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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
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Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
January 30, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Happy Friday. How's everyone today? I have my trusty week ahead -- though it's not that detailed, you'll find out. (Laughter.) Saturday, I have. We'll get it out a little bit later. Again, I apologize, I'm still a little under the weather.

Let me give you a couple of quick announcements and give you a better answer to a question that was asked yesterday that I didn't have any information on, and should have.

First of all, Director Blair conducted his first PDB this morning with the President. So we're glad to -- glad that he's been confirmed and glad to have him onboard. The Obama administration today announced an emergency contribution of more than $20 million to relief efforts in Gaza, as part of the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund. That was announced by Senator Mitchell in the region this morning.

The President has called and talked to President Hu Jintao of China, and we will have some more information and a readout on that a little later this afternoon.

And then lastly, let me go through just quickly the DTV question from yesterday, which as I said, I should have been better prepared for.

I think you all have copies of letters that were sent from the transition to both Houses of Congress in January. The transition, obviously, in an agency -- in the agency review process determined what it believed to be shortfalls in planning for the DTV transition. For instance, it found that the coupon program for converters had 3.3 million requests sitting on a waiting list, and that the FCC told Congress that the call center that it had established could not handle the rate of incoming calls.

The transition asked that Congress delay the February 17th transition. The House -- I'm sorry, the Senate voted on that last week and passed that delay. The Senate took -- I mean, sorry, I'm confused today -- the Senate voted on that, the House took the bill up under a suspension of the rules requiring two-thirds of those present supporting the bill. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, but not with the necessary two-thirds. The Senate last night took the bill up again and passed it. I'm told that the House will vote next week. We anticipate that the House will pass a delay on DTV to June 12th. If that gets to the President's desk, and when that happens, the President will sign that delay into law so that we might undergo a little bit better planning process to ensure no interruption for people with televisions.

And with that, let's get going.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thanks, Robert. A couple questions on the economy. Can you explain what the President's strategy will be in the coming days to all these senators on the stimulus package? What kind of meetings does he have planned? Does he plan any sort of different-looking strategy than he did with the House, for whatever reason? And then secondly, I want to clarify, or see if you can clarify, something that Vice President Biden said in an interview yesterday. He said that any new money for the financial industry-type bailout would not be requested until all the $350 billion has been spent. Is that accurate?

MR. GIBBS: I don't remember that part of the transcript but let me -- let me check on that. Obviously -- I hate to do this, I think both of these answers are largely going to hedge toward answers that I gave yesterday to a couple of these questions.

As I said, the President will continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans and seek ideas on ways to improve or strengthen the package if those ideas are out there. I said he didn't forestall the idea or close the door on sitting down with leaders in order to do that, from both parties.

You know, the President will continue to do whatever is possible to get this bill going and to get it moved quickly to his desk.

Q: Does he have anything on the schedule, in terms of calls he's making?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything for next week, but I will -- let me see what there is. I know the President will work next week on an economic stimulus bill. And as I've done here several days this week, you know, again we've got more statistics that remind us just how important it is to get something that stimulates the economy quickly to the President's desk so that we can get relief to the American people.

The economy shrank at its fastest pace since 1982, according to statistics released just today. In addition, those statistics demonstrated that consumer spending was down I think for the second quarter. Sales of new homes -- these were figures released yesterday -- were their worst since the 1960s. More companies announced mass layoffs. And Ford Motor Company reported a huge loss in their quarterly earnings.

Again, I think all of these demonstrate the need for Congress and the President to work together to get something done as quickly as possible for the American people.

Q: Just putting aside the Biden interview, is it your understanding that the $350 billion needs to be spent before any other money might be requested?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I know that, again, the economic team met today with the President. Christina Romer, our newly confirmed director of the CEA, was there to talk about the GDP numbers, some of which I just talked about. Secretary Geithner and Dr. Summers were also there, in continuing discussions on what a financial stability package might look like.

I think you heard the President's remarks yesterday. Before focusing on what might come after the money that's currently appropriated, the focus that we have right now is on how to spend that money differently, how to put together that type of plan, how to get that money back into the economy quicker through lending, how to ensure -- as the President talked about yesterday -- that we don't see the type of excessive compensation or bonuses that the President was outraged about yesterday, that we do this in a way that's different and more transparent than was done before.

I think that's the focus right now. I know there have been different reports about different ideas and different money figures that have floated around that -- the administration right now is focused on ways of changing the way that program has been administered for this set of money differently than that last set.

Q: Robert, a question about currency. Secretary Geithner said last week that he supported a strong dollar policy, which the Bush administration said a lot, as well -- although often at times when the dollar was not strong. What does President Obama believe needs to be done about that policy differently than President Bush to keep the dollar strong? And secondly, along those same lines, is the administration prepared to work with G7 countries on reducing currency volatility?

MR. GIBBS: Let me get you some much better advice on those two questions from the Department of Treasury. I think that's probably the best place to answer those.

Q: Can you give -- I mean, this is tied in, I guess, can you give us any details about that conversation with China's Hu?

MR. GIBBS: I was not in the conversation, but as soon as we can get a readout written up, we'll make sure that you all have that.

Q: Do you know if currency was discussed?

MR. GIBBS: I wasn't in there and I don't know the specifics of what they discussed.

Jake.

Q: There have been new revelations that call into question the ability of the FDA to keep our nation's food supply safe with the salmonella epidemic. More than 500 people are sick, more than half of them are children, eight people have died. On the campaign trail last year President Obama said as the parent of two young daughters, "There are few issues more important to me than ensuring the safety of the food that our children consume."

So what are you guys doing about this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we've read reports, I think on the AP wire today, about trouble at FDA last year. We've certainly read reports -- and I think the Justice Department is looking into the business practices of the company in Georgia. And I know the President hopes in the next few days to announce a pick for commissioner at FDA to address all of what you said.

I think the revelations have no doubt been alarming, that whether it was our own regulatory system or a company that repeatedly found salmonella in its own testing would continue to ship out that product is beyond disturbing for millions of parents. The President, like I said, in the coming days will have a new commissioner at FDA and hopefully we'll be able to announce also picks at things like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and places like that to put in place a stricter regulatory structure to ensure that the type of thing that happened in this case doesn't happen again.

Yes.

Q: Senator Judd Gregg said he's under consideration for Commerce Secretary. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I -- let me give largely the answer I gave to some of you yesterday, which is -- and some of you heard my ranting on this during the transition -- I'm not going to get into the name-game or the final four of picks for this job or that.

I talked to the President specifically about a decision on the next Commerce Secretary, and the last time I talked to him this morning a final decision had not been made. I know that's something that he hopes to make a decision on and announce shortly. But until the President tells me to make a personnel announcement from this podium, I'll refrain from getting into individual names on that.

Chip.

Q: The February 13th target, is that still etched in stone? Or with the difficulty on the House side with Republicans and resistance on the Senate side, is there any flexibility on that, or is that still absolutely the date? And also, could you tell us a little bit about his schedule? I mean, the conventional wisdom is he works well into the night. Is he working nights? Is he staying up late working on this? Is he going to be working all through all the weekends?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have meetings on his weekend schedule at this point. You know, he's traditionally a night owl. I'll check and see what, if anything in particular, he's doing. I know he spent a lot of time reading stuff on -- mainly as it relates to financial stability.

Your first question about the deadline, I actually don't think we've had any delay. I think -- you know, we all get focused on what the vote count was, but we tend to forget that the bill by a pretty big margin took a big step forward this week in going through the House. As I understand the schedule, the Senate will take the legislation up and vote on it next week. And we hope the week after that, that differences will be ironed out and soon after a bill will be on the President's desk.

Again, Chip, I don't -- we're reminded in this town of statistics that this government and other entities produce relating to how deep and desperate this crisis is. Many in America have felt it for quite some time. I think they understand that Congress has to work expeditiously to get help to the American people, to save or create millions of new jobs, and to get the economy moving again.

I don't think there's been any delay. I don't think next week we'll see any delay. And I think we're on a path toward getting the President something that he can sign before President's Day recess. I think leaders in Congress have said if we don't meet that, then there may be a smaller or shorter recess than might have been previously planned. I think that shows the willingness of all involved to get something, most importantly, out of Congress, out of the President's hands, and into the pockets of the American people.

Chuck.

Q: Robert, today on the floor of the Senate, the President's former campaign co-chair, Claire McCaskill, said -- wants to make it illegal for any of these financial institutions that take government money to basically make any more money -- any salary any higher than the President's salary. But is it -- the President yesterday, he said it was shameful, this compensation. Does he want to see it illegal; that this next round, that it is illegal for these companies who take government money illegal for them to compensate themselves --

MR. GIBBS: You know, Chuck, let me not get ahead of what the team and the President will decide to make part of the next round of spending --

Q: Well, yesterday he said it's shameful, so he must have wanted something to be done.

MR. GIBBS: And I don't think anybody should take away from those remarks that he doesn't. And I think it is very safe to assume that when a plan is outlined for financial stability, that it will include and address executive compensation and bonuses. The President did it better than I could yesterday. He found it outrageous.

I think many of you have covered him. I have seen him upset at times. He doesn't really get fired up upset. He is more like that disappointed parent, you know, that doesn't embarrass you in the mall, but you feel like you've let somebody down.

So I think yesterday, when you see something like that from the President, I think you can understand that that was from his gut and that was real. Nobody begrudges people that are successful and make money, somebody who's running a very successful company that's making its shareholders money and serving the American people responsibly. Nobody would begrudge that happening. But when the sixth largest year of bonuses fails in any appreciable way to match the huge losses, I think "outrageous" is probably just the beginning of words one might be able to intone, particularly if they're on TV.

Q: So it's fair to assume he wants some sort of action by Congress -- an act of Congress to do something?

MR. GIBBS: I think you will see -- I think you will see the President and his economic team outline a plan to deal with what he found irresponsible yesterday.

Q: Can you describe the relationship between Senator Gregg and the President? What is their friendship/relationship? Do they play basketball together?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think they're ever played basketball, that's a good question. Senator Gregg looks like he might have an inside game. (Laughter.)

No, I think obviously he is somebody that the President has talked to recently about the economic crisis. I know they spoke before the President was sworn in on a couple of occasions about financial stability and the recovery plan. Obviously, the President shares his concern about the growing federal budget deficit. So they -- I mean, I -- it's somebody the President talks to on a host of economic matters.

Q: Is it fair to say he wants to work -- he likes working with him?

MR. GIBBS: I think that would be accurate.

Yes, Helen.

Q: You were you saying that the President intends to attach strings to any new money in the stimulus package, aren't you?

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that again?

Q: That you intend to attach a string -- attached to any giving of any more money in the stimulus.

MR. GIBBS: In the bailout money, right?

Q: Right.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think that it is, again, very safe to assume that the way that the money will be used and what it can be used for will be different than what we've seen come before. And I think that the President is anxious to have that -- those decisions made and outlined. And I think you'll see those relatively soon.

Q: When is he going to hold his first news conference?

MR. GIBBS: He is anxious and eager to do so, and we're trying to find him a time to do that. Will you have a question, if he does?

Q: Twenty-four hours a day, six days a week?

MR. GIBBS: Are you busy around 2:00 a.m. this morning? (Laughter.) No, we'll -- I promise you, you'll get -- you'll get your chance.

Yes, sir.

Q: A couple questions, but we'll start with this one. This middle -- Middle Class Task Force that the Vice President will be heading up -- beyond just meetings and sort of this listening tour that the task force will be going on, what solid -- anything solid will come out of this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that one of the main purposes of a task force like this is to orient the policies of this government going forward more toward the demands and the needs of the middle class. I think one of the critiques that the President had of the previous administration was a tendency to help those that already had done quite well while many in the middle class were seeing their wages either hold steady or, in many cases, decline.

So I think it's important that a task force and a group be assembled to ensure that the policies of this administration are friendly to the American middle class. I think the beginning of that is in this recovery and reinvestment plan, to ensure that the tax cuts that are contained in it are focused towards those that need it the most.

I know there's been lots of discussion about that, but the President believes that that's the best way to spend that money.

Q: And on another issue, I think it was yesterday or the day before yesterday, when you were asked about these outside groups that are running these attack ads -- you said the President didn't want to referee, I guess.

MR. GIBBS: Still doesn't.

Q: Well, let me -- let me try to get at it at a different angle. You have these groups going after people like Senator Gregg, a Republican, who has admitted that the President is looking at him for Commerce. Is this sort of Washington old --

MR. GIBBS: I'm wondering which question we're trying to get at. Are we trying to get at Ann's question or are we trying to get -- (laughter.)

Q: It's not -- I'm not trying to get at that question. It's just, is this sort of Washington as usual where you have the Democrat or liberal groups attacking Republicans, and this is someone who the President is reaching out to?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, as I said yesterday, the President has a lot on his plate. I think refereeing what this group or that group is doing to this group and that group might not be something that encompasses a lot of the President's daily schedule.

Q: But is this more Washington as usual? It's not the tone that the President wants to see here.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President feels like the efforts that he's made, and will continue to make on this, will live up to what he wants to do to reach out to Democrats and Republicans. Again, this is -- it's not just being nice to be nice; it's being nice to get something done that's important for the American people. I think that's what the focus of the President's efforts are, and he'll continue it. I don't know if we sent the list out -- and he'll have more members of Congress over here Sunday to watch the Super Bowl and, again, reach out to and get to know in a better way members on both sides of the aisle to see where we can work in concert to improve the lives of the American people.

Sheryl.

Q: Robert, a couple of questions. First, Secretary Geithner, during his confirmation hearing, said that he would support specific limits on executive compensation beyond which executives would have to repay the government; in other words, if they got stock or bonuses or -- et cetera, and they were receiving bailout money, they would have to -- they would not be able to receive that until they had repaid the government its bailout money. Is that something that the President supports? Is that the kind of policy that we're going to see announced next week?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of the President or the Secretary. I know that I wouldn't dissuade you from anything that the Secretary said in that testimony. I think that's -- I think those are strong beliefs of the Secretary. And I think it's safe to say that many of the Secretary's views mimic those of the President.

Q: But how would you calculate the compensation?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again --

Q: Would it be a specific amount? Would it be a percentage of or --

MR. GIBBS: Again, since I'm not announcing -- since I'm not announcing anything, it would be hard for me to enumerate the reasoning behind what I wasn't announcing. So again, let me not get ahead of that, except to say stay tuned, because something on that is coming soon.

Q: And separately -- a different issue -- you spoke earlier about the President would like to announce an FDA commissioner soon. We've got a food safety problem right now that is ongoing and urgent without a commissioner. You don't have a Commerce Secretary yet. How much of a problem is this that some of these key jobs in the administration are not filled? And what's your target for really having all of your top jobs filled?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean obviously we want to get jobs filled as quickly as we can. I think we want to make good decisions. And I think the American people can be extremely confident in the professional level of the government that's both in place, hopefully, at the White House and in the executive branch; but also each of these agencies and departments has loyal and dedicated career public servants that can ensure that the safety that needs to happen as it relates to the FDA or some other charge of government is being carried out in a way that meets the President's expectations. Again, trust me, as soon as we have announcements, you'll hear me echo what the President says.

Major.

Q: Two questions. First, talking to CEOs who met with the President earlier this week, they said the economy clearly has a structural problem, but they also said it has a psychological problem. The President today called the economic statistics a continuing disaster. Why does the President believe language like that is helpful when CEOs he met with said part of the problem is the psychology of the country and feeling a sense that things might get better? Why is that rhetoric helpful in the President's point of view?

MR. GIBBS: Major, I think the President strongly believes that the only way that the American people are going to support what the President and the Congress are trying to do is if the President and the Congress are frank and honest with the American people about where we are.

I think it's kind of hard to sugarcoat and spin an economy that shrank at a faster rate in any quarter except -- or since 1982; or that consumer spending was down, and that drives normally two-thirds of our economy; or housing sales of new homes are at their worst since the 1960s.

The President also often says we didn't get into these problems overnight, many of these were years in the making, and that it's going to take us a while to get out of them. I think the American people understand that. I think what the American people also want to see is somebody who will level with them about the challenges that we face, and will give them a sense of where he hopes to take them. But I don't think he can do that if he is continually telling people that things are different than what they know to be true in their everyday daily lives.

Q: Second question. The House has a "buy American" provision in it affecting steel and iron. The Senate is expanding that. How strongly does the administration support those? And how does it react to criticism from some of the United States' largest trading partners, that they fear this is a protectionist move? And how does it square with the commitments made at the G20 meeting, that members of the G20 would not take steps viewed broadly as protectionism?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I think you've seen us respond in the paper, that because of what you've seen and concerns, that the administration is reviewing those provisions as part of the recovery plan. And that review continues.

Q: Would it be fair to say that the administration does not currently support them?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think I said that. I think it's important that the administration review, and once we make a review we'll have a better idea of the opinion that you just had.

Yes, sir.

Q: If I could just stay on "buy American" for a second, is the President aware of some of the anger, particularly up north, that this provision is causing? And could that make for any awkward conversations in the upcoming visit?

MR. GIBBS: Oh, Canada. I didn't know if you meant, like, New York, or -- (laughter.)

Q: New York is still part of America last time I checked.

MR. GIBBS: But you didn't say up north, not in America, so I was -- I was clarifying if we were, like, into southern Vermont or whatever. (Laughter.)

Look, I think, as I said the other day, I don't think there's any doubt that trade is going to be on an agenda for a bilateral meeting between the United States and Canada. I think that would have been the case regardless of who those two participants were. But again, the administration will review that particular provision, and we'll make a determination on that.

Q: But Canada said it specifically violates trade laws. I mean --

MR. GIBBS: Which is precisely why the administration is going to review that, and once it makes that review --

Q: Does he agree with that point of view?

MR. GIBBS: Guys -- let me -- no, no, no. Give me a second, let me -- I'm going to say this for, like, the fourth time. The administration is reviewing that provision. It understands all of the concerns that have been heard not only in this room but in newspapers produced both up north and down south. So let us undertake that review, and when we have something to announce as it relates to that review, I will be able to answer any number of your questions related to a review that has not yet currently been done.

Yes, sir.

Q: What kind of consideration is the White House going to give to this alternative stimulus proposal that is emerging from Senator McCain and other Republicans? And if a full-blown alternative is out there, what are your concerns about it delaying the overall debate on reaching that deadline of yours?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I think there was an alternative -- if I'm not mistaken, there was an alternative that was voted on in the House that didn't receive a majority. I assume there will be amendments and alternatives in the Senate. But again, I don't -- I don't see that that will delay the process. I mean, we have encouraged on the House and the Senate side ideas and amendments to be debated and voted on. I think that's part of a process that has been undertaken in this bill that allow everybody to take part.

But again, I don't -- the way we look at the legislative calendar, we don't see delay on the horizon. And I don't think the American people want to watch Washington delay what they know they need. I think we're making progress towards the President's timetable of the President's Day recess.

Q: What else can you tell us about this Super Bowl get-together? Is this going to be a big schmoozathon on the --

MR. GIBBS: Bill is bringing the seven-layer dip. (Laughter.) No, I will --

Q: You better get the FDA on that one. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Especially if it's from Bill's kitchen. (Laughter.) I mean, it's a fairly straightforward deal. Again, I don't know if we've sent out the list of -- we will hit "send" on that quickly. You'll see Democrats and Republicans. You'll undoubtedly see Steelers fans and Cardinals fans, once again bringing people together.

Q: What's the viewing --

MR. GIBBS: What's that?

Q: Where are you going to watch it?

MR. GIBBS: I think it's in the theater, right? I think that's --

MR. BURTON: It's in the residence.


Q: Any coverage? Is there pool on that, or is it closed press?

MR. GIBBS: I think it's closed press, but I will --

Q: Who makes up the guest list?

MR. GIBBS: Or maybe we'll do the Super Bowl on background.

Q: Who makes up the guest list?

MR. GIBBS: I believe the Social Office and with input probably from many offices, including intergovernmental and legislative affairs.

Q: Will wagering be allowed? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.)

Q: I have two questions.

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: The first one is, over the last two days we've seen two measures that have -- the labor community has welcomed -- the bill signing yesterday and then today's executive orders. What -- are you planning anything else further on the labor agenda? And also, yesterday the Vice President said that he expected the Employee Free Choice Act to be acted upon this year. Is that the White House's position, that you would like to see action on that this year?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the executive orders that the President signed today, as he said, restore some balance in the relationship and increase the transparency in the workplace, which he's a big proponent of. I think the best phrasing in terms of the President's thinking on Employee Free Choice was part of the transcript from his visit to The Washington Post Editorial Board, which I won't paraphrase; I'll give to you to show the best thinking of the President on that right now.

Q: Well, just to remind those of us who weren't at The Washington Post --

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's why we'll send it out.

Q: Yes, okay, but was the Vice President speaking for the White House when he said he wanted to see action this year?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get you this transcript so that everybody is in line.

Q: Well, no, wait, my second question was actually something different --

MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry.

Q: -- which is, what -- in terms of bipartisanship, the SCHIP legislation was an example during the Bush administration of actual, real bipartisanship on the Hill, at least -- maybe not with the White House, but there was a lot of Republican --

MR. GIBBS: Right, I was going to say -- (laughter.)

Q: -- a lot of Republican support --

MR. GIBBS: The reason that we hope to sign it next week is because that bipartisanship broke down at the point of the President's signature.

Q: Yes, the President was not part of that. But in fact in the Senate there was a lot of Republican support for that bill. But, in fact, the final vote yesterday lost a lot of those Republican supporters, people like Hatch and Grassley, people who had been part of that. And they complained that, hey, if we can't even do this bill, in what they view as a bipartisan way, how are we going to do bigger bills like stimulus or health care reform in a bipartisan way? Could you address that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I didn't watch the debate. Obviously, a 66-32 -- I think that was the vote -- I think is a pretty strong endorsement on a bipartisan -- in a bipartisan fashion for a priority that as you mentioned has been shared by Democrats and Republicans, but never made it to the desk of the President -- or I'm sorry, made it to the desk of the President, but never made it past that point.

It's long been a priority of this President, and obviously this President's Chief of Staff. It's a piece of legislation that will continue to cover 6 to 7 million children, and increase and expand that coverage by an additional 4 million more. I think that you heard the President talk in the campaign about how important it was to cover -- particularly cover children.

So the President looks forward to bringing Democrats and Republicans to the White House, hopefully soon, maybe as early as next week, to sign that bill into law and to expand health coverage for millions of currently uncovered children.

Yes, sir.

Q: What's the President's expectations for this weekend's elections in Iraq? And how much will they be a litmus test, in terms of security, as he makes his decisions on the draw-down of troops?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President will watch the results, and believes that the provincial elections this weekend mark another significant milestone in Iraq's democratic development. There are a series of elections that will happen throughout the country throughout the rest of the year -- an important year, again, for that democratic development to continue.

Separately, the President has met with military advisors, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary, commanders on the ground in the region over the past almost two weeks, to hear from them and quite honestly, for them to hear from him about a way forward in Iraq, Afghanistan. And also, I think as I mentioned yesterday, a fairly lengthy and engaged discussion at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs this week on the health of the military force that we have right now. I think the Pentagon said this, and it's true that we expect that we'll have recommendations and decisions on moving forward on Iraq quite soon.

April.

Q: Robert, what are the guarantees of the stimulus package -- as the last stimulus package made little impact, or so economists have said.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at the way that this stimulus package is structured, particularly as it relates to the last stimulus package, I think you'll see that we took into account some of the shortfalls in both size, scope, and implementation. I think it's safe to say that the President wanted something that he believed would be big enough to get the economy moving.

We've talked about it in this room. The government is out of a lot of options as it relates to monetary policy. And that a fiscal stimulus targeted in the right way that puts money in people's pockets and uses spending to create jobs can have, as Christina Romer said, an impact in lessening what we believe has already been and will continue to be a fairly deep recession. And we talked yesterday about -- in a couple of answers, changing, for instance, the way some of the tax cuts are structured to individuals in a way that is likely to see them receive and spend that money far more quickly than they would if we simply handed them one lump sum; instead to spread out an increase in that pay over a period of time in which people are likely to get more used to having that money in their paycheck and in their pocket and spending that money.

So I think a lot of those issues were taken into account. You see money for infrastructure, for projects that are proven and ready to go. You see investments in a clean energy economy that we believe will stimulate job growth. All of those I think are taken into account in order to get the economy moving again.

Q: So the question was, are there guarantees, is there a guarantee of some sort of stimulation for job growth for a loosening of the credit?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the CEA chair has said that she believes and her estimation is that this is a piece of legislation that can save or create 3 to 4 million jobs. Again, I think if you go back and look at those reports, we're talking about graphs that cushion the downward blow some.

But make no mistake that there are big challenges economically. The President talked this week with Republicans in the House and Senate about not just a recovery plan but a stability package, and there will be some meetings next week at the White House relating to reregulation of the financial industry to greatly assure that the structure that enabled some of what happened -- most recently to happen doesn't come again on this President or another President's watch; that that's very important and that only by addressing each of those aspects of the challenges that we face in our economy will we be adequately -- able to adequately address those challenges and move the economy forward.

Peter.

Q: Robert, for Americans who are looking at these GDP numbers, these unemployment numbers and who may be alarmed, may be worried about their own jobs, Americans who are unemployed, what is the -- what is the White House's message? Essentially is it that if we pass this recovery package, if we reregulate the financial sector, if we take these steps, maybe in a year or two these numbers will reverse themselves; in the meantime, hang on? What would the President say to folks who are just alarmed, frankly, by some of these economic trends?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me quote him. I think he would likely tell you that if Congress and the President can work together across party lines, put aside differences, and get something good for the American people, then help would be on the way.

The President understands that people have hit hard times. He spent two years on the road and heard about these problems, quite honestly, long before some of these statistics ever started being spit out by a government computer or out of an agency.

We traveled a long way and met a lot of people that had lost jobs or seen their jobs go overseas or were having trouble with mortgage payments for quite some time.

The President in September of 2007, when it was a little lonely out there, went to Nasdaq and Wall Street to talk about reregulating the financial industry, something that didn't seem as prescient at the time, but a year later we were probably emailing you drafts of that speech.

The President understands that people are hurting and believes that we have a unique opportunity in this town to bridge our usual partisan differences to get the economy moving again, and that that's what the American people expect and, quite frankly, that's what they deserve.

Q: Mr. Gibbs.

MR. GIBBS: Let me see --

Q: Robert, Robert --

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: More and more people in Europe are demanding financial stability in the United States. Is the President considering a conference of global solution to this crisis?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday -- and I know the G20 is going to meet in April -- that unless or until we all act in some ways to address the problems that each of us has -- not through some global solution, but each of us working together -- that unless or until we do that, you're going to see a solution only have a partial impact on the health of the global economy. I know that -- you know, one of the things that the President hopes to put on his agenda domestically is that reregulation that I just talked about.

I think that's certainly important for this country and for other countries to have that kind of confidence in the economic system both here and abroad, to not just understand what happened, to respond to it and to get it moving again. And that through the course of all those things -- again, in September -- this was a few days after the collapse of Lehman Brothers -- one of the things that he specifically said is that we need to take actions together as part of the G20 to ensure that this doesn't happen again and that we address a series of solutions that doesn't cause capital to swing from one country to the other because one country is making improvements in their banking system while another doesn't, and you see dramatic shifts in capital and swings in that way.

Steve.

Q: Robert, what is he going to do about the trial being -- going ahead at -- the fellow accused of blowing up the USS Cole?

MR. GIBBS: Sure. Well, as I said yesterday after the ruling, after we received the ruling, or read about it on -- at news reports, that we were in consultation with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice as it relates to that, and we continue those consultations -- just as we continue to review the cases at Guantanamo Bay, consistent with the President's executive orders to do so, with the strong goal of ensuring swift justice. That's -- and the safety of the American people. That's what we owe the families of those that were -- that have been injured or killed as a result of terrorist activities, and that's what we owe the American people in order to keep them safe.

Q: How does he approach this? Does he approach this as an interested party filing a motion in court, as he did originally, or is the Commander-in-Chief, who can tell the military what to do?

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that one more time?

Q: How is he approaching this? You say he's talking to both the Justice Department and Defense. Is he approaching it as a lawyer who is going to file a motion and request something to happen, or as the Commander-in-Chief?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not get ahead of that consultation. I think that -- it's safe to say that the President has been a critic of this process, that it's, in many ways, failed to meet that very test of swift justice. So not just in this case but in reviewing all these cases, the goal is to bring about that swift justice and protect the American people. I know the Counsel's Office here, as I said, is in contact with the Pentagon and Justice to see what are the next steps that are involved, and at some point, before I get questions about what those next steps are, as soon as we finish those consultations, we'll go forward.

Q: Robert, with the Iraqi elections coming up this weekend, how concerned are you that external forces, neighbors of Iraq, specifically Iran and Syria, might play a role that is not in the best interest of the democracy --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not -- I don't want to go into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen other than to say that, you know, we're going to obviously watch these elections, watch their outcome, and believe that Saturday marks just another -- that Saturday marks a very important continued milestone for democratic development in Iraq, and that as the President laid out, that one of the -- one of the goals of his review process as it relates to our forces in Iraq is to give more responsibility for security and governing to the Iraqi government. And I think these elections, again, mark an important milestone towards achieving that and, we hope very soon, to giving them more of that opportunity and more of that responsibility.

Q: Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Let me do the week ahead real fast.

Q: Just one more, sir.

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I'm going to do week ahead, and then I'm going to go try to get some tea for my throat, Goyal.

Saturday, the only thing I have right now on the President's schedule -- and I will double-check this -- is he will attend the Alfalfa Dinner. Nothing says change like the Alfalfa Dinner. (Laughter.)

Q: Will he be speaking?

Q: What would he like to say to Sarah Palin? (Laughter.)

Q: Will he be speaking there?

MR. GIBBS: He will speak there.

Q: What's the coverage on that?

MR. GIBBS: And I think I just took his first joke.

The President will watch the Super Bowl here. We will send out a list of friends and colleagues that will watch the game here. The President -- and I apologize, this is going to be somewhat oblique -- will have meetings and announcements here at the White House Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. (Laughter.)

Q: Will there be a press conference on Thursday?

MR. GIBBS: Mine does not say that.

Q: Williamsburg excursion?

MR. GIBBS: He will attend the Democratic Senate retreat on Wednesday. On Thursday morning the President will speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, and will travel to Williamsburg for the Democratic House retreat on Thursday night. So I will endeavor to see if there are any other additions to the schedule for the weekend.

Q: That's not an overnight, is it? Just there and back?

MR. GIBBS: I do not believe -- I think it's just there and back. Do we know -- we'll figure that out, but I think it's just a night --

Q: And the topic on the radio address?

MR. GIBBS: The economy. (Laughter.) We will get you guys -- we'll get you the address early so that you're not up at 6:00 a.m.

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys. Have a good weekend.

END 2:46 P.M. EST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," January 30, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85698.
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