Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Take us away.
Q: Got nothing else in mind? You didn't give me -- you didn't buy me the time there.
MR. GIBBS: No opening statements.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the President's statement that he wants to keep pushing for a broad climate bill, energy bill. Is that something that came up in the meeting? Was there any sort of new way forward? And why is he stressing this now? I mean, the bill was essentially dead for the year.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I wouldn't say that the -- I don't think the bill is essentially dead for the year. The House passed a very strong and very comprehensive energy bill last year. The Senate is going to take up a version that is more scaled down but still has some important aspects, particularly dealing with how we deal with oil spills in the future.
But I don't think that closes the door -- once a bill passes, each House doesn't close the door to having some sort of conference.
Q: Well, let me phrase it a different way then. What does he plan to do now to push for it, as he said he wanted to do, that he didn't do up to now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, I mean, they talked about making sure that before the Senate leaves we get -- we do get some energy bill through the Senate. Again, there's --
Q: You can't really call that a broad energy bill; it's pretty narrow.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not suggesting that. I don't think anybody in the meeting did. I think what -- again, what I'm suggesting is what -- if you need to sneeze, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q: Do it the right way.
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to be responsible for not letting you sneeze, for goodness' sakes. (Laughter.) Sorry. Yes, I was going to say. No, but, again, you've got one bill that passes the House; you'll have a different bill that passes the Senate. And then there will be an opportunity to reconcile those two differing bills.
Q: So is there some hope that a conference committee would produce something broad?
MR. GIBBS: I certainly wouldn't rule it out. Anything else?
Q: I'm good. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Okay. Ease back into it, right?
Q: Robert, BP has said it's going to offset the cost of the oil spill against its taxes. Does the White House have an opinion on that? This is legal, but is it right?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost, American taxpayers will not be responsible for any costs related to the spill. The administration will ensure that any action that BP takes is -- respects the law as it is. And I think more than anything, Jeff, what we've seen over the discussion over the past sort of 24 hours as BP has changed leadership is the role that BP has to -- in the administration's eye and I think in the eyes of those on the Gulf -- has to continue to play in capping the well, and then after the well is capped, for responding to the damage that's been caused and to adequately compensate those who have been harmed.
And I think more than anything, that's what the American people are looking for and I think that's what the people of the Gulf are looking for, is a continued commitment by BP that even after the well is closed -- obviously right now the sealing cap remains on and by all estimations, sometime this weekend -- later in the weekend, early next week -- the next effort will be made to pump mud through the choke and kill lines and, once and for all, kill the well.
Q: This offset will cost U.S. taxpayers about $10 billion. Is that something you would prefer that they not do? If they --
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, I don't think anybody would prefer that they do that. There are tax laws in this country that have been written for quite some time.
Q: But can you -- I mean, you could say to the company, we would prefer that you not do this. Will do you that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't think anybody -- Jeff, if I could wave the magic wand, we would never have had a big oil spill in the Gulf.
Q: Robert, two questions. Staying on BP for a second, now that Mr. Dudley will take over, does the President have any plans to reach out to him, to have any one-on-one meetings with him? Has the White House made any effort in that regard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President had an opportunity to -- Mr. Dudley was part of the negotiations that took place here a few weeks ago. The President had an opportunity to talk to the chairman of the board yesterday about their change in leadership. And, again, our concern is not who heads BP. Mr. Hayward is leaving. The key is that BP can't leave, and should not leave, the Gulf. That is our viewpoint. I think that's the viewpoint of everyone that's involved, that they have obligations and responsibilities as the responsible party in this instance that have to be met regardless of who the CEO is or who the chair of the company is.
Q: Surely the President, though, has an opinion on Mr. Dudley, especially if they've met in person. Does the White House think this is a good choice or a bad choice?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into -- and the White House isn't going to get into -- picking who the CEO of this company is. Our opinion of the CEO is immaterial to the notion that we're going to hold that CEO, whomever it is, and the chair and the entire board responsible for the damage that's been caused, the obligations that they have to fulfill, the money that they will owe the federal government in penalties; the $20 billion in escrow that they will have to continue to pay into; the $100 million that they've put up for rig workers as part of the oil moratorium; and also, the natural resource damage assessments, which will come a little bit later in that process.
Q: Moving on to war funding, we heard the President publicly push for this today. Is he doing anything behind the scenes to try to get more Democrats to vote for this bill? A significant number it seems will not vote for this. Why does the White House think the party is so divided on this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think that's a new thing. I think if you look back at war funding that goes back to six or eight years, there have been splits in the Democratic Party. I don't -- Chairman Obey announced he was going to vote against war funding today. It's an announcement, quite frankly, that he made quite some time ago.
So I think the President believes that -- and talked extensively in the campaign -- about the fact that we did not have a winning strategy in Afghanistan. Coming into office, we spent a large chunk of time reviewing and creating a strategy that we believed had an opportunity to be successful. Those troops are on their way in and by the end of August will all be in place. And as he said in his statement, that's the strategy he believes Congress should in the supplemental and will approve funding for this evening.
Q: That opposition might not be new, but the strategy is new. Should the President be doing something else to convey the message to people in his own party as to why they should support this?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I will say this, I don't know how many of the Democrats that -- there are Democrats that have been opposed to involvement in Afghanistan a lot longer than we've been here.
Q: Robert, can I ask on BP, when the President spoke to the chairman of the board, did he express any concern or outrage about the golden parachute that Tony Hayward is getting?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a readout from the call. I know the call took place, but I don't have a readout.
Q: Do you have any sense of outrage? Is there going to be any pressure on BP? When people in the Gulf are suffering --
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to -- I don't want to talk about a call I don't --
Q: -- he's walking away with $18 million.
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to talk about a call I don't have some direct knowledge of.
Q: No, but what about your sense of -- do you have any sense of outrage?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would have to see if it was brought up on the call.
Q: I wonder, in the Rose Garden, a couple quick things. The President was talking about how he focused on getting small business -- the small business bill through, that it's an urgent priority. But when Senator Reid decided to put the small business bill aside to move on to the DISCLOSE Act, the campaign finance reform bill, isn't that delaying getting the small business bill passed when as you've acknowledged --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they'll take that --
Q: -- there's a small window of passage?
MR. GIBBS: I think they'll take that up if -- I think the DISCLOSE Act is likely not to get cloture largely because Senator McConnell has made sure that the bill is not going to get cloture. I think the Democratic leader will likely take that bill up pretty quickly --
Q: They're saying he's spending valuable time on a bill that's not going to pass when the President is saying he's got an urgent priority to get the small business bill passed.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and let's be clear, Ed, we've been working on this bill for quite some time. Remember, if you had a nickel for every time you heard the Republicans talk about helping small business, you'd be in the upper -- you probably are, but you'd certainly be in the uppermost tax income bracket, right? Why then on Earth would it take a cloture vote to get additional lending to go to community banks in order to get it to small businesses to create jobs? I mean, there's -- look, there's a lot going on on Capitol Hill. I think the notion that somehow Harry Reid has set up procedural hurdles that don't allow something like this to finish is -- doesn't adequately capture sort of reality.
Q: Also in the Rose Garden, finally, the President was talking about the WikiLeaks story and was saying that one of the things that he's brought is greater accountability to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. You said yesterday the President has also talked about no blank check for Pakistan. And yet the President a few months ago signed the Kerry-Lugar bill into law that's providing I think $7.5 billion of U.S. taxpayer aid to Pakistan when these documents that are leaked out are suggesting Pakistan and their intelligence service has these deep ties to the Taliban, maybe plotting attacks against U.S. soldiers, as well as Afghan leaders --
MR. GIBBS: I think we covered this yesterday, Ed.
Q: -- which we talked about yesterday, right?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Isn't -- doesn't that sound like a blank check, though, when you're still providing $7.5 billion to Pakistan when this is still going on?
MR. GIBBS: Let's get Ed some -- we can get you a copy of the legislation in which -- Ed, I don't know if you remember when we -- when this bill was happening, there was quite a bit of consternation in both of those countries about what had to be done in order to get that. We'll get you a copy of the bill so you can become more familiar --
Q: Why are they still talking to the Taliban if there's such a great check on Pakistan right now? Why is their intelligence service still allegedly meeting --
MR. GIBBS: Ed, Ed, again, I thought we covered this fairly adequately yesterday, but --
Q: You talked about it, but if this still -- do you think the ties are over between the Taliban and Pakistan so it's a done deal?
MR. GIBBS: No, again -- and I answered that -- can we also get Ed a transcript from yesterday? Ed, I said yesterday that -- and I think your network has likely covered the historical connection between the two. I think your network has probably also covered the fact that we've made progress in this relationship. But as I said yesterday -- and again, we'll get you that transcript, Ed -- nobody is here to say that all of our problems dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan are finished.
I don't -- that's not this administration. We haven't told you that everything is all fine and hunky-dory. That's quite the opposite of what we've said. We came into office understanding that for seven years, as the President said today, a strategy had been under-resourced and under-funded, right? A commanding general sat in Afghanistan and said he needed more troops, despite the fact that no troops came, right? We've tripled the number of troops and resources in Afghanistan. We've created a new strategy that includes how to deal with Pakistan.
So I'm not here to tell you, as I told you yesterday, that all our problems are solved, but we're making progress.
Q: Can I follow, Robert, please?
Q: In the Rose Garden the President mentioned that he talked to Senate Minority Leader McConnell about the lethargic pace of judicial confirmations.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Did he mention the possibility of making recess appointments?
MR. GIBBS: In fact, Mitch McConnell brought that up.
Q: And what was said?
MR. GIBBS: They just discussed -- right now there are 12 judges that have passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously that await Senate confirmation. And the President asked Senator McConnell why those 12 judges couldn't be approved before the Senate left in a little more than a week, given the fact that the Judiciary Committee, which examines closely the qualifications of those nominated for judgeships -- why nobody found any objection to any of those 12.
There was some discussion -- the President was I think somewhat pointed in discussing with the Minority Leader the notion that the confirmation process is -- has broken down to a point that I think we really haven't seen in Congress dealing with the Executive Branch ever. And that was discussed.
Q: But the aspects of the specific idea of having recess appointments?
MR. GIBBS: They did not get into the specifics of what that might be, but the President said his decisions on recess appointments would be made based on the decisions that the Senate minority made in clearing the nominees that this government needs in order to conduct everyday business for men and women in America.
Q: So it's an open tool that he has at his disposal?
MR. GIBBS: No, it is up to the Minority Leader in the Senate to determine the degree to which action is undertaken on important nominees. Again, I've used this example before -- I don't have the exact timeline in front of me -- but when the head of the GSA has to get cloture, and then a vote is delayed for months and months and months, only to be approved unanimously, one has to ask, why the delay? Is there any delay -- is there any reason other than partisan politics?
Q: I'd like to broaden that out a little bit, because you've mentioned cloture votes a couple times already. This past weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought up the idea for the second time in favor of filibuster reform, and that was seconded by various Senate candidates who are running for office, as well as senators themselves. I'm wondering if that came up in the conversation and/or what your thoughts are on the growing support for that in the Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen what -- I have not seen any of the specific proposals or I haven't looked closely at them. It was not something that came up in the meeting.
Q: And then finally, the consumer protection agency board, I know we've talked a lot about Elizabeth Warren, but when exactly should we expect the President to make an appointment?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an exact timeline. I don't -- as I said here yesterday, I don't expect that an appointment is imminent.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Robert, when the President has talked about Afghanistan in recent months it's been when kind of his hand was forced -- during the McChrystal situation, handover to Petreaus, and this situation --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think --
Q: -- it's when there's news that he's responding to.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's true, Chip. I mean, at the end of March, the President traveled to Afghanistan. That was not something we were forced to do; that was something that the President wanted to do. And then in May of this year, President Karzai visited the White House upon the President's invitation. That was hardly something that was foisted upon the President.
Q: Is that enough? I mean, why isn't he out there talking about this every week on something that is so important to this nation and to him personally and politically?
MR. GIBBS: You know, Chip, I think the President has --
Q: And with polls showing public support declining on a pretty steady basis.
MR. GIBBS: We don't make decisions on what we talk about based on polling.
Q: But you need the support of the American people to wage a war. And you don't have it and you're losing it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, we have dedicated an awful lot of time to this. I will point out, Chip, that last -- was it last week? -- the leaders of the two largest coalition members in Afghanistan, the two largest coalition partners that make up our international force there, were standing in front of you guys, took four questions, and not one of them was on Afghanistan. Much, I will say, to the surprise of both myself and to my British counterpart, who, I think we both had in our segments discussions about Afghanistan.
I appreciate, Chip, that the intricacies of this war have not necessarily been followed.
Q: We would love to have had more than two questions per side. That would have been a wonderful thing.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I like that the --
Q: Guarantee you you would have gotten an Afghan question.
MR. GIBBS: I like that the fifth most important topic that you had on your mind that day was the 100,000 --
Q: I don't remember you calling on me.
MR. GIBBS: I'm generalizing and lumping you guys all together --
Q: I don't think you can do that.
Q: Really? You're generalizing the media? You've never done that before.
Q: I'm shocked that you would do that, accuse us all --
Q: Shocked, shocked.
Q: -- of one person's sins.
MR. GIBBS: That's good, good. Jonathan.
Q: I can't believe that you would do that.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't want to -- I'm lumping your questions in with Chip.
Q: Now, that's -- come on -- now, that's --
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean? I just -- I generalized. You TV guys all look shiny together.
Q: That's just a silly -- that's a silly diss, come on.
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- go ahead, Jonathan.
Q: Chuck, I think it's your turn.
Q: Chuck, I am deferring to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you, Jonathan.
MR. GIBBS: I'll go to Mark next. Jonathan. I'm just teasing, guys. Grow some skin that's a little thicker than -- look past --
Q: It's a two-way street on the thick skin.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I -- (laughter) -- I see how you were pouting just only moments ago. Please get Chuck -- (laughter.) Please, please --
Q: I don't think I was. Everybody else seemed to be. Anyway. Actually, let me just follow on something that Chip said. Does public opinion matter in waging a war? How much does it matter in waging a war?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think you have to -- I think obviously public opinion matters quite a bit when you have forces in harm's way. I will say this, Chuck, at the same time you can't just make popular decisions. You can't just decide that if it's too hard to do something because public opinion is against it, I don't think you'd make a lot of decisions certainly when you have to deal with crises. I don't -- so, look, obviously, while important, I don't think it's the only determinative factor.
Q: Was it -- did it come up -- did the whole WikiLeaks thing and the issue of sort of the effect it could have on public opinion on the war, and therefore on members of Congress, did that come up in this meeting today?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: No discussion?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: And one more thing --
MR. GIBBS: I think largely, Chuck -- if I can, I think that's largely because, again, the content of what was in the WikiLeaks has been addressed on the record by a lot of members of this administration prior to the documents being put online.
Q: We've seen two sort of pieces of response on WikiLeaks from the administration. One is nothing new in there. And the second thing is that the release of this potentially put some operations in harm's way. When you guys are looking through this, do you think that some of the level of secrecy was maybe too much, that some of this stuff that was marked top secret --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q: -- maybe shouldn't have been?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I got this question yesterday. And I'm not an expert on classification. I don't -- and I'm certainly not in danger of becoming one. I would just say this, that -- look, there's -- when somebody marks something top secret or classified, it's not an option, right?
I mean, certainly some people I guess could go back in the annals of history and look through the classification process, but once -- look, to handle any kind of information like that within the administration requires -- you have to -- there's a training process that goes along with handling it. There is -- I think you've probably seen in my office and other offices, there are safes for keeping this kind of information in an office that is traveled by people other than those in the administration.
So, look, I don't -- I'm not here to discuss what role classification is. There's a fairly strict law. And those that have access to classified information can either comply with that law or live with the consequences of not.
Q: Something I wanted to follow up on Jennifer's question. Are we to interpret the President's remarks today on energy -- so he specifically used the phrase "energy reform," sort of saying he will accept something out of the Senate that doesn't have climate in it, which is a little bit of a change from where you guys were six months ago -- is that fair?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chuck, I think that if you -- I think that's an acknowledgement that you got to have 60 votes to get something through the Senate. You got to have --
Q: So you take what you can get, is what you're saying. On energy you're going to --
MR. GIBBS: You got to have 60 votes to get your GSA nominee through the Senate, let alone a comprehensive immigration reform, so I think it's largely an acknowledgement that -- certainly given 41 Republican senators, there are not 60 votes for that bill.
Q: So basically you'll take an energy reform bill now and then go and try to do a climate bill later?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's -- well, no, I think the process is you get an energy bill through the Senate, then you can you conference that legislation with the House.
Q: During lame duck?
MR. GIBBS: No, we could do it in September.
Q: Speaking of during September, last week, Vice President Biden was at a fundraiser in North Carolina and he said the heavy legislative lifting was over and now was the time to sell what you have passed. Today, the President urged members of Congress not to be overwhelmed by the political season, even though he's actually doing a number of political events and fundraisers this week and next week. Is it realistic -- and is it even wise -- to expect Congress during a very heated political season to come back in September and do some of these big things? How realistic do you think that is?
MR. GIBBS: Look, there -- I don't know what -- how many weeks they'll come back, but I assume they're coming back to do legislative business. I assume we're going to have debates on policy issues, some of which won't get finished until -- won't get finished in time for an election, and they'll be the basis for some of the discussion in that election. But I think there are -- there's certainly work left to be done. If we don't get a small business bill through by the time the House and the Senate leave, the President would certainly expect that we get that done soon.
Q: Is the small business -- besides the small business bill, are there any actual "must passes" on the President's list that he absolutely wants to get done in September and early October?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that well before an oil spill you would have said getting energy legislation done is important. I think Speaker Pelosi made the point today that regardless of whether you have an oil spill or not, it doesn't change the fact that you're sending a billion dollars overseas in foreign oil, which is -- Senator Reid's legislation addresses natural gas, addresses electric cars, and obviously that's the basis for moving energy forward.
Q: And does the President still believe that a lame duck session should take up the recommendations of the deficit commission and pass what could be very monumental legislation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that once we have those recommendations, they will be considered. I don't know what the schedule of Congress will be. Look, I'd point that Senator Cornyn just a week or so ago leaned in on the fiscal commission as a part of the solution for the deficit. So it doesn't appear to be simply one party that is waiting for the recommendations of a fiscal commission.
Q: Robert, did the Kagan nomination come up in the leaders' meeting?
MR. GIBBS: It did not.
Q: Does the President expect it next week, the confirmation?
MR. GIBBS: The confirmation that the vote will happen and that we'll have a new Supreme Court justice, yes.
Q: And tonight, the President is doing a DNC event and two tomorrow in New York City, and yet they're all closed to press coverage. Why is that?
MR. GIBBS: We make open the events in which the President is going to speak. I think he's speaking at one tomorrow; I will double-check on that one. That is open for pool coverage.
Q: Tomorrow, on the speech on the economy, obviously he's going to be talking about small business. But is he going to address the economy in a larger sense, such as the deficit numbers and the growth projections that came up in the budget review last week? Are we going to hear anything new on the economy?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that the President gets into the mid-session review, not that I'm aware of. I think the President will continue to push that Congress take up and finish the small business bill. That, I think, will be the thrust of his remarks, the thrust of his remarks on that tomorrow.
Q: Nothing beyond, really, on the economy in general?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think creating jobs and small businesses would fall into that category.
Q: Congress is considering another emergency funding bill for Afghanistan. The President wanted to put those things on the budget in the campaign. Why hasn't he been able to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have -- we would certainly like to, and it would be good if Congress could do that. It hasn't always been that way. And, Wendell, this is a newer strategy. This is -- the President has dedicated an increased number of troops and an increased number of resources that was outside the normal budget bill.
Q: So you're saying that the -- the plus, the addition, the tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan --
MR. GIBBS: I'd say that as a result of the fact that the President has created a strategy that finally allows us to have the resources necessary to have success in Afghanistan.
Q: You realize that suggests the same explanation former President Bush gave, which was --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think President Bush ever gave the suggestion that there were enough troops -- if they gave the suggestion that there were enough troops in Afghanistan to do the job --
Q: For Iraq. Allow me to be clear, for not putting the costs of Iraq on the budget. It was ongoing, we're increasing the troops, you can't anticipate, we have to do it -- we'll do it in emergency spending. That's the same argument.
MR. GIBBS: No, because we're -- at the end of next month, we won't have combat troops in Iraq, so it's decidedly different.
Q: So you won't be asking for another supplemental emergency spending bill for Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm dealing with what we're dealing with now in Capitol Hill. I can't project what the next one is.
Q: On Afghanistan, follow?
Q: Robert, in the meeting with the congressional leaders, did tax cuts, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, come up?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes.
Q: Could you talk a little about that? Who brought it up and --
MR. GIBBS: I can't remember who brought it up, but I think you would not be surprised at -- along the lines of where that discussion was. The President said that, as he had committed to in the campaign, he would not allow the tax cuts for the middle class to expire. I'll let Congressman Boehner unwind his eloquent argument for preserving the tax cuts for those that are quite wealthy. I don't think the President believes -- I don't think there's an economist that believes there's a stimulative effect to -- or a good reason in terms of economic growth to extend those tax cuts, particularly given the choice that one has to make about the budget deficit.
Q: How much discussion was there and what was the sort of tone of it, the give and take?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I mean, it was very much -- look, I don't think the argument, quite frankly, is different than the one we had in -- for most of 2008, and that is the choices that one has to make on where you put your thumb -- do you put it on the side of the middle class or do you put it on the side of those that are decidedly above the middle class?
Q: May I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: About a week and a half ago, the co-chairman of the fiscal commission came out at a jobs summit and they said basically it's a slim to none chance that you're going to get 14 out of 18 votes to approve these recommendations. And given that --
MR. GIBBS: To approve which recommendations?
Q: The fiscal commission recommendations in December. And given that, and given the concern over the deficit, what possibly could you pass in terms of tax cuts after the election other than middle class or a temporary extension to everything?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President and his team have not argued for extending the high-end Bush tax cuts. That's not an argument that people have made in this building, and it's not an argument that's -- not an argument that's going to be made. I think the Secretary of Treasury spoke pretty clearly to this on Sunday on both shows. And the President made a commitment not to raise taxes on the middle class and believes that those middle-class tax cuts should be preserved.
But I'll let the Republicans, again, lay out their case for extending high-earner income tax cuts and how they'd like to square their statements on the budget deficit as that goes.
Q: But if you have a cloud over long-term fiscal certainty in December after the election, and the big issue right now is even to decide to what extent to do tax cuts prior to the election, doesn't that, frankly, work in your favor, not to have recommendations by the fiscal commission?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to prejudge where the fiscal commission could end up. Regardless of whether you have a fiscal commission or not, understand that, as I think you all do, that the 10-year Bush tax cuts were structured so that December -- at midnight December 31, 2010, they all expire. So regardless of the fiscal commission and its existence or not, and regardless of the ability with which its 18 votes can be structured to pass a recommendation, this is something that is going to have to be dealt with regardless of that.
Did you have --
Q: Yes, just to wrap it up -- you said Boehner made his case. Did the President make a case for letting them lapse for the richest taxpayers beyond what you said about him reminding them that he had campaigned on this? Did he bring it into the present, make an economic argument --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. The President believes that, as, again, as you heard the Secretary of Treasury this weekend say quite clearly, that there are tax cuts that, based on our fiscal situation, simply can't be afforded. And we are not in favor of extending the high-earner Bush tax cuts. Those will -- we believe those should lapse.
Q: Did he challenge them to address how it is that they are now arguing for stimulus when they've opposed his ideas for stimulus in the past --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, there was a little discussion about -- I mean, again, I think -- again, don't take our word for it; I think if you look at -- I think if you were to ask any economist what the economic impact of those high-earner tax cuts are versus, for instance, the President's concept of Make Work Pay, which is, for 95 percent of working families, a tax cut, the stimulative effects are quite different.
Q: Robert, John and Mark made reference to the fundraisers tonight, tomorrow, and I guess we've got more on Friday. Is this kind of the beginning of the President's campaign in terms of the fall elections and --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he's been doing this for quite some time.
Q: Oh, I realize he has been doing some, but --
MR. GIBBS: You asked me if it was the beginning.
Q: This is a lot -- this is a lot all of a sudden. There's more coming up on the schedule.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I mean, I don't think it's news to say we're getting closer to the election. I don't think it's also news -- as I said a minute ago, I don't think it's news that -- this is not the first or certainly the last that he'll do.
Q: Going on "The View" to talk about Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Going on "The View" to talk about whatever the hosts on "The View" ask the President of the United States. I don't doubt that -- I'm not a regular watcher, but I am of the opinion that they're -- I'm of the opinion that they have strong views and I'm sure they'll ask the President.
Look, I think it is another opportunity for the President to talk to people where they are. We made a decision to put the President on Jay Leno, David Letterman, "The View," because that's where -- people have busy lives and it's best to go where they are. And I think that's what the President will do tomorrow.
Q: Local reporters are talking about that in -- apparently, the event in New Jersey is in a sandwich shop, a sub shop, a famous sub shop. Is that also trying to get close to people -- grassroots?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think that's an opportunity to talk about moving a small business -- small business legislation forward so that -- look, for the better part of the last year and a half, the biggest problem that we've had particularly with small business is ensuring that they have access to the type of capital and credit that's necessary not just to simply meet a payroll, but to take advantage of the beginnings of economic growth and changes in consumer demand by expanding. And having access to that credit is tremendously important.
The community bankers believe -- are certainly supportive of money to community banks that can be lent directly to small businesses.
Q: Robert, you said a minute ago that the President doesn't believe we can afford to extend the tax cuts for the high-income. Does he think the country can afford to extend the tax cuts for everybody else?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the President believes that raising taxes on the middle class during this economic time would not make a lot of economic sense. And I think if you go back to the campaign, the President made that pledge not simply to make that pledge, but to make that pledge because for years and years and years we'd watched jobs being shed, wages either flat or declining, and that now is neither the time nor the place to raise taxes on them.
Q: But he thinks, given the fiscal situation, the country can afford to extend those tax cuts?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and -- as at the same time, we begin to look at our medium- and long-term fiscal threats.
Q: Robert, can you comment on the report by the Inspector General for the reconstruction of Iraq that billions of dollars have been missing and there's a very poor system of oversight and liability? And also, can you tell us what does it mean for you, since you're shifting from the military focus to reconstruction and building Iraq?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, and I would -- this is a report that covers the time period of 2003 to -- as I understand it, 2003 to 2004. I'd point you over to some in the Department of Defense that have worked on that.
I will say this. This is why the President has pledged greater accountability. This is why the President has undertaken contract reform and why we can't have -- why we can't have, as he said, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, blank checks.
Q: Robert, you touched earlier on polling as it relates to Afghanistan. But broadening that a bit, the President's numbers have slid recently among several key groups from Hispanics, to whites, to men, independents. Does that matter? Does that make it tougher to get his agenda through Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I was asked specifically about the impact of public opinion on the war. Look, the President has made a series of decisions -- whether they were politically popular or not, the President believed they were the right decisions to make.
Take for instance, the President will make two stops on Friday, in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan, to visit the Chrysler and G.M. plants in each of those -- in those two places. Ensuring that the auto industry -- Chrysler and G.M., in particular -- did not go bankrupt, the President asked them to make a series of tough decisions about restructuring in order to qualify for aid to get them through that bankruptcy period. Not an altogether popular decision, but understanding that the ramifications of not doing that would have been probably a million jobs lost, a supply chain that disappeared, and if you look at where the auto industry is today, 55,000 more people are employed by the auto industry today than when the President took office.
It was a tough decision to make. The President asked for sacrifices by those companies in making some hard decisions that for years they had put off in terms of restructuring in order to build a better future for its workers and the communities that those plants were in. I think it's in many ways a metaphor for the decisions that the President has made on the economy.
I also -- I go back to the notion that we are in a time of two wars and 9.5 percent unemployment and it's understandable that people are frustrated.
Q: Can you pursue any legal action against WikiLeaks?
MR. GIBBS: There is an ongoing investigation that is looking into the leaking of classified information. As I've said here before, my transmitting one of those documents to you would constitute a violation of federal law, and certainly, as I said earlier, handling that type of information comes with certain responsibilities. And if you don't meet those responsibilities, you're held liable.
Q: Who were the members who met with the President at lunch today? And what was the topic?
MR. GIBBS: I'll get you a list. There was no specific topic. It was a series of -- like the President has had, a series of lunches with both senators and members of the House. But I'll -- right as soon as I'm done here, I'll get you a list.
Q: We never got that list last week, though. I guess it's twice in a week the President is meeting with members -- we don't know who they are.
MR. GIBBS: We put the list out. But I will -- I'll get both lists to you.
Q: Robert, you've talked from time to time about the potential risks faced by U.S. service members because of this disclosure. Do you think that this is bad enough to warrant -- whomever passes information along, presumably, you will find out who it is -- I'm not saying that it's anyone who is currently in custody -- do you think this warrants a jail sentence for the person --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- besides not being a classification expert, I'm not a sentencing -- I'm not a judge familiar with sentencing guidelines or an attorney. I presume that if this person or persons is identified, that they will prosecuted and, as I said earlier, you make a commitment when handling this type of information to live up to the responsibilities invested in federal law in how one handles this information. And if you're not willing to live up to those responsibilities, then you face those consequences.
Q: Thanks, Robert. I have two quick questions. First, Tony Hayward, in his exit interview with the British press, he was asked if his ouster was fair, he said life's not fair, and he said that he was forced to leave because he'd been demonized by the American press. And he also said that he wasn't -- he thought he might be too busy to attend future hearings about the oil spill. Do you have any reaction to those comments?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'll say this, what's not fair is what's happened on the Gulf. What's not fair is that the actions of some have caused the greatest environmental disaster that our country has ever seen. What's also not living up to your obligations is -- and your responsibilities are -- if Congress seeks to talk to him about the actions that he and his company undertook as part of the -- what led up to, what caused, or the response to that spill, our belief is that Mr. Hayward should make himself available for that.
I will say this. I don't think that a lot of people in any country are feeling overly sorry for the former CEO of BP. I think the decision -- I'm not going to speak to the decision that the board made. I can only speak to the damage that's been caused and the lives that have been altered because of it.
Q: My second question -- do you have any reaction to the news that Andrew Breitbart will be appearing at a fundraiser with RNC Chairman Michael Steele?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a reaction and I'm altogether not surprised.
Q: Third, I wanted to just clarify something from the Lockerbie letter. There's a part in there where it says that -- well, obviously you explained that the first preference was that he remain locked up, but if they were going to let him go that it be to house arrest in Scotland. And in the letter it references that this would be the best thing for the families. And I just wanted to see if you could clarify, was that done after conferring with the families? Was that a --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that the comment -- I don't know what had been undertaken with the families prior to that. Let me make sure that we're clear on the point. As is stated I think at least twice in the letter, the preference, strongly, as communicated both in the letter, by the President and by members of this administration to the government was that this individual continue to serve the sentence -- his sentence where he was. If they made the unfortunate decision to do something differently, we did not want -- we wanted at all costs to avoid the pain that would obviously be caused by a celebration or some sort of welcome befitting a hero, not a terrorist and a murderer, in Libya.
None of that was listened to. And I think the pictures -- the disgusting pictures that we saw in many ways speak for themselves.
Q: Was that done in conference with the families? Or you don't know --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that, but I will check.
Q: Robert, the President is going to New Jersey tomorrow, I believe, and probably will be seeing Senator Menendez. It seems that a number of individuals from not only Great Britain but from Scotland as well have refused to testify or meet with his committee on Thursday. Are there any thoughts here about that? And would the President --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think -- I don't know who has been called and who's decided not to come. I know that Prime Minister Cameron, when he was here, talked about the cooperation that they would lend into looking into the developments around the Lockerbie release.
Q: It was a number of high-levels, including the First Minister, I believe.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think it's been pretty clear where we were on this, the notion that somebody like this should be -- continue to be locked up and serving their jail time, and believe that it's important that anybody cooperate with the investigation.
END 2:58 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/288488