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
March 2, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:11 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. How are you guys? How was your commute? This might be what the President considers a serious snowstorm. (Laughter.) So if I wanted to get ahead of any potential question -- (laughter.) My son is exceedingly excited that his school is closed.

So I'll start, take a few questions. Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, the stock market is way down, as you know, again today, at levels not seen in more than a decade; construction spending is off; $300 billion more is being sent toward AIG, which had --

MR. GIBBS: Thirty billion.

Q: -- $30 billion, I mean -- which has very big losses. And I'm wondering if all of this doesn't argue for perhaps a more rapid and even more radical intervention in the banking system, in the financial system.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there's no doubt that the economy is, as the President has talked about extensively, in very bad shape. It's a crisis that spreads not just in this country, but throughout the world. I think a lot of the news today stems from bad news overseas, economically.

But the President believes, and the team is working hard every day to do all that we can to get the economy moving again. That's why we demanded that Congress work expeditiously on a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that we're now in a process of beginning to implement. We're working on renewed financial stability. Meetings started last week on financial reregulation. And we'll see Prime Minister Brown tomorrow, and continue those conversations as we lead into the London economic summit in order to not just do something -- not just have one economy and one country do something, but everybody on the world stage act together to improve our economy.

Look, as it relates to -- I think AIG is a little bit -- is separate, and let me take that separately. The Treasury Department and others felt that the systemic risk of doing nothing was simply unacceptable. Today's actions further continue allowing the process of orderly -- the orderly restructuring of AIG. Their management, as you all know, was replaced in November. We're focused on taking the steps necessary to restructure AIG so that it, in the long run, no longer poses the type of systemic threat that it poses right now. And I think today's actions were critical in that restructuring.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, following up on AIG, does the government feel or does the administration feel that this is the last time this will have to happen, or will there be another bailout coming? And secondly, more broadly, how do you determine which companies to rescue and which not to rescue?

Warren Buffet, I don't know if you saw his comments this weekend, said that --

MR. GIBBS: You'll be surprised to know I'm not on the Berkshire-Hathaway mailing list, but yes -- (laughter.)

Q: Yes, I'm not, either. He's written about a lot.

He said that it's easier for a crippled bank with government backing to get credit than it is for a Triple A-rated company. Is the government picking winners and losers?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- let me take the second part of that. Let me first state I'm not going to quarrel with Warren Buffett on the economy, for any number of reasons.

But I do think it's important to understand that -- and you've heard me say this a number of times -- that the way things have been done, specifically about financial stability and restructuring, we're looking at doing differently. I think that's why you'll see announcements this week -- and you saw some preparation and statements on this in the President's speech to Congress about changing -- providing more capital for lending for small businesses and families I think along the line of what Mr. Buffett talked about. And I would certainly point you to Treasury and others to go into the specifics of whatever cost-benefit analysis takes place.

But again, I hesitate to build on the question that Steve asked -- you know, I wonder what we'd be talking about today if we let something like an AIG default on the massive amount of debt that it has and what that might do to the economy and to the markets. The President and his team would rather certainly not have to deal with these questions, but we're implementing a plan that we believe will allow, as I said, for the orderly restructure of how AIG does business in a way that it does not pose the type of threat that it might pose today in the future.

Q: But going back to the original question, do you think -- is this the end, or is there -- will there be more --

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President has said that we'll take steps to ensure that there's not an economic catastrophe. We certainly hope that it is the end, but understand that Treasury is undergoing the process of evaluations to bank health. I think one of the things that's important is to adequately diagnose and understand what risks are out there and the size and the scope of those risks.

Yes, sir.

Q: You say you don't want to quarrel with Warren Buffett. What about Rush Limbaugh? Over the weekend he had some interesting comments -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think he probably knows a lot less about the economy than maybe Warren does. (Laughter.)

Q: The President has spoken a lot about bringing the country together, and after the stimulus fight there was a lot of hand-wringing in both parties about bipartisanship. What is the White House's reaction to Rush Limbaugh saying again that he wants the President to fail, specifically on his economic plans? And how does that bode for bipartisanship in the future, working with Republicans?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the question is a good one. I think that -- I think maybe the best question, though, is for you to ask individual Republicans whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said this weekend. Do they want to see the President's economic agenda fail? You know, I bet there are a number of guests on television throughout the day and maybe into tomorrow who could let America know whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said this weekend.

You know, I mean, I think he -- I mean, I think it would be charitable to say he doubled down on what he said in January in wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country. I can only imagine what might have been said a few years ago if somebody might have said that on the other side relating to what was going on in this country or our endeavors overseas. You know, I'd like to think, and I think most people would like to think, that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people.

I will say, in watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh's speech, his notion of presidential failure seemed to be quite popular in the room in which he spoke.

Q: A quick follow on the omnibus. Last week it was pointed out that a couple of Cabinet secretaries, LaHood and Mrs. Solis, have earmarks in this omnibus from last year, leftover funding. Now it's also been learned that Vice President Biden has -- I think it's $750,000 for the University of Delaware satellite station, and Rahm Emanuel $900,000 for the Chicago Planetarium.

Since the President talked so much about earmarks in the campaign, and as President, about keeping them out of the stimulus -- I know this is leftover business from last year -- but as something that he is either going to sign or veto, why not have earmarks that come from his administration essentially at least taken out to set -- send a signal, number one? And number two, is he -- is there any chance he'll veto this bill and send it back and say, get these earmarks out; there's over 9,000 of them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you saw remarks this weekend by the chief of staff and the budget director about the legislation. Obviously the President is concerned, despite the progress that has been made in this town, about the size and the scope of earmarks that we've seen over the past few years. I think even the most cynical among us would have to at least acknowledge that the number of overall earmarks has been cut.

I think it's important to recognize that a piece of legislation probably twice the size of the piece of legislation that you're asking me about was passed through Congress at the President's direction without earmarks. This is the finishing up of last year's appropriations legislation.

And I think what's most important and what the President would tell you is important here is that though he doesn't control everything that happened before he became President of the United States, that dozens and dozens and dozens of appropriations bills will go through Congress and come to his desk over the course of the next four years. And --

Q: But this incremental reform you're talking --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on. Well, hold on. The President you will see and hear outline a process of dealing with this problem in a different way, and that the rules of the road going forward for those many appropriations bills that will go through Congress and come to his desk will be done differently.

Q: So he'll have a new standard that he's going to lay out for the appropriations bills that will come to his desk that are actually written while he's President?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.

Q: And when is this?

MR. GIBBS: Soon. Yes, sir.

Q: Two questions, one on AIG and one on CIA. AIG, is the administration confident that it knows what happened to the tens of billions of dollars previously given to AIG?

MR. GIBBS: Is it confident -- I'm sorry?

Q: That they know, that you guys know what happened to the previous billions before you hand over this next $30 billion.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, the -- I mean, I don't think it's a -- well, obviously you've got a huge insurance company that is losing money not the least of which because of its sheer size and the sheer size and decrease in the growth in our economy. It experiences a far bigger drop largely because of its size. But again, the steps that -- that Treasury and others took were to ensure a larger systemic problem wasn't one that we had to deal with here today in letting something just die.

Q: But in terms of specifically the -- I guess it's like $150 billion before. You guys are confident that you know --

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. In terms of the CIA, this news today that the CIA had destroyed -- before President Obama took office -- about 92 tapes of interrogations. What's the reaction from the President to this news, and will you guys be trying to find out what happened exactly and perhaps pursuing criminal charges?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not spoken to the President specifically since the news report came around a little while ago. Someone did tell me as part of this that -- because this came out of a criminal case, that there is a pledge to turn over documentation and reasoning around this. That will be done and the President will get a chance to look at some of that.

Obviously -- obviously this is a -- the development is not good; it's sad. And I think the leadership in Mr. Panetta and certainly under the guise of this new administration, we want to give the people that work in the CIA the tools they need to keep us safe, but do so in a way that also protects our values. I think that's why the President outlined so quickly a change in interrogation policies, and said once and for all that torture is not the policy of this country.

Yes, sir.

Q: If I could follow up on Ed's question, I still just don't understand why, if this new policy or these new standards are coming out soon, why not -- why not wait a little while? This is money that's been waiting a long time anyway, this omnibus. Why not just wait --

MR. GIBBS: Well, but --

Q: -- set the new policy, and throw down the gauntlet on this one?

MR. GIBBS: Well, but as you know, Chip, this is a bill that has to be signed for government to continue its functions I think either past Friday or Saturday of this week.

Q: They can always continue --

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate your --

Q: -- as they've been doing for months.

MR. GIBBS: -- and quick progress in the town of Washington, D.C.

But again, I think what is most important here is what the President has done, not just as a senator on this, in increased transparency and accountability. Very few people put their earmarks on the Internet, like he did. Very few people went out there and did and said what he did, in terms of identifying the sponsors, which is I think part of the reason why there's so much information now -- the President thinks that's a good thing -- a bill, as I said, nearly twice the size that was done under his leadership in a way that does not have earmarks in it. And as the dozens and dozens of other bills come forward, we'll do things differently in this town.

Q: But this bill is like a hanging curve over the middle of the plate. He could just knock it out of the ballpark by saying, this is it -- this is it.

MR. GIBBS: I love the baseball analogy. I think you're trying to rope me into -- (laughter.)

Q: He could say, this is it; this is where I'm --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we are regrettably dealing with leftover business, and -- but I think that the American people will be clear about where -- have been clear about where he stands on this, and what we'll do, going forward, to change the rules of the road.

Q: And on Sebelius, obviously you're a long way -- you've got to be, at this point, pretty far along, since you've got the big event this Thursday -- on determining exactly where you're going to go on health care. Does that mean she's left out of the planning process here, and she'll be selling a product that she didn't even have a big role in putting together?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, and I talked about this extensively last week. I think for anybody -- first of all, I think -- for anybody to assume that on Thursday that we're going to have, unfurl and get agreement from all the stakeholders on health care reform going forward, is rosy, even under the scenario that you just outlined about appropriations in this town. I don't think she has to worry that there will be plenty to do on health care reform, going forward.

I don't think she's been left out of this. I think anybody that knows Governor Sebelius, and knows many of the reasons why we -- the President selected and nominated her today is the tremendous understanding of these issues and the managerial skills that she brings to the table in a department that represents a huge portion of the federal government, and an important task and priority as we move forward.

I also believe you'll see many people involved in this effort, and many people involved in the campaign to reduce the cost of health care. This isn't something that's just going to lie with one or two people. You'll see this from throughout the -- throughout and across this government, because, as was said also this weekend, right now the cost of health care is crippling the budgets of many businesses in this country; it's crippling the budgets of many families in this country.

I think the President said in his speech to Congress that every 30 seconds somebody declares bankruptcy in this country because of a medical emergency or an illness, and that if we don't act quickly, that it's going to have that same crippling effect on our national budget through Medicare and Medicaid, unless we begin to tackle the spiraling and out-of-control costs of health care in this country. That's the charge of -- not just of the Secretary-designate, but all the members of his economic team.

Chuck.

Q: Two things. One, why elevate Limbaugh? Is this a political tactic?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I think he elevated himself. He's got, I understand, a fairly popular radio show.

Q: Well, just ignore him.

MR. GIBBS: No -- well, you could, but I think people would ask. Look, I don't think it's a crazy question to ask about the commenting on whether or not somebody that seems to be, maybe for lack of a better word, a national spokesperson for conservative views and many in the Republican Party, what do I think about, or what does this White House think about him, on at least two separate occasions in front of large and applauding audiences seeking the failure of the President's economic agenda.

Q: So we shouldn't view this as a political tactic coming from the White House, looking to pick and choose their enemies?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I control many things. The speaking schedule of Rush Limbaugh, I think he and I would agree, I have very little control over.

Q: Does the President have a direct ask that he's going to make to Prime Minister Brown tomorrow having to do with the economy? You've talked a little bit about simultaneous stimulus and obviously global -- but is there a specific ask of the Prime Minister when he's here that the President is going to make?

MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into before the meeting, and I think you'll have a chance to talk to both of them tomorrow --

Q: Are they taking questions?

MR. GIBBS: We will. This is the fourth in a series of meetings that he's had with leaders representing the G20 in this lead-up to the London economic summit in April. And I've said this before, the President -- last September when we were dealing with the beginning of this -- the beginning of the big market turndown and the economic crisis, the President talked about the G20 acting together.

I think you'll see on the docket tomorrow a longer discussion about the world economy. It's hard to probably pick up a paper here or in England and not deal with many of the same issues. I also expect things like the security situation in Afghanistan and the NATO mission to be part of that, as well.

But as the President said -- the President said in September that we have to act together in helping to stimulate the economies of the G20, as well as ensuring that there's some financial rules of the road so that we don't find ourselves in the same position a few years down the line. And I think those are the topics that are likely to dominate both the meeting and the working lunch that they'll have.

Q: Full-blown press conference, with two and two?

MR. GIBBS: I believe it's going to be some questions. There's not a --

Q: But how many? Two and two?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to all of the logistics at my ready.

Q: When will we know?

MR. GIBBS: Almost as soon as I get out of here. (Laughter.)

Q: Today the President and Kathleen Sebelius both mentioned bipartisanship on the health care -- on health care work. But in the event -- and with the stimulus, both parties had the basic idea that money needed to be spent, taxes needed to be cut to stimulate the economy. On health care, it seems that the parties are fundamentally at odds, that the Republicans are still pressing for a much more market-based approach, not a government-organized health care system. So how do you get bipartisanship on health care? And how do you get the 60 votes, basically, in the Senate?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the process that starts at the White House on Thursday, and as the President talked about throughout the campaign, is an effort to bring stakeholders together to begin to discuss many of these issues. I think the President has said on any number of occasions that though he has ideas, he's anxious to hear other ideas, and if a consensus can be reached around a group of ideas that accomplish the goals of cutting costs and increasing access for millions of Americans, he's more than happy to listen and to adopt those.

But I think it is -- the underpinnings of your question are that we need to have -- and the forum will begin to do that, is to look for the consensus on what can be achieved and how we can do that, because whether you come at this as a small business owner or as a Democrat or Republican in Congress, we've all heard the horror stories of -- like I said, whether it's businesses or families that have seen -- that have gone out of business because of this, that have declared bankruptcy or lost their home because of it, or any number of different scenarios because families continue to struggle and businesses struggle with these rising health care costs.

But, look, there's no doubt, Jonathan, that this is the beginning of a long process to bring all of those involved together to begin to discuss these problems. I mean, I think part of the problem -- part of the solution is getting everybody in a room to discuss it. And the President talked about getting people around a big table and doing that in a public way. I think this is the beginning of that in order to seek some of that consensus.

Q: One quick question. Tomorrow the President is going to be going to the Department of Transportation to be talking about the stimulus funding for infrastructure. Friday he's going to Ohio. This is a bill that has been signed into law. Why does the President feel like he needs to be selling this plan at this point?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President believes it's important for the American people to see that what is being done in order to stimulate the economy is -- that people see that in a transparent way, that they're able to judge he and others on the implementation of that bill, and I think to give people confidence that this economy can and will be turned around, again, as he said last week, and that we're headed for brighter days.

I guess last week we were too pessimistic and maybe now this week we're too optimistic.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, I'd like to go back to this characterization of these earmarks in the spending bill being leftover business, as you put it. There was a lot of other leftover business that the President has reversed with executive orders and all kinds of other actions. Does this just come down to the fact that so many of his buddies have a lot at stake here, that it's just not worth picking a fight on?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, to go back to Jonathan's question, where he pointed out conveniently the lack of Republicans that supported stimulus, I think 40 percent of this plan is Republican earmarks, or 45 percent. So I don't think this is -- if this is go along to get along, we may be picking the wrong people.

No, I mean, when I talk about leftover business I mean these are -- I don't have to tell you guys that appropriations bills come up in the course of each calendar year in order to fund the ongoing and future functions of budget. Most of those are done usually before the fiscal year ends, generally before Congress recesses, most assuredly before the next Congress convenes. And I think blowing through all those hurdles rightly makes it last year's business.

Q: But Presidents have picked fights over these things in the past. Is it just there's so much on the platter right now that he just doesn't want to do it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that you'll see that the President is going to draw some very clear lines about what's going to happen going forward.

Q: Is this today that --

MR. GIBBS: No, not today.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Robert, I just wanted to ask about Nancy DeParle and the fact that she sits on corporate boards that have health and medical-related interests. Is that -- does the administration view that as any potential conflict of interest? Are there any potential problems there?

MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, obviously, the White House has confidence in her and her abilities as part of the health care reform effort here. And as I said, I think the team -- the entire economic team being involved -- will be involved in a process that moves an issue that has bedeviled Congress and this town for quite some time.

Q: Is she planning on stepping down from these boards to assume this position?

MR. GIBBS: I assume so, largely because I think to work here you have to do that. But before I get out on that, let me check -- let me check with somebody who's got a better understanding of that.

Major.

Q: Robert, on health care, during the campaign the President said he wanted as part of health care reform to keep a private insurance system alive in this country -- not a government-run one-size-fits-all. But can you help us understand philosophically going into this, does the President believe that with private insurers the government should pursue universal coverage that has universal access across the continuum of health care, or are there some things that people have to work out on their own? You may emphasize preventative and catastrophic with something that you have to deal with personally in between, or does he want and try to get the stakeholders involved to do something that is across the board -- not only universal in its coverage, but universal in its access?

MR. GIBBS: I'm probably well out of my depth in terms of -- it took me a long time just to pick a health care plan.

Q: But, I mean, that's really one of the early philosophical, central of the question. Can you tell us -- understand what the goal is?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I -- well, I think the goal that the President has enumerated throughout the campaign is a desire to, as I said, see families and business that have struggled with the rising cost of health care, that we have something that's done about that. The President is proud -- the President -- the President also would like to see coverage expanded for millions of Americans that currently lack access to just basic health care in this country.

I think the President is proud of the achievements that the administration has already made through the investments in medical technology, and in the coverage that was passed, after a lot of bickering and some vetoes, to increase the number of children in this country that are covered.

But look, I think a lot of these philosophical arguments are going to --

Q: Stakeholders will tell you if you go for everything, you can't afford everything. There's something that you may have to -- to get a universal system, that you have to live without. Is there anything philosophically --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, again --

Q: -- the President prioritizes one over the other?

MR. GIBBS: I think --

Q: You're talking about cost-driver -- catastrophic is a huge cost-driver.

MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, and I think the President talked about this in the campaign, right, you know, that -- and this had been the focus of the last several campaigns, that a very small percentage of people, based on illnesses or accidents, end up encompassing a large amount of spending.

Whether that is -- whether one of the ideas is whether you -- that the President talked about in the campaign was, is taking off of the budgets and the balance sheets of businesses this notion of the very, very sick, the very small percentage that capture a lot of the total amount of medical spending -- that in exchange for passing the savings on to the rest of their policyholders or the rest of their workers, that the government might take that catastrophic burden off of businesses. That's certainly one thing that he's talked about.

Q: Yet he still he --

MR. GIBBS: That's something that he still favors. But again, I think that's why this process is both timely, because of the many challenges that we deal with, and unique in the sense that we're bringing all of the stakeholders involved to discuss many of the tradeoffs that you talked about with the larger goals of seeing a system that is less costly and more accessible.

Q: When you say you're going to do things differently on earmarks, does that mean veto threats to come?

MR. GIBBS: Let me not get ahead of my own threats.

Q: What is the time glossary on this: soon, very soon, stay tuned? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: You can sort of match what all that means -- I'll look through it and pick that.

Q: Would it be fair to say this week?

Q: This is a challenge to the blogosphere? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Please don't say that. (Laughter.) We've already established that the e-mail capacity of the White House is teetering on the edge.

Q: Robert, would it be fair to say -- would it be fair to say the President will articulate these before he signs this --

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Or --

MR. GIBBS: Equal to or less than. (Laughter.)

Q: Robert, you said that the entire economic team will be working on this health care plan and you said it will be a group effort. Who is leading the way on this? Who will be the point person, specifically, in dealing with the House and the Senate on this from the White House?

MR. GIBBS: Well, certainly Nancy will. But, again, she will head health care reform here in the White House. But then -- you know, look, anytime you deal with Congress, you're going to involve many different people that work here, whether it's folks like Phil that deal with Congress every day; whether it's others. I think this is a big enough job for -- that it's going to take a number of people to do.

Q: And who is going to manage it internally here so there aren't so many people involved it becomes weighted down by the bureaucracy of the number of people?

MR. GIBBS: She's in charge.

Q: She's in charge.

MR. GIBBS: Along -- as I said, but along with -- I mean, there's -- you know, again, health care I think is this -- one of the reasons why, when I was asked about Governor Sebelius, I think there's a tendency to say: health care/Health and Human Services; I think obviously this is something that spans across many platforms, not unlike, say, something like energy independence, that a lot of people that work in this building and in different agencies will be involved in.

Q: Robert, briefly back to AIG, from what you say, it sounds like even though it's already sustained the biggest corporate loss ever in this country, this administration is committed to spending whatever it takes to keep AIG in business in some form.

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I'm not entirely sure I said that. I think what I said was the President is -- the President understands that he will take the steps necessary to ensure that there is not a catastrophic failure to our economic system. That is what the President said in September and, I regret you haven't seen statistics or data that would change that promise.

Q: But what you said earlier -- that the $30 billion today is not by any means the last --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean --

Q: There could be more.

MR. GIBBS: You know, I'm many things; I am not a specialist in this. And I think the President, through his budget, demonstrated that we're willing to account for the possibility that more money might be needed, but I wouldn't go so far as to delineate some amount because we understand that. I think if we take, as Congress has done, on a recovery bill and take some necessary steps to get the economy moving again -- look, I think in some ways a rising tide lifts all those boats because the losses sustained by an insurance company that has many investments, that goes directly to the health of that company.

Mara.

Q: Robert, on the health care summit, does the President still have a preference for an individual mandate for kids, which is what he campaigned on? That's still his preference?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't heard him say anything otherwise.

Q: So in terms of guidance, I'm just wondering how much specific guidance he's going to give Congress, or is he going to just stick to principles? So he still prefers the individual mandate for kids?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's what he enumerated in the campaign. Again, I have not had an extensive conversation with the President regarding differing viewpoints on this. That's what he certainly enumerated in the campaign.

Q: I guess what I'm asking is, he is going to -- as he works with these members of Congress and gets the ball rolling on health care reform, is he going to stick to principles where he tells them you just have to expand access and cut costs and make -- improve quality? Or is he going to say, you know, I want an individual mandate for kids, I want a public health care plan to compete with others?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I think -- you certainly have the statements that he made and the plan that he introduced in the campaign, which is important and operative. But I think he's anxious to hear from all those involved about what we can do this year. So instead of either/or, I think it's both/and.

Peter.

Q: Robert, we've had some interesting pushback last week from congressional officials -- Senator Byrd -- objecting to the concentration of power in the White House in the form of czars, or questioning whether this cuts into Congress's prerogatives, and questioning administration officials. And we also heard Harry Reid object to the earmark policy, saying the Congress is better suited to spend money than anonymous bureaucrats. The President is asking a lot of Congress, obviously. Is his Democratic coalition intact? Are you worried about these kinds of objections?

MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into the specifics, I think the President believes that he has a good relationship with Democratic members of Congress. And I think that both this President and this Congress can be proud of what in a little less than six weeks it's been able to do: an $800 billion recovery plan; important advancements in pay fairness for women; an expansion of children's health insurance; the enumeration of a plan to greatly reduce our forces in Iraq -- I'm undoubtedly leaving out others.

But I think the President is proud of what's been accomplished and I think Democratic members of Congress can be proud of those accomplishments, as well.

Jon.

Q: Thanks, Robert. As far as the President's focus on the economy -- obviously most of his energy and brain-space has been devoted to the economy and I think most people probably want him to be doing that. But has he expressed -- you're with him a lot -- has he expressed any concern to you about things he might be missing and that might not be getting prepared enough when he goes to the G20 and then NATO next month in terms of foreign policy? What are the potential downsides in terms of not having a whole lot of time to focus on foreign policy?

MR. GIBBS: Well -- well, first of all, I mean, the President obviously gets and spends a decent portion of his day -- he gets a daily intelligence briefing, as you know, and gets -- spends a decent portion of his day on foreign affairs.

I think obviously the administration is undergoing reviews relating to detainee policy and a comprehensive review of our policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. But -- and I think certainly Friday's announcement I think demonstrates that the President and his team have changed -- changed America's -- the role that we play in the world and made substantial progress on many of things that he talked about and that the people of the United States elected him to do.

You know, I mean, I think what's interesting in relating to sort of Prime Minister Brown's visit -- you have -- I think many of the things that we talk about and deal with every day are many of the things that people throughout the world, many of the leaders -- particularly those in the G20 -- are dealing with each and every day.

So I think that what is on the issue agenda with Prime Minister Brown and what will be on the issue agenda for both the G20 and particularly NATO -- obviously Afghanistan will be a big deal at that -- will -- I think you'll find a great commonality in the things that the President is working on and discusses each day on those issue agendas. I don't know that it's fair to say that he's not spent a lot of time either thinking about or acting on foreign affairs, because I think, again, if you look at what this President has both tackled and accomplished in six weeks I think is an agenda that the American people can be proud of because the President certainly is.

Q: And you haven't heard him express any kind of, you know, desire for more time on this subject?

MR. GIBBS: I think he'd generally like more time to think and act on a lot of things -- the rate at which the pitches are coming at us don't necessarily allow for a lot of time to dig into for the next pitch.

Yes.

Q: Back to the revelations about the destruction of some of the CIA interrogation tapes. You've mentioned the criminal investigation. Do you know, has the White House been sort of fully briefed of the status of the investigation? And can you tell us whether you know whether those results will be made public or whether Congress will be briefed in a closed session?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- let me check. I mean, obviously there is I assume some sensitivities based on the fact that it's a criminal trial. But I can certainly check.

Q: Robert, on health care you've talked a lot about bringing all the stakeholders to the table. Are there any other specific strategies that the White House has looked at after studying the Clinton administration failure on health care, to go forward, to get it finally passed? Any other specific strategies that you'd look at?

MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware of. I think if you go back and look at the size and the scope of the problem, what families, what businesses and what the government is dealing with has only gotten worse in that gap of time. I think there is an urgency that has not been felt on many issues that is felt on this. I think many of the stakeholders that were involved on different sides of this fight more than a decade ago are now largely in the same boat about the notion that something has to be done.

I think I would underscore -- and this is something that we've heard directly from the budget and the economic team -- and that is the failure to address this is not going to just envelop the budgets of businesses and families, but envelop the budget of the United States of America, in a -- to the degree that which it is going to be hard to deal with our other problems. And I think it's important, and the President believes it's important to begin the process of that fundamental reform in order to bring about the changes that we need.

Q: On Afghanistan, does the President agree with President Karzai that the election in Afghanistan should be held in April? Or does he tend more to the judgment of the Independent Electoral Commission, which says more time is needed to allow the polls to be free and fair and secure?

MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check specifically on that question so that I don't cause some sort of problem there.

April.

Q: Robert, two things. One, going back to Rush Limbaugh -- last week, in the President's fifth week, he referenced the fact that, you know, I may not have the bipartisan support that I'm having right now. Understanding that, was the White House seeing the bipartisan wall cracking a bit? And now is there concern that with this Rush Limbaugh, I guess, national rally, as he considered it, from CPAC this weekend, is there a fear that the bipartisanship is going to move out a little bit quicker than you thought originally?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- you know, I don't think that's the case, because as I've argued from up here, there tends to be a viewpoint of only -- a viewpoint in this town of only people that live in this town. I think you saw during the stimulus debate any number of Republican governors that supported a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan because they understood the problems that were happening in their economies and in their states that needed immediate attention. You've seen mayors come through this building that had the very same concerns.

Look, again, I would -- if people want to ask Republicans whether they agree with Rush Limbaugh or with others about whether they hope or think that -- whether they hope that the President's economic agenda will fail, that's an excellent question for Republicans to be asked.

Q: So the question I wanted to ask earlier, about these FEMA trailers, we understand that the issue with New Orleans that is -- that the reports were wrong last week. What is the actual situation, as far as these FEMA trailers, as your Cabinet Secretaries are going into New Orleans this week to see what's working and what's not?

MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting ahead of what they're going to see, the President is obviously a strong believer in this, and the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Housing are going to the Gulf Coast region later this week to assess exactly where we are in terms of an overall recovery related to Katrina. I would push specifics to the individual agencies, but I think the President is eager to -- eager for an update, as are those two important governmental players, in seeing the degree to which progress has been made, and where progress hasn't been made, what has to be done in order to ensure that complete recovery in the Gulf Coast region.

Q: Is the same disaster relief manual that they had for Katrina that's still in place now?

MR. GIBBS: I would ask somebody in Secretary Napolitano's office about that.

Q: How concerned are you guys about this Marine One specs that ended up in Iran through the file sharing, and what's being done to prevent that from happening again?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would point you to the Department of Navy, that has more information on that. But I think some of the reports that are out there -- again, contact them for the details -- are maybe not exactly as they may seem on television.

Q: I'm wondering if you can explain a little bit more of the President's thinking on going with -- these two individuals, as opposed to one, as it was under Tom Daschle. And just a follow-up on Juliana's question about Nancy-Ann's connections to the boards. A company that she sits on could be directly impacted by the health care bill. If you could just explain a little bit further how that doesn't present a potential conflict.

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I don't have the specifics on that. I'll certainly look at it. I don't know that I'd have a ton to offer that I didn't offer Juliana earlier. But I think the individuals that the President selected he believes are best able to do the individual job responsibilities of both the Secretary of Health and Human Services and somebody to coordinate health care reform out of the White House.

Look, I mean, I think we talked about this, that Senator Daschle was a fairly unique person and brought a unique set of experiences as both somebody who, based on many years in Congress, a pretty substantial understanding of Capitol Hill, as well as a unique understanding of the issue, and that we weren't likely to find somebody like that again. That's not to take anything, I think, away from the resumes and the experiences that each of these two individuals bring today.

I think particularly -- I think all of us -- many of you have either written about or talked about or talked to Governor Sebelius. She's been named one of the best governors in the country. I don't think you can be around her for long and not understand how driven she is and how focused she is and the type of management skills that she would bring to a very large department in our government.

And I think the characteristics and the traits that they bring will allow them to fulfill the jobs that he's appointed them for.

Q: Can you just give us a little bit better of a sense of what Nancy-Ann DeParle is doing? Is she, like, the chief coordinator -- the chief coordinator at the White House? Will she be the chief liaison to the Hill? Kind of what --

MR. GIBBS: I'll get a little bit more information that we can distribute on that and let you guys know.

Thank you.

Q: What about Wednesday? Can you tell us anything about Wednesday?

MR. GIBBS: About Wednesday?

Q: Wednesday. The day after tomorrow? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: That was about all I was going to tell you, Mara. You broke my lead. I don't understand -- I can tell you it's the -- wait for it -- the day before Thursday. I don't know -- do you have -- is there a little bit --

Q: Isn't he doing something on Wednesday?

MR. GIBBS: Assuming that a massive influx of snow doesn't happen, we will be here and give you an opportunity to cover something.

Q: What time is the press conference tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: I told you I'd get those details as soon as I got out of here, and --

Q: What time, not necessarily how many questions.

MR. GIBBS: I know. April, help me help you. (Laughter.) Let me get that direction for you.

END 3:03 P.M. EST

Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", March 2, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85839.
 
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