the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One en route New York, New York

3:31 P.M. EDT

Q    Who are you looking at to replace Summers and how important is it to have someone who was in the business community before?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, let me say that -- as I said yesterday, look, the President is enormously grateful for the work that Larry and all the members of the economic team have done over the past many years -- or past two years.  Look, I think in many ways they probably fit four or five years worth of work into two years.  Larry and the President spoke last fall and Larry committed to staying through the end of this year, and then wants to, understandably, return to teaching and to his family at Harvard.  So, one, I think we’re, again, enormously grateful for his work.

In terms of replacements, that’s a process that is ongoing.  Again, Larry is here for the next three months, through the end of the year.  I think the potential candidates that will -- that the White House will look at will be -- it will be a broad group of people representing a whole host of backgrounds.  I think there are a lot of things that the President will be looking for -- not just background.

Q    Is business experience one of them -- a CEO getting them into the fold?

MR. GIBBS:  I think there’s a whole host of things.  Certainly that is -- that could be part of it.

Q    And does Anne Mulcahy -- is she a possibility?

MR. GIBBS:  You know, look, there are names that are out there that people are looking at, that people aren’t looking at.  There are names that aren’t out there that people are looking at.  We have three months to play the name game.

Q    Given that this has been a while in the making, that the President knew about this, how much vetting has been done?  How far along is the process?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, you know, it’s -- I don’t know that we’re hugely deep into the process, but we’re certainly not at the beginning of it.

Q    How do you think the American people would look at this, or is there a concern about how the American people might look at this with Orszag and Romer, Summers -- they all have individual reasons for leaving, and, as you say, that’s not a surprise -- but is there a narrative here of a White House that might need some new voices?

MR. GIBBS:  No, look -- and I’ve said this many times, guys, and I think that for a number of people this has been two years of 15- or 16-hour days, seven days a week.  As Rahm sometimes jokes that if it’s Saturday, there’s just -- if it’s Saturday, there’s just two more full workdays until Monday.  I mean, you know, when you’re in the White House and you’re dealing with an issue as big as the economy is right now in the eyes of the American people, it’s an all-consuming job.  So it’s understandable that after 15 or 18 or 20 months, people are going to go -- want to go back to what they were doing before.

Again, the President is enormously grateful for their service and the sacrifices they made on behalf of the country.  I think there is no doubt -- and the President said this yesterday as it related to Larry -- that we are grateful for and better off for the ideas that Larry brought to -- into the administration for the economic team.

Q    Speaking of Rahm, can you offer us anything firmer about his future?

MR. GIBBS:  Only that he is, as I’ve said before, in the process of thinking about what he’s going to do next.  I’m not aware that he’s made any decisions.  The President is not aware that he’s made any decisions.  I think we’re still in the process of him making an ultimate decision.

I will say this, Ben.  It’s something I get, obviously, asked about but it’s not something takes up time in the West Wing.  Obviously Rahm is doing this in a process outside of the White House and is focused in the White House on his job as Chief of Staff, as we are on our tasks.

Q    On the West Wing end of it, though, you’ve got to expect that if he is going to run for mayor, he’s going to need some time to get on the ground and start working.  Are you preparing for the possibility that he’ll leave this month, and how far along are you in looking at new candidates?

MR. GIBBS:  I got to just say this, that -- there’s nobody to replace right now.  If there is somebody to replace, we will be ready.

Q    Robert, on the Woodward book, or the excerpts from the Woodward book, what’s the President’s reaction?  It portrays him as constantly at war with his own military and trying to push back against their demand for more resources in Afghanistan.  Is that an accurate portrait?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think it is.  I mean, I don’t -- I hope people will read the book and not read what somebody might have thought was the book.  I read the book last night. 

Q    Quick read.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, one night.  I will say I think that the book portrays a thoughtful, vigorous policy process that led us to a strategy that gives us the best chance at achieving our objectives and goals in Afghanistan. 

I can’t imagine that any option that the President looked at would not have engendered some debate.  That's the nature of this process.  The process was, over the course of 12 or 13 meetings, a pretty public one.  And quite frankly, I think a lot of what you read about some of the back and forth is certainly well known. 

I think if you -- well, I think again, if you -- and I hope people will read the whole book and see that we had a policy that -- and a situation in Afghanistan that had been neglected for seven years, that was badly under-resourced and desperately in need of new ideas and a new strategy.  And the President shepherded through a process, again, that was thoughtful and deliberate and focused to come up with what was our best chance at success.

And I think there was also a robust discussion about how important it is and in our national interest not to become involved in something in Afghanistan that was unlimited or open-ended.  The President is a strong believer and believes it is strongly in our national interest that if we’re going to get into something like Afghanistan, we better have figured out how we are going to get out of Afghanistan.

All of those things are important.  And I think that's what the book portrays.

Q    Can you comment on the accuracy of one specific comment, which is that the President wanted to set a timeline on the war for fear of losing the Democratic Party?

MR. GIBBS:  And I think that -- again, I think that's -- again, I hope people read the book.  It was in our -- it’s in our national interest, as I said a minute ago, to ensure that we have -- if we have a way in, we have a way out.  We understand what happens when we only have a way in.  That's -- that leads to a long-term, open-ended, unlimited commitment of human resources and money that I think the book acknowledges we just don't have.

And without a doubt, you cannot have -- our operations in Afghanistan are, as you would expect, dependent on a Congress comprised of Democrats and Republicans that will fund the operations there and support among the public people -- among the people in the public to support the notion of disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

Q    We’ve heard him articulate those reasons for having a timeline, but we have not heard him say that one of the factors is the political risk that he stands for having a sustained war.  Did he actually say that?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, Ben, I encourage people to get the whole book and to read the whole book and understand that the President wasn’t making a political argument.  The President was making an argument in our national interest that if we are -- we have watched empire after empire, if you will, get into Afghanistan without a way out.  The President was not going to repeat that exercise and hand to his successor a strategy that was as poorly conceived as the one we inherited when we got here.

Q    The story suggests that the President -- the story in the Post today suggests the President came up with his own plan because the military commanders didn’t give him a plan that he wanted.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think that having been through most of -- having been through all those meetings, there was a lot of discussion about resource levels.  I think if you get a -- if you read the book, the President is an advocate for getting those resources in faster than was presented to him, because the goal of the strategy was to break the momentum of the Taliban and to provide us, again, with the best chance that we had to succeed.  And the President believed the best way to do that was to get additional resources in there as quickly as possible once we decided on adding additional resources.  That's why, I think, you'll see quotes of the President suggesting that, again, we get folks in there faster and get a better chance of understanding and evaluating the strategy that we have and the success that we’re having with that strategy.

Q    It sounds like you’re saying the book paints a fair narrative of what happened.  Is there anything in the book that you’d contest or you contend with?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I’m sure if I had my copy I might go through one or two things, or this page or that page.  Again, I think the largest narrative of a robust policy process to determine the best strategy for our success in Afghanistan is -- I think it’s what played out in those meetings.  I think that is what you have seen all of those involved in that process agree to and implement since the President made his decision.  And I think this book tracks many of the articles that some of you wrote and all of you read about this process last fall and winter.

Q    One more on Rahm.  I didn’t hear you rule out Rahm leaving in October to go run for mayor in Chicago. 

MR. GIBBS:  I can rule out that he’s going to pitch for the White Sox.  I will say this, Steve.  Rahm has not, to my knowledge, made a decision or communicated a decision.  So based on the fact that he hasn’t made a decision, I’m not going to rule anything in or anything out.  Again, I think he’s in the process of thinking through what’s best for Rahm.

Q    Is the President going to dedicate a new U.S. mission at the U.N.?  There was a report about that.

MR. GIBBS:  I think there is -- I think that is one of the events.  I will go check on the schedule.  I think -- look, I think we are -- as we come here to our second U.N. General Assembly, I think the President will take this opportunity when he speaks tomorrow to update the American people and update the world on the priorities that we had in coming into office, the progress that we’ve made in Iraq and Afghanistan, the progress we’ve made on non-proliferation, in dealing with threats like North Korea and Iran, and I think a particular focus on the real opportunity that we have to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Q    Thank you.

3:44 P.M. EDT