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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

September 02, 2010

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me begin with one just quick statement on Hurricane Earl.

The President is closely monitoring and aggressively preparing for the storm as it continues to head toward the East Coast. On its current track, Hurricane Earl could approach the coast of North Carolina by late tonight or early Friday morning.

Last night the President signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration for the state of North Carolina, ensuring the state has what it needs beforehand. And FEMA has already moved teams and supplies into states along the East Coast to provide support and resources as needed.

As you know, yesterday Administrator Fugate provided the President with an update, and FEMA is in close contact and coordination with the governors and their teams up and down the eastern seaboard to ensure that they have the support they need should the storm make landfall later tonight or tomorrow.

I do expect that the President will speak with the FEMA administrator again today, and we will let you know when that happens.*

Yes, ma'am.

Q: The Mideast. Do you have any sort of update to offer on how the talks are going so far?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give you just a little bit from -- well, obviously, as you all know, the talks are ongoing. We expect that at some point, I would say in the next hour or so, Senator Mitchell, our special envoy for Middle East peace, will conduct a briefing on what has transpired today.

I would say that the President was encouraged in his meetings yesterday by the very serious attitude that each of the leaders brought about these talks and about a long-term lasting peace for the Middle East. All view this as a tremendously important opportunity. I think you all saw the pictures last evening and the powerful statements that were made by the leaders in the Middle East.

I would also say that the President, as he did in the Rose Garden yesterday afternoon, remind everyone that there are still deep divisions. There are still years of mistrust to overcome. That's not going to be wiped away in one meeting or in one day, and we understand that.

The failure, though -- the failure to try is not something the President wants to do.

Q: It seems like one of those deep divisions that you speak of is Hamas. How does the administration plan to deal with them? They don't recognize Israel. They're promising more attacks.

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry --

Q: Is there a plan for dealing with Hamas?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, why don't I defer questions about what transpired today in the talks until Senator Mitchell has an opportunity to answer some of those questions at the conclusion of the meetings today. All right?

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, a question about Christy Romer's remarks yesterday. She said -- I have it in front of me -- "The only surefire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less. In my view, we should be moving forward in both fronts."

That sounds like setting a stage for a second stimulus.

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I'll be somewhat broad in my answer and a little -- let's go back to -- well, both what the President said and what I said on Monday. And I think the actions and the steps that this administration has taken over the course of the past two years -- first and foremost, the President is -- and the team are looking at ideas. And he enumerated some of those parameters, including infrastructure. And certainly in terms of cutting taxes, there's a bill pending before the United States Senate that the President -- you've heard the President speak on many occasions that would, indeed, cut taxes on small business.

I think if you look at -- if you go back to a year ago, outside of the Recovery Act, we pursued and the President signed legislation that enabled Cash for Clunkers. The President spoke in December of last year about targeted measures that can be taken to help the recovery. Those have included the bipartisan HIRE Act, which helps cut taxes for those that do add employees. We have expanded -- we've given states more money to ensure that things like teachers and firefighters weren't laid off. We've expanded and continued unemployment insurance, and a small business bill has passed the House.

So look, we will continue to look at and take steps that are, as I talked about on Monday, that are targeted in nature, to help continue the recovery and to help create an environment where the private sector is adding jobs.

Q: I think we are all aware of the steps that have been taken. What Dr. Romer seems to be saying here is that a lot more spending needs to come to make this economic recovery increase.

MR. GIBBS: Again, I would -- I'd point you to what the President said on Monday. I don't think that is -- I don't think that is -- I think -- I would -- again, I would point you to what the President said is -- as ideas that are being looked at. And as I said here on Monday, some big new stimulus plan is not in the offing.

Q: How would you interpret, then, what she said?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I would interpret what she said to be very much in line with what the President said on Monday.

Q: Following on that, on jobs, what does the President expect out of the jobless numbers tomorrow? And has the economic team come up with some of those new ideas that you talked about?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take the second question first, and that is those meetings and those discussions continue to take place. I'm not going to get ahead of any of those ultimate decisions.

It's probably -- well, it is not helpful for me to speculate on the jobs numbers. I say this for the benefit of anybody that is watching -- I do not know the numbers, I will not know the numbers, just so anything that is said in the next several minutes has nothing to do with my knowledge about the numbers. I do that because everybody gets nervous that if I make a comment, somehow I knew the number.

Q: There's an oil-production platform in the Gulf that's on fire. Does it present any of the same problems of the BP rig? It's obviously not under a moratorium. Do you know anything more about the accident?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just say -- here's what I know before we came out here. This is a -- I'm told this is a production platform about 100 miles off the coast. I am told the depth of water is about 340 feet. So this is not a -- this is not a deepwater facility.

As I understand it, the well was not in active production. I will in some ways reiterate what I think the Coast Guard has said in a statement that they've released, and that is that they responded to the preliminary reports of a fire onboard an oil platform in the Gulf. The initial report that we got were that 13 persons -- 13 people were on the platform. They are accounted for; one is injured and is on his way out of that area.

Two Coast Guard cutters, multiple Coast Guard aircraft were en route. One Coast Guard helicopter was on the scene. We will continue to gather information as we respond. We obviously have response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water.

Q: Is the President convinced that the inspection of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico is moving fast enough?

MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten a recent update on that. I will try to get one. Obviously we have taken some -- we took a series of steps after the BP incident, primarily around deepwater drilling. Let me not go too much further than what I have. And if the situation warrants, we'll certainly update that.

I will say the President was in a meeting in the Situation Room. I don't know if he's been notified. John Brennan, who was in that meeting, does know about the incident. I just don't -- before somebody asks -- I don't know whether or not --

Q: What's the Sit Room meeting on?

MR. GIBBS: It's a national security meeting -- that John had or had not had a chance to discuss that with the President.

Q: So who would be in charge -- just following up on the Coast Guard?

MR. GIBBS: I do not know who is on the scene, but you can -- the Coast Guard obviously -- the production facility is located in federal waters. They are the ones that are in response. I don't know if there's -- who the highest-ranking person is on the scene.

Q: And just following up on the Middle East peace talks, what does the President see as his role going forward now? Does he feel like he's appropriately set the stage and now it's Secretary Clinton who is taking the lead? And if there's additional talks, say, hosted by Egypt, would the President be the one who would be attending, or is he stepping back now and letting --

MR. GIBBS: I don't want to make any scheduling pronouncements. I'll do this in a couple ways. Obviously Secretary Clinton has -- is conducting and is the lead on this as she conducts these meetings today. Obviously our special envoy, George Mitchell, has spent a lot of time in the region, as has the Secretary.

Look, we have said this from the very beginning, and as I mentioned the other day, one of the very first things the President did upon walking into the Oval Office that very first, full morning was to make calls to leaders in the region, some of whom obviously were here yesterday. I think this is true historically, and that is when we are actively involved and engaged, there's a better chance for peace. That's been President Obama's viewpoint and the whole team's viewpoint.

So I can't speak to what our involvement would be at different points in this -- leave that for a sort of situational discussion. But obviously we have over the past many months been actively involved and engaged and will continue to be actively involved and engaged, as the best way to make progress, we have always felt, is to do so the same way they're doing today, and that is to sit at that table and have direct talks.

Q: And does the President see this scenario differently and more optimistically than previous administrations, A, because of more stability in the West Bank, or because of the potential mutual threat from Iran becoming nuclear? How does he see this as any different than previous administrations?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'd say first and foremost, I think the President felt that the meetings yesterday, as he said, were productive and believed that each of the leaders was genuine and serious about seeking peace. At the same time, we understand that this is -- as I said earlier, this is something that has eluded generations. We're mindful of that.

So we will stay engaged. We will do what is necessary, and then we hope that each side will continue to take steps necessary to make -- build confidence and make these talks productive.

Q: Does he believe that the mutual -- potential mutual threat by a nuclear Iran is helping bring these two sides together?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we have always maintained that peace was in the best interest of each of these entities involved, regardless of anything else in the Middle East. I think that was true when the President first came in and certainly is true and is governing our actions today.

Yes, sir.

Q: The numbers for members of Congress have gone through the floor in recent weeks, for the Democrats. Why do you think that is? And why hasn't the President done more during the recess in August basically to try to shore them up? It looks like they're in a terrible spot. The numbers for members of Congress --

MR. GIBBS: Which numbers?

Q: The polling numbers for people who are running for office. Democrats' numbers have nosedived during the month of August.

MR. GIBBS: You sound like a radio guy when you're doing the -- nosedive --

Q: I could give you a chart, but you get the idea.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, look, we are -- the President will continue to make a very active case for the steps that the administration has taken and why we have to continue to move forward on that path.

Bill, I --

Q: He didn't do much during August. Why not?

MR. GIBBS: I will say this, Bill, the President has been fairly active in both campaigning and in raising money. What the President is helping the Democratic National Committee do is something that the Democratic National Committee has never done in supporting Senate and congressional candidates. And it's something we'll continue to do.

Q: What is it that they've never done?

MR. GIBBS: The level of support.

Q: Oh.


Q: Robert, following up on what Ann was saying about the economy, not about the numbers tomorrow, but the snapshot that we got today of the new unemployment claims down, but also productivity down and labor costs up -- what does that snapshot tell you about the state of the recovery?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- let me give you an answer that's not necessarily based on one unemployment claims report today because I am somewhat hesitant to get into what are always going to be the week-to-week swings of unemployment claims.

I think it is safe to say that we are in a markedly different and better position than we were a year or a year and a half ago. Our economy is expanding. We've created about 600,000 private sector jobs throughout the course of this year.

As I have said earlier and I think as the President has said, there's no question that the trajectory of that recovery based on events, particularly in Greece, have changed that trajectory from where we were at some point in the spring.

We have to continue to be mindful of whatever steps might be necessary to continue that recovery.

Q: What are those? What do you do to turn it around or get it going in a stronger, higher trajectory?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that's some of the discussions that the economic team is having. And I'd point you to what the President said in the Rose Garden about that on Monday.

Q: Okay, and one other thing on FEMA. You said FEMA is moving teams along the East Coast and supplies. Can you give us more details on where and what supplies?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me get a comprehensive list and we'll send it around to you at the end of this.

Q: You just said and the President said on Monday that you all are considering a range of new items on the economy to try to turn things around. Assuming time is of the essence, can you give us a sense of how soon you might roll some of these out, and whether you would do it piece by piece or --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know that those -- obviously they're still doing meetings and discussions on this. I don't have any scheduling updates.

Q: Would you agree that it's something that you'd rather do sooner rather than later? Or is it a matter of -- would you do it piece by piece? Or do you want to roll out --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the final decisions would have to be made before I'd have a good understanding to be able to talk about it.

Q: Given that so much of recovery has to do with confidence and how people feel about the economy, can you talk about what your strategy is in terms of how to talk about the economy, tempering the balance between being realistic but also trying to convey confidence?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you've heard the President -- I would point to what the President said in his speech to the nation on Iraq, that we are and always have been a very special country. We are in charge of our own destiny.

I think you've heard the President over the past many weeks talk about the steps that we've taken, and the fact that if you look at, again, where we were at the end of 2008 and even the first quarter or so in 2009, we've made some important progress. But there's important progress yet to make.

That's why the President continues to look at ideas that might help create an environment for more private sector hiring. That's why we'll continue to look at and make investments that are important in creating the jobs of the future.

I think you'll hear the President talk about a combination of that, expressing confidence that we are headed in the right direction, albeit not as quickly as anybody, including the President, would like to see.

Q: Would the President tell people they should save right now because we're in a trying time? Or they should spend because the economy is strong and it's helpful --

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President would say that -- I'm not going to get into individual purchasing decisions. I think the President would say that we are making progress, that our economy is stronger than it's been in a while. And we have to continue to be mindful of and try to make progress on making that -- making this recovery one that's even stronger.

There's no doubt, Savannah, there are -- the depths of what we entered are unlike anything that we've experienced since the Great Depression. And we've got a big hole to fill and a lot of jobs to create to put the people that are -- that want to work fully back to work. And that's what the President's goal obviously is.

Q: And then real quick, GM put off its IPO and road show until after the election. I wonder if the White House or the administration had anything to do with that timing decision?

MR. GIBBS: The White House is not involved in and not going to discuss IPO based on regulators watching what people do and say around IPOs.


Q: Let me come at this economic question a different way. Congress is going to be back in Washington in a week and a half. Beside the small business bill, what is on the President's must-do list before they're back out and campaigning? Because they don't have a lot of time.

MR. GIBBS: No, they don't. And I know you caveated by saying you assume small business. But I -- this is something the President has talked a lot about. I'm going to spend another 30 seconds doing it one more time because I -- what this town does a lot is, okay, I know what you're doing now, but what are you going to do next. I point out that the article that I held up here just the other day -- small businesses have delayed their hiring decisions, small businesses have delayed their expansion decisions, small businesses have delayed their investment decisions, waiting to see what the Senate will do on the small business bill.

So I don't want to discount that the engine of our economy -- as the President said, 60 percent of the job losses come from small business. There are some concrete steps that we can and should take when Congress does come back in a week and a half to change that.

Obviously the President is mindful of the tax cuts for the middle class that expire at the end of the year, and the President will fight to ensure that those middle-class tax cuts are protected. I think that is something that we'll obviously have a fairly robust discussion on, not just in the remaining weeks of Congress but throughout the election and maybe after the election.

Q: From what I understand, Nancy Pelosi is worried that as the tax cut debate goes on this fall in the Senate that the White House will cave to pressures from some moderate Democrats to just extend all the tax cuts for another year. Can you reassure her of that?

MR. GIBBS: I like that you're my Nancy Pelosi go-between, Jonathan. (Laughter.) I will reiterate what we've said throughout this debate, and that is the President believes that the tax cuts for those in the middle class should be maintained, they should be kept. The money that would be spent to keep those tax breaks for people that make more than $250,000 a year -- and let's be clear that the majority of the money that would be spent next year on maintaining those tax cuts are for people that make more than a million dollars a year -- okay? That is a statistical fact.

There are -- if the Republicans are bent on spending an additional $35 billion, I think there are many economists and certainly the Congressional Budget Office has looked at many ways that could stimulate the economy -- extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest, those that are making that million dollars, is the least stimulative way to impact our economy.

So we are focused first and foremost and only on extending tax cuts for the middle class.

Q: And one quick question --

MR. GIBBS: Please relay that back to the Speaker. (Laughter.)

Q: All right. You've got a bunch of openings -- new chairman of the CEA, Consumer Financial Protection Agency, Comptroller of the Currency.

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, Jonathan, the CEA thing is not going to work out, but -- (laughter.)

Q: God, if you were even thinking about that --

MR. GIBBS: Amy was supposed to tell you that before the briefing started.

Q: Do you have timing on any of these --

MR. GIBBS: No. As I said earlier in the week, I didn't expect that CEA and Consumer would be done this week. It's not. Obviously Dr. Romer's tenure concludes tomorrow. I do not have a timeline for those two openings.


Q: Robert, can you say what the NSC meeting is about today?

MR. GIBBS: A series of national security issues.

Q: Routine? Or urgent?

MR. GIBBS: Some -- no, I would not -- I don't want to get everybody nervous. It's not a -- it's something that the President does fairly regularly.

Q: Robert, in his speech on Tuesday night, President Obama said that there could be patriots on both sides of the Iraq issue. Does he believe there could be patriots on both sides of health care issue, government spending, taxes and the like?

MR. GIBBS: Sure. I mean, look, first, inherent in your question, Mark, is that I don't think that if the -- I don't -- the President is not going to question the patriotism of those that have a different view than him. I don't -- that's never been -- they may have policy disagreements, but I don't think, based on those disagreements -- at least the President would not make the argument that somebody is more or less patriotic based on the fact that they share his position on a certain policy issue.

Q: But he accuses Republicans of game-playing, of holding issues hostage. I mean, that certainly casts a dispersion --

MR. GIBBS: That's true, too.

Q: Well, can you have it both ways?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's take, for instance, what the President said on Monday about the small business bill. The President asked the Republican Party to end the blockade on needed and necessary aid for small businesses. What I think is somewhat undeniable is they've held up that bill. I don't -- if the Republicans are proud of holding that bill up, I don't think they should have any problem with the President mentioning that they're holding that bill up.

I do think that's somewhat if not markedly different from questioning their patriotism for holding up the bill, which I don't think you'll hear the President do.

Q: And on a lighter note, any comment from the President on the reviews of the new Oval Office décor? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard him give a review on the reviews. I don't know --

Q: Was he involved in picking the color scheme? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I will tell you, Mark, that is not something -- I know you'll be surprised that I was not consulted stylistically.

Q: Are you officially neutral? (Laughter.)

Q: Actually, you would match very well. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I'm trying for one more day in the summer, so don't read anything into my suit. (Laughter.)

Q: Great headline in the Style section -- "The Audacity of Taupe." (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think I heard Burton say that first, so I don't know if he got some sort of a credit on that.


Q: The rig explosion today -- it is in shallow water, but would it have any impact on the current deepwater drilling moratorium?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of. And I say that largely because obviously we are still trying to gather information about the events that are happening at that site right now. I think obviously there is a process at the Department of Interior around the existing deepwater moratorium. Hard to match those two issues up based on the fact that we don't know a ton at the moment.

Q: You don't know if the President has been briefed on this yet, but is it possible that --

MR. GIBBS: My sense is that Brennan will likely have told him at the end of that meeting, but I don't know that for sure yet.

Q: But the current investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion, is it possible that that could be brought in -- does this raise new concerns about shallow-water drilling?

MR. GIBBS: Let me do this. Let me get -- I will go back and get as much of an update as we can throughout the day and see if any of that changes. I don't -- at this point, based on what we know, I don't want to marry those two up. I will double-check today.

Q: So tomorrow is Dr. Romer's last day. The White House had said that you had hoped to fill that vacancy by her last day. With the jobs report tomorrow, with the economic team trying -- working to come up with new measures, is there -- is it at all significant that there is a void now on the economic --

MR. GIBBS: No -- look, obviously there are -- we have a pretty full and robust team that will meet with the President in about 15 minutes. Obviously as soon as we have an announcement on a CEA replacement we'll let you know.

Q: Will there be an acting director in the interim?

MR. GIBBS: There could be. But again, I don't -- none of those, that I know of, none of those final decisions have been made.

Q: And then one last question. Larry Summers and Tom Donilon are going to China next week. Could you talk on what's on the agenda, what's the purpose of that visit?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I think we're going to put out some stuff on that in a little bit, so let me wait for that.

Q: Robert --

Q: It's you or Mitchell.

MR. GIBBS: What's that?

Q: It's you or Mitchell.

MR. GIBBS: I understand what you've chosen there, Bill. I don't take it personally.

Q: Robert, you've said both that there's -- no new big stimulus plans are in the offing; on the other hand, the economic team is looking for new ideas. Has the President come to any conclusions about whether any new policy initiatives, other than the ones that are stalled in the Senate, could affect the economy between now and Labor Day? Just some basic --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that's -- let me, first of all, in that first part, when I say -- inherent in the first part of your question is, as I said and as the President said on Monday, we are mindful of, as I listed earlier, targeted measures that can or should be taken in order to continue a trajectory of recovery. Obviously, again, Mara, those meetings are ongoing in identifying and looking at a whole host of those ideas.

Q: I guess what I'm confused about is, I mean, the meetings are ongoing. The economy has been stalling for a while. You have a very short time frame here. Isn't there some sense of urgency about getting new targeted initiatives if you're going to have some?

MR. GIBBS: Let me speak broadly. There's been a sense of urgency about the economy since the moment we walked in here. Look, I think we have had to and we've taken some extraordinary steps to ensure that a recession did not become the next Great Depression.

Obviously we are mindful that -- as I think I said this the other day, that we are -- we do not want to see -- this is not a purely academic exercise. So obviously, as Jonathan mentioned, Congress is soon -- will soon be back in town, and --

Q: Not for very long.

MR. GIBBS: No, not for very long, but obviously I anticipate that some of those decisions will get made -- will be made before that happens.

Q: And just to follow up on a specific piece of that. You said that the Republicans were -- are hell bent on -- that wasn't your exact words, on adding $35 million -- on $35 million to the deficit. There are more targeted ways to do that that are more stimulative than extending the tax cuts for the rich. How open is the President to a payroll tax holiday for employers and/or employees as one of those targeted things?

MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm just going to say, Mara, that obviously the team is looking at a whole host of issues. I don't think it makes sense for me to get into what those are or might be individually.

Q: Is the President tomorrow going to make any public statements about the job numbers?

MR. GIBBS: I believe that's the case, yes.

Q: And some Dems seem to be worried that the President doesn't seem focused enough on the economy and creating jobs. What do you say to those Democrats who have those concerns?

MR. GIBBS: Like who?

Q: Democrats I've talked to, Democratic aides on the Hill who say that they feel like the President isn't focused enough. This week, of course, was dominated by foreign policy mostly. He inserted some comments about the economy in his Iraq speech. But those are some of the concerns that I'm hearing.

MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I don't know who exactly you talked to but, again, this President has been focused on dealing with the economic problems that we faced the moment we came in here. We faced a housing crisis, a crisis in financial stability. Eight million jobs had been lost; the economy was contracting. For years, while productivity was up, paychecks were not.

The President has had to deal with each and every one of those issues. We've made progress on reducing foreclosures. We have gone from an economy that was contracting to one that's expanding. We've gone from an economy that was shedding jobs to an economy that is creating jobs. So we have taken the necessary steps, many of them extraordinary in changing the direction of our economy. And the President will continue to dedicate more time to that than anything else on his schedule.

I will say this, because the President is giving a speech on Iraq does not mean that the President isn't dealing with the economy, just like when there is something to deal with in foreign policy or in the economy, it doesn't mean he's not dealing with something internationally.

I mean, what comes with this job is -- well, I'll say this. I have only worked here since sometime in the afternoon of the 20th of January 2009. I've yet to come here where somebody greeted me at the door and said, good news, there's only one problem today. Trust me, every morning I pull up in hopes that someone does greet me like that. I don't anticipate that it will happen.

Q: Robert, one more on the economy and the measures that you're contemplating. Without getting into specifics, has the President looked at the numbers, which do show a pretty dramatic slowdown in the recovery, and said, we need something dramatic here? Is something dramatic needed?

MR. GIBBS: I think the President continues to ask the economic team for what ideas they believe can help the economy now. Look, we have seen -- look, I mean, part of this obviously is there's no doubt, as I said earlier, that the economic growth trajectory is not what it was in the spring. That's what the President has asked folks to look at.

Some of these -- some of the measures that we see, and it's why I didn't want to talk specifically about one week's unemployment claims -- if you look at car -- if you were to open the paper today and look at car sales, car sales today are compared to -- they usually do year-to-year comparisons. GM car sales down 28 percent or whatever they were. Those are comparisons to last August when Cash for Clunkers was there, when we were selling cars not at a rate of 11 or 11.5 million a year, but at 14 million a year, which is obviously what we would strive to get to, but not where we are economically.

So certainly the President has throughout the past many weeks kept up to speed and up to date on the latest economic data. Some of it has shown, as I said, there's -- while there's a change in growth, you look at something like yesterday where I think it's -- without divining everything that happens in the stock market, that you had a pretty big rally fueled largely on a manufacturing index that showed, for instance, employment at a rate that folks hadn't seen on that index since the early 1980s.

Q: It sounds like a no, that the data doesn't require something dramatic or eye-catching?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I do not anticipate something that rivals the extraordinary measures that the President has already taken.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: May I follow up? You do seem to be laying the ground for modest changes. Peter Orszag said if you extended over 10 years all the 2001, 2003, it would cost $700 billion. But arguably, if you only do it for one year, it costs $70 billion. Is that affordable?

MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about for the upper end, or are you talking about --

Q: All.

MR. GIBBS: All of them. Again, let's take -- I think if you break out one year of -- I think if you were to extend the upper-end tax cuts for next year, I think the price tag is $35 billion.

Q: Okay, so that's even --

Q: Would he veto a bill that has them in it, by the way?

MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't get into a hypothetical like that. The President does not support extending the tax cuts for those that make, on average, about a million dollars a year. Those are -- again, I think it's pretty safe to say -- I don't think I'm being malicious to the Republican argument -- that they're concerned about spending, right? That does not seem to necessarily carry over to tax cuts for those that make a million dollars a year.

The President believes that we should focus our tax relief on the middle class, certainly, one, because we can't afford to make reckless economic decisions to extend tax cuts for people that weren't asking for them and didn't need them. And secondly, even if you did want to do something like that, there are, as I said earlier, far more -- far better ways, far more stimulative ways to impact the economy.

Q: And just one -- I'm sorry -- just to follow up on a question by Mara about a payroll tax holiday. When you mentioned new hires incentives, that expires. But would you be in favor of an additional extension of that?

MR. GIBBS: Again, the team is looking at a range of ideas. I, for a lot of reasons, don't want to get into each individual one.


Q: Thank you, Robert. In his Iraq speech, the President mentioned that the economic recovery is a central preoccupation. How are Americans to know that that is his primary concern? Does he need to -- in terms of the way he prioritizes his time, can he show Americans that the economy is his primary preoccupation?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't -- having been here since the beginning, there isn't an issue that the President has spent more time on than the economy, than on the economic recovery, than on financial stability, than on housing, than on -- I don't think there's any doubt about that.

Q: If I could follow up. But when Americans see the President travel abroad, when Americans see him take a vacation -- not that he doesn't deserve vacations, as do many people in this room -- (laughter) -- but might they draw the conclusion --

MR. GIBBS: That's an interesting way of phrasing it.

Q: Surely the people in the first two rows. (Laughter.) But don't they --

MR. GIBBS: Careful, careful. Getting into row warfare. (Laughter.)

Q: Might they draw conclusions that it's not the kind of -- it's maybe -- they don't necessarily see the things you're talking about, how the President multitasks?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again -- I'm trying to think of an example that would help illuminate -- I mean, let's take for instance -- I think everybody would say getting our policy right in Afghanistan is very important. I think that is of concern to many in this country.

When the President was undergoing 13 different two- to three-hour meetings on that, the notion that somehow that's the only thing he was doing -- again, I can hardly wait for the day in which there's only one problem, there's only one meeting, it's only on one topic. It's not true today. The President is -- will come from the Situation Room, I think the schedule says he's going to eat lunch, which he should do, and then he goes into an economic meeting.

So, again, that's not to say -- it's just hard for me to I guess craft into words exactly the fact that, again, he -- there are pressing problems domestically. The President obviously is the Commander-in-Chief and has to make decisions about our foreign policy. But, Peter, having been here from the beginning, there is not an issue or set of issues the President has spent more time on than dealing with the economic situation that we walked into the 20th of January 2009.

Q: Has the President made any plans on how he'll commemorate 9/11, and is a trip to Ground Zero a possibility?

MR. GIBBS: I do not have -- I have not looked at the block ahead. Let me go do that. I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Q: Is it -- I mean, are you looking at a number of places? He'll stay here or go abroad?

MR. GIBBS: Let me go look at the block so I don't -- so I have some information on that.


Q: Robert, on jobs, Gallup just came out with a poll on August underemployed numbers, said the numbers went up from 18.4 percent to 18.6 percent -- underemployed meaning those without full-time work. Is that included in what the President is trying to do to get people back to work? And talk to me about how.

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think, again, creating -- what you have seen happen in this economy is productivity has increased; what -- temporary work has increased, meaning employers have taken the steps of adding hours but not necessarily adding additional full-time workers. There are any number of people that, in the monthly employment survey, are included in -- would be included in a group of people that would like to work more if they could. That's why you typically hear that -- that's why, typically, on a day like tomorrow, you'll hear an unemployment number and an underemployment number -- those that would like to have additional work but can't find it.

Obviously those are just as much a focus as those that don't have work and need it, because inherent in solving either of -- inherent in dealing with either of those two groups is greater full-time employment and that's certainly what the President and the team are looking through.

Q: And also, on this platform -- this production platform explosion, would you talk to me about how and why Justice is involved in this right now?

MR. GIBBS: Why Justice is involved?

Q: I understand Justice is looking into this, they're investigating this --

MR. GIBBS: April, I don't have any information on that. The information I got was from the Coast Guard. So I will go back and see if there are -- if there's Justice involvement in what's happened today.

Q: And is the administration concerned at all by the fact that Mariner Energy has links to BP when this whole situation happened?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to make any broad statements on today's -- on what I know about today's incident when I came out here. Let me go back -- I think I said I'd go back and look and just get a better or fuller update throughout the day and see what's going on.


Q: Thanks, Robert. I wanted to return to the subject of the Mideast peace process and try to flesh out which calls the President has made, especially for Arab support, beyond obviously Egypt and Jordan. Specifically, has he been in contact with Saudi leaders, Kuwaitis, Moroccans, Qataris? Can you tell us who he's talked to and what their feedback has been?

MR. GIBBS: I believe he has talked with King Abdullah recently. I don't know the -- I can get the exact date of that and --

Q: I think a readout on that would actually be really helpful.

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- what's today? It would have happened earlier in the week, so let me --

Q: Prior to everyone's arrival?

MR. GIBBS: I think that -- if I'm not mistaken, on -- Monday was the 31st, right? They all sort of blur together. I believe that they spoke on Air Force One on Monday. But I will -- let me go see if there's a readout of it.

Q: Since his meetings yesterday, since his bilats yesterday, and in the course of today where presumably he will -- when he talks with George Mitchell and get a readback on what's going on -- do you expect ongoing telephone calls to leaders --

MR. GIBBS: Let me do this. Let me get a better answer to that based on discussing with him after he's had a chance to talk with Senator Mitchell. Look, obviously both Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell have been deeply, deeply involved in this, so let me include what their activity might be as well.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thank you, Robert. Just to follow up on that, the Arab Peace Initiative, which Jordan's King Abdullah mentioned last night, is an initiative that Saudi King Abdullah put together. Was he at all -- was he invited to attend these talks, or was he consulted beforehand?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, again, I believe they spoke Monday or Tuesday. I'm going to go -- let me go back and find -- and we will try to find a --

Q: -- that would just be a day before the talks would take place --

MR. GIBBS: Let me get a better readout on exactly what was said and what might have transpired.

Q: But you don't know if he was invited to --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know directly the answer to that but let me find out.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thanks, Robert. Do you have any details about the dinner last night? The Israelis released that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave some gift of peace to the President.

MR. GIBBS: There was -- I don't know how to describe it. I'll go back and -- it was in the Oval, in the outer Oval last night, so I can go back and look at what that gift was.

Q: Just a couple things. One, to clarify, you said -- this is a different track than Mara took -- you said that some big new stimulus plan is not in the offing, but the economic team is looking at a host of issues. That host of issues -- the exception is a big stimulus?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it's just safe to characterize -- I'll characterize it today the way I characterized it on Monday, and I think the way the President characterized it on Monday, and that is targeted ideas to continue to spur the recovery and create an environment for private sector hiring.

Q: So something even resembling what we saw when you all first came to office is off the table?

MR. GIBBS: I have not been in a meeting where that's been discussed.

Q: And then the other thing I wanted to ask was, Bill mentioned the polling numbers in a nosedive, as he put it. Does the White House believe the President can arrest those numbers, or at least help?

MR. GIBBS: Look, I will say this. I think the President -- I'd go back to one of the answers I gave Bill, which is the unprecedented amount of effort and support that the DNC is providing to congressional candidates, to each of the Senate and congressional committees. Look, I don't -- we saw this last year. This is -- I think the President will help make the case, but I don't -- I do not anticipate that -- look, go back and look at polling from 2009 about -- in a lot of these races, there are issues that are not going to be decided either in support of or opposition to the President.


Q: Robert, for the last four days, Glenn Beck has criticized the President for believing in liberation theology, which he calls a Marxist form of Christianity. I've got two questions. One, does the President, to your knowledge, even know what liberation theology is?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that. I will say this, Bill, a crude paraphrasing of an old quote, and that is people are entitled to their own opinion, as ill-informed as it may be, but they're not entitled to their own facts. The President is a committed mainstream Christian. I don't -- I have no evidence that would guide me as to what Glenn Beck would have any genuine knowledge as to what the President does or does not believe.

Q: When is he going back to church?

Q: So this Marxist form of Christianity --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I can only imagine where Mr. Beck conjured that from.


Q: Thanks, Robert. Would the President be pleased if on Election Day people say -- people base their vote on whether they're better off -- if they're better off on Election Day than when then-Senator Obama was elected?

MR. GIBBS: I think that's one of the measures that people will generally use. I think that -- this may not be true for every person, obviously, but there are -- I think, Kirk, if you look at where our economy will likely be November the 2nd of 2010 and where it was that beautiful November day in 2008, they're very different places. Again, we'll do a little of the jobs numbers -- I don't know the jobs numbers -- that's why --

Q: Do you know the jobs numbers? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I can't tell you. I think I used this statistic earlier in the briefing, that we've created 600,000 private sector jobs in this year alone. To take your point of comparison, in the previous -- in the last six months of 2008, we lost 3 million jobs. So I think -- I don't think there's any doubt there's been a change in that trajectory. I will say this, Kirk -- and I think I've said this on a number of answers today -- that is not satisfying to the President because obviously our economy has to grow more, we have to add more to the rolls of the employed and take them out of the rolls of the unemployed. And the President understands because he is among those that is frustrated that it is not happening as quickly as he would like it to, as he understands that the depth of the hole that we're in is unlike anything we've faced in a long, long time.

Yes, sir.

Q: One other thing, too. You've undoubtedly heard some commentators second-guess the choice of using the Oval as the forum, the venue, for the speech. Why was that chosen as opposed to giving the same sort of speech at Fort Bliss?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I obviously was involved in part of that decision. I think there are very few issues that if you look back to the spring of 2003 that have played a bigger role in our recent history than our -- than the war in Iraq. I think that is -- a tremendous number of men and women served in Iraq. A tremendous number were killed and have been injured as a result of their participation in that. I think the President believed that the milestone that we marked on Tuesday, the change in our mission away from a combat role and one to a role of assistance, should be marked in many of the same ways that President Bush marked it in announcing the beginning of combat.

And I will say this, if -- I read -- obviously read a number of stories. There was an AP story that quoted a number of soldiers that are happy that we have made a transition in a country where some of them served once, twice, three, four times. I think it was important that those that spent their time in Iraq -- some who left friends in Iraq -- deserved the national thanks of their Commander-in-Chief.

Q: Sorry, one more. George Mitchell says there's going to be another round of talks, the 14th and the 15th. Is the President going to play a role in that? Is he going to invite some of the principals back here?

MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check on the schedule.

Thanks, guys.

END 1:13 P.M. EDT

* The President spoke with FEMA Administrator Fugate today at 1:15p.m.EDT about Hurricane Earl.

* The President was briefed on the oil platform fire in the Gulf and the government response today by Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan.

Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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