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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
March 12, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:51 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Mr. Babington, start us off? Let the record reflect that an N.C. State alum has asked a Tar Heel to start the questions. (Laughter.)

Q: Very kind of you, and good luck tonight.

MR. GIBBS: In the spirit of what can only be said is bipartisanship. (Laughter.)

Q: Robert, can you tell us anything -- there's a report that a suspected U.S. missile strike killed as many as seven people in northwest Pakistan. Do you have anything for us on that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't. And I don't -- and I wouldn't comment on something like that from this podium.

Q: If I may ask a different question then. On the omnibus spending bill, is the President going to ask for Congress to rescind any items, and if so, roughly how many might be in that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President obviously enumerated concerns -- some concerns that he's had with the process, and has mentioned throughout this process concerns he had with the legislation. He's asked the Office of Management and Budget to review the legislation and come back; staff will make a recommendation regarding whether a recisions package should go forward or not. So that review is current and ongoing.

Q: Any idea when that might --

MR. GIBBS: No. I can certainly check with those guys, but it's an ongoing review.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: France and Germany have rejected the U.S. calls for a stimulus, and the President outlined a dual goal of pushing stimulus at G20 and also revamping financial regulations. Does this alter his message at the summit, or how is he going to get around that objection?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I think -- and as I talked about this I think it was last week, that the President looks at his trip to the London economic summit in -- not as an either/or, but as a both/and proposition; that we have two equally important ideas and messages for that summit, and the first is that we must manage and overcome the current economic crisis that the world finds itself in, and then we must also take steps to prevent future crises from happening to the global economy.

What the President and what this country will do -- we're not going to negotiate some specific economic percentage or commitment, but continue to talk about the notion that, as the President has talked for some time, that it is important that the world act together in growing our economy, as well as that we together take steps to ensure that the crisis doesn't happen again.

Obviously different -- different international bodies have said that the global economy is likely to contract at about 2 percent of GDP over the course of the next two years, and that their recommendation is that countries stimulate their economy to that degree. That's in large measure what the United States has done, and the President will talk to other nations of the G20 about acting together in hopes of doing the same without, again, negotiating some specific commitment.

And then obviously it's incredibly important, and the administration has begun to work on reworking our financial regulatory system here in America to ensure, as I've said, that the crisis that we've -- we are experiencing now, the same factors don't lead us to experience that crisis again.

Q: But if you already have two countries saying no to that, how does he get around that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday, I think partly that's what -- that's what summits are for. I think we're going to talk to other countries and other nations about continuing to do what's necessary to get through this crisis. But again, this isn't -- I also think it's important that we not think of this event as just simply one moment in time. Obviously once we're done with the summit, people are going to have to evaluate both where their economies are and where the global economy is, and make changes. So obviously the President looks forward to talking to leaders about a shared agenda to manage the crisis that we're in, and to also prevent a future crisis from happening.

Jake, happy birthday.

Q: Thank you. Yesterday, in an interview with a bunch of regional newspapers, President Obama suggested that congressional Republicans needed to do more than just say no to what the President and Democrats are proposing, they needed to present alternatives when it comes to stimulating the economy.

How does the President reconcile that with the meeting he had with bicameral, bipartisan congressional leaders, in I think January, where House Republicans gave the President a list of ideas, and the President said, I don't see anything crazy on this list, but few of them, if any, were incorporated into the stimulus? It seems that there's a disconnect.

MR. GIBBS: Is this -- are you talking about the meeting that we went to before the President was sworn in, in early January?

Q: Whenever he told Congressman Cantor --

Q: Was it the second or third day here at the White House?

Q: First week as President.

Q: Cantor gave him a list of things, of suggestions, things they wanted to see in the stimulus. The President said, I don't see anything crazy on this list. But the Republicans say none of them were incorporated -- or few of them were incorporated into the stimulus bill.

MR. GIBBS: Right. I do think -- I think if you go back and look at the bill, I do think, as you just mentioned, some of their ideas were incorporated. The earlier meeting that we did on Capitol Hill had the same congressman, Eric Cantor, suggesting that in order for the American people to see transparently what the administration was spending the taxpayer money on for economic recovery, that a web site be created so that the public could track that funding. That's exactly what the administration has done.

And I made a similar argument here yesterday, not just on recovery, but on the budget. We have members of Congress rightly concerned about the growth of deficits and debt. Yet at the same time, one of the primary drivers of a deficit and a debt are our obligations to Medicare and Medicaid and health care spending.

If they're concerned about the deficit, the best way to exercise that concern, if you're critical of what the administration has proposed, would be to come up with, as I said yesterday, an honest budgeting document that pays for both wars, that pays -- takes into account natural disasters, or future money for economic and financial stability -- and does so in a way that demonstrates clearly for the American people that you're putting this country back on a path towards fiscal responsibility and fiscal sustainability. Certainly the President would welcome looking at the administration -- I'm sure all of Congress would welcome looking at a document very similar to that.

Q: If the President incorporated some of -- or if the Democrats on Capitol Hill and the President incorporated some of the Republican ideas, why would the President say the Republican Party is a party of no ideas?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I do think you've heard certainly recently a lot more criticism than you've heard suggestions. I think you've -- I think the obligation of anybody involved of -- to quote my friend Warren Buffett again -- that he certainly made mention of the fact that Democrats and Republicans, because of the gravity of the situation and the many challenges that we face, should work together. I think working together would include sharing ideas on both sides of the aisle about what has to be done.

There's co-equal branches of government. I think it's important that everybody be involved in a healthy debate about the solutions that might surround a recovery plan and how to get our economy growing for the long term.

Q: Robert, two topics -- one on Mexico. The President yesterday also told those regional reporters he's thinking about sending National Guard troops down to the U.S.-Mexico border to deal with all the escalating violence down there. Give us an idea of the timetable, whether this would be days or weeks away from a decision. And how extensive might the U.S. military involvement be?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I think there was a couple of different articles from the same interview that came to different conclusions about what the same person in one room might have said. What -- and I can certainly get you the transcript of this if you don't already have it -- but the President enumerated again that our long-term challenges relating to many policy decisions around the border are not going to be solved in that long term through the militarization of the border.

Obviously there have been specific requests that have come for additional National Guard troops to be deployed there based on the escalating violence in Mexico. The President has committed to reviewing those requests along with Secretary Napolitano to give those requests the appropriate airing that they deserve. I don't know from DHS of a timeline of a recommendation or decision on that, but I know that he will certainly take their ask under advisement.

Q: Another topic -- on the economy. Bill Marriott has an op-ed in the Washington Post today saying that business travel is way down and part of it is attacks from lawmakers and from the administration about business travel and -- seems to be referring in part to when the President said, don't go to Las Vegas, don't go to the Super Bowl --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's be clear about what the President said. I don't think the President said "Don't go to Las Vegas" or "Don't go to Hawaii" or "Don't go to the Super Bowl" -- I forget where the Super Bowl was --

Q: Tampa.

MR. GIBBS: Tampa. "Don't go to Tampa." If you have -- it's getting warm; if you've got the desire and the wherewithal to travel to any of those places, to quote a famous Southerner, Lewis Grizzard said, "Delta is ready when you are."

What the President expressed some concern about was companies that are getting large amounts of public funding, taxpayer funding, through a financial stabilization plan, that the President does have great concern with public money being used for that.

But the President believes it's important to have a strong tourism industry and that it's important that, as the President said earlier, that the -- or late last week, that we shouldn't retrench or pull back from; that he would encourage people to travel. His concern -- the concern that he specifically expressed had to do with the use of taxpayer -- or the use of money by institutions that have received a lot of assistance from the taxpayers. Obviously that's not something that he would think appropriate.

Q: I understand in private he told some business leaders he's concerned his comments may have been construed and hurt the tourism industry. Does he have any regrets about what he said?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President, despite what some people heard, I think was very clear about the delineations between families or even businesses traveling versus the need to ensure that appropriate protections are in place for taxpayer assistance that are used to help financial institutions stabilize themselves; that they were -- that money was -- is being spent and we assume it will be spent with great care.

Yes, sir.

Q: You mentioned the web site a little while ago on the stimulus, recovery.gov, and there are some Republicans on the Hill who have been studying that thing pretty closely and they're coming to an early conclusion -- they're a bit frustrated that it only shows the money going so far; that it may show it going from a department to a state and then maybe from a state to the city, but then it doesn't go beyond that, it doesn't show which contractors it goes to. Is it the goal and the commitment of the White House to show the money going absolutely to the end of the transaction?

MR. GIBBS: Chip, I'd have to -- I have to admit I haven't Googled quite that far on recovery.gov.

Q: But this is a principle. Is it the goal of the White House to show the money going to the very end of the transaction chain?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the principle is to be transparent. Again, I'd have to get a stronger sense of what their individual critique is and how far you can go on recovery.gov, but we'll certainly look through that.

Q: Okay. And Democrats also -- raising their ugly heads today, but -- on the Hill -- Kent Conrad -- (laughter) -- actually he's a very handsome man. (Laughter.) Kent Conrad said today, was talking about the $634 billion for health care over the next 10 years with Geithner, and he said, "Some of us have real pause about the notion of putting substantially more money into the health care system when we've already got a bloated system." So even Democrats are --

MR. GIBBS: The President would -- the President would have agreed with that.

Q: On the $634 billion?

MR. GIBBS: No, the President would have agreed that a substantial investment in a health care system that doesn't work and is bloated shouldn't continue. But that's why -- that's why the President included in his budget substantial, I would mention, free market cuts in certain Medicare Advantage programs that offer large subsidies for programs that the President doesn't believe need extra subsidies to do what's already being done with other insurance.

The President met with Senate Democrats on the budget yesterday, including Chairman Conrad. I think Chairman Conrad had positive things to say about the meeting and the budget. But the President himself, in the budget, has taken steps to ensure that those efficiencies that we have not seen in our health care system -- I've certainly said from this podium a number of times that we pay more than virtually every industrialized country in the world for an outcome that doesn't equal other industrialized countries.

The President has no desire to continue to fund what doesn't work. But the President has taken steps to make some changes in the efficiencies of the way health care works, in order to ensure that health care costs go down and that people have the appropriate access that they need to the health care that they deserve.

There continues to be quite a bit of debate about whether health care or energy independence or investing in education is part of our overall -- whether it should be part of an overall economic plan, or whether the President, because of pure whimsy, has decided to tackle additional problems. I think the President will speak about this later today, before taking questions from CEOs at the Business Roundtable. I think he'll address this argument quite clearly.

I mentioned this a few days ago myself. The President will say that we have seen over the course of seven or eight -- the last seven or eight years, economic growth largely funded by two things: one, overheated speculation in the real estate market; and two, economic growth by families getting multiple credit cards and maxing them out.

The President believes that bubble-to-bubble economic growth is not long-term, sustained economic growth that makes sense for this country; that we need a post-bubble economic model that has investments in what's necessary to reduce our deficits, to make those necessary investments that we've ignored for so long, and use that to create the jobs of the future -- putting people back to work, again, with sustained, long-term economic growth.

We just can't have our economy grow once some sector identifies a bubble, and everybody gets involved in that bubble until it pops, and then we wait for the next bubble to be created. That's not the way our economy grew for decades, and it's certainly not a sustainable way to grow the economy for decades to come.

Chuck.

Q: Robert, in the hopes of making the folks in North Dakota happy, so that we mention both of their U.S. senators -- (laughter) -- Byron Dorgan and John McCain did an op-ed, I think it was on Sunday, calling for a 9/11-style commission, Iraq study group -- whatever you want to call it -- to study the economic crisis, to figure out -- unwind it, what happened. How did this happen? How did it go to this conversation you were just having, bubble to bubble? You had -- you were saying that that's what it is. But to have some sort of investigative body outside of Congress, outside the White House -- would the President support something like that?

MR. GIBBS: I can talk to him and the economic advisors to see whether they've read that, and what their feeling is on a commission to study the problem. I will tell you the President's focus, and as is his economic team, is making sure that we take urgent and necessary steps to create jobs, to put money into taxpayers' pockets, to ensure that our home foreclosure crisis doesn't spread, to ensure stability in the financial markets; that we do all of the things that we need to do as well as investing in the things I just spoke about to create that long-term growth.

I think that's, without giving an opinion on that until I talk to them, I think our strong priority is working each and every day to ensure that this administration is taking the steps and putting the pillars in place for an economic recovery for the American people.

Q: And did the White House Counsel's Office -- on a quick separate subject -- did the White House Counsel's Office know that your nominee for chief technology officer -- that there was this FBI sting going on? Did you guys at least have a heads-up about this before you made that --

MR. GIBBS: I believe the Department of Justice, at some point during the morning, informed the White House Counsel.

Q: Before you guys -- you knew this before the President made a decision about --

MR. GIBBS: Before the decision --

Q: -- before the President made the decision to nominate --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no.

Q: This was just today?

MR. GIBBS: Let me be clear. I thought your question was about today.

Q: No, no, no. I meant, did you know in advance that there was an investigation going on.

MR. GIBBS: I would have to ask somebody that question.

Yes, sir.

Q: Picking up on something Caren was -- Caren's question. You've been standing at this podium, you've been very diplomatic in talking about both/and, not either/or -- by the way, that's something my psychologist mother says all the time, so you're giving me bad dreams --

MR. GIBBS: I'm both diplomatic and analytical.

Q: But, you know, the Europeans have not been nearly as diplomatic. I mean, Sarkozy -- President Sarkozy said today that "we consider that in Europe, we have already invested a lot for the recovery and that the problem is not about spending more, but putting into place a system of regulations so that the economic and financial catastrophe" -- blah, blah, blah. But anyway, the point is -- (laughter) -- he is not -- he is not doing --

MR. GIBBS: Blah, blah, blah. (Laughter.)

Q: That was either/or -- that was not -- that was either/or, not both/and. And why do you think -- why --

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- well, I mean --

Q: Why do you think the Europeans are being so up front?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- despite the opportunity to be analytical and psychological, I'm not going to try to speak exactly to the motivations of the French. But -- you know, Jonathan, in my continuing effort to be diplomatic, what I -- part of the quote that you read from President Sarkozy was an understanding that economic stimulus needed to take place in his country.

Again, there's a -- what some folks have said in terms of about a 2 percent change in GDP, that that's an appropriate amount of stimulus, and that's something the President looks forward to talking to European leaders about. But the President also not only agrees that there should be reinvestment for a recovery, but also that there has to be -- we have to take steps to ensure that the -- we have a regulatory framework for the 21st century that doesn't see this happening again.

I think the summit will also speak about what we can do through international institutions to ensure that emerging economies either in the developing world or in places like Eastern Europe don't suffer catastrophically from either a burdening of their financial systems or a great change in world demand for exports and trade.

I think there will be a lot of things on the docket that many people will agree on and that out of that we'll see and make progress towards a global economic recovery. I think the most important thing is that we all take steps together to ensure that we appropriately manage and deal with the current crisis, and take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

Q: But Republicans are now quoting the President of France -- (laughter) -- and the Chancellor of Germany --

MR. GIBBS: Irony of ironies. (Laughter.)

Q: And they're trying to paint -- they're trying to paint President --

MR. GIBBS: While I was eating my Freedom Fries. (Laughter.)

Q: They're trying to paint the President of the United States as to the left of Europeans. And --

MR. GIBBS: They've been doing that for six years, Jonathan, and the best I can tell my presence here might denote that that hasn't worked well.

Mark.

Q: Robert, was President Obama disturbed to learn that Ban Ki-moon regards the U.S. as a "deadbeat nation" for being behind on its U.N. dues?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President and the Secretary General met, I believe Monday evening, in the Oval Office to discuss what they believe are mutual challenges throughout the globe, including problems in Darfur. I would note for the Secretary General that his word choice was unfortunate given the fact that the American taxpayer is the largest contributor to the United Nations.

Q: Would you like a retraction or a withdrawal of that remark?

MR. GIBBS: I think given the contribution that the American taxpayer makes, I do think it's -- would be appropriate to acknowledge that role, and the President looks forward to working with the U.N. on mutual challenges.

Q: Robert, the President has been taking pains to point out some positive signs in the economy where they exist. In that interview with regional press yesterday, he had a lot of interesting things to say. One of them was he said he was seeing signs, pockets in the country, where he was seeing housing prices stabilize. What regions was he talking about, and can the White House provide some data to substantiate?

MR. GIBBS: I'll certainly ask for -- and look for some of that. I think that -- I mean, I think if you look at some statistics today -- and obviously the President's interviews were yesterday, but we see today an upward revision in the retail sales figures for January that denote a glimmer of good news and that the February sales figures were stronger than expected.

But I think the President, both in those interviews and -- would now tell you that, as I've said many, many times, that we've got a long way to go and that we have many challenges to address and many things to do in order to take the necessary steps to put our economy back on that firm, solid, long-term footing.

Major.

Q: Robert, a follow-up on Ed. What would trigger in the President's mind the need to move more National Guard forces toward the border? And when you talked about it a minute ago, you said the problems would not be solved through militarization. That's got a -- that's a phrase that has a lot of negative connotations around it. Is that what the President would regard -- I mean, that sounds like permanent and also --

MR. GIBBS: Let's not, let's not -- let me --

Q: I just want to make sure I understand what the policy is.

MR. GIBBS: Let me do a better job of previously explaining what I meant -- and I thought I did this, but I'll do it just to ensure this. I think if you go back and read the President's answer, that he is probably in many ways answering in part a question slightly broader than what was simply asked about, given the current situation in Mexico and requests for additional troops. The President broadened it a bit by saying that all of the problems, and many of our long-term challenges around issues in the border, anything from what's going on right now, or what you see in terms of -- I mean, obviously, there was a debate about this a few years ago, that part of the immigration problem is solved through this -- that our long-term problems aren't going to be solved by -- and what I mean by militarization is simply moving the military to the border.

But the President obviously has concern for the news in Mexico, as I said yesterday, is appreciative of the Mexican President's efforts to take on the drug cartels. But also -- and obviously takes very seriously governors who have requested additional National Guard to be deployed there.

Obviously I can think of nobody better to help make such a determination than the former governor of Arizona, and now Department of Homeland Security Secretary.

Q: On the omnibus, when the President was at a campaign rally in May last year, he said "We're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-around the will of Congress." When the omnibus was signed yesterday, there was about two pages from the President articulating differences in policy, spending assignments from Congress -- some he said he would ignore gladly, some he would take as merely advice. What's the difference?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that what you saw the President enumerate yesterday in a statement was what Presidents for -- as I talked about earlier on Monday -- have used for a couple of hundred years. And that is to enumerate well-founded and well-documented constitutional objections to bills that have been established by many, many Presidents. To give you an example, I think part of the bill effectively tells the executive branch how to proceed in negotiations and discussions with foreign nations. I think it's a fairly well-held constitutional principle that the President, through the Constitution, is provided that authority.

On the other hand, there have been signing statements that have been used to make extravagant claims of unilateral executive power that are not well founded in constitutional theory. That's explicitly what you will not find President Obama doing, and I think what you did not find in yesterday's pronouncement.

Yes, sir.

Q: There are reports that the U.S. Navy will be sending a destroyer to accompany the Impeccable back into the waters near China where the confrontation took place. Could you comment on those reports, confirm them? And what does this -- what does this say about the state of diplomacy around the issue right now?

MR. GIBBS: Well, in terms of specific ship movements, I would point you over to the Pentagon for some help on that. As I talked about yesterday, the Chinese Foreign Minister is -- met with Secretary Clinton yesterday, meets with National Security Advisor Jones today before meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the Oval Office.

I expect that the events of earlier in the week will be on that agenda as well as others, and we'll have a readout for you at the conclusion of -- at the conclusion of that meeting.

Yes, sir.

Q: Yes, Robert, can I come back to what you said about bubbles? And actually, sort of the way the President phrases it in the excerpts that you've given us.

MR. GIBBS: He's far more eloquent than I am, so if you're --

Q: He phrased it rather interestingly, saying, "We cannot go back to endless cycles of bubble and bust." Does he think the business cycle can be repealed? I mean, I just -- you know, bubbles are one thing, but --

MR. GIBBS: Well, read me the phrase again.

Q: "We cannot go back to endless cycles of bubbles and bust." Surely there are going to be ups and downs in an economy.

MR. GIBBS: Well, right. But again, there -- certainly there are ups and downs. There are ups and down in lots of facets of life. But are those ups and downs controlled by a sustained economic idea that creates jobs of the future, invests in the education in order to produce people to do those jobs of the future, take into account some fiscal restraint and fiscal responsible to ensure that government lending isn't crowding out private investment?

But the President will I think take on quite clearly that if -- you know, if -- he does not believe the theory of economic growth through an overheated housing market makes a whole lot of sense. I would posit to you that I've gotten God knows how many questions from up here about the danger of toxic assets that were leveraged by factors of 30 and 40 to 1, surrounding many of the mortgages that -- or some of the mortgages that were contained in an overheated and over-speculated housing market.

I don't think there's any doubt about that. Or whether we've seen through any number of statistics -- the President doesn't believe that economic growth is having six credit cards maxed out at $25,000 to $50,000; that that may produce in economic statistics great increases in retail sales or consumer spending, but I don't think any of us here would argue that that is a case for long-term sustained economic growth.

I don't think the President is -- I'm not even sure where one would go to repeal the business cycle.

Q: It's not like they're going to outlaw irrational exuberance or investors making --

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think it outlaws -- I mean, I don't think we're going to outlaw irrational exuberance. I do believe, though, the President believes that we must make tough choices now in order to put ourselves on a path that presents for the American people the opportunity to grow their economy not on something that will bust in three years, you know; not on something that will see stock prices go through the roof only to have stock prices collapse through the floor in a matter of months.

I mean, you know, let's -- the high point of the market recently was October of 2007, right -- 14,000 and some change. Exactly two months before, economists now believe what I think in the end might well be one of the biggest and deepest recessions in our country's history started. I think there's an -- I'm not an economist, but I'm pretty sure it all didn't go to pot in that November.

Margaret.

Q: Thanks. I have an unexuberant question. It's been about a month since Tim Geithner announced the bank rescue plan; economists still waiting for a lot of the bulk of the details -- and understandably it's a complicated thing; a Wall Street Journal survey yesterday showing Geithner's support lower than Paulson's. What is going on? What do you attribute this to? Is this -- are these past problems of his prior to the confirmation affecting his credibility? Is this Wall Street looking for a scapegoat? Is this a crisis of leadership? What are you doing to turn it around? And why can't we see some of the details of the fix faster?

MR. GIBBS: Margaret, I will, when we conclude here, send you many of the details that Treasury has outlined regarding a financial stability plan.

Let me speak broadly. The administration is not here to win a popularity contest among economists that are interviewed by a newspaper. The President has great confidence in his economic team. I spoke a minute ago about some statistics -- I think we've seen -- though, you know, we've got a long way to go, I think if you step back and objectively look at what the administration and the Department of Treasury have been able to do in a very, very short period of time -- pass and begin to spend money for an economic recovery and reinvestment plan that we believe will save and create 3.5 million jobs and put money back into taxpayers' pockets; the introduction of a capital plan; the introduction of a plan -- the very first plan that helps responsible homeowners avoid foreclosure; a business and lending initiative that, when fully implemented, will increase credit available to businesses and families by a trillion dollars; and, you know, let's -- and the beginnings of health assessments for banks in order to understand exactly what is on their books and how best to solve their problems.

Let me go back to my market example. Last fall, what was the market reaction to the passage of the then-TARP plan? It went up a thousand points. Do you think at that point -- did you think at that point, based on the gyrations of the stock market, that our problems were solved?

Q: But that was just a correction from the -- when it went down when Congress didn't pass it the first time. I mean, there was a --

MR. GIBBS: Did you think that was accurate, too?

Q: No, I'm just saying, within two or three days there was this drop-down of --

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, it was actually in excess of several -- several hundred points from what had happened the previous --

Q: -- 700 to 1,000, I grant you that. I'm not saying that's irrelevant.

MR. GIBBS: I will put that extra 300 points in my pocket and pull it out at some appropriate time for future question -- (laughter.)

Q: I'm saying it's not zero to a thousand.

Q: Rollover points.

MR. GIBBS: No, but I'm going to save those minutes -- (laughter) -- and call on them later on to -- let's understand that -- but my example is -- and my example there when the stock market reached 14,000 in October of 2007, exactly -- well, in some point, probably a month and a half before the recession began.

Q: So perception is sometimes really wrong, or --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as the President has enumerated, that I'm not entirely sure that the perception of the up and downs of the market are necessarily the perceptions of where the economy is heading. It's precisely what the President will talk about this afternoon, that -- again, if you looked at the market in October of 2007, at 14,000 points, everything was grand. Yet two months later, somehow a series of economists -- I'm sure maybe some of those interviewed by the Wall Street Journal -- found that we were in a recession.

Again, I guess I would posit to you that I think the market can be a lagging economic indicator. I don't think the market always interprets what may or may not be happening in the short term and how it affects the long term.

Q: Very quickly, in terms of a lot of the details of the bank plan that people are still waiting for, is there a way to expedite that, or is it taking a while for --

MR. GIBBS: Well, the way we expedite that is to do precisely what the Treasury is doing, and that is judge the health of many of those banks. It's a little bit like visiting the pharmacist before you go see the doctor, right? We believe it's important to go get a health assessment before you go get your prescription filled. And I think it's pretty safe to say that on at least a couple of instances, that might have happened in previously dealing with this crisis; that, again, there was -- you had a pot of money to solve the problem. But you didn't have an assessment for what banks were -- what was needed from banks and what was needed in order to have them continue to grow.

But again, I do think that it's important to go back and look and see what Treasury has done and this administration have done over a short period of time. I think by any reasonable estimation, you'll see that they've done quite a bit.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, there's talk recently about a second economic stimulus package. I was watching Ari Fleischer on Hardball last night, and he said a lot of things, but one of them was that -- he floated this idea that -- the idea of a second stimulus package is somehow proof that the first one didn't work. Do you have any reaction to that? Or anything else --

MR. GIBBS: I will admit I have not seen -- I did not watch the interview. In terms of a second stimulus, I think precisely -- and you've heard our CEA chair say this exact thing -- it is hard to -- we have -- we're just in the beginnings of moving some of the money out for infrastructure projects. The money will soon be in paychecks, regarding tax cuts. Certainly believe this administration doesn't believe that there's any reasonable way to measure the success or failure of a piece of legislation that covers stimulus spending for -- through 2010 after a couple of weeks' time.

Again -- and I've said this repeatedly from here -- this administration is not focused on some hypothetical question about a second one, but instead how best do we implement the current one that we have in order to get people put back to work. I think that's what's important for this and what the administration is spending time on.

Q: Would it be prudent for the Congress or administration to be working on a second stimulus, considering one of the key criticisms was that the first one was rushed by necessity? I mean, would it not be prudent to just start to be thinking about it just in case?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think the first one was rushed by the necessity of taking swift action, because hundreds of thousands and millions of people were losing their jobs, incomes were declining. The necessity was met based on the urgency of the problem. But I don't -- I don't want to buy into the premise that somehow the urgency -- because of that urgency, that it wasn't done in a way that -- going back to our many grading economic -- economists -- believed was the right thing to do.

Look, I'm not going to comment on --

Q: But essentially, had you had all the time in the world, you would have --

MR. GIBBS: We do have all the time in the world, Savannah. (Laughter.)

Q: Exactly my -- exactly my point.

MR. GIBBS: If we had all the time in the world, we'd be in Never-Never Land and I'd be flying. (Laughter.) So I don't think that all works.

So, I mean, it's a -- I must be in Jonathan's psychological mind -- I don't understand the -- it's a hypothetical that we had all the time in the world, that the President -- we -- Congress passed, the President signed, a $787 billion economic recovery plan that just began to spend money to get this economy going. What I was trying to say earlier was, let's give that some time to work. I think that is an appropriate thing. If other members on Capitol Hill want to plan for other things, you know, I'm certainly not going to limit their ability to do such a thing from this podium.

The President is focused on, and his team are focused on, and that's why the recovery -- those in charge of recoveries in each and -- many of the states are here today to talk about how to implement it. That's why you see the President stand up and say, it's important and incumbent upon all of you all to spend the money to get our economy moving again. That's the focus of the administration.

Peter.

Q: We've seen some Democratic resistance to the President's budget -- revenue-raising aspects of it. How does he intend to overcome that? How will he try to build a coalition to pass this budget? And will he insist on this provision -- these provisions? Will he view this as his budget and ask Congress to yield to what he's proposing to do?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think, Peter, I think if you look at what the President's operating theory has been in dealing with Congress, it is, as we suggested earlier, soliciting their ideas, and we'd be anxious to see an alternative from those that find criticism with what the President proposed.

But what I -- what the President believes is important in what he proposed was addressing many of the problems that for so long had not been addressed; that we needed to take the necessary steps to make those investments.

And yes, we are -- contained in the budget and contained in all of the economic arguments that we have are going to be some very tough decisions about how to go forward with this. Those are certainly contained in the President's budget and -- but I think this is a process of give and take and we'll certainly see where it goes.

The President believes he has had some productive and positive meetings this week, and I assume that he'll continue to talk with Democrats and Republicans to get the budget through Congress in the next few weeks.

Christina.

Q: What is the White House reaction to the FBI raid of this D.C. office of the chief technology officer, his new chief information officer? Has the President talked to him? Is he confident that he's not involved in this in any way?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Christina, I think as you know this is an ongoing investigation and questions about the investigation I would point you to -- point you to the Department of Justice, but that obviously it's a serious matter.

Q: You don't have any concerns about the guy, though -- the one you appointed?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would -- I would -- questions about the investigation I would --

Q: I'm not asking about the investigation, I'm asking about the guy you appointed.

MR. GIBBS: And I would just point questions of the investigation to the Justice Department.

Q: Robert, any change in the way how the White House is trying to look at their appointments and things because of this situation? I mean, you had a lot of people appointed --

MR. GIBBS: The answer is no.

Q: General Motors says that it doesn't need $2 billion that it previously had wanted for March. Does that make the task force on autos job easier? And secondly, do you have an update on any decision-making related to auto suppliers, aid to auto suppliers?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't have any updates. As I said I think yesterday, the task force was up in Detroit on Monday. The President was briefed on where they were last week. I don't know that he's received an update this week from the task force or whether that's been -- something like that has gone to him in a memo or not. But I think -- you touch on obviously an important point, that in many ways we can't forget auto suppliers and parts suppliers in the chain of auto production. That's obviously something that the task force is looking into.

In terms of what GM has announced today, I don't know whether that makes the current job that much easier, because obviously, though they don't need -- they've said now they don't need additional -- additional money for this month, we still have, as the President has said, have to come up with a long-term solution that retools and reimagines the auto industry so that it's sustainable for the long term. And I think that's the goal of the task force, and I think they're working toward that end quickly.

Q: Bernie Madoff fooled the government and got away with his scheme for years. Do you think the current administration or the current structure would catch a Ponzi scheme like that?

MR. GIBBS: I think that the President made important appointments in the transition and in the early stages of this administration to ensure greater enforcement of regulations that are on the books. The President has throughout the campaign and into his tenure in the White House spoken that we must relook at that regulation and strengthen it for a 21st century financial system.

I think the situation today speaks to extraordinary irresponsibility and extraordinary greed, and that this administration, through its appointments and through its actions, will do all that it can to ensure strict enforcement, and the hope that through those actions, that kind of greed and irresponsibility and that kind of criminal activity never happens again.

Thank you.

Q: Is the President glad that he pled guilty?

MR. GIBBS: Say again?

Q: Is the President glad that he pled guilty?

MR. GIBBS: The President is glad that swift justice will happen.

END 2:43 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," March 12, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85853.
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