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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
November 23, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:35 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Let's just go through a -- I'll let Chip get seated here and then we'll -- you're good -- just go through a quick week ahead, obviously somewhat truncated and abbreviated because of the holiday.

Tomorrow the President and the First Lady, as you know, will welcome Prime Minister Singh of India and his wife to the White House for the first official visit. The arrival ceremony is at approximately 9:15 a.m. on the South Lawn. The President and Prime Minister Singh will then meet in the Oval Office. Following the meeting, they will hold a joint news conference in the East Room at approximately 11:35 a.m.

Q: How many questions?

MR. GIBBS: I think it's one and one.

Q: That's all?

MR. GIBBS: It's either one and one or two and two.

In the evening at 7:00 p.m., the President and the First Lady will welcome the Prime Minister and his wife to the White House for the first State Dinner. The dinner will begin at approximately 8:15 p.m. on the South Lawn.

Tomorrow afternoon, the First Lady will host young women from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program for a presentation on the history and the protocols surrounding state and official visits in honor of the first State Dinner here.

On Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., the President will participate in the traditional turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden. No questions for the turkey. In the afternoon, the First Family will participate in a service event in the D.C. area.

The President will spend Thanksgiving Day here at the White House.

On Friday at 2:00 p.m., the First Lady will be presented with the official White House Christmas tree, which comes this year from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The tree will be on display in the Blue Room throughout the holiday season.

All right. Yes, ma'am.

Q: The Afghanistan meeting tonight was added to the schedule. Is that -- let me just back up. The last meeting he sent folks back to kind of take another look at some of the options and reorder things. So is tonight about looking at what they're coming back with or blessing an option?

MR. GIBBS: My sense is more the former. I think they're -- they'll go through some of the questions that the President had, some additional answers to what he'd asked for, and have a discussion about that.

Q: What is it that he wants to hear, that he needs to hear still?

MR. GIBBS: Well, leaving -- picking up where we left off in the previous meetings, I think I characterized a decent part of it as not just how we get people there but what's the strategy for getting them out. And I think that was a series of questions that the President had on that and that we'll go through tonight.

Q: And are there more meetings scheduled after this one?

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

Yes, sir.

Q: Will the President be ready to roll out a decision the week after Thanksgiving or will it take longer -- on Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. GIBBS: I think you guys wrote on Friday based on an answer that I gave you guys that it wouldn't be rolled out this week, so obviously the first possible time would be sometime next week.

Q: So it's possible time -- would it likely be done then or will it take beyond that time?

MR. GIBBS: When the President tells me what's likely, then I can add that to it. I would simply say that it's not going to happen this week, obviously.

Q: Okay. Two senior lawmakers are saying that there should be a war tax levied to pay for any increase in troops to Afghanistan. Is he considering the sensibilities about raising the deficit beyond where it is? Is the White House willing to give that consideration?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get into how one funds a decision that's yet to be made. I don't doubt we'll have some time to do that. I would say, to take a little bit of a broader view of the deficit, I mean, I think obviously one of the things -- two of the biggest changes -- the two biggest changes in our fiscal situation over the past nine years and the two biggest drivers for deficit spending for the next -- from here to the next 10 years are tax cuts and a prescription drug benefit -- programs that were added and ultimately not paid for.

I think that one of the things that has happened in this health care debate is a changing of the conversation in Washington by talking about not just how do you pay for it, but a piece of legislation that CBO estimates in either the House or the Senate version would actually cut the deficit over the next 10 years.

Jake.

Q: While we're on the subject of the deficit, the President said last week, "I think it's important though to recognize that if we keep adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, at some point people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession." What steps is the President prepared to take to get us out of this hole?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we'll broaden this just slightly. For the entirety of our administration, we've dealt with in many ways dual challenges: How do you get the economy back on track, what do you have to do to both create economic growth, which then is what you have to have in order to create job growth; as well as understanding a dramatic change in the past decade in our fiscal situation. So obviously, both of those have to be taken into account.

Like I said a second ago, the biggest driver in -- the two biggest drivers were tax cuts and prescription drug benefit programs that weren't paid for. The second biggest driver is a downturn in our economy. So first and foremost, the President will focus on what can be done to get our economy moving again, what can be done to help spur the creation of jobs and continued economic growth. And like I said, I think the conversation in some ways has been changed. The discussion that's being had now, as you know, is how to pay for health care.

Q: I mean, that's not really any major -- I mean, so the answer to what can be done to get us out of the $12 million hole is to get the economy back in --

MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost that's -- yes, that's -- a downturn in the economy, caused by the recession, a change in tax receipts, is first and foremost what can be done. Obviously there are meetings that continue today in terms of putting the budget together for next year, understanding that the President believes that we are going to have to continue next year to balance what has to be done to create -- continue economic growth and create demand for jobs, as well as balancing our fiscal situation, which the President also said last week in those interviews.

Q: Right, but how could -- okay, understood, the economy

-- getting the economy back on track, that will increase revenues. But the President said specifically, even if, when the economy bounces back and --

MR. GIBBS: Well, and you've heard the President talk quite a bit about the fact that we most assuredly have to get our fiscal house in order. Again --

Q: Right, so what does he think should be done to do that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's -- they're working on putting together the budget for next year. One of the first things he talked about was taking into account the massive amounts of money that the government spends on health care each year -- which passing health care reform, over the next 10-year period cuts about $130 billion, according to the Senate bill, out of the deficit.

Q: Well, that's $13 billion a year. That's not even a quarter of what we borrow from China every year.

MR. GIBBS: Well, but if you don't start somewhere, Jake, you're not going to get anywhere. I think the President understands that we've got, again, very dual challenges that have to be addressed in getting our economy moving again, as well as taking into account our long-term fiscal health.

Yes.

Q: Just to follow up on the taxing for troops question. As part of the discussions that the President has been holding with his war council, has that issue come up in terms of how to pay -- if you increase --

MR. GIBBS: Well, how to pay for the war, yes.

Q: And has taxes --

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: -- come up? Tax --

MR. GIBBS: They haven't gotten deeply into the discussions on that. The President did mention in one of the meetings specifically with the Joint Chiefs that we had to take into account how much all of this was going to cost over a five- and 10-year period, and that --

Q: But nobody brought up, you know, should we tax Americans for --

MR. GIBBS: No, that is not a specific proposal that has been talked about in a meeting that I've been at.

Q: And over the weekend -- I know you put out a press release on the votes on health care, but what was the reaction from the President? Can you sort of give us a sense of how he reacted when this occurred?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I was not with him when it happened, but I think the President continues to be pleased that we're making progress in moving this legislation forward. Keep in mind that for 70 years people have wanted to get health care reform done and in that 70 years we haven't had a vote on health care reform in the full House or the full Senate. This is -- legislation has passed the House and goes to the floor of the Senate this time next week.

Q: And one final question. India -- why was India chosen for the first State Dinner?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's the importance of our relationship with India on a host of issues. Obviously, counterterrorism is important; the economic recovery and the world economy; our relationship with them in terms of energy and climate change. I think India obviously is in a very important region in the world. And I think it demonstrates the importance that that relationship has in the world.

Q: Can I just follow? One, if President is going to ask Prime Minister of India tomorrow when they meet in the White House as far as doing India more in Afghanistan than -- rather than infrastructure but maybe on the military side? And second, if President has any announcement to make -- India's quest to have a U.N. Security Council seat?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- we'll have a chance to talk about what the two leaders talk about tomorrow. I don't want to get ahead of, in here, what the President might ask of the Prime Minister tomorrow.

Q: And as far as Afghanistan is concerned, are you thinking that --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to get ahead of what the two discuss tomorrow. I'd rather give a sense of what they did discuss rather than what I think may discuss.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Robert. On Afghanistan, it's been more than a month since Dick Cheney accused the President of dithering on this decision; he's now got this ninth meeting. Are you concerned that Americans are increasingly looking at this President as simply indecisive and uncertain on this --

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: -- because he's taking so long? Is he having trouble making a decision?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: Can you give us any more information why it's taking so long?

MR. GIBBS: Look, Chip, this is a complicated decision. I'm not going to re-litigate what we litigated when the former Vice President offered his advice previously. There are a series of decisions that have to be made and the President is working through many of those decisions in order to come to what he believes is the best way forward for our national security.

And I think the American people want the President to take the time to get this decision right, rather than to make a hasty decision.

Q: But certainly there are a lot of allies out there who are concerned that it does look like indecisiveness and it makes their jobs look more difficult in their roles in Afghanistan.

MR. GIBBS: Like?

Q: Numerous -- I can tell you that there are allies who have -- who are very concerned with how long this is taking, that it looks like indecisiveness.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, I -- maybe you can get back to me -- maybe you can get back to me on some of the specifics.

Q: Well, we don't go around giving our sources to you in the newsroom, but I mean, you certainly have heard these reports. Are you saying you have not heard any reports like that, that allies are concerned that it's taking so long?

MR. GIBBS: Is there nobody that you can tell me with any specificity that won't remove somehow some sourcing agreement that you have with them?

Q: Well, with all due respect, I'm asking you the question, and are you not aware of any allies who have voiced concerns about it?

MR. GIBBS: You posed the question, Chip. I was asking for a little bit more texture to what you were asking.

Q: Well, I think you would know, wouldn't you, about allies that were --

MR. GIBBS: I can't -- your sourcing agreement --

Q: You don't -- you're saying you're not aware of any allies who have voiced a concern about how long this is taking?

MR. GIBBS: I didn't pose the question, Chip. I'm wondering if you have some more specificity on --

Q: Yes, I do, but -- I'm sure you do, too. I mean, it's been --

MR. GIBBS: We could play the Jeopardy version of this, or if you -- do you have any more specificity you'd like to add?

Q: Well, I don't think I'm going to get an answer on that, so let me try the trip. There are --

MR. GIBBS: It doesn't appear as if you're going --

Q: -- number of analysts saying -- even Leslie Gelb, a very respected foreign policy analyst -- who called this trip amateurish because there was nothing set up deliverable ahead of time that the President could come home with, and he's pulling for a shakeup of the foreign policy team. Response?

MR. GIBBS: I have not read Mr. Gelb's --

Q: It's not just him. It's other analysts, too.

MR. GIBBS: Are we going to play this game again? (Laughter.)

Q: No. But if you've been reading what everybody else has been reading --

MR. GIBBS: Look, the President set out to reengage our foreign policy with Asia after many years of quite frankly dealing with that region of the world on only one topic, and that was terrorism. I think we all understand that our relationship with that part of the world is a little bit more complex than just one issue.

So the President went to Asia to talk about the international economy, to talk about human rights and Internet freedom, as he did in China, and again to reengage our country with that side of the world. And the President is quite pleased with how the trip came out.

Q: But shouldn't there have been more homework ahead of time so that he had something to bring home, rather than simply reengaging?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we had been absent for quite some time on the world stage. I don't think that you're just all of a sudden going to elect a new President and have thousands of things thrown at your feet to bring back. I think diplomacy takes hard work, Chip. We've reengaged in that, and I think the President is quite pleased with the outcome of the trip.

Q: Robert, does the President approve of some of the horse trading that went on to get the health care vote to the floor, for example, Senator Landrieu getting the $300 million --

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that.

Q: Does the White House know of anything unseemly about kind of paying for this vote?

MR. GIBBS: I think that's a better question for members on Capitol Hill.

Q: But I mean, this is his key domestic initiative so it takes an interest.

MR. GIBBS: We're happy that progress was made.

Q: At any cost?

MR. GIBBS: Again, that's better directed to the Senate.

Q: Fair enough. Beyond the stimulus, does the White House believe more should be done in terms of government intervention for job creation?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Savannah, I think the President and his team are evaluating different policies as to whether they can make a difference in helping to spur job creation. You mentioned the Recovery Act. I think anybody would tell you that before we can create jobs, we have to have economic growth that's on the positive side of the ledger. Last quarter for the first time in four quarters, we actually had positive economic growth, so I think that's a precursor to a more sustained recovery. The team continues to meet and evaluate what proposals, in working with Congress, might help spur job creation.

Q: There's a report that the White House is sort of lukewarm on proposals that are being bandied about by House Democrats.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we're going to work with members of Congress to try to come up with sensible and reasonable measures that might spur economic growth. And I know those conversations continue.

Q: Robert, I have only two -- (laughter) -- only two, that's all.

MR. GIBBS: Now, don't drop your notebook.

Q: No, I won't.

MR. GIBBS: Okay.

Q: When before in U.S. history has an enemy combatant been tried in a civilian court?

MR. GIBBS: It wasn't -- I don't know what Moussaoui or some of these -- or I know both Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid were both tried in federal courts. I don't know if their status was enemy combatant.

Q: Regarding Senator Durbin's hope that we can house Guantanamo inmates in an under-utilized Illinois state prison, does the White House agree that this would bring badly needed jobs to the area, and that this prison could also be used for illegal aliens?

MR. GIBBS: On the latter part I don't know the answer to that. Obviously on the first part, this was a facility that was built under the auspices of housing prisoners in a town that is in need of economic development. I think there's no doubt that housing prisoners at Thomson would create jobs and I think it would also help in a big way in closing down Guantanamo. No final decisions on any of that have been made, obviously.

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, if there are no more meetings scheduled after tonight, is today's meeting the one at which he'll lock in a decision?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that, Mark. It may be tonight, it may be over the course of the next several days.

Q: Will there be a readout, statement of any kind after the meeting?

MR. GIBBS: There will be -- I think the meeting is scheduled at this point for 8:00 p.m., so --

Q: And how long?

MR. GIBBS: It's scheduled to go I think an hour and a half, but I'd have to re-look at my schedule.

Q: Will you describe the process? You said it was complicated. Has he anguished through this process?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he's anguished through this process, Mark, I just think the President understands that there are a lot of different layers to our involvement in Afghanistan, how it relates to the region, what its impact is on our forces, what its impact is on our fiscal situation. I think there are a host of things that go into making the type of decision that the President is working through.

Again, understanding that there are about 30,000 more American troops in Afghanistan now than there were when the President came into office.

Roger.

Q: You said in response to a couple of questions that people were working on the budget and stuff like that, in connection with some of the jobs questions. Should I read into that that whatever the White House might be doing over the next few weeks or months won't find its way into -- until a budget --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I think -- I think that when I was talking about the budget I was just discussing Jake's question on what has to be done in the long term to deal with the fiscal situation.

Q: So there would be some sort of jobs proposal coming out --

MR. GIBBS: There certainly could be.

Q: -- before (inaudible). And also, what does the President think of Feingold's tax credit for jobs proposal?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know what -- do you have a little more detail? I don't --

Q: A proposal giving businesses -- small businesses, primarily -- a tax credit in exchange for jobs created.

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that's one of the ideas that was brought up in the -- with the President's Economic Advisory Board and I believe that and other proposals are some that are obviously being discussed on Capitol Hill and some inside the White House.

Q: The Association of Business Economists came out with fairly positive economic report today. Does the White House believe that technically the recession is over?

MR. GIBBS: Wendell, I'll leave the delineation of when it started and when it's over to a board of economists.

Q: On the President's choice of his principal attorney, Gary Bauer, to be White House counsel --

MR. GIBBS: Not Gary Bauer -- (laughter.) That, my friend, would be some news. (Laughter.) That I can tell you I'm certainly unprepared to discuss. (Laughter.)

Q: Bob Bauer.

MR. GIBBS: I'll tell you Bob's number and you can apologize.

Q: It's a question about William [sic] Bauer as

Q: Could you send us all that number, please? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: As if you all don't have it. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

Q: His focus having been on election law, for the most part, some critics are saying he doesn't have a broad enough experience in legal matters to take the White House Counsel's Office. I presume you do not share that opinion.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I've worked with Bob for probably eight years. I think many of us have worked with Bob for quite some time. I think you could find -- and you have found -- Democrats and Republicans alike that believe Bob possesses certainly the knowledge, the experience, and a relationship with the President to do the important job of being the White House Counsel. I think we're all tremendously fortunate that he's decided to take a break from private practice and be the White House Counsel.

Q: And on a third matter, there's a conservative gun owners group saying that a provision of the Senate passed -- or the Senate -- the health care plan being debated in the Senate would require the government to accumulate information about gun-related injuries, that they are then concerned might be used to impact gun laws. How would you address that?

MR. GIBBS: I'm unfamiliar with that -- with any of that provision. If you can -- we can certainly take a look at that and maybe get a better answer.

Mike.

Q: Two things, Robert. Do you know if he's planning on talking to the Cabinet today about AfPak and the decision -- not necessarily informing them, obviously, what the decision is, but talking through with them his sort of thinking on that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe that's extensively on the agenda. I will -- I think they're preparing for that now and I can certainly ask when they come out of that if that was something -- obviously some members of the Cabinet have been involved in and will be involved later on today in the meetings themselves and also meet periodically with the President, and that's a discussion that's been had. I don't think that -- let me get a better sense when they come out of the meeting if that was something that was covered.

Q: Okay. And then the second thing on TARP, do you guys have a sense of the timing of when you guys plan to make the decision and announce the decision on whether or not to officially extend TARP? And do you have some thoughts about the conversations going on up on the Hill about different ideas of how you folks want to use the money that's left over in that fund?

MR. GIBBS: All I know is that -- I don't have a timeline on the decision. Obviously those are conversations that -- some happened late last week with members of the economic team and senators. I assume those conversations will continue, but I don't have a timeline on that.

Q: Robert, may I follow up on the question on the India State Dinner tomorrow night? I'm wondering if you could explain a little about the role of diplomatic entertaining in the Obama White House?

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, diplomatic --

Q: The role of this kind of diplomatic entertaining. People might wonder when they see a black-tie dinner and what -- from everything I hear, what will be a lovely evening in the tent on the South Lawn -- what the role of having a party like that is, given that some people might say there is two wars and a lot of joblessness going on in the country. Just explain why this happens and the way it will unfold.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think it's -- this is a very important relationship with a very important country that we have in the world. That's why India was chosen to be the first visit. I think that's why the White House wanted to have something as formal as this to discuss throughout this process the issues that we have bilaterally -- again, what I talked about in terms of --

Q: Talk about the party specifically, the 400 people --

MR. GIBBS: I understand. Let me -- let me wind through my answer here -- the issues of, again, of counterterrorism, of the economy, of energy and climate change -- a lot of which we read about each day in the news and obviously will be topics throughout the conversations that are had between the President and the Prime Minister.

Again, I think is a show of respect for the value that we put on that relationship. I think India is the world's largest democracy, and I think the relationship that we have with them and the issues that we're dealing with them are tremendously important going forward in our future.

Jeff.

Q: The President said last week, I believe, that he would consider it a firing offense -- the people who have leaked information about his AfPak decision. What type of after-action report does he plan to ask for, if any, to review this? And he is -- is he serious about pursuing some type of investigation or inquiry into this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just leave it at this, Jeff. The President has on a few occasions in meetings like this talked about the importance of being able to have an open discussion amongst his advisors as part of this process. He reminds people that we have these meetings in the Situation Room and not at a local restaurant because of the importance and the sensitivity of some of the information that's discussed throughout those meetings.

I think it -- I think the President believes strongly that being able to get the type of information he wants, discussing the sensitivity of much of it, as well as being able to ask questions and get more information, is something that is important in formulating his decision and is important to do in a way that people feel confident that they can be candid with the American President.

I have not talked to him about whether or not -- what specific measures he might have in mind to follow up. I know in that interview he echoed what Secretary Gates had said in a previous interview about the same topic.

Q: Robert, back to health care and the upcoming vote in the Senate, is the President going to take a personal role in trying to iron out some of the Democratic differences that stand in the way?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President will continue to play the role that he and the team have played here. I don't think we'd be at this point if the President and his team hadn't played roles in getting this process to the point of where it is.

Q: Is he going to work the phones? Is he going to have public events next week and stuff?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have a week ahead for next week, but I can assure you the President will continue to talk to legislators about the importance of getting this done.

Q: And what then -- on the subject of the importance of getting it done -- the President's top domestic priority -- the Senate, should it actually clear it next week, is there any chance that this will actually be on his desk for signature this year, or is --

MR. GIBBS: That's our hope. That continues to be our goal.

Q: Do you still think that that's possible?

MR. GIBBS: I do. I also don't think I would remove the deadline here and now. I think, as I said earlier, this is a goal that people have had for 70 years. We've never been closer than we are now. We've never had a vote in the full House or the full Senate. And we're going to start debate next week in the Senate, the second part of that process already having gone through the House.

So I think we're continuing -- the President is pleased that we're continuing to make progress on a bill that would make health care more affordable for people that have it, provide increased accessibility for those that don't, provide some important insurance reforms, as well as bend the cost curve and chance the deficit over the next 10 years.

Q: But realistically, given the lift that it has taken to get to this point, it's not going to -- what are the odds of it actually being reconciled this year?

MR. GIBBS: You guys are better odds makers than me.

Ann?

Q: The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, is against sending any more troops into Afghanistan, and says that it would be a "mistake that could wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our economy at home." He wants to know where the President would pay for an infusion of troops. And do you think that that does jeopardize in some sense any of his domestic agenda?

MR. GIBBS: Well, on the first part, in terms of discussing about the specifics of paying for it, I'm going to wait for a decision to be made before we get to that point. Second, look, this is an issue that the President talked extensively about during the campaign, the need to focus our attention on the dangers of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

You know, I don't -- Presidents don't get to decide what issues ultimately get to their desk. I think the President understands that the war in Afghanistan is -- was one that he was always going to have to deal with, and I don't think that dealing with that as an issue threatens the President from also being able to deal with very important issues like the economy, like health care, and many other things that are either part of his agenda or might not be planned but end up on his desk anyway.

Q: Follow on that?

MR. GIBBS: Peter.

Q: Robert, just on the jobs question, does the deficit constrain the scope and ambition of any jobs program, initial jobs program, the President might support?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would reiterate what you heard the President say in interviews that he did last week, which was in many ways we have dual challenges. In order to deal with the deficit, one of the most important things that we control going forward -- or have some input on, I should say, going forward -- is an economic recovery; that we shouldn't shy away from doing what needs to be done to continue economic growth and to spur job creation in the future.

At the same time, we have in the medium term and the long-term fiscal issues that have to be dealt with. And the President has had to balance this, in all honesty, Peter, since the very first day of his administration. And I have no doubt that it's a balancing act that we'll have to continue moving forward.

Q: Robert, just to follow up on Jeff a little bit on this question of whether leaks are a firing offense. Does the President think it's a firing offense only in the Pentagon or in the White House also?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President would discriminate against where the person sits.

Q: And just to be clear, he's made no indication that he wants to find out if anyone committed --

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him, post that interview, about it. So I just haven't gotten any more fulsome answer than what I heard him give in the interview.

Q: On the issue of the Copenhagen summit, the climate treaty, is the President disappointed that it looks like there won't be any treaty with any binding commitments? Does he feel that the United States and other nations of the world have failed when the goal was to try to come up with a treaty that actually had binding commitments, rather than setting up goals for those down the road?

MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, I think that getting a political agreement out of Copenhagen after years and years and years of inaction on clean energy and climate change the President would view as a very positive development. You know, David, I don't think any of us were under the illusion that, again, having been off the world stage for so long, in dealing with this issue and in understanding what it was going to take to get developing nations of the world at the table that all these issues might be neatly wrapped up by December of this year.

I don't think that has caused the President to -- not to act. Obviously the House has taken action. The Senate is in the process of moving forward on clean energy and climate change legislation. And I think the President is going to spend his time focusing on what we can get out of Copenhagen in terms of a binding political agreement moving forward.

Q: Do you think -- does he have to ramp up his efforts at home here to get something out of the Senate?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President has certainly spent time on this issue in dealing with members of the Senate. And, again, go back to my health care analogy -- we had an issue that had been something that scientists had talked about for quite some time, is through half of the process in getting the House to agree on a bill. We understand that's not all of what has to happen, but it's certainly a good start, after years of not dealing with the issue.

April.

Q: Robert, understanding the scope of what the President is dealing with, with these meetings, the severity of dealing with the NSC, dealing with people at the Pentagon and within his administration, at the end of the day, could this actually happen where the President might say, look, at this time I choose not to have additional troops stand in Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think there are a plethora of decisions that could ultimately be the outcome of this. I don't want to prejudge what it might be. I will wait for him to make that decision and announce it.

Q: Well, could that be one -- is that a viable -- is that a viable possibility?

MR. GIBBS: I think there are a lot of different options on the table.

Yes.

Q: Thanks. Yes, going back to the GAO report last week, the GAO report talked about almost 78 percent of -- 78 percent has not been spent out of the stimulus money this year. And I wanted to ask, first of all, why was it rushed through --

MR. GIBBS: Why was what rushed through? The GAO report?

Q: No, no, I'm sorry -- the stimulus bill rushed through if 78 percent of the money was not going to be spent in the first fiscal year?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate the characterization. I can't agree with the fact that the bill was -- I don't know how much time we spent discussing it in here. I don't consider that time wasted. And I'll be honest with you, I don't know whether -- I assume that the measure that you're looking at is final money that's gone out the door and doesn't include obligated money, which allows, for instance, on a road project, the check might not come until the very end, but that doesn't mean that a contract can't be agreed to, that the money can't be obligated, and that the effects both with the construction company as well as the indirect jobs that are ultimately created as part of that -- that money isn't spent.

I can get you an updated figure, but I think more than 50 percent of the money has thus far been obligated.

Q: Also, if I could just follow up, with regards to the report, there was talk of nearly 4,000 jobs that showed no dollar amount since 50,000 jobs were created, and also in a case where $1 billion was allocated, there were no jobs created. And reports came in like that --

MR. GIBBS: Obviously there has been an unprecedented amount of transparency involved in the Recovery Act, unlike we've seen, in all honesty, in any piece of legislation before. In getting, I think, 110,000 awards and contracts on the Internet, as we said, there were bound to be some errors. I think what is indisputable, if you ask economists, has the bill had a positive impact on our economy and our economic growth. And the only factors that I can point to are the GDP of the previous four quarters -- again, remember the first quarter of this year, we were, I think the revised figure was negative-5.9 percent, right? The initial estimate for the third quarter of 2009 was plus-3.5 percent, right? So, not even good at math and I know that that's a pretty big variance in terms of an economy that's contracting and an economy that's growing.

A lot of people are rightly concerned about employment in this country. I don't know of an economic model where an economy that is contracting, particularly at a quarterly rate of almost 6 percent, is adding jobs. In fact, in that period of time we saw months where 700,000, 741,000 jobs were being lost. The President and Congress took the necessary action to institute a Recovery Act that has helped spur our economic growth, has led to the first positive economic GDP growth in four quarters.

And, again, you're not going to create jobs in this economy in a scenario with negative job growth. We're on the road to that recovery through this plan.

Thank you.

END 2:16 P.M. EST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," November 23, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86925.
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