James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before I get started, let me just make a few remarks.
The U.N. Security Council yesterday unanimously called on North Korea to implement the September 2005 agreement to eliminate its nuclear weapons program. North Korea's announced threat to withdraw from the six-party talks and restart its nuclear program is a serious step in the wrong direction. North Korea will not find acceptance by the international community unless it verifiably abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The six-party talks offer North Korea the best path towards that acceptance through dialogue. The United States is prepared to work with North Korea and its neighbors through the six-party process to reduce tensions and achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.
We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats, to respect the will of the international community, and to honor its international commitments and obligations.
And with that, take us away.
Q: Actually, I wanted to ask about North Korea. Apparently they have -- I wanted to ask if you know whether they have kicked out U.N. and U.S. personnel.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that, but we can certainly check and see if there's updated guidance from NSC.
Q: And then just more broadly, it seems like the situation with North Korea, the six-party talks, the whole trajectory is kind of unraveling. What's the strategy to pull things back on track?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- let me go a little bit broader for a second, because I know that after the launch some time ago, there was certainly interest in what was going to happen at the United Nations. And as I said in that brief statement, that -- and I think the administration is quite pleased with the result out of the United Nations in the condemnation for the launch, in requesting that the North Koreans abandon the pursuit of its program and fulfill its obligations based on the agreement that it made, that it refrain from further provocations and that the -- what the U.N. said is that there's a time period to look at additional -- the possibility of additional -- additional sanctions.
So we're pleased with what we got --
Q: Won't the North Koreans get the message that condemnations and requests for them to change actions are not exactly strong statements to make to a country that's repeatedly defied, as you said, its obligations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- let me turn that question a little bit around, because I think there was some question about whether or not you could even get five members of a Security Council, or five of the permanent members of the Security Council to agree on a condemnation. Yesterday, 15 countries unanimously stood up and spoke out about the launch.
Q: But it took almost two weeks to get there.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, sometimes progress takes longer than a couple of days. I think that -- I know that you all had an interest in what the Security Council was going to do; at least you did several days ago. I think it's important to understand what the Security Council did. And remember, this is not -- this is asking the North Koreans to live up to the agreement that the North Koreans entered into. This is not some pie-in-the-sky thing that a group of countries has asked another to do. This is the unanimous Security Council asking the North Koreans to live up to the obligations that it entered into in September of 2005, that we can seek a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Q: Yes, but one might reasonably wonder where the leverage is if every agreement they make, they eventually decide to break.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think part of the leverage is going back to, again, some doubt that many of you may have had in the moments or hours after the launch as to whether countries could act in concert, together, to condemn the launch.
I think there certainly was some doubt expressed for that, and I think the manner in which the Security Council came to this condemnation is extremely important.
Q: Robert, switching gears a little bit to banks. Goldman Sachs has said it's setting aside money to increase employee salaries by about 35 percent, compared to last quarter. Given the fact that Goldman is taking -- or has taken TARP money, and the President's feelings about executive compensation, what's his or the White House reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President's viewpoints on executive compensation for companies that receive extraordinary assistance under the TARP program, and I think the President's viewpoint on compensation in general are well known.
I think that, as we get closer and closer to the end of the month, we'll get closer and closer to the results of stress tests and health assessments for the banks and get a sense of the capital requirements that banks are likely going to need in order to get through a severe economic downturn like the one we're involved in.
I know there's been back and forth about paying money back from TARP and things like that, but I think Goldman has said that they're going to obviously wait until those stress tests to make some final determinations.
Q: But should Goldman be setting aside that kind of money to increase salaries?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- again, I think -- what I think the President has said and I think he denoted today in his speech the need for responsibility. The President is not going to run every bank in the country, and neither is this administration. But I think -- without looking, without seeing the exact set of what exactly they're proposing, I think the President's viewpoint on executive compensation is laid out there pretty clearly.
Q: Did you just say that the bank stress tests will be -- that will be decided by the end of the month?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the timeline is to have these completed sometime toward the end of the month, yes.
Q: In January, Dr. Romer, representing your incoming administration, put out a paper talking about the need for the stimulus package. And in it, she anticipated unemployment rates without the stimulus package basically where they are right now. In other words, it was -- I don't want to call it a rosy scenario, but it was a more optimistic projection than what turned out to be. Are you guys --
MR. GIBBS: What was the -- I don't --
Q: She predicted that the unemployment rate right now would be what it actually is if the stimulus package didn't pass. So my question is, knowing that, being able to look at what the projections were in January and see that they're actually -- they actually were slightly more optimistic than reality has proven, do you think --
MR. GIBBS: Well -- go ahead.
Q: Well, do you think that there needs to be more action taken on stimulating the economy now that the rubber has met the road, so to speak?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think to some degree that curve, at least in the short term, the scenarios might well have easily matched each other based on the notion that when those figures were made, I think in many ways for a December meeting that the transition had to lay out a plan for developing that recovery, I think the bill did not get signed into law until, if I remember, the 12th or so of February. I think obviously it's going to take some time to get that spending into the bloodstream of the American economy.
That having been said, I think, as you saw the President yesterday give people a progress report on the ability to get that money into the economy quickly, to do it in a way that was ahead of schedule and under budget, particularly in highway and road projects which are not terms you generally see within a few words of a highway project.
But I think the President is encouraged that the spending and the recovery plan are kicking in. Dr. Romer said this morning, I said yesterday, that we're likely to see many more months of hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.
I don't think anybody is under the illusion that, particularly as it relates to the employment statistics or the employment market, that we're going to see an instantaneous turnaround.
But the President and Dr. Romer and the entire economic team are pleased that we've taken steps to address the downturn in demand, to do that in a way that they believe will save or create 3.5 million jobs, and move from recession to recovery.
I think the President expanded on that today by discussing, again, what he believes has to be done in order to lay a strong foundation for continued long-term economic growth, which is the goal.
Q: If I could just do a follow-up on something you just said, that the President said yesterday when announcing the 2,000th project that's been approved for transportation stimulus dollars. How many of those have actually started? I recognize it's 2,000 projects have been approved. But how many have actually started?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly look for a number. I think what we highlighted was the fact that you've got bids that are coming in, you've got the acceptance of a bid. But I can get exact numbers in terms of how much ground has actually been broken.
Q: Robert, the President's speech today was lengthy in terms of laying out how our nation got into this crisis and the efforts of the administration to turn things around. There was nothing new there. So what was the President trying to accomplish? What was the message? What was he trying to do by the speech?
MR. GIBBS: As I've been reminded many times in this room, we've already bitten off more than we can chew. So I think a lengthy speech laying out additional policy would only be met by increased skepticism by many of you in this room.
Q: What was he trying to accomplish?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President was trying to lay out a progress report for the American people on where we've been and the road ahead. I think the American people want desperately to hear where we are, to hear the steps that have been taken, any progress that's been made relating to that. But also, the President believes that it's important to continue to let people know that we've got a lot of work to do in front of us, that we have to make some tough decisions. As I said, not all of these are going to be easy. We're going to have to tackle some things that have not been addressed in quite some time in order to put ourselves back on a path to fiscal responsibility and address the long-term challenges that our economy faces in terms of preparing the nation for the jobs of the future.
So I think, all in all, the President wanted to let the American people know where we've come from, where we are, and what lies ahead in the months as he sees us moving from a recession to recovery.
Q: On Iran, it seems that ever since the administration sort of made it clear that they wanted to sit down at the table for group talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, Iran has been sort of being very, I guess, in a sense, vocal and almost sort of throwing it in the face of the world their nuclear ambitions, being very clear about what they want to do. Is there any --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's -- best I can tell from my reading of the news, that's not started recently.
Q: Well, it's been going on for some time. But it just seems like lately, you know, there's a sense that they're not backing down. I mean, they're still letting the world know this is what we want to do. Is there any concern, here in the administration, as to the direction that Iran is going or continues to go, despite the fact that you've been reaching out to them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there is and has been for quite some time among the administration and the previous administration concern about the direction that Iran is going in pursuit of its illicit nuclear program.
The President had some very productive conversations around G20. As you all know, Bill Burns went last week to meet with the P5-plus-1 to discuss the next steps involved. There was unity among the participants about the strategy moving forward. And the goal remains very clear. The goal is and remains a suspension of Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program.
But again, we're under no illusions that this was going to be accomplished in a 10- or 12-week period of time. The concern remains the same. The goal remains the same, and that is, as I said, the suspension of Iran's illicit nuclear program and the meeting of its international obligations and responsibilities.
Q: Can we follow up on this one in particular?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: There were some reports today that the administration is willing to allow Iranians to enrich uranium, if you want to have for inspection on that. Is this press reports true? And your position on that?
MR. GIBBS: This would not be the first time that I've stood at this podium and -- having read something in the newspaper that I found to not be accurate. The conversations that were had in Europe, the conversations that Bill Burns had with the P5-plus-1 were very clear about the strategy moving forward. And the goal remains the same, and it's, despite what one might read, unchanged.
Q: Why is the President blocking habeas corpus from prisoners at Bagram? I thought he taught constitutional law. And these prisoners have been there --
MR. GIBBS: You're incorrect that he taught on constitutional law.
Q: -- for many years with no due process.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are several issues relating to that that have to do differently than in some places than others, particularly because you have detainees in an active theater of war. There's a review that's pending of court cases and decisions, and we want to ensure -- we want to ensure protection and security of the American people as well as rights that might be afforded.
Q: Are you saying these people in prison are a threat to us?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that part of that is the determination based on our detainee policy that the President announced on the 21st of January, that that's part of that review, yes.
Q: Robert, two questions, a follow-up on North Korea. Can you explain how the -- what the U.N. did yesterday sort of backs up what the President said in Prague, which was --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: -- rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Do you feel as if this U.N. resolution makes all three of those statements true?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the President asked that the launch be condemned, that it violated U.N. Resolution 1718, and the statement clearly says that. The President called for condemnation that included language that says that North Korea must abandon its nuclear program and meet the obligations that it agreed to. It says that. The resolution -- the President asked that resolutions say that further provocations and launches not be undertaken, and it says that. The President asked that additional sanctions be reviewed, and the resolution passed unanimously by the 15 members of the Security Council says that.
Q: So you feel that the rules are binding based on this.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q: And that there will be other consequences if they continue to violate them.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. That's all contained in the resolution that was --
Q: What are those consequences?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the international community is working through that. I think the notion that some of the people on the Security Council took part in the condemnation is an important step. I think it is important, as I said, that the North Koreans understand that they have to live up to their obligations and that it's time to return to what at one point were very productive six-party talks.
Q: In his speech on the economy today, he was talking -- two things jumped out when he talked about credit was not flowing as freely as he had hoped, but that was -- but he explained the reason why the TARP money was going to them. And he also talked about making college education more affordable. In both instances, does the President believe banks have done enough to make loans affordable to average Americans? And does he believe higher education institutions have done enough to make college -- all of this seems to be one way on the college education. Does he think that those two institutions, banks and college and universities, need to make things more affordable?
MR. GIBBS: Well, on the first part, obviously the President believes that we are seeing some progress in the flow of credit and the flow of capital. Obviously we'd like to see more. That's one of the reasons that the stress tests have been undertaken, to ensure that banks have the capital they need and that when they -- when and if they get this capital, that they lend that money.
Q: But is he at all concerned that it seems that banks get it -- get this capital for next to nothing, and that maybe they're not passing on that interest savings that they're getting from the government to the consumer?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- are there concerns that stories yesterday about credit cards that are increasing rates -- absolutely the President is concerned about that. And there's no doubt that -- well, despite the fact that there's never a good time to have that happen, particularly now, is not that time.
As it relates to college, in fact, the President and the economic team in the Oval Office prior to him leaving for the speech as part of the economic daily briefing were talking about the soaring costs of college education; how, in many ways, the inflation for a higher education outpaces the inflation for health care. There are a number --
Q: You just told us that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's a number of factors. One, you've seen states, because of their budget situations, have to cut back on the amount of aid that they're giving; that's part of it. I don't think there's any doubt that some responsibility is borne by institutions. Obviously there are fixed personnel costs, there's health care costs, that continue to increase and have to be addressed in order to make a college education more affordable. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to rationalize how health care inflation is outstripped by increasing costs in higher education.
And I think lastly, the President has included a proposal in his budget -- he talked about it throughout the campaign -- and remains committed to increasing the amount of and level of aid that we give to individuals that want to send -- families that want to send their kids to college.
Q: But do you see how this is sort of --
MR. GIBBS: Let me build on that for just one second, because --
Q: -- where the government seems to be helping banks get money and helping the public pay for the stuff, but it's -- these institutions don't seem to be --
MR. GIBBS: One of the battles the President has specifically taken on is that of direct lending; that the practice of our government right now is to reward the middleman for processing a student loan that can be done far cheaper by simply using -- by having a direct loan program. You guys often ask about the deficit, you guys often ask about fiscal responsibility. The President's proposal would save $94 billion -- billion with a "b" -- over a 10-year period of time by taking the banks out of the middle of this process.
That's not going to be an easy fight in Washington, D.C. Lobbyists have been hired, as is usually the case right before a big fight happens. But the President remains committed to taking steps that he can to make a college education more affordable.
But, Chuck, I think you're right, there's no doubt that institutions bear some of this responsibility. It is something that the President discussed specifically. The President wants to and invested a great deal monetarily in the recovery plan in trying to spur job creation in jobs for the future, in clean energy jobs, in particular. And one of the things that we're going to have to do is create a workforce that is capable of doing those jobs so that we're not importing wind turbines and wind turbine blades from overseas -- that we're putting Americans to work here building and producing those. And that's going to take a greater investment in higher education.
Q: Looking ahead to the Mexico trip, the Mexican ambassador says that his country wants to see our assault weapons ban reinstated and that that's going to be an issue. How will the President respond to that at the table in Mexico City?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you all have asked me and I think the answer has not changed on that. In order to get from one place to the other they have to go through the border. I think the President's initiative that was outlined by Governor Napolitano a few weeks ago to increase our assistance to border communities and to inspections on the border are important in terms of -- in terms of moving drugs south to north and guns north to south. I think a greater enforcement of the laws that are on our books are likely to have an impact in the security situation there. And I think the President will, over the course of the next -- both tomorrow and in the next few days discuss more the situation, the security situation surrounding President Calderón's action against drug cartels.
Q: But the ban is on the books that we don't have assault weapons -- any ban on them. What does he think of that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President believes that there -- through enforcement of the existing laws that we have that we can make a dent in -- a significant dent in any gun violence.
Q: In other words, he doesn't want to restore it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President supports it, but I don't think that --
Q: He doesn't think he can do it.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that -- as I've mentioned in here, there's a lot on our plate.
Q: Are you saying that this is just going to be a non-starter for him, not just now, but looking ahead?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think to boil down the problems that we have relating to the security situation and our help for the Mexican government in their courageous battle against drug cartels into just one thing would be to oversimplify a complex problem.
Q: Beyond the Mexican context, is it a non-starter going ahead, reinstating the assault weapons ban?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that there are other priorities that the President has.
Q: Robert, a follow-up on Mexico. Also, the Calderón administration is calling to the Mexican Congress to consider the legalization of drugs, in Mexico. What's the White House reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I've said from here before, that's -- the President doesn't believe that that's going to solve the problem either, and has opposed that in the past and doesn't support that now.
Q: That's for the U.S. What about Mexico?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to -- I've got enough trouble commenting on a Congress in the United States, I'm not going to get involved in commenting on the Congress in Mexico.
Q: Robert, I wanted to follow up on Helen's question about Bagram. While it is true that it's an active theater of hostilities, the individuals who have brought these court challenges were not detained in that theater. Those people are claiming that they were detained somewhere else and flown to Bagram. Given the President's comments during the campaign about his concerns about a legal black hole, how is it any different as a moral matter to fly someone to Bagram versus flying them to Guantanamo?
MR. GIBBS: Well, one of the things that's being undertaken as part of this review are part -- are the claims that you mentioned, the status of who's there and why, and that while that review is pending, the Justice Department concluded that it was necessary to appeal the ruling because it might arguably permit access to U.S. courts by a detainee in Bagram who claims he's not an Afghan citizen and was captured outside of Afghanistan.
So the ruling is -- the judgment that was made is consistent with that as part of the detainee review process.
Q: So it's just bad luck that they were flown to Bagram where they have no rights, versus flying them to Guantanamo where the President thinks they would?
MR. GIBBS: I think a review is going to determine their status. I won't speak to the luck of somebody that finds themselves at any of those places.
Q: Back on the President's speech today, a Spanish professor, Gabriel Álvarez, says after conducting a study, that in his country, creating green jobs has actually cost more jobs than it has led to: 2.2 jobs lost, he says, for every job created. And he has issued a report that specifically warns the President not to try and follow Spain's example.
MR. GIBBS: It seems weird that we're importing wind turbine parts from Spain in order to build -- to meet renewable energy demand here if that were even remotely the case.
Q: Is that a suggestion that his study is simply flat wrong?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't read the study, but I think, yes.
Q: Well, then. (Laughter.)
Q: On Pakistan, two questions on Pakistan. What was the reaction to President Zardari's signing of the law enacting sharia in Swat Valley? And any input -- or insight you can give into what the U.S. administration's position was during that process where he was waffling?
And then second, does the White House consider Nawaz Sharif now to be sort of a co-equal political power to President Zardari? Are you treating him as such?
MR. GIBBS: Let me find guidance on the second one. On the first one, I think -- well, the administration believes solutions involving security in Pakistan don't include less democracy and less human rights. The signing of that denoting strict Islamic law in the Swat Valley is -- goes against both of those principles; that we're disappointed that the parliament didn't take into account the legitimate concerns around civil and human rights. I will find out some more guidance on the second one.
Q: Do you guys have any input, though, with the Zardari government?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that our views on this were known. I don't know exactly in terms of communications that might have been had one on one or in a group, but I think the position that I enunciated is not one that is new.
Q: Another Spanish question. There is a judge in Spain, according to reports, who is close to -- it may have even happened this afternoon -- to indicting Gonzales and five other former Bush officials for torture of Spaniards who were in Guantanamo. If they go ahead and do this, would the U.S. government cooperate with any information requests from Spanish prosecutors involved in the case? And do you think this is an appropriate action for another government to take?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get involved in hypotheticals. We may have some reaction based on what ultimately happens. David, as you and many others know, that there's pending court cases about information that the administration is involved in as we speak about information.
I think it's important to understand, above all, that the President has taken strong and swift actions to ensure that whatever actions were either permissible or carried out previously are no longer the policy of this government and will no longer be undertaken by this government. I think that is important for people to hear throughout the world.
Q: Just to follow up, have you had any conversations with the Spanish government about this pending case?
MR. GIBBS: I have not spoken with the Spanish. (Laughter.)
Q: Or the Justice Department?
MR. GIBBS: I would send you to Justice. Like I said, I've not spoken --
Q: I'm not talking about --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I haven't talked to Bill, either, come to think of it, on this.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Tomorrow is tax day and a number of conservative groups are organizing these so called "tea parties" across the country; there are going to be grassroots uprising revolts against the administration's policies so far. Is the President aware that these are going on and do you have any reaction to this?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if the President is aware of the events. I think the President will use tomorrow as a day to have an event here at the White House to signal the important steps in the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that cut taxes for 95 percent of working families in America, just as the President proposed doing; cuts in taxes and tax credits for the creation of clean energy jobs.
We'll use tomorrow to highlight individual and instances in families that have seen their taxes cut and I think America can be -- Americans will see more money in their pockets as a direct result of the Making Work Pay tax cut that the President both campaigned on and passed through Congress.
Q: Is anyone monitoring these or kind of paying attention to what's coming out?
MR. GIBBS: I've neither monitored them nor spoken with the Spanish about them. (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, back on North Korea. What role does China have to play in this next round of six-party talks? And also I want to ask a question that I asked last week: What about Bo?
MR. GIBBS: What about?
Q: The dog.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, the dog? In what order of importance should I address your -- both of your questions?
Q: Let's go to North Korea first.
MR. GIBBS: Okay. That was a trick question, actually. Go ahead, I'm joking.
I think China has played and I think the President and the administration want and expect China to play a very constructive role in this process. I go back again to what many people thought might happen at the U.N. after the launch many days ago -- I forget how many.
But the Chinese were actively involved in the statement that came out of the U.N. and Security Council yesterday, and the Chinese have been active in calling for the North Koreans to come back to the table, engage in the six-party talks, and live up to the obligations that they helped broker in September of 2005 that are important for the North Koreans to live up to.
But I think the Chinese are playing a constructive role, and we would certainly want and expect that to continue.
Q: And the dog?
MR. GIBBS: Now the dog. I don't know what I'm supposed to tell you about the dog.
Q: What happens today? You know, tell us about the interaction with the dog. Is the dog going to get any more friends coming over or what?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the exact movements of the dog. I know later this afternoon, weather permitting, the dog will be outside -- if not, the dog will be inside. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the dog speak Spanish? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The dog has also not talked to the Spanish about impending torture cases, though it is --
Q: The dog is Portuguese.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly, Portuguese Water Dog, of course it's somewhat nearby.
You'll get a chance to see the dog. You'll get a chance to see them with the dog. Thus concludes my official comments on the dog. (Laughter.)
Q: I'd like to ask a question about Somalia -- sorry for getting away from the dog, but --
MR. GIBBS: That's --
Q: -- it's a story in Germany, as well.
But Somalia, everybody is happy about the happy ending for Captain Phillips. On the other hand, reading the U.S. media, I have the impression that the public expects further showing of military strength in the region. On the other hand, we have the experience of '93 for President Clinton. And probably no U.S. President is very eager to get involved down there militarily after this experience.
Did this problem (inaudible) an unfortunate development for military operations in Somalia could cost the President domestic political capital? Can this ever open a discussion what to do in this case now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me sort of separate some of this. I mean, the President took specific -- authorized specific action. It was undertaken by the Department of Defense because pirates held captive an American citizen. There was never a discussion about domestic political implications about that. There was just a care and concern, and actions taken by the administration in order to ensure the Captain's safety and security.
As I said yesterday, both Somalia and that region of the world have bedeviled many administrations. The lawless and ungoverned areas and spaces on this globe have certainly in the past tended to breed extremely bad people that seek to do others, including this country, harm; though I think there are many different approaches that one has to take in terms of increasing the institution -- governmental institution in Somalia, as well as separate action to ensure the safety and security of Americans involved in using the shipping lanes around that region of the world.
The President talked about this over the weekend in a statement and yesterday, and I spoke about, yesterday, the steps that we have to take to ensure greater international cooperation and coordination, to ensure that actions are taken by governments when people commit acts of piracy, that we seek to bring them to justice, and all of those in coordination as well as continued assistance to Somalia in order to increase their governmental capabilities -- all of which will be important in reducing the threat both in that country and offshore.
Q: Robert, thank you. Senators Kennedy, Leahy, and Feingold have introduced legislation that would roll back the use of state secrets privilege for DOJ. Repeated attempts to get comment from the White House have not been returned, and I'm wondering why the White House is so sensitive about commenting on this when Vice President Biden co-sponsored that bill in the last Congress.
MR. GIBBS: I have -- I would have to take a look at what they've called for and how it relates to the actions that the Justice Department --
Q: It's the same bill as Congress.
MR. GIBBS: You'll find it hard to believe I didn't read that bill either, but I'm certainly -- we're happy to take a look at it and provide you some comment.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Can I have a totally unrelated follow-up then?
MR. GIBBS: Everyone else does, so I don't know why not. (Laughter.)
Q: Any reaction to the three-judge panel ruling in the Minnesota Senate election last night?
MR. GIBBS: Well, only to say that, on behalf of the administration, will state exactly what the three-judge panel, and that was that the election was conducted, in their terms, "fairly, impartially, and accurately," and that Al Franken received in that election the most votes. We look forward, hopefully soon, to having an additional U.S. senator representing the people of the state of Minnesota.
Q: Is the President urging Senator Reid to seat him?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to the President about that action. I just know that the -- other than just to say what I said about what the three-judge panel ruled as it relates to the pending case and who received the most votes.
Q: Does the President believe that our merchant ships should continue --
MR. GIBBS: Lester, why do you have to write these down? Just go with the flow, just sort of like -- (laughter.)
Q: -- to be unarmed when they go anywhere near Somalia?
MR. GIBBS: Say that again.
Q: Does the President believe that our merchant ships should continue to be unarmed when they go anywhere near Somalia? And I have just one follow-up.
MR. GIBBS: Just one?
MR. GIBBS: I think there has, in the past few days, been discussions about the security that should be -- or might be entailed in terms of individual -- individual ships and merchant lines. Obviously that's a discussion that will continue. I think you saw the commander I think in the Fifth Fleet say their recommendation to some of these shipping lines in dangerous areas of the world, is to employ -- consider strongly employing some private security to ensure that -- ensure the safety of their sailors and of their ships and their cargo, and that there are steps that can be taken relating to speed and evasive actions that can increase their security in those areas.
Q: Since almost everyone in the country is grateful both for the Commander-in-Chief's consent to take action against the kidnappers and the impressive action of the SEALs in rescuing Captain Phillips, my question: How will the President try to keep the SEALS, Rangers, Airborne, and the rest of our armed forces from suffering budget cuts?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give you two reactions. One, as the President said again in both his statement and his -- at the Department of Transportation yesterday, that he's enormously grateful for the courage and the professionalism of the men and women in uniform that protected the crew, the captain, and protect each of us every single day. The President and the Secretary of Defense have outlined a plan that they believe will actually provide greater focus and resources on the missions that we're most likely to encounter as we move forward, and have taken steps to ensure that we direct those resources where most appropriate.
And lastly, the President spoke about this last week at the White House: We have to do all that we can to ensure that when those men and women that protect us come home, that each and every one of them get the benefits that they've earned and that they deserve so richly. The President has taken steps to ensure that there's continuity in their medical record-keeping when they switch from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I think the President is keenly interested in ensuring their quality of life both while serving on active duty as well as when they leave the service of their country.
Q: Will he meet with the crew and the captain at some point?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any scheduling update on that, but we'll get you something.
END 2:02 P.M.