Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Come on, it's like 90 today, isn't it?
Q: It's like you're late, is what it is.
MR. GIBBS: It's what?
Q: It's like you're late.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's not a -- that's not anything new, though.
Let me do one scheduling announcement. Tomorrow the President will meet with small business owners and workers here at the White House and have remarks in the Rose Garden about our small business jobs initiative. The President put forth a series of proposals to help small businesses grow and hire, and he'll continue to urge Congress to act on these proposals that are essential to strengthening our economy and getting Americans back to work. This was obviously one of the big topics that the President talked to bipartisan leaders about just an hour or so ago.
Q: Robert, with the steady talk from the Hill and the White House on BP doing more to fully compensate Gulf victims, including picking up the salaries of laid-off rig workers on other companies, the stock keeps going down and down and down. BP has now lost about half of its value from when the spill began. Is the administration at all concerned that the company may not be financially able to pay these costs and that you may drive it into bankruptcy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let me -- I don't want to get into commenting on stock prices. I will say our approach on this has been the same from the beginning. We are there to ensure that BP is doing everything that it has to do as the responsible party in this disaster, whether that is paying for -- as the law stipulates -- paying for the response, paying for the environmental damages and the recovery, and paying the claims of those that -- whose economic livelihood and well-being has also been damaged by this spill. And we will ensure that the taxpayers do not, but the responsible party does, pay the costs of what has transpired from this disaster.
Q: Does the President think that BP should stop paying dividends? Speaker Pelosi sort of suggested that just a few minutes ago.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and the President commented on this on Friday in the meeting with the governors of the Gulf, and I think -- look, I will stay out of their legal obligations to shareholders and simply reiterate what the President said, and that is if you've got the wherewithal to pay a dividend and you've got the wherewithal to finance a fairly expensive ad campaign, then you certainly shouldn't, as the President has said, nickel-and-dime anybody in the Gulf that has seen, as I said earlier, their livelihoods damaged as a result of this disaster.
Q: The CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, is going to be in town next week to testify. Is the White House considering inviting him to meet with the President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Tom, as I said yesterday, while Mr. Hayward has certainly been -- is part of that ad campaign, in a corporate structure the relevant person is going to be the chairman of the board. And certainly we would -- we have, as I expressed yesterday, whether it's on claims, whether it's on vessel redundancy and directives, there certainly continue to be concerns and if there's -- I certainly wouldn't rule out that the President might see the chairman of the board at some point.
Q: Not Tony?
MR. GIBBS: Again, if there are other people that are relevant to that, that's fine. Again, the corporate structure of the company makes the chairman of the board the relevant entity in approving what BP -- the obligations that BP has to live up to.
Q: He may not be here. Tony's going to be here.
Q: And the way it works is --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll see.
Q: So you're no more inclined to see him today than you were yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: No, I wouldn't rule out a meeting with relevant BP officials.
Q: But CEOs do lots of stuff on their own without getting approval from the board.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is -- right, but we're not talking about printing new stationary, Chip. We're talking about --
Q: They do a lot more than print new stationary --
MR. GIBBS: I understand, but we're --
Q: -- the CEO does day-to-day management.
MR. GIBBS: -- talking about -- I just got asked about the financial survival of the company. That's the --
Q: But why wouldn't the President meet with the person who is doing the day-to-day management?
MR. GIBBS: The President -- well, the day-to-day management is done with approval of the board.
Q: Not day to day. They don't approve every move they make. That's not the way corporate governance works.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I have not ruled out a meeting and --
Q: And "relevant officials" also covers Tony? Your answer?
MR. GIBBS: If that's deemed so by the chairman of the board, sure.
Q: Well, why is the President --
Q: Robert, following up on this -- the same issue, you were just asked about the survival of the company. Does the President and do his advisors -- do you guys see any risk in being too harsh in your rhetoric about BP?
MR. GIBBS: Can I just -- I think for the better part of five weeks, most of the tenor of the questions from you all to me was why the President hadn't been harder on the company.
Q: No, we got that answer. We want to know why he's not -- whether he's being too hard. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: What, Sheryl, would you say would be the inflection point at where those two lines change?
Q: All right, but the question --
MR. GIBBS: No, hold on, I just --
Q: But, no, I actually think -- I think that's for you to judge and I do think it's a legitimate question given what our colleague has said about the stock prices. Is there a risk in being too harsh on the company?
MR. GIBBS: I answered Tom's question, Sheryl. I didn't say that it wasn't a relevant question. Our point is not -- I said this a week and a half ago -- our point is not to feign through method acting anger at what environmental and economic damage has been wrought by this disaster. That wasn't going to fill a hole. That wasn't going to put money in the bank account of a shrimper that's not fishing. That's not going to help a hotel worker or a hotel owner on a beach in Florida. What is, is ensuring that the obligations and the responsibilities that a company has as the responsible party are taken care of. We'll continue to do that.
That's our job under the law, and that's the President's commitment to the American people and to the citizens of the Gulf.
Q: Aside from whether or not it's anger that's being shown or that's going too far or not far enough, when you're discussing your communications strategy about this spill, does the effect it may have and what words come out of people's mouths on the company itself play into that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Jeff, we have -- if anything we have been called guilty for not being overly dramatic, for not showing flashes of anger. We'll let --
Q: Which you promptly rejected.
MR. GIBBS: Well, right. Which I would point out you're now asking me the opposite question now.
Q: I am asking the opposite --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q: -- because you rejected the first.
MR. GIBBS: And so, if you reject the first, it's hard to make the premise of the second the cause of the first. It doesn't -- I think the criticism that somehow we've been too harsh, I don't think that matches up with the reality or the rhetoric that we've used. Our focus has not been on anything other than ensuring that the responsibilities of those responsible for this disaster, that they keep those commitments. That's been the President's charge from the beginning and that will continue to be the President and the team's charge going forward.
Q: Do you think it will affect in any way the relationship with Great Britain?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: BP being a London-based company.
MR. GIBBS: I do not. And I see no reason that it would.
Q: And can you say -- just last question on this -- will it be the President who places the call to the British Prime Minister this weekend, or the other way around? We understand they'll be talking.
MR. GIBBS: We arranged a call earlier in the week to discuss a whole host of issues. Obviously Mr. Cameron is in Afghanistan. That is obviously relevant for the two to speak about; sanctions on Iran that have recently passed, and the next steps that may be taken either by this country or by those -- our allies in Europe.
I expect that they will speak about upcoming meetings -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Why is -- is it working now? I don't know. The upcoming meetings at the end of the month for the G8 and the G20 and our continued response to the challenging international economy. If -- we may get into talking about BP, and if they talk over the weekend I'm sure they'll get into talking about the World Cup.
Q: Late yesterday, oil arrived off of Florida's Perdido Key and the unified command closed off some of the waters, then neglected to inform Florida emergency officials. And a lot of officials in Florida are very upset about this and they see this as an example of unified command failing and the federal government not being -- having a competent coordination in terms of this emergency. Can you explain why --
MR. GIBBS: I would -- I don't know the circumstances of that, Jake. I would talk to someone on Admiral Allen's team or at the joint information center.
Q: It was reported I think about a week and a half ago that the month before the explosion in April, Deepwater Horizon informed federal regulators that they were not able to control the well. For some reason, they continued to operate the well; they were not told to stop. Can you shed any light on that as to why that happened?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the circumstances you're talking about. I'm happy to look at whether -- the degree to which -- let me just look at some -- I don't know what the circumstances are. I don't know if you've talked to Interior or MMS on this.
Q: And I guess lastly, President Obama has acknowledged the failings of the federal government to deal with this explosion and the aftermath. Is President Obama apologizing to the families that are visiting with him now, apologizing for the ways in which the government, run by him, failed them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Jake, we will have a readout of the meeting that is, as you mentioned, going on as we speak.
I think the President has not failed in his remarks over the past several weeks to include the regulatory failures of what was the Minerals Management Service, under both his administration and previous administrations. We've seen -- we had an IG's report that came out during this time period that mentioned problems from 2005 to 2007 in different district offices.
There's no doubt there was a regulatory failure in this case, Jake. Secretary Salazar had been working to reform Minerals Management Service, and it is clear in the steps that they have taken now in breaking apart this entity and ensuring that safety regulation and royalties are not done by the same group of people. I think that is what any of us owe anybody that is working in the Gulf or in waters throughout this country, in terms of ensuring their protection through smart regulation.
Q: Going into the IG report, does the President feel personally responsible for the fact that the federal government failed demonstrably to regulate this oil rig and people lost their lives as a result?
MR. GIBBS: And I think he's spoken to that throughout this process.
Q: Thank you, Robert. In light of concerns about the moratorium and what it will mean for the loss of jobs going forward, is the administration rethinking that moratorium at all?
MR. GIBBS: No. No. Let me -- I want to be clear on this, though. We had a discussion about this the night before the report came out and I think it's important to understand a little of the context here. You had wells that were at varying degrees of drilling depth. The President made the decision, along with the team, to pause those permits. The accident -- we don't know exactly what caused this explosion, but it happened after the drilling had reached the reservoir of oil and during the process of capping this oil well. None of those relevant permits had yet gotten to that point.
And the President believed that -- rightly believed that doing that at that depth without knowing what happened on the Deepwater Horizon well didn't make a whole lot of sense. And we believe and understand that there has to be something that's done for those whose livelihoods have been paused because they work on these deepwater rigs, but the President was very clear with governors and senators and parish presidents in Louisiana on Friday in saying, you can't have all these people around the table saying, we don't trust BP to do anything, and then take them at their word for the four permits that they were currently working on at Deepwater.
So I think the President understands that this is not without some economic -- not at some -- this has economic cost. But at the same time, without knowing exactly what happened, I think the President thought it would not be responsible to continue on a path that might cause -- without knowing the cause of the previous accident -- might cause something else to happen again.
Q: In not having any conversations with Tony Hayward, are you saying that the board would have to approve a phone call or --
MR. GIBBS: No, I never said that.
Q: So why can't the President make a phone call, then, to --
MR. GIBBS: The board structure has not precluded a phone call. What I'm saying is --
Q: Why hasn't there been a phone call, then?
MR. GIBBS: Because I'm saying the President would like to talk to -- if he does -- the relevant structure that governs the company. That's not necessarily the CEO; that's the chairman of the board, based on the corporate governing structure that BP has.
Q: But all conversations don't have to be about technical matters or legal matters; it can just be reaching out to the CEO of a company to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's lots of contact between Thad Allen and others, Secretary Chu, Secretary Salazar, with a whole host of people at BP. We sent a letter yesterday, a directive on vessel redundancy. The top cap right now is -- depending on the estimates over a 24-hour period -- physically capable of taking in 15,000 to 17,000 barrels of oil -- not precise numbers, obviously. I think Admiral Allen briefs on those numbers in the morning.
There are other things that we believe can and should be done to increase the amount that we are capturing from the riser. For instance, as I talked about yesterday, in a normal process, there are choke and kill lines that are supposed to -- that in some cases will force mud, as they did under the top kill, into the blowout preventer. We believe those lines can be used to take oil going up into the top cap and now going out through vents in order to control the pressure up into the surface at a point in which we think it's safe.
The letter went from Thad Allen to British Petroleum. A letter came back -- I think came back today from Doug Suttles on their plan moving forward in terms of moving surface vessels in as we increase our capability to draw oil, making sure that we have not just the vessels up there to capture what's possible, but have a redundancy in place in the event that something happens.
Q: And no plans in the future for a phone conversation?
MR. GIBBS: If there are plans, we'll let you know.
Q: Is this a stimulus project?
Q: It's called a short.
Q: Why can't it be fixed?
Q: That's what I'm saying. Why can't it be fixed?
Q: It's termites.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- trust me, I keep -- I'm not looking at the ceiling for the view. (Laughter.)
Q: Are you trying to fix it?
Q: It's a stimulus project.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe somebody will look at --
Q: It's been going on for a while. It could have been fixed.
MR. GIBBS: April, you know what, as the responsible party, I'm going to now put you in charge and the White House correspondents in charge. I will call you -- I don't doubt that it will be done -- as she crosses her hands and no doubt taps her foot.
Q: Following up on the ban, when the President meets with Wall Street banks and gives them a piece of his mind or kicks them in the behind, he meets with CEOs. Why is this different?
MR. GIBBS: Again, some of this is based on corporate governance structure.
Q: Well, they all have the same basic corporate governance, corporate structure.
MR. GIBBS: That's not necessarily true, no.
Q: Many of those banks have a board of directors -- why would he meet with CEOs from Wall Street?
MR. GIBBS: It depends on who elects the board of directors and what's their -- what their charge is.
Q: So you're saying this company is unique in that the CEO does not have --
MR. GIBBS: No, I'm not saying it's unique, I'm saying that the way their corporate board is structured, their chair -- the chair of the board and the board make the relevant decisions.
Q: Okay. Even if we accept that, why doesn't he just pick up the phone and call them if he's looking for --
MR. GIBBS: There's many people that are in touch with BP.
Q: With the chairman of the board?
MR. GIBBS: With all relevant members of the company. The letters yesterday went to BP --
Q: -- the chairman of the board.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. The letters yesterday went to BP on vessel redundancy.
Q: On the issue of who's in charge, I know that you keep saying that the federal government is in charge, but we keep hearing from the Gulf that either nobody is in charge or BP is in charge. And in fact, there was a hearing today with parish presidents and the theme from the parish presidents and from Mary Landrieu and from Bill Nelson and other Democrats all throughout the hearing was, either BP is in charge or nobody is in charge, but the federal government on the ground sure doesn't seem to be in charge. Is the President getting that message from them?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen that hearing and --
Q: I mean, it's consistent with what's been coming up from the Gulf all along, and they're just -- you're really not aware of this? You're not aware of this feeling coming from the Gulf?
MR. GIBBS: We'd pawed this ground about 18 times.
Q: Yes, but it hasn't changed. That's the point.
MR. GIBBS: No, I --
Q: That people down there are still saying -- well, tell me why you disagree.
MR. GIBBS: Because we're going to see the mayor of Grand Isle today, who met with the President on Friday and laid out maps, which you all saw, about the four passes that Grand Isle has that oil could come into the bay and hurt fishermen, right? Met with the President.
The Coast Guard got to work with the major of Grand Isle, and they've approved a plan to close those passes. So I think the Coast Guard and Thad Allen are down there and doing the job that must be done to respond to this.
Q: So all these senators and parish presidents are just confused as to -- that the federal government really is in charge?
MR. GIBBS: That's your language.
Q: No, that --
MR. GIBBS: Savannah.
Q: Listen to the hearing. Be aware of what's going on on the Hill.
Q: Can you explain the basis for holding BP responsible to pay the salaries of oil workers laid off by other companies because the government chose to issue a moratorium on offshore drilling out of concern for its own potentially lax regulation?
MR. GIBBS: No, the -- part of the problem is not knowing what caused the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon well, and believing that pausing what was happening is a result of the disaster by BP.
Q: Well, no, I mean, the BP disaster may be the impetus for this renewed vigor for an examination, but it's not the cause, strictly speaking. So legally how is that fair?
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean?
Q: Well, the fact that the government is now concerned that perhaps there may be any number of causes with other drilling companies going on, they're concerned about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, the cause is --
Q: -- their own regulation -- how is that --
MR. GIBBS: Again, the cause is, is trying to figure out -- Savannah, we don't know what caused the accident. We don't know what -- there's an investigation going on to determine -- the President believes strongly that continuing to do that didn't make any sense.
Q: BP didn't cause -- BP -- this accident shone a light on the fact that maybe our drilling regulations need to be better, but it's not BP's --
MR. GIBBS: It depends on how you -- I don't know you -- I don't want to assert what might have caused it without knowing what caused it. I don't think --
Q: It's a very expansive view of BP's liability.
MR. GIBBS: Again, we are currently involved in a disaster response because of the disaster that was caused by this.
Q: But the government moratorium -- I mean you do -- you get that, right?
MR. GIBBS: Is a result of the disaster. Is a result of the disaster.
Q: Well, it doesn't have -- the government chose to take action. BP -- this accident didn't cause the government --
MR. GIBBS: In order to ensure that it didn't happen again --
Q: -- this is an elective moratorium.
MR. GIBBS: -- because we didn't know what the cause was. Because we didn't know what the cause was.
Q: Is it the administration's view that the government should consider or look into the possibility of stopping BP from paying dividends until it pays the claims that --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I'm not going to get involved in, again, their legal obligations about dividends. The President was clear on this, that the answer on this is not whether or not they pay their dividend, but if they're going to pay dividends, if they're going to spend $50 million on ad campaigns, then we certainly shouldn't hear about claims that aren't being paid. One of the things we heard was most of the major claims, most of the small businesses and certainly even some of the bigger businesses, those claims have not been dealt with. The numbers that you hear are about how claims have not been denied. Denial of claims has thus far not been a problem. It's dealing with the amount of claims and ensuring that those are answered. And if the company is going to pay large sums of money, then they shouldn't nickel-and-dime on a claims process involving economic damages.
Q: Following up on this issue of the corporate governance structure of the company, are you telling us that essentially the dozens, perhaps more than dozens, of CEOs that the President has met with over the course of this administration, on everything from health care to financial regulation to banking, all of those people had --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I don't --
Q: -- companies that had a different governance structure?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the corporate governance structure of every company that's been into the White House.
Q: But was it -- was the corporate governance structure relevant in those invitations?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the structure was.
Q: Then why is it relevant here if it wasn't relevant there?
MR. GIBBS: Because BP is the responsible party and the people that make the decisions are going to be the board and the chair of the board.
Q: Beyond the corporate governance structures, just a simple question -- why has the President insulated himself from any contact, direct contact, person-to-person contact, with BP executives from the get-go?
MR. GIBBS: I don't totally agree with the premise of your question. Again, the President represents the full force of the federal government. The full force of the federal government is in contact with BP on a number of occasions throughout any given day, as you've heard Admiral Allen and others tell you.
Q: Doesn't just the symbolism of the President speaking directly to one of these people mean something?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we're -- there's -- the President is focused on the response, Peter. The President is focused on doing what's right. The President is focused on ensuring that BP is doing everything that it can to stop the leak; that the environmental and economic damages that are caused by this disaster are paid for. We're going to have natural resources damage assessments -- natural resource damage assessments that will take years to fulfill. That's what our focus is on right now -- not on symbolism.
Q: Just to follow up on a question I asked you yesterday, were you able to find out what the administration's stand is on what these families are asking about -- the limit on benefits and --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, look, the administration is concerned that offshore oil workers may have fewer rights under the law than onshore workers. He is and will tell the families he's committed to work with Congress to ensure that any disparity in the law is addressed and the families receive due compensation.
Q: Would it be retroactive to these families?
MR. GIBBS: I assume so, yes. Again, that's -- would be part of the congressional debate.
Q: Some of the market analysis of the drop in BP's share price says that it's purely a result of the political rhetoric and not the fundamentals of the company. So is there a concern that the rhetoric referring to British Petroleum instead of BP that -- that that kind of toughened response is actually working against the pledge to make sure that taxpayers aren't --
MR. GIBBS: Again, we have -- just as -- I'd refer you largely to the answer that I just gave Peter. Our focus has not been on -- our focus has been on what's right, fulfilling responsibilities. It's not been on gratuitous language.
Q: But the focus has been making sure that taxpayers aren't left to pay for the cleanup costs. So is there --
MR. GIBBS: Again, that's -- I hate to revert back to many of the answers I gave in the first week or so of this. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 sets out quite clearly what -- who the responsible parties are and what they're required by law to pay for so we don't have what happened in previous accidents like the Exxon Valdez, where taxpayers are on the hook for the cleanup.
Obviously the President has sent legislation -- because one of the things they talked about in the bipartisan meeting was there is no doubt that we have to update where we are in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, because it's 2010. And as -- the President has heard from people involved in that debate who have said in 1990, when we were worrying about a double hull in tankers, nobody contemplated drilling at 5,000 feet. That's why we've sent legislation up dealing with liability. I know Congress is going to deal with liability. And that's obviously something that needs to be looked into.
Q: If BP were to file for bankruptcy, how could the government make sure that taxpayers --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to -- I'm not a bankruptcy lawyer. I don't want to do the hypothetical on assets and all that sort of thing.
Q: I have a couple on foreign policy before I get to BP. I asked you yesterday about the White House position on the House- and Senate-passed sanctions against Iran.
MR. GIBBS: We're working --
Q: Do you want that to go forward? Do you want that to come to the President's desk?
MR. GIBBS: We're working with them now. That was also brought up in the bipartisan meeting. Obviously we've said throughout this process that U.N. sanctions are not a magic bullet, that there are steps that we can take as a government -- and have. There are steps that Congress will take as part of our government. There are steps that European community and our allies throughout the world may take. And we're working with the House and Senate on a bill that I understand is currently in conference.
Q: Is it fair to say that, in contrast to the administration position, while you've been working at the U.N. you now are more receptive to Congress going forward on this front?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think Congress is going to move forward, and we wanted the ensure that -- we wanted to ensure, and I think, quite frankly, everybody in Congress wanted to ensure, that we got through yesterday what we got through. And now we will look at other avenues.
Q: On Afghanistan, it was made clear today at the Pentagon in a briefing from Afghanistan that the Kandahar operation is going to begin much later -- or a bit later than originally contemplated. Does the White House regard this as a setback?
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't say operations -- some operations in Kandahar obviously have -- there are operations -- there are active operations now in Kandahar.
Q: Right, have commenced, but General McChrystal said this contemplated linkage of a lot of operations is going to be delayed.
MR. GIBBS: I would say this --
Q: Is this a setback, because part of the delay is attributed to lack of local buy-in?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again --
Q: Politically and otherwise.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- I would say two things, Major. One is long-term success we know is going to be determined by our ability to work with local populations. Eventually we are going to hand over to those local populations through Afghan national security forces and the army and police. We're going to hand over the responsibilities for security to them. We have got to have -- and that was true with -- that was a big part of Marja, was buying -- getting the buy-in from the local population.
I would say, too, we are --
Q: How troubling is it that you're having difficultly achieving that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say this. We have resources like we haven't had since the beginning of this war, and we are in a position that we have not been at any point in this war because of the lack of resources. I think we have seen over the past what happens when -- and General McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry and others have seen what happens when not taking into account the local population, what happens if there are mistakes that we deeply regret and I know everybody involved deeply regrets.
Our key is to get their active belief and buy-in in that participation so that the long-term success in Afghanistan with the strategy that we believe is right has a good chance to succeed.
Q: But you're willing to concede it's much slower going than you had hoped.
MR. GIBBS: Well, General McChrystal said that he's far better positioned to do that than I am.
Q: On BP --
Q: A follow up on this, is it possible --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me finish and then I'll -- yes.
Q: Senator Bill Nelson is going to write a letter to the President today asking for some clarification on the Jones Act and whether or not it is in any way inhibiting the U.S. government's use of offers from other foreign nations and foreign-flagged vessels to help in any way -- mediation, skimming, any of the other operations you're doing on the Gulf. What is the administration's position on it? The Jones Act was waived during Katrina by the Bush administration to bring oil in. What's your position on this?
MR. GIBBS: I would say this --
Q: Is it an impediment or are you open to waiving it if you need to?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, as Admiral Allen said today, we are using equipment and vessels from countries like Norway, Canada, the Netherlands. There has not been any problem with this. If there is the need for any type of waiver, that would obviously be granted. But this -- we've not had that problem thus far in the Gulf.
Q: But you're open to waiving it if you need to?
MR. GIBBS: If there's anything that needs to happen, that will -- we will make sure that it happens.
Q: Lastly, how would you describe the conversation, the bipartisan meeting, on either -- whether cap and trade came up specifically, energy taxes, as a part of a clean energy bill going forward? Because Republicans were quite forceful out here afterwards saying they're not interested in it and they are opposed to the President on this score. How contentious was that conversation during the meeting?
MR. GIBBS: No part of the meeting was contentious. I would say I think the biggest thing that came out of the meeting was bipartisan approval in the House and the Senate, both sides, on agreeing that the President's three-year proposed spending freeze on non-security discretionary spending, that was held up by all the leaders as a good idea, one that they would seek to hold their bodies to, Democrat and Republican alike, as a way of making some progress on our medium- and long-term deficit issues in next fiscal year.
Energy certainly came up. We talked about, as I mentioned a minute ago, the notion of certain provisions in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 not necessarily being as up to date to deal with a crisis at this depth in 2010, particularly the liability caps on economic damages that are currently at $75 million.
And comprehensive energy reform came up as a way of talking about and dealing with our investments in research and development and in jobs for the future.
Q: Make any headway?
MR. GIBBS: Look, there are meetings on Capitol Hill today on the Democratic side on a pathway forward. The bill has been passed by -- a bill has been passed by the House and I anticipate that energy legislation will be taken up some time over the course of the next several weeks in the Senate, and hopefully we can get something done before Congress adjourns this year.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
Q: Can I ask on Afghanistan for a second? Can you talk about reports that there are plans to hand over Bagram to the Afghans but to keep a portion of it for prisoners who have been transferred --
MR. GIBBS: I would probably point you to DOD on that.
Q: So the administration doesn't have a point of view on this -- I mean, the White House does not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the Department of Defense is an active member of the administration.
Q: The White House, I mean, obviously.
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on that, no.
Q: Robert, when the miners died in West Virginia, the President went to the memorial service. There was a memorial service last month for the victims of the BP disaster. Why didn't the President go to that?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look at the schedule, Sheryl. I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Was it considered? And also, why didn't --
MR. GIBBS: Sheryl, let me look at the schedule. I don't -- if I didn't know the answer to the first one, it's likely the three follow-ups, I'm not going to have much knowledge --
Q: Was there any consideration or attempt to meet with these families in the Gulf while he was there?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: You hinted at this before, Robert, but I just -- yes or no, basically -- is the White House trying to arrange a meeting between the President and the chairman of the board of BP?
MR. GIBBS: If -- we obviously had -- there are concerns that we have on a number of things, and I wouldn't rule it out.
Q: What is the President -- what's the President telling both Senator Landrieu and the families who say, look, drilling is still our economic lifeline, what are you going to allow now? And is there a danger of your cutting off our livelihood?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, this was discussed -- I don't think Senator Landrieu was in -- was there on Friday. I know her brother Mitch was, Governor Jindal, Senator Vitter was there. The President asked -- the work of the oil commission doesn't have to wait six months to come to him. He's asked that as they look at these issues, it's looking at them sequentially to figure out a regulatory structure that works for deepwater drilling -- that doesn't have to wait six months. Obviously we're looking at a number of ways to ensure their economic livelihood.
Look, I would not be surprised, Ann, if you had people in some of these parishes who have kids that work on rigs and kids that fish in the same family. Thirty-seven percent of the Gulf is closed to fishing because of an accident involving a deepwater drilling operation. The President, while understanding of the economic cost of pausing those ongoing drilling -- ongoing drilling permits -- while understanding of that, believes that we ought to have a sense of what happened and ensure that the regulatory structure that we have in place going forward ensures their protection.
Again, not -- as he said, if you -- you can't tell me that we can't trust BP on any of this but we're going to take their word for it on drilling.
Q: There are a lot of companies drilling.
MR. GIBBS: There are. There are. There are -- none of which know the cause of what happened the night of April 20th.
Q: The families say they'll be here for several hours. Can you tell us what else -- are they only meeting with the President?
MR. GIBBS: I will check and see what the other part of their schedule. I know they are over there now, but I don't know the rest of their schedule. I will --
Q: He's meeting with them here and they're meeting somewhere --
MR. GIBBS: They're either in -- they're over in either the East Room -- I think they're in the East Room, I will double-check, or the State Dining Room. I don't know which one.
Q: But are they also over at the Old Executive Office -- is that what you're pointing to?
MR. GIBBS: I'm just sort of pointing to there. It is -- I guess technically -- where is it?
MR. GIBBS: Where is it? Up there? That's right. I'm spatially challenged.
Q: Well, basically, are they going to meet the President and do nothing else? What --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on the schedule for --
Q: And you could get that back to us today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes.
Q: There are several agenda items that the President has, as recently as this morning, said he would like to see the Senate -- the Congress accomplish this work period, from Sotomayor to --
MR. GIBBS: Sotomayor is done. I can check that off the list. (Laughter.) Done.
Q: My question is, what's on the list and what does the President see as waiting until --
MR. GIBBS: Not Sotomayor. (Laughter.)
Q: -- the next work period. Is she confirmed yet? I missed that. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Look, we've got --
MR. GIBBS: There you go. There you go. (Laughter.)
Q: You said that about Sotomayor yesterday. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You're working off last year's report. They talked extensively in the meeting about extending unemployment insurance, extending -- tax extenders that have to be done. They talked specifically about financial reform getting to the President's desk by the July 4th recess. The House -- as I understand it, the House is going to take up in the next day or so the small business lending initiative that the President and many believe are tremendously important in getting needed capital to small business owners. That I think is something he'd like to see. In terms of --
Q: Is immigration off the list?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think immigration is going to get done by the July 4th recess. We've got a process in place, the President is working with Democrats and Republicans -- went to the Republican Caucus and this was a big part of that. I don't -- I obviously don't think that's going to get done by July 4th.
In terms of a Supreme Court nominee -- since you brought up Ms. Sotomayor -- we are confident that Elena Kagan will be through the confirmation process before the end -- I'm sorry, before the August recess.
Q: Robert, question on the non-security discretionary spending freeze that you mentioned a while ago. Peter Orszag said earlier this week that the administration plans to continue that in next year's budget. But why just a freeze? Why not -- why isn't an overall cut to non-security discretionary spending being considered?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, one of the things that we've got to be careful about is choking off the economic recovery. We have to deal with our medium- and long-term debt and deficit issues, and obviously we have to make some headway in the short term, as the President has talked about, on wasteful spending. And I think this is a way of accomplishing some progress on the medium- and long-term issues without choking off the economic recovery.
Q: Two quick things. Circling back to Major's question for just a second on Kandahar, is the status of operations there -- does that pose a problem? Are you concerned that you won't be able to report the progress at the end of the year that you'd hoped to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would defer to what was briefed at the Pentagon. Again, I think we're focused on ultimately what has to happen to ensure long-term success, and having the active participation of those at a local level has been crucial in other campaigns in other wars and is obviously crucial -- even as we're adding additional resources, I do think it's important to understand that the flow of troops that the President authorized continues on pace and allows us to do things in Afghanistan that, quite honestly, we've never had a commitment of resources to be able to do.
Q: I want to also ask you if you have a reaction to the Pentagon IG's report about the mismarking of graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
MR. GIBBS: Let me get something specific on that. Obviously we -- the President is -- look, we have no more solemn commitment than to respect the service and the memory of those that died in service to preserving our freedom as a country. And that should be everyone's charge.
Q: Do you have any idea how widespread this was, by the way, or if it's been corrected, or --
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DOD.
Yes. I'll go back, I'm sorry. Go ahead -- go ahead, April, and then I'll --
Q: Okay. Since you're not ruling out a meeting with the chairman of the board of BP, what kind of session would it be once the President does have this? Would this be a "blank"-kicking session --
MR. GIBBS: A what?
Q: A "blank"-kicking session --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry.
Q: -- would it be -- I mean, what kind of questions would he ask? What kind of answers would he demand? What?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we would be -- look, what we've outlined as necessary as part of this response. Again, I don't doubt that a meeting would involve the discussion of the capabilities for hydrocarbon capture and burning at the site of the well; what's being done to clean up oil that has leaked; what's being done to deal with damages specifically to precious natural resources.
There obviously is -- and there have been meetings on this and Admiral Allen and others went to these meetings yesterday in ensuring that we have a claims process that works for those who have been hurt economically by this.
I think those would be the major topics that -- those are the major topics that we talk to and direct BP to take action on each and every day.
Q: But the President clearly said those words about kicking "blank." Would this be one of those sessions? I mean, this is the head of a company -- they didn't have --
MR. GIBBS: April, I --
Q: -- they didn't have the right alternative plan for emergency cases --
MR. GIBBS: April, April, whether this is Admiral Allen or Secretary Salazar or Secretary Chu, there have been directives throughout this process on actions that need to be taken. And whoever meets with or talks to BP will issue those directives on behalf of our government to ensure that the responsible party is doing all that they must do.
Q: Two questions on Afghanistan, Robert. The first one, again, on Kandahar. I understand from the resources that are there -- new resources, why does the President believe the Americans will succeed where the NATO ally that were -- with tens of thousands of soldiers that have been on the ground, in the area, in Kandahar -- the Dutch, the Canadians, the British, the French haven't been able to do with the locals -- why would the Americans succeed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, this has to be -- this is not -- this is more than simply a -- our strategy has to be more than one that's just regional. Obviously Kandahar is an important region given its importance to the Taliban. But we have a process, and General McChrystal has with Admiral -- with Ambassador Eikenberry and others worked to -- and with our NATO allies -- worked to secure cooperation from and understanding from local populations on how best to move forward. That's in our long-term interest to ensure that when we have an area that our security forces have made progress in that we can not just hold an area, but prepare that area through a sub-national government, a local government, and prepare that both from a governance side and the security side ultimately to hand off and transfer back to the Afghan people. That's what's key.
Q: That was the (inaudible) from the start. For several years, that's what the allied forces --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we have resources now from both a NATO perspective and an American force perspective unlike we have had at any point in this -- in these operations.
Q: Second question quickly, Secretary Gates came back from Europe expressing his concern for the fact that the NATO allies are reducing their armed forces, the number of the troops in general. Is this one topic the President intends to touch at the G8 and G20 --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if this is something that he'll bring up at the G8 or G20. We can go through that as we get closer. I know this is a topic that I have heard Secretary Gates be concerned about in meetings that we have had throughout this process on Afghanistan.
Q: Robert, just one question --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on.
Q: Just one? One, that's all --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on.
Q: Robert, thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: I bet it's more than one, Lester.
Q: It's a two-parter.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say --
Q: It's one, I've combined it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I rest my case.
Q: Robert, thank you very much. BP says that they will pay all legitimate claims. I'm not quite clear on what is the definition of legitimate? Who makes that definition? And how is the process around that --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, there's a -- there is a claims process that we have -- this was the source of the letter that Admiral Allen sent more than a day ago in order to shed some transparency from our perspective on BP's operations on claims. Right now, for instance, there's a series of data that BP claims is proprietary that we'd like to have an opportunity to look at in order to ensure that the process is proceeding in a way that is fair to those that are arguing that the disaster has caused them harm.
This is a process that is going to go through not just those -- obviously there are those that will -- that have their direct livelihoods affected -- if you're a fisherman and you can't because the Gulf has been closed as a result of this disaster. There are going to be what I would call -- I'm not sure if this is an economic term -- the indirect costs of what might be -- what might ultimately be claimed as an economic claim -- if you are a hotel owner and have seen lots of cancellations.
So there's a whole series of -- in the claims structure.
Q: And real quickly on Iran, you've always said that the White House position is that all options, including the military option, are still on the table with respect to Iran. Now, to get the Russians onboard with this deal, a concession was made by which Moscow would be allowed to sell surface-to-air missiles to the Iranians. Now, if the military option is still on the table, isn't that something that potentially could place American lives at risk?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the resolution as passed by the Security Council calls on all states to exercise vigilant and restraint in any arms sales that aren't prohibited. I would note over the past year and a half that the Russians have not transferred the system I think you're talking about to the Iranians, and there are reports today that indicate that they don't plan to.
Q: Robert, just two sentences -- just two sentences?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, now I'm confused, Lester. It was just one question.
Q: One question with two sentences.
Q: They're compound sentences.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, is the first sentence simply a statement?
Q: That was a question.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I know. He asks -- (laughter.) I should -- do that before. I'll go here and then I'll migrate over.
Q: Follow-up to the Iran question. Up to 24 hours since the U.N. Security Council vote, different statements came from Brazil and Turkey. This top administration official stated that there were -- mixed signals came from the U.S. administration -- run-up to this vote that led them to say no -- various signals and actual letters that led them to go for a nuclear enrichment deal with Tehran. And actually today, Turkish Prime Minister also stated that that would be disgraceful for Turkey to vote for the sanctions because what -- run-up to the U.N. Security Council. What would you say to those who argue that there are some mixed signals from the administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the votes that we saw yesterday from Brazil and Turkey were disappointing. We have obviously a difference in approach for -- the Iranians were unwilling to live up to the agreement that they made last fall, even as late as only a few weeks ago. That's not progress on the issue of dealing with their nuclear program.
I would say that Iran has -- Iran is obviously -- was obviously concerned about the impact of these sanctions, that it -- what it did walk away from in last fall, it was trying to get at least partially back to only a few weeks ago. We will continue to work with friends and allies to create and maintain the coalition that we have, to demonstrate to the world how serious we all take Iran's nuclear program. And I think I'd leave it mostly at that.
MR. GIBBS: Lester.
Q: Thank you very much. First sentence. (Laughter.) WorldNetDaily's correspondent Dr. Jerome Corsi reports that in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, a lawsuit has been filed by investigators in Ohio and Colorado concerning the President's Social Security number. Second sentence --
Q: Birth certificate --
Q: He reports -- no, I did not bring up the birth certificate -- He reports that investigators Susan Daniels and John Sampson are asking, why the President is using a Social Security numbers reserved for Connecticut applicants. And my question, did you know --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, that's two sentences, Lester. That -- I --
Q: That's two sentences, and my question -- (laughter) -- do you know of any record that the President ever had a mailing address in Connecticut?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I --
Q: That was -- I've been asked to ask you.
MR. GIBBS: I know there are faithful readers of your publication that despite --
Q: Including you.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, well, I don't know that I would necessarily mark myself down at an avid reader or a faithful reader. I continue to be amazed, Lester, that two years after putting the President's birth certificate on the Internet --
Q: Without a hospital and without a doctor --
MR. GIBBS: Do you think the President was born here, Lester?
Q: Beg pardon?
MR. GIBBS: Do you think the President was born in the United States?
Q: I don't know. I'd love to get the real birth certificate, wouldn't you?
MR. GIBBS: I've seen the real birth certificate. I put it on the Internet and I appreciate your --
Q: But you're not answering this question.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate your forthrightness on the birth answer.
Q: Thank you.
END 2:33 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/288687