The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Robert Gibbs
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
May 14, 2009
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Washington, D.C.

5:08 P.M. EDT

Q: Hello, sir.

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. How are you guys? Good? What's going on?

Q: You tell us.

MR. GIBBS: What do you mean?

Q: Anything going on?

MR. GIBBS: I just woke up from my nap.

Q: Can you talk about a Supreme Court nomination, or the goal of naming somebody after Memorial Day and before you take off on the trip? Is that right? Is that --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get into the exact timing.

Q: How about a general timing?

MR. GIBBS: In time to have somebody -- in time to have somebody go through the process preferably before the end of -- or before the August recess --

Q: The folks on the Hill --

MR. GIBBS: -- but definitely, as we've said many times, somebody to be able to start work with the Supreme Court on the first Monday in October.

Q: The folks on the Hill that he met with seemed to come away with a pretty clear sense that the decision was imminent within the next couple of weeks.

MR. GIBBS: Then why are you asking me? (Laughter.)

Q: I'm asking you to comment on their -- on what they came away with.

Q: Are they all wet or are they right?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll -- I'm not going to get a whole lot more specific than what I've said, and not a whole lot more specific than the President has been.

Q: A separate question on the exciting topic of derivatives. What agency would the White House like to see regulating derivatives?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously you saw the -- the President, Secretary Geithner outlined in some broad scopes the notion of financial reregulation in February and March. And then obviously Secretary Geithner took that a step further yesterday in calling for legislation to bring a lot of this out of the shadows.

I think they're working now through some of the legislative details. Obviously this is going to -- this is going to cross several different departments and agencies, so we have to work with Treasury and CFTC and others to ensure that we get a proposal that we believe is workable, which we do think we can, and that we finally -- I think this is a big step in the financial regulatory reform that the President has been talking about for quite some time.

Q: A big piece of that would be which agency itself it falls under, whether it's the Fed or the CFTC or the SEC. Do you -- does the President have a preference?

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard him enumerate a preference at this point, no.

Q: But it will affect -- I mean, it will affect the regulation, right?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I mean, look, again, I think you've got issues that are going to stretch -- that stretch across multiple agencies. I think that's part of what has to be worked out in the legislation.

But I think the main thing is taking that -- is taking the steps of bringing this stuff out of the shadows. You saw the announcement about capital requirements for some of these tradings -- trades like banks have. All of that I think would take a big step toward preventing what happened in this most recent global financial crisis from ever happening again, and that's the real important step.

Q: Robert, on the photos, do you know if the administration has communicated to the court yet its decision to retract what it had said previously? And the ACLU and others have been really harsh, calling the administration just as bad as the Bush administration now when it comes to secrecy. Does his decision on this reflect a fundamental kind of position that you think he takes or is going to take in his tenure on secrecy when it comes to national security?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- a couple comments.

Q: Thought you might.

MR. GIBBS: One, I suppose, since you all keep asking me about Dick Cheney and how we're so different than George Bush in keeping the American people safe, it's a little hard to answer a question about why somebody thinks we're just like George Bush.

Q: On this issue, they're saying. I mean, you know, they're saying on the issue of secrecy.

MR. GIBBS: Dick Cheney is not talking about global warming, right? I mean, we can't be either -- we can't be just like Bush and totally opposite of Bush all in the same issue. So I'll let people decide what part of the spectrum they think we land on. I think there are a lot of analogies out there that people probably haven't thought well through before they opened their mouths.

The second thing is, look, I think it is very -- I don't think it makes any sense to look at these things -- I think each of these things has to be looked at individually, right? Like let's take, for instance -- because all the stories today include this analogy to Abu Ghraib. Let's understand that Abu Ghraib -- the existence of the photos was the first that people understood of the notion of detainee abuse. That's what led to the investigation.

In this case, these photos are part of investigations that have been completed. The existence of these photos are not how we know about the abuse; it's because they've been investigated.

So I think we're all trying to draw parallels that might not necessarily work. I think the President is going to take -- look at the individual facts on a case-by-case basis and make the determination that he best believes protects our national security.

Q: And I think most people would understand the kind of case-by-case approach. On the other hand, there are people who would probably say they voted for this President because they understood him to have a fundamentally different belief when it comes to these kinds of issues, and a fundamentally more open approach to issues like secrecy -- they voted for him because they didn't like George Bush's approach to kind of keeping everything secret and not turning -- and not being transparent. And that's what you guys promised, is a fundamentally different approach.

MR. GIBBS: And I'm pushing back on -- because now you seem to -- you've morphed from this being the ACLU's question and --

Q: I'm just -- I'm playing devil's advocate here, Robert. I'm just --

MR. GIBBS: I'll be transparent and make this The Washington Post's argument. I think if you have any doubt about where we stand on the issues of detainee abuse, enhanced interrogation techniques and torture, I'd be happy to provide you the copy of the executive order that once and for all ends their use as part of this administration. I think if anybody has any doubt about how we fundamentally differ from the past administration on this issue, I'd suggest they take a look at that.

And again, I just want to push back on this whole premise that somehow -- these cases are on the Internet. These cases have been investigated. These cases -- we've seen punishment handed down for people that are involved in these cases. The notion that these photos add anything other -- anything to the record about these cases other than some matter-of-fact sensationalism -- that's why the President believes that the detainee abuse investigations are important and it can't be overlooked and it shouldn't be overlooked. But materially, these photos don't add anything to it.

Q: Do you have anything to add to the CIA decision today to reject Cheney's request to release some of the interrogation memos that he asked to be released?

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, I -- the CIA is the agency that has -- the CIA is the agency that has jurisdiction over this. They made the decision, in all honesty, based on an executive order from the Bush administration, which under the type of request that Vice President Cheney made, precludes these being declassified because they're part of ongoing litigation. The executive order updated in the Bush administration precludes their release.

Q: Robert, the CEO of the largest drug benefits plan said in a speech in Florida today that he thought the President was taking a big risk in backing a government health plan. He said that it would draw so much opposition that critics would galvanize and then scare the rest of the population, thinking -- arguing it would lead to rationing health care and all that stuff. And as a result, he said, the President's intentions would end up backfiring. Do you have any comment? Is he off base? What do you think of that argument?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously the details of the health care -- of any health care reform are being worked through now, first on the Senate side and -- well, both the Senate and the House side. But, look, we had a lot of this debate -- we had a healthy debate on -- no pun intended -- on this issue for the better part of the last two years, and I think the American people are willing to understand the facts.

I think more importantly they're ready for health care reform that cuts their costs, and so are the owners of small businesses, and quite frankly so should the federal government be, based on the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid; that if we don't get a handle on our health care spending, we're never going to see appreciable dents in our deficit and ultimately the debt we accumulate.

So I do think that what's happened over the course of the past week with many people that fought reform 15 or 16 years ago now being part of the solution -- I think you can say the same thing for what's happened recently with positive movement on energy and climate change legislation -- that it's been a real week where each of these -- on each of these issues, disparate groups have been brought to the table to work through a solution, and I think they've all been positive.

Q: On those same lines, if Representative Waxman is unable to get an agreement next week or a compromise bill for climate change, would the President prefer that he just set it aside and focus on health care, in terms of a pure timing question?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously that's going to be a busy committee this year -- certainly this summer. I don't want to get in front of what happens "if," because I think they, by all accounts, are making good progress on important issues like allowances, on specific goals and targets for greenhouse gas reductions, and on a renewable energy standard. So I think there's still a lot of reason to believe that we can get both done.

Q: Swine flu has sort of dropped off the radar here, at least media-wise. Do you have any sort of status? Does it seem to really have faded now in the U.S.?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, look, I think -- I have not seen the latest figures in terms of number of U.S. cases. I mean, I think what we have -- I think in looking through the science and such, I think we have -- we're heartened by the notion that right now the science at least appears to denote a virus that is not markedly different or markedly more serious than flu strains that we see.

Obviously we think that there are still preparations that we think are necessary to take through the rest of this flu season, which winds down fairly quickly, and then to make sure that we're ready at a federal, state, and local level for what may or may not happen in the fall.

But I think that, in many ways, I think in a very short period of time a lot of people got information and knowledge about how to prevent what was -- prevent a probably more widespread -- more of a spread of this potential virus, and I think that's likely cut down on the number of cases. And that's a good thing for our public health system. Communication seems to have worked.

But we're still watching it. We remain vigilant in what has to happen prior to next fall and obviously some decisions that have to be made on vaccinations.

Q: Robert, are there any plans for Memorial Day weekend that you can share with us?

MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think for part of it he will likely go to Camp David, but I have not -- other than seeing some of that, I have -- I don't know exactly what beyond that. And then I presume -- and I'll have more of this for you tomorrow -- but I presume that Monday's activities will include an event at Arlington. But he'll spend, best I can tell, a portion of that weekend up at Camp David.

Q: I guess it's a good thing our cell phones didn't ring, huh? (Laughter.)

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: We're going to do --

Q: Got a little under your skin there, didn't it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I don't know what -- I'm not entirely sure what sound that ring is that John has, but that's not your normal cell phone ring. And I've asked him to put it on vibrate -- it appears to be a little bit of an older model phone, it's a bigger phone. I'm not entirely sure either it goes on vibrate or he knows how to put it on vibrate. (Laughter.) So I thought the best thing would be simply to confiscate the phone and try to get through the briefing as best we could. I asked afterwards, I said, did it go off any more? And they said, about five more times, in the back. So, in some ways, I'm glad that we took it and got to go through the briefing.

Q: Preventative action.


Q: Robert, one last question. Last night the President took on the ASU degree controversy head on. Can we expect him to do that on Sunday at Notre Dame? And will he be meeting with any school officials while he's there to talk about some of the issues that are circling his appearance there?

MR. GIBBS: You know, in all truthfulness, I've not read the draft for the Notre Dame speech yet. I know the President is anxious to be a part of that commencement and I will try to get a sense from you all before tomorrow on what some of that will say.

All right. Take care.

Q: Thanks a lot.

END 5:24 P.M. EDT

Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", May 14, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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