Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/4/10
12:47 P.M. EST
Q We want Bill! We want Bill!
Q Bill! Bill!
MR. GIBBS: Hey, I'm all for it, man. (Laughter.) I've got a -- I've got a couple margaritas getting warm right now anyway, so I'm happy to -- that's actually --
Q That's how you prep?
Q That's how you do it?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, actually -- same as you guys, right?
Q What? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That's just a joke, Mom. We're not doing that at work. All right, so, take us away. Sorry.
Q There's been some criticism from Democrats on the Hill, particularly Sherrod Brown, that the President has been even less involved in negotiations on health care since the Massachusetts elections. Is it true? Is that a strategy? Or are you taking that criticism seriously?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously, as the President has said in the State of the Union and you heard the President say yesterday, obviously the problem exists. It continues -- the problem that did exist on high costs, small businesses struggling, that was the case before Massachusetts; it was the case after Massachusetts. I still think that a process is working its way through Capitol Hill to figure out the best way forward.
Q But has the President been less involved than he was even last year?
MR. GIBBS: I didn't believe that the President was less involved last year since we wouldn't have gotten to where we were if the President hadn't been involved.
Q What would be making people like Sherrod Brown say this then? There's got to be some reason.
MR. GIBBS: That's a better question for him.
Q And is there any details you can share on the meeting this afternoon with Democratic leadership?
MR. GIBBS: I know the meeting was rescheduled, I think until 3:45 p.m. It's a meeting to go through the legislative agenda for 2010. First and foremost, there will be a discussion on jobs and the economy. Financial regulatory reform will also be a topic. They will talk about energy and health care.
Many of the topics that the President discussed in the State of the Union will be discussed in the meeting. And then, as you all know, next week, next Tuesday, will begin the President's bipartisan leadership meetings, also something he called for in the State of the Union.
Q The Chinese are dismissing the President's comments on China about exchange rates and trade yesterday, and I'm wondering, is the administration concerned that by pressuring the Chinese, you're running the risk of disrupting currency markets, antagonizing a very important creditor and thereby driving up borrowing costs that could hurt the U.S. economy?
MR. GIBBS: No, Matt, because there's nothing -- there's nothing that -- I know there's been a flurry of stories about our relationship with China, whether it's issues surrounding our meeting with the Dalai Lama or issues surrounding currency or trade. None of these issues that have been written or discussed about in the last two weeks weren't discussed face to face between President Obama and President Hu when they met in Beijing. I cannot remember a time in which the President came out of a meeting with President Hu and those topics hadn't come up.
So as I said here a few days ago, there are -- we envision this relationship as one where we can work together on issues of mutual concern. We've worked together on stabilizing the world economy. We've worked together on issues of proliferation, particularly around North Korea. I think it's safe to assume that only through the important cooperation that we received with the Chinese that we were able to get some very strict sanctions through the United Nations Security Council on a unanimous vote several months ago, based on the actions the North Koreans had taken late last spring.
There will be issues that we will disagree on, and we will disagree on them both in private and in public.
Q While the Chinese have been fulminating about the President's plan to meet with the Dalai Lama and also now this pressure about exchange rates, they were saying today that they don't want to talk about further sanctions on Iran, that that would be counterproductive. Is there any concern that the Chinese are becoming obstructionist in a kind of retaliation on other related -- on unrelated issues?
MR. GIBBS: There are issues that are of mutual concern and then there are issues that are of great concern to each of the individual countries. A nuclear Iran is not in the interest of the American government or the Chinese government. An arms race in the Middle East is not a good thing for us or for them. And a worldwide arms race and the destabilizing nature that that could have throughout the world is not a good thing for the American government or for the Chinese government.
I think that the Chinese will continue to work with us on the important next steps that we have to take relating to Iran because it's not just in our interest or in other's interest, it's quite clearly in their interest as well.
Q Robert, a quick follow?
MR. GIBBS: What's that?
Q A quick follow. Is the Dalai Lama still coming to meet with the President at the White House or not?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q If the Dalai Lama is still coming to meet with the President at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: He will be here later this month, yes. Again, just let me say, again, that we told President Hu in November in Beijing. The President told him that. The President discussed each of these issues -- Iranian sanctions, larger proliferation, and currency.
Q Just to follow on the earlier question about the meeting with the Dems, is the message or will the message also be from the President sort of can't we all get along, in light of the fact that we're hearing that there's disagreement and discontent on some of these issues, like health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think they will discuss a strategy moving forward to implement many of the ideas that are of concern to Democrats in the Senate and the House that are also on the policy agenda of the President of the United States. I also think, Dan, there's great overlap between what those interests are and what the American people want to see their Congress deal with -- first and foremost, a robust discussion on how to move forward on jobs and the economy.
Q The President has of late gone into the lion's den, taken questions from Republicans; he's taken questions from Democrats. He hasn't taken questions from the press in a prime-time forum since last summer, I believe in July. Why not?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President has, as you mentioned, taken questions from members of Congress. He has taken questions at different press avails from a whole host of reporters. We've done countless numbers --
Q One or two.
MR. GIBBS: Right, one or two, several times. We have done countless number of interviews -- I think more interviews in the first year than any President certainly in recent memory. He enjoys the format, we just haven't done one in a while.
Q Anything soon?
MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware of.
Q In the supplemental document "Analytical Perspectives" of the President's budget, unemployment figures that the administration is projecting are pretty bleak. It's 10 percent for the rest of this year, 9.2 percent next year, 8.2 percent in 2012. First of all, these are pretty bleak figures. I'm wondering if you have a response to these numbers. And then second of all, is this count factoring in a jobs bill or not?
MR. GIBBS: Let met ask specifically the second part of your question to OMB and CEA. Jake, they are sad and sobering numbers felt each and every day by the American people. We'll get new jobs numbers tomorrow. There will be a jobs revision, I'm told, tomorrow that's likely to show additional job loss at the first part of the recession that started in December 2007, making the hole that -- the hole of job loss that we've dealt with even deeper.
We didn't -- as I've said here countless times, we didn't get here overnight. We won't get out of that hole overnight. It will take a concerted effort by the President and Congress working together, both parties, to strengthen our foundation and to create jobs moving forward that's not predicated on risky lending or housing speculation or running up massive debt on credit cards. We've got to create jobs in the new industries of clean energy -- clean energy manufacturing so that we don't finish second place to the Chinese or the Indians in creating those new jobs.
Q Also, the numbers don't show the unemployment rate over the next decade going to even where they were in 2007 when the President announced he was running for this office, at all, ever. They stop at 5.2 percent but they never get down to below 5 percent, which is where they were when the President announced. Why -- I mean, this just seems an incredibly bleak outlook on the unemployment problems in this country.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jake, we've lost -- before the statistic -- before any revisions tomorrow, the recession has cost us 7 million jobs. I'll bring an update, the graph that I've brought out here a few times that show the sheer depth of job loss over the many months of the recession.
Look, I think if you go back and look at -- there was an article I think around the Christmas holidays that demonstrated that roughly there had been very little to no job growth in the past decade.
So we've got to figure out how to create economic growth and ultimately create jobs in an economy that isn't dependent upon the examples that I used a minute ago -- easy credit that allows housing speculation for people that can get but shouldn't get loans to buy houses.
Q But these numbers are more bleak than other numbers you guys have put out before. I mean, these are much more pessimistic than previous predictions.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jake, understand that when we walked in the beginning of the administration, no one presumed that 741,000 would be the number of jobs lost in January of 2009. And certainly if you average what happened in that first quarter of 2009, an average of about 700,000 jobs -- 700,000 jobs a month for each of the three months of that quarter -- understanding this, that the -- and I don't have the figures right in front of me, but the economic growth for that first quarter was -6.4 percent. The previous quarter was I believe -- and I'm doing this largely off the top of my head -- -5.5 percent. We hadn't had consecutive quarters of such economic retraction since the Great Depression.
So we've got a tremendous hole to fill in. And I think that's why the President spent a majority of his State of the Union speech asking that Congress, each party work together with the other to move forward on creating -- helping to create jobs, on assuring that stronger and new foundation. And I think that's most what the American people want to see out of their government right now.
Q And just a follow-up. I've asked you guys a few times what the President was referring to when he spoke to the Republican conference on Friday and he talked about stray cats and dogs getting into the health care reform legislation that would prevent patients from being able to choose their plan, choose their doctor, even though that had been a White House pledge. Have you guys made any progress on finding out what he was talking about?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if Bill got that question yesterday. I'll have to look through it.
Q You didn't watch Bill, when he did his briefing?
MR. GIBBS: I did watch most of it. I couldn't -- I noticed when you watch it on TV you can't always hear the questions.
Q How did he do?
MR. GIBBS: Quite well. Quite well. What did you think?
Q I'm neutral on the issue. (Laughter.)
Q That's not what you told me.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, that's -- yes, that's --
Q I was actually surprised to see you -- well, anyway, no -- he did a good job, very good job.
Toyota -- yesterday Ray LaHood kind of stepped in it when he mistakenly said that people should stop driving them and then backtracked a little while later, caused quite a big hubbub. Has the President been in touch with him? Is the President personally involved in this issue? And is he satisfied with the job Ray LaHood is doing?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely satisfied with the job Ray LaHood is doing, and I think it's important, understanding, Chip, after making a misstatement, he do what's -- did what's not done a lot in this town and said he made a misstatement and then corrected what he had said and was clear that if -- and if you go on certain Web sites, if you go on NHTSA's Web site -- nhtsa.gov -- or if you go on Toyota's Web site, you'll see which cars are impacted and affected by safety concerns. And has been said, if you're driving one of those cars, you should go see your dealer.
Q Is the President involved in any way, or has this not risen to his level?
MR. GIBBS: No, he's certainly seen reports and been briefed on what's going on, simply based on the breadth of what we're talking about.
Q There have been a number of reports that what's bad for Toyota is good for GM and Ford. Any thoughts on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what's bad for Toyota is bad for anybody that's driving a Toyota. And safety and security are the primary concerns of the National -- of NHTSA, the Department of Transportation, and the President of the United States.
Q What does all this mean for GM and Ford, which are both still at pretty precarious moments in their history?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ford I think last quarter reported a profit. I think GM is taking steps to turn around from the bankruptcy that they went through earlier. But --
Q Do you expect them to aggressively try to take advantage of this weakness on Toyota's part? I mean, it's a cutthroat world out there in the car business.
MR. GIBBS: That's a good question for the men and women that run both of those car companies.
Q On the jobs bill, Harry Reid says he wants to bring it up on Monday and he is hoping for Republican support. If they structure this in a certain way they could almost assure themselves of getting some Republican support. Is the President going to insist on that, that there be Republican support?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President could not have been clearer in the State of the Union, in the -- in speaking to both Democrats and Republicans, that we have to work together to get our economy moving again. I think there are ideas in helping small business and cutting their taxes, in increasing our investment in infrastructure, several ideas that Republicans have supported at various points in the past and pointed to as ways to help the economy recover and hopefully over the medium to long term create jobs.
So our strong hope, Chip, is that Democrats and Republicans can and will work together to move this important issue forward and get something to his desk quickly.
Q But when he meets with them later today he could say, no ifs, ands or buts, I want this structured in a way that you get Republican support on this thing or I won't sign it.
MR. GIBBS: Look, Chip, he told that to Democrats and Republicans over the past week, that we should work together. But, Chip, this isn't just a question for the Democratic leadership or for a Democratic President. We also have to have, as I think you heard the President outline when he spoke with Republicans last Friday in Baltimore -- and I think this is true going back to your question -- I doubt that everybody has liked every word of every piece of legislation that the President has watched go through Congress and sign. And it's not likely that he liked every word in every one of those pieces of legislation.
But the key is do we have and share enough in common; are these ideas good ideas to get the economy moving again, to stop playing partisan political games and work on behalf of the American people. Given what the President outlined in cutting taxes for small businesses, in increasing investment in infrastructure -- both things that Republicans have talked about -- I have no doubt that there will be plenty in each -- plenty in any package that can and should garner support from the Democratic side as well as the Republican side.
Q Business leaders today giving the President advice on what should be on job creation. Did he take any?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten a readout from -- I think the lunch started at noon. You all should have gotten lists of who was there and we'll -- I'll try to glean some from the President at the conclusion of the lunch.
Q All right, back to health care and your answer on Sherrod Brown -- he's not alone. I mean, there's a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill who regularly say the President -- the perception is the President hasn't pushed hard enough on this bill publicly, whatever it is, leaned his shoulder in more. If that's not true, why is that perception there?
MR. GIBBS: I would just say, Chuck --
Q -- these are not -- they're not bomb-throwers. Sherrod Brown is not a bomb-thrower.
MR. GIBBS: I would just say, Chuck, we've gone over the question of the President's involvement in health care for six months. I think as the President said last Friday, it's pretty clear he's not doing this for sheer political gain. I doubt that we would be continuing to do this if it weren't a key priority of his.
Q But it seems to be that where the message is getting lost there, apparently, he uses the word "hope" to get this done; that there isn't this idea that he's there, pulling an LBJ or something like that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's --
Q I'm not asking him to lift Bo by the ears. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say -- (laughter) -- there were many possible answers that went through my head with --
Q But that's what these guys are talking about.
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, LBJ added seniors into those that were assured that they would always have the safety net of quality health care. We've not gotten -- we've added since LBJ different efforts -- in the Clinton administration we added additional efforts through kids. That effort was expanded under President Obama at the beginning of our administration. We've gotten farther than seven Presidents who've worked on this issue intently. We're close, the President remains very involved and engaged in this, and it's our strong hope to continue to get this done.
Q One last question. At 5:00 p.m. today you have 59 Democratic senators rather than 60. Does that change your legislative agenda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it changes everybody's calculus as to taking responsibility for governing this country.
Q But it changes your -- changes the Republicans, changes --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President acknowledged as much during the State of the Union. No longer can one party alone, assuming that what is insisted upon is 60 votes in the United States Senate -- no longer can one party alone hold its members and make progress on important issues for the American people. That's why the President has asked again that Democrats and Republicans work together to make that progress.
Q On the jobs package in the Senate, it doesn't appear to include, at least initially, a $30 billion lending --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say this one more time.
Q The jobs package in the Senate doesn't appear to include initially the $30 billion lending provision through community banks for small businesses. How hard will the White House press on this? It's obviously the most controversial piece in the package as announced so far.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think loaning money through community banks to small business is --
Q Well, for the Senate it's controversial.
MR. GIBBS: -- is controversial. I think there are thousands and thousands of small business people around this country, some of whom write the President and say even as the stock market grows, our access to capital to either continue our small business, meet a payroll, or expand our small business, is still hard to come by. The President outlined the specifics of this proposal just this week in New Hampshire and believes that in order to get our country moving again and creating jobs, the best way to do this is, one, through cutting taxes for those that hire additional employees and providing additional access to capital through money that has been given back from bigger banks through TARP, loaned through community banks to small businesses. That's -- this will be a priority --
Q So you're saying that lending is a vital part of this package for this White House?
MR. GIBBS: Lending is a vital part of this package and it is a extremely vital part of any business being successful. We have discussed --
Q Is there some flexibility on the use of TARP funds?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get into a legislative negotiation from here. I think what's important for -- any small businesses will tell you that access to capital is their lifeblood. We've spent quite a bit of time discussing the lending practices of banks, and certainly as it relates to economic growth the President is -- believes this has to be a key priority.
Q Okay. One more on the debt commission, Robert. Are you getting any Republican cooperation on that, and when will that commission be named?
MR. GIBBS: The President is working on some of the specifics of the executive order. I believe if the economic team hasn't already, it was discussed this morning making phone calls to Republican leaders about how this will be structured. It's our strong hope that Republicans would agree to participate in a commission that many of their members strongly advocate.
Granted, seven of their members had strongly advocated and then unadvocated for the creation of that commission when we were trying to do this legislatively. But I have not noticed in the intervening weeks anything less than pretty vociferous comments about our fiscal situation. I can't imagine that Republicans would at one minute say this is such an important issue, and then at the next minute say we can't participate in a commission to help solve what I said a minute ago was an extremely important issue. I think the American people are smart enough to understand that's Washington game playing; that's not problem solving.
Q So you're thinking maybe the next week or so?
MR. GIBBS: I think very shortly.
Q One follow-up on just a related issue, something the President said to Republicans last week. He repeated it when he spoke with Democratic senators, and he also repeated it when he spoke at the town halls in Florida and New Hampshire. He said that there were some members of either the House or the Senate Republican members that voted against the economic Recovery Act and then attended some ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Were there a lot of members? Do you know which members the President was referring to?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the stuff with me, but I'll circulate to everybody as soon as I get out of here.
Q Great, thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Sure, absolutely.
Q On the same lines, Robert, did you look at the Republican comments, statements, news releases that have been made subsequent to the Friday meeting with the House GOP members? Do you see more of, well, to use the President's formulation, more of a hand of cooperation from them or a fist?
MR. GIBBS: Based on --
Q On their statements, news releases, comments on just the wide scope of issues -- jobs and health care and everything else.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think as the President said on Friday, there will always be differences between the two parties, and that's an important part of our process. I think that when the rubber has to meet the road, when legislation comes before the Senate, hopefully next week, that begins to cut taxes for small business and increase our investment in infrastructure as a way of moving our economy forward, I think we'll get a chance to see whether not just the statements of any criticism but the statements of what this President should do are backed up by strong action.
A lot of people said after Massachusetts that the President had to act in a more bipartisan way. I think the President has been pretty clear about wanting to ensure that the two parties work together.
We'll get a chance to see whether working together is something that people are serious about doing or whether it's something that a pollster told them to say.
Q Well, beyond, say, the National Prayer Breakfast, have you seen any bipartisanship from the other side at all?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the games of Washington, unlike the Olympic Games, don't open and close. They happen on a continual basis. I think the American people will be watching what happens first and foremost on the floor of the Senate next week on getting our economy moving again.
Q Thank you for the Olympics plug. (Laughter.)
Q Not C-SPAN.
Q All the channels of NBC. (Laughter.)
Q Just to go back to the jobs revision stuff -- just avoid any confusion -- have you seen the revisions yet, or are you basing your assumptions on publicly available data?
MR. GIBBS: I read a news report, I think, on CNN.
Q You have not seen the January --
MR. GIBBS: I should preface for my mother again, I do not see this data before you do.
Q And then on this -- the report that Google is working with the National Security Agency on plugging any cyber-security holes -- any other companies have gone to the NSA on that?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- let me specifically point you to NSA on -- what's that?
Q That will do a lot of good. Gee, thanks. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: But I would say this, that as was noted by the President in discussing cyber-security, that we have -- we believe that information sharing and cooperation between the government and the private sector is important -- ensuring obviously that privacy and civil liberties are protected -- and have asked that if companies are dealing with what they perceive to be cyber-security threats, that they go and work with the authorities on that.
Q The Dalai Lama meeting that you said will be here at the White House, will that be in the Oval? Will that be in the Residence?
MR. GIBBS: I do not know where the location of the meeting will be.
Q Will cameras be allowed in, or will the pool be brought in?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any coverage information on that right now.
Q Sixteenth and 17th for that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a date either.
Q You don't have a date? Okay. And just to go back to what Jake was talking about and this revision, are you talking about historical data that talks about the job losses during the course of this recession or something relative to the January numbers?
MR. GIBBS: The story I read -- the story I read -- there are typical revisions to data that comes out.
MR. GIBBS: Take, for instance, I think GDP data is released and then revised at least twice. These are last year --
Q Certain numbers were revised downward twice.
MR. GIBBS: Right, right. Last year there were -- there was a several-decade-long revision of jobs figures. The story, again, I read this morning --
Q So that's what you're talking about, not something relative to what we're going to read and see tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no. This dates back from governing months from -- again, the story said I think April 2008 through March 2009.
Q Earlier you said 2007. Did you mean 2008?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, I said that this governs the total job loss over the period that begins in December 2007 at the beginning of the recession.
Q So the additional job losses -- you expect the revision to show began 2007 not 2008.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no. Again, I should just send you the story I read. The revisions --
Q Maybe the NSA can. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The revisions -- they wrote it.
Q They already did.
MR. GIBBS: The recession began officially, as per the board, in December of 2007. The revisions, in the story I read, cover April of 2008 through March of 2009. Those months obviously are encompassed in what we broadly know as the time period during the recession.
Q You don't have to yell at me now. That's great. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Okay, following up --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that counts as your time or Hans --
Q It counts as his time. I assure you --
Q It's fine. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Wow. Now he's yelling at you, Hans. (Laughter.)
Q The President often talks, and you did a minute ago in talking to Jake, about the boom and bust cycles. Is one of the downsides, is one of the things the American public needs to appreciate, looking at these unemployment numbers that you projected out, is that it's a slower climb out when you have a scenario that the President wants to have, if he achieves it, of a non-boom-type recovery. Is that something the American people need to either prepare themselves for or be ready to expect, that this unemployment process is going to be a very slow heal.
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think many people that are dealing with the unemployment process have been dealing with it for quite some time. Long-term unemployment is at one of its highest points ever.
Q And let me ask the question, when is the turn, and are you -- one of the things you're trying to say is the turn is going to be slow?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what I'm saying is that this will take time, but most importantly, what the President has talked about, not just throughout the campaign and not just throughout his first year in office, is we have to create a new foundation for job creation for the future; that if what we do is go back to boom and bust economies where we're --
Q Right, I understand --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me --
Q What I'm asking is --
MR. GIBBS: Can I reclaim some of my time? The boom and bust economies, what you're going to end up with is -- again, going back to what I talked about as what happened in the last decade -- you had times of job growth, you had times of job loss, but over the course of the decade you were basically flat. If we're going to continue to make progress economically, we have to put ourselves on a far different path.
Q Right, but as the numbers indicate, when it was flat, the unemployment rate was lower when the President decided to run for this office than he's projecting it will be at the end of the actuarial tables of his newest budget. And many Americans would agree it may have been flat, but at least it was a lot lower. And what I'm getting at is, in this process of averting a boom and bust economy, do you have a slower term?
MR. GIBBS: Major, what we've gone through is an economic downturn that we haven't seen since the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. Look, the American --
Q I'm not criticizing, I'm just asking you --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I'm saying the American people understand. Many of them have been out of work for a long, long time. They understand that far before any board declared the beginning of a recession that they were working longer, they were working harder, they were increasing their productivity, yet at the same time their wages either were on that flat line or going down. They understood that their costs got more expensive. The cost of energy got more expensive. The cost of health care got more expensive. The cost of college got more expensive.
So, look, there's no -- that was even before the official recession began and certainly before a series of excessive risk-taking by a few nearly dragged the economy back to a period of a great depression.
Q Right. And all I'm asking is, do the American people need to appreciate, as they look at the economic future, as charted by this administration, that it's going to be slower for unemployment to come down --
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think I started to say, I think the American people understand that because they've been dealing with this far longer than the -- than this administration occupying this White House.
Q On trade, the President has talked about it more aggressively lately. Gary Locke is giving a speech right now at the National Press Club. In that speech I didn't find any specific reference to a time for approving the pending South Korean, Colombian, or Panama trade agreements. For those nations who are now perhaps enthusiastic the President is talking about trade, what can you tell them about when the President and this White House is going to push those agreements and get them through Congress?
When I talked to the President about South Korea in Beijing he said, "I want that done in 2010," either --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there you go. What are you asking me for?
Q Well, but nothing has happened. You can't find any --
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's only February, Major.
Q I know. But he said it was going to happen either early or late, which I interpreted meaning early in 2010 or after the midterm elections.
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q So for those three deals --
MR. GIBBS: Let me say, it would not be good for my job security to go out right now and contradict the three answers you've just given me on behalf of your question that the President gave you in November.
Q Even better for Bill's. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I would simply say that -- look, the President was very clear and specific in the State of the Union --
Q I'm not saying it's not happening. I'm trying to understand the explanation of him saying he'd prefer to have it happen and nothing being done.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Major, you just noted that a speech has been given where the Secretary -- where the Secretary of Commerce -- no, hold on -- where the Secretary of Commerce is laying out the President's vision for doubling exports in five years, okay? So though an individual FTA may not be mentioned in that speech, the President obviously envisions the increase of those exports through a whole host of things, including the free trade agreements that he outlined quite specifically in the State of the Union.
He did not outline and I don't have to outline a specific timeline for that, understanding that the President has laid out a very aggressive goal on increasing exports, partly through the trade agreements that you mentioned.
Q One last -- one question on security -- one question, it's important. Senator Bond wrote a letter to the President today about a conversation that we had here in the briefing room yesterday and Bill gave a couple of answers -- many answers, really -- on there was no political nature to the White House explanation of the dealing with Abdulmutallab. What Bond says in his letter is that the senators on the Intelligence Committee were briefed specifically earlier this week that the disclosure of Abdulmutallab's cooperation should not be revealed because it was -- he says in this letter -- "Doing so would threaten ongoing efforts to stop operations the intelligence community thought were possibly happening against the United States." He writes in this letter, "Distortion of the congressional notification process suggests that other considerations are taking precedence over keeping timely and sensitive information away from our enemies" -- I know a charge you would fundamentally reject, but I want to get your response to that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, I don't want to speak for Senator Bond, who, if the timeline you outlined -- a Monday briefing for a Tuesday hearing -- why he would in his Tuesday hearing use the statement that the subject refused to cooperate after he was Mirandized.
So I don't want to speak for the senator who didn't certainly use any of that information to correct what he said in public in a hearing that happens a day after.
I would say this, having read the letter. During a hearing on Tuesday, information was released that clearly showed that Mr. Abdulmutallab was indeed talking again to interrogators. For those of you that participated in the background briefing, you know that was not something that was timed purposefully.
Q Were they not supposed to reveal it?
MR. GIBBS: It was not timed purposefully. Soon after that -- soon after that, media reported -- we felt it important to contextualize, because many of you were e-mailing us, what this testimony meant.
I would say, again, having read the letter, no briefing is done here or anywhere in this administration where classified information is used in a place where it shouldn't be. And I would suggest that somebody that alleges that when they know it doesn't happen owe people an apology.
Any briefing that's done here in order to ensure that the information that's in the public is correct is done in conjunction with many agencies and done so so that information that is classified and shouldn't be released isn't released. And in this case obviously it was not.
Q So Bond owes you an apology? Bond owes the President an apology?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think Bond is alleging that the President was in the briefing.
Q On the -- on the -- two questions.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on -- just hold on, just -- this is an important question, Lester.
Q Oh, sure, okay.
MR. GIBBS: The notion that somehow the White House, in conjunction with agencies involved in this interrogation, gave out classified information -- yes, I think an apology on that is owed because it's not true. And I think anybody that was involved in knowing in the Senate Intelligence Committee what was briefed and what was reported would know that that wasn't violated.
Again, Major, I don't want to speak for Senator Bond in why, if he was briefed on Monday, why on Tuesday, why does he say that Abdulmutallab -- the result of his refusal to cooperate after he was Mirandized? Why does Senator Bond continue to knowingly not have information curb what he's saying, or is this a bunch of politics?
Q So he owes an apology to whom?
MR. GIBBS: I think he owes an apology to the professionals in the law enforcement community and those that work in this building, not for Democrats and Republicans, but who work each and every day to keep the American people safe and would never, ever, ever knowingly release -- or unknowingly release -- classified information that could endanger an operation or an interrogation.
Again, I think that the reason that charge is made is only to play politics. I actually don't believe that that -- that he thinks that's a serious allegation. I think that is -- I think if you look at the letter, it's clearly -- this is about politics.
Q What message does the President plan to deliver tonight at the two DNC fundraisers?
MR. GIBBS: I think he'll continue to talk about some of what he's talking to the leaders today, some of what he's talking to -- he's talked to Democrats and Republicans about: the need to continue to push forward on an agenda to get our economy moving again, to make our country safer. He will also take some questions at one of these events from folks from Organizing For America.
Q Is he going to suggest a best way forward on his agenda or just talk about the need for it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the best way forward is to get it through the House and the Senate.
Q Robert, do you know if the President has submitted a statement on behalf of his aunt, who's in a deportation hearing for the second time today in a Boston courtroom?
MR. GIBBS: The President learned of this information, as you probably know, on the campaign trail I think in early November of 2008 when it came out. We said then and we would continue to say that everybody in this country should and must follow the law. We have not been involved at all in that hearing, and we'll let the law play out as it should. And I would refer you to ICE for any other comments on what happens with the hearing.
Q On that question, though, he did not submit a statement to --
MR. GIBBS: No, no. He has not -- this information came to light, again, I believe -- I don't have the exact date -- early November of 2008 -- he has not spoken with her.
Q Did he help at all with the -- with her legal representation or did anyone in his family help with --
MR. GIBBS: He did not.
Q Mrs. Obama or --
MR. GIBBS: He has -- he has not, the family has not. This is an issue -- this is a legal issue and the President strongly believes that the law must be followed by everyone.
Q Two real quick ones, Robert. Are we going to hear from the President tomorrow about jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I think I was supposed to announce that we are -- around noon tomorrow will travel to a small business in Maryland to talk about some of the issues that we've talked about relating to small business -- tax cuts, increased lending, getting our economy moving again -- and he'll make remarks there.
Q Robert, a question on jobs --
Q I'm sorry, can I --
MR. GIBBS: I'll get there, don't worry. I'm going to go twice as long as Bill. (Laughter.)
Q I want to come back to the Abdulmutallab issue. You spoke of the inadvertent release of the fact that the suspect was now cooperating. Is the President upset that that happened?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to characterize information that --
Q Has he had any words with the people who were responsible for it having been disclosed?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, but I can check.
Q The Dalai Lama is not a leader of a foreign power. What is the nature of his invitation here? Is he invited in as a personal guest?
MR. GIBBS: I can check with NSC. I don't -- the President meets with folks in the White House all the time that aren't foreign leaders.
Q -- whether it's an Oval Office visit or whether he stops --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I honestly -- I don't have any information on where the meeting will take place.
Q I have a question about OFA. One of the striking features of all of the off-year elections we've had so far is the absence of the -- what you might call the Obama voters or emergent voters, all those people that he brought into the electorate in 2008 and that OFA was going to try to keep energized and active. I'm wondering what his message is going to be to them tonight.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think he will talk about what we have at stake, what we -- the important progress that we have made in the first year and the steps that we must continue to take on a whole host of issues that he campaigned on for more than two years. In terms of specifics for OFA I'd point you over to the DNC.
Lester, let's take a crack.
Q Thank you so much. In his commendable concern for the unemployed, the President would be gratified if Katie Couric would share 14.5 of her widely reported $15 million salary to rescue those hundreds of CBS employees laid off, so she would still have an income similar to the President's, wouldn't he?
MR. GIBBS: Chip --
Q Oooh! (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Chip is -- no. Look, Lester, Lester, I'm -- Lester, I'm happy to answer questions on policies that the government --
Q This is unemployment. This is unemployment.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I don't think it's appropriate for me to get into the compensation of a network any more than it is for me to get into your compensation.
Q In this time of such financial problems, though, why does the President believe that all taxpayers should have to pay $420 million a year, or more than $8 million a week, to subsidize public broadcasting, whether or not they watch or listen?
MR. GIBBS: Public broadcasting provides a great service to people who, in times of economic downturn, don't listen to the radio or can't buy cable TV in order --
Q They all listen to the radio.
MR. GIBBS: I know you think that.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Just a clarification on the Abdulmutallab issue. Did the President know in advance Abdulmutallab would be Mirandized?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Did the President know in advance that Abdulmutallab would be Mirandized?
MR. GIBBS: I'll go back and look at the timeline. Those decisions were made, as you know, by the Attorney General, by the FBI, and done so in conjunction and in accordance with agencies throughout the government.
Q I understand he was notified before they indicted him, but before the Mirandizing on Christmas Day was --
MR. GIBBS: The answer that I have is -- I don't have the timeline with me.
Q Robert, on an issue that's been since --
MR. GIBBS: Don't worry, we're far afield on issues today. So fire away, my friend. (Laughter.)
Q On an issue from way back in the Clinton administration, the black farmers, President Obama put in for a settlement of $1.2 billion. We understand today that the White House has been informed that a settlement is very close for the black farmers, and the Justice Department is working it out. Does this end the whole dispute after all these years if this is approved?
MR. GIBBS: April, let me get information on where the settlement is before I talk on it.
Q But wait a minute, I want to ask one thing, though. The President did propose this for the 2010 budget. How important is this for this President to rectify this situation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously -- clearly, April, it's something that's important to him. It's been an issue that, as you mentioned, has been worked on by the federal government now in several different administrations and dating back many years. Obviously ensuring that justice is done is important in this situation.
Q Robert, following the loss of three American soldiers in Pakistan, can you tell us how many American troops are on the ground in Pakistan and what their mission is?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously there were those that were -- had been invited by the Pakistanis that, along with schoolchildren, were cowardly killed by terrorists in Pakistan.
Q Do you know the extent or the number of troops? And I guess if you add the increased drone flights and the American troops on the ground, is there a third war? Are we at war in Pakistan? If not, what do you call it?
MR. GIBBS: We provide assistance to the Pakistanis as they increase their efforts in regions of their country along the Afghanistan border that harbor those that seek to do ill to Pakistanis, Afghans, and Americans.
Q Going back to Chuck's question, you said you were talking about a change in calculus because of the seating of Scott Brown. Can you expand on that? And particularly, can you address two nominees -- Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, and Dawn Johnson to OLC -- who now seem to lack the 60 votes needed to cut off cloture? How do you see this playing out?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have specific information on each of those two nominees. I would simply point you to what the President said in the State of the Union about the change in number requiring that Democrats and Republicans work together. I think you've got nominees that have passed out of committee that deserve -- that deserve support. I think the Senate, if they haven't already, are going to vote on the head of the GSA, which has been held up since June, since she cleared the committee in June. The head of the GSA -- I mean, a completely non-controversial appointment held up for months because of the type of partisan political games that the American people continue to be tired of.
Q Well, do you want to see actual filibusters from the Republican Party, force them to actually talk through these filibusters that they're launching?
MR. GIBBS: What I'd like to see is that whether you agree or disagree with the nominee, that they receive an up or down vote so that they can begin to do the work of the American people on important jobs that can and should be done and filled quickly.
Q Regarding reports out of Romania today, that elements of an American defense shield might be placed there, what is your reaction to that? And also, there might be the inevitable negative reaction by Russia and other countries in that region regarding the presence of an American defense shield in Romania.
MR. GIBBS: The President outlined in September a new approach on missile defense that provided greater coverage to threats for Europe and for this country. We're pleased that Romania has agreed to participate in that defense shield that, again, will provide greater security for those that could be threatened there or here. What the President outlined was something that would -- that would work better, work faster, and provide greater levels of protection, and that's what we've seen in Romania's agreement today, and we're quite thankful.
Q Could you correct your statement about public broadcasting? I'm sure you didn't mean to say it's for people who don't listen to the radio. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I think I might be taking -- I said for people that might not listen to the radio --
Q Public broadcasting is on the radio.
MR. GIBBS: Well, right. I think -- right, okay.
Q It's paid for by the government.
MR. GIBBS: Let me say, if you listen to NPR on the radio, like my mother does, like I do, you could listen to that, you could watch public television --
Q Well, Lester needs a job.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
1:42 P.M. EST