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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
April 23, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:41 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Let's start with a couple of announcements. First of all, just an addition to the schedule for Monday, the President will address the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. Secondly -- and you all I think received some photos of this -- the President met with our new Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, who was confirmed by the Senate. And he heads off to Iraq this week, and the President wanted to speak personally with him before he left for his very important post.

As you know, later this afternoon, the President will meet with bipartisan leadership in Congress to talk about the priorities for the upcoming work session in Congress, including health care reform, energy independence, his budget, and continue to discuss and work with them to get an agenda through for the American people.

And then finally, next Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m., the President will hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House.

Q: Wednesday?

MR. GIBBS: Wednesday, April 29th --

Q: After Missouri?

MR. GIBBS: -- at 8:00 p.m., after returning from Missouri, yes.

Q: Is that a significant day, Mark? (Laughter.)

Q: I'll have to get back to you. (Laughter.)

Q: One hundred days in office.

MR. GIBBS: Just know, I'm going to call you repeatedly to make sure you've checked on –

Q: Hallmark -- is Hallmark invited to this particular event?

MR. GIBBS: There will be a whole lot of cards for you to pick up, where you can inform your loved one what you've been doing for the last 100 days, because you haven't seen them.

Yes.

Q: Do you have indication for the weekend, this weekend?

MR. GIBBS: He'll be -- you have pool duty this weekend? (Laughter.) Awesome. (Laughter.) He is -- I know of no plans to leave the area, including the immediate area. So you just have to sit here, I guess, all weekend.

Yes.

Q: What time of day is the town meeting? Do we get back in time -- the press corps --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, oh, yes. Yes, yes. That's an interesting idea of doing the press conference without you guys. (Laughter.) Actually, let me get back to you on that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Two unrelated things. First, what's the latest thinking here on whether the White House would support some sort of independent commission to look at the interrogations during the Bush era? And then I want to follow up with a credit card question, if I could.

MR. GIBBS: Sure. Well, I don't -- I don't know that I have a lot to add on the first question other than what the President discussed earlier in the week and what I talked about on the plane yesterday.

And obviously there's been news reports of a discussion about such a commission here that the President decided I think the last few days might well be evidence of why something like this would likely just become a political back and forth.

Q: So is that an indication that you don't want to see an independent commission? I'm trying to understand.

MR. GIBBS: By dint, an independent commission would probably not be something that I would weigh in on if Congress were to create one of those. I think that -- from the larger perspective, the President believes, as both of us have said, that the release of the memos are not a time for a retribution but to reflect on what happens and that we're all best suited looking forward.

Q: On the credit card meeting, did the President specifically ask those executives to do anything, did he get any commitments from them, and did he hear any pushback from them that credit card debt and the problem of credit card debt is largely a consumer problem -- people make their own decisions about how to spend their money?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm a little reticent to characterize, in some ways, the case that the industry made. I would point you in some ways to their representatives in the meeting. The President discussed the importance of restoring the flow of capital, enabling families to be able to borrow money, as he's talked about before. He wants to see a financial system that is successful and functioning and profitable.

At the same time, he listed a series of concerns that he has. This whole process is -- also contains the Fed having looked at this issue for many months and finalizing rules -- the upcoming finalization of credit card rules, but the President believes that there are things that can be done and should be done above and beyond what the Fed has proposed in order to ensure that consumers are protected. And the principles that he outlined were stronger and more reliable consumer protections. I think he talked a lot about this -- for instance, unfair rate increases, abusive fees. He talked about ensuring that applications and bills, credit card contracts are written in plain, simple language; that we restore some clarity and transparency to the process.

Third, discussed how -- making it easier for those desiring a credit card to have accessible contract term information that made it easier for them to shop for what worked best for them. Somebody might desire a higher credit limit than somebody else and with that might come a higher interest rate -- but right now having it easily digestible for someone to be able to understand the terms of what's available.

And lastly, the last principle was accountability for abusive practices.

Q: Did he get any commitments?

MR. GIBBS: The industry laid out a case. I think in some ways they believe what the Fed is doing is probably enough and the President said that he believed, as I said earlier, that there are things that must be done above and beyond what the Fed has proposed in order to -- in order to ensure consumer protections.

The President -- or part of what he discussed was -- as you all know, the President gets letters each day from people across the country and he mentioned that he often gets letters from people that discuss their credit card rate increasing overnight, their bill date changing, their being charged enormous fees, and then interest on top of those fees.

So the discussion was, how do we eliminate some of these abusive practices? How do we make sure that there's sufficient accountability and transparency? And that he looked forward to working not only with them but working with Congress as this process goes through to ensure that sufficient protections are had.

Yes, sir.

Q: Seventy-six people were killed in suicide bombings in Iraq today. That's the bloodiest day in over a year. And there's apprehension that as the U.S. draws down forces, that insurgents will take advantage of that to launch further attacks. Did the President discuss with Ambassador Hill today what efforts the U.S. will be making to prevent that situation from deteriorating further?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I admittedly was not in the meeting with Ambassador Hill. I have no doubt, though, that the subject of both military stability and security, as well as political stability and security, were discussed, and was a heavy topic on the President's recent trip to Baghdad with -- where he saw General Odierno.

That's why we believed it was so important to get somebody with the credentials of someone like Chris Hill to the region quickly. Obviously as we've seen the security situation, over many months, get better, obviously this is an important year for elections, and an important year politically in order to ensure that the -- any progress that's been made security-wise, to make sure that that carries over to political stability, because we know not just simply based on the plan that the President has outlined but the status of forces agreement demonstrates that we are not going to -- we're not going to have 147,000 or 145,000 troops there for eternity, so that progress has to be made.

Yes, sir.

Q: This week, two different independent nonpartisan government watchdogs have -- the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General for TARP -- have expressed serious concerns about the amount of -- or the lack of oversight into how money is being spent, both stimulus and the toxic assets program, and also TARP and other programs. And these are people who do this for a living. They are watchdogs, and they conduct oversight, and they're saying you guys are not doing enough. And specifically, the Inspector General for TARP said that he -- the Treasury Department has told them that they will not follow their previous recommendations to demand that the banks account for all the use of TARP funds, set up internal controls to comply with the accounting and report periodically to Treasury on the results with sworn certifications. Why are you -- what are you guys going to do to follow these recommendations to conduct as much oversight as they're recommending?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I'll ask Treasury for something specific on what you mentioned based on what GAO has mentioned. The President -- the President is concerned and wants to ensure accountability in the process.

I will -- like I said, I'll look for a specific answer to what you mentioned there. But I think based on the testimony of Secretary Geithner, there is an inclination among all in the administration to pursue greater transparency and greater accountability.

I don't know about that specifically, but I'll certainly check.

Q: The Inspector General for TARP on Monday testified that the Treasury has blown off their recommendations that the -- that they --

MR. GIBBS: I think Secretary Geithner addressed some of that on -- I forget whether he was up there Monday or Tuesday. They -- like I said, they all blur together. I'll find something specifically on that.

Yes.

Q: Robert, today the Defense Secretary commented for the first time on releasing the interrogation memos, and he said that he's concerned it "might have a negative impact on our troops," the release of the memos, sort of -- because it may help al Qaeda and other adversaries. You sort of seem to be voicing similar criticism -- we've heard it from Vice President Cheney, General Hayden, other Bush officials. Are you concerned to have --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- let me make sure -- I think Secretary Gates also, in a story I saw, mentioned that he supported their release, right?

Q: Right. But he suggested he supported it because it was inevitable they were going to come out, not because he wanted them to come out. The charge essentially is about -- that it might help the enemy, that's my question.

MR. GIBBS: Well, a couple of different things. One, I think -- in many ways, I think your network and many news organizations in this room have done stories on these techniques. You guys have a fancy graphic that accompanies that that I doubt was constructed based on the release of memos a week ago, right?

Q: Sure, it's been out there, as you said.

MR. GIBBS: Well, so, again, I've denoted this many times, or I've noted this many times, and I think it continues to need noting.

The existence of these practices in the form of a memo, or in the paragraph of a page that's ultimately released, is not what ultimately hurts or has the potential to hurt our troops. It's the very existence of the use of the techniques on those that hurts our image and makes the very people that we're trying to defeat in this want to go do that to innocent people, innocent civilians, and our soldiers. That's -- the problem, Ed, isn't the existence of a paragraph or a term in a memo that was released since we've been discussing this. In some ways, some of these techniques and tactics were even declassified by the administration most previous that used them. It is the very existence of their use that in some ways has done that.

And I will tell you that I have heard General Jones in meetings that we've had in the White House say that their use also makes it -- their use, not the existence of some word, but their use makes it likely that somebody is going to use it on one of our soldiers.

Again, it's not that it was on page whatever of what -- of the four memos. It's the use of.

Q: But why would Secretary Gates say that, then? I understand you've said this before, but Secretary Gates seems to disagree with what you just said.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- there are a lot of opinions on this. As I mentioned -- I just mentioned General Jones. I have not seen Secretary Gates's full remarks. I don't know what context they were in. But the full national security team of this administration determined that the totality of this and the use of these techniques has made this country less safe. That was the recommendation of -- that's what this national security team believes and I think that's what many on the outside believe, as well.

Chip.

Q: Can I follow up -- earlier in the week you were previewing this credit card meeting today and you talked about the frustration and the anger that the President felt toward these companies with some of these practices that they've engaged in. Could you give us a little more of an idea of what it was like in that room? Did the President sternly talk to them about it? Did he express his frustration, his anger? Was there any lecturing going on from him? How did he treat them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, it was I think a cordial and courteous meeting. I think all sides would agree on that. But, again, I think the President as he opened the meeting discussed the notion that it was likely that a group was going to present a case that the rules that the Fed was finalizing were enough. And he noted before they made that case that he believed -- that he disagreed with that case and believed that more needed to be -- more needed to happen.

He cited the letters that he gets from people. You saw the pool remarks that denotes the concern for consumers that see their rates skyrocket or fees get charged or in some ways because of contracts that I daresay none of us read in full, maybe because our eyesight is -- hasn't been that good in years. And I think the series of principles that underscore the reforms that he outlined will make it easier on consumers.

He also noted that -- he said this a few times during the campaign -- you know, he's probably the President that comes to office most recently having carried some appreciable credit card debt. So -- granted, as he said in the meeting, that was before a couple of books started selling. But I think in the not-so-distant future [sic], he's carried some of that debt.

Q: Did they come any closer in the course of this meeting or did they go into the room in a standoff and go out of the room in a standoff?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as the President -- the President noted that the Fed is going to take a certain amount of action and Congress is likely to take additional action. The President supports that additional action and will be working in Congress to ensure that that reaches his desk very soon.

Chuck.

Q: Robert, does the President believe someone ought to be punished for allowing waterboarding? He changed the policy, but does he believe somebody ought to be punished?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that determination is going to be left up to, as I've said for any number of days looking backward on this now, that that's going to be made by a legal official.

Q: And that legal official is the Attorney General?

MR. GIBBS: In our Constitution it is.

Q: And what about this idea of the Attorney General appointing a special prosecutor?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I addressed this --

Q: Is that his -- is that the Attorney General's decision or is that ultimately the President's decision?

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look up, honestly, the legal statute to determine that. I don't -- I don't think the -- I don't believe that there's -- I think the Justice Department is fully capable of weighing the law.

Q: You don't think a special prosecutor is necessary?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't think anybody has presented a compelling case why the Justice Department couldn't do this.

Q: And then one final thing on this. Did Vice President Cheney make a specific request -- is it an official request that he wants these other memos declassified as far as you guys know?

MR. GIBBS: I would have to double-check with CIA. I think that the -- that request -- as I understand, what the Vice President has said, a request came to -- several weeks ago to the CIA. I don't -- but I have not talked to him.

Q: Given that General Jones apparently was involved with helping to expedite with Jay Rockefeller, does that mean you guys will have a role in deciding whether this gets declassified or not?

MR. GIBBS: I believe so. I mean, I believe that --

Q: It will come to your desk, it just hasn't happened yet?

MR. GIBBS: I think that's the case. I mean, I think declassification happens here.

Q: Okay.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: Do you know if President Obama has read these memos to which Vice President Cheney is referring that showed that the enhanced interrogation techniques saved lives and didn't make America less safe, as you just said?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he -- I don't know if he has read the specific memos that Vice President Cheney may be referring to. But, Mark, let me broaden your question a bit. And I think you would get this from virtually every intelligence official who objectively looked at this, and that is that the efficacy of this is in many ways ambiguous, that whatever information -- I think people will tell you that there was information that was procured that was helpful, and information that was procured that was made up. Nobody could ever likely tell you that any information derived couldn't also have been derived from another mean.

But as I've said, and the President have said, what the -- if you look at the totality of the impact of this on our national security, building off of what I told Ed, our team, and many others outside of our team, have weighed in on the notion that the cost and the benefit of this -- that the benefit is greatly outweighed by the cost to our national security.

There are things that this country doesn't do. That's part of the criteria that the President used to -- on the -- in the very beginning of this administration outlaw these techniques from being used. The existence of and the use of these techniques became a recruitment tool and a rallying cry for terrorists all over the globe. And, as I mentioned, it makes it harder to -- the use of these techniques makes it harder to protect our own troops, and that that is the -- those are the reasons in total why this makes our country less safe.

Q: Isn't it a judgment call that can be made in good faith by different individuals, different administrations?

MR. GIBBS: I think different administrations have made different judgment calls. It's the opinion of this administration and this national security team, and I would mention people with hefty national security credentials that are not involved -- involved in this White House, that it does make this country less safe.

Q: On another issue, can you tell us what the subject of the speech Monday to the National Academy of Sciences is?

MR. GIBBS: He is going to discuss the investments that we've made in science and education through the recovery and reinvestment plan, and the need to continue that commitment as we move forward to lay the foundation for sustained economic growth; that, in many ways, the jobs of tomorrow are going to require greater skill in math and science. And that's why the President committed the type of support and funding he did in the recovery plan, and will outline why he thinks that's so effective.

Q: Can I get a clarification on Mark's question? You said you don't know if the President has read the memos Cheney was referring to. Has he been briefed on the contents of those memos?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know.

Laura.

Q: Thank you. Back on credit cards for a moment. So in terms of what he -- his message to the gentlemen who were here today, do --

MR. GIBBS: There was a woman here, too, so let's not --

Q: I'm sorry -- for the executives who were here today, very bad on my part -- (laughter) -- was he -- did he, at any point, go -- get any more specific in terms of what he wanted to see them do beyond the principles that the White House has put out?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if they talked in depth about moving beyond that, but there are formulations of that here. I don't know if they -- I don't recall that they spent a long time going through the specifics beyond the principles. I think in some ways, though, the principles largely denote some of what the specifics would ultimately be.

Q: So I guess the natural question is: Is there any -- are there any specifics you can tell us that they -- that he mentioned that go beyond -- because the principles are a little bit vague.

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I mentioned, under the principle of stronger, more reliable consumer protections, they talked specifically about unfair rate increases, they talked about abusive consumer fees, they talked about rates that are -- rates that are charged on those fees.

Q: What's unfair? What's abusive? What's -- I mean, what's the President's view?

Q: Yes, that's -- that was my next question, what exactly -- and that's in the principles, I think, abusive fees and unfair rate increases. What does that mean?

MR. GIBBS: Well, for instance, that one day your rate is 14 and the next day your rate is 29, and that what the President would like to see, under principle two, written in plain language, is that consumers that understand -- consumers understand exactly what it is they're getting; that consumers understand that when they sign up for a card there may be an introductory annual percentage rate that changes after six weeks. There -- there may be fees that consumers don't readily know about that are added on to their bills and then the rate changes from 14 or 19 to 29, and then on top of that you're -- you get a -- you're charged an interest rate on your fee because that's now part of your balance.

So without getting into a ton of the specifics, that's an example of one of the things they talked about.

Q: So is the issue less any particular dollar amount or interest rate is outrageous or abusive and more along the lines of people don't realize it's going to change?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in many ways realizing what it is and what it will be helps demonstrate for people what credit card they should seek. If you have written in plain English what the rate is going to be, whether or not it's going to change, whether or not there are fees, what your credit limit is, what happens if you exceed your credit limit -- all in a fairly simple five boxes that you can then compare -- well, I got this from American Express and this from Discover and this from Bank of America and this from Chase, and I can see, okay, how do I compare all of these things to figure out what's best for me -- I think the President believes that that's how best consumers can make choices that work best for them.

Q: And finally, does the White House support some proposals on the Hill to freeze credit card rates where they are?

MR. GIBBS: I think that letter came this afternoon as the President talked to those CEOs. We want to work with those that wrote that letter and others in Congress to ensure that any reforms can be done as quickly -- as quickly as practically possible.

Q: Hey, Robert, who did the speaking for the industry in the meeting, by the way? There were so few -- there were so few time -- so many -- not everybody spoke, right?

MR. GIBBS: I think before you guys came in -- let me see, there were -- if I get a seating chart I can tell you exactly; I was off to the side so I could -- I think between -- I would guess between five and six people --

Q: Actually spoke?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. Not everybody -- not everybody -- I left right after you guys left. I don't know how long they stayed in there, but I don't believe -- I'm just trying to go through in my head -- my sense is five but it could be as many as six. But it was not -- I know there was a more -- a fuller roster in there, and best I can recall the only person that spoke for the administration was the President.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, today the Attorney General of the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo, sent letters to members of Congress, and maybe to the administration, as well, concerning the bank takeovers. He said that Bank of America was pressured by former Secretary Paulson to buy Merrill Lynch, even though Bank of America knew that Merrill's condition was in terrible shape and that he did not know -- and was told by regulators not to inform shareholders. I was wondering, are you folks aware of this or are you concerned about such reports, if true? And second, is something that SEC or Justice Department is looking into?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would point you to SEC to answer specifically for them. I saw news reports today about it. I don't know specifically any reaction from the economic team based on -- again, in many ways, the account is -- the account is something that our guys weren't involved in, as it took place last fall.

Q: One of the other things that Cuomo said was that Paulson threatened to or may have threatened to remove the management and directors of B of A if they didn't go through with the purchase of Merrill.

MR. GIBBS: I got enough problems dealing with our guys. I'll point you to their guys for an answer on that.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Robert. A couple on interrogations and one on Afghanistan and Pakistan, if I could. Interrogations, I just want to get, if I can -- on this idea of a commission. If we look at the Iraq Study Group or the 9/11 Commission as the most recent examples, both were products of Congress signed onto by the chief executive of the United States, the President. It's my understanding that as a general principle independent commissions do not involve strictly members of Congress but outside officials, as the President suggested Tuesday -- have to be a collaborative effort between the White House and Congress. With that history, would the White House be a collaborative partner in the creation of an independent commission if the Congress were to send him legislation in that regard?

MR. GIBBS: Well, without engaging in a series of hypotheticals like, what if Congress did X --

Q: But there are prominent members who've said that they're looking at that as a potential model, and the President's comments on Tuesday were at least interpreted as a signal that he might be in favor of it.

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I think there's one phrase that's important to interpret that the President said on Tuesday, which was, "I'm not proposing this." Right?

Q: But he did in a hypothetical.

MR. GIBBS: Well, he's -- you know, he's the President, Chuck, he can -- if he wants to engage in hypotheticals, that's his business.

Q: Right, he sometimes tells us he won't engage in hypotheticals. Having done so, I'm just trying -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: He's assuaging your predilection for hypotheticals, apparently. (Laughter.)

Q: Duly noted.

MR. GIBBS: Yes. We'll have -- trust me, we'll have no more of that for the remainder of this administration. (Laughter.) Again, I think that -- again, without getting into all of this, I think the President, based on -- and I think you can see in the news reports that some of this was discussed here inside this building, and the President determined that the concept didn't seem altogether that workable in this case.

Q: Okay. Picking up also on your comment about it's not a time for retribution, but reflection. There are some calls in the House of Representatives to impeach a sitting federal district judge, Jay Bybee, who sits on the 9th District Court of Appeals, confirmed by the Senate in 2003. As a general proposition, does the President believe that type of action would fall under the category of retributions? Not a legal matter, it's not dealing with the Justice Department, it's a political action taken by a political body. So I'm trying to figure out if there's anything you can say on that.

MR. GIBBS: There's nothing that I can say about that. I'd leave some members of Congress up to those opinions.

Q: Quickly on Pakistan and Afghanistan, yesterday John Kerry said he was afraid there was no plan in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today David Obey said he wasn't sure how he was going to deal with the supplemental request because he was afraid the administration would be -- in his words -- devoured by an insoluble problem in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's adding his voice to Senator Kerry's that he is afraid that the plan put forward is inadequate to deal with this problem. I'd like you to respond to these two allies of yours and their apparent criticism of the approach in those two countries.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Senator Kerry has discussed further his views, and I would point you to those. I think there are some in Congress that may come simply to believing that the President's commitment for greater military forces in Afghanistan are not warranted, and the President simply disagrees. As he mentioned throughout the campaign, the need -- having taken our eye off of the central front in this battle, taken our eye off of that, that we needed to increase our military commitment.

Look, I think the news over the past several days is very disturbing. The administration is extremely concerned. You know that this President has called attention to the deterioration in this region for quite some time, and I think Secretary Clinton was very candid about this yesterday, and that what is happening is the central foreign policy focus -- what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan are the central foreign policy focus of this administration.

That's why you've seen this administration propose increases in investments directly related to military security and the ability to confront extremists. That's why you've also seen a dedication of and an increase in the investments that are needed to demonstrate that what both Afghanistan and Pakistan have to offer is far greater than what violent extremists offer: democracy, rule of law, judges, schools, and a peaceful way of life versus harmful extremism. That's what this President has been focused on in this short period of time, ensuring the security and the stability of this region.

Obviously, as I said at the top of this, we're extremely concerned about the situation and it's something that takes a lot of the President's time.

Q: Does the President have any particular message, particularly to Republicans, in today's meeting with the congressional leaders?

MR. GIBBS: I think the message -- the message the President will deliver is one that he often says to Democrats and Republicans, and that is that he's anxious to work with them on these issues, anxious to move past the politics of usual that have tended to dominate Washington, and to make progress on important issues like health care, education, energy independence, a budget, supplemental appropriations that are so important for our efforts for security and stability in both Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Obviously the work period that Congress is involved in now is in dealing with some tremendously important issues, including the credit card stuff, financial regulation -- all of these issues, the President wants to work with Congress to see progress on these issues.

Jon.

Q: On commissions, it looks like you guys are trying to have it both ways by having the President lay out the details of what a process should look like and then saying you're not proposing it and then saying today that you think it would lead to political back and forth. If you didn't want it, wouldn't you just say so?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- maybe the President wasn't clear when he said he wasn't proposing this. I will go back and clarify with him exactly what he meant by the phrase, "I'm not proposing this."

Q: Yes, but he also laid out the details on what it should look like if it did happen. I mean, that's --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that was more to scratch Major's itch of hypotheticals. (Laughter.)

Q: I don't have an itch, Robert.

Q: Well, I disagree. (Laughter.) I disagree. I think the President --

Q: And if the President knows about it, I would be very surprised. (Laughter.)

Q: I mean, when there were -- (laughter) --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes, all right. I think that's -- that's between you and your itch. (Laughter.)

Go ahead, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Jon.

Q: Robert, just clarifying the record. The President obviously sent signals --

MR. GIBBS: Please strike that from whatever transcript one produces -- (laughter) -- for fear that my mother is going to read this. In this -- in this case, it seems warranted, Lester.

Go ahead. I'm sorry, we've gotten way off.

Q: The President sends signals by what he does or does not rule out. And I mean, I think it's disingenuous --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, but I guess it's important -- the string of events that you lay out is, in many ways, a bit upside-down with the way the President both thought of and dealt with these issues. Discussions that were had about -- inside this building about some type of commission were had, in earnest, about 10 to 14 days ago. So I think the President -- and again, as I said earlier, I think the President -- you can watch from any different political vantage point the back and forth over the last two days and understand the decision that the President came to.

Q: You also said that -- you also said that the intelligence that was derived that Cheney is talking about could have been derived from another means. You said that to Chuck.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it is -- what is unknowable is whether that could be derived. I mean, again, that is -- part of this whole process is when you decide to do something it's -- you can't then go back and decide if the same action could have happened as a result of something else. That's why I think that whatever question is discussed here, it's -- I'd go back to my answer that I gave to Mark, which is that all of this is bigger than one certain amount or one smaller question, because you have to take into account the totality of our security -- whether or not the use of and the existence of certain techniques become a rallying cry and a recruitment tool for those that seek to do us harm each day. And that the -- there are things that this country does do and certain things this country doesn't do, and that this President has determined that we are going to -- we can protect the security of our country and our people and uphold our values and not have those two conflict.

Peter.

Q: Robert, the DNC has come out with a web video that talks about the Republicans as the party of no. Does the President, as head of the Democratic Party, condone that kind of message? And can you tell us where the President stands with his bipartisan project? Is the Republican Party -- can it be brought --

MR. GIBBS: By "bipartisan project," you mean --

Q: Well, his project of bipartisanship. Can the Republicans be --

MR. GIBBS: It sounds like a science deal that --

Q: Can the Republicans --

MR. GIBBS: Put one flower in light and one in the shade and see what grows faster.

Q: Can the Republicans be brought along or do they just need to be defeated? What is his vehicle? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: You've posited some fairly interesting choices from which I can select.

Q: No middle ground.

MR. GIBBS: I know, this is -- wow. Go figure, the conversation this town has sort of held on the edges. Look, let me take the project question first. The President -- the President is going to talk specifically about this in the meeting that he has with bipartisan congressional leaders today. The President -- and I think it's -- you can see this not from his words but from his actions -- going to Capitol Hill, asking for ideas, asking for members to participate actively, dealing with issues related from the economic crisis to foreign policy.

I actually think the President has made progress. I think if you look at -- you can -- you can look at different ideas and different proposals that have garnered bipartisan support -- children's health insurance, national service, Senator McCain's comments on Secretary Gates's budget of reform.

I think it is safe to assume -- and I can certainly talk you out of this -- the President doesn't expect that he's going to get 100 percent of the support of either party 100 percent of the time. But the President will continue to actively reach out and engage members of Congress from both parties to help what he believes is advancing an agenda that makes this country safer, more secure, and gives its citizens greater economic opportunity.

Q: Shouldn't he then use his position though, as head of the Democratic Party, to tell DNC not to depict them as the party of no?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know that I'd -- the President has seen the video. I think the President was clear, and addressed this clearly. I don't know the date -- the first event that the President had where he took questions from members of Congress in addressing Joe Barton from Texas, that you have to be -- we have to reach out, but you have to be constructive in reaching back. Bipartisanship is a two-way street, and the President will continue to reach that.

Kirk.

Q: Robert, thank you. Has the President discussed the advisability of prosecutions with Attorney General Holder?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I know they discussed, as it relates to their statements, they're in agreement on ensuring that those that followed the legal advice and acted in good faith on that legal advice, that those shouldn't be prosecuted. And I think they both agree on the rule of law.

Q: And then there is a proposal on the Hill that was dropped in today to limit signing statements. How important are signing statements to the President?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I've not seen the proposal. The President has discussed and issued statements to demonstrate problems that legal counsel identify with certain parts of the bill. That's what he sees the utility and the use of those statements for.

April.

Q: Robert, on the credit card issue, many of the companies, banks as well as these credit card companies as lenders, they say fees are a major part of how they continue to run and operate. Would it be somewhat of a -- go in a circle almost with the fact that the President is trying to cut down on these fees, these late fees, these extra fees, and these interest rates going up? And do you think these companies are able to survive if you do crack down like you say you're going to do?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the President believes that, as he said in the beginning of this meeting, he wants a strong, secure, successful and profitable financial industry.

Q: But how can they be when the fees are --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm pretty sure they could take away some of the fees on my credit card and still do okay. In fact, I'm almost positive. (Laughter.)

Q: Hypothetical.

MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily. (Laughter.) Look, again, I think this may go back to a larger point that the President has talked about in some ways over the past many weeks of this administration, and that is there can be success and profitability in issuing credit cards, in lending money, in lending money for people to buy cars and go to school. The question is, are we going to level that playing field so that consumers have some protections and some rights that enable -- enable them to have the same bit of security that they derive from borrowing this money as the companies do in having that money make them profitable.

And I think the President doesn't believe that there has to be an either/or. The President believes that, as he said in his remarks, that there obviously is a convenience and an ease to a credit card that consumers obviously like, but at the same time, there can be a balance so that families and small businesses can get an availability of credit while at the same time not become unnecessarily penalized or victims to rules that are arbitrary and change that way.

Q: And on the 100 days, this administration has downplayed --

MR. GIBBS: Is that coming up?

Q: I think so, maybe about three months or so. But anyway, when you say 100 days, this administration has been downplaying April 29th. And now --

MR. GIBBS: Is that when it is? I'm playing along, April. (Laughter.) I'm sorry, I'm going to be dead serious from now on.

Q: Now it's such a momentous occasion -- now it's such a momentous occasion that there's a press conference sitting on the 100 days. Why the change?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- the President looks at the gracious invitation with which to answer your questions not as a hallmark of some certain day in the administration, but as a regular occurrence of his existence in this very White House.

Q: Why the 100-day mark?

MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry, I'm supposed to be serious. (Laughter.) I'm joking. I'm having a little fun today, on day 94. (Laughter.) Look, I think the President -- I think the President believes, I think almost everyone in this White House believes, I actually think a huge majority of the American people believe that the 100-day -- 100th day is not a ton different than the 99th, the 101st or the 123rd. It's an arbitrary day in which Presidents are measured. We get that, we're playing along.

And I don't doubt that -- and I think the administration and the President are very proud of the accomplishments and the achievements that we've seen over the course of the 100 days. But the President isn't focused on the 100th any more than he is the 99th or the 101st, because he understands that we have begun to address many of the problems that for many years we didn't address; that we have started to put the economy back on firmer -- a firmer foundation; that we have begun the process of helping people refinance their houses, stay in their homes, get the credit they need and stabilize the financial system.

The President has returned science to the scientists. The President has opened up the benefit of stem cells for scientific research. The President has laid out a plan to end the war in Iraq and increase our commitment to the dangerous region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in addition to many other things.

In many ways, the President has done each and every day exactly what he promised he would do each and every day of his campaign. The President isn't focused on any one day; he's focused on what he has to do each and every day to give some hope and some opportunity to the American people and to make their lives a little bit better. That's what he's focused on the whole time.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Robert?

MR. GIBBS: Steve.

Q: Robert, as you said, it's up to the Justice Department, not the White House, to decide whether there were crimes committed and whether to prosecute. Will the White House --

MR. GIBBS: Let me say -- let me -- I want to rephrase it. I haven’t said that. Well, I have said that, but that's what -- that's the legal system that's set up in this country. I mean, I -- what I said -- I didn't say that in terms of setting this doctrine up, right? Like if you drive 85 miles an hour on your way home, I may think it's against the law, but it's not likely I'm going to be the one providing you a speeding ticket, Steve.

Q: Will the White House play any role in that conversation, particularly if the decision is made to charge high-ranking officials like the Vice President or the President with a crime?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President campaigned on, and will continue to keep the promise that he made in that campaign, as he has on many others, to leave legal determinations up to those that make legal determinations, not the President.

Q: Well, the White House worked with the Justice Department on the determination not to hold accountable the field operatives that are responsible for this behavior.

MR. GIBBS: But that wasn't a political decision, Major. That was a decision based on --

Q: I'm just saying it was a cooperative arrangement between this White House and the Justice Department on that decision.

MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't discuss this as an arrangement. I think two people can understand that -- again, this isn't -- this is a fairly time-honored legal tradition, if you follow legal advice rendered in good faith to govern your actions that you're not going to be held accountable or prosecuted for those actions.

All this is to say the best way to determine --

Q: That's not what I'm talking about. What I was talking about is the collaborative effort between the White House and Justice Department some places and not elsewhere.

MR. GIBBS: The best way to determine -- the best way to determine who's going to -- the rule of law is to have it determined by lawyers who can determine whether or not somebody knowingly broke the law.

Q: We've started talking in the last 24 hours more and more about very high-ranking people --

MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked about --

Q: -- Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney --

MR. GIBBS: -- you guys have.

Q: If in fact it reaches that level, would the President weigh in?

MR. GIBBS: Okay, you guys and Jay Rockefeller. (Laughter.)

I'm sorry, what was --

Q: Would the President weigh in --

MR. GIBBS: Now, that we've --

Q: -- turn to very high-ranking levels of the government? What does he think, for example, of the fact that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon? Was that a breach of the presidential duty, or should that have been left to the Attorney General?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President has seen Frost/Nixon, but I do not know whether he's determined the efficacy of such a pardon.

Thanks, guys.

END 3:36 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," April 23, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86046.
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