|The American Presidency Project|
|• Barack Obama|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|January 26, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, guys, how are you? Good, let me just get organized here and bring you up to date on a couple of announcements.
The first of which, our apologies if you've emailed any of us in the last two and a half hours, our email system is not working so well. So our apologies on that, and we'll endeavor to get you information from earlier in the day hopefully in a little bit more of a timely manner if we can get the email to work.
A couple of quick things before I take your questions. The President made a series of phone calls to foreign leaders today, which we'll have a readout on in just a little bit. He talked with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, President Medvedev of Russia, and President Sarkozy of France. Also later on today the President will host Senator Mitchell and Secretary of State Clinton in the Cabinet Room to discuss Senator Mitchell's trip beginning this evening to the Middle East to begin the process that the President promised to be actively engaged in, the peace process there in the Middle East.
He'll visit Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Riyadh, Paris, and London on this trip. And I know the State Department has more details if you need some of them.
Q: Robert, what time is that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: It is at 4:15 p.m.
Q: Is there any press coverage of the meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the pool will be brought into the Cabinet Room for that.
Q: Could you give us those cities one more time, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Sorry?
Q: The cities one more time?
MR. GIBBS: Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Riyadh, Paris, and London.
Q: No Gaza?
MR. GIBBS: No. And with that, let me take a few questions.
Q: Thanks, Robert. This morning Susan Rice was up at the U.N. and talked about direct diplomacy with Iran. Assuming she's not freelancing here, can you describe a little more fully about what she meant by that -- at the President's direction? What sort of direct diplomacy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me begin by first saying that the administration is pleased that the Senate has confirmed Ambassador Rice to what the President believes is a very important job.
I think what Ambassador Rice outlined today was simply to restate the position that I think many of you heard the President outline throughout the campaign for the past two years, that this administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address the concerns that we have with Iran. There are no specific initiatives that we're announcing either at the U.N. or here today, and when we have anything more specific to announce, then we'll do so.
Q: So you can't say when this diplomacy will begin or how --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I don't -- again, it's not a specific announcement, but more the restating -- again, I think whether you were on the campaign trail or not, clearly this was something that generated a lot of coverage over the past two years, and I think Ambassador Rice was simply restating the position that the President had.
Q: Hey, Robert, yesterday on the Sunday shows you had Larry Summers talking about a housing plan. In talking about the stimulus plan and then talking about a financial -- you talked about it from the podium last week -- when are you guys going to announce a housing plan and where is the money -- are you going to be asking for new money for this housing plan? Is it part of the $350 billion coming from TARP? Where?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as you know, in principles that went to Congress before they voted on the second $350 billion, one of the components of those principles was money to address home foreclosures. And as I was asked about in this room last week, there are a number of aspects that the President has asked his economic team to formulate policies on and recommendations for him to make decisions about, specifically addressing home foreclosures, addressing financial stability in banks.
Q: You separated that out, that's what I -- so is it -- does that mean it's not going to be part of the $350 billion?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know that part of that is going to be part of the $350 billion. There may also be additional steps that are taken outside of that. But before I announce a housing plan, let me have the economic team put a series of proposals in front of the President to do that.
I do think what is incredibly important for you and for the American people to understand is the President believes that -- and outlined this to Congress before they voted -- we have to use the second $350 billion far differently than we used the first $350 billion to address the foreclosure crisis, to do so in a way that's transparent, so the American people will know where the money is going.
There was a report today in the Wall Street Journal that many of the banks that had gotten money are actually lending less now that they have that money. That clearly has to change. The point of that money was to go to banks to free up lending, free up credit, capital.
Q: Are you going to order banks to lend more?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to change the way that money works to ensure that money that is injected into banks is used to provide small businesses with loans, to provide families with college or auto loans. We have to do so in a way that's transparent. And we have to make sure that there's some change in executive compensation as it relates to entities that participate in that program or get the money.
Q: What kind of a relationship does President Obama hope to establish with China? Tim Geithner's comments last week branding China a currency manipulator caused a stir in Beijing. Do specific trade actions follow from that? And also, more broadly, could you talk about what kind of relationship he wants with Beijing, not only on economic issues, but on security and others?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously China is a big player in the world economy. It is an area that we clearly have to have a vibrant policy on. As it relates to what Mr. Geithner I guess wrote in testimony, rather than saying, is that he was restating what the President had said during the campaign. We have to take a comprehensive approach to enhancing our economic relationship with China, including the currency issue.
As you know, by law the administration -- every administration since 1989 has had to make a determination about currency each spring. That determination will be made not any differently in this administration, sometime in the spring.
So what Mr. Geithner was doing was restating what the President had said during the campaign, not making any determinations.
Q: Although the Bush administration avoided using that terminology because of the trade actions that it implies.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, again, I think it's safe to say that this administration, like others, will determine in the spring what that means.
Let me say one thing as it relates to Mr. Geithner, we are hopeful that sometime later today he'll be approved by the full Senate. The nomination, as I understand it, will be voted on later this afternoon, and we hope that he's sworn in and gets to work very quickly on any series of projects relating to financial stability and recovery and reinvestment.
I think we all today saw a series of companies that have made job announcements, and not the kind of job announcements you want to stand up and trumpet. Several companies laid out -- including Caterpillar, an Illinois company that announced the layoffs totaling more than 43,000 employees. I think it underscores the necessity and the need to work swiftly to get a recovery and reinvestment plan through Congress and on the President's desk, so that he can sign it and we can start using that money to get this economy moving again.
Q: Robert, you spoke earlier about the Journal story. And one of the 13 banks that got TARP funds but has not been lending money -- more so in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter -- is Citigroup. Citigroup is spending $50 million on a new corporate jet. And I'm wondering if President Obama or the Obama administration has a position on whether or not corporations that are getting tens of billions of dollars in these funds should be refraining from expenses such as these, or corporate executive compensation?
And about the announcements President Obama made today, one of the reasons of course why these CAFE standards and emission vehicle standards, a lot of these actions have been -- have not happened yet, is because of the concern that it would hurt the ailing auto industry. How can President Obama ensure that these moves will not cost jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's split these questions up and take a few moments.
Obviously, the President believes that great care should be used any time the taxpayers' money is being used to do something for the greater good, particularly injecting capital into banks so that they can lend money. The President said this during the transition, as it related to the auto companies using private jets; doesn't believe that's the best use of money at this point. Instead that money should be used to lend to consumers, to get the economy moving again, to free up capital and credit, and help small businesses create jobs. He said that as it relates to the auto industry and he believes that as it relates to banks as well.
Let me now address your second question, which is fuel efficiency standards. And understand that the debate on fuel efficiency standards is not one that started last fall -- it didn't even start in the last decade. This is a 27, 30-year-old debate back and forth about auto mileage standards.
The particular action that the President took today was to take legislation that Congress approved in December of 2007, and President Bush signed, and in January of 2009 implement changed CAFE standards for model year 2011.
So I don't think it comes as any surprise to automakers or consumers that a change in our fuel mileage standards was on the horizon. In fact, between December of 2007 and October of 2010 -- which is when manufacturers begin the next model year -- we believe, and I've seen testimony from the auto companies, that changing those fuel mileage standards is certainly doable. The President wants to work with the auto industry to ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are produced and built here in America for Americans to buy.
And I think that working -- government working with the auto industry can ensure that we have a sustainable path toward the production or more fuel-efficient autos, that those fuel-efficient autos will be more appealing to American consumers, and that that can be a win-win for both. The actions that the President took today put us on the path when we realize a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles to the gallon -- it's 27.5 now -- 35 miles to the gallon will constitute a savings of 2 million barrels of oil a day, which is roughly comparable to the amount of oil that we import each day from the Persian Gulf.
So the President is taking the actions of Congress, ensuring that we take bold, demonstrative steps towards energy independence and reducing what we are forced to import every day from countries, many of whom don't like us.
Q: Robert, clearly a majority of the Congress, as you pointed out, two years ago felt like this is a smart move on fuel efficiency standards. However, that was before one or more of the automakers were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and the federal government was handing --
MR. GIBBS: This is a -- if you go back to the mid-'80s, you'll find this debate. In the late '80s --
Q: But here we are now.
MR. GIBBS: -- in the early '90s, in the mid-'90s, in the late '90s, in the early 2000s, in the mid-2000s, and now the late 2000s. I think you could make a case that it is time to update our fuel efficiency standards to create a product that is more appealing to the American consumer; to do so with some help, to ensure that the consumers have something that they want to buy and the manufacturers have something that they can produce and sell in this country.
Q: So the question, though, is now, where we are, does the President believe it's worth it to move forward, obviously, on these initiatives, even if one of more of the automakers --
MR. GIBBS: I think you heard the President say today that -- and I don't know whether it was in this building or whether it was on Capitol Hill, but President Nixon declared that we were going to take steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And you can find clips that go from President Nixon through the most previous, President Bush.
The time to have this debate and the time to talk back and forth, the President believed, was over; and the time for decisive action that got our country on a path towards reduced dependence on foreign oil -- that was something he believed should start today.
Q: And the President today said, again --
MR. GIBBS: Let me just point out, we're talking about model year 2011, okay. The law states that auto companies are required to have 18 months simply from the directive -- from rules being passed to production to plan, right. So not only do you have that 18 months, but again, you have a proposal that Congress passed in December of 2007 -- I think more than -- more than adequately gives companies and suppliers the planning time that they need, and consumers -- so the consumers can make decisions.
Q: The President again promised today that he could create a million new green jobs. Could you define in simply terms, what is a "green" job? He keeps using that term, but nobody -- it doesn't seem like anyone really understands what that is. Right now, people just keep reading, as you mentioned, jobs being lost. He keeps talking about creating --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: -- up to 4 million jobs, but 1 million that are green jobs. Could you define what that is?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. The President visited in this campaign a windmill manufacturer that produces -- it wouldn't even fit in this room -- turbine blades for windmills. Those are green jobs. We went to --
Q: But these jobs already -- how is he going to create a million of them -- the question is a million --
MR. GIBBS: Well, hopefully we're going to build more windmills. Hopefully the tax credit that goes through Congress -- you know, I don't want to get too deep into the weeds here -- no pun intended. (Laughter.) But, you know, each year, at least at the end of last year, you had tax credits for wind energy jobs -- there's a one-year tax credit, right. And so the -- every year in August or September, there's a huge scurry to make sure that next year's tax credit is available.
Well, if you're going to build a windmill the size of which is going to produce energy to lower the power costs of millions of Americans, there's some lead time that's involved. So in instituting a renewed tax credit in this economic stimulus bill to give the producers of wind energy some understanding of what's available for them to use in creating these jobs and to give them some economic certainty is important.
That's just one example. I mean, we went to Ohio. It all -- like I said, it all blurs together. It seems -- it was probably only a couple weeks ago, a week and a half ago, where we went to a manufacturer for the turbine itself, not the blade. You've got biofuel jobs. You've got solar projects. I think there's any number of clean energy jobs that can drive not only our path towards energy independence, but also a path towards creating jobs.
Q: Robert, the President wants bipartisan support for his economic package. House Republicans came here on Friday and they expressed concerns about the bill on tax policy and other matters. So two questions. First, specifically what changes is the President willing to make, if any, to accommodate the Republican concerns? And also, how much -- how many Republican votes in your view would constitute bipartisan support? Does he want half of all Republicans voting for it, a third, a tenth? What is the level at which you can claim bipartisan support?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take that part first. And we went through a series of hypothetical situations on this, I think both Thursday and Friday. I'm not going to prejudge an artificial limit one way or the other. And I think it would be dangerous at any given point to start looking at the committee vote or a vote on this or that. I will wait until we get to the end process on this.
Getting back to the meetings that you talked about. The President got a letter last week from Republicans asking to come talk about their proposals, I think on Wednesday, and they came to the White House on Friday. The President, as I told you all on Friday, will go to Capitol Hill tomorrow and speak separately to both the House and the Senate caucuses. Again, to get input from them on what should be part of the bill.
There are already provisions in this bill relating to net operating loss, tax cuts, and other small business tax cuts that are directly related to suggestions that Republicans have given the economic team, the President of the United States, and other members of Congress that are now part of where we are now on an economic recovery and reinvestment plan.
As I said, this is a long and winding road, and it will go through this legislative process for a few more weeks before something hopefully gets soon to the President's desk.
But the President is very serious about this. I think the jobs numbers today underscore -- or the job announcements today underscore the necessity that Washington not respond to the latest crisis simply by doing what Washington always does best and does more frequently, and that is get into too much of a back and forth and have important issues that the American people are concerned about become a political football. That's why the President is willing and eager to go first to have Republican leaders and Democratic leaders here, and now to go talk only with Republican leaders tomorrow to seek their input. And we hope that this is a process that will continue until the President has -- I'm sorry, until the bill goes through Congress and the President has something that he can sign.
Q: Would you describe tomorrow's as a negotiating session? Or how is it different from Friday's session?
MR. GIBBS: I think we might need more numbers on our side if it's a negotiation.
Q: What does your --
MR. GIBBS: What's the goal?
Q: Yes. And what do you want to come out of it?
MR. GIBBS: The goal is to seek their input. He wants to hear their ideas. If there are good ideas -- and I think he assumes there will be -- that we will look at those ideas; that those ideas will go through a process in Congress; they'll be debated and voted on.
I mean, I don't -- I've worked in Congress some on and off for years, many of you probably have covered Congress more than I've worked there, but there is certainly -- this is a process that is -- originally I think there was some talk that there was going to a be a bill introduction on a Wednesday and a bill passage on a Friday, right. This now is a process that's going through multiple committees. There will be amendments to the bill. This is a process that is ongoing. The President seeks input from Democrats and Republicans.
And I think because of that bipartisan dialogue we'll create
a better economic plan for the American people when all is said and done.
Q: I want to talk to you about the al-Shihri case. How much of a cautionary tale does the President find in the person released from Guantanamo in 2007, went through some sort of program to take the terrorist out of him, and he becomes part of a plot in Yemen that bombs a U.S. embassy. As he's considering what is clearly representing to the American people a more lenient approach to detention releases than the Bush administration, how concerned is he over that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not do whatever. If you want to rephrase that part of your question, I'll let you do that.
Q: A different standard from the Bush administration evaluating those to be dealt with by --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me deal with the answer to the question, because I -- we took a lot of questions on this last Thursday, "Why don't you have answers to all these questions," right? Well, the answer to these questions are that a prudent review process will ultimately be put in place through these executive orders to determine exactly who is there, to determine their profile. The Post had a story this weekend that mentioned that not everybody has a case file. Those case files and information are in different places. And a prudent process will be put in place to make prudent decisions.
I think there are -- there are admonitions of the al-Shihri case. I think that is why you see, despite some criticism, this administration going through a deliberative process to ensure that the American people are safer. That's the charge that he gave to his team. And I think despite some criticism of not having all the answers -- the criticism is largely unfounded, because what we've done is put into place a process to answer those questions on the front end rather than on the back end.
Q: But if the case raises any doubts that no matter how good the process, you may not be able to effectively process these people in a way that continues to guarantee the American people's safety, whether it's here or a posting overseas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President has put in place what he believes is the strongest process to protect the American people, to protect our values, to protect the men and women that fight every day for our freedom. He has confidence in that process. I think there are certainly examples of why a process has been and is needed, and certainly the one you mentioned is -- I think is a good case for ensuring that that process be done in a deliberative and prudent way.
Q: When the President said, "I won," what did he mean by that? And when he also told Republicans, If you allow Rush Limbaugh to affect debate, nothing gets done in this town. What did he mean by those two statements?
MR. GIBBS: I think the second is largely self-explanatory.
Q: He's live on the air right now. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Tell him I said "hi." The first one -- and I think I've had this conversation, and I think Rahm has had this conversation with a few of you -- there were discussions about the exact composition of tax cuts, different types of tax cuts. The President ran on a series of tax cuts that are -- some of which are and some of which aren't in the recovery and reinvestment plan. Republicans had other tax cuts and ideas.
The President believes that the reason that he ran on these tax cuts is he believes this is the single best series of tax cuts to stimulate the economy, to put money into the pockets of middle-class Americans that have watched their wages decline over and over for the past several years. There was a debate about what would constitute exactly those tax cuts, and the President said that he felt confident with the tax cuts that he'd run on, that the people had weighed in on what they thought might be a good way to stimulate the economy. He said he won, and the next thing that happened is everybody laughed.
So this wasn't cowboy diplomacy. This was I think a rather light-hearted moment in a meeting that he was pleased to host in order to have Democrats and Republicans talk extensively about their ideas for getting this economy moving again.
Q: Following up on the previous question a little more, what is his mind-set when he goes up there to see the Republicans? You say he's seeking input, but is it more than that? Is he -- there's a steady drumbeat coming from some Republicans now -- Boehner, Cantor, McCain -- that there have got to be some significant changes in this thing if he's going to get the kind of Republican support that he has said he wants. Is he just seeking input, is he just open-minded, or is he going up there and saying, I'm ready to make some serious changes here to get you guys onboard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he is -- he's certainly open-minded and he's certainly energetic about doing it. And I think he and his economic team continue to talk about ways that -- any way that can be used to improve the package. We don't have pride of authorship. We understand that this is a process of give and take in order to produce what the President believes is the strongest plan to get the economy going again.
So, you know, I think he's anxious to do this. And again, if -- I think there's a very deliberative process whereby these ideas will be certainly discussed with the President and that will go through the process of being -- some of which will go through the process of being debated and voted on. And I think the President believes that's the best way to get the strongest package for the American people.
Q: Will he make significant changes, if that's what it takes to get the Republicans onboard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll see what he hears tomorrow.
Q: Robert, on the banking, you just mentioned the additional $350 billion will be spent differently. You know, the Hill appears to be bracing for a second request. How close are you guys to making a second request, or are you going to wait until that $350 billion is entirely disbursed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me go back to the question I think Chuck asked, which is, I think financial stability, financial regulation, additional measures to deal with foreclosure and bankruptcy are all things that the economic team are working on and that they'll get a decision on from the President of the United States.
I don't want to prejudge what the parameters might be or the decisions that might ultimately be made. The President said that he would do everything in his power to ensure -- to ensure that the financial system doesn't collapse, and that's certainly what he's prepared to do.
Q: So without prejudging it, is there a second package even in the works?
MR. GIBBS: There's a series of proposals to be put in front of the President in order to address the financial stability of our economy.
Q: Does the President believe there is a sincere attempt on the Republicans' part to negotiate this in good faith? Their proposal relies very heavily on tax cuts, little, if any, on direct spending. Does the President -- is there common ground here? Can the Republicans be accommodated, or is this, to some degree, some Kabuki theater we're seeing here?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is genuinely serious about this. I don't think that he would have had leaders come down here on Friday or go up for several hours tomorrow on Capitol Hill if he wasn't genuinely sincere about hearing their cares and concerns.
The President put forward with his economic team a series of principles and a framework that combined both tax cuts for families, tax cuts for small businesses -- I think one out of every six dollars in there right now is tax cuts for businesses -- but also direct spending to create jobs, to create private-sector jobs. And I think the President -- the President believes that through that, we have a balance that he feels will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs and get the economy moving again.
I think the President has often said, though, there's not one single thing that will get -- that any group can do to get the economy moving as a whole, or we'd likely have done that already, but a series of mechanisms along with some of the proposals that will still come to the President's desk from his team. The President believes that we've struck, at least to this point, a pretty good balance and that we need some -- we're going to need some direct spending in order to create those jobs.
I was asked last week about monetary policy. You know, we've fired most of the bullets in that gun and now we are at a point where we need a fiscal stimulus, and that's what the President set out to do.
Q: Thank you. I heard both you and the President talk about the urgency of moving on these environmental matters. My question is whether you're also concerned about the impact that that may have on the domestic automakers and whether, because of that concern, you're considering any direct aid. For instance, when he was in the Senate, Mr. Obama sponsored this health care for hybrids bill, and I'm wondering if that kind of idea is still on the table, or anything else.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President wants to look through that. Obviously we care deeply about the health -- the life and the health of the auto industry, and parts suppliers. And we'll hear more this week I'm sure in the news as we go through about financial troubles as it relates to parts suppliers and payments and things like that.
And I think many of you again heard the President talk about this during the campaign. We needed to take some swift action. But whether it was a proposal in the Senate or speech that he gave in Detroit -- he coupled that with help for the auto industry -- I think he understands that that's likely to take place.
And I think it's important to as we talk about -- I talked extensively about the fuel mileage standards -- the second executive order or the first one -- I don't know the order -- like I say, I haven't gotten emails, so I don't know -- the waiver as it relates to California -- as most of you know California has an exemption in the Clean Air Act to deal with new problems largely unique to a state of that size in dealing with some of its pollution problems. They asked for a waiver, and the waiver was denied by the previous administration's EPA in 2007.
What the President did today was start a process to instruct the EPA not to do some thing, but to start a process to reevaluate that; that he believes that principles of sound judgment and sound science should come ahead of the dictum of the President of the United States in directing an agency to do one thing or another. But even in that process, there's a -- you'll hear from all the stakeholders; you'll hear from California and the other states that want to mimic what California has proposed, and you'll hear from the auto industry.
And I think what ultimately we'll come up with is something that moves along the twin goals of ensuring a strong manufacturing sector while at the same time ensuring that we take the necessary steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Q: But given that there's already been billions of dollars committed to the auto industry just last month, does the Obama administration believe that more money is needed to help them deal with this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously we've got some -- there's some statutory deadlines coming up as it relates to the auto industry later in February that I don't want to get far ahead of.
Q: I mean specifically tied to this.
MR. GIBBS: I'll wait until we get a little farther into the process of the auto industry.
Q: Why is the President sending more troops -- wants to send more troops to Afghanistan to kill people?
MR. GIBBS: In the campaign the President talked about the fact that we had largely taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and moved direct resources to Iran -- I'm sorry, to Iraq, to fight there. We've seen in that intervening time a significant deterioration in the situation in Afghanistan and along the border. I think the President has said that many of the people are the same people that planned terror attacks in this country, are alive and well likely in those hills planning more.
Q: How does he know that?
MR. GIBBS: That's told to me and told to many of the American people through intelligence reports and good reporting.
The President has started a process with Secretary Gates, with the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with military commanders in the individual countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the wider region, to evaluate our posture as it relates to Afghanistan. He said during the campaign that we ought to move additional troops to Afghanistan --
MR. GIBBS: Because we have a very dangerous situation there. Because we've got, as I said, terrorists that planned horrific acts here in 2001 --
Q: You mean they're going to come here and bomb us?
MR. GIBBS: -- likely planning again. We're going to ensure the safety of the American people and make sure that Afghanistan doesn't deteriorate any further.
Q: Does the President feel that it's possible that he can reduce the amount of spending in the stimulus bill? A lot of the Republicans are talking about less spending, but he started at $775 billion total, now you're up to $825 billion, with $550 billion for spending. Does he --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we talked about a range of -- we started with a -- well, I think many, many, many, many, months ago we started -- some started with a range of about $300 billion. The range I think we talked about was -- there was a $100 billion range.
Q: Is he willing to come down on the numbers is what I'm asking.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- and I think Dr. Summers spoke to this point yesterday on "Meet the Press" -- that he feels that the range of funding that we have now is an appropriate range, both in overall number and in order to get the economy moving again. You know, we can tinker under the hood with some of the specifics, but I think right now the broad range is a number that he feels comfortable with.
Q: But that's not something that's negotiable with the Republicans at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you've seen many economists say we need more. Some people have said we need less. Something tells me ending up somewhere in between is probably the right area.
Q: On TARP you've said several times now that you were going to ensure that the money is actually used to lend. Could you go a little bit further on that? Is your thinking tending to the encouraged side or the required side? And how are you going to --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to get ahead of the economic team, but suffice to say the reports today, and not as -- the reports today were empirical. I think the evidence that we had previously was what you suspected was reported today, in that that is that a lot places that are receiving these funds aren't using them to unclog the financial system and get credit and capital flowing to businesses and families.
Q: But they haven't decided yet what tool do you need to use to get that lending to happen?
MR. GIBBS: None of those final decisions have been made; understanding, though, that as we begin to use that money, that we will do this in a way that's markedly different than the way we've done it in the past.
Q: And just one more thing about the stimulus. Is he committed to defending the proportion of tax cuts versus spending in this package? In other words, the other day when Peter Orszag sent that letter, he said he concluded it was 75 percent spend-out in a year and a half, and that included the tax cuts that -- how he got the 75 percent. Does that mean that you're committed to fighting to keep that proportion of tax cuts as a minimum in the package?
MR. GIBBS: Without getting into some of the push and pull of the numbers, let me state clearly what Peter said. And I think that's what -- that's why the administration believes strongly that the initial CBO report that looked at a very small amount of the stimulus bill at a point in the process that we weren't in when the report was released -- and that is that at a minimum, 75 percent of that money will be spent out over an 18-month period of time. That's what the President feels is at a level comfortable with moving that money out the door and getting this economy moving again.
The numbers inside of those I think mean less than the promise to get whatever that proportion is out the door quickly for either projects, small businesses, or families to get some life injected back into the --
Q: But as he tries to get Republican support -- I mean, he is -- you're now stating that the tax cuts in there are stimulative, and they need to be in there in order to have the effects that you want. Is he committed to defending --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we definitely believe that those tax cuts are stimulative, yes.
Q: Right. But is he committed to defending the proportion of tax cuts that you now have in the package? Is that a minimum for you?
MR. GIBBS: I think he will get a chance to both defend and discuss tomorrow with the Republicans what exactly that is. And I think he looks forward, as I've said earlier, to doing that, to doing it in a way that gets the American people the type of package that we need to get the economy moving again.
Q: Robert, on the announcements this morning, did the President consult with former Vice President Gore at all in shaping his plan? And is there an official or an unofficial role for the former Vice President in this idea?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on any discussions particularly with former Vice President Gore. I think some of the announcements shaped today were shaped today -- and I'm sure the former Vice President has always been part of longer discussions relating to energy independence and climate change.
You know, the President ran on a package that increased fuel economy standards. As I said earlier, this wasn't just something he did in the Senate; this was a speech that he did in Detroit in front of the auto companies relating to that. I think he's talked about the need to ensure that science and fact are followed rather than political ideology. And I think that's why he believes that the EPA reconsidering the decision that was made is one -- is a process that is -- that's right to do.
Q: I wonder, on Iraq, if you could characterize the response you're getting from the military so far, particularly the implementers and architects of the current policy, toward the 16-month plan -- particularly General Petraeus. I mean, what -- how are they reacting now that he's in office and this is the policy that they developed themselves?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I talked about last week, the process began I think last Wednesday in the Situation Room with the Vice President and the National Security Advisor, the Joint Chiefs, the commander of our -- of Central Command, General Petraeus, where the President outlined that new mission for Iraq.
The process is ongoing, as I talked to Helen about. The President and the Secretary of Defense have outlined a process. We at some point in the next few days -- originally it was going to be yesterday, but the Secretary is -- has something else that intrudes on tomorrow -- the next step in that process will be going to meet directly with commanders and planners at the Pentagon. We'll also sit down with General McKiernan to discuss specifically Afghanistan.
The charge related to Iraq is, as I've said here before, which is to remove our combat brigades responsibly and safely; to ensure that it's done in a way that doesn't put them into increased harm; that puts the onus and responsibility on the Iraqis to take some control over the security and the political situation in their country -- but to do so in a way that seeks direct input from those commanders, and that only through that entire process, and after that entire process is done, will we -- will the President of the United States make a final decision as it relates to Iraq, Afghanistan, and (inaudible).
Q: Robert, in the effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil, does the President believe or support expanded production domestically of oil?
MR. GIBBS: He said that during the campaign, yes.
Q: And he stands by that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, he does.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Robert, is it realistic for the number, 1 million green jobs, to be out there, as consumers are not opting for solar and wind power because they're saying it's too costly and the benefits are not for decades to come?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President visited projects throughout the campaign. We visited a project a week and a half ago in Ohio. Ohio is a state that I think many of you have seen about and read about in terms of, the economic devastation that we've seen throughout the country has hit extremely hard in a place like Ohio. We visited a company that, lo and behold, had actually hired workers that week because of an increased demand. The President believes that the price of oil and the price of energy is not likely to stay at the level it is now. It wasn't long ago that we were all paying $4 for a gallon of gas -- I remember driving to the airport in Chicago and it was between $4.50 and $4.60. I don't think it's going to stay where it is long.
We can make the investments necessary and meet the demand in a growing economy for clean energy that reduces that dependence on foreign oil, while at the same time creates a million new clean energy jobs. I think those are -- it's not only a worthy goal; the President believes that's a goal that can and will be met.
Q: Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
Q: Robert, that week ahead you promised?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that week ahead -- the week ahead I promised unfortunately fell victim to somebody and our email system. I will endeavor to, one, fix the email system -- (laughter) -- and two, if I can't do it audibly today, then we will certainly send out an email for guidance. I know the biggest event tomorrow will be his trip to Capitol Hill.
Q: What time is that?
MR. GIBBS: I believe he leaves here at noon, and I think he's up there --
Q: Is it four separate meetings or two?
MR. GIBBS: It's two separate meetings, as I understand it.
Q: So the Senate Republican Caucus, House Republican Caucus --
MR. GIBBS: I think the House is first, if I'm not mistaken, and then we go to the Senate side.
Q: Not the Democratic caucuses?
MR. GIBBS: No, just the Republican caucuses.
Q: Did President issue any statement on the (inaudible) of India?
MR. GIBBS: We have -- we have a statement, again, I'm using the -- there's only one email system at the White House at a time, and unfortunately it's not working. (Laughter.) So we will -- I will get that out to you, and --
Q: Greetings from 1 billion press people --
Q: Robert, on Geithner --
MR. GIBBS: A good way to end, thank you.
Q: Can you just say ahead of the Geithner vote -- sorry, if my colleagues wanted to leave, but there's been some jest, but also in seriousness, that if Wesley Snipes had been nominated Secretary of Treasury he wouldn't be in jail right now. I'm just wondering, ahead of the Geithner vote today, is President Obama --
MR. GIBBS: You can't imagine the number of prospective answers that's currently going through my mind. (Laughter.) I think it is safe to say that --
Q: But, no --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's safe --
Q: But is the President asking the IRS to be more lenient to all Americans in the future when they say, "I didn't know, but I'm sorry"?
MR. GIBBS: Wow, this is one of those questions that can certainly get me in trouble. Secretary-designate Geithner -- who I believe in a few hours we'll be able to call Secretary Geithner because of a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate -- admitted that he'd made honest mistakes that could and should have been avoided. He made amends by paying the back taxes and the interest that he owes.
The President also believes that he has a unique -- unique experience, unique intelligence, and a unique background to tackle the economic crises that we face right now as a country and throughout the world, that he will be a tremendous leader to our economic team, and somebody that I think Americans will value having on their side as we try to turn this economy around and get people working again. We look forward to that vote happening, to having a strong bipartisan record -- on record with a strong bipartisan vote tonight. And if it's done at the time we think it is we may have -- we may go swear in a new Secretary of Treasury soon.
END 2:32 P.M. EST
|Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", January 26, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85696.|
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