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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 24, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:24 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me start by giving you a brief look at the week ahead.

Q: Sweet. (Laughter.) Sorry, I got excited.

MR. GIBBS: Wow. Wait until I answer, like, the third question. (Laughter.)

The President will spend the weekend in Washington and there are no scheduled public events. On Monday morning the President will deliver a speech to the National Academy of Sciences annual meeting in Washington. That will be at 9:00 a.m. In the afternoon --

Q: Subject?

MR. GIBBS: We talked a little bit about this yesterday -- science, technology, education and economic growth.

Q: He's going to do science at the National Academy of Sciences? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I knew that was a harder concept for you all to understand, but I wanted to do that slowly. (Laughter.)

Q: (Inaudible). (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Exactly. Political science, at best.

In the afternoon he will welcome the University of Connecticut Women's Basketball Team to the White House. That's at 2:00 p.m. And then in the evening, at 5:00 p.m. he will attend a reception here at the White House with foreign finance and environmental ministers.

Let's see. The only event I have right now for Tuesday is at 3:05 p.m. he will present the National Teacher of the Year Award. On Wednesday, as you know, the President will travel to Missouri for a town hall meeting; likely departure time from the White House is about 8:15 a.m. and the event will be somewhere between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. local time in Missouri. He will return to D.C. obviously that day and hold a news conference in the East Room at 8:00 p.m.

Thursday the President will attend events in D.C., and I don't have any more information on that. On Friday the President will participate in the kickoff of the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride, which raises public awareness of the challenges facing veterans as they recover from life-altering injuries. That kickoff will be here at the White House.

All right. Now that you all are fully briefed on what lies ahead --

Q: Robert, is there going to be plenty of time, by the way, for people going on the trip to get back for the press conference?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. I will put on here to check on what time the charter is going to get back so you guys can send an intern if you can't. I'll get that on the --

Q: Was the President moved from the lock-down situation?

MR. GIBBS: The President was briefly relocated, out of an abundance of caution, as was the Vice President.

Q: Was the First Family --

MR. GIBBS: I don't have any information beyond that. Obviously the girls are at school, and I don't know about the First Lady.

Q: By "briefly relocated," do you mean to the PEOC?

MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into where exactly he was briefly relocated, but out of an abundance of caution he was.

Q: Just to follow on that, were both of the leaders being briefed as this was happening? Or was it just a movement?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know where they were exactly as it happened. But they were moved, as I said, out of an abundance of caution. But it was --

Q: They were here in the White House, though?

MR. GIBBS: As you know, it was a very brief period of time.

Q: The Secret Service says the President was -- his life was never in danger. But you say "out of an abundance" --

MR. GIBBS: I think it's safe to assume, none of us it was, since nothing happened here.

Q: But even so, is this the first incident, type of incident for the President to be located -- relocated, for this President?

MR. GIBBS: I can check to see if there were other occasions. It's the first I know of. But, again, it was done out of an abundance of caution for a very brief period of time.

Q: Could you tell us how it happened, what was going on -- the tick-tock -- no, seriously, anything presidential is news.

MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that it is and I'm happy to entertain questions. But you know, April, what I know on this subject.

Q: Did they move the dog, too?

MR. GIBBS: Pardon me? (Laughter.) All right, this is -- it must be Friday here at the White House. (Laughter.) All right, let's -- let's try to start this process again.

Q: Robert, on the issue of the release of photos of -- photos being released of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, two questions. One, can you explain why those are going to be released?

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: And secondly -- well, let's start with that.

MR. GIBBS: Sure. The Second Circuit Court ruled in December of 2008 that the photos had to be released. The previous administration lost a court case on that. The Department of Justice decided based on the ruling that it was hopeless to appeal, and a mandate ordering the release of those photos came Monday. And the administration, the Pentagon, and the court entered into an agreement to release those photos.

So this is part of the very same case that OLC memos were derived from. This was a court case based on information that was compelled to be released.

Q: So did this administration think that it was out of legal options, it had no more recourse, or did it decide it was time to release those?

MR. GIBBS: I'll double-check. Specifically on the second part of that, I know that the Department of Justice determined specifically based on the ruling that they were not likely to be successful.

Q: And more big picture, just one last one. When these are released, are you concerned at all that that's going to be another version of the debate we've had here for the last week of a lot of looking back, looking back to the Bush administration and that time?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- again, this was -- this was largely compelled by a court decision than this is -- there are going to be actions that -- many actions that are out of our control. But I think the President believes that -- the President believes that, as I've said throughout this process, that it is important to look forward and not to look backward, and that's the posture that he'll continue to take.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, two questions, one on banks and one on cars. First on banks, can you tell us how the administration plans to release the results of the stress test? Will we get specific results for specific banks? What can we expect?

MR. GIBBS: I believe there will be -- and I would point you to the Fed on this -- largely -- this is a process run by the regulators, they developed the criteria for these tests, and -- but our strong inclination is to provide transparency. I think you'll see some banks release on their own some of the results, and we'll release what we deem applicable to release.

Q: But do you think that will include specific results for specific banks, or --

MR. GIBBS: That's my understanding, yes.

Q: And then on cars, just what can you give us in terms of an update on Chrysler? More specifically, is the administration preparing Chrysler for bankruptcy to clean up its balance sheet so that it can pave the way for an alliance with Fiat and not to liquidate it? Can you give us any tick-tock?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let's understand that we're, what, six days away from the President's 30-day deadline. And we're obviously at an important part of the negotiations, and I don't want to be -- I don't want to negotiate from this podium, and I think don't think any of the stakeholders would want me to do that either.

And I've said this repeatedly, that this administration is and will continue to plan for all contingencies, right? So what you read in the paper doesn't necessarily mean that that's a fait accompli. The President, his Task Force on Autos, and all of the stakeholders are working around the clock to try to get a deal that protects jobs at Chrysler. That's what I'm sure they'll continue to work on throughout the weekend.

And we want all the stakeholders that are involved in this process to come to the table and understand that the best way to get this deal done is for everybody to understand they're going to have to give something.

Q: How will we get the news on that from the White House?

MR. GIBBS: I assume there will be some sort of announcement, either of a deal, or what have you, sometime later next week.

Yes, sir.

Q: You keep suggesting that the release of these documents and, now, photographs is because your hand is being forced. You could appeal this to the Supreme Court if you wanted to. So I guess what --

MR. GIBBS: Let me make sure that I'm careful. This is part of a legal process. The Justice Department, as I said to Ben, decided that much as they did, and I think as you heard -- I was asked about Secretary Gates' comments yesterday; I think it's important to understand what Secretary Gates -- part of what Secretary Gates said, which was most of this stuff is going to come out eventually.

I don't mean to imply that the only avenue is this, but I do think it is important for people to understand that there is ongoing litigation that in many ways is the property lines for this issue.

Q: I understand that. But you're acting as if you guys aren't actors in this. You are releasing information when you could be fighting it.

MR. GIBBS: No, I'm not minimizing our role in this. I'm, Jake, trying to give you and others just the appropriate amount of background for all that is entailed in the litigation, and these decisions to --

Q: Would the President support releasing this information even if his hands weren't forced?

MR. GIBBS: And I told Ben I'd check on that.

Q: All right. Well, let me ask you a question. Did the President tell Democratic leaders this week when he met with them, when he talked with them, that he didn't want there to be any sort of hearing or commission; that he thought that that would be a distraction?

MR. GIBBS: I was not in the meeting with Democratic leaders. I will reiterate what the President has said throughout the week, and that is -- and as I said a second ago, that this should be a moment of reflection but not retribution. And I said this yesterday, that the President, through a series of meetings, discussed the idea of setting up a commission and decided that much of what we've seen play out over the past few days would dominate any type of commission and decided that wasn't something that he would propose or call for.

Q: So is he worried, with the release of the OLC documents, the release of the photographs, and all the attention this is getting, not just among us but on Capitol Hill -- is he worried that he has, perhaps inadvertently, or perhaps forced by courts, created a path where there will be a look back and retribution, and his political agenda could be jeopardized?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President is worried about that. I think the President took swift action to change our image in the world. The most important thing that the President has done, relating to this topic, in the last 95 days, is to ensure that the techniques that were described in those OLC memos are no longer the policy of this government. I think that tends to get glossed over a bit in all of this back and forth.

But, no, the President is not concerned that this is going to distract from a larger agenda. I think the American people are focused on moving forward. And the President has answered this question on commissions for months now, and his notion of looking forward and not backward has not changed.

Dan.

Q: As the President marks a hundred days in office, I'm wondering, did he put together a list of goals that he wanted to accomplish in the first hundred days? And if he has that list, if he's checking off that list, how does he rate it? Has he hit the target? Has he gone beyond that target? Has it fallen short?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you've heard him throughout the process of these -- his brief tenure in office talk about something that he wishes had been done better. But -- and, you know, I said this yesterday to April's question, which was, the President is pleased with his achievements thus far; understanding, though, that the American people are certainly not going to grade his administration or our efforts to help turn our economy around or make our people safe just by the actions of the first 95 days.

He's pleased that we have passed, enacted, and signed into law a recovery and reinvestment plan. He's pleased that we have a timetable for the withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. He's pleased that we've made progress on covering more children through the Children's Health Insurance Program. He's pleased on developments, things such as an increase in stem cell research.

But I don't think by any means you'll see this President rest on his laurels. I think in many ways the days ahead are equally important as any of the days in the first 100 in moving our country forward, in laying that foundation for long-term economic growth, in making progress on the pillared issues that he's talked about, whether it's reforming our health care system, ensuring our education system meets the demands of the 21st century, or all of our efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

I think all of those things have been the focus of this President and will continue to be his focus moving ahead.

Q: And I know that for the first 100 days -- certainly the first part of the 100 days -- he talked a lot about coming to Washington to change the way that Washington worked. We haven't heard a lot about that lately. Has he dropped --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think that's true.

Q: But he sort of started every speech, you know, with -- certainly when he was talking about -- when it came to economy, or Democrats and Republicans working together, he wanted to change -- he came here, he wanted to change Washington worked.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's many things about Washington that he wanted to change the way Washington worked.

Q: He met up against resistance from Republicans. He wasn't able to bring Republicans onboard like he had hoped. So has he sort of backed off of that a bit? What can we see? Can we hear more of that message, perhaps, over the next hundred days?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you'll hear that message each and every day out of this White House. I think -- the President met with the bipartisan congressional leadership yesterday to outline what he hoped could get done in the next work period of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans. There were Democrats and Republicans at the White House here for a reception just last night.

The President, as I've said, and others have continually, that this President will reach out to members of both parties -- understanding we're not likely to get a hundred percent of either party on anything -- but will continue to reach out and ensure that we make progress. And I think -- I think -- it is also important to understand that bipartisanship, as I've talked about it, as well, is not a one-way street. It has to be a two-way street, and the President is hopeful that, as he reaches out, that Republicans will reach back, as well.

Helen.

Q: What's the President's position today on a truth commission? And doesn't he believe in history? Doesn't he believe you learn new lessons from history -- don't look back? And we didn't look back to anything. What is this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, I'm not sure --

Q: And that's the mantra left by the Bush administration -- never look back. They don't want to repeat --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not conflate the President's position on a commission with his understanding of Webster's definition of history. I think that might be -- for somebody who enjoys history as much as he does, that might be a dangerous concept to enter into.

Q: Why does he say "don't look back"?

MR. GIBBS: Well, because, Helen, there are important things that face this country right now, each and every day. We have to --

Q: That we can learn from history.

MR. GIBBS: We don't doubt that we can learn from history. But there's an economic crisis, there's a crisis in unemployment, there's a financial stability crisis, there's a home foreclosure crisis. There are any number of things that the President enumerated just the other day that occupy --

Q: Nobody is asking him to focus on that. They're asking Congress to.

MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, but seemingly --

Q: You don't think --

MR. GIBBS: -- seemingly the White House's briefing room time is taken up by what is the dominion of Congress. So the President believes that we need to look for --

Q: Nobody should pay -- nobody should pay any price for the horrors that we have gotten into that disgraced us?

MR. GIBBS: The President -- the President, first and foremost, has done -- I think it's important to understand, Helen, that first and foremost and most importantly, changed the policy of this country by which anybody that works for this government can act. History I think will be left up to historians and we'll leave that up to them, but I think it's important to understand that the most important step that was taken in all of this debate was to end once and for all the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by any member of this government. That's --

Q: How do we know? The last President said "We do not torture" and --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I have never been hired to speak for the former President, but I can assure you that you all saw the President sit in the Oval Office and sign his name to an executive order that ensures it doesn't happen under his watch.

Chip.

Q: Does the President stand by everything he said on the interrogation issue in the Oval Office on Tuesday?

MR. GIBBS: I know of no amendment to his remarks.

Q: So all those words are still operative?

MR. GIBBS: Like I said, I've not been apprised of a redefinition of what he said. I don't know if there's something specific you want me to re-litigate or look back on.

Q: No, I just want to make sure that we can still quote those words and say that that is the President's position.

MR. GIBBS: Well, if you figured out a good concept for me to revise and extend them, I'd be happy to take the video and -- no, I'm kidding. No, I have no reason to believe the President has changed any of his views.

Q: Do you -- have you heard any suggestions either directly or indirectly from the President that he wishes he had phrased things differently or perhaps not said it publically on Tuesday -- because it did create a bit of a firestorm, whether he intended to or not, that overshadowed a lot of other issues, including his trip to Iowa to talk about renewable energy on Wednesday.

MR. GIBBS: Well -- well, I'll leave aside what people focus on as part of their daily news-gatherings. I think, without having spoken to him directly about that, I think the argument that we're involved in was likely to happen at some point, whether it was Tuesday, last Tuesday, or a week from Tuesday. So I'm not entirely sure that he spent a ton of time thinking about that.

Q: On the Attorney General's investigation, has -- is there anything you can tell us about conversations that he's had with the Attorney General? Has it been -- is the Attorney General completely on his own on this? Is there any White House guidance being given to him?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know many conversations that have been had between the President and the Attorney General on -- since Tuesday or on this matter.

Q: And as far as you know there's no guidance, influence, suggestions -- anything coming from the White House to the Attorney General on how to conduct this investigation?

MR. GIBBS: I think as the President said -- I'll stick by the words that he said in the Oval Office, and that is that nobody is against the law, and that if people knowingly broke the law, that that will be a determination that's made by legal officials.

Q: I think the -- one last question. I think the conventional wisdom now is that this whole issue is probably just going to simmer for a while, while Dianne Feinstein's committee looks into it. And so for a number of months, there's probably -- is that your view, or the White House's view?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the -- I think the Intelligence Committee is an appropriate place for a lot of this stuff to be looked into. I think obviously you've got a group of people that have access to a lot of information and a lot of documents that can -- that has been working on this for quite some time and can render some viewpoints.

Q: And after that, a 9/11-style commission is still a possibility?

MR. GIBBS: The President is -- will always take under advisement whatever Congress decides to do.

Chuck.

Q: A couple things -- a quick follow on the banking questions. You said, on the stress test, "whatever is applicable for release." Define that.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I said that only because I don't know the exact documentation that the Fed will make available for all this. I know that there will be a number of things that will be contained in this. I don't have that list in front of me.

Q: Some things will get redacted out of fear of, what, creating a run on banks or something or --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know -- let me point you to the Fed as to how they are likely to release information.

Q: But there will be sort of a standard --

MR. GIBBS: There will be --

Q: They're going to set some parameters on what's allowed to be released?

MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think you will have plenty of information to pore over.

Q: But not a full -- not a full release of --

MR. GIBBS: I think you'll have plenty of information to --

Q: Second question on the release of the photos. What do you make of the criticism coming from former intelligence officials now -- and in some ways it's almost related to what Secretary Gates said yesterday about fearful of retribution in this military that now the release of these photos, that future intelligence officers are going to be feared, you know, who's taking a picture; that it could limit their comfort level on interrogations in general.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President has been crystal clear on this. I don't think he -- he said that here at the White House and he took a trip to the CIA to tell them in person. The President strongly believes in the principle and -- in the principle in this case that officials that acted in accordance with and in good faith with the legal underpinnings that they'd been provided, that they serve our country admirably and they should not and will not be prosecuted. I think that gives all the confidence in the world to the men and women that keep our country safe each and every day by providing their services to our intelligence agencies.

Q: Is this same blanket of immunity going to be given to folks that are maybe depicted in some photographs that might not be --

MR. GIBBS: I would have to get some guidance from the Pentagon. To be honest with you, I have not seen any of these photographs. I don't know what might or might not be in them.

Q: And quickly, I understand you guys are being kept up to date on the swine flu outbreak. Can you -- what does that mean, that you're being updated about it and who -- and who is the point person at the White House about that?

MR. GIBBS: The President is being kept up to date on the news and has been briefed on this. The Homeland Security Council is following this under the leadership of John Brennan, and obviously the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department are working in conjunction with the Mexican government in terms of issues related to testing.

Jonathan.

Q: There were reports coming out today that the administration has decided to accept up to seven of the Uighurs from Guantanamo and settle them in the United States. And Mitch McConnell just released a statement on this, saying that that will not make the United States any safer. I'd like to get -- first of all, what will you offer us on the status of the Uighurs in Guantanamo?

MR. GIBBS: Well, here's what I will offer you: The Attorney General is leading an interagency Guantanamo Bay detainee review task force. I have no announcements to make today on any individual cases about those that are currently being held there except to tell you that the President issued, as you know, an order to close the facility within one year and that that review is being undertaken now to determine how to bring about swift justice for those that are there.

Q: So is Mitch McConnell being accurate or inaccurate by saying that this decision has been made?

MR. GIBBS: I think if you look at the -- I think the story that you're basing this off, either in the second -- the beginning of the second or the beginning of the third paragraph denotes that the decision hasn't been made. And I have not seen what Senator McConnell has said.

Q: Can I ask you, is the President aware of the Uighur vigil that's been going on for weeks out front, and has he ever commented on it?

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard him comment on it.

Mark.

Q: Robert, can you clarify, would the President prefer that Congress not go down the path of a commission, even though he's not willing to propose one himself?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes we should look forward, and I think the President strongly believes that the investigation that is ongoing in the Intelligence Committee is an appropriate place for anything to be looked at.

Q: Is that a yes?

MR. GIBBS: That is my answer to your thoughtful question.

Q: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, back to the banks for a moment. While we'll get the details -- the details are yet to come, the Fed did say today that some banks have been -- the capital has been substantially reduced because of the recession. Is there any comfort that the public or investors can draw from that information so far?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the Fed, if they haven't already done so, is at some point today -- and I would point you over to there -- will put out a longer version of sort of how some of this stuff was conducted. So I would point you to the regulators on that. And I'm a little hesitant to speculate on initial data. I think you guys understand that the timeline for this -- regulators will begin to share this with individual banks. But there's also a time period in which the banks and the regulators will work together about what has been found before any final numbers are decided on.

This exercise is done to give the American people confidence about our financial system, and to determine precisely what is needed in any further action, public or private, to stabilize that system to the degree to which people feel even more confidence. So I'm hesitant to speculate on what I see before we get final numbers, and before they're ultimately released. The President and the economic team believed an assessment like this was important to determine what was needed going forward.

Q: Do you know whether you'll need to ask Congress for more bailout money?

MR. GIBBS: I think we'd have to get a look at the full final numbers, and then obviously -- you know, the preferred course, as we've talked about, is for banks that are in need of a capital cushion to meet the requirements, based on a severe economic downturn, that that capital be raised privately. And I think that's probably the preference of many banks.

So I think we're -- your question is a bit far down the -- a bit well ahead of the final assessments, as well as I think giving these banks several months in which to seek that capital privately, which is their preference.

Q: But for now, though, the door is still open for a possible request to Congress?

MR. GIBBS: Well -- the number was included in a budget in order to ensure that the budget document that we presented met our test for honesty. But there's no current request for more money to Congress.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, on these detainee photos, where does the buck stop in terms of who made the call to stop the legal process?

MR. GIBBS: I can check on this. My understanding is it's the Department of Justice felt that the case, based on the determination made in December by the second court, was un-winnable.

Q: Does the President have concern that when these photos are broadcast around the world, about backlash against our troops in harm's way?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is concerned about how any photos, or any actions by anyone affects either people that are keeping this country safe, or our image around the world and what it does to make it harder to pursue our national interest. I think that's why the President has acted the way he has to close Guantanamo Bay, to end the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and to reach and change our image around the world on his first two trips abroad. I think you'll see the President continue to do that because that doesn't make us weaker, it makes us stronger in pursuing what's in our national interest.

Mike, I think you understand that the President -- even in the determination that was made to release the OLC memos -- there was a lot of back and forth in his mind over the course of several weeks about ensuring that this protected those that keep us safe, that it protected our national security. The President came to the determination that the decision that he made was consistent with all of those criteria.

Q: There's been a decent amount of coverage about the exchange between the President and Leader Boehner yesterday, the Leader, perhaps, making the case for releasing the memos that Vice President Cheney has argued for. I'm wondering if you could take us inside the meeting a little bit, give us a little bit of flavor, what went on.

MR. GIBBS: I was not in the meeting yesterday. But let me give you just some basic background as I understand it. Vice President Cheney requested -- I'll figure out whom he requested it to -- two documents be classified [sic]. That request was made on March 31, 2009.

The classification is -- will be determined by a number of people, including the Director of Central Intelligence and the National Security Advisor, and I'm advised that's a process that could take up to about three weeks' time.

Lester.

Q: Thank you, Robert. On Wednesday, the AP reported from Havana, "Fidel Castro says President Obama misinterpreted his brother Raul's remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on dollars people send to the island." What is the President's reaction to this statement by Fidel, who is reportedly retired? And I have one follow-up.

MR. GIBBS: Okay. I haven't even answered, you've already got a follow-up.

Look, the President took actions many days ago -- I forget how many now -- to pursue our national interests by lifting the embargo for Cuban Americans to travel back to Cuba and for Cuba Americans to send money to the island.

Look, I guess it's a bit amusing that in order to keep what they have, the leadership in Cuba seems a little less sure of themselves based on some of the actions that the President took.

We've talked about this many times. I think the -- I don't see what that leadership has to fear with the travel of people -- of Cuban Americans back to Cuba or the sending of money or the transmission of words and signals over our airwaves. And I think if the Cuban government is serious about reform, then they know the actions and the steps they should take.

Q: In Connecticut, the Hartford Courant noted, "New Haven, sensitive to the issue of racial diversity and employment, act illegally in 2003 when it invalidated a promotion examination because only white candidates received top scores." And my question: Does the President support these New Haven firemen, or does he oppose them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that case is currently in front of the Supreme Court, and we'd let --

Q: I just wondered where his support lies.

MR. GIBBS: Well, his support lies in the nine Supreme Court justices who will determine the answer to your question.

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir. Ann.

Q: On swine flu, has the President been told of any risk to him or any of the people traveling with him when they went to Mexico City?

MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware of.

Q: And is he --

Q: She means us. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: That was kind of a roundabout way to ask -- if you're feeling a little off today and maybe want to know --

Q: I feel terrific -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I will -- I will, at least for Chuck, check on the answer to that question so as to --

Q: And has he been told anything about the nature of this, what makes this swine flu so different? It apparently has much different characteristics, it might be passed human to human.

MR. GIBBS: I don't know that -- I don't know that some of that has been determined. I would point you to HHS and CDC for some of the testing-level issues related to this. The President will continue to get updated on what's going on, as will Brennan and others in the government as the situation develops.

Q: Has he seen any of the photographs that are going to be released?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.

Josh.

Q: Robert, I was wondering if you could clarify on the President's conversation with the Attorney General about who would get this announced immunity from being prosecuted. It seems like a very constrained conversation, if the President and the Attorney General, had the discussion and said, well, only these interrogators will get it if they followed directions and they have legal advice. And then the two of them didn't discuss the scope of it at all? In other words, they didn't discuss, should everyone in the government get it? Should a smaller group get it? It just seems like a weird conversation to leave out the issue of whether other officials --

MR. GIBBS: I wasn't -- I wasn't there for any discussion. But it's a fairly time-honored legal principle that if you're given legal guidance as to what you can do, and you follow that legal guidance, that you shouldn't be prosecuted. I think the President and the Attorney General came to that conclusion, as well.

Q: But, I mean, it's a fairly time-honored principle that lawyers generally aren't prosecuted for giving legal advice also. I mean, there are a lot of principles under --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I started out the week saying it, I'll probably end it saying it, that if people knowingly broke the law, no one is above it and that determination will be made by lawyers.

Peter.

Q: Why has there been so much ambiguity in explaining the administration's position on these interrogation memos? We had Rahm Emanuel essentially saying nobody was going to be prosecuted, then we had --

MR. GIBBS: And I think that you -- I think we plotted this ground on Tuesday and here we are on a sunny Friday.

Q: Okay, but --

MR. GIBBS: No, I appreciate your characterization of our ambiguity.

Q: No, no, no -- but I guess my question is, there does seem to be reasonable people can be -- and I think you've heard it in this room -- are sort of unclear on what the administration's position is. We had the President saying on Tuesday in the Oval Office that, you know, laying out a pathway for Congress to look into this matter, and then telling members of Congress on Thursday --

MR. GIBBS: I try not to take it personally when I have to repeat these answers like seven times, but I'm happy to do it eight.

Q: But there -- the reason you repeated them perhaps is that there is some legitimate confusion as to what the administration's position is.

MR. GIBBS: There undoubtedly seems to be confusion. I'll let you render judgment on its legitimacy. I would simply point you to the remarks that the President made -- you asked about the commission -- I'd point you to the remarks, paraphrased loosely as, "I'm not proposing." I understand how one could interpret that to mean any number of things, but I certainly, in a non-confused way, read it as he's not proposing.

Yes, sir.

Q: What kind of response, if any, is the President receiving from the U.S. allies who are standing shoulder to shoulder with America in fighting terrorism on this whole issue, Robert?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I haven't gotten any specific feedback on that. I know that -- I don't think you have to go far overseas to understand and believe that many of our allies supported the administration's closing of Guantanamo and ruling out the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. President Sarkozy said as much in France at the very beginning of our trip. I think the same view is held by countries throughout the world and the President has taken steps in order to ensure that the United States is in a stronger and better position to pursue its national interests. And I think over the course of this administration that's what's been done.

Yes, sir.

Q: For a number of days now, I've been asking people at the White House and people at the Council of Economic Advisors what the President is hearing in the morning meetings and if there's any good news. And no one has gotten back to me, which leads me to deduce that there is no good news. Am I wrong? And if so, what is he hearing -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I give you credit, that's a pretty good way of asking that question. (Laughter.)

I'm in those morning meetings. We've gone through -- I think you've seen some of the statistics released by the government over the course of this week. Some have been encouraging, some have not been. Some of the numbers underneath the broader top-line numbers have been encouraging. While the -- I'm going to mess the term up -- while there were some durable goods numbers that on the face didn't look as positive, there are numbers underneath that do. There have been some mixed data on housing, some of which did provide some glimmer of hope. But again, there have been statistics like a slight increase from the week before in the number of jobless claims.

So I think the President and the economic team have seen, throughout the course of this week -- and quite frankly every week that we've been here -- there are some, as he said, glimmers of hope, but we still have a long way to go. I think it is entirely likely -- in fact, not debatable -- that we're going to see job loss for many, many months. Our hope is that the steepness at which our economy declined the latter part of last year and the beginning of this year has begun to change. The President has taken some actions to shore up the financial system and get our economy recovered and growing again. And we've made progress on ensuring that some of that money gets out the door quickly.

But, look, it's -- some days are more positive than others in terms of those numbers, and I assume we'll continue along that way for quite some time.

The last thing I would say is I think the American people understand that it's going to take a while to get the economy turned around, to get the economy growing again; to get people hired back again. That's why the President is working on laying that foundation for economic growth.

The President talked today about -- and there was a discussion in the economic meeting today about post-high school education, particularly the structure of college education, the cost of college education. That was the topic of today's discussion, and the President outlined what he's done thus far to make a college education more affordable for millions of Americans; but important steps that we need to do to take the middle man out of this process and provide direct lending in order to save nearly $100 billion over a 10-year period of time.

Q: Thanks, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Thank you, guys.

Q: Thank you. Robert, when are we going to get this -- the timeline about when he talked to -- the court decision -- about when --

MR. GIBBS: Let me go check.

Q: We'll get that today?

MR. GIBBS: I will try to get that today.

Q: Is he going to church this weekend?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have any information on that.

END 3:10 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," April 24, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86054.
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