Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 4/19/10
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before we get started, let me see if I can make this gizmo work -- there we go.
The Internal Revenue Service today began mailing postcards to more than 4 million small businesses and tax-exempt organizations to make them aware of the benefits of the recently enacted Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. The credit, which takes effect this year, is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time, or maintain coverage they already provide.
We want to make sure small employers across the nation realize that effective this tax year you may be eligible for a valuable new tax credit. We urge every small employer to take advantage of this credit if they qualify. In general, the credit is available to small employers that pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees in 2010. The credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ low and moderate-income workers. So those postcards are being mailed today.
And with those two announcements, Mr. Babington.
Q Thank you, Robert. The Vice President said that this operation was carried out by Iraqis based on intelligence that they gathered themselves. What was the American role in this operation?
MR. GIBBS: The American role was to continue to provide necessary help and support as the Iraqis undertook the security operation itself.
Q Can you give us just some idea --
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think there’s a statement out from General Odierno and others and I would point you to that.
Q Two questions, if I may. One about Iran, the other about financial regulation.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Iran said it’s going to start work on a new uranium enrichment plant and we’re looking for any response. And do you think it will help gain support for sanctions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take that one first. Look, I would point you -- well, first and foremost, obviously Iran continues to fail to live up to the important obligations that -- obligations that they signed years ago.
I would point out, though, that as is often the case, the rhetoric of Iran and their nuclear program does not always meet the reality of what they’re capable of. And to that end, I would point you to the IAEA saying -- IAEA report that demonstrates the trouble that they’ve had over the course of the past year in, again, matching what they say and what they do.
Q So what you’re saying is that they might be saying this about a reactor, but we don’t really know?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the -- I think Iran routinely puts out -- makes pronouncements and statements about a whole host of their programs that may or may not actually meet the facts of, again, what they’re capable of doing.
That’s not to say we don’t take the fact that they’re not living up to their obligations seriously. That’s why the President has taken the steps he’s taken to put together an international coalition to address that.
Q And on financial regulatory reform, can you talk more about what’s going -- the President is going to talk about on Thursday? Will he be making a general case or talking about any more specific policy ideas? And also, can you talk about the Goldman Sachs, do you think the charges will galvanize the push for reform at all or if it --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. Obviously -- I’m not going to get into discussing a regulatory action -- or, I’m sorry, an action taken by an independent regulatory authority. The SEC doesn’t notify the White House of its enforcement actions and certainly didn’t do so in this case.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure that given the depth of the economic downturn caused in many ways by financial irresponsibility, I’m not entirely sure you needed a prescient reminder of what’s at stake. Quite honestly, there was plenty of evidence Friday morning before the SEC got involved of the need to create new rules of the road and the desire by the American people to see those put into law.
The President will travel to New York on Thursday to once again make the case to the American people about why financial reform is so important to get done and to get done quickly. We are approaching, as I said, the second anniversary of this collapse. And I think the American people want us not to play politics with this important issue but instead to get something done, and that's the case that the President will push this week.
Q I’ve got a follow-up on Iran. The deadline -- we’re into the middle of April. The deadline to Iran seems to be stretching out quite a lot. Can you give us an idea, where do we stand --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I wouldn’t -- as the President discussed with President Sarkozy at the White House just a couple of weeks ago, we are at the United Nations right now and we expect to have sanctions that the U.N. Security Council will pass in place by spring.
Q “By spring,” meaning this month or May?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not a good person to tell you when spring ends or when it begins, but I would say in the next several weeks.
Q On another subject, the British elections are coming up in May, May 6th. Can you give us an update on where this special relationship stands?
MR. GIBBS: We continue to have -- we continue to have that relationship with Great Britain. Regardless of the outcome of that election, they will be one of our closest allies in the world. We have had that type of relationship for quite some time. We have a very strong relationship with them now, and that will continue regardless of the outcome of that election on May the 6th.
Q But there is a group -- there’s a report coming out from the Parliament, from the House of Commons, saying that the phrase shouldn’t even be used anymore because it really doesn’t mean anything; it’s ridiculous to even use it. And I noticed you didn’t use it just now. I mean, is the U.S. still using that “special relationship” or is it just a relationship?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have a special relationship with the phrase “special relationship.” We have a special relationship with Britain. This is a -- I would forward -- I’d have the report forwarded in and around to the media and you guys can banter back and forth on the banner that we use it with.
I think what’s testament to the special relationship are the actions that the two countries undertake together, whether it is working hand in hand to ensure that our economy at the global -- the response of the global economy is met; whether it has to do with our efforts, both efforts, in Afghanistan -- a very important place in the world for our security and for theirs; on dealing with issues like energy and climate change. There’s no stronger relationship in the world.
Q What’s the prospect for the financial reform -- of anything --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, tell me the last phrase?
Q Financial reform.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think as Secretary Geithner said that -- and others have said, I think this will, over the next few weeks, the Senate will take this up. Obviously they’re going to hopefully begin later this week. And I think we’ll have a strong bipartisan vote on financial reform in the next couple weeks.
MR. GIBBS: I absolutely believe so. I think that the President, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others have met throughout this process with Republicans who are interested in ensuring we have strong rules governing our financial system. And I think in the end, I do think there will be a bipartisan vote on this.
Q Even the top Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it would be awkward for me to trade in my current job and be his spokesperson. (Laughter.) I think that -- I don’t know whether Senator McConnell is interested in putting Wall Street in charge or putting the American people back in charge, but, Helen, he’ll have a chance to register whose side he’s on later on this month.
Q Well, what has changed since he produced that letter with 41 senators’ names on it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Secretary Geithner met with Senator Shelby on Friday; he’s going to meet with Senator Collins today. Chuck, I believe in the end this is going to be something that Democrats and Republicans alike are going to see the strong benefit of ensuring that, again, we don't mark the second anniversary of our financial collapse by having in place the same rules that led to that collapse.
Q Is the Goldman Sachs charge an essential part of the change that you're seeing from the Republican Leader appearing to have enough votes to filibuster?
MR. GIBBS: In all honesty, again, I want stress again that we play no role in what the SEC does; it’s an independent agency. Again, Chuck, I think there was plenty of evidence of the necessity for financial reform long before the announcement on Friday. The actions that Wall Street undertook over the course of many years to get us to the point where we saw the collapse that we did is proof enough that something has to change, and something has to change this year.
Q You said the SEC did not tell the White House that this action was coming -- but sometimes in government, you know, information finds other routes. Were people in the White House or --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q -- at Treasury aware that this was coming?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Absolutely nobody knew this was coming?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely not. Right.
Q You said that he’s meeting with Senator Collins today. Does he have a particular argument that he’s making and are there others he has met with in the last few days and will meet with, and what’s --
MR. GIBBS: You know, Secretary Geithner has -- I can try to get from them the list of people that -- you know, he’s met with Senator Corker, Senator Shelby. I mean, he’s met with --
Q I mean with the President. Did you say the President?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, Secretary Geithner.
Q Okay, I’m sorry.
MR. GIBBS: Secretary Geithner.
Q Who has the President met with recently on this -- what Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
Q I mean, of the ones who are potential votes on this.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that there have been any -- you guys would know as well as I -- I haven’t seen any meetings on the President’s schedule. Obviously --
Q Any phone calls? Any contact with them at all?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I can check my call log, but I think that this is -- Secretary Geithner has been meeting with -- Chairman Dodd has been meeting with -- met with Senator Shelby for quite some time before Senator Shelby decided he couldn’t be part of it anymore. Senator Corker came. They worked together until Senator Corker decided he couldn’t be involved. And Senator Shelby came back.
So I think that there is -- I think there is a desire to get something done. We’ll see if the -- hopefully this week that we’ll be able to proceed to this legislation in order to send a strong message to the American people that we’re going to put some common-sense regulations back in place to prevent the type of shenanigans -- this type of shenanigans from happening again.
Q Is the President willing to compromise on any specific measures in order to get some of those Republican votes?
MR. GIBBS: Not if that compromise means we’re doing something on behalf of watering down this legislation on behalf of the banks.
Q So no give at all. There will be no give.
MR. GIBBS: No, there’s -- we outlined a proposal last June. Again, Senator Dodd, Secretary Geithner have met with Republicans throughout this process. But Chip, as I said here last week and as the President told Senator McConnell and Congressman Boehner, we are not watering down financial reform on behalf of big banks. We’re just not going to do that. If that's the price of what Republicans want for them to call reform, that's not a price that the President is willing to do. And I'll be honest with you, Chip, I don't think it’s a price that the American people are willing to give.
Q Well, it sounds like a categorical statement that he won’t make any concessions, changes, compromises at all, in any way.
MR. GIBBS: We’re not watering this down. We’re not putting this -- Chip, the big banks for years had regulation on their side and it led to what I think most people would say was the worst economic downturn in their lifetimes. I don’t know why we would meet that economic downturn -- why would it be met with handing regulatory power to the big banks and watering this down?
Q Where does the President stand on the $50 billion fund?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously Senator Dodd is -- included that in his legislation. As you know, it was not in our original -- it was not in our original proposal that we outlined last June. It was an idea I believe -- and you can check with Chairman Dodd’s committee on this -- I believe it was an idea that was first birthed by Sheila Bair at the FDIC.
We’ll continue to work with Chairman Dodd. I would say that many of the characterizations that you’ve heard are curious. This is a fund that is -- this is a fund that was -- that is paid by banks in order to provide the government with the type of resolution authority it needs to ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook. But there are certainly some on the other side that would lead you to believe that on behalf of strong regulation, they are taking up the fight on this.
Q But you’re not offering your support for the curiously characterized $50 billion bill right now?
MR. GIBBS: Hans, I’m just saying it was not in our original proposal.
Q And is it something the President would be willing to compromise on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I mean -- again, it was not in our original proposal.
Q You’d prefer it not to be in the bill -- is that right? I mean, Treasury Secretary Geithner has testified that it’s a bad idea.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q In his words, he said it creates a moral hazard.
MR. GIBBS: -- we had a -- I forget the length of the white paper that was introduced when we laid out our plan, it was a pretty long thing and that wasn’t in there.
Q A few follow-ups, Robert. One, on Iraq, could this mission have happened without the support of U.S. troops?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- I honestly don’t know the answer to that, Chuck. I think that -- obviously the Iraqis were in the lead and as we have and as General Odierno has pulled back forces from different areas, the Iraqis have been more and more in the lead. I think the mission demonstrates their continued growing capability to deal with a very tricky security situation. And I think that will only increase as we get closer to both, as the Vice President mentioned, the next two deadlines coming up in terms of pulling back our forces in Iraq.
Q On Iran, what is the spring deadline about now? Is it about sanctions or is it about an entirely new -- is this comparative to when you guys had the strategic review on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are we in that same period right now when it comes to Iran?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t follow.
Q Well, given the leak of the memo that Secretary Gates -- we saw over the weekend, and I understand you’re not going to comment on --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, I’ll be happy to comment on the memo, I just -- hold on, hold on, let me just do this.
Q But my point is, is it looks like there’s a whole policy review going on in Iran beyond just the --
MR. GIBBS: No, well, let me just say this. I hope everyone -- I hope everyone actually read what Secretary Gates said yesterday, okay, because -- I want to choose my words carefully here -- to write an entire story based on the description from somebody leaking a memo to a reporter, without actually having --
MR. GIBBS: -- but Helen, without actually having seen the memo, it’s fairly extraordinary.
I think I would ensure that -- and I would certainly hope that you would all look at what Secretary Gates, the author of the memo, said. Again, had you read the story, you would have thought that hair -- the reaction was hair on fire and hair scurrying around to implement a series of steps that changed our thinking.
Those that read the memo here and Secretary Gates -- neither of them believes that's the case. So again, I go to those extraordinary lengths simply to say that I thought the story was extraordinary in its ability to convey what wasn’t part of what was conveyed.
Q So, I guess, to go back, are we in the middle of a strategy review on how to deal with Iran, or right now is it still about sanctions?
MR. GIBBS: No, we have a dual-track approach. We have offered --
Q But it’s all sanctions-related right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, the international community has on many occasions made overtures to the Iranian government to live up to its responsibilities. We have said that failure to live up to those responsibilities will result in action by the U.N. Security Council on sanctions. Over the past couple of weeks, you have seen statements and reactions from the Russians and from the Chinese in support of that process. That's where that process is multilaterally.
Q And that's the --
MR. GIBBS: Right. You’ve also seen over the course of the past several months the U.S. government has tightened its sanctions on aspects of the Iranian government. And obviously there are -- there’s still also the possibility at looking at additional sanctions that could be implemented outside of something in the U.N. Security Council.
And I would say this. There have been announcements -- you’ve seen also in the last week -- in the last couple of weeks, announcements by companies that have unilaterally decided to no longer do business within Iran.
So I think all of those are positive developments leading to what the U.N. Security Council will do.
Q Two financial reform follow-ups. One, you’ve avoided talking about what the Goldman SEC issue means, yet the DNC seemed to buy advertising around it -- Google ads. I mean, do you think that was appropriate that the DNC do that in the name of the President --
MR. GIBBS: You should ask the DNC on that. I would say this, Chuck. Again --
Q Because I mean, politically it’s certainly not --
MR. GIBBS: But my point on this, Chuck, is it’s not as if the President began talking about financial reform sometime on Friday afternoon. The conditions that led to what happened in this economy two years ago -- the President quite frankly is going to speak at Cooper Union, where he gave a speech in I believe March of 2008, calling for financial reform. He gave a speech right after Labor Day in 2007 also calling for financial reform on NASDAQ. So again, Chuck, I don't -- I understand that it has taken up a big chunk of real estate in the news world. I don't, in all honesty, believe though -- you had plenty of evidence out there of the need for financial reform well before the --
Q So you don't have an issue -- the White House doesn’t have an issue with the DNC buying -- the key word -- Goldman Sachs SEC? If you did, you would say something?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- (laughter) -- you’re talking to somebody who’s fundamentally ill-equipped to talk about ad buys and key words. (Laughter.)
Q Okay, fair enough.
MR. GIBBS: My sense is that I’m not the only one swimming in that pool, but yes. (Laughter.)
Q And finally on the issue of Goldman, is there going to be -- are you guys at all concerned, on a perception issue, that anybody with Goldman ties, going back to what’s going on -- are they going to be asked to recuse themselves? I’m thinking right now about the highest person, the Chief of Staff to Secretary Geithner. I mean, are you going to ask various Goldman folks to sort of recuse themselves right now, because --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, let me check. I don't -- I mean, again, I don't know what the degree to which what the SEC alleges any of those people -- I think the SEC was pretty clear in naming in that suit who was involved.
Q I mean, is this something that the Counsel’s Office, you guys have to go back and anybody that's with Goldman at that time --
MR. GIBBS: I will check.
Q -- hey, what do you know type of thing?
Q You talked a little bit about your relation to the press and the administration’s relation to the press over the weekend. Are you planning changes in the way you deal with the press? Are you unhappy with the way you deal with the press?
MR. GIBBS: Am I unhappy with the way I deal with the press? No.
Q Robert Gibbs on Robert Gibbs -- that's great. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm doing this, by the way, on background as somebody who has intimate knowledge of the thinking of the Press Secretary. (Laughter.)
No, look -- I will say this, Ann. I think as long as there’s a press and a press office there will always be some level of --
MR. GIBBS: -- adversity, in the words of the very astute Helen Thomas. Again, we had a very cordial meeting that lasted about 75 minutes, with the White House Correspondents’ Association.
Q Any changes coming out of that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we talked to them -- I talked to them about -- actually, they talked to me about changes they’d like to see in terms of, for instance, access for news photographers to a greater number of events. I discussed a few things that were of concern to me, not the least of which was the sheer level of support that our office can provide on overseas trips in which there’s not a press charter, which we recently experienced in Prague.
So, look, I think there were some good -- you know, on each side of it there was hopefully some good suggestions that we can all incorporate.
Q Frank and open.
MR. GIBBS: Productive. Courteous.
Q Do you think access is going to change, or do you feel you've been as transparent and as open as you’d like to be?
MR. GIBBS: This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.
Q To the general public?
MR. GIBBS: Okay. (Laughter.) I don’t know how many are in this room, but this room minus 300 hundred million. I would say this -- it’s an example I tend to use, but I don't use it because it happens every so often -- the previous administration, in order to prevent many of you all from knowing who were in meetings, went to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. In our administration, it comes out once a month. I think -- that’s the type of transparency I think the American people -- I know I’m enormously proud of and I think the American people can be proud of it too.
Q You were careful to say that the -- that no one at the White House or the administration had word from the SEC that an action was coming, but was there -- were there any cues from the White House or from the administration that you would like to see enforcement actions taken on Wall Street?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I want to reiterate just so everyone is clear, the SEC is by law an independent agency. What it does, it does not coordinate with the White House and we receive no advance notice of any enforcement action.
Q But did you give a signal to either Justice or the SEC that you would like to see somebody held to account?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathon, by law -- again, by law the SEC is an independent agency. This White House did not give and this administration did not give any signal about enforcement mechanisms. Again, I think it has been clear for far more than two years about where the President -- the role the President believes financial reform needs to play in cleaning up our system. Again, we’re going -- the President will speak at Cooper Union, where he spoke at in March of 2008, about this very same subject.
Q And on the $50 billion fund, some of the concern expressed by Republicans is who exactly would get this money. Is there a way to clarify if, in the event that, you know, a Lehman Brothers collapse happened, would this money be for shareholders, creditors --
MR. GIBBS: Lehman doesn’t exist anymore, right?
Q -- right, if a future Lehman Brothers -- would that money, that $50 billion be for creditors, or would it be for unwinding?
MR. GIBBS: This was a proposal inserted by Senator Dodd. I would point you to him and to his committee.
Q The British government is talking about using naval ships and other assets to bring back people who were stranded by this volcano situation involving aviation. What’s the U.S. government going to do for Americans who were impacted by this?
MR. GIBBS: We received a call this morning from our ambassador, Lou Susman, to give an update here. I think there are approximately, according to him, about 40,000 Americans in England that are trying, because of the disruption in air travel, to get back to this country. We are working closely with the State Department to examine all the opportunities that we have to speed this process along, understanding that people -- some people may have gone on vacation, they’re running out of medicine, they don’t have a place to stay. So we’ve been in coordination with our ambassador there to see what can be done to facilitate that.
Obviously, as you all know the President’s travel just this weekend to Europe was canceled because of the Air Force’s concern relating to travel through the volcanic ash.
Q What kind -- what are you talking about when you say “exploring opportunities?”
MR. GIBBS: Well, we are just looking at -- and we haven’t -- I will explore more with State what in fact -- what specifics they’re talking about. Again, the concern came from the ambassador today in just underscoring the level of disruption that a seemingly simple thing has caused.
Q And that’s just England, so --
MR. GIBBS: Right. But this is -- now, as I understand it, and don’t talk my word for it, but I understand that there are some airports that are beginning to open, some airspace that is opening that will likely speed some of -- what we want to do is examine what opportunities do we have, even as other parts of Europe open, not having to have 40,000 from England go elsewhere on the Continent just to come back. So we’re looking through a whole host of --
Q Would the administration consider what Britain is talking about, using military assets?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- we’ve got some big ships, but that would be a pretty big ship. I don't want to get ahead of the discussions we’ve had. I have, at least up to this point, not heard something like that.
Q One more on this. What’s the level of concern about the impact on the airline industry, which is already on shaky financial grounds?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think this is -- I mean, we’ve all seen the pictures of the boards in airports with hundreds of flights canceled, the disruption it's caused not just to the traveling public, but the economic disruption both in commerce and, as you mentioned, in the airlines.
So, again, we are -- we’re seeking every opportunity to help facilitate a solution to this and watching it closely.
Q On financial reform, it is pretty clear the President negotiating with Senate Republicans wouldn’t water anything down.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q And you’re also pretty clear it’s going to be bipartisan. How many do you think you’re going to get? And is one bipartisan?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to guess on --
Q Well, what’s your definition of bipartisanship then? Is it just one?
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ll have Republicans that support this. I don’t know what the exact -- Hans, I don’t know what the exact number is.
Q More than one, though -- Republicans, plural?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think anybody wants to go home and explain why they were spending their time focused on putting the big -- keeping the big banks in charge. I just --
Q And then on derivatives, the President pretty clear the other day that he’d veto something that didn’t have strong derivatives language. Is he going to go ahead and endorse Blanche Lincoln’s language on derivatives? Is he there yet?
MR. GIBBS: I know that Secretary Geithner and Senator Lincoln have been working together. Obviously there is a tremendous amount of overlap in what we would like to see and what she has in her bill, but I don’t know what the final resolution is.
Q Are you getting closer to --
MR. GIBBS: I think we’re getting -- I think they’ve had some good meetings together. I think that there was a concern that -- that obviously Senator Lincoln didn’t share. There was concern that what could eventually come out of this process was something that was watered down on derivatives and I think Senator Lincoln has clearly taken a strong stand to ensure that these types of instruments are dealt with in financial reform.
Q Is that for a Lincoln TV ad? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: She’s going to do that on “The Daily Rundown,” Chuck.
Q You didn’t think her language went far enough?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- no, I’m -- I think there was concern that -- this is leaving Senator Lincoln out of it -- I think there was concern that there was going to be -- that the legislation, as it dealt with derivatives writ large, was not going to be strong. I think obviously Senator Lincoln has proved in her bill that that's not the case and it’s certainly not the case in what we’ve written and what the President has seen.
Q Robert, did the President request the memo he received from the Defense Secretary?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think, as Secretary Gates has said, this was a memo that he wrote as part of the regular planning process that has gone on for -- since the beginning of the administration in preparing for virtually any type of contingency either on Iran or on any other topic.
I don't think anybody -- Major, suffice to say there are hundreds of memos being written right now throughout this government and throughout the Pentagon as part of the normal policy planning process. I think that's why those of us who opened up the newspaper and saw what this memo was categorized to be found it -- and the author found it -- not to be in the ballpark of what the memo was.
Q Was it close? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Major, you’re a smart guy. You should go on the DOD Web site and see --
Q I read it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, if you’ve read it, I don't think there’s -- I don't think there is a moment that you would read that and think that what you read in The New York Times was in the ballpark.
But again, Major, this is -- again, we talked a little bit about the press access and we talked about these other things. I do find it, again, fairly astounding that somebody could leak something, call up a reporter and say, here’s what the memo says, and no one -- the reporters didn’t see the memo. I mean, it’s a pretty amazing thing, in my estimation, to lead The New York Times Sunday coverage based on something that the author of the memo --
Q Well, why don't you release it?
MR. GIBBS: It’s a top secret memo, Peter.
Q So redact the part that's top secret and release the rest of it.
MR. GIBBS: Why don’t you -- if you can provide The New York Times’ copy of the memo, I'd be happy to take a look at it. But I’m --
Q We were straightforward about what we said about it.
MR. GIBBS: Straightforward about the fact that you guys hadn’t seen the memo.
Q No, the timing is important because --
Q The people we talked to have.
MR. GIBBS: Purportedly.
Q Was January a time internally when you were commencing a different set of discussion or policy evaluations because that was the end of the established deadline or year of engagement?
MR. GIBBS: I would put that question to the Defense Department, but, again, to explain to you that this was a course of the normal policy planning process.
Q All right, let me ask you about the value-added tax. Is there anything that this administration is doing to consider, calculate, pose in any way, shape or form, weigh or measure potential deficit implications or economic implications of a value-added tax?
MR. GIBBS: No, this is not something the President has proposed nor is it under consideration.
Q At any level of this White House at all?
MR. GIBBS: I’d point you to --
Q You said there were hundreds of memos being written all throughout the government at any given time. Couldn’t one of them be written -- get written --
MR. GIBBS: As I said, the President has not proposed this idea nor is it under consideration.
Q Let me ask you a transparency question, since it came up a little bit earlier. Senators Collins and Lieberman are currently considering -- haven’t done it yet -- but they’re considering issuing subpoenas to the Defense Department for access to interviews and documents related to the Fort Hood investigation.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would point you over to -- the Defense Department has handled this investigation and we pointed I think you and others over to the Defense Department last week as to how they’re conducting their investigation.
Q Does this strike you as a transparency issue or something else? It’s entirely DOD?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the Department of Defense is handling this investigation --
Q Would you urge upon them -- matter of transparency?
MR. GIBBS: -- I would urge you to call them and seek an answer to your question. You’re good.
Q Robert, can you talk about the President’s meeting on Sudan and what you all think of the elections there?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President was running probably 15 or 20 minutes behind schedule. That meeting started -- was taking place while we -- while I was out here. We’ll have a statement out of the meeting and a reaction to the elections as soon as I get back.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two political questions, if I may. Has the President had any conversations with Florida’s Governor Crist about possibly changing parties or his political --
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of, no.
Q Right. And I just returned from three days in Pennsylvania -- first in Philadelphia, then Harrisburg -- and talked to a number of the political figures. The race is very tight in western Pennsylvania for the seat of the late Congressman Murtha. Will the President make an appearance on behalf of Mark Critz, the Democrat?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to look at the schedule. I haven’t focused too much farther ahead on the block schedule than the next couple weeks, but I can see if there’s anything planned on that.
Q Can I follow?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. You can follow the fact that I don’t have an answer to that, so I’m happy to entertain.
Q On the subject of the race, though, last week the President was happy to point to the Florida special election as a referendum on health care. I wonder if the White House --
Q -- to the fact that the Democratic candidate is now up with an ad in Pennsylvania saying he’s against the health care bill?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I have any number of things that I have focused on during my day. I have not spent a tremendous amount of time looking at the ads in this. But I do not doubt that there will be people in this season that will campaign on a whole host of policy positions. I think given where we’ve spent our time and our energy, know where we are, particularly on health care.
Q Thanks, Robert. As far as Thursday’s speech goes, can you tell us is the President primarily looking to sway Democrats to act, Republicans to act, cast a message, roll out a new policy -- what are the main points of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that Senator Reid has said that his hope is to proceed to the legislation later this week. So I don’t -- I don’t think the message is intended for Democrats. I think the message is intended for those in Washington and throughout the country, primarily in Washington, that we need to act, that our failure not to act simply perpetuates the system and the set of rules that got us into this mess.
And, again, to reiterate our strong desire that this happen quickly, we are, as I said, moving up on the second anniversary of this. The President believes that this is enormously important to get done this year. We know there’s a -- we know there will be a busy calendar in the next several months, and the Senate should take this up with [sic] delay so that we can get a final product to the President’s desk in the next few months and change the rules going forward.
Q Let me ask you to -- quickly to talk to us a little bit about tomorrow in California and also about how Wednesday will work -- Supreme Court.
MR. GIBBS: In terms of tomorrow, William is the cruise director and you should point any questions on that to him. In terms of Wednesday, bipartisan Senate leaders and Judiciary Committee leaders will be over here to speak with the President. The President will, as he did in the lead up to him naming a Supreme Court nominee as he did last year, lead up to seeking their advice on process, on procedure, on names that they’re interested in, as well as to I think discuss with them the notion of getting as financial reform -- like financial reform, getting this done well before the Senate leaves in August, which given the time frame in which Justice Stevens announced his retirement vis-à-vis where we were last year, that seems eminently doable.
Q Coverage of that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: We will probably do some pictures. Let me say this, I don’t know whether we’re doing -- whether it’s a readout or whether it’s going to be open, but I will --
Q No pool?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Let me check on it.
Q Robert, back on the Supreme Court list, can you quantify at least today on --
MR. GIBBS: I did tell you, you should rephrase your question for the beginning of the week, and I didn’t realize you in fact would.
Q Well, I did, yes.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think I would dissuade you from the scope and the numbers that have been talked about over the last several weeks. I said this last week, that we’re in a process in which the President and his team are adding names to be considered, not in a process whereby --
MR. GIBBS: -- which still -- we’re not in the process of winnowing those names down. So I think the team here wants to give the President as many options to look at over the next several weeks as is possible.
Q So much more than 10, maybe 20? I mean, you were talking about the list has expanded. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I don’t know -- I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to put an upper limit on the number of people that the President -- highly-qualified individuals that the President could consider over the course of this process.
Q And then also, going back to the Vice President’s statement, any time someone talks about a capture or killing of al Qaeda -- al Qaeda members or top echelon -- people always think about Osama bin Laden. What is the priority of this administration on Osama bin Laden? And do you think you will be successful in his capture or death during this administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into specific targets like him, I will say this, April, that I think if you examine the tempo with which this administration has prosecuted the war on terror in rooting out and helping to, as we did in Iraq, root out high-value targets, we’ve done so in a way I think that by all accounts has greatly damaged the capabilities of al Qaeda. But we know that as long as there are those members that seek to do this country harm, the President will remain vigilant in pursuing those targets.
Q He’s still the head and everyone -- after 9/11, everyone was talking about him and trying to capture him --unsuccessfully, he’s eluded --
MR. GIBBS: Right, and I would say this. Obviously, bringing him to justice, capturing or killing him obviously remains a priority. But I think, April, I think if you were to only focus on one and not on, quite frankly, a broad array of important players in al Qaeda, we wouldn’t be discussing today an important and debilitating step that helps further cripple al Qaeda in Iraq.
Q Thanks, Robert. Back to financial reform. Just a few minutes ago Senator Reid put out a statement calling on Senators McConnell and Cornyn to explain what they talked about when they had that meeting with Wall Street executives a few weeks ago that the President referred to this weekend during his address. Would you second that call, that the President also would like to see them explain what went on in that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’d, David, refer you to what the President said this weekend. I think, again, it is curious -- a curious series of events that might be helped through explanation. I watched Senator McConnell struggle to define and explain that on television this weekend and I think I would probably just leave it at that.
Q Thanks, Robert. I have two quick questions on the Tea Party. First of all, I was at the rally last Thursday and there was -- socialist rhetoric was predominant. I think somebody sang a song about there being communists in the White House. And yet the President said that the tea partiers ought to be thanking him. I’m wondering if there’s any plan going forward to try and bridge that pretty large disconnect, or is that a lost cause?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President is -- and I think what the President referred to was the notion that in a time of great economic calamity, the President has taken a series of albeit sometimes unpopular but fully warranted activities to ensure that our economy didn’t further collapse, that our financial sector didn’t melt down, and that it didn’t take a greater portion of the economy down with it.
In the meantime, he also cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans. I think that the President will continue to take the steps that he thinks is necessary to get our economy moving again to put people back to work and to get our fiscal house in order -- a lot of which is the concern of those that have protested.
Q And my other question is, given the predominance of this socialist rhetoric -- comments like Tom Tancredo’s this weekend; he said something about the President should be sent back to Kenya --
MR. GIBBS: You know what, I’m not going to do --
Q My question is --
MR. GIBBS: No, you know what, I could probably fill the better part of my afternoons responding to the general lunacy of somebody like Tom Tancredo. And given the fact that I’ve got a relatively busy schedule and no real desire to do that, I’ll --
Q But my question is --
MR. GIBBS: -- I’m not going -- Ken.
Q Robert, there have been some -- there are some concerns in New York City that going forward with financial reforms could actually hurt the tax revenue base in the city; that some of these reforms could obviously lead to job losses, whatever. What do you say to criticism that financial reforms actually could hurt the local economy in New York City?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'd say this, Ken. I think that the President believes that we can put important and strong rules in place that do not impede on people being able to make money to represent their clients and to invest. That's certainly what -- the President wants to protect all of those activities.
But what we have to do is ensure that there are not rules that are either in place that ignore the circumstances that surround the type of activities or provide an incentive to ignore those rules in order to pursue risky investments, obscene profits that ultimately lead to the taxpayer being on the hook for their solution. That happened in 2008. The crisis both at the end of the Bush administration and now has been managed to the point where the amount of money that hasn’t been paid back to taxpayers is very small, given what was loaned to them. We just have to make sure that rules are in place so that the taxpayers also in New York City don’t get handed a bill when a group of individuals decide to take some risky actions that cause a significant portion of the economy to collapse with it.
I would bet that if you looked at and asked some of those in New York whether what led up to and caused what happened two years ago has been good for the local economy or not, my sense is that many of them would say the resulting calamity has not been a strong help to the local economy.
The President wants -- is a strong and ardent believer in our capitalist system. We just have to have rules in place that ensures that it can’t be that somebody gets all of the benefit and shoulders none of the risks for the types of behavior that we saw led to this calamity.
2:29 P.M. EDT
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