The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
January 29, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:12 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: All right, sorry I'm both late and early, all at the same time. (Laughter.) And I --

Q: Even the Clinton White House has never done that -- to be late and early. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Let me apologize in advance. My five-and-a-half-year-old has a cold; therefore, I have a cold. So if I sniff a little bit, it's because of that.

Just a couple of quick things, and we'll get into your questions. In addition to the calls that he made yesterday to foreign leaders, he also called last night Prime Minister Aso of Japan. Also, in addition to later last night, the President signed disaster declarations for both Arkansas and Kentucky and spoke with both of the governors of those two states to notify them of those signatures.

You all, I hope, were at the Lilly Ledbetter signing this morning, so you know a little bit about that.

And then -- and we'll try to conclude this at an appropriate time -- at 3:00 p.m., the President will take a group of you into a meeting with the President and Treasury Secretary Geithner. I know the President is anxious to make a few remarks there about some -- about stuff that's been in the news the last couple of days, and particularly stuff that was on the front page of our newspapers this morning relating to CEO bonuses, which he will get into at that -- at those remarks.

And with that, let me take a few questions. Jennifer.

Q: News-of-the-day question -- the military judge's ruling in the USS Cole suspect case at Guantanamo. We'd like a comment on that, first of all, but also kind of the bigger picture. I mean, you guys have asked for a delay in all the trials there. Does this throw a kink into that? How does it affect the broader effort to step back and take a look at those detainees?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me --

Q: Repeat the question, because we can't hear with the --

MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry, with the new Zamboni? (Laughter.)

Q: Repeat the question.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, the question related to -- come on in, guys. (Laughter.) All right. All right. No more -- the place is now sold out, so no more tickets.

This was -- Jennifer asked a question about the ruling that just came down, which did not grant a stay for the military commission in one case. We just learned of the ruling here, as you did, and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case. I believe that all the other trials were stayed, which I think continues to give us what we need to evaluate who is at Gitmo and make the decisions commensurate with the executive order that the President signed.

But we are -- we're working to get some consultation on that, and when we have some we'll certainly let you know about that.

Q: Just to be clear, what you're saying is that this -- the action in this one case you don't believe throws a kink into the ability to evaluate the entire situation --

MR. GIBBS: No, not at all.

Q: -- and the status of detainees there?

MR. GIBBS: Not at all.

Yes, sir.

Q: You mentioned that the President was going to be talking about executive bonuses. There is a report that came out of the New York Comptroller's Office a short time ago saying that the corporate CEOs, many of them of companies that have received taxpayer dollars, were paid massive bonuses, totaling more than $18 billion. Is he going to be addressing that in some way? Can you elaborate?

MR. GIBBS: He will address that, and I will elaborate and I will give you the one-word answer that he gave us this morning: outrageous. I think he will expound on the outrageousness of what he read.

The President spoke during his inaugural of an ethic of responsibility that we needed to see reinstituted in certain aspects of our country, particularly in our financial institutions.

Whether it's government or the financial system, we're not going to be able to do what is needed to be done to stabilize our financial system if the American people read about this type of outrageous behavior. We started the beginning of the week with a bank that's in some trouble interested in purchasing a $50 million jet. I think the outrage on the Hill and some phone calls and some outrage here probably stopped that.

But obviously, we're asking a lot of the American people to take extraordinary steps to stabilize our financial system. The President is committed to doing what is necessary to do that, but shares the frustration of the American people when they read about I think it was the sixth largest year of bonuses. And I don't think anybody that's opened their 401(k) statement has found out that this was the sixth best year for Wall Street. He'll address that in some more rage --

Q: Will there be specific measures that will be brought forth by the administration --

MR. GIBBS: Well, one of the things that the President is doing today is he met -- had his economic daily briefing that included Dr. Summers, Christina Romer, Secretary Geithner. They are working on -- that is a portion of what they're working on as it relates to going forward on the financial stability money that Congress has appropriated.

Q: What can he do?

MR. GIBBS: That's what we're looking into, and that's what we're working on recommendations for. You know, I think the Comptroller of New York had some -- asked the President to look into this, and I think he shares the Comptroller's outrage in this.

Q: Two things. One, he met with CEOs yesterday, and I realize that's before the Comptroller's report, but did he say anything about this? Because the two gentlemen who introduced him yesterday, their combined five-year compensation package was $150 million. Did he turn to them and say, you guys are cutting jobs and yet you're making $150 million?

MR. GIBBS: The President talked about responsibility with them yesterday. The President doesn't meet with CEOs where he doesn't talk about responsibility. They specifically talked about the jet purchase.

Again, I think the President has been very clear on the notion that what has to be done will not be able to be done unless the American people have confidence not just in the decisions that government is now forced to make to address these crises, but more importantly, that they don't see some of these actors behaving differently.

Q: If I can just follow up. In the TARP legislation last fall, when the President was a mere senator, it was clear for any of us who were following the legislation that executive compensation, the steps that they were taking to have taxpayer dollars not go to that, were minuscule at best, and the people who were preventing anything from really happening were Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, because they didn't think that there was really anything you could do, that there would be a way that Wall Street would find their way around whatever law. I mean, President Obama supported the legislation.

MR. GIBBS: President Obama, or mere Senator Obama, and many others did in order to get the money we needed to get our financial system going again. I think it is fair that this President believes that the results of that first set of money have failed to live up to the expectation that all of the American people had for it. That's why this administration and this economic team are taking the time to evaluate how we move forward.

Again, the principles that we outlined for the Senate, before they approved a second batch of money to be used by this administration, included reining in executive compensation and ensuring that excessive bonuses aren't part of that.

Again, part of the meeting that you'll see the beginning of today is a continued discussion on moving forward and making some of those decisions as it relates to that next set of money. But, Dick, understand the President -- the President shares the American people's outrage on this. You know, it's -- there are a lot of words that you can conjure up to describe that story. I think "outrageous" was just the one that I can bring to you here today.

Q: Robert, on Tuesday you talked about how you felt that some Republicans would come onboard with the stimulus package. Now we know that did not happen. This morning you said that the President was a little disappointed. I'm wondering if the President is -- in hindsight, is looking at this and saying perhaps there should have been more concessions, perhaps he shouldn't have made the joke about smacking me over the head. Is he looking back and saying --

MR. GIBBS: I don't think they're not going to do that. I think -- (laughter) -- I think he seems fine with that recommendation.

Q: But is he thinking, if I had to do this all over again, I would have done it differently?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think if he had it to do all over again -- and the truth is he has it to do all over now in the Senate and will have it to do -- I promise I won't make any -- I was looking up lacrosse metaphors, but I figured I just was way out of my league.

The President wouldn't do anything differently. In fact, the President didn't do anything differently last night after the vote where, as you mentioned, none of the -- none of those Republicans supported the bill, but still came over to the White House to continue a cooperative relationship to get something done for the American people.

Look, old habits die hard in this town. We get that. But the President understands that changing the way Washington works isn't likely to happen in just 10 days. But he believes that the time that he spent with Republicans when they asked to come down here and they did, or the time that he spent going to Capitol Hill, or the time that he spent last night is a worthy investment of his time.

We have a responsibility -- the President and Congress, Democrats and Republicans -- to do something for the American people. You know, probably each day that I've been here this week, we've had some statistic, at least in this town, to remind us of where we are. The President I think looks forward to the day in which this government, and myself at this podium, aren't reminded each and every day about those statistics.

We saw earlier in the week businesses that are shedding I think 100,000 jobs in two or three days' time. Tomorrow isn't going to be that day where we don't talk about these statistics, because we're likely to get a number for economic growth for the fourth quarter that's fairly staggering. And today we find out that more Americans are receiving unemployment benefits since records began being kept on that statistic in 1967.

He believes that the time he put in and the time he will continue to put in to listen, to consult and to work with both Democrats and Republicans is important because we owe it to the American people to get them a piece of legislation that puts money back in their pockets, creates jobs and gets this economy moving again.

Q: And to follow, was the President caught off guard by the fact that 11 Republicans voted -- I'm sorry, Democrats, sorry -- voted against this? And is he going to reach out specifically to the Democrats?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we're -- nobody's looking at any label to see who to or not to reach out to. His hand is -- is, was and will always reach out. I think it's safe to say we didn't presume we'd get a hundred percent of anything. We probably won't get a hundred percent of a proposal; we won't get a hundred percent support from either Republicans or Democrats. Again, that doesn't stop the President's effort to push forward -- and I think we -- you know, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that last night was a big step forward for the American people in getting that package one step closer to the President's desk and one step closer to making the lives of the American people a little bit better in what we all see as a very tough economic time.

Q: The tone here sounds like he's just going to continue doing what he did to try to get Republicans to vote for this in the House. Doesn't he need to dramatically ratchet this up -- getting Democrats to compromise, working the Republicans, making changes in the bill?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chip, our test on this bill -- and our test on seeking these ideas -- is not whether they come from one party or whether they need to be compromised with another party. Instead it's how best do we put forward a package that meets the principle of putting money into people's pockets, spending money to help lay some long-term investments for economic growth and put people back to work right now.

He doesn't believe -- and he's said this a number of times -- that any one party has dominion over good ideas. We're going to continue to listen, strengthen the package. I presume that the package that comes out of the Senate will be different than the one that came out of the House. And as I've said, this will be a long and winding road to getting something on his desk.

Q: Can you give us any specifics on what he's doing, who he's calling, changes he's considering? Any specifics on what he's going to do differently this time?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't -- I think I said earlier, I don't think he's going to do a ton differently. The key is he's going to continue to listen and to reach out. I think -- again, I think as we go forward on down this line, we'll see him continue to reach out. And my presumption is that we'll pick up support on both sides of the aisle on this.

Q: How much, any guess, ballpark?

MR. GIBBS: You can't use baseball analogies. (Laughter.)

Q: I want to go to the strengthen -- you specifically used that word just now, actually, and in your statement yesterday, which implies that there are parts of this bill you guys don't like or would like to see improved.

MR. GIBBS: Again, the President --

Q: Can you get into -- what is it that needs strengthening in this bill, period? Or question mark.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't have specifics -- what's that?

Q: I'm sorry, I said period. I should have said question mark.

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't have specifics to enumerate. I think the President -- the President said to House Republicans and Senate Republicans that obviously the bill -- the bill that will work its way through both sides of the aisle is probably not exactly what any one person would write, regardless of their party.

Q: But there's got to be. I mean, there must be --

MR. GIBBS: Well, there already had been. There had been.

Q: To put the word "strengthen" in there implies -- I mean, is it infrastructure? Do you want more money for infrastructure? The spending ratio is not correct here?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we're working on -- as I've said, we're working on ensuring that those spending ratios get money into the economy quickly. He talked with Republicans in the Senate about infrastructure spending. He's talked to House and Senate members about tax provisions. I don't -- you know, we'll -- we're going to continue to work with and listen to folks on any number of these items.

Q: Those are the two -- infrastructure, tax -- the two biggest areas, is that fair to say?

MR. GIBBS: I would say two of many areas. Again, Chuck, his test is this: If you've got an idea that helps strengthen the bill, bring it to our attention and we'll work through that process. Again -- again, I don't think this process -- it's not going to -- it didn't end last night. Again, we took a very important step forward in getting legislation to the President's desk and hopefully legislation that will improve --

Q: I'd just go back to the word "strengthen." That implies there was something you didn't quite like in the House bill. Is there something that he singled out that --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he singled out, over the course of the week, a couple of things that he didn't -- that he agreed with but he didn't -- or something he didn't think should be in the bill. And we'll continue that process.


Q: Was there serious talk about this at the cocktail party last evening?

MR. GIBBS: I did not attend the cocktail party last evening. I went home to read a book to my son. I do believe -- well, did the subject come up? Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: "My Pet Goat"?

MR. GIBBS: I did not read "My Pet Goat." No, I read -- (laughter) -- I read something on mummies to Ethan. But I -- yes, the subject certainly came up. You know, the President also wanted last night to be a little bit more social, you know, so that individuals could better get to know each other and understand where they're coming from in these legislative disagreements. But, again, you know, the President's outreach on this will continue. We'll have some folks over probably this weekend to watch the Super Bowl.

Q: Members of Congress? Leaders?

MR. GIBBS: I will get a list of that for you.

Q: Journalists, members of the press? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: But, you know, again, the President believes, and has believed this, that this type of outreach is important not just on this bill or on this issue but as a way of setting about a tone in Washington that can get things done for the American people. Many of you heard the President often quote the ability to disagree without being disagreeable, and I think that's the tone that he'd like to see dominate these debates and dominate the issues that we discuss each day in Washington.

Q: On another matter, did the President ask the State Department or NSC staff to draft a conciliatory letter to Iran?

MR. GIBBS: The President -- neither the President nor the Secretary of State has requested or seen any such letter that I think was reported in an overseas newspaper. So I think that sort of closes the book a little bit on that.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, Mr. Elmendorf yesterday at CBO said that there are going to be billions and billions more needed for financial stability. Does the White House concur in that? And if so, how soon might we see a request?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the financial team continues, the economic team continues to meet on this subject -- Chuck asked this yesterday -- to meet on -- and the President talked about this with leaders of Congress, he's talked about this with us -- and understanding that a recovery and reinvestment plan is just one part of what has to happen in going forward to get the economy moving again -- financial stability being a big chunk of that, in addition to financial reregulation, which he talked about yesterday with Paul Volcker. Part of the meeting that the President will have today with Secretary Geithner will focus in on some of these -- some of these decisions.

I don't know about specific spending numbers. I know the President has talked about, and I think the American people understand, that this President will do what is necessary to ensure, one, that we don't suffer any sort of financial collapse and that we have the resources that we need to ensure that banks are lending money to families, to small businesses, and to large businesses.

I don't want to get ahead of those decisions coming to the President and him making them. Obviously, again, it's a big part of many different avenues that we have to work through to get the economy moving again.


Q: Robert, on the stimulus, on the politics side, is the White House compiling, and will it release, as this debate moves forward, a state-by-state analysis of job losses? And does it support the efforts of America Coming Together, MoveOn and other groups that were supportive of Senator Obama during the campaign putting together television ads and other things to put pressure on Republicans to get behind this stimulus effort? Those are two political questions. I have a policy one after that.

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- well, let me -- if you can allow -- if you'll allow me to rephrase a little bit. I think you're asking me about a story -- an earlier version of a story that I want to tell you doesn't reflect the President's thinking. And I want to -- but I also want to split that off of different analysis of jobs numbers or transportation spending numbers or school rehabilitation numbers or any sort of analysis that the economic team may do.

I just -- what I want to do is separate, I think, the political part of that story and the analysis that may be done not for political argument, but to show and demonstrate for the American people where the investments -- where the money is going and what investments they're going toward in this economic recovery plan. We've certainly talked about individual projects. We'll talk about the way money is certainly spent and the effect that it will -- we believe it will have on the economy. I think those analysis are being done on both sides of this. But the --

Q: The answer is yes, it's just not political?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, it's just not political.

Q: Understood. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Your policy question?

Q: The CBO was asked by Kent Conrad to evaluate any ways to more rapidly spend out the money that is in the stimulus bill. And the CBO reported back to Kent Conrad that there are several ways to do it -- two specific ones I want to ask you about.

MR. GIBBS: Okay.

Q: Waiving requirements for environmental and judicial reviews, and allowing contracts and grants to be awarded outside the normal competitive bid process. Now, since those kinds of things or regulatory or speed bump things Democrats often supported, I'm wondering is the administration open to reviewing those kinds of things if in fact they impede spending of money that you believe would be essential to helping the economy recovery.

MR. GIBBS: Let me give for you in this answer what the President told the governors when he met with them -- I guess this would have been sometime in mid- to late November in Philadelphia, because this was an issue that was raised I think maybe by Governor Schwarzenegger or by one of the other governors, regulatory red tape, so to speak. And the President simply said, you know, if there are things that we can do to speed money into the economy as it relates to infrastructure spending or things like that, he's more than happy to take a look at them in order to get this money infused into the economy and putting people back to work as quickly as possible.

Q: Is he going to ask Democrats to put that specific language in the bill? Because oftentimes that's what's required to get over these hurdles.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that we would want to look at exactly -- I've not looked at the CBO report that you mentioned specifically. But all I can say, without reading what specifically they told Senator Conrad, but that the President shares the opinion of both Democrats and Republicans that we should seek to do this as quickly as is reasonably doable.

And I was asked about this yesterday, about the notion of, well, if you only have 75 percent spent out in 18 months, what about this other 25 percent? And I think it bears repeating that, regrettably, we are not likely to wake up on the 1st of January in 2011 and find everything going so great. So there is money that we'll spend out after this 18-month period that will create jobs in that first and second quarter of 2011. We don't see that as a bad thing, because we're going to need jobs created and money spent in that -- in those quarters in 2011, and certainly probably beyond that.

Q: Back on the politics thing, does the President endorse or support these outside groups pressuring Republicans with TV ads and other things? Does he have any message for them --

MR. GIBBS: The President is not going to referee what individual interest groups on either side of this do, except --

Q: Does he believe it enhances the political environment toward compromise?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President -- I think the President's own actions in reaching out to Republicans demonstrate his willingness to do what is necessary to bring anybody involved in this process along so that he or she can support a recovery plan that the American people can be proud of.

Yes, sir.

Q: Martin Feldstein, who is a noted conservative economist who has been hailed by Democrats as sort of supporting the idea of a stimulus package, in today's Post wrote that -- called the stimulus "an $800 billion mistake," and detailed reasons why he thinks that the particular pieces in it are not actually stimulative and won't have the result -- I guess the question is, is the President open to conversations over the next couple of weeks with conservative economists who argue not that there shouldn't be a stimulus and not that it shouldn't even be as large -- some of them even want larger -- but that the pieces of this are the wrong piece, and is he open to potentially hearing their argument and potentially changing the plan?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me address a couple --

Q: And also, if you could tell us who he's supporting in the Super Bowl.

MR. GIBBS: All right, let me hold on that one for a second. (Laughter.) Let me take your tougher question first.

I think -- part of my answer bears on exactly part of your question, which is, you mentioned that even among economists, conservative ones, there's a -- there are varying opinions about the size of a stimulus package. There are inherently different opinions about what should be encompassed in those varying sizes of stimulus packages.

I know that, if you go back and read the op-ed, I know that, for instance, one of the things that Mr. Feldstein mentions is he disagrees with the notion that the President's $500 tax cut will be paid out in a lump sum, and that's just not true.

One of the reasons that we fashioned the tax cut in the way we did was precisely to take into account the notion -- and we've seen this in the past couple of stimulus attempts by Congress and the President -- that lump-sum payments that people tend to get, one-time checks tend to go into savings at a rate far greater than spending because people get this one-time check but understand that it's not going to continue, which causes them to save the money, which is why the tax cuts in the President's plan pay out a little bit at a time so that people that may get $20 or $25 more in each pay period will get used to spending that $20 to $25 each pay period. They'll understand that if I get it today, because I got paid, that I'll get it in two weeks because I get paid, and I can change my spending habits by that amount of money through the course of the tax cut.

I do think there are some just general disagreements -- as you mentioned, disagreements even among conservative economists. There's disagreements about what we believe creates jobs and what Mr. Feldstein might believe.

Q: I guess the broader question is, you talk about him wanting to reach out to Republicans and change the tone. Has he -- does he have any interest in bringing some of these folks into the White House and sitting down --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the precise answer to whether he's interested in bringing some of those people down per se to talk. Obviously he's -- he reads the fine Washington Post and listens to their arguments. Again, you know, I think if you look at other -- others -- some that helped Senator McCain that have weighed in on what they think is a quality stimulus package. But again, he is always open to listening to ideas from across the political spectrum and different political parties.

Q: And the Super Bowl question?

MR. GIBBS: Oh, the Super Bowl question. I have not asked him specifically who he is rooting for, but I will -- which I will do. I know he has a tremendous respect and affection for the Rooney family, who we saw at many different points along the campaign trail. The best breakfast place we went to in the entire campaign was a place that we went with Mr. Rooney in Pittsburgh --

Q: The Steelers --

MR. GIBBS: Exactly. And so I -- without prejudging who he roots for, I know he has tremendous affection for the Rooney family.


Q: You've talked for a couple of weeks now about the multi-leg -- is it three-legged or four-legged stool? And I'm wondering when you're going to show us a little more leg. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Only I can do that in here, Jonathan. You can't --

Q: What are those legs? What are those legs, specifically? And when are we going to hear anything about the housing plan, about the financial rescue plan and about this reregulation?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said earlier, meetings on each of those continue. Again, the President met with Mr. Volcker yesterday to talk about regulation. He met with his economic team this morning as part of his daily briefing on financial stability and the recovery plan.

And I've done this a couple different ways in here. But I think roughly you have -- whether you're talking about stools or pillars or what have you -- three main areas: you have a recovery and reinvestment plan, which is moving through Congress; you have a financial stability package; and you have financial reregulation. I think involved in some of that in different areas is a housing plan and things like that.

I don't know that it's tremendously pertinent to get caught up in whether there are three stools -- three legs on this stool or four, or rungs, or what have you. I think the American people understand that we have to deal with -- and the President also understands that we have to deal with each of these in order to move the economy forward. I'm not sure which part of the -- which leg housing is. But I think people that understand -- whether you're living in a neighborhood where the house next to you got foreclosed, or you're not now living in the neighborhood because the house you are in got foreclosed -- you may not understand which leg of the stool you're on, but you understand it's a problem that has to be dealt with.

We'll have I think soon more information and more on many of the things that you mentioned, be it housing, be it regulation, be it financial stability, that members of the Cabinet and the President will talk about.

Q: A follow-up on that?


Q: The international aspect of that, the international leg of the stool that was discussed by the G20, and it is supposed to be discussed in London, people say that it's not moving anywhere, specifically the Russians are -- and not only the Russians -- they are complaining that the Financial Stability Forum, which is like the setup that's in the focus right now, they agree that all the major countries should be in, but the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China -- they're not there.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the -- and the President talked about this when he was a mere senator and a candidate -- that if one entity takes steps and it's not followed by other countries taking steps, be it regulation, stability or stimulus, that you're likely to see capital flows change all around the world, you could -- we certainly saw it back in September.

The President talked about -- again, the candidate Obama talked about that in September, working together in unison, all of these countries. And I think you'll hear more about some of those specific plans as we lead to and get closer to going in April to the second round of this in Europe.

Q: Back to Iran, the President of Iran, President Ahmadinejad's speech yesterday calling for profound changes in U.S. policy, an end to support of murdering Zionists, and an apology for U.S. crimes.

MR. GIBBS: I think it's best to instead focus not on what the leader of -- one of the leaders of Iran might have said, but instead what the President believes: that we must use all elements of our national power to protect our interest as it relates to Iran. That includes -- as the President talked about in the campaign -- diplomacy where possible, and that we have many issues to work through. An illicit nuclear program by the Iranians, the sponsorship of terrorism, and the threatening of peace in Israel are just a few of the issues that this President believes the Iranian leadership should address.

Q: The dialogue you speak of, can the President have a dialogue with someone who speaks in those terms?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as the President said back in the campaign, it's unclear who -- exactly who that dialogue would be with in Iran. Again, if -- in order for this to happen, there has to be some preparation and an understanding and a responsibility by both sides in understanding what's going to be talked about, and the responsibilities that each side has.

Q: Now that the Congress has acted, or I guess not acted, where is the President on the digital TV conversion? Does he believe that doing it as scheduled on February 17th is going to cause undo hardship and confusion? And if so, is there anything unilaterally he can do to postpone it?

MR. GIBBS: A good question that -- let me take. I don't -- obviously during the transition the President's team asked that Congress consider this. The Senate did and the House did not. So let me take that question and --

Q: Can I follow that up?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you so much. A number of Democrats in Congress want to restore the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which before it was repealed applied to only electronics media and not to any print or media --

MR. GIBBS: Lester, I thought we were -- I thought we were talking about DTV.

Q: Well, does the President believe that -- (laughter) -- this is on the same planet --

MR. GIBBS: I'm pretty sure I did not -- I don't think I got an answer to my question. I think we were talking about DTV, and now we seem to be somewhat -- I'm going to go back to baseball -- far field on the Fairness Doctrine.

Q: Since you mentioned it, from the field, does the President believe -- (laughter) -- does the President believe --

Q: Lester, far field?

Q: Does the President believe that the selectivity of some media and not others is fair? And if so, why?

MR. GIBBS: I have no information on the Fairness Doctrine, and I will endeavor to get some clarity on DTV.


Q: Robert, something you said earlier struck me. You said that it's going to take longer than 10 days to sort of change the ways of Washington. Does the President believe that the vote in the House was the result of sort of the deep ingrained patterns of the parties voting along party lines, or does he think that it was the result of philosophical differences over whether this bill would in fact work?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that's in many ways a question to ask those that exercised that vote yesterday.

Q: Well, no, you're assessing the bill and the vote and the way --

MR. GIBBS: It's hard for me to speak to the mindset of -- either collectively or individually -- members of Congress. The President and his team formulated a proposal that they thought, and a framework and principles, that they thought would put money back in people's pockets and spend money to create jobs. That's what we endeavor to do, and what the process endeavors to do as it moves forward.

Q: Can I follow on that, though?

Q: Robert, you're the one that said, "changing the ways of Washington." What did you mean by that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's any number of ways. I mean, obviously we've had a several-day discussion about bipartisanship. We've had -- we've talked about different vote counts. We've talked about nominations and confirmations. And we've seen somebody -- certainly some people in this room seem surprised at the lengths the President will go to to reach out to the other party, regardless of the results that happen on any given day.

But that's not going to change the President's desire to do that reaching out, and to try, as I said earlier, figure out a way that even while we disagree we don't have to do it in a way that's disagreeable.

Q: Well, I guess the question is, doesn't your statement imply that it was politics as usual? If you say, there were no Republicans, it's going to take awhile to change the ways of Washington, doesn't that imply that it was a political move by the Republicans?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I'd leave it some to them to figure out motivations. I think we all believe -- Democrat or Republican, Congress or the executive branch -- that we're going to be held accountable to the American people to get something done. Again, whether it's unemployment claims, whether it's GDP numbers, whether it's layoffs, we're in a crisis that requires us acting quickly to get something done.

Q: Robert, real quick on Iran, a follow-up. Is it the President's view that the military option with Iran is still on the table?

MR. GIBBS: The President hasn't changed his viewpoint that he should preserve all his options.


Q: On the question of bipartisanship, you keep talking about the President wanting to reach out and continue to take in ideas. The House Republican Whip just sent out an email this afternoon, even while you were talking, accusing the White House of issuing political threats rather than engaging in bipartisan activity, and actually naming you as one of the people making threats. Can you engage in bipartisan activity if you're being accused of making political threats against the Republicans?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think I've been -- I don't –

Q: That's what Cantor is saying.

MR. GIBBS: Again, it's hard for me to step into the mindset of any individual and talk about the motivations for why they think I'm threatening people. I don't --

Q: You're really innocent? You're really innocent?

Q: But is there a fallacy --

MR. GIBBS: I guess --

Q: You're talking --

MR. GIBBS: I think many people in this room have written that -- when I seem to be overbearing, in their words, that I don't think I leave a lot of misimpression as to what that overbearing might be. So I think I've been fairly mild-mannered today. I don't think I've -- at least to my knowledge, not threatened anybody.

But, you know, again, I -- I think this is a little bit about what I talked about, about changing the way Washington works, you know? You know, I mean --

Q: Can you change -- but what I'm asking --

MR. GIBBS: But let me finish --

Q: -- can you change it from just one end of Pennsylvania Avenue?

MR. GIBBS: No, but I don't think we're going to. I think the American people will demand that we change it at both ends. And I don't think that we're going to be able to address America's problems unless or until we do so. But, you know, I think it's important not to get caught up in a typical email back and forth between this podium and the Congress and that sort of thing, you know. As I said, the President understands that old habits die hard, and that's not going to stop him from working each and every day to make sure that something gets done worthwhile for the American people.


Q: Robert, is there anything -- is there anything -- two questions. Is there anything in the stimulus bill that the President considers as sacrosanct? And then -- that he wouldn't negotiate over. And then secondly, the President's home team, the White Sox, as you know, had invited him to toss out the opening pitch -- a long tradition for Presidents. Is he going to do that at Comiskey, or will he choose perhaps the Nationals here in Washington or the new Yankee stadium up in the Bronx?

MR. GIBBS: Wow. A plethora of choices. (Laughter.) See, Washington -- we have choices for questions. I saw the invitation from the White Sox. I will check on that. He did that before and it was a lot of fun.

Q: -- double-header.

MR. GIBBS: There you go. We could go to the Nationals game and maybe the White Sox, too.

Q: He wants to, I assume, right?

MR. GIBBS: And -- oh, he loves that. So -- I'm sorry, your first --

Q: Is there anything in the stimulus package that he considers as sacrosanct, that he wouldn't be able to negotiate over?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you've heard the President talk about believing that the "Make Work Pay" tax cut that he ran on in the campaign and -- that is part of this bill -- is something that he believes quite strongly in. And I think -- as he listens to other ideas, I think he's -- I think he's decided both as a campaign platform and, more importantly, what makes good economic sense is to put money back into the pockets of people who have watched their wages decline as they've worked harder, as their bills have gotten more expensive, as their expenses have mounted. And I think that's something that in the meeting both here at the White House and up on Capitol Hill -- I think it's been reported that he said that he felt comfortable with those provisions.

Q: Could I follow up on the rationale on that?


Q: Could I just follow up on the rationale on that? Because one of the major problems out there is consumer debt and you're saying that, first of all, you'd like to discourage savings like --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Let me just stop you about halfway. The question that was asked was about Mr. Feldstein's op-ed as it related to a lump-sum payment. And all I -- I did not discourage -- I hope everyone saves money -- I didn't discourage savings. I simply said that if you look at the economic principles of a lump-sum payment in the form of a $300 check, as been given before, or a $500 check for a worker in this plan, or a $1000 check for a family that has two workers, that economic studies show that lump-sum payments tend not to be spent out as quickly or as fully because people and consumers recognize that it's a one-time payment that they're not going to see during their next paycheck.

The point of an economic stimulus plan is to get money into people's hands and into people's pockets so that they use their hand to reach in their pocket and spend that money. That's what a payment like the one we have structured will do because, again, it provides that money out over a period of time where they get used to spending that money every two weeks.

So I'm not discouraging savings. I don't -- I'm pretty sure that my answer was quite clear on the fact that that was not the case.

Q: I guess the question, though, is consumer behavior. And with the rebate, it was hoped that people would spend it, when in fact many of them ended up using it to pay off credit card debt, paying for, you know, higher price of gas. And I guess if you're just giving out a small portion per pay period, aren't people just as likely to use that as paying off their credit cards than to spend money that they don't have?

MR. GIBBS: Let me try this -- let me -- I'm going to swing a third time and see if I can hit this baseball. I'll try to do it -- I know, I had to get to it.

Again, I think economic studies show -- and I will endeavor to get you one of these economic studies -- is that if you want to get people -- through a tax cut -- money that they're more likely to save -- or I'm sorry -- more likely to spend faster is to do so by spreading it out so that their consumer behavior is augmented by the fact that they understand that that money is coming every pay period; versus giving it to them in one lump sum where, attitudinally, they understand that it's not likely to change.

So I think that's the reason why the structure of our tax cut in terms of "Make Work Pay" is done that way. It's tilted toward lower- and middle-income individuals and families who are likely to take that money and spend it and get this economy moving again.

Yes, sir.

Q: The President seems to have deferred a little bit to the House Democrats during this process and now, presumably, he'll let the Senate process run its course. When you get to negotiations between the two houses -- I realize I'm getting a little ahead of the game, but we're kind of curious -- will the President get involved personally at that level or will he leave it to his economic team? Does he intend to sit down with the leaders of the two parties to try to work out a deal?

MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't -- I don't know the exact answer. I wouldn't -- I think that's a strong possibility. I mean, I think he's largely, in some ways, out of the legislative process by dint of trading one job for the next. But I don't think I would close the door in any way on the notion that he'll get involved.

Q: Corollary to that, Robert, when the President went to the Hill on Tuesday, Republicans told him they had been shut out of the negotiations. Might he have leaned on Speaker Pelosi a little more to facilitate negotiations?

MR. GIBBS: Again, Kirk, you know, when the -- I guess I don't altogether agree with that notion, largely because you can see provisions in this bill that are directly reflective of the input that they've given. Net operating loss is a provision in there that I think some wanted to take out, but then the President and his team asked that it be kept in. The -- there's certainly energy provisions in there that are reflective of work that Democrats and Republicans have done together on important issues that will increase the number of clean energy jobs in this country.

And I think I used this example yesterday with my -- of my friend, who apparently is emailing around, that the Whip said to the President of the United -- to the President-elect then, you know, it would be -- give the American people great confidence if we put these projects up on the Internet and for everyone to see how the money was spent and how the jobs would be created. And that's exactly the intention that the President and his team have.

So I think the input of -- the input has been there. I think the legislation is reflective of that. And I think the President will continue, again, to listen to those ideas so that anybody that has a good idea will be heard.

Q: So you've got no regrets about how you all handled it?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think we -- you know, sometimes it might not all look like it pays off at the beginning, but I think the President believes that the time that he's spent here and on Capitol Hill and talking to members was time well spent and time that he'll continue to do.

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.

END 3:05 P.M. EST

Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", January 29, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project