Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller, take us away.
Q: Two topics, please, Robert. On Senator Dodd's retirement, what's the President's reaction, and has he spoken to the Senator yet?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the readouts, but I know that he's spoken to both Senators Dodd and Dorgan this morning.
Look, obviously Senator Dodd has been enormously involved and enormously helpful in moving both health care and financial regulatory reform -- working on those issues and moving them through Congress. The President has a great fondness for Senator Dodd and for his work over 30 years in the United States Senate.
Q: Democrats will now have to defend four open seats in the Senate, and as you know well, the White House is having to fight for every one of the 60 combined seats to keep the agenda moving. How do you think these retirements in total will affect the President's agenda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, it is hard to look into the crystal ball 11 months from election day. There's retirements on both sides of the aisle in the Senate; they'll be the same in the House. We'll let the political season play out over the course of the next 11 months. I don't want to make a lot of predictions for 11 months from now.
Q: I also wanted to ask about terrorism. We know from what the President said yesterday that the Brennan -- initial Brennan report will be released soon --
MR. GIBBS: I expect that it will be released tomorrow.
Q: Tomorrow? Okay.
Q: Is that the public one?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. It will be an unclassified version of what John Brennan gives to the President.
Q: Do you have a rough time on that, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Sometime probably early afternoon. And then our hope is -- sorry, Ben, to get ahead of -- to bring John down here and go through it.
Q: The President also said in the coming days he'll be announcing more steps on passenger screening and intelligence-sharing -- you still expect that this week?
MR. GIBBS: I will check on that part of the schedule or whether that's part of tomorrow's information. But I do expect at least the beginning part of that to happen tomorrow.
Q: Okay. So I guess what I'm getting at, there is that -- can you give us a sense of how this is all going to finish? Will there be a final review and the President will then speak to the nation again? How is this going to work?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President -- if I was clear -- the President will make a statement about this tomorrow. That review will be released -- the unclassified version will be released publicly. We'll have John and probably Secretary Napolitano to discuss their review of detection capabilities tomorrow here at the White House. I anticipate that the President and John will continue to look at the situation and evaluate it over the coming months.
The review will simply identify and make recommendations as to what was lacking and what needs to be strengthened. The review process will be a dynamic one where the President and John will continue to ensure that agencies are implementing their plans for correcting what was identified in each of those reviews.
I will say, in yesterday's meeting, each agency and department took responsibility for their aspect of that systemic failure, and each outlined what they had identified as initial shortcomings and ideas for changing those. And the President will be anxious to watch that, and John will watch that and follow up with each of those agencies as this transpires.
Q: I wanted to clarify something and then ask a question. You said the review will be released tomorrow.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: And going back to Senator Dodd, how do you think it's going to affect financial regulatory reform, the push? He's been a leader in that and there's been some reaction on Wall Street -- some stocks have gone up and some have gone down.
MR. GIBBS: As is the wont of Wall Street. I would say this -- look, I think Senator Dodd has been a passionate advocate for ensuring that we have rules in place so that what happened on Wall Street doesn't happen again -- that we have strong consumer financial protections. And I think Senator Dodd will continue to work on that with his committee throughout this process.
Q: Do you think his leaving will make him more of a lame duck? I mean, it's the loss of a passionate advocate.
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I -- knowing Senator Dodd and the passionate advocate that he is, I think he will continue to work hard and want to get this done by the end of the year, as the President does, too.
Q: The President last year set a deadline for the end of 2009 for Iran to begin showing some compliance with the international agencies when it comes to its nuclear program. Has there been any movement? If not --
MR. GIBBS: Has there been any movement?
Q: By the Iranians that we don't know about, and if not, what's the next step?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the next step is ongoing, and that is working with our partners in the P5-plus-1 and throughout the international community in looking at the next steps to hold Iran accountable. We have said and made clear throughout this process that they should act and demonstrate living up to their responsibilities, that failure to act would result in consequences. And we're in the process of, as you've heard the President discuss, developing what those consequences are with our international partners.
I would say that -- and you've heard the President speak on this now, both in Oslo and over the Christmas break -- that we've noticed continued divisions within Iran, including much greater calls for universal rights and universal values. And we are watching those closely as well.
Q: Should we expect that when the United Nations reconvenes, the United States will push for the economic sanctions that they have -- that you guys have threatened?
MR. GIBBS: I think that working with our partners and working throughout the international community, we will take steps to develop what those consequences are and move those forward.
Q: When the U.N. reconvenes?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if it will -- I don't know the exact day that that will be, understanding that we have begun, and had begun even before the end of the year, initial discussions both within the administration on what can be done, as well as with our international partners.
Q: I wanted to follow up also on a comment the President made in one of the interviews he gave right before he went to Hawaii. I forget, and I apologize, whether it was with NPR or with PBS. But he was asked about the fact that the minority in the Senate has required the invoking of cloture I believe more than ever before and what he thought should be done about it. There are -- the measures that would require a change of the rules would be -- one would require 67 votes, which you don't have. One would be a reverse nuclear option, which might cause serious damage to the Senate. The other one is a bill offered by Senator Harkin, which would have some sort of sliding scale of cloture.
Is there going -- especially with facing the prospect of losing seats in the Senate in 2010, or at the very least a wash, but certainly nobody predicts that you guys are going to gain any -- is there any consideration or any support by the President for any of the measures to change the rules so that he can have an easier time getting his agenda put forward?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I have not heard of any discussion. I will check with Legislative Affairs. I have not heard discussion here about support for changing those rules. I know Senator Harkin's bill has been talked about for some time, going back to some judicial disputes that were had not too long ago.
Jake, I think the President's overriding frustration has been -- I mentioned this a little bit yesterday in dealing with some personnel announcements -- is it's not simply that you see tactics purely to delay, purely to watch the clock wind around and around, but they don't even appear to be philosophical, right? When something gets filibustered and we take 30 hours to debate it, and then the ultimate vote is 88 to 10, is the -- was the filibuster predicated on anything else other than watching the clock wind around? Was it -- it's not a philosophical argument. It's just an argument, I suppose, to hear people talk in order to delay the passage of vital legislation for the American people. I think the President -- I think the American people would be frustrated, and are frustrated, by the lack of not getting anything done just to hear somebody talk.
Q: A lot of liberal activists want you guys to do something about it. Are you going to?
MR. GIBBS: I will check with Legislative Affairs. Like I said, I have not heard anything about changing the rules.
Q: Yesterday the President talked about red flags, these bits and pieces of information that the intelligence community had -- that it involved someone we now know to be the suspect. Was this specific information that was tied to an airplane, airliner, anything like that, or was it more general?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, I'm going to let -- I'm going to wait for the review to come, the public portion of the review to come and allow John to be able to speak in depth about all of those issues. I think, to reiterate what the President said, the sort of top-line message the President had was we understand this was a systemic failure; we understand that information we had in our possession, information that likely could have prevented or disrupted the incident on the 25th of December from happening. The President is anxious to -- and did so yesterday for almost two hours with his national security and intelligence teams -- go through some questions about how we got to this point and, more importantly, the steps that we're going to take going forward to prevent something like this, based on what we had, from happening again.
Q: But is there more, though, that we don't know about? Is there more there, without telling us what's there?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has been very candid about the fact that what we were in possession of in different places and what ultimately was not analyzed up through the chains in order to make the necessary connections to prevent and disrupt this from happening.
Q: And, again, on the negotiations that are taking place to meld these two bills, the House and Senate, why not have a formal conference? Why doing it --
MR. GIBBS: That's a question that I think you can ask the leaders in Congress either there or when they're here later today.
Q: What did the President -- why did he not call on health care -- it seems like he's ready to accept anything to get it over with.
MR. GIBBS: I would disagree, Helen. I think the President laid out in front of Congress some very clear benchmarks that have to be met in order for health care reform to hold with it the promise that he outlined in that speech. We're in the process of working with Congress to iron out the small number of differences between the two pieces of legislation.
Q: But you're not allowing the government plan to even be considered.
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, that's in one bill and not the other. The President -- nothing can get enacted unless or until it gets through both houses. The President has --
Q: The President can weigh in on the thing. You're giving 30 million new plans to the insurers -- that's a bonanza.
MR. GIBBS: And in return we're getting vital insurance protections against preexisting conditions, against lifetime caps on health care. I think the net winner by far in this process will be not simply those that have lacked accessibility to health care, but those that have had access to it but have struggled with insurance reforms.
Q: How is he going to pay for it?
MR. GIBBS: The bill outlines the different ways and aspects that it's paid for, and it's completely paid for, as the CBO has mentioned.
Q: Following up on Dan's question, during the campaign the President on numerous occasions said words to the effect of -- quoting one -- "all of this will be done on C-SPAN in front of the public." Do you agree that the President is breaking an explicit campaign promise?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, we covered this yesterday and I would refer you to yesterday's transcript.
Q: But today is today and --
MR. GIBBS: And the answer that I would give today is similar to the one --
Q: But there was an intervening meeting in which it's been reported that the President pressed the leaders in Congress to take the fast-track approach, to skip the conference committee. Did he do that?
MR. GIBBS: The President wants to get a bill to his desk as quickly as possible.
Q: In spite of the fact that he promised to do this on C-SPAN?
MR. GIBBS: I would refer you to what we talked about in this room yesterday.
Q: But the President in this meeting yesterday --
MR. GIBBS: And I addressed that --
Q: -- pressed for something that's in direct violation of a promise he made during the campaign.
MR. GIBBS: And I addressed that yesterday.
Q: Well, does the President think it would be more helpful if this process were more transparent, that the American people could see --
MR. GIBBS: Mike, how many stories do you think NBC has done on this?
Q: Speaking for myself --
MR. GIBBS: Just a guess.
Q: That's not the issue. The issue is whether he broke an explicit campaign promise.
MR. GIBBS: So the answer is --
Q: I deal with the information that --
MR. GIBBS: So the answer is hundreds, is that correct?
Q: Right, but that's got nothing to do with it. I deal with the information, however much or little of it, there is. I'm saying would people benefit by having more information?
MR. GIBBS: Have you lacked information in those hundred stories? Do you think you've reported stuff that was inaccurate based on the lack of information?
Q: Democrats ran against the very sort of process that is being employed in this health care --
MR. GIBBS: We had this discussion yesterday. I answered this yesterday. Is there anything --
Q: But the President met with members of Congress in the meantime --
MR. GIBBS: And he'll do so today.
Q: -- and pressed them to --
MR. GIBBS: Do you have another question?
Q: -- short-circuit the process.
Q: Does the President -- has the President expressed a preference on the approach to pay for reform? Has he expressed a preference either taxing the Cadillac plans or taxing the millionaires' plans? Which does he prefer?
MR. GIBBS: I think they're going to discuss some of that this afternoon. I have not heard him weigh definitively in one versus the other.
Q: And finally, did anyone here at the White House suggest to Senator Dodd, either directly or through an intermediary, that he should consider doing what he did today?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have direct knowledge of every discussion that was had with Senator Dodd. I think you heard Senator Dodd say, in thinking through this, he made a decision based on a lot of different things in his life and came to the decision that it was time to step aside.
Q: I know you don't want to look into a crystal ball looking ahead, but Senator Dodd said that he was facing the toughest political environment he's ever seen. And I wonder, what responsibility does the President feel he and his agenda have in the political environment that the Democrats are now facing and are making very difficult decisions about their futures in?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President has made conscious decisions about his agenda. But at the same time, Jonathan, we have -- we are dealing with a set of issues, whether it's the financial collapse, whether it's 10 percent unemployment, whether it is decisions on auto companies, Afghanistan, terrorism -- those are decisions that the President has had to make in a very tough political environment. The President understands that. He didn't sign up for the easy part of the job. He signed up for the job.
I have to say, I think if you look at -- obviously the President is -- as I said, has great fondness for Senator Dodd and for the work over the past 30 years. I do think that a number of decisions were made on an individual basis about whether or not to continue running for reelection or in running in the first place. I fail to see a commonality or common thread that goes through each and every retirement.
Q: Do you think that the President's push for so -- for such big items so fast has contributed to this environment?
MR. GIBBS: The President has taken actions to deal with a whole set of crises that he had when he came in. He understands that. He had to make a lot of tough decisions that may or may not be politically popular because that was what he was faced with.
But, again, that's why he ran for the job. That's why he decided to throw his hat in this ring -- not to just make all the easy decisions, because when you're President there are very few easy decisions. The President I think believes that we're on the road to accomplishing quite a bit. I think we've taken some tough actions to stimulate our economy; to ensure our financial system didn't collapse; to ensure that two of our auto companies didn't go bankrupt and out of business, causing tens of thousands of people to lose their job. None of that may have been individually politically popular, but I think if you look at where we have been on the jobs front in January of 2009 and where we were in the report in November of 2009, and we've gone from losing 741,000 jobs a month to losing 11,000 jobs a month -- we're not certainly where we want to be, but we've made marked improvement. Four quarters of economic decline in terms of GDP met in that fifth quarter with positive economic job growth.
Q: One quick question. Has the President talked to Secretary Salazar about his future? And does he want to keep the Secretary in the Cabinet?
MR. GIBBS: I think Secretary Salazar is, again, a friend of the President; they came to the Senate at the same time. We think he's doing valuable work and I do not believe he's had a conversation with him recently about politics.
Q: It sounded like just previous to the Salazar comment you were sort of enunciating what could be a platform for the midterm campaign. How much do you think the President is going to be out there campaigning for people in his party?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure he will weigh in on the elections. You know, again, we've obviously done our part in raising some funds for candidates and for the Democratic Party. I anticipate that that will continue, but I think to say that I've seen a detailed plan about what happens 11 months from now would just not be the case.
Q: Going back to the review, Robert, that they're going to announce tomorrow here, can you give us some sense as to just generally what issues this thing is going to cover? You've got this review and then you've got the final review, maybe there will be an interim review. How far is this one going to go addressing the human and systemic failures that the President talked about?
MR. GIBBS: This will be very comprehensive. I mean, the President heard -- the President got preliminary assessments a little more than a week ago from virtually every agency -- the CIA's came in a few days after that -- detailing what had gone wrong. John Brennan synthesized a lot of that and they walked through a decent portion of that yesterday in the Situation Room.
I think the President got a very detailed look yesterday at what John has found in terms of -- John's specific portfolio was on watch-listing and obviously it's, in a sense, a tad broader than watch-listing because information that would lead you to be watch-listed is what he examined.
Secretary Napolitano looked through -- her charge and DHS's charge was about detection capabilities and screening. Obviously, they've taken actions in the interim to increase air security both at airports here and for flights coming in to this country. But I think John's report will be -- John's report yesterday to the President was very detailed, very comprehensive.
Q: So tomorrows' will be even more detailed on screening and watch-listing?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think it will -- in many ways, this will be the close of this part of the investigation as to the 25th. When I alluded to the dynamic of looking -- of continuing to look, I think obviously the President and John Brennan will be -- -- let me say it this way -- I think for the -- the President believes that we simply can't identify what we were doing on the 25th and what we now have to do differently. I think he will want to look -- continue to look at whether or not the progress on what has been identified and what will change, whether we're making progress in meeting those necessary changes. I don't have a timeline at the moment for that, but I think John's report to the President has been -- has been enormously detailed.
Q: Any personnel announcements?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q: Can I follow?
MR. GIBBS: I'll go there and I'll come to you, yes.
Q: To change the subject a little bit, there's a report out of the Pentagon today that says there is -- one in five Guantanamo detainees upon their release return to terrorism, which is up from the previous Pentagon report on the same subject. What is the linkage of that to the suspension of transfer of detainees on Yemen yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen or heard about the latest report that you refer to and I don't have handy what numbers had been for similar reports in years past. Yesterday's determination was made and announced very much on what you heard John Brennan say over the weekend. We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe -- we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country. And in relating to Yemen, I think you heard John say nobody was going to be transferred back that we did not believe that the Yemeni government could handle.
The determination was made that given the -- as you heard the President say -- the swift change in the security environment even over the last few weeks in Yemen caused the President and the Attorney General to agree that pausing any of those transfers was the right policy right now.
Q: Does recidivism have any bearing in the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get a better answer from NSC based on this report. I just -- I haven't seen it.
Q: Okay, and one follow-up. Does it make, or does it have any -- does it make it harder to close Guantanamo as a result?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you heard the President say yesterday we are committed to closing Guantanamo. You heard the President enunciate clearly that one of the explicit reasons mentioned in very early recruiting material from al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula was the existence of Guantanamo Bay. That having been said, as John and others have said on numerous occasions, we're not going to make any decisions that we believe threaten the security of the country.
Q: Is there a new date for closing, by any chance?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: On terrorism --
Q: Do you want to take it, then come back to me?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: Can you assure the public, the traveling public, that all checked luggage on airlines is inspected? And will the government be giving --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I'm going to point you to TSA on specific airline screening procedures as a better place to get a very full picture of what they do on a daily basis.
Q: Is this administration doing anything to protect the safety of the traveling public on trains and metros? Are you thinking of putting more money in --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with DOT on that. I mean, without getting into a lot of specifics, obviously, I think there is a heightened awareness across government.
Q: A couple quick ones on Yemen. Is it fair to say that the pause you just referred to is an indefinite pause for a substantial period of time?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I forget the exact phrasing that the President used, but I would say until we believe the time is right.
Q: And when the President and you refer to the security situation in Yemen, are you referring to the ongoing conflict both north and south that's been described as a civil war, or are you talking about stepped-up Yemeni government efforts against al Qaeda strongholds? Are they related? Because one has been going on for quite some time, and the al Qaeda efforts have started much more recently. And if that's what you're referring to I'd like to know.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me try to phrase this -- obviously there has been a security situation. This has not been a safe part of the world for quite some time. What I think you heard the President refer to, without getting overly specific, obviously just in the past couple of weeks you have seen and we have seen a far different security situation.
Q: I'm just trying to understand the linkage with that and the necessary decision to pause the transfers.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, remember --
Q: Does that stepped-up effort against al Qaeda make it more difficult for the government to provide the security necessary to hold detainees?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that I -- I think I see where you're going now. I don't know that I would directly draw that direct linkage. But I would say that, as John said last Sunday, we never had a plan to transfer Yemenis back to their country if the Yemeni government was not capable of handling that transfer.
Q: So that should be what we should assume now -- that right now, for various reasons, they're not capable of handling transfers?
MR. GIBBS: I would say for a number of reasons we've decided to make the policy decision we announced yesterday.
Q: To follow up on Jake's question about Iran, you said the next step is ongoing. How much is that complicated by the very direct statement from the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations that now is not the time for sanctions at all -- they shouldn't be discussed; diplomacy and continued dialogue with Iran must take precedence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have --
Q: Now, not just 2009 but currently.
MR. GIBBS: But not to -- we have discussed with the Chinese -- I think the notion that we're not in discussions with the P5-plus-1 -- I'm not entirely sure that he said the word "discuss."
Q: "Now is not the right moment for sanctions because diplomatic efforts are still ongoing."
MR. GIBBS: Right. Again, like I said, I don't think he said the word "discuss," meaning I don't want either my answer or your question to leave the impression that we haven't been in discussions with the Chinese, the Russians, and our partners in the P5-plus-1, as well as in international efforts involving the IAEA and others to address the nuclear weapons capability of Iran.
Look, Major, I don't -- obviously there are countries that have always had varying degrees of interest in the timing of different consequences. We understand that and we're working with folks in order to bring them along on this path.
Q: To follow up on the conversation we had yesterday, which you referred several reporters to, about openness and transparency -- do you believe that the standard the President described in the campaign has been met as it regards to health care competition --
MR. GIBBS: I think you asked this yesterday and I think my answer yesterday was yes.
Q: The standard has been met?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I've turned on any number of televisions and opened any number of publications and seen health care discussed quite broadly this year.
Q: When she was asked about this, Speaker Pelosi said yesterday, "there are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail," suggesting that she thinks that perhaps this campaign promise is not being met, and that aides went on to say that she was also referring to the President's declaration he wouldn't raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 -- she interprets the tax mechanism in the Senate bill on so-called Cadillac health care plans as violating that promise.
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I think you know and I would hope, in the transparency of network and cable television, you would explain to your viewers that any Cadillac taxes on an insurer for offering a plan that exceeds I think it's $23,000 -- so we can add to the openness right now by having that discussion.
Q: You would agree with that assessment --
MR. GIBBS: I would disagree with your notion that it is a tax on an individual since the proposal is written as a tax on an insurance company that offers a plan. I would say in terms of Speaker Pelosi, she was here yesterday and I think all involved thought the meeting that they had was very productive.
Q: Can I ask just to follow on that, you don't think they pass those taxes on, those costs on to consumers?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not an insurance company broker.
Q: Well, it's just obvious. Isn't it self-evident that they would do that?
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily. They may just not offer --
Q: I think any economist would consider it a de facto tax on a --
MR. GIBBS: Well, are you speaking out for economists or am I speaking out for --
Q: Not very well, but it seems pretty self-evident that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, then, let's just go back to Major's question.
Q: You said yesterday, "I don't believe that anybody has legitimate constitutional concerns about the legislation," meaning health care legislation. Is that an opinion that's circulated through the White House from the Counsel's Office --
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q: -- that you've done a --
MR. GIBBS: No, nobody has done an analysis because I don't think --
Q: Is that a conversation here, or do you have something that's substantive from a constitutional point of view or the Counsel's Office on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe anybody has looked at it because I don't believe anything -- anybody believes that it is unconstitutional.
Q: Robert, on the review and the announcement tomorrow, you probably saw Congressman Peter King on the morning talk shows saying that if things are as -- if the lapses were as serious as the President describes, somebody should go. In the President's review, has he seen anything that is a firing offense, a disciplinary offense?
MR. GIBBS: Well, one of the things I think you'll see, Mark, with the report and when you talk to John tomorrow is that it was not the falling down of one agency, one department or one person. This, as the President has described, was a systemic failure. Each of those agencies and departments yesterday took responsibility, and as I've said, outlined plans for filling the gaps that they've found.
I don't know what the final outcome in terms of hiring and firing will be. I know the President is focused on -- because of the broadness of -- what he believes the broadness and the systemic nature of that failure is, is to find those holes and fill them.
Q: So he does not envision someone leaving, or is that still possible?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that a final -- any final decisions have been made. I just -- I think you'll see tomorrow that this is a failure that touches across the full waterfront of our intelligence agencies.
Q: -- personnel changes are still a possibility, just not part of tomorrow's --
MR. GIBBS: I doubt very seriously that it will be part of tomorrow.
Q: Will it reflect any either advice or decision on how to prosecute Abdulmutallab in terms of civilian courts, military tribunals -- will that be addressed in the review?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, because that wasn't part of the direct review. They discussed this yesterday, and I think we discussed this some yesterday, too. I'm reminded very much -- if you look at the quite similar parallel cases between Abdulmutallab and Richard Reid, obviously spaced some years apart, but each trying to do harm to a transatlantic flight using similar chemicals, decisions were made by the previous administration after looking at all of the factors involved to enter Richard Reid into our civil justice system. I think he was indicted two or three days after the incident, and is now spending life in prison in a supermax facility in Colorado -- federal supermax facility.
Q: In the two-hour session yesterday were -- did the President ever tell those executives sitting around the table that their jobs are on the line depending on how they move forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President was very clear in his, say, 10-minute opening statement, that, to use his words, we screwed up; that something could -- this incident could have been a disaster; that that disaster was not averted, that that disaster was averted by the brave citizens on that plane, not because the system worked as it should have.
He did not find that acceptable. He did not find -- he will not find finger-pointing among agencies to be something that he'll tolerate. I think he was very clear about the expectations in our accepting responsibility for what has happened and fixing it going forward.
I think one of the reasons that he'll want to continue to look at the progress that we're making in addressing the problems that have been identified is to do exactly that -- have this process be a dynamic one to ensure that if someone takes responsibility for their aspect of the failing, that in -- not just in a report that comes a couple of weeks after but a couple months after -- the President, John Brennan, and others will be able to look back and see progress that's been made in not just identifying but in moving forward to address those shortcomings.
Q: And finally, will the President replace the director of the United States Secret Service?
MR. GIBBS: That has not been discussed under any circumstance that I have heard of. I think he has great confidence in Director Sullivan, who has done a wonderful job in keeping he and his family safe.
Q: Robert, the President meets today with Charlie Rangel, along with a small group of other House Democrats. Is the President concerned at all about closely associating himself with Rangel while he's under an ethics investigation and his already acknowledged being an error on his taxes?
MR. GIBBS: He's meeting with Charlie Rangel, he's meeting with Henry Waxman, he's meeting with George Miller, he's meeting with Nancy Pelosi, obviously with committee chairs among the three relevant committees in which health care went through. I think everybody understands that as part of the openness of the debate that we've had, that legislation obviously had to go through the Ways and Means committee.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. Tom DeLay was House Majority Leader when, you know, Democrats criticized Bush for appearing alongside him while he was under investigation. Is this different?
MR. GIBBS: I don't see the analogy that you're drawing.
Q: Robert, the Yemenis who went back from Guantanamo to Yemen in September and December of last year, where are they now? Are they locked up somewhere? Are they on some --
MR. GIBBS: I can check with the NSC to see where -- what intelligence we have on where they are now.
Q: But can you say anything about the -- I mean, what were the guarantees of security pertaining to them?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten into describing different arrangements or agreements that we make in transferring either to home countries or to third-party countries as part of this process.
Q: Can you say if ultimate release is in the long-term plan for any of those --
MR. GIBBS: I'm just not going to get into that.
Q: Robert, if for some reason the Democratic caucus in the Senate lost their 60 votes and by a considerable margin, how might that change your legislative strategy?
MR. GIBBS: You have taken me down a series of hypotheticals that it would take me more than just a few seconds to wrap my head around. And I'm not entirely sure what we'd get out of either my short-term or long-term answer.
Q: How important is the 60 votes to your legislative strategy? A filibuster-proof Senate.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's many answers for that, too. Look, I'll simply leave it at this. I think the President has outlined an agenda that he believes addresses the problems that our country faces now and has faced for quite some time. We are thankful to have 60 seats in the Senate and I forget how many in the House to pass that legislative agenda. But I think to surmise what a strategy would be like based on an election that's 11 months away from happening -- like I said, it's a little like predicting not who's going to win this Super Bowl, but who's going to win the next Super Bowl. It would be nice to think about I guess or play around with, but I don't know that it would be based on any specific --
Q: Speaking of which, Texas or Alabama? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I will e-mail all my friends in Alabama and tell them good luck, and I will root as hard as one possibly can -- sorry, Christi -- for Texas. (Laughter.)
Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, Christi.
Q: This puts a whole new light on you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure your answer would have been markedly different if Auburn was playing for the national champs.
Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: I'll root for Auburn --
MR. GIBBS: Against Northwestern? (Laughter.) In the Poulan Weedeater Bowl. (Laughter.) Some people remember that. That's good.
Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: No problem. Robert, on intelligence issues, has the President reached out to any African leaders since this Christmas Day bombing -- failed bombing attempt, or failed terrorist attack happened on a plane from a Nigerian man? Has he reached out to any African leaders?
MR. GIBBS: I can go back and check. I do not believe the President has had any foreign leader calls to African leaders since this. I know obviously there are -- I don't know exactly who NSC might have talked to, counterparts or things like that, but the President has not.
Q: Is this something that could be on the radar of this administration, especially as Africa, the continent of Africa in some places is a place where terrorists are being recruited and they're being trained there, and there are tentacles leading out of places like Somalia, and -- i.e., a Nigerian with this Christmas Day attack?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you've heard the President discuss in the statements that he's made the -- Jonathan are you --
Q: I'm sorry, I didn't know it was so loud.
MR. GIBBS: I didn't realize you were checking your voicemail. I'm going to make a joke.
Look, I think you've heard the President discuss in a number of his statements actions that our administration has been involved in in fighting al Qaeda and its extremist allies not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but as the President has talked about, in Yemen and in places like Somalia, the ungoverned spaces where al Qaeda tends to take root.
I know the President has talked with leaders from throughout the world on the causes for that type of -- those type of conditions to be created through lack of governance, lack of opportunity. And I don't think there's any doubt that this will continue both here, at the State Department, and the Defense Department, going forward. The President, I know in traveling to Africa in 2006 as a Senate candidate, spent some time at a military facility that we have very close to Yemen, talking to leaders, military officials there about the security situation not just across the Straits but in Africa, as well.
Q: Do you believe that because this latest incident was a Nigerian gentleman, it puts a light back on the continent of Africa? Do you think that this is something that should just be still left up to AFRICOM versus a larger contingent?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that our command in Africa would tell you that there is and has been a lot of discussion and working with not just other regional commands but have worked with NSC and others here at the White House, again, to ensure that we're taking the steps that we need to in places like Somalia in order to take the fight to al Qaeda and its extremist allies.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Yesterday you said you would check on whether the White House plans to renominate Dawn Johnsen.
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten an answer on that.
Q: Can you then I guess talk broadly about what Jake was asking about -- your frustrations with the pace of how the Senate is moving, especially on these nominations that the President has submitted judicially and politically?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- as I said yesterday, we've put a number of people into government in the first year, but at the same time, we have seen a pacing in dealing with nominations both for the executive branch and for judicial nominations that I think by almost any estimation would be deemed slow.
But, again, I go back to what -- the example I used with Jake earlier. When you are -- when you spend precious time in a legislative body filibustering what you then ultimately turn around and pass virtually 90-10, where 90 percent of the people agree and ultimately vote for something, you just -- you really have to go back and wonder what's the point of -- I mean, this wasn't a filibuster vote that ultimately, once you got cloture, was passed 50-49, or something that was passed with that type of bare majority. It passed with virtually 90 percent of the vote. I think there's clearly a theory and a tactic of slowing down progress on behalf of the American people. I think that's probably why most people continue to think that the President is far better in dealing with their problems than Republicans in Congress are.
Q: You'll check on Johnsen?
MR. GIBBS: I have and I haven't got an answer back.
Q: Can you give it to me exclusively? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to leave it on Jonathan's voicemail. (Laughter.)
END 1:45 P.M. EST
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/287540