Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:46 P.M. EDT
Q: You got some time, Chuck.
MR. GIBBS: Seriously. Three times, you got to go to detention hall. (Laughter.)
Q: Is that the rule?
MR. GIBBS: Just saying.
Q: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Wow. Chuck obviously has got somewhere to go, Liz.
Let me do a quick week ahead for you. I think most of you have a sense of where we're going to spend next week, but let's do it nonetheless.
Tomorrow the President will travel to Camp David. He will remain there until Saturday, returning to the White House in the morning.
Q: He's not leaving -- I thought he was leaving today.
MR. GIBBS: It got changed. He's leaving tomorrow. The White House will celebrate the Fourth of July on Saturday, obviously, and honor military heroes and their families with a barbecue on the South Lawn. The evening will conclude with fireworks. Twelve-hundred military families have been invited to attend. The Marine Band will perform. White House staff and their families have also been invited to watch fireworks on the South Lawn. He will deliver brief remarks, which will be pooled press.
As you all know, on Sunday night, the First Family will depart Washington, D.C., for Moscow. They will arrive on Monday afternoon, remain in Moscow until Wednesday morning, when the President will depart for Rome and participate in G8 activities until Friday. The President will depart Italy on Friday night for Ghana, remain in Ghana until Saturday night, when he will return to Washington, D.C. And just as an FYI, when the President leaves for Camp David, he will go on Marine One from a different location because they are setting up for our activities here for the Fourth of July.
Q: Thanks, Robert. The President told the AP in an interview that he may not ever get comfortable with a prolonged detention. So what would be the alternative to dealing with terrorism suspects?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the question was asked about how one might go about doing this and his perspective on that. Obviously that is something that the interagency group is working on now. No decisions have been made. So I don't think it would be real productive to get into "what if" for decisions that have not fully or finally been made.
Q: On another topic, he also said that the U.S. will keep the door open for North Korea to return to disarmament talks. But doesn't the U.S. have to do more than provide the door? Doesn't the U.S. have to prod them in some way or sanctions enough to get North Korea to come through that door?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is clear sanctions are having an impact. I think as the President said in that interview, we've gotten the cooperation of the Russians and the Chinese on those sanctions, sanctions many people thought would not come to fruition.
So, look, I think, first and foremost, the administration is working to ensure the vigorous implementation of those sanctions. We are obviously -- they're put in place based on the concern of North Koreans trying to move weapons or material out of North Korea. The vigorous implementation of those inspections is first and foremost. Obviously the President and the P5-plus-1 continue to work to get the North Koreans to live up to the obligations and responsibilities that they themselves signed up for a few years ago, and we'll continue to do that.
Q: So there's nothing else beyond this to get them to walk through it, then.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, we continue to watch the North Koreans. They continue to do and say what they do and say. And we're certainly hopeful that they'll return to discussing this, but understanding that the international community is taking very strong action to deal with the situation in North Korea and to prevent weapons or material from leaving North Korea and going to anywhere else.
Q: President Obama announced on June 8 that the administration was accelerating stimulus spending to save or create 600,000 jobs. The U.S. economy lost 467,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate went up to 9.5 percent. I just wondered what's the President's reaction to the higher unemployment rate, and are you concerned that the economy is losing steam faster than the Recovery Act can help it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take that question and address it on a couple of different levels. I think you saw the President already say today, and he'll say it again later today, that obviously he's deeply disappointed by the continued job loss in our economy. Continuing to lose jobs is something that he and the administration are working to address. Understand that it has been 549 days since we have been in a month that has seen a net positive job creation. I think -- though the President remains deeply concerned that we are losing jobs month to month, I do think if you look at some -- if you step back and look at the numbers through a quarterly basis, or as the Bureau of Labor Statistics did today, they looked at -- from November of 2008 through I believe March of 2009 -- the average job loss for those months approached 700,000. In the most previous quarter, that job loss averaged 436,000. So I think there is a sense that the beginnings of stabilization are taking hold and hopefully the worst job loss is behind us.
You all heard me say the second time I walked into this room that it was likely to get worse before it was going to get better. I don't think anybody believed, and we certainly never said, that a recovery plan in and of itself would solve our economic problems or that after only a hundred-some days it would turn an economy, as I said, that's been in the worst financial shape that we've seen it in since the Great Depression.
I do think there's obviously evidence that the recovery plan is working. Last month personal incomes were up as a result of the recovery plan. But I think you'll hear the President say later today that he sees this economy through the eyes of the American people, and obviously the American people are continuing to hurt.
Q: Does the government think it's doing everything it can do at this point to --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there's -- again, there's money in the recovery plan to deal with -- health and education money to states to plug those holes. But understand that the recovery is just one aspect of it, as we've talked about. There is financial stabilization. There's housing that you have to be -- there's a whole host of issues that the President and the administration are focused on in order to turn the economy around.
Q: So, again, just to follow up on that, is the message to the American people that the recovery, the stimulus, are working, just be patient?
MR. GIBBS: Well, our message is we didn't get into this problem overnight, as the American people understand, and it's not likely we're going to get out of this economic problem overnight. We've said that repeatedly. I said this weekend last we think unemployment will continue to grow. We do see some less negative trends in the way unemployment is going, understanding we've still got quite some ways to go.
Q: At what point would that be? I mean, when is it no longer overnight?
MR. GIBBS: When is what no longer overnight?
Q: You said we didn't get into this problem overnight; we're not going to get out of it overnight.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Again --
Q: So how long can you still say "overnight"? What's the time that we're talking here?
MR. GIBBS: I think this is going to take some time. I think it's going to take months and months. I think we've said that from the very beginning. This is not, again, something that -- remember, the last month in which we created -- we net created jobs in this economy was December 2007. So we understand that in his -- we are in the deepest recession since World War II, and the worst financial crisis, when you take into account the markets and housing, since the Great Depression. That's going to take some time.
But I think there certainly is credible evidence -- there's 1,900 construction projects that are in progress. There are -- there's $160 billion in recovery money that's been obligated to this point. And that's going to make a difference.
Q: On a different subject -- Afghanistan. Now that so much of the focus now is being put on sort of the next front on the fight against terrorism there, does the President plan to sort of formally prepare the American people for the potential sacrifices there -- people being kidnapped, more deaths -- as things are ramped up?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the American people have -- through service members, through their families -- have understood the sacrifices as we've understood the sacrifices that they've made, many the ultimate sacrifice over the past seven-plus years, whether it was in Afghanistan, Iraq, or throughout the world. I think the President in discussing an increased number of troops that is currently being phased into Afghanistan, that there's likely to be more violence.
Obviously part of the increase in troops was as a result of a deteriorating security situation leading up to very important elections later this year. I think the American people understand the sacrifice and commitment that the men and women of our military have made, and the men and women that work to stabilize the economic and governance issues that also face Afghanistan.
Q: Robert, just to follow on what Dan was saying earlier. Yesterday the President, at the health care forum, said the stimulus has done its job. Are we to take that as an indication that the President thinks the stimulus is working?
MR. GIBBS: The stimulus is working. The stimulus plan is injecting money into the economy. The stimulus plan has obligated $160 billion to deal with the dip in the amount of growth. The stimulus plan is creating 1,900 road and construction projects.
I think you'll hear the President say today, as he's said each and every day of his administration, that we've got a long way to go, that he's not going to be satisfied until we see positive job growth, positive economic growth, and that's going to take some time.
Q: Well, is it working fast enough?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this was a program over the course of -- spend out I think 75 to 80 percent of the money over the course of two fiscal years, to do so in a way that's transparent, to do so in a way that's accountable -- which is what has happened in this piece of legislation. And it's just going to take some time. We understand that. Again, the President sees this through the eyes of the American people. The American people are hurting. More and more people are losing their jobs, they're losing their health care, they're losing their hope and their opportunity. And that's what the President is focused on each and every day.
Q: But the message seems to be, well, just wait, it's coming, it's coming.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Yunji, again, let's look at in the second quarter of 2008 -- we just finished the second quarter of 2009 -- in the three-month average, we were losing 153,000 jobs a month. This past quarter it's 436,000 -- because that trend line shows that in the third quarter we went from averaging 153,000 a month in that quarter to 208,000; in the fourth quarter of 2008, we had gone to 553,000 jobs a month. In the first quarter of 2009, we were almost at 700,000 jobs lost a month, including a January number, 741,000 jobs lost, which is the greatest one-month total in the history of our country.
That is not something that's going to turn around overnight. The American people understand that. The President understands that. That's why we've taken important steps to get the economy moving again. Is it going to take some time? Absolutely. Is the President impatient for results? You heard him say that last week when you all had a chance to ask him questions about our economy.
Q: Have any states come to the White House -- any governors come to the White House in the last week asking for assistance?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, I know California did some, but that was several weeks ago.
Q: Can you rule out any emergency assistance to any of these states?
MR. GIBBS: I think it would have to depend on -- in some way on how that request came. Obviously California's request came through --
MR. GIBBS: -- through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, and it doesn't qualify.
Q: But if you thought California's budget crisis would deepen the recession and add to -- the fact is we're talking about these jobs, they start canceling state services, lay off, slow down. Does that factor in -- if you're worried about it dragging down the national economy?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to continue to watch the situation in California and in other states throughout the country that are dealing with dramatic downturns in their own fiscal situations. As I said yesterday, about $144 billion in health care and education money are going directly to the states that will help deal with some of that downturn. But obviously each of these states, like is happening at kitchen tables across the country and in Washington, we're all going to have to make some very, very tough choices.
Q: So if you thought -- if you guys came to the assumption, if they could --
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously --
Q: -- not just slow down the recovery, but worsen it --
MR. GIBBS: I think the administration will look at any proposal and decide what's in the best interest of our overall economic health, and do what is necessary to ensure that we continue on our path toward recovery.
Q: Robert, you said that hopefully the worst job losses are behind us. Do you still believe that unemployment is going to hit 10 percent sometime this year?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. We went from 9.4 to 9.5. It may not be next month, but I would assume in the next two to three months I think it's quite clear that we'll hit that number.
Again -- and as we talked about earlier, you've got to create about 150,000 jobs a month simply to have the rate stay at the level that it was the previous month. So, yes, I think we're headed -- we're definitely headed toward 10 percent.
Q: So it'll be a while before the country crosses the threshold of having these job losses end at these levels.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: It'll be a while, then, yet -- past that before the country passes its threshold where you have these job losses at these levels that we're seeing.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, look, I think we're going to continue to -- as we talked about yesterday, employment and unemployment are -- tend to be one of the last things that improve in an economic downturn -- again, understanding the recession we're in is statistically the worst since World War II. Adding in the financial situation, obviously this is the worst economic crisis that our country has dealt with since the Depression.
Ensuring that financial stabilization happens, ensuring that small businesses are free to borrow, consumer confidence goes up, people begin to spend money -- a lot of those things are going to have to happen until businesses feel confident enough that we are out of the woods to begin to hire more people. I think that's what you're going to see happen -- businesses having to make those decisions over the course of many months or year.
Q: One quick follow-up on the health care reform event from yesterday. What has the staff been able to find out for this woman who got so much presidential and public attention?
MR. GIBBS: My understanding that a third party has been in touch with our staff and with her about helping her out, but I don't want to get into who that is for her privacy reasons.
Q: Someone who would remedy her financial situation?
MR. GIBBS: Somebody that has specialization in her concern.
Q: Robert, you just said that the sanctions on North Korea are having some impact. Just wondering if you could enumerate some of that impact.
MR. GIBBS: I think we have seen -- well, first of all, I think the impact alone of a united international community is tremendously important. Obviously there have been positive developments over the past few days as it relates to the actions of the North Koreans.
Q: Just -- could you be a little more clear on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get any more specific than that.
Q: So just positive developments in the last couple days -- that obviously doesn't include the four launches from this morning, right? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, again, the North Koreans said they were going to launch these missiles. I don't think that's surprising that they've launched these missiles, no.
Q: But you're not willing to provide any specifics on what the impact has been?
MR. GIBBS: I think if you turn on cable, you can see some of it.
Q: Quick follow-up?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: Would you consider it a positive indication that there's no signs yet of sort of the warm-up that one might be aware of when someone is getting ready to lob a long-term missile? They think it's not coming --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don't want to get into intelligence matters. I think -- I'd take the North Koreans at their word that they're going to continue their provocative actions. What's important is that the international community is united in isolating those actions, that we're taking all the steps that we need to to address any of those possible actions, and the united front that the international community has put up relating to implementing those sanctions and ensuring that proliferation of weapons and material from North Korea to other countries doesn't take place. I think those are all very positive signs as it relates to North Korea.
Q: A couple on the economy, one on Judge Sotomayor. Just to go back to what the President said yesterday about the stimulus, he said it was designed to make sure that state and local governments would not lay off policemen, firefighters, and teachers. That's not how I remember it being described when it was before Congress, that it was designed to prevent layoffs of these three kinds of employees.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are -- obviously there are aspects of the recovery plan relating to the COPS program that helped state and local governments hire and retain police officers. There's education money that helped states and localities hire and retain teachers.
So I wouldn't say that the only action of the bill was to keep police and firefighters on the job, but obviously there were aspects of that particular recovery plan that have helped ensure that's the case.
Q: Is it in that context and that context only that the President was declaring that the stimulus has worked?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think the President was declaring the fact that we are seeing an increase in construction projects -- 1,900; we're seeing an increase in the amount of money that's going out; we're seeing an increase in spending that goes directly to state governments that cushions the very blows that we were talking about in terms of the fiscal shortfalls that they face. We've seen an increase the last month in personal incomes because of some of the tax cut policies of the recovery plan.
Is the President satisfied? No. He's not going to be satisfied, again, until we see positive job growth, positive economic growth. And I think obviously we're seeing some hopeful signs in the notion that -- as I said earlier, if you look at some of the quarters of job loss, there is a lessening in that number, from 691,000 in the first quarter to 436,000 on average in the second quarter.
Q: But there's a deepening in discouraged workers and those who were once full-time who are now part-time. And many economists look at a much larger structural unemployment number than the 9.5 the Labor Department reported this morning.
MR. GIBBS: 16.5 if you take into account --
Q: How does the President evaluate that?
MR. GIBBS: He evaluates it by saying --
(Cell phone rings.)
Q: Probably not with that sound.
MR. GIBBS: I hope that's either a cell phone or the ice cream truck has finally arrived. (Laughter.) Somebody go get my wallet. Ice cream sandwiches are on me. Look, I think the President would evaluate that understanding that what some of these statistics demonstrate is we are in the midst of the worst economic recession that many of us have seen in our entire lifetimes.
We're going to continue to take the steps on recovery in implementing that bill, as well as the other factors to both stabilize the economy and turn it around.
Q: In answer to Chuck's question, you said the administration will look at any proposal from states that are cash-strapped. Are you inviting states to come to the federal government to seek remedies for their fiscal problems?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) No, I'm actually --
Q: Could you actually say that more desperately? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was giving you them -- giving them your e-mail, not mine. No, no, no, no. Look, again --
Q: Well, I mean, it's an important --
MR. GIBBS: No. All I wanted to say was -- here's the --
Q: But if you're open to it --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no.
Q: -- there's a chance they'll come with a proposal, and they may not go to TARP --
MR. GIBBS: It's entirely possible that they're going to come regardless of what I say. (Laughter.) But let me just say this --
Q: But don't think they're not going to listen to you.
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- well, I appreciate your endorsement. All I was trying to say was that the administration will evaluate and take action on whatever we believe will help the economy. That's what we've done up to this point and that's what we'll continue to do.
Q: So you're open to it?
MR. GIBBS: We're open to anything that will help turn the economy around, anything that will help create jobs, anything that will stabilize and lead to job growth. Obviously the administration continues to look at everything.
Q: Quickly, on Judge Sotomayor, Republicans are aggrieved that the pace of the delivery of documents, specifically relating to her membership on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, came to the White House, were held here for a while, they say, and then sent up to the Judiciary Committee in such a time that they don't believe is sufficient for them to fully review them and be adequately prepared for the confirmation hearings. I'd like the White House response to that sentiment.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the best review of how Judge Sotomayor -- the best review of her -- of how she'd be as a judge are the 17 years of legal opinions that she has written and that she herself has worked on -- not a box or boxes of documents that she didn't write, review, or approve.
Understand, Major, what we've seen is -- well, first of all, one point is, this was the same organization whose board she was a participant in, in both 1993 and in 1998 when the Senate approved her to be a judge on each of those occasions.
It is curious to me why a group of people would have expressed great concern over the course of the past five weeks that they have had insufficient time to read 17 years of opinions that she wrote; that now they find that there is insufficient time to review material that she didn't write.
I think there has been plenty of time to review the record of Judge Sotomayor. We look forward to the hearings starting as scheduled. We look forward to the Senate processing her nomination. And we look forward to Judge Sotomayor being Justice Sotomayor when the court takes part in the very important case that it will hear in early September.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I got to take Mike's, just because I'm itching to do this. (Laughter.)
Q: A couple of health crack -- health care questions. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I've been waiting for this. (Laughter.)
Q: -- convincing, Robert.
Q: -- single-payer. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Because the Counsel's Office has advised me to ask Mike exactly how much each of these questions will cost me. (Laughter.)
Q: Knocked it down to a buck-fifty, Robert. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I seem to have forgotten my AmEx.
Q: The President in a statement today praised the progress of the Kennedy health care bill and the CBO -- the new CBO analysis of it. And in that announcement, it says it covered 97 percent of the uninsured people. However, my understanding is that it uses essentially a gimmick that says it counts on an expansion of Medicaid to cover a huge portion -- millions, tens of millions -- of those people that isn't paid for by the bill. So how --
MR. GIBBS: Wait a minute. Is the question you're asking me whether or not you think the CBO estimate that came out today is one that is accurately reflective of a complete evaluation of a health care bill?
Q: Well, in the statement, I believe, you all said --
MR. GIBBS: I understand. I know what the President said. I'm just wondering if -- I think I made a similar argument about a piece of legislation evaluated by the CBO just a few days ago. But that seems to have fallen on deaf ears. So let me give you what I think is the answer that you were looking for both then and now.
This is obviously something that was done not by us, but by the Congressional Budget Office. As you know, the HELP Committee doesn't have jurisdiction over a portion of that legislation. That will be dealt with in the finance bill.
I would -- as to their so-called incomplete analysis, I would point you toward the Congressional Budget Office. I think many of the principles that the President outlined are demonstrated in the HELP bill. And, again, I think the President believes on Capitol Hill, among businesses, and among the American people, we're making progress toward moving toward comprehensive health care reform.
Q: Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead -- did you have another one?
Q: One other thing. Nancy-Ann DeParle, there was a report today that -- about some boards that she has -- that she was on. Do you have any response to that report and whether there are any concerns in terms of conflict of interest?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, we have very strict ethics rules at the White House, as you know. I think Nancy-Ann has done a fabulous job and is implementing and working with stakeholders on each and every aspect of bringing about comprehensive health care reform, and the President appreciates her service and doesn't see that there's any conflict in that.
I'll take Jeffrey and then I'll go here.
Q: Was anyone from the White House invited to attend these Washington Post salons that were reported this morning? And what is the White House's official policy on members of the administration doing things like this, regardless of who sponsors them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if anybody here was -- I think some people in the administration writ large may have been invited. I do not believe, based on what I've been able to check, that anybody has accepted the invitations. Obviously the Counsel would have to review an invitation like this and I think it would likely exceed what the Counsel would be -- the salon that the Washington Post is offering would likely exceed what the Counsel would feel in this case would be appropriate.
Q: When you say writ large, are you talking about White House?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I meant "administration," I'm sorry.
Q: So nobody here at the White House that you're aware of?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Was the Counsel's Office involved in reviewing these invitations for anyone at HHS?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I can check on that specifically.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Q: Why is the President leaving tomorrow instead of today?
MR. GIBBS: Just wanted to stay here and catch up on some work.
END 2:17 P.M. EDT
Robert Gibbs, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/287424