Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate
2:31 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Before I take your questions, we're going to hear from our Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, to give you all an update on the flooding in Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as the storms that we all saw last evening in Oklahoma.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. The last couple weeks we've seen a lot of severe weather moving through the southeast Atlantic states and Gulf Coast areas, including now central parts of the U.S. Yesterday, as many of you know, we had a rather significant tornado outbreak across Tennessee going into Arkansas -- right now, reported five fatalities, numerous injuries. And we have been in contact with the state team there since last night.
We already had a presence in Oklahoma from previous disasters, so we're working with Albert Ashwood, the State Emergency Management director, and his team there requesting that we conduct joint damage assessments with state for both impact to survivors as well as government.
They have no outstanding federal response needs, which is -- given the severity of the tornadoes, many people say, well, why isn’t FEMA responding? And the answer is because in many disasters, the local and state responders are dealing with the response phase and they’re assessing whether or not they’re going to need federal assistance for recovery.
But earlier in the week we did see another severe weather outbreak, this time manifested in heavy rainfall across Tennessee, Kentucky, as well as Mississippi. And that did result in significant flood damage, particularly in Tennessee, where the governor requested on Monday of last week an expedited major presidential disaster declaration -- which, on Tuesday, the President concurred with and declared that a disaster did exist in the state of Tennessee.
Prior to that we actually had folks working with Tennessee, as we knew the severe weather was impacting the state with the flooding. We have regional offices, 10 of them, and our office of Atlanta, the region which covers the state of Tennessee, deployed staff in Saturday evening and began working with the state. But once again, much of the response was being done by local responders, state officials, volunteers and other groups. And so, again, our role in this response was to support recovery, and that recovery I'm afraid is going to be substantial.
So far, just as of this morning, over 23,000 people in the state of Tennessee have registered for individual assistance. Right now we have already approved in our system $51 million for individual assistance. Much of this is going to individuals who have lost their homes and not had flood insurance or had uninsured losses. And we expect these numbers to continue to increase as we do that outreach. And again, through your ability to get the word out to folks, the process of beginning that assistance with FEMA is to register. So if you’ve been in the state of Tennessee or watching that -- we’ve been talking a lot about this -- is you’ve got to register at 1-800-621-FEMA to start this process.
After Monday, I had actually met with the governor and brought his request back. I went back Thursday and particularly wanted to get out to some of the more rural areas of the state, western Tennessee. There’s a lot of focus on Nashville, so the tendency is -- the images you’re seeing is that Nashville got hit hard; what about the rest of the state? And I can assure you that what you saw in Nashville was being replicated across the state, moving all the way over into Shelby County in Memphis, little communities such as Millington, up where Russia Naval Air Station is, got heavily impacted. Small towns throughout rural Tennessee, heavily damaged, flooded, businesses still under water.
In fact, on Thursday when I was there, you still had water rising in parts of the river system there -- a lot of impacts, agricultural, but a lot of impacts to homes. And, unfortunately, again, not many people have flood insurance. We’re going to be working to support that.
But the great story out of Tennessee was the level of participation of volunteers -- faith-based organizations, local responders, the state, and our role as the federal government in support in the recovery phase. Since that time, Secretary Napolitano was there Saturday, met with the governor’s team to address issues. We’ve had Secretary Locke. We’ve had Secretary Donovan yesterday, SBA Administrator Mills there today.
One of the things we know about these large-scale disasters is FEMA does not provide all of the tools necessary for a complete recovery. In this case, with the duration and the types of disasters, it’s going to require a full federal response and a full federal recovery going far beyond our FEMA program. So we already have been working at the President’s direction to start addressing not only the immediate needs of the survivors, but also beginning to look at long-term recovery for the state of Tennessee.
This response, again, on top of tornadoes previously in the week in Mississippi and Alabama, today President Obama has declared the state of Kentucky now as part of the disaster from last weekend. And we continue to respond in support of those survivors, those communities -- but through the state teams.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and FEMA have actually put together a Facebook page to help update people with fast moving information, allowing people to share information. We’ll get you that information. It’s kind of one of these long-winded things. It’s like tndisasterinfo -- “tn” -- for Tennessee -- disasterinfo. But again, the idea of starting to use more and more the tools that are reflected for people. (The correct website that FEMA Administrator Fugate mentioned in the briefing is http://www.facebook.com/TNDisasterInfo)
And then the last piece before I’ll turn it back over for questions, is when you’re dealing with these situations, a lot of our stuff we’ve always done on the Web. Well, if your home is flooded you don’t have Internet -- I can’t get to the Web; how do I get information? Fortunately, about two weeks ago, we had been working on something to get out a mobile version of our website, so if you have your phone you can get information in a format for you. So if you go to m.fema.gov with your phone, you can get information that’s tailored for you, the survivor, to figure out very quickly the sources of information, get those links, and be able to get assistance without having to go through the full website.
That just happened to be something that came online, but it’s really, I find, very useful for people who are not at home, probably staying at a hotel, staying with friends, or staying somewhere else like a shelter, trying to get information.
So, again, m.fema.gov, 1-800-621-FEMA. In all these states where we have individual assistance declared, the first step is to register.
And the last part is, we cannot do this response without the communities themselves, the state, and the federal family. It’s like I tell people, FEMA is not a team; we're part of a team. And we’re there supporting the governors on behalf of the President and Secretary Napolitano in this initial response phase.
MR. GIBBS: We’ve got time for a few questions because we’ve got to get the Administrator to the Oval Office. He and the President are going to talk to Governor Henry from Oklahoma.
Q When we were in Tennessee on Saturday, we talked to Secretary Napolitano, and she said that the extent of FEMA’s ability to help was limited. Given how many people there did not have flood insurance, how heavily impacted they are and how limited the FEMA aid is, where do you suggest these people go, beyond that? I mean, obviously $29,000 isn’t enough if you’ve lost your home and you don’t have flood insurance.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: That is correct. That’s, I think, part of the reason why -- we look at disasters a lot differently than probably in the past, and we know that it takes a full federal team to support recovery. We have a lot of programs that Secretary Donovan brings to the table, with the HUD Community Block Development Grant; other types of programs that help. Plus another thing that we’ve not always done well on the federal side, and that is really collaborate with faith-based and volunteer organizations that can oftentimes provide labor and other assistance to people in trying to rebuild their homes, where we can use our dollars for materials.
And so, again, if you come in and you do what I call a federal-centric or government-centric response to these disasters, you’re going to have a lot of unmet needs, because we do have very defined programs and limits to those programs.
But if you look at a team approach and looking at what are the resources in a community; where are we going to be able to pull resources together to address particularly those folks that just are not going to have many other options -- for a lot of folks, some of the more affluent neighborhoods, SBA disaster loans will help them get their homes repaired. But for those that don’t have the ability to do the loans and where our grants may not be able to return their home back to a useable condition, partnered with volunteers and other groups as part of a team effort gets us to those unmet needs.
And so this is our approach of not just looking at what one program can do, but how do we leverage the entire federal family to recognize there’s a lot of other resources in the community that we have tended not to bring to bear or work in a coordinated fashion. Oftentimes, they were trying to do one thing -- we’re over here, we’re not talking. And we don’t help the survivors.
Q Who leads that? Is it your team? Or is the state?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: It’s a joint team. We go into a coordinated response with the state. I have a federal coordinating officer, as appointed by the President. It’s Gracia Szczech -- she’s there, worked a lot of disasters before. And we work with TEMA, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. And then at each local level, you have various groups, but generally coordinated through the county or city emergency operations centers.
So one of the groups that we were working with or talking to, that set up some of the first information center was All Hands, a volunteer organization that was already working, getting information to the survivors in the aftermath of the disaster. So it’s our ability to, one, work with the state as a team, and then bring in and work with some of the more traditional volunteer organizations like Red Cross and Salvation Army, but also some of their very localized -- or may only be in one community.
Q The Tennessee delegation sent a letter to the President today asking for a separate appropriation in the supplemental. I wonder if he’s had a chance to consider that yet.
MR. GIBBS: I will check with legislative affairs to see if the request has been received and what it might be. I’ll have them check on that.
Q I’m wondering if either one of you can talk about the administration take on the Hill hearing today where BP and the other companies are sort of pointing fingers everywhere --
MR. GIBBS: I’ll do that when we get to -- if you guys have any more --
Q Is FEMA going to have any role in the oil clean-up at this point?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: FEMA has already had a role. You understand that we’re dealing with a separate statutory authority and a separate funding stream to respond to an oil spill where you have a responsible party.
So a lot of people go, well, what’s FEMA’s role? Our role as part of DHS, as part of the President’s team, is a support role to our lead agency within DHS, Coast Guard. We’ve been supporting them with actual staff as far as public information and liaison roles, but we don’t do a lot of flood -- we don’t do a lot of oil spill stuff, so we are more of a support role.
But we’ve been engaged from the very beginning. I was actually involved in one of the briefings with the President early on when the initial aftermath was still focused on search and rescue. And so our job at FEMA I think is a little bit different than what you’ve probably seen before in that how we responded to Haiti, how we responded to the oil spill, where FEMA is not the lead agency. The President commits the full team; we all have support roles. And in this case, our support role is, within DHS, is to the Coast Guard for some of their coordination staffing issues of some things that we can add to their response.
But in many cases, this would not be untypical of another federal agency having the lead where FEMA is still in a support role.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q Is FEMA financially able to handle all of these disasters right now? Because we understand recently FEMA was running out of money and there was a call for more money from Congress to -- more money for FEMA.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: You’re referring to the disaster recovery fund, which is an allocation that we’re given based upon potential disasters, also dealing with previous disasters in the past. Around the February time frame, we were running to a point where our fund balance was getting below what we were comfortable with, having to deal with existing disasters and future disasters, so we go into what we call immediate needs funding. And what that means is we are still funding response, individual assistance, and immediate needs, but we have stopped all funding for permanent work going all the way back to disasters prior to Katrina.
So we have limited our funds to just those things that are necessary to do a response, to meet initial needs, take care of individuals, the survivors of the disaster, but we have stopped all of our permanent work until we get a supplemental to support that.
Q So for this immediate funding, with this immediate needs funding, I mean, how long does it take for this money to run out? How much money do you need, or how much money do you have to deal with these emergencies?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: It’s really kind of an unknown. Given where we are right now with Tennessee, we’re still fine. We’re still responding, but it is finite. And so again, we are working. The House has passed the supplemental request. It’s now with the Senate. We have done things to really minimize our impacts and be able to continue to focus on response. And we continue that as we await final resolution on replenishing the disaster recovery fund.
Q How much is in the supplemental?
ADMNISTRATOR FUGATE: The request from OMB and us as we worked this up is $5.1 billion.
Q You mentioned Katrina. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about how much the lessons learned from Katrina are guiding you in Tennessee and what those lessons learned are.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: To me, the big lesson was -- I was actually the state director in Florida during that time frame; I was there through the hurricane and stuff -- was you got to go in as a team, you got to work as a team, and you got to focus on survivors. And I think we've been able to demonstrate, with the President’s leadership, our commitment to that and his commitment to bring the full team to bear.
It’s not one of these things where one agency is trying to solve all the problems by themselves. We really bring together the expertise of all the agencies and look at what the needs are.
Q When hurricane season starts in, what, two or three weeks, what --
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Twenty-one days. (Laughter.)
Q -- what shape are you in when a first big storm hits? Will you be able to handle it?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Well, the first big storm -- generally hurricane season may start June 1st, but really the time frame when you start seeing the more devastating hurricanes tends to be about August, mid-August through. Again, we are resetting, because as much as people focus on hurricanes -- and I come from a hurricane-prone state -- Chile and Haiti should have taught us something. We don't get to pick the next disaster. And an earthquake could strike at any time. Any other event that could occur, we have to be ready all the time.
So although hurricane season gives us a reminder to get people ready for something, at FEMA we have to be ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I don't get the luxury of waiting for a forecast season; I have to be ready to go. So we keep adjusting. Even with Tennessee and others, we have a lot of disasters going; we keep resetting our team and looking at where we're at and go, right now if something happens, what are we ready to do and what do we have to do to be prepared?
Q The present situation right now, are you fearful that you might not be able to meet the need, as things arise with the financial problems that you're going through?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: No. I mean, if I looked at it just as FEMA was the only game in town, I might be a little bit concerned. But we're not the only game in town. We work as a team on the federal side, again, with a relationship that we have in this administration across all our resources. We're going to respond; we're going to take care of people. That's not the question. The question is really getting back to the permanent work, and that right now we cannot move forward on without supplemental.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you, sir. Thanks, guys.
It’s like tag-team wrestling, isn’t it? (Laughter.) All right.
Q Bill, your turn. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I'm all for that. I'm all for that.
Let me just give you guys a quick update on -- tomorrow Elena Kagan will make her way to Capitol Hill, as I think some of you know. Let me give you the schedule of senators that she will see: Senator Reid at 10:00 a.m.; Senator McConnell at 11:00 a.m.; Senator Leahy at noon; Senator Sessions at 12:45 p.m.; and Senator Durbin at 2:30 p.m. And as we get updates to that, we will provide them to you.
Q I guess I’ll resubmit my previous question.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, yes.
Q Your take on the Hill -- the BP hearings on the Hill and all these companies pointing fingers in opposite directions about the right way for them to go.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to get in the middle of their finger-pointing, except to say that we obviously have an active investigation per what the President tasked the Interior Secretary to find out as to -- to identify the case of what happened.
The President -- I think you all got a readout from the President’s meeting yesterday. And, look, I would -- watching him in that meeting, I would say the President is deeply frustrated that we have not plugged this leak. That’s what the focus of -- I would say that’s what a majority of the meeting time was spent on.
Secretary Chu is heading to the area to work with the response team to make sure that we have some of the best and brightest minds down there trying to think through next steps for doing so. But I think the President is deeply frustrated.
Q Can I switch to the climate bill coming out tomorrow? Has the administration -- does the administration support or is it pushing for a provision to let states have veto power over offshore drilling plans by other states?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- I don’t know the answer to that inside the legislation, but I can have somebody check and see if that’s -- where that might lay.
Q Robert, one question on the European debt crisis, and then one follow-up on the oil spill. First on Europe. How -- as the White House has monitored the European reaction to this, how big of a risk is what’s going on there now to the U.S. economy and, in fact, indeed to the global economy as a whole?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think anytime -- let me just say this. Obviously our economic team and the President have been engaged over the course of many weeks in monitoring the situation that was going on with many of these countries, encouraging them to take the steps that are necessary to deal with it, because of a fear that anything might stem the recovery that we believe is taking place, and not wanting to see any of that happen.
The President spoke this morning with Prime Minister Zapatero from Spain, who will seek reforms in his parliament, I believe, tomorrow. So it is something that the President and the team have been actively engaged on to ensure that it doesn’t unnecessarily impact either our recovery or that of the global economic recovery -- which has obviously been the topic of virtually every multilateral meeting that the President has traveled to and including the events in Pittsburgh last fall.
Q Spain is a country that many are concerned would be a much bigger crisis if it were to default. Why did the President call Zapatero this morning and what did he say?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not going to get into the personal aspects of the call except to say we continue to play a role in encouraging the Europeans, as I said a minute ago, to do what’s necessary to ensure that this problem is dealt with and doesn’t spread.
Q So why Spain?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously they’re one of the countries that, as I said, that are -- because of some of their problems, need to undertake reforms that the Prime Minister is starting to work through.
Q And then one question about the oil spill. The Interior Department announced today some reforms. Will there be more regulatory reforms and proposals coming through in response to this oil spill similar to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President was very clear with the team again yesterday -- he wants everything to be looked at. I do think it is tremendously important -- and the President believes this as well -- the steps that Secretary Salazar is beginning to undertake -- and understand that this is not going to require legislation, the Secretary can do this administratively -- to split off MMS into one that is concerned with leases and royalties and one that is concerned with management and safety, and to ensure that an agency with a purview like that never gets its two tasks mixed up.
I think that’s important going forward. But as I’ve said before and as the President has said, we will look at everything -- every bit of this process, to ensure what can be strengthened, what needs to be changed, what might have been the cause and how we can rectify that. The President is very serious about ensuring that the notion of failsafe means that. That has to mean something to him, given what’s gone on.
Q Robert, just to follow on the EU rescue plan, has the President in his conversations with these European leaders gotten a sense of confidence that this rescue plan is enough to stabilize the situation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t want to get too deeply into their personal conversations except to say I think the President and the team have believed, as I think many in Europe have, that steps needed to be taken. And these are important steps in ensuring that this doesn’t spread.
Q So what’s the level of confidence that this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we think the actions that were taken were necessary, needed, and we’re glad they happened.
Q On Karzai meeting with the President, you and other administration officials have talked about how he’s the elected leader of Afghanistan. Beyond that, very little is said about whether or not there’s real confidence in him. I’m wondering if this will -- if there will be strong language from the President tomorrow in saying, listen, I need you to do this, I need you to do more in order to build confidence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let me -- I’m going to take this a couple different ways, first a little bit more broadly. The President is focused and always has been focused on substance. We have a job to do with a partner in the government and the country of Afghanistan. That’s what the President’s focus is; that’s what our team’s focus is. We’re not going to get bogged down in atmospherics or personalities.
Q We already have.
MR. GIBBS: That’s not what we’re here to do. Our focus will be on evaluating the progress that’s been made since -- security-wise, since the President increased our forces there, and to go through what progress has been made on a governance side.
We understand, and I think the government of Afghanistan understands the importance of the steps that it has to take both, again, on the security side in training a force -- a security force and a police and army -- as well as what it takes to hold an area and ultimately have that area transferred to the control of the Afghans. That’s the process, right? Clear and hold in conjunction with ISAF and Afghan forces; building and transferring that to the control of the Afghans. That’s the process that they’ll talk through tomorrow.
Q I’m not sure that totally answers the question, though. I mean, I guess I’m trying to get a sense of the President, when he sits down with him, yes, he’ll talk about all the progress that has been made, but is he going to hold his feet to the fire?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, I don’t know if you saw or read yesterday’s briefing; we went through a lot of this. We have a relationship with the people and the country of Afghanistan where we’re going to have agreements and disagreements. We’re going to laud them for the steps that they take, and we’re going to work with them to do what is necessary to deal with the problems of governance, accountability, and corruption.
Look, I think it’s been -- the reason I started with the atmospherics and personalities is because I think people get focused on that and they don’t see some of the progress that has been made, right? You heard Ambassador Eikenberry talk about this yesterday. There are high-level corruption trials that are going on right now. The High Office of Oversight now operates with a mission to increase its accountability. And we are watching, as we will always, the implementation of that.
We've asked for, and Karzai has signed, a law to improve sub-national governance. Again, we will watch the implementation of that because, again, all of this is necessary as we undertake the security and the governance side of this. And we've asked for, and President Karzai understands the need for, fair and transparent parliamentary elections that are upcoming. And not long after the President visited with President Karzai in Kabul, there were some important appointments to the electoral complaints commission, which we think is an important step forward in dealing with a fair and transparent parliamentary election that's in the interest of the people of Afghanistan as well as in our interest.
Q Robert, can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q I get the White House is encouraged by some of the steps that President Karzai has taken, but on the Hill there seems to be still a great deal of skepticism. Majority Leader Hoyer said this morning that he doesn’t think that President Karzai is up to the task of confronting corruption. I'm just wondering, does the White House share that skepticism?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'd refer you to the answer that I gave, which is we believe there are steps that they’ve taken and we believe there are more steps that they have to take. He’s the President of Afghanistan. We'll have --
Q -- for Osama bin Laden?
MR. GIBBS: I think there’s a lot of people that are working on that. We're focused on, again -- we're focused on the security and the governance with our partner in Afghanistan.
Q Robert, there’s underwater video of the leak in progress that BP has that they have said that they would release to the press at some point. So far they have not. Has the President, and who in the administration has seen this video feed? And does the White House think that the public should have access to this?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the Coast Guard has asked for BP to make that available to the press, so the answer to your second question is, yes. I don't know the degree which -- who in the administration has seen it. I believe that it is -- I believe that they have seen it at the Unified Command Centers in the area. I don't know who in the administration has seen it.
Q But if the White House is in charge, if the federal government is in charge of all of this, couldn't they force BP’s hand to make that video available?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we've asked that to happen.
Q Well, why hasn’t it happened?
MR. GIBBS: You’d have to ask that of BP.
Q Second question: Can you elaborate a little bit more on Beau Biden? We got this sort of cryptic email from the Vice President’s office today. Can you tell us anything more?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything more than what you’ve been told by the Vice President’s office. And updates on that will come from them.
Q Whose war is this in Afghanistan? We keep running them and telling them what to do, so is it our war or is it their war? Or is it a civil war?
MR. GIBBS: There’s an international component to this, Helen, because the attacks that were planned when the Taliban had an area that allowed al Qaeda to plan what happened on September 11th -- obviously that occurred in the United States.
Q By why don't you ever want to know what happened and why it happened?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Q We have never had an explanation of why they want to attack us. Don’t you think it’s because we’re there attacking there?
MR. GIBBS: We’re there to ensure the safety and security of our people after the safety and security of our people were threatened by what happened on 9/11. That’s why we’re there, Helen. And the international community is there because there have been attacks all over the world as --
Q We never try to find out why.
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we have -- I think we have seen and you’ve heard the President talk about people have distorted one of the world’s great religions into believing that terrorism and violence is the answer.
Q You’re talking about the Muslims?
MR. GIBBS: I’m talking about some who have corrupted that great religion, yes -- certainly not everybody, and not everybody by a long shot.
Q And we go in to kill and maim and send drones. Is that Christianity?
MR. GIBBS: There are things that have to be done -- I’m not going to comment on specific tactics. There are things that we’re doing in Afghanistan through, again, an international security force, to ensure that al Qaeda does not have a safe haven with which to plan attacks on our country, or countries around the world.
Q A few things. Has the President talked to Prime Minister Brown today or yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Did not yesterday. Obviously -- just as I was coming out, he made a statement -- as there are developments of Britain forming a new government, we will reach out to -- if that’s David Cameron, I’m sure the President will have an opportunity soon to speak with him.
Q You have not heard from anybody in the last 24 hours?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q The decision -- you said the President has asked Energy Secretary Chu to go down there, I guess -- is he leading a task force to try to come up with new ways to plug the hole?
MR. GIBBS: No, Secretary Chu is down there based on some improvements that he suggested on ways to look at what’s going on in the leak.
Q Is there -- I mean, was there any orders before yesterday to, hey, can we work on -- can we have X agency working on figuring out alternative plans to plug the hole? Or was it all relied on BP?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Chuck, we’ve been doing everything that we can. Some people have criticized, well, the military didn’t send a C-130 down until -- I said this, I think at one point on the back of the plane, there’s not somewhere on a dock in Annapolis a secret submarine that will fix this leak.
I don’t mean that to be funny. I mean that it is -- the President has asked that everything in our power be done. Everything in our power is being done. The frustration that the President has is that, despite all of that, and despite the efforts of others, there still continues to be a very large oil leak.
Q I mean do you feel like at this point BP is as forthcoming as they can be and doing everything that they can do at this point?
MR. GIBBS: If we have problems with what they’re doing, we have communicated and will continue to communicate to them things that have to be done. That’s why Secretary Salazar has been there -- been down there so often to ensure that everything that can be done is being done.
Q Any additions to the schedule before next Tuesday for Senator Specter?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q It appears that Solicitor General Kagan did an interview yesterday right after the President’s announcement. You’ve now posted that on the White House website. Who did the interview? And can I have one?
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s -- I think it’s on the website, if you want to see it.
Q Do you know who did the interview?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think it was Arun who does the video stuff, similar to what we did with Judge Sotomayor during the last one.
Q So a White House staffer interviewing her?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Would she like to do another one with a journalists?
MR. GIBBS: She has -- she’s not told me that, no. (Laughter.)
Q Tell her we’re deeply frustrated.
MR. GIBBS: I will. I will.
Q Who is the President frustrated with? Is he frustrated with BP in this oil situation? Is it --
MR. GIBBS: I think he’s frustrated with the fact that there’s still a leak.
Q That’s it? There’s no --
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q No, I --
MR. GIBBS: Let’s -- that’s it. Let’s not minimize. That’s it. Yes, he’s frustrated with the fact that we’re still sitting in a place --
Q He’s not frustrated with BP’s efforts so far --
MR. GIBBS: Major --
Q -- or its ability to --
MR. GIBBS: Major, let me be clear -- because I don’t want you to put words in my mouth.
Q I’m just asking --
MR. GIBBS: That’s why I’m answering. The President is frustrated with everything, the President is frustrated with everybody, in the sense that we still have an oil leak. That includes us. That includes anybody that’s involved in this. The President wants to see this leak plugged.
Q In that meeting yesterday, was the President told that, yes, sir, there is a way to plug it? Or is that still a possibility, it might not be able to be plugged?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there were a series of things that I think BP has talked about that members of the group went through: a small containment dome to take into account the hydrates that had formed 5,000 feet under the ocean with the larger containment dome. The President was briefed on progress that is being made in terms of drilling a relief well which, candidly, will take quite some time, and -- as well as getting updates on our progress on dealing with, again, the oil that has come up, how it’s being dealt with both at a subsea and at a surface level, and the impact both environmentally and economically, largely what the President has been focused on the whole time.
Q But the readout you put out yesterday, you said the President called for independent experts to be brought in and help --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Today is the 15th day of this.
MR. GIBBS: Again, they’re -- BP I know has consulted with -- I was in a meeting the first week of this where John Holdren, in our Office of Science and Technology, has consulted with people in and out of government, as has Secretary Chu and others.
Q So the President still believes it can be plugged?
MR. GIBBS: Believes that, and the President wants us to do everything in our power to ensure that that happens.
Q Robert, to follow on that?
Q Robert, the Senate has approved an audit of the Fed’s emergency lending that it exercised. The President will be supporting -- or signing that bill I assume.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to fast-forward the Senate’s process. That’s part of financial reform that you heard Deputy Secretary Wolin say that the administration supported last week.
Q And is there any concern at the White House here that back provision would alter the traditional independence of the Fed at some point?
MR. GIBBS: No, because again, this was -- our original concern was that the broader amendment as written by Senator Sanders would unnecessarily politicize monetary policy. That was our concern with it. He rewrote that amendment to ensure that it was directed at the transparency as to what had happened as a result of the financial collapse and the money that had to be spent. And we were supportive of that transparency.
Q Sort of narrowing the language then --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we supported the amendment that passed, the Sanders Amendment that was re-written.
Q Does the President’s interest in revising Miranda come from a specific case that he feels did not go as well as he might have liked? And if not, why does he feel the current system is not as good as it could be?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me share that -- look, I think that what has happened in this case, I think you’ve heard officials discuss that the public safety exception was used to originally question Shahzad. There was -- intelligence officials the Attorney General consulted, the power was given to those in the room, experienced interrogators, to decide when the best time would be to do that. They did that. Mr. Shahzad continues to speak with those that are questioning him about those events.
Our only thing is to look at, as we have in each and every case, any ability to provide necessary flexibility for those in law enforcement to ensure that they’re able to get what is needed. But I think that --
Q -- what the law says.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this would be -- Helen, I think we discussed this yesterday. The President is a believer in this law, and that’s why -- despite a lot of armchair quarterbacking from people with not a lot of experience in interrogation have brought this up. But the President is committed to it and ensuring that we have protections, as well as flexibility.
Q Robert, I noticed the Daily Caller today reported that Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod have drivers -- government drivers to and from work and been accorded Secret Service protection. And I wondered if that is correct. And also are any other top aides to the President -- Rahm or yourself or others -- afforded that status?
MR. GIBBS: Afforded what status?
Q The Secret Service protection and also the driver.
MR. GIBBS: Well, each President is afforded six opportunities to provide transportation. The President does that.
Q Six for the --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into who has protection and who doesn’t. That is a decision that is made by the Secret Service. I will mention that the number of non-statutory protectees -- obviously there are people that have protection based on the law. The Secret Service makes evaluations as to those who might need it. Again, I’m not going to get into who, where, and why. But those currently -- currently in our administration there are 33 percent fewer non-statutory protectees than at the end of the previous administration.
Q And can you just explain, does the protectee status come with a car --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q -- or is that a separate decision that the President makes to provide transportation?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. The President doesn’t make protectee decisions. Protectee decisions are made at -- by the Secret Service. If you have questions about that, I would speak with the Secret Service.
Q Okay, but he makes the decisions about the transport?
MR. GIBBS: It is up to six that can do that, yes.
Q -- and has up to six that he can do that.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Can you say why he chose Valerie and David as two of the six?
MR. GIBBS: Based on their jobs.
Q You get one?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q This is on the documents from General Kagan’s White House service -- I’m just following up on what you guys were saying about this yesterday. Is it your anticipation that all of those documents will be made available?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s my anticipation that the committee and individual senators will seek documents from her work via the Clinton Library, and we look forward to working with them to fulfill reasonable requests.
Q Is it your belief that the executive privilege will cover any of those documents?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to check more deeply with counsel on that.
Q Just briefly on what Secretary Chu is being asked to do. Is he going down there to propose additional steps, or to try and get BP to take steps that they haven’t?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Secretary Salazar has been down there to ensure that we’re comfortable with the pacing of their response. He’s been down there I think a number of times. He’s traveling back down there with Secretary Chu in order to -- they’ve got various different response teams that Secretary Salazar thought he might be helpful with.
Q Robert, can you just -- just add one thing to that. Will the White House get involved in the decision about which documents would be made available by the Clinton Library, or do you think --
MR. GIBBS: I will check with counsel on that.
Q Robert, it’s May 11th, and it’s 20 days away before the Black Farmers deadline comes up May 31st -- $1.25 billion, and you have Cobell, $1.4 billion; and then you have FEMA for what FEMA had just said, $5.1 billion. That’s a lot of money. Realistically, what do you think is going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I’m not going to get into prognosticating except to say you know those are priorities of the President. I think -- if I’m not mistaken, as Administrator Fugate said, on the disaster relief fund, that supplemental appropriation has passed. The House of Representatives -- I think they tried to get unanimous consent today in the Senate and that was objected to.
Q So what about the Black Farmers? They are pushing for this money -- it’s 15 years.
MR. GIBBS: And I think you’ve seen the President’s statement on that and we continue to work to make that happen.
Q John Boyd wants a meeting with the President. Is he going to get that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen that request.
Q Is the President considering a trip to Pennsylvania to help Specter, who looks like he’s in trouble?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q I mean, I just want to be clear that he wasn’t thinking about it.
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Yesterday Fannie Mae said it needed another $8.4 billion in aid. Is that a concern? And how long is that going to go on for if they’re going to continue to need that much --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, they -- I think that was in line with what we had expected in terms of their losses. We are strongly supportive of the need to reform the GSEs. As you heard again last week, I’d refer you to the answer that Deputy Secretary Wolin gave in terms of Secretary Geithner having started a process for this. We are eager to see reform but understanding that reform has to take into account a very fragile housing market. And we look forward to working with Congress in the future on that.
I don’t think that should be a cause for any delay in the reform that the Senate is considering now, that the President and I believe many believe is necessary in putting important rules of the road going forward.
Q Can I follow?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Related to the Gulf oil spill, do we know whether MMS approved displacing the mud in the pipe before Halliburton finished the cementing plug -- plugging with cement?
MR. GIBBS: I’d point you to MMS.
Q Thanks, Robert. In all the President’s briefings on the BP oil spill, has it come up that this might go on for weeks or months? And if so, is anyone in the government considering what to do in that case, how to deal with a oil leak that goes for such a long period of time?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. No, I mean, I think I referred to it earlier as -- look, the estimates for drilling a relief well are many weeks. Yes -- we talked about that yesterday.
Q So who is involved then in talking about contingency plans on the government end on how you do it?
MR. GIBBS: Everybody that’s involved right now. I mean, again, the -- let me see if I can remember sort of going around the table yesterday. I think you saw these names on a readout, but there were -- John Brennan was there; Secretary Napolitano was there; Secretary Salazar; Secretary Chu; John Holdren, who I mentioned earlier -- who was sitting in front of me? -- Carol Browner was there --
Q But what are some of the ideas --
MR. GIBBS: Dr. Lubchenco was there from NOAA -- hold on -- EPA; the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen; General Jones; Rahm Emanuel. This was a pretty senior-level meeting at the White House in the Situation Room with the President.
Q And what are some of the ideas under consideration for dealing with a leak that goes on for months? I know it’s speculative.
MR. GIBBS: Well, a lot of that obviously happens as a result of -- well, obviously there’s modeling that has to take place and NOAA is working through some of that. EPA is monitoring the air as it relates to aspects of controlled burns that we’ve tried. Monitoring obviously is going on as it relates to, as I said a minute ago, sub-sea and surface dispersants -- even as SBA is in the area working through a claims process for the economic damage.
So, David, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s not involved right now that would be called in to deal with long term, as they’re already here.
Q Just two questions. One was, going back to the Miranda rights issue, a lot of lawyers actually have spoken up that the reading of the Attorney General about the public safety exception is a bit loose in that they’re taking much more time than was generally believed to be allotted for a public safety exception. Will the administration look --
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, walk me through --
Q The legal reasoning behind that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Well, for starters -- I mean, I could get very detailed, but essentially it’s supposed to be a very limited time period in which you can exercise the public safety exception. For instance, if someone burglarizes a store, it’s to look for his gun. And this was --
MR. GIBBS: And that’s what set up the Quarles exception for public safety, right?
Q But my question is the same -- it doesn’t matter what the interpretation is -- will the administration look for a legislative vehicle to expand upon what would --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say this. The President is interested in limited flexibility. The President believes that the law that we have in place is an important one, and obviously any change that would take place would have to be done legislatively.
Q And then the second question is, the White House sent out the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from the former Harvard Law dean about military recruitment on campus. But earlier today Vice President Biden said that Solicitor General Kagan was right to oppose military recruiters. I’m wondering if you can explain --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s just -- again, I think -- we sent out the op-ed because I think you have seen those that have said the military did not have access to the campus at Harvard Law School -- okay? The op-ed that we sent out -- for anybody who hasn’t seen it, I’ll be happy to send it to you -- is from the former dean, the dean that preceded Elena Kagan who instituted the policy of non-discrimination that Elena Kagan continued.
Again, we sent this out so that -- because there’s people that either don’t know or are unwilling to understand the facts. The military had, through a student organization, access to Harvard Law School students. And the semester in which they did not have access to the Office of Career Services actually saw an increase in the number of Harvard Law School students that joined the military.
Q Robert, 68 senators, Republicans and Democrats, have sent a letter to the President asking him to support ratification of the international treaty banning landmines. What is the administration’s position?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the update. I’ll get something on that. I know there was some discussion of that recently.
Q But the United States hasn’t used them since 1991, so why the hesitation?
MR. GIBBS: My hesitation is I just don’t have anything on it.
Q Robert, the United States traded and had diplomatic relations with China and with the Soviet Union, but with Iran we insist they jump through all kinds of hoops and meet certain conditions. Why can’t we just establish --
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean?
Q That’s clear, I think. We say they have to come to the table and talk -- why can’t we just establish normal ties with Iran like we had with China and the Soviet Union, and traded with them? Why can’t we do that with Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I’m misunderstanding your question. We’ve offered -- on any number of occasions we’ve offered to allow them the opportunity to live up to their international obligations and to enjoy what comes from being part of the full international community.
Q I guess the question is, why can’t we just unilaterally recognize the Iranian -- why can’t we do that?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I’m misunderstanding your question. Again, we’ve given them I think plenty of opportunity with which to join the international community, but being part of the international community means living up to the obligations and the treaties that you sign that are part of the international community. You can’t be part of the international community and then not live up to your responsibilities as it relates to nuclear activities.
I think you saw the President discuss last fall in Pittsburgh a fairly specific instance in which they were required to live up to their responsibilities internationally and they failed to do so.
Q On Guantanamo, real quickly, it’s been four months, I think, since the one-year deadline has passed. We haven’t heard too much about Gitmo lately. Bring us up to date, if you could, on its --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything new. Obviously last week I believe -- I may have -- well, I think at least two detainees were transferred to European countries. I forget off the top of my head where those are. We continue to go through and ensure that we have -- go through the files and make sure that we have a proper accounting of those that are there; understand and make transfers of those that we believe are able to be transferred.
Q Rendition, you mean?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. This is -- these are people that can be transferred, again, to someplace like -- I think it was Spain and Bulgaria, but I’m relying on a weeks-old memory on that. So -- but we continue to work for a long-term solution that would close that facility.
3:24 P.M. EDT