Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:13 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Just one quick housekeeping thing before we get started. Tomorrow morning, in here, off-camera, we will do the first of our briefings for the trip to India, with Mike Froman, Ben Rhodes, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns to walk us through some of what the President will do and see and talk about in India. We're likely to do the latter portion of the foreign trip later in the week, the Korea and Japan G20 part a little bit later.
Q: Do you have a time?
MR. GIBBS: Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.
Q: Embargoed or off-camera or --
MR. GIBBS: It's off-camera. Let me check on the embargo. My guess is there won't be one. But it would be on -- it will be on the India portion of the foreign trip. Like I said, we'll do the second part of the trip probably Thursday.
Q: I'm sorry, Thursday?
Q: But Froman is not going to be there to talk about the G20 itself?
MR. GIBBS: Not tomorrow, no.
Q: Separate for Indonesia or --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, yes, we're just focusing on India tomorrow. So we'll do sort of post-India, so that -- you're right, Indonesia, Korea, Japan is all -- we'll do the latter part of the week.
Q: Will that be next week, Robert, or Thursday?
MR. GIBBS: No, it's either going to be Thursday or Friday. My sense at the moment is Thursday. But I will have more on that.
Q: With the volcanoes, the earthquakes and everything going on in Indonesia, is there any concern about that leg?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard any expressed concern about any of those things impacting the trip.
Q: Robert, thanks. Two topics. On Afghanistan, can you give us your sense of whether the President supports the U.S. giving bags of cash to Karzai, as the Afghan President said yesterday? What does the President have to say --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think you know that the United States provides assistance through U.S. aid and development programs. I think I'd steer you away from that characterization of how the United States provides aid to the Afghans.
Q: Well, that's what he said.
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is what I'm saying.
Q: So he's wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we provide aid through a process that's appropriated through Congress, goes through steps and helps in a series of development projects and improves democracy and governance.
In terms of -- look, we closely monitor what happens in Afghanistan. Those efforts at moderating include making sure that its neighbors do not provide an unnecessary or negative -- don't exert negative or unnecessary influence on that country. And, look, I would remind all of -- all the countries in that region that they have a responsibility to play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan.
Q: So what is the President's response to Karzai's companion assertion that he receives bags of cash from Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Again, only to say that we closely monitor what happens in Afghanistan and monitor countries that may negatively -- try to negatively influence the country and the future of it.
Q: You monitor it, but is there a concern that that in fact is what Iran is doing?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm not going to get into the intelligence of what we might see.
Q: On domestic politics, can you tell us whether the President has a personal reaction to Senator McConnell's quote that the single most important thing we have to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President?
MR. GIBBS: Ben, I've said this before and I think you saw the President -- the President gave an interview to the same publication where Senator McConnell gave an interview and came up with that quote.
I doubt that regardless of the outcome of the election in a week, that the message that the voters of this country are going to send is that they want to see more politics being played, that they want to see the process bogged down and mired in more partisan political games.
Our job should be to work together to move this country forward, to strengthen our economy, and to improve the lives of its citizens. There's time for a political campaign now and there will be time in two years for a presidential campaign. But in the days and the weeks and the months after this campaign, the message that voters are going to send and the message that we as elected officials should take is that of working together, of getting things done that are constructive, again, that help strengthen our economy.
We have had over the past two years enough game-playing to satisfy ourselves for many political lifetimes. It shouldn't take two extra months to get a small business tax cut and a small business lending package through the United States Senate.
It shouldn't -- we shouldn't have a United States Senate that -- where you have co-sponsors of and supporters of a commission to look into the federal deficit, have it come up for a vote and vote against it. We've been through that for two years.
Q: When then-Senator Obama was advocating for Senator Kerry for President prominently, isn't that what he was trying to do, is make sure that President Bush wasn't a one-term President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, there's a difference -- look, again, there will be time for an active presidential campaign, okay? And maybe Senator McConnell is interested in running for President. But if you walk out on the trail during a presidential campaign and advocate for the election or defeat of somebody, that's the political campaign season. But the political campaign season for the presidency of the United States is not going to be a week and a day from this election, or from right now and the day after this election.
There's time for a presidential campaign. There will be time for a political campaign. But members of the Senate are elected and hired by the people of the United States to get stuff done for the people of the United States, not to posture and play political games, gum up the system.
We've seen people who've said, look, our goal is gridlock. That's not what the American people are going to say -- regardless, again, of the outcome on Tuesday.
Q: Robert, does the White House have a reaction to Iran loading fuel into its first nuclear power plant? Is that a sign that sanctions are not working?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. And, look, we have addressed -- this reactor is monitored by the IAEA with cooperation from Russia. It should not -- again, we have a monitoring -- we have monitoring in place on something that is -- and we believe Iran has the right to produce peaceful nuclear power. That does not let it get out of its responsibilities in international agreements and commitments to step away from an illicit nuclear weapons program. So I would definitely divorce the two things.
I think if you look at articles over the past several weeks, sanctions are having an impact on the economy of Iran. The President that travels around the world and makes outlandish comments is, in stepping away from his country's obligations, making it harder for the people of Iran. That's the message I think that's being delivered with sanctions.
Q: And a follow-up question on a different topic. With the GDP figure coming out on Friday and the elections next week, do you think that Democrats are not getting credit for the economic measures that the White House has taken and/or has the Republican Party been more effective at their economic message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, their economic message has been "no." And that also coordinates with their political agenda in the Senate and in the House. Look, again, I think you can look at the steps that we took, the change in when the President came in where the GDP figure was for that quarter, I think it was somewhere near negative 6 percent. We were losing close to 800,000 jobs the month the President came in. We've had nine consecutive months of private sector job growth. We've seen now a GDP that's moving and pointing in the right direction.
But, again, Jeff, that having been said, it's not a surprise that people are frustrated with the pace of where we are, especially given the depth of where we've been. It's going to take some time. It's not going to be remedied -- it's not going to be remedied overnight.
Q: I guess the question is, why are the Democrats not getting some credit for that? And is that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think -- I think because when you make some progress from very deep in a hole, you're still in a hole. This was not a shallow recession. This was not a recession that saw an increase in unemployment. We saw -- or just an increase in unemployment. What I'm saying -- I'm trying to describe the sort of magnitude of that.
Look, 8 million jobs lost as a result of bad economic decisions -- that's a hole that will take a long time to fill. And we've filled in part of that hole. But for many people who watched their economic well-being eroded not just since a bank collapsed in New York but over many, many years, there's a logical frustration that is built up, and progress in coming out of that hole has not been as fast as they would like, it's not been as fast as the President would like. You've heard the President tell the story on the campaign trail. The car is out of the ditch and it's pointing in the right direction.
Q: Heard that once or twice, yes. The question is --
MR. GIBBS: I didn't even go into the Slurpees, but it was --
Q: The question is, are the Republicans -- have they been more successful than Democrats at whether they would agree with your description of your economic message or not and getting -- and harnessing that --
MR. GIBBS: I just described -- I just simply described their votes.
Q: But in harnessing -- or presenting their economic or taking advantage of the economic conditions to help their electoral --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they are -- again, I think we have a -- the political environment has been determined largely by the economic environment, and it's one of frustration. I think we would all readily agree with that.
Q: Can you tell us what the President's plans are for voting?
MR. GIBBS: He just voted absentee in the West Wing.
Q: Who did he vote for?
MR. GIBBS: I did not ask. I assume that's a private decision.
Q: Because we know now he's not necessarily a straight Democratic ticket guy, right? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don't know whether he voted independent or not. No, I can assure you, I know who he voted for governor and Senate in Illinois -- the two Democratic candidates who I believe will win.
Q: Did the President have any reaction to the comments from Governor Manchin yesterday in which he refused to say that he would endorse President Obama for reelection in 2012?
MR. GIBBS: I did not hear anything from the President on that. Again, I don't think the President -- we've got a long way to go before 2012, so I don't think that would cause the President to lose a lot of sleep.
Q: Robert, to follow up on the story about the Republicans driving the car into the ditch, the President has now been behind the wheel of this car for two years. At what point does he stop --
MR. GIBBS: Well, just -- I would say pushing the car out of the ditch first, right? Yes.
Q: Right, but he has been trying to move the car --
MR. GIBBS: Let's be faithful to the story.
Q: So he has been moving the car -- he has been moving this car now for two years. At what point does he stop talking about the people who were last driving that car? I mean, does this continue after the midterm elections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan --
Q: It becomes his car and he's behind the wheel.
MR. GIBBS: No, and -- look, there's an Obama bumper sticker on the car; we get that. But, Dan, inherent in your question is somehow that on January 20th everything reset to zero and we all got to start all over again. That wasn't the case, right? We watched an economy from December 2007 through -- I'm doing this off the top of my head -- probably sometime in the fall of 2009 lose jobs every single month, right? We've now had nine consecutive months of positive job growth, and probably -- I know there was one month in there -- so it's probably like 11 of 12 or 12 of 13 -- I'd have to go back and look at the exact graph.
Look, Dan, the President has taken responsibility for the steps that he's taken since coming into office. But the six months before he got into office we lost 4 million jobs. You can't -- again, you can't reset the frustration involved with somebody who lost their job in that time period, can you? I mean, that's just --
Q: At what point does he stop talking about --
MR. GIBBS: How we got into this mess?
MR. GIBBS: It's going to take us years to get out of --
Q: You would think you would be talking about the incremental steps of getting that car down the road now, as opposed to how that car got in the ditch. It gets to be somewhat of a broken record, does it not?
MR. GIBBS: No -- well, the record of the last eight years was pretty broken, I would give you that. I don't think keeping -- I don't think repeating how we got into this mess, partly because we don't want to repeat it. You've heard the President say, I'm not saying this because I want to re-litigate, I don't want to re-live it. That's the President's message in this campaign.
We don't -- look, let's take, for instance -- leaving aside that the chairman of the House campaign committee said, our goal was to go back to the agenda of what we had before the President came into office -- Senator Cornyn, the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, has said one of the first things we ought to do is repeal Wall Street reform. Well, that's what got us into this mess -- a series of rules and regulations that didn't impact anybody's behavior and handed taxpayers the bill.
We're going to change that. And we change that in this legislation, and we're putting people in charge of things like the consumer agency that can advocate on behalf of middle-class workers, middle-class families, middle-class taxpayers, not for fly-by-night lenders or getting suckered into mortgages that they can't afford. We're putting somebody on the side of the middle class. We don't want to walk away from that.
That's what got us into this mess. And, look, I think the President will continue to talk about it. It's how we got where we are.
Oh, go ahead.
Q: The President will be on a radio show with Al Sharpton this afternoon. Does he feel like he has to shore up support among African Americans?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the latest numbers are. I think there's -- I think our numbers in the African American community are as high as -- almost as high as they've probably ever been. I think obviously our desire was to get as many people that do support the President out to the polls. He's done a number of these calls. He'll continue to do a number of these calls between now and Election Day.
Q: I just want to get it straight. Are you saying that no entity of the U.S. government transferred any cash to any member of President Karzai's government?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we provide assistance and aid to the Afghan government through a fairly well-established developmental aid program.
Q: But only through the aid program?
MR. GIBBS: We're not in the big bags of cash business.
Q: Well, are you sure that no government agency is in the big bags of cash business?
MR. GIBBS: I've not been read into that, so I can tell you what I know, Bill.
Q: Briefcases of cash.
Q: Yes, I mean, bags, briefcases, whatever, you know, shoeboxes.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm relying on the knowledge that I have on this subject and I don't know, Bill.
Q: Frank Caprio has repeated his frustration with the President's refusing to endorse his campaign for governor of Rhode Island. Have you a reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Not anything more than I think the way we reacted yesterday and I think what Axelrod said this morning, which is -- you know, he has a relationship and a friendship with former Senator Cheney. And we were clear with the campaign that we weren't going to get involved in the race.
MR. GIBBS: Chafee -- I'm sorry. Did I say Cheney? (Laughter.) Wow.
Q: Thanks for making news.
MR. GIBBS: I know. Just doing that to see if you guys were awake. No, I -- sorry.
Q: Do you support him too? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Good question. I'm sure he'll do an ad on the Iraq War.
Q: Was it disrespectful what he said about the President?
MR. GIBBS: It's not what I would have said. It's not what -- his words don't in any way meet the actions of a campaign that was looking for support.
Q: Should we read this as the President takes his responsibility as a friend more importantly than his responsibility as head of the party?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Could the President have handled it any better perhaps by calling Mr. Caprio and telling him personally that he wanted to stay out of the race?
MR. GIBBS: That was communicated clearly and well in advance to the campaign.
Q: How was it communicated?
MR. GIBBS: By a senior official in the West Wing.
Q: When -- when?
Q: To the candidate?
MR. GIBBS: Several weeks ago.
Q: Oh, several weeks ago.
MR. GIBBS: To the campaign.
Q: To the campaign?
MR. GIBBS: Mm-hmm.
Q: Communicated -- what was communicated? I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: That we weren't going to get involved in the race.
Q: Okay. I sense a difference in tone, less discussion of hope in this year of campaigning by the President than we heard in 2008. Why is that?
MR. GIBBS: Based on what?
Q: Based on the car, the ditch, riding in the backseat. Is this a reflection of the past two years? Is it a reflection of the President --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not following you, Wendell.
Q: -- talking to different people? Has the President basically conceded that he needs to reach out to his base more than independents now? Is that the --
MR. GIBBS: Because we tell the -- you're going to have to help me understand this, Wendell. We tell the story about getting the car out of the ditch, which is a metaphor for the economy, that he is appealing to his base rather than independents?
Q: Well, the fact that -- the Slurpees, shall we bring in the Slurpee then, and Republicans standing on the sidelines, okay, Republicans riding in the backseat.
MR. GIBBS: I think we said the middle class would be in the front seat, which would be a departure from where the middle class rode during most of the Bush administration. And I think we said as much in 2008 during the campaign.
Q: You're not going to concede more focus --
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, Mark called 7-Eleven and they declined to comment specifically that Slurpees were a Republican drink, right? That is true. That is true. So I guess I don't follow your Slurpee contention.
Q: Is the President appealing more to his base now because he has despaired of the support of independents?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, it's hard to follow what you are laying out in the question, Wendell. But the President is seeking the votes of everybody in this election. We're not just appealing to one group of people. The President, the actions that he's taken, the decisions that he's made, were the right decisions, the right thing to do in a tough economic environment, and we hope it appeals to everybody.
Q: Can I follow on that? In the last few speeches, President Obama upped the ante, saying not only are Republicans not helping pull the economy out of the ditch, fanning themselves, sipping Slurpees, but the last few speeches he has them kicking dirt in his face from above. I mean, where is this going? What's next? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I hope there is an ad for the last weekend on the story. Look, I think -- my sense, Mark, is that the President added part of that into the speech, because I think to just simply assume that for the past two years all the Republicans did was sit by and not do anything tells only part of the story.
They voted against every one of these things. Again, they voted -- I go to Mitch McConnell's "here's what the future is going to look like" to explain apparently what he believes his job is as the leader of his party in the Senate, leaving aside, again, the fact that if at any point two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, you would have said to Mitch McConnell, do you support cutting capital gains taxes on small business -- if you were in a town hall meeting and you asked that question, do you think the first word out of your mouth would be anything besides yes?
You know, there's a series of political games that get played in this town and the Republicans have played a lot of them. Again, I don't think they would mischaracterize the fact that they tried at every effort to help get the car out of the ditch. Many of them are running a campaign exactly on that. We've just illuminated it in a story and added Slurpees for a laugh.
Q: And kicking dirt.
MR. GIBBS: And kicking dirt and putting them in the backseat so the middle class can ride shotgun in the front I think is a pretty good representation of what's happened over the past two years.
Q: So two quick questions, one going back to Caprio in Rhode Island. It's one thing not to endorse the Democratic candidate, but I guess the question is why go to Rhode Island at all? It seems like it's throwing the non-endorsement in his face.
MR. GIBBS: We went to -- we went there for a DCCC fundraiser.
Q: But you could have raised money somewhere else, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Well, except that's where the DCCC wanted us to go to raise money.
Q: All right. Well, second question, going back to the McConnell issue and the relationship with Republicans, setting aside any predictions about what's going to happen next week on November 2nd, putting that all aside, what changes -- how is the President going to approach the relationship with Republicans differently? What changes will he make? And how do you balance trying to work with Republicans on one side and then not angering or further angering the Democratic base on the other side, who some of them think he spent a lot of time trying to work with Republicans already?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we'll have plenty of time to get into operational changes. I will say this. I think if you just read the interviews -- just read the two interviews side by side. A President that regardless of the outcome wants to sit down, work with Republicans, find common ground, figure out how we can work together to move this country forward, versus somebody who has decided that his first job as leader of his -- of the Senate for the Republican Party, regardless, again, of the outcome, is to defeat the President and keep him as only a one-term President.
Again, the job of the President and the job of any senator or any member of the House after this election is going to be solving the problems of this country, of which we know there are quite a few that need to be addressed.
Q: So how do you do that if you already know what McConnell has said? I mean, what will change from the White House's approach?
MR. GIBBS: Look, you'll have to ask Senator McConnell how he's going to approach this differently given what he said and given the fact that the President said he looks forward to sitting down and working with them.
That goes back, again, to some of our earliest -- some of the earliest time that we spent here in the White House in trying to get their support for a Recovery Act, trying to get their support for passing middle-class tax cuts to spur consumer demand.
A lot of the things, quite frankly, that they've always said they were for -- increases in infrastructure investments -- all of those things, I can assure you that when the political and election season has passed, and we get the next day into -- back into the governing of this country, that this is a President that will reach out to -- as he did and try as best as he can to work with the Republican Party because I think at the end of the day, the President strongly believes that there is enough common ground to be found to help move this country forward.
The Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the posture they're going to take. I would say that the first message that has come from Senator McConnell is one of -- it's a deeply disappointing message that regardless of the outcome of this election, political gridlock and political gamesmanship is what the American people have to look forward to over the next two years.
Q: Serious question. If President Obama --
MR. GIBBS: As opposed to?
Q: As opposed to all the other ones.
MR. GIBBS: If I had a picture of the look on Mark's face when you said that, I would -- sorry, go ahead.
Q: If President Obama believes that the problems the administration is facing is not over policy but over communication, why is that all these policymakers are leaving the White House and all the communications people are staying? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jonathan, again, let's -- I think it's important to not -- look, I've described this before. There is a natural, as you know in covering both Washington and the White House -- there is a natural churning of personnel inside this building, right?
So I think the notion of -- look, people leave for a hundred different reasons, right? Some people, as we know, are leaving because they were going to serve for two years and that two years is up. They have opportunities that they walked away from in academia or in business or in anything, and they're going to return to that.
So I don't know that I'd overly read into the fact that people are leaving as somehow the -- those involved in policy are somehow leaving in a disproportionate level to other positions. There are also eminently more policy positions in this White House and in this administration than anything else.
Q: Well, do you believe that there might be -- or there is a need for some change in communications strategy if the President of the United States is talking --
MR. GIBBS: I should do this as a senior administration official.
Q: If the President of the United States is saying out loud that there seems to be a problem with communications, where does that leave you?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think what -- look, it is -- and I've said this and I think you've heard others, and I think you've heard the President say this, it is -- we were confronted with a lot of things very quickly.
Look, you could imagine what was encompassed in a Recovery Act -- the size of, the breadth of that is something that you could have spent months flying around the country touting the proposals contained in something like that before Congress ever considered it.
We were afforded -- we weren't afforded that opportunity because the economy was contracting at such a rate that ours was to get into the bloodstream that investment as quickly as possible in a way that was effective, but also in a way that ensured that we weren't seeing waste, fraud and abuse. That's what we've done.
I don't -- but, again, it's all overlaid on a very tough political climate. That's what we've faced from the get-go. And I don't imagine that those are going to -- I don't think that's going to change much next week or two weeks after that. We're still going to have a lot of challenges.
Q: Robert, is getting out the vote the singular objective of the last week of the campaign?
MR. GIBBS: I think this is a -- I think it would be fair to say that that is probably the -- probably on the top of every to-do list of every person working in a campaign at any point in the country. This is -- you've identified who your voters are, and now it is time to make sure that if they have an early vote opportunity, if they're not going to be there for the election -- like the President is and just voted -- and to get them motivated to show up on Election Day.
Q: And The Daily Show is part of that?
MR. GIBBS: I think absolutely. I think the -- we have -- two things. I think obviously you've got a constituency of younger voters that watch that show, and it's a good place to go and reach them.
And, look, sort of ancillary to that, my second point, which is -- whether it is -- whether you're doing something like The View, or you're doing something like The Daily Show, look, I don't have to tell you guys that not everybody -- there's a lot of different channels for people to watch these days.
They get their information from not just television news and cable and newspapers and radio and the Internet. They get them from -- there's a lot of different places. And the President hasn't been shy about going to the places where people are getting their information and trying to make his case. And I think that's what he'll do on the show.
Q: Robert, I'd like to ask an economy and trade question. China has moved to limit its exports of something called rare earth. There's 17 different minerals. You're familiar with it a little bit.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Used in everything from flat-screen TVs to smart bombs. It has military implications and so forth.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Is the administration concerned about it? And if so, are you looking into it --
MR. GIBBS: I'll say this, Roger -- and you guys had this question last week. NSC has seen the reports and is monitoring to see whether something like that is happening. And they continue to do so. But I don't think there's any update past some of those reports from last week.
Obviously, as I said -- or as you said -- these are important in the production of a whole host of things and obviously something that NEC and NSC will monitor.
Q: Is this a question of not being assured that they have reduced exports?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it is -- again, we've seen the reports and we're monitoring to see whether or not those -- whether or not what is happening on the ground is reflected in those reports.
Q: Is this something that could come up -- or be part of the agenda at either G20 this month, or when the -- Hu Jintao comes to Washington next year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we are likely to see President Hu on the trip at the G20. Look, if it's something that the security and economic teams think is important, in terms of where those reports are, certainly we wouldn't hesitate to bring it up.
I guess my bottom line is we're monitoring to see whether those reports are, indeed, the case.
Q: There is concern --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's concern to monitor to see if the reports are true. I don't -- it's -- and they'll continue to do something on that.
Q: May I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: I'll come back.
Q: Robert, just about The Daily Show interview. You explained kind of the President's reasons for going on it. It does coincide with the run-up to this big rally that he's having over the weekend.
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. Jon Stewart announced a long, long time ago that he would be in Washington before the existence of the rally. That's when we -- we signed up to do the show many months ago, I think long before the existence of the rally.
Q: Okay. But does the President -- first of all, does the President have any opinion or even an understanding of what the rally's purpose is, and whether it's something that he thinks would be useful to the Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: I've not talked to the President about the rally. I don't know what his opinion is on it.
Q: Okay. And just another follow-up. The President is going on another kind of blue state tour over the weekend. Can you just --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure -- I appreciate --
Q: Well, most of them --
MR. GIBBS: -- that Ohio is blue. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, okay. With the exception of Ohio, there are a lot of blue states --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's necessarily been, say, the hue of that state on election nights.
Q: Connecticut, Illinois -- I mean, states that he won.
MR. GIBBS: Sure. Let's not forget Ohio.
Q: And let's not forget Ohio.
MR. GIBBS: I mean, that's -- sort of a -- kind of a big state.
Q: No, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania -- what are the -- and then Ohio. Can you just talk about why he's doing what he's doing in the last weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Look, there -- these are all important races. Again, I don't -- look, I think you could -- I think it would be accurate to say that Pennsylvania is a battleground state. I don't think that is -- I don't think that's up for a lot of discussion.
But, look, you've got important close races in each of these places. And the President will -- I think you -- many of you guys -- some of you were certainly on the trip. Some of you certainly saw I think the President making a strong case for Democrats in this election over the past several days in Portland, in Seattle, in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis. And that certainly continues in races that are close and are of concern to this White House.
Q: Robert, what kind of briefings, if any, is the President getting on the state of play in the races and the elections? Are you adding any sit-downs with the political team? How much is he kept up to date on that?
MR. GIBBS: There's -- he generally gets a quick update in -- on a fairly regular basis in the senior advisor meeting that takes in the Oval Office, usually most mornings. I think today it got pushed back until later this afternoon.
And certainly on the road, people give him updates on what he's -- on what they're hearing and what they're getting -- the information that they get from the national party, state parties or the individual campaign.
Q: And how much is he involved in deciding where he is going in these last days, versus simply just responding to requests from, say, the DCCC or the DNC or -- how involved is he?
MR. GIBBS: We I think put together a sketch for where we thought would be an important -- where would be important stops for this last weekend. But he was not, to my recollection, involved in, oh, we should go here rather than here. It's just not usually how he does that.
Q: And just a housekeeping thing on the Stewart interview. Is that -- I assume that's a closed press thing? He's doing in the venue before a live -- before an audience, isn't that correct?
MR. GIBBS: I believe so, yes.
Q: So --
Q: Would we see it, contemporaneously?
Q: In other words, there will be people in the audience who -- for the show -- who will witness the President being interviewed. So I'm wondering will reporters be allowed to be in the room --
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that.
Q: -- and witness the President being interviewed? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the last time that The New York Times was in the Oval Office, whether we did a print pool, but --
Q: Well, you ordinarily wouldn't --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I know -- I know --
Q: But sometimes you'd make a transcript --
Q: But when The New York Times goes into the Oval Office you don't invite members of the public.
MR. GIBBS: Sheryl, Sheryl, I'm just kidding. We could.
Q: We could, it'd be fun.
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) Seriously, in all honesty, let me check on the coverage. We would generally put out a transcript. So let me check on that and I will get back to you.
Q: Robert, does the President not have any concern about the conflation of entertainment comedy and politics? Does that -- does it take away from the seriousness?
MR. GIBBS: Jon Stewart is sort of past that.
Q: It's not just about the interview, but the weekend as well.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q: Well, to the extent that a leading comedian is holding a political rally -- no concern about that?
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily, no. I mean, look, we've had entertainers join things like Rock the Vote to help register people to vote and help get people involved. Look, I think the President would tell you that we have a very special gift in our democracy that the people get to render their judgment and they get to elect those that will represent them in Washington. And efforts that help get people involved in and excited in participating in that democracy on either side is a good thing.
Q: Speaking of comedians, David Axelrod in his web chat -- that well-known comedian.
MR. GIBBS: You lost me on that one. (Laughter.)
Q: Axelrod talked about Republicans will no doubt find greater parity on Capitol Hill after Tuesday. And he said that will be met with a "welcoming hand from us." Will the President do something on Wednesday, the day after the election, to put aside the car in the ditch and extend some kind of welcoming hand? Republican leaders will be here in Washington.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the -- what the schedule is for that day. But as we get closer, I'm sure we'll have something to say about it.
Look, but I will say this, Ann, again, I think you've seen this in several interviews that the President has given over the last few weeks and certainly, again, the one that is juxtaposed with the interview that Senator McConnell did. And that is, look, where there's a political season, that political season on election -- after the Election Day will be over.
Now we're in a season of governing on behalf of the American people, Democrat and Republican. And I think he was pretty clear about his desire to do all that he can and hopes they will do all that they can to work together to move this country forward.
Q: But will he do something to encourage that in a day or two before he leaves for --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't have a final schedule. I would assume we will have stuff on that. I just -- there's no specifics as of yet.
Q: And how will he watch the returns on Tuesday? Does he plan to come in here and make any statements during the evening?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know of any plans to come in here that evening. And I assume he'll be either in the Residence or in the West Wing. He's not usually one to sit by the TV and watch over and over and over again. He'll usually get -- sometimes he does, most times he doesn't. He certainly will get written updates or email updates from us. And I'm sure we'll be in fairly regular communication with him that night. I do not anticipate -- at least not that I've heard -- that he'll be in here that night.
Q: Are you anticipating Wednesday or Thursday for him to -- or you don't know yet?
MR. GIBBS: Again -- I don't know the final answer to that.
Q: Robert, on "don't ask, don't tell," I understand the meeting is taking place today between the White House and repeal advocates. What commitments is the White House going to be offering during this meeting in the effort to repeal the law?
MR. GIBBS: Well, likely the same commitments that I've enumerated in here, and that is our desire to see the defense authorization bill pending before the Senate taken up. That includes a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," as the House has already voted on. The President wants the defense authorization act and that repeal passed. That is the basis for the meeting today. And I think the President and the administration have committed to working to see that through.
Q: I want to follow up on that. Is among the commitments -- is among the commitments reaching out to senators who may have voted no in September to get them to change their votes to vote yes in the lame duck? Has that taken place yet?
MR. GIBBS: Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge, it hasn't taken place yet. But, look, the only way we're going to get something through the Senate is to change the vote count and to move past -- look, you got to get -- you're going to have to get past a promised filibuster and -- in moving to the bill. And certainly the only way we can move to that bill is to change some of those votes.
Q: It's been reported that any discussion of litigation on "don't ask, don't tell" during this meeting would terminate the discussion. Why is that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, understand that some of the participants in the meeting are with groups that are in litigation as the plaintiff where the United States government is the defendant. I don't think either side believes that those type of conversations about the litigation between two parties represented in a lawsuit is appropriate at the meeting.
Q: Who initiated the meeting, you or them?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that. I can check.
Q: One last question, is the President expecting --
MR. GIBBS: You got to move up to front row. (Laughter.) Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: Is the President expecting repeal legislation on his desk by the end of this year regardless of what happens at the polls next week?
MR. GIBBS: That's our hope. Again, our desire and our hope and the President's commitment is that he will work to see this pass. This is -- look, we are -- we're approaching the beginning of December, which is when the Pentagon's study of implementation and of the attitudes of the military will be complete. And the President believes, continues to believe, that this is a law that -- the end of this law -- that time for the ending of this law has come.
The courts are signaling that. And certainly it's been his political belief going back -- when I met him in 2004, that was his position.
Do you have a -- we might have covered it, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q: No, no. Of course not, of course not. Two quick questions. Any sense of what that report looks like? Has anyone in the White House had a chance to see some of the prelims of that DOD report?
MR. GIBBS: Not to my knowledge. The last time I heard about this, nobody in this building had seen that, no.
Q: And in terms of contingency planning, I know this is your favorite subject, but, look, there's a very real possibility this doesn't go through. I know you guys want it to, I know that's the meeting today. But if it doesn't go through, I mean, is something like stop-loss on the table? Perfectly within the President's authority, by the way, during a time of war.
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- look, you've seen steps that have been taken over the past several days at the Pentagon involving service secretaries. You have for -- you have a sitting chair of the Joint Chiefs that believes it's time for this law to end; the President working closely with the Secretary to make that happen.
And our efforts in the short term will be focused on the durable repeal of a law that the President thinks is unjust, and that's where our focus will be.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Some analysts say that because of concern about China's (inaudible) currency that U.S. is taking tougher stand toward China. So has the administration changed their policy toward China?
MR. GIBBS: Look -- in terms of currency? Well, look, I will say this. We've had this discussion in here, and we will have this discussion for the foreseeable future, and that is our belief that China must move. And that is communicated in our dealings with the Chinese government, whether it is in a meeting with the President, whether that is with Secretary Geithner or National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
That is -- our position is that has to change. And the House before leaving weighed in that it's of concern to members on Capitol Hill. I think that the President believes that that simply demonstrates the widespread concern of people here in this country of leaders of the Chinese needing to take action on this topic.
Q: Robert, Amnesty International is demanding that Pakistan investigate the torture and killing of 40 politicians, activists in Baluchistan. Is the administration backing that demand?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some guidance. I have not seen that from the ACLU. Let me get some guidance on that. I will say this, if it hasn't -- it may have already gone out -- the President did speak with President Zardari late this morning, and there is a readout of that call that we'll -- again, if it hasn't gone out, it will go out.
Q: Can I just follow the region? India?
MR. GIBBS: I'll go there and I'll go with Ken.
Q: Robert, are you leaving Monday open for the possibility of adding something GOTV-wise?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: He'll definitely be down? And if I could just ask you another question. I'm not saying this is a reflection of what may or may not have happened yesterday in Rhode Island, but is this the way the White House anticipated the home stretch to look? Is this --
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q: According to the blocking strategy, according to the way you figured the closing arguments would go coming out of here, the role of the President in the effort, or is it a -- has it become a Hail Mary pass at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that the way we've seen the President deployed in different races is much as we expected the President would be used. Look, I think there were -- I think if you looked at last week's -- I think it was an AP poll that showed when you asked people the role that the President played in their voting, it wasn't a huge role on either side. But the President believes that if he can certainly be helpful in getting our voters out for support, that that's a role that he should play and can play and certainly will play.
But I think it has gone out -- we're likely to add a stop Friday in Charlottesville for Congressman Perriello, but I do not anticipate that Monday -- I anticipate the President will be here working on different topics.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
Q: Robert, was it press reports --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me call on Tommy real fast.
Q: Will you come back to me? Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I got to be truthful, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: I think that's a wonderful thing.
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to put all my chips on a commitment I'm unable to keep.
Q: I have three quick ones.
MR. GIBBS: Welcome back, by the way.
Q: Thank you. I feel great. First question, there's apparently a lot of outrage building over the President's addition of -- to the car story of the Republicans riding in the back. I don't know if that's new, but apparently now people are upset about it. I think they're casting it even as some sort of a civil rights reference. Are you aware of this? Megyn Kelly on FOX said specifically she wanted to know what Gibbs would have to say about it, so --
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, Megyn can come out to a rally, but -- and you hear -- I almost looked at Mark because he's sort of the aficionado on the ditch story. But the President says -- and I think he said it this weekend -- that Republicans are going to ride in the back and the middle class is going to ride up front in the passenger seat. That's what the President's view is. We're certainly concerned about backseat driving in that scenario, but it is what it is. (Laughter.)
Q: You'll like this question.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, Tommy has got a couple more.
Q: You'll like this question.
MR. GIBBS: I am going to like this question?
Q: Yes, you'll like the question.
MR. GIBBS: My sponsors tell me I should tell people that I'm not calling on them generally because I think I may or may not like it. Go ahead.
Q: Well, my second question is, regarding Leader McConnell's remarks, the President has talked about -- well, prior to these remarks, that he hopes that following the midterms that he'll be able to work with Republicans. And given McConnell's remarks, it doesn't seem like that's going to be the case. What sort of hope can you offer people that anything will get -- is going to get done in the next two years? It sort of seems like you can't get much done now without --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Tommy, I think that -- let's look back at any of the elections that -- look back at the last four or five elections. I don't think at any point, regardless of the outcome, people took from that election that what they wanted to see was an increase in political gamesmanship and gridlock. That's not what -- I don't think that there's any chance that that's the message coming out of this campaign.
I think that the American people are going to want people that can sit down in a room together, find common ground -- nobody is asking anybody to leave their principles or their values or their otherwise strong beliefs at the door, but let's sit down and look for where the two -- where the ideas may overlap and see if we can move forward on that. I think that's -- that's certainly the President's hope. I hope that Senator McConnell will reconsider what looks at this point to be his view of going forward.
Q: Well, the last one is really quick. Is there any chance the President is going to put in an appearance at the rally?
MR. GIBBS: Put in an appearance?
Q: At the rally to restore honor/fear -- sanity and fear.
MR. GIBBS: No, we'll be flying around to the other states.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: I'll go David and then I'll go to Lester.
Q: I'm setting you up here, Les.
MR. GIBBS: You're the straight guy. (Laughter.)
Q: In the interview that came out yesterday, the President said that we have to -- that he has to have humility about what we can accomplish. I wonder if you can explain that a little, and also square that with some of his favorite statements from the past when he talked about the "fierce urgency of now" and the "audacity of hope." How can you do that and be humble at the same time?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because -- look, David, I would explain this I think the same way that David Axelrod explained this I think when he was asked this morning, is this is a President that came to Washington wanting to work with the other side. Again, I think we have -- look, we were criticized for wanting that for too long on health care. We were criticized -- the President sought to get support of Republicans for the Recovery Act in going to Capitol Hill even after they said en masse that they weren't going to support it. That's not going to -- that didn't stop the President then; it won't stop the President after this election trying to sit down and work with Republicans and Democrats alike who want to move the country forward.
That does not mean that we can't do important things. That doesn't mean we can't -- look, I think you could -- and I would make the case that the only way you're going to get progress on things like energy, the only way you're going to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform, the only way you're going to make real progress on getting our fiscal house in order is to do so together. There is not a scenario where only one group of people can move this country forward and govern this country.
As it is noticed and has been said, regardless of what the outcome is, there is going to be greater parity, which means everyone is going to have to work together.
Q: But on these important issues, there has been disparity between the two parties and the two sides that you haven't overcome when you've got a political advantage. Under what set of circumstances does this greater parity increase the odds of working with the other side that says again and again, it rejects some of the President's key policies and key ideas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, David, first and foremost, we understand -- look, if you look back at the past two years, you've needed 60 votes to pass a bill that required 50, right? That at every step of the way, you couldn't get past that. Again, maybe that had something to do with the fact that there were 60 or 59 Democrats, but we are going to be in a situation -- again, regardless of the outcome -- that will require progress to be made only by working -- where that's possible only through working together. And I think that any party, again, coming out of this election that believes that the message that voters send is screeching everything to a halt, that's not what -- that is not what their message will be.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Bill.
Q: Doesn't the experience of the last two years lead you to the conclusion that it's not going to be any better in the next two years and may be even worse?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it will be easy, Bill. I don't think anybody here is naïve that it won't take some hard work. And my point is it will take hard work on both sides.
Again, I cannot conceive of somebody walking out of Election Night, regardless of how -- of what the final score is and believing, you know what, the voters have spoken, grind everything to a halt, political gridlock, nothing happens for two years -- no nominees, no budget, no progress on energy, no progress on putting our fiscal house in order. Everything just stays the same. We all just yell and scream at each other.
Q: But there are people --
MR. GIBBS: There's not going to be an exit poll that shows that.
Q: But, Robert, there are people running -- there are people running to block Obama. And some may or may not win. And if they're in the Senate, that would give the obstructionists even more power.
MR. GIBBS: But, again --
Q: It sounds like you're gilding the lily a little here. Maybe a lot.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I simply took Mitch McConnell at his word that that's what he wanted to do, right? That's what he said in an interview in the same publication where the President said it was time to work together. I think that's the message that voters are going to send.
One more, Lester, and then --
Q: Was it --
MR. GIBBS: Poor Ben has been trying to get me out of here for hours. (Laughter.)
Q: I appreciate it.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
Q: Was it -- I have a two-part. (Laughter.) Was it press reports --
MR. GIBBS: You said I'd like this question, right?
Q: He didn't say which part.
Q: All right.
MR. GIBBS: You just put an and in between them and we'll --
Q: Was it press reports of the President's repeatedly dropping any mention of the Creator in referring to the Declaration of Independence that led him to commendably restore it in four speeches this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I think the President has at certain times quoted from and at other times paraphrased the Declaration. I wouldn't read anything into it, much as I didn't read anything into it when on a couple of the speeches in this trip, somehow the Slurpee got dropped.
Q: Today in Baltimore, 52 percent of the 16- to 19-year-old African Americans cannot find a job, reported the Washington Examiner. Since these are United States citizens, does the President agree or disagree with Governor O'Malley's repeated description of illegal aliens as new Americans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's a -- I neither saw the story or what Governor O'Malley has said. I think that there are -- I think Governor O'Malley is somebody who has lent his voice, as Democrats and Republicans have lent their voice, to dealing with the immigration reform --
Q: Illegal aliens --
MR. GIBBS: Dealing with the immigration reform problem --
Q: Criminals --
MR. GIBBS: -- as a -- in a comprehensive way. Thanks.
END 3:15 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/288272