|The American Presidency Project|
|• Robert Gibbs|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|October 5, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Since we didn't have a chance to do this at the end of last week, let me do a brief week ahead on a couple of scheduling items.
I think some of you may know, but tomorrow the President will visit the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C., where he will deliver remarks. In the afternoon the President will brief the bipartisan, bicameral leaders of Congress and committee chairs and ranking members on our Afghanistan review, here at the White House.
On Wednesday the President will award the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation in a ceremony here at the White House. Later in the day the President will meet with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And then in the evening the President will host 150 middle school students and their science teachers, as well as astronomers, astronauts, and NASA staff to discuss -- exhibit math and science education.
On Thursday the President will attend meetings here at the White House. On Friday the President will attend meetings here in the White House, including a meeting with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Saturday night the President will deliver remarks at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner at the Washington Convention Center.
And with that --
Q: Robert, the Friday meeting, is that the third, then?
MR. GIBBS: That would be the fourth.
Q: The fourth, okay.
MR. GIBBS: There was a mid-August meeting, in addition to last week's meeting -- the meeting Wednesday, so Friday will be the fourth.
Q: Is the review with Congress, does that mean he has a decision made already?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: His review on Afghanistan with members of Congress.
MR. GIBBS: It's to walk them through where we are in the process and solicit their views. The President has discussed wanting to hear from all of those that are involved in this, and certainly Congress plays a big role in this.
Q: On the military -- I'm sorry, the militant attack in Afghanistan that cost eight U.S. soldiers their lives over the weekend, does an incident like that -- how does an incident like that play into the President's thinking about the strategy, if at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously the President and the First Lady send their condolences and are deeply saddened by the combat deaths that we heard about in Afghanistan over the weekend. Look, I think obviously the event -- any event that happens in Afghanistan is part of the backdrop of this assessment. I think it's important, though, to understand that the assessment that's being discussed does not envision more troops in outposts or places like the one that was attacked over the weekend. In fact, very much the opposite -- a strategy that is much more focused on population centers.
But, look, obviously the number of casualties -- America's best and brightest, the men and women that serve our nation and protect our freedom each day, our condolences go out to them. And I think it's important that we make sure going forward that we get this right.
Q: I'm sorry, so you're saying that the strategy the President is now considering already envisions that there will be a focus on population centers?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, understand that months ago -- I think -- I'd refer you to the DOD statement and some tactical decisions that are made at the Pentagon. But the DOD statement from over the weekend mentions I think that several months ago it was decided that outposts like this would -- that resources and troops from those outposts would be brought into population centers.
Q: I also want to ask you quickly on health care. Does the President think he can get 60 votes in the Senate for the public option?
MR. GIBBS: The President is, as you know, based on the statement that we put out, encouraged about the progress that the Finance Committee is making. They'll continue their work this week. And the President thinks we can get a strong piece of legislation that ensures choice and competition.
Q: Is he still working for that, though, that element of it?
MR. GIBBS: We're still working to make sure that we have choice and competition in this legislation, absolutely.
Q: Why don't you answer his question? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We did this last week, Helen, and we did this week before and the week before that, and the three or four weeks before that, and I --
Q: Why don't you answer the question?
MR. GIBBS: I did. I've answered it each time. I just -- for some reason it doesn't satisfy --
MR. GIBBS: -- you on any given week. Well, that's fine. Chip, I think the same thing sometimes when I watch the news. (Laughter.)
Go ahead. One can play that game. (Laughter.)
Q: Swapping to a different topic. The President said on Friday that the administration is looking at all measures to boost employment. What are some of those measures that we don't already know about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President -- some of the things the President is talking about there -- obviously there are a number of ideas that have been implemented that are coming to a legislative end, whether it is -- that have helped the economy, whether it is extending certain unemployment benefits, whether we're looking at the notion of extending some of the COBRA benefits. There's tax credits like first-time homebuyers that have helped the economy. All of those are -- certainly we've been working on for -- with Congress for quite some time.
Q: But are there new measures that are being studied, are there tax cuts, for example, that The New York Times mentions?
MR. GIBBS: The economic team is certainly looking at and working on any way that we can create more jobs. I don't have any news on that today.
Q: Has the President's feeling about a second stimulus plan changed from skepticism to a little bit more willingness?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we've said all along that there were no plans for that; that we're focused on, I think as many are, as we meet about half of the Recovery Act money being spent, and we're focused on the implementation of a piece of legislation that has clearly cushioned the blow in terms of people that are either jobs created or jobs saved, as well as economic activity, that has lessened the pothole that our economy fell into.
Q: Thanks, Robert. You were talking about a series of meetings the President seems to be going through painstakingly to make sure that all views are heard, different options are on the table in Afghanistan. Are you concerned then that General McChrystal went out and gave this speech a few days ago in London and appears to be campaigning for a specific plan? Is that helpful to keeping different options on the table?
MR. GIBBS: General McChrystal is -- had a chance to spend time with the President on Friday. The President thought it was a very constructive meeting, that General McChrystal was doing through this assessment exactly what the President had asked him to do when he hired him to go to Afghanistan and assess where we were.
Q: So he hired him to go to Afghanistan. Why was he in London and not in the battlefield with the troops? He was giving a speech.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not in charge of the schedule for each and every member of the military.
Q: Is the President okay, then, with General McChrystal, specifically when he was talking about a plan that many people believe Vice President Biden is pushing, about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's a lot of --
Q: Okay, well, let me -- specifically --
MR. GIBBS: -- seemingly, you know, 10 different conjectures of each one of your --
Q: No -- no conjecture. He was talking about using more drones and less of the counterinsurgency, which has been tied to Vice President Biden, and General McChrystal called that "Chaos-istan." Does the President think that's helpful, to refer to it as "Chaos-istan?"
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that the President saw that --
Q: Well, now that you've heard it, do you think that's helpful to the Vice President?
MR. GIBBS: I think regardless of, again, the many caveats in your question --
Q: It's not a caveat --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- if I can attempt to -- if I could attempt to --
Q: Well, but you were changing the question, and that's not -- I didn't have a caveat. He gave a speech where he said -- he called it "Chaos-istan." Is that helpful?
MR. GIBBS: What I'm saying is regardless of the many caveats in your question and the different rumors that you guys try to pick up, the President believes that --
Q: It's not a rumor, though. You can't keep changing the premise. It's not a rumor. He gave a speech.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not changing the premise. I'm trying to answer your question.
MR. GIBBS: I was actually in the meeting, Ed. I spent three hours in the Situation Room. I actually listened to what happened. What I'm trying to tell you is I think there was a positive discussion among all those involved about an assessment and going forward in how to get the strategy right. I get that the Washington game is to do the back-and-forth. I get that. I know you're squinting at me as if the lighting changed in the room.
Q: It's not a Washington game. If you really heard --
MR. GIBBS: It is, and it's being played well here.
Q: -- how all these people hearing your views out -- because you say you want to get it right --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the President --
Q: -- so why is one person campaigning for just one plan?
MR. GIBBS: Because the General made an assessment, and we're going through a series of decisions, including that assessment. That's what these meetings are about, Ed. That's the process that the President is going through in meetings three and four this week, to try to get this strategy right and to do it not based on the back-and-forth or rumors about this or that, but on what he thinks is best -- in the best national security advice and posture of the United States of America, and how it can best protect us. That's what the President is charged to do.
Q: On a separate issue, you mentioned the President is going to be speaking to the Human Rights Campaign event later this week. Recently we saw this White House issue an executive order banning federal employees from text messaging. Why doesn't the President do something similar with the issue of domestic partnership benefits, especially health care and pension benefits? Why not require --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President -- the President has been working -- I don't have an update on -- but we talked about that a few months ago, in terms of extending some benefits. I'd have to go back and see sort of where --
Q: But here he is campaigning around the country for health care reform -- the federal government should take a step that would be great interest to the gay and lesbian --
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to get an update from those guys on where we are on that. I just don't -- I just don't know.
Q: Following up on Afghanistan, I think the point Ed is trying to get at is that on -- everybody else who was involved in these discussions is going along with the basic plan, which is to do it quietly behind the scenes. And you've got one guy out there pushing his position in public. Have you heard anybody back there complain?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that's the case -- (laughter) -- since I've seen a lot of your stories that seem to purport to speak for different people in the meetings. Look --
Q: But you have General McChrystal very aggressively pushing his stance in a speech and the others are not. It's a quiet Situation Room discussion.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure I agree with that assessment --
Q: Well, let me ask you, have you heard anybody back there complain or voice any concern that General McChrystal is out there pushing his position publicly?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think the President believes strongly that we have a process that is working, that we ought to take the time to get this right. As you heard Secretary Gates say more than a week ago, it has been since -- sometime in the mid-'80s since we actually had a strategy to deal with a country called Afghanistan. We ought to take some time to get that right. Everybody is involved in that process.
Q: So if General McChrystal continues to go out and give speeches, very forcefully giving his point of view on that, that's fine with the administration and with the President?
MR. GIBBS: The President is comfortable with where we're at in this process, and how we're going about getting that strategy right.
Q: And in his meeting on Air Force One with General McChrystal, he did not in any way suggest that he should stop doing that?
MR. GIBBS: The President had a very constructive meeting about what's going on in Afghanistan, not what's going on in -- on cable television.
Q: So he didn't mention the speech?
MR. GIBBS: I didn't -- I did not get a full download from him, but that was not what the meeting was about.
Q: Well, yesterday, General Jones said that it would be better if it went up through the chain of command.
MR. GIBBS: And I think General Jones said he hadn't talked to the President about that either.
Q: But from General Jones, was that a mild rebuke of what McChrystal had done?
MR. GIBBS: Far be it for me to parse the words of a four-star general.
Q: Also on Afghanistan, does the recent violence we've seen, the deaths over the weekend, does it have any bearing on how quickly the President and his national security team make this strategic assessment? Will it be sped up because of urgency?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me -- I want to reemphasize the notion that -- as I said to Ben, the assessment that's going on and the decision that's going to be made wouldn't be about adding troops in areas like where we saw attack. In fact, much of the strategy is predicated on quite the opposite, and that is, as General McChrystal has talked about, moving those troops out of an area like that.
The President and the team are focused on ensuring that we hear from all sides both in dealing with Afghanistan and in Pakistan, understanding that part of what we can do to improve the security situation along the region in Afghanistan where an attack like that happened was to deal with safe haven areas in Pakistan. Obviously this was an area that's just along the border. If there isn't a safe haven in Pakistan, it's harder for any attacks to come.
And I think that's certainly part of the focus. There's going to be a discussion extensively on -- separately on both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and not just the military side but some of the political and economic things that have to happen on both sides.
Q: On the job creation front, how soon can we expect to see measures to promote job creation? You mentioned extending unemployment benefits or COBRA benefits, but those aren't really job creators. Can you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think obviously -- no, those are -- but those are -- for those that have lost their jobs in this economic downturn, those are extremely important. They're in the process of -- we're bumping up against some of the expirations of that, and the President and the team have been working with Congress on that for a while.
Q: And following, how many Republicans did he talk to over the weekend about health care? Did he talk to Snowe or --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what his call list was over the weekend.
Q: Is pulling out of Afghanistan part of the assessment?
MR. GIBBS: No. In fact, the President was -- the President was exceedingly clear that no part of the conversation on -- no part of the conversation involved was leaving Afghanistan. That's not something that has ever been entertained, despite the fact that people still get asked what happens if we leave Afghanistan. That's not a decision that's on the table to make.
Q: What does he think will happen?
MR. GIBBS: What does he think will happen?
Q: If we leave?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think we have the option to leave. I think that's quite clear.
Q: This is on the Virginia governors' race. Given the increasing Republican spending and the tightening of the race, does the White House have any change in strategy, or are you, as it might seem recently, pulling back a little bit from endorsements in that race?
MR. GIBBS: No, I would -- the President is strongly supportive of Creigh Deeds. And in terms of spending decisions, I've -- those obviously are made at the DNC. I would direct you toward them. But --
Q: Does the President have any appearances on Deeds' behalf, coming up?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a schedule for later on in the month in front of me.
Q: Looking ahead to this meeting tomorrow, how much weight in reality do members of Congress have in this process?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there's no doubt that --particularly on funding, it's not going to happen unless or until Congress signs off. I think the President wants to hear from Democrats and Republicans, from members of the Senate and the House, on what their viewpoints are as it relates to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obviously there's -- they're an important part of this, and the President wants to hear from them.
Q: On the McChrystal approach, how does this going public, the way he has, which is very unusual, fit with the President's definition and concept for respect for the chain of command?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President's comfortable with where the process is and how it's moving forward.
Q: I'm not asking you about the process. I'm asking you about McChrystal's very public --
MR. GIBBS: A part of that is what the President considers to be the process, which is moving forward.
Q: So does it contribute to the process in a positive way, then?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it detracts from it.
Q: On the additional measures -- you know, the COBRA, the extending unemployment tax, the home buyer -- which one do you think has been most effective in terms of stimulus and creating jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Hans, I'm not an economist. Obviously, I think in terms of -- as I said to Athena, I think when you've lost your job, making sure that you have health care is tremendously important. I think if you've lost your job having extended and enhanced unemployment benefits are tremendously important. Obviously, there has been quite a bit of success in the first-time homebuyer's tax credit. And I think overall, the recovery plan has had a great and positive impact on our economy.
Q: But extending these things, you don't consider that a second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Why not, though, if they were in the first stimulus package -- some of these things were included and then and you extend them, why is that not a stealth second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the connotation. These are programs that are designed to help people that have lost their jobs. And I don't think we would consider continuing a program for people that lost their jobs to be something other than just extending the current program.
Q: But the homebuyer tax credit in the first stimulus package, you guys extending it outside of the -- it wouldn't be a second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: Again, decisions on this haven't been made. I just was simply talking about what people had been discussing with Congress, and programs that are soon going to meet legislative deadlines.
Q: All those things, you would not consider that a second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: Despite the -- I'm sure you'd want to scurry off and write that we were planning a second stimulus, but that would be wrong. (Laughter.)
Q: Not particularly, but --
Q: What would you call it, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: What would I call what?
Q: These ideas, the extensions.
MR. GIBBS: Extensions. I thought your term was good.
Q: For how long?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have --
Q: 2010 seems to be the idea that's most --
MR. GIBBS: I think that's certainly part that's being bandied around in Congress, but I have not seen the particular proposals.
Q: And does the idea of an extended unemployment insurance move -- should it tell the country that based on what the White House economists see, they just see a prolonged, as the President said Friday "grind" through this recession and that joblessness is going to remain a huge factor? And these unemployment insurance benefits should be seen as not so much a stimulus, but a safety net for people who are probably going to be out of jobs for quite a long time?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the program was created to ensure a safety net. I don't think it does anybody any good for somebody to both lose their jobs and lose any wherewithal with which to provide for their families. I think doing something like that would be counterproductive.
Q: On Friday, in addition to putting out the monthly Labor Department numbers, the Labor Department also did a 12-month revision of what the unemployment data from March of 2009 going back one year was, finding 824,000 Americans lost jobs more than they originally projected. That's not anything that was necessarily on the Obama White House's watch, but does that add to the sense that there is a greater unemployment problem in this country, and needs a much deeper sets of intervention?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that -- don't know the last time we looked at the -- I have the picture in my mind of the graph of -- going from full employment at the beginning of a recession -- I think we're now 21, 22 months into a recession. I think you see that the downturn in our economy exceeds almost exponentially now the rate and the depth of downturn that we've seen going back and including probably the last, most difficult recession, that being in the early 1980s.
Look, I think there's no doubt that the depth of the recession that we are in -- we know at the beginning of the year was far greater than and far more dire than virtually every economist predicted at the end of the previous year. The President understands that, and is working to implement the recovery plan in a way that cushions that blow, and obviously, we've talked about here, looking at different ways to stimulate the economy again.
Q: Does that different way to stimulate the economy suggest that internally the White House economic team now wonders if what has been put forward so far equals the magnitude of this downturn?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we always --
Q: -- to address the magnitude?
MR. GIBBS: Understand, we always talk -- understand that when we were first meeting in late January to discuss the recovery plan, we talked about the notion that I think economists predicted over a two-year period a $2 trillion dip in GDP that was to be addressed with an almost $800 billion recovery plan. I don't think anybody -- we never sold this as a dollar for dollar -- we were making up dollar for dollar what we expected the dip in the economy to be. Obviously, the downturn has been exceedingly severe, probably unlike anything that we've seen in anybody -- in our lifetimes.
Q: Congress needs to work on these extenders rapidly. The President would like to sign them before any of these things expire, I presume. Is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: Same subject.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: The House has passed an unemployment extension bill -- the Senate still has yet to take up on the floor. Their -- apparently, their reasoning is that they can't do both right now. They've got to focus on health care, and then they'll take care of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, health care is not on the floor, so I'm not sure how that -- how the rationale of that would be.
Q: No, no, no, I know. Yes, I realize that, but that they said they want to focus on health care, get that on the floor, and then later, down the road, take care of UI extension. But some people are losing their benefits right now. So do you think the Senate can do both?
MR. GIBBS: I think the Senate can do both, and a lot more, sure.
Q: You said that the President likes where you are right now with the review. Can you tell us where you are on the review? What -- how would you characterize what was accomplished in the three hours last week, and what's the agenda for Wednesday and Friday of this week?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an agenda yet for Wednesday and Friday this week. Look, we -- as I talked about last week and -- late last week, generally, we spent most of the time, certainly part of the time, getting an assessment, intelligence-wise, on the environment in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then there was a pretty robust discussion about that, and a discussion about what has happened since the end of March; what have we seen that has gone probably better than most had expected -- and when I say "most had expected," I mean in and out of the administration.
I think what we talked about there was clearly the cooperation of the Pakistanis in addressing threats has been something that has been very positive. Obviously the things that continue to be even more challenging are the security situation in Afghanistan, as we see, as well as the fact that we still don't have clarity around the elections from several weeks ago. But I think that in many ways encompassed most of the three hours.
Q: How does this week help you get closer to a decision, I guess I'm asking? I mean, I wonder what you're -- how you're making this decision. What's next?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think we're going -- without having an agenda in front of me, and I'll get some guidance for tomorrow in terms of what the likely series of topics will be going into Wednesday's meeting, but my sense is that we will begin to localize this week on each of the two countries and how the security situation and the governance situation plays out there.
Q: What inning is the assessment in, is it --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: What inning is the assessment in?
MR. GIBBS: You haven't even gone for your first beer yet, Chip. (Laughter.)
Q: Two separate questions. First, can you just give us a hint of what's coming tomorrow at the NCTC? What will the President say in his remarks, what message --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President is going to talk about the hard work that men and women there do and what some of that work has done in contributing to keeping our country safe for the past many years, as well as events more recently.
Q: And then on health care, you talked earlier about how the President is working to ensure that choice and competition are a part of the bill. And I'm wondering, is the President examining some of the alternatives to the public option that have been put forth, like the idea of a co-op or perhaps a trigger for a public option, or leaving it to the states? And is he and his advisors -- are you trying to determine whether or not those alternatives would live up to his standard for choice and competition? And if so, do you have any conclusions about whether they would?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think for quite some time the health care team has been going through different proposals and different ways to achieve and ensure that individuals in a private insurance market and small businesses have additional choice and that -- largely based on competition.
I don't know if they've come to any grander conclusion about each one of those, and I know CBO is in the process of looking at different aspects of what's in the finance bill as it relates to that, as well.
Q: Does the President have a preference for any of those alternatives, if a pure public option is not part of the bill?
MR. GIBBS: None that I've heard him talk about.
Q: There's been some back-and-forth on Capitol Hill about whether members of Congress will read the text of the bill before they vote on it. Can you say --
MR. GIBBS: Will read the --
Q: The text of the bill, the health care bill, once they get a final health care bill -- whether they should read it before they vote on it. And I was just wondering, before the President signs it will he himself read it or rely on staff to read the text of the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he's read a decent part of the legislation that's been bandied around right now, and we should address this as with members of Congress when we have closer to a final piece of legislation.
Q: If the decision was made months ago by the President and the Pentagon that outposts like that one in Afghanistan -- resources there would be moved into population centers, why are they still out there and why so vulnerable --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- those are tactical decisions that are made at the Pentagon, and I would push you to that on --
Q: But that's what you're saying, that the President's approach --
MR. GIBBS: I'm reiterating what the Department of Defense said in their statement, and I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q: And that -- if the President likes that concept of bringing American forces out of these vulnerable outposts --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, part of the assessment of this strategy is how much we do of that. Again, I'm simply relaying to you what General McChrystal had decided a few months ago and was reiterated in the DOD statement.
Q: Robert, when you answered Ed's question, you were saying that you would, you know, warn us away from some of the things that have been reported in the press about people's positions in this Afghanistan review. Were you specifically talking about Biden? I'm just wondering what you --
MR. GIBBS: No, I just -- one of the things that -- one of the later questions talked about -- Helen asked me about pulling out of Afghanistan. I noticed on a number of shows yesterday people were asked about pulling out of Afghanistan, despite the fact that that was dispensed with and apparently wasn't leaked out of the Situation Room as part of that meeting last week.
Q: Okay. But just one other question about the review, especially since you were in there for three hours. Could you just talk a little bit about Secretary Gates' role and the President's relationship with him and just how -- what he -- the role he's taking in this review?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there are -- I think the President trusts greatly the Secretary of Defense, relies heavily on his viewpoints as somebody who has been involved in a number of these decisions for quite some time. I'm not going to characterize the role that he played inside the meeting --
Q: I'm not asking for his position. I'm talking about just is there something -- this is somebody that the President has, you know, only known since he's come into office. Is there anything particular about their relationship and how they work together and --
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, I think anybody that has worked with or knows Secretary Gates knows that when you ask a question, you get unvarnished advice that doesn't have a political agenda, that doesn't come with a lot of fluff or spin. You just -- you ask him a straight question and you get a straight answer. And I think he's somebody that the President relies on greatly.
Q: This week they're having a third and fourth meeting, you said. Is there an assumption then that after five meetings, after the scheduled five, that the President will be ready to make a decision on this?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into how many meetings that is. I've said that this is going to take several or a number of weeks, and that's the process --
Q: But is the fifth meeting (inaudible) the process?
MR. GIBBS: I think the fifth meeting is the last one that is currently scheduled, but if it takes five-and-a-half or six, then we're not -- this isn't about the number of meetings, this is about the decision.
Q: But this isn't an open-ended process. There's a --
MR. GIBBS: As we've said a number of times, no, this is going to take place over the course of the next several weeks. I don't know how more clear we can be about that.
Q: Robert, are there efforts, administration efforts underway to build a coalition of support within the Senate for public option specifically?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything to add that I haven't added on the other three or two questions that we've gotten on the public option.
Q: Robert, The Washington Times editorial headline, "Obama's lewd schools czar." Your response?
MR. GIBBS: I think -- I don't have anything on that right now.
Q: Is the President unconcerned about Kevin Jennings' salute of Harry Hay, who publicly praised NAMBLA?
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to talk to you about this. I don't have anything on this right now.
Q: Is the President going to discuss Afghanistan in his counterterrorism speech tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe -- I honestly don't remember if that's in there or not. I can check and see --
Q: Just a general speech about counterrrorism?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and focused on their role -- I don't believe -- I don't believe that's the case. I mean, obviously -- I think tomorrow, in terms of Afghanistan, will be the meeting and the briefing that is had with members of Congress.
Q: Robert, yesterday you said that there was still some lack of clarity about the situation in Afghanistan upon the elections. Yesterday General Jones said it was important for Afghans to see Karzai as a legitimate leader following the election. What exactly is the -- as this review goes on, what is the position the White House now holds towards Karzai and the elections?
MR. GIBBS: I think the -- I think General Jones was very clear in saying that there is both an Afghan -- an Afghan review of fraud, there is an international review, and that sometime over the next few weeks those will be concluded. And our position remains the same, and that is that any allegation of fraud should be investigated, all votes should be counted, and all votes that are fraudulent should be thrown out. And we await the decision by both of those committees, understanding that the Afghans -- this is the first election that the Afghans have conducted.
Q: Robert, where does public opinion fall in the decision-making process on Afghanistan with President Obama?
MR. GIBBS: As I've said, obviously the President will take a number of things into account. But what he will shape his opinion and his decision on are not polls, but instead what's in the best interest of the American people and our national security.
Q: Was the President made aware of this major protest in front of the White House that was very disruptive today? People were chaining themselves to the gate. They were chaining themselves in front of the northwest gate, and people who had to go to the Situation Room had to walk all the way around the White House to come in. Was the President made aware of that large-scale protest?
MR. GIBBS: If he was, he wasn't made aware by me because until you said it I was previously unaware.
Q: Does that kind of -- does that kind of protest, demonstration, of American sentiments -- some parts of American sentiment, does that weigh into a situation --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President has long believed that whether your opinion is on one side of this issue or the other, that this is the -- the greatness of our country is that you get to amplify that opinion. I think -- I have no doubt that we will hear in tomorrow's meetings, from members on Capitol Hill, ranges of and very diverse opinions on going forward, and that's certainly a hallmark of our legislative process and the hallmark of our country.
Q: One thing I don't understand, Robert, on Afghanistan, last week --
MR. GIBBS: Just one? (Laughter.)
Q: Well, one big thing -- but thank you for reminding me that there's more than one. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, if you've narrowed it down to only one, maybe you should come to the meeting.
Q: Happy to. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I understand from April apparently you've got to walk a long way away to get to the -- (laughter.)
Q: I'll make the sacrifice. (Laughter.)
Last week you said that it was clear for --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, who said?
Q: You said --
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q: -- from that podium that last -- that for there to be success in Afghanistan, you needed a partner that was free of corruption, and transparent. Now you've also said today that pulling out of Afghanistan is just not on the table, not under consideration. Well, what do you do then if you don't have a partner that's free of corruption and transparent? Because right now that seems to be a very open question about the government in Afghanistan.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, you have to ensure, as we dedicate more resources, that you have that type of partner; that actions are taken to ensure that there's confidence and credibility. I think many of us read the story today about -- from -- I think it's from -- my numbers may be a tad off on this, but from 2002 to 2008, two generals in Pakistan mentioned that of the six, more than -- a little bit more than $6 billion that was to go to aid the Pakistani army, approximately $500 million reached its intended target. I don't think it's any wonder that our efforts, particularly based on aiding the Pakistan army over that time period, was seen as not altogether very successful -- and now we know why. We have to ensure that we have a partner that is capable of partnering with us as we go through this.
Q: You mean in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Pakistan.
Q: I know, but what about --
MR. GIBBS: I know, but I'm simply using an example in a region of what happens when you don't have a partner that is an effective partner and willing to do what has to be done to make progress. It's just simply --
Q: But you just said -- it sounds like you're stuck with an ineffective partner. If you can't pull out and you've got a bad partner, what do you do?
MR. GIBBS: You take steps to make sure that your partner is ready, willing, and able to assist in a way that is effective and matches, through their effort, the resources that you're dedicating to deal with this problem. I use that example because in many ways for that six-year or seven-year period of time, nothing was done.
Q: Well, then are we doomed to more problems with Karzai because he's not transparent or not cooperating or corrupt?
MR. GIBBS: Again --
Q: Pardon me for interrupting, but --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, you -- nobody else apologized. (Laughter.)
Q: I apologize.
MR. GIBBS: No, you don't. No, you don't. (Laughter.)
I think -- I think that we are clearly going to have to take actions to ensure that everybody is working collectively to get this right. We -- no amount of additional American resources that are siphoned off and not going to the problem that they're directed at, no increase or amount is going to fix a problem if those resources ultimately don't get to where they're going.
Q: Then how do you make sure the resources get to where they're going? You've just quoted what happened in Pakistan. Why are --
MR. GIBBS: We will work to ensure that they do. I think that's the very least that any of -- that anybody can ask if we're dedicating the lives of men and women in our uniform to ensure that this is done in a way that ultimately protects them.
Q: You said a second ago, "as we dedicate more resources." What you mean by that, "as we dedicate more resources?"
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: You said a second ago in relation to Afghanistan, "as we dedicate more resources." What did you mean by that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we've put in 21,000 additional troops, some of which are just heading and getting to their places in Afghanistan as we speak.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT
|Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", October 5, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86714.|
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