Press Gaggle by Robert Gibbs en route Green Bay, Wisconsin
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Green Bay, Wisconsin
10:46 A.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: What’s going on?
Q Did you talk to the President at all about how he felt about the speech last night?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think -- look, he felt good about it. Look, obviously he spent a lot of time, obviously, over the last several weeks thinking about this, thinking about the stories that he wanted to tell about the people that we’ve met in our travels across the country. So he’s given a lot of thought to it. And I think he was very pleased with the way it went last night, because I think fundamentally it tells the story of our future and the challenges that a global economy gives us, but most importantly, to remind ourselves that America has, for 200 years, risen to any number of global challenges, and if we take some important steps to innovate, to build, to educate, to reform, we will continue to do that.
Q Robert, last night you issued a statement calling on the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful assembly. Today, as you’ve seen, they’ve banned gatherings and they’ve cracked down on Twitter and Facebook. What is your response to that? And my second question is, do you still back Hosni Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously we are monitoring quite closely the situation in Egypt and continue to do so, obviously, in Tunisia. You heard the President speak about universal rights last night in the State of the Union.
We continue to believe, first and foremost, that any of the parties -- all of the parties should refrain from violence. We support, as the President mentioned last night about the people of Tunisia, the universal rights of the people of Egypt. And this is an important time for the government to demonstrate its responsiveness to the people of Egypt in recognizing those universal rights.
So we’re going to continue to monitor the situation. I got a couple updates very early this morning, and we’ll try to get more as we go along the day.
Q But do you believe they should lift the ban on protests? Should they allow these demonstrations to go ahead as long as they’re peaceful?
MR. GIBBS: Again, yes, we are supportive of the universal right for assembly and speech. Those are universal values.
Again, I think we would stress quite clearly, for all involved, that expression should be free of violence. Again, we’re working with -- obviously we have a close and important ally in Egypt and they will continue to be.
Q And as you stand today, you still back President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Egypt is a strong ally.
Q The President talked about working with Republicans and Republicans working with him on Social Security, overhauling the tax code. How does that happen without him taking a more direct role in inviting them to the table, telling them where and when to show up?
MR. GIBBS: Jackie, I think that many of the next months will be spent discussing and hearing the ideas of both parties on those issues. I think the President has said many times that the hallmark of good ideas is [not] the province of one party. So, look, we’re anxious to sit down and walk through spending, strengthening Social Security, corporate and individual tax reform, education reform.
I think many -- almost all the issues the President laid out last night in many ways demand a bipartisan solution. Shared government demands bipartisan solutions.
I think what we want to see both sides be involved in is that important conversation, and I think you’ll see more and more of that as we go on throughout the year.
Q What broad tax deductions are you looking at, though, in order to lower the corporate tax rate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, I think the President discussed last night some broad concepts of ridding the corporate tax code of special interest loopholes, and by doing so, coming up with a corporate tax code that is reduced and fair. I’m not going to, again, start the exact bargaining on that. I think, again, this will be a meaningful process and a discussion that the President and Republicans and Democrats alike will have as we move forward on these issues.
I think it’s important to reiterate -- we all know it, but it’s important to reiterate, as the President said last night, bills won’t land on his desk without the support of both parties. And if we’re going to make progress like we did in December during the end of the legislative session, we did that because we worked together. And I think that’s what we’re going to have to do moving forward.
Q On this issue of government reorganization, he laid out some examples of inefficiencies, his salmon joke. But I guess -- it’s a good joke -- (laughter) -- what does that process look like moving forward to try to identify changes that you’re going to make? And does he have any ideas that you guys can tell us right now about changes we’ll see?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, I think the President is very open to, as you heard him talk about, some substantive and structural changes. As he said, it’s been a long time since we reoriented the structure of our government to meet the challenges that we face today.
So there have already been discussions in leading up to the State of the Union about how this would look. We’re beginning to identify people inside the executive branch, inside the executive office of the President as well, that would begin to think through how do we, as you heard the President say, reduce duplication, how do we prioritize. He talked about the overlap on trade issues and export issues. How do we reduce that duplication and prioritize what we know is going to be important for our continued economic growth going forward.
So I think we’re in the process of working through setting up a structure -- beginning to set up a structure that would start to go through this.
And obviously a lot of this is going to require ultimately some congressional action, the authority to pursue executive reorganization. But I think given the fiscal times that we’re in, this makes a lot of sense right now -- not just to meet the challenges but in understanding that we all agree that we are going to have to cut the amount of money government spends.
Q Do you know who’s going to be leading the process out of the White House?
MR. GIBBS: There’s still some discussions internally, but they’re in the process of figuring out --
Q So ultimately he’ll have a very detailed sort of blueprint for how he thinks government --
MR. GIBBS: I think we will begin a larger process of how one comes about the thoughts and theories of reorganizing a government for the 21st century.
Q What would be the timetable for putting something out?
MR. GIBBS: I would be ahead of the process if I had that.
Q Largely absent from last night’s speech was any mention of specifically gun control issues. When will the President start talking about this? You’ve said that he’s looking at proposals on the Hill. But can you update us on that?
MR. GIBBS: Let me say two things. I think, one, look, I don’t doubt that there are a host of issues that didn’t receive billing in the State of the Union that will still encompass a decent amount of time inside the administration in 2011. So first and foremost, simply because something didn’t get a half page in the State of the Union, or a paragraph or such, I think doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not something that people will work on.
That having been said, I wouldn’t rule out that at some point the President talks about the issues surrounding gun violence. I don’t have a timetable or obviously what he would say, but I wouldn’t rule that out in the future.
Q Then why -- isn’t that the best opportunity he’s got all year long, and it came on the heels of -- when memories of Arizona are fresh?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously what happened in Arizona was a tragedy. But, Jackie, it’s happened to school kids in Chicago. It happens in many places all over the country. So, again, what the President wanted to do last night was outline the global economic challenges that we face in a way that he hasn’t been able to do in a while.
Q Also Paul Broun, a Republican from Georgia last night, tweeted during the State of the Union that -- accusing the President of not believing in the Constitution, also not -- and also believing in socialism. What does it say about the call for civility last night that the President was calling for?
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think we will be judged going forward on our ability to sit down and work together on not just sitting near each other or next to each other for an evening, but whether or not today we can get about the process of -- and for the next year -- getting about the process of finding some concrete solutions to the problems that we know we face.
We’re going to visit a few companies today in Manitowoc that are meeting many of these challenges. They’re competing for -- they’re competing against the world in clean energy manufacturing. They’re hiring. They’re investing. And I think all of that is -- all of that is what we should spend our time thinking about and worrying about and, quite frankly, the bulk of our time working together to address.
Q Is today’s stop similar to what we’re going to see as you guys ramp up the campaign? I mean, he’s obviously going to be talking about some of the proposals from last night. But it seems like a lot of the trip today is also focused on touting some of the policies from the past two years.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I mean, first and foremost, and we talked a little bit about this yesterday, had the tax agreement in December not included the hundred percent investing provision and the payroll tax cut, I think they would have been very good candidates to hear very early in the State of the Union. In fact, when we rolled out the investing stuff I think in September, most people thought that was a 2011 -- that that’s the next time it would get taken up. And we obviously had spent time thinking about a payroll tax cut in the late summer as well.
So, first and foremost, though not part of the State of the Union, the important economic proposals that are now law -- you’ll see companies today that will take advantage this year. And there will be companies throughout the country that will take advantage this year, using some of the cash that we’ve been talking about on the sidelines to invest in growing their businesses. And obviously the payroll tax cut has already started to put money back into people’s pockets, which is tremendously important.
But I think what the President wants to do today is highlight steps that these companies and other companies are taking. I think as the President talks about building, as the President talks about education on trips in the next several weeks, you’ll hear him -- you will see him highlight different -- as he did last night -- different stories around the country that help highlight some of the important things that are happening all over this country and throughout the states to meet and address these challenges.
Q Following on Jackie’s question, is there some sense of a timeline for the administration to start talking to Republicans about this corporate tax overhaul? Can you give any sense?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- let me see if there are -- let me see if there’s a Geithner or a Jack Lew thing happening in the interim. Let me check and see if there’s anything specific on that.
Q Is the President any closer to finding your replacement and springing you?
MR. GIBBS: “Free Robert Gibbs.” No, I anticipate that the President is actually quite close in that. And I anticipate that I will, as I’ve said, probably leave around sometime in mid-February.
Q -- this week --
MR. GIBBS: Could be. I have not been told that, so I don’t know the answer. But my anticipation is that it won’t be long.
Q So he knows who it is? It’s just a --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if, honestly, he has made a final decision on that. And I anticipate, obviously, over the course of the next few days I think you’ll likely see final decisions that will be made on a lot of the -- finishing up the restructuring that began, quite honestly, probably back in September and October with Pete working through the President on what the administration would look like as people decided to go back to what they might have been doing before.
Q Will there be a Carol Browner replacement?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to -- I mean, I talked to Carol a little bit yesterday. I think -- and, look, I think it’s important to understand that the President rolled out an extremely robust energy agenda last night -- cutting oil subsidies or subsidies to oil companies to invest in clean energy and research and development, and an energy standard that doubles the amount of our electricity produced by renewable energy or clean energy by 2035.
A little different in that was -- and we sort of sometimes get stuck in these debates, well, is it -- are you going to do solar and wind to do that, or are you going to do nuclear and clean coal to do that? And the President’s belief is with a challenge as enormous as our energy independence, that the only way we’re going to meet that challenge is to do both, to do all of it.
So I don’t know exactly what the structure of her office is going to look like, but I can assure you that regardless of the staffing inside the White House, first and foremost the President is committed to continuing our important investments in the innovation around clean energy manufacturing and in addressing the long-term problems and the continual -- our continual increase in our dependence on energy sources in other places in the world.
We’re not going to meet the challenges that we have with China and India as they invest more and more heavily in clean energy without a plan of our own, and I think you’ll see some of that highlighted, quite honestly, on our trip today.
Just to give you a -- we are obviously cognizant of the weather in Washington and if anything changes about departure or what have you, we’ll let you know. But we still, knock on wood, believe that we’ll get back through to Andrews Air Force Base and the weather will hopefully not be too bad.
Q I just had one quick question about the South American trip. Can you outline the President’s goals on that trip?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think as he said last night, this is a -- historically, it’s the anniversary of the Kennedy Alliance for Progress. It is an enormously important part of the world that we have yet to have an opportunity to have the President spent time in. It would be his first trip to South America and --
Q His first trip personally as well?
MR. GIBBS: It will -- it’s a very important part of the world. Obviously a place like Brazil has addressed some of their energy challenges. They have a growing economy. And I think the President believes that it is important for him to get to South America and Central America personally next year and strengthen, as we have in Asia and in Europe, strengthen our ties to that very important region of the world.
All right? Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
11:04 A.M. EST