Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3-26-09
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secrectary__________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release March 26, 2009
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: How is everyone? Good afternoon. No announcements, so we'll just start with Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. On Afghanistan, two topics, please. General Eikenberry said that allies need to do more towards the war effort, and of course you've been hearing this for some time. But I'm wondering what specifically the President wants from NATO allies. Is he going to have a specific ask for more troops? Can you talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give you a little bit broader answer on Afghanistan and our Afghanistan-Pakistan review.
The President is making calls and briefing members of Congress based on the conclusion of that review, which the President will announce tomorrow at the White House. So I'm not going to, predictably, get in front of that.
I think you've heard both the President -- both President Obama and Candidate Obama discuss the need for a greater influx of help and resources in a very dangerous part of the world. We'll have more to say on the comprehensive policy tomorrow.
I will say, just broadly, that the calls and the consultation that are happening today are the end of a long process of consulting with members of Congress and coordinating with the -- with international leaders about this. And the President, like I said, will have more to say about this tomorrow.
Q Is it fair to say -- just a quick follow -- is it fair to say, on a broad level, that there will be requests for more troops from the international community?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate this will be a continuing thing that the President will discuss in the coming weeks.
Q And also, quickly on autos, in the town hall today, the President said that he's expecting automakers will -- that they must be willing to restructure. Does the President think that U.S. automakers make cars that Americans want to buy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he owns one of them, so I think the answer to that is safely yes.
Q What does he own?
MR. GIBBS: A Ford Escape Hybrid, like his Press Secretary. It's a nice car, it really is.
Q Where is it?
MR. GIBBS: It's on West Exec. It's grey.
Q No, not yours. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Oh.
Q Is it in the motorcade? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, it's --
Q Is this a new fundraising tool?
Q Is it brought to you by Ford --
Q Are you being paid? Are you being paid to give this endorsement?
MR. GIBBS: No, I'm a proud Ford owner, and I'm happy to say that.
No, the President's Ford is back in Chicago. Probably for good reason, the Secret Service doesn't let him drive anymore, which I know he misses. But no, obviously the President believes that American automakers are building cars that Americans want to buy and that are also being sold overseas. But I think, Ben, it's important to understand even what people would consider to be the most successful auto companies right now are in a general global economic slowdown; all have been severely hurt. I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that Toyota had sought help from the Japanese government.
It is hard -- I think the President used some statistics today. If you're selling on an annual basis -- if you were selling two years ago on an annual basis 16 million cars, and you're selling -- or on the path to sell on an annual basis this year 9 million cars, then you're going to have some problems with the companies that manufacture those cars and the dealers that sell those cars.
What the President said today and what he's maintained throughout this process is that America needs viable automobile manufacturers, but viability means that they are operating without government assistance. I think that's what all of us want to see.
Obviously the President, as part of viability plans from both GM and Chrysler, is required by the 31st to give an update on those plans and where our government sees them, and we'll be doing that also in the next few days.
Q A follow-up on cars. You say in the next few days, and the President said as well in the next several days -- will that happen before he goes to Europe, which is Tuesday?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So Monday, perhaps?
MR. GIBBS: Could be Monday. (Laughter.)
Q And I was struck, as well, he mentioned that there are a lot of mismanagement in the U.S. auto industry. Will the task force require any changes in management at GM and Chrysler as part of that package?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at, over the course of many, many years, a declining share in -- among Ford, Chrysler and GM in the market share that they've held in this country, in some of the decisions that have been made about the different types of cars to manufacture and the types of cars not to manufacture, I think most people believe what the President said, that the management of the auto companies has been lacking.
In terms of specific changes, I will wait for the President to make a determination and an announcement on that.
Q He said as well that the government would give companies some help, and the auto companies have asked for $22 billion. Is that figure still --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me save something for the President to do in the intervening days before he goes overseas.
Q First, congratulations on your first virtual town hall meeting.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
Q Very successful. There were a couple of questions that were on your web site that were not asked that I thought were interesting that I wanted to just get an answer from you here; that they weren't the top vote-getters. One was from Jason in Detroit. He said, "Will we ever see any CEOs go to jail for destroying the economy?" I think that's a question probably a lot of voters wonder about. And then I have one more after that.
MR. GIBBS: I do believe -- I'd have to look up exactly who, but I think there are executives that were part of accounting scandals that are currently serving time in jail, and I know that --
Q You're talking about Arthur Anderson or --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- I don't know if Ken Lay ever went to jail or died before he got there, but I know that executives have been convicted of fraud in the past, and the President and the Justice Department are concerned about financial fraud and have invested resources to ensure that fraud is rooted out, caught, and that people that conduct it are put in jail.
Q Just one more, if you'll indulge me.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q From Peter in Oregon. He said, "I appreciate the efforts of the administration to fix the economy quickly. However, why aren't you giving the American public the chance to review these bills? In your campaign you promised we would have at least five days."
MR. GIBBS: I believe, except for the stimulus bill -- I'll double-check on this --
Q I don't think you've been doing it. I might be wrong. I don't --
MR. GIBBS: I'll check. I think a number of the bills have been up for five days. I'll get exactly -- I think, in fact, on at least a couple of occasions we've not signed bills when we normally planned so that some of them could be reviewed.
Q So that is a commitment the President intends to uphold from now on? Okay.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q The President has been saying the last few days that we're seeing some small steps of progress. You've said similar things. Beyond the housing starts that have jumped like 22 percent, what else? Can you broaden that a little bit to explain what the President is talking about when he says we're seeing some progress?M
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- certainly in the area of housing, I think you've seen mortgage rates are down either at their lowest or near their lowest in history because of a lot of factors, including some help from the President's plan that has lowered rates.
There obviously were housing starts. I think you've seen some consumer spending numbers in the past month that were good. There are numbers today that are not as good. There's a further, I think, final revision for GDP in the final quarter of 2008 that shows the -- as the previous number did -- the slowest economic growth in a quarter century. Claims for unemployment insurance are up.
So I think, as the President has said, there will -- while there are glimmers of hope, there is no single answer, and that we're not going to get out of what we got into over a long period of time. We're certainly not going to get out of that overnight.
Q And what kind of trends are you seeing? I mean, from our standpoint, when reports come out, we can see the trends. But are you seeing anything behind the scenes that shows that it's trending up?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the -- I think the question that some economists are asking and the people that look at these numbers, not just in the administration but outside, are wondering if the trend is -- if, in some ways, we're bottoming out; have we stopped the steep descent that we saw certainly earlier in the year. And I'm not sure there's enough data or data points to fully understand that.
You know, the administration assumes that the GDP numbers, when they're ultimately released for the first quarter of this year, are not going to be good. And again, I think the -- that's why the President has sought many forums in the last few weeks to talk to people about what he's seeing in the economy and what he's doing to put the path -- put the country back on a path towards sustained economic growth. That's why he thinks passage of this budget that he's outlined that will make critical investments in health and energy independence and education, while slashing the deficit in half, is part of an economic recovery plan that will make that progress.
But I don't think you'll see the administration get overly excited about any one number because we understand that there are tens -- tens and tens and tens of millions of Americans that are hurting and that the President is doing all he can to make their lives a little bit better.
Q Is the President going to explain why he's sending thousands of Americans to kill and die thousands of miles away for -- what is the rationale to expand this war?
MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I think --
Q And I have another unrelated question.
MR. GIBBS: You've been listening to Major with this whole, like, you ask one and reserve time to ask another. (Laughter.)
Q You seem so generous with everyone else.
MR. GIBBS: I know, it's -- (laughter) -- fair enough.
No, I think the President will outline exactly what our interests are in Afghanistan.
Q What are they?
MR. GIBBS: They are to ensure that those that had a safe haven and plotted attacks on this country on September 11th --
Q Are you talking Afghans who want to kill us?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm talking about -- I'm talking about extremists from all over the world that are in Afghanistan or along the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan who, because we have lacked a coordinated and regional strategy, plot against nations of the world even today. I think the President --
Q Do we know why they want to do that?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not entirely sure it's understandable why somebody would want to do what some have done. The President has -- the President will outline what he believes is the best strategy going forward to ensure that those extremists don't -- are not fortunate enough to have a safe haven in those countries and plot additional attacks on this country or on other countries in the world.
Q Is he sure of this?
MR. GIBBS: Is he sure?
Q That they're plotting to --
MR. GIBBS: I think he -- I think -- yes.
Q My other question is, what's the President's stand on the Employee Free Choice Act?
MR. GIBBS: He continues to support the legislation.
Q Back to automobiles. In the town hall he said that if they don't make the restructuring changes that he's recommended then -- quote -- "then I'm not willing to have taxpayer money chase after bad money." And I know this question has been asked before, but this is a new day and things have developed. Is bankruptcy now off the table?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm not going to get ahead of what the President will say. I think to give you a further explanation of what that statement means is similar to what I said earlier, and that is we cannot -- a viable auto industry has to be able to sustain itself, not be sustained by routine injections of taxpayer money. I think that is, as he said, going to require some restructuring and it's going to require that everyone involved give so that we can have the viable auto industry that America deserves.
Q He seemed to me to sound a little frustrated with what the auto industry has come up with so far. Is he a little frustrated with the lack -- with their lack of concessions?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to get ahead of sort of where the -- of the President's announcement or determination on this. Look, I think that -- I'll split this up, as I did earlier. There's no doubt that, given the economic slowdown that we're experiencing, it's hard if you are -- if you're selling a little more than half of what you did two years, that you're not going to run into problems with your business model. At the same time, as I said earlier, I think there's a frustration on the part of this President and on the part of many Americans that we didn't just get into this situation because of a global economic slowdown; that though the President believes that automakers manufacture cars that Americans want to buy, I think the President also believes that they could manufacture more cars that Americans want to buy; that it's not surprising that some have sought to end different model lines that, driving around in a car that gets 10 miles to the gallon -- 10 miles to a gallon of gas when gas is $4 a gallon. I don't think there's -- I also think there's not a very good business model by which that doesn't cause you problems, as well.
So, look, I think this is a combination of years of failure to plan, as well as -- maybe it's a perform storm of factors like -- such as that, as well as a huge economic slowdown that's seen the demand for the product become much less than it has been in just a couple of years.
Q Have you heard GM express frustration, not publicly but back there, with the failure of auto industry executives to realize how much restructuring is necessary here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to get into that. I think that -- I think the President has had some frustration with the way the companies have done business for a long time. I think -- he gave a speech in late spring of 2007 about the need to change the way the auto industry works and the need to address some of our problems in energy independence by making cars that were more efficient. And he didn't choose to give that speech in Chicago or in Washington or New York, he chose to give that speech at the economic club in Detroit in front of auto executives.
So I think this is a President that has long challenged the auto industry to do what he believes they can do; that over a series of years we've -- the auto industry and auto executives have made bad decisions, but at the same time he believes there can be a path towards a viable domestic auto industry and that that's what this country needs.
Q A quick follow on Afghanistan. How does the administration describe the war in Afghanistan? I mean, so -- who are we at war with in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I think we're at war with extremists that seek to do us harm.
Q And those extremists are?
MR. GIBBS: I think a combination of mostly al Qaeda, obviously the Taliban. I would say those are the primary extremists that --
Q And it's a war?
MR. GIBBS: We are currently engaged in a war in that country, yes.
Q Yesterday in an interview with our friend Andrea Mitchell, Secretary of State Clinton said -- about the assault weapons ban -- that while she knew it was a heavy lift politically in Congress, she seemed to think that that's something that needed to be done, saying -- also saying that the United States' demand for drugs and the gun issue is why the United States has some responsibility in the war. So I guess two questions: Does the President concur with the Secretary of State on the assault weapons ban?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what you saw the administration lay out this week was a comprehensive plan to move millions of dollars in resources and hundreds of personnel to the border region to maintain security and to help the Mexican government in the efforts that President Calderón has undertaken to stamp out the violence of drug cartels, that has resulted in thousands of deaths in Mexico.
The President said in the campaign that he supported that ban. The President also believes that there are many things that can be done, enforcing the current laws on the books of this country, that can stem the tide of illegal guns going south of the border.
Obviously we've got to do a lot to decrease the supply that comes north because of the demand. Like many problems that -- the solutions are not just one, they're multifaceted; that we have to do a lot of different things involving a lot of different departments in order to make progress. And the President would commend the Mexican President for the efforts that he's undertaken to take -- to begin to take those steps.
Q The President agrees with Secretary Clinton on the assault weapons ban?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I think I answered your question.
Q But would she -- is the President going to go to Capitol Hill and ask for the assault weapons ban to –
MR. GIBBS: I don't know of any plans to do that.
Q Just one question.
MR. GIBBS: I'll come back to you toward the end, how about that?
Q Robert, in the online town meeting, when the President said he doesn't think legalizing marijuana would give the economy a boost, was he giving a political answer or an economic answer? Does he have economic numbers to back that up?
MR. GIBBS: I'm unaware of a CEA analysis -- (laughter) -- regarding that. I think the --
Q Will you let us know if there is one? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think you've heard the President talk about getting us on a path toward sustained economic growth. I don't think he believes that that is a part of that plan.
Q What about medicinal marijuana?
MR. GIBBS: I think the -- I'd point you to the Justice Department on developments on that.
The President asked people to ask their questions. Obviously interests aligned with certain viewpoints did so, and the President wanted to answer the question that, no, it was not -- he did not think a good economic strategy.
Q Did that question get the most votes of any?
MR. GIBBS: I will ask Macon and those guys. It is interesting when -- I think several of those topics were in things like financial stability or --
Q Green jobs.
MR. GIBBS: Green jobs, right. (Laughter.) It's unclear what leap of faith one has to make to ask that question in some of the -- some of those -- right, some of those -- some of those topics.
Q Why did he even bring it up? Why did he even bring it up? I mean, no one asked it online and no one asked it --
MR. GIBBS: No, people -- people asked it online –
Q I mean, no, I know they voted for it, they voted for it. But he brought it up on his own. This is what I'm saying. Why did he even bring --
MR. GIBBS: April, the concept of the virtual town hall meeting was to have people --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, let me -- you can ask and I'll answer -- (laughter) -- that the President asked people to go to the web site, ask questions of the administration, vote on which questions they wanted to have the President answer, and that he would do so. And as I said and as Ann said and -- maybe we should have said "clean-energy jobs" -- that would have --
Q You said "green."
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I know. That in some topics -- you know, this is not the first time that an interest group gets on a web site and votes many times for their question to be answered, and the President thought he should answer it and I think he did.
Q But, Robert, he didn't take on the serious issue. He made a joke out of it. I mean, there were a lot of questions about legalization of marijuana, not as a job creation program, but just as a serious policy issue. And with what's happening in Mexico --
MR. GIBBS: It poses the legal -- I'll do this for the President -- I didn't -- I neither emailed my question in, nor voted for it, but the President opposes the legalization of marijuana, and I'd -- I'll say I did that without even the slightest hint of laughter.
Q Can you say why?
Q Robert, while you're on this same subject can we follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one sec. Hold on.
Q What did the President learn in this? A lot of the questions were things he talks about all the time.
Q Annie, there was a question pending on why -- why he feels that way about legalizing marijuana.
MR. GIBBS: He does not think that that is -- he opposes it. He doesn't think that's the right plan for America.
Q But a follow-up on the process, on the --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me -- I've lost control. (Laughter.) Hold on, what are you -- dammit, you guys don't get to Google this stuff and send in your questions. Hold on, hold on, hold on, let me --
Q I want to shift to the meetings on bankers. Secretary Geithner is meeting with the bank executives, CEOs, tonight, apparently. Can you talk a little bit about the nature of that meeting? It's obviously a forerunner to tomorrow.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the details of that meeting. I can talk about, as I did yesterday, what the President hopes to get out of this meeting. Obviously, as he said and as I said yesterday, that Wall Street and Main Street, all of us are in the same boat, we're all in this together; that the President I think will talk about what the Secretary of Treasury has talked about this week in financial regulatory reform and in the tools to deal with systemic risk and systemic failure in our financial system.
I think the President looks forward to getting an update from them on what precisely they're seeing in the economy on real-estate commercial loans. And obviously they'll talk about stuff that's been in the news for -- over the past several weeks, get into compensation and bonuses and excesses like that, and the notion that we are -- we have to change the culture of the way Wall Street works.
Q I wanted to ask you about the culture. He's expressed a degree of anger over Wall Street and bankers generally over the last few weeks. Is he going to maintain that, tell them privately what he's really thinking?
MR. GIBBS: I will tell you, Roger, the President isn't going to say one thing out here and a different thing in there. He'll go through the agenda that I just talked to you about and -- but again, we're not going to get out of this financial crisis and we're not going to stabilize our financial system without healthy banks. That's part of what he hopes to talk to them about tomorrow.
Q Just two questions. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You couldn't ask three with Helen only asking two, right?
Q First of all, on Afghanistan, a conceptual question -- because obviously you've been part of some of the dialogue internally on this. There are folks who are in Congress, who are analysts, who have looked at the situation, many have written about it, who wonder or fear if Afghanistan could be a Vietnam-type situation for this President. To the degree -- I'd like to ask you, conceptually, how much has that been a part of the discussion? And has the President reached a conclusion? I presume he has. To what degree does he have any anxiety about this conflict, this part of the world, this culture, becoming a trap for him, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not heard the direct analogy like that in the meetings I've been in. Obviously this has been a region of the world, in particular a country that has vexed policymakers for a long, long, long time. And, look, I think even if you go back to the beginning of what was started at the -- toward the end of 2001 -- I think the President asked the team here at the White House and within his administration to conduct a review and to base that review not simply on a strategy for one country and one -- in one place, but to, for the first time, take a regional approach to the problem in understanding that a regional approach is what's needed to solve some of the problems.
Obviously, it is hard to -- I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the Afghanistan-Pakistan review, because I think you'll hear the President talk about how progress in one is also determined by stability and progress in another. And I haven't heard the direct analogy, but I know that the President has been concerned.
Q That concept that it can be -- that no amount of additional effort, no amount of coordination can be sufficient?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President believes that the strategy that he'll outline gives America the best ability to deal with the threats that are there and to make progress in a very dangerous part of the world. And I think that's what he'll outline tomorrow.
Q On the budget, House Republicans unveiled what they described today as their alternative to the President's budget. I wonder if anyone here has had a chance to brief you on that -- if you're aware that it doesn't actually contain any numbers.
MR. GIBBS: I did -- it took me several minutes to read it. (Laughter.)
Q You took away his punchline.
MR. GIBBS: I will note that there are -- there's one more picture of a windmill than there is of a chart of numbers. There's, just for your knowledge, there's exactly one picture of a windmill. It is -- it's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers.
I think the party of "no" has become the party of "no new ideas." The rhetoric inside the budget seems to be a road map for the failed policies that got us into this mess -- to extend trillions and trillions of dollars of tax cuts for the wealthy, continued subsidies for big oil -- and I think it's -- it takes us back to where we've been and why we're in this problem.
I'm glad they -- I think the administration is glad that the Republicans heard the President's call to submit an alternative. We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means.
Q Robert, since everyone is getting a couple of questions, I'll have a couple. First, the party of No has become the party of new ideas. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: "No new ideas."
Q "No new ideas." Is that changing the tone in Washington?
MR. GIBBS: Well, yes. (Laughter.) Sure.
Q How is that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is a -- the Republicans have asked for and the President has asked for ideas on how to -- how we put our country back on a sustainable path toward fiscal responsibility.
Sheryl, I think if I intoned to you that I would produce a 20-page document that outlined my budget priorities, that it might actually contain a chart with some numbers. I don't think that's a whole lot to ask. I think it is --
Q And the President doesn't think that's a whole lot to ask, either? And he's disappointed in this, too?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I think that -- again -- well, let me ask you this question: How would you compare our budget deficit in fiscal year 2011 with theirs?
Q I'm not the Press Secretary, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: I understand.
Q You're the one answering the questions.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I understand, but let me --
Q Why don't you answer it?
MR. GIBBS: I will answer it.
Q And then ask it and then answer it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Sure, we'll play the Jeopardy! version of a Robert Gibbs briefing.
Q This is the way you'd rather do it anyway. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Actually --
Q Now you do have control.
MR. GIBBS: Actually, it is. (Laughter.) If I could have like a piece of glass right here, and this would be --
Q Why don't we call it a unilateral press conference?
Q Now you do have control.
MR. GIBBS: Exactly. This is sort of what I had in mind.
Q Bill might have a question. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, but the reason that you can't compare budget deficits and the progress that we're making on cutting the deficit in half is because there are no numbers with which to compare it.
I guess it's no wonder that over the course of many years, budget deficits in this town and debts ballooned because a group of individuals think that you can have a budget that doesn't contain numbers. No wonder we have a inherited budget deficit of $1.3 trillion and a debt that's out of control.
Q Okay, now along another question, the bankers -- the President needs their support in the plans that Secretary Geithner announced this week. So to what extent will he use this meeting tomorrow to maybe exercise his powers of persuasion, to get the financial industry on board with some of these plans buying up the toxic assets and also the regulatory goals that the Secretary outlined?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take -- let me separate those for a second, because some of the regulatory goals that the Secretary outlined, the administration strongly believes have to be instituted in order to change the rules of the road and ensure that we have all the necessary tools to protect the taxpayers and do what is needed if our financial system is confronted with systemic threats.
We've talked a couple of times this week about the need to have the ability to resolve institutions that threaten systemically our financial stability without using the tool of bankruptcy, or if they're a bank not using the tools of the FDIC.
So I think obviously the President will talk about in broad terms regulatory reform and changing the rules of the road that will protect taxpayers and protect our economy. I'm sure that the President will talk about the Treasury's plan.
I think the most persuasive part of the plan is that, in the plan is built in an incentive for -- an incentive for banks to get off their balance sheets toxic assets. I think that there's also an incentive for the use of public and private money to rid those assets so that healthy banks can do what we want and need them to do, which is loan money to families and businesses so that people can buy houses, can buy cars, can meet payroll. I don't doubt that it will come up in the meeting, but that's not the point of the meeting.
Q On North Korea and the impending rocket launch, is the President as alarmed as some others have said? Does he believe the North Koreans are really going to launch a satellite or does he think that really this is a missile test?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get into the motivations, except to say that we believe that such a launch would be provocative and that such a launch would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. We continue to maintain the goal of a denuclearized North Korea and look to working with our allies to ensure that that happens.
Q And he believes that this is in fact a missile launch, and if he believes it's a threat, does he want U.S. forces to attempt to shoot it down?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- I'm not going to engage in diplomacy here, except to reiterate that we believe that any action would be provocative and in violation of the U.N. Security Council.
Q Just to return to the town hall one more time, what did he learn?
MR. GIBBS: I think he continues to learn the -- and I think he continues to want to hear from the American people about what's most on their mind. That's why he's asked us to ensure that he travels regularly. This, as I mentioned yesterday, was the ability to have that town hall without gassing up the plane. That's why he's asked that we pull letters for him each day to hear directly from the American people.
Q But there's nothing specific today that caught him unaware.
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him specifically about what he might have learned. I think he continues to understand that whether it's health care or jobs or education that we have to make the investments, and what he's outlined in his budget are important in ensuring long-term economic recovery. I think he's long understood, obviously, that the American people are hurting and I think this provides another opportunity, like the press conference did on Tuesday, to provide the American people with an update on what's going on.
Q Will he do it again?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q How soon?
MR. GIBBS: That's a good question. I don't know.
Q Robert, it's very clear in this latest economic downturn that we are now living in a borderless global economy. When the President goes to London, what promises or commitments will he be asking his partners in the G20 in terms of supporting a reinvention, really, a revitalization of the world economy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- obviously there are a few things we know will be on the map. We know that there will be discussions about how to change the rules of the road that I talked about here and that Secretary Geithner outlined in front of Congress today, as the beginning of a process of changing the way business is done, literally. Obviously we are going to talk about -- and have talked to many of our G20 partners about ways to ensure that as the recession continues and we've seen a dramatic decrease in exports, that we do what we can to ensure that, particularly in developing countries, that they continue to have what they need, and access to and demand for exports in our country and around the world that create jobs here at home and abroad.
And I also think that -- well, I think they'll talk about that. I think they'll also talk about what individual countries are doing to stimulate their own economies.
Q And just -- will there be a concerted effort to bring some of these regulations on the same page so they're working together, especially with these --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if you'll have one uniform -- I do believe that everyone recognizes that the risks to our financial system that got us into this mess, that we have to create rules that prevent that from happening again. And I think that what Secretary Geithner outlined today dealing with systemic risk is a good start to a long process here in America to ensure that that happens.
Q Thanks, Robert. You said from the podium a couple minutes ago that interest groups drove up the questions on the web site about marijuana. But the President and Secretary of State have also said in recent days that demand domestically is driving the problems on the border. You seem to be contradicting yourself a little bit and trying to say that the web site issue was an interest group issue, but --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I say that largely because this isn't the first time we've asked people to email questions in and --
Q What is it? I mean --
MR. GIBBS: -- surprisingly, this always rises to the top.
Q Right, but what is it? I mean, do you -- does the White House think that this is a major issue on the minds of the American people? Obviously you think demand is high.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, I didn't say that -- no, and I think -- I don't disagree at all with what -- the administration doesn't disagree at all with what the Secretary of State said.
Again, I think, like I said, this isn't the first time that we've asked for questions and found that certain questions are -- always rise to the top. I think it's not a stretch to believe that this might not fall under, say, financial stability or green jobs.
Q Okay, so what is the administration going to do to drive down demand?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that one of the things that we've certainly talked about, the administration and Justice has talked about, and I think there's money in either recovery or the budget for increased treatment and prevention. Obviously we've moved resources to the border to stop the flow northbound of drugs. There are, as Secretary Napolitano outlined, steps that we're taking to ensure, for instance, that rail cars are inspected 100 percent to drive down that demand. But, obviously, this is going to take a coordinated effort through drug courts and treatment and prevention in order to ensure that the rising, or sustained, demand is -- that we take action to stop that.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Thank you very much. What is the President's reaction to the 50,000 people already who have signed petitions joining the Catholic bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and objecting to his addressing the graduation and receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame?
MR. GIBBS: The President obviously believes in everyone's right to get involved and to exercise their opinion. And he's met with -- I think met last week with Cardinal George and others to discuss topics that he's interested in, and the Catholic Church is interested in again. And he looks forward to continuing that dialogue in the lead-up to the commencement, and looks forward to delivering the address in May.
Q Robert, can you say the President is the people's President, since he's engaged with the commons?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Thank you, sir.
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