Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, 4/14/10
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:32 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. We're on time today. I know that's a surprise to many of you.
Q You're actually two minutes late.
MR. GIBBS: Two minutes late -- which is a vast improvement in efficiency.
Obviously you know the President met this morning with bipartisan congressional leadership, mainly to talk about financial reform, the upcoming legislative activity around that, and the President’s strong hope to get something done as quickly as possible. To that end, Secretary Geithner is here to speak for a few minutes about what the President and the leaders talked about and take some questions on what was talked about around financial reform.
So, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Thanks, Robert.
How are you all? So I think it’s a critical moment for reform, a promising moment. A lot of hard work, lot of progress. It’s been two and a half years since this crisis started, more than a year since we first laid out a comprehensive set of reforms. And I think we know what we need to know about the choices we face; it’s just time to decide and time to move.
We're going to make sure we have a comprehensive bill that brings derivatives out of the dark, ends “too big to fail,” and gives consumers and investors basic protection against abuse, against predation.
There’s been a lot of movement on the consumer, as you’ve seen. The focus is now shifting to the really important but very complicated areas of derivatives and “too big to fail.” But I think there, too, we've taken a lot of ideas from the other side of the aisle; I think we've got a very strong package of reforms and I think we're very close to something that we can stand up and say with pride is going to be a good, strong bill, and prevent us from ever seeing this kind of crisis again in the future.
I don't think it’s tenable for anyone to stand up and see, in the face of the devastation this crisis caused, it’s not tenable for anyone to argue now, I think, that we don't need sweeping reforms. We can't afford to leave this system in place.
And again, I think we're very close. We're, as I said, open to ideas. Our test is going to be, though, what’s going to work, what’s going to be in the public interest, what’s going to leave us with much better protections against these basic failures and these abuses.
We're going to keep reaching out to the other side of the aisle. I thought the tone of the discussion today was very positive. Senator McConnell said, as he’s said many times before, that he’s -- we’d like to work on something, but of course, our test is going to be what’s going to work, what’s going to leave us with a strong enough set of reforms.
Q Are we out of the woods now?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: In terms of the --
Q The prosperity, economic return?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: We are in a much stronger position today than we were. The economy is definitely getting stronger. We're coming out of this stronger and more quickly than many people expected, and stronger and faster than many countries around the world.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Why? Why are we? Because the President acted so forcefully initially, doing things that were politically difficult, but he acted with overwhelming force to put out the financial fire, stabilize the economy. And we've been growing now for three quarters.
But too many people are out of work. We've got a lot of work to do still. This is going to take a long time to heal. And we're going to keep working to make sure that we're getting a strong recovery in place that gets more people back to work.
Q Is it a permanent answer now, with more controls on the financial --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Will it be a permanent answer? This is going to be the most sweeping set of reforms we have contemplated as a country since those put in place after the Great Depression. But we let our system -- a system designed for a different era -- fall way behind the curve of risk and innovation in this market. Never should have let that happen. But I think this is a very strong package of reform. Again, I think we're very, very close -- I think we're going to have very broad support for this because it’s so important. Again, I think it’s very hard for anybody to argue that we can look at the devastation caused by this crisis and not say we all share a huge responsibility to fix what was broken.
Q The administration has said that it would like to see this bill strengthened. What areas need strengthening?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, the key test for us is going to make sure there is a strong, independent authority to write rules, enforce rules for consumers -- that protect consumers that apply across the financial system.
Again, what happened in our system was we let people operate outside any basic set of constraints. And over time what happens is what always happens, is the business migrated to where the rules were weakest. And that’s critically important.
We need to bring derivatives out of the dark so we don't have future AIGs. We saw what devastation that caused when you let huge complex companies write hundreds of billions of dollars of commitments in derivatives without the capital to back that. And we do not want to have the American taxpayer ever be in a position again where they’re forced to choose between putting billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at risk or facing catastrophic collapse of the financial system.
Those are our three basic tests. So we're going to make sure the bill comes out in ways that are strong in each of those things, it is not weakened by loopholes which allow people to exempt themselves from stronger rules of the game.
Q Are you recommending language to the senators?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: We are working, as we have been from the beginning, working very closely with Chairman Frank and Chairman Dodd to make sure this bill comes out in the strongest possible position. And we're working with Republicans, too, as I said. I've been spending a lot of time with Republicans. I'm going to continue to listen to them, open to their ideas, because, again, we want to make sure we have the strongest possible set of reforms.
Q The Republican leadership is saying that this fund that is in the bill will actually set up perpetual bailouts and --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: We're not -- let me just say we will not support a bill that creates that risk. The central test of credibility on any “too big to fail” is to make sure we can stand up and say that when large companies manage themselves to the point where they cannot survive without the government, that we put them out of existence. We do so safely with less risk to the economy and in a way that doesn’t leave the taxpayers on the hook. So the central part of this is to make sure that in future financial crises, that banks bear the cost of any risk the government has to take to protect the economy.
Q Do you need that risk pool in the bill?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, the basic principle for us is going to be to make sure people understand that we will not leave the taxpayer exposed to any risk of loss. Any risks the government takes are going to be borne by large financial institutions, as it should be, and which is completely consistent with what the President proposed in his -- our financial responsibility fee, which as you know, is designed to cover any losses we ultimately face as a result of TARP.
Q So you're saying you need the fund?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: No, I'm saying we need to make sure we have a framework in place that provides for the effectiveness of bankruptcy for large institutions in a way that doesn’t leave the taxpayer exposed to a penny of loss.
Q So you're saying that any fund contained in the bill would have that kind of language around it --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Absolutely.
Q -- that says the taxpayer would be repaid --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: And there’s lots of different ways to do this. You saw different ideas in the House, there are some different ideas in the Senate, different ideas on the other side of the aisle. But --
Q What’s your idea?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, you’ve heard our idea -- we laid out our idea in the initial reforms. Again, the basic test for us is if the government is ever exposed again to any risk of loss, that the cost of that will be borne by large financial institutions, as it should be. It’s a simple, basic proposition of fairness.
Q Just following up on that point, it’s irrelevant to the administration whether that fund is created, whether the money is raised in advance or whether it’s raised later when a problem arises?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: As you know, we don’t think it’s necessary to raise in advance. But, you know, this is something that Chairman Dodd is going to be talking to Senator Shelby about later today. I know it’s on both their minds. And I’m very confident that we’re going to come out with something that meets this basic test, which is -- again, this is the basic test, which is we don’t want the taxpayers to be exposed to bearing any of the losses that the government might have to take in the future as part of an effort to save the economy from financial collapse.
Q I’d like to ask about the over-the-counter contracts in Blanche Lincoln’s bill. First of all, what role did the White House have in helping her write that bill?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: We have been working very, very closely, as we did in the House, with Senator Lincoln and with her Republican counterparts on their efforts to design a set of reforms on the derivatives markets that would bring them out of the dark. So we’ve been closely -- working closely with them throughout this period of time. And I want to compliment her for the initiative she took in laying out a set of very strong elements for reform.
If you look at where she is now today and where Dodd’s bill is and where we are, there’s a lot in common in those basic approaches. And I know that she’s going to be working closely with Senator Dodd and will be helpful in this area in ironing out those remaining differences.
But this is a -- again, this is a very strong package of reforms that would bring derivatives out of the dark, would make sure that companies like AIG, again, can’t write trillions of dollars of commitments without the capital to back them up so that -- and that the relevant authorities -- the SEC, CFTC -- can police fraud and manipulation. These are basic, sensible, necessary reforms.
Q There’s always been a move on the part of the CFTC in recent years to bring some of these on to exchanges and so forth, but is there any room for exemptions? And I’m thinking of the agricultural contracts.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Right. I think there is -- I’ve said before, there is a good economic case for a carefully designed, narrowly crafted exemption for what you might call manufacturing companies -- people that make real things but have a need to hedge their exposure to certain types of risks. I think we can do that, but the key thing is to make sure we do that in ways that does not provide an opportunity for other people to evade the basic protections of the bill -- so that’s the balance.
Q One final thing. Lincoln’s bill has been described at least so far initially as a pretty tough bill. Does that get you 60 votes in the Senate?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, she hasn’t put a bill forward, so we’ve got to look at the details of this stuff. But based on what she’s laid out in public it looks like a very strong bill, very close to where we are on these things. And I know that she is going to work closely with Chairman Dodd to work out the details.
MR. GIBBS: And let me add something on the 60 votes. I think the President reiterated today that, as the Secretary says, we are coming up on the anniversary of this financial crisis. We can’t celebrate that anniversary with the rules from the past. But it is both good policy and good politics for both parties to come together and pass strong financial reform.
The President was clear that he stands ready, as the Secretary does, to work with any Democrat or any Republican to make this bill stronger. But in the name of bipartisanship, the President is not going to codify bad policy. The American people expect and deserve far more from financial reform than bad policy.
Q Mr. Secretary, one question on reg reform and one on the debt -- some comments of Ben Bernanke today. On reg reform, could you respond to Republican criticism that it doesn’t address to their satisfaction Fannie or Freddie, which even those who support regulatory reform believe was a precipitant cause of the crisis? And number two --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Let me just say on that, of course they’re right. We did not take on the broad question of reform of the GSEs or the broader housing finance market in this bill. We did that consciously. But we’re beginning a process now to figure out what the most sensible set of reforms are not just for fixing the GSEs -- and we can’t leave them as they are -- but for looking at the broader housing finance market as a whole and make sure that’s going to be -- do a better job in the future at giving people access to affordable housing. That’s going to come, but we did not -- we consciously decided not to do that in this bill.
Q Okay. And secondarily, that the proposals on the table on derivatives Republicans say will push the trading of those instruments overseas, make them less transparent, and cost American jobs.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: No risk of that and I would not support that. And we’ve been working very closely because of that potential challenge to make sure that European countries and others are moving with us and put in place a complementary framework, very similar protections. And we have very broad convergence with the Europeans on what we think would be an effective global framework that will avoid that risk.
Q And on the debt, Ben Bernanke said today that under a likely tax scenario, meaning most of the Bush tax cuts extended, as the President has called for, and continued relief of AMT, by 2020 the deficit of the federal government will be 9 percent of GDP and federal debt would be more than 100 percent of GDP.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, I didn’t see his remarks --
Q He said that would be unsustainable and there must be a more aggressive approach.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Of course, that would be unsustainable, but that’s not going to happen if Congress adopts the policies the President has laid out. He’s laid out a very comprehensive, detailed set of policies that would bring our deficit down dramatically over the next few years and get them much closer to the point where we’re living within our means again as a country.
But, of course, everybody recognizes right now that we’re living with unsustainable deficits. And it will be very important to make sure that we have a strong recovery going forward, that Congress demonstrate that we’re able to make some tough choices to bring those deficits down. But the policies the President laid out would bring about a very substantial, necessary, important, dramatic reduction in the deficits once we have an economy where we have a recovery in place led by the private sector that’s strong enough.
Q Mr. Secretary, Senator Dodd has said he wants to get a bill through the Senate by the end of April. What’s the administration’s timetable on that? There’s been talk of Memorial Day. Is that feasible?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I think that’s something you’ve got to talk to the Majority Leader about. I know he’s thinking about the best strategy. Obviously we want to move quickly and we want to get a strong bill. And again, I think on the basis of what we’ve seen, we’ve got a very good chance of enacting the most sweeping, strongest, most comprehensive set of reforms we have contemplated as a country since those put in place after the Great Depression. I think we’re in a good position to get there, but the timing and that kind of question is up to the Majority Leader.
Q Are you confident it will be done this year?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, I don’t think it is -- I don’t see how -- I’m a little more optimistic about our country. Again, I think we have the ability to stand up and tell the American people that we acted to fix what was broken, to put in place stronger rules with teeth that would prevent this from happening again. And I can’t believe we wouldn’t take the opportunity now. So I’m very confident we’ll be able to get there.
MR. GIBBS: It’s untenable that Congress would go home to campaign for reelection in November, answering questions that the same rules that were in place two years ago, the regulatory structure that led to what we’re dealing with, that those would still be in place. I don’t even think those that have clearly sided with the financial industry and want to slow this down think that’s a good solution.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Could I end, Robert, with just encouragement -- are you going to let me escape?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to give you one more question and then --
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I want to end with one point, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q I just wanted to ask you for clarification. Republicans have claimed they’ve been pushed out of this process, sidelined to a certain extent. You’ve said that there been ideas incorporated from the other side. Could you just detail what those are?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I could -- it’s a long list. On the design of a bankruptcy process for large institutions like future AIGs, there’s been a lot of careful, detailed, helpful work done by a number of Republican senators on the Banking Committee -- Senator Shelby, Senator Corker, many others. Senator Gregg has been a strong supporter of making sure that the Federal Reserve -- although we’re going to limit their authority in important ways -- that the Federal Reserve is given the authority and the accountability to constrain risk-taking by the largest financial institutions.
This bill brings a revolution in terms of transparency and disclosure across the financial markets, not just in derivatives but more broadly. That’s something that of course you have broad support for on the Republican side.
There is a long list of areas with bipartisan support throughout the process. And as you know, Chairman Dodd has worked -- it’s April -- we started this a year ago -- it’s April -- because he has spent so much time trying to build consensus with a group of Republican senators on the Senate Banking Committee who would like to find the basis for a good, strong bill.
Q Mr. Secretary, a quick question on the mortgage modification program. Why has it not worked the way you guys said it was going to work a year ago?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, I want to step back a little bit and take issue with your premise. The strategy that the President embraced with respect to the housing market has been hugely successful in its most vital objective, which was -- if you look back, think back a year ago, when we were all sitting here then, most people at that point were living with the real prospect that house prices across the country could fall another 20 to 30 percent. And what you saw very quickly because of the actions we took -- you saw house prices show a measure of stability. That’s held over this -- for now like more than nine months. That is hugely important to what’s happened in the recovery. And we did that by bringing down mortgage interest rates, a whole range of areas -- it’s hugely beneficial to --
Q A lot of these banks are not cooperating.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Hold on, I’ll come to your question. That’s hugely important to the tens and tens of millions of Americans that -- for whom their home equity values is a big measure of their financial security.
In addition to that, we launched a modification program to help a set of homeowners stay in their homes. That program has now reached more than 1.1 million Americans. Average increase in -- average reduction in monthly payments: $500 to $600 per month for the average household. That is a substantial amount of financial relief that also is very powerful. That’s a -- more than a million Americans. And we are working very hard to make sure that that program is reaching as many people as we can reach and that those -- that temporary relief turns into permanent relief.
Q -- 200,000 have gotten the permanent relief approximately?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: It’s a little higher than that. But, again, we're going to make sure that as many of those temporary mods turn into permanent mods as possible. One reason why -- this is an important thing -- we wanted to move as quickly as possible so -- although you're right that banks have been a little slow and they did not do as good a job as they should and they’re still not doing as good a job to reach these people -- we got them to move very quickly. And they’ve provided a number of these temporary modifications without documentation. So it was in place quickly; people had immediate relief.
And because of that, it’s taken a little bit longer to have those converted into permanent mods because, again, we want to make sure the people who are getting this relief are actually eligible for relief.
Now, there’s still a lot of risk of foreclosures across the country. It’s still going to be a very painful process for millions of Americans, but we're going to keep working to make sure this program reaches as many people as we can reach. And, again, don't miss the fundamental achievement, which is to say it’s not just the economy is growing now, but we took -- we brought a measure of stability and took a lot of fear out what is a central part of most American families’ basic economic security.
I want to do one last thing. Just let me -- I want to leave you with one encouraging -- just one exhortation. I think the level of attention you and your colleagues have brought to particularly the debate on consumer, which for many -- consumer protection -- which defined really the first nine months of this debate in the public eye, was very important, very helpful. And I think the progress we've seen now where you see again broad recognition from a lot of the opponents of consumer -- that we were going to have strong independent consumer protection authority is the result of that attention.
And the stuff ahead of us now is derivatives, it’s “too big to fail,” it’s complicated stuff -- okay? But make sure that you bring the same level of exposure and the spotlight on the choices ahead, because we -- I think we all have an interest in resisting the efforts that are going to be made -- and they’re going to come still -- to weaken, to exempt, to carve people out of those basic protections.
So I end with that compliment. Thank you guys very much.
Q You just said something nice about the media. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He’s a visitor. (Laughter.) No, that was a joke. Obviously I'm glad he came and I'm glad you got an update on what the President talked about.
I do want to add just one thing. To build a little off the timeline that Secretary Geithner mentioned, for weeks, for months, Senator Dodd met with Senator Shelby, the ranking member of the committee, in order to try to bring he and other Republicans along. That was unsuccessful, and Senator Corker came for several weeks to try to do the same thing. Now, as Secretary Geithner mentioned, Senator Shelby is meeting tonight with Senator Dodd in an effort to try to do this again. The President was --
Q What do they want --
MR. GIBBS: I think there have -- quite honestly, Helen, I think there are very conscious efforts to weaken this bill on behalf of lobbyists and special interests that have been paid a huge amount of money to do exactly that.
The President was very, very clear with the members this morning. He is happy to listen to, happy to work with, and happy to incorporate anyone -- any ideas that strengthens financial reform. But we are not going to make bad policy decisions through the artificial lens of hoping something is bipartisan, because in the end the test will be whether or not we have rules in place that prevent this from ever happening again. That is the standard by which the President and his team have gone about this reform effort; that is the way in which we will measure the product that comes out of the Senate and ultimately what the President signs into law.
Q Is the administration concerned that these Shelby and Dodd meetings might weaken the bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe so. I think Senator Dodd has a very strong product and I think the -- quite frankly, I think everything points in the direction of strengthening this legislation. Whether it is on derivatives, whether it is on, as you heard the Secretary mention, the consumer financial protection agency, where people thought this legislation might end up a few months ago, is now in a much, much stronger position. And I quite frankly think that there will be a decent number of Republicans that will be on the side of reform.
I don't doubt, again, that there will be, as the Secretary said, some very deliberate efforts to water down, to weaken and to put the special interests in control of a process that does exactly that, in weakening this bill. I think the President has been clear with the leaders that he will not accept that.
Q I'm just wondering if you can give us your interpretation of Senator McConnell’s position. He came out -- I think it was pretty extraordinary -- right after meeting with the President he walks to the driveway and blasts the White House for wanting to jam through a partisan bill and not wanting to work with them.
MR. GIBBS: I've got to tell you I get the sense the -- the sense the readout you got was several hundred degrees on the oven hotter than what it was in the room. You could ask --
Q Are you saying he didn’t --
MR. GIBBS: He mentioned to the President that he got the feeling that we weren’t willing to work with anybody. Again, the President then took the opportunity to say that Senator Dodd had spent weeks with Senator Shelby. When Senator Shelby decided he could no longer take part, Senator Corker stepped up. Senator Dodd spent weeks with Senator Corker. A lot of Republicans get to church; very few of them have made it to the altar. (Laughter.)
Q What did McConnell say in response to that --
Q What does that mean?
Q What does that mean -- yeah.
Q It’s a fun little -- but what do you mean by that?
MR. GIBBS: What I mean by that is --
Q Are you saying they’re not --
MR. GIBBS: No, what I mean is -- their motives, you will have to ask them. I'm just saying that in order to be bipartisan you have to be willing to -- for the President, you have to be willing to accept a strong bill. And the effort to get this close is simply to take steps to water or weaken that legislation -- that's not what the President is interested in. And again, I think that -- well, the President was very clear, and the Secretary has been clear about talking with and working with Democrats and Republicans. The question is whether or not Republicans, quite frankly, are going to be willing to accept some of the strong measures that might put them at odds with some of their campaign contributors.
Q But after the President said that what was the response from McConnell?
MR. GIBBS: I think they both agreed that they’d be willing to sit down and work together, and the President mentioned to Senator McConnell, if it’s -- he said, if I'm not mistaken, I think the ranking member is meeting with the committee chair.
Again, we're happy to have these conversations, but the President was very clear, we have bottom lines, where this debate and the amendment procedure is not going to be, in the President’s view, a race to the bottom, to weaken, to hide, to make less transparent the aspects of this legislation that the American people so rightly deserve.
Q Just one quick follow-up on that. I mean, the talking points or at least the charge the Republicans are making is that this is going to lead to more taxpayer bailouts. And there is an argument even in the left wing of the Democratic Party that this bill isn’t tough enough and it will lead to more bailouts. But I'm wondering -- you seem to be questioning -- you seem to be saying the Republicans’ charge on that is insincere.
MR. GIBBS: I think it is -- I don't think it’s true. I don't -- I think you heard the Secretary say the President will not accept -- I'll tell you what will lead to the taxpayers continually being on the hook: Not doing anything. Right? Using the same rules of the road that got us into the ditch as a road map for how to move forward.
This legislation will end the concept of “too big to fail.” It will -- you’ve heard the President discuss in the State of the Union the desire to put a fee on the very largest banks that got help through TARP, a fee to make the taxpayers whole for having, quite frankly, loaned many of these institutions money in order not to bring down the rest of the economy.
So again, the President is hopeful, the Secretary is hopeful, that we can get a strong bipartisan bill, and I think they outlined the case that it is in everybody’s interest -- policy, first and foremost, as well as politically -- to get this done.
Q Robert, I still want to get at what’s behind this disconnect, though, between this tone -- apparently agreeable tone in the meeting with the President and when they come out to the stakeout mics, it appears that the two sides are far apart.
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- again, I sat in the entire meeting; it was a very cordial meeting. I can't explain to you why they thought it wasn’t or why they -- their readouts seem to be, like I said, hotter than what their discussion points were. I mean, Senator McConnell mentioned financial reform. Congressman Boehner talked about the supplemental. But there wasn’t an extensive heated back-and-forth.
Q Was there any heat, though? Was it tense at any time?
MR. GIBBS: I think it was frank. I think they talked about the desire to get -- the President talked about the desire to get the New START treaty ratified quickly. The President discussed with Senator McConnell the need to get appointments through the Senate in a far more timely -- on a far more timely schedule than has been thus far. I wouldn’t, though -- I hope I'm not jamming them up, but I don't think it was that contentious.
Q At the stakeout it was very clear that the Democrats were very upset with how Republicans have been holding up nominations, holding up bills. And you didn’t see any of that back-and-forth --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, I will tell you that, as I just said, there was no question that it was discussed that on the calendar sit 94 nominees that are out of committee that are awaiting a vote. And I've mentioned this on countless occasions and I'll do so again -- we have nominees that have cleared committee for months. They sit there. The Republican leader insists that Senator Reid file cloture, which starts a 30-hour clock. At the end of that 30-hour clock, no one -- no one opposes the nominee. And then after that vote they have an up or down vote on the nomination in which no one opposes the nominee. Whether or not that was a tactic to slow the process down during health care -- may be the case.
As the President mentioned, we're past health care. If there are non-controversial, non-ideological nominees at the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Treasury, that are not going to be opposed either in cloture or in the process, the tradition has been that unanimous consent is provided and an up or down vote, or even a voice vote, is done on these nominees.
And the President mentioned -- he didn’t spend a lot of time in the Senate but he got how the place worked.
Q What was the response?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the response specifically on that one was the President suggested that someone go sit with -- someone from our team go sit directly with Senator McConnell. The President understood there are ideological -- there are nominees that Republicans will oppose for ideological reasons. Then there are probably 80 percent of the nominees that are on the calendar are likely to be those that I just discussed, where cloture -- there’s no opposition to cloture or on their final vote.
The President asked -- told Senator McConnell we would send a representative over to sit down directly with him, go through the list, and they could pick their ideological ones that they wanted to have a specific floor battle about, but that of the 94, 70 or 75 of those have traditionally just been cleared. The President said we’d send somebody over to sit down and figure out who those 70 or 75 were and get them done.
Q Did he agree?
MR. GIBBS: He seemed to be amenable to sitting down.
Q On the issue of jobs, John Boehner today was hammering the administration for the promised jobs that haven't materialized; that the President, when he signed the stimulus, said that there would be all these jobs, and he’s saying where are all the jobs. How do you respond to this criticism?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this -- did he say that at the stakeout?
MR. GIBBS: He didn’t mention that in the meeting. So I don't -- if the point he was making was that he mentioned that at the meeting -- the President did provide them a copy of the latest report from the Council on Economic Advisers. There are mayors in his district, there are schools in his district that have reported to us jobs that have been saved or created as a result of the Recovery Act. As the Secretary mentioned, we've seen 3 consecutive quarters of economic growth. The measure that some use is that of the stock market, which prior to me making this comment, appeared to be above 11,000.
So I would say that there are those that seem to continue to deny that we're making progress on the economy despite all available information to the contrary.
Q Just one more question on -- yesterday you got some agreement; you had this communiqué from all of these leaders who were here. What happens going forward? What’s the follow-through to make sure that these agreements, these handshakes actually turn into action?
MR. GIBBS: Well, on specific -- on commitments that have been specifically made, we -- our teams will, both at NSC and DOD, as well as the State Department, will begin to work through our side of those agreements -- for instance, for places like Canada and Mexico that have agreed to, over the course of time, return their highly enriched uranium to us. We have offered to provide Ukraine with technical and financial assistance in ensuring the safe transfer and ultimate disposition of their highly enriched uranium.
So I think on a whole host of measures we will follow up directly with, on a bilateral basis, those countries to ensure that the commitments that have been made are followed through on. A number of instances -- the Ukraine agreement comes most specifically to mind, and that is this is something that has been desired for more than 10 years; that we -- the President received a commitment from the Ukraine leadership to try to get out almost -- a vast majority of their highly enriched uranium this year and to do so before the next nuclear summit in the Republic of Korea in 2012.
So there is a plan in place with staff here to begin to ensure that what we have to do on our side is carried out.
Q Robert, I'm wondering if you could share with us whatever was said inside the meeting with respect to a Supreme Court nominee. The President said he wanted to bring it up.
MR. GIBBS: No, it was not discussed because next week there is a separate meeting with both Senate leaders and the Judiciary Committee chair and ranking member --
Q It didn’t come up at all?
MR. GIBBS: -- it didn’t come up -- to specifically discuss the nominations process and to see -- and to ask, obviously as he did during his first confirmation, what advice each of them had for this process.
Q And then as a follow-on to that, does the President regard this as -- is he starting fresh, completely anew here in the Supreme Court process, or do you feel like you have a road map from -- of nominees and potential candidates from the Sotomayor hearings?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s safe to say that there are those that went through that process that were ultimately not selected that have gone through the full process of having been looked at by the President and his team. But I would strongly suggest that the notion somehow that this is a process that we are at right now where we are winnowing a list rather than expanding that list -- I would make sure that you understand that we’re in a process of expanding that list and giving the President as many options as he desires to make an important selection.
Q How involved is he personally at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he has -- he obviously was focused most of the weekend on the Nuclear Security Summit, but obviously the team is in the process of, as I said, filling out information on an ever-expanding list of potential nominees.
Q Going to avoid a fight?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will, as you heard him say in the Rose Garden, is going to pick somebody who is highly qualified. Whether or not we have entered a phase in our politics where a fight is -- on anybody can be avoided, I don’t know the answer to that, Helen.
Q Robert, can you respond to Neil Armstrong’s criticism of the administration’s plans for NASA? He read the new fact sheets that you guys put out and still has the same criticism, this idea that the space program is going to become mediocre.
MR. GIBBS: You know, I watched some of the reporting on this. I would say that, first and foremost, an independent commission has looked at NASA, at its budget, and at its programs, and found that they -- the programs were years behind schedule, massively over budget, that we weren’t going to meet the time frame of going to the moon under any circumstance. In fact, the commission itself found that the idea of going to the moon under the timetable prescribed was un-executable. That’s their word.
Q So why not fix that process, improve that, rather than scrub the program?
MR. GIBBS: Again, they -- again, Chuck, and I’m sure you all have dug into this and found that given the time frame and given the budget and given the ability to meet the goals that they laid out, again, the commission found that that was simply not attainable.
The President will outline a renewed strategy tomorrow in Florida that will provide more jobs for the area, greater investment in innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner, and a more ambitious and sustainable space program for America’s future.
That’s why, again, there have been many, including Buzz Aldrin, who believe that what the President will outline represents our best opportunity and our best effort to get this agency and program back on pace to put astronauts and rockets into space, as the President so strongly desires.
Q That sounds like you take issue -- it sounds like you take issue with this -- the idea that jobs are going away. Because that’s what a lot of people in Florida -- Senator Bill Nelson is concerned about this -- that jobs are going away. You’re saying there are going to be additional jobs --
MR. GIBBS: There will be additional jobs. Again, remember --
Q -- there are going to be a bunch of jobs going away.
MR. GIBBS: Remember that there was a decision made in 2004 to retire the shuttle program. The deadline actually had been extended. But the plan that the President will outline actually would result in more jobs for the area than would have been had the plans simply been carried out. So I think that, again, the President will outline this in more specificity and detail tomorrow, but this is a sustainable investment in our continued returning to space.
Q But to Chuck’s point, won’t there still be jobs lost because of the programs that are being discontinued?
MR. GIBBS: Again, that was a decision made more than six years ago to discontinue the shuttle program.
Q But, Robert, on the same thing --
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President is going to get into this in great detail tomorrow.
Q But what response does he have to someone like Neil Armstrong, who has now been out --
MR. GIBBS: The same one I just gave to Chuck, based on --
Q What about the specific comment that America is giving up its leadership?
MR. GIBBS: Understand this. As I said, an independent commission was formulated to study where the program was, whether it was capable of fulfilling what it said it was going to do. The commission -- and, again, an independent commission -- came back and said that was un-executable, not going to happen. What the President has done is put in place something that is sustainable, that will return astronauts and rockets to space, increase our investment in cutting-edge research and innovation, and provide us the best opportunities.
Q But you’re changing from what -- he’s making changes from what he had earlier this year.
MR. GIBBS: He is.
Q And what caused that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, a strong desire to see our nation continue to lead the world in space exploration. But understand -- Major just asked the Secretary and myself about unsustainable budgets. No one has been immune to this. The President froze non-security defense -- non-security discretionary spending for a three-year period of time. We have lived for a long time beyond our means. So the original program, again, envisioned would not have been available to return to space until 2028 to 2030.
Q -- regards the space program, though, as part of the national security -- is a national security issue.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are -- well, again, I think there are obvious and cutting-edge research and innovation investments that a whole host of people in this administration and out believe are tremendously important. That’s why the President’s renewed program protects that and, again, provides something that is sustainable. The program that had been in place, Chuck, was not going to -- just simply not going to happen.
Q Robert, on another topic, Supreme Court nominee real fast. The list that you’re talking about, the expanded list that you have today, what can you tell us about this list? What types of people are on it? Who are you getting recommendations from? And what --
MR. GIBBS: Everyone and everyone. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. And what recommendations are you really listening to? What organizations or departments are you listening to more so than any other on recommendations? And who is comprising this list?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the Counsel’s Office, Bob Bauer is in charge of the process. The President will solicit recommendations and names from those on Capitol Hill, those that will be involved in the process. I don’t doubt that we’ll read many names that people are interested in seeing considered. This is a process that will take many weeks. I’m not going to from up here get into that name game.
Q But currently on the list -- women? Minorities? Men -- I mean, we know men probably. But women and -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I can say -- I can narrow it down to both men and women, yes.
Q No, but, I mean, minorities -- are there more minorities on the list?
MR. GIBBS: Again, April, I’m going to come out here many times in the next several weeks and I’m just not going to get into the name game. I think the President will have --
Q Not the names but who’s on the list, what kind of people are on the list.
MR. GIBBS: Not their names but who? (Laughter.) That’s a -- it’s a good try. It’s early in the process. I think you’ve got a chance to refine your question and try to slip it in, say, next Tuesday. No, again, I think the President will have a large, robust list with which to make a decision that will reflect a whole host of different attributes and backgrounds.
Q Robert, you said this is a process that will take many weeks. We’ve actually been hearing a nominee within several weeks. The President said he wanted to move quickly. So how many weeks?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know -- I mean, I don’t -- I’m not going to -- I don't know the number; between “several” and “many.” If you want to substitute “several” for “many,” please note that the transcript will do that.
Q But Robert -- Robert --
Q Robert, just on space --
Q Robert -- Robert, right here --
MR. GIBBS: Is this just in my head or are you all saying my name? (Laughter.)
Q Okay. On Friday we were instructed that about 10 would be on the list of current potential nominees. Is this ever-expanding list far beyond 10? Will it be far beyond that in number?
MR. GIBBS: I am not going to get into the several or many names that will be on the list developed over the next several or many weeks.
Q Robert, let me ask you a foreign policy question because the Israeli government yesterday contended that Syria is sending long-range Scud missiles into Lebanon into the hands of Hezbollah, a game-changing -- in their words -- military maneuver that they’ve found extremely destabilizing to the region. U.S. officials expressed some other similar concern. Give me the administration’s evaluation of that. And in the context of what some have described as a rough patch in U.S.-Israeli relations, how does this fit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I have said many times up here, we are -- we have an unbreakable bond with the Israeli people --
Q Even when they’re wrong?
MR. GIBBS: -- and in ensuring their security. We are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that is allegedly being transferred. We have expressed our concerns to those governments and believe that steps should be taken to reduce any risk and any danger of anything from happening.
Q How has that message been sent and what does this do to the administration’s attempt to engage the Syrians in this more complex discussion about Middle East peace?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we have relayed our concerns.
Q At the highest level?
MR. GIBBS: We have.
Q At the highest level?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And again, obviously this is a -- you heard the President speak yesterday about Middle East peace, his desire to have this nation remain focused on that goal. The potential destabilizing effect, the alarming effect that this has, we’ve expressed our great concern about that.
Q Thank you, Robert.
2:22 P.M. EDT
May 24, 2016
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