Press Briefing

January 26, 2010 | 44:24

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

Download mp4 (332MB) | mp3 (24MB)

Read the Transcript

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/26/10

12:59 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Sir, take us away. 

Q    How are you?

MR. GIBBS:  Great. 

Q    On the White House Web site, the Homeland Security Secretary said that there will be a push for comprehensive immigration reform this year.  What's this going to look like?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think one of the things the President will -- has talked about and one of the things you'll hear him mention tomorrow and in the coming days, similar to what I've said on cap and trade, and that is that if -- we've started a process on this and if Congress can put together the way forward, a coalition to get the way forward, then it's something we'll work through.

Q    Does that coalition include Senator McCain?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that's a good question for Senator McCain.  I mean, he's obviously been an enormously strong supporter of immigration reform over the course of many years and I think has been a valuable spokesperson for reform efforts in ensuring that it's done in a way that's comprehensive.  And I think the White House and many in Congress would want him to be involved in that, yes.

Q    But we shouldn’t expect specifics in tomorrow night's speech on this?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of tomorrow night's speech since it's only Tuesday. 

Q    Well, since you don't want to get ahead of tomorrow night's speech --

Q    It's only Tuesday?  It's tomorrow. 

MR. GIBBS:  Let's talk about tonight's speech. 

Q    Since we're talking about tomorrow night's speech, Hill sources are getting ahead of the President on this thing -- "don't ask, don't tell" is going to be part of the speech.  Is this a throwaway line or --

MR. GIBBS:  If I stay out here too much longer there will be -- we can cancel tomorrow's speech.  So let's wait for tomorrow's speech.  I don't think anything that the President includes tomorrow I would characterize in any way as a throwaway line.  I think if something merits the attention of the President in front of an address to millions of Americans, it's important to the President, as it has been for a long time.

Q    Is he done with it yet?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q    Robert, the Senate has just rejected a measure to create a bipartisan task force on bringing U.S. deficits down.  Will the President now consider a presidential commission on that instead?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that is certainly one of the things that is being talked about.  I would say, first and foremost, Jeff, that we talked last night, and you all reported today, on what the President hopes is continuing bipartisan effort to get our fiscal house in order and make progress on the deficit by freezing non-security discretionary spending over the next three years.  So I think that, taken together, is some of what you'll hear the President discuss later.

Q    Following up on that particular announcement from last night, to what extent will this spending freeze affect the President's programs -- education, energy, other domestic policy priorities that one would think would have to suffer under a $250 billion spending savings?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, Jeff, the President and the economic budget team put together a budget obviously that reflects the priorities that the President sees for the future of our country, including building the new foundation of which education and clean energy jobs is a tremendous part.  Look today at what the American Wind Power Association has to say about our important investments in clean energy and its impact on the increase in clean energy.

Wind power was, according to them, they believed, vis-à-vis 2008 levels, likely to decline by 50 percent, when in fact, because of the Recovery Act and the filling of the space for credit that was receding, instead this tax credit that came through the Recovery Act and we saw a 39 percent increase in the number of wind plants -- wind-power-generated over the course of last year.

The way the President did the budget is the way millions of American families do their budget.  Understand what we have to invest in.  That's why security spending is untouched in nominal terms in this budget.  And instead of wielding an across-the-board axe, the President will cut programs that are duplicative or serve what he believes is no important purpose, and instead invest in -- as families do -- investments for the future.

Again, the important thing that you mention is that that three-year freeze over the course of 10 years will save on the order of $250 billion.

Q    Well, and I understand the family analogy and the wind statistics are interesting, but what I guess it's hard to get one's head around is how you can plan to freeze spending and save that much money, and not have some of his domestic priorities suffer, which a family would have to do, too, if the family were making decisions

MR. GIBBS:  Are there duplicative programs that -- are there programs the President believes are duplicative and don't serve their intended purpose --

Q    -- to cut anyway, wouldn't it?

MR. GIBBS:  And he is.  Except for the fact, Jeff, they haven’t been.

Q    Right.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Understand that this space of spending for 1995 to 2006 increased by 90 percent -- $190 billion.  So, yes, are duplicative programs programs that should be cut?  Have programs that have outlived their intended us, should those be cut?  Absolutely.  And the President is here to do it.  That's why the proposal was outlined that way.

Q    But otherwise his agenda -- specific promises from the campaign and from his first year in governing will not be hit very hard by this spending cut?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, we are investing in what we believe is important to invest in.  We're cutting in programs that we think have outlived their usefulness and that need to be cut.  Again, that's what a family does; that's what the government should begin to do, and under this proposal that's what they will do.


Q    You keep saying this is what a family does.  This cut is less than one percent of the budget over the next 10 years -- $250 billion -- .58 percent.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Jake, sitting next to you yesterday at the briefing I think you heard Peter discuss that this was not the totality of our budget efforts.  I don't think that -- as we said yesterday, I don't think that this is intended to solve all of our problems.  But unless we continue to take those steps -- again, this is a portion of our budget, $447 billion portion of our budget that's increased 90 percent, nearly doubled since 1995.  If we can't make these steps, how are you going to go after stuff that we know is politically hard?  How are you going to create a coalition to do that?

Q    Well, let's talk about the stuff that's politically hard, because that's where the money is, right -- the Pentagon budget, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  Does the President support any long-term effort to make cuts in those programs?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would say this, Jake.  One of the things that we did last year was take on a defense program that many thought we were crazy to try to go after and try to cut.  And it doesn't live anymore.  It had outlived its usefulness to the Pentagon; it has far exceeded its budget.  And, look, I think the President has spent a considerable amount of time this year trying to address, as you've heard him talk about many times, health care spending by our government.  That's one of the reasons that the President wanted to undertake health care reform.

Q    Isn't the reason that we're talking about it -- they couldn't even get a deficit task force passed in the Senate today -- but isn't the reason that we're even talking about that or a presidential commission is because there's nobody, including the President, to actually say what needs to be done in order to get the deficit under control?

MR. GIBBS:  I think there is -- I don't know that there's a ton of bipartisan agreement.  I think one of the reasons for a bipartisan commission is to try to do just that.  I think -- I have certainly seen -- Senator McCain said this morning that he supported the notion of what the President had called for, and I've seen Republicans -- I haven't seen all of their statements, but I certainly heard Republicans the last time they met with the President in the Cabinet Room suggest to the President --

Q    This is why the President and the members of Congress were elected, to make these tough decisions.

MR. GIBBS:  And the President is making them, yes.

Q    -- 0.58 percent of the budget?

MR. GIBBS:  No, Jake, you just asked me about a larger portfolio of things, of which we talked about --

Q    Well, you're asking for us to applaud about --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I'm not asking you to applaud anything.

Q    -- for $250 billion in a $42 trillion --

MR. GIBBS:  Two hundred and fifty billion dollars over 10 years is not going to solve our budget deficit.  That's why I started this answer.  But, Jake, if we can't cut that, how do you suggest we get at the other money?

Q    I'm not saying -- that's not even remotely what I'm asking.  I'm saying why -- why do we need a bipartisan commission?  Why doesn't the President actually say, this is what we actually need to do in order to get this deficit under control?

MR. GIBBS:  Jake, I would point that the President has spent a lot of time doing that this year. 

Q    For health care reform.

MR. GIBBS:  For -- well, you mentioned a few of our health care spending programs.  Those are big parts of exactly what you denoted that have to be addressed in order to --

Q    We're talking about cutting Medicare in order to pay for other things.  That money was not going to reduce the deficit, it was going to help pay --

MR. GIBBS:  The Congressional Budget Office said that the lifespan of Medicare was increased and the cost curve, the spending that we did was adjusted in the right direction.  That's what the CBO said health care reform did.

Q    Can you give us a timeline as to when the President signed off on this spending freeze?

MR. GIBBS:  Likely before -- I don't know the exact day, but many of these discussions were had before he left for Christmas.

Q    And we've heard a lot about what won't be touched.  Can you give us some examples of what will be cut?

MR. GIBBS:  When we roll out the budget next week they'll have each one of those.

Q    Can you give us some examples now of just what things  --

MR. GIBBS:  When we roll out the budget next week you'll --

Q    And what about -- there's been at least one Democrat I know that came out and said that in times like these this is not when you should be freezing; this is when the government needs to be doing more spending because the businesses aren't hiring, the jobs are not being created.  Is there a point to that do you think?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we do not believe, the President does not believe, the economic team does not believe that the overall macroeconomic effect would impact the recovery efforts.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Why is the military industrial complex off limits to cutting down?  Thousands and thousands of contractors and so forth being highly paid.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, one of the answers I gave to Jake, Helen, was the notion that the President for the first time in a long time took on one of these fights last year.  As I said, not many people thought we were going to win and many people thought simply mounting the fight was crazy -- even as the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense said we continue to be given planes that have outlived their usefulness; we continue to buy them and the amount of money that we spend for them is greatly exceeded by what we were told we were going to have to pay for them.

That has not always been taken on in Washington and certainly the fruit of those labors have often not been seen by Presidents that have taken them on.  The President took that one on last year and won that cut.  I think that was important for our way forward on deficits.  Again, we are not going to be able to get to the top of that mountain unless we can start and continue to climb up it from the base.  If we can't do that --

Q    We have 700 military bases around the world.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    Why can't we cut down there?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously a great number of those were slimmed down as the course of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that took place over the past many years.


Q    Following up on her question, why only apply this to discretionary domestic spending?  Why not include the entire budget here, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid?  I mean, there have got to be ways to get at that.

MR. GIBBS:  Chip, one of the things the President has done is seek to tackle our health care spending costs.  That's what we've been working on for the past eight or nine months here.

Q    That's very much in doubt.  Why not go at it in another way?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not sure that just because it's in doubt the President has labored to give up on it. 

Q    So would he possibly include Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs -- I mean, why not just do it across the board?  Why go back to that old conventional way of just going after discretionary domestic spending?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, understand it's not the conventional way to go after it, Chip, because if it's the conventional way to go after it, I'm not entirely sure since 1995 why it's almost doubled.  If that's conventional -- if doubling --

Q    What's conventional is that the proposals are always -- and this is only a proposal right now without any details -- there have been many proposals over the years to go after --

MR. GIBBS:  Right, and understand last year we proposed --

Q    -- to freeze spending on domestic discretionary spending.

MR. GIBBS:  Right, and we made a similar promise last year and got more cuts than the previous administration was able to get in those proposals.

Q    Is there a spirited debate back there over whether to go ahead with this --


Q    -- because politically it seems like a loser.  I mean, liberals are infuriated -- (laughter) --

MR. GIBBS:  I assume we've changed the -- you're now asking a different set of questions than the "why not go father than you went before?"

Q    My job is to play devil's advocate --

MR. GIBBS:  Both of them.

Q    But -- and on the Republican side, yes, John McCain did say some nice things today, but one Republican office said that it's like going on a diet after a pie-eating contest.  So it simply highlights how much money the President has already spent. So why --

MR. GIBBS:  I watched John Boehner -- I watched John Boehner tell the President we ought to freeze spending.  He did it in the Cabinet Room.

Q    Do you think he was talking about just discretionary domestic spending? 

MR. GIBBS:  If you can't get him to agree --

Q    -- something bigger than this?

MR. GIBBS:  If you can't get him to agree on that, how can you get him to agree on something bigger?

Q    Well, why start small?  Why not start big?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we want them to get -- to agree on something to start with, right?  That's -- I mean, again, from 1995 to 2006 --

Q    That's how it works in this town -- if you get people to agree on something small they'll probably say, oh, wow, that was hard, we're not going to try that again.  Why not go big?

MR. GIBBS:  We're not here to make the town work like it always has.  We're not here to see from 1995 to 2006 why non-security discretionary spending, conventionally speaking, has nearly doubled.  That's not the way the President campaigned, it's not what he came here to do.  If we came here to do that, Chip, you wouldn’t be asking me why so many people don't like the proposal.

Q    In these discussions -- is the President worried that his legacy could be dead -- more than anything else, in these discussions?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  (Laughter.)

Q    No?


Q    Would you characterize this as low-hanging fruit of budget cutting?  You seem to suggest this is the easy part.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, given reaction, I don't know how easy it will be.  The President made some cuts last year.  We've proposed more cuts this year.

Q    Are these cuts --

MR. GIBBS:  I think, again, I think if you look at some of the reaction there are certainly people that believe that -- are advocates for not doing it.  But again, Savannah, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to get our fiscal house in order.  We have to take and continue to take the steps necessary to do that.

Q    What programs or initiatives is the President sacrificing and putting on the table by offering these budget cuts?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, we will get into -- there will be a separate volume next week on program eliminations and cuts, just as there was last year, when we roll out the entire budget.

Q    On State of the Union, are we going to hear -- you don't have to give it away, because I know you don't want to get ahead --

MR. GIBBS:  I'll simply allude to the possibility that.  (Laughter.)

Q    But I think you can answer this as formulated.  Are we going to hear job creation ideas tomorrow night in specifics that we have not heard before?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the answer to that except to say, Savannah, that the President outlined a series of proposals that he thought were important to add jobs to our economy.  Some of them have not been acted on.  And simply because having had them in a speech in December that they haven’t been acted on in January doesn’t mean that the President has decided that we need a whole new set of proposals.

Q    -- just wonder if there are any new ideas of anything over and above the --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't want to get ahead of where it will be.

Q    Okay.  And this is yesterday's question.  Do you think it says anything about the political climate the Democrats face that Beau Biden, the Vice President's son, declines to run for U.S. Senate in Delaware?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think that having worked with candidates that have to make decisions about running and not running, obviously a whole series of decisions go into to making that ultimate decision -- personal decisions, extenuating circumstances.  So I don't think it's reflective of anything other than it's not the decision that he decided to make at this time.

Q    It looks like as if Biden can't win in Delaware.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think that's what he said and I don't think that's the case.  Again, I think you make a series of decisions -- personal, private; there may be extenuating circumstances in retirements on this side or that side -- that go into that decision making.

Q    Would you tell us a little bit about the lunch that the President is having with business leaders today, how these particular leaders were chosen, what the topics are and whether the President is talking about the State of the Union to them?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he read them the speech.

Q    Did he really?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he probably did.  (Laughter.)  I think we've sent out the names of those.  Let me get a better idea of how the names, themselves, were selected.  This is a part of a continuing effort; the President has done this on a number of occasions to be able to discuss a wide range of topics, primarily on the economy, with leaders of business and industry throughout the country.

Q    And on that subject, the Congressional Budget Office today, in their report, projected that unemployment rates would be hovering just below 10 percent at the end of 2011.  Under those circumstances can the President go ahead with tax increases and now with spending cuts that he's planning?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President discussed tax increases yesterday in his interview with ABC and said that, obviously, the time to do that -- the pledge that he made and the time to that is certainly not now.  We have to --

Q    -- October, though.  December --

MR. GIBBS:  We believe that we have to address the medium- and long-term fiscal health of our country.  I don't believe that, as I said earlier, that this has a significantly negative impact, macroeconomically, on our economy. 

As you point out statistics, Jonathan, the story today of 50 economists surveyed that said were it not for the Recovery Act employment would be far worse, to the tune of 1.2 million jobs lost.  The President has taken steps and will renew his call to take further steps in the State of the Union to continue to create an environment where the private sector is hiring again.

Q    Robert, if the President wants to be seen reducing spending, why would he go along with increasing the debt limit by $1.9 trillion?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Mark, we have to pay the bills for what we've spent already.

Q    But that's a lot more than you're going to need in one year.

MR. GIBBS:  But I think to send certainty to the market that the government isn't about to default on the money that it's spent is part of what that's about.

Q    It doesn't undermine the credibility of a approach of fiscal restraint?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think what the President has outlined and will outline -- what we talked about last night, what he'll talk about in the State of the Union and the budget will demonstrate that we're taking steps to put our fiscal house in order.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Is it still realistic to expect that the President will be able to cut the deficit in half by 2013?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, and let me -- I'll get Peter to send you something on that.  He has slide rulers and charts and widgets.

Q    You don't want to just explain it without the --

MR. GIBBS:  You know, there's a reason I'm not the budget director.

Q    All right.  And tomorrow when you look at jobs, initiatives for the middle class, what role will health care be playing in the speech tomorrow night?  Will the President lay out a path forward? 

MR. GIBBS:  As I said yesterday, the President will speak about health care in tomorrow night's speech.

Q    Okay.  Thematically, the President has said in recent interviews that the process hasn't worked the way that he'd like this past year.  But what about the message and the narrative of the past year?  Will the President attempt to recast that narrative at all?  Will he say that the path that he pursued the last year was the right path and the message was muddled or how will --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I don't want to go through the entire speech.  Look, I think that what the President discussed yesterday about this, and I think what you heard people say over the weekend from administration officials on the Sunday shows, was if you look at -- there's clearly a caricature of a health reform bill that is viewed differently by the public than when you break out its component parts.  Right?  The Kaiser Foundation did a poll that showed, for instance, the number of people that are more likely to support health care reform if they knew tax credits were in there for small businesses is 73 percent; 62 percent of those polled that opposed health care reform would be more likely to support it if they knew that was in there. 

This has become -- the example I use a lot is we spent a lot of time talking about so-called death panels, right, that time after time after time after time have been disproven that are in the bill.  So obviously the legislation became a caricature of its component parts.  The degree that that's a communications failing, I think people here at the White House and others would certainly take responsibility for that.

Q    Also in terms of the assault on Wall Street and the banks, and we've seen sort of a more fighting tone from the President over the past week, but what sort of message does it send that on Friday the President -- last week the President says he's fighting against Wall Street, but then today he has Jamie Dimon here for lunch as part of the group of six CEOs?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, the President laid out last week and the week before that, two common-sense proposals -- one that united in ensuring that the role that banks can play -- that have united the editorial boards of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, something that hasn’t happened a lot over the course of the past year -- it's supported by Democrats and Republicans as a common-sense proposal.  The fee levied on big banks to pay back in whole what was lent to stabilize the financial system is another common-sense proposal that is made on behalf of the taxpayers.

That having been said, there are a lot of people in that lunch that have said things that are in disagreement with what the President has talked about, but that doesn’t -- simply because they may disagree on some issues doesn’t mean they're not going to talk on a whole range of issues relating to the soundness of our economy. 


Q    A couple on the freeze, and then a couple on security questions.  During the campaign, specifically on October 7th, when John McCain, during one of the debates, suggested to then candidate Obama, why don't we freeze -- why don't we hold harmless non-security spending and entitlements and have a domestic discretionary freeze, then candidate Obama said that would be punting responsibility; we'd be using a hatchet instead of a scalpel.  Has he changed his position on that?  And what is it about -- I know, but I'd like --

MR. GIBBS:  I know, but just -- can I just -- can I report to you what I emailed you when you asked me this question about an hour ago?

Q    Sure.  I do work in a medium that has other --

MR. GIBBS:  I understand.  I'm trying in a desperate attempt to corrupt all attempts to use the video of a question that you and I emailed about not long before I made my on-camera appearance. 

Q    -- for me later?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Why don't I do this while I say it.  Again, this is --

Q    But to those who may remember that --

Q    (Inaudible) --

MR. GIBBS:  Right, exactly.  How long is the block you have for the statement?  (Laughter.)  Approximately how long is the bite between the think tank on this side and the person on this side?

Q    Twelve to 15, right?

MR. GIBBS:  Is that cool?  Who's got a stopwatch?  Who's got the watch?  Will you time this for me, please?  Okay, great.

What the President has proposed, as I've said to others, is a process by which every family in America has to make budgetary decisions -- what they have to spend money on versus what they'd like to spend money on but they can't afford in tough times. 

How did I do -- 12?  Perfect.  (Laughter.) 

Q    It's a wrap.

Q    So why didn’t he use a scalpel last year when he was looking at appropriations bills --

MR. GIBBS:  He did.

Q    -- that raised spending by 12 percent?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously the Recovery Act put money into the economy in order to get --

Q    But on appropriations --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I understand, but again, we proposed a series of cuts not dissimilar to this and --

Q    And got 60 percent of them.

MR. GIBBS:  -- and got 60 percent of them, right.

Q    Would the President be satisfied with a 60-percent solution on this freeze?


Q    Okay.  

Q    Will any of the spending associated with the jobs bill -- $170 billion in the House, probably $80 billion in the Senate -- is that in any way covered by any of this?

MR. GIBBS:  No, because what --

Q    That's exempt also?

MR. GIBBS:  No -- again, I think a question you may have asked yesterday.  (Laughter.)  I hate to do this but --

Q    I didn’t ask that yesterday.

MR. GIBBS:  Is that belied by my facial expression?

The budget goes into effect for fiscal year 2011 -- obviously the budget tends to be ahead of the calendar -- on October 1, 2010, and government spending for fiscal years '11, '12, and '13, the accumulated savings of $250 billion over a 10-year period of time.  Efforts to get our economy moving again would be done -- the President would want to see that money go into the economy before the beginning of the fiscal year budget.

Q    Okay.  There's a bipartisan commission report on weapons of mass destruction and the administration's ability to cope with that, deal with that.  Particularly on biological weapons the administration gets an F; there's a lot of criticism of it generally.  What's your response?  And how specifically will the President address this issue tomorrow night?  I know -- considering your "I don't want to ahead of the President," but we've been led to believe there's going to be some discussion of this tomorrow.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, again, the administration rolled out a strategy for countering biothreats in December -- I'm sorry, in November -- to take significant steps to enhance our capabilities to deal with that.  On December 30th the President signed an executive order to establish a more rapid federal capability to dispense -- to provide medical countermeasures in the event of a bioattack. 

And part of what the President will announce tomorrow, of that review that led to the executive order, is to launch an initiative aimed at responding faster and more effectively to those public health threats.  All of that -- the administration is proud of the efforts that we've undertaken to put our nation on a far firmer footing in dealing with these.

And understand this -- when it comes to dealing with weapons of mass destruction writ large, particularly nuclear capabilities, going back to the President's time in the Senate -- quite frankly, going back to a relationship that started with Senator Lugar from Indiana prior to being sworn in -- an effort to expand off of the successful Nunn-Lugar program to dispose of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union to create a program to similarly destroy weapons on the conventional side.  And as you know, the President has outlined a plan to get all loose nuclear material contained over a four-year period of time, and in April will host 43 nations in a nuclear security summit in order to make sure that those promises are made real.

Q    Second security question.  Senators Lieberman, Collins, Webb, Lincoln and McCain, Graham -- all six of them have asked the AG Eric Holder to reverse -- not reconsider -- reverse the decision to have the 9/11 suspects tried in New York.  Is there any thought being given to revisiting that decision?

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I would -- I have not seen the letter, and I would point you over to Matt at Justice.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    What, politically speaking, does he hope to achieve from the State of the Union?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think what the President talked about yesterday is -- I think he looks at the State of the Union as a time in which to update the American people on what's been done and where we go from here going forward.  This is not about -- as he said in Ohio, this is not about him.  This is about what we have to do going forward for the American people.

Q    What do you make of the idea this is a chance to hit the reset button?

MR. GIBBS:  I addressed that yesterday, and I reset that question.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, can you tell us anything about how the White House viewed the cables that we've now seen publicly from General Eikenberry during the Afghanistan review, why the concerns that he raised there didn't, in the end, change the President's mind about that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I may be the only person, but I'm not going to get into discussing classified information.  That's never been our practice.  I will simply say this -- that Ambassador Eikenberry I think would tell you that obviously throughout a process raised concerns on a number of different subjects that the President takes seriously and the process is addressing, particularly around corruption in governance.

Q    Is there a sense, though, that his concern about President Karzai are any different today, that anything has changed since --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I don't want to get into discussing those cables.  I would simply say that, at the conclusion of the election, the President had a -- President Obama had a conversation with President Karzai.  I think you heard the President speak clearly at West Point and since then about the need to take governance seriously; that there was not an open-ended blank check for waste and abuse going forward in Afghanistan, and the President and his team, and particularly Ambassador Eikenberry, would be paying close attention.

Q    And the Pakistani refusal to increase operations or move to North Waziristan for another six months to a year?  That was pretty key to the strategy that there be something on that side of the border going on --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me see what I can get from DOD for you on that.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, back to State of the Union.  May I ask about the tone, are we going to see a President chastened by Massachusetts or any of the other developments of the past year? Are we seeing a feisty, defiant President, sort of like we saw last Friday in Ohio?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don't -- I think there are a series of common concerns that the President will outline and discuss.  I don't doubt that at times he'll be feisty.  I don't doubt that at times he's going to believe that while Washington may not want to make progress in certain ways, that Washington has to be pushed to make that progress -- whether that's health care reform or cutting our budget.  But, again, I think the key in this speech, what he'll discuss more than anything is getting our economy moving again.

Again, there were tough decisions that the President made in the first year based on the economic situation that he faced.  And he'll again talk about why those decisions were made despite the fact that they may or may not have been popular at the time, understanding that, again, like I said, if you look at the impact that the recovery plan has had on economic growth -- again, we'll get updated numbers on Friday -- but economists discussing how without it the pain would have been greater, the job loss more significant; it would have threatened the ability to build a new foundation for jobs and progress in the future.  All of those things I think the President will discuss.

Q    Again, I'm specifically thinking about the tone, though.  And you mentioned that he was going to talk specifically about the Massachusetts race -- is he going to say, here's what I've learned from that?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me let him break some news tomorrow.

Q    What will Osama bin Laden and the supporters of al Qaeda hear in the State of the Union about how the President is moving forward against them?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously he'll take some time to discuss the important efforts that we've made in counterterrorism, continue to discuss what we've done in our efforts not simply to confront in Southeast Asia the threats of terrorism, but in Africa, in the Middle East; the continued steps that we have to take in order to see those through; and to continue to keep our country safe, which is his primary job.

Q    Stay the course.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?

Q    Stay the course?  He will --

MR. GIBBS:  I think what the President -- I think the President believes and the national security team believe that we have made progress on dealing with renewed threats and dealing with new threats.  Again, John Brennan and others visited with the Yemeni government to discuss our efforts in Yemen, to discuss our efforts in Somalia, to discuss our efforts throughout that region of the country, long before they burst out into the newspapers.

Q    British and Indian governments both have elevated or upgraded their terrorism threat level.  If President is thinking of in the U.S. in light of the new tape from Osama bin Laden -- now no more videotape but he's issuing now only the audio tapes.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Goyal --

Q    And also -- I'm sorry -- there was at the Carnegie a special event as far as one year of President Obama and the terrorism around the globe, including in the U.S.  And what the President of Carnegie says -- and others, including the special BBC radio program, what they were saying, one, the threat in America to about 85 to 90 percent marks, but as far as terrorism is concerned maybe much to do, more much to do.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don't doubt that there always will be more to do and the President is focused on ensuring that that's done.  But to address your specific question on the threat level by, particularly, the British, what you heard the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, say was that the steps that Great Britain took in raising their awareness and some of their screening procedures is commensurate with what had happened over the course of many days after the events of Christmas Day.

Q    But are we still thinking that Osama bin Laden is still alive, really -- with no more videotape, but only audio?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not gotten any more on that tape.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, obviously a lot of various groups hoping the President will talk about their issue in his speech tomorrow.  D.C. Vote, for example, I know held a petition drive urging him to talk about D.C. voting rights.  From the White House perspective, what has that effort been like by various folks looking for a mention of their cause in the speech?  How intense has that been?

MR. GIBBS:  I have to admit, I haven't the slightest idea.  I don't know whether anybody has seen the petitions or anything about what that is.


Q    Robert, in his interview yesterday with Diane Sawyer, she asked him specifically about not airing health care negotiations on C-SPAN.  The President said that was a mistake on his part.  Does that mean that the next negotiations on health care, when we get back to health care, will be broadcast on C-SPAN?

MR. GIBBS:  Stay tuned.  (Laughter.)

Q    Senator Levin -- it was Senator Levin who said yesterday that the President might make mention of "don't ask, don't tell" in the State of the Union.  I know you don't want to preview --

MR. GIBBS:  He's literally going to have virtually nothing to say.

Q    I know you don't want to preview, but is that at least a point of discussion?

MR. GIBBS:  He can play Major's clip from my interview.

Q    Is it at least a point of discussion, "don't ask, don't tell"?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Yes.  And in terms of the White House reaching out to Senator Levin to ask him to delay the hearings on "don't ask, don't tell," do you have any knowledge of that?

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to check on that.


Q    Thank you.  Robert, in your answers to Jake and Chip, does the President support the idea of entitlement reform?  I mean, he does -- he's not proposing it this year but he does support it, right?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again --

Q    Of cutting entitlements.  I'm not worried about what he did in the past or bending the curve or other sort of, you know, marginal things.  I'm talking about really going after entitlements and changing the -- I shouldn't have said "marginal"; they're very important things.  (Laughter.)  But forgetting what he did in the past, forgetting what he did in the past, does he believe that substantial entitlement reform should occur -- I'm trying to get at why he's not proposing it this year.  There must be reasons that he's not doing it.

MR. GIBBS:  Keith, we are -- again, "marginally" speaking, I don't think that the President could be accused of not tackling reforms that deal with our health care spending.  I mean, I appreciate that -- hold on.  Hold on, hold on, hold on.  I want to caveat some -- I mean, how many times -- how much time have we spent in here talking about health care reform?  The notion that somehow what the President had previously been doing to bend the cost curve, to extend the life of Medicare, is somehow missing from today's debate on the budget, it's hard for me to process, Keith.  I just don't get how -- how what the President has been doing over the course of the past nine months, again --

Q    Not over the past nine months.  People agree that it's going to take cuts and benefits, it's going to take potentially increasing the retirement to -- potentially more taxes, those tough types of things.  Why isn't he doing any of that this year? Is it because it's a political year?  He could never get it through Congress?  It would sink people who vote for it?  I mean, I'm trying to find out why he's not doing that and he's doing this other thing with the discretionary spending, which is a drop in the bucket, as everyone knows.

MR. GIBBS:  Right, which is why I'm sure that in roll call tomorrow, I'm sure it will be unanimously approved by voice vote after only one day of "marginal" debate.  Again, Keith, the President has spent the better part of his entire first year talking about how we change the way and the fact that government is crushed by health care spending.  It's something that he's mentioned in virtually every interview he has done with health care.  Maybe this demonstrates, in and of itself alone, our communications problems that it just doesn't --

Q    So he's tired now and he doesn’t want to do it --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I would say that maybe we do have that Cool Hand Luke "failure to communicate" problem. 

Enjoy the rest of your day.

Q    Are you going to brief tomorrow?


1:42 P.M. EST

Close Transcript