
Q But if it would make the folks in the House feel better, would you have worded things a little bit differently?
MR. GIBBS: Of course.
Q Robert, do you think you’ve handed Republicans an issue?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q What has the President been doing in the last 48 to 72 hours to ensure passage of fin reg, the financial regulation bill? Has he done any outreach and has he personally been making --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in the last 24 hours -- well, I don’t know when the last of the -- I don’t know how many hours it’s been since Senator Nelson I think made it likely to be 61 votes in favor of that bill passing. Jonathan, Secretary Geithner, Director Summers, Christy Romer, the entire economic team have been working on this issue since -- well, since we came into office, and spent a lot of time walking people through the legislation. And I think clearly a piece of legislation that in January or February was unclear whether you could cobble together the support to pass is not only going to pass with more than 60 votes, but it’s going to institute rules of the road that we haven’t seen for decades, and would put consumers in charge of their finances in a way that they haven’t been in a long time.
Q So you think you’ve got this in the bag. So what are you planning on in terms of a signing ceremony, and when?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I think the Senate is going to take this bill up tomorrow. We’ll sign the bill at what point it comes down here. I can assure you that the President will make an issue of passing what is a significant part of our economic recovery, and that is putting in place rules that do not allow the type of activities to happen going forward that happened just a little under two years ago.
It is important -- we fought for, we included, and we’re going to get a strong consumer office, and I think there are a whole host of provisions that this administration and those that support the bill -- Democrats and Republicans -- can be proud of.
Q And one more thing. Does the President plan to attend Chelsea Clinton’s wedding?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, can you preview the speech in Michigan tomorrow? Will it be another clean energy/economy speech?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Mark, a lot of what I talked about yesterday we are going to -- the President will talk about. Obviously we’re going to break ground on the ninth of nine advanced battery manufacturers. These nine -- these are nine plants that didn’t exist before the Recovery Act. Through the Recovery Act, public investment spurred greater private investment. This is the plant that will, when it’s constructed, produce the batteries for Chevy’s Volt that I believe Chevy has announced they’ll produce basically 50,000 of these cars a year.
Just yesterday afternoon, Ford announced that next year they will offer the Ford Focus in an electric car, and Ford will purchase its batteries from this plant instead of purchasing them from overseas. Our battery capacity will go from 2 percent of the world’s supply to 40 percent, as a result of these facilities, and create manufacturing jobs in places like Michigan that desperately need help.
And, Mark, I think it is safe to say that the President will remind voters in Michigan and throughout the country that these are -- this is a good thing -- Chuck, when you’re talking about business, these are businesses that are expanding and being created as a result of the tough votes that were taken on the Recovery Act, right?
So you’ll have a roll call of who thought this was a good idea and who thought this was a bad idea, and to mix the politics questions that I’ve gotten before, this is the kind of debate that we’ll have in November -- whether you’re for creating the clean energy jobs of the future, or not.
Q Why shouldn’t projects like these be funded all by the private sector? Why should government funds get involved?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, government funds help spur private investment, right, as happens in a number of projects, Mark. But the question is, are we going to attract these industries to this country, or are we going to import these batteries? Are we going to build wind turbines here, or are we going to import them from overseas? Are we going to build solar panels here, or are we going to get them from China? Are we going to create those jobs here in America in places like Holland, Michigan, and others, or are we going to create them overseas? And I think what you’ll hear the President discuss tomorrow is these are batteries that are made in America, built by Americans, that create jobs right here.
Q Yes, thank you. Back to Warren Buffett. You said the meeting was lengthy. About how long did it last?
MR. GIBBS: I will get the exact timing of the meeting.*
Q An hour or 30 minutes?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have it off the top of my head.
Q And what did the President want to know from Mr. Buffett? You said they talked about a wide range of things. Can you name some?
MR. GIBBS: Everything under the economic sky.
Q Interest rates?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if they talked specifically about interest rates.
Q All right. Budget deficits?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they talked about -- I was not in the meeting with Mr. Buffett -- but how to continue to create jobs in this country, how to keep our economy moving forward. I am sure they talked about budgets, regulation, taxes, all of those topics.
Q Larry Summers in the room?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if Larry was in there or not, or if it was just a one-on-one. I think the picture that we released was just with the President.
Q Okay, and one other question. There’s a -- the President and Vice President had lunch with senators today. Who? What was on the agenda? How many?
MR. GIBBS: We have -- I believe it was five senators -- I’m doing this off the top of my head so let’s see how good I am -- I believe they were all from the ’06 class -- Klobuchar, Whitehouse, Brown -- oh yes, Senator Casey and Senator McCaskill.
The President has had senators over here, met with committee chairs pretty regularly when taking office, and this is just a continuation of that.
Q There wasn’t any particular agenda?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Robert, do you believe the Chamber is willfully distorting either the administration’s record or its desire in its dealing with the business community?
MR. GIBBS: I can’t speak for their motives, Major. I don’t think what they’re saying is accurate.
Q And do you attribute that because of politics, the political season?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they come at this from a different political perspective, yes.
Q I want to give you a chance to talk from the podium about a couple things -- the administration’s removal of references to Islamic radicalism and the President’s comments last night on South African television about Al Shabaab and the attack in Uganda. First of all, the reason the administration thinks it’s a good idea to clarify its language about those who -- in the terrorist community and removing references to Islamic radicals --
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to look at some of what you’re talking about, but I --
Q You’re not familiar with what I’m talking about?
MR. GIBBS: Not generally, no. I’m familiar with the President’s interview last night.
Q Do you want to talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m happy to look at --
Q What he was trying to --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think, look, the President discussed what had tragically happened in Uganda, but understanding that -- and we’ve seen this on a number of occasions -- that al Qaeda is preying on Africans -- just as the continent and the country of South Africa demonstrated for the world what it had done in the World Cup, terrorists that seek to not build but destroy killed innocent men, women and children -- killed an American. And it’s an important message to have in the continent of Africa that al Qaeda and its affiliates do not value the lives of those in Africa, nor do they value the lives of those they seek to innocently -- the innocents that they seek to kill.
Q Does the President agree with other officials who identified that as a racist approach to --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they are -- I think they have taken steps to prey on Africans, and they do not value the continent or its people.
Q And for the third time, do you have an evaluation of the administration or Justice’s point of view on sanctuary cities, and whether or not --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- we gave that I think yesterday and I’ll be happy to get that to you.
Q Can you describe it here?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have it with me, but I’m happy to get what we gave to them.
Q A follow on Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get around.
Q How many jobs do you estimate are going to be created at the plant he’s visiting tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know how many -- let me get the number, because I’m sure there’s -- there’s both a construction job; there’s also the number of jobs that we expect to be of those that will manufacture the batteries.**
Obviously the announcement yesterday by Ford increases the likely production capabilities in Holland, as they’re producing now not just batteries for the Chevy Volt but also the Ford Focus.
Q And when did he -- this is, what, the second or third battery event that he’s done?
MR. GIBBS: I think so, yes.
Q And I know Biden -- when did batteries become such a subject of interest for him? Did he get some battery demonstration early on? Can you talk a little bit about the battery --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think --
Q Gets a charge out of it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: A good suggestion, but I won’t repeat that line. Look, if we’re going to create -- if we’re going to manufacture the cars that people are going to drive, if we’re going to make progress on energy and pollution, it’s going to be through cars like the Volt or the Focus that don’t run on oil or gas but instead run on a charge of electricity; they get 100 miles per charge. These are -- again, these are the type of cars that we’re going to drive and that we’re going to manufacture. And the question is, are we going to manufacture them here or are we going to manufacture them somewhere else?
In order to have them -- I mean, the biggest technological leap that had to happen in this was how do you create a battery that’s small enough to fit in a car that charges for a longer period of time, that enables somebody to go more than just a few miles without either having to charge it or using a gas/electric hybrid engine and uses electricity at certain points but gas at others? These are the types of jobs that -- these are the new jobs of the future that we -- again, we’re either going to manufacture the technology and create those jobs here, or we’re going to import that technology.
Q Right, that’s the policy. But is it fair to say that he’s taken a personal interest in this? I mean, it’s a large number of events for him to do about one piece of technology.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it also is -- it demonstrates the investments that were because of, and will pay dividends because of, the Recovery Act. These are not -- this is not a plant that is being built without those investments. And those investments are important.
I will mention, as we talk about autos, for instance, we’re talking about the business climate, one of the things that Carol Browner and others here have spent an awful lot of time working on is how to take regulations and rules like Corporate Average Fuel Economy, greenhouse gases, and give business the certainty to manufacture not one car in California, a different car in the Midwest, a different car in the Northeast, with different emissions and fuel standards, but instead to provide uniformity and certainty across all vehicles. That had been talked about for 30 years in Washington, and for 30 years, Corporate Average Fuel Economy didn't rise.
That changed. Very early on, the President signed an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy that -- and certainty in emissions rules across the fleet. We expanded that to work trucks just a few months ago for the first time ever. So I think that would be certainly one good example of certainty, regulation, investment and progress that this administration worked very closely with auto manufacturers on.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Since you’re talking about Warren Buffett today and also electric cars, Warren Buffett has actually chosen not to invest in these American electric car markers, but he is the biggest shareholder in the Chinese electric car company BYD. Why is it that he has so much more confidence in the Chinese manufacturer of electric cars and not these companies that you’re talking about? Can you speculate why --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to be Warren Buffett’s spokesperson, though I bet that’s a good gig. (Laughter.)
Q Are you applying?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) But I will say this. Again, the plants that manufacture the batteries for these types of cars did not exist -- did not exist -- only a few years ago -- okay? So I don’t know -- look, I don’t know what Warren --
Q -- to invest, why --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t know Warren Buffett’s investment strategy. Trust me, if I knew that, I would, shall we say, be in a better place. But I will say this. This I think goes somewhat perfectly to the question that I posed earlier, and that is, are we going to build -- where are we going to build these -- right? Are we going to build these in China? Are we going to build these overseas? Are we going to build these -- like I said, are we going to build solar panels in China? Are we going to build wind turbines in Europe? Or are we going to do them here?
The President and many in Congress decided that we’re going to do them here. We’re going to build these plants -- construct these plants in America. We’re going to build these products in America. We’re going to employ Americans. And I think that’s a strong economic record.
Q Robert, this weekend’s trip to Bar Harbor by the First Family -- why did they choose it, that area? What are they planning to do up there?
MR. GIBBS: I think the First Family enjoyed immensely the trip out West last year, where going to a couple of different national parks -- I remember going on that trip and you’re obviously struck by the beauty of our National Park System. This builds off of that in Maine. And we’ll have a longer itinerary shortly.
Q But do you have a rough idea of what kinds of things they’re hoping to do up there and where they’re staying?
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ll see hiking and I think you’ll see them spend a lot of time outside.
Q Did anybody, maybe Senator Collins or Snowe, encourage them to go there?
MR. GIBBS: I would hope that that was probably the case. I know he talked to both of them to let them know he would be coming.
Q Yesterday the Senate confirmed President Obama’s 23rd judge, and by this point in the Bush administration, there had been 72 confirmed. Do you think this White House cares less about it than Bush did?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me tell you, if it was just a matter of nominating the judges, that would be an easier way to do this. There are 21 judges that have passed committee that are pending confirmation; 13 of those passed the committee unanimously. Do I think that the Senate is processing those nominations as quickly as they were? No. Are they clearing -- those nominations cleared through the committee as quickly as they should? No.
We have I think -- I’ll go back and check the numbers of nominees that each President has sent up, but I think if you look at -- this goes back to the nomination discussions that we’ve had in this room over the course of the past week. There are those in the Senate that have decided -- on the Republican side -- that they’re just not going to process these nominees as fast as they did seven or eight years ago.
Q If the White House were putting less pressure, though, on things like financial regulation, unemployment extension, et cetera, do you think there would be more room to push judges?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think -- if somebody passes the Judiciary Committee unanimously -- safe to assume that those that are most -- have been selected by each party to examine judicial nominees as part of the Judiciary Committee most closely -- if 13 of those are not -- don’t have objections to by any sitting member of that Judiciary Committee but haven’t been acted on, I don’t think this is because we’re doing financial reform. I don’t think is because we’re doing the Recovery Act. I think there is a strategy by those not to process those judges. And they certainly should because obviously they are important appointments and that’s what they’re there to do.
Q Robert, how concerned is the President about the statements by the Turkish foreign minister about potentially cutting off relations with Israel over the flotilla raid?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I won’t get farther -- much farther than some of the readouts that we’ve done. Obviously, I will say that President Obama has talked to the Turkish government a lot over the past many weeks, most recently at the G20, in order to continue to make progress not only in our relationship but on their relationship throughout the world.
Q Is there something other than an apology from Israel that would ease relations between the two countries?
MR. GIBBS: That's a good question you should pose to the Israel government. I don't want to speak for either the Turkish or the Israeli government.
Q Could you tell me if the U.S. government will in some way get involved in talks between the two?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that.
Q Thank you. Robert, do you believe that Americans associate the Clinton era, the Clinton presidency with a time of more economic bounty or better economic opportunity for America? And aside from all the Chamber questions, et cetera, does the administration want to send a signal to Americans that you’re tapping President Clinton’s expertise, people like Jack Lew, in an effort to bring some of that back? Or do you think that that's --
MR. GIBBS: Was the economy better in 1997 than it is right now? Yes. Or in 1998 or in 1999? Yes. But we -- I don't have my little chart today.
MR. GIBBS: Right. But the depth of what -- not to minimize, the depth of what we faced in 1991 and 1992 wasn’t as deep, by a factor of probably two or three, than what we’re facing right now. That is to say that -- look, whether it’s Jack Lew, whether it’s Bill Clinton, whether it’s others, there are obviously those with a great amount of expertise in economics and in economic policy.
Our hope is to fuel economic growth and build the types of companies and plants and jobs that we’re going to highlight tomorrow. Obviously, at the end of that eight years, we know that there was a .com bubble that hurt our economy. What you’ve heard the President talk an awful lot about is creating a foundation for economic growth that does not depend on bubble-and-bust economies. That is going to take a long time to do. But I think tomorrow is a pretty good example of what the President hopes to see in the future.
Q Just to clarify quickly -- I know people don't like to hear bad news in an election year, but isn’t what you’re saying that even with some of the best experts from some of the plushest times in recent memory, just that alone can’t instantly bring things back, that no matter who’s in place, it’s going to be --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Margaret, I don't want leave anybody with the impression that we thought hiring a certain number of people would necessarily bring back the economy of -- look, obviously, you’re talking about somewhat different circumstances. You’re talking about fundamentally a different economy. This is not -- personnel alone does not determine -- ask the Cleveland Cavaliers if personnel alone -- ask anybody, there are -- every team except the Lakers put together a team to win the NBA title, and only one did.
So I don't want to leave anybody with the impression or the illusion that hiring a certain number of economic advisors with a certain number of ideas is, in and of itself, going to -- again, there were some real structural problems with the economy that we saw in the late fall in 2008 that we’re having to deal with -- problems, quite frankly, that built up over a number of years, not something that just happened over night. That hole is going to take a long time to fill in, and that's what we’re working through.
Q Robert, given some of the rhetoric in some of the votes on the Hill over the supplemental and also some of the discussions that he had on the sidelines of the G20 with the British PM and others, is the President getting concerned that patience with the Afghanistan policy is wearing thin either among allies or among even Democrats on the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, look, I think it’s important to understand that -- Richard, we’ve been there for almost 10 years. But let’s be honest and say that the resources that are there now have not been there for 10 years. Okay? This was not the central front in the war on terror. This was forgotten, even as commanders over there asked for more.
The President came in and approved 17,000 additional troops for election security; as a part of the review last fall, dedicated an additional number of troops. They're on pace to get into the country by the end of the summer -- just as, I might add, we are getting our combat troops out of Iraq. But the President believed that dedicating these new resources, a plan developed with the Pentagon and others in the Situation Room over the course of last fall and last winter, was the right strategy to pursue.
In December, there will be a White House-led review on where we are. We’ll evaluate -- at that point, we will have had a significant increase in those resources in the country, and we’ll have a chance to evaluate it.
But I have said and others have said throughout this process, we are not going to be in Afghanistan forever. We can’t. But I think the President believes and those in the Situation Room believe that this was the right strategy, finally married up with the right number of resources and the dedication of our brave men and women, and we’re giving that a chance to work.
Q Really, the question is, is given all that, is he concerned that allies on the Hill, allies overseas don't see things the same way, don't have the same degree of patience?
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think it is understandable that people are frustrated. We are in Afghanistan longer than we have ever been in any other place in a time of war. That creates frustration, and that's understandable. That's why the President decided that instead of perpetuating our frustration, we should dedicate the resources necessary. We have increased our contribution from NATO countries, and that has been important in our efforts. Again, we will evaluate where we are in December and make that evaluation.
Q Robert, at today’s meeting on retrofitting buildings with President Clinton and the business leaders, were there any labor union presidents there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe there were -- let me get the list of -- it’s in my stack here somewhere. Did I bring it out? No, the CEOs of Honeywell, Bank of America, the co-founder of Centerbridge Partners, the CEO of Hannon Armstrong, and the executive vice president of Ameresco, as well as Bill Clinton.
Q Well, at least the sheet metal workers union, the laborers union, among other unions are involved in -- and the workers who are doing these jobs. Wouldn’t it make sense to have them present talking about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President has -- and the economic team have a number of discussions, and I know they’ve spoken with -- as we have developed HOMESTAR, our program that's gone through the committee process, to increase our retrofitting for homes, and obviously, there’s a dedication to retrofitting in the Recovery Act that has included the advice of many.
Q Again, I watch the schedule every day. I see often meetings with -- the President having lunch with business leaders. You may not know now, but could you tell us the last time the President has sat down with a group of labor leaders, either in the Oval Office or over lunch -- labor leaders?
MR. GIBBS: We had -- I think he saw Andy Stern -- I can get the date -- and certainly either in January or February -- I forget when -- I think every major union was represented inside the Roosevelt Room.
Q Robert, last week, a federal court in Boston determined that (inaudible) the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Since the President has several times called the law discriminatory, is the President in support of that suit?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get -- I’ll point you to the Department of Justice on that.
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