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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
May 20, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:51 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before I take some questions, I just have one brief announcement. Next week President Mubarak of Egypt was scheduled to be here. As many of you all know, his -- tragically, his grandson passed away in the last 24 hours. So his visit here is -- for next week has been canceled. Obviously the President will see him in Egypt when we go in June. And the President and the First Lady passed their condolences to President Mubarak and his family on the tragic and untimely death of their grandson.

Ms. Loven.

Q: Does the White House agree with the FBI director that there are risks associated with bringing any Guantanamo detainees to the United States?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jennifer, let me talk broadly about Guantanamo. Obviously this is a topic that, as you know, the President will discuss tomorrow. There are -- he will go through some of the decisions that we have to make regarding how to close down Guantanamo, something that Democrats and Republicans alike agree on, because it is -- it's hurting and has hurt our image in the world and our reputation, and has hurt our national security.

Q: How much detail will he go into?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't expect that he's going to hand out a 100-page plan that will have every decision made. I think, as I said here yesterday, that before -- we share Congress's belief that before resources are given for a project that they need and deserve a more detailed plan. The President will lay out the framework on many of those decisions and some of the work that has to be done between now and then to make progress in closing Guantanamo Bay.

Jennifer, as you know, that a number of these decisions the administration -- any administration is going to have to make based on legal cases that are coming its way. I would also mention that the President will discuss in some -- in part of the speech discuss the state secrets privilege, some discussion about transparency and national security. So those are a basket of the topics that he'll discuss.

But to go back to some of these legal cases, again, there are -- there are orders that are pending and binding that order the transfer of detainees that courts here have ruled can no longer be held at Guantanamo. Jake asked -- good lord, large fly. Jake asked yesterday about a case where a former detainee was transferred on Friday to France. That was a case that had been pending where a judge appointed by the previous administration had ordered that a detainee -- there wasn't sufficient evidence to hold the detainee. That was a ruling that was passed down in 2008, and he's been transferred.

Q: Can you respond directly to the FBI director, please?

MR. GIBBS: I can respond to anybody, including everybody in America, to say that the President understands that his most important job is to keep the American people safe, and that he is not going to make any decision or any judgment that imperils the safety of the American people.

Q: So you think there aren't risks -- there aren't any risks with bringing --

MR. GIBBS: No, no. I said that the President isn't going to make any decisions or judgments --

Q: But he's already decided to close Guantanamo.

MR. GIBBS: He has.

Q: So he's apparently made the decision that there aren't risks in doing so, in bringing some of the detainees to the United States.

MR. GIBBS: No, because I haven't said that the -- the President hasn't decided where some of the detainees will be transferred. Again, those are decisions that the task forces are working on and that the President will begin to lay out and discuss tomorrow.

Yes, sir.

Q: Iran today test-fired a new long-range missile capable of hitting Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf. And this just comes two days after Prime Minister Netanyahu was here, expressing concern about Iran's missile nuclear capability. Has the President been briefed on the missile launch? How concerned is he? And does he still believe that reaching out to Iran diplomatically is the best way to go?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me first start by saying that the President expressed, as you know, his great concern, his continued concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons technology. Obviously we've seen reports. I'm not going to get into discussing intelligence matters.

As I said, you all know the concerns that the President has about Iran's missile development programs, its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and technology, and the strong belief that the pursuit of those programs do not strengthen the security of Iran but instead make them less safe. So obviously there is -- the President has long been concerned about this.

Q: So you don't see this as another slap in the face for his efforts to reach out diplomatically?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President and the Prime Minister both agreed on Monday that engaging the people and the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, something that hasn't been tried for the past many years, is something that makes sense.

Yes, sir.

Q: Does President Obama think that American prisons are capable of holding detainees in a way that is safe for the American people?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, a lot of decisions have not been made. I would simply reiterate what I told Jennifer, which is that the President would not make a decision or a judgment that would imperil the safety or security of anybody in this country.

Q: Well, I'm not asking if the decisions were made. I'm just -- I mean, this is one of the options --

MR. GIBBS: Right.

Q: -- and I'm just asking for a general view, does President Obama have confidence in American prisons, that they would be capable of holding a prisoner without -- as you know, there's a big debate on Capitol Hill. Harry Reid said he doesn't want them in American prisons. On the other hand, there are several terrorists that are currently in American prisons. I'm wondering if the President has confidence that they're capable of holding terrorists without them becoming free and wreaking havoc.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you -- I read a little of -- stories around the debate on Capitol Hill this morning as the Senate passed an amendment on detainees. The President expects to sign in short order a bill for supplemental appropriations. As I think the debaters noted, there are people convicted of terrorism in our prisons and the President is confident that the people that are in our prisons now are locked away securely.

Q: So he does have confidence that American prisons are capable?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again --

Q: You just said that.

MR. GIBBS: I said, what we have we're very capable of -- we believe they're very capable. What I'm saying is, before you get down the road on decisions that haven't been made, I don't know the degree to which the task force has looked into all that.

Q: Can you just comment on the pretty overwhelming vote at the Senate that --

MR. GIBBS: Well, what I said yesterday, that we understand and agree that before resources are handed down, the Congress deserves more detail in a plan.

I think we've discussed already today some of the complex decisions that have to be made going forward; that the President will begin to frame part of this discussion tomorrow, outline some of the decisions that he knows has to be made in conjunction with other agencies in this administration as well as members of Congress.

We've talked about this for the last few days, but for many years there have been a patchwork of ad hoc legal theories that have maintained our detention system. We know that court cases are coming every day that are rendering different judgments about what legal standards there are in this country, the values that we have to uphold, and we're taking all of that into account in making decisions about how to close Guantanamo Bay because the President believes -- and I would say members of both parties agree -- that Guantanamo Bay has become an image for recruitment for terrorists around the world.

The President signed an order early in his administration to close it, and he intends to keep that promise.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, can I just clarify, you've now said either "frame the debate" or "framework" a couple times so far in this briefing. Yesterday at the top of the briefing you were asked about the Gitmo funding issue. I remember you saying something like there would be a hefty amount of detail in the President's speech. So is this just a framework, or is he actually going to --

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there's going to be -- we're going to go into detail about many of the decisions that have to be made. Ed, if all the decisions had been made, I'd be up here announcing all the decisions had been made and intoning to you what decisions there were. Obviously --

Q: But Congress wants a plan. So, I mean, at some point you have to --

MR. GIBBS: I understand. And we want to work with Congress to develop that plan. I'm almost positive if you arrange an interview with one of the 535 on Capitol Hill, they might also agree with that, as well. I think there are a series of decisions that have to be made, and as I said earlier, there are a series of court cases that get handed down each and every day, which change the calculus of what has to be determined.

As I said, the detainee that we talked about yesterday that had been transferred was -- that happened in -- the judgment was handed down in 2008, based on a judgment from a judge that there wasn't enough evidence to continue to hold that detainee.

As you know, Ed, there's -- I think over the life of Guantanamo Bay, there's been some 700 to 800 detainees in a facility that currently holds, I think as of today, 240 detainees. So obviously this is part of an ongoing debate about determining who's there.

One of the key things that the administration did in its executive order in January, which was to lay out a detailed plan for which prosecutors would go individually through the cases and determine how best to deal with them. That's why you've seen the President modify military commissions -- a part of jurisprudence that dates back to the Revolutionary War -- modified in order to meet legal challenges and protect our values. That's certainly a way to do that. Obviously there will be discussions about how to take detainees and put them in Article III courts.

I think one of the larger theories here is that in seven years, three cases have been dealt with. That's not swift and certain justice for the families of the USS Cole that happened in 2000. That's not swift and certain justice for the families of workers in the embassies in places like Kenya, where the President visited in 2006. It's not making us safer. And I think the President understands all those things.

Q: Given all those complex questions that you say you still have to figure out to get a plan, in retrospect, are there any second thoughts around the White House about having that executive order signed on January 22nd? Should the President have said, we're going to have a 120-day review or a six-month review, whatever it may be, instead of signing that executive order without a plan?

MR. GIBBS: No, because, Ed, if the -- under your scenario, the President would have signed an executive order that closed Guantanamo Bay later that afternoon.

Q: He didn't have to do it. He could have just said, I'm studying it, or whatever. But why not -- why do an executive order without a plan?

MR. GIBBS: Because, Ed, the Democrats and Republicans alike -- I think probably one of the -- I'm not saying we agree on all the details, but one of the issues that both Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on in 2008 was that Guantanamo Bay should be closed. The President set up a decision-making process to deal with a series of ad hoc legal theories that all had been pieced together over the course of more than eight years to detain, at different points, almost 800 people picked up in the pursuit on the war on terror.

So this is not something new to this administration. As I said, there are legal cases that are transpiring each and every day that are requiring, regardless of what happened in January, us to deal with detainees that are there, just as there have been decisions before we got here about some 400 to 500 detainees that at one point or another have gone through Guantanamo Bay.

But as I've suggested here a number of times, Ed, these decisions aren't easy and the President understands that. That's the reason why, when he signed that, I think on the 22nd of January, he didn't close it on the 22nd of January. He understood that it was going to take some time to put together and decide a lot of hard issues.

But we know that the existence of Guantanamo Bay has become a rallying cry for the very same people that seek to do us harm. The President was determined and is determined to ensure that that's no longer a symbol that rallies those that hope to do us harm in the future.

Yes, sir.

Q: This was an overwhelming vote on a really high priority --

MR. GIBBS: Ninety to six.

Q: -- for this President. And you seem to be downplaying it, almost saying it's no big deal. You say that you agree that they deserve a plan before they get the resources.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I said that yesterday before the vote.

Q: I know you did, but why did you ask for the resources if you think they deserve the plan before they got the resources? And do you disagree with the characterizations of many of my colleagues that this is a major defeat for the administration on a central issue on his agenda?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President -- as I said yesterday, the President understands there are a lot of thorny decisions that have to be made, that we're going to work with Congress in order to make them. We've made some of them in the last few days, working with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, working through issues about how to bring detainees to swift and certain justice.

Some of that has been applauded and some of that has been derided. But the President understands that there aren't any easy decisions in this. But he's going to continue to work in this administration and work with this Congress in order to fulfill the promise that he made in the executive order in closing Guantanamo Bay.

Q: This is a President who has not been afraid to admit that he made a mistake in the past when he made one. If you say Congress deserves a plan before we ask them for resources, was it a mistake to ask for the resources before you give them a plan?

MR. GIBBS: It was a mistake to set up something that became a rallying cry for enemies around the world and to hope for so long that we could simply continue to perpetuate the theory of keeping detainees there while the courts ruled otherwise.

I don't doubt that the President -- and I think he'll say this tomorrow -- that we've made some hasty decisions that are now going to take some time to unwind. And closing Guantanamo Bay obviously is one of those decisions.

Q: Can I -- in the speech tomorrow, will he be talking about the wars, too?

MR. GIBBS: Talk about?

Q: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or will that be for another day?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think that the speech -- the speech will touch some on that only because obviously particularly in Afghanistan is where a number of detainees were originally picked up. But there's not a long discussion about the direction that we're heading. I think you've heard the President speak in the past many months on our direction in both Iran [sic] and Afghanistan.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, it's my understanding that an array of interest groups, human rights groups, have been in the White House today getting briefed about what the President is going to say tomorrow on certain things having to do with the speech, and the President and the Attorney General have been involved in these briefings. Can you talk a little bit about what some of these assurances on the left or some -- that some of these human rights groups are going to be upset about? What is it that you guys have been telling them?

MR. GIBBS: I think they've been on your -- haven't they been on your newscasts in the intervening few days?

Q: What is being told to them in these --

MR. GIBBS: Somebody pull Chuck the tape from NBC on -- (laughter) -- I mean, you guys have covered this. I mean, obviously, as I just said --

Q: But you're briefing them today about this. Obviously you're trying to deflate some of their concerns.

MR. GIBBS: No, Chuck --

Q: Well, what are you trying to tell them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Chuck, again, I'd refer you back to any number of intervening NBC newscasts that discuss the issues that are being dealt with, have been dealt with in the previous few days, and will be dealt with in the next many months.

As I said to Chip, there have been decisions that have been made that have been lauded by those on Capitol Hill and involved with interest groups in this town. There have been decisions made in the past couple days that have been derided by those interest groups. I think the President is going to talk to people that agree with him and people that disagree with him and they may -- likely at any one of those conversations you'll get disagreement and agreement all at the same time.

Q: What is he going to say to those who make the argument, which has been made, he's actually just changing rhetoric, he's not changing policy that much. With Guantanamo, you're essentially calling for a way of moving Guantanamo. You're just changing the name.

MR. GIBBS: Well, ask that question of some of our severe detractors on this and see if you get agreement on that. I actually don't think that's the case. I think what the -- the decision that the President made on military commissions is something that's envisioned that's much different than what was passed in Congress and signed by the President in late September and early October in 2006.

I think, as we've talked about here, enhanced interrogation techniques are something that this President has outlawed as part of the actions of this administration. I don't think those are --

Q: Yet the fine print, there's open to interpretation about what different techniques could be used.

MR. GIBBS: How so?

Q: In the argument that there's definitely some words in there that one could interpret that it's --

MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don't think you're -- let me understand -- I don't think you're intimating that the Army Field Manual would allow one to do --

Q: There have been some interpretations that there are --

MR. GIBBS: I can assure you that's not how the Army interprets the Army Field Manual, and I assume that generals in the Army and the military that are in charge of ensuring that the procedures of the military are in line with the laws of this country -- I don't think you're intimating that people in the Army are inferring different things about their own field manual, because I know that's not the case.

Q: Following up on Jake -- so are you not ruling out that it may be -- that your plan will never put a detainee in a U.S. prison?

MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don't have any announcements on the 240 detainees that are currently at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes.

Q: Me?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: These guys are all sleeping on row two so I went to row three. (Laughter.) Don't worry, we'll come back, don't worry. You guys -- speaking of entitlement reform. (Laughter.)

Q: Oh, Robert. Robert.

MR. GIBBS: You know, generally -- all right. You don't raise your hands, I won't take the questions.

Don't worry -- Major, don't. Please. I know, you look -- can somebody at least record the look on his face? Send me the tape, just to my email, so I can -- Margaret. Major, you're going to get your chance to ask all half-dozen questions. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

Q: I only have half of a half-dozen. Number one, is the one-year timeline still solid --

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. Number two, is the President tomorrow perhaps going to postpone the July deadline for a review?

MR. GIBBS: The July --

Q: The 120-day review that's supposed to come out in July. Is he perhaps going to push that back?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: And then -- so finally, have any major decisions been made that he will announce tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of what he's going to say tomorrow. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made and are going to be made going forward in working with Congress to do that. But I'm not going to get ahead of where the President --

Q: You said that he has not reached a decision about what to do about many of the detainees. Without --

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said earlier, one of the things outlined in the original executive order was to go through many of these cases case by case, to have a prosecutor go through those cases to determine the evidence that exists, to determine the best course that might be used to ensure swift and certain justice, whether or not detainees -- whether or not they're going to be tried in using a reformed military commission, whether or not they're going to be tried in an Article III court. Obviously many of those decisions will be made only after a thorough review of each one of these cases, not all of which previously existed.

Q: But in terms of the placement of some of the detainees, depending on the circumstances that we don't know about, have some decisions been reached on how to -- on where to put some of the -- can you rule out Charleston and Fort Leavenworth -- any announcements on these two places tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I can rule that out for tomorrow.

Mr. Knoller, do you have your hand up?

Q: I do, always.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, good. Thank you.

Q: Robert, after the Senate vote today, a number of Republicans lined up to say they are asking President Obama to change his mind and keep Guantanamo Bay open. Is there any chance of that? Is there a realm of possibility that he might not -- he might do that?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: Can you tell us how you came to choose the National Archives as the venue for this speech?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think one of the things that the President will talk about tomorrow are the values and the institutions that we hold dear in this country and that, in times of both war and peace, we've upheld our values and have become, as many have said, a beacon of hope around the world because of it.

And I think it's a fitting place to discuss the decisions that have to be made that ensure our national security is protected, as is the President's chief job, and also upholds the values that we hold so dear in this country.

Yes, sir.

Q: If we get a framework tomorrow, is there some sort of deadline that you're working with or that Congress has asked for in order to get money?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, obviously the -- well, except what you guys have referred to that has passed the House and the Senate in the past few days. But, I mean, obviously I think there are a series of deadlines, some of them obviously surrounding the executive order.

And then, again, as I've said repeatedly today, there are court cases that are happening each and every day surrounding detainees.

Q: Would the denial of money, though, by that fact alone, delay the closing?

MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily. No.

Q: Why?

MR. GIBBS: Because, as I said yesterday, and I think members of the House and Senate have said over the previous few days, that they look forward to working with the administration in ensuring that they have, and we have given to them, a detailed plan that would meet their test for providing those resources.

Q: How soon will a detailed plan come?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think many of those decisions will be made in conjunction with Congress over the course of the next many weeks and months.

Q: Over the summer, then?

MR. GIBBS: What I'm saying is, I don't think there will be transmitted one document that denotes each and every thing. I think, obviously, as is largely the case when you're developing a plan and legislation to implement a plan, it's going to be done over a series of time.

Q: Is the administration going to write the plan, or is Congress?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the administration will work with Congress. That's, in my observations, generally how this has gone in this town.

Major.

Q: Robert, a couple fine-grain questions on Guantanamo. I know you don't want to tell us details that the President will announce tomorrow. Will he tell us a decision that he has made, that has not been previously announced, in the speech tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: I'm going to wait for the speech tomorrow. It's at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Q: You said last week that some military commission proceedings will occur at Guantanamo. Is the administration considering any plan in which those would remain after the scheduled closure of Guantanamo? That is to say Guantanamo would no longer be a detention facility, but it could be a facility in which to conduct military commissions.

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC as to whether that is something that the task force has previously dealt with. Look, Major, it's our hope that -- obviously what was filed with the judge that oversees military commissions were some reforms, some of which can be done administratively after a 60-day review period by Congress. It's our hope that military commissions will in the very near future begin work. Obviously -- and I guess in many ways I don't want my answer to presume that they're not currently working, because obviously the executive order that the President signed in January, we had to file paperwork obviously seeking that 120-day continuance. Those expire -- what's today? -- between today and Friday. So there will be -- there should be decisions coming down on extending those continuances -- I think the pleadings asked for an additional 120 days -- that will encompass some of that 60-day review.

Q: The question I'm driving at is, there are two issues -- commissions going on in Guantanamo, and detention. And Guantanamo is a place that has been specially created to conduct these military commission proceedings. It has certain attributes about the way it was constructed that other facilities here in the states don't have, regardless of the detention question. So all I'm trying to get at is, could Guantanamo be a court facility and not a detention facility?

MR. GIBBS: Let me see if --

Q: Are you open to -- I mean, is that something --

MR. GIBBS: Let me see if the task force per se has dealt with that direct question, but I understand what you're saying. Obviously there's a reason why they're being conducted there and a reason why we're filing continuances to deal with that.

Q: So it's an open question.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: And I want to get back to what you said earlier --

Q: Any chance of getting back to us on that today?

MR. GIBBS: I will have these guys -- I'll check with NSC as soon as I get out of this meeting.

Q: Thank you. All right. And you said hasty -- you talked about hasty decisions tomorrow, that it's going to take some time to unwind. Are you talking about the President's hasty decisions or the previous administration's hasty decision as it regards Guantanamo?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I'm sorry, let me be -- good question. My boss might want to know the answer to that. (Laughter.) No, no, I'm discussing decisions that were made in the previous administration --

Q: You were not referring to the executive order --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no --

Q: -- as a hasty decision.

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: Absolutely not?

MR. GIBBS: Thank you for letting me clarify that before I go see the boss later this afternoon.

Q: Well, it was an open question in my mind.

Q: Would have been nice to -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: You just saved us a series of phone calls. Let me explain a little bit of what I meant by that. And again, you know, well, I mean, I think you can see we discussed this a little bit around military commissions, the decision that we made and announced on Friday. Again, I think you've seen it in a series of cases that have happened over the past many weeks in this administration, and that is, you know, military commissions as they were originally set up in 2001 and 2002 were invalidated by the Supreme Court. New legislation was put together that was also invalidated --

Q: Partially.

MR. GIBBS: -- partially, but largely to some degree made unworkable Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that don't work.

I think that's in many ways why after nearly eight years three cases have gone through the previous design of military commissions. As I talked about, there are detainees, as a result of different cases that have -- well, as the result of one case all can challenge the evidence and their right to be held, some of whom have proved and some that have been transferred by the past administration and this administration because courts have ruled there isn't enough evidence to hold them for what they were originally being charged with.

So I think the President -- part of the reason I refer to framework on this is there are -- there were a series of decisions that were put together, one on top of the other, that bring us to this point. And regardless of any actions that we might have made in January, any administration would be dealing with some of these circumstances, because different courts -- the Supreme Courts of Appeals, different circuit courts -- have ruled some of those decisions to be unworkable.

Q: And to the allegation from Republicans that the executive order without a plan, which you have now acknowledged has complicated this whole process, was in itself a hasty decision -- you would say what?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President agreed, as Republicans have, of the need to remove the symbol that Guantanamo Bay has become all over the world.

Q: Previous administrations say it also came to that conclusion, but found it very difficult to accomplish, for some of these reasons.

MR. GIBBS: And this administration agreed that it threatened our image around the world and decided to take action to close it.

Q: Quickly, if I could, on Iran. What direction is Iran heading with this missile test, in the White House's opinion?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get into discussion on our view of the intelligence --

Q: No, no, no, no, no. The test just happened. U.S. officials have confirmed that it occurred. Is that a positive direction, a neutral direction, or a negative direction as far as this White House is concerned?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously, the President has long been concerned by, as I said earlier, by any development in Iran's missile development, any development in its desire to and its acceleration of its nuclear weapons program or its capabilities. Obviously, that's concerning. You heard the President discuss that in the Oval Office on Monday. He did so privately with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and obviously did so publicly in discussing that Iran has responsibilities to the international community, and that they have to live up to those obligations.

Yes, sir.

Q: Yes, Robert, I was wondering whether you could talk a little bit about the role the President has played as the Supreme Court search continues. You don't have to talk so much about interviews, but what's his level of activity been? Has he been reading cases? Is he kind of involved in daily conversations with staff about this?

MR. GIBBS: Without getting into a lot of detail, I think it is -- as I've discussed before, the President is and has been very active in thinking through who the best nominee would be. He has discussed the process with senators from both sides of the aisle.

Q: How many senators?

MR. GIBBS: I can try to find the number of calls. I know he made a number yesterday, Democrats and Republicans. But as somebody who has spent time studying the Constitution as a student, teaching the Constitution as a teacher, and obviously the Constitution is the framework under which the President examines laws in his current job as President, it's something that he's quite familiar with and the decision-making progress on selecting a next nominee he's very active in.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Robert, apologies if this has been asked; I ducked out to take a phone call. No one noticed but --

MR. GIBBS: I was going to say --

Q: -- my phone didn't ring out loud.

MR. GIBBS: -- the Bill Plante exception, I like that. (Laughter.)

Q: It didn't make noise. To what extent tomorrow will the President use his speech to explain to the public his decisions on the photos and also on the -- and on the military commissions? And also, will he address in specific the question of whether it's appropriate to house or imprison terrorists inside the United States?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we did cover a number of those.

Q: Sorry.

MR. GIBBS: That's fine. That's fine. I'm not going to get ahead of the decisions that the President is going to make in the future or exactly what decisions in terms of detainees are in the speech. I will tell you that in terms of the topics, obviously detainee and detention policy will be discussed; military commissions is discussed; photos, state secrets, transparency, and protecting our national security all are topics that he will discuss in the speech tomorrow.

Q: Robert, can I interrupt just quickly, I'm sorry, on Mubarak.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: The trip to Cairo and the speech there falls within that 30-day mourning period, the traditional -- are there any changes to his trip?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I -- not before I came out here, there had not been any changes, no.

Q: But it's possible?

MR. GIBBS: The last -- and we checked on this, that there was -- there were no changes when I came out here so I assume that everything is still on. I will double-check on -- specifically on the 30 days.

Q: Thank you. I apologize for interrupting.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: Two questions. On the Supreme Court, you've talked about the Ledbetter decision being an example of the lack of real-world understanding. What's the opposite of that? What would be something -- what would be a symbol the President would be looking for, for somebody demonstrating that real-world understanding?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I'm not following the theory.

Q: If the Ledbetter decision showed a lack of empathy or real world understanding -- and that was something that you said in your earlier briefings, an example of why he was calling for those particular characteristics -- what would be a positive example --

MR. GIBBS: I'd say the four people that ruled on the other side of the Ledbetter case. (Laughter.)

Q: What's the common -- I mean, he's looking for somebody to demonstrate that understanding. What's a symbol of that understanding, what is he looking for?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I would use that example, which, again --

Q: Does that mean he's asking his nominees in the interviews, how would you have ruled on this case?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think he's smart enough to examine legal theories without necessarily having to ask --

Q: I guess that's what I'm looking for, what is the ---

MR. GIBBS: -- here's the transcript of the oral arguments, how would one decide. But understand, again, five judges decided that Lilly Ledbetter did not have the legal option to seek redress in her case, and four did -- I think it was a five-to-four decision. And those four determined that unlike the five -- remember, the facts in this case are you have a certain amount of time in which to file a pay discrimination suit based on the beginning of when you are being discriminated in pay.

Now, not surprisingly, when you're being discriminated on the basis of pay you don't also normally get a memo which intones you are currently being discriminated based on your sex, and it's denoted in your paycheck each month. So the notion of fitting into a 180-day window of when one begins being discriminated against, I think would understand that the -- would in many ways understand that there are some real world applicability that has to be --

Q: But to be able to discern that from the legal theories that he is looking at, his --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President's familiarity with the Constitution, with a lot of cases that they have ruled on both recently and quite some time ago, I think the President can discern the legal theory of his nominees.

Q: And one other thing, the bill he signs this afternoon, mortgage fraud bill -- my understanding is that came out of Congress. What's the emergency there that makes that not subject to the five-day posted on the website?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I will get someone.

Ann.

Q: So many of the members of Congress who do not want Guantanamo closed say that they -- "not in my backyard," they don't want any of these detainees. Is the President satisfied that somebody like a Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, is held in a domestic prison? Is the President satisfied he could hold some of these detainees in U.S. prisons? And can he make that case?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Jake asked part of that question. Obviously, the President is -- I think it would be newsworthy if I announced that the President didn't feel comfortable with the current people that we have in prison. That might engender a follow-up or two. The President is confident in that. But in terms of how to deal with the 240 detainees, I don't have any announcements on those individual cases at the moment.

Q: Robert, what do you do with the people you capture now? Where do they bring them?

MR. GIBBS: I think some people are taken -- I think some of it depends on where one gets picked up.

Q: But does the White House care about such case?

MR. GIBBS: Pardon me.

Q: I mean, the reason for (inaudible) so high a political level (inaudible) I presume some military commanders in the field they're reluctant to take the decisions themselves. So who --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they're -- I mean, I think rules are depending on where one gets picked up is where one gets taken.

Yes.

Q: This isn't about Gitmo, but is about national security. Recently, three officers, West Point graduate Lieutenant Dan Choi, Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenback, and Army Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao were all dismissed under "don't ask, don't tell." And is their dismissal a part of his national security strategy, or is their dismissal itself a threat to national security?

MR. GIBBS: No. As I've said I think when I was asked about these individuals -- I think it may have been last week -- I said that the President agreed that, and said during the campaign, and agreed with former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the policy wasn't working for our national interests, that he committed to change that policy, that he's working with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs on making that happen, and that the only durable way to do that is to go through Congress and that's what the President intends to do.

April.

Q: What was the breakdown on -- back on Gitmo -- with the Democrats on this Gitmo vote? And does this lead to --

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- Congress.gov, the roll call vote is at the bottom. I don't have any idea what the breakdown was.

Q: I mean, Legislative Affairs didn't let you know, look, you know, we're having a hard time; they're saying this, the Democrats aren't really --

MR. GIBBS: I don't think with a 90-6 vote they were altogether surprised that it ended up at 90.

Q: Well, is this showing that there's a broader issue at play with this vote? Is there something that's leading to something else as a bigger issue?

MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware of or I've been apprised of, no.

Steve.

Q: Does the fact that the President won't be able to sit down with Mubarak before he goes to Egypt mean there will be any changes in the content of his speech when he's in Egypt? Will it slow any plans he had to kind of roll out some of his early conclusions on the way to go forward in the Middle East?

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, obviously it's unfortunate on a number of levels, not the least of which, as I said earlier, are the tragic circumstances of losing a grandson. Obviously the President looked forward to the meeting next week and believed that a series of the meetings that he had had -- dating back to the phone calls that he made the very first day in the Oval Office -- were a part of the steps that had to be taken to bring about a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. We had always planned on, when we delivered the speech in Cairo, seeing President Mubarak on that trip.

So it changes a little bit the ordering, but I don't think it will impact significantly on the steps that he thinks he needs to take in order to begin this process again.

Q: So is the speech simply an address to the Muslim world or -- there have been some reports that the President would use it to start rolling out what he wants to do in the Middle East.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think some of that will be involved because I think you can't address -- I think not to address some of those topics would be sort of missing from that speech, so I think obviously that will certainly be part of it.

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.

Q: How long is the speech tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to ask the guys -- my guess is it's like 35.

Q: Robert, can you say any more on the credit card bill that passed in the House -- do you want to say anything about --

MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously, the President looks forward to -- thank you. (Laughter.) Obviously this has been something that the President has championed; that the President believes is important to protect consumers. This is important for people that are represented in this town that don't have a lobbyist. These are important reforms to protect consumers and to bring some common sense rationality into our financial system, and the President looks forward to signing it as quickly as possible.

Thanks, guys.

Q: Is there an audience for the speech?

MR. GIBBS: There will be an audience.

END 2:38 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," May 20, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86176.
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