|The American Presidency Project|
|• Robert Gibbs|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|February 6, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. How is everybody?
Q: Fine, great. How are you?
MR. GIBBS: Excellent, thank you. I'm good. Just let me get organized here for a second. Before I take some questions today, let me just briefly give you a rundown of the Vice President and the National Security Advisor's trip to the annual Munich security conference. The Vice President left this afternoon to travel to Germany, where he will represent the United States at the 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy. General Jim Jones, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, will also attend the conference.
The Munich security conference is an annual gathering of governmental officials, foreign and defense policy experts, and journalists to discuss transatlantic security issues. Vice President Biden will deliver a message of support from the President for strong partnerships among allies to confront our common security and economic challenges. The President -- the Vice President will speak tomorrow and looks forward throughout the conference to listening to our allies.
And with that, Mr. Feller.
Q: Thanks, Robert. I wanted to ask you a couple questions about the President's tone as he pushes for his economic plan. He said last night that the American people didn't vote for phony arguments and petty politics. And he warned about playing a game of nit-picking, and today warned about partisan posturing. Who specifically does he think is engaging in petty politics?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- let me describe for you what the President is -- is thinking and what he's saying, which is -- I think you see an energized President fighting on behalf of 3.6 million Americans who have lost their jobs since this recession began in 2007. I think you've seen somebody who is warning of the consequences of not acting swiftly, not acting in the size and scope to meet the challenges that millions of Americans face. Any President facing the kind of economic crisis that we are had better be energized on behalf of the American people.
And let me -- I just want to go through for everybody a few of the numbers that we all saw this morning, if I can. In January, as you well know, the economy lost 598,000 jobs. With revisions from the past year, we lost 3 million jobs in this economy. We've lost, as I mentioned a second ago, since the beginning of this recession, which is dated to December of 2007, the economy has lost 3.6 million jobs. That is the biggest 13-month change in employment since 1939, which is the first year these statistics were started. In the last three months alone, this economy has lost almost half, almost 1.8 million of the 3.6 million jobs that have been lost over the 13-month course of this recession. And if you look at these statistics, the rate of acceleration denotes quite clearly that our economy is getting more sick, that the job market is getting worse, and it is accelerating quickly.
Let me give you a few numbers behind those numbers. As I said, the last month the economy lost 598,000 jobs. That is the equivalent of losing every job in the state of Maine. In the past two months, the economy lost 1.2 million jobs. That's basically losing every job in Pittsburgh or in Cleveland. In the past three months, the economy has lost 1.8 million jobs, as I said. That's the equivalent of losing every job in Connecticut or South Carolina. And in the past four months, the economy has lost 2.2 million jobs, which is basically losing every job in the state of Louisiana.
This President is energized on behalf of the millions of Americans that have lost their job or are facing getting that pink slip tomorrow or next week or next month.
Q: I understand your point that he's energized, but what about this question of petty politics? How does that language help get a bill passed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it helps frame for the American people the argument that's being had in Washington right now -- a Washington that is reminded at least today of the sobering statistics that its government prepares to denote the pain that real Americans are feeling each and every day. I think we've seen arguments throughout the past few weeks and certainly the past week denoting maybe that we don't have to act as quickly as the President believes we should. Maybe we shouldn't take on the challenges that our economy presents and the unemployment that are facing millions of Americans. Maybe we can either go slow or do nothing. Or maybe we can go back to completely using the failed policies of a different era that largely landed us where we sit today. I think that's what the President is talking about, and I think he'll continue to talk about this weekend and next week.
Q: The President did make pretty clear his distress about the latest economic numbers. And now you've got U.S. automotive suppliers are saying that they need emergency funding to the tune of up to $25 billion to keep themselves out of bankruptcy. Can you confirm that the administration is talking with automakers and their suppliers to -- about giving them access to a U.S. Treasury rescue program?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- I will check with Treasury about any additional assistance. Obviously automakers are receiving some assistance approved by the previous administration. I talked yesterday about the desire, obviously, by this President to see an economy that's strong enough to get the automakers and the auto suppliers who are important in that chain back up on their feet and producing jobs.
We look forward, obviously, to the automakers' presentation of their plans on February 17th about going forward in that manufacturing industry. No doubt one of the biggest hits in the unemployment figures announced today were those in manufacturing.
Q: Does the deteriorating economic picture make it more likely that the administration will look favorably on the automakers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the deteriorating economic picture underscores the President's desire to meet those challenges with a robust recovery and reinvestment plan that will create the jobs that we've lost -- save and create the jobs that we've lost and move our economy forward.
Q: The President has talked about this sense of urgency. And so I'm wondering, in light of these new numbers, is there now a sense of desperation? Something more urgent?
MR. GIBBS: For millions of American people, no doubt.
Q: But for the President? I mean, does he -- is this a desperate situation where he really has to get this done?
MR. GIBBS: I -- the President --
Q: -- desperation.
MR. GIBBS: The President believes that we are facing dire consequences; that our failure to act will likely result in, as he has said numerous times this week, economic catastrophe. I've said from this podium that our failure to act is likely to see 5 million more jobs lost than without a stimulus; that without an economic recovery and reinvestment plan, the economy is likely to see, in each of the next three years, $3 trillion in total -- a trillion dollars each year -- deficit in what this economy is producing and what it could produce.
Many of these statistics, though, are not new to the American people. And I think there's absolutely no doubt that we must act quickly to get legislation moved forward in this process, to get a final piece of legislation to the President, so that the assistance that the American people need can quickly get out the door and start creating jobs and putting millions of people that have lost those jobs back to work.
Q: Second question. Last week, after we had the -- or earlier this week, I guess -- time moves by so quickly -- in the old vetting process, you mentioned that the President was very happy with the vetting process. But we saw in The Washington Post this morning that Greg Craig would be heading that up -- apparently a change, I would guess. Has there been a change made in the vetting process?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: The President later today is going to be meeting with a bunch of families of terrorist victims. A lot of the people he's going to be meeting with take issue with his decision to stop the military commissions. They say that it's been through an extensive legal and legislative review, the Supreme Court has weighed in, and they don't understand what concerns the President has in this process. Could you explain what are some of the concerns the President has specifically about the military commissions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the main concern that the President has is the military commission's failure to bring those in detention to swift justice.
The President invited family members -- families of those that were killed in -- first in the USS Cole incident in 2000, and next in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, and wants to discuss his plan to bring about changes in Guantanamo that he believes will make this country safer and bring about the very same swift justice that they desire on behalf of those that they know that have been killed.
Q: I'm sorry, how does delaying or even renewing the trials make it any swifter?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- the act that the Cole families are disappointed -- the act that the Cole families were affected by happened in 2000. We've not yet seen justice brought now in 2009 to Mr. al-Nashiri. Judge Crawford withdrew the charges without prejudice to reinstatement of those charges. Mr. al-Nashiri remains in detention. And her decision brings all cases into compliance with the executive order that the President issued.
But I think if you look at the number of those awaiting justice and those that have gone through the process, I think you'll see quite clearly that very few -- very few have been brought to justice.
The discussion that the President looks forward to having today is part of the ongoing process with how to move forward. I don't believe that the families affected by the terrorist incident with the USS Cole have -- have seen -- they certainly haven't seen this President; I don't believe they saw the last President, either. And the President thought it was important to listen to their very personal cares and their concerns about anything that's involved in this process.
Q: The arraignment of al-Nashiri was supposed to be Monday. Because of the executive order, the President -- Crawford suspended the charges. I still don't understand, and -- how this is going to make the justice any swifter. I understand the cases that haven't been heard -- that's justice delayed.
MR. GIBBS: Without getting into some of the specific aspects of this case, I think the President believed that the best course of action going forward to bring about the justice that both he and the families seek in this case was to go through the very process that Judge Crawford has done in the executive order that the President has signed.
Q: Thank you. In days past, when we asked you whether he was going to take this effort to sell the stimulus on the road, you told us there weren't any plans to do that. Now it appears he is going to do that over the next week.
MR. GIBBS: You're ruining my -- you're previewing my week ahead. I spent all this time --
Q: Oh, sorry about that. (Laughter.) But it now appears he is going to be hitting the road. And is that a change in strategy because there's a sense that you're kind of behind where you wanted to be at this point?
MR. GIBBS: No. Let's move quickly to a couple of things on the week ahead. (Laughter.) Without objection from Mr. Feller.
I'll describe a couple of places that he'll travel to next week. On Monday, the President will travel to Elkhart, Indiana, and do a town-hall meeting about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, before doing a press conference on Monday night from the White House. Elkhart, Indiana, has, over the course of the past year, watched its unemployment rate go from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Fort Myers, Florida, also for a town hall about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, and return later that evening to Washington. Fort Myers, Florida's unemployment rate one year ago was 6 percent. Its unemployment rate, according to the latest statistics, is 10. And keep in mind that both of those unemployment rates are factored off of the previous month's unemployment rates. State and metropolitan areas aren't figured out until later than the national average. So I doubt that it is likely that in either Elkhart, Indiana, or in Fort Myers, Florida, the unemployment rate has gotten better for citizens either in those areas or in those states.
I think this is another chance for the President to talk directly to the American people about what he thinks is at stake. Watching millions lose their jobs, and having in front of Congress -- and hopefully in front of him soon -- a plan to save or create millions more jobs and get people back to work, putting money in people's pockets, getting help for state and local governments so they don't have to lay off firefighters or teachers or police officers.
I think going directly to where the problems seem even more acute are important to the President, and important in his effort to convince Congress to move swiftly.
Q: You've got the very -- I don't know if you'd agree with the characterization -- but campaign-style speech he gave last night; he's got the press conference; you've got Elkhart, Indiana; you've got Fort Myers, Florida. As one Democrat --
MR. GIBBS: Sounds like the good old days, doesn't it?
Q: As one -- exactly. As one Democrat on the Hill described it to me, he's "pulling out all the stops." And that's not all it is. Is that a fair characterization? And is that because you're not where you want him to be on this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think we're where we want to be, because there is not a bill that has the President's signature affixed to it and assistance out the door to help Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers and millions of other Americans that are affected by this.
I think you'll see the President, as he's done even before he was sworn in, work tirelessly to move this process step by step forward until we get a plan that will put people back to work. The one number that he's concerned about in all this is: Can we create 3 or 4 million jobs -- save or create 3 or 4 million jobs and put people back to work? That's the number that he's focused on, as I'm sure that's the number that people in Elkhart, Fort Myers, and many other towns across America are focused in on each and every day.
Q: Based on the speech last night and sort of by the tone over the last 24 hours, does the White House or the President sort of feel like they've allowed themselves -- you allowed yourself to get too bogged down in trying to win Republicans over and sort of forgot to just get the thing passed?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think by math or calculus, whichever you want to use, it's going to take Republicans to get something passed.
Q: Do you believe it does?
MR. GIBBS: Well, if I believe that it takes 60 votes in the Senate, I --
Q: I mean, if it doesn't --
MR. GIBBS: -- I would assume that --
Q: If it doesn't take 60 in the Senate, then you don't need Republican support.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- you know, I -- look, I long ago tried to stop understanding the ways of Congress. And I know --
Q: Join the club. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I don't know the specific answer. I've been left with the impression that the Republicans would like to see the other side produce 60 votes, and that's what we're working on and preparing to do. And to do that, obviously, is going to require the help of like-minded Republicans who understand the consequences of inaction and what delay means.
Q: You just used the phrased "like-minded Republicans." So you're interested in Republicans that agree with this stimulus package, not necessarily changing the package so much that it gets --
MR. GIBBS: I think it is safe to assume that we would like like-minded Republicans to support the legislation in order to move the process forward to help millions of Americans. Whether -- I don't -- I'll leave the names to you. We're happy to talk to any of them, and the President continues to reach out to anybody that wants to move this process forward.
Q: Who are the town halls open to? Who are the audience going to be?
MR. GIBBS: The public.
Q: You're not going to -- so, first come, first serve, or how is that --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the tickets will be distributed, but we've never -- I've watched the President do town halls from 2004 through 2008, and the audience has never been hand-picked, and neither have the questions. And we're not going to start any of that on Monday.
Q: Robert, I've lost track what inning we're in, but does the --
MR. GIBBS: We'll have more of that next week. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the President take any responsibility for the process not farther along than it is?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand where the process is, without -- I will save the baseball metaphors for next week, even though it's Friday.
We have a process that watched the President get sworn in on the 20th, watched a process that's gone through half of the legislative branch, and, I think with a little hard work, likely to make it through the other part of the executive -- I'm sorry, the legislative branch maybe as early as today, then we're working on ironing out some differences and getting something that both sides can equally agree on and get something to the President's desk.
Without telling you what inning it's in, I think the score is strong for the home team.
Q: So he's happy with everything he's done up to now?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q: Robert, a couple --
MR. GIBBS: Of course.
Q: -- no surprise to you.
MR. GIBBS: The only surprise was it is only a couple. (Laughter.)
Q: Flexible --
MR. GIBBS: I understand it's --
Q: On the Senate floor just a few minutes ago, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California -- a state that's lost, as she said, a fair share of jobs in this bad economy -- said, "I reserve the right, at the end of the day, to vote against this package that I don't think puts those jobs out there." Getting back to the first question, who's playing petty politics? Is she, specifically, or anyone who's not yet sold on this package at the moment, playing petty politics or pushing old, tired arguments and ideas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know what her arguments are for coming to that. I know the President's argument for moving the process forward is a piece of legislation that will save or create those 3 to 4 million jobs that I talked about.
Q: Is there an "us versus them" dynamic being played out here rhetorically for the President?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't think so. Again, the President is going to work each and every day energetically on behalf of the millions of Americans that have lost their jobs, the millions of Americans that are looking toward this town to work across party lines to get something done, to move that process forward, and to get the help that Americans both deserve and expect will happen. That's what the President is focused on.
We've touched on this many of the days that I've been out here, different speeches and different sayings and different amendments. The President looks forward to the Senate moving this process forward, and I think you'll see, at that point, that we'll be very close to a package that can meet the President's priorities and move this economy forward.
Q: Question on Russia. The Deputy Prime Minister said today that Russia would not install anti-ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad if President Obama did not pursue the construction of a missile shield. As the President evaluates that policy choice, where is he and how does this statement from the Russian Deputy Prime Minister affect those deliberations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this administration will be candid with the Russians when we disagree, but seeks a deeper and greater cooperation on issues of mutual national interest. The President's position on those missiles are if they're -- if they are technologically capable and effective and make sense from a fiscal standpoint, then it's something that he'll look at. So obviously any sense of -- without commenting specifically on what he said -- any sense of greater cooperation from Russia is something that we want to foster and we look forward to continuing to work with them on mutual areas of agreement.
Q: One last one. Has the White House moved the control of the Census Bureau into the White House for the purposes of the 2010 census, and if so why?
MR. GIBBS: No, the -- I think the historical precedent of this is there's a director of the census that works for the Secretary of Commerce, the President, and also works closely with the White House, to ensure a timely and accurate count. And that's what we have in this instance.
Q: Robert, can I look ahead to Monday and the rollout of the financial rescue package rewrite -- is this just about changing or clarifying, improving the rules for the second half of the existing program, or are you going to be on that asking for more money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of Secretary Geithner's speech on Monday, or to prejudge what amounts may or may not be necessary to stabilize our financial system.
The most important thing, as we move forward on the second amount of money to stabilize the system is that we do it differently than the way it's been done before. You all saw reports today from Elizabeth Warren's commission about the valuation of assets and the money that the government paid. We had an announcement at the White House that pertains to the way executives are compensated, that receive an extraordinary amount of assistance from taxpayers to keep their banks going.
We hope that the next set of money will also -- money that banks get will be money that banks lend to businesses large and small, and to families, and that we will also begin to address the burgeoning home foreclosure crisis that affects so many out in America.
All of those will be proposals that, in some form or another, will be contained in what the Secretary talks about -- has talked about and will talk about on Monday and will talk about going forward.
Q: But you're not able to say, at this point, whether Monday is going to include a call for additional money, whether or not it's further down the road.
MR. GIBBS: I don't have -- I have not read the speech, and I wouldn't get ahead of Secretary Geithner as it relates to that, even if I had.
Q: When I asked you the question about traveling yesterday, you said the President was confident that his message about the stimulus plan was getting through. You said he'd made his points clear through interviews and other things. What changed from yesterday at this hour till right now, in terms of traveling to Elkhart, a place that has unemployment problems, and Fort Myers?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- the President wants to extend that conversation and continue it directly with the American people. We can do it here; we can do it there. We're going to do it in -- I was going to do a Dr. Seuss but I decided not to. (Laughter.)
Q: A horse is a horse.
MR. GIBBS: Be careful. The -- you know, I think the President looks forward to getting out of town for a few hours and talking directly with people that are affected. He has spent time here working through the process of creating and moving forward an economic recovery and reinvestment plan, whether it's interviews that happen here and are heard elsewhere.
I think this is just a continuing effort by the President to demonstrate what he's fighting for and why it's so important for the American people.
Q: Has that message not gotten through up until this point?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the message has. And I think we've made significant progress through the legislative process. I think whether it's today or the next few days, we'll make -- we'll take more important steps toward moving this thing forward. And certainly given today's numbers, it's important to go directly to where people are hurting -- whether it's Indiana or whether it's Florida -- and discuss directly with them the price of inaction and what he thinks we can do to put people back to work and invest long term in what will help grow our economy for years to come.
Q: Robert, is he going to take members of Congress with him on this trip? And are these trips aimed at those members of Congress, either who go with him or coming -- back in Washington?
MR. GIBBS: You can imagine the plane that we -- that I traveled on last night, and will travel on Monday or Tuesday, is a popular mode of transportation. I believe and I hope that members of Congress and members of the Senate will travel with the President on each of those trips.
This is not designed specifically to cajole or -- any member of Congress. It's an effort for the President to talk to the American people about what's at stake.
Q: Can I ask you a separate question?
MR. GIBBS: Major already did, but sure. (Laughter.)
Q: Following his lead. On the Supreme Court, can you talk about the kind of mechanisms that are in place to think about a potential retirement or two down the road?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think it would be inappropriate for me to get ahead of anything like that. I spoke yesterday that the -- obviously the President's thoughts and prayers were with Justice Ginsburg and her family right now. I believe a little later this afternoon the President is going to talk to her. I'll try to get a readout from that, but I don't want to get too far down the road.
Q: The President I understand is planning to go to Chicago. Can you say --
MR. GIBBS: (Laughter.) Are you guys -- can I not make any news from up here? (Laughter.)
Q: Can you say what he's planning to do? Does he have public events? And will he be staying in Hyde Park?
MR. GIBBS: I believe he will be staying in Hyde Park. The week ahead is going to be, like, a few days in the future. Next Friday he will work here in the morning and the afternoon, and then sometime late afternoon/early evening will travel to Chicago and spend the weekend there. I would assume it's Hyde Park; I will double-check. The only plans I know of is I'm sure the President and the First Lady will go out for Valentine's Day. And even if I knew where they were going, I wouldn't tell you until next week. But no, they definitely -- they'll spend the weekend -- I don't know whether, in all honesty, departure is -- from Chicago back here is Sunday yet or Monday.
Q: How is the White House responding or how do you respond to the concerns of African American and Latino officials about Judd Gregg being in charge of the census given in the past he's not always supported additional funding for the census and they believe that isn't -- doesn't have sufficient concerns over making sure everybody is counted?
MR. GIBBS: I think everybody can be assured that any person that is picked by the President to work for this President implement the views of this President. And President Obama obviously is -- believes that we have to, for a lot of reasons, have a fair and accurate count during the next census. And that's, as President of the United States, exactly what he intends to do.
Q: Will the White House involvement with the census office be -- is that partly to ensure that that indeed happens?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- I think any -- any cooperation with that is historical in nature.
Q: You spoke about cajoling a moment ago. This weekend there are going to be economic recovery house meetings conducted by Organized for Obama -- for America, which is a continuation of Obama for America. Does the President want to see the people who attend those meetings, and the 13 million other names on the mailing list, actually pick up the phone and lobby members of Congress to pass the stimulus bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- the President has spoken often about the continued involvement not just of those that were involved with his campaign and election in November, but all over the country -- weigh in on matters involving them and their government. It's often said you -- the government you get is equal to the government that you participate in. I think he hopes that regardless of your opinion that people participate actively in decisions that affect them and their neighbors, particularly on an issue as important as moving this economy forward.
Q: But will he make an explicit call? You may be too young to remember when Reagan did this twenty -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: You're very kind to say such a thing.
Q: But he gave speeches on TV in which he tasked voters, those who supported --
MR. GIBBS: I remember the rabbit ears. (Laughter.)
Q: It was in color back then, too. (Laughter.) But he gave speeches asking people to pick up the phone and call their members and make an explicit demand to pass this legislation. I mean, rather than just saying that it's good that people participate and are engaged, will the President --
MR. GIBBS: I think it would be safe to assume that the President will ask those that support him, or supported him in November, to continue to support his efforts as part of a recovery plan to move this -- to move this economy forward.
Q: Robert, back on unemployment numbers, overall 7.6 percent, but then there's a breakdown -- Hispanics, 9.7 percent; then African Americans or blacks, 12.6 percent. Now, are Hispanic and African American leaders being briefed by this White House or are these groups in any way vested in the job creation component of the stimulus package?
MR. GIBBS: They looked at last night when he went to speak to the House Democratic Caucus -- I think it's safe to say that the President and his staff have been in touch with many members of Congress about -- you already look like you don't like my answer. (Laughter.) I haven't even finished it.
Q: No, I know that you talk to Congress, but I'm not just talking Congress; I'm talking the broad-based community. There are more leaders -- African American/Hispanic leaders -- than just the Congress.
MR. GIBBS: Sure. They were -- some of them were here today as part of the President's new advisory board for the economic recovery -- CEOs that have been here, mayors that have been here, governors that have been here, interest groups that have been here. This White House is reaching out, as I've said many times, to anybody and everyone who wishes to work toward a process and a proposal that will get this economy moving again and creating the millions of jobs that we need to save or create to replace the millions that we've lost.
Q: Do you believe that the black community and the Hispanic community are vested in this?
MR. GIBBS: I do. I think those numbers demonstrate that -- their involvement in the economy. They understand the crisis that -- that they understand the crisis that our economy is in. And they are anxious to see Washington move forward and get something done.
Q: Robert, is the President already feeling cooped up in the White House? (Laughter.) You said today that the President looks forward to getting out for a few hours. When he was at the charter school the other day, he told the kids that he likes getting out of the White House.
MR. GIBBS: Safe to say. (Laughter.) Look, you know, some of you have covered him and some of you haven't. But he's a bit of a restless soul. His idea of a crazy day is to take a long walk.
Q: A long walk where? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: In solitude and isolation, April. (Laughter.)
Q: Out there?
MR. GIBBS: No. On Saturday, the First Family will go to Camp David, and stay overnight before returning on Sunday.
Q: Somebody was going to ask about that. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You know, I feel like we're playing the Jeopardy version of the week ahead. And so far I'm at "Camp David for $600." (Laughter.) So I don't know if there's anything else that I have to announce. I'm just going to go ahead and do this. Let's just go ahead and do this. Hold on, hold on, hold on.
On Wednesday, the President will be in Washington, D.C. (Laughter.) As you know, on Thursday he will travel to Springfield, Illinois, and travel back that night. Also on Wednesday, the Vice President will visit a school in Northern Virginia to talk about and highlight the recovery package that is moving through Congress. I feel like we just did the whole grand finale and -- yes, sir.
Q: On some of the spending cuts that they're considering in the Senate, including on the schools -- you mentioned the Vice President going to a school on Wednesday -- does the President feel, possibly because of the PR hits that the package is taking and the fact that it's going down a little bit in the polls, that it would be better off with the kind of cuts that the bipartisan group is likely to come up with? Would he prefer that it be slimmed down in that way, or does he want to -- would he want that amendment to be defeated?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're not going to get -- as I said yesterday, these -- President Obama and Vice President Biden have traded their old jobs for new ones. We're not going to get involved in what the -- each and every move that the Senate is doing. As I said earlier, the President's -- the number the President is focused on right now and every day moving forward is the number of jobs that a piece of legislation and a proposal to help this economy recover are the number of jobs it can create. That's what he's focused on.
We will have the process move forward. We look forward to that happening. But our focus is on what that recovery plan will do to put the millions of people that have already received pink slips back to work.
Q: I want to try again to ask a question that's sort of been asked before --
MR. GIBBS: Camp David?
Q: No. (Laughter.) Is it -- does the President or do you see a tension between the President's goal of bipartisanship and the need to get something done urgently? And I wonder, as the economy is deteriorating at a rapid -- more rapid rate, whether that is going to necessarily impede that first goal that was more pronounced in the first couple weeks here –
MR. GIBBS: Your first goal being the bipartisanship?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the -- again, I think today's numbers underscore, partly because of the math involved in the Senate and partly because of the math involved by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, that we do -- we work in a bipartisan fashion to get something done quickly. I don't think there has to be an either/or mentality to this, and neither does the President. In order to get something moved forward, we're going to have to work with Democrats and Republicans.
But the statistics today underscore more than ever, more than last month, more than the month before that, and certainly taken in total through the course of this recession, we see a jobs market that is deteriorating rapidly and that pace is accelerating; that we have to do -- and this Congress and this President have to do what is necessary now to move the process forward and to get this economy back on track.
Q: Thanks. Robert, it's a Guantanamo follow-up, and I'm wondering -- there's a controversy right now in Britain and I'm wondering whether President Obama or the administration is planning to release or allow Britain to release some classified documents that are related to the alleged torture of a British resident held in Guantanamo -- what you can tell us about that, whether it's been resolved or not.
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any information on that, but I can do some checking.
Q: Is the President concerned that the Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan could be a proliferation risk now he's been released from house arrest? And will he renew the U.S. request for him to be interviewed by U.S. intelligence agencies?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we've seen the reports of the release, but have not received -- have yet to receive official word from the government. Obviously this President has made clear many times the great concern that he has about nuclear proliferation, and as we hear from the government about these reports, obviously the President and this government want assurances that Dr. Khan is not involved or engaged in any of the activity that resulted in his house arrest earlier.
Q: Robert, you mentioned on Guantanamo earlier, I think in response to Jake's question, that the President's main concern was that there be swift justice there. My recollection from the campaign, though, was that his main concern was that it was a fundamentally unfair process. Is that still his concern, that this process that was going forward, the military commissions, were going to be unfair to the accused down there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the process has resulted in a failure to move forward and bring about that justice. The President also has -- believes that the detention facility there has not made us safer. In signing the executive order, the President discussed first his primary responsibility to the American people, which is to keep them safe; second, to underscore and understand our values in keeping this country safe; and finally, to do all that we can to protect the men and women that protect our freedom each day. He thought the best way to ensure all of those things was through the executive order that set up a process by which detainees would be evaluated and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay would be closed.
Q: So his main concern was not that people's rights were being violated?
MR. GIBBS: I think his concern was that the American people weren't seeing the swift justice that they deserved.
Q: Robert, you like to say you like to step back on issues. On the --
MR. GIBBS: And if Mr. Feller said "thank you," that's when I probably would have stepped back. (Laughter.)
Q: On the legislation, notwithstanding the President's efforts, he did not attract a single Republican in the House and he's having lots of difficulty getting any Republican support in the Senate. What lesson do you draw from that?
MR. GIBBS: As I've said earlier, that sometimes old habits die hard, that changing the ways that the town works won't happen in the first three weeks of the administration. But I think the lesson the President has always drawn in his career is that we can disagree about ideas or policies without being disagreeable, and that the best way to move forward is by working together across party or ideological differences to get something done for the American people.
Q: Was it another lesson that this sort of fist in the velvet glove approach -- last night, his change in tone was pretty tough.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President's tone denotes the economic crisis that we face. Whether it was unemployment claims yesterday, or unemployment numbers today, or numbers that will come in the future, I think they underscore the real need for us to work together, move the process forward, get something on the President's desk so that the help that the American people need will get to them as quickly as possible.
You have a news conference question? Yes.
Q: Exactly. First of all, thank you so much for letting us know in advance. I mean that. And I hope you'll continue that pattern.
MR. GIBBS: We expect the quality of questions will be directly influenced by the amount of time with which you have to prepare. (Laughter.)
Q: It really, really is very, very helpful. What will the format be? Will there be an opening statement? How long will it last? And will the President ask questions from a seating chart, the way the last President did?
Q: She wants a question. (Laughter.)
Q: I do.
MR. GIBBS: As if you don't, April. (Laughter.)
I don't have exact timing. It's at 8:00 p.m. The President will give and deliver an opening statement before taking questions. You're ahead of me on the seating chart, but we'll have -- the press advance guys will have more information on that. But he will make an opening statement on the recovery plan.
Q: Is he going to do it in the East Room, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it's in the East Room.
Q: It's Friday, let's ask about the raccoons. Have you found the raccoon?
MR. GIBBS: I should have Bill do this, because he's our chief deputy spokesperson for wildlife. (Laughter.) Actually, right before we came out here, Bill got on a phone in my office and asked for -- literally, asked for a raccoon update. (Laughter.) There are a few that roam in my backyard, so I don't -- I don't have any particular tips, and no raccoons that I know of have been caught or dispersed in other places in Washington.
Q: Are they looking for acorns? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Or stimulus votes.
Q: Thank you.
END 2:27 P.M. EST
|Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", February 6, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85744.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project