Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/3/09
For Immediate Release November 3, 2009
PRESS BRIEFING BY
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EST
Q Do you know who the President is rooting for in the World Series yet?
MR. GIBBS: I emailed this to Basinet, who asked at the conclusion of last Friday's briefing --
Q I was the one who asked this question -- for the record.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry. He emailed me, because I guess --
Q Because you evaded the question.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I didn’t know the answer. It drew some apparent attention in New York. I asked the President. He said he hoped for a good series, but didn’t have a strong pull for either team.
Q There goes Pennsylvania. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We'll see. What's that?
Q Does that means seven games? A good series?
MR. GIBBS: I think he would probably hope to see seven. I know Jake would hope to be around for seven. There's no doubt that he was rooting for Plouffe last year, but apparently he thinks Plouffe is just fine this year.
So, Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. A few questions on Afghanistan. When the President announced earlier this year he was sending more troops --this was back in March -- he said that the Afghan government was undermined by corruption and he said "We will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior and set clear benchmarks." So, to start, I'm wondering has this government delivered on any of that yet? Are you all measuring whether the Karzai government is trying to stop corruption and whether that's working?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President was alluding to in March is precisely the conversations that are being had by the embassy, by the ambassador, by the State Department, and by others here with the newly elected Karzai government.
Q So that's a process that's still starting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, these are conversations, as I mentioned yesterday, that were had before and during the election process that took quite some time. But the President and his team are actively engaged in seeking that new compact.
Q He said just yesterday that -- he reiterated that he wants a more serious effort to eradicate corruption, better governance, and so forth. I'm wondering, are those -- he talked about he wants deeds not just words. So I'm wondering when he lays out those points that he's looking for, what is he -- are they just wishes, or is there going to be any connection between wanting to see results and his decision to send more troops?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand the end of the quote that you read set clear benchmarks for international assistance that is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people. Obviously, as the President reiterates, this is not just rhetoric; there have to be deliverables to this. And I don't want to get ahead of where the process is at this point in commenting on some of the specifics. I'd also mention what the President said yesterday, that includes an infrastructure for training Afghan national security forces. Both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police ultimately are going to have to take charge of the security situation in the country. I've said this, the President has said this, that we're not going to be there forever.
What is accomplished on the security side will eventually have to be transferred to those two entities that comprise the Afghan national security forces, and that's certainly part of improved governance.
Q Just to sum up here, I guess I'm just trying to figure out the connection between those important points that this government is looking for from Afghanistan and the President's upcoming decision. Is there a direct connection?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, as I said yesterday, Ben, there isn't anybody involved in these discussions, whether you're on the civilian side from the State Department, whether you're on the civilian side of the National Security Council -- I have no idea what that noise was -- or whether or not -- or whether you're in the military at the Pentagon, that without improvement and without a sustained effort by the government of Afghanistan, our efforts there are not and won't be successful. So obviously ensuring improved governance is part of that equation.
Q On the corruption issue in particular, are there any deadlines or actual measuring sticks that are being contemplated now to impose upon Karzai --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said, I don't want to get ahead of the process that's ongoing with the embassy right now.
Q It has been years in which Karzai has been under this kind of pressure, and are we to see something new here that hasn't been tried before?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President was clear yesterday that it was time for a new chapter, absolutely. I think -- I don't want to delve too far back into the history of this, but I don't think there's anybody that would tell you that we can continue doing what has been done in years past and hope to see different results.
Q European Commission President Barroso is here and he'll be meeting with the President later. He already said today that the European countries have no interest in sending more troops to Afghanistan. Does that in any way affect or figure into the President's review process on a possible U.S. --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's a security conference I think scheduled -- I don't have the calendar in front of me -- I think for the 23rd of November involving NATO countries, and I'll wait for them to meet and have more definitive news on this.
Q Working on good governance and anticorruption -- those are general goals. What are some specific things that you guys will be looking for?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm not going to get into discussing publicly the compact that's -- that the embassy is working through with the Afghan government.
Q The CIT bankruptcy, do you guys have any response to that? It's $2.3 billion of taxpayer money that I guess is just going to vanish into thin air.
MR. GIBBS: Obviously CIT received, as you mentioned, several billion dollars of assistance in December of 2008. They have come back a couple of times looking for additional assistance. They've had a year to restructure, which they are now in a process that is now ongoing. We are heartened by the fact that they will continue to lend to important small business customers and we will continue to seek ways to stabilize the financial system.
Q Are the taxpayers just out that money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's obviously a process that's now -- that will now be ongoing in terms of their planned bankruptcy. And obviously we have a stake in how that comes out as to the -- taxpayers have invested that money.
Q Thanks, Robert. I wanted to talk about H1N1 virus. A year ago in the campaign one of the themes from the President was about Republicans had not governed very effectively -- citing Katrina, war in Iraq, incompetence in government. But when it comes to H1N1 you made some big promises about tens of millions of vaccines that would be available to the American people. They are obviously not available. And so far the message has been that the manufacturing companies had really rosy scenarios. But don't people here in the Obama administration bear some responsibility for not asking the right questions, getting the right answers from these manufacturers before you told the American people you could deliver 120 million vaccinations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, did we fell -- fall to the scenarios that the manufacturers said that they could manufacture a vaccine in? Of course. Ed, I'll take you back to last spring at the beginning of this process, in which H1N1 is a virus that we see popping up around the world, around the globe. The President took very strong action in setting up a team to deal with this. I'm reminded of -- I think there was some snickering about the President talking about how to cough and how to sneeze and that you should wash your hands, all of which for anybody that has -- knows somebody with that, it's not a laughing matter now.
I think the President and his team have taken extraordinary action to deal with this situation. And as I said last week, Ed, I don't know if you asked this or somebody else did, obviously the President is frustrated that there's anybody that is in one of these groups, at a high-risk group, that is having trouble getting the vaccine now. And we're making progress on getting more and more of that vaccine each day.
Q So what's your promise to the American people now? Because they are wondering -- they're waiting in long lines, sometimes they wait two hours and they get to the front of the line, there's no more vaccine. What's your message then? What's the promise now about --
MR. GIBBS: The promise is that we're working each and every day to fix this. I don't know what the updated numbers are. I know there's a daily briefing now with -- that I'm sure many of your technical questions will be addressed. I don't know the available number of doses now, but when we went through this last week there were 3 million additional doses over a two-day period of time. And again, the President is working every day -- ensure that people that want and need this vaccine have it.
Q And last thing -- while you're still trying to ensure that, and there are a lot of Americans who haven't been able to get it, why did the Obama administration decide to make the vaccine available to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?
MR. GIBBS: There is no vaccine in Guantanamo and there's no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo.
Q So the Pentagon was wrong when it confirmed that on Friday?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the Pentagon said. I know in asking yesterday whether or not there was any vaccine there or whether there was any vaccine that was on its way, the answer to both those questions was no.
Q Did the White House stop --
MR. GIBBS: No, that was because there wasn't any there and there wasn't any on the way.
Q Getting back to the topic of money possibly vanishing into thin air, it's not just CIT. GAO reported yesterday that the taxpayers will probably never recoup all or even close to all of the tens of billions of dollars that have been poured into General Motors and Chrysler. Should the American people assume that that money is just gone?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think so. I don't think that's what the GAO reported. The President made some tough and extraordinary decisions to seek some financial assistance for GM and Chrysler. Again, not easy decisions, but the President also believed that we had a chance to remake a more competitive American auto industry that employs tens of thousands of Americans.
Q But GA found that they would have to have a market cap --
MR. GIBBS: GAO.
Q GAO, excuse me, would have to have a market capitalization of $67 billion. They've never exceeded $57 billion. Isn't it just wishful thinking to think that they would ever get to that level again?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what we need to do is get our economy moving again so that we have car sales that begin to see an uptick. I think you saw reports yesterday of the first time that Ford Motor Company had turned a profit in its North American operation since 2005 --
Q But Ford and GM are very different creatures. I mean, you're talking about -- I mean, everybody has been talking about a sized-down GM. How are they going to exceed their market capitalization --
MR. GIBBS: The basis for any market capitalization is what? Cars, right? So obviously we have seen a -- as the economy has slowed, a decline from traditional auto sales figures that you saw in 2006, or even 2007 and parts of 2008.
The President is working each and every day to get the economy moving again, to create conditions where people have the type of income they need to purchase new cars. We've instituted new fuel mileage standards so that the new cars that people buy go farther on a tank of gas and spit out less pollutants as they do so. And I think we see that GM and Chrysler have begun to make strides in putting themselves on firmer footing.
Q -- that $67 billion, or depending on how you count it, $67 billion that went in to those two companies, what can the --
MR. GIBBS: That or that market capitalization?
Q That's the money that went to them. How much of that can the American people expect to get back?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t read the full report.
Q No, but are you saying that the American people will get a substantial amount of it back?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any of that -- I think the American people will see some of that money returned, yes.
Q A lot of it, a little of it?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not the car czar.
Q The President's decision on Afghanistan is still weeks, plural, away?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
MR. GIBBS: It was weeks yesterday, and it's weeks today.
Q Okay. What additional information is the President waiting for to make a decision? Are there outstanding issues?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President continues to meet with advisors. He met last Friday with the Joint Chiefs and they'll be back again for an additional meeting either late this week or early next week.
Q But doesn’t he feel a sense of urgency at all?
MR. GIBBS: He's said that since the beginning, yes.
Q It just seems that there's a lot of meetings -- we now have the election. I just wonder if you could let us in on the process here, particularly in the context, let's face it, of some accusations of delaying or dithering. I'm just wondering if you could let us into the process --
MR. GIBBS: I addressed those -- I addressed those so-called allegations before.
Q I guess -- but you understand what I'm getting at. What is the President trying --
MR. GIBBS: Vaguely. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. What is the President hoping to learn? What is he -- what more information is he hoping to obtain?
MR. GIBBS: Let me explain this the way I explained this yesterday, Savannah. The President -- as you saw administration officials explaining over the weekend, the President and his team have a goal that remains unchanged: to dismantle, disrupt and ultimately destroy al Qaeda. That is -- what the team is working on putting together is a military and a civilian strategy that best accomplishes that goal. That's what the team has been evaluating in Afghanistan, how that relates to our relationship with Pakistan, and the region as a whole in crafting a policy that addresses all of these things.
Q Last thing. Will the President seek to meet with General McChrystal in person here at the White House before making his decision?
MR. GIBBS: I have said in the past that that will likely be the case.
Q Can I just follow up? Why would the decision not come sooner now that the election has been settled? Wasn't that one of the reasons it was taking so long?
MR. GIBBS: The election certainly was part of the equation, but not the whole equation.
Q But that's -- it should be sooner now that the election is settled.
MR. GIBBS: Why?
Q Well, if it's part of the equation then that's one factor that now has been settled. So you'd think you could move more quickly.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's been a couple of days, but I still think it's a couple of weeks.
Q Two quick questions. First, on the election --
MR. GIBBS: Which one? You've got to be a little more specific.
Q The elections of today. A year ago the President was appealing to independent voters, Republican voters as a post-partisan politician. And in recent appearances, especially on Sunday, he seemed to be trying to rally the Democratic base. I wonder if the lesson for midterm elections next year and for today's elections is that post-partisanship is over and now it's a question of just getting out the base.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- well, that generally happens two days before an election, right? You tend to want to get your voters -- I know this isn't a new concept -- you tend to want to get your voters to the poll on Election Day. I think that's generally the case. This President believes that the candidates that he's made appearances for are -- he believes will be -- are the best candidates for the jobs with which they're running.
In talking about appealing to both independent voters -- I'd let the President's approval rating with independent voters speak for itself. And I think if you look at the efforts that the President has made and the perception of the efforts -- the perception that people have about those efforts, that they see a President that's trying to work with the Republican Party on the issues that are important to the American people.
We tried that in the recovery plan. We've tried that with health care only to have, I think in the last 24 hours, Republicans finally decide to come up with their alternative ideas for health care reform -- health care reform ideas, I might mention, that by all reports don't include banning insurance companies from discriminating against sick people.
But the President is going to continue to try to work with Republicans that seek to and want to work -- seek to work with him and want to work for reform and to address the issues that are important in people's lives.
Q On health care, do you think -- does the President feel that the House bill is sufficiently neutral on the abortion question, or would he support some conservative Democrats who want -- would want language --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to interject from here into a process of discussion on the House side of how to address that.
Q And although you've said it before, you haven't said it today: On the referendum issue --
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to do it again.
Q If Creigh Deeds or Jon Corzine or Bill Owens were to win today, the President doesn't want any credit, and if they lose he doesn't want any blame?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- unclear if I've had an opportunity to intone either of those.
Q Please take it now. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I simply said -- and I find it -- I'm always amused by the fact that the motives for which I say these things are always imparted -- this is just what I believe. I don't think the two gubernatorial races -- I don't think looking at the two gubernatorial races, you can draw with any great insight what's going to happen a year from now any more than if Jake's team wins tomorrow night I can tell who's going to win next year's World Series.
Q Not really what I was asking. (Laughter.) If the three candidates that the President has campaigned for and wants to win and are seen as the three key races this year, if they win, will the White House view it as support for the President's views or --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we don't look at either of these gubernatorial races or the congressional race as something that portends a lot for our legislative efforts going forward or political prospects in 2010.
Q You still didn’t hit it on the nail, you know that? Is it deliberate, or is it --
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- maybe we're just passing in the night, Mark. I don't know whether that's -- maybe with less sound, but it's -- yes, go ahead.
Q Warren Buffett described his acquisition of Burlington Northern represents an all-in wager in the economic future of the United States. Does the White House take this as an endorsement of the President's economic policies?
MR. GIBBS: I am not going to comment on the investment decisions of certain investors. I don't think that would --
Q You've moved markets before. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: And I'm seeking desperately for a little stability today. I think that Warren Buffett is somebody who obviously, as you know, the President has sought advice and counsel from, but I'm not going to get into his individual investment decisions.
Q There's more than just words. I mean, he's talking about it's an instant all-in wager in the economic future of the United States. I mean, you know, if we're back to baseball metaphors, this is a big fat one right up the middle. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will simply say this. I think that the President values his advice, as he does many others, and the President is doing what he believes is right and best to get our economy back on track and moving again -- I think you saw that in the statistics that were released just at the end of last week -- and hope that people continue to have confidence in the decisions that the President makes.
Q Tomorrow, the education speech in Madison, what can we expect on that?
MR. GIBBS: I think you all -- I'll leave some of this aside for you all to talk to Melody about in a little bit. Obviously the President has, through both the recovery plan and through initiatives at the Department of Education, sought to reform our schools so that they can better compete in the 21st century and create a more skilled workforce to assume the jobs that we're creating for the future. I think the President will take some time to talk about those efforts tomorrow, and I would encourage you all to get on the phone and ask Melody specifically about that.
Q Robert, let me follow up on Mark, if I could. Sunday when the President appeared with Governor Corzine, Governor Corzine said, "I'm going to be a partner." The President said Jon Corzine has been a reliable partner. Corzine has made it very clear that he wants to work with the President, has talked about job creation and jobs saved in New Jersey because of the stimulus. Why then shouldn't what happens today reflect in some way shape or form the New Jersey's attitudes about their governor partnering with this President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look --
Q Because in Virginia that has not been the message of the Democratic candidate, to the consternation here at the White House. Creigh Deeds did not say, "I'm an Obama Democrat," and the White House did not take kindly that strategic approach to his campaign. So when you have two different campaigns like that, why shouldn't what happens in New Jersey at least reflect in some way, shape or form what voters are thinking about Corzine and the President now -- not 2010, but now?
MR. GIBBS: I'll let people look into their crystal balls and figure out what all this stuff means for the future. The President believes that the best candidate to lead New Jersey today and tomorrow is Jon Corzine. That's what the endorsement is about.
Governor Corzine was somebody who the President knew and worked with in the Senate and somebody he believes is best suited to lead New Jersey for the next four years. I think that's what the endorsement means, and I think that's the support that the President was trying to convey.
Q And if Corzine wins, then his endorsement means what? Does his endorsement mean that there are tangible benefits to running alongside the President, correct?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to wait to navel-gaze when we have some navel gazing to look at.
Q Okay, why did the White House --
Q Ask Tommy on Wednesday, right? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He's in Copenhagen.
Q Why did the White House find it worth its while to encourage Dede Scozzafava to endorse Bill Owens?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that what the candidate -- the former Republican nominee decided was -- and talked to, I'm sure, both Republicans and Democrats both in New York and nationally, about who she thought was best suited to carry on the things that she cared about and believed in, and she decided that that candidate was the Democrat.
Q But Patrick Gaspard, from the White House, called her and talked to her, and helped arrange --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure Michael Steele and --
Q -- Andrew Cuomo and others --
MR. GIBBS: And I'm sure Newt Gingrich -- sure, I mean --
Q I'm just curious why the White House thought it was worth your while to get so deeply involved in that race if none of this really matters as far as 2010, or anything else.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are interesting -- I do think there are interesting tidbits that we see coming out of New York 23. You see, the Republican Party having picked the candidate, elements of the Republican Party deciding they don't like that candidate and basically doing what they needed to do to get that candidate off the ballot. I think there are a host of primaries that will affect 2010 next year that pit moderate Republican candidates and conservative Republican candidates.
I think a lot of people decided that in a district that had sent Republicans to Congress, parts of that district, since the 1800s traditionally had sent moderate Republicans. I think many in the Republican Party hung out a sign, as you heard people at the White House say this weekend, that moderates need not apply. I do think that has ramifications for next year because you've got primaries that you all are and will cover that pit very similar elements of that argument against each other next year.
Q A couple of quick ones on Afghanistan. Karzai said today he wants to "Make sure that the taxpayers' money coming to us from your countries" -- the United States and others, but let's just talk about the U.S. -- "is spent wisely and rightly by us." Does the White House believe that standard is currently being met?
MR. GIBBS: We have made, obviously, important investments in the troops that we have put in Afghanistan, as well as through international assistance. I think I would simply -- without getting into -- as I said earlier, not to go back too far in history, I think the President understands that for any of our efforts to be successful it's time for a new chapter in Afghan history.
Q But you can't say whether it's being -- that standard that he set is being met yet?
MR. GIBBS: The President is anxious to see improvement.
Q Would the President need to visit Afghanistan before making his final decision on troops or strategy?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q He would not? Okay. That's not necessary?
MR. GIBBS: The President was in Afghanistan -- what, I guess sometime last July or June, I can't remember when the trip was. I don't think it's necessary for the President to do so.
Q Okay. And does he need any more information from the Joint Chiefs? There was reporting Friday that he asked them for some specific data --
MR. GIBBS: As I said to Savannah, I think there's a -- there will be -- as we said Friday, there will be another meeting to go through additional recommendations that the Pentagon is working through.
Q Will that meeting occur before he leaves for Asia?
MR. GIBBS: Either early this week -- I'm sorry, either late this week or early next week, but I assume before Asia, yes.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q Thanks, Robert. In meeting with Chancellor Merkel this morning and the European Commission officials this afternoon, will President Obama be making specific requests for additional help in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get a readout from the private meeting that the President -- if there is a readout on the private meeting that the President had with Chancellor Merkel.
Q Quick follow. Yesterday, you said --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I think you all heard the President say -- and I would be remiss if I didn't repeat what the President said about the tremendous and important contributions that Germany in particular has made to NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
Q Yesterday you said that once he makes his decision he'll be walking the American people through it. Are you planning an Oval Office address?
MR. GIBBS: I said this last week -- I think a question that Jeff asked -- we have not spent a ton of time on the actual -- on actually what that would look like except I know the President has told us -- not necessarily as it relates to some venue or some speech, but that it is important for the American people to understand why he made the decision that he's made. And I anticipate that the President will spend some time walking the American people through the process that we've undertaken and the decision points that he's made along the way to come to the ultimate conclusion that he's come to.
Q One more very quick thing, again, on timing -- and I know we're slicing this pretty thin, but if he may not meet with the Joint Chiefs until early next week, it sounds like a decision will wait until after Asia.
MR. GIBBS: The only guidance that I have is to reiterate coming weeks. I don't have anything more clear than that, I'm sorry.
Q Robert, climate change is also a big issue for the European Union. To what extent is the President using his personal powers of persuasion to talk to folks on the Hill, members of the Senate, on climate change in the fashion that he has been doing on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I think he's obviously had an opportunity to meet with members of the Senate over the past few weeks. I assume those conversations have included discussions on energy, and I think those conversations will continue as we seek to continue the progress that the House made in passing comprehensive energy and climate change legislation.
Q But have there been any specific energy or climate change-related meetings or --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get from Ben LaBolt and others what Carol Browner, what the EPA, the Department of Energy have done on this, and see the degree to which the President has also had individual conversations.
Q And then also on the elections today, you talked about interesting tidbits come out of New York. To what extent is the President looking at the elections today in New York, Virginia, and New Jersey as a reflection of what Americans think about the job he is doing, and sort of to what extent is he looking at them to forecast ahead to what he and Democrats need to do in 2010?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I doubt the President disagrees with me in saying that I don't think these -- as I have said -- Mark -- each of the last three times we've met, I don't think the President is looking at these and believes that they say anything about our future legislative efforts or our future political efforts. Again, in 2001, President Bush lost Virginia and New Jersey. I don't believe that it impacted his legislative initiatives going forward, and as I recall, happily sitting at one of the campaign committees in 2002, that the elections didn’t seem unambiguous as to their results. In 2005 --
Q -- in any way on his performance?
MR. GIBBS: I would quote for you the pollster that -- from The Washington Post who asked specifically this question of the Virginia electorate; 70 percent said that their vote had nothing to do with the President. Those that -- the other 30 percent that said their vote either had -- was intending to either show support for or opposition to the President, that number was evenly split. And if anything, the illuminating number coming out of that is registered voters approved of the President's job among Virginians by a number of 57 percent, which exceeds by 5 the amount the President received in Virginia a year ago.
Q Well, it shows -- your answer gets partway there -- that these political questions aren’t about --
MR. GIBBS: I'll be graded. Mark, I got an incomplete from you, but as I work my way this way I'm getting better, apparently.
Q We'll see. (Laughter.) It's not over yet.
Q Robert, these questions aren’t about next year and the future and what it portends; it's about what the President has done for the last year since he won reelection. Are you saying that if Democrats win in any of these locations you won't stand there tomorrow and say, yes, the President gets some credit for that?
MR. GIBBS: What I'm saying, again, as I said Monday and I said Friday, I know there's a great cottage industry in this lovely town that looks at what happens today and sees what it portends for next year -- hold on, hold on, let me -- I know, you'll find it incomplete, but it's my answer. You know, we can do this, we can look at this and what it means, and I happen to honestly believe -- I know that's, gasp, get your notebook out, Gibbs honest -- (laughter) -- I don't believe that local elections in Virginia and New Jersey portend a lot about legislative success or political success in the future. I just don't.
Q Forget the future. What does it mean for the people to think of what the President has done for the last year? Is it a grade for the President in the last year?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the question was asked specifically amongst a representative sample of those that will participate in the elections taking place today to elect the next governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, right? That question very specifically resulted in 70 percent of the Virginia population -- I know, I hate to let fact get in the way of good navel-gazing, but that's just what the poll said. Don't quote me. Quote The Washington Post.
Q I don't want to. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That's an entirely different subject, apparently.
Q Robert, considering the United States' long engagement in Berlin, and President Kennedy's statement when he went there, why did this President decide he could not accept the invitation to go for the 20th anniversary of commemoration, like all the other leaders who helped control Berlin during the interim?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President obviously has talked a little bit about, in his remarks with Chancellor Merkel today, talked about the momentous events of almost 30 years ago -- I'm sorry, almost 20 years ago -- with the fall of the wall. Obviously we have a lot to work on here and we have commitments for an upcoming Asia trip. But soon a very senior delegation of American officials will be announced to go to that ceremony in Germany.
Q Can I do a quick follow-up on Ann?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. Which one?
Q The one about the elections. Are you asserting that the voters who go to the polls today who are feeling economic anxiety, who feel the country is on the wrong track, the Democrats who are not as enthusiastic today as they were a year ago -- none of that has any bearing on the President's performance at all?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I'm not sure exactly what some of that is -- what some of what you're premising your question on is based off of. I'm not suggesting there's not economic anxiety. I'm not suggesting that there's not frustration with Washington's inability to deal with fundamental problems in our society. That's exactly what the President is working on each and every day: to make health care more affordable; to create good-paying jobs; to create a new foundation for economic recovery through jobs in the 21st century.
I'm not saying there's not economic anxiety in this country. But again, if you look at what -- if you look at -- I'm just reading what was written about the poll by the people conducting the poll, who talked to the voters about what they're saying and what they're feeling.
Q But what about voter enthusiasm and the fact that it seems, at least anecdotally, we'll know it more at the end --
MR. GIBBS: Let's discuss when we have something to base it more on than anecdote.
Q Robert, the President said in Massachusetts that Congress looks at local elections and they read tea leaves. That being the case, if the Democrats go 0 for 3 today, why wouldn't Congress look at that and think maybe there's not that support --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's deal with hypotheticals tomorrow when we can decide whether somebody went 0 for 3 or 1 for 3, or whether a walk counted as not counting as an at-bat.
Q Let me just get the question out.
MR. GIBBS: What’s that?
Q Let me just get the question out.
MR. GIBBS: Do you want me to wait for you to tell you what I'm going to do with hypotheticals?
Q Let me just try the question.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sure.
Q And then you can tell me you're not going to answer.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q If he goes 3 for 3, and they do really well, why isn't that in a sense a validation of the President's policies? And why wouldn't Capitol Hill look at that and decide this is a strong President, politically in a good position, we want to get behind this agenda?
MR. GIBBS: Should I do it now?
MR. GIBBS: Okay. Let's wait and deal with hypotheticals tomorrow.
Q Incomplete, incomplete.
MR. GIBBS: It's the best I can do.
Q I'm going to switch to the economy -- and you might have touched on this yesterday. When the Volcker board comes up with their recommendations and when you make decisions on those recommendations, does that --
MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about the PERAB?
Q PERAB, yes.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, yes.
Q Is that -- first of all, is that going to be before the budget, or I mean, is that going to be this year that you come up with this not stimulus two, but whatever you want to call it?
MR. GIBBS: I believe that one of the reasons, obviously, that the President wanted to have this quarterly meeting of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board focus on jobs was as we've seen the beginnings of economic growth, we have to make sure that we're looking at and evaluating all ideas for creating an environment -- a better environment for creating jobs. I think the suggestions that he got from individuals yesterday will be analyzed and looked at this year by our economic advisors here.
Q -- this year as part of coming up with individual proposals this year, or could they be part of the budget?
MR. GIBBS: Again, they could be either. They could be -- again, as I've said, the President is constantly evaluating ideas for job creation, as well as for implementing in the budget.
Q One more.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Is he less inclined to make those recommendations add to the deficit? We have the budget director today in New York talking about the importance of the deficit. Is it possible that those -- the decisions that he makes on the next economic steps will be deficit-neutral?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that part of that is an evaluation that the economic team will have to make. I think what one of the messages that Peter had in New York was, one way to -- the most important way in dealing with our federal deficit right now is to get our economy moving again. That's what the economic team is focused on, and that will have the most impact in the short term on that budget deficit.
Q Robert, two questions, one on the economy, then on the elections. First, on the economy, a report saying nearly half of all U.S. children will be on food stamps; 90 percent of black children at some point during their childhood. What say you about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not looked through the entire report. I saw some news reports of what you just mentioned. A couple things. Obviously the President has, in the recovery plan, worked to ensure that those that are struggling with our economy have the appropriate safety net that they need when they've hit on hard times. And an answer not dissimilar to what I just gave on the budget deficit, and that is the best way to address that problem is to get our economy moving and growing more consistently in a robust fashion. We have -- we are more than a year removed from the events of last September and are almost two years into -- or two years away from, I should say, the official delineation of an economic recession that caused a huge economic slowdown and obviously has resulted on more and more people hitting on hard times and their ability to find work.
Q And on the election issue, and it's centered around today, via Michael Steele -- Michael Steele says there are -- these elections are competitive, but if indeed there are Democratic losses today, you can blame it on the fact that this President is overexposed, primarily on issues to include the health care debate. Now, this is today. This is not next year, this is not yesterday. This is today.
MR. GIBBS: It was convoluted reasoning yesterday and it's convoluted reasoning today and tomorrow.
Q Wait a minute, but if the President -- I'm sorry, Bill.
Q No, go ahead.
Q But if the President does lose these gubernatorial seats, what does that say to this administration on a year away from when --
MR. GIBBS: You've asked Ann's question, and I would refer you to Ann's --
Q Ann, by the way, I'm trying to get an answer.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I refer you to Ann's answer.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q On health care, there is a public plan option as part of the House bill, a public plan option, a very different one, as part of the Senate bill. Debate starts very soon in both houses. Which version of the public plan option does the President prefer? Which one?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked specifically to the team about that. The President, as I've said in the past, will evaluate what comes to his desk for choice and competition.
Q But before that, isn't it time for the President -- or important for the President at some point to say, "I prefer this one over that one"?
MR. GIBBS: The President is very pleased with the progress that we're making in the approach that he's taken to get us to a point where --
Q He'll sign either one? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- now you're back to my first answer -- getting back to my first answer, which, I said, when that bill gets to our desk, we'd be happy to evaluate it.
Q It's reported that the President is meeting with Senator Blanche Lincoln tonight, and I was wondering if there are similar scheduled meetings with Senator Joseph Lieberman or if the President has reached out to Senator Lieberman since he's expressed his concerns about the bill.
MR. GIBBS: I know of either no meetings -- neither meetings nor phone calls with the President and Senator Lieberman.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
1:31 P.M. EDT