Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/19/2010
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Take us away, Mr. Feller, please.
Q Thanks. Two topics. On unemployment, on the extension of the benefits, it looks like the Democrats will certainly have the 60 votes they need tomorrow to get past filibuster and move this into law. So with that being known, I’m trying to understand why the President did what he did today. What’s the point of calling out the Republicans if you know you’re going to have the votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, we’re obviously hopeful that we have the votes. Obviously, with the appointment of a senator -- a new senator from West Virginia, that’s certainly important. We have the support of Senator Collins and Senator Snowe from Maine. But I don't think you would take -- we certainly don't take anything for granted given the fact that this will be the fourth vote on extending unemployment benefits, when if you look, I think, at the past this has tended not to be a confrontational -- or controversial thing to do.
We have hundreds of thousands of Americans each week that exhaust whatever stage of their unemployment benefits they're in. For many of them -- and you heard the President tell some stories today -- these are people that are having to make decisions not just this month, but next month, on how to pay the bills and how to pay the mortgage. We don't take any of that for granted in trying to ensure that we have in place the type of emergency benefits that are necessary.
Q But does giving a statement like this in the Rose Garden, is it intended in any way to actually try to win one of the lawmakers’ support?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s to ensure I think that people are clear where the President is. We did this -- look, the President in June talked about this in the radio address. Again, we’ve tried on three occasions to get what I don't think, as I said, Ben, in the past has been that controversial. If you had 8.5 million people that had lost their jobs in the deepest recession that this country has faced since the Great Depression, extending unemployment benefits you would not normally think of would be something that would require a filibuster attempt. It certainly hasn’t in the past. And the President wants to make sure that tomorrow that, although in recent past you haven't needed 60 votes, that we have 60 there to clear it.
Q Well, I guess that's -- just to wrap up on this point -- I guess that’s my point, is that it seemed extremely clear what the President’s view is on this. He talked about it over the weekend, he’s talked about it in the past --
MR. GIBBS: It’s important to the President; it’s important to the 2.5 million Americans who have already seen their benefits disappear. That number would grow to 2.8 million by the end of the week. This obviously has to go -- understand this is not the end of the road. This piece of legislation, if the Senate passes it tomorrow, goes back to the House. We hope to get it back to the President’s desk as quickly as possible so that we don't see that number of 2.5 million Americans go to 2.8 million.
Q So you don't see this as the kind of political theater, the back-and-forth that the President was elected to stop?
MR. GIBBS: Ben, I would love to sit up here and tell you that when the vote first came to the floor of the Senate -- I don't have the date with me -- that something, again, that if you look back certainly as far as I can remember, has tended not to be controversial -- that it would have passed. I don't think -- I think if you would have stopped people in this town six weeks ago or two months ago or six months ago, and said, do you think it would take four different votes -- do you think it would take the expiration of 2.5 million Americans in their unemployment benefits to see this go through the Senate -- I hazard a guess that most people would not think that's a common-sense way of legislating economic policy.
Q Let me, again, a quick one, please, on BP. Can you give us an update on how -- from the White House perspective, how the cap is working? Is containment still the way to go here, and are you concerned about these reports of seeps or leaks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, as you hear Carol Browner and you heard Thad Allen yesterday, there are certainly a couple of -- well, three different areas that we continue to closely monitor. There is seepage about three kilometers away from the wellhead. There are bubbles that are visible on the underwater camera, which we continue to monitor. And there are some leaks from the upper part of the wellhead where the shear ram has closed. Those all bear special monitoring. There’s a NOAA ship in the area that has also detected some anomalies that we want continued monitoring on.
Obviously, we asked for additional testing, as you well know, last week because when you cap this well, you want to continue to take those pressure readings to see if you are -- obviously, the pressure is going to rise, and then that pressure should be, if the well is completely secure, sustained.
If the well -- if the pressure gets only to a certain point and then begins to drop, the concern is that somewhere in that wellbore, there’s a ruptured disc or there’s some structural damage that would lead to seepage out through the strata and then ultimately up into the Gulf of Mexico through rocks and such on the floor of the Gulf. That's what we’re closely monitoring.
We had some concerns, I think as you heard, over the past 24 hours about commitments that BP had made that we did not feel that they were adequately living up to in terms of that monitoring. That was dealt with last night on a call that lasted late into the evening where we believe that we’re getting the type of overall monitoring, particularly the seismic and the monitoring with the remotely operated vehicle, so that we can look at each of these different steps.
The original intention of this test was, engaging that pressure you could make a few different determinations, first and foremost, in bad weather, which we’ve seen more of earlier than we have in recent memory. Could you temporarily cap the well? Would the pressure sustain itself to temporarily cap the well in the event that boats had to be moved out for a hurricane? To what degree is the structure and the integrity of the well -- how can that -- can that sustain either assisting with a kill operation as it relates to the relief well, or can you try a separate kill operation using this cap and this blowout preventer?
That monitoring continues. And we will continue that each day. About 1:00 p.m., there is a conference call with the scientists -- I don't know if it’s still going on -- where they will determine whether or not, based on the pressure readings that they're seeing, are we okay to move to an additional 24 hours of testing -- again, to make these determinations -- all the while monitoring to ensure, as I said last week, that we do not do any harm to the well itself.
Q Is it frustrating to the President that after all this time, the government still has to get on BP to uphold its word?
MR. GIBBS: Sure, sure. But that's the role that we have to play -- to ensure that when the federal on-scene coordinator and our national incident commander make decisions that authorize BP to do different things, that the conditions at which that authorization is given are met.
We’ll continue to do that and monitor that. Secretary Chu is closely monitoring the situation, along with the other members of the science team, in order to make sure that we have the best available information as soon as possible.
We do know that in the event that there is something wrong with the pressurization, we do have a containment apparatus and architecture in place -- albeit it would take some time to get those boats moved back and everything hooked up. The good news is we have a containment architecture that we believe is likely to contain all of what could come out of that well.
Q When the President meets with the Prime Minister tomorrow will he bring up the case of the Lockerbie bomber and questions about BP’s role in it?
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this: Our viewpoint on this case last year was well known, and that was we opposed the release of the Lockerbie bomber. We made that opinion known. I think the government that will visit from -- Prime Minister Cameron’s government also opposed that release. I anticipate that in some form, yes, this will probably come up tomorrow.
Q And should there be an investigation into what happened?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- look, I think in many ways that will be up to the British government to determine. I know that whatever -- I do not know the role that BP played. It certainly -- we were unaware of any role that they played in rendering an opinion. If they did, we certainly didn't agree with the opinion that he should be released, and that's what we enunciated to the government.
Q And separately, the Treasury Department’s watchdog group says the administration may have acted hastily in demanding that GM and Chrysler speed up the closing of dealerships. Do you agree with this conclusion?
MR. GIBBS: Steve, I don't think it’s -- I think it’s important to look at the decision to put into bankruptcy and restructure both Chrysler and GM, because I think it is safe to say without that decision that the President and the auto team made, it is likely that neither of those two auto companies would exist today. And I think if you listen to the CEO of Ford, it’s not likely that that auto company would exist today either -- because you have auto dealerships that sell the cars that are produced by auto manufacturers; auto manufacturers build cars that are supplied by auto part suppliers. If an auto part supplier is building steering wheels for three different companies and two of them disappear, it’s not likely that even -- that where we were economically, that that third company could in any way make up for the market share decline of the two that were lost, and it’s likely that that auto part supplier, in and of itself, would likely have disappeared.
So because of the President’s action today, there are tens of thousands of auto jobs, auto manufacturing jobs that exist, auto dealership jobs that exist, and auto parts manufacturing jobs that exist.
I will point out that since 2007, since mid-2007, the decline in auto dealership employment is about half the decline in auto manufacturing employment. So what has taken a greater hit in that supply structure are the manufacturers and the parts suppliers.
Q Robert, I want to follow up on Prime Minister Cameron coming, because obviously one of the topics they’ll discuss, I would assume, a lot would be Afghanistan. On the eve of the visit you have this cover story in Newsweek by Richard Haass who’s got real credentials on national security and as President of Council on Foreign Relations, and saying basically in the piece that the U.S. is not winning in Afghanistan and it’s not worth the fight anymore. How does the President convince the American people it’s still worth fighting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, as you know, on September 11, 2001, the attacks on our homeland originated from that area. We know the extremist elements that exist. We know what their intentions are as it relates to the Afghan government. And we know the potential for the creation of a terrorist safe haven if their intentions to the Afghan government were to come true. I think the President has on a number of occasions laid out why what he’s doing in Afghanistan is in our national security interests.
We will continue to make that case tomorrow. Obviously we have in both this administration and in the previous administration had the help of the British government. I think both they and we have said we will not be there forever; we have to stand up an Afghan national security force, an army and a police. We have to improve governance, a lot of which will be discussed this week at the Kabul conference, which builds off of a whole host of events around making sure that we sustain our progress in Afghanistan.
Q So when the Vice President, though, on ABC suggests that next summer troops are coming out, essentially regardless of the conditions on the ground, doesn’t that send a signal the U.S. may not be in it for the long haul?
MR. GIBBS: No, it sends the signal that those that are involved in getting the Afghan national security forces trained, that those that are involved in ensuring that we have the type of governance that is necessary to sustain areas that are cleared have to get on with it.
No one should doubt this President’s resolve in Afghanistan. And if you have any doubt, simply look at the resources that were allocated to this battle prior to him coming here and the decisions -- the real, tough decisions that he’s had to make to add forces into what he believes is the central front in the war on terror.
Q Does he believe we now are winning in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I think he would tell you that we are in a better -- in better shape than we were, that we have -- and we are constantly evaluating the resources that we've added. As you know, there will be a White House-led review in December on where we are on the strategy. I don't think anybody in this building or anybody in the Pentagon or anybody in this town that is aware of the decisions that we've had to make, that anybody that thought this was going to be quick, anybody that thought this wasn’t going to be a tough slog each and every bit of the way -- and I think it’s proved to be that.
Q You mentioned 9/11 earlier obviously in this context. The Washington Post has a series suggesting that the intelligence community has grown exponentially since 9/11. I know a lot of that happened before this administration, but obviously now you’ve been on the job for a year and a half. And in the time of deficits now, what is the administration doing to ensure that this money is being spent wisely?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, we owe a debt of gratitude to everybody in the intelligence community. They work day and night to keep our country safe. Obviously after September 11th, and with the advent of wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you're going to have an increase in the capability that's required to fight that. That is not to say that anybody in this country, and I don't think anybody in the intelligence community, would have bet excessive waste. We have to balance the necessity of the resources needed to fight our adversaries and, at the same time, balancing that against waste.
Look, in some ways, you want -- the 9/11 Commission spoke fairly effectively to this -- you want some redundancy built into that system. The President talked about contracting during the campaign; in March of 2009, issued a memorandum giving guidance on how to manage non-competitive contracts; expanded that in January of this year, issuing a memorandum to agencies detailing that contracts should not be given to companies delinquent in paying their taxes.
I would point out that in the first two quarters of fiscal year 2010, the percentage of dollars awarded in new contracts without competition dropped by 10 percent compared to the same period in fiscal year 2009. So obviously this is something that all of us have to continue to monitor the capabilities necessary with ensuring that no taxpayer dollars are wasted.
Q The President said Republican leaders in the Senate were advancing the misguided notion that the unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for a job, but the Republican leaders from Mitch McConnell on down have said that they are in favor of extending unemployment benefits but that they want the cost of that extension to be paid for with cuts to other programs. What’s wrong with that?
MR. GIBBS: In a time of great economic emergency, as we have seen in the past, it’s necessary that we get the benefits that millions of Americans deserve that are out of work. We can't -- you heard the stories today of people that are going to have to figure out how to pay their mortgage in August when their benefits expire.
Now, I don't think that individual or any individual wants to watch while Washington does its normal back-and-forth, right? I don't -- I think you could look at the voting records of every one of those that just made the same statement that you read to me that in the past have done directly the opposite.
We are in an economic emergency that we have not seen since the late 1920s and the early 1930s. We ought not be playing politics with the unemployment benefits of those that have lost their jobs and are in an economy where there are five job applicants for every opening.
Q But couldn’t Democrats have solved this instantly by simply saying, we're going to extend unemployment benefits and we’re going to pay for it with offsetting cuts?
MR. GIBBS: We could have done this -- we could have done this if the people that were playing games in 2010, despite their voting records in years past, decided not to play political games.
Jonathan, the people in America that have lost their jobs are tired of the back-and-forth where people say one thing one day and do something totally different today. We have voted three times -- and tomorrow we will vote a fourth -- to simply extend the benefits for those that are unemployed for a long term, simply to extend them a few more weeks. That's what the American people deserve.
Q But “pay as you go” is the very principle the President has put forward himself. They're saying that now because of big deficits we need to pay our way.
MR. GIBBS: And I think this President has backed up that rhetoric by introducing a three-year ban -- or a three-year freeze on non-security spending. But there are certain things that are and always have been considered emergency spending, and extending unemployment benefits to those who have lost their jobs in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression certainly qualifies for that.
Q And let me just ask you one other thing on this. The so called “99ers,” people who have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more, their benefits are not going to be extended under this. Is the President aware of their plight? And does the President favor doing something to help them out?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously, we are aware of and concerned about. I think, first and foremost, Jonathan, we’ve got to figure out how to get those that are currently unemployed to a position where they can even get close to being covered for that long. I think it is safe to assume that based on the games are going up on Capitol Hill, we are not at this point going to see an increase in extending those 99 weeks. And our focus right now is getting those individuals to that level.
Right now if you’re now on -- you could be somebody who is in the 25th of their 26 weeks of state unemployment who finds themselves about to be left hung out to dry by the political games in this town. So our focus is on extending what we currently have.
Q So you say that we ought not to be playing politics, and yet it seems that the President himself was suggesting that the Republicans were playing politics. He said, it was time to look past the election out there this morning. And yet when everybody knows this is going to pass tomorrow, how can you say that the President is not indulging in a little politics?
MR. GIBBS: Because, Bill, if I would have stopped you six months ago or six weeks ago, as I said earlier, and said, do you think it will take four chances to simply pass the type of unemployment extensions that you’ve covered in this town for decades, I doubt you would have said, yes. But, surprisingly to everyone in this town, political games have come even to extending unemployment benefits to those that through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed in this economy.
The President will ensure that when the Senate votes that we have 60 votes and, as I said, when this bill goes back to the House, that the votes are there to extend employment, Bill.
Q But it’s not political to talk about it for the last four days knowing that you’re going to get it anyway?
MR. GIBBS: Let me tell you, if there’s anything that's truly knowable in this town, it is that nothing is truly knowable. I will be happy to put the President out each and every day to talk about the fights that he’s going to wage on behalf of those in this economy.
Q Well, bring him out. We’d love to --
MR. GIBBS: I think you saw him today.
Q Yes, do you have any problem with what the Post published? Did it, in your view, compromise national security at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not going to get into some of the discussions that we had. Obviously, there were some concerns, and I think the Post covered that there were some concerns about certain data and the availability of some of that data. Again, we are in a balancing act, as one should be, in ensuring that we have both the best capabilities in the world, but we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars.
Q Did you ask them not to publish certain things?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the discussions that we had with them over some of the concerns that we had.
Q I want to go on to BP here. Today, for the first time in what's felt like weeks for our folks down there, BP didn't do a technical briefing -- a couple of technical briefings. Are you guys going to encourage them that they come back and brief the public again? Because it does seems that --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I would --
Q -- whatever happened last night, suddenly spooked them from giving a briefing to the public.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I have -- and I would encourage BP at every step of this to brief you and to brief the public on the steps that are being taken, the steps that have been taken, and the steps that they're looking to take in the future.
Look, from the very beginning of this, we encouraged greater transparency. We encouraged that footage be made available of the camera at the spill site, and have believed at every turn that more information is certainly better. I hope that, for whatever reason BP decided not to brief today, that they come to the conclusion that the American people are owed information on this and rightly answer those questions.
What we will do, Chuck, though, is to ensure that if there are conditions with which the federal on-scene coordinator and the national incident commander authorize BP to take certain actions, we will make sure that those are met, that they're living up to what they have agreed to do in terms -- and I think this is clear -- in terms of the monitoring that’s necessary, either at that well site or within a few kilometers, to ensure that all the steps that we are taking now are done so not to do any harm with what we know is a very fragile environment.
Q Would the government hesitate in ordering BP to basically unseal this cap right now if they believe it’s doing damage to the sea floor?
MR. GIBBS: If we thought that it was --
Q -- if you believed it’s causing this leak?
MR. GIBBS: If we thought that the pressurization test itself potentially did damage to the sea floor, obviously, we would stop that immediately. That's why there are calls that happen several times a day, but each day at 1:00 p.m., on whether or not this test should be extended.
Look, I think we are gaining valuable information in determining the structure of the well and our ability to -- even if we had to go back to a strictly containment architecture -- that we had the capability in the event that there was either a large tropical storm, or -- God forbid -- a hurricane in the Gulf, that we would have the ability to for a short period of time, a number of days, cap that well. And I think we’re learning some of that valuable information.
Q Do you guys -- are you confident that BP is going about this with an open mind? Or are they're trying to look for any reason why not to uncap this well at this point because of the monetary costs?
MR. GIBBS: I can say this, Chuck -- I can say this. We will ensure that at every step of this, that they are taking the steps that our scientific team believes is necessary to ensure the safety of the area, to ensure the safety of the well and the wellbore, and that no extra harm is done in what we already understand is a catastrophic situation.
Q Can you share with us, is Secretary Chu -- I know is sort of the leader on the scientific team -- is it his belief that this leak, this methane leak is related to the capping of the well?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's what we’re trying to figure out. I will -- I was not a physics major in college and if you spend about an hour --
Q Last week we were discussing economics --
MR. GIBBS: Well, which -- at least that’s a social science. I was in a meeting with him once for about an hour and a half, and I felt as if I should have been at least given a minor in physics.
Look, they’re monitoring the pressure and we have -- we are still continuing to monitor that pressure and are not -- want to continue doing so because what some have been -- what some assumed would happen on paper we’re trying to make sure matches up with the pressure readings that are being taken at the site now, in order to fully understand, again, the condition of the wellbore, both of the structure, maybe of the reservoir, a whole host of different scenarios. That’s why, again, they were on the phone very, very late last night going through and continue to go through detailed monitoring.
Q Quickly on unemployment, is there a line, once we drop below 9 percent the administration is not going to push for extending unemployment? When do you stop extending unemployment benefits? I mean, where’s that line?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. I know that historically I think 9 percent would be considered, rightly so, unemployment that -- an unemployment rate that we were not comfortable with. I will say, as a result of --
Q So if it drops below --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm not even sure you’d be comfortable at 8.8. Certainly, historically, you certainly wouldn’t, and it’s understandable why.
I think what you see as a result of this recession, again, you see people that are out of work longer and you see that the recession affects not just, say, lower-skilled manufacturing jobs as you might have been in previous recessions, but you see the impact across the economic spectrum, those that have a college education, which, in many ways, you would normally think would ensure that in a recession you would not likely to be seen as somebody who is unemployed for a long period of time. We see more and more of that happening now, this time.
Q Do you anticipate in three months you’re going to be asking for another extension?
MR. GIBBS: If the unemployment rate stays where I think we all expect it to, it is -- it may be we may need to extend those benefits, yes.
Q Only two questions that I know -- I think you will enjoy answering.
MR. GIBBS: That’s awfully optimistic of you, Lester.
Q You’ll come back to me?
MR. GIBBS: I may, yes. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, if the President pushed for the reinstatement of “pay as you go,” what point was it if he is going to allow or go along with exemptions or exceptions for something like unemployment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, emergency spending has been exempted from “pay as you go.”
Q But it’s spending. It goes on the deficit and in the debt.
MR. GIBBS: I understand.
Q And he talks about --
MR. GIBBS: But that’s why -- look, we passed a recovery plan. And you pass emergency spending much like a family sitting around a kitchen table. You make an investment in a college education not because you may have four years of tuition sitting in your savings account, but because you understand that it’s a better investment for the next day.
Or if you came home and you had a leak in your roof, but you didn’t have the money to pay for it and the only thing you could do was borrow the money, Mark, would you argue at the kitchen table that we ought to just -- everybody ought to just get wet until we can scrape together the money to pay for it, or should we deal with the emergency as it exists so that everybody doesn’t get rained on? I think that might be a good lesson for Washington, that we all don’t just get rained on as 8.5 million people are out of work.
Q Could you apply PAYGO to unemployment benefits as quickly as not? Or are you saying it would take much longer?
MR. GIBBS: Again, extending unemployment benefits in a recession has I think in virtually every instance been considered, rightly so, emergency spending.
Q A follow-up again. Last month, when the issue came up in the Senate, the Republicans pointed to $50 billion in un-obligated stimulus money to pay for it, but Senator Reid objected. What would be wrong with taking that un-obligated money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it may be un-obligated as yet, but it is -- Roger, there is not $50 billion in the stimulus that isn’t programmed to go somewhere in order to dig us out of the enormous economic hole that we found ourselves in as a result of a recession started in December of 2007, and, as I have said here today, is the greatest economic recession that our country has faced since the Great Depression.
The Recovery Act was intended to spur economic growth, invest in the industries that we know can create jobs and create the jobs of tomorrow. And it would be enormously short-sighted to take money from that type of job creation to cover this now. It’s just a game that Washington likes to play.
Q Let me shift to another topic here. For the Obama-Cameron meeting tomorrow, there are a lot of topics that are going to be coming up. What is uppermost on the President’s mind that he wants to speak with Mr. Cameron about? Is it Afghanistan, or is it deficits, or --
MR. GIBBS: I think that on the list tomorrow will be Afghanistan certainly, no doubt our global economic recovery, the Middle East. All of those topics I think will be something that these two leaders spoke about in Canada just a few weeks ago and will likely continue those conversations. I would say Afghanistan is probably first and foremost on that list.
Q And the UK says they want to be -- have their troops out of Afghanistan by 2015. Will the President try to dissuade them from naming any date or something?
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, it is hard to look that far into the future. Obviously, the President has committed to July of 2011 as the date of our transition and begin to, based on -- judging that rate based on the conditions on the ground, to begin removing some of the troops that the President added as a part of our increased resources there over the past couple of years.
Q And one last thing. On Lockerbie, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants the UK to conduct an investigation. Is the President going to raise that in support --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get ahead of what the President and the Prime Minister might talk about. Obviously, I think this issue will come up. And, again, I would reiterate that it was our strong belief then and it continues to be our strong belief now that the Lockerbie bomber should not have been released.
Q Does he think BP played a role in this?
MR. GIBBS: We know of no information inside this building that somebody got as a result of an effort by them to weigh in. It wouldn't have made a difference anyway given where we ended up on the issue.
Q Will they do a press conference or just an Oval Office?
MR. GIBBS: I believe -- I think because of the heat we’re in the East Room for two and two.
Q One on Afghanistan?
Q Following up on Bill’s question, Robert, do you believe the extensive coverage in the Post today enhanced or undermined the public’s awareness of national security and intelligence operations since 9/11?
MR. GIBBS: Look, it’s not for me to judge the news coverage of --
Q But if you could, though --
MR. GIBBS: Sure --
Q -- for you and for the public as it tries to understand what’s happened and how effectively it’s happening.
MR. GIBBS: And I think that again, we owe a great debt of gratitude to those in the intelligence committee, as I said -- intelligence community -- that work extremely long hours, that we rarely, if ever, see their good work, but it keeps us safe day and night.
It’s not, Major, for me to get up here and discuss my viewpoints on that except to say that, as I said earlier, I think it is important that we have the capabilities that are necessary, while ensuring, as the President has on contracting reform, that we take the necessary steps to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted.
Q Did anything published today undercut those priorities or those efforts?
MR. GIBBS: I think I gave that answer earlier.
Q I just want to make sure I understood what you were saying to Chuck about unemployment. You -- the team essentially assumes right now -- things could change -- that unemployment is likely to be at 9 percent or higher by the end of this year?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I think Chuck -- correct me if I'm wrong -- I think 9 percent was a number --
Q I threw that out to you -- I said, is 9 percent the line with which you guys would stop asking for extensions?
Q You said, it might be the line where we would stop, and then --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. First of all, I think Chuck largely picked a line. I don’t know that 9 was, based on what Chuck’s economic analysis denotes that --
Q -- the arbiter here.
MR. GIBBS: Right. So all I said was that I think by any fair estimation, I doubt either 9 or 8.9 would be considered something where you would decide not to continue to extend unemployment.
I will say this, Major. First and foremost, we're focused on the vote tomorrow in the Senate and then ultimately this going back to the House to ensure that we have the votes necessary to get that extension to the President’s desk.
Q And it is still an open question whether at the end of this year, at the end of November 30th, when these, if you get them, are due to expire, if you get them again?
MR. GIBBS: It’s certainly an open question, but again, I think it is fair and safe to assume that we are not going to wake up at the end of November and find ourselves at a rate of employment that one would consider not to be still an emergency.
Q And just to follow up on Jonathan’s question, to Republicans who argue, yes, historically we have paid for these through deficit spending but we've never before had $13 trillion in the debt, we've never had a fiscal year situation except for last year where nine months into the fiscal year we're already at a deficit of $1 trillion -- conditions have changed and they require a different look and a different approach -- to that you would say what?
MR. GIBBS: I would say that I doubt that they would make that argument -- I doubt they’d make that same argument if a Republican was in this White House, which --
Q So it’s purely political?
MR. GIBBS: Given their history on this, given their votes on this, given their rhetoric on this, yes.
Q Coming at this from another direction, you described the unemployment situation as an emergency. Most economists don't think we're going to come rebounding out of this recession very quickly. Is there a point at which this relatively high level of unemployment becomes more of a chronic condition and therefore does in fact have to be paid for out of a regular budgeting process?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that number has been derived by the economic team, or that date has. I think it is -- I think you are correct to assume that -- and I don't have my -- I should just bring my handy graph and load it every day -- that given the depth of our economic downturn, that it’s going to take some time to turn that around. And, look, there are different benefit ranges for different states. High-unemployment states have a different benefit structure and award than lower-unemployment states do. So, obviously, it varies somewhat. But I don't know if the economic team has derived the number it would take.
Q Could they envision a time coming where they do, in fact, start --
MR. GIBBS: If they -- I don't know the answer to that.
Q Robert, quickly, on the Vice President’s comments on Afghanistan over the weekend. Talking about the withdrawal next summer, he said that it could be as a few as a couple thousand. That doesn’t sound like very much. Like 2 percent of the force. I mean, that would be like a token withdrawal at that point. Is that really a deadline if you're going to pull out as few as 2,000?
MR. GIBBS: Again, what we've said is that marks a period of transition that will -- that conditions on the ground will determine the slope of that withdrawal.
Q But if the slope is that shallow, does that even count as a withdrawal?
MR. GIBBS: I would say this, Mark. Getting into hypotheticals almost a year away from now -- I will say this. I think that we are on the verge of marking a considerable drawdown in Iraq that, if I recall correctly, a year before that, many said wasn’t going to happen either, and certainly two years before that, said that that wasn’t likely to happen as well. It has because of the hard work to build up the Iraqi security forces and to sustain that involvement.
Again, the President I think has been very clear about what July 2011 means and what it starts.
Q Follow on Afghanistan.
MR. GIBBS: Mara.
Q Just to clarify that. So there’s going to be a withdrawal no matter what, but the pace of the withdrawal is conditions-based -- is that what you’re saying?
MR. GIBBS: Again -- that’s not just what I said; that is what the President said in December at West Point.
Q Because when he said that -- you just said he’s pretty clear about what July 2011 means.
MR. GIBBS: It means we begin the transition out of Afghanistan.
Again, let me be -- I want to be clear, just so -- I think if you go back and read the President’s speech of December 9th or 10th or 11th at West Point, I think --
Q December 1st.
MR. GIBBS: December 1st?
Q Thank you, Mark.
MR. GIBBS: I was -- did you just make that up or is that right? (Laughter.)
Q Are you sure about that?
MR. GIBBS: Last week you slipped a little bit and I didn’t know if you were the -- sports bureau for press room briefings.
Q But the question that was raised earlier about whether -- the fact that there’s going to be a withdrawal even though it will be conditions-based is an incentive for, as you said, the Afghan security forces to get on with it --
MR. GIBBS: Well, not just the security forces --
Q -- or whether it’s an incentive for people to hunker down and not align with us because they’re afraid the Taliban might take over if we leave. You think that this formula fixes that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have -- if the question I got earlier -- which was, based on the conditions on the ground, are we making any progress -- it doesn’t appear as if this mysterious “everybody hunker down, be real quiet because if we do, then, shh, they’ll leave” doesn’t --
Q No, no, that’s not what I'm saying. I'm talking about people who are trying to decide, should I align myself with the Americans and may be at risk to my family later if they leave, or should I just hedge my bets --
MR. GIBBS: Again, that’s why the -- that’s why we’re taking the actions we are in Marja and Kandahar and throughout the country to make the environment safer. Look, if a bunch of people want to hide, that’s great. Then you go figure out what they’ve left and you go control it.
Q I'm not talking about the Taliban hiding, I'm talking about ordinary Afghans. But that satisfies me.
I just have a question about the unemployment benefits. I think they’re worth $35 billion, is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s right.
Q I'm wondering if it’s -- and I understand what you’re saying, in the past it’s always been understood that in this kind of a recession it’s okay to add to the deficit for something like unemployment insurance. But if you can’t find $35 billion, how can the American people be confident that when it comes time to really solving the deficit and debt problem you’ll be able to find what you need?
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the sort of game we’re playing here. First and foremost, I think it’s important to understand that if you don’t have a job and we give you unemployment benefits, it’s not as if you’re investing that in your mutual fund, okay? That’s money that goes back into the economy. So there are distinct economic benefits to ensuring that those that have lost their jobs have the benefits that they need.
The President has identified a whole host of measures -- a non-security spending freeze for three years, programs that, OMB having gone through the budget, can and should be eliminated. But, again, Mara, I think it is important to understand that we are in a time of economic emergency. That economic emergency, as I -- the example I used with Mark -- maybe we should just wait to patch the roof, even though it rains.
Q Are you talking about patching the roof with borrowed money or cash? That’s all. We’re not questioning whether you should patch the roof. It’s just how are you going to pay for it -- with a credit card or with cash?
MR. GIBBS: In my house, we’re going to borrow the money so we don’t get wet tonight.
Q You’re saying there’s no alternative to borrowing?
MR. GIBBS: I think that given the economic emergency that we’re in, why we are rewriting the rules -- I appreciate the great concern of all of those on Capitol Hill who have found in a different political administration a difference of views that is not backed up by either their rhetoric or their votes for years and years and years. I think that is the type of games that the American people have come simply to expect from this town but, in times of great economic emergency, would hope that this town would put aside in order on the fourth time to extend unemployment benefits to those that have lost their job.
Q But do you think it’s possible that even people on Capitol Hill who are being hypocritical have the support of the public in this because the public has this --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t.
Q -- has this feeling about the deficit?
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is not to minimize people’s feeling about the deficit. But, again, I don’t know when the last time NPR polled on this, but my sense is that most people support extending unemployment benefits. There are a few people on Capitol Hill that don’t. But, again, I think after a series of votes this week and landing on the side of those that need help, the President and Congress will deliver extended benefits.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second.
Q Yes, Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on a second.
Q Robert, when? When?
MR. GIBBS: Soon, maybe.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Stephen.
Q BP is obviously a very politically sensitive issue for both the U.S. government and the U.K. government right now. Is there any concern in the White House that those political pressures on both the leaders tomorrow will sort of hamper their ability to sort of forge a strong personal relationship?
MR. GIBBS: Stephen, I certainly don’t believe so. I think that if you look at the comments I think by either of these two leaders -- look, I think Prime Minister Cameron said things when there were -- when some in Great Britain were concerned about, for instance, the holdings and the pension that he said he expected, as President Obama expects, that BP will meet its responsibilities and its obligations for the damage that it has done. I think there is agreement on both sides on that issue.
I don’t think it will hamper any of our discussions. We are -- the President is certainly looking for BP to live up to its monetary obligations to pay the damages and the fines that it will be assessed as a result of this disaster. And I think that’s what the Prime Minister said as well.
Q Robert, two questions. Some House Democrats are still very miffed at some things that you said recently and they want to know -- they want answers from you. And has Nancy Pelosi talked to you as of yet, or anyone in the House leadership?
MR. GIBBS: No, and I think we tilled this ground pretty well last week.
Q No, but -- they clearly -- the people I talked to this week, House leaders said that they want answers from this President as to why you would say something like that, and to put something out there --
MR. GIBBS: April, I would refer you to any of the four transcripts from these august briefings just last week.
Q Wait a minute, hold on. Also, and Joe Biden -- Vice President Joe Biden. Why did -- why is it that the President or the Vice President, why don’t they consider racist the activities in the Tea Party?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would refer you to what the Vice President said. I am not going to add to it and I’m not going to broadly brush the activities of some for the activities of all.
Q But race is being played in this political game. I mean, it’s being pushed forward and you’re not considering this racist.
MR. GIBBS: I’m not getting into that.
Q The President has said that capping carbon emissions is critical to achieving his goals environmentally, on energy, and on the economy. Does he feel strongly enough about that, that he’s committed to using his executive authority to the EPA if Congress will not cap carbon emissions, which is now very much in doubt?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some updated guidance. I will say obviously that this entire debate, John, is based on -- not on some grander policy design, but because a group of states sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the court said that the issue needed to be dealt with.
The question the President has asked and believes, rightly so, is that whether or not we’re going to do that indiscriminately or whether or not we can get everybody at the table and come up with some genuine common-sense ideas that create a path towards energy independence, that improve our national security so we can -- we stop exporting hundreds of millions of dollars a day overseas, and to create a market for the very jobs that the President both highlighted last week in Michigan and that we have seen created as a result of some of the investments in the Recovery Act.
Q But does he think the use of the regulatory authority is better than nothing if Congress can’t pass it?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we -- our great hope is still that Congress won’t find itself in that situation, but instead will do what is necessary to meet the obligations of the court suit and do so in a way that gives everybody input on that decision.
3:08 P.M. EDT
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