Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
See below for an answer to a question(marked with an asterisk)posed in the briefing that required follow up.
*The President was briefed on this during his Presidential Daily Briefing this morning.
2:20 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Take us away.
Q: Thank you. On the U.N. sanctions vote, what is it about this round of sanctions that the administration thinks will get Iran to obey this time after they've defied --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me say a few things that I think you heard the President speak about in his remarks. First and foremost, this is the most comprehensive and most robust set of international sanctions placed to date on Iran. I think these sanctions broaden the scope of what Iran has had to deal with. It sends a message from the international community about its commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and sends a message to international businesses that the price of doing business with Iran will be exceedingly high.
As the President has said on a number of occasions and reiterated today, that sanctions are not a magic bullet. We will continue to put -- through this and other means, put pressure on Iran. I think you see the degree to which Iran has sought to fight these sanctions as a measure of what they feel like the impact of these will be. We continue to seek a diplomatic solution and we will continue to hold them responsible for the obligations that they've made to the international community.
Q: Is the administration disappointed in Brazil and Turkey for voting against the sanctions? I mean, does that --
MR. GIBBS: I think it is not altogether surprising -- I don't think their votes are altogether surprising. I think -- obviously we've had a slightly different approach over the past many weeks. I don't want to characterize why they voted the way they did, but I think there was a demonstrated and forceful international commitment to ensuring that not living up to your obligations has severe consequences, and that's what the U.N. Security Council did today.
Q: If I could ask one question on the Middle East.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: The Israeli embassy says they're trying to finalize Netanyahu's visit for the end of this month.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Do you have anything on that?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on a second. Do you have any sense of what the -- I don't have any electronics, so I'm not sure what that is. Got to move the rabbit ears. Sorry.
We are -- we have been talking with them. We have not settled on a date as of yet, but have been in discussions with them about coming back maybe as early as the end of the month. Obviously, we've got to choreograph G-20 and some other stops that -- but we're in touch with them on that.
Q: On Iran, the Iranian President called the resolution valueless and likened it to a used handkerchief that should be thrown away. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: I would just say this. Again, look, I think anybody that wakes up -- nobody should wake up and be surprised about the outlandish rhetoric that comes from him on a near daily basis. Understand this: They fought what happened in the Security Council -- they fought it today tooth and nail, and they have fought this tooth and nail for weeks. They understand both what this means in demonstrating a greater international commitment and a forceful international commitment. They understand what -- as I said a minute ago, what this means for international businesses doing business in that country.
Iran today has greater sanctions placed upon it, finds itself more isolated than it ever has been before, and it finds the coalition aligned against its pursuits broader than it's ever been before. And I think that's important.
Q: But given that rhetoric, are you getting any indication that the leadership in Tehran is getting ready to change its confrontational stance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's -- we will see as a result of some of these sanctions, understanding there are other steps that we could take with additional countries, there are other steps that we could take unilaterally, as we pursue a diplomatic solution.
Q: On BP, following Admiral Allen's letter to BP demanding more information on how the company was seeking damage claims, do you feel you're getting sufficient cooperation from BP in dealing with compensation claims?
MR. GIBBS: Well, today's meeting is a direct offshoot of what we have heard from those in the Gulf, some of what we heard on the last trip to the Gulf on Friday, that there is a series of steps that BP needs to take, particularly in terms of the transparency of claims. We heard from folks about the degree to which larger claims have not been either addressed or paid out.
I don't want to get ahead of the result of what Admiral Allen and others say out of that meeting, but I will say, going into that meeting we think they're -- and that letter outlines some specific steps that we think BP needs to take right now to address this claims process. They've got a certain amount of time to pay these claims. We want to see some transparency as to what claims have not been paid.
Again, in meeting with either a seafood processor or a convenience store owner or a larger commercial fisherman -- you may have gotten a $5,000 check. That is likely not going to cover how much you might owe on your boat, or the lost income of not processing more shrimp, or the loss that you've seen in your convenience store. All of those were personal stories the President heard just last Friday.
Q: In terms of the claims process and also in terms of the cleaning process, which are the two most important aspects of what's going on beyond plugging the hole down there for Louisianans, why is BP in charge of that? Why is the government not supervising? I mean, BP is hiring contractors. Why doesn't the government hire contractors and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the government has activated members of the National Guard. The government has activated -- or has Coast Guard members. Different branches of the government have different folks down there. I would say we are -- the relationship that we have in terms of directing them is the same as we have in the broader relationship.
Q: They're failing at cleaning -- BP is failing at the cleaning process, they're failing at the claims process.
MR. GIBBS: Which is, Jake, why Admiral Allen sent that letter and why Admiral Allen, again, off of the meeting that the President had last week, has set up a meeting to fix this claims process.
Q: But why doesn't the government take -- why doesn't the government --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to come out of -- not in the meeting, the claims meeting, today. I do think a series of remedies that have been outlined that we believe BP must take will be discussed, and we'll move forward from them in order to make the claims process, which we know is going to be large -- economic damages out of this thing certainly will swell into the many billions of dollars -- and we will work in every way we can with the people of the Gulf and with the states affected to ensure that the process is one that is completely fair for them.
Q: Okay. In terms of the Iran sanctions, the three previous regimes since 2006 of sanctions were unanimous votes. Without -- I know you don't want to get into why Turkey and Brazil and Lebanon voted the way they did, but what reason can you think of that this would not be a unanimous vote as opposed to the three previous votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's hard to answer that question without getting into why -- the individual reasons that they did. But, Jake, I don't think anybody -- if you have a sanctions regime that you can tighten, I don't think anybody would say, well, don't tighten that unless you get everybody to say we should tighten it.
Q: No, I'm not --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, that's -- your question; my answer. Again, I think that regardless of 12 votes or more, we have in place now a stronger sanctions regime that's resulted in a country that's more isolated based on a broader international commitment than we've ever seen.
Q: That's my precise point -- it's not more isolated, it's less isolated.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q: Well, the three previous votes were unanimous and this one was not.
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand, Jake, the -- I don't know whether the -- are you saying the 15 members that voted on each of those times were the same? Because obviously there's --
Q: No, they weren't --
MR. GIBBS: Right,
Q: -- they weren't, but --
MR. GIBBS: -- there's 10 people that rotate from that --
Q: Iran can look at the vote and say, we are less isolated now than we were last time they voted on sanctions.
MR. GIBBS: Sixteen months ago, when the President took office, the resolution that was passed today could not have passed the United Nations Security Council. We would not have gotten Russia. We would not have gotten China. So there is a broader international coalition that is aligned against the pursuit of a nuclear weapon by the Iranian government unlike we have seen since this President has been in office.
Look, people can debate 12 votes, 15 votes, whatever. The bottom line is there is a greater sanctions regime on the government of Iran today than there was yesterday, than there has been at any other point. And that's what's seemingly important.
Q: Can I just have one quick question about Vice President Biden and Sudan? Could you just -- he's taking an increased role in the peace process there and I was just wondering if you could just elaborate a little bit.
MR. GIBBS: Let me get something from them. I just -- I have not -- let me get something from them today.
Q: Thanks, Robert. I just want to go back to BP in terms of the claims process. When the President told NBC that he has still not talked directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO -- in order to move that and many of these other things along, why hasn't the President just picked up the phone and talked directly to the CEO?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think what's important to understand is it's not entirely clear to anybody that -- look, the CEO is elected by the board. Anything that the CEO wants to do has to be approved by the board. I'm not entirely sure, based on the executive structure of corporate governance, that --
Q: He's the public face of this.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and that's apropos of what?
Q: He's been out front from day one. He's the person who's making the decisions on the ground, not the board.
MR. GIBBS: Any decision that the CEO makes has to be approved by the board. So I don't -- again, we're in constant contact with --
Q: He's the leader of the company. He's the guy who has been the -- he's in the ads, the $50 million ads the President has criticized. It's Tony Hayward saying, we're going to get this done, we're going to clean it up.
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand who's in the ads. I'm just -- I'm telling you based on the corporate governance structure, Ed, in order to implement what -- whatever you get from BP, the CEO has to get clearance from the board to do. That's the way the corporate governance structure is laid out.
Q: Okay, so -- but when the President said in the NBC interview that he talks to these experts so he knows who's "blank" to kick, presumably --
Q: "Ass" was the word.
Q: Yes, I think -- presumably Tony Hayward is the biggest "blank" in this whole -- he's the leader, right? (Laughter.) Is that a hollow claim, that he's kicking butt here, or why not pick up the phone and tell the CEO, we've got to clean up this claims process?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's happening today as a result of the meeting that's happening between Tony Hayward and the person in charge of claims for British Petroleum.
Q: Just whose butt is the President kicking? He said he's looking -- trying to determine whose butt to kick. Whose is he kicking and whose has he kicked?
MR. GIBBS: Us in government and those in BP.
Q: Who in BP?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we are, as I said a minute ago, meeting directly today with the person involved in claims.
Q: I mean the President himself.
MR. GIBBS: Right, the --
Q: The President is not meeting with him.
MR. GIBBS: No, the President is not meeting with him. The President asked Thad Allen to meet with him as an offshoot of the meeting that the President was involved in.
Q: You'd think if the President says he's looking for butts to kick, he's going to do something other than just send Thad Allen to a meeting. Wouldn't he actually, as Ed said, pick up the phone? And if he's constrained by the board, then why not call the board members? Why not call them all --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we're in constant contact with many in the corporate structure of BP about how and what they must do -- whether it's the claims process, whether it's a directive that was issued today by Thad Allen, the national incident commander, in order to ensure that there is a redundancy that allows for, as the cap can take more oil and as different things are added to the strategy of the top cap, that vessels are in place in order to be able to do that.
Q: You seemed to concede to Jake that BP is failing at both the claims and the cleanup process. Does the President -- is that how the President describes this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the meeting is an offshoot of complaints that we have all heard, particularly on the claims process, that has to be remedied, absolutely.
Q: How would you describe the President's level of confidence in BP now? Is he losing confidence? Does he have any confidence in them --
MR. GIBBS: Well, our job is to make sure that the response is -- takes care of the needs of those in the Gulf. And if there are things that need to happen, like ensuring that the person in charge of claims at BP is providing information to our officials who are helping citizens with the claims process, that's what we'll do.
Q: Is it the President's view that he is just stuck with BP no matter how badly they fail?
MR. GIBBS: In what way?
Q: If they continue to fail with the cleanup process and the claims process, as the President --
MR. GIBBS: No, if there are things that need to happen, we will continue to direct them to take those steps.
Q: Yes, but is he stuck with BP if they continue to fail?
MR. GIBBS: I don't --
Q: Can you get BP out of the way? Has the President gotten to the point where he's discussing that?
MR. GIBBS: BP caused the accident, Chip. BP is the cause of --
Q: They would have to pay for it eventually, but if they're not getting the job done --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we will evaluate -- if the claims process is one that can't be remedied, then we'll look for solutions to ensure that it is.
Q: Throughout the entire diplo-speak that we went through when we traveled the world on Iran, the President regularly would say United Nations sanctions were one part of an entire sanction. How soon do you expect something out of the EU? How soon do you expect sort of a coalition --
MR. GIBBS: I'd put you to the EU on that. Look, the Treasury Department announced in February -- January or February, I forget which month -- additional unilateral sanctions. And certainly we evaluate those on --
Q: The administration is still pursuing, they would like to get --
MR. GIBBS: As is Congress.
Q: -- stronger sanctions -- no, I'm talking about other countries uniting to do even stronger sanctions. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: That is certainly one course that we could take, yes.
Q: No, no, you said that's one course you could take. Is that a course that the administration is pursuing now?
MR. GIBBS: It is -- yes.
Q: During that famous debate with Hillary Clinton on the issue of engagement and direct talks related -- does the President have any regret that he never had any direct engagement with anybody on any level in Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we sought to engage directly. I think it is very safe to say, Chuck, that without -- again, we could -- what passed today, at the beginning of this administration, we all know would not have passed -- right? Would not have gotten through the veto process in the Security Council, most likely. And we certainly -- I know, as we met with our Russian and Chinese counterparts, as you said, throughout the diplo-speak, everybody was looking at the diplo-speak to see if the Russians or the Chinese would veto those sanctions, right? Moving that process along through our willingness to engage is what broadened the coalition to the point where the toughest sanctions that have been applied to the country of Iran are in place.
Q: Do you believe these are -- you call them the toughest sanctions the U.N. has done, and I go back to this because it would seem to be an acknowledgement by the President, by the administration, a few months ago that what you were going to get through the United Nations was going to be adequate because you were going to get Russia and China onboard, but in order to really get stronger, you were going to have to go to other nations.
MR. GIBBS: You certainly may have to. But understand this, whether it's the number of votes or -- I don't think anybody in, to use your phrase, in the diplo-speak world would say, let's not tighten those sanctions, let's not put a sanction regime on the country of Iran that is greater than what they face today. That's what we did. Are they a magic bullet? No. Only as a result of a number of initiatives are we ultimately going to make --
Q: I'm trying to buttonhole this a little bit and I apologize if it sounds like you may think I'm asking the same question, but how long --
MR. GIBBS: That never happens.
Q: How long is this attempt to get other sanctions basically going to --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get a --
Q: How long of a process is --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get a better understanding with NSC so that we --
Q: Okay. And the incident on the border with the Border Patrol agent and the 14-year-old Mexican, the President -- was he briefed on this incident?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I don't know the answer.*
Q: You don't know if he's been briefed on it?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that.
I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Does the administration intend to try to force BP to pay the salaries of workers who are being -- oil workers who are not being paid right now because of the moratorium?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me get from the -- I think both through legislation in terms of unemployment compensation but also economically through -- look, I think it is -- the moratorium is a result of the accident that BP caused. It is an economic loss for those workers. And it is -- those are claims that BP should pay.
Q: So the White House's view is that --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: -- BP should pay the full salaries, because unemployment of course is a fraction of the --
MR. GIBBS: Is a portion of, right.
Q: So they should pay the full salaries?
MR. GIBBS: We believe it's an economic damage caused by this, not unlike losing business at your bait-and-tackle shop.
Q: And was there any progress during the meeting with President Abbas today toward somehow moving the parties closer toward direct negotiations?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get ahead of what you heard the President and Mr. Abbas discuss today.
Q: Robert, on another -- something you ate? (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Let's hope that wasn't something he ate. (Laughter.) Let's hope that wasn't something he ate, yes.
Q: Another oil workers-related issue. When the families of the victims of the oil rig come here tomorrow, what's the President going to say to them about -- in their quest to change the law that limits the amount of money that people in their situation can recover?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, in terms of -- are you talking about economic -- oh, you're talking about the --
Q: The oil -- the people who died on the rig.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Legislative Affairs on -- I don't know whether that's in some of the legislation that's gone up.
Obviously the President will express his heartfelt condolences for the families of the 11 that lost their lives the very first night of the explosion, and I think is eager to discuss with them what their family was telling them about safety conditions and what type of changes can and must be made in the regulatory framework to ensure that deepwater drilling that goes forward is done in a way that is safe and not life-threatening.
Q: Does he and the people -- do he and the people around him feel that they're sort of the forgotten victims of this whole thing after all that's happened --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think --
Q: -- and that's why you're having them here?
MR. GIBBS: No, Pete, I don't think they're forgotten. I think they are -- they were the very first victims of what is a very long and sad tragedy. It has changed the lives of many. It changed first the lives of those 11 families. It will do untold economic and environmental damage. It's the largest economic disaster that this country has ever seen. They are not -- they're certainly not forgotten.
Q: Thirty lawmakers wrote Hayward today on the dividend issue -- stop paying the dividend. And also they wanted to have them stop the advertising campaign that we're all seeing so much. What's your view on both of those issues?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to get into the legal obligations that -- I would simply reiterate --
Q: You just weighed in on saying that they should be paying claims and --
MR. GIBBS: Right, well, let me just -- I'm going to reiterate exactly what the President said on this topic on Friday. If you're able to do any of those things, then we better not hear about the nickel-and-diming of an economic claim for a convenience store owner, for a commercial fisherman, for an out-of-work driller. The company's responsibility is to make -- is to pay for the damages that this accident caused.
Q: So should the company at all be concerned about pension funds that may be relying on this dividend, or is that not part of their purview?
MR. GIBBS: I'm way over the tips of my skis on the economics of pension funds.
Q: Do you expect this to be the last word from the United Nations Security Council on Iran, meaning these are the toughest sanctions you can get and they're the ones that are going to achieve the most --
MR. GIBBS: I can talk to the NSC guys on that. I think this represents, again, a broad coalition that has placed the toughest series of sanctions ever on the country of Iran.
Q: To those who might wonder if in the process of obtaining yes votes from China and Russia you had to water them down, you would say what?
MR. GIBBS: Well, if you didn't have yes votes we wouldn't have any sanctions. It's a fairly moot argument. Again, I'd go back to where we were not just the first day of the administration -- I think certainly into the fall -- what's going to happen, where are these two countries going to come out on this resolution. Vetoing this resolution would mean no additional sanctions. Because of our willingness to engage, because of the President's personal willingness to get heavily involved in the diplomacy of this, and through the efforts of Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Burns, we broadened the coalition that allowed the toughest sanctions to be put in place.
Q: As for Congress, now that you've achieved this at the Security Council, do you still want Congress to hold off on its approach to sanctions, or are you now more --
MR. GIBBS: Let me talk to -- I don't know the answer to that from Legislative Affairs.
Q: Quickly on BP, yesterday Interior Secretary Salazar said that not only would the Gulf be cleaned up, but it would be in a better condition than it was before the spill. Does the President believe that --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: -- and is that the President's personal goal?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: How does he define "better"
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't -- I think there's no doubt that the environmental degradation that happened as a result of Katrina was significant. The discussion about building berms and barrier islands is because what was once there to stop storm surge from -- that would prevent oil from coming to different parts of the marsh are gone. You've seen wetlands -- I forget what percentage of wetlands we've seen that have been destroyed not as a result of this oil spill, but over years and years and years of degradation.
Q: Right, and some decisions made by the Army Corps of Engineers --
MR. GIBBS: Right. We had a process in terms of -- as it related to Katrina and as it related to Gulf restoration that was ongoing before this to improve where we were, quite frankly, the day before all this happened. So, yes, the President believes that the ecosystem involved --
Q: -- just clean up the coastline, but to rework it --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, this is -- it's a little bit -- if you go camping, you leave the area that you camped in a little bit better than you found it. I think that's the goal that the President has.
Q: To pick up on the President's colorful metaphor, you said kicking the government and BP -- can you give us a practical example of when that's happened and how that came about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll give you just the most recent two examples, which are claims and vessels directives in order to ensure that we have in claims a transparent process that works for those in the states of the Gulf that have seen their economic livelihoods damaged as a result of this accident; the directive that was also given to them today.
As we have a -- the top cap, obviously, is taking some amount of oil in. There are other things that can be added and will become online that will allow us to get more of that oil. We have to have a system on the surface, as we add the things that Secretary Chu and others in the scientific community from the national labs have pushed BP to do, namely -- one example being the choke and kill lines, which on a normal riser pipe would run parallel to -- it's what forces mud into a blowout preventer that's ultimately capped with cement. Obviously, those are not normally used as production for additional oil. We believe and we have believed that that is a possibility and should be used.
The directive for ships on the surface is to when we are ready to do that, we have the capability, as well as adding the Q400 and increasing its capability to burn off oil and gas that's coming up through the top cap mechanism.
Q: And these examples would represent, at least in part, an angry President picking up a phone and --
MR. GIBBS: These would represent the continued response of the government to ensure that BP does all that it can to cap the leak, to deal with the economic and environmental devastation that's been caused by the accident on April 20th.
Q: On Abbas, Robert, is it fair to characterize or accurate to characterize the meeting as mostly on Gaza and not mostly on proximity talks?
MR. GIBBS: I did not talk directly with those that were in the meeting. I can get a readout on that. My sense is that both of those topics were covered -- based on what the President said -- extensively.
Q: And then on BP, it looks like there are eight members of the board of directors, not including the six who are also executives of the company and serve on the board, as well. Does the President plan -- does the President -- do you think or does the President think that it would make any difference if the President actually called one of these people?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we are --
Q: I've got the names right here.
MR. GIBBS: The iPad is a wonderful invention, Michael. (Laughter.) Again, our government -- Thad Allen, Secretary Chu, Secretary Salazar, Tracy Wareing is meeting with BP today as part of the meeting with Thad Allen, that are in constant communication with and pushing BP to do what is necessary.
Q: Robert, a couple more BP questions. You said the President is eager to talk with the families of the victims about the safety conditions. What kinds of questions does he want answered? And does this kind of put him in the role of factfinder, in a way, when there's a criminal investigation going on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there obviously is -- he's not an investigator on behalf of the Department of Justice, if that was the second part of your question.
Obviously, it's the President's job to ensure that, coming out of this disaster, there's a structure in place that -- through regulation, that ensures that these type of accidents don't happen, and that the safety of that equipment is monitored, and that the actions that are taken don't jeopardize those on those rigs doing the work and jeopardize their safety.
He will -- look, we've all read and seen interviews with many of these families, with survivors, that talk about not only what happened that night, but we've obviously heard examples of what happened -- what has happened leading up to the accident.
Q: And then can you talk to us a little bit about his trip next week? What does he intend to do while he's there? What can he learn on this trip and why does he think he needs to go back? And what can he learn that he doesn't already know?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this trip will take us to the three additional Gulf states that have now been affected by oil hitting their land. Likely stop in Gulfport, Mississippi -- there's a Coast Guard facility there; in Theodore, Alabama, which is just south of Mobile and inside of Mobile Bay, which is a large staging area for many aspects of the surface response, including storage for and cleaning of boom. Obviously when oil comes into contact with boom, it becomes a hazardous material. Part of the function of this facility, among many, is to clean and ultimately stage back on ships for repositioning that boom.
I think we talked about a stop -- I don't know if it's been confirmed -- in Orange Beach, Alabama, another place that has been impacted by oil onshore. As well as a stop likely in Pensacola, Florida, Escambia County, the westernmost Panhandle county that is beginning to also see oil wash ashore.
I think in each one of these, he's going to meet with -- he will see Coast Guard officials about the -- and response officials about the steps that are being taken to respond to, as you've heard Admiral Allen say, oil that has broken up and gone in many directions and provides unique challenges to the environment in each of these places. Obviously along parts of the Panhandle, you've got -- in Florida, you've got beaches; in places like Mobile Bay, you have some of the richest estuaries in the country -- efforts that are being taken environmentally to stop the flow of oil into and onto those areas; meet with locals, meet with elected officials that are on the ground about the cleanup and, again, hear from those impacted economically by this disaster.
Obviously if you think about the pictures that we're all seeing on the television, obviously you've got oil going into marshland in Louisiana. You've got -- along Mississippi and Alabama, you've got a couple of different types of environmental aspects that you're dealing with -- again, like I said, estuaries in some place, recreational beaches in others. And then along the Panhandle of Florida, you've got more -- what everyone thinks of as places where you go in the late spring and summer.
The challenges across those vary based on the type of place, and the economic damages incurred by those are different based on whether you own a hotel or whether you're a commercial fisherman, as well as those that are evaluating and seeing what possible environmental impact something like this could have.
Q: Will he be making more trips? Are we going to -- I know you don't like the Katrina comparison, but his predecessor made eight trips to the region after Katrina.
MR. GIBBS: You now have the full -- you now have from me the full course of planning as I know of right now.
Q: About the time the President was meeting with President Abbas, Israel announced it's lifting some of the restrictions on what goes into Gaza, including, according to the wire write-up, potato chips, spices and sodas, but no concrete, no steel. When the President talks about trying to improve infrastructure and repair shelters and build schools, how are they going to do that without the material they need?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously we are, as you heard the President announce, increasing our aid as the largest aid contributor to Gaza, and the announcement included both Gaza and the West Bank. And we continue to work with Israel and others in the region to improve the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. As the President said -- as we said last week and as the President said today, that those are humanitarian conditions that are simply unsustainable.
Q: But potato chips when they need concrete?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, part of what we're doing is adding some of those infrastructure needs as we work with the Israelis on a longer-term solution.
Q: Are you allowed to bring in some of that material, then?
MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check on exactly what --
Q: Can I follow up on that, Robert, and just ask --
MR. GIBBS: I'm coming your way.
Q: Yesterday Congressman Ed Markey said that because BP initially underreported the amount of oil coming from the well, it had huge consequences in the amount of boom that was made available, the amount of protection given to the workers, the amount of chemicals shot into the ocean. This is a quote: "There were huge ramifications of BP deliberately lowballing the size of the oil spill." You've always said the response was in no way tied to the measurement. So would you dispute his characterization?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don't know what he's basing each of these things off of. Booming is set forth by an ACP, which is a state plan for dealing with a disaster. So, in other words, what has to be protected along the coastline of Alabama, what has to be protected along the coastline of Louisiana, is determined by a process instituted by the governor in each of those states. And we have data sheets about how much their ACP included in terms of feet of boom and how much is in place. In each of those cases -- in those cases right now -- I know in Alabama we're in excess of what the state plan calls for.
So, again, I don't know what facts and figures Congressman Markey is using. We used both subsea and surface dispersants to break up oil, again, at different depths. That was -- the amount of subsea dispersant is not determined by the rate of flow.
Look, I think it is very safe to say that as we have gone on, we have better data and better technological advances that allow us to see 5,000 feet below the ocean.
Again, the work that's been done at the sight of the blowout preventer and the riser has all been done remotely by remotely operated vehicles. Nobody can walk up to the blowout preventer as you could in a shallow-water well because the blowout preventer is on the surface of the water. We have seen -- and many of you all have seen -- enhanced video that we have used, working with video technicians to enhance the view that we now see down there. So -- and the flow -- the amount of discharged pollution will ultimately be used to determine the set of fines that is imposed on BP as a result of the cause of this accident.
Those numbers -- the flow rate technical group and the different teams in the flow rate technical group continue their work even as we speak to come up with additional pre-riser cut numbers. We'll also likely see over the several days and next several weeks, post-riser-cut numbers. The Department of Energy and Interior have also been doing calculations using pressure readings that were taken throughout the process of the top kill effort, and as the top cap was ongoing that allow us to make estimations -- very good estimations about the increased flow as a result of the riser cut based on those pressure readings.
So we are -- we will continually be adding to -- based on the new information and more enhanced information that we get, revising flow estimates. But that has not curtailed the response.
Q: Robert, Congress is nearly two months past the deadline for getting a budget done. Does the President think Congress should pass a budget? And is he making any calls or doing anything to try and --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, and I haven't talked to him about it.
Q: So the President -- spending is such a big issue. He's not concerned, he doesn't care --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's a budget and there's an appropriations process that has to take place. The appropriations process in order for the government to spend money has to take place by the end of the fiscal year. We have to pass a continuing resolution that allows the government to function. That's an ongoing process.
Q: Just back on the relaxation of restrictions on the border into Gaza. Have you guys had a chance to look at those? Are they significant?
MR. GIBBS: On the Israelis' part? I will have somebody from NSC -- I have not, but I will have somebody -- if they have better information on that.
Q: On hurricane season in the Gulf Coast, what specifically is in place? Because we're now in hurricane season and there is concern that if a hurricane does come to the area that it will spread more so the oil that's still gushing. What's in place?
MR. GIBBS: Well, they have -- part of what the vessel directive and the redundancy will take into account, and part of what is going to be ultimately a longer-term solution until the relief well is drilled, is a different platform apparatus that allows intake of oil to take place in different category -- or different intensity storms.
Obviously one of the main concerns that we have as we drill the relief well is -- right now the situation is, as you've heard Admiral Allen and other say, precarious because right now the ships that are out there and mechanism that is taking oil from the top -- up through the top cap would have to be disconnected in the event of a hurricane.
Q: So it's long term, not a short-term fix right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there are several different -- the long-term fix obviously is the drilling of the relief well. There are different apparatus -- I don't know if apparatus -- I don't know if the plural -- apparati -- I should go back to pensions and stuff. There are a whole series of mechanisms, let's say that, that have to be -- that are being looked into as to how to deal with production as the weather might turn.
Q: And on this phone call situation, did the --
MR. GIBBS: As the what -- the what situation?
Q: The phone call, this phone call, this potential, possible phone call with Hayward and the President.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, oh, oh.
Q: Did the White House inquire about this, or did BP inquire about a phone call? And how do you --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Well, why would -- well, how did it come up that there's a board that he would have to consult with before he would talk to the President?
MR. GIBBS: That's just, as you understand the corporate governance structure, again, the CEO plays a role but the way their board is devised, the chairman of the board and the board okay what happens by the CEO.
Q: Was this an assumption on the White House part or was this -- did you already look into it and see --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, that's just looking at the corporate structure.
Q: Would the President want to meet with Tony Hayward when he's here next week testifying before Congress?
MR. GIBBS: If I've got any scheduling updates, I'll let you know.
Q: Do you see any kind of value in such a face-to-face meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we're in contact with BP about what they need to do.
Q: Not to belabor the point, but just -- I mean there is some value, isn't there, to have the President speak personally to Tony Hayward, whether in person or on the phone, because he might leave an impression, some of these frustrations you have. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I think he's -- I don't know if he watches NBC, Savannah. I don't know if that's what you're getting at. I think he -- I think he knows that the frustration that many people have throughout the Gulf.
Q: Did the President make any phone calls after last night's election results?
MR. GIBBS: No that I'm aware of yet. I believe he's supposed to talk with Senator Lincoln later this afternoon, and we'll try and get a readout from that.
Q: It was striking earlier in this briefing that the reporters here, always known for their decorum, were not comfortable using the same word the President used. Any second thoughts on his choice of language? And is that appropriate language for a President?
MR. GIBBS: I just want the transcript to reflect that Ed was a little nervous about this. Jake, not so much. (Laughter.) Just so that the -- no, I've not heard any regrets about the language.
Q: Any complaints on the complaint line?
MR. GIBBS: I missed my hour, so I don't -- (laughter.) I thought that's what was I doing here. (Laughter.)
Q: Congressman Issa has called for the Office of Special Counsel to investigate the conversations about possible employment that were made to Senate candidates alleging that there may have been a violation of the Hatch Act. Can you respond to that, and also his claim that your defense of those actions was essentially saying that you were simply doing business as usual?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the latter question we've talked about. On the first question, the Counsel's Office has looked into each of these circumstances and determined that nothing inappropriate happened, and that's what we believe.
Q: Robert, back to Arkansas for just a second. A senior White House official called reporters last night and said after the results were known, "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet in a pointless exercise." Is it the official word from the White House on the results of the Arkansas primary?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that the President would necessarily agree with that characterization made by somebody here. I think we would certainly agree that we are likely to have very close elections in very many places throughout the country in November. And while the President might not have agreed with the exact characterization, I think that whether or not that money might have been better spent in the fall on closer elections between somebody -- between people who cared about an agenda that benefited working families and those that didn't, that money might come in more handy then.
Q: I assume the President now would want to reach out to those who were supporting Bill Halter and say, please get behind Blanche Lincoln, she's going to be our nominee. Is that the way to reach out to Halter's supporters, by accusing them of flushing money down the toilet?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that everybody that supported one of the Democrats will have an obligation to now, as the President would, and has, in races that the nominee he has supported hasn't won, now support the Democratic nominee.
END 3:08 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/288171