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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
February 20, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: I don't have any announcements. Obviously we'll have a week ahead if through the process of playing Jeopardy with you guys doesn't give everything out before we do that. I'll start with you, Ms. Loven.

Q: Thanks. I would like to ask about the markets. How concerned are you all at how they're reacting to what's being done this week and the afternoon markets? And is the President doing anything, does he have anything different on his schedule or his agenda because of it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously he met with a fairly big group of advisors to have his Presidential Daily Briefing on the economy. And the economic situation certainly continues to be at the forefront of his actions. But as I've said a couple -- more than a couple of times, actually, up here, which is I think it is unwise to believe that either everything we do is designed to cause an immediate market reaction or that the score should be kept by that.

I think that if you look at the news of the week I think the market probably prices in not just -- probably prices in a lot of information whether it's price increases, whether it's I think a lot of news throughout the globe about a deteriorating economy. I think it's more likely that what you're seeing is what the President continues to talk about, some of our greatest challenges, but certainly not just a reaction to what we're doing.

Q: Well, let me just ask it in a different way. I understand what you're saying about not wanting to sort of have a daily scorecard that's only kept by what Wall Street does. But at some point you want that to take -- as well as other indicators and for the economy to turn around. What is the President being told by his advisors about when there might be some sort of turning point on some level or another, whether it's markets or somewhere else?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I've said before, I think we all recognize and I think forecasters recognize that the downturn in the economy is very serious, very analogous to some of the past deep recessions that we've seen, and that it's going to take some time to get out of that hole. The question is whether that hole gets deeper or how much deeper that hole might get.

We believe -- obviously, the President signed into law the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which was a good first step in cushioning the blow of the recession and working aggressively to put people back to work. But I've also said from up here any number of times there's not just one thing that we need to or can focus on. You've got financial stability, you've got home foreclosures, you've got reregulation. There's any number of things that the President continues to work on that have to be solved, and it's going to take quite some time to do it.

When that turnaround happens, it's hard for me to say. The President and his team believe that the actions that we're taking now will have a direct impact on making that happen quicker. The investments that we make, that you saw the President sign into law earlier this week, we think will have an impact -- a home foreclosure plan that will stem the rising tide and spread of home foreclosures, which is tremendously important; and then obviously working on both financial stability and regulatory reform to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

But we've got -- I think the President would be frank and forthright in telling you that we've got a long way to go. He's certainly said that and that's what he's going to continue to work on.

Q: Bank of America and Citigroup shares are being pummeled today on Wall Street because of fears they're going to be nationalized. Can you assure people that that step is not going to be taken and be avoided? And also, separately, on the automakers, you've had a couple of days to review their plans. Is there any early read you can give, and can you talk about the meeting at Treasury today?

MR. GIBBS: I believe the meeting is over at Treasury, and I will attempt to get something for you all on that, based on that ending -- and we've talked a little bit about that this week.

Let me reassure as best I can on your first question on banks, this administration continues to strongly believe that a privately-held banking system is the correct way to go, ensuring that they are regulated sufficiently by this government. That's been our belief for quite some time and we continue to have that.

Q: Robert, the President this morning spoke to the mayors about accountability, making sure you're spending taxpayer money wisely, it's getting to the people who need it. He's also spoken out about corporate leaders taking corporate jets and spending money unwisely. Does he have similar concerns about lawmakers in Congress, since they're off this week, flying around? A lot of stories about Speaker Pelosi in Italy and several other countries; Republican lawmakers flying around the world, as well. Should the Congress, at a time of crisis, be cutting back, as well, and not flying around the world on Air Force jets?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, let me split your question a little bit. I'll address the -- I mean, obviously I think members of Congress going overseas on important trips is something that the President did when he was a senator, going several times with -- or once with Senator Lugar and a longer trip to Africa because of the importance of it -- the continent played in our security concerns. So obviously I think they are -- many of those trips are important.

I think what you saw the President do today was reiterate what we have said throughout this process, which is -- and there were stories about this even today -- that we have -- we've been entrusted with the taxpayer money and appropriate it in a way in which the President and his team, and Democrats and Republicans, think will best move this economy forward.

We understand that that level of trust is extraordinary, and that whether this money goes to the states through a formula grant, whether it goes to the states or local entities through a transportation grant or something like that, that great care has to be used when dealing with the taxpayer money. The money should not be spent on wasteful projects or pet projects, but instead spent on projects that we know can and will move this economy forward.

Let me -- you didn't ask me this, but I'll add it anyway. It has been amusing this week to read the many press releases and Twitter comments on those that found the stimulus on C-SPAN during the vote something that they didn't necessarily think was a good idea until it came time to break ground on projects in their home district.

Q: Are you talking about Republican lawmakers, specifically?

MR. GIBBS: Many of them, yes.

Q: So does the President believe there's some hypocrisy going on?

MR. GIBBS: As I've said before, old habits are hard to break. And I think that the American people readily understand when this town gets dominated by games-playing rather than problem-solving.

Q: Let me follow up. The first week in office the President signed the executive order to close down the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. The Attorney General is going on Monday for the first time to get a close look at it. This is a very serious issue. The American people want to know about where are these detainees going to go. And my understanding is the Attorney General is not bringing any media, it's completely closed press. How does that square with the President's vows that we've talked about on transparency? When the American people are wondering how is this policy going to be implemented, the chief law enforcement officer is basically operating in secrecy.

MR. GIBBS: I don't think the chief law enforcement officer is operating in secrecy --

Q: Well, why isn't he bringing in a camera?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what this administration is working to do, per the executive order, is to come up with a plan that ensures our security and does so in a way that meets the test of our values and protecting the men and women that keep this country free and safe. I don't think you have to do all of that through a photo op. I think this is a working trip; that this is -- a very serious number of decisions lay in front of this government, and it's important for -- whether it's the counsel here or the Attorney General or any other member of this administration working to find some of those very tough solutions -- to be able to do so not as a photo op, but as something that's --

Q: Well, the question is -- it doesn't have to be a photo op if he doesn't want it to be a photo op. If he wants it to be substantive, why not let the American people in on these deliberations?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we are letting the American people in on these deliberations. That's why there's a review process that's -- that's ongoing. I think the Attorney General feels comfortable that he can make those decisions without cable.

Jake.

Q: A quick follow-up on Ed's question on the trip to Guantanamo. Can you just give us any sort of timeline for the decision about Guantanamo? You have Greg Craig there now, Eric Holder going down there next week. Is there any sort of timeline you have for the decision and when --

MR. GIBBS: I thought the -- I'll go back and check the executive order. I thought the whole process was 180 days, but I will -- I'll go back and --

Q: This is on the 180th day, an announcement will be made?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- I assume when they get done and have made those decisions. I think obviously we're in probably the 20-some-odd day. So I don't expect -- I don't -- certainly don't have any announcements today, but as we obviously get closer and make those determinations, we'll have them for you.

Q: And we did -- we interviewed Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, after his meeting. We were talking about the report, the "ready to go" report that the U.S. Conference of Mayors had put out. And Mayor Newsom said, "What came out of the U.S. Conference of Mayors was easily mocked -- not all of it -- but just enough that it put the whole stimulus in peril, for a moment at least." I noticed in the stimulus package it says that money cannot be spent on things like golf courses, casinos, even parks. And I'm wondering, how did the President receive that U.S. Conference of Mayors report? And did that play any role in his threat to the mayors today that if they don't spend the taxpayers' money wisely, he will call them out publicly?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I honestly don't know what his reaction was when he saw the initial report. I know he's met with the mayors on several occasions. But, you know, Jake, he'll have the very same message for the governors on Monday. He has the same message for -- as you saw in the remarks, for the agencies that have to implement these spending programs, and that is that these -- if you're seeking to simply fund a personal agenda at the expense of creating jobs and using taxpayer money to do it, the President will call that out and stop it. That's true for agencies and members of this administration; that's true for governors; that's true for mayors; that's true for anybody that might take part in any amount of this funding.

The President, throughout this process, has talked about the need for strict accountability to ensure that the precious resources that the American people have entrusted in this government are spent completely aboveboard and wisely. So I don't think you should look at the message that he delivered today as a one-time message. We'll have more announcements on this next week, and we'll have more dialogue like this next week, whether it's governors or whether it's people within this administration that are entrusted to handle this money.

Q: On the foreclosure plan, aside from Rush Limbaugh and that cable rant on the floor of the Exchange, there really does appear to be some --

MR. GIBBS: Chuck's network? (Laughter.)

Q: -- there really does appear to be some anger out there from people who just don't believe the President when he said that only people who acted responsibly are going to be helped here. How can you assure people that you're going to reward only people, only homeowners who acted responsibly?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's go through this, because I do think this is very important. And I've watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I'm not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives, or in what house he lives, but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgage, stay in their job, pay their bills, to send their kids to school, and to hope that they don't get sick or that somebody they care for gets sick and sends them into bankruptcy.

I think we said a few months ago the adage that if it was good for a derivatives trader that it was good for Main Street. I think the verdict is in on that.

Here's what this plan will do: For the very first time, this plan helps those who have acted responsibly, played by the rules, and made their mortgage payments. This will help people who aren't in trouble yet keep from getting in trouble. You can't stay in this program unless you continue to make mortgage payments. That's important for Mr. Santelli and millions of Americans to understand.

Here's what this plan won't do: It won't help somebody trying to flip a house. It won't bail out an investor looking to make a quick buck. It won't help speculators that were betting on a risky market. And it is not going to help a lender who knowingly made a bad loan. And it is not going to help -- as the President said in Phoenix, it is not going to help somebody who has long ago known they were in a house they couldn't afford. That's why the President was very clear in saying this was not going to stop every person's home from being foreclosed.

But Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won't help everyone. This plan will help, by the money that's invested in Freddie and Fannie -- will drive down mortgage rates for millions of Americans.

The President in his speech was very clear in saying that every American with a mortgage payment should call their lender and see if they can refinance right now. This plan helps people that have been playing by the rules but can't get refinancing, get that refinancing so their home doesn't become foreclosed on.

And Mr. Santelli might also know that if you live in a home that's near one that's been foreclosed, your home value has likely dropped about 9 percent, which for the average home is about $20,000.

Now, every day when I come out here, I spend a little time reading, studying on the issues, asking people who are smarter than I am questions about those issues. I would encourage him to read the President's plan and understand that it will help millions of people, many of whom he knows. I'd be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee -- decaf. (Laughter.)

Chuck.

Q: I want to sort of follow up on the criticism that --

MR. GIBBS: Let me do this, too. This is a copy of the President's home affordability plan. It's available on the White House web site, and I would encourage him: download it, hit print, and begin to read it.

Q: The criticism that's coming on the housing plan is similar to the criticism that came on the bank bailout vote before you came into office and in Phase II, which is there are people who were irresponsible who will be helped -- period. It's going -- that is a fact, that is going to be -- that is going to be -- people are going to use that to say this is not fair. So what do you -- how do you -- you know, how do you justify that? I mean, how do you --

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there is -- there will be people that made bad decisions that, in some ways, will get help. This plan, though, I think it's important for the American people to understand, was designed to help those that have been responsible.

As the President has said, if your neighbor's house is on fire or if several houses are on fire, you don't debate it; you get a hose and try to put the fire out. That's what's most important. This plan will stop the spread of those foreclosures because it addresses those that are -- that potentially could be in trouble but aren't there yet, get the help they need so that the foreclosure sign doesn't go up on their front yard.

But I also think it's tremendously important that for people who rant on cable television to be responsible and understand what it is they're talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn't know what he's talking about.

Q: On the -- going to Jennifer's question on the markets, the markets are the ultimate confidence indicator, in many ways, right? You have said before you're not going to pay attention to day-to-day movements in the markets. However, we might hit a 12-year low by the end of today. And it's -- what is it -- is it the President's responsibility to help create some confidence in the markets?

MR. GIBBS: Oh, absolutely. I don't think that -- I mean, I think the President would agree with that wholeheartedly. But again, I think --

Q: So this is not -- aren't the markets saying they don't have confidence?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the -- I think -- obviously I'm not on Wall Street, but I think it is not -- I think it is very safe to assume that what is being priced into the day-to-day fluctuations of the market is not just what happens or is announced at the White House or on the road by the White House. You know, again, you know, without going through it, I think you can look at economic news that built up over the past weekend, that we've seen and read about globally, in Europe, in Eastern Europe, in particular, that the economy is deteriorating, in some places more rapidly than might have first been imagined.

Q: Are you guys considering pulling some triggers here in the government --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President --

Q: -- that could give even an artificial boost?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I used this example the other day on the plane, and it's helpful -- it's not -- I want to go back and try to more fully answer the question. But understand that, you know, the day that the TARP funding passed, the market went up a thousand points, right? I don't think we'd all together look back and think that was the greatest thing we ever did for financial stability, right?

So I think when you -- but, leaving aside that example, I do think that the -- that this administration is working -- whether it's in foreclosures, stability, recovery -- to do that. I think without, again, divining what it is the market is doing or why it is making those decisions, I think that it -- we have to do more and the President understands that. I think he'll begin to talk more about that. He did some today, he'll do some tomorrow, and certainly next week leading into the address, to discuss the number of things that we have that are challenges that we face.

Again, you know, it would be nice to be able to just deal with one, get a recovery plan passed, and work on that, but there are probably three or four parallel tracks that have to -- that have to be followed up simultaneously, which is challenging.

Jonathan.

Q: Next week the budget comes out, and it's coming out amid what looks like will probably be the longest recession since World War II. How has the economic crisis impacted the President's ability to do some of the things that he promised to do on the campaign trail? And can you say right now that there will be no tax increases in 2010?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me do this. Let me -- we'll have more to say on the budget soon, and I'm not going to get ahead of what the President will say on Tuesday or what is ultimately contained in the budget on -- I think will be released on Thursday.

I will say this, and I think this is apparent in any number of things, that the President strongly believes that as we have spent money in the short term for the recovery plan, that we have an unsustainable path long term in our budgets.

Some of the actions that we are going to take that are out there are some honesty in budgeting, that give people a fuller picture of what's going on -- putting the -- some of the war spending back on budget; putting some disaster spending back on budget; and understanding that what that will show you on Thursday is a deficit far bigger and far redder than what might have first been imagined, because for many years we've used tricks and gimmicks to mask the size of our irresponsibility.

But I think what you'll hear from the President on Tuesday is a discussion about the decisions that we are going to have to make collectively to get ourselves back on a path toward some sustainable fiscal track.

Q: And I asked you last night and you didn't have an answer -- what does the President want to get out of this fiscal responsibility summit?

MR. GIBBS: I've got a little bit on that in the week ahead, so let me wait on that one.

Yes, sir.

Q: Back on the bank nationalization question. It sounded to me by your answer that you weren't quite ruling it out, you were just saying that the President strongly prefers not to do it. Is that correct?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Let me be clear: The President believes that the bank -- a privately held banking system regulated by the government is what this country should have.

Q: "Should have," but does that mean he will not nationalize banks?

MR. GIBBS: It's hard for me to be clearer than where I just was.

Q: Okay. And also, does the President agree with a statement by Attorney General Holder the other day that on things racial, we are essentially a nation of cowards?

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President about that. I think what the Attorney General discussed was -- or talked about was that for many years in this country all races have struggled with discussions about race. I would point you to the President's speech on the topic during the campaign as his thoughts on that matter.

Q: And, Robert, you said you could never be -- you couldn't be clearer than that. You could say he will never nationalize a bank; that would be clearer. Can you say that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I was very clear about the system that this country has and will continue to have.

Q: Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Back to the auto talks. The President didn't attend the session today, as I understand it.

MR. GIBBS: He did not.

Q: Will he be attending future sessions? And what's the road map for the next Auto Task Force meeting? Will they meet a couple times a week?

MR. GIBBS: I will -- let me check on the long-term schedule. I do anticipate that at some point the President obviously will join in on those discussions, and obviously in going through these plans and ultimately what's decided on how the industry has to be restructured.

Q: And is he -- is the task force encouraging Detroit to very strongly consider mergers of any kind? Are they giving that kind of advice?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I will try to get as best a readout as I can. Like I said, I was not in that meeting.

Q: Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, Major.

Q: U.N. officials acknowledged yesterday that they believe that Iran has developed enough enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. What is the administration's reaction to that? And what are implications for this as he puts together this plan of engaging Iran?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Major, I think that the report represents another lost opportunity for Iran as it continues to renege on its international obligations.

Absent compliance, the international community cannot have confidence that this program is exclusively of a peaceful nature. It does underscore the urgency with which the international community must work together to address these enrichment activities. The review of our policy continues. But --

Q: Does it slow it down or change its trajectory in any way?

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it does. I think that this White House understands that working with our allies that this is an urgent problem that has to be addressed, and that we can't delay addressing.

Q: On autos, the President said yesterday in Ottawa that the auto companies will have to go through "significant restructuring" -- those were his two words. Is there any way that that can be achieved, based on what the task force has seen so far, absent bankruptcy?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me get a readout from what they've seen and what they discussed today.

Q: Lastly, will there ever be a time in the administration when the stock market will be a barometer for the President's economic success? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Depends. (Laughter.)

Q: Robert --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, I'll get there. Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, you all have promised that the President would make a speech in a Muslim nation within the first 100 days. Are you going to keep that promise? And on a more parochial and local issue, does the -- will the President's limousines bear the "Taxation Without Representation" license plates that Bill Clinton's limousines once did and that George Bush's did not?

MR. GIBBS: I confess I don't have the slightest idea what the license plates on the limousine say now, but I can certainly check on that.

In terms of the speech, we're moving forward with that, and -- but for any number of reasons, I just can't get into those details right now.

Q: Does that mean that you all still intend --

MR. GIBBS: We're moving forward with that, yes.

Sheryl.

Q: Robert, looking ahead to the budget, and also to Tuesday's address, how much will the President use each of these two occasions to lay out very specific agendas for some of his initiatives going forward, particularly energy and health care? You were criticized in rolling out the bank bailout plan, that lacked specifics. Will we hear, you know, a comprehensive proposal on these --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you've covered Congress long enough to know that it's hard to lay out a budget and not be fairly detailed and comprehensive. I think people will definitely know that the President is taking swift action to invest in renewable energy and ensure that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and that we're taking steps to make health care more affordable for millions of Americans, while providing those that don't have health insurance with access.

Q: There's been negotiations going on on the Hill with Senator Kennedy to try to come to agreement on some kind of universal access plan. How much has the President been involved in these discussions? And is he willing to defer such a big piece of his agenda to negotiations that are ongoing outside of the White House?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know the degree to which we've been involved. I think it's a safe bet that anything that goes -- anything dealing with health care is going to go through Senator Kennedy, Senator Kennedy's committee. I think it has to be talked about with many of the stakeholders that are listed in that article. I don't think that we believe that those representing doctors and patients and hospitals and insurance companies and legislators all discussing a path forward on affordable health care is a bad thing. I think just the opposite. We think that's -- it's a good step in the right direction. It's going to take some time, and we're glad that they've started.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, can I ask about gas taxes versus miles driven taxes?

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: Secretary LaHood told AP in an interview that he thinks we should look at this, going to miles driven taxes. But someone -- a spokesman over at the department said, no, that it is not and will not be administration policy. Which is it? And has the President weighed in on this?

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe the President has. I can weigh in on it and say that it is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration.

Q: So was Secretary LaHood speaking out of turn here?

MR. GIBBS: I would direct you to Secretary LaHood on that.

Q: Well, we actually interviewed him, so --

MR. GIBBS: Well, call him back. (Laughter.)

Q: What about the kind of rants -- back to a response on the kind of rants that there -- against the stimulus package, does the kind of cable debate, cable broadcast debate over the plan, is that damaging to the President's case for a stimulus, or does it help Americans to have an open debate like that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't doubt that an open debate is something that's obviously important. The President used to use the story -- I forget who he quoted -- that people are entitled to their own opinion, not just their own facts. You know, sometimes -- I don't think -- I don't think anybody could sit in front of the TV and listen for an hour and not hear somebody that's making a case that just -- I got to assume they knowing -- they know just isn't true. I think that -- but I think that kind of debate, that -- certainly that debate is helpful.

The impact of it all -- I think I said this last week, that if I hadn't worked on the campaign, but simply watched the cable news scorekeeping of the campaign, we lost virtually every day of the race. I mean, how many days did we cover -- through our trip to Europe through election day -- that the Obama campaign was out-quicked or out-smarted, and we covered ads that were seen by the dozen or so people currently watching that program -- (laughter) -- but not by the rest of America. You know, like I said, if I would have just watched cable TV, I long would have crawled into a hole and given up this whole prospect of changing the country.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, each time the President talks about the economy, he talks both about the challenges that we face and then usually has a -- sort of an optimistic line about -- that we'll get through this. Can you talk about how he's sort of calibrating that message as he prepares the speech on Tuesday?

MR. GIBBS: Well, and I think President Clinton talked about this -- I think the -- and the President certainly has said this for quite some time, that he believes it is very important to be honest with the American people about the struggles and the challenges that we face. We've seen political endeavors in the past that have not been up front with the American people and where they were and the progress or the lack of progress that was being made, and that this President believes it's important that we do that in a forthright and honest way.

The President, as you said, also talks about the fact that he understands that if we take and meet those challenges head on, that brighter days are ahead. He said several times last week that he was an eternal optimist. I think he understands that it's important for him to be confident and hopeful in the path that we're taking, but honest about the many challenges that we face. And that's what he's working on doing.

Yes.

Q: Yes, on Iran. Two more on Iran. Is the U.S. trying to convince the Iranian government to change its attitude toward Israel and not to continue its threat to destroy Israel?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I mean, I think the President on any number of occasions has said that -- not just with Iran, but with other groups -- that it's -- they have to stop threatening Israel and the Israeli people.

Q: On this IAEA report, does it preclude the possibility of Iran using a dirty bomb? Does Iran have that capability now?

MR. GIBBS: I have not read the full report on that and what that might mean.

Q: Robert, thank you. A few days ago when you were asked about President Obama's reaction to the Senator Burris controversy, you said, "I have to say, I've neglected to speak with him." Things have escalated since then. Today Governor Quinn has asked for him to step down. By chance, do you have a read of what President Obama thinks should be done in this case?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to him specifically about all of this. What I also said was -- during that day, which was that Senator Burris -- well, first of all, that the people of Illinois have been through a very trying time with the Governor. The appointment of Senator Burris was -- and his taking the Senate seat was based largely on the representations that he'd made, factual representations that he'd made to the people of Illinois through interviews and through his testimony to the impeachment committee.

We know that -- and has been reported extensively -- that there seemed to be -- some of those stories seem to be at variance with what's happened; that the President is supportive of an investigation that would get some full story out. And I think it might be important for Senator Burris to take some time this weekend to either correct what has been said and certainly think of what lays in his future.

Q: Robert.

MR. GIBBS: April.

Q: Robert, so going back to this --

Q: It sounds like a resignation call.

Q: It sounds like you're telling him to resign.

MR. GIBBS: No, I --

Q: Going back to the --

MR. GIBBS: -- just for him to take a look at what has been said and for him to come up with an explanation that satisfies --

Q: But is there an explanation that can satisfy? I mean, it's gone from one extreme to the other.

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's a question to ask Senator Burris, not Robert Gibbs.

Q: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You called on me. Hello, Robert. You called on me.

MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to him.

Q: Okay. But you said he needs --

MR. GIBBS: Hello, April. I answered your questions -- go ahead. I'm in a giving mood today, so fire away.

Q: Anyway, you said he needs to take time this weekend, though. And, I mean, you -- this White House is, coming through your mouth, basically saying that this man has shaded the facts and he needs -- or changed -- you said he had a variance. So he needs to go back --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm not saying that, April. I think it's been covered -- it's been covered in Lynn's paper, which I read. It's been covered in the Tribune; it's been covered in the Associated Press; it's been covered in a number of places that the testimony that he gave seems to be at variance with what's happened.

Q: So did he lie?

MR. GIBBS: That's a question for Mr. Burris.

Kirk.

Q: Just following up on an earlier question, Robert -- thank you. President Clinton's comments today -- was President Obama unhappy or -- that the President seemed to imply that he was too downbeat, and that he said that he ought to be talking about being hopeful and completely convinced we're going to come through this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the premise of that question was that the President balances the challenges that we face with the understanding that we're going to get through tough times as we always have in this country. I haven't talked to the President specifically about his reaction to President Clinton's interview. But I think he understands, as I said, that it's important to be straightforward with the American people about those challenges, to underscore the path that we're taking as being one that he feels will get us on a path toward sustained long-term economic growth, and to give people confidence that those steps are being taken.

Q: Next week is shaping up to be a take-your-medicine kind of week, pretty tough week. It's going to be fairly downbeat, isn't it?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen anything other than that in the few weeks that I've already been here. (Laughter.) It hasn't been -- I mean, just to address that for a second, Kirk. I mean, I -- look, I -- whether it is unemployment or unemployment claims, or layoffs, or Afghanistan, or energy independence -- I think there are a number of things that we have, for a long time, and the President believes, as a country have neglected and that are important to begin to work on.

Not every one of those decisions is going to be easy, and he understands he wasn't elected to make easy decisions. But he also understands, as he spoke about in the inaugural and I think you'll hear him speak about next week, that we all have a special responsibility to do what we can to put this country back on the right track and to see it through, back to prosperous and better days.

Let me go quickly through my week-ahead. The President has no public events on Saturday. We will endeavor to get you the radio address at a reasonable hour tonight.

Q: And the subject, Robert?

Q: The economy.

MR. GIBBS: The economy. (Laughter.) Have you seen the radio address? (Laughter.) Specifically about the recovery plan.

On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will welcome the National Governors' Association to the White House for the annual Governors' Dinner.

Q: What's the entertainment?

MR. GIBBS: I believe Earth, Wind and Fire. You just wanted me to say that on camera, didn't you? (Laughter.)

Q: Can you sing a little --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, I got a tip jar right here and --

Q: That's The Way Of The World?

MR. GIBBS: Oh, don't tempt me.

On Monday morning, the President and the Vice President will meet with Democratic and Republican governors from across the country. During the meeting -- all the governors have been invited. Later that morning and into the afternoon, as Jonathan talked about, the President will -- the President and the Vice President will host the Fiscal Responsibility Summit at the White House and lead a frank discussion on how we can address the long-term fiscal problems facing this country.

About 130 people are invited, including Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, the chairs and ranking members of key committees, and a wide range of community leaders and stakeholders from business, academia, financial and the labor sectors.

Q: Can we have a list of --

Q: Yes, can we get a list?

MR. GIBBS: Let me see where that is.

The Vice President will open the summit with remarks. Two presentations will follow on the nation's fiscal condition, one by economists and former advisor to Senator McCain, Mark Zandi; and Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. OMB Director Peter Orszag will introduce the President, who will conclude with some remarks.

After these presentations, participants will break out into smaller discussion groups to tackle specific fiscal challenges facing our country, including tax and revenue, health care, Social Security, procurement and the budget process. Each breakout group will be moderated by a senior administration official. The larger group will then reconvene and report to the President on their initial work.

The summit is the first step in the process of beginning to lay out how we can bring down the deficit and put our economy back on sound financial footing. It opens a week that will be focused on the attention of many fiscal issues. And as you well know, on Tuesday the President will address a joint session of Congress; on Thursday, provide an overview of the fiscal year 2010 budget. That will be released, and there tentatively is scheduled, though I don't have a location yet, domestic travel on Friday. So hopefully we'll be back at a decent hour.

Q: And Wednesday?

MR. GIBBS: Wednesday, I don't have anything specific, which means we'll be in Washington. All right? No travel on --

Q: Stevie Wonder.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, that's right, the Gershwin Awards and Stevie Wonder.

Thanks, guys.

END

2:38 P.M. EST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," February 20, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85796.
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