Press Briefing 11/3/09

November 3, 2009 | 45:08

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing. (public domain)

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/2/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                               November 2, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:57 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Take us away, Ben.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  A few questions about Afghanistan.  Can you tell us, first generally speaking, what's the President's reaction to the end of this election?  And is he in any way relieved that this sort of messy process is over?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think by all accounts, this has been a difficult process.  This is the first election run by the Afghans.  But I think the President, the embassy there, and everyone can take heart in the notion that the laws of Afghanistan and the institutions of Afghanistan prevailed in both instances. 

The President will telephone -- President Obama will telephone President Karzai within the next half hour, and we'll have a readout from that phone call for you all right after that.

Q    Speaking of that, you've talked a lot about the need for a credible, legitimate partner.  Does the President consider President Karzai to be a legitimate, credible partner?

MR. GIBBS:  President Karzai has been declared the winner of the Afghan election and will head the next government of Afghanistan.  So obviously he's the legitimate leader of the country.  Obviously what we'll begin -- now that we know the government that will lead Afghanistan for the next five years, continue conversations about governance, civil society, and corruption, going forward to ensure that we have a credible partner in our efforts to help secure the country.

Q    How does this resolution, if at all, affect the President's timetable on war strategy?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, again, I think there's -- we obviously now know who the government is going to be, so I think some of the conversations that I just alluded to can take place with who we know is going to lead the country.  I think the decision is still -- will be made in the coming weeks.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    The President said today that he expect more job losses.  And his comments today suggested more than ever that he might take action -- more actions to stem the tide, to improve the jobs picture.  What kind of thing might he want to do?  And also, when do you think that the jobs picture might show some -- more improvement?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would point you to the meeting that was just held, which I think you all watched, for ideas that the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board -- ideas that they have and that they shared with the President today.  I know that the President and the economic team will evaluate those proposals. 

In terms of help, we've said throughout this process that the team is continually looking at ideas that will create an environment for sustained economic growth.  I know that's what the President -- the ideas the President wanted to hear today, and I think that's what he got.

In terms of -- look, I don't know what the jobs picture will be at the end of this week, but I know that the President is focused on working to create an atmosphere to create more jobs.  I think we took a big step forward.  We can't have job growth until we begin to have economic growth.  And for the first time in more than a year, the economy registered positive economic growth, according to statistics released last week.

Yes, sir.

Q    President Obama, last month in Pittsburgh, said of the Afghan elections and the aftermath, "What's most important is that there's a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government."  Is there a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for the Karzai government?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I have no reason to believe there is not. 
Q    Well, Abdullah Abdullah, as you know, one of the demands -- or the only demand at the end that he asked for from Karzai to continue with this runoff was for the head of the IEC to be replaced because there was such a lack of trust in him after the last election.  Karzai refused.  So obviously Abdullah Abdullah feels that there is a lack of credibility in the IEC.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Dr. Abdullah made his own personal and political decision about this particular runoff.  I think if you look at the election results even after the investigation of allegations of fraud, which, by the way, worked, throwing out enough votes to require a second round and convincing President Karzai to participate in that, which clearly was not a -- by any means a given -- I think even in that balloting you saw that Dr. Abdullah trailed by a fairly large margin President Karzai.  So I don't see -- I don't think there's any reason to believe that the Afghan people won't think this government is as legitimate as it is.

Q    Well, the reason would be that the last election was considered tainted by fraud and that's the only election they've had.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, and those results were thrown out.  The fraud was reported, investigated.  The committees that you talk about threw out those votes.  A second round was scheduled and the participant, the second participant in the second round, decided, again, for personal and political reasons, not to take part in the election.  I don't know how you can have an election of two candidates if the one who finishes second decides not to participate, even after the laws and institutions of the government threw out what he declared were fraudulent results from the first one.

Q    Personal political reasons?

MR. GIBBS:  I said "personal and political."

Q    The reasons were he said there would be -- he would have no faith or trust in this election because the last one was so riddled with fraud, and the same head of the IEC was going to be --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how you could presume something was going to happen before it did.

Q    So then how do you have a legitimate election if basically just the only other candidate drops out?  I mean, it's not like they've actually moved forward and cleaned up the fraud. How is that legitimate?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, first, let's understand the fraud was talked about, investigated.  Millions of votes were thrown out, that it required a second round.  Ed, if the participant, the second participant in the election decides for his own reasons not to participate in that election, would you suggest that the American government require a second participant to --

Q    The person who allegedly committed the fraud or had the fraud committed on his behalf, President Karzai, is now going to stay on as the leader.

MR. GIBBS:  But, again, you guys have -- I appreciate, but you've skipped an entire range of -- remember, we were talking just probably 10 days ago about whether President Karzai would even accept the ruling that threw out millions of ballots that required him to go through a second round.  That was certainly not given.  That was something that -- again, the fraud -- the fraud was analyzed; a decision was made to throw out millions of ballots to push somebody under 50 percent, which required a second round.

Q    But you've repeatedly said in recent days that there -- you need to have a credible partner.  When Ben asked you that question at the top, is he a credible partner, you said he's a legitimate leader.  You didn't say he's credible.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, because -- listen to the second part of the question and my answer with Ben.  Nobody said -- nobody has ever made the accusation that credibility was going to be had simply out of one election.  That would have been true, quite frankly, whomever got elected and whoever participated. 

The conversations that now have to be had and continue with the Afghan government are the steps that they're going to take to improve their governance, to improve their civil society, and to address fraud and corruption.  There's no doubt about that.  But that wasn't all going to be had at a ballot box.

Q    So why did you say a moment ago that the troop decision is going to come in weeks, which you've been saying for weeks, when Rahm Emanuel was on some programs a couple of weekends ago saying that we've got to wait till this runoff -- when we have the runoff, then we'll know the leader, we'll know the government we're dealing with you.  As you acknowledged a moment ago, we now know it's President Karzai.

MR. GIBBS:  This decision was not dependent upon when a leader was determined.  We've never said that.

Q    Rahm clearly said we had to wait until after the runoff because you have to figure out who's actually going to be in charge.  We now know.

MR. GIBBS:  There are a number of decisions that have to be made.  One of them -- this was not simply predicated on when or if this election was held and when it was.

Q    What else does he need -- what else does the President need to make the decision then?

MR. GIBBS:  The President is working with his national security team to evaluate, as I think you saw many people say yesterday on the news shows, how best to formulate a strategy that supports the goal of disrupting, dismantling and ultimately destroying al Qaeda.  That's what the team is working on, and they had a productive meeting with the Joint Chiefs just at the end of last week.

Q    Robert, you can talk all you want about the law having prevailed, but in the end, you're left with somebody who the U.S. has been dodging for months because he hasn't been a reliable partner, and yet he's now your only -- your only alternative.  And what does this do to the decision-making process here?  It hasn't been made any easier, certainly.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, our problems don't generally get easier dealing with anything, Bill.  As I said in response to at least two previous questions, now begin the hard conversations about ensuring credibility and ensuring -- improving governance, addressing corruption. 

Q    These are conversations you tried to have before the election.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we are focused on what has to happen in order to have a credible partner so that there is a -- there will be a point in this process where the United States is not going to stay forever.  I've said that a hundred times.  At some point, what is built and what is secured has to be transferred to somebody else, has to be transferred to a government in Afghanistan to do for itself.  That's what we're focused on now that we know who that government will be, going forward for the next five years.

Q    Yes, but now, given what's transpired, how long is it going to take to decide whether you have a credible partner and whether the United States should commit further troops and resources?

MR. GIBBS:  That's what -- that's part of the decision-making process that's ongoing.

Q    Yes, but it's been going on forever, as your critics have pointed out.

Q    Can you elaborate on this "personal and political decision" from Dr. Abdullah?  You referred to it two or three times now.  He made a personal, political decision.  That's a -- it sounds like -- are you playing Afghan pundit here?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I generally avoid playing American pundit, let along Afghan pundit.

Q    What is the political -- what evidence --

MR. GIBBS:  What's the equivalent of Afghan "Meet The Press"?  I don't -- (laughter.)

Q    What is the equivalent --

Q    You don't want to know.  (Laughter.)

Q    It's the longest running show probably in Afghanistan.  (Laughter.) 

Tell me about -- what's the evidence that it was a political decision?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm just saying that he made a decision for probably a series of reasons --

Q    Can you elaborate?  You've already said it's political.  Can you elaborate a little bit?

MR. GIBBS:  I think you saw some of this over the weekend.  There were decisions that he made to no longer be a contestant in this race. 

Q    Who in the U.S. government has reached out to Dr. Abdullah over the last few days?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if folks at the State Department or others have -- you should check with them.

Q    Is the President at all having any --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, the President will speak --

Q    Is there any chance he's going to make a phone --

MR. GIBBS:  -- is probably on the phone in the next few minutes with President Karzai.  But, look, I don't think there's any doubt that Dr. Abdullah will play a role, it's quite clear, going forward in Afghanistan.  And I think that anybody -- we would obviously want to be in consultation with a number of people that are going to have roles going forward in Afghanistan.

Q    Are you still going to reach out to tribal leaders that don't really have a relationship with the central government in Afghanistan as you do the strategy review?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously there's an evaluation that's going on on governance issues, not just in Kabul but throughout the country, and certainly that will be part of it.

Q    On tomorrow's elections, what do you tell generic Democratic Congressman X not to read into the results in New Jersey or Virginia?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would -- well, I think, one, I'd wait for the results to talk to Congressman X, without -- like I said, I don't want to play pundit in Afghanistan or certainly don't want to pre-play pundit here.  Obviously, as we talked about --

Q    Are you guys going to take a lot of credit if Corzine wins, but then --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I would point you to the answer I gave on Friday, which is I don't think that these elections will portend a lot for what happens in 2010 any more than the 2001 elections seemed to denote relative electoral legislative strength for President Bush in 2002.  It's just --

Q    But are you concerned that some Democratic incumbents in Congress might suddenly be tougher --

MR. GIBBS:  -- the results based on the pundits on cable TV? That and corporate governance -- or corruption in governance are at the top of my list today.

Q    I thought that al Qaeda was mostly defeated in Afghanistan.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we want to ensure that --

Q    Isn't it now the Taliban that you're going after?

MR. GIBBS:  We want to ensure that a safe haven can't be created in which they could come back and establish a stronghold with which to plan and attack us.

Q    So you're going to send 40,000 troops more to do that?

MR. GIBBS:  That's -- the discussion about what to do in terms of troop levels is one aspect of a larger strategy on how to deal with our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately destroying al Qaeda.

Q    How are you going to pull up short the Afghan government?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, how are we --

Q    How are you going to make them do more?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that's a conversation that's probably beginning in the Oval Office right now.

Q    -- put no conditions on any country.  Pakistan wants how many million and you say, okay, go ahead, we don't have any conditions.

MR. GIBBS:  No, that's -- Helen, you know better than that, that that's not true with our assistance.

Q    Well, what conditions were there on Pakistan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we had a big back-and-forth about -- just two weeks about whether there were too many conditions on our aid in Pakistan, didn't we?

Yes, ma'am.

Q    On the Economic Recovery Board meeting, how seriously do you take these proposals?  Is this part of an ongoing dialogue with the White House, or are these three individual proposals or presentations, as the President referred to them -- are they the beginning of a solid basis for creating jobs over the next year or so?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you heard the President reiterate in his comments when the pool was in there that we have for years had sort of bubble and bust, and that with what happened a year ago, a little more than a year ago, we now have to find stable, fundamental economic footing for stable and fundamental economic growth; that we need to create jobs in things like clean energy that we know are growth industries for the future, rather than having economic growth predicated on free credit or other aspects of consumer spending; that we have to have stable ideas for that economic growth.  These were obviously ideas that three believe can begin that process and the President wanted to listen to their ideas, and they'll be further examined here by the economic team in consultation with those individuals.

Q    But they were quite concrete ones -- an infrastructure bank --

MR. GIBBS:  Which is something the President has talked about -- the infrastructure bank as far back --

Q    Right.  So were these vetted and were these proposals created in concert with the White House?  Were they vetted in advance?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, some of the -- again, the infrastructure bank is something that the President discussed heading back into the campaign.  Weatherization is something that is beginning to take place as part of the recovery plan.  The question is, can you create more jobs by expanding that and also helping to take care of another problem like energy efficiency, which we all know is a big avenue towards saving -- toward doing something about greenhouse gases.

Q    So can we look at these proposals as the basis for a jobs creation program going forward over the next year?

MR. GIBBS:  You can as -- for what was presented by this group to the President.  The President will -- was happy to listen and was happy to get the ideas, and will now further evaluate whether they make the basis for something that we might propose.

Yes, sir.

Q    What does Karzai have to do to become a credible partner?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, what I've broadly listed here before.  Obviously there's -- we know there are problems related to corruption that have to be addressed moving forward.  I think that's -- clearly we've got to -- as assistance is given to Afghanistan, we've got to make sure that that assistance for things like economic development and growth get down to the people that need it.  I would think that's certainly one good example.

Q    Is the President laying out guideposts for him or markers that he has to take to --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know that the conversation that's happening right now will get that specific, but I can assure you that throughout this process our team at the embassy, under the guidance of Ambassador Eikenberry, have been discussing with both candidates the need to ensure that this happens with whomever is elected to lead this government.

Q    Just one more question.  So would it be accurate to say then that thousands of American troops are on duty in a country that's led by a guy who is not credible, not reliable, and running a corrupt government?

MR. GIBBS:  I didn’t say that.  I said that we are working with our Afghan partners to ensure that as we move forward, as I said earlier, when ultimately we leave there's somebody there that can sustain the progress that's been made.  Obviously one of the things that has been talked quite a bit about in the Situation Room meetings is how do we create an environment that best trains Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an Afghan national security force.  I'm sure those are conversations that are going to be had, because like we've seen in other countries, unless there's a protection and security force there, it really is not matter what we do if, when the area is vacated by American troops, the same people that caused trouble that led us to come there come back because there's no resistance to them doing so.

Q    Following up on Peter's questions, it seems like the President has some new leverage over Karzai now to insist on the governance reforms and the other ones mentioned and he could hold off, delay on his troop decision until he gets some pledge -- does he have some new leverage over this to insist on the reforms until he makes a decision?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think -- well, obviously there are a number of decisions that have to be made before ultimately a troop decision.  But, Roger, understand that what we talked about, what we've talked about for weeks now, is you're not -- we're not making a decision about whether we are leaving Afghanistan.  We currently have 68,000 American forces in addition to I think probably another 35,000 or 40,000 NATO forces for a pretty large force there.  And a number of countries throughout the world obviously have a great interest in these governance issues and the type of things that have to happen, which is why I mentioned that some of these discussions have been had even before today.

Q    But the President could still insist that -- on a commitment.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think -- I will tell you this.  I don't think anybody -- I don't think anybody sitting and participating in any of the meetings about a strategy going forward would tell you that if we don't have a partner that can do all of the things that I mentioned, that all the troops in the world are going to make it successful.  I've seen Democrats and Republicans on television say that.  I've seen ambassadors and generals make the very same point in the meetings that we've had in the Situation Room.

Q    Can I do a separate quick question?  On the campaign yesterday, the campaign trip yesterday, roughly how much did it cost yesterday?  And did Corzine pay, or DNC, or --

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to refer to one of these guys on reimbursement and what the DNC does on that.

Yes, sir.

Q    You said now that we have -- know who's going to be the leader of Afghanistan, you can have conversations to ensure a credible partner.  Do you mean that the President's talks with Hamid Karzai will figure into his decision about strategy --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I think to assume that you're going to increase a force there without knowing -- without having a sense of what that entity is going to do, of course that plays into it.  Like I said -- let me just repeat what I said to Roger. There's nobody -- again, there's nobody in the Situation Room, whether they have -- whether they carry an ambassador's briefcase or a lock bag from the Pentagon, that would tell you that the partnership and the governance of Afghanistan doesn't mean -- well, let me say, nobody would make the point that any strategy could be successful without successful governance of Afghanistan. 
Q    And given the somewhat less than sterling governance of Afghanistan, it would seem we're talking about what John Kerry called last week "good enough governance."  Is good enough governance in Afghanistan good enough to put the lives of American servicemen and women on the line?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously we have national security concerns with ensuring, as I mentioned to Helen, that the Taliban are not able to create a safe haven that allows extremists like al Qaeda back into the country to disrupt the government in Afghanistan and Kabul and plan attacks on the United States.  But again, I would reiterate simply that there isn't anybody involved in any of these meetings that wouldn't say that the situation doesn't have to get better in order for any strategy to work. 

Again, I think it was -- I'll go back and pull a quote from I think from Senator Graham on "Meet The Press" that said, you know, we can -- I think I've got this right -- that we could put a million troops there, but if you don't have a partner that's working with you, none of that's going to matter.


Q    A couple of logistics questions upon where the review is.  What happens this week?  Who will the President be meeting with? 

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have an update for the week ahead and I don't know if another meeting this week will be scheduled.  I know -- he mentioned at the end of the last meeting with the Joint Chiefs that he looked forward to seeing them again, and I don't know if that's this week or early next.

Q    Just a quick follow.  Is the U.S. encouraging talks between President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah on his joining the administration in some capacity?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get some guidance from our guys in Kabul on that. 

Q    Can you get back to all of us on that?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    A couple of questions about the phone call between the President and President Karzai.  First, when was the last --

MR. GIBBS:  Keep in mind that it's happening right now and I've --

Q    I understand, but when was the last time they spoke, either by telephone or videoconference --

MR. GIBBS:  He spoke with both President Karzai, Dr. Abdullah, and Ambassador Eikenberry the morning that Karzai said he would participate in the second round.

Q    Okay.  And how would you characterize the conversation -- realizing it's taking place right now -- this is not, I assume, a congratulatory -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  This is like the Jeopardy version -- "What is"  --

Q    No, no, no.  But was the President content to do something more than simply call President Karzai and congratulate him?  Was this to be a substantive conversation about the President's decision-making process?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't want to get ahead of the readout.  Let me get a readout on exactly what transpired, rather than pre-judge.

Q    Can I ask is he asking specific things of President Karzai --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get -- we'll get a readout out shortly to you guys on the call.

Q    Okay.  And then separately on a domestic issue, health care, a lot of chatter -- I know you addressed this last week -- on Capitol Hill about the constitutionality of an individual mandate, with conservatives like Orrin Hatch I think complaining it's not constitutional.  Have the White House lawyers looked at this issue, or has this been examined in any way that you know of?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I know of.  I mean, I don't think it's gotten to the point where anybody questions the legitimacy of it.

Q    Well, Orrin Hatch questions the legitimacy.

MR. GIBBS:  Then you should ask him.

Q    Do you not feel that there's any concern at all about whether or not it's constitutional for Congress to impose a mandate?

Q    May or may not be simple to answer -- let me try it this way.  The timing of the President's decision on troops, does the disappearance of the runoff hasten it, slow it down, or have no effect?

MR. GIBBS:  You gave me multiple choice, didn’t you?

Q    And there's also, D, all of the above.

MR. GIBBS:  I may take all of the above, just further muddle the -- look, obviously we have a sense of now who will be the leader and who will comprise the government of Afghanistan going forward.  Obviously that's helpful in the discussions that have to be had and in the strategy that will be set.  But I don't think, as I said in a couple of these responses, I don't think that was the single question left for a decision to be made.  That's sort of a roundabout way of saying I still think we're looking at the next few weeks.

Q    But it sounds like it has at least taken one of the elements --

MR. GIBBS:  There's no question that it illuminates part of the equation moving forward.  And I don't honestly know that it hastens it.  I think it hastens the work of the discussions that have been had before this runoff was scheduled, again with Ambassador Eikenberry and others, in order to move forward on those very important governance issues.

Q    On politics, now that the President has had a chance to campaign a couple of times in both Virginia and New Jersey, and it's a year since his own election, what does he think the mood of the voters is?  What did he find the mood of the voters to be when he was out there?

MR. GIBBS:  Fired up and ready to go.  At least that's what they told him, right?  Well, look, I think -- again, we'll have plenty of time to hash this out, the election results, on Wednesday.  Oh, I'm getting -- don't worry, it's just a big windup.  (Laughter.)

Q    Is he going to talk about it --

MR. GIBBS:  Say again?

Q    Is he going to talk about it --

MR. GIBBS:  He may address it.  I honestly don't know.  That's a bit ahead of my guidance.  But, look, I think the President mentioned yesterday in his stops in New Jersey that obviously there were a series of very difficult challenges that he confronted upon coming into office.  We've spent a decent amount of time here talking about one today in Afghanistan.  We've alluded to an even bigger one on the economy.  So, look, I don't doubt that he has found that -- in talking to voters, that we are making progress on getting this economy turned around again.  But obviously there are still tens of millions of people that want to work and can't find a job.  That's what the President is focused on continually.

And, look, I would also point to what you heard advisors say over the weekend, that obviously fascinating developments of what's going on in New York, where the Republican Party picked a nominee and then a district known for generally sending moderate Republicans dating back to the 1800s to Congress kicked out the moderate and is now foursquare behind -- or at least part of -- part of the party seems to be foursquare behind somebody much more conservative.

Q    Does the President think that's a trend?

MR. GIBBS:  It appears to be.  And I think if you look at what I think is likely to happen next year, you already have Republicans -- some Republicans who are more aligned with the very conservative element of what's happening in New York saying this is a model for what you'll see throughout the country.

Q    Robert, you said that no amount of troops in the world could --

MR. GIBBS:  I think I was paraphrasing Senator Graham saying --

Q    But the idea that without successful government -- governance and the reforms that you want there, that no military effort can be successful.  What has changed since the election in March to make you think that those changes are more --

MR. GIBBS:  The election in March?

Q    I mean the Afghan election, whenever the -- when was the first Afghan election?  I meant August.  What has changed since then to make you think that the kind of governance changes you're looking for are more likely to happen?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Mara, I think that process is ongoing.  I would say I think one of the things that clearly worked in the August election and in the rulings that led to the definition of needing a second round was the institutions and law of Afghanistan.  Understanding, as I said at the very beginning to Ben's question, we knew this was going to be a difficult process, an election run fully by the Afghans.  But this was a process through the laws and institutions of the country which determined that allegations of fraud were true and threw those ballots out. Obviously that's the beginning of a process whereby the rule of law carries the day.  That's I think the beginning of what one needs to see moving forward.

Q    Karzai's decision to accept a runoff even if one didn’t happen is a sign to you that he would be more willing to make the changes you're looking for?

MR. GIBBS:  I would say the circumstances that led to the discussion that a second runoff was necessary is the first part of it.  Obviously it was not a given that he would participate in a second round.  Through a lot of hard work that happened, and we were at that point until a little earlier.

Q    I just have one question about timing on this decision. Next week the President is leaving for a lengthy trip to Asia.  If the Joint Chiefs come back next week, you're talking about maybe having that meeting, how does this all work?  I mean it sounds like a decision realistically couldn’t be made and announced until after he comes back from Asia.  Is that --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have any guidance on that except to reiterate that it will happen in the coming weeks.

Q    The President's budget director is going to New York tomorrow to talk about the deficit.  I just wanted to get a sense from you guys how much does the White House consider the deficit to be an ongoing concern, maybe even a growing concern among Americans going into next year, even after health care is potentially passed?  How much of the issue do you guys feel like is the fault of the Bush administration?  And do you still remain committed to cutting the deficit in half by the end of the first term?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me take these somewhat in reverse order.  In the first -- in the instance of your third part, yes.

Q    Remain committed --

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  In terms of health care, obviously the President has been insistent on health care reform being budget-neutral and cutting health care costs in the out-years of which the plans that have been scored do that.  So I would mention that partly -- I think the budget deficit, if you talk to anybody that's followed the issue for the past five or six years, this isn’t an issue that started this year.  This has been an issue that's been ongoing in terms of our ability to continue to spend more and more than we take in each month or each year.

Obviously this is a problem that the President discussed in the election and one that obviously has to be addressed.  We can't continue to do what we've done.  I think if you look at -- the President signed last week a defense bill that zeroed out a number of weapons systems, which hasn’t always been the case in this town -- weapons systems the Pentagon said they didn't need.
Usually that doesn't mean much and the prerogatives of the individual weapons systems carry the day.  A lot of people told us we were crazy to even go down that path, but I don't think you're going to make significant progress on the deficit if you don't at least start with the fact that the President -- or the Pentagon has said they don't want a weapons system, yet you continue to fund it.

Q    Can you refresh our memory also on the President's position on like a bipartisan BRAC-type commission on --

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I saw the comments.  I would point you to the comments that Peter made in the Sunday paper, where I think he said something like that would be looked at.

Q    Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.

Q    One important one-year anniversary coming up on Wednesday.  What do you think the President has changed in the way Washington works since --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I've noticed all of you all, despite not doing many stories in the beginning of September about a change in a 200-year policy of letting you know who comes into this White House, I did notice you guys were all very busy on Friday night.

Q    That's an answer?  (Laughter.)

Q    What does the President feel needs to be done in this regard?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, needs to be?

Q    Needs to be done in this regard.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the President would continue to tell you -- I think we've certainly seen in health care that change isn't easy, especially when special interests get involved, particularly in the way they've done in the last few weeks with the insurance industry.  I think that's a pretty telltale sign that change is not a given.  It's got to be worked at and it's going to be hard, and that's what the President is working on each and every day.

Q    Are you anticipating election activity tomorrow in terms of phone calls, attempts to get out the vote, and things of that nature?

MR. GIBBS:  None that I know of now, but I can certainly -- I can check on --

Q    Can you provide all the phone calls that he recorded for get out the vote?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me see what I can --

Q    And where?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Robert, in light of the changes in Afghanistan, if a clear majority of the American public tell the White House, tell the President they don't want to send more troops to Afghanistan, does the President have an obligation to listen to the American public or to follow his own dictates?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has an obligation as Commander-in-Chief to make the very best decision in order to protect our national interest and to protect American citizens here as well as the troops we have on the ground. 

The President would expect that whatever decision he made, as I've talked about last week, he would walk the American people through the reasoning of why that decision was made, and the interest that he saw that had to be protected in whatever the outcome of that decision was.  And I expect that that will take place once a decision is made and ultimately announced.

Q    -- the situation in the Vietnam War -- you were too young to remember that -- where a clear majority, voting majority of the American people were -- rebelled against the Vietnam War, and it brought down the Johnson administration.  Is this President prepared to go that route?

MR. GIBBS:  I hesitate to make those type of analogies.  I think the President, again, will make the decision that he believes is best in our national interests, and I think that's the process that's ongoing.


Q    Robert, on the issue of jobs and the economy, this administration continues to push the green jobs initiative, an initiative they are particularly hoping that the black and brown communities of this country would take part of because it's a cyclical thing, from what I'm understanding.  At the same time, we're hearing from the Hill that blacks and browns are not engaging in the green jobs initiative, as this administration thought or hoped.  How is this administration planning to go out to make more of an outreach into a black and brown community for this initiative?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not dodging this, April, but I just -- I don't know what you mean in terms of what you're hearing from the Hill.  I just --

Q    Okay, for instance, the head of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Ed Towns, has said that black and browns are not engaging in this green initiative jobs --

MR. GIBBS:  I'd be happy to look at what he said, and try to come up with something, but I haven't --

Q    Is it important that this community does engage --

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think it's important that this community and every community take part in this important idea because creating jobs in a clean energy economy and creating a marketplace that incentivizes that job growth is important not simply for the extremely important idea of getting millions of people that want to work back to work in industries that are headquartered here, manufacturing products like wind turbines or solar panels.  But this also impacts the steps that we're taking to wean ourselves off our dependence on foreign oil, which means progress as it relates to greenhouse gases and climate change.  But it also impacts our national security.  All of that is what makes green jobs so important.

Q    -- more of a demand, I mean, because people are saying the demand is not there right now for --

MR. GIBBS:  I think -- look, I think last week's trip was a very good example.  You had Florida Power & Light, the largest -- the power company -- the largest power company in the state of Florida -- one of the biggest states in the country -- investing heavily as a result of the Recovery Act in a solar plant and clean energy projects that they know will produce jobs for the future, but also produce clean energy.  And certainly as we get into a longer legislative debate on climate change, just in my conversations with the CEO, he talked about the notion of if you actually price greenhouse gas emissions into the production of power, you have a powerful incentive to find clean energy alternatives.


Q    You've said a few times that the laws and institutions in Afghanistan prevailed.  But Abdullah Abdullah said that he pulled out in part -- maybe he had personal reasons -- because he expected there to be massive fraud.  So there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect between saying in essence the system worked and Abdullah Abdullah saying the system can't work.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, David, I can't render a judgment on what he predicted might happen in an election that will now not take place.  I mean, that seems -- trust me, I don't have that kind of clarity and crystal ball.

Q    There are elections coming up, supposed to come up next year in 2010, for district councils and the parliament, I believe.  I mean, do you have more confidence now that those elections can be free and fair and that the public will see the government as credible?

MR. GIBBS:  I do and I think others do because, David, for the exact reason why a second round was called to begin with.  There was alleged fraud.  The fraud was investigated over a many-week period of time.  Two commissions determined that a series of votes -- a big chunk of votes were fraudulent.  They were thrown out, which required the sitting President to have to go through a second round.  I think that demonstrates that the laws and institutions of Afghanistan worked.

Q    Well, you know, finding fraud is different than getting rid of fraud.  And so if Abdullah Abdullah and his criticisms are being taken seriously -- he's saying, yes, fraud was found and dealt with, or at least recognized, but we haven't taken it out of the system.  You can't have it -- this doesn't prove that we can have an election without fraud.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I said this process we knew all along was not going to be an easy one.  It would be a difficult one.  But again, David, it's sort of -- it's hard to evaluate what might have happened in an election that didn't take place.  Obviously some steps were taken to ensure that the next round was done in a way that produced a legitimate government.  We believe it would have.  Dr. Abdullah decided not to participate; therefore the only candidate in the race was President Karzai.  He was ruled the winner today.

Thanks, guys.


1:45 P.M. EST

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