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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
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Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
January 28, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:36 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, guys. Before we get started, I wanted to introduce Secretary Salazar, who is going to make his second trip as our Secretary of the Interior tomorrow -- he's going to go out West. And I've invited him here to talk a little bit about the reform agenda that he's going to take with him on that trip, and answer a few questions. And then we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

So, Secretary.

SECRETARY SALAZAR: Thank you, Robert.

President Obama has immediately set high ethical standards for all of government as part of his reform agenda. As part of that commitment and implementing the reform agenda, I intend to do my part in the Department of Interior to make sure that scandals that have occurred in the past are properly dealt with, and that the problems that we uncover are fixed so that they don't occur again.

President Obama immediately made clear that the type of ethical transgressions, the blatant conflicts of interest, waste and abuses that we have seen over the last eight years will no longer be tolerated. Nowhere is President Obama's commitment to reform and to cleaning up the waste, fraud and abuse of the past more important than at the Department of Interior, which I now lead on his behalf.

Over the last eight years, the Department of Interior has been tarnished by ethical lapses, of criminal behavior that has extended to the very highest levels of government. The former deputy secretary of the department under the Bush administration, Steven Griles, was sent to prison. It is a department that the American people associate with Jack Abramoff. And it is a department that was tarnished by a scandal involving sex, drugs and inappropriate gifts from the oil and gas companies that the employees were in charge of overseeing.

The Lakewood, Colorado, office of the Minerals Management Service is taxed with making sure that taxpayers, the American taxpayers, collect their fair share from oil and gas development on their public lands. Last year that office collected $23 billion. That's $23 billion on behalf of the American people. Yet during the last administration, some of the employees of that office violated the public trust by accepting gifts and employment contracts from the very oil and gas companies that they were supposed to be holding accountable.

Some employees engaged in blatant and criminal conflicts of interest and self-dealing. It is one of the worst examples of corruption, abuse and of government putting special interests before the public interest.

Tomorrow I will be traveling to the Lakewood MMS office to meet with the employees. I there will be announcing our own review of what happened, what has been done to address it, and what additional steps need to be taken.

It will be clear that we will no longer tolerate those types of lapses at any level of government, from political appointees or career employees. This is only the first step of our long-term effort to enact comprehensive top-to-bottom reforms within the Department of Interior. The American people should be proud of their government, all of their government. Those who work for the government should be proud of their service to the American people. We will work to reform the Department of the Interior, to restore the public's trust and confidence in the highest levels of ethics and accountability that the American people deserve.

And with that, I'd be happy to take a few questions from the audience.

Q: Secretary, what about -- can you clarify where the administration is right now on whether you're going to overturn the Bush policy on exploring offshore oil and gas drilling, et cetera?

SECRETARY SALAZAR: With respect to the Outer Continental Shelf, as President Obama made very clear during the campaign, we will look at the OCS in connection with a comprehensive energy program for the nation. One of the signature issues that President Obama will work on very hard, has worked on very hard, and will continue to work on very hard is the development of a comprehensive energy strategy. We need to address the economic opportunity here at home, the environmental insecurity that comes from global warming, and also the national security issues.

And so, as we move forward with the development of our oil and gas resources, both onshore and offshore, it has to be a part of a set of a comprehensive energy program.

Q: So do you believe there should be more?

Q: Does that mean it's on hold? It means there will be no drilling under this order until you've done this review; is that what that means?

SECRETARY SALAZAR: No, not at all. The current status of the OCS --

Q: I mean, no expansion -- obviously there is some now -- but expansion -- are you saying that expansion is on hold pending this comprehensive energy policy?

SECRETARY SALAZAR: The status of the OCS right now is that the five-year plan of the Department of Interior that governs the OCS has been opened up, okay? And so it is now a plan that is being formulated. And as that plan gets formulated it is going to have to fit in with a comprehensive energy plan that President Obama wants for the nation, which is a signature issue and one in which the Department of Interior will be intimately involved in supporting the President's goals to get America to a point of energy independence for all the reasons that I articulated earlier.

Q: Mr. Secretary, during the transition, the co-chair of the transition for President Obama, John Podesta, said that the President would be overturning some of the executive orders and presidential orders President Bush had put into place about oil and gas exploration on federal lands. We have not seen any executive orders or presidential orders overturning them, and I'm wondering if they're pending, and if you think it's wise to limit where the United States is able to explore for energy during this time of energy crisis, where we're getting all our oil from abroad.

SECRETARY SALAZAR: The answer to that question is that there are a number of different regulations and actions that were taken by the Bush administration, some of them in the midnight hour as their term expired here, and we have all of those on the table and we're taking a look at them. There are some which are bad and which need a new direction. There are probably some which will be kept in place. And so we are now in the process, having now been in the Department of Interior's position, really, for only about a week, at taking a look at all of these regulations.

On the more fundamental issue which I think you are addressing, which is the approach to oil and gas development -- it has to be done in the context of a comprehensive energy plan. And it also has to be done with the right kind of balance. There are places where it is appropriate to explore and to develop oil and gas resources, and there are places that are not appropriate. And so that's part of what we'll move forward with in the agenda at the Department of Interior.

Q: Of the incidents that you cited in your opening statement, were most of those political appointees? Were some career? And in the week in which you've been in office, have any ongoing ethics violations been brought to your attention?

SECRETARY SALAZAR: The report the Inspector General referred to -- there are actually three investigations that were conducted by the Inspector General -- some of them had to do with very high-level employees within the Department of Interior and engaging in self-dealing and other kinds of inappropriate relations with outside interests. Some of the -- two of the investigations dealt with gifts and sex and drugs actually taking place in transactions in the very government buildings where MMS has its responsibilities. So we're taking a look at that, and tomorrow we'll have some additional announcements on where we want to take all those issues.

Q: But are they political appointees, or are they career people who are still working for you?

SECRETARY SALAZAR: They're both. They're both.

Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Thank you.

SECRETARY SALAZAR: Now you get the hot seat.

MR. GIBBS: Exactly. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY SALAZAR: Can I sit up here and watch you -- (sits in Helen Thomas's seat.) (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: He wants to sit -- there you go. (Laughter.)

Q: Don't block my view. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Under one condition, that I don't get any hard questions from you in the middle of that -- in the middle of that chair. I might have --

Q: -- questions to ask him.

MR. GIBBS: I might have spoken far too soon.

Q: Ask him something we don't know about -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Yes. And definitely no talking to those guys on either side of you who -- I'm going to get asked about some acreage leasing on --

Q: The first time we have a Secretary in the first row.

MR. GIBBS: He's -- well, I want to say this was helpfully provided to my by CBS News so that I would -- (laughter) -- this is day nine of the Obama presidency -- a service of CBS News. So I thought I would -- got a kick out of that. I thought that was pretty good.

Let me make a few announcements before we entertain everyone but Secretary Salazar's questions. The President has made a call to President Motlanthe of South Africa. And we'll have a readout on that at the conclusion of this. The President met -- had his economic daily briefing this morning in the Oval Office. In addition to Secretary Geithner and Dr. Summers, he was joined by Paul Volcker, who, as you know, is in charge of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And the main topic of discussion was financial reregulation, a topic that the President spoke about yesterday on Capitol Hill, and you'll hear certainly more of as we move forward.

Lastly, as you all know, the President intends to make his first foreign trip as President to Canada. He will make that trip on February the 19th. Canada is a vitally important ally, and the President looks forward to the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Harper and visit our neighbor to the north. So please add that to your appropriate planning schedules.

And lastly, the President looks forward to the House's action this evening on a recovery and reinvestment plan that he believes tonight is likely to take an important first step in getting our economy back on track and saving -- plan to save or create 3 or 4 million jobs, as I said, begin to get our economy moving again. The President looks forward to that vote, and we'll have some comments on that later. I think, again, tonight starts the beginning of what we know is going to be a long process as it relates to that, but I think tonight will be a very important first step.

With that -- Jennifer.

Q: Thanks. I want to talk about the meeting he's having at the Pentagon this afternoon. You talked, and Secretary Gates has talked about a process that's underway. There was the meeting last week, there's the meeting today, there's going to be one specifically on Afghanistan next week, there will be others. But can you talk a little bit more about how long you guys expect this process to take, how it works? I mean, you said yesterday that he has to go through all this in order to make decisions on the troop posture. And there are several different options, different formulations being put together at the Pentagon, being presented to him of how he can do what it is he wants to do. So can you just explain more about how this is going to work?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. Well, I think the most important thing -- and the President spoke about this, as many of you heard, throughout the campaign, and both during the transition and now as President of the United States -- that -- and as I said yesterday, the Secretary of Defense was very clear on this -- that he wanted to put everybody that was involved in these decisions in front of the President so the President could hear all of their advice.

The President committed, as a part of this process, to speak with commanders both on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as region-wide commanders, to get their perspective as he laid out a new mission for Iraq. I think everybody understands that the developments over the past few months in Iraq, with the status of forces agreement that puts an end date on our involvement there -- we're no longer involved in a debate about whether, but how and when. That's a process the President wants to take seriously; wants to ensure the safety of our troops as we remove our combat brigades; wants to, as I've said repeatedly, provide the responsibility and the opportunity for the Iraqis to do more in governing their own country; and as I said, to do this in a way that seeks the consultation of all those leaders.

The process began on the 21st, as you guys know, in the Situation Room, continues today at the Pentagon. I think there will be at least one more meeting that will involve General McKiernan to discuss specifically Afghanistan.

I don't anticipate the process will take an inordinate amount of time. I think one of the things the President expects to hear today, and one of the -- what we all heard yesterday in the testimony from Secretary Gates is how important improving our position in Afghanistan is, and secondly, how we are at a point now where many of our forces are stretched very, very thin, and the burden that we put on not just the soldiers every day, but on the many family members that stay here and pray for their loved ones and care for their children.

So I think we've got a deliberate process that the President will be able to receive that information and make some key determinations as we change that mission in Iraq.

Q: So can you be more specific about when we might hear from him?

MR. GIBBS: I think it will be relatively soon. I don't want to set an exact date, though I think it will be relatively shortly. I think the President and -- the President has received a lot of information; the Pentagon has been planning for quite some time -- partly because of the new agreements. They understand -- everyone understands that our force structure there will change, but that we have to do so in a way that protects the troops that we have there now.

Q: Robert, can you talk about the policy toward Afghanistan? Specifically, the New York Times article today said that there was going to be a shift in the policy, more emphasis on fighting insurgents, less emphasis on development. Can you talk about that?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me -- I guess before I get into some of the back-and-forth, let me try to clarify some of I think what we believed was erroneous reporting overnight.

As I just said, there is a review of our policy in Afghanistan. That policy review continues in order to ensure our success in that region, but that that policy review is not yet completed. Secondly, we support the democratically elected President of Afghanistan. And lastly, the President has emphasized in the campaign and in the transition and emphasizes now the importance of long-term development both in Afghanistan and in the region.

I mean, I think one of the interesting things when we were involved in the meeting on Iraq was you didn't just have, sitting around that table or on the video conference, you didn't just have members of the military or the military planning. You had Ambassador Crocker, who was providing a very important political update on upcoming elections and the political environment in Iraq, as well as at that meeting the State Department was represented by former Ambassador Burns.

The President has long believed that whether it's in Iraq or in Afghanistan, that there -- though it's the central front on the war on terror in Afghanistan, or whether it relates to Afghanistan or Iraq, that there's not simply a military solution to that problem; that only through long-term and sustainable development can we ever hope to turn around what's going on there.

So I would caution you -- I know the importance of getting stories out into newspapers; they may not altogether be finished by the time they get printed.

Q: But he's talked about the Europeans may be focusing more on the development, so the development wouldn't be forgotten about, but the Americans would focus on fighting insurgency. Is that part of it realistic --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the -- and I think the President certainly has talked about this; you all heard him talk about it particularly on his trip overseas during the campaign and in his speech in Berlin, and in his discussions recently with leaders in Europe, he's talked to them not only about increased troop commitments, but also on that development piece that's so crucial.

But again, before we read too much into what was in that report, I think it's important to understand that the review -- the comprehensive review that this administration has undertaken about our policy in Afghanistan is not yet complete. So I caution you to say that a lot of decisions have thus been made based on an incomplete report.

Q: Okay. Also, his relationship with Karzai -- he met with Karzai last July -- the article suggests that he's no longer going to be doing the video conferences that President Bush did.

MR. GIBBS: That's -- well, again, that's part of the policy review, and when that's completed, we'll have a better sense of what that is. Again, we support the democratically elected President of Afghanistan, and look forward to working with him and with others to ensure peace and stability and safety in the region.

Q: Robert, building on the eloquent comments of Secretary Salazar about ethics and accountability in government, is the President bothered at all that Secretary Geithner has picked as his chief of staff a former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs who has obviously -- that company has benefitted from government bailouts. Doesn't that punch a hole in what the President signed just last week in terms of preventing lobbyists like that from serving in his administration?

MR. GIBBS: No, the President -- well, let's -- again, let's step back and talk about the broader issue of ethics and transparency in this administration. As I've said from this podium, and as you all read in papers throughout the country, that the ethics and transparency executive orders that the President signed the first day institute a policy that covers this administration unlike any policy we've seen in any previous administration in the history of our country. The President spoke about this during the campaign, but he also spoke about the notion that no policy was going to be perfect. The President, in his election campaign, didn't take money from lobbyists or from PACs -- again, not a perfect policy, but a step in the right direction of changing the way Washington works.

We've talked about the fact that there are people that are good public servants who wish to serve their government again, who are -- through some stringent ethics requirements and recusals, they will be able to participate in helping this government. But we have, again, the strongest ethics and transparency policy that govern the executive branch and the workings of this White House that we've seen in the history of our country.

Q: But if it's a strong -- even if it's a strong policy, does it mean anything if people are getting waivers to go around it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, you know, let's caution ourselves as to the number of people that are going to work both in this building and in the executive branch and how many waivers we have. Again, I think if the people that follow this issue most closely, whether it's political analysts or think tanks throughout this city who have seen the way this city works, have seen the revolving door and watched how administrations conduct their business, have rendered the conclusion that the policy that we have is the strongest that any administration in the history of our country has had, I think that speaks for itself.

Those very same people that labeled that policy the strongest of any administration in history also said they thought it made sense for a limited number of waivers to ensure that people could continue to serve the public.

Q: Senator Mitchell, in fact, right now is in the Mideast, and Bloomberg has reported that the firm that he chaired -- they have all kinds of lobbying clients in the Mideast, for example. So how can he go to the Mideast when his -- the firm --

MR. GIBBS: Let's not take a lot of things and misconstrue, right? You know, let's not take --

Q: Which part is misconstrued?

MR. GIBBS: Well, has Senator Mitchell lobbied?

Q: He is not registered lobbyist, but he is chair --

MR. GIBBS: Okay. So let's not --

Q: -- business, so isn't that another way to get around it?

MR. GIBBS: I assume that maybe media organizations are owned by different businesses that conduct different things that might not altogether represent the interests of the media interest in general. But let's not take a group and an example and try to squish it into something that it's not.

Q: He's been the head of a firm that has all kinds of lobbyists with business in the Mideast and all around the world --

MR. GIBBS: But you asked me about --

Q: -- website says they have all these contacts in the Mideast. And so, even if he's technically not lobbying, this firm is making money off of his --

MR. GIBBS: I hate to be ticky-tack about it, but technically he's not lobbying.

Q: He's not a registered lobbyist, but you know how --

MR. GIBBS: But, Ed, to lobby the federal government you have to be registered. I mean, I hate to -- I understand the semantic hurdles that you're setting forward for the policy, but let's understand, he wasn't a lobbyist, he wasn't registered to lobby, and if you're not registered to lobby you can't be a lobbyist. That's why people have rendered the policy to be the strongest that it's been for any administration.

Q: But, Robert, the broader point is what's the point of having the strongest policy if you're going to have waivers, especially at key posts that are some of the most high-profile and most important --

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- we will distribute to you the quotes from the people that rendered the decision that we have the strongest lobbying and transparency proposals, but also spoke out for a limited number of waivers to ensure that highly qualified people can serve in the public interest.

But again, we have a policy that governs this White House and this administration unlike anything that has been covered from this room or has been seen in this city. That's the bottom line, and that's irrefutable.

Jake.

Q: Robert, on the stimulus package, the President yesterday told a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that there was spending in the bill that he didn't like. And obviously he took action, calling Congressman Waxman to remove the part having to do with birth control. Now, there is a $335 million provision for education for sexually transmitted diseases. There still is in the bill $50 million funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. And that's the House. And I understand your emphasis in the Senate, but in the Senate there are earmarked projects, as well: $70 million for a supercomputer for NOAA, $75 million for education for smoking cessation. President Obama can tell these Democratic senators and members of the House, take the stuff out of the bill. He obviously did so with Congressman Waxman. Why doesn't he do it for all these earmarks?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me talk a little bit about what he said yesterday at these meetings, because he said that there's no doubt this will produce a process whereby every person does not like 100 percent of every part of the bill, but that would be true whether Democrats were writing the bill, or Republicans were writing the bill. And he said that to two rooms full of Republicans, of which I think there was pretty broad agreement.

This is a process based on a series of principles and framework that our economic team and the President sent to Capitol Hill to create a plan that we believe will move this economy along. I know there is a tendency, and there always will be, to focus on, as I mentioned yesterday, 2/100ths of 1 percent of a piece of legislation. I have a hard time believing that the 98/100ths of the other 99 percent aren't the large focus of members of Congress that are going to vote both today and over the course of the next few weeks.

Q: President Obama had that problem, calling Chairman Waxman and telling him to remove 2/100ths of 1 percent from the bill when he saw that it was a hurdle.

MR. GIBBS: But again, let's focus on the larger picture. Let's focus on the fact that we have $275 billion in tax cuts to put money directly into the pockets of hardworking Americans that will spend that money and get our economy moving again. Let's focus on the fact that there is $550 billion in spending that will put people back to work.

But as we get focused on this number and that number and 2/100ths of 1 percent and all this kind of stuff, understand what we've seen in just the last 48 hours, Jake: 70,000 people since Monday have gotten pink slips from the companies that they work for, right? The unemployment figures that came out just yesterday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found every state in the country's -- every state in the country saw job loss. Every state in the country. The layoffs continue today, with Boeing announcing an additional 10,000 jobs that will be shed over the course of the year.

Q: That's precisely my point. Wouldn't it be better to take that $75 million, instead of sending it to a smoking cessation program, to send it to these people that are out of work?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the vast majority, the great bulk of that bill, does exactly that. We hope that Republicans and Democrats alike look at not just whatever page you're focusing on but whatever other pages they've decided not to focus on, and understand that the program that is being crafted -- and it will change -- there's a great tendency, and we've done this over the last few days in this room, to try to figure out what the score of the baseball game is after the third inning, okay? My team would probably be great if we stopped doing that. This is a long process that we hope is concluded by President's Day recess, because -- and the President heard this from CEOs today -- we can't afford to wait. We have to act.

Tonight the House, we believe, will take an important step. We think if members focus on this bill they'll see that it moves the economy forward; that money will be spent in this economy, 75 percent of it in the first 18 months; that jobs will be created, jobs will be saved, money will get put back into people's pockets. This, along with a financial stability package, reregulation, and a plan to deal with home foreclosures, will push this economy forward and put people back to work. And hopefully one day we can come up here and I won't have to answer a question based on the fact that another company has decided to lay off 2,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 people.

Q: The President was incredibly well received yesterday by Republicans. They called him everything from sincere, to nice, to brilliant. One said he talks more like a Republican than a Democrat. I mean, they obviously like him and they think he's very serious about this. Yet it appears he has had no effect on the vote -- perhaps a handful or a couple of votes. Is it frustrating or disappointing to him to go up there, to be so well received and have no effect on the vote?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, this is a many-vote, many-day process. There will be a vote tonight, there will be a vote next week, there will be votes the weeks after that, until we eventually have what we think will be a bipartisan proposal to get this economy moving again. Again, I hesitate to call the game after the third inning. I hate to declare the winner. I hate to declare that -- I know we'll have analysis to write, but let's not stop after the third inning and tell us who won in the ninth. It's a long process --

Q: But don't --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on -- look, I don't -- the President, as I said from this podium yesterday, believes that the three or so hours he spent on Capitol Hill were well spent yesterday. We're having bipartisan leaders come down to the White House tonight. Congress Wamp of Tennessee said that what he saw from the President yesterday was not a PR stunt, that it was sincere, as the quotes that you read suggest. The President is very serious about this. Whether it all happens overnight in terms of votes, we'll wait and see. But my sense is that over the long run, listening to both parties, changing the way this town works and listens to each other is important not just as we focus on this piece of legislation, but as we focus on the many ideas and the many pieces of legislation that are going to have to be undertaken in order to move the economy forward.

Q: Can I, Robert, follow up -- and I'd like to give it to Secretary Salazar, if I could -- no. I want to ask about --

MR. GIBBS: He's going to ask me a softball --

Q: -- the cocktail party tonight. What was the genesis of that idea? And it's evenly divided, six and six, I believe, from the House, and five and five, party-wise from the Senate --

MR. GIBBS: That's so the basketball games are easier. (Laughter.)

Q: Is that going to be the way it is around here? Is he going to have just as many Republicans visiting him here as Democrats? And is he going to see the Republicans just as often on the Hill as the Democrats? Is it going to be that bipartisan?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the second part -- as I said yesterday, I don't -- the offer was made; he accepted that offer to come to Capitol Hill yesterday. Congressman Pence invited him back and said the door was always open. And I said I thought the President would likely take him up on that opportunity. He's serious about that.

I don't know the particular ratios of tonight. I think it's -- we have an equal number of leaders on both sides of the aisle and in both the House and the Senate that the President looks forward to getting to know better, to being able to establish a strong working relationship with, to move the priorities of the American people forward.

At the end of the day, the President understands that both he and Congress will be judged by what we can all do for the American people. And I think that is a step in this process toward being able to work together and provide some hope and hopefully some better times for the American people.

Q: Robert, the head of the CBO went up to the Senate Budget Committee today and said that the TARP, the financial bailout, hundreds of billions of dollars short. Do you guys concur with that assessment from the CBO?

MR. GIBBS: I have -- I did not see that report before I came out here. I know that, as I've said, the economic team continues to work on a series of proposals for the President to look at. Again, during the economic daily briefing the President had today, he had Mr. Volcker in to talk about financial reregulation. What we talked about yesterday on Capitol Hill was not one thing or one aspect that will solve our economic crisis, but instead, how an economic recovery and reinvestment plan, a financial stability package, and a reregulation package all together can help move the economy forward.

The one thing I did see -- now that you've mentioned our good friends at the CBO -- the CBO says that without stimulus, "the shortfall in the nation's output relative to its potential would be the largest -- in terms of both length and depth -- since the Great Depression." I think those are clear words from the Congressional Budget Office in understanding if anyone needed any more numbers to understand how very important it is that the House take these important steps tonight and that the Senate soon follow, and ultimately we get to the President's desk a recovery and reinvestment plan.

Q: It's my understand that the conversation with Senate Republicans with the President had to do a lot with the bigger picture --

MR. GIBBS: It did.

Q: -- of the economic environment. Did he get suggestions of how -- because if this CBO report is true, and it sounds like you believe -- you like to quote from the CBO, so you must believe that they --

MR. GIBBS: There are occasions in which I have read the CBO.

Q: -- this is accurate reporting -- did they give you suggestions of how you can sell the American people on this idea that you're going to have to get billions of more dollars in taxpayer money?

MR. GIBBS: I think the main message -- and I struggle every day just to be the spokesperson for one individual in this town, so I very much hesitate to speak for an entire group --

Q: But you were in the room.

MR. GIBBS: I was in the room, so let me give you my impression, which was, the main message that I heard -- and I heard it again on cable this morning from members -- Republican members of the Senate -- was that -- and this is a concept the President agrees quite strongly with -- and that is that one aspect of this alone isn't going to solve our problems and isn't going to fully or adequately address the economic crisis; that only by addressing each of the legs of this stool will we create something that can stand on its own.

I don't think they got -- I don't recall, at least, getting into specific numbers. You know, they -- I think both the President and Senate Republicans understand the urgency of the next set of funds being used differently, more transparently, with a far greater eye to actual lending of money. We've all been reminded in the last couple days how entities can get money from the American taxpayers and seek to use it poorly. And thankfully, that, I think because of the outrage of Capitol Hill and some phone calls, got stopped. But the focus was more on the notion that many things had to happen in order for our economy to get moving again. I think Senate Republicans and I think the President are heartened that there is agreement that tackling one won't solve it; we are going to have to work together and on parallel tracks to address many of these problems over the course of --

Q: Is it fair to characterize it that he wasn't just lobbying for a stimulus, he was lobbying for all three legs of the stool --

MR. GIBBS: I think he was agreeing with the discussion that each of these aspects is extremely important if we are to see the economy recover and Americans get put back to work.

Q: Robert, all of these pages that you see as being selectively picked apart when questions are raised about they add up to a lot of money in tight times -- to what extent do you see any further paring of those kinds of programs before this thing comes out of conference and goes to a final vote?

MR. GIBBS: I think this largely proves my somewhat maybe possibly weak baseball analogy that, again, this is a -- if the vote is happening in the third inning, we've still got six more innings to go. So you can look at each one of these things each and every day; I think it's more important to see where we end up.

Q: They keep score each inning.

MR. GIBBS: They do. They do. But they don't declare winners -- you get up and stretch at one point during the game and there's a man that says you can't buy beer after a certain time. But the umpire doesn't declare the game over except for one point in the game. (Laughter.) So I guess I would stress that even if you get up to stretch and buy beer, they only call one winner. So let's hope that that one winner is the American people because both teams have worked together.

Q: Oooh!

Q: Wow!

MR. GIBBS: I'll take two. I'll -- (laughter.) Yes, sir.

Q: To follow up on that, the President today and previously has talked about skepticism. Aren't these the very kinds of programs that engender skepticism? Smoking cessation programs and these kinds of things?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, here's my point, is let's write a story on the money that's going to go to rebuild schools that the President visited, like the ones in South Carolina that haven't been refurbished or redone since I think it was 1899. Right? I think there's a lot more money that goes to something like that, that will put people back to work in South Carolina, which has seen its unemployment rate grow to 9.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics just yesterday. Or let's focus on building roads and bridges in a place like Michigan, that's watched its unemployment rate increased to 10.6 percent as of yesterday, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Or any other investments in jobs, or health care, or energy in a place like California that watched 80,000 jobs be shed just last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I think we can get focused on a lot of different things. I think it is important to understand and to look at the long view of this, to understand that there are committee processes, there's votes, there's the Rules Committee, there's the floor, there's amendments, there's final passage -- there's all these fancy legislative terms. But let's look at the final product that we get, and understand that the President hopes, sincerely hopes, that each person looks at the totality of the package and what it will do to get the economy moving again.

Q: Robert, a logistical question -- can we expect to hear from him after the House vote?

MR. GIBBS: We will have something for you after that vote. I'm not entirely sure what form it will take.

Q: Robert, I'd like to go back to the oil drilling, OCS. Is it the goal, or once this review is completed, will there be more oil drilling? Or will there be little change?

MR. GIBBS: Let me get some legislative advice on this as it relates to where we are in the policy. I know that Congress did not renew the ban on offshore oil drilling. The President, as the Secretary said, supports some new drilling as it relates to a larger and more comprehensive energy independence plan. I think you heard the President say throughout the campaign, much like the financial crisis that we face, that it's not one thing that's likely to -- that we're likely to do on any given day and wake up and be far less dependent on foreign oil. It's not going to just be drilling offshore, just like it's not just going to be wind or solar energy, or just going to be biofuels. It's going to be all of those things taken together. I think that's what the President hopes to do. I think a down payment on that larger investment to getting ourselves to energy independence is contained within the recovery and reinvestment plan that he thinks and hopes will move forward.

Q: I understand that. But he shifted his position when the gas was about 4 bucks a gallon.

MR. GIBBS: I think both candidates shifted their position. Amazing how politicians can do that as it relates to the whims of their constituents.

Q: But what I'm getting at is will there likely be more drilling once this review --

MR. GIBBS: I think that, as I said yesterday, the President supports increased exploration, domestically, for more energy, just as the President also believes that that will only make a difference if we take a whole series of steps to both reduce the demand, as well as increase an energy supply to make ourselves truly energy independent.

Q: Robert, I want to start with Afghanistan. And if you'd be kind enough, I want to ask a follow-up on the economic stimulus. Yesterday, Secretary Gates said the following: "We need to be very careful about the nature of our goals we set for ourselves in Afghanistan." He also said, "The civilian casualties are doing U.S. and NATO forces enormous harm." As the review goes forward, can you tell the American people what are the specific goals for this new policy in Afghanistan, and how will the implementation of that policy confront this issue of civilian casualties?

And also on Afghanistan, Secretary Gates said he believes NATO nations are now more prepared than they were under President Bush to offer more forces in Afghanistan. Since you've given us written readouts on the President's calls with NATO leaders on Afghanistan, is Secretary Gates right in making this assertion?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm certainly not going to question Secretary Gates' assertion. I think those are backed up by discussions that both the President has had as well as the Secretary has had. I think honestly the best answer to what our goals are in Afghanistan, as well as the path that we have to take to ensure that we meet those goals, is best contained in what Secretary Gates said yesterday, that it's going to take quite some time and that we have to be realistic about both that timeline and those goals.

The President said that -- and as I restated earlier -- that Afghanistan and the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan represent the central front on the war on terror; that today in those places, terrorists likely plot their next steps both against governments in that region, as well as against us. And the safety and the security of the American people are utmost on the President's agenda. Through that comprehensive review, we'll adjust whatever we need to, to meet goals and time lines as it relates to Afghanistan.

Go ahead.

Q: That's it on Afghanistan? Okay. On the economic stimulus, Alice Rivlin -- Democrat, supporter of this President -- has looked at spending to create jobs both from a congressional perspective and from the Office of Management and Budget -- said yesterday that she's concerned that, structurally, the stimulus plan doesn't focus all of its attention on immediate job creation; that there's programmatic things -- some of them have been raised here in the briefing today -- that while it may be preferable and maybe should be done, shouldn't be in a stimulus plan; that the stimulus plan should focus 100 percent of its spending and legislative intensity on immediate job creation. Is the structural debate over what's going to be in this bill over as far as the White House is concerned, and it's a just a matter of the overall dollars? How do you evaluate that, I would probably say, from her point of view, helpful criticism of the way this bill is currently structured?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there are probably opinions on either side of this debate. The President believes that the rough outlines of the plan as they are now, both in tax cuts and in direct spending, present the best way forward in helping the health of our economy. Obviously, as I said yesterday and as the -- the President will meet with Republicans today, or see Republicans today -- he's listening to ideas. I think the structure of what that might ultimately -- that ultimate structure is certainly something that will be -- that will move around and be debated not just this afternoon and tonight on the floor of the House, but later on in the Senate and in committees. And the President is ready, willing, and able to listen to good ideas, as I said yesterday. The President believes ultimately we have to get a good plan quickly to the American people.

There are, I think, some disagreements, and I would disagree with some of the characterizations of -- I've seen -- again, I've seen people say that hiring cops isn't a stimulus program. As I said yesterday, if you're about to fire cops, hiring cops is a stimulus program; it creates jobs.

I think increasing Pell grants and letting kids go to college without having to borrow tens of thousands of dollars helps our economy grow. The President is committed to ensuring that 75 percent of the money in this plan is spent out in 18 months to create jobs, but also to lay the groundwork for long-term investments and long-term economic growth. We are not going to be out of the woods after only a certain period of time. There are obviously going to be time periods after that where we're going to have to continue to do -- we're going to have to continue to make investments in order to continue that economic growth and that job growth.

This isn't a one-time deal. We are going to have to work actively, not just this year, not just next year, but likely the year after that. The stimulus program isn't going to, in and of itself, solve every problem. We've got a lot of work to do, and it's going to take a long time to get that done.

Q: Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: To follow up on Major, by your own definition, only 75 percent of this is short-term stimulus, or 65 percent, according to CBO. What was the reason for not taking that extra whatever it is, 25 or 35 percent -- which is a lot of money -- $900 billion -- since it's not short-term stimulus, however worthy an investment it might be, and actually paying for it, instead of just adding it to the deficit, since by your definition it's not short-term stimulus?

MR. GIBBS: Let's understand -- let's take the larger question for a second, because the President has said -- and they talked about this yesterday, particularly in the House, and I forget whether this came up a lot in the Senate -- but if we don't take steps right now to grow our economy, a $1.2 trillion deficit that this President inherited from his predecessor is not going to get any better. We're not going to grow the economy, we're not going to see a lessening of those deficits if unemployment hits 10 percent, or if nobody can borrow money because banks can't lend it and people don't have jobs to do it.

So the first thing we have to do -- we have to take actions necessary in the short-term to ensure economic growth that will ultimately reduce that deficit once the economy begins to grow again.

The reason that some of this money isn't completely spent out in '09 and 2010 is precisely what I just talked to Major about. I don't think we're going to wake up on January 1, 2011, you know, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and we're going to go from black and white to color. We're still going to have a lot of battles to face and economic hardship to move the economy to a better place.

So that the investment and the stimulus that happen as a result of this legislation don't drop off like a cliff, some of that money bleeds into 2011. The CBO I think talked in its report about the fact that that money would then -- would create jobs in 2011. I don't want to get hung up on sort of these rigid times and not understand that we're going to wake up the beginning of 2011 and want people to be employed, families to be borrowing money to buy the things that they want to, like cars or loans for their kids to go to school, and to have healthy small businesses that are creating jobs. All that stuff has got to happen; it's not just going to all happen overnight.

Q: One other thing. I don't want to nitpick, but yesterday you were very eloquent in your defense of re-sodding the Mall, which is no longer in the plan.

MR. GIBBS: I almost made it out of here without -- (laughter.)

Q: So have you changed your mind on that now that it seems like Congress has decided that that wasn't as stimulative as you very convincingly presented yesterday? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I should make you a committee chair. I think it demonstrates the perils of playing umpire in the third inning. (Laughter.)

Goyal, I said I would call on you, so I will call on you now.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Gibbs. Two questions, please, quick ones. Before my question I first want to really bring my best wishes and congratulations to President Obama and the First Lady from the Indian American community and 1 billion-plus people in India.

MR. GIBBS: I will pass that along.

Q: And my question is that, many people around the globe are expecting too much from the President because of the change is coming --

MR. GIBBS: You mean people in this room? (Laughter.)

Q: No, people around the -- in the region of South Asia, let's say, and India. What change are we expecting as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, and especially the terrorism in the region that President has been talking about, and including you?

MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into a lot of specifics, Goyal, I think that the President believes that obviously the U.S. and India are natural friends and natural allies. The President looks forward over the course of this term to deepen the partnership that's been built between the two countries over these past many years, to strengthen those ties. He will have more to say about that in the future.

And I think the President -- the President would like to certainly express and extend his best wishes to the Prime Minister as he recovers from surgery, and looks forward to talking to him soon. And I can come give you guys a readout on that.

Q: And second, as far as -- I met a lady at the 15th and K Street on a wheelchair, very old lady and disabled, of course, and I asked her that -- she said, you go to the White House. I said, yes. "Can I -- can you pass on my message to the President Obama." I said, what do you want from him? And she said, tell him, please, increase in the disability payments.

MR. GIBBS: Increase the disability payments?

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: I will pass that along to both the President and his advisors.

Q: And on the trip to Canada -- what will the President's message to Canada be regarding the economic crisis given that Canada is the U.S.'s largest trading partner?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- without getting into what a bilateral agenda might be for that trip, I think it is safe to say that the health of each economy and the health of the global economy will be a large part of that agenda. And I strongly anticipate, as was the case when the President met -- then President-elect met with the leader of Mexico, that trade will be a part of that docket.

Q: When might he meet with McKiernan?

MR. GIBBS: I will try to see if that -- I don't know that it's been slated in the schedule yet, but I know that it has --

Q: Days? Weeks?

MR. GIBBS: Let me try to see if I can get a little bit better guidance on that.

END 2:29 P.M. EST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar," January 28, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85699.
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