James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. I hope everyone had a good weekend.
One thing I want to call to your attention before we start -- and we'll make copies of this available; I believe part of this was released from the Secretary of Health and Human Services Office last week to -- (interruption) -- that happens every time I have a good idea. (Laughter.) A letter released April 30th, last week, to Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley, applauding their leadership as the Finance Committee continues to work in a bipartisan fashion toward the shared goal of enacting meaningful health care reform legislation this year.
They outlined a series of principles, including promoting primary care and prevention, realigning incentives to promote high quality care, increasing transparency to empower patients and providers, and reducing waste, fraud and abuse. So we will make that all available to you as a good start in progress on health care reform.
And with that, Mr. Feller.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Two topics, please. Back to the Supreme Court. There's been a lot of talk as the nomination process begins that the President's nominee should either be a woman or someone who is Hispanic. To what degree -- what's the President's message to those who want that to be the case?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President obviously is going to take the time to look at all of those that are qualified, to find the most qualified person in his estimation, whether it's a he or a she; to find somebody, as the President described in this room on Friday -- somebody that respects precedent, tradition and rule of law, but also understands that decisions have to be made using common-sense and understanding people's everyday lives. I think that's most of all what he's looking for in a nominee. I know he's made some calls today to -- I don't have readouts on these yet, but I will get them -- in discussing the upcoming pick with Senator Hatch and Senator Specter.
Q: So to the question of -- in the context of diversity, gender and ethnicity, how important are those --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President described that there should be a diversity of experience. I am sure he will look at candidates with a diversity in background. But again, I think the President is looking for somebody with a record of excellence, somebody with a record of integrity, somebody who understands the rule of law, and somebody who understands how being a judge affects Americans' everyday lives.
Q: I also wanted to ask quickly about a health issue. Mexican officials are saying that the swine flu, H1N1 epidemic is waning. Global health officials are saying that countries shouldn't let their guard down. What's the level of concern at the White House about the flu right now? Is it as high as it was last week?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the White House continues to be vigilant in preparing for whatever we see as a result of the H1N1 flu virus. The President continues to get updates several times a day from Homeland Security Council. The advice the President and others gave last week about being vigilant in your individual responsibilities and staying home if you're sick continues to be important. Certainly you're always hopeful that what you might plan for never comes to fruition, but I think the key is understanding and planning for any outcome and being ready to address it. And I think that's the -- those are the steps that this administration to date has taken and will continue to take in order to prepare.
Q: I have a question about the Supreme Court, to follow up on Ben's question, but then I also have a question about the offshore tax announcement the President made. On Supreme Court, can you give us an update on where things stand with the process? When is he going to be ready to start interviewing people? What is he doing now to prepare for the process and lay the groundwork?
MR. GIBBS: You know, it's -- basically the process is as I outlined it Friday. The process has begun and began some time ago to go through prospective and potential candidates, to begin to review the history and the background and their experience. But I don't have a specific timeline, as I said on Friday, for when that might happen, except to say that this is something the President believes must be done before the Court starts its work again in October -- which means we're on a fairly tight timeline to probably get something done before Congress gets out of town in August.
Q: Okay. And on the announcement he made today about international tax policy, several big corporations are lined up against it, the deferral provision -- Pfizer, Oracle, Microsoft and trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable. And I'm just wondering how you think you're going to overcome that opposition and if you think this faces a big fight in Congress.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think change is ever easy and I think whenever you're taking on some bigger interest that mountain gets a little bit steeper.
But the President strongly believes that the policy that he outlined, the steps that we have to take to close tax loopholes and ensure some fairness in this process is the right policy for America and the right policy for American business. By closing these loopholes and replacing these tax advantages with fairness, using a portion of the money that's recouped to make or to fund research and development and experimentation tax credit for the next 10 years is an important investment for American business.
Since 1981 the R&D tax credit has expired on 13 separate occasions. So providing business with some certainty for research and development we think is important. And as the President said throughout the campaign, we have -- our tax code has an incentive that provides -- an incentive that rewards companies that are investing overseas at the expense of investing here in America. We know we're going to take on some tough interests in that, but the President believes this is a fight we should have and one that we can win.
Q: Can you respond to their criticism that these policies would make them less competitive? They point out that in a lot of countries you don't pay taxes on overseas earnings, you only pay taxes on what you earn domestically, and so that puts them at a disadvantage because they're paying taxes twice.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at and compare the huge tax benefits that they get in this country for deferral, the huge benefits that they get for accelerated depreciation -- I think it's important that the American people and businesses understand that this is -- fairness is not something that will put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Q: Thanks, Robert. The situation in Pakistan seems to be getting worse and worse and the President obviously has some important meetings this week with Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. What does he hope to get at this critical stage from these meetings?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, as you know, the President throughout the campaign, for much of the past two years, has discussed the fact that we have neglected this region of the world and particularly we have not focused our resources enough on the challenges that are presented by these countries and in these two countries.
The President ordered at the beginning of the administration a review of our policy and instituted the beginning of regular trilateral meetings to ensure that there were open lines of communication between the Afghan government, the Pakistani government, and the American government about where we can coordinate our efforts to make a better difference. This is the second such meeting. The President I think, as you said, is concerned about this situation. You've seen administration officials talk about their concern.
So this is an opportunity to discuss with them the process and open up those lines of communication -- because we want a strong relationship with each of these two countries; we want an understanding that not just the United States faces security concerns, but each individual government has security concerns about extremists in the area; and this is the beginning of a long process to coordinate our strategy.
Q: A quick question on the Boston Globe today, the news that they may have 30 to 60 days to live. What's the White House's thinking on the newspaper industry right now and whether or not it may need a bailout, since there are a lot of jobs at stake just as with the auto industry; a lot of people talking about the impact on communities like Boston, Seattle, and places that are losing newspapers? How do you evaluate all that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not asked specifically about assistance. I don't think -- I think that might be a bit of a tricky area to get into given the differing roles. Obviously the President believes there has to be a strong free press. I think there's a certain concern and a certain sadness when you see cities losing their newspapers or regions of the country losing their newspapers. So it's certainly of concern. I don't know what, in all honesty, government can do about it. I would note that looking at some of the balance sheets, I wondered how you guys didn't think $100 million meant a lot a few weeks ago, but looking at some of the balance sheets $100 million seems to me a lot.
Q: A couple questions. One, on this tax announcement that you made today, what is the legislative calendar on this? Is this actually going to happen -- is it going to be a separate, stand alone piece of legislation that's going to get debated and voted on, or is this going to get lost in some sort of bigger thing with the tax code?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that what he announced today is basically a down payment on longer-term tax reform. The President doesn't anticipate that this will get in any way lost. Obviously, Senator Baucus, Congressman Rangel, Congressman Doggett, Senator Levin, have all pushed for elements of this over the years. Whether or not this is --
Q: But when is this going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: We expect it to happen in the near term.
Q: A couple months? Next legislative session?
MR. GIBBS: I would think probably that. Whether or not this is -- it's hard for me to peer into the crystal ball and figure out whether this gets added to something at the end of the process or whether two financial things get put together, I don't know. But obviously -- I think there's a lot of support for extending this research and development tax credit and giving business certainty in their investments. So I think this is something --
Q: Is it designed to happen this year?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: With budget reconciliation or outside of this --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it has to happen in reconciliation. It certainly could be a part of it. But I also think that the President and the team believe that this could easily work its way through Congress. I mean, I guess we could have a spirited debate about the efficacy of tax havens -- if that's something that people want to have, I'm sure the President is happy to have it.
Q: To follow up on Ed's question on Pakistan. So this first meeting is more of a -- I want to say it's more of an, okay, what are your concerns, what are your concerns, here are our concerns, and let's start the dialogue? Or is there going to be some tangible --
MR. GIBBS: Look, this is the beginning of the President seeing each of these two leaders at the White House. Obviously there is funding in front of Capitol Hill in the supplemental to deal with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm sure that will be part of it.
I think there is a growing recognition -- there's a growing recognition coming more to where the White House has been that the threat that are posed by these extremists -- not just, again, to us, but inside each of these two countries. So I think this is an important first step.
Q: Is India at all going to be consulted on this? Because it seems that part of the frustration that I know that you guys have had with the Pakistani government is that they have so many troops on the border of India that they're not able to combat the Taliban in the way that they should, and they pulled some troops. Is there any way you can still play mediator on this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think obviously some of those conversations are being had. I think the President spoke pretty clearly to this last week in underscoring where the threat lies in Pakistan and where it doesn't.
Q: And the President is going to make that clear to Pakistan, that there's not threat from India?
MR. GIBBS: I think he will reiterate what he said to you guys last week.
Q: What is the President's chief objection to single payer for universal health care when it works so many places?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think among many is I think it is not likely to be workable. I think --
Q: Why do you say that? We have Medicare, we have Social Security.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I say that because, Helen, we've been debating health care reform for 30 or 40 years. I think if that were the magic silver bullet, then you guys would be asking me why we were taking on something else to our agenda because health care --
Q: Why are you afraid of universal health care by a single payer?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think anybody is afraid of universal health care. We're trying to get -- our objectives are to cut costs for families that are watching their premiums and their co-payments and their deductibles skyrocket.
Q: Single payer is supposed to cut costs.
MR. GIBBS: We are looking to cover more of those that aren't lucky enough to have health insurance. And equally as importantly, you cannot tackle the long-term costs that are being borne by this government without tackling health care reform. The President is adamant about that. And he looks forward to working with Congress to find a workable solution that can get through Congress.
Q: But Social Security works, and Medicare works. Why do you think it couldn't work for universal health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are -- I would point you to -- there's, I'm sure, down the street about 535 opinions on this.
Q: Robert, just to clarify, the President has not interviewed anyone for the Supreme Court?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: And what about the counsel? Has he talked to anyone?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Given the fact that, through the years, these sit-downs that Presidents have had with potential Supreme Court nominees have been make-or-break, when do you think that's going to happen, given the tight time --
MR. GIBBS: You guys didn't get the pool notification?
Q: Pardon me?
MR. GIBBS: You didn't get the pool notification?
Q: No. (Laughter.)
Q: He'll do a press conference right after.
Q: We know there will be full coverage at the top and bottom.
MR. GIBBS: Right, we'll do cameras and stills in separate -- (laughter.)
I don't know that there's a direct timeline. Obviously there's work to be done. I think the President will likely conduct this process in a way that -- not unlike he did the vice presidential search. It won't be one that is overly public.
Q: Announce it by text message?
MR. GIBBS: What?
Q: Announce it by text message?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe so. (Laughter.) Maybe I didn't take the analogy all the way to the end.
Obviously the President understands, as he said here last week, just how important a decision and a nomination like this are. I think he understands the gravity of that. And I think -- look, I think the President I think was defined this weekend as a pragmatist in a lot of these ideas, and I think that's the case. I don't doubt that there will be a debate in this town, as there has been for several decades, about one view or the other.
I think the vast majority of the American people are not on either end of this, but instead somewhere in the middle looking for the very same requirements that the President is looking for: somebody that understands the rule of law, somebody that has a record of excellence and integrity, somebody who also understands how these opinions affect everyday lives, and will exercise some common sense.
Q: One of the criticisms from business about change in tax policy is that the unintended consequence could be to lose jobs. Has there been any study done of that before this proposal was --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously -- I don't think the President would offer up something that would set our economic recovery efforts backwards. I think that's why the President dismisses the argument that's made and believes in the fairness of closing tax loopholes, cracking down on tax havens, and rewarding instead companies that are creating jobs right here in America.
Q: And he dismisses the argument because --
MR. GIBBS: He doesn't believe it quite honestly holds a lot of merit.
Q: Two questions. One is, on the tax issue, did the G20 meeting have any influence on the shape of his proposal? This is something that our European allies were pushing for at the time.
MR. GIBBS: No -- I mean, obviously it was something that the President agreed with our European allies. Our support for these individual things are something that I've heard the President talk about, in all honesty, going back to his Senate race in 2004. So while I think it is in line with what the G20 did, the President's belief about closing tax havens, his belief about instituting fairness and rewarding companies that are creating jobs here is something he's talked about for five years.
Q: I just meant, did the actual particulars of the proposal at all or --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, not that I'm aware of. I can certainly see if there's any -- if anything changed on that, but I don't believe it did.
Q: And on the Supreme Court, you mentioned a variety of criteria, diversity in all sorts of different ways. Is one of the things you would put on that list age; that you would be looking for somebody who's younger, who would have a longer term on the Court?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think --
Q: Older? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Ed, just remember, just e-mail me your opinions and we'll have the President -- (laughter.)
Look, instead of getting into certain age brackets or different requirements, I think the President obviously -- I think you always assume, rightly so, that whomever you choose is going to have a significant impact on the Court for quite some time. I mean, this is one of nine. And I think you have to assume that whomever you pick is somebody that you believe will have great weight on the Court for a long time to come.
Q: But it's remarked on that previous Republican Presidents have seemed to specifically gone out of their way to choose people in their 40s and 50s who will have a mark for even longer.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President looks for somebody who is the best qualified and hopes they do make an impact on the Court.
Q: Pakistan and then taxes. On Pakistan, there were several reports this weekend that the government doesn't know what happened to $100 million allocated to Pakistan to better secure its nuclear facilities. Does the administration have any concrete plans to find out what happened to that $100 million, if it in fact has brought any more security to these facilities, and will this be part of the conversation this week?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know about the specific news that you mentioned. Obviously -- and I wouldn't add a ton to what the President said on this last week -- but obviously the security of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and the security of nuclear materiel throughout the world is something that the President thinks is of the highest priority. I don't doubt that that will be mentioned, yes.
Q: I mean, this is U.S. tax dollars for a specific purpose and the government represented it would be used for this purpose and this purpose only. And right now, it doesn't appear anyone knows where the money went or if it went to this purpose at all.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has sufficiently weighed in -- well, let me rephrase that. I think the President's views on our policy relating to a Musharraf-only policy, our policy that provides resources but no accountability -- I think on both of those accounts the President has been clear that that hasn't worked and that part of the review was to determine how moving forward we can best appropriate our resources to ensure the safety and security of those weapons and of everyone involved.
Q: When the President had a Q&A session with the Business Roundtable, this idea, the tax proposals he's introduced today, came up. And one of the questioners said, Mr. President, would you consider, as you evaluate this policy, reducing corporate income tax rates -- because there is an economic argument that one of the reasons these tax havens flourish is to avoid higher corporate income tax rates around the globe, particularly in the U.S. The President said he would take it under consideration. It's not here today. Can we therefore assume we're not going to see any proposals from this White House on lowering corporate income tax rates anytime soon?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President has laid out here would lower corporate taxes because for 10 years we are instituting certainty in the research and development tax credit. Businesses will pay less taxes by taking advantage of that.
But as I said a minute ago, the President believes this is a down payment on tax reform and I think the President would be -- I think the reason the President said he would take that under advisement is the President believes that closing loopholes and using that to bring down the corporate tax rate is exactly what he has in mind. But what that requires is a closing of the loopholes and the tax havens that you talk about that companies are taking advantage of to put money elsewhere to avoid paying taxes here.
Q: Chairman Baucus said that this needs further study to assess the impact on the plan -- of the plan on U.S. businesses. Mitch McConnell said, I can't endorse a plan that gives preferential treatment to foreign companies at the expense of U.S.-based companies and the 52 million people they employ. At least at this level of bipartisanship, there appears to be some more that Congress would like to learn about this than it presently knows. How do you answer that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we are fortunate that Congress has to the power to call hearings and investigate the topic, but we're happy to have a long discussion about the fairness of tax havens and tax loopholes that let companies avoid paying the taxes -- taxes like you and I pay each day -- and instead reward companies that are investing right here and creating jobs in America.
Q: Two things. First, on tax havens, at the Summit of the Americas, a lot of Caribbean leaders raised a lot of concerns about what these sorts of measures would do to their financial sectors, which account for large parts of their economy. Can you tell us about any steps, any diplomatic steps in advance of today's announcement that might have been taken?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I know there was a discussion about this, but at the same time while the administration understands the -- may understand the viewpoint of why a country would take that position, it doesn't change the administration's viewpoint that, for fairness purposes, these tax havens have to be dealt with.
Q: And on Israel, the meeting tomorrow with President Peres, he shares President Obama's view that a two-state solution is the way to go to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian situation. He represents a government that has yet to embrace that. What does President Obama hope to tell him tomorrow to take back to Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, much like the meeting that will happen on Wednesday, the President -- this is of the utmost priority for the President. It is something that he believes will only be advanced and moved forward by a sustained effort by this administration, in conjunction with the Palestinians and the Israelis, to make progress. Obviously this President spent time the very first day he worked in the Oval Office on Middle East peace and I think this is the beginning of many steps. Obviously Mr. Netanyahu will visit the White House later in the month, as will -- as others have and others will over the course of the next few weeks as we start this long process.
Q: You mentioned just a second ago some of President Obama's criticisms of the Bush administration's Musharraf-only policy. Does that mean that the Obama administration does not have a Zardari-only policy, particularly given the concerns we've heard about the survivability of the Pakistani government?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the Pakistanis are in charge of electing their own government. It's a democratically elected government. This President wants to work with the government, but I think the criticism that this President had was that our Pakistani policy didn't include the people of Pakistan; that we have to coordinate our actions and have the government, the people, and any political party understand what's at stake. And what is at stake is the role of extremism and the impact and the effect that it's having.
I've said this before -- I don't think you have to explain in great detail the role of extremism to this government, because it's in power because extremists assassinated somebody else. But obviously this is of great concern to the President, and he'll spend a lot of time on Wednesday trying to get the steps that we take moving forward right as it relates to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to finally have a regional approach and ensure that the time that is spent and the resources that are spent go toward making a difference in this region of the world.
Q: Robert, can I ask about the bank stress tests? I know that we haven't laid out the formal results of all the tests; I realize there are a couple of pending appeals on them. But clearly several banks already are in a position where they need more capital, according to the stress test. Has the administration decided whether or not it's going to go back to Congress and ask for more money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Mark, I've said this and so have others, that -- well, let me -- these stress tests were designed so that regulators, the administration, and all those involved could get a realistic assessment in a severe -- even more severe economic downturn what capital cushion would be required.
There will be -- there undoubtedly will be banks that need more capital. There have been banks in the last few weeks that have sought more capital, and I think we believe and banks believe that the first and best place to get that is through the private sector.
The administration doesn't believe that we need to go to Congress right now looking for more money. But first and foremost, I think everyone involved will be looking for banks to raise this through either private means or the selling of some assets that they have or that they control.
Q: Does that mean that after they make that attempt, if they don't have any luck in the private sector, that they would come back to you folks and say, sorry, we couldn't do it, we need more?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's -- as the plan is laid out -- and I think one thing that we've maintained and I think you'll see this on Thursday, I think you'll be pleased with the amount of transparency with which these tests will be released by the regulators. But the steps that each of these individual banks take will be determined not by us but by them. They'll have a certain amount of time to put together a plan that meets the test of regulators to ensure that stability.
Q: But the point is, you've been saying for some weeks now that once we get these stress tests done, we will know whether we need to go back to Congress. And you've decided that at least as of now, we don't need it?
MR. GIBBS: Let me start by saying, I haven't seen all the results. But I think the administration believes we have in hand what is needed.
Q: Just want to follow up on Mark, and then I have a question about Pakistan. In the past you've been very candid when you think there are things that the President is for but the Congress wouldn't approve it, like the assault weapons ban. Do you feel that in this case, Congress basically wouldn't have any appetite to give you more money for the banks, even if you wanted it?
MR. GIBBS: I think in many ways that might ultimately be -- I think it's hard to -- it's hard for me to look into the crystal ball to -- I don't know what the circumstance by which you might make a request.
Q: You know how many votes it passed by the last time, which was a hair.
MR. GIBBS: I watched the President make a lot of these before a lot of this. So, yes. No, I don't -- look, I don't doubt that this is unpopular. It's unpopular here. The President didn't come here to, as he said, run auto companies or bail out banks.
But I think what's important about this process is getting a genuine understanding of what's out there. We have no doubt that there will still be -- there are still going to be toxic assets on the books that have to and will be dealt with as part of other plans that the administration has outlined.
Q: On Pakistan, my question is, the reports today that the U.S. doesn't know where all of Pakistan nukes are. And in the press conference President Obama didn't express a high level of confidence about how secure they were, and he just said, "I'm confident we can make sure that their nuclear arsenal is secure." I mean, how secure does he actually think it is at the moment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm, not surprisingly, not going to get into a detailed conversation about this up here, except to point you to what he said in that press conference.
Q: I mean, is the message from that press conference that he isn't very confident about their security, because he didn't say --
MR. GIBBS: That's not what I suggested.
Q: Well, could you just explain what the message should be?
MR. GIBBS: I would read his -- what he said. I think it's rather clear.
Q: I had a question on the flu, but I did want to clarify what you said about getting the Supreme Court nominee done before August, basically. When you say done, does that mean confirmed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me amend if only to say I think obviously in order to get somebody seated by the first Monday in October you're at least going to have to be a decent ways through the process, or through the beginning of this process. Obviously September is going to be a busy time. I guess let me amend what I said only to say that we understand that looking at the calendar from here until that first Monday in October, you've got four weeks in August, or August and maybe even the first part of September, where Congress is not going to be here.
So instead of saying they should be done and through the Senate and what have you by the end of July, obviously this process has to be a decent ways down the field. I guess what I'm saying is this isn't going to all happen in September; I think this process has to make some progress in order to get somebody seated for the first Monday.
Q: All right. And then on the flu, are you guys starting to look towards the fall flu season -- assuming that this current trend of the swine flu kind of ratchets down a bit, are you starting to look towards the fall and a flare-up again of maybe a more virulent strain of this? What are you doing to prepare for that also?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think there's several different things here. One, obviously we continue to remain very vigilant with what's going on right now, understanding that obviously it's still very much out there, there are still cases that we're dealing with and preparations that we're making to ensure that states and localities both have the guidance and part of the -- our national stockpile of antivirals.
As I said last week, they're beginning to undertake the very initial steps in the development of vaccines by creating a seed stock. I think --
Q: Would that seed stock be good if it mutated in the fall?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that I think is -- I will check with the scientists on this. Obviously I think some consideration is being taken into account, and in all honesty they're continuing to evaluate each and every day the scientific evidence that they get from what they're seeing in the virus.
As I said last week, Jon, I do think there is a concern and the need for us to remain vigilant throughout the summer in preparing for what might happen in the fall. The timing in which this occurred happened in a period in which the normal end of the flu season was happening. So in that way we're fortunate. We will continue to see scientifically what the virus does, the strength of the strain, whether or not there's any mutation, in preparing for what we would assume would be a ramp-up in the beginning of flu season in the fall.
Q: A ramp-up of regular flu or this flu?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's -- we will prepare for both in looking at and understanding the science to see if additional steps have to be taken in the interim to prepare for that.
But in terms of getting our public health system ready, they've already made preparations to add to the stockpile for antivirals. We've discussed the beginnings of vaccine; the money that was requested by our administration as part of the supplemental to address having the resources that are needed both in the short term here to move equipment and things throughout the country, as well as to address that over the long term throughout the fall.
Q: I wanted to ask a budget question, but just quickly on the Supreme Court, is one of your concerns about September that the whole Supreme Court process could interfere with -- I don't mean the President's time now; I mean Congress's -- with health care, the budget, and everything else?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think instead of sort of hypothetically figuring out what might be -- what might constitute a traffic jam in September, I think largely what I'm saying is we should begin to make progress starting here and then eventually down the street to ensure that we don't -- we're not all caught having to do several things in September. You know, I think we'll make progress and I think Congress will too. I don't think there's any -- I don't think anybody in this process wants to see the process delayed.
Q: Quickly on the budget, I think Thursday is your date on the full budget now. Are the figures from the earlier budget locked in or are we likely to see changes, minor or major, in deficit numbers, economic forecasts, and all those numbers that came out in, what was it, February or March?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I will double-check on that. I don't have a good readout yet on that, but I will get something on that.
Q: Robert, on two issues, on the Court and also on Pakistan. On the Court situation, you said before this administration came into office they understood that there could be a possibility of two justices that you could be picking, and as you said, that this is something that you've been working on for a while. Is there an A-list for the first Supreme Court justice and then a second list, possibly, for the next? What is the criteria for that first list, if there is a first and a second list?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we have made preparations to fill judicial -- to make appointments for judicial openings at all levels of the federal court, and the transition began identifying a long time ago candidates for what we assumed might be an eventual pick for the Supreme Court. I think I laid out the qualifications: somebody that respects the rule of law and understands the role of tradition and precedent, somebody with a record of excellence and integrity, and someone who understands how laws and decisions affect people's daily lives.
Q: So there are two lists, are you saying?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I don't -- I honestly don't know if there's an A, B, or C list. I don't -- I think right now there's a collection underway for a pool of very qualified candidates to replace Justice Souter.
Q: And also on the issue of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, U.S. military officials are saying that extremists are leaving that border and going into East Africa; they're also in Somalia. And there is a major concern; a former U.S. defense secretary said that this is a real problem. What concrete steps are being taken right now to address those issues as al Qaeda is leaving that border and going to Africa now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I haven't seen the specific comments, but obviously the President has long been concerned about areas throughout the world, whether they are in that region of the world, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whether they're in Africa, of the rise and the prevalence of extremist groups in territories that lack strong governments; that lawless spaces tend to provide breeding grounds for extremists.
I think that's why the President has talked about, in his budget, an increased role in resources for governments in places like Africa that are experiencing or have long experienced trouble in controlling their physical borders. The President obviously was involved as a senator in efforts throughout Africa and particularly in the Congo to address the threat that's posed by ungoverned spaces. So I think that's something that the President and his team are very mindful of.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you, guys.
END 1:39 P.M. EDT