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
May 18, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:42 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: How's everyone? Happy Monday. Take us away, Ms. Loven.

Q: All right -- nothing from you?

MR. GIBBS: You guys want more news today? I'm happy to -- (laughter.) Stay tuned.

Q: Was there any news? (Laughter.)

Q: When the President pressed the Israeli Prime Minister on settlement, did he get any kind of satisfactory answer back?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think it's my place to readout what the Israelis said in the meeting. I think the President reiterated his position strongly on settlements, as well as a number of other issues, like the necessity of a two-state solution.

Q: I would assume that when he felt the need to mention it publicly that he probably had not gotten the answer he wanted privately.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, these are ongoing conversations and ongoing discussions. The President believed that the meeting was productive. The meeting went -- far exceeded its allotted time, as we're now a good hour or so behind on the President's schedule for today. And the President has already asked members of his team to follow up with the Israeli delegation and General Jones is going to go over and see his counterparts at 4:30 this afternoon.

So I don't think the President expected that we were going to wrap everything up in a couple-hour meeting in the Oval Office. But the President believes they were warm discussions and we're making progress.

Q: What about a two-state solution? Was there any discussion in their private meetings about the Prime Minister's position on that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you heard both the Prime Minister and the President in the availability discuss the need to work toward the common goal of peace in the region. The President continued to reiterate his position and the position of this government that the only way for that to happen is through a two-state solution. And I think that's the President's position and he continued to reiterate it.

Yes, sir.

Q: The President today appeared to set a rough deadline for negotiations with Iran, saying he wanted to see serious progress by the end of the year. Does that suggest some impatience on his part with the rhetoric emanating from Tehran, the fact that they've so far rebutted his efforts to reach out to them?

MR. GIBBS: No. Look, I think -- I wouldn't say that on this issue you would be frustrated by the rhetoric out of Iran. I think you can take virtually -- you can take a lot of what they say and voice frustration about their rhetoric.

I think the President was clear that while he wasn't going to set an artificial deadline, the President has been firm on this that talking for talk's sake is not what he believes is in his interest or the interest of this country or in the interest of broader peace. That obviously the Islamic Republic of Iran has -- he wants them to take their place in the international community if they're willing to live up to their responsibilities.

On the flip-side of that, it is important to -- I think as he said, it is clear that non-engagement, not having that diplomatic -- not using that diplomatic angle has been a failure. And one of the best ways to galvanize the world is to give Iran the opportunity to accept those responsibilities. And we'll get a sense of whether the Iranian government will accept those responsibilities.

Q: Well, what sort of signs of progress, though, is he looking for? What does he want Iran to do?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into grading different milestones or mile posts on this, except the understanding, again, that the President believes that what has failed is not engaging the Iranian government and the broader Iranian people. And I think you heard the Prime Minister say that he shared the President's desire to seek a solution that worked.

Q: Did he say that everything was on the same --

MR. GIBBS: Did who say that?

Q: Did the President say that?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President certainly has discussed in the past that we should keep all of our options open. Sure.

Yes, sir.

Q: Certainly no one would begrudge President Obama for attempting to get the peace process moving along. But I was just wondering if you could share with us any possible reason for optimism -- you have an Israeli government that is conservative. And even if Netanyahu supported a two-state solution it's unlikely that he'd be able to get the Knesset to go along with it. You have, as the President acknowledged, Egyptians allowing weapons to be smuggled into Gaza. I don't even know what to say about the Palestinian government. Why would President Obama feel any optimism beyond the fact that he's an optimistic guy?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's certainly a good start.

Q: But beyond that?

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think you had the Prime Minister and the President both say they believed that we had a unique opportunity to seek long-term peace in the region. Jake, I think the President would tell you that he doesn't expect any of this to be easy; that the fact that we haven't had it thus far underscores the complexity of the issues that are involved.

But I think as you heard the Prime Minister himself say in the availability, that there was a greater understanding amongst those that want peace now, an understanding of the common threat of our enemies than at any other point. I think that certainly leads you to be optimistic.

Look, again, there's a long way to go, but the President believes the conversations were a good start. He's met with others, including King Abdullah of Jordan. We'll see later this month, Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Abbas. And as I said, I think the President felt good enough to ask his team to follow-up again with the Israeli delegation this afternoon.

So I think the President believes that there's enough reason to hope to continue working.

Q: There has been in the past some people have proposed sending U.N. troops to the Palestinian Territories as a way to protect -- as a way to provide security for both parties. Is that something President Obama would support?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think they got into that level of detail today.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Robert, couldn't you make the argument, though, that Mr. Netanyahu actually got more out of this than the President did? He made Mr. Netanyahu --

MR. GIBBS: Well, if you're as optimistic as Jake --(laughter) -- it seems as if each is leaving --

Q: I'm never optimistic, Robert. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, look at what came out of it. I mean, Mr. Netanyahu did not define the two-state solution, did not say that he's for it. The settlements, right now they're letting new contracts for construction on the West Bank in a certain settlement, Maskiot, if that's proper pronunciation. And the President actually came out with a stronger definition on Iran, putting a timetable, which is something that the Israelis have been looking at. So what was accomplished?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think -- I think you heard the President and the Prime Minister both agree that each thinks, and we've long thought, that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians was a bad deal for both nations and a bad deal for the world. I think you heard them both reiterate that. I think you did hear the President reiterate his strong position and his strong belief that the only way that we're going to have peace in the region is through a two-state solution. That's his belief. We think that the Prime Minister is -- the Prime Minister set forth that he believes that we have to work toward that common goal of peace. And I heard the Prime Minister also support the President's policy of engaging Iran.

So I think there's hope and there's optimism. But again, this is -- maybe we've gotten you too conditioned to good progress if you thought after two hours we were going to walk out with a big deal. We understand it's a long road and the President is willing to use his time and his energy to slowly make progress towards a long-term peace in the region.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: What is this threat from Iran? Who has --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you match the rhetoric of their leadership in wiping Israel off the map --

Q: I've seen the rhetoric of United States and Israel, as well, that --

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?

Q: There's been rhetoric, amazing rhetoric in the last two or three years against Iran.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think I would match the rhetoric of President Obama with the rhetoric of Iranian leadership in threatening and vowing to seek the capability --

Q: (Inaudible) also.

MR. GIBBS: Well, as we've discussed, Helen, I'm the new spokesperson for the incoming administration, or the current administration, not the previous one.

Q: There is some history, though, with --

MR. GIBBS: In Israel? Several thousand years, I'm told.

But, look, I think if you match the nuclear weapons capability with the rhetoric of the Iranian government there is certainly cause -- there's always cause to be concerned, that's why --

Q: Will you give me a quote from them to say what they're going to blow up and so forth?

MR. GIBBS: I can certainly provide you some quotes after the briefing of what they've vowed to do. We can certainly -- somebody can Google that and we'll send them to you.

Q: When Governor Granholm comes tomorrow, would she be talking to the President at all about the Supreme Court vacancy?

MR. GIBBS: I think the governor's primary objective in coming is an announcement we'll make tomorrow on a different topic.

Q: Any secondary objectives -- about the Supreme Court?

MR. GIBBS: I feel good about my first answer.

Q: Which brings me to my question. Why does the President --

Q: I yield to the gentleman from CBS.

Q: Oh, you're not finished, sorry. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Five minutes to the gentlemen in the natty blue tie. (Laughter.)

Q: Why does the --

MR. GIBBS: Well, not five minutes -- (laughter). Let me -- hold on -- the chair takes back his time. Go ahead -- yes, I know. I realize, what am I thinking? Sorry, go ahead.

Q: Why does the President feel this is a good time to change CAFE standards when the automobile industry is in pretty serious trouble? I mean, I assume that's why the governor is coming tomorrow.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think it's a surprise that the administration has been working with states, the industry, environmental groups, and all those that are concerned about efficiency and our independence on foreign oil, to seek an agreement that helps move that progress forward. You know, Bill, it was -- it's been more than -- until 2006 or early 2007, I believe, that we saw any progress over the course of more than two decades in updating our fuel mileage standards. And I think you've heard the industry discuss on many occasions having a certainty in the standards that are desired as they produce cars in this country, and I think tomorrow you'll see people that normally are at odds with each other in agreement with each other building off of some of the very same developments on other energy issues and health care that you saw last week.

Q: So this is going to be a kind of kumbaya session with the industry and the governor?

MR. GIBBS: You're supposed to play the guitar and I'll do some singing.

Q: Oh. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. Somebody suggested that Speaker Pelosi should come forward with the evidence of her allegation that the CIA misled her. Does the President agree that she should have some evidence --

MR. GIBBS: You know, I appreciated the opportunity to get involved in this on Friday and I declined, and I haven't changed my mind on Monday.

Q: Does the President have confidence in Speaker Pelosi?

MR. GIBBS: He does.

Jonathan.

Q: A couple of things. Are we going to hear anything about the NASA administrator and hear it today and --

MR. GIBBS: You won't hear it today because of the Netanyahu meetings going longer. The visit with Mr. Bolden will be tomorrow morning.

Q: And secondly, over the weekend your budget director, Peter Orszag, said that it felt like the economy had bottomed out, sounded like the rebounds are coming. Do you share that optimism and what gives you a sense that the economy is now beginning to turn the corner?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- look, Jonathan, on any number of days there are statistics that are good and that provide hope and there are statistics that underscore the many challenges that we have. I think you've seen over the course of the past several weeks an inflection point change in some of those statistics that denote we're not sliding as far and as fast as we did in previous months at the beginning of the year. But I think that is to say that the President understands that until we're making -- until we see positive growth, until we see jobs created in this economy, that he won't rest in working to see a greater recovery.

So I certainly agree with Peter, but I think Peter would also be the first to tell you that the President believes that we're not looking to -- we're not looking to see it bottom out, we're looking to see it both bottom -- we're looking to see it bottom out and to see progress on growing this economy for middle-class America.

Q: And finally, is there an agenda for this President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday?

MR. GIBBS: I think we can -- we'll probably have more information on that tomorrow.

Mark.

Q: Robert, can you give us an overall status report on where the search for a Supreme Court nominee stands? Has he had any interviews yet? Should we expect an announcement this week?

MR. GIBBS: The President has not had any interviews as of yet. An announcement could come as soon as the President makes a selection. (Laughter.) I figured I'd give an answer equal to the "Can you let us know when the announcement is going to come?"

Q: Like the China ambassador, it will come more than a week later.

MR. GIBBS: Say again?

Q: Is it like the China ambassador, it will just come a week after he makes a decision?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you never know. Obviously, as soon as the President has an announcement you'll be among the first to know.

Q: He'll interview the person first, though, right?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Will there be interviews before an announcement?

MR. GIBBS: Sure, absolutely. Absolutely. Like I said, Mark, if you're interested, I'll give your resume to Bill. (Laughter.)

Q: Appreciate it. (Laughter.)

Q: Have there been any?

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?

Q: Have there been any interviews?

MR. GIBBS: Not as of yet. Yes, sir.

Q: If I could go back to the CIA and Pelosi and just try this one different way. But Panetta has issued his statement. Does the President agree with Panetta that the CIA is not in the business of misleading members of Congress?

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the opportunity. I would point you to my remarks from Friday.

Q: So we can kind of be in limbo on whether or not the President agrees with the CIA director?

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the hypothetical. Yes, sir.

Q: Prime Minister Netanyahu said, among many things, that for the negotiations he wants to restart with the Palestinians to bear fruit, the Palestinians must not only recognize Israel, but recognize it as a Jewish state. That would seem to place off the table the longstanding right of return issue, which has always been a final status issue in these talks. Is that how the White House interprets that particular formulation? And does that in any way prejudge the outcome of the talks that Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to restart?

MR. GIBBS: I will certainly check with some of our negotiators on that. But I do not believe that that -- I don't believe that that prejudges any outcome. I think, again, this is the first of what we assume will be many discussions on a series of topics.

But, again, I think the President thought that today was a step in the right direction. But we've got a long way to go.

Q: There is a theory that Annapolis is the road map now, but in the very near future, the President will chart a new road map, quite possibly in the speech in Egypt. Is right now Annapolis the road map for this administration, or is it actively contemplating something to succeed it?

MR. GIBBS: I think you heard the President mention in his remarks today the process that was set out by the road map, including the strong endorsement again of a two-state solution. So that's the -- that's where he's headed.

Q: Is there no contemplation of something broader or more ambitious than Annapolis?

MR. GIBBS: We'll see what comes of the future.

Q: On the Court, is the President going to begin interviews this week?

MR. GIBBS: It's entirely possible, yes.

Q: Tomorrow? Tomorrow?

Q: Can you tell us?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I appreciate the opportunity to inform you of each and every person that the President sees on this topic, but I'm not likely to do it.

Q: Will it be more than one? Is he contemplating just one interview as sort of the closer? Or would he clearly interview more than one --

MR. GIBBS: I think there's a typing test. (Laughter.)

Q: In the process, interviewing more than one is going to be his approach?

MR. GIBBS: He is going to interview people he thinks that are qualified, and make a pick as to the person he thinks is best qualified.

Sheryl.

Q: Robert, does the President still expect to close Guantanamo Bay one year after his announcement, which would be I guess January 20, 2010? And is --

MR. GIBBS: I think it's the 21st or 22nd, but, yes.

Q: Twenty-first, thank you. And is he still planning on issuing a detailed map, if you will, of how to get there in another two months from now?

MR. GIBBS: I don't understand the second part.

Q: Did he not say on January 22nd that within six months he would sort of issue -- the administration would issue plans for how it intended to close Guantanamo?

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to go back and look. I mean, obviously, Sheryl, the President remains committed to closing Guantanamo.

Q: On January 22nd?

MR. GIBBS: On whatever date he previously intoned in the executive order.

Q: And he's still confident that he can do that?

MR. GIBBS: He is. There are multiple task forces that are -- have been stood up, and are meeting to deal with the issues surrounding that closure.

Q: And what will we hear from him Thursday in his speech? Will he address how he plans to get there? And also, will he talk about the military commissions decision?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he talked about the military commissions decision in a statement Friday. And I took a few questions, as well.

Q: He talked in a written statement, not in his own lovely tones.

MR. GIBBS: I think I saw that statement appear in your newspaper, if I'm not mistaken.

Q: Sure, it was brief.

MR. GIBBS: I think the President will discuss in some detail issues surrounding detainees in detention on Thursday. And we'll have more on that as we get a little bit later into the week.

MR. GIBBS: Jon.

Q: The President seemed intent today on trying to send messages, or it could be interpreted as sending messages for Iran -- sort of a stern warning to them, you know, they should change course, and several other comments that could be interpreted as sort of a stern warning.

I just wondered if you agree that was one of his intents today in communicating publicly, both for Iran's benefit, but also for Mr. Netanyahu's benefit. And he also seemed to be irritated by one question about whether his willingness to talk with Iran could be interpreted as weakness. Does he feel any pressure to show that he's more than just talk on this issue?

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, let me take the -- well, look, Jon, I don't think the rhetoric was markedly different today than what it's been throughout this process.

Q: But the context was obviously --

MR. GIBBS: Well, the context obviously is different when you're sitting next to the Prime Minister of Israel. But at the same time, as we've said throughout this process, that the path that they're on now is not one that he believes is in our interest, the interest of the Israelis, or as he said today, even the interest of the Iranians; that -- I think he said on any number of occasions that discussions and engaging the Islamic Republic of Iran are not simply to talk for talk's sake. And as I mentioned earlier, we have to -- we recognize that not engaging in any way Iran over the past several years has not gotten us anything; that the President believes that through the process of beginning with the P5-plus-1 that we should engage the Iranians to have them accept their responsibilities to the international community.

At the same time he understands that that's not going to go on forever and that we're not going to do that just to do it.

Q: What does that mean? What are you saying?

MR. GIBBS: What I mean is we're not going to -- it was shorthand for saying we're not going to talk for talk's sake. The object of having talks of engagement with Iran are not simply to say we've had talks with engagement. It's to make substantive changes in their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

What was the second part?

Q: Well, I mean, if I could just -- I guess my follow-up would be is there any sense on the President's part that--

MR. GIBBS: Oh, yours was the irritation. Go ahead. But I'll get to --

Q: I think this is in line with that. I mean, is there a sense in his mind that he needs to counteract the thought out there that he's not going to follow up his action -- his words with action?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- look, we've had a debate for the better part of two years about whether we should engage or not engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. I think in many ways that has been settled over the course of both the primary and the general election. But at the same time I think you heard the President say, and I think you -- as you said, there were -- he had stern words for the Iranian government about the responsibilities they have and the path that he believes is dangerous for us, for them, and for the entire region; that what could be borne out of their pursuit of a nuclear weapon is a regional nuclear arms race that's not in anybody's interest.

So again, I think the President is willing to engage in diplomacy, but understand that we have to -- while we undergo that diplomacy we have to see from the Iranians the understanding that they'll live up to those obligations.

Christi.

Q: During his public comments the Prime Minister didn't fully embrace -- or didn't embrace a fully sovereign Palestinian state. But was there any indication at all that there was movement on that issue?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to get into characterizing parts of the talks from the perspective of the Israelis, except to reiterate that I think both believe that we're at a unique opportunity and that our common goal is to peace.

Q: Can you also say why -- you mentioned that the meeting ran quite a bit beyond its allotted time. Can you talk about why that was, tell us anything about what was going on in the room, the history between the two?

Q: Were you in there?

MR. GIBBS: No -- well, I was in for a portion of -- well, obviously for the avail. I was also in for a portion of some note-taking activities where I guess there were two of us and two on the other side. But the portion that went over was the one-on-one portion. I think -- I can get an exact amount of time, but they were at least a half-hour over on that side just in the one-on-one discussions that were being had.

I think both leaders thought the conversations were constructive and desired to continue to have them. An aide went in once to tell the President he was off schedule and he nodded, and he came back out. (Laughter.)

Q: And how much beyond that did the meeting go?

MR. GIBBS: About 25 minutes, at least. I was next up to have to go in and -- (laughter.)

Q: And did the President tell you why?

MR. GIBBS: Just, again, that they thought it was constructive -- the conversations were constructive and didn't want to have to necessarily abide by an artificial timeline of when they were going to end.

Q: And if I could just ask this one thing. Some people thought they saw friction between the two men in the room in the joint availability. Is that a fair read in your opinion?

MR. GIBBS: I'd have -- what's the basis of the friction?

Q: That was the general impression about body language, sort of leaning --

MR. GIBBS: The fact that they were sitting in different chairs? (Laughter.) I hesitate to --

Q: At the end the President did seem a little, I don't know, not warm. I mean, he seemed to kind of end it very quickly. That could be nothing, but --

MR. GIBBS: At that point I think they'd been in there for the better part of two hours. I don't -- generally if you don't think things are going well and you're not having a constructive conversation, I don't normally think that those are conversations that extend by 30 to 45 minutes through the allotted time. Generally those are conversations that tend to end before the allotted time and then you play music and fill the time. (Laughter.)

Q: Did they still go to lunch?

Q: It sounds like you're giving us a hypothetical. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: No, actually that's a real world example.

Q: Generally, if the meeting is long, then it's productive?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I -- well, my point is, if things are going so badly, if there's so much friction and so much bad body language, why would one stay in there a half an hour longer? I mean, I don't -- I guess I don't understand why --

Q: Along these lines, Robert, will there be any sort of joint statement to emerge from this encounter today from the two governments?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think past what they both did at the availability.

Q: So nothing formulated to state something they mutually agreed upon today?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: Why did the President expect Israel to agree to a two-state solution when Hamas, which rules Gaza, insists on a one-state solution and the end of Israel?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the President discussed directly with the Prime Minister, as you heard him say, the need to do all that we can to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That's the obligation of all involved as well as the obligation, as you've heard the President say both in visiting parts of Israel that are shelled by rockets as well as today, that the mutual -- there's mutual security obligations on the part of the Palestinians, and that the best way to minimize the -- any impact that Hamas has is to address both of those concerns directly.

Q: Does the President believe his CIA chief was right or wrong? That's all.

MR. GIBBS: We did this earlier. You can do that from earlier.

Yes, sir.

Q: A few weeks ago, the President said that he was expecting both sides in the Middle East to come up with some goodwill gestures in the coming months. Did he hear anything today that leads him to suspect that something might be forthcoming from Israel in the near future? Did they talk about Gaza humanitarian access, for example?

MR. GIBBS: Well, they certainly -- that was one of the topics. Look, I think that -- the President reiterated his desire to move on a relatively narrow, quick timeline towards comprehensive peace in the region. Obviously that peace in the region should also be met, he believes, with gestures of normalization by the -- by Israelis' Arab neighbors. I think that and a whole host of things were discussed as part of the meeting.

Q: Just quickly, to close the circle on NASA, is Bolden the President's choice and will that happen tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of the President's meeting with him, but I know he's anxious to have strong leadership at NASA. I think we've all watched and read about the mission that's going on right now and the amazing efforts that are being undertaken with consecutive, multi-hour space walks to repair the Hubble telescope. So we may have something after that meeting but not until then.

Q: Just quickly on CAFE, is this an example, what you're announcing tomorrow, of sort of a crisis helping lead to an opportunity to step up?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there has been a crisis for quite some time in ensuring certainty for automakers, I think there's been a crisis for quite some time in the emission of dangerous greenhouse gases, and I think there's been a crisis for quite some time in our dangerous dependence on foreign oil. What I think you'll likely see tomorrow are groups that are normally aligned against each other working together and in concert to address the challenges that we face. And I hope it won't be lost on people that what they are likely to see are people that for, as I said earlier, two decades couldn't agree on updating emissions and fuel efficiency standards. And I think you'll see tomorrow important groundbreaking steps on that effort.

Margaret.

Q: Two things. Syria did not come up in the public part of their discussion. And I'm wondering if we should read that as a sign of progress to the extent that it came up and it was agreed not to say anything bad about Syria or whatever? Do you have a progress report on Syria in the context of --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I don't know if it came up in a private discussion. But I can certainly check with Dan and those guys.

Q: My other question was Netanyahu, despite his caveats -- which seemingly would stop the process before it started -- he said he wants to immediately reengage the peace process. So, like, what happens next in the sense of the immediacy of the reengagement? Is there at some point after Mubarak and Abbas come next week -- at some point are there plans for Israel and those leaders that you can specifically get into?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know about the next steps insofar as the larger meetings. Again, what I said a minute ago, the next step is General Jones at 4:30 p.m. is going to go meet with his counterparts based on progress that the President and the Prime Minister think can be made in the short term. I think those are the immediate next steps in the process.

April.

Q: To change the subject for a moment, there's some rumblings about historically black colleges and universities. One, did the President receive any invitations from any HBCUs to be the commencement speaker? And what colleges?

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to ask the scheduling office. I don't know what we were invited to and what we didn't accept. I simply know what we have accepted, and how I spent my Sunday.

Q: I understand one was by Morehouse College for the same date as Notre Dame yesterday. And what goes into --

MR. GIBBS: Well, then why did you ask me the first question? Why didn't you just ask me if Morehouse invited us the same day as Notre Dame? (Laughter.)

Q: I wanted to know --

MR. GIBBS: It's like I'm playing the Jeopardy version of -- I'll take HBCUs for $200. (Laughter.)

Honestly, I didn't know the answer for the first, so it's hard for me to underscore the second, because as I told you a second ago, I don't know what we were invited to and I don't know what we were invited to and didn't agree to.

Q: And then on the other side of the HBCU issue, there is some rumblings from historically black college and university presidents about the cut, the $85 million cut, to HBCU's Title III -- that's for programs to include -- what is it -- monies for projects, equipment replacement, launching new programs, offsetting facilities, faculty, and staff, things of that nature. And they're saying, you know, this administration is saying that that money has been used to boost Pell Grant monies, increase Pell Grant monies, but at the same time many of the presidents are saying that issue is financial aid, that has nothing to do with Title III. And they want to know why was that cut made?

MR. GIBBS: I can talk to the budget people. I don't have information on that level of specificity on the Title cuts, but I can certainly --

Q: They are concerned. They feel that this administration is turning a blind eye to historically black colleges and universities.

MR. GIBBS: I will check on the facts.

Q: Can you comment on that?

MR. GIBBS: I think the commitment that this President has made education in a very short period of time through a lot of the spending in the Recovery Act denotes that he believes that in order to lay the new foundation for economic growth, education is a key part of it. And I think his commitment is underscored in those resources that have been laid out.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: The President supported the Defense of Marriage Act -- for repeal of that during the election. Now that same-sex couples can marry legally in five different states, what is the President doing to make sure that those marriages can be recognized at the federal level? And what's the time line for something like that?

MR. GIBBS: I will -- I have to go check on that. I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Q: Thank you, Robert.

Q: Newsweek reported this week that the President urged, I guess by way of telling Speaker Pelosi, that a truth commission should include immunity for witnesses that testify. Is that accurate and if so why --

MR. GIBBS: I have not read Newsweek -- I have not read that article in Newsweek. I think the President's viewpoint on a commission has been expressed by him and by me, that if we want to look at what has happened in the past, that ability and responsibility rests with congressional committees like the Intelligence Committee that have the ability to do it. His position on that is the same.

Thanks, guys.

END 4:21 P.M. EDT

Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", May 18, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86178.
 
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