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
February 4, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:52 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me start by giving you guys just a quick readout from the President's meeting this morning with Secretary Clinton and with Senator Mitchell.

The President had a good meeting with Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell late this morning. Senator Mitchell gave an initial readout of his trip to the region, which included stops in Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Riyadh, Paris and London. He's now developing a specific set of next steps and the President looks forward to hearing more about that.

And as Senator Mitchell said yesterday, he remains convinced that patience and persistent American diplomacy can help advance the ball on these efforts. The President shares that view and looks forward to continuing to work closely with Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell.

And with that -- Ms. Loven.

Q: Thank you. Two completely unrelated questions.

MR. GIBBS: I'm used to that. (Laughter.)

Q: One on Judd Gregg. Apparently a former longtime aide of his is involved in the Abramoff scandal. I'm wondering if that came up in the vetting and how it was viewed here?

And then secondly, I wanted to -- I noticed in the President's remarks this morning that he talked about his election and it was kind of a subtle reference to the "I won" comment that we talked about, that came up in a private meeting he had. And the reports on the meeting the other night with the Democratic leadership sounded like he was a little bit tougher. Is he getting a little bit more aggressive in his rhetoric on the stimulus?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take your first question. I don't know about the vetting. I know that the Secretary-designate is not a target or a subject of any of the investigation about an employee that I think left his office in 2004. And I would direct you to them for additional statements on that.

Q: But is this something that concerns you guys?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if it was in that. I would -- again, I'd -- I think I would -- this obviously is somebody who has left his employment quite some time ago.

In terms of your second question, I think the President understands -- we've seen more statistics, more layoffs -- that our failure to act, our failure to take action that is bold enough to meet the challenges that our economy faces will simply result in far greater job loss for the American people.

Without a significant stimulus, over the next three years our administration estimates we could lose an additional 5 million jobs. Some economists as recently as a couple of weeks ago -- Mark Zandi, his estimate without a significant stimulus would result over the next three years in a loss, an additional loss of nearly 6.5 million jobs.

The President understands, and the American people expect us to take decisive and bold action to meet those challenges. Secondly, I think he said this in his remarks today, doing -- continuing the policies that got us where we are today aren't a recipe for getting us where we need to be tomorrow.

Q: It looks like he feels a need to ramp up the rhetoric a little bit. Why is that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think he understands that the challenges are great. The expectations by the American people, that we act in a way that helps the economy and puts people back to work, weigh on him -- and I assume others in this town -- greatly each and every day.

Our failure to do something in size and scope commensurate with the challenges that we have, we'll find ourselves worse off than where we are now. We have to take those bold steps. I think that, and the President believes, that we're closer in agreement than we probably are in disagreement. As I've said here, many of the complaints, some of the complaints have been about very narrow sections of this legislation. The President met today with, and continues to meet with, Democrats and Republicans here. I'm not entirely sure what that music is, but -- (laughter) -- we appreciate that, as well.

Q: Hold music. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: We continue to reach out to find the necessary consensus to bring the two sides together. Again, that's our challenge based on the size and the scope of the problems that we have. But more importantly, that's what Americans expect us to do, to stop the meaningless back-and-forth, and instead get something for the American people that creates jobs, puts people back to work, puts money in their pockets, and creates lasting long-term economic growth for this country. To do anything less would be to fail the American people.

Jeff.

Q: Robert, two questions on a related issue. First -- (laughter) -- in contrast.

MR. GIBBS: Extra -- you get extra for that. (Laughter.)

Q: First, on the executive pay announcement today, is there any concern in the administration that this might backfire, that banks or other companies that actually should be asking for money or need the money would avoid asking because they don't want to follow these rules? And the second question, the President mentioned that Secretary Geithner will be announcing details next week on further financial regulation. Can you give us a flavor for what we can expect, specifically --

MR. GIBBS: Nice job. (Laughter.)

Q: I mean, can we -- thank you. Can we expect a done deal, or are there things that he will be negotiating with Congress on -- will there be numbers --

MR. GIBBS: Let me take the second one first. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of Secretary Geithner on this. Obviously we're going to outline a series of proposals and principles and ideas that no doubt will be -- we will continue to work with members of Congress about. I think you've heard me say any number of times what a lot of those principles will be.

One of those principles is what the President and the Secretary spoke about today, which was how do the American people feel confident in a financial system where they become -- through extraordinary assistance -- a lender to a bank in order to stay healthy in this financial system.

The President and the Secretary spoke about the need to ensure that confidence in the American people by ensuring that as these banks come hat in hand to the American taxpayers, that the American taxpayers are reasonably assured that executive compensation isn't excessive.

As the administration officials that briefed you all earlier said, obviously there are a few tiers to this program, and that the correct balance they believe was struck in ensuring that banks that need that extraordinary assistance will get that, we will not see catastrophic changes in our financial system -- but when they do that, that there's a responsibility that they have to ensure to the American taxpayers that they're not wasting their money or that it's not going to line the pockets of people or executives that might have gotten a bank to the point that it is now.

At the same time we want to ensure that access to greater capital ensures that banks that are more healthy can lend money to the American people and to small businesses, and that that not be overly punitive. The policy I think stuck that right balance, and we believe will give the American people the confidence that they need in the financial system and as it relates to executive compensation.

We've all seen reports, we've all seen news stories, even in the last 24 hours, about banks that -- as they -- and the practices that they undergo.

Q: But are you worried about backfiring? I guess that was the original --

MR. GIBBS: No, I think we've -- I think we've struck the right balance. I think the American people will have confidence. But I also think we've -- we've given banks the responsibility, but also underscored the ability for them to continue to do what they do and not be scared away. I think that was a balance that had to be struck. We don't want -- we don't want to -- we want to strike that right balance.

Q: Robert, in some of the interviews last night, the President seemed to back off -- pardon me -- earlier commitments to "Buy American" provisions. Is he in favor of "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus, yes or no?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously, Ed, we've got laws on the books relating to "Buy America" -- and thinks that those provisions are important. But he also -- as he said in these interviews -- wants to ensure that -- make sure that we're -- that any legislation that passes is consistent with trade agreements and doesn't signal a change in our overall stance on trade in these economic times.

Q: Well, you were just talking before about how these times are so important; these leaders need to step up, so the American people are listening. Where is the President on this? What balance does he want to strike, then? What does the President want?

MR. GIBBS: The balance he wants to strike is to continue to get our economy going by -- without -- without unnecessarily starting something with trading partners all over the world and global partners that will hinder getting our economy moving again. The President believes we can strike that balance in this legislation.

You've heard the President speak any number of times about we have to be coordinated in the strategies that we undergo, whether it's recovery or stability or regulation, not just here, but throughout the world, in order to meet those collective global challenges. Obviously the President has heard concerns, but believes that a balance can be struck that ensures the laws of our country are upheld, but we can also do that in a way that's consistent with the WTO and trade agreements.

Q: I still don't know where you are, then. Does that mean he wants a "Buy American" provision in this bill or not?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think a provision can be struck that --

Q: And the current one does not strike that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not a trade lawyer. But I think that whatever bill passes the Senate and is ultimately conferenced and signed by the President will strike a balance that ensures that we meet our commitments in global trade agreements.

Jake.

Q: Robert, two questions, one on the stimulus and one on the executive compensation rules. On stimulus, Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper said that the White House wants to keep the Speaker happy and the traditional Democratic leaders, but they've let them know privately they're not interested in all the pork. Have you guys let --

MR. GIBBS: Repeat that question one more time.

Q: The whole thing?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee recently said that the White House wants to keep the Speaker happy and the traditional Democratic leaders, but they've let them know privately -- the White House has let the Democrats in the House know privately they're not interested in all the pork. Has the White House conveyed to the Democratic leaders in Congress that you're not interested in all the pork? And then I have a follow-up.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President continues to meet with members of both parties to try to get the very strongest bill possible. I think he said yesterday in his interviews that no doubt that this legislation will undergo changes in order to get the strongest bill possible.

I'm not going to get into private conversations, every private conversation the President has. But suffice to say he wants a bill that will get the economy moving again and get the strongest bill possible.

Q: Okay. And about the executive compensation rules, the Merrill Lynch bonuses, the Citigroup jet, the Wells Fargo retreat -- these rules would not prevent any of those from happening.

MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I will get ultimate clarification on this from Treasury officials, but there are provisions in the rules that ensure that some of the items that you mentioned are disclosed or are transparent. And I think in each one of the instances -- you mentioned jets, you mentioned --

Q: The retreat, the Wells Fargo retreat, the Merrill Lynch bonuses.

MR. GIBBS: Right.

Q: The point is you're saying that transparency will --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as it -- I have to check on the Merrill Lynch bonuses, but Citigroup's jet or planned jet purchase and the Wells Fargo retreat at the Wynn, both didn't happen because of the diligent work of many in the reporting of these -- and the outcry that ensued.

You don't have to have a rule or a regulation to ensure that the American people know what to get mad at. You don't need a regulation to have that transparency and accountability put pressure on the actions of companies and executives that change their actions. That's why the President put forward and talked about today a provision that gives shareholders an active voice in the pay and the compensation structure of the companies with which they hold stock.

Twenty-four hours ago we were talking about this retreat at the Wynn for Wells Fargo. The reason we're not actively talking about that today is because that outcry -- without a regulation -- killed the retreat. That by doing -- by having that accountability and that transparency, by putting those expenditures up on a web site for the news media and for the American public to see I think will have a great impact on the behavior of many in business.

Chip.

Q: Thank you, Robert. On the stimulus, do you agree -- and does the President agree -- that if a vote were held today, he would lose; he would not get the 60 votes he needs? And is he now in a position of trying to -- with these one-on-one meetings -- trying to eke out a 60 or 61 or 62 vote --

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- there's people hired here to count votes differently than -- a job description that's different than mine. And I don't know hypothetically what might happen at any given moment.

The President -- as he's done throughout this process and even before he was sworn in -- wants to hear from members about any idea or any concerns they have about what's in any specific package. But I think the thread of what you hear and see from the President is that we have to have a stimulus package and a recovery plan that meets the size and the scope of the challenges that this economy faces. To do less would result in continued far greater job loss than what we're experiencing now.

My hunch is on Friday we're going to get job statistics that show -- without prejudging the numbers that I don't know yet -- you're probably going to see numbers similar to what you saw in November and December. That would be a million and a half jobs in a quarter over a three-month period of time.

Our failure to act and stimulate this economy to create the jobs that are necessary, to lay down those long-term investments, and to provide people with the money they need to meet -- to pay their bills -- if we don't do that, then we're going to see month after month after month continued hurting and pain in the American people. We have to work and act now to ensure that doesn't happen.

Q: What inning are we in now? (Laughter.) And what are the chances of extra innings? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I actually practiced that answer a few days ago, and I forget what I came up with. I would say -- I want to say bottom of the fifth.

Q: How many outs?

MR. GIBBS: Unclear yet if we -- if we're --

Q: I didn't see them clean the infield, though --

Q: Who's on the other team?

MR. GIBBS: The sausage race is the beginning of the next inning. So just stay tuned and we'll -- we'll get --

Q: Starter pitcher, still?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. The starting pitcher is in there, and still throwing -- still throwing nice curve balls, and still got a lot of heat on the fastball. (Laughter.)

Chuck. He set me up for that. I didn't do that on my own. (Laughter.)

Q: On executive compensation, most -- most -- you keep talking about accountability and transparency, and then you just brought up the examples of how the media seem to shame these folks in. And we heard this phrase, "name and shame" quite a bit today. That seems as if people that the President called "shameless" last week are being allowed to go on the honor system. I mean, what is the accountability? You said, accountability. What is the teeth? I mean, what happens if these people violate it? Do we yank the money back? Do we bankrupt the firms? Do we fire the executives? What is the "teeth" part of this executive compensation?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get -- I will get clarification from Treasury on that. But I don't -- I mean, first of all, the beginning and the end of these is not just putting something on a web site. There are real, discernible limits in executive compensation for CEOs and top management for banks that accept an extraordinary amount of assistance from the taxpayers. It caps their compensation. Any additional compensation would have to come in the form of restricted common stock that couldn't be cashed in unless or until the taxpayers are paid back with interest. That's a real deal.

Q: If they violate it, I mean, that's what I mean --

MR. GIBBS: I'll check on whatever -- what the underpinnings of the policy are. But again, let's not minimize -- I don't want to minimize, also as you said correctly, the name and shame provisions in this.

Again, I go back to Jake's question -- the actions of CEOs coming from Detroit to testify about the help that they needed from the taxpayers in the auto industry, their behavior was changed not by some rule or regulation, but by the transparent viewing of their practices. The transparent viewing of the practices of businesses that are involved in receiving assistance from the federal government I think will have a tremendous impact, as it already has, in changing the behavior of individuals, the top management, in banks in general.

Q: Do you feel like there's the -- I mean, because there's not going to be an additional regulatory aspect, it's the same regulators that are monitoring banks --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they said that they'd point you toward the regulators specifically on that. But again, the steps that we're taking will have real, discernible results. Allowing shareholders to have a say in the compensation of CEOs -- I think there's a reason that that has never gotten through both Houses in Washington before. I think people understand -- the rich and powerful understand that it's likely to have a meaningful effect on their compensation.

Q: But then the retroactive -- there's a bipartisan Senate bill that is already -- supposedly making its way through the Senate that would make these rules retroactive to the first TARP. If that gets to the President's desk --

MR. GIBBS: I would -- I will check on that.

Q: How would you compare the President's public tone on the economic stimulus -- the reference to the word "catastrophe," the reference to the elections -- with the private tone that he's using in his jawboning with the senators who have been coming down here?

MR. GIBBS: He doesn't say a lot to us or to others that he doesn't say publicly. I mean, there always has been a consistency in what he says. I think he has walked members through and senators through the price of that inaction; that in addition to the job -- additional job loss you'd see over a three-year period, that likely you'd see our economic output at a trillion dollars less in each of those three years than what our economy is capable of.

You know, we have talked about the size and the scope of economic stimulus packages, but a three trillion dollar gap over a three-year period and what is possible and what is -- what is possible and what will happen in our economy means millions of jobs lost. I think he's been very frank with everybody about the failure to act, the consequences that are involved and the expectations that the American people have related to the action that he expects Congress to take and give him something that he can sign.

Q: How do you plan to deploy these unemployment numbers, the overall number and the state-by-state numbers between now and voting time?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I trust that many people in this room Friday, at or around 8:32 a.m. will write stories based on the release of the numbers at 8:30 a.m.

Q: I mean, do you plan to target districts, states --

MR. GIBBS: There's not a governor that comes to the White House, there's not a senator that comes to the White House that doesn't understand what's going on in their state.

I don't know if you all saw the interview that Charlie Crist gave to -- on TV yesterday. I mean, he understands -- he has an unemployment rate that exceeds the national number. And he has a difference between what -- no Republican has a different viewpoint than what you hear in this town about what's necessary to get this economy moving again; what's necessary to avoid laying off teachers and police officers and sacrificing education and public safety; cutting back on health care, and ensuring that the investment in a state like Florida leads to long-term economic growth.

I think he's -- he mentioned in the interview what the unemployment number was in Florida. I think everybody is aware. And if you look at -- if you look at unemployment numbers and see the change in those unemployment numbers over the course of a year, it's a pretty stunning thing. I was on my computer before I came out here -- I may have the numbers slightly off, but unemployment has risen in the last year in 363 of 369 metropolitan areas that are observed by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics -- 363 out of 369. If that was a base -- if that was a baseball metaphor, that player would likely be in the Hall of Fame.

Hans.

Q: Just on executive compensation, is that $500,000 -- is that going to be indexed to inflation? And then --

MR. GIBBS: I saw that question asked during the background briefing, and we'll look into it.

Q: Okay. And the second part we're just trying to clear up is that for the people in that exceptional -- exceptional category -- for the executives that come there, how many of them will be covered by the $500,000 limit? And who will decide how many executives? Is it more than five? Is it less than five?

MR. GIBBS: So I don't make a mistake, I'll get the answer to that. I don't remember if that's broadened or not to the top 20. But we'll -- I'll get those administration officials.

Q: Okay, so it won't be -- okay, will be firm? It won't be an ad hoc kind of --

MR. GIBBS: I believe that's in the numbers. I just don't remember precisely what it is.

Major.

Q: Thank you, Robert. One on the stimulus, and a follow-up on SCHIP after that, if permissible. You talked about the cost --

MR. GIBBS: Have I ever said no? (Laughter.)

Q: I'll give it a go, we'll see where it leads -- (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Fair enough.

Q: You talked about the cost of inaction. I'd like to ask you a question about the cost of action. The CBO has come out with an analysis of the job creating potential of the Senate bill. You might regard these numbers as the upside of that: 2.8 million to 8.2 million jobs over three years. The cost side, that depends on the multiplier effect that CBO uses on the stimulative effect of the bill. It also says the cost on a per job basis would range from $100,000 to $300,000 for a job created. How valid a metric --

MR. GIBBS: Is that also over a three-year period?

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: That's divided by a three-year period?

Q: According to what I've been -- what I've read in the CBO report, yes.

MR. GIBBS: Okay.

Q: So do you consider that a valid metric? And is that a worthwhile cost for the American people to evaluate as they look at the -- not only the cost of this bill, but in the context of the cost of inaction?

MR. GIBBS: I would go back and look through -- I have not seen that CBO report. And I've seen different people do different math to suit the rhetoric that they said either before or after using those figures. The legislation that is going through -- went through the House and is going through the Senate the President believes is the basis for creating more than 3 million jobs, more than 90 percent of which would be in the private sector.

I think obviously we have advocated, and previous administrations have advocated, for instance, using tax policy to spur job creation. So I think obviously that's -- without getting into the exact numbers, I think obviously using that to create jobs and to lay down the important long-term investments is critical.

But again, I'd go back to -- I don't know that the CBO estimates precisely the cost of inaction. I do know that one of their reports said that you would have a significant -- the economic downturn would be even more significant with the absence of a significant stimulus package. And that's what the President believes has to happen quickly to get the economy moving again.

Q: And on SCHIP, the President will sign the bill turning it into law later this afternoon. The funding mechanism is the $0.68 per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. Two different government surveys show that that disproportionately falls on those who make less than $75,000. Since you obviously believe it's important to have a stable funding mechanism for SCHIP, how concerned is the White House that in a recessionary time, those who make less money will not buy cigarettes, which may have positive healthful effects, but may undermine the funding mechanism for the very program you're trying to expand.

MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously this is a program that we have -- that is expanding. It's not a new program, it's something that we've seen work. I think the genesis is as far back as the mid to late '90s, the balanced budget agreement from 1997. So obviously mechanisms that are in place, policymakers are understanding of the ups and downs of these things, and we believe have calculated accordingly.

The President looks forward to signing that legislation. You'll hear him speak about the importance of the individual Act today in expanding the coverage for children. You'll hear the President underscore the need that we have to make health care more affordable and the need to invest in that affordability to ensure our long-term economic growth.

Q: No concern about the ability to continue to fund this program with a tax of this -- an increase of this size?

MR. GIBBS: I think bipartisan -- strong bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate have spoken to the importance of this legislation and the soundness of the proposal.

Anne.

Q: The President talked yesterday in his interviews about not wanting there to be two standards for people, to understand there shouldn't be -- how then should people understand why it was okay for Timothy Geithner to go ahead in his job, but not Tom Daschle?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday, obviously Senator Daschle made a decision to withdraw his appointment. And as I said yesterday, Mr. Geithner has gone through a process in the Senate that included passage through committee and passage through the full Senate with bipartisan support and is now the Secretary of the Treasury. So I don't --

Q: Is there not a double-standard there? I mean, isn't --

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I -- there's a lot of -- we can look a lot of rearview-mirroring in different decisions, but I think the President probably did what many people don't here in this town a lot, and that's take responsibility and set a very high standard for himself and for this administration.

Jeff.

Q: Robert, as you know, the President -- he said several times in those interviews that he screwed up or he messed up. What exactly does he believe that he screwed up?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- taking, for example, the appointment for HHS, that obviously making health care more affordable is a, as you've heard him talk about a lot for many years, a very important issue to him. He worked on it in Springfield, he talked about it on the campaign trail, and hopes to make a significant impact on that important issue as the President of the United States. He found Senator Daschle, he believed, uniquely qualified to pursue health care reform that would meet many of the goals that he shared, despite making a mistake.

I think in the interest of getting those appointments, the President trumped the principles that he laid out in the campaign. And he took responsibility for that.

Q: Going forward, has he outlined any new objectives or imperatives or ways for the advisors to find a replacement for this position? Will any of the fundamentals change in the job search basically for the new Health and Human Services Secretary?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I spoke yesterday that the President has confidence in the process. Obviously members of the team in this building and across the administration are undertaking the task of looking for a replacement.

Look, the President has set exceedingly high standards for himself and for this administration. You've heard me talk about from this podium the executive order that he outlined -- not my opinion, but the opinion of those that watch -- is a higher ethical standard than any group that's worked in this building in the history of this country.

I don't doubt that there are times that we might not live up to those lofty standards. And I can assume that when that happens, I'll come in here and you can get the sticks and I'll be the piñata. I think that's safe to say. But I will say this: The President believes that setting that standard and reaching high for that standard each and every day is far, far, far better than continuing the way this town has worked and continuing the politics as usual that we've seen for so long.

So he is going to -- he outlined those standards. He asks us every day to meet them. There are days that we won't. But to try to meet those every day far exceeds never trying at all.

Q: Let me ask about the trip tomorrow, if I may, to Williamsburg. Presidents often say something at their first out-of-town presidential trip. President Clinton went to Detroit and did a town meeting. President Bush went to a military base. What is President Obama telling us about his priorities tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Williamsburg has a lofty place in our country's history. I think what he is saying to, whether it's this trip to Williamsburg, or whether it's a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats or Republicans, that he's willing to go anywhere and talk to anybody in order to get a financial -- to get a recovery and reinvestment plan that moves this economy forward. That's his main priority right now.

I don't know that there's any great symbolism in this one, in particular, except that he's working tirelessly each and every day to get a consensus between the parties and to get something that will put the American people back to work, will meet the size and the scope and the challenges that we face, and live up to those expectations.

Q: He's spending a lot of his time on this issue, talking to lawmakers. Is he planning to take it on the road, talk to average Americans outside of Washington?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think he spoke to average Americans last night, sitting here. I think he'll continue to do that. I don't have a travel schedule for the next couple weeks. I know we'll go to Canada and we may take a trip before that. I don't think he -- the President doesn't believe you have to go any certain place to talk about a problem that faces each and every American, wherever they live and regardless of where he is.

Ann.

Q: Is there still an Obama transition staff vetting of potential members of the administration, or is that White House Counsel's Office? And are they going back and looking again at anybody who might still be in the vetting process to see whether there are --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the current confines of that process and whether it's housed -- where it's housed or whether it's in the Counsel's Office or not. As I said yesterday and today, the President has confidence in that process.

Q: And so many of -- several of these individuals have had problems erupt after they've been nominated and after they've been seen by Capitol Hill. Is he still satisfied that each and every nominee that goes before the Senate for confirmation or walks into the White House as a new appointee has been adequately vetted?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously I won't speak to the myriad of qualified appointments that have been -- gone through the rigorous Senate confirmation process and spat out the other end, and placed hands on bibles and occupied jobs. I would refer you to any of the committee chairs with which that process has gone through.

Again, I would reiterate that the President sets a very high bar for anybody that works in this administration, works in this building, or works throughout it. I think he expects nothing less from us.

Peter.

Q: Robert, given that the hardest work of this administration lies ahead in terms of energy and health care legislation, and the snags that we've seen with respect to the stimulus package, does the President need to retool or rework his legislative theme? Does he need to come up with a different legislative approach? I mean, are there any lessons learned --

MR. GIBBS: You guys are -- I just said it's the fifth inning, you guys want to change pitchers. (Laughter.)

As I said, the President didn't think that we were going to come in here and change everything about the way Washington worked in such a short period of time. You can rest assured that we understand that we've not yet marked off all of our to-do's.

But I think the process that the President is undertaking, whether it's stimulus recovery, financial stability, reregulation, energy, health care, any number of issues that are going to land on his plate -- that the process that he's used in reaching out to those, regardless of party, regardless of political philosophy, have served him well throughout his political career, and he means that in what he does right now.

Again, we found that the process has worked and is going forward. I don't -- Mark should be here, he'd tell me the exact day of this administration.

MR. BURTON: Sixteen.

MR. GIBBS: Is it 16? There you go. The amount that's already been done, particularly on a recovery plan, to get it to the process of being through the House and partly through the Senate in a 16-day period I think is something that's rather extraordinary.

No doubt much work remains. Some of the priorities that you mentioned, some of those long-term investments are contained within the recovery plan. And I think that the President will work -- continue to work on each of those over the course of the next four years. But I don't -- I would reject, I guess, overall the premise that somehow something is broken.

Q: Robert, I just wanted to follow on Jeff's question, because the President said in one of his interviews last night that he intends to fix the mistake that he made, make sure it doesn't happen again. What does that mean? What is he going to fix?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he's going to fix -- to build off of what I said to Jeff and others -- in taking responsibility and ensuring that what you may do in this town doesn't trump the principles that he talked about before he got here. The standards that he set out for ethics and accountability are ones that mean a lot to him, and that he'll continue to ensure each of us meets throughout this process. I think that's important to him and it's important to us.

Q: Was it a bad political judgment, or was it just getting overeager to get somebody --

MR. GIBBS: I think I've laid out pretty rigorously what the President was thinking when he made those statements and what he meant.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, the James A. Baker Institute is recommending that the Obama administration defer another lunar shot, and instead focus on energy and climate change. Does the White House have a reaction on that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything particularly from -- I would point you to folks over at NASA. I don't have any particular guidance on that.

Q: Robert, just to get back one more time to the question of what would be fixed, without belaboring it, but --

MR. GIBBS: Why would a third question belabor it? (Laughter.)

Q: Is it a sort of "you know it when you see it" kind of issue with respect to whether there's a particular problem with a potential nominee? Or has the President given specific instructions to staff that there may not be any taxes that haven't been paid ever in someone's career? Or is there anything --

MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President has to enumerate what he expects of us. Many of us have been with the President for quite some time, and I think those that have only been with him for a short period of time can understand the standards that he set out for them and for us and for all of this administration. I don't -- the President doesn't need to write his staff a memo. We understand.

Q: How did the staff come to understand it, though, when it was okay --

MR. GIBBS: Clairvoyance. (Laughter.)

Thanks, guys.

END 3:37 P.M. EST

Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", February 4, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85714.
 
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