Press Briefing

March 30, 2010 | 42:49 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/30/2010

2:18 P.M. EDT

Q    Sarkozy get here early?

MR. GIBBS:  Oooh, all right.  Bonjour, Chuck.  I was going to say, I don't know --

Q    I was going to ask a question in French.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, he probably won't give you an answer.

I have no announcements, so we can fire away.

Q    That's a segue to my question.

MR. GIBBS:  What’s that?

Q    The Sarkozy visit, the setup for it -- the Rose Garden news conference, the dinner in the family quarters is being perceived as kind of the full treatment, the full royal treatment, for a better word, and kind of a makeup with the French President.  Do you think that's accurate?

MR. GIBBS:  A makeup for?

Q    There have been perceptions that there was a snub, that he didn’t get quite the treatment that he thought he should get in their prior visits together.  So do you think that's an accurate way to view it and --

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I mean, I can't speak to the --

Q    When you guys make decisions about how to treat leaders, what sort of -- do they get the Oval Office pool spray? Do they get no cameras?  Do they get Rose Garden?  Do they get a dinner, not a dinner?  Those are all decisions that are made so  --

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, I can't really speak to what’s based on -- what somebody bases prior logistics on.  I think you’ll hear the President talk about the very important and close relationship that he has with President Sarkozy and that our country has with France on a whole host of important issues that they’ll go through today:  the global economic recovery, climate change, financial reform, Afghanistan, the spread of nuclear weapons, our partnership in the P5-plus-1 in dealing with Iran -- all of which are tremendously important to both nations, and both nations -- I think there’s a very strong relationship between the two leaders.

I don't -- I've never heard anybody say, we're going to do this because we did this last time.

Q    So you're not intending to send any kind of signal with this setup or the schedule of events?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, obviously it’s an important ally.  Obviously the work that the two Presidents have done together on the issues that I just mentioned is significant.  There will be a bilateral meeting between the two; we'll have the two give statements and each take a question; and then they’ll have a private dinner together.  I think that is somewhat -- I mean, it doesn’t seem totally out of the ordinary to me.

Q    He’s getting more than Netanyahu.

Q    More than most leaders, actually, who have been to the White House.

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve got to say I’ve been puzzled by the notion that -- Netanyahu spent more than two hours sitting with the President.

Q    Couldn't prove it by me.  I didn’t see it.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you’ll just have to take our word for it, I guess, Bill.

Q    Okay, well.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Back to the crossword puzzle.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Financial regulatory reform.  Paul Volcker said today that regulatory reform will be completed this year.  And there have also been some reports that the -- about a push to get a bill to the President’s desk by the end of May.  Is that kind of a timetable doable?  And what kind of progress can you make without Republican support?  And to get Republican support, what are you willing or prepared to give up?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me -- first and foremost, I don’t think that’s an unrealistic timetable at all.  Obviously we’ve got a bill through the House, a bill through committee, unamended.  Nobody on the Republican side even offered an amendment.  So I think the next piece of business that the Senate will take up will be financial reform.

Q    You mean late May is not unrealistic?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think that’s unrealistic.  I think without a doubt, the President would like to see, with his signature, strong rules in place, certainly prior to the two-year anniversary of the collapse in our economy.

So I think we’re on a pace to make those changes quite quickly.  And I think it’s important as we move forward that we ensure, as I’ve said many times and as the President has said many times, that we don’t have the conditions in place that allow the same type of thing to happen now that happened two years ago.

In order to get Republican support, I think -- the President is clear that we are not going to compromise on what we believe represents a very strong piece of legislation.  Just last week Senator Corker and others said they thought Republicans would support this legislation.

The President is going to outline the plan that he believes best puts those rules of the road in place, ensures a strong independent consumer finance protection agency, provides the type of clarity and disclosure that the American people need to judge financial reform.  So I think we’re on a path to do that.

Q    And those are things that are not negotiable?

MR. GIBBS:  Those are things that the President has spoken about for quite some time.  They’re non-negotiable with the President; they’re non-negotiable with the American people. 


Q    Secretary Clinton on Monday made a request to Prime Minister Harper to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan, saying that they could be serving in another -- in capacities beyond combat, if need be.  And that was rejected today by Prime Minister Harper, saying that the Canadians are withdrawing their troops by 2011.  I was wondering, A, if you guys have any response to that; and B, what that says either about the U.S. -- the ability of the Obama administration to convince the Canadians that this is their fight, just as it is for all Western countries, or just the basic fact that the Canadians seem to reject that.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, first of all, the fact that they were transitioning their troops out of Afghanistan has been known certainly by this administration and I think by most of the world for quite some time. 

Q    Right, but you guys have tried to convince them not to.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think -- we checked in with State on this.  I think there seems to be, on their part -- State believes there’s a little confusion here.  The Secretary of State, first and foremost, wants the Canadians to continue, as you mentioned, to be involved.  There are a host of civilian non-combat activities that Canadians can and we hope will contribute to -- they’re a valuable partner in our coalition.  I would also say that, understanding that this was -- for quite some time that this was going to happen, we have seen a dramatic increase in NATO contributions that will make up for troops that -- any troops that have to rotate out.

Q    Okay.  And then the other question had to do with the new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia.  You guys herald it now.  The President pushed back strongly on the notion of there being any linkage with missile defense.  The Russians are saying that there is language in this treaty that addresses missile defense, and that's a big victory for them since it’s the first time it’s been acknowledged in a treaty.  Whether or not there is -- it’s actionable, it’s still in the treaty.  How do you explain that discrepancy?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would simply refer you to what Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Clinton all had to say on this last week that there’s nothing that precludes what we’re doing in Europe as a part of this treaty.

Q    Is this the Russians trying to save face?

MR. GIBBS:  A better question for the Russians than for me. 
Yes, sir.

Q    In addition to all those things that you pointed out that the President would be discussing with Mr. Sarkozy, will he be pushing him to commit additional troops to the --

MR. GIBBS:  No, there’s no ask on the table to do that, no.

Q    He will not be asking?

MR. GIBBS:  I anticipate that they will discuss progress that needs to be made in training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.  And I’ve no doubt that they’ll talk about the contribution that France has already dedicated as the  -- I think the fourth largest coalition contributor.  But there’s no specific ask on the table today from President Obama to President Sarkozy to increase that force.

Let me go to Dan, and I’ll come back.

Q    On Hamid Karzai, do you feel that he is the right leader to get the job done -- as the President said, the U.S. will get the job done there.  Is he the right person to get the job done?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Dan, understand that he’s the elected leader of Afghanistan.  We are -- we will work with, and we will expect certain things to come from his leadership based on what we’re helping them do in setting up appropriate governance, as well as rooting out the Taliban and its extremist allies.

I think the President has been clear with President Karzai, quite frankly, going back quite some time.  And I read out a call that the President made to President Karzai just after he was  reelected, that the President was clear that we had -- that it was up to them to take important steps on bettering their governance, understanding that in the inaugural he laid that out. In the conference in London, he laid out some positive things.  We’ve seen some progress.  But as the President said, that’s slow progress.  And we understand this isn’t going to happen overnight.

You had a follow-up on France?  And then I’ll come over there.

Q    A follow-up on, actually, Jake and the question on the training -- when you talk about noncombat mission, the Canadians in particular, do you include training the Afghani police forces --

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions that are happening now with the Canadians.  Certainly there are a host of noncombat roles; obviously some aspects of training would be in that.  Obviously you couldn’t -- we’re not talking about pairing trainers with combat brigades that are out; that obviously would be a more common focus.

But understand, too, there’s a whole host of what we were just talking about in terms of governance issues and civilian activities -- that you’ve seen a tremendous increase on our side in dedicating those resources over the past year that without a doubt other nations can help with, as they have in the past.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    In Pittsburg, Sarkozy was asking for a deadline about Iran.  And it seems that the deadline was December 31st.  What is President Obama expecting from President Sarkozy about Iran?  And I have a final question:  Can we have some details about the menu tonight?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t -- I have no idea what they’re eating, but I will check --

Q    French fries?  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  The French want to know.  Well, I will check.  I don’t even have -- I come unarmed with even the slightest knowledge of what is on the menu.

Look, I think if you -- as you mentioned, in Pittsburgh, Prime Minister Brown, President Sarkozy and President Obama, at an event that was certainly unplanned, let the world know of additional activities that the Iranians were undertaking that were far out of bounds with what was expected of them and certainly as it relates to the IAEA.  I think as we move forward now, the leadership of both Presidents will be tremendously important in the upcoming push for sanctions and additional efforts that are needed to get the Iranians to live up to their many responsibilities that they’ve failed to live up to now.

I think there’s no doubt you’ll hear the President talk about the fact that President Sarkozy has been a leader on this and has spoken throughout the world on the necessity of the Iranians to live up to those responsibilities.


Q    What does the President think about the rising tide of right-wing extremism in this country -- vandalism, anger, hate, guns, militias?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think -- look, as it relates to some of what we’ve seen around this health care debate and this health care vote, I think the President’s message that he’s delivered often, that in a country as strong and as rich as the United States -- and when I talk about rich, I mean in values and tradition -- our country was founded on open debate; passionate, open debate.  But we ought to be able to disagree with one another, despite the passion that we each hold.  We ought to be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable.  And I would say that --

Q    But in terms of the violence and armed militias and --

MR. GIBBS:  And I would say that on both sides, that there’s no doubt -- and I think, again, you heard the President say this yesterday -- there’s no doubt that if you look at the rhetoric around some of these debates -- and you’ve heard the President -- the President talked about the notion that if you pass this, it’s Armageddon, yet somehow we’ve made it almost a week since the signature on the bill.

Look, as it relates to the indictments yesterday, obviously I have not talk to the President specifically about those except to say that certainly we will vigorously enforce the law against anybody who seeks to break it.

Q    Who’s coming to dinner tonight?

THE PRESIDENT:  The two Presidents and the two First Ladies.

Q    That’s it?

MR. GIBBS:  Two interpreters.

Q    So it’s an entirely private affair?

MR. GIBBS:  It is.  You just have to take my word for it.  (Laughter.)

Q    Apparently, since there won’t be any pictures, right?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think there are any planned pictures, no.

Q    Are any of their children coming?

MR. GIBBS:  Not to dinner that I’m aware of, no.

Yes, sir.

Q    Can you shed any light on what the President said to Karzai about the relationship that he’s building with Ahmadinejad?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve not spoken with the President directly on that.  I don't think that -- I would say that the notion that somehow in a stiff to us he went and got an invitation -- invited somebody like Ahmadinejad to come to Kabul -- I would remind people that Afghanistan and Iran share a border.  I don't think it’s -- would be out of the ordinary for the Afghan government to deal with its neighbors.

Q    But you don't believe that any protocol or ceremonial aspect of that was at all aimed at --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't.  Actually, I don't.

Q    And is it -- what is the relationship with the President, with President Sarkozy in this respect?  Do you feel like he -- does the President feel like he gets these blunt assessments with President Sarkozy in private that we supposedly hear that he does?  Is it a frank --

MR. GIBBS:  What do you mean?

Q    I mean, what kind of -- what kind of dialogue and exchange do the two have?  Is it frank?  Is it blunt?  Is it critical of the other in how they handle certain things?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I think, Chuck, if you look at the whole host of issues that I think they’re going to discuss today and that you’ll hear the President speak about later, I think they’ve actually had a pretty good working relationship on virtually every one of those issues:  obviously from the beginning of our activities and the President’s activities with the G20; in trying to put together in Copenhagen a deal on climate change.  They have increased their share of troops in Afghanistan and they are an exceedingly valuable coalition partner.  Obviously in the P5-plus-1 they’ve played an extremely important role and will continue to as we try to marshal the support of the world against the activities of Iran.

So I think they have a very good relationship.  I think this will be -- I think there is no doubt that President Sarkozy is an energetic and passionate leader.  And what you will see later today is what the President sees when they sit down one on one.

Q    That comes through in private?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think he’s an energetic and passionate guy in private and in public.

Q    Are you expecting France to play the lead role of getting the EU together on sanctions that can’t be done through the United Nations, so that what you get -- whatever minimal sanctions you can get done on Iran -- that they’re the -- are they point --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think they will, and I think obviously Great Britain will play a huge role in that.  And, look, I think we will be dependent on the eloquence and passion of President Sarkozy and others in rallying the world for what will move to the U.N.

Q    Unilaterally?

MR. GIBBS:  Sorry?

Q    Unilaterally?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I mean through the United Nations -- through the United Nations.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, when Bill mentioned the Netanyahu meeting last week you said you were puzzled.  Were you puzzled by the way it was portrayed in the press?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I’m puzzled by the notion that somehow it’s a bad deal to get two hours with the President almost entirely alone.  That doesn’t seem like a lot of punishment to me.

Q    There were a lot of Israeli reports that President Obama left the meeting suddenly, saying, as far as he was concerned, it was over.  And he went to the Residence to have dinner, and he wasn’t expecting Netanyahu to remain in the White House and ask for another meeting.  Was that accurate?

MR. GIBBS:  I’m not going to get into the substance of what the two discussed.  The President was -- thought they had a good discussion in the first meeting, and was happy to come back and see Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office later than that.

Q    Can you describe the nature of the relationship as it now stands?

MR. GIBBS:  Between the United States and Israel?

Q    Between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, between the two countries, as I’ve said here countless times, there is an unbreakable bond between these two countries.  The United States has long been dedicated to the security of an important ally.  And that doesn’t -- that hasn’t, in any way, changed.  As a result of having a mature bilateral relationship, there are going to be things that this administration, and countless previous administrations, have disagreed with this Israeli government, as they have with countless previous Israeli governments.

I think as the President, though, discussed yesterday in his interview, that it is important for both sides to take the steps necessary to find a way to come back to these proximity talks; that we are at an important moment, and that either side walking away, both sides walking away, does not further the important cause that has to be undertaken to see Middle East peace.

Q    May I follow up on that one, Robert?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Settlements in East Jerusalem versus settlements in the West Bank:  It is a tradition that previous U.S. administrations criticized openly settlements in the West Bank.  It seems to be a new tone that explicitly also settlements in East Jerusalem are criticized.  Would you confirm that?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, our view on this, as, again, the view of many administrations prior to ours, are that the issues around Jerusalem are important and they’re final status issues.  We think that coming to the table, coming back to the table, developing the type of confidence and trust that both sides need in these proximity talks, is important to building a process to getting to those final status issues.


Q    You mentioned the G20 a second ago in the context of Iran, but on financial regulation, Sarkozy clearly is pushing for tighter financial regulations.  This meeting, is it going to be an agreement to disagree?  Are they going to work to narrow those differences ahead of the next G8 or G20?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you’ve probably all seen the joint letter that was put out today --

Q    That letter was pretty thin gruel.  I mean, it was diplomatic-speak, there wasn’t a whole lot there.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I will say this, Hans.  We are working with our international friends on what we need to do on a global stage.  We also want to make some progress on the rules of the road for what’s going on right here at home.  There have been disagreements between us and others about how you respond to an economic slowdown.  Those all played out.  We feel quite comfortable with the decisions that we made.  And understand that it’s important that we get strong rules of the road going forward not just internationally but, first and foremost, right here at home.

Q    Do you think there will be a narrowing today between Sarkozy’s position and --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I will -- I think that they’ll have an opportunity to discuss that.  I don't want to prejudge what happens prior to those discussions.  No doubt this will be the -- part of the subject of what they speak about publicly today.

Q    Does there need to be a narrowing?

MR. GIBBS:  Hold on a second.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Netanyahu comes back on the 14th.  Do you expect the President to meet with him at that point?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a bilat schedule yet for the nuclear security summit.

Q    Does there need to be a narrowing?  Does the President feel that he and President Sarkozy agree on the scope of the new financial regulations that are needed?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I don't want to get too in depth into what might be discussed internationally and whether things will or won’t narrow until -- I'll have a better sense of that when we get a readout of what the two discussed, rather than conjecture.  Again, I think the President believes it’s extremely important that he and the Congress take affirmative actions to institute strong rules of the road going forward as it relates to our economy in this country.

Q    Because President Sarkozy’s remarks a day or so ago suggest that he wasn’t happy with the distance Mr. Obama suggests he’s willing to travel on that, with the strength of the regulations the President might be willing to go along. 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think we’re enormously proud of where the legislation is at this point in the legislative process as it relates to our rules of the road.  We’ve taken action throughout the G20 on a balanced and sustainable growth model, and one that includes strong international rules of the road.  We’ll see what they have to say coming out of the meeting.  But again, I think we’ve -- the President is enormously proud of the steps that we’ve taken thus far, understanding that we’ve got to close the deal on this.

Q    On health care reform, AT&T, several other companies announced today they’re taking charges because of the bill’s reform of a tax break for businesses that provide prescription drug coverage for their employees.  Now, the fact that they’re taking the hit suggests they’re going to continue providing the coverage, but --

MR. GIBBS:  There’s a 28-percent subsidy to do so.

Q    There are also questions about whether this is a good time economically for big businesses to be taking these charges and whether that might discourage them from providing the coverage down the road.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s fully explain what’s happening here. As part of the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation that passed in, I believe 2003, firms that provided coverage for retirees were given a 28-percent subsidy in order to continue providing that coverage.  Right?  That amount of money was not added to a company’s income.  Right?  So they got 28 percent to continue that, and under the previous law -- which I think many considered to be a loophole -- not only did they not get taxed on that 28 percent, but then they were able to write off the full amount spent on retiree prescription drug coverage -- the money they kick in plus the 28 percent that taxpayers kick in.

So all this does is allow a company to simply write it off once by not counting it as income, rather than both not counting it as income and getting able -- being able to write it off. 

I would stress too, Wendell, that there are several billion dollars in the bill to help on retiree prescription drug benefits.  There have been countless studies, one by the Business Roundtable, on the effect that business will see in lower premiums as a result of health care reform.  And I would point out that -- understand that AT&T took a charge, basically an accounting charge 30 years down the road, and the same day they did that, their stock went up.  So I do think that -- again, they have to do this based on accounting rules.  But I think this has maybe been framed as a lot more than meets the eye. 

Yes, ma’am.

Q    With the President traveling to Maine and North Carolina later in the week, why is he going to those two places to talk about health care and the economy?  And why isn’t he traveling to campaign with members who have tough races in 2010?

MR. GIBBS:  Because the elections aren’t in March or April. 
Q    So can you tell me why he’s going to those two places?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know why Maine was selected.  I think one of the reasons was Karen Mills is our SBA Administrator and she’s from Maine, and we’re going to focus on -- again, on the small business aspects of the health care reform.  North Carolina is one of the states in the country that has seen fairly big unemployment in terms of their rate is north of 10 percent.  And we will highlight a company that is seeing, as a result of some of the investments that they’ve made in creating the jobs of the future, increases that they’ve made in their hiring rolls, on Friday.

Q    You say the midterms aren’t now, but weren’t some of the -- one of the lessons of Virginia and Massachusetts getting the President into campaign --

MR. GIBBS:  And there will be -- there’s a thousand years before the next elections.  You guys will have plenty of time to go cover them.  The President is not focused on what happens the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  We’re focused on this Monday and this Tuesday.

Q    Yes -- what did I want to ask?  (Laughter.)  Did the President in his security briefings, has he been told that the number of these kind of militia groups seems to be growing dramatically in the last year?  Is that a concern?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the degree to which -- in the daily intelligence briefings?

Q    Well, in any --

MR. GIBBS:  I can certainly check and see if -- I will check and see, and then I will check and see if it’s anything that we would make available.

Go ahead.  (Cell phone rings.)  What is that awkward music that somebody is --

Q    Pretty tune, isn’t it?

Q    It’s French.

Q    It’s a French song.

MR. GIBBS:  You can -- just so you know, you can change the ring on your phone.  (Laughter.) 

Q    To something louder.

MR. GIBBS:  Or less weird.  (Laughter.)   

Go ahead.

Q    Two questions.  One --

Q    Ring tone critic, are you?  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Did you think that was --

Q    That was Carla Bruni’s favorite song.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  I’ll refer that to Chuck. 

Go ahead.

Q    Robert, two questions.  One, President Obama made it possible, now it’s a done deal between the United States and India on civil nuclear agreement, because one -- it was on his desk 123 Agreement -- so that means, how is it going to affect the U.S.-India relations, and also is going to help the President and Mr. Singh to come closer on this --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously the President is a proponent of the agreement between the two countries; supported it in the Senate; and is glad that in an important region of the world we’re strengthening a very close bilateral relationship.  Obviously the President, as you know and as many of you have seen, has spent considerable time on our relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in order to see security strengthened and our mutual goals worked on in an important region in the world.

Q    And second, the President now is going to visit Indonesia to make his speech to the Arab and Muslim communities, which he had done in Turkey and in Egypt.  Do you think before his visit to Indonesia and Australia or India he’s going to make his final speech here, because there’s a need for the Muslim and Arabic community --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know of any plans to do that speech prior to Indonesia, when we slide the trip over to June as we had originally discussed.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, is the President going to, as Senator Dodd wants to, focus on key Republicans and probably make a full-court press on getting them in on the financial recovery regulations that Dodd is going to press -- which we’ll probably start having debate on it in just a few weeks -- what’s his plan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the President obviously is enormously supportive of the legislation moving forward, reiterating again the desire and the need to have strong rules in place.  I anticipate that not only the President, but other members of the administration, will reach out and talk with Republicans in order to get them onboard supporting strong reforms.

I will say this:  The President certainly is committed to reaching out, but understanding that the desire is not to see a weaker set of rules; the desire is to see strong rules going forward to ensure that what happened in September and October of 2008 can’t happen moving forward.  And that will certainly be his focus.


Q    Robert, what does it mean that Hamid Karzai is coming to the White House in May?  What’s the main event -- the purpose of that --

MR. GIBBS:  Say again?  What’s the purpose?  Certainly to continue the important discussions that the two Presidents and the two countries have.  Christi, I think it’s important to understand, we have said -- we said this before -- we said this during the Afghanistan review, the President was quite clear about this on West Point:  Our security gains that are made through the heroic activities of our military can only be preserved with strong governance to back those up.  That’s what the President has been focused on in this relationship and that’s the progress that we have been monitoring and hope to continue to see.

Q    Did Karzai make any particular commitments to the President along the lines of merit-based appointments -- going after narcotics traffickers --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I will say there was a robust discussion on improving national and sub-national government, local and regional, and strengthening efforts to root out -- identify and root out corruption, again, understanding as the President said, just how important better governance is going forward in order to match and preserve the security gains that General McChrystal and our troops are making on the ground.

Q    And just one more thing if I could.  Are there particular goal points or benchmarks that the President wants to have met by the time he -- by the time that meeting takes place here?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, without getting into a lot of the substance that the two discussed privately, obviously, the President understands -- I think both Presidents understand what they’d like to see moving forward.  We evaluate that constantly. 

Again, the President is aware, as I’ve said two or three times now, that all that’s being done militarily has to be matched on the governance side.  And I think what the President and the team are focused on is ensuring that as we focus on what’s happening militarily, we don’t take our eyes off the ball in what has to happen on the ground at all levels of the government in order to improve the coordination of activities that are necessary to preserve those security gains.

Q    Robert, on immigration reform, Senator Graham, the other day, said, that the White House has done almost nothing.  I’m wondering what your response is to that, and if there’s anything that you plan to do to show a seriousness of purpose on immigration.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I, not surprisingly, would likely disagree with that characterization.  I think the President has been a strong advocate and proponent of immigration reform, understanding, again, this is -- I get asked all the time about bipartisanship, about, well, you can’t just -- you guys can’t just go this alone, right?  Well, this is not an issue that’s going to be decided by just getting all the Democratic members to support immigration reform.  There has to be -- there have to be Republicans that come aboard, too.  There have to be efforts that Senator Graham is working on in order to continue to convince those that supported immigration reform in 2005 and 2006 when it was voted on in the full Senate, that of those members that remain, that they’re ready, willing, and able to do this again.

Those conversations the President is likely to have with Republican members in the near future, and we’ll gauge whether or not it’s possible to move forward on this issue.  But this can’t just be a -- this can’t just be President Obama.  This can’t just be President Obama and the Democratic Senate.  Quite frankly, it probably can’t just be President Obama, the Democratic Senate, and Lindsay Graham.  It has to be others.  And I think many will get an opportunity to weigh in on that.

Q    Is there any chance that the White House is going to write a bill?

MR. GIBBS:  I think we put out a strong statement in support of many of the aspects of the legislation that Senator Graham is working on with Senator Schumer.  I think they’re still going through a full evaluative process of that.  But obviously many aspects of that the President finds greatly appealing.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, on Iran, Secretary Clinton, in Moscow last week, said that she would pursue sanctions that I think the word she used was “biting.”  Since then, there have been these reports that maybe these sanctions are going to be watered down in order to get everybody onboard.  Does that mean they’re going to be biting, or not?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I was amused that, in two different publications there were two different stories and two different views on the sanctions in each of those stories -- just last week.  So I guess it depends on who leaks what.

I would simply say that --

Q    And to whom.

MR. GIBBS:  And to whom, right.  Good point.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Mark, for adding that.

I would say that we have instituted through the Treasury Department some unilateral sanctions on Iran’s military.  And no doubt one of the topics that President Sarkozy and President Obama will spend a lot of time on today is exactly what those sanctions look like moving forward, understanding that sanctions are part of an effort to get Iran to change their behavior.  And that’s certainly what we’re looking for.

Q    In particular, can you talk about two things that have been discussed -- the cutting off of gasoline imports to Iran, and also shipping lanes and commercial --

MR. GIBBS:  I’m not going to get into specifics at this point.


Q    Robert, the March 31st deadline is just hours away for the Black Farmers, and there is a concern by the CBC and the Black Farmers that the deadline will not be met, and they are pushing for an extension of the deadline.  And they are hopeful that this White House is looking for an extension as well.  Is that the case?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have an update on this, but let me check with OMB and others on this.

Q    So if I’m correct, the President did want this to happen by March 31st, correct?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    So, I mean --

MR. GIBBS:  So let me check on what I just said as it related to the first question that you asked.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Over successive weeks, Congressman Barney Frank has asked the White House to clarify whether it would like to see legislative action taken this year on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  He’s said that direction from the White House has been muddled, and then at one point said that you guys were actually sort of ducking whether or not you wanted to see legislation action taken on repeal.  Would the President like to see that law --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Carol, I would just say this, I don’t think what Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates have enunciated on this appears muddled to anyone.  I don’t -- there is a process that’s in place to move forward on the President’s commitment to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I don’t -- Admiral Mullen is the first chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sit up in front of Congress and say that the law ought to be repealed -- not somebody who is retired, not somebody who is long past their commitment of serving their country, but somebody who sat up there and said that.  And Secretary Gates and the commission at the Pentagon have taken some important steps.

We’re following that process.  We’ll see where the legislative road takes us as we continue to build support to keep the commitment that the President has made.

Q    So the President would feel perfectly comfortable letting the next Congress take that up?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, we’re going to follow the process and the path that are underway with the clear direction that the President has given to repeal this.

Q    Has the President had any reaction to the current crisis in the Catholic Church?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not talked to him about this.

Q    Does the White House have any response to -- the revelations?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me see what folks have here and I will make sure I have that for tomorrow.

Thanks, guys.

3:01 P.M. EDT

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