Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5/8/09
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 8, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 8, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:41 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good Friday afternoon, everyone. Let me start with a couple of -- well, I have one trip announcement, I have the upcoming week ahead, and a readout of the President's call to President-elect Zuma of South Africa.
But I want to start by talking about the President's June trip overseas. On June 4 the President will give a speech in Egypt. The speech will be about America's relations with the Muslim world. He will then travel on June 5 to Dresden, Germany and visit Buchenwald Concentration Camp. And on June 6, as has been reported, the President will take part in activities commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
The week ahead for you --
Q Where in Egypt is the speech?
MR. GIBBS: We have not locked in the final location yet.
The week ahead. The President will speak at the White House Correspondent's Dinner tomorrow evening, looking forward to that. He has no scheduled public events on Sunday.
On Monday, the President will attend meetings and have an event here at the White House. The President will also welcome the University of North Carolina men's basketball team to the White House. That is an NC State alum, that was hard.
On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings and events at the White House. In the evening in the East Room the President and First Lady will host an evening celebrating poetry, music and the spoken word.
On Wednesday the President will attend meetings in the White House. In the afternoon he will travel to Arizona, where he will deliver the commencement address at Arizona State University in Tempe. Following the address he will travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico where he will spend the night. I believe the speech is 7:00 p.m. local time.
On Thursday the President will hold an event in Albuquerque, likely a town hall meeting, before returning to Washington in the evening.
On Friday the President will attend an event and meetings here at the White House, and in the afternoon he will welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to the White House.
Let me give you a quick readout of the President's call with President-elect Zuma of South Africa. President Obama congratulated President-elect Zuma on the successful election in South Africa, noting the impressive 77 percent turn out, and commending South Africans for their commitment to democracy.
President Obama and President-elect Zuma agreed that the United States and South Africa share many interests and look forward to deepening and improving their bilateral relationship.
President Obama encouraged President-elect Zuma to show strong regional leadership and the two discussed the need for sustained international efforts to promote reform in Zimbabwe.
And that appears to be all that I have.
Q Robert, does the President consider Egypt to be a democracy?
MR. GIBBS: I think the issues of democracy and human rights are things that are on the President's mind, and we'll have a chance to discuss those in more depth on the trip.
Q Can you give us some insight into why he chose Egypt for this speech?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- again, we haven't locked in the final location, but I think obviously it is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world, and I think will be a trip, an opportunity for the President to address and discuss our relationship with the Muslim world.
Q Robert, two questions. First, on banks, in light of the stress tests yesterday, the banks have come out with their plans on how to fill the capital holes that were identified. Does the White House believe those plans from the banks are credible?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that we have fully reviewed the plans that have yet come forward. I know there's a several week period from which to develop and submit a plan, and ultimately a several month period by which to execute that plan. Those plans will be evaluated and there are, as I've mentioned before, many steps that can be taken in order to increase that capital needed as the stress test requires, whether -- I think most banks have said they strongly prefer to do this through the private market. That would certainly be our preference, as well.
And as I said yesterday, many financial institutions have used the first few months of this year to raise that private capital. They can also sell businesses and assets, again, which some have done over the course of several months. And there may also be financial institutions that wish to seek capital from the Treasury and we'll certainly evaluate that.
Q But do you like what you're hearing so far?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen these plans and I don't -- I would point you to Treasury and the regulators involved to get a chance to look at that.
Q Let me ask one question about next week. Will the town hall have a theme -- for example, credit cards?
MR. GIBBS: That is the theme that we have notionally discussed inside of here, yes.
Q What exactly?
MR. GIBBS: The legislation that's moving through Congress and the strong desire to get something done on an issue of tremendous importance to middle-class families, and that is to rein in some of the excesses and some of the abuses that we've seen from credit cards over the past many years, understanding that, for many people, credit cards provide an opportunity to finance purchases. But we think there's a more equitable way to do that, and I think that those reforms are on their way through Congress.
Q Why Egypt as the location for this major address?
MR. GIBBS: Well, really nothing to add from what I told Chuck.
Q Obviously Egypt is considered -- there are a lot of Muslims who look at the leadership of Egypt warily and consider it to be exactly the problem with leaders in the Muslim world. Obviously Zawahiri came from terrorist organizations that fight Egyptian leaders. Is it not possible that this is a bad selection?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think, as I mentioned earlier, I think, in many ways, this is the heart of Arab world. And I think, in many ways -- Jake, this isn't a speech -- this isn't a speech to leaders. This is a speech to many, many people and a continuing effort by this President and this White House to demonstrate how we can work together to ensure the safety and security and the future well-being, through hope and opportunity, of the children of this country and of the Muslim world. And that's what the President set out to do when he promised to give the speech, and that's exactly what he intends to do next month.
Q I guess my only point is there are a lot of Muslims who think of Mubarak and the Egyptian leaders as part of the problem.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, again, this is not about who the leaders might be of any certain country; this is about the way the President views this relationship, the way he thinks this country should view that relationship, and the shared and common progress that we can make to strengthen that relationship and fight extremists.
Q A budget question, if I can. Yesterday, the budget proposal called for cutting the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. And President Obama, when he was in the Senate, supported that program. And now he wants to cut it. Can you explain why the difference in thinking?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. It's a block grant program that, based on the evaluation that OMB made, they believe in many cases funds projects and such that may not necessarily fall under the genuine scope of the program.
That's not to say that the President doesn't have strong views on immigration and enforcement. I think since we all took a gander at the larger budget yesterday, I think you would note that there's a sizable amount of money to increase enforcement at the border as an important step on our path toward immigration reform.
Q Robert, is the administration satisfied, or even encouraged by, signs of stepped up military action by the Pakistani forces in the Swat Valley?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Mark, I think the meetings this week were helpful and instructive on both sides. I think the President believes and heard from the leaders of a renewed commitment to address extremism, to address al Qaeda, the Taliban and all of its extremist allies. Obviously we continue to be concerned about the situation and will watch it carefully. But the President believes the outcome of the meetings was good and so far thus are the actions.
Q Does President Obama believe that he and President Zardari view the Taliban in the same light?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President feels confident that there is a renewed recognition of the threat that's posed -- the threat by the Taliban and others -- not just to our country, but to Pakistan.
Q So you think you're on the same page?
MR. GIBBS: I think we're heartened by the developments thus far. But again, it's something of deep concern to the President and to the national security team and something we'll continue to monitor. This is, Mark, something that increasingly is -- has been on the President's radar for many years and something that the team and the President here spend an increasing amount of time watching, to ensure that we continue to make progress.
I would say also this is -- part of the efforts for these meetings here this week were to address not simply the military and the shared security concerns, in hopes the shared security concerns for alliance that will address those threats, but also importantly to address corruption, to address rebuilding and reconstruction, to address agricultural production.
I think the President has often said that security is our utmost concern, but the problems that are being faced in either Pakistan or Afghanistan are not necessarily going to be solved only by military action; that only when each government can adequately and sufficiently provide some economic hope to its citizens will we see genuine progress.
And that's why the meetings were important not just at the presidential level but ensuring that those in charge of agriculture got together and met, those that are concerned about the economy, those that are concerned about police, law enforcement, and intelligence sharing all got together. And it will be a continued effort by this President and this team to engage these two important countries to make that progress.
Q Robert, back to Egypt. So is it correct to say that your choice of Egypt in no way should be interpreted as an endorsement of sort of the Mubarak form of democracy.
Q Or Mike Bloomberg. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That's good -- you got to give him credit on that one.
Q I got to give credit. Today. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think the scope of the speech, the desire for the President to speak is bigger than where the speech was going to be given or who is the leadership of the country where the speech is given.
Q Was this based on an invitation that President Mubarak had given?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q So it was a -- you reached out to him and said, hey, we want to come to Egypt and give this speech?
MR. GIBBS: This was a -- this is a country that we selected to speak in.
Q President Zardari, in an interview with David Gregory that's going to air Sunday, said -- plug-plug -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Did you want to come up here? (Laughter.)
Q -- said that he thought Osama bin Laden is probably dead. What is -- can you give us a status on what the administration believes about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any information on whether he's dead or alive.
Q Is it still a priority to find -- I mean, would you describe sort of the level --
MR. GIBBS: I think it -- I think the President has talked about this. I think the President certainly believes that Osama bin Laden and others should be brought to justice. I think also the President has discussed and I think it's obvious with what's going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan now is that our focus has to be in addressing all of the security concerns, not just focusing on one individual.
Q The economy shed another half a million jobs, more than a half million jobs last week. And the last month the unemployment rate is nearing 9 percent. Does the President believe that what needs to be done with the stimulus, with the financial rescue is now done and it's just time to sit back and wait? Or are there other things in the works: interventions to move the economy in the near term away from the downward slide?
MR. GIBBS: Well, to discuss broadly I think what the President's viewpoint is, and you certainly heard from him this morning about the jobs numbers, and while there's a recognition that the rate at which we are losing jobs is less than it has been for the previous few months, 539,000 jobs lost in a one-month period of time still speaks volumes to the recession that we're in and the need to continue to implement our recovery plan and to look for other avenues with which to stabilize and spur the economy.
Specifically, obviously we've talked about the -- we've talked about the Recovery Act extensively. I think the stress tests were an important first step in some confidence and clarity around the major banks in our financial system. Obviously the implementation of the public-private investment partnership and other steps related to housing and small business lending are all still important. And I don't think the President will -- I don't think the President will believe we're making -- the President won't stop until we have an economy that's creating jobs, though I think that's probably many months into the future.
But I think, Jonathan, one of the things the President talked about today is important and significant because -- and we heard this -- I think I can remember hearing these stories on his travels when he was a Senate candidate, with a plant that had moved to Mexico. You had workers that were on unemployment benefits. They get an opportunity to go back to retraining, but then they have to give up their unemployment benefits. And if a company that's laid you off calls you back and says, "Look, we've got some temporary eight-week work; I know you're only in the second week of your education benefits, but you have to give those up to take this temporary work," you're putting a family and a worker in a very difficult situation.
And I think if you look at the unemployment statistics -- if you take a look at the unemployment statistics today -- based on just on education level, I think you can begin to understand the importance of what the President is talking about in asking states to review their policies relating to the use of educational benefits and unemployment benefits together.
The unemployment rate 16 months from the peak of the recession, for somebody with less than a high school degree, high school education, the unemployment rate today is 14.8 percent. For somebody that has completed high school, that unemployment rate is 9.3 percent. For somebody that has attended some college, the unemployment rate is 7.4 percent. And for somebody that has a four-year college education or higher, that unemployment rate today is 4.4 percent. And I'll get you this chart.
But I think it understands -- it underscores the importance of continuing to look for ways to rework some of the programs that we have in government to ensure that we're meeting the needs of those that are unemployed that are seeking retraining, that are seeking an opportunity for education. And we'll continue to evaluate what's needed to address all the situation.
But I think the bottom line, as the President said, while the rate of job loss is slightly less this month than the previous months, it's still of great, great concern that an economy is shedding 539,000 jobs a month.
Q Could I follow-up on that? When you said the -- referred to the need to look for other avenues to spur the economy, are you signaling something new on the horizon?
MR. GIBBS: No, no.
Q Or is something else in the hopper?
MR. GIBBS: No, just the sense that -- again, we're looking to take steps to lay the new foundation for economic growth that the President has talked extensively about -- whether it's to cut costs for health care, whether it's to drive down the cost for energy, whether it's to help reform our educational system to provide people with a greater opportunity to protect their health care benefits, or to get the training they need while they're unemployed -- all of those steps.
The President talked to his economic team today in the Oval Office, and wants to ensure that we're taking every step possible to deal with the severity of this crisis. I think the figure I think that I read this morning was since the beginning of this recession, the economy has shed 5.7 million jobs.
And if you look at the -- if you take into account the people that aren't factored into an unemployment rate, which are people that have -- are so discouraged they've stopped looking for work or those that are in part-time jobs because they can't get a full-time job, you see that those numbers are much, much higher. And I think that's of grave concern to the President.
Q Can I check on one other topic, on the Supreme Court? Is it the President's goal to get a Senate confirmation vote on a nominee by the time the August recess rolls around?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the goal that the President has laid out is to ensure that by the next time the Supreme Court hears cases in a new term, the first Monday in October, that a new nominee is seated to replace Justice Souter, who is stepping down. Whether that's done before the August recess, whether that's done in September, is less important to ensuring that we get something in place for the next term.
Q In his talks with senators on this subject, has he sort of outlined anything or is it basically what you just described -- somewhere between August and September?
MR. GIBBS: It's basically what I described. I mean, obviously there's a fairly extensive process. I mean, I think the -- there was some initial concern among people that -- not necessarily here, but I saw reported -- of the organization of the Judiciary Committee because the ranking member had switched parties. But that got dealt with organizationally very quickly. The President had a good conversation with Senator Sessions and has had it with both Democrats and Republicans, and thinks that whether or not everybody agrees on the exact characteristics or traits of a nominee, that everybody seems to want to move forward judiciously, no pun intended.
Q Robert, will your office release the photo and report about the mock Air Force One flyover today or tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Today.
Q Can you tell us when or under what circumstances?
MR. GIBBS: It will be sometime later this afternoon. I think the final stuff is on my desk to review when I get back and we'll release the report, the photo --
Q A photo.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q How would you suggest the American people interpret the handling of this in relationship to the administration's commitment to transparency?
MR. GIBBS: I'd suggest they'll be able to read the report, which the President instructed the deputy chief of staff to undertake. We'll have -- without getting into some of what's in there, I think you'll also have -- I don't think this is the only look into this incident that's taking place.
Q Secretary Gates had his own.
MR. GIBBS: Right. The President has also, without getting into some of the recommendations -- and I've got to finish reading all this -- looking into some of the breakdowns that allowed something like this to happen. And the President instructed the staff to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and those are the steps that we're taking.
Q On the question of Notre Dame, the Archbishop Raymond Burke said something this morning you may not have heard. I just want to read it to you and get your reaction: "The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame to our President who is so aggressively advancing an anti-life, anti-family agenda is rightly the source of the greatest scandal." The question is, is the President open to waiving the reception of the doctorate if that in some way would minimize or reduce the tensions that have surfaced around this particular commencement address? Does he have any reaction to the Archbishop's comment?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, our comment on this is the same. We are honored to have received the invitation. The President looks forward to sharing with the students a memorable occasion of their graduating. Notre Dame has a good history of robust civic debate, and the President looks forward to speaking to the graduating class and hopefully giving them a message that they'll think about as they move forward.
Q Would you acknowledge the speaking as separate from the reception of the honorary doctorate, and if that that might be a means of calming this down? Is he open to that? Has he thought about it? Has it been presented to him in any way, shape or form?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President -- I don't think -- the President intends to go to Notre Dame, speak, accept the degree, and come back to the White House.
Q Just a little bit on the nature of the speech, of the Muslim speech. We heard the President say in Turkey that the United States was not at war with Islam. Does he hope to build upon that? And do you imagine the primary focus of the speech will be on the Muslims in the Arab Middle East, or will it try to reach beyond that and address Muslims in the South and Southeast Asia, and the United States?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- and this was -- it's my mistake to use only the connotation of Arab Muslims and not -- or Arab Muslims rather than obviously the -- Indonesia is a place that is special to the President. It's also the largest Muslim nation in the world.
But I think you hit on the right note, which is this is not simply a speech that's directed towards simply one area. I think it addresses and will address our relationship here and in all corners of the world. And again, I think this is -- you rightly bring up Turkey. This is a continuing effort of the President's to engage the Muslim world, whether it was the interview at the beginning of his administration with Al Arabiya, whether it was the speech in Turkey. The President has high hopes for a stronger relationship.
Q Just a quick follow. Will there be any other stops in the Middle East on this trip?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Robert, can you just -- going back again to Egypt -- just to give us a little bit more that captures the sense of the moment? I mean, America's relationship with the Muslim world has been at an all-time low, and now President Obama is about to make this major speech. What exactly does he want to accomplish? What is he setting out, in terms --
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, without getting into a lot of detail what he's going to look at going forward, I think it's important, as I mentioned a moment ago, to look at what Scott mentioned he said in Turkey, and I think to take that phrase and build on it -- to understand the relationships that we have to have in this world to make progress, not just for our country, but for all of the world; to ensure the safety and security of America, but to ensure the safety and security of others around the world; to ensure hope and opportunity here, and hope and opportunity, again, around the world.
I think that's what the President will build on. I think having spent part of his childhood in Indonesia -- I think all of this gives the President the opportunity hopefully to extend a hand to those that in many ways are like us, but just simply have a different religion.
Q Would you please give us some more details about the upcoming trip to Germany on June 5 to Dresden and Buchenwald? Why is he going again to Germany? And can you confirm that the President will also travel to Germany on November 9 for the 20th anniversary of the event -- the Berlin wall?
MR. GIBBS: Boy, these guys will tell you I'm bad at the week ahead, so November is sort of a bit out of my bailiwick. I don't have anything on November, and I don't have much beyond. In all honesty, the advance team is in Germany now. I believe we hope to see Merkel. I think we hope to -- and obviously Buchenwald is a place that as we go from there to Normandy is an important reminder of the history that surrounds all of these events, and obviously the President's family members that were involved in World War II and the place that that holds.
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: It always makes me nervous, Peter, when you're reading your BlackBerry and asking me a question.
Q I'm passing on a question from Christi Parsons. Will the President's --
MR. GIBBS: Caller on line three. (Laughter.)
Q The great Christi Parsons, I should say. Will the President's great-uncle Charlie Payne be accompanying him to Europe? He was the man who helped liberate Buchenwald.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if Uncle Charlie will travel or not yet. I don't think those plans have totally been determined.
Q With regard to the Egypt trip, should we draw comparisons to the Berlin trip in terms of its scope, its size, and how it attracted people from at least all over the region, if not all over the world? Will the President be inviting Muslims from other countries to try to get to Egypt to watch him speak, or is that not even really going to be possible based on the size of the crowd?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- and logistically, we're at the beginning of this phase. I think the advance trip leaves sometime later this weekend. So it's hard to discuss crowd logistics because the venue just hasn't been to that degree locked in.
I do think -- I think the President doesn't believe that people have to travel to the location to hopefully hear the words and the message. I think that's why some of the other interviews that we've done and some of the other speeches we've done -- our hope is not to draw a large crowd, but our hope is to reach a large portion of the world with what we hope is a powerful message.
Q May I have a quick Pakistan question as well? As the Pakistani President was here, the army opened up full-scale operations in Swat, declared war on the Taliban. What I'm trying to figure out is, did the Pakistani President inform President Obama during their bilat or trilat, "this is about to happen"? Or did the President say, "Hey, you really should probably do this immediately" and he picked up the phone and called? Or is it just a total coincidence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if we were given any specific operational details. I don't think -- I think based on what was going on in the news and the security situation, I don't think it's -- I don't think some of the movements are altogether that surprising. I think obviously the deterioration of the security situation and what was going in the Swat Valley was happening even as Zardari was traveling here. Again, I think what the President found some hope in is, again, that sort of common recognition of the security challenges that both countries face and that both countries have to be aware of.
Q Thank you, Robert. Can you talk a little bit more about the meetings the President is holding with the senators on the Supreme Court? Are they talking process and schedule, are they talking judicial philosophy, is he asking them for names, have any given him any names?
MR. GIBBS: Some have given names. These are fairly wide-ranging calls. In some instances, they've been calls to say, look, I wanted to touch base with you and talk with you at length when we both had a longer chance to think about it. Look, I think we're in the very beginning of this process and obviously the Senate plays a tremendously important consultative role in this. And he wants to reach out to members of both parties to get their -- to hear from them about their concerns, to understand some of the timing issues that they might have. And the President always is happy to hear from members that have suggestions, and some have sent suggestions back to the President for him to look at and consider -- none of which I'm going to impart today.
I'll take one more from Deb.
Q Thank you, Robert. A group of holdout lenders today dropped their fight in U.S. Bankruptcy Court against the Chrysler reorganization plan. What does the White House think about that in terms of what -- how it will effect what happens next?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Deb, I think it's another important and promising step in Chrysler's favor to go through a very quick restructuring and bankruptcy and to very quickly have Chrysler and Fiat emerge together as partners to put a very storied automobile company back on a path toward viability. And as you've heard the President say, viability means able to sustain its operations without continued government assistance.
There were -- obviously the bankruptcy court judge's decision a couple of days ago to move the bankruptcy expeditiously we thought was an important sign. I think we found out that despite what some people were saying, the "holdout creditors" represented a very, very minuscule percentage of overall asset holders -- I think 4 to 5 percent. And I think despite some skepticism that Chrysler could do this quickly, I think the auto team and the President are heartened that this appears to be happening as quickly as we had hoped, and we hope that that means that Chrysler will begin even more quickly to emerge in this partnership as a strong auto company.
Thanks, guys. Enjoy your weekend.
Q Any SCOTUS announcement next week?
MR. GIBBS: No. Thanks, guys.
Q No? No, ruled out.
Q No announcement next week?
MR. GIBBS: Nope. And no endorsement -- today. (Laughter.)
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