|The American Presidency Project|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|May 15, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Before we get started let me do a quick week ahead, so we can get into that. The President has no scheduled public events on Saturday. On Sunday, as you know, the President will deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Following the speech he will travel to Indianapolis to attend a fundraiser for Democratic members of Congress from Indiana. He will return to Washington, D.C. and the White House that night.
On Monday the President will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu here at the White House. On Tuesday the President will attend an event honoring the SBA's National Small Business Winners of the Year at the White House.
On Wednesday morning the President will attend the first quarterly meeting of the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board. In the afternoon the President will participate in a credentialing ceremony for foreign ambassadors at the White House.
On Thursday the President will deliver a speech discussing issues associated with Guantanamo Bay and anti-terror tactics, including detention. He will also welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to the White House.
On Friday the President will deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis. The First Family will spend Memorial Day Weekend at Camp David. They will travel there next Saturday and return during the day on Monday.
Q: Robert, do you have a venue for Thursday's speech?
MR. GIBBS: Not yet.
And Ms. Loven, with that, we'll take it away.
Q: Thank you. Just a couple details about the military tribunal announcement and then a little broader question. On details, you talked about going to Congress to revise the law in addition to the executive authority changes that he's making right away. What are the changes that he wants from Congress and how long of a stay is he asking for of the tribunal?
MR. GIBBS: I believe that the continuances are additional 120-day continuances. There are executive changes that can be made in the military commissions law, with which Congress has 60 days to review. We have been in discussions with folks like Senator Levin, Senators McCain and Graham about what additional changes might be sought through a legislative vehicle. But those conversations are ongoing and continue.
Q: So he doesn't know yet what more he wants --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they're working through some of the details about what the distinction and difference between executive and what can be -- what has to be done legislatively.
Q: Okay. And then, just more broadly, liberal groups are angry again. They say they were spurned on Wednesday and they're upset by his decision. How worried are you that you're alienating some of the President's most loyal supporters with these decisions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost the President of the United States is going to do what he believes is in the best security interests of the people of the United States.
I think military commissions have a long tradition in the United States. The President spoke in 2006 in his belief that military courts and commissions had a role to play in the detainees that were at Guantanamo Bay, but also spoke forcefully about the notion that the system that had been first set up and ruled unconstitutional, and then passed legislatively and largely ruled unconstitutional again by the Supreme Court, wasn't working. And I think the best way to understand why it wasn't working -- and when I say "wasn't working," I mean, wasn't working in seeking swift and certain justice for families of victims as well as the American people because in about eight years -- a little less than eight years' time -- exactly three cases had gone through military commissions.
The President, as I said, during the debate said that properly structured military commissions had a role to play. The changes that he is seeking he believes will ensure the protections that are necessary for these to be conducted in order to reach that certain justice as well as live up to our values.
Q: Can you describe more completely the changes the President wants and which ones he feels will require legislative --
MR. GIBBS: Well, on the second part, they're still working through some of that exactly. I don't have a lot to add from what the President said, but statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhumane, and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial.
Second, the use of hearsay will be limited so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability.
Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel.
Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify.
And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.
Again, if you look back through the arc of this process beginning back in 2001 and 2002 through Supreme Court making decisions in 2005, moving this to the venue of Congress in 2006, and the legislation that the President supported that came out of the Senate Armed Services Committee with strong bipartisan support -- four Republican senators joining all the Democrats involved -- in passing legislation that the President believes met the goals of instituting swift and certain justice and the protections adequate enough to be reviewed by courts, and believes so.
Q: Robert, switching topics. Two questions for you, first on GM and then on climate change. On GM, there seems to be a growing consensus, both from company executives and from observers outside the company, that it will have to go into a bankruptcy proceeding as well, just as Chrysler did. Is that the feeling at the White House, as well, or is there a chance that more public money could be put up to prevent that from happening?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think without -- we've got a couple more weeks to go to make -- for the company to make some decisions. Whether or not a bankruptcy like that, that we've seen in the situation with Chrysler and Fiat, is necessary, I don't want to get ahead of, based on the fact that we've got several weeks to go, or at least a couple of weeks to go here.
And I think the larger thing is obviously there are a number of difficult decisions that GM has to make, just as Chrysler had to make. I think we can -- we all can look at the announcements that were made by the auto companies in the past 24 hours about dealerships. And everybody understands the role that a lot of these dealerships play in local communities. You can -- I bet a lot of you can remember, either you or your kids, playing on a little league team that was sponsored by a local dealership. The role that they play in the community is a big one.
I think it's important to note the President understands the role they play and also understands the economic and job -- the jobs that are in those dealerships. I think the decision that was made several weeks ago largely in many ways saved all of those dealerships, the President becoming involved in a way that without it he might not have seen letters go to some dealerships at Chrysler or GM, but letters go to all the dealerships at Chrysler and GM, and the job loss associated with the closing of each and every dealership across the country. That would have been exponentially great.
Q: Sorry, is there reason for bondholders or other investors to hold out for the chance that more government money would be put up to keep GM out of bankruptcy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we saw this in the Chrysler negotiations. I don't want to -- I'm not going to become an active participant in those negotiations from here in order to provide anybody -- I think the best place for those negotiations to happen are with the individual stakeholders and the auto company. I think they understand the issues that they're dealing with and I don't want to provide something one way or the other that gives somebody the ability to change their tactics.
Q: Let me ask a quick question on time. If there's a bill, a compromise bill coming out of the House on emissions -- it looks like they are now saying 15 percent of CO2 permits would be auctioned, which means the other 85 percent would be given away to industry. That's a huge change from the 100 percent that the President supported. Can he support this bill?
MR. GIBBS: I know that the legislation is being reviewed at the White House. I think we believe that the legislation, as the President said a few days ago, represents a big step forward in dealing with dangerous greenhouse gases in producing a sustained market for the creation of clean-energy jobs with targets that demonstrate the need for reduction in those gases, as well as a standard for the amount of power that has to be produced through renewable sources, which is important; and that the President believes we have to undertake protections to ensure that price fluctuations don't affect middle class families here in this country.
Q: But is 15 percent auctioning --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that they're looking through that. I know that this is the first step in this process. But I think the President overall believes that the legislation going through this process is a very positive step on the road to addressing these important issues.
Q: Of the five steps that you're looking for -- changes in the military commissions -- can you explain that fifth one?
MR. GIBBS: I can get somebody who has a law degree to do that.
Q: One of the reasons that human rights groups are upset about the announcement today is many of them believed, based on a couple statements the President had made, that the President was looking -- then-senator, now President -- was looking forward to a system where detainees would be tried either through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or through U.S. courts.
And there are a couple statements the President made. I'm wondering if you could just reconcile it. He said in August ‘07: "I have faith in America's courts. I have faith in our JAGs. As President, I'll close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists."
And then in August, the campaign issued a statement responding to the Hamdan conviction. The key line being: "It's time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and through our Uniform Code of Military Justice" -- no mention of military commissions.
Now, I understand he supported McCain-Graham-Warner back in ‘08. But how do you reconcile these statements with the military commissions? They make no mention of them.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Jake, the underlying issues in each of those statements affording -- first affording for swift and certain justice, as well as sufficient detainee protection that the Supreme Court has now rendered have to be a part of any military commission is embedded in the exact suggestions that the President is filing today with the Court, ensuring that -- the Court ruled last year that significant protection had to be afforded for the first time to detainees in order for something like this to be constitutional, and those are the changes that the President sought.
Again, I think if you go back and look at his statements and understand the role that military commissions have played in the history of the United States, the President believes that, in dealing with certain detainees at Guantanamo Bay, that this is an appropriate avenue.
Obviously we will also use, in some instances, Article III courts in order to ensure the certainty of justice that the President spoke about.
Q: I'm sorry, just to follow up. I mean, are these just two statements where, if you could go back, you would just add the term "military commission"? They were just -- they were just vague? Because --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think that the -- I think if you look back at all these statements, Jake, the President has been consistent in his views on this issue and been consistent on what was lacking in order to ensure justice, in order to ensure protection, and most of all to ensure that this process goes forward with -- and doesn't see repeated legal stalls in going through the court system.
And again, the notion of military commissions in a larger sense is something that's been with us now for almost eight years. I think some 242 detainees resided at Guantanamo when the President took office, obviously at certain points there have been even more, and exactly three cases have gone through this system in those almost intervening eight years. I don't think this is a system that works in any way, shape, or form for the American people.
Q: But if I can just follow on that, when you say the President has been consistent, the quote that Jake read from 2007 where the President flatly said, I would reject -- using the word "reject" -- the Military Commissions Act. He's not rejecting it today. He's embracing the Bush law --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no --
Q: -- with tweaks. He's embracing that law but saying, "I want to tweak it."
MR. GIBBS: "I'm buying a car except I'm changing the engine and painting it a different color and calling it a different" --
Q: Well, he's not rejecting this law. There's not a new law coming. He's not rejecting this. He's saying, "We're going to live with this law with tweaks."
MR. GIBBS: No. The law, as you talk about it, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed in late September of 2006 and signed by this President, was ruled in 2007, Section 7, to be unconstitutional, okay. That law doesn't work, okay. The President will seek a continuance in the nine cases that are currently part of the military commissions, setting those cases aside for 120 days in order to institute these changes. These cases won't go forward under these rules. Therefore, the system that was set up by Congress and signed by then-President Bush won't be the course under which these cases will ultimately be heard. Your characterization is just simply wrong.
Q: So then why is the ACLU saying you're just building on a flawed system, a system that is unconstitutional, as you just pointed out? You're just building on that flawed system.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, Jake -- I'm sorry, not Jake, Ed, you -- sorry -- (laughter) -- you know, I think you started out on Monday wondering why -- in questioning why we were being so much like -- so opposite of George Bush in all these questions. And on Friday I'm answering questions about why are we so much like George Bush on all these questions. I'll let you guys discern what inflection point -- what period of day that all changed.
But this notion that somehow the law is the same under the protections that the President is entering into, I would simply point to you the opinion that Justice Kennedy wrote in a Supreme Court case in 2007, denoting that without the protections that the President is enumerating to the court today, those trials can't go forward.
This notion is the same -- the notion that this is the same vehicle is simply -- it's simply not true. The protections --
Q: So if you want to take issue with the characterization of the relation to Bush --
MR. GIBBS: I think you should take issue with those --
Q: -- former President Bush --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think I would. I think you should. I think the protections that are afforded -- that the President will ask the court or will note that he's going to send to Congress to amend represent a far different system. Again, in 2006, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Carl Levin and John Warner all supported a piece of legislation similar to what the President is enumerating today. Have you asked each of them why they're --
Q: You just said three Republicans, right? Warner, Graham, McCain --
MR. GIBBS: Four. I'm sorry, and Susan Collins. Four Republicans joined 11 Democrats in a 15-9 vote for a very different set of rules governing military commissions.
Q: When you mentioned President Bush --
MR. GIBBS: That which got politicized, a different proposal got into the mix, and the law that ultimately came from that was very different than what was proposed in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Q: But when the ACLU and other critics say -- what they complain about, in part, is they look at the executives orders that were signed on week one of this administration, and there seemed to be a signal that was being sent that you were turning the page on the Bush years, there was going to be a sharp break. Now you're looking at what you did on the photos Wednesday, what you're doing here today -- they're getting the sense that you're moving closer to President Bush. And again, you're quoting what Republicans were saying, like John Warner, John McCain. And they see John McCain cheering this decision today and they say this is not what we voted for.
MR. GIBBS: But, Ed, first of all -- let me give you two answers. First of all, go back and talk to those that voted for S. 3901 in 2006. The reason that bill didn't get a majority was, that's not what the Bush administration wanted, okay? And secondly -- and I would say this to somebody who criticizes us from the left and criticizes us from the right -- one thing that we're not having a debate about is whether or not these tactics exist, whether they can currently be used by this administration, because this President took, with one stroke of a pen, the swift action to ensure that these enhanced interrogation techniques aren't used by this administration.
I think, if I understand the former Vice President of the United States correctly, I'm to understand that he doesn't necessarily agree with that, marking somewhat of a change from the previous administration's discourse of justice.
Q: I didn't mention the former Vice President in my question.
MR. GIBBS: I did.
MR. GIBBS: I did.
Q: Robert, looking forward to Sunday, should we expect to hear the President use his speech at Notre Dame to try to, as he said at the press conference, tamp down the emotions surrounding the question of abortion?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President will obviously make mention of the debate that's been had. I think the President, as somebody who has taught in a university setting, would understand that this is exactly the type of give and take that's had on college campuses all over the country.
So I think you'll hear him address it, but I think you'll also have a President and a commencement speaker that's quite cognizant of the fact that this is a commencement ceremony. This is a special occasion for families to celebrate the conferring of degrees in this ceremony and that the President will understand that's the most important aspect of the day.
Q: A couple of things. Could you clarify a little bit more on where the President is on indefinite detention of prisoners without trial? There's some suggestion in the statement today that that is still under consideration and some -- a lot of people saying that it's under very serious consideration.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are many issues being dealt with by several task forces that were created to institute the President's executive order. Those discussions continue and I don't have any announcements on that.
Q: Second of all, if you look at the broader context here -- the President made his decision on military commissions; he made his decision on photos; he is embracing -- or at least not opposing -- a very different bill on climate change than the one that he talked about when he talked about a hundred percent auctions; he's not standing in the way of the ousting of gays in the military, some of whom are interpreters of Arabic; there's some restiveness on immigration, a sense that the President has not moved fast enough and not doing anything more than speaking to Latino groups about his commitment on immigration reform. And I wonder what we're seeing here. Are we seeing a change in attitude toward compromise and a shift toward the middle since the first hundred days ended?
MR. GIBBS: Whether we're going to mark this period of the next --
Q: The 16th.
MR. GIBBS: The next 16 days of -- I'll leave it up to people far smarter than me to parse out the thematics of every 16th day over the course of this administration.
Not to go through each individual one of your things, Jonathan, but the overlying legislative principle of a piece of climate change legislation that's being considered by Congress is to see an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from the levels that were effective in 2005.
Now, I'm not a climate scientist, but this is a proposal that has been talked about on Capitol Hill for any number of years and any number of legislative sessions. Some of the details may not be perfect into what the President campaigned on. If the President gets an opportunity to sign a bill that puts into law this nation reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by that 83 percent by 2050, I think it will be hailed as a substantive achievement by all of those involved. And I think if you look at those that are at the table right now working on something like that piece of legislation, whether it's environmental groups or utility and energy companies, I think there's been a shift in the paradigm of what's going on in this town in order to see real change come about.
Q: Is it fair to say, though, that the President realizes he needs to see issues differently as President than he did as presidential candidate?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q: Well, that he's making decisions like the photo decision on Wednesday, and today's decision that seemed at odds with stands he took as a candidate.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- maybe I misinterpreted what the President said on September 28, 2006, but I'll read it for everyone to understand: "I have heard, for example, the argument that it should be military courts and not federal judges who should make decisions on these detainees. I actually agree with that. The problem is that the structure of the military proceedings has been poorly thought through."
I'll leave it up to somebody else's interpretation, but I think if you go back and read in 2006, I think if you look at the floor vote that was had around that same debate, you've got something that's markedly different than what was ultimately passed. Certainly he was critical of the structure that was set up around military commissions. But I think it makes pretty clear there that the President believes and understands and supports the historic role that military commissions have played in cases involving battlefield detainees.
I don't think there's -- I don't think there's been in any way, shape or form a migration on where he stood on the issue of military commissions from 2006 to today, 2009.
Q: Does he believe civilian criminal courts aren't able to handle these trials?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think that you'll see announcements likely forthcoming that detainees currently at Guantanamo will soon be moved into the court system, an Article III court system. I think there are many different avenues by which this administration will use to seek the justice that is deserved.
Q: And on Monday, Robert, will there be a NASA administrator announcement?
MR. GIBBS: I think you know that the President will meet with somebody that he hopes will -- wants to meet with somebody about filling the important role of future NASA administrator.
Q: Charles Bolden?
MR. GIBBS: He will meet with him on Monday, and we'll see how that goes.
Q: Robert, two quick questions. Sheila Bair today said that some bank chief executives would be replaced in the coming months after the stress tests have run their course. Is the administration behind that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, the process for the stress test, as you know -- the initial results are back and have been released, as you know. The banks that need additional capital cushion under the scenario sketched out by the regulators in these tests, those plans have to be back in the next several weeks to the regulators and those that did the tests in order to ensure their acceptance.
Based on looking at those plans, I assume those regulators also will make determinations about not just the suitability of those plans going forward, but whether or not the corporate leadership of those institutions is right in instituting what has to happen in those plans. But I think that's a process that has got to play out for a few weeks.
Q: On the Supreme Court, is the President making progress on that search? And should the public consider as a disqualifying factor not being square with the Internal Revenue Service?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not that privy to the individual vets in any of these instances. I think the President believes in the meetings that he's having that he's making progress on selecting the person that he believes will be best able to serve as a member of the Supreme Court, understanding the importance of the rule of law, and understanding the role that the law plays in the lives of everyday citizens.
Q: If I can ask -- has the President conducted interviews to your knowledge, for the Supreme Court?
MR. GIBBS: He has not.
Q: Is that going to happen in Camp David on Memorial Day weekend?
MR. GIBBS: I do not have that detailed a week-ahead.
Q: Where will these military commissions reconstituted occur?
MR. GIBBS: I think some of that will depend on timing.
Q: Will they occur in Guantanamo?
MR. GIBBS: They could, yes.
Q: And does that fact in any way affect the President's commitment to close it by the deadline he set with an executive order?
MR. GIBBS: No. And, look, I think there are any number of decisions and details that have to be gone through over the next several months on a lot of these issues.
Q: Would it not be incumbent on the President to have these details ironed out before making this decision?
MR. GIBBS: No, because --
Q: Is the venue important --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the venue is important but I think it's important to understand, Major, that the filings that are being undertaken by the Department of Defense today are to seek additional continuances from those that were received when the President originally signed the executive order, delaying what at that point would be military commissions that would have gone forward -- (cell phone rings) -- careful -- (laughter) -- my son told me I can't take any more phones -- so the filings are required in order to seek additional continuances as the original 120 days expire.
Q: I understand. But taking your commitment to swift and sure justice, looking at a calendar, if the binding deadline to close Guantanamo remains, and you are continuing cases, and there is no other place that I'm currently aware of in which military commissions of the kind that are envisioned can take place, I'm just trying to figure out where these cases are going to be adjudicated. And don't the American people deserve an answer to understand where this swift and sure justice is going to be carried out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know those are -- this is a process that is being worked through as part of these continuances.
Q: Okay, let me ask you about Speaker Pelosi. Yesterday she said that she -- it was her belief that the CIA lied to her. The CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a message to employees today that it is important for them to focus on their job, not listen to all this noise, that they take any kind of accusation of that nature very seriously. Does this White House agree with the Speaker that the CIA lied to her? Does it have any opinion on the propriety of the airing that kind of accusation publicly?
MR. GIBBS: I think you've heard the President say this a number of times -- the best thing that we can do is to look forward. The President is spending his time on any number of issues, including keep the American people safe, by looking forward.
Q: Yes, but it is a crime, what the Speaker alleged.
MR. GIBBS: You know, and --
Q: That's a serious allegation, one that would be -- would necessarily alarm the American public at a time of war, which the President, I know, as you've told us, takes very seriously.
MR. GIBBS: He does, and Major, I appreciate the invitation to get involved in here, but I'm not going to RSVP.
Q: You let him take so many questions, he asked all of mine. (Laughter.) But do you have any --
MR. GIBBS: Can I go now?
Q: Not all our questions. (Laughter.)
Q: That is such --
MR. GIBBS: You've asked a lot of questions. (Laughter.)
Q: I've forgotten that my job as a journalist is to ask questions, I apologize.
MR. GIBBS: Thirty seconds to respond --
Q: I was going to actually ask the same one, so I was praising his question.
Do you have a sense of how many of the detainees that are currently in Guantanamo will ultimately go through the tribunals? We had some sources over the week as saying somewhere between 50 and 100.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that it's that high, to be honest with you. I don't have in front of me that answer, but I think part of -- part of the process that you heard me discuss when the President signed the executive order was that determinations would be made on acquiring knowledge on individual cases for all of the detainees at Guantanamo. I know that process continues. So I think the overall number may not yet be determined based on detailed reviews of individual instances and detainee records.
Q: Okay, thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Robert, can you just delineate what the President thinks -- the kinds of cases where the tribunals would be appropriate as opposed to a civilian court?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I don't want to get ahead of the lawyers and some of that stuff. I'm not going to get ahead of that.
Q: Do you have an idea of how many detainees will be taken out of Guantanamo, tried in the commission process? There was some reporting yesterday that suggested it was about 20 or just under that number, and that number was --
MR. GIBBS: You're trying the same question.
Q: -- disputed by the White House. And then Monday, how important is it to the President to get Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree or use the phrase "two-state solution" or support that? And what's the thinking inside the White House about the fact that a lot of people expect this meeting to be tense and adversarial?
MR. GIBBS: You know, on the first question, again, I think the individual detainee reviews are* happening about what is the most appropriate venue, and I don't have a specific number, as I said to Michael, on that.
In terms of Prime Minister Netanyahu, look, the President has met with him before. I think they have a good relationship. I think they want to discuss, obviously, the importance of our bilateral relationship, the mutual interest that we have in peace and stability in the region, and a number of other issues of common concern. This is part of this -- an ongoing process that the President began the very first day of his administration. This will be followed by meetings.
We've obviously had King Abdullah here. We will have President Mubarak and President Abbas. I don't expect that the meeting will be quite as contentious as you might suggest. I think this is the beginning of a long effort and I think the President -- I think all involved understand that, like so many issues that arrive in that office, that the solutions aren't going to be easy.
Q: But his government -- Netanyahu's government has not agreed to support or pursue a two-state solution.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't doubt that the parameters of -- the beginning parameters of some peace deal is something that's going to be --
Q: I mean, that's fairly important to this White House --
MR. GIBBS: -- it is, it will be discussed, and I think people understand the position that this administration has.
Q: Robert, just following up a bit on Jonathan and Mark's questions, the President shifted positions on the issue of the photos depicting abuse. When a President makes a decision, should the American people conclude that it is subject to change or will he stand by it?
MR. GIBBS: Which decision?
Q: Well, let's take the photo decision. I don't want to get into necessarily a discussion about that particular decision, but generally when a President makes decisions, does he stand by these decisions or are these decisions subject to change as new facts come in, or how would you describe the President's approach?
MR. GIBBS: I think anybody that doesn't take into account facts as they are, facts as they change, in making a decision -- I think the President would believe that of course one would make a decision based on the most up-to-date, readily available information. I think to do otherwise would be to short-change, in many ways, the importance of the decision that you make.
Q: Robert, if the President is granting additional rights to these detainees, these suspects, in these military commissions, what's the status of double jeopardy? If they're acquitted in these military commissions, will they be released, or are they subject to either being held without trial or tried in other venues?
MR. GIBBS: I can get a lawyer to answer the question. I don't off the top of my head know the answer.
Yes, sir. (Cell phone rings.) Are you going to phone this question in or -- (laughter.)
Q: I've already had an offer for a more up-to-date model with a big off button on it.
MR. GIBBS: You know, having held that phone, you should take somebody up on that. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Two quick questions. On Wednesday, I saw Senator Sessions of Alabama, who said he has twice written the administration about the release of the Chinese -- the Uighurs, Chinese Muslims, into the United States and has not received a reply. Are you familiar with this and going to reply to him?
MR. GIBBS: I've not seen any letters. I don't doubt from Senator Sessions that they exist. I don't know -- I don't have any announcements and I think I would point to what the Attorney General testified in front of Congress yesterday.
Q: Also, Congressman Lamborn and other members in the House Sovereignty Caucus said they believed President Obama would take the United States -- would submit ratification to the Senate of U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court, but he has not officially said that. Is that the administration's position?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don't have anything on that but I can -- I will check for the House Sovereignty Caucus.
Q: Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Is the administration prepared to offer the Israelis some kind of undertaking that any negotiations with Iran would not be open-ended; that it would have some kind of end date? And do you think it's fair for people to sort of form the view that, given the statements from the administration and given the statements from Netanyahu government on issues like settlement, Iran, a Palestinian state, that although they're still good allies, there are certainly differences of approach to the Middle East right now?
MR. GIBBS: My sense is that probably -- that's probably a strain in any number of -- a common strain in any number of our relationships. Look, I -- this I think, again, is going to be a long process. I think many of the issues that you enumerated this government has been in contact with the Israelis about, and that conversation will continue here on Monday.
We understand the common security challenges that Israel and the United States face, and I think those will be paramount in the discussions.
Q: Thanks, Robert. I have two quick questions. First, I wanted to know if the President has any reaction to the RNC's rebranding effort. They're going to pass a resolution to rename the Democratic Party. And I also wanted to know if you could flesh out --
MR. GIBBS: That seems -- I would say, given the challenges that they face, that seems like just exactly the way I would be using my time too.
Q: Does the President have a reaction?
MR. GIBBS: You'll be surprised I haven't talked to him about this.
Q: And my second question was, I wondering if you could describe the difference between the President's decision to intervene with regard to the abuse photos but not to intervene when it comes to discharging otherwise qualified soldiers because they're gay.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, I don't understand the analogy.
Q: Well, the President says that releasing the detainee photos poses a danger to our troops, but doesn't dismissing otherwise qualified soldiers also pose a danger? Is it a question of degree?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. What I talked about in terms of "don't ask, don't tell" was the President -- the President, as you know, supports changing that because he strongly believes that it does not serve our national interest. He agrees with former members of the Joint Chiefs in that determination.
But unlike photos, the only durable solution to "don't ask, don't tell" is through a legislative process, and the President is working with Congress and members of the Joint Chiefs to ensure that that happens.
Q: But couldn't he in the meantime put a moratorium on these discharges until that can be accomplished?
MR. GIBBS: But again, the President has determined that that's not -- that's not the way to seek any sort of lasting or durable solution to the public policy problem that we have.
Q: Then how would you respond to the criticism, though, that dismissing a qualified linguist endangers the troops?
MR. GIBBS: I think I would respond by saying that the President has long believed that the policy doesn't serve our national interest.
Q: Presidents have often used commencement addresses at the military academies for major speeches on foreign or defense policy, an example being Bush outlining the policy of preemptive war at West Point. Can we expect anything that sweeping at the Naval Academy speech next week? What is the topic?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you'll see two things. One, as I had stated earlier, I think the President first and foremost understands that it is a time of celebration for families, particularly individuals at the Naval Academy that are entering into serving their country. So I think obviously there will be a celebration of that.
I think the President will talk about the challenges that we face and the commitments that he's making to ensure that the investments that we make in protecting our men and women in uniform, that we're doing so in a way that understands the precious resources that they are and the precious resources that we have in ensuring that we're using those resources to their greatest ability in the missions that they are undertaking now and the type of missions that we believe they'll be taking in the future.
END 3:05 P.M. EDT
|Citation: : "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", May 15, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86179.|
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