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Robert Gibbs: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Robert Gibbs
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
March 23, 2009
The White House: Office of the Press Secretary
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:33 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: How is everyone? My only announcement is I endeavor to make this briefing shorter than this weekend's Gridiron dinner. (Laughter.) But other than that -- Ms. Loven.

Q: Thank you. Can you talk a little bit about the bank rescue program - go ahead.

MR. GIBBS: I'm just trying to get the podium -- go ahead, sorry.

Q: Talk a little bit about the bank rescue program. I know that the --

(Interruption as podium rises.) (Laughter.)

Q: Okay, bank rescue -- serious, somber. Leverage, lifting out the money, you're still only going to get out, as I understand it, between $500 billion and a trillion of these bad assets, which is about either a quarter or a half -- depending on what it gets to - of what people think is the amount on the books. What is the - how is that effective?

MR. GIBBS: But I think - let's understand before we surmise what that number could be, to understand that one of the things the health assessments on the banks will do is give a greater understanding of exactly what that is. I do think what Secretary Geithner laid out today, though, will - using both public and private money in order to clear from the balance sheets of these banks toxic or legacy assets is a plan that will get the economy moving and get credit flowing.

Q: That's my question how do you know it's going to get the economy moving? If you're only getting at what some say -- as I said again -- either a quarter or half of --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- I guess I don't want to buy into the premise that --

Q: -- the bad assets and you don't even know if you you're saying you don't even know how much is on their books, then why even go ahead with the plan now?

MR. GIBBS: Because you guys keep asking for it. (Laughter.) No, again, look, I think it's safe to say that these troubled assets are there and Secretary Geithner and the President are taking strong action through this plan to get them off the balance sheets and to get credit moving again. I think that obviously this is a plan that balances public and private risk. It allows the market to set the rate so that the government doesn't overpay for assets.

And we're confident that, as the President said, that this will take steps in the right direction in order to remove these from balance sheets and get credit flowing again -- loans that will go to small businesses and families, big businesses alike -- I think is a strong step in the right direction.

In terms of the size and the amount, obviously this is a bid use $75 to $100 billion worth of TARP money to leverage a much larger pool of capital to do this, and I think it's -- it's a strong step in the right direction. I would point out, as -- this is one of many steps that the economic team and the Obama administration have taken since coming to office. This is yet another facet to this -- the challenges that the economy has faced just through financial stability, leaving aside the President's strong desire to have an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will create jobs and get the economy moving again.

But this is another step in terms of unfreezing credit markets, dealing with home prices and home foreclosures. Obviously the remaining step, through the health assessments, is to determine what capital banks might need under a worst case scenario.

So I think, again, it's a positive step in the right direction and one of many steps that we're taking under -- under this administration to get the economy moving again.

Yes, sir.

Q: Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said this toxic debt plan is almost certain to fail. He's called it a rehash, a recycling of a cash-for-trash plan that was abandoned -- that was proposed and then abandoned by the Bush administration in the fall. Any response to that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, look, I -- without responding I guess directly to that, I think what -- look, the alternative to a plan that manages risk and reward and doesn't have the taxpayers shouldering 100 percent of the burden is to do exactly that and shoulder the whole thing.

I also think that if you look at -- as I said a minute ago, I think this is a system that also takes into account having market help in determining the price of -- the price of some of these troubled assets to ensure that the government doesn't overpay.

And, look, I think some of Mr. Krugman's argument is also -- in some ways deals with a different aspect of the plan, and that's bank capitalization. I think -- I don't think anybody that reads anything about these plans should misunderstand that there is another step in terms of the health assessments, as I said, of these banks in order to determine, through public or private means, whether additional capital is needed in order to survive under the worst case scenario of an even more severe recession than we're experiencing right now.

But the President and the team are confident that the plan as outlined will take crucial steps in freeing up credit and getting the economy moving again.

Q: But how do you reassure private investors who might invest in this plan that they might not -- that they wouldn't be subject to the same kind of push-back on, say, executive bonuses that AIG is facing, since in fact the investors in this plan would be receiving discounted taxpayer -- discounted investments?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, I think this obviously is a -- this is a different program than what was set up under or what exists under TARP. Obviously there's a line that has to be walked in understanding that the public and the taxpayers shouldn't and don't want to shoulder a hundred percent of the risk. But I think the balance that's struck here in sharing that risk and spreading the reward is one that is able to navigate that.


Q: Speaking of navigating, introducing this plan puts you in between Wall Street executives who are skeptical because of the precise point that was just made, that there might be some sort of populist backlash, and legislation trying to clawback something from earnings that they make from this, and populist rage on Capitol Hill. What have you done -- or the administration, what has the administration done to reach out to both sides to make sure that this works?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, this is a result of extensive discussions with both Capitol Hill and people both on Wall Street and involved in the market in order to set up a plan that we think will best achieve the objective of freeing up capital. Look, I think whether -- I mean, I think the President spoke clearly about this over the weekend in the interview that he did with "60 Minutes," in understanding that we -- taxpayers are very much correct that we have to understand and deal with excessive compensation and bonuses. And the President has outlined a plan to start on that, so that bonuses aren't a way of rewarding people that are not succeeding; bonuses have typically been something that's given to people that are doing well. But also we have to take steps to ensure that whatever is done, is done in a way that furthers our recovery and stabilizes our financial system. And look, it's something that the President is aware of.

In all honestly, Jake, I don't -- I think this is -- this has not been a -- this is not a new tension. I think this tension has been certainly prevalent if not completely, if it had lacked -- even if it lacked obviousness, in all honesty, for a long, long time, even dating back to the -- before the middle of September of last year when bailouts became a word that more Americans were hearing --

Q: But it's peaking a bit, I mean, in terms of Wall Street skepticism and also populism on the Hill. I'm just wondering if you could be a little bit more specific about what specific outreach you've done. Did the President, once the plan was in place, did he call bicameral, bipartisan leadership in the Hill and brief them? Did Geithner go to Wall Street and talk to people there and talk to CEOs?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I know -- I know that Secretary Geithner is in New York tonight, obviously speaking, and I'm sure that will involve an audience that includes both CEOs and bankers. I can certainly check. I don't have in front of me what the -- whether or not the President talked to -- explicitly to Capitol Hill about this.

But look, I think that is -- that's something the President understands, that tension. And I think the steps that he has taken and will take underscore the notion that we have to deal with what are sometimes forces that are pulling in opposite directions. I think it underscores the necessity of working to try to get it right, and not lurching in any one direction but navigating opposite forces in order to do what's right for the economy.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, in rolling out the details today, Timothy Geithner used a more, sort of, quiet approach -- pen-and-pad with reporters, not getting out there on television in a very public way. Why?

MR. GIBBS: You guys always -- every time we do one of these things, we do a background briefing, and somebody asks if it can be on the record --

Q: But this was a major --

MR. GIBBS: -- and, you know, we don't want just a speech, we'd like to do some Q&A, and so we put the Secretary of Treasury out on the record to --

Q: This was a major event. Everyone was waiting for the details, and it almost seemed like it came out in a less than, sort of, bombastic way.

MR. GIBBS: I guess he's worried a little bit less about what the packaging is on the present, and more importantly, what's inside of the box. I suppose we could have rigged out some flags and printed up some placards and cued up some old campaign music, but I think what's important -- maybe not for Washington reporters, but what's more important for the American people is to get the details of a plan that works to get their bank lending money again.

I think that's, in all honesty, what the Americans people care most about. I think if you objectively look at what this administration has done, or what the economic team has done in the course of about nine weeks of service, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find nine weeks where more solutions were outlined of problems and challenges that have been facing this country probably since the 1930s.

Q: Just to follow another question - Christina Romer, in an interview with CNN earlier today, talked about how if this doesn't work that we'll review it we'll tweak it, I think was the exact language that she used. Is there a backup plan if this doesn't work? And to say "tweak" it, does that sort of instill sort of a lack of confidence that this will actually work?

MR. GIBBS: Do we have a backup plan if it doesn't work, and if we do have a backup plan, does that denote that we're preparing for it not to work? I want to sift through the circular --

Q: I asked a backup plan because she said if it doesn't work we'll "tweak" it. But I'm just wondering, does that give a sense of --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think it is safe to assume that any policy that this administration or -- I'll speak broadly for any politician in the country -- if they roll out a plan, it's constantly evaluated to ensure that the objectives by which the plan was introduced are met by the implementation of the plan. And if the plan doesn't meet through its implementation the objectives of what it was outlined to do, that that plan might be augmented to meet those objectives.

Q: That was deep. That was deep.

MR. GIBBS: That was more this than that. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

Q: On pricing, what makes you confident that they will be able to find prices here that private investors are attracted to, and what happens if they don't? Does this thing just fail?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- and obviously -- and I think Secretary Geithner talked about this this morning -- but, look, you have competing interests and putting these two competing interests together gives each involved an incentive to find a way to do business that ultimately works for the American people.

Obviously we've talked a lot about the need -- in this room -- for banks to have bad assets off of their balance sheets. So that gives somebody the incentive to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense for them and still provides them that belief. Obviously having a public-private partnership also gives both taxpayers and private investors that have the wherewithal to deal with a lot of this stuff -- gives them the incentive to look for something that makes sense for them and for the taxpayer.

So I think you've created basically a supply-and-demand type auction that allows people to get what they need. That market, through that supply-and-demand model, can set a price that allows each objective to be met. And I think obviously -- I think there's a tremendous incentive for banks to want to take advantage of an opportunity that allows them to get past some of these bad assets.

Q: Will it simply be a free market out there for pricing these assets, or is the government going to be in there at some point almost as an arbitrator trying to push the two sides together?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's probably a little early to talk about that. I know there are people that are interested in the program, as was denoted in the morning papers. And I think that whenever you have willing buyers and willing sellers, the market can help instructively set a price that works for both entities and, in this case, something that will protect the taxpayers. You won't find the pressure of the government alone shouldering all of the risk and the burden, willing ultimately to pay much more than an asset might be worth.


Q: Robert, can you give us sort of a little bit of a scorecard for the public? So when are the first purchases? When should we expect to start seeing the first purchases?

MR. GIBBS: I think Secretary Geithner did not necessarily give a date, but said that -- obviously and this is -- they've had discussions obviously with the Fed and FDIC about setting up this structure. Obviously the FDIC has some experience in this, as well as the ability for each in terms of their role in the financing. So I think this is something that people will see quite soon.

Q: Who's going to run the public investment corporation? Is there going to be one person who is going to be like, sort of, a CEO or a manager?

MR. GIBBS: I would point to -- Treasury might have a more specific answer, if there's one person that does it.

Q: And finally, are you comfortable that there is a -- that this is democratized? So, for instance, that it -- it does seem like this is geared toward getting people with a lot of money, but there isn't a component for Joe in Kansas City, you know, or Jane in Des Moines.

MR. GIBBS: Do you know a Joe in Kansas City? Like, every example is some Joe in Kansas City. (Laughter.)

Q: What's wrong with Kansas City? (Laughter.)

Q: The plumber --

Q: Robert, we're on a --

MR. GIBBS: Look at me, you don't think I like Kansas City? (Laughter.)

Q: It is a (inaudible) meat shop. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Right.

Q: And the poor Royals franchise.

MR. GIBBS: There you go. (Laughter.)

Q: But in all seriousness, that they -- that there does seem to be a -- where there wasn't an ask of the American public to sort of get involved in this or -- do you feel like there's enough of a way for average citizens to participate in this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- yes, I think, obviously through investments and obviously -- look, the taxpayers will share in the reward for assets that do.

Q: Well, right now it's hedge fund guys and pensions plans -- sort of like this --

MR. GIBBS: Well --

Q: -- you know, the same Wall Street that everybody has been beating up on. Is there --

MR. GIBBS: Well, but, I mean --

Q: Do you feel like you --

MR. GIBBS: Do I think -- you know, we've talked a lot about pension funds and what's happened to them over the course of the last few months. I think obviously them being involved does give Joe in Kansas City the ability, through an investment in his pension fund, to do well.


Q: You got a couple of big things happening on Capitol Hill this week. First, if the Senate moves forward with its -- toward its bonus legislation -- there was a sense at the end of last week that what happened to Chris Dodd nobody wants happening to them. And they felt like, you know, if they did anything that would look like watering down a bonus bill, they would be excoriated and that the White House or the administration would not bail them out; that there was a sense that Dodd kind of twisted in the wind until Thursday, when finally Tim Geithner said, yes, it was us that asked for that change.

I'm wondering, first, are you guys sensing that -- that you have dance partners on Capitol Hill to deal with some of the issues you've raised about these bonus legislations?

MR. GIBBS: I'm don't --

Q: Do you feel -- are there Senators there who are willing to talk to you about your concerns that some of this legislation may be going too far?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think what the White House would communicate to Capitol Hill, to any member, to both sides, is exactly, again, what the President talked about -- how he would ultimately evaluate any legislation, which I had repeated earlier, which is to understand that we cannot and should not reward failure with bonuses, and the message that would send, but also to make sure that we don't do harm to the financial system.

Q: And are you finding a receptive audience?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if they just heard what I said, but I hope it was received well.

Q: Okay. Second, the budget bills are going to be rolled out this week, as well. And I wonder if now you can talk about how appropriate you feel it would be to do a national health plan with reconciliation language so that it couldn't filibustered.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the debate on reconciliation is months and months and months ahead of itself. I think if anybody is concerned about how this is going to be resolved, the best way is the exact way the President answered a question, I think, to a Republican member of Congress at the first event we had here where the President took questions. And that is, the best way to resolve the rising cost of health care is to have entities from all sides come together to find a solution. That's what -- that's the priority of this administration and certainly of this President.

I think the notion that something that might happen in August and September, when it's still chilly outside and we're only in late March, I think gives a lot of short shrift to the notion that people in this town ought to be able to work together to find solutions to some of our biggest problems.

Q: But on that, what some Republicans -- Judd Gregg, for instance -- are saying that if you have reconciliation language in these budgets on health care, then the liberals who will be pushing one agenda on health care will know that they have the upper hand, because if you fail to get some bipartisan deal, then always fall back and --

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- two points on that. One is, I think that gives, again, short shrift to the notion that people should have good ideas about a problem we've talked about for several decades; there isn't a lack of good ideas out there. And the second thing I might mention is it is interesting to see the views on reconciliation and how they've changed since, say, the Bush tax cuts in 2001.


Q: Robert, can you say definitively now that the President won't sign the House-passed bonus tax bill?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I would repeat exactly what he said last night, which is --

Q: Well, he declined to embrace it, certainly.

MR. GIBBS: Well, he -- I guess the -- well, let me tell you what I heard, and we can argue about that. Again, the President, I believe, said that the bill would be evaluated again on the two pillars with which I talked about. And, you know, I think to get ahead of where anybody else is in understanding that the process will go through the Senate, and we will certainly evaluate whatever were to come down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Q: And on a related issue, do you feel or does the President feel that the American people are beginning to suffer from bailout fatigue, with all of the bailouts going on, and today you announced yet another new bailout program for the toxic assets? How do you go about dealing with that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the American people very much lament, as does the President and everyone in his administration, that we find ourselves at the point today that we do, because of any number of factors that have led up to this point that find ourselves facing a declining jobs market, a home foreclosure crisis, a financial stability crisis, a lack of appropriate regulation in the market that matches where we are and the advanced technical nature of our financial system.

But I think the American people as -- again, as the President said last night, I think he wants the American people to understand that the steps that he's outlining and that we're taking today will help free up money in the system so that they can borrow money again, so that their small business that has a spotless credit rating isn't hounded to get money every two weeks from a bank because -- not of their doing but of something in the larger financial system; or that if -- again, if they've got a good credit history but can't find a willing bank to borrow money to send their child to college, that the steps that are being taken, and I explained a little bit of this, obviously there is -- there can be a tension between Wall Street and Main Street, but I think the President was clear that we're all in this boat together and that the only way that we're going to get this economy moving again is to do a series of things: invest in the recovery; reregulate our financial industry; deal with home foreclosures; but also stabilize our financial system -- that all of these have to be done together.

Look, the truth is, Mark, that today's announcement alone is not going to fix our economy, just as any individual piece of this taken in only itself isn't going to alone fix the economy. But all these things together can help what ails the system, free up credit, create jobs, put money back in people's pockets, and get the economy moving again.

Q: At enormous expense.

MR. GIBBS: At an enormous expense that the President believes should be done in a more transparent way so that the benefits can be recouped by the taxpayers and that our economy can get growing again.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, back to the bonus legislation, does the President or the White House have some suggested language for the Senate to consider?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: Are you leaving hands off, letting them work their will upon it?

MR. GIBBS: I can certainly check and see if there's any updates to a legislative strategy.

Q: Are you going to jump into it at the House-Senate conference committee?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you're ahead of the process by at least a good step. So --

Q: I don't hear you saying that you're going to guide the Senate or offer them some language, so I assume --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'd check on the update of where we are and tell you the way the President would evaluate legislation that might come out of something like a conference committee.

Q: And one other thing. Is there any financial regulatory package coming this week?

MR. GIBBS: I believe Secretary Geithner will testify Thursday -- I'm not sure if it's on the House or the Senate side -- and begin to outline principles for regulatory reform that we hope will pass by the end of the year. And obviously you know that this will be a big topic in a week or so, when we go to London.

Q: He's going to roll it out at the hearing?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: What does the President think of the formation of this group of moderates? Is it designed to sabotage his agenda by Democrats?

MR. GIBBS: No. Look -- no, I think for a long time we've had groups of like-minded legislators that have banded together to make -- and embrace policy prescriptions that they think are the best way to solve the challenges that we face.

I think he looks forward to working with anybody in the Senate not constrained by their membership in one area or constrained by any label.

Q: Well, isn't it premature to try to undermine these programs?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think the assembling of a group of moderate either Democrats or Republicans the President certainly wouldn't see as undermining his agenda. I think in many ways seeking solutions to these challenges is something the President would hope everyone does and it wouldn't provide any impediment to what he's trying to do.


Q: Robert, one on the FDIC and one on executive compensation. Obviously Treasury and the Fed are part of this, the private investors are, but the largest component of this credit system to absorb the toxic assets is the FDIC. And most Americans who think about that as thinking about the guarantor of their own savings accounts. What can you say to those Americans who might hear this and understand that the FDIC is going to be the biggest player in this to ensure that their confidence in their own savings remains valid and what steps the administration is going to take to make sure the FDIC can not only do this task, but its central task, which is protecting depositors?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you can -- I think the American people can reasonably be assured that we wouldn't be taking steps forward with the chair of the FDIC if both the President and the FDIC weren't very assured that this was the right step to take and that the function that they have performed for a long, long time would in any way be undermined.

And I think Secretary Geithner was asked this question at his briefing this morning, as well, and I think the notion that -- he reassured those that the FDIC can do, as you mentioned, the primary function that most Americans would associate with it, as well as their ability to take on an additional role and shoulder a burden for the taxpayers.

Q: On executive compensation, there were some reports this weekend that the administration is open to limits on executive compensation for publicly traded companies that have nothing to do with TARP, that aren't asking for any government financing for anything. Is that true, number one? And number two, if you are a buyer into this program, if you are helping the government soak up some of these toxic assets, should you assume that if you enter that pool you might, yourself, as a company or a equity fund or investment house, be limited or subject to future executive compensation limits?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I mentioned earlier, I think the program that was outlined today is separate from what has previously been outlined in the TARP program.

Q: So, no?

MR. GIBBS: Right.

Q: And so are publicly traded firms. Is the administration open to that all? Does it think it needs to change the culture there?

MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think the President has talked broadly about this, but I think details of a proposal on that are ahead of itself.

Q: But the administration at least is open to that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President previously supported providing shareholders with a non-binding vote, a say on their pay, that through public opinion, the White House believes would sway executive compensation. But --

Q: But that's a bottom-up, not a government --

MR. GIBBS: I don't have any details far beyond that.

Q: -- about the government doing this?

MR. GIBBS: Right.


Q: Yesterday, the head of the European Central Bank said that Europe doesn't need to increase spending more to combat the financial crisis. How concerned is the administration about what appears to be kind of a growing opposition in Europe to further stimulus spending, which seems to be a direct contradiction to what the President wants?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I actually think that there -- well, I think the President has talked to, and will talk to even more leaders that will be involved in the G20 throughout this week -- obviously Prime Minister Rudd will be here tomorrow and he's got some calls scheduled for later in the week.

But I think that certainly coming out of the finance ministers' meeting a few weeks ago, there was actually broad agreement that -- and the administration, as I've said from here, has never -- there was never any intention to have everybody sign a document that required a certain level or percentage of spending relating to their GDP, as was mentioned -- as the IMF suggested. But I believe that what was agreed on at that meeting was to continue to monitor what might be needed to stimulate economies in order to address the downturn in production that each economy will see as part of a global recession.

And I think the President will address this more tomorrow and throughout the week -- that I think there is a lot of commonality in the agenda that the administration will pursue and that other nations in the G20 will discuss next week at the summit, including, again, monitoring the spending situation to ensure that if the recession becomes deeper or more severe, that steps might be taken; that financial regulation is something that is enormously important in a changing world; and lastly, that -- I know there is strong agreement that as their markets have shrunk quickly because of this global recession, that exports have been pulled back greatly, particularly those in more developing nations, that funding and help go to those developing nations through the IMF in order to spur job creation and exports here in this country.

You know, the President I think will probably use the same term on this -- I think you'll hear him say this later this week -- that he looks at the London economic summit as an agenda that is both/and rather than either/or.


Q: Robert, a spokesman for Mikhail Gorbachev says that the President met Mr. Gorbachev here at the White House on Friday. What can you tell us about what they talked about? And why didn't the White House disclose the meeting?

MR. GIBBS: I believe it was in the guidance that the Vice President was meeting with Mr. Gorbachev.

Q: That's not the President.

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President tends to roam around the larger house, and sometimes walks into meetings that weren't previously on his schedule.

Q: He could roam -- he could roam here. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think we did that once, and it seemed like Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday. (Laughter.)

Q: So what did they talk about?

Q: What group did he -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: The President -- well, look, obviously Vice President Biden met with the former Soviet President Gorbachev, and obviously they discussed continued ways in which the United States and Russia can work together to reduce our nuclear arsenal. I think that's going to be part of the upcoming topic when President Obama and President Medvedev meet in London; that we continue to talk about ways in which we can further the agenda on mutual interests like nuclear proliferation; on energy; on a whole host of ideas.

Q: Did he try to solicit Mr. Gorbachev's thoughts on missile defense and perhaps how to secure cooperation with the Russians on that?

MR. GIBBS: I can certainly check on that. I don't know if that was discussed in the meeting.

Q: Back to the assets program, briefly. Eventually, and especially if the program takes off, you're going to have to go back to Congress for more money. Do you think they're likely to stump up substantial amounts of money to help private investors make money off of --

MR. GIBBS: I think the American people and I think Congress and I think the President and the administration are focused not on what has to happen months from now or longer than that, but how best to implement a program that will get the economy moving again. I think it's wildly premature to get -- to get a whole lot farther down the road on that.


Q: I wanted to follow up on the question about Gorbachev. Vice President Biden, prior to that, met with a different Russian delegation, with some business people. Is he the point man now at the White House on relations with Russian?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think he's the point person. I think obviously the Vice President plays an extraordinarily important role in this administration's foreign policy. He has great experience through many years serving on the Foreign Relations Committee, and I think is a valued member that the President leans on repeatedly.

Q: Can you remember a meeting on Russian policy where the President directly participated?

MR. GIBBS: Where he didn't participate?

Q: Where he directly participated -- the President.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I just told you he was at Sheryl's secret meeting just a minute ago.

Q: I'm glad you called it "secret," Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- Sheryl's secret meeting.

Q: I didn't say it was secret. (Laughter.)

Q: I was talking more about strategy -- strategy-setting meetings here at the White House, not with guests.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, oh. I can look back at his schedule, but I think it's safe to assume that we've discussed, as has been written, developments on policy that either is bilateral policy with Russia or policy that includes Russia as one of many that take part in important issues.

Q: And one last thing.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I have to get to Ann -- I'm all Russia'd out.

Q: Robert, what happened to the word "toxic"? Do you have some marketing czar now who decided that "legacy loans" is more attractive to private investors than the word "toxic"?

MR. GIBBS: I think I used "toxic" earlier, so if the -- if there's a marketing czar, I've failed to get his or her memo. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, what does the President --

MR. GIBBS: Maybe I didn't read my own memo. (Laughter.)

Sorry, go ahead.

Q: What's the President hoping to communicate tomorrow night with the press conference?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as he's done over the past -- certainly the better part of the past week, whether it's on "The Tonight Show" or on "60 Minutes," is to address directly with the American people that challenges that the country faces and the choices that he's working on with Congress to put our economy back on track and put the nation back on firmer footing.

I think the -- I think the President has -- believes that a continued dialogue with the American people about where we are and where we're going is necessary certainly in times like this to give people a sense of what we're doing and a sense of where we're going; that they may or may not like all the decisions that he makes, but I think he believes it's important that they understand why he's making the decisions that he is.

Q: So there will be an opening statement? Lengthy?

MR. GIBBS: Not lengthy -- well, I guess it depends on your definition of lengthy.

Q: How long?

MR. GIBBS: You know, two, three hours. (Laughter.)

Q: Gridiron-lengthy? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I want to note that Chuck said that about the Gridiron, not me.

April. Ms. Ryan.

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: Sorry. For your lengthy question.

Q: Anyway --

MR. GIBBS: Just playing.

Q: Yes, I know. (Laughter.) On the continued dialogue issue, will there be any news tomorrow night --

MR. GIBBS: I think that largely depends on the many important and impressive reporters assembled in the room in which they will ask the President cutting questions and elicit news.

Q: No, you know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about an opening statement. Stop being flip. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: If I can't be flip, April, this is going to be pretty darn boring, isn't it? I guess we'll just have to go back to the lower podium. (Laughter.)

I have not -- I have not read the full opening statement yet, but I will make sure that if there is news, that the news reporters are apprised of such.

Q: Okay, all right. Also --

Q: In defense of Gridiron, I want to say the Vice President was half-hour late.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, well, I'm going to get somebody down here to give a 30-second response to that, Helen. (Laughter.)


Q: Robert, one more question on the economy. As the President is trying to save this economy, the global economy is suffering as well, and this country has in the past borrowed money from other countries, particularly China. What happens if some of these countries call their debts due from the United States? You know, many of have said it would destabilize this country. What happens?

MR. GIBBS: Well, two points on that. One, this certainly came up a few weeks ago when -- relating to the Chinese. And I think said then and I would said again that this country remains the strongest and deepest capital market on the planet and the safest investment that anybody could make.

Secondly, I would say that the President recognizes that we have to change our path of -- our fiscal path and put ourselves back on one that's far more sustainable than what we've seen recently. That's why the budget that he sent to Capitol Hill makes investments that will grow our economy, but most importantly will cut the deficit in half in his first term; that the President recognizes that we can't continue to do what's been done with simply passing debt on to different generations.

Q: If a country does call some of the money due, are we -- no, it's a serious question.

MR. GIBBS: I didn't say it wasn't a serious question; it's a seriously hypothetical question and one I'm not --

Q: But it's a reality -- it could be a reality in this tough global economic recession.

MR. GIBBS: April, I -- the minute it becomes a reality, I assume your hand will be straight up in the air and I will call on you then.


Q: Robert, the EPA has forwarded its endangerment finding to the White House. Can you enlighten us on whether there's an actual plan? Are they recommending a scheme for regulation? And could you also talk about the timing of it, how quickly --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think something popped up right before I came out here and I haven't delved into this. I know that -- I think the President has made quite clear on this that he is -- the way to deal with greenhouse gases is to work with Congress in order to put together a plan that deals with this and creates a market for renewable energy.

As you know, the Supreme Court, through their ruling, requires the EPA to look at the potential public health risk that CO2 might cause, and I think that is -- not having seen it, I think this is the -- just a step in that process.


Q: Robert, the President sent out his political operation into the field over the weekend, going door to door all over the country to muster support for the budget. What's your -- what's your -- what have you heard? How did it go? What kind of reaction did they get? And is it producing anything?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the only number I heard this morning was that about a million doors were knocked on over the course of the weekend in order to build support for the President's plan to make the important investments in health care, energy independence, and education reform, and put ourselves back on that path toward fiscal sustainability, all of which is contained in the budget.

And I think the President believes that whenever the public can get more greatly involved in the process, as Congress starts through committees this week and on the floor next week, approving a budget for next year, that that involvement, and hearing the opinions of people that are reached through that door-knocking, are important in the process.

Q: Is it producing emails, phone calls? And do you have a goal on how many people you want to call in or send their messages to Congress?

MR. GIBBS: I can check and see on that. I would say if we knocked on a million doors, then our goal was probably 750,000. (Laughter.)

Q: Did the President see a rebuff or any signs of hope in Iran's response to his message? And have you guys made any assessment as to how deeply this has penetrated into Iranian society, how much the (inaudible) has been passed, et cetera?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check on -- if there were any Internet metrics that are important. Look, the President, as you heard him talk about in the message, this was an effort and an opportunity to speak directly to the Iranian people and their leaders, to underscore the potential for a new and changed relationship based on our shared rights and responsibilities. The President believes it's time for that change. And regardless of any response or -- the President is hopeful that the Iranian leadership will work to change the way that they do business.

Thanks, guys.

Q: Thanks.

END 3:21 P.M. EDT

Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," March 23, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85907.
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