|The American Presidency Project|
|• Robert Gibbs|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|April 20, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:44 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: We did not do a week ahead last week. I have an exceedingly abbreviated one that I will -- I'll narrow it down to the next few days ahead, so as not to fail to meet expectations.
Tomorrow the President will sign national service legislation passed by Congress a few weeks ago. Scheduled to attend that event are former President Bill Clinton and Senator Ted Kennedy, for whom the bill is named.
Q: Is that here?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. The President will present the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the Naval Academy football team at the White House. And the President will also meet with King Abdullah of Jordan tomorrow.
On Wednesday the President will travel to -- and you guys should have this notice -- travel to Newton, Iowa, where he will mark Earth Day by highlighting how investments in clean energy technology can boost the local economy in communities large and small all across the nation.
Thursday and Friday he will have events here in D.C., but I do not have any more information on those events.
And with that abbreviated look ahead --
Q: Thank you. The $100 million target figure that the President talked about today with the Cabinet, can you explain why it's so small? I know he talked about -- you know, you add up a hundred million, a hundred million, a hundred million and eventually you get somewhere, but it would take an awfully long time to add up hundred millions to make a dent in the deficit. Why not target a bigger number?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think only in Washington, D.C. does $100 million --
Q: The deficit is very large. It's not a joke. The deficit is giant; $100 million really is only a dent.
MR. GIBBS: No joke --
Q: You can make a joke about it, but it's not funny.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not making a joke about it; I'm being completely sincere. But only in Washington, D.C. is $100 million not a lot of money. It is where I'm from. It is where I grew up. And I think it is for hundreds of millions of Americans.
Q: But the point is it's not a very big portion of the deficit.
Q: You were talking about an appropriations bill a few weeks ago -- that at $8 billion -- being minuscule; a billion in earmarks. We were talking about that and you said that that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, in terms of --
Q: A hundred million is a lot, but $8 billion is small?
MR. GIBBS: What I'm saying is I think it all adds up -- just as the President said, just as Jennifer was good enough to do in her question. If you think we're going to get rid of a $1.3 trillion deficit by eliminating one thing, I'd be and the administration would be innumerably happy for you to let us know what that is.
Q: Why not try to get a bigger number so you can get a -- at a bigger share --
MR. GIBBS: Let me explain sort of what has happened. Let's walk through this so that everybody understands this. The President has laid out cuts, large and small, in both the administrative costs and in the program costs of the federal budget.
Some of the examples that we were -- we provided you all will add up. For instance, the Department of Veterans Affairs either cancels or delays 26 conferences that can be better, or more effectively and more cost-effectively done by video conferencing that saves almost $18 million.
A lot of these administrative things will add up. This is a short-term goal to come back with, over the course of the next few weeks, to identify further administrative savings that secretaries haven't already both identified and eliminated.
The President has also proposed savings on a much larger scale. The President has proposed ending the bank middle man for college loans, saving $94 billion over a 10-year period of time.
The President has attacked, in his budget, the subsidies that we provide insurance companies to provide the same Medicare coverage -- private insurance companies the same type of Medicare coverage that's already being offered at a savings of over $200 billion.
Jennifer, the reason that the President can stand up with the backing of the Congressional Budget Office and talk about cutting the deficit in half over the course of four years time is because there are cuts that are large -- student loans and Medicare Advantage -- as well as small. This is part of the President's promise and proposal to go line by line through the federal budget deficit. Will we enumerate programs that don't work that we're going to eliminate in the future? Yes. Some of those cuts will be large; some of those cuts will be small.
But we are not going to put ourselves back on a path toward fiscal sustainability if we don't look at each and every item in this federal budget and make some of the cuts that are necessary to get us on that path.
Q: On a whole different subject, at a U.N. Racism Conference in Geneva today, Iran's President called Israel a racist regime. What's the administration's reaction to that and could this kind of rhetoric in any way undermine the President's attempt to reach out to Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is -- obviously it's hateful rhetoric, it's I think one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the President determine that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do. Obviously the President disagrees vehemently with what was said as, from some of the video I saw, did many others.
We continue to have some -- we continue to evaluate our policy and understand that from a larger foreign policy framework doing things the same old way is not likely to bring about the change we need in our foreign policy. That's why the President has in the message that was sent around New Year's, engaged the Iranian people. And we clearly have -- it's greatly in our national interest to see -- to do all that we can to prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapons program.
Q: But beyond words of condemnation is there any action that the United States would take at the U.N. to express its displeasure with --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we've expressed our displeasure. I think that we will continue to do so. As you heard the President talk about yesterday, the President has sought and the United States will seek a seat on Council on Human Rights. And I think the President and the administration obviously made the right decision in not going forward with attendance at this conference despite, obviously, a President that believes greatly that racism and intolerance must be and should be addressed.
Q: Robert, on the President's visit to the CIA today -- he took the extraordinary step of releasing these documents on alleged torture last week; and people like General Hayden alleging that this makes America less safe. I know you and other administration officials obviously disagree with that point, but why run the risk of making America less safe in their eyes when you're not going to take the extra step of actually holding Bush administration officials accountable?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand first of all the background of this, Ed. There was a Freedom of Information Act case that the legal team here and at other agencies were very convinced was not winnable; that there wasn't going to be a way, in any way, shape or form, to continue to hide these memos.
I said this in response to question I believe either Thursday or Friday. What makes this country -- what makes this country less safe is not the existence of enhanced interrogation techniques contained in a memo; it's that the world sees America and the values it holds up differently, because it employed those techniques.
The President -- and I think what's most important to understand is the President of the United States, in one of his very first acts as President, firmly banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in dealing with prisoners.
Q: You talk about America's image around the world, the President has talked a lot about that, as well. What signal does it send the world if, potentially, people in the Bush administration -- I stress "potentially" -- broke the law? This administration is now saying, we're too busy, there's a lot on our plate, obviously, this argument is out there, but we're not going to --
MR. GIBBS: Listen, I don't --
Q: -- but you said we can't look back, we're going to look forward.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but, Ed --
Q: What signals does that send?
MR. GIBBS: The administration didn't say they were too busy, Ed. The administration on the second day of a very busy day in a very busy week and very busy 100 days banned the technique.
MR. GIBBS: Okay? I mean, let's understand --
Q: But people broke the law before it. You're just turning the page.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- give me a chance to answer your multitude of questions.
Q: Well, but it's my real question.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, and I'm glad you've rephrased it. The President took the extraordinary step of stopping these techniques from ever being used -- again, as part of his administration. The President does believe and the Attorney General said quite clearly that those that believed in good faith that these techniques had been declared legal by the Department of Justice should not be prosecuted.
The President also believes that rather than looking backward and fighting this backward, that it's important to move our country forward. That's what he signaled by banning the use of these techniques, and that's where his focus is.
Q: So I understand, you're saying that people in the CIA who followed through in what they were told was legal, they should not be prosecuted. But why not the Bush administration lawyers who, in the eyes of a lot of your supporters on the left, twisted the law -- why are they not being held accountable?
MR. GIBBS: The President is focused on looking forward, that's why.
Q: A follow-up on that? You just reiterated the President's comments that he won't -- that harsh interrogation techniques won't be used. But there is a Guantanamo detainee who is currently being detained, who last week made a telephone call out of Guantanamo alleging that he is beaten almost on a daily basis and tear gas has been dumped on him -- Mohammed el Gharani.
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen something like that, but -- so I have no basis to answer the question.
Q: On Friday, the Obama administration was dealt a legal setback in another case in which it was arguing the state secrets argument -- even though the judge was asking the administration to comply with his order, that only under very tight, regulated way would these documents be able to be shared with the plaintiff's attorneys. I guess my question is, this is now the third time the administration has invoked state secrets, even though still on the campaign web site and on the campaign trail the President criticized the Bush administration for invoking it too often. What do you say to the people who voted for President Obama expecting a different take on the state secret argument based on what President Obama said on the campaign trail who are disappointed with the fact that you guys keep invoking the same argument; in fact, in some cases, even taking it a step further.
MR. GIBBS: How taking it a step further?
Q: My understanding is in -- not the case with the Islamic charity, but in one of the other cases, there was -- the administration was asking for more blanket authorization to invoke what they believed to be state secrets then.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I should familiarize myself with that particular instance that I'm not aware of. The President and the legal team here have and will continue to evaluate and use in a judicious way the notion of protecting state secrets and ensuring that we balance the necessary need for transparency, but also understanding that there are things that can and should be protected for national security reasons, to --
Q: From a FISA judge, though? I mean, we're not talking about sharing it with, you know, this front row here -- (laughter) -- we're talking about sharing it with a former intelligence judge.
Q: Or the third row. (Laughter.)
Q: Or the third row, correct. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Once you get much past the third, it's definitely downhill from there. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Come on, guys, it's Monday. You guys are a little punchy today? It's just a joke, all right.
Q: Let the record show the second row has not been mentioned. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Just you wait. (Laughter.) All right, let's --
Q: This is a FISA judge we're talking about here.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, right. Well, look, again, we're -- the -- in each of these cases, the team and the President have to make a judgment based on national security. And let's build a little -- I want to bring in these OLC memos. The President, as you guys have heard and read, the President thought about and struggled with this decision for quite some time, many weeks, as the litigation worked its way through the process, as extensions were needed and granted. The President weighed this argument of national security.
One of the determinations that was made, as you heard the Chief of Staff make just this weekend, that many of the techniques described in these memos have been widely written about; they were fairly detailed in their description in a recent New York review of books article. And in fact, in some of these instances the own Bush administration declassified portions of these techniques for transparency reasons.
But in each of these situations the legal team will weigh what is in the best interests of the national security of the United States and balance it with that needed transparency.
What I would tell either our supporters or our detractors, that the President understands the seriousness of both of those arguments and will weigh each to ensure that we're upholding what protects this country with what also underscores our values.
Q: I want to ask about credit cards, but I first want to return to this first topic. You guys usually seem so in tune with what the American people think and late night comedians and that kind of thing. It's hard to believe that $100 million won't become the butt of a whole lot of jokes. I mean, $100 million is four times what A-Rod makes in a single year; it's two-thirds of what --
MR. GIBBS: He didn't ask about what A-Rod made in a year. (Laughter.)
Q: -- it's two-thirds of the number earmarked for a single airport. It is a tiny drop in the bucket.
MR. GIBBS: Did you guys ask me about earmarks?
Q: It's an absurdly small amount of money.
MR. GIBBS: You need to talk about baseball here.
Q: Well, it's an amazingly small amount of money, Robert. You've got to admit. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I bet -- how many stories --
Q: -- it's just asking to be joked about.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on. Well, let's joke a little about it. How many stories do you think CBS or networks in this room did a few -- maybe a decade or so ago about $600 toilet seats at the Department of Defense? Now how many people think the Department of Defense might buy enough $600 toilet seats to fix the deficit or the debt?
Q: Well, I think that was a symbolic example of tens of billions of dollars being wasted. I don't think it's --
MR. GIBBS: Maybe you said it -- maybe you hit on part of it, but I also believe that cutting out $600 toilet seats is indicative of a culture that believes that's okay. It's indicative of a culture in this town that believes we can have 26 conferences that the VA should participate in, when in fact you can go into a room and get together on a video conference.
Q: Why not shoot higher? Aren't you confirming the critics who believe that when it comes to spending, the sky is the limit for this administration, but when it comes to defending cuts --
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to speak directly to our critics about how it is we got to where we are with a $1.2 trillion -- $1.3 trillion budget deficit, and where the President wants to go by slashing that in half in four years.
Q: Well, and then up and up and up after those four years.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're making progress. We're cutting the budget deficit. We've outlined very specific savings. The Secretary of Defense has outlined very specific savings. We're happy to have members and anybody else join in.
My sense of this, Chip, is $100 million may not be a lot to people in this town, but I think it's a lot to people who live in this country.
Q: But on -- I don't know, I'm not sure I agree with you. I think that most people will see it as a drop in the budget. But we'll see.
MR. GIBBS: If you put a -- trust me on this. Do me a favor and put it on the evening news tonight, and we'll judge it with the American people. How about that?
Q: I'll do you that favor. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys. (Laughter.)
Q: I have one on credit cards --
MR. GIBBS: I've just cancelled the week ahead --
Q: On credit cards, Larry Summers said over the weekend that the President is going to be focusing on a whole bunch of issues having to do with credit card abuse, and people have been deceived into paying extraordinarily high rates they wouldn't have paid if they knew what they were getting themselves into.
Number one, can you give us any kind of preview of what's coming? And secondly, how upset, how frustrated, how angry is the President that some of these companies are getting federal money, and then they're sticking it to consumers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you could rightly construe that some of the actions that the President and the administration want to take on this are partly because of that. But at the same time, the President has a fairly lengthy record, including in the campaign, of discussing some of the deceptive practices that are involved, some of the outrageous fees that are charged on particular actions involving credit cards.
And the President talked about, in the campaign, a credit card bill of rights that had a number of different things -- and we can make sure that you all have that -- but it banned certain fees. I think the example that we used on that day was, you know, you can get charged interest, based on what you signed up for on the credit card, on those fees; that, as Dr. Summers said, there would be a focus on some of the deceptive practices that trap people into a credit card rate despite the unsustainability of that; that if -- and we talked about the idea of having a rating system so that you -- so that people would know exactly what they were getting.
I think everybody has seen, if you get one of these -- and you probably get one of these in the mail every week -- you turn it over on the back and it's writing that you wouldn't even have your eye doctor use on your eye test that enumerates all these different rules and regulations, some of which change over time. The President believes that we can increase transparency involved, cut down on these deceptive practices, and ensure that this -- any system that is involving fees is done in a way that is fair.
Q: Is he angry that bailed-out companies are now doing this to people?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think the anger just is for bailed-out companies. I mean, there are companies that aren't getting money from the federal government that are involved in practices where people see their credit card rates skyrocket unbeknownst to them -- or contained in paragraph 14 of some very small writing at the very end of a credit card contract.
But this is all part of an agenda to make and protect the middle class, to make -- to take a look directly at some of these practices, and make it a little bit more honest and a little bit more fair.
Q: On credit cards, on the Thursday meeting with the executives, what's the President looking for? Is this -- does he want a mea culpa? Is it like the bank executives where he -- "help me help you" -- what's the goal in that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think there are a couple of different goals. I mean, obviously you've got -- obviously there are -- there are meaningful uses for credit obviously in this economy. What we want to do is ensure that people can have access to the credit that they need, but that we can also do this in a way, as I just mentioned, that's transparent and fair and honest. And I think that's what the President -- one of the things that the President will talk to them about.
Q: Back to the OLC memos for a second. You said something a minute ago I don't think I've heard before, which is that your lawyers concluded that it was a losing argument to try to argue for not disclosing the memos -- which just makes me wonder, did you release the memos because you concluded you didn't have a winning argument or because the President felt it was the right thing to do in terms of disclosure?
MR. GIBBS: The President -- because his administration had previously pledged to release them based on the fact that it was the right thing to do. What I was saying though is that this sort of straw man argument propped up by other people as if there wasn't an impetus for having to do this anyway, even if -- you can envision a different administration in charge or at a different period of time and the court was likely to compel whoever that was to make those documents public.
Q: Okay. Back to -- on Friday night, as you're probably well aware, the President was criticized a lot recently for essentially not responding on the merits to what the Nicaraguan President said at that dinner on Friday night. Do you think the President should have been more forceful in his response or even just responded on the merits as opposed to just making a joke --
MR. GIBBS: I guess I certainly could have asked for equal time, but we'd probably still be there. (Laughter.)
I think the President made clear throughout the weekend what he agrees with, with the leaders of a very important region of our world and the very specific things that he doesn't agree with.
Q: Some people felt like it demanded a response.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President -- the President said yesterday and the President said throughout the weekend that there are many things that he doesn't agree with. Again, the man spoke for 53 minutes. My guess is if you didn't ask a question in the intervening 53 minutes, one might feel the need to come up and want to say something about me.
But I think the President laid out a very forceful argument over the course of the weekend about why we have to change the foreign policy that we have in this country. I think he did it in actions and also put the onus I think on many leaders in the hemisphere to back up their rhetoric and their words with specific deeds. There's nothing that stops anybody at that conference from delivering change in their society. And I think the President was forceful in doing that.
Q: I'd like to ask about Roxana Saberi and two other journalists being held in North Korea. What specific steps today are being taken by the administration to try to get these journalists free? And what impact might these arrests have on planned talks or outreach to both of these countries?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jonathan, in all honesty, I'm not going to add a whole lot to what the President said in his I think pretty clear answer to this yesterday -- that certainly in the instance of the journalist in Iran that we believe that she was wrongly accused and wrongly convicted; that we're deeply disappointed that the government would undertake the actions that they did; and that we will continue to work with our partners to convey the concern and disappointment that we have.
Q: But what impact -- I mean, there was -- there were movements toward possible resumption of five-party talks and things like that.
MR. GIBBS: I would -- I would point you to the President's answer and just not get a whole lot past that.
Q: Thank you, Robert. On Friday afternoon, the Associated Press reported -- and this is a quote -- "The family of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. has charged the foundation that's building a King monument in the National Mall about $800,000 for the use of his words and image." And my question -- the first of -- first part of two -- first part of --
MR. GIBBS: Let's tread lightly here, Lester.
Q: Yes. Since historian David Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Dr. King, was reported by AP to have been "absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of King's children." What was the President's reaction to this AP report?
MR. GIBBS: Don't take this to mean anything about the Associated Press, but I am unfamiliar if the President has seen that report, and neither have I.
Q: Well, since this news was also reported by The New York Times --
MR. GIBBS: Whoa, now -- (laughter) -- I see we're on the second row now, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: -- what is your reaction as the President's press secretary?
MR. GIBBS: I was in Trinidad this weekend. I didn't have handy my copy of The New York Times, and I didn't read this on the AP wire. So I will --
Q: But you will look into it, won't you?
MR. GIBBS: I'll put that into my -- I will endeavor to check.
Q: Robert, near the end of the President's Cabinet meeting, he made reference to a confidence gap on the deficit. I'm wondering if you can elaborate a little bit on what he meant by that.
MR. GIBBS: Do you have any more -- I wasn't in for that part of --
Q: A passing reference to that he realizes there's a confidence gap with the American people on the issue of the deficit.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has certainly talked before about -- he knows and the American people know that continuing to run up deficits, to use a term, "as far as the eye can see" and continue to have those expand for years and years and years is unsustainable.
That's exactly why the President submitted a budget that cuts the deficit in half over the course of four years. Despite much derision, that's why the President is seeking cuts both large and small. We have to give confidence to the American people that we can spend any money that we ask to spend wisely. That's why the President has undertaken greater transparency as it relates to spending in the stimulus. And I think the President overall wants to give the American people assurance that the government can use the money from them wisely.
Q: A follow-up to what Savannah was asking earlier. Coming off a second foreign trip, criticism has been buzzing by some of the President's critics. What do you make of the criticism? And do you worry or does he worry at all that somebody like Hugo Chavez has more to gain by being seen with him, than obviously he has to gain?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this isn't about what any person has to gain. This is about what a country has to gain. And let's do this in a little bit of a broader way -- and the President talked about this some yesterday.
The President ran on a policy of changing the way we conduct our foreign policy. And I think the principal examples that he used throughout the campaign were that over the course of many years, we've seen the North Koreans gain access to enough materiel to build six to ten more nuclear weapons; that over the course of several years, the country of Iran had gone from zero centrifuges to thousands of centrifuges; that we had taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan; and that certain people in the hemisphere were leading a very anti-American -- using very anti-American rhetoric to, in many ways, destabilize the region. That's what he saw as specific policies that needed to be changed in order to further our national interests.
Look at what we got just simply out of this weekend. Two years ago, Hugo Chavez kicked our ambassador out of Caracas; nothing -- wanted nothing to do with being a responsible part of a community of nations. Now, in engaging in the world, the Venezuelans have, as I understand it, put names forward to put an ambassador back in place here, and as the President said, the Department of State will follow suit in order to do the same thing there.
We have a strong national interest in a region that is stable and secure, a region of the world that doesn't see a rise in corruption or drug violence, and a stable part of the world that can be an important economic trading partner with the United States of America. That's what the President saw in the lead-up to these trips and that's the exact -- that's exactly what he's been doing in each of these two trips to further not any one person's interest but to further the interests of the United States.
And one also just has to look at the pictures that were associated with the most previous Summit of the Americas. Is it in our national interest to have images going all over the world of thousands of protesters burning in effigy some lookalike of the American government? I don't think that furthers our national interest. The President doesn't think that further our national interest. And engaging in the world stage does further our national interest, makes us safer and more secure by creating stability in this important region of the world.
Q: Robert, given the value the administration sees in engaging opposing points of view, why not then send a delegation to the U.N. conference on race, even with the odious things being said? Why not go there and counter pose it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we did send a delegation in the lead-up to the conference. I think it was in 2001, a similar conference -- I think it's 2001, 2002 -- a similar conference released a very -- at the conclusion released a document that contained things that the previous administration didn't agree with and that this administration didn't agree with. We set out very specific conditions and sent a high-level team to see if the conference was serious about the issue of racism and intolerance, rather than to be part of political propaganda.
After working to try to address those shortcomings, the administration decided that it could not and should not be a part of what we saw happening today. This President believes very strongly in dealing with racism and intolerance, but I don't think it was in our national interest to be part of the conference that's going on right now.
Q: Was the objection to something in the conference document or just the overall tenor of the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think both. I think you've seen it already today, but I think you've also seen in the documents that were forthcoming and we can get you some enumeration of this. A lot of it was predicated on what was originally objectionable several years ago; that if the conference was truly focused on doing this in an important way, it would have made some of those changes. I would point you also to a far more eloquent answer that the President gave on this topic yesterday.
Q: Robert, two questions, a foreign and a domestic. First, the foreign. Could you just share with us a little bit about the President's agenda in his meeting with King Abdullah: Middle East peace, oil prices? I don't know what's -- and have they met before?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, they've -- I know they've talked on the phone since being inaugurated. Obviously --
Q: Have they met --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the President spent some time with the King last year on our trip to Jordan -- I'm not sure what the Secret Service thought of it, but when the King drove the then-Senator to the airport in his car -- I remember it being a fun drive -- (laughter) -- probably for both.
I think the biggest topic, obviously, is going to be the Middle East peace process and where we are in that. The President has promised to be engaged repeatedly in ensuring a lasting peace there, and that will almost certainly be the dominant topic, and we'll have a readout from that afterwards.
Q: Can I, on the --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second. Let me get the -- both the questions.
Q: Let's get the domestic question and then I'll -- we could follow up on the --
MR. GIBBS: Sure, sure.
Q: -- (inaudible) the people want to know. On the domestic side, just again to draw you on this $100 billion. When Republicans were criticizing earmarks and also provisions in the stimulus bill like the contraceptives, the President repeatedly returned to the theme that this was a small amount of the overall package. And I don't see how it cannot be construed as a double standard to have him say, well, that's a small amount, but this $100 million that I'm saving, that's really important. How is that not a double standard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not also mix apples and oranges here, because the point that we were making was that whatever that amount is, it shouldn't stand in the way of an even greater commitment to help our economy recover and to invest in the things that the President believed were important for long-term growth.
Q: Well, on the earmarks, though, the earmarks was the same --
MR. GIBBS: Same thing.
Q: No, it was -- he was saying, look, this isn't a big deal; it's just a small part of this overall big bill, and why hang it up over something small?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we covered many of those arguments at the time. We also were dealing with last year's omnibus appropriations bill. Again, we're going to have to make cuts in programs that don't work. We're going to have to find administrative savings where previously people didn't think there were savings. We're going to have to look at programs, big and small, in order to get this country back on a path toward fiscal sustainability.
We're not going to do it with one thing; it's going to be many, many things over the course of many, many years that gets us back on the road to fiscal sanity, whether it's a $600 toilet seat or whether it's the mind-set that believes that the old way of doing business is perfectly acceptable. That's exactly what this President was elected to challenge and that's exactly what he's done.
Q: And are there enough $600 toilet seats? And even -- you're not talking $600 toilet seats, you're talking --
MR. GIBBS: Talking $100 million toilet seats. I'm talking about the great, $100 million --
Q: Well, you're talking how -- Education Department employees share printers, or publishing judicial forfeiture notices on the Internet instead of in the newspapers.
MR. GIBBS: Well, maybe we've touched on a --
Q: That will save you a lot of money. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Maybe we've touched on a far more touchy subject, so to speak, as to what transparency means in the age of newspaper revenue.
Q: I don't think we're getting enough revenue from your judicial forfeiture notices -- (laughter.) But these are small things --
MR. GIBBS: Change you can believe in, Sheryl.
Q: How can you --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think they're small things. I don't know what the savings in the stuff that we've put out equals up to, but several hundred million dollars is important. The President is going to challenge the Cabinet to not just stop here -- Sheryl, if I were to stand up here and tell you that if we eliminate $100 million we can all take off at 4:00 p.m. every day because our problems have all been solved, then I'm free to be ridiculed.
This is one in a series of steps that the President believes is important to take -- not just to identify savings, but to attack a culture that believes we can't change the way this place works in order to put us on that pathway to fiscal sustainability; that we can't find programs that don't work and should be eliminated; that we can't go line by line through the federal budget and look for savings big and small, whether it's $100 million in administrative costs or $200 billion to give to private insurance companies to play middle man on Medicare, or $94 billion to give banks to play middle man on student loans.
The President is going to look for savings great and small wherever he can find it in order to put our country back on the path toward fiscal sustainability.
You want to follow up on --
Q: On the meeting with the King tomorrow. Is this meeting for you to -- a more personal involvement from the part of the President in the region? In particular, Israeli sources say that the Prime Minister will be here around May 18th. Can you confirm that they will meet?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to talk to scheduling specifically about an upcoming meeting with the Prime Minister. I can assure you that if the Prime Minister is here, the President would be anxious to sit down and talk with him as he sat down and talked with him last year about this and other subjects that relate to our security.
Q: Robert, just to -- I have a question on -- a fiscal question and also CIA. In every speech, including last Tuesday, the President talked about how serious he is about entitlement reform. And he says, you know, obviously no matter how many small cuts you make or however important they are symbolically, we're not going to be on a path to fiscal sustainability without entitlement reform. And can you just tell us where that effort stands right now? I mean, when does it start, is he looking at a commission --
MR. GIBBS: Eighty or so days ago.
MR. GIBBS: Eighty or so days ago.
Q: On entitlement reform?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: And what do you mean? I mean --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think taking $200 billion of waste out of Medicare is entitlement reform. Now, again, maybe $200 billion isn't a lot of money here either. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, no -- okay, but when the President says he wants to do entitlement reform, like he talked about last Tuesday, he seemed to suggest something was coming in the future, not that -- so is he talking about a commission? What does he have in mind for big -- to attack the structural deficits? Cutting $200 million [sic] out of Medicare is a great start, but that's not what he --
MR. GIBBS: Look, that's awesome. I've --
Q: I mean, he talked about --
MR. GIBBS: I feel like they're like this little --
Q: -- entitlement reform, he's talking about something much more structural --
MR. GIBBS: -- meet that red mark where he finally exceeded the thermometer.
The President I think has spoken particularly about Medicare restructuring, particularly as it relates to health care reform; that we are not going to be able -- if we're unable to address the rising costs of health care through Medicare, that the structural deficit that you talk about is not likely to ever become something that we can control. That's why the President sought $200 billion in savings from the middlemen involved in the Medicare Advantage program. And that's why he believes that health care reform is so important to address skyrocketing and spiraling costs.
I don't want to get ahead of where the President might be on other topics and other entitlements, but the President is very serious about making a dent in -- a serious dent in the way our government does business and the way it spends taxpayer money.
Q: Just to -- on the CIA, you said that you released these documents for two reasons -- one, because it was the right thing to do, but also because you wouldn't have had any legal alternative.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mentioned that as a backdrop for the situation; the notion that I think it's important for everyone to understand that there was a pending court case that involved Freedom of Information Act -- a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit involving -- that had been ongoing involving this government and an interest group for access to these documents.
Q: But my question is, why are you and your lawyers confident that by releasing these documents you don't undermine your position in future cases when you are going to invoke the state secrecy act?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, without getting into detail, I can assure you that that was something that was thought through prior to any recommendation based on either past, current, or future litigation.
Q: Well, my question follows on that, actually. When you said that the legal counsel's office felt this was unwinnable -- the FOIA case -- were you referring to the release of the memos? Was --
MR. GIBBS: I'm referring to the notion that at some point legal -- a legal entity would have compelled the making public of the very documents that were made public.
Q: But the question is, were you unable to keep the memos up? Okay, you obviously felt that you couldn't keep the memos back, but what legal obligation did you have to allow as much information in the memos to be public? Because you certainly, it seems, could have redacted more under the States Secrets Act.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's not entirely -- let me get Justice to speak on this, because in all honesty, if I'm not mistaken, there may well still be litigation involving any redaction that was done. That's, in some ways, an ongoing part of the case that these memos were involved in.
Q: The case I hear you making, though, is that the Counsel's Office felt like it was unwinnable -- and in terms of keeping the memos in total back --
MR. GIBBS: Again, that's to give you some background about which -- and backdrop for which this case existed. The Attorney General during his confirmation hearings made clear that the administration believed it was important to make these memos public.
Q: A credit card follow-up question. I wasn't entirely clear with the previous two questions about whether the aim in sitting down with these lending folks is to get them to voluntarily agree to scale back some of these fees or do a rating system or some of this stuff, or whether to tell them, we're doing a bill and we want you to sign on? Strategically, what are you -- are you hoping to get --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of where the -- what argument that the administration will make to -- except to say, yes. Obviously, the administration and I think the public in general would be happy if some of the practices that they and others find offensive are ended would be a good step in the right direction. That, I don't doubt. But at the same time, I think Dr. Summers and others spoke this weekend about pursuing a course through Congress that would provide fairness and transparency to this process.
Q: Well, presumably, in having them there and bringing them out very public, at least in the meetings -- the fact of the meetings being public, there must be some, perhaps, a policy goal in addition to just a public relations goal. Can you talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, the meeting is not for public relations. The meeting is to have a serious conversation about the economy. We've talked a lot in this room, and you all have in your reporting, about the importance of credit and getting it moving again. But we also want to do -- ensure that that's done in a way that doesn't, as the President has spoken about, provide simply another bubble-and-bust scenario whereby people are over-leveraged or maxed-out on their credit cards to the point where they are carrying an unsustainable debt and a burden that they can't get away from.
Q: So is the meeting a "do it yourself or else" kind of meeting --
MR. GIBBS: No, I --
Q: That sounded like what you were saying.
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- do I think those topics will come up? Yes. I have no way of judging three days before the meeting the posture that certain people will take in the meeting. That's why we'll read it out when we get there.
Q: Who's coming?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a list in front of me.
Q: With 10 days left to go, is the White House prepared to let Chrysler go bankrupt if it can't reach a deal with Fiat?
MR. GIBBS: The President's Auto Task Force is continuing to work with all of the stakeholders involved to find a solution we hope that continues the Chrysler brand and strengthens the auto industry. We believe that -- we believe that was possible 20 days ago, and we certainly believe that is possible, as you mentioned, with about 10 days to go in this process.
Q: Even if a deal isn't reached with Fiat?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to, 10 days before it, prejudge where it might end up. But the President continues to be involved in this issue and understanding the tremendous economic importance both for the overall industry and for the dozens of communities throughout the country that are dependent upon Chrysler and auto parts suppliers that supply Chrysler for good-paying jobs that the President believes are tremendously important and can't and shouldn't be lost.
Q: Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
END 2:35 P.M. EDT
|Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", April 20, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86027.|
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