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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
July 31, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:58 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Let's quickly do a week ahead. The President will travel to Camp David tomorrow morning, departing at 10:30 a.m. He will return on Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m.

On Monday morning the President and the Vice President will join VA Secretary Shinseki, Senator Webb, and other administration officials to mark the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. The event will start at 10:30 a.m. and will be held in the Harris Theater at George Mason University. This bill honors the countless sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform by providing them with comprehensive education benefits. On August 1 the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin distributing tuition payments to schools participating in the program.

Later, President Obama will welcome the Emir of Kuwait to the White House. The United States and Kuwait enjoy strong relations and cooperation. The President looks forward to consulting with the Emir and deepening our partnership on bilateral and regional issues such as the pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including moving forward with the Arab Peace Initiative. The President and the Emir will meet in the Oval Office. They will then have lunch together, joined by the Vice President.

Later in the afternoon the President will honor the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson at the White House. Also appearing at the event will be former NASCAR champions, other drivers from the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup, as well as Mr. Johnson's Number 48 Chevy.

On Tuesday the President will attend meetings here at the White House. On Wednesday the President will travel to Elkhart, Indiana, for an event, and I think you guys have a sign up for it.

On Thursday the President will attend meetings here at the White House. In the evening he will attend a fundraiser for State Senator Creigh Deeds in Tysons Corner. And right now our guidance for Friday is meetings here at the White House.

Q: Sunday afternoon?

MR. GIBBS: Say again?

Q: Sunday afternoon?

MR. GIBBS: Does somebody have pool duty Sunday afternoon? (Laughter.) I thought you were trying to plan your weekend.

Q: Yes, I am.

MR. GIBBS: I don't know of any plans, but I will see if we're hitting the links.

Q: Can you tell us what he's doing in Elkhart?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, there will be an announcement on some Recovery Act money and a little bit longer discussion on the economy.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Representative Waxman has a deal in his committee, which readies a bill to go to the floor. Is this deal something that the President could sign?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously they're -- let's step back just for a second, in terms of -- we get a bill out of Energy and Commerce today. You'll have the three committees of jurisdiction in the House that will have all approved a piece of legislation which obviously is a positive -- big, positive step forward and gets us even closer to comprehensive health care reform.

Obviously there are elements of this legislation that we think are laudable and we're waiting and hoping that the Senate Finance Committee will continue to work on a bipartisan basis to move their legislation forward so that, again, we can get something done here in the fall.

Q: Well, let me step back then for a second.

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: At what point can you say, this is a bill we like, we'll sign this one; we don't like this one, we do like this one. Isn't there a time to step into that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think at some point you're going to have legislation that will go through the House, go through the Senate, have to reconciled, and I think the President has obviously been part of this process and we think progress has --

Q: But he's not going to wait until they're in conference before he says what he likes and what he doesn't.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think we're that far yet.

Q: No, but he could take a stand at -- some people are criticizing him for not taking a stand more directly on what he wants.

MR. GIBBS: And other people are criticizing him for taking too much of a stand.

Q: I understand, but I'm asking, at what point does it seem smart from the White House perspective to line up behind a particular bill?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has outlined a series of principles that he thinks constitutes genuine and comprehensive health care reform. We are urging committees on both the House and the Senate side to move forward and make progress, and we're happy that they're doing that.

Q: Does it have a public option in the Waxman?

MR. GIBBS: I believe the House bill does, yes.

Yes, sir.

Q: The President is taking a lot of heat over the stimulus. In what sense was today's GDP figure sort of a vindication of the stimulus? Since the jobless rate is still going up.

MR. GIBBS: Well, and I think the jobless rate, as you heard the President discuss, is likely to continue to go up. As the President has said in the past, job recovery tends to be one of the last things that happens in an overall economic recovery. I think you also heard the President today discuss the fact that it's hard to have job growth until we have economic growth. We are moving in a positive direction for the first time in a very, very long time, and I think you guys have all -- we've talked through some of these statistics. It's been -- we've now had five consecutive -- or I'm sorry, we've had a year's worth of economic contractions. We know that the economy was in worse shape in 2008 than many had presumed before, and we know from the statistics today that the economy hit a bottom likely in the first quarter of 2009.

I think a number of things have happened to allow that contraction to become much, much smaller. There's no doubt that the recovery plan, which was designed to cushion the downturn, has done so. I think you also see an increase from the statistics in business investment -- not an increase, let me correct myself there -- there's a rise in business investment relative to the last quarter, which I think is an important statistic which measures some confidence by business themselves. I think that also has something to do with financial stability, which was part of the President's plan to get this economy back on track.

So I think there are several factors that are involved. But I think there is absolutely no doubt that the recovery plan -- and I think the statistics prove this quite clearly -- and I think if you talk to economists not just in this building but throughout this country, they will tell you that there's no doubt the Recovery Act cushioned that downturn.

Yes, sir.

Q: July was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began there, and I was wondering if you could convey what's being accomplished in exchange for this loss of treasure?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously let me begin by doing what the President would do, which is to honor and laud the sacrifice of men and women serving overseas, and to their families, especially to those who have paid such a tremendous price to protect our freedom.

You heard the President throughout the campaign and throughout the first six months here talk about the fact that for quite some time we'd taken our eyes off of the ball in Afghanistan; that we needed to improve the security situation, particularly as we led to elections there in the next month. We reviewed the policy and made some initial adjustments in forces. General McChrystal is in Afghanistan and is continuing to review our policy.

I think what's also important -- you've heard the President discuss, Jake, that progress in Afghanistan -- and what we want to do obviously is destroy and defeat those that are plotting terror against our country and others -- that we're not going to be successful simply by military means alone. We have to increase our focus on development, on agriculture, on civil society. Only through both means are we going to see progress.

I will say -- I think the President understands this -- that it's going to take quite some time to change the focus of what we have been doing over the course of many years there against the enemy.

Q: Can you elaborate just on what specifically has been accomplished in the last month?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think we are making progress in the security environment, understanding that it is still an exceedingly dangerous place. We have benchmarks to measure progress. And, Jake, we'll continually review the policy in order to make a determination that we're seeing the progress the President wants in destroying and defeating the enemy there.

Q: Are the Afghans meeting the benchmarks?

MR. GIBBS: We're satisfied with the progress that they're making. We also understand -- much as was the case in Iraq, and I've think you seen this as a big focus in what General McChrystal is doing both now and planning for in the future, and that is to strengthen and fortify the Afghan security forces. Much like Iraq, we cannot be there forever. Afghans are going to have to provide a measure of their own security, much as we're asking Iraqis to do and that they're doing in their own country.

But, you know, look, I think there's no doubt that for a long time the President believed we did not have the manpower and the resources that were needed to make progress and we're certainly hopeful that we're on track to doing more --

Q: Don't you have things turned around? We're the invader of this country. They're the enemy? When we invade their country and destroy everything?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to -- I can't agree with much of the --

Q: Who's the enemy? We obviously are the enemy if we invade a country.

MR. GIBBS: I think there are Afghans that wish to be free, that don't view the American and multinational forces that are coming from other countries as the enemy. I think we've seen the brutality of the Taliban and we've seen what --

Q: Are we brutal when we bomb them?

MR. GIBBS: Let me finish my first answer. Obviously we've seen the brutality of the Taliban and what the plotting of al Qaeda can do. I think you've heard the President, I think you've heard General McChrystal, and our ambassador discuss the care that has to be taken to ensure the protection of civilians while we make the country more secure.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, this retreat that's taking place today and tomorrow, I know the White House doesn't view it as a report card, but a chance to kind of assess the past six months and look ahead to the next six. But if it were a report card --

MR. GIBBS: It's not, and I'm not going to guess. (Laughter.)

Q: But how does the President view what he's been able to accomplish over the last six months and perhaps what kind of grade would he give himself?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I know you guys have a special to do that. I'll let many bright pundits on your show assess grades.

Q: Do a sports metaphor. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think the President -- I think today is a good example. The President believes -- when you look at these economic figures, it's clear that we are -- well, first it's clear -- we have a sense of just how deep that cliff was and just how close we were to it, in watching the economic numbers over the third quarter of 2008 through the first quarter of 2009. The President and the administration took steps to get our economy stabilized, rescued, and ultimately turned around.

I think today shows that we've made -- we've taken a first step on that journey of turning the economy around, understanding that, as the President said, we're likely to see continued job loss. And the President isn't going to stop working until more Americans are back at work.

We've made, again, some -- we've taken some important steps, but we have a long way to go.

Q: Over the last six months -- well, certainly before, as he came into office, and throughout the six months he's talked a lot about bipartisanship. He came here to really shake things up. And it seems increasingly he's having to rely on his own party to get a lot of the work done. I mean, what --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I think if you look at -- I think you've seen Republicans come out for Judge Sotomayor. I think you saw 40-some House Republicans vote for the first change in our food safety laws in 75 years in this country just yesterday. Just a few minutes ago, the House of Representatives voted to extend a very successful program known as "Cash for Clunkers" on a bipartisan basis.

Q: Are you satisfied, then, with the bipartisan effort and that's what he said he wanted to change?

MR. GIBBS: I think he would tell you, and I think he did tell you, that he was not under the illusion that change was going to come to this town easily. I don't think the President is ever going to be satisfied. The President also knows he didn't expect to get a hundred percent of the people a hundred percent of the time. He's been able to work with Democrats and Republicans. I think he's -- the Senate Finance Committee is a pretty good example. His message to them is, you're making progress so keep talking.

But, Dan, you know, bipartisanship is a two-way street. It's not a one-way street. I mean, I think back to some of the comments around the recovery. Remember, the Republicans in the House announced their opposition to it an hour before the President went to talk with them about the Economic Recovery Act. I mean, it takes two to tango, and I think -- I'll let the Republicans speak for themselves about whether they have done what they think they need to do to address the serious problems of this country and seek solutions on behalf of the American people.

Q: Real quickly on Senator Dodd, has the President reached out to him at all?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of, but I assume he'll call him a little bit later on today and we'll read that out.

Chip.

Q: On health care, when members go home I'm sure they're going to be getting an earful and some tough questions at their town meetings -- if they don't have to call the police at the town meetings, but we can probably assume there's been a lot of that going on. But for people who have health care and are basically satisfied with their program, which is the vast majority of the American people, a lot of them are concerned about the basic doctor relationship. Even if they believe the President when he says, you're going to be able to keep your doctor, how is that relationship going to change in specific ways? For example, under the President's vision, would they see their doctor less frequently? Would they get fewer tests? Would they be steered away from specialists? Would they be steered away from high-tech procedures?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think they'd get more comprehensive care. Hopefully they'd see fewer doctors that --

Q: I'm talking about people with health care who are satisfied with it.

MR. GIBBS: No, I understand. I understand. Hopefully people in the system will get better quality of care. Let's go with a little bit longer view for a second.

Q: But specifically --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me -- I understand -- we'll get to the specific. We have health care in this country. For those that have it that are paying more than any other developed country in the world and seeing the outcome is less quality care, that's just the stepped back view of -- I think you've heard the President discuss a range of things, whether it's providing incentives to doctors to treat illnesses rather than -- and to provide incentives to do so, rather than view different doctors as just one step along the way. I think it's important what the President talked about in terms of the insurance reforms that he mentioned earlier in the week, are extremely important for those that are currently lucky enough to have insurance -- even if they're satisfied with it.

It doesn't mean that the costs aren't going to continue to go up. It doesn't mean that if they get too sick they might not have their coverage dropped. I think everybody who might be satisfied with their plan is a sick day away from not being satisfied with the way their insurance works.

But I think the President wants to continue to allay people's fears that if you're happy with what you have, we're here to protect that. And I think that's what his goal was.

Q: But he wants to save money by having fewer tests, fewer procedures.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that's --

Q: There are a lot of people out there who are worried that, hey, my doctor is going to say, well, let's not do that test; President Obama wants to save money.

MR. GIBBS: I've never heard a doctor mention that.

Q: It's a reasonable -- it's a reasonable concern.

MR. GIBBS: I don't know who you're --

Q: I've heard a lot of -- not doctors, but I've certainly heard a lot of regular people say, well, under his plan I'm not going to be able to get --

MR. GIBBS: I thought you were just quoting hypothetical doctors --

Q: No, no --

MR. GIBBS: -- so maybe I have the situation wrong.

Q: -- people are concerned --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I -- the President wants to --

Q: -- the doctor is not going to give them tests that are important because they're all going to be in this program.

MR. GIBBS: That would be a violation, I assume, of the Hippocratic Oath, wouldn't it?

Q: I don't know.

Q: To follow up, the President has spoken rather harshly about insurance companies, their motives, how much money they're making as a result of the current system and the way it's structured. The Speaker called the insurance industry "villains" in this drama yesterday. Is the insurance industry the enemy here?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President, and I think many people that believe we need comprehensive health care reform think that insurance companies have not lived up to all of their responsibilities and that they can do better. I think when an insurance company tells somebody that they're too sick and drops their coverage, I don't think they're living up to their responsibilities. When an insurance company says, look, I think what you have is a preexisting condition, we're not going to cover you, I don't think that's living up to their responsibilities. I think when we're looking at trying to pass on coverage to people with plans that rely on super high co-payments, I don't think that's living up to their responsibilities, and I don't think the President does either.

Q: And following what Chip was saying, what about doctors? The President was criticized --

MR. GIBBS: First let's understand -- let's understand this. The doctors have come out in support of one of the pieces of legislation that's making its way through Congress.

Q: And yet some of them are upset that the President's example that he gave at his press conference regarding pediatricians and sore throats, the President was critical of doctors' motivations. An example he used in Bristol, doctors are known -- the AMA is behind you, officially there's some fragmentation there, some factualism within the AMA.

MR. GIBBS: It wasn't fragmentation --

Q: Do you worry that your ability --

MR. GIBBS: It's interesting, there wasn't fragmentation when we went to the AMA and you all were concerned that they wouldn't support our plan.

Q: Do you worry that you're vilifying the rank and file of doctors?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think doctors, as the President said in Chicago during that speech, doctors want to help and cure people. We want to help provide far greater incentive to do that. We also want to figure out how to end things like burdensome paperwork. These guys did not go to medical school, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of their lives, training to fill out forms in triplicate.

The President believes that we can work with all of those involved, and I think that's why the doctors are part of supporting health care reform that's moving forward in the Congress right now. I think that will be important to getting something done. Again, many of the stakeholders that we have discussed in this room that are supportive of legislation moving forward in Congress right now haven't been on this side of the ledger in past efforts to reform our health care. I think that's crucially important. The President wants to help all of those involved, including doctors, through health care reform.

Yes, sir.

Q: Back on Afghanistan. Why do the military and national security advisors think that July has been such a violent month?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously there have been stepped-up and increased operations that put many more troops at risk. I think in large measure you've seen that in other theaters throughout the world and I think that's true in Afghanistan.

Q: So what really are the prospects that it's going to take more troops?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's a review that's ongoing. As I said, I know General McChrystal is working on that and I assume when has a recommendation it will be sent up to Secretary Gates at the Pentagon.

Q: Any notion on when that might happen?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, as the briefing began Barney Frank's bill on the restrictions on executive compensation was being debated on the House floor. What is the President's position on that bill right now?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know that he's seen the entire bill. Obviously the legislation includes language and text that we sent to the Hill not too many weeks ago, as we've talked about in here, to provide what we think is an important say on executive pay. I know that the White House will evaluate the full legislation, as we think it will pass Congress today.

Q: So are you leaning in favor or leaning opposed right now?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously it has some important things that we think need to become law and we'll take a look at the full bill.

Q: Because you haven't taken a -- there has been no statement of administration policy on this bill, which is unusual.

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with -- I don't know if there's a reason for that -- from Congressional Affairs. I just don't know. I'll come back once I get it.

Q: On the President's trip to Elkhart, Indiana, this is his second visit to that city. I believe his very first trip was to there. Is he sending some sort of message to the people of that city or does he come bearing some special word for them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said to Jake, we'll have an announcement on some Recovery Act projects and funding. Look, I think -- I forget, I should have looked this up, what the unemployment rate when we went in February; I have in mind that it was somewhere 11 or 13 percent. I think I looked the other day -- it's 17.

Q: So this is the reason for the second trip?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are cities like Elkhart all over this country, many of them in the Midwest, that have been hit enormously hard by the perfect storm of this economic downturn. I mean, a place like Elkhart, which is in many ways dependent -- was many ways dependent job-wise on production, manufacturing, and the ultimate sale of RVs. Obviously in an economic downturn, fewer of those are going to be sold. Fewer of those by definition then will ultimately be manufactured.

I think what the President wants to do is discuss the continued battle that we have to get this economy back on track; and in places like Elkhart and, again, throughout the country, how can we lay a foundation for that long-term economic growth.

And I think that's one of the things that the President will discuss on Wednesday there again. Again, it's a community that has been hit, even as communities throughout this country have been hit hard, it's hard to imagine places that have -- many, many more places that have been hit harder than a place like Elkhart, Indiana.

So I think the President wants to go back there and talk about the steps that we're taking, where we are. But again, the amount of work that still sits in front of us that has to be done to get the economy moving again.

Q: Do you expect he'll receive as warm a welcome this time, given the continued deterioration there?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I hope that the people there and the people across the country believe that the President is working hard every day to get the economy back on track. But, look, he understands their anger and frustration. He's angry and frustrated too. Even as we see throughout the week a positive sign about housing prices or a better than expected GDP number, we understand that the reality of the economic situation for millions and millions of Americans are lost jobs. And I think as you heard the President say today, he won't be fully satisfied until we get those folks back to work.

Q: A follow-up?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: You said he's angry and frustrated too. Who is he angry at?

MR. GIBBS: That would probably be an enormous list to start -- look, I think there's --

Q: Top five. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think, like the American people -- and you heard the President talk about it last fall -- he thinks that unnecessary risk was taken in our economy that led to a collapse in the financial industry. That by definition pulled back to a large degree the amount of lending that was happening in our economy. The President spoke in some ways about this in a completely ignored speech right after Labor Day in 2007 on Wall Street, about the risks that were being taken and the downsides for the American people.

I think he's also -- I think he's angry and frustrated on behalf of the American people that it took us -- we didn't, as I've said before, didn't get here overnight, and unfortunately, we're not going to be able to turn it around overnight. We see that even a quarter of economic growth measurement denotes that we're contracting less than we were.

So I think the President understands we've got a long way to go, and we'll continue fighting to make sure we make progress.

Yes, sir.

Q: A couple of issues. How is it the administration and Congress underestimated the popularity of the Cash for Clunkers program? And is anyone thinking that it might have been a significant element of keeping GM and Chrysler out of bankruptcy and might have saved us some TARP money?

MR. GIBBS: Well, regardless of whether or not the companies went bankrupt or not, before that we saw as a result of the economic downturn a situation not unlike Elkhart. The economy slows down precipitously, and not many people are buying cars.

I think -- let's understand that the fact that a program that started two weeks ago with a billion dollars as part of a supplemental bill -- and remember, when we originally talked about this, we talked about I think a $4 billion program. It's a success that too many people are buying cars. That's a good thing.

I think you've seen a combination of people understanding the incentives. You've seen manufacturers and dealers advertising locally and nationally about the incentives that are involved. And we're happy that they've taken those incentives and purchased new cars in which we think will benefit consumers purchasing cars, dealers selling cars, manufacturers building cars, and ultimately taxpayers because the cars that they're purchasing have a higher average fuel mileage than the car they're trading in. That's good news down the road.

We think the program has been a success. The President is enormously pleased that the House has voted to use some energy efficiency money out of the recovery plan -- $2 billion -- to continue the program, because it's been a success.

Q: Separate issue -- the release of the Air Force One photos today. Apparently an e-mail from Colonel Turner, of the Presidential Air Group, says that former Secretary Caldera and George Mulligan had both blessed the event and were to brief you and Jim Messina prior to it. Were you briefed?

MR. GIBBS: No. I think anybody can look back at the transcript of the day that I came out here and it's -- I don't think the transcript denotes maybe the look on my face, but I think the answer denotes -- and the report that we ultimately released says that unfortunately neither Jim nor I were briefed. Safe to say, I think if we were, we wouldn't have had those fancy pictures.

Yes, sir.

Q: With the Emir of Kuwait coming Monday, what have been the results of President Obama's outreach to Arab states to make some relatively modest diplomatic overtures to Israel?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into any of the feedback that's come back as part of private diplomatic letters. The President has met with a number of, as you mentioned, Arab leaders in order for all involved in this process to understand the responsibilities that they have in order to return as quickly as possible to the table to seek a long-term peace in the Middle East. Let me see if there's anything additional from NSC that we can on it.

Q: Does he see progress?

MR. GIBBS: I think both -- well, Secretary Gates, General Jones, and Senator Mitchell were all in the region. All of them, particularly Senator Mitchell -- as I said earlier this week, Senator Mitchell and Prime Minister Netanyahu say we're making progress. And I think if you look at -- stepping back a little bit -- the outreach to these countries and the world I think their view of the United States and our willingness to engage has been shown in more and more people in those countries approving of the foreign policy actions of the United States.

Q: I'm sorry, can I just follow up very, very quickly? The Israeli government, however, has not frozen settlement construction, which the President called illegitimate in Cairo. Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state, but with so many caveats a Palestinian state is impossible. Does the President think that has to change before any progress is going to be made with the Arabs?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President believes that, like I said, each side has responsibilities that have to be lived up to. I know the President looks forward to hearing from Senator Mitchell as he returns from the region on the next steps forward. This is something the President will spend an enormous amount of his personal time on in hopes of seeing a breakthrough in peace.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: I know you said that what happened -- what came out yesterday proves that the Cash for Clunkers program was a success. But can you tell us just how did the White House get caught off guard by this?

MR. GIBBS: How did the White House get caught off guard by?

Q: By the money running out.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there was some confusion -- obviously there was a -- as I understand it, there were some -- dealers did some checking, surveying -- unscientific survey about the popularity of the program. Look, I think there are many people -- I think many of you all that wrote stories about this quoted people that were skeptical that -- no, no, I know not you. I'm just talking -- I'm talking about everybody else in the room but you. (Laughter.) I'll pick them out. No, I'm kidding. That were skeptical that some program like this would -- that through these incentives would provide a bounce in auto sales, and I think if you looked at -- even some of the stories last night, I mean, anecdotally, you had people coming into showrooms that hadn't planned on purchasing a car, that found the incentives to be structured as such that it made a lot of sense for them economically.

So I think the White House, the Department of Transportation, and Congress can look at this as a success. And we hope that the Senate will act quickly in ensuring that the additional funding is there to continue this program. Originally this was money that was geared to go through I think the beginning of November, and the program has been enormously popular.

Q: But it sounds like you're saying that the White House itself didn't think the program would be as successful as it was.

MR. GIBBS: I prefer to quote your experts. (Laughter.)

Lester, let's have a go.

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Thank you.

Q: Two-part. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Of course.

Q: Is the President -- concerning the Medal of Freedom awards, is the President aware of Harvey Milk's strong support of the Reverend Jim Jones?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that was in the briefing material. I can tell you the President is opposed to Jim Jones, how about that?

Q: Does the President expect Israel to wait until they are nuclear bombed by Iran before they go after Iranian nuclear weaponry?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has said that countries make security decisions for themselves. All involved, led by the United States and others, are trying to do whatever is possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That's our focus.

Q: Why, thank you very much. Just one last one. (Laughter.) Does the President -- does the President believe that apology is the sign of weakness?

MR. GIBBS: How is this a two-part question if I'm getting part -- I'm sorry, repeat -- what was the question --

Q: You were so nice I just put in another one.

MR. GIBBS: That's a problem I have. Repeat the third of the two-part question.

Q: Does the President believe that apology is the sign of weakness?

MR. GIBBS: Can you be specific? I'm sorry, can you be specific?

Q: In regard to no apology whatsoever to that police sergeant.

MR. GIBBS: Say it one more time.

Q: In regard to no apology to that police sergeant, does the President believe that apology is the sign of weakness?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President and Sergeant Crowley had a good conversation a week ago where the President discussed with him and ultimately shared with you that he wishes he would have picked his words differently.

Q: Can I ask you the last official beer summit question? The last official --

MR. GIBBS: Only if we can assume that that is indeed the last official beer summit question.

Q: Yesterday, just a few hours before the beer summit, the President obviously took umbrage to that term "beer summit" and he said --

MR. GIBBS: Your term, not his, right. Let's --

Q: He said, this is --

MR. GIBBS: My favorite was -- I'm going to go off the cuff a little. My favorite was -- I'm going to have to pick on my good friends at NBC.

Q: Please. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: "Ale to the Chief" was the icon, right, -- (laughter) -- complete with --

Q: Wait a minute, that was on CBS --

MR. GIBBS: Well, then you guys stole it from CBS. (Laughter.) I'm not sure what kind of commentary that is.

Q: It's not the first time. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Whoa, all right. (Laughter.) Complete with a countdown clock to 6:00 p.m. But here was the topper: Not only were you calling it the "beer summit," but this was in stories interspersed with pictures of other summits at the White House, including footage of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. I think the President's reaction to the hoopla, if you will, was much justified. But I don't want to get in the way of your question, sorry.

Q: Just a few hours before this meeting, the President said, "It's just three folks having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other." Did the President know at that point that Vice President Biden would be joining in the meeting?

MR. GIBBS: No, it was -- I think not long before it happened, the Vice President was around and asked if he wanted to join, and the Vice President said, sure.

Jon.

Q: Back to today's news, on clunkers -- the problem as I understand -- I talked to some state auto dealership associations which represent numerous dealerships. According to talking to some of these folks, what's been a success so far is creating demand. But what has not been successful is trying to get the claims from the dealers to the government for the money that they've had to expend to buyers. In other words, they're saying they're going on the computer system and trying to submit the claims and are getting kicked off from the system a third of the way, and this is happening apparently all week, all around the country, in different dealerships. They've put this money out. They're hearing that the system or the program has been suspended --

MR. GIBBS: Well, the program hasn't been suspended. Let's --

Q: It was last night. So they're worried -- but they're worried about getting their money back, because they've put out hundreds of thousands of dollars if they're a large dealership. If they're capital-weak, then that could be a real problem. What's being done to fix that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, the program, as we said last night, was not suspended. And as I said this morning, the program was not suspended. The administration is comfortable and confident that the previous money that was allocated through the supplemental appropriations is enough to cover those transactions and to continue operating the program.

We think the program has been so successful that the President and staff here talked with Capitol Hill about extending that program -- I know some of that request came -- members of the Michigan delegation were very interested in that last night, and the House has voted to add an additional -- or to move $2 billion from the Recovery Act energy efficiency programs into additional money for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

I'm sure they're looking at whatever problems the site may be having. Obviously with something that's enormously popular there may be traffic problems on the computers. But we're confident, and I think dealers can be confident, that the money is there to reimburse them for the rebates and the incentives that have drawn thousands and thousands of customers that haven't been there for quite some time into their showrooms to purchase cars.

Q: It seems, though, that what may have prompted whatever happened last night -- I think it was the Transportation Department's statement or calls to members of Congress -- I think -- what I'm hearing is that what prompted that was that the government began to wonder if they had any idea how much they were on the hook for, basically.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I talked to our guys here today, there were surveys by the dealers association. They felt that the obligations were getting toward the upper band of money that had been allocated. We feel confident, which is why I said so this morning, that there is enough money -- but to extend a popular program that we think is having, again, benefit for many involved, that moving that money from the recovery to this makes a lot of sense.

Look, I'll tell this to dealers: Again, we feel confident, I think they can feel confident heading into the weekend, and hopefully if we can get the Senate to act, I think it's likely -- more likely that it's going to be the beginning of next week. But I think they can feel confident heading into the weekend with a strong bipartisan vote in the House for additional money to ensure the continuation of the program.

Q: Robert, isn't there a -- excuse me, but isn't there a chance of an interruption, though, before the Senate acts?

MR. GIBBS: An interruption -- again, we feel comfortable that there's money to cover the transactions and we're hopeful that the program, because it's popular, because we think it is having such an important impact, will be extended even further.

Q: So if there's a run on dealerships between now and the weekend --

MR. GIBBS: "It's a Wonderful Life" on GM dealers -- we're coming to get our -- look, we hope a lot of people go this weekend to look at buying a new car. We think that's, again, we think that incentives are good for them, we think they're good for the economy, and we feel confident that there's money to cover those transactions.

Q: Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Goyal.

Q: Robert, two questions, please. One, as far as the President -- President cares for the poor, needy, and weak people. Two reports from the World Bank and also from the U.N., over 1 billion around the world they go hungry every night. Is President doing anything about that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as you know, at the end of I think the last day of the G8 summit in Italy, one of the things that the countries worked on, one of the things that the United States spearheaded, was additional food security aid, which we all know is tremendously important.

Q: And second, as far as Prime Minister of India's visit in concerned, in Indian newspapers, it's going on report that Prime Minister of India is going to visit at the White House on November 24, and second, that he has invited President Obama also to visit India. When President going to visit India? Because I had the privilege of traveling with Presidents Clinton and Bush, and I hope I will --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I know the President at some point will travel to India. I don't have anything on the schedule for the next many months.

Q: Real quick, on Elkhart, he's going to be talking about stimulus and the economy. Does this mean that he's going to be less health care-centric?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President will talk about a number of issues, certainly talk about the economy, but I know the President will always mention health care, too.

Thanks, guys. Oh, you have one more?

Q: Just a little readout on this business lunch today that the President had?

MR. GIBBS: Let me go back and get it from those guys. I don't know what kind of beer they drank.

END 2:46 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," July 31, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86482.
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