Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/22/2010
See below for an answer to a question(marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
* The largest components of the legislation that the President signed on November 6, 2009, the "Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009," were the extension of the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit through April 30, 2010, a $6,500 credit to certain other homebuyers through April 30, 2010 and a provision expanding net operating losses for business taxes. The bill also added 20 weeks of unemployment insurance. The unemployment insurance provision was 10 percent of the gross cost of the bill as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office ($2.4 billion out of $23.9 billion).
1:56 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. A few questions following up on Shirley Sherrod. Just a point of order, in the statement --
MR. GIBBS: Point of order?
Q Point of order.
MR. GIBBS: Okay. (Laughter.) Is there a parliamentarian for Ben’s point of order?
Q I cede my time to the gentleman from the Associated Press. (Laughter.)
Q The statement says --
MR. GIBBS: If there are no objections -- go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q Thank you. The President expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret. Is it accurate to say that he apologized, personally apologized?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes.
Q Okay. Thank you, the point of order.
MR. GIBBS: Reclaiming your time?
Q Reclaiming the time. Did he lobby for her to take her job back --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q -- or to take the new job?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, that was not what the call was about and not what happened on the call. Obviously the President said, as the readout discusses, that she has a unique set of experiences and a unique opportunity to continue using those experiences to help people. That’s what he said to her. And obviously a decision about what she’s going to do is up to her, and I think she is supposed to talk with the Department of Agriculture at some point today.
Q She did accept his apology?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Maybe I missed this, but why couldn’t she just have her old job back?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to USDA in terms of -- they’re handling the jobs discussions with Ms. Sherrod. I would say that -- I think what Secretary Vilsack offered was something that allows her to, again, as the President said, use some unique experiences to help root out what we know is long -- a department that has struggled with discrimination.
Q Did the President invite Ms. Sherrod --
MR. GIBBS: I would just say that she’s a -- as April pointed out yesterday -- she’s a plaintiff in the Pigford discrimination case.
Q Did the President invite her to the White House?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Is it clear why the President was unable to reach her yesterday? Apparently he tried and -- she’s been all over TV -- why wasn’t she reachable?
MR. GIBBS: It may have been because she was all over TV.
The White House operator tried on at least two occasions last night and was both unable to reach her and unable to leave a voicemail.
Q And last point on that. Is the White House comfortable with the fact that she has been on a lot of television shows?
MR. GIBBS: She’s free to do and say what every other person in the country is free to do and say.
Q I’d like to ask about energy. Senator Kerry said it could be very tough to get the energy bill passed, and there’s been talk that it could be scaled down and become more of a referendum on offshore drilling. I was wondering what response you had to that, and also any comment on what chances do you think there is of getting the bill done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say I think that Senator Reid is -- and Carol Browner and other members of the administration are on the Hill now with Democratic senators to discuss how best to move forward on energy legislation. The President is committed to moving comprehensive energy legislation, understanding, though, that in the environment that we live -- everything takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, which means there have to be -- there has to be bipartisan support and bipartisan cooperation for moving forward and getting something done.
I do know there’s discussions about ensuring that increasing oil spill liability is part of legislation and dealing with some of the problems that have been presented as a result of the BP oil spill. And I think those will certainly be in whatever legislation is taken up.
Q Okay, speaking of BP, what are you hearing today in terms of what’s happening with the prospect of the tropical storm, evacuations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Admiral Allen is going to brief a little bit later on today, and he’ll have more on this, but tropical depression warnings have gone out for the Bahamas and parts of South Florida, as the -- and the President received a briefing, as you all got the readout, in the Situation Room yesterday both about where we are on the cap and that process, as well as the trajectory of the storm potentially leading across Florida and into the Gulf.
The protocols, Admiral Allen sent a letter to BP a day or so ago asking them for their timeline on removing equipment in the Gulf in the event that a storm heads in that area. Right now we have a trajectory that would put it -- put this storm, the intensity with which we obviously don’t yet know, into the Gulf. The protocols that have generally been established by Admiral Allen are if you believe that what are considered gale force winds, so winds in excess of 39 miles an hour, are likely at the site, that preparations should begin 120 hours prior to that event in terms of moving that equipment out of the area.
Obviously the equipment is owned by different companies. So Transocean and BP and others all will make individual decisions as companies about when they would move equipment. I think there’s no doubt that this storm has intensified and decisions will be made probably likely later this afternoon on moving some of that equipment out of there. For instance, the DD3, which is the rig drilling the relief well that is closest to the active well right now, about five feet away from it, is -- that and the Q4000, which was the boat burning the oil recovered through the original cap -- those decisions I’m told will be made about 8:00 tonight about whether or not to move those assets.
Later this afternoon, I think they will have a decision, and I would tune in to Admiral Allen’s briefing for more information on this.
About what we do with the sealing cap during a hurricane. During the briefing yesterday, Secretary Chu and members of the scientific team that have been working on the monitoring, the seismic -- reading the seismic material on the testing, have been encouraged by what they have seen; believe that, as of yesterday, that the well was stable. So he is encouraged by what he’s seen in the testing that has been conducted using the sealing cap.
I think a final decision, again, if the area is evacuated, whether to keep that sealing cap on, is a decision that will be made over the course of the next several hours.
Q Okay, thanks.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Secretary Gates today announced that the Obama administration was lifting a more than decade-long ban on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia’s special forces unit. Human rights groups are outraged by this because the special forces unit has been accused of all sorts of serious crimes. Can you explain why this decision was made?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything on this, Jake. I’d point you over to the Pentagon on that.
Q Can I ask you a question about Ms. Sherrod? Has the President seen the full 45-minute video or at least parts --
MR. GIBBS: He mentioned during the call that he had read the transcript of her interview.
Q The full transcript?
MR. GIBBS: The full transcript of -- I’m sorry, not of her interview, but of her speech.
Q And what did he think? What was his personal reaction to her story?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t remember exactly what he said on the call, but I think they talked about how -- look, we all have -- I think he talked about and -- talked about experiences that he had had and written about in his book that in some ways were similar to the experiences that she has written and talked about as part of that speech.
Q Can you elaborate a little?
MR. GIBBS: That’s literally all that was said about that.
Q Overcoming his own biases and his own --
MR. GIBBS: He didn’t -- he just talked about what he’d written in his book. They didn’t -- he didn’t get deeply into that part.
Q Could you just elaborate a little bit on his personal reaction to either reading the transcript of her fuller speech or to the call itself, to actually talking to this woman?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, he thought she was -- look, obviously she’s got a remarkable story. He expressed his apologies for the events of the last several days. Obviously, again, this is a woman who has a unique set of experiences, both before this incident and now.
Q Which book are you referring to -- the memoir or --
MR. GIBBS: The memoir. So I think that -- again, he was -- he thought she was very gracious. And I would say, as we did in the readout, the President expressed to Ms. Sherrod that Secretary Vilsack had, he believed, been extremely sincere in his comments yesterday, in his apologies, and believed that he was also equally sincere about the work that he is leading at the Department of Agriculture to ensure that the department’s activities are conducted without discrimination.
Q Yes, Robert, yesterday during the briefing someone asked whether the administration would be putting forward Cheryl Cook so she could sort of talk about what was said with Ms. Sherrod, and you directed that question to the USDA. Now that the President has apologized to Ms. Sherrod, why not put Cheryl Cook forward to say what she did --
MR. GIBBS: I’d point you over to USDA on that. I don’t know if you talked to USDA.
Q Right, but she’s the person who supposedly said that the White House wanted her to step down --
MR. GIBBS: Dan, if you want to reach the under secretary or the deputy secretary, again, call the Department of Agriculture. That’s --
Q Do you know where she is, she is Cheryl Cook?
MR. GIBBS: I assume at the Department of Agriculture. I don’t know where she is.
Q But no plans at this point that you know of to put her forward so she can clear this up what was said?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, again, if you’re interested in talking to the deputy secretary, call the press office at the Department of Agriculture.
Q Okay, wait, I have another question, Robert.
Q -- the USDA not allowing people to talk to her?
MR. GIBBS: Again, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Q Robert, this was supposed to be a week of focusing on Wall Street reform, the economy, kind an economy week, and there’s this story that’s been dominating the headlines. Any frustration at all politically that the message was lost behind this?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Yesterday you said maybe the President would speak on this at some point. Any progress on that? Do you think he will?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q Is he avoiding speaking on this? Somebody shouted a question earlier in the signing today of unemployment. Is that going to happen in a place with reporters in the room?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know how the bill will be signed. I know the President is anxious to sign it. We have unemployment benefits that you know if you’re -- if you’ve exhausted your state unemployment benefits at 26 weeks, despite the fact that normally through the Recovery Act we extended benefits though the 99th week, people -- 2.5 million people have lost their benefits.
Q Will it be done to still photographers only to avoid questions on this matter?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don’t know what the coverage is. We’re anxious to get the bill and sign it.
Q It was one year ago today that the President said the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” in the Henry Louis Gates matter, which kind of obliterated other news for about a week. Is that why the President is not coming out and talking about this publicly?
MR. GIBBS: Because of the year anniversary of --
Q Does he want to avoid that kind of media firestorm so that he can keep his focus on other issues?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Could I ask you one other question, a substantive question on unemployment insurance?
MR. GIBBS: You said that. I didn’t.
Q The President -- as opposed to the procedural questions that I ask.
MR. GIBBS: As a point of order -- can you just circle that out of the transcript?
Q The President this morning made the case that there’s a lot of waste, fraud and abuse in the budget, and that there’s been an aggressive effort to go after that. Did the White House try -- at least try to find $34 billion worth of waste, fraud and abuse so that they could pay for this unemployment insurance bill as the Republicans are insisting they do?
MR. GIBBS: As a -- no, this was -- Chip, we had -- I think -- I don’t know if you were here last week when we I think discussed this twice. Unemployment benefits and extending unemployment insurance has and I believe rightfully should be considered emergency spending. We’re in the midst of an economic downturn unlike anything we’ve seen since, as I’ve said in here a thousand times, anything since the late 1920s.
That demands special action. The long-term unemployed are a big part of that 8.5 million jobs that have been lost. This -- it took the Senate four different times just to get to this point. And thankfully we had Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe that were -- have understood that as they have voted in the past to extend unemployment benefits as emergency spending, unlike some who decided this was a perfect opportunity to play politics; much as there’s a bill on the floor now to cut taxes on small business, which the President greatly supports.
There’s a component of that legislation to extend lending through community banks to small businesses to help create jobs, yet for as many times as most Republicans talk about small business, there’s an effort to block that.
I think the newspapers had it quite correctly this morning, that’s because of politics
Q But you can get that benefit from unemployment benefits, from passing it. And at the same time, why wouldn’t the President say, okay, guys, this has been going on -- you had months with all these different votes. Why didn’t he call up Orszag and the green eye shade guys and say, go in there, find me $34 billion worth of waste, fraud and abuse; let’s pay for this thing at the same time that we’re getting the benefits of this?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, because, Chip, this is -- the President believes this should be treated, like every President has previously, as emergency spending. And thankfully, the partisan games are over because of the good help of two Republicans.
Q Really? Is that going to continue through Election Day on both sides?
MR. GIBBS: It isn’t likely to continue through today. Again, I just mentioned that --
Q You don’t think this is going to be a political football through Election Day?
MR. GIBBS: Which one?
Q Unemployment insurance?
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to have that -- I’m happy to make each and every day about whether you’re for people that have lost their jobs having the benefits that they pay for in order to make ends meet when they’ve lost their job. Governing is about choices, Chip, each and every day.
But we talk about the partisan political games. I just said there’s $30 billion to community banks to lend to small businesses to create jobs. I cannot imagine that in a normal time or in a normal year, that would be considered controversial. But welcome to July 2010.
Q Can you -- you’ve now spent a couple of instances with the President talking about this issue with Sherrod. Can you share with us more of his sort of impressions of this week, of what -- sort of this firestorm, the circus atmosphere?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, we have -- the circus. We have not honestly spent a lot of time talking about that. We were -- I obviously heard part of the call in order to provide a readout for you guys. But we haven’t had a long chance to talk about it.
Q You’ve done some media criticism. You were quoted in The Washington Post today --
MR. GIBBS: And in here yesterday.
Q And in here yesterday. Have you shared that with him? Is this his thinking as well?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- as I said yesterday, the actions of this administration should be reflected on. I think the actions of the media and our media culture should be reflected on. The statements and the actions of interest groups on each side of this should be reflected on. And I’ve actually gotten a number of emails from reporters that share those reflections.
Q Why did the President -- is there a reason -- you emphasized here and in the readout it was emphasized that he wanted to make sure she knew that Secretary Vilsack’s apology was sincere. Has there been a concern that she thought it wasn’t?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think so. I think -- look, I think most of you all saw what Secretary Vilsack said. I don’t think -- I think the phrase “I’m sorry” probably could or should be said a lot more in this town, and it’s hard to get out sometimes.
I thought what Secretary -- I think it was hard to watch what Secretary Vilsack did and not believe this was coming from the bottom of his heart. And I think the President simply wanted to convey that if there was any doubt in anybody’s mind, and if there was any doubt in her mind, of the sincerity of and the work that Secretary Vilsack has both undertaken and pledged to do, that that -- that both of those were from the bottom of his heart, and they were genuinely sincere.
Q Another topic. There’s a letter-writing campaign being done by some poverty activists in southeast Ohio, on Appalachia. And they’ve been writing letters to the President on paper plates. Do you know if the President -- I know that the President -- I know you guys go through these letters. Do you know of any of these letters --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check --
Q -- that have come to him?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. I know he gets regularly those -- five to 10 of those letters. Let me see if any of those have gone to him.
Q Does the White House have a view about whether it’s appropriate for a mosque to be built near the Ground Zero site in New York?
MR. GIBBS: I think I got this question last week, and didn’t render an opinion on it.
Q So, no, you still don’t have an opinion on it? And just one quick thing on the Sherrod situation, from what the -- from the conversation that you heard, she had said that she didn’t want to just get an apology from the President, she wanted to have a conversation about the issues that all of this sparked. Do you think the conversation they had was sort of a conversation about the issue, the exchange of ideas? Or was it a little more perfunctory? How would you describe it?
MR. GIBBS: I think they had an opportunity to talk about parts of the situation, and, again, the President expressed his regret and expressed that her unique experiences provided her a good opportunity to continue that work, and they talked about, as I said a minute ago, some of the experiences that I think each of them have had.
Ms. Sherrod talked about some of the work that she had done as the head of rural development in Georgia. And that’s when the President said, I think that’s -- there’s an opportunity for you to continue that work if you want to do so.
So I think it was a -- I know the President believed it was a good call.
Q Robert, in November of last year, President Obama signed an extension of unemployment benefits. And in his statement he made a point of saying that they were fully paid for and an example of fiscal responsibility. When did he change his mind about unemployment benefits not being --
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to -- let me look at the thing and I don’t -- *
Q Can I give the text of what he said?
MR. GIBBS: Why don’t you give it to Bill and I’ll be happy to take a look at it.
Q Is the pressure to nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the consumer agency -- pressure you guys are getting from congressional Democrats and consumer groups -- how is that helping or hurting the process? And do you have any timeline for when --
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday, I don’t expect an imminent announcement. Obviously there are several positions that this legislation created. Obviously one of those important jobs are the office -- the consumer bureau. I think, as I said yesterday, that she is somebody who -- look, in many ways, this bureau was borne out of a policy idea that she had. I think she would be somebody who would be obviously terrific at that job, well qualified.
Q How many candidates --
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve talked about several candidates, people like Michael Barr, who has done terrific work over at the Treasury now.
Q Do you want to get this through before the August recess?
MR. GIBBS: Get?
Q Do you want to --
MR. GIBBS: I do not think there’s a scenario in which the Senate will act on this before the August recess.
Q And the House just passed the unemployment benefits bill. Will the President sign it --
MR. GIBBS: As soon as we get it, we will -- the President will sign that legislation.
Q Likely today.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I assume so.
Q And I had a question about Ken Feinberg. Since he doesn’t have the power to recover the money from companies that he says --
MR. GIBBS: You’re talking about -- this is -- not at BP, but you’re talking about now as the --
Q Yes. So since he doesn’t have the power to recover that money, will the White House exert pressure for these executives to give the money back?
MR. GIBBS: I think I’d wait -- I’ll be happy to look at that question tomorrow when we have a -- I think the report he releases comes out tomorrow.
Q You may have addressed this with Laura, but this morning Shirley Sherrod said she wanted to talk to the President about her experiences growing up in the South, the rural parts of America, communicate to him things that she was under the impression he may not have had a sufficient awareness of or personal experience with. Did that go on with the conversation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Major, I think each and every person brings unique and special experiences from their life. I think we learn most probably from experience. But, again, I think we’ve provided a fair readout of what happened in the call. There was not a long conversation about her life in the South.
Q There was a protest yesterday about the deepwater drilling moratorium. There are some reports that international drilling companies may move some equipment out, taking advantage of this moratorium.
MR. GIBBS: Taking advantage of the moratorium?
Q Well, in that because it can’t be done here, moving equipment elsewhere to where it can be done.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, maybe I just didn’t understand the words “taking advantage of.”
Q Perhaps I could have phrased it differently. Is that -- the concerns expressed by those in the Gulf continue to mount, they’re not abating, there is some indication that drilling platforms that were there may be moved out, and there could be a continued loss of jobs. I know that you’ve weighed this carefully, but does this persistent concern economically there raise any additional reasons to reevaluate the moratorium?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President believes and the administration believe that the moratorium we have in place is there for a very important reason, and that is to ensure that we have a better sense of what is happening and what happened, and to create a regulatory framework that addresses the fact that drilling is happening in places that we don’t have as much experience at.
Five thousand -- I mean, the unique challenges that this accident -- the unique challenges that we’ve run into are because you can’t walk up to a blowout preventer and fix it. You can in shallow-water drilling because, in many ways, that’s -- those are blowout preventers that are on top of the surface.
The President believes that it is important to understand what happened before we start doing this again. He understands the concerns expressed economically. At the same time, those same people express the concerns of what is happening now. And as I’ve said here before, there are -- you hear from, say, the governor of Louisiana discuss the deepwater drilling moratorium right after he talks about how hard is to work with BP. And you have to understand that four of those permits are held by BP. And I think it’s -- I think it sometimes gets hard to match up how exactly you can have both of those emotions going at one time.
The President understands that, but at the same time, his job is to ensure that we’re doing all that we can safely, that we have -- and you saw plans yesterday by oil companies on how to respond, which I think were clearly lacking before those were released.
Q Speaking of BP, are you aware of this burgeoning controversy about the Photoshopping of --
MR. GIBBS: About the BP --
Q Photoshopping --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, oh, yes.
Q Photoshopping -- do you have a comment on that? Has the administration expressed any concern directly through Admiral Allen or anyone else about --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that it -- I don’t know that --
Q Where does this fall on the transparency scale as far as you’re concerned?
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s genuinely on the stupidity part of the transparency scale. (Laughter.) If you want to show a picture of what the room looks like, just take a picture. I mean, I don’t -- I mean, I think you could probably write an entire encyclopedia on some of the mistakes that have been made by the company in trying to do certain things and trying to complicate the simple.
We asked for several days for cameras to be put on at the site, to make that available -- make that footage available. Again, I think the resistance on that, Photoshopping people and screens into photographs, is stupidly complicating the simple.
Q One question quickly on the supplemental, which has to be done by next week before the House is scheduled to go.
MR. GIBBS: To go, right.
Q It’s -- as I understand it -- the White House’s preference -- communicated preference that be a clean supplemental, the House still somewhat attached to the spending it had previously put on the supplemental. What is the status of that? What are the -- where are the negotiations --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Legislative Affairs --
Q And am I understanding the White House position on that correctly?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get -- because it moves around a bit with the Senate and the House, let me see if there’s an update on that. I know there was some -- I heard some discussion today that the supplemental might be taken up as -- depending on when the -- when small business was acted on, it could come -- yes, it could come late today or tomorrow.
Q Robert, when the President gave his speech on race during the campaign, he lamented a tendency in our society to tackle race only as spectacle. The events of this week would suggest that we haven’t exactly moved beyond that. Does the President believe --
MR. GIBBS: Is this my question to you or your question to me? (Laughter.)
Q It’s -- well, but does the President -- and in that speech had vowed to take a leadership role in moving society beyond that -- does he believe that any progress has been made on his watch? And has he done any reconsideration of what his own role might be, what he should be doing to further that along?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- look, I think we have tried to and made progress on issues that are -- look, I think look at an issue like education. We have tried -- I think you would hear of many civil rights leaders talk about education as a civil rights issue.
I think the progress that we’ve made on -- through initiatives like Race to the Top, which have seen an increase in standards, is something that represents -- well, not maybe the traditional topic that you’re talking about, but a better sense of equality in this country, at least in terms of the education that’s offered to our children.
Look, I don’t think the President was under any illusion that -- and I think has said as such -- that his election alone would change long held views. And I think that we’ll be having discussions on race and have -- and I’m sure there will continue to be differing opinions long after this President has left.
Q Well, does he believe -- there have been kind of formalized sporadic efforts in the past to sort of officially start a conversation on race. Certainly, you could say that, I mean, during the Clinton administration -- you could argue that that was what the “Beer Summit” was all about. What does the President --
MR. GIBBS: I would actually argue that the -- I don’t necessarily -- first of all, the “Beer Summit” is a great example. I think that’s -- if I’m not mistaken -- a term you guys coined.
Q Well, okay.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think we ever --
Q You’re right, but --
Q But you embraced it.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q You embraced it.
Q You drank it.
MR. GIBBS: No, well -- I drank the beer. (Laughter.)
Q But what I’m asking is, what is the use -- what is the usefulness of these sort of events, these kind of choreographed events that do this versus the kind of thing you’re talking about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me say this, let me say this. I don’t -- and Dan had a point. Look, this is something that’s dominated the news. And I was asked -- Chip asked yesterday if this is a teachable moment, is the President the teacher. I don’t think you have to -- I don’t think you have to have a teacher for this to be a teachable moment. I doubt that any of us have gone through the events of the past several days, if you work in this administration, and thinking back to how this was -- how this came to be, it’s conjecture, but my guess is a lot of you all have thought about these issues in a way you might not have thought about last week because it wasn’t at the forefront.
I think it’s these types of experiences that allow us to think through some of these issues and think about them in different ways. I don’t think you necessarily have to -- it’s not a teachable moment in the sense that there’s a classroom setting, but each person has and sees experiences either that they take part in, or that they hear about as part of the news that provide you a chance to look and learn. And maybe what we do is we learn that -- certainly if you listen to the entirety of what Ms. Sherrod was saying you learn about the -- how her experiences changed the way she thinks and the way she acts. And maybe because of that we take the time to think about how we think and how we act.
So I think in that way, you -- while this isn’t a set event or a symposium or a big meeting, it’s still, in and of itself, a moment that I think provides us an opportunity to reflect and change.
Q Robert, can I just follow up? If this is a teachable moment, what is the lesson? Is it about race? Or is it about media and politics?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that I’d oversimplify it just as something -- I mean, I think it -- I mean, the beauty of a big teachable moment is each person gets to take away from it something different, right.
I mean, look, have I thought about the way all this unfolded? Of course. That the next time I hear about an event like this and a decision that’s made somewhat -- that you stop and ask, did we look at the whole context? Did we look at everything?
I can’t imagine that those same discussions aren’t being had in your newsrooms by both you, your editors, by producers, in saying, next time maybe -- maybe that’s race, maybe that’s media and culture. I don’t -- I think all of it is one -- I think it’s all in one big -- I think it’s all one big thing. I don’t know that -- but, again, I don’t -- I think the great thing is we all get to learn and look back and evaluate the entirety of the situation and pull different things.
I think you can probably pull both, right? I think you can probably pull the lesson that -- I don’t think anybody would doubt and this -- I’m not up here to lecture or scold because I’m -- nobody that has been involved in this whole situation, from the administration’s perspective, is, as I said, isn’t thinking about what has happened. But asking that question, did we see the whole thing; do we know when that story was; do we know what her background is; do we know how the story ends -- I think -- certainly I think stuff like that is helpful and reflective because I think not only is it, do we live in this crazy reality-TV culture, right? Yes, I think that’s part of it, but I also think it was undoubtedly sparked by the fact that it’s a discussion about race and that is something that always garners a lot of attention.
Q May I just follow up, Robert?
Q Robert, can I have just one quick question -- you might have answered this before -- did the President watch the whole video?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I said earlier that I think -- he said on the phone call to her that he had read a transcript of --
Q Of the whole thing?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. And when you were listening in or in the room, were you only listening to his part? Or did you hear also -- hear her too?
MR. GIBBS: I could hear both parts.
Q You could hear both parts.
MR. GIBBS: And I don’t even work for CNN. (Laughter.) Sorry, I had to say that.
Q And it sounds like what you’re saying in terms of the teachable moment, if there’s anybody who is doing the teaching, it’s her in the entirety of her remarks. Is that--
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s certainly one lesson you’d learn, yes.
Q Putting aside that people shouldn’t leap before they look -- get all the facts, but just in terms of the -- teaching about race, that was her --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- look, I think if I were writing the chapter title, it might be what you just said, “Look Before you Leap.” It might be “Don’t Rush to Judgment,” because that’s all about the fact that conclusions were drawn by all involved based on what we thought was the entirety of and what we now know is a very small part of it.
Q But when he read the whole transcript, I’m wondering if he felt it was -- I mean, it really was almost like a sermon. It was almost Obama-esque. I mean, she had a parable. She talked about how she was tempted to do one thing and learned to do another.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q I mean, what was his reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: He did not provide me that reaction, but, again, I’m not doing this in his voice, but I think very much -- I would not disagree with the fact that -- which I think is what makes the story so -- ultimately such a powerful one is that -- and why, quite frankly, you could understand that if you just read part of it or just see part of it, you’d come to a different, albeit completely wrong, conclusion.
Q Robert, the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona is getting underway in court today. Obviously the federal argument is based on preemption, but civil rights groups who are suing say the law will lead to racial discrimination. Does the President still agree with that? Does he still think the law will lead to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would -- I’d point you to the Department of Justice that can provide you more on the case that it will argue today.
We cannot -- despite the frustration of folks in Arizona, which is real and which is understandable, you can’t have 50 states creating 50 different -- the potential to create 50 different immigration laws. And that’s the case that the government will argue in court today.
MR. GIBBS: Peter.
Q Thank you. Is the matter closed, as far as Secretary Vilsack is concerned, or is anyone from the White House likely to speak to him about judgments that he’s making in firing a person based on reading into a two-minute video?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I would point you to what he said yesterday. I think he was pretty clear on how this would change the way he would do things in the future. I thought he was -- I thought that was heartfelt and gracious. I think his words largely speak for themselves on that.
Q Just to follow up. You said earlier the President told Shirley Sherrod that Secretary Vilsack was extremely sincere. Did the President talk to Tom Vilsack?
MR. GIBBS: The President spoke with Secretary Vilsack last night.
Q Was the discussion -- did they talk at all about Vilsack’s tenure? Did he offer to resign?
MR. GIBBS: I know they spoke. I don’t know -- sorry? I don’t know what they talked about.
Q Did he offer to resign?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m -- no, not that I’ve been told, no.
Q On a completely different subject. Senators Nelson --
MR. GIBBS: And I would say this -- I don’t think there’s any cause for him to do so. I think that Secretary Vilsack is in charge of a department with a history of discrimination. That’s why we’re -- that’s why there was a settlement months ago in a longstanding case on discrimination against black farmers. There have been discrimination against female farmers, Native American farmers. That’s -- this is a department that has struggled with many of the demons that have been struggled with in other parts of our society.
And the Secretary believes and has stated that there is a -- there is and there should be a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination. And I think the President thinks he’s doing good work.
Q But for the sake of argument, the Secretary engaged in discrimination this week when he fired this woman.
MR. GIBBS: And, again, as I said earlier, uttered words not often heard inside the glorious District of Columbia, and that is “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I acted before I had the full benefit of what had happened.” I don’t -- I think Secretary Vilsack has been clear about the mistakes that he made in -- over the past few days.
Q On a different subject, Senators Conrad and Nelson have called for the President to extend the Bush tax cuts on those making more than $200,000. Any reaction to that? Any rethinking of that proposal --
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I would point you largely to what I said yesterday. I think Secretary Geithner has weighed on this today. And I look forward to Chip asking many of those members how that’s going to be paid for.
Q Robert, back on -- a few questions on race and Ms. Sherrod. Do you think that this whole situation, bringing out everything, the discrimination that’s happened in the Department of Agriculture and what’s happening with Ms. Sherrod, do you think that that would push forward the issues of Cobell and Pigford for there to be funding in Congress to happen soon?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I can’t divine what happens in the House and the Senate. I will say this. I think one of the reasons I just gave Steve the answer I did is I don’t think you need this event to tell you that what happened at the department was wrong. The Secretary didn’t settle this case as a result of what had happened here, but as a result of what had happened. He made those decisions long ago.
Q Fifteen years ago, Pigford was awarded. It’s taken 15 years and now four deadlines for Congress -- this Congress --
MR. GIBBS: Well, my guess is a lot more than four deadlines have been missed over the course of 15 years, April. And I daresay that discrimination goes back a lot farther than that period of time. Obviously the House and the Senate are working through a number of issues on this, and the President remains committed to ensuring that that settlement is done.
Q You say “a teachable moment” -- this is a teachable moment, and you don’t necessarily need a teacher, but it’s a heart issue. President Clinton, when he had the conversation on race, talked about the fact that this was a heart issue, and sometimes trying to navigate through heart issues, you may need someone. I mean, it’s taken all this time and we’re still at a point where we’re still dealing with racism and discrimination.
MR. GIBBS: We’re going to be dealing -- look, I think that’s going to happen for a long time, April. It’s not going to -- I don’t -- the President of the United States, regardless of his race, I don’t think would come out here and tell you that as a result of him or his election or his time here that racism and discrimination will end. While I don’t -- I can’t imagine anybody would want to see it continue, this is something that this country has struggled with for a very, very long time and will continue to do so.
Q And one last question --
MR. GIBBS: But I will say this. I don’t think that anybody can doubt, April, that each day and maybe as a result of this we make a little progress. And I think that in and of itself is probably the most important point.
Q One last question. In this town, many people have said it’s hard to turn down a President when he asks you to take a position. Now, would this White House --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just be clear. I think I was asked this earlier, this was -- that was not the point of this call, and the President wasn’t lobbying her to take a position. That’s a conversation that she -- I was asked yesterday, well, why is this happening with the Secretary of Agriculture? Well, she worked for the Secretary of Agriculture. That’s her most --
Q But the President extended that job offer to her as well, and again --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, let’s be clear. The President -- I hate to be nitpicky, but -- well, it’s in the readout. The readout says that -- I don’t have it in front of me, but that based on the experiences that you have and that -- this is an opportunity to continue to -- if you want to, to continue to work for progress on the issues that you know that are important to you. That’s her decision. That’s something that she will discuss again with the department and will discuss, I assume, if need be, with Secretary Vilsack.
Q But the hope is for her to take that job?
Q You don’t describe that as lobbying?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t -- this was not a “Hey, Shirley, take this job.” This is -- again, that’s not the role that the call was designed for or that the --
Q Does he want her to take the job?
Q Yes, is the hope for her to take that job?
Q I mean, Vilsack’s office emailed her a specific job offer this morning; they have not heard back yet. President Obama is talking about her continuing her good work --
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is a decision that Shirley should make and that Shirley is most comfortable with. I think that’s --
Q Is the hope for her to take the job?
MR. GIBBS: I think I just answered that.
Q Robert, Andrew Breitbart has been pretty unrepentant in this instance. Today, he spoke with CBS and he said the administration threw her under the bus. Last night on CNN, Ms. Sherrod suggested that she might consider a libel suit. Do you think that there ought to be consequences for Andrew Breitbart for what he did in this?
MR. GIBBS: I bet there -- both in this town and in many towns across the country, there are very good lawyers.
Q Is that sort of an endorsement of --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no. (Laughter.) Look, I said earlier that something that is not uttered in this town and probably not uttered enough is, “I’m sorry and I made a mistake.” Now, everybody has to look in the mirror and live with their own conscience about what was done and what they’ve done to rectify that. This is an individual who has I think on several different occasions come up with different ideas about what the video was or wasn’t supposed to be. And I’ll let news organizations discuss their airing of it and the way they reacted to it. I’m not going to speak for him or for them.
But I think the administration has taken responsibility for its actions. And do I think this episode would be a more teachable moment if he apologized to her? Absolutely.
Sam -- or do you have one more?
Q Yes, one more. You mentioned before that the President talked about his book with Ms. Sherrod. Which part?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I don’t -- Glenn, they didn’t get that detailed. He simply said that -- I think they both had -- she had talked about and he had written about experiences that in some ways were similar.
Q Thanks, Robert.
Q Earlier this month, the President and Senate Democrats agreed to pursue three bills, three pieces of legislation on the economy. It looks like two are going to be in the books. The third one is this small business tax cuts. You’ve mentioned it a couple times, but it’s largely flown below the radar. Should we expect the President to be more visible --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- and more active than --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, look, I will say that the President has done a number of events on small business. He’s done a number of events on the increase in credit. We discussed yesterday the comments that the Fed Chairman had made, and one of the Fed Chairman’s comments from last week was that we need to get more credit to small business.
We hear a lot of talk on Capitol Hill, rightly so, about helping small business. The Senate will have an opportunity, as I understand it, in a standalone amendment to vote for providing necessary and needed capital to community banks to lend to small businesses in communities all over this country to create jobs.
And I said to Chip earlier that governing is about making choices. It was about choices this week when you had to decide whether you’re for or you’re against extending unemployment benefits for those that have lost their jobs as a result of the greatest economic downturn in our life -- in many of our lifetimes. People had to make a choice about whether they were for the rules that governed Wall Street in September of 2008, or whether we think there ought to be a new set of rules going forward.
And it is likely either later this week or next week, people are going to get to decide whether we should have -- give more capital to small businesses to lend -- or to banks to lend to small businesses to create jobs, or not. They’re very simple choices. They will illuminate many of the choices I think that voters will get an opportunity to make in November.
Q Should we expect to see, I mean, the same kind of visibility and aggressiveness we’ve seen on -- probably not on financial reform, but at least on the unemployment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President was pretty aggressive on financial reform, I think the President laid out clearly what was at stake in unemployment benefits, and I expect that he’ll do so as we get closer to the vote on small businesses.
END 2:47 P.M. EDT
President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
June 30, 2016
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