Press Briefing 12/7/09

December 7, 2009 | 56:36

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

Download mp3 (52MB)

Read the Transcript

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/7/09

2:01 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon, guys.  Sorry we pushed it back a couple of times -- the President ran a little late this morning in some meetings and wanted to make sure the pool had access to this without stepping on this.

So, Phil, take us away.

Q    What can you tell us about the decision to split up the President's trip to Copenhagen and Oslo?  I mean, we've known the dates on both of these for a while, so why the need to reschedule?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President believed -- we announced the trip prior to Oslo, believing that talks in Copenhagen would be good for the President to go and give some momentum to those talks at the beginning of the period -- I think it's going to last upwards of 11 or 12 days -- in Copenhagen.

Based on developments, primarily with the Chinese and the Indians, I think everybody agrees that we are in a better position -- I mean, "we," globally -- to get some sort of agreement out of Copenhagen.  And the President believed, having helped to work both in enunciating our commitments, as well as ensuring that the Indians and the Chinese talked about their commitments, that we could move that to the end of the conference when some agreement is likely to need some help from world leaders.

Q    How much help is the U.S. position going to get from the EPA decision today to classify greenhouse gases as a pollutant?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, as you know, Phil, this was set into motion by a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, which ruled -- which ruling set in motion the scientific process to determine whether the public health was threatened by carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

The President continues to strongly believe that the best way forward is through the passage of comprehensive energy legislation, the type of which previously passed the House and is being considered now on the Senate side; that the best way to move forward is through the legislative process, understanding that the Court ruled that some action had to be taken based on the lawsuit.

Q    But the timing looks politically convenient.

MR. GIBBS:  The timing is based on the fact that the first step of this process is being completed.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, two questions.  One on the EPA and one on Oslo; I'll start with Oslo.  Will the President mention Afghanistan and the troop increase during his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Price?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Can you give us the flavor what he'll say?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't want to get ahead of him on this, but, look, suffice to say, Jeff, it would be -- the President is under no -- will address directly the notion I think that many have wondered, which is the juxtaposition of the timing for the Nobel Peace Price and his commitment to add more troops into Afghanistan.  That's obviously something that he will address.

Q    He is accepting the Nobel Peace Prize as a war President.

MR. GIBBS:  Exactly.

Q    Okay.  On the EPA issue, will the negotiators who are there now and President Obama when he arrives next week not mention the fact that if legislation to cut greenhouse gases does not come through the Senate next year, that they have this in their hand as a backup?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Jeff, again, going back to what I said to Phil, that process was set in motion by the Supreme Court's ruling on a lawsuit in 2007.  Again, I think what our administration would say -- and I think when the President meets later in the week with business leaders that are supportive of comprehensive clean energy legislation that puts America at the forefront of creating millions of jobs based on clean energy, that we do so -- we do so through the legislation process, that that's what's important.  And quite frankly, we have the ability to do that.

I think what the President would say, and I think what everyone would say, is the power to control the solution to this is indeed in our hands; we just have to act.

Q    But it's nice to have the EPA in your back pocket.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, this was set in motion, what, more than -- almost two years ago.  I don't know the exact date, it would have been more than two years ago because of the Supreme Court's rulings would have come down before December.  This was set by a court two years ago.

Yes, sir.

Q    The report that the administration is sending to Congress today -- that we made public on Wednesday -- about the TARP money, one of the less -- one of the parts of the report that the administration hasn't been talking about as much is the fact that it looks like the taxpayers will lose about $30 billion from the AIG leak, deal, bailout, and about $30 billion from the automakers bailout.  What's the message that the President has for the American people about that $60 billion likely being lost?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, Jake, we're -- I think the President would say in any dealings with TARP that collectively some very tough decisions were made to stabilize the financial system over the course of now a couple of different years.  Nobody liked having to make those decisions, but the President believed, and the leaders that made those decisions before the President got here believed that steps had to be taken in order to stabilize the financial system.

What's important are a couple of things going forward, and that is, first and foremost, that we get financial reform, so that when you have something like an AIG, an insurance company with a hedge fund perched on top of it, that using resolution authority you can break those two entities apart in order to stabilize the financial system and ensure that one does not unduly harm the other.

But, again, Jake, I think he would reiterate that we've regrettably made -- had to make some tough decisions.  We have on some of these payments gotten repaid by banks and gotten repaid with interest.  But we had to make some tough decisions to ensure the security and stability, ultimately, of the financial system.

Q    Is that the same thing with the automakers?

MR. GIBBS:  I think so.  I think, again, the President -- again, not an easy or -- not a decision that he probably believed he would be making, but the President believed that it was important to use a portion of that money to help stabilize GM and Chrysler and put them on a path towards sustainability by themselves.  I think we've already seen that through recent auto sales figures that some progress is indeed being made on that.

Q    On NATO troops, as you know, a lot of the international contributions to the troop levels in Afghanistan come with very --

MR. GIBBS:  Some of them do.  I'm not -- I don't -- some of them do, some don't, yes.

Q    Come with constraints.

MR. GIBBS:  Caveats, right.

Q    Caveats about no fighting in the south, no flying at night, no combat.  Are you working, is the administration working to change that so it's not just a few countries that are willing to put troops in harm's way?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, first and foremost, Jake, we are pleased by the international effort that has NATO increasingly stepping up to meet international commitments.  I think what you will hear and see from commanders on the ground from our perspective is we can take -- now we can take troops in other parts of the country and focus them on more in the south and the east as others come in to fill more of the north and the west.

I think what you see as a result of the President's engagement on this policy is a hefty international commitment that will help meet an international problem.  I think I've said and the President has said numerous times that this is not one country or one region's problem -- this is an international problem.  And we're quite pleased with the steps that the international community has taken to meet those commitments.

Q    Would it not be more fair or more in keeping with NATO's charter and more in keeping with the statement you just made about how this is an international obligation, not just a Western obligation, for other countries to be willing to send troops to engage in combat with the --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Jake, quite a few are and we're pleased that they're -- that they will be adding to those commitments.

Q    Yes, but I'm asking about the ones who aren't.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, certain people have, again, certain caveats that are there.  Suffice to say, though, we can find ways -- COMISAF can find ways to use those troops.  We can pull -- some of those troops obviously will be used for training, either of the Afghan national army or ultimately the Afghan national police.  And without that training, without meeting the force requirements for an Afghan national security force, it gets harder for Afghans to ultimately assume responsibility.  We've got obviously some very important goals that commanders believe can be met, and these troops will help us do that.

Q    Robert, on troops, I want to talk about the U.S. forces.  Admiral Mullen a short time ago was making public comments and said that July 2011 is not a deadline.  Do you agree with that statement?

MR. GIBBS:  I think Secretary Gates said that yesterday and then followed that by saying, what that is, is the date by which -- the date on which a transition will begin of our forces handing security responsibility over to the Afghans.  Understand, July 2011 comes from the Pentagon and Admiral Mullen.  So I think the Pentagon gave to, as part of the process that concludes, gave to the security team a series of ideas that included July 2011 as the transition date.

And I'll tell you this -- I talked to the President as recently as this morning on this -- as the Commander-in-Chief, he's clear about what July 2011 means.  That is the point in which we will transition handing the security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans, understanding that, as the President said a little under a week ago in West Point, the trajectory with which that withdrawal will happen will be based on, appropriately, conditions on the ground, as has happened in Iraq.

Q    Then why, if it's clear, did General Jones yesterday say that this is a ramp and the troops start coming off --

MR. GIBBS:  That's exactly what I just said.

Q    Right, but then General Petraeus was asked that and he said it's not a ramp.  And he said --

MR. GIBBS:  I think it may be a difference in -- no, no, no, I think -- I think, having been in these meetings, I think maybe the word "ramp" has tripped people up, because we talked about the deployment off- or on-ramps, which, again, I -- the ramp I think that General Jones was discussing -- I talked to General Petraeus about this on Air Force One both to and from the West Point speech.  I think the ramp that he's referring to, that we're all referring to is, from that July 2011 date that the President has made clear that there will be a transition, there is a ramp at that point where, based on the conditions on the round, will decide the pacing for the thinning of American forces.

But, again, Ed, the President has been crystal clear on this.  That date of transition in July 2011.

Q    And one quick thing on Copenhagen.  One of the complaints Republicans have this morning and this afternoon about the EPA decision is that they want better investigation of this e-mail controversy.  And several senators wrote a letter -- others in the House, as well -- saying that they believe that the science is not sound and that this -- what is the President's reaction, what's your reaction to this e-mail controversy?  Do you think it's legitimate, raises legitimate concerns --

MR. GIBBS:  I think everybody is clear on the science.  I think scientists are clear on the science.  I think many on Capitol Hill are clear on the science.  I think that this notion that there's some debate, minus Lester, on the science is kind of silly.

Q    One last thing -- I'm sorry -- on Max Baucus.  Melodee Hanes we know was one of three names Senator Baucus sent to the White House to be U.S. Attorney.  Did Jim Messina, who's very close to Senator Baucus, did he play any role for the White House?  Did he recuse himself from any of those discussions?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what Jim's involvement was on those discussions, but I think as the senator told the media over the weekend and as we told you and others that asked, Senator Baucus did not give us any information about those three names.  Nobody here was involved in that.

Q    But Jim is very close to Max Baucus.

MR. GIBBS:  But, Ed, when I say nobody was involved in it, I don't mean "everybody but people that know Senator Baucus" -- I mean nobody.

Q    And he didn't play any role in getting a Justice Department job for her either?

MR. GIBBS:  Those are obviously jobs that are based on who's best for the job.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    I have two questions.  On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, what is the President's attitude toward the Japanese wanting to relocate their bases?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we discussed a process whereby -- we discussed in Japan with the Japanese a process of going through those discussions with them.  I don't have anything more to add than what the President and the Prime Minister talked about in Japan a few weeks ago.

Q    Then you don't have a position yet?

MR. GIBBS:  No, there is a position because there's an agreement.  I think that's what both the sides reiterated.

Q    My other question is, why didn't the President bring up the public option and abortion when he met with Congress yesterday?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, the President has throughout this process talked about the importance of getting it done; talked about ensuring that those that have insurance will see their costs go down; that we're serious about addressing the budgetary implications -- not just in paying for health care reform, but understanding that we're changing the direction of the cost curve and providing accessible and affordable insurance to those that don't have it.

The President reiterated that message, the idea of continuing to work toward that goal in the Senate and get something out of the Senate and passed.  The President didn't get into individual amendments -- like he hasn't throughout this process.

Q    Well, doesn’t he care about these?  Are these too -- too difficult to overcome?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't believe so.  I think Leader Reid has appointed, in terms of the public option, Democrats on both sides of this issue to come get together and discuss the issue.  And by all accounts those discussions are going well and they are making progress.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you.  On July 2011 -- first of all, I understand it was a date picked by the Pentagon, but, still, doesn’t -- I think the reason people seem to be struggling with it and why so many people were talking about it on the shows yesterday is it just feels so arbitrary.  I mean, what if June 2011 turns out to be a better time, or August turns out to be a better time?  Will the President say, doggone it, I said July 2011 and that's it, we're not changing that date.

Q    Without getting into your arbitrary hypothetical, again, I'd point you to -- this wasn't arbitrarily picked by the Pentagon.  This was a decision based on what the strategy that the President had settled on and what had to happen between now and whatever date in order to ramp up the training of the army and the police that comprised the national security force of Afghanistan, at a point in which they're capable of taking over that responsibility.  The Pentagon determined that that date was July 2011.

Q    Which could change if they do better than we think.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that would be a nice problem to have.  Understand that what happened --

Q    But it could change.

MR. GIBBS:  No, it could happen earlier, sure --

Q    But it won't happen later.

MR. GIBBS:  It won't happen later.  The President is quite clear on this.  Understand what happened between the meeting by which this date was originally discussed, what happened in the process moving forward was the ramp up of troops actually happened faster than the original chart that the Pentagon had.  So what that means is our forces, under the President's mission, will in fact get there faster, therefore be there longer in order to help accomplish the goals necessary for that thinning to take place.  That date starts in July of 2011.

Q    What if the Pentagon comes to him and says, we're not going to be ready July 2011, is he going to say, too bad, that's the date I set.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we are going to have assessments throughout this process that will measure us attaining the goals leading up to that point.  The President, though, Chip, has been clear:  The transition point begins on July 2011 because the Pentagon says that's the point in which the mission will be able to do that.

Q    That's what they say now.  But if they change what they say is the point, then the President would change with them?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you're discussing what is being discussed now and I'm telling you the President is clear on July 2011.

Q    On TARP, any change from Friday?  And I was a little unclear on what the President was suggesting in his comments just now on using TARP money for a jobs bill.  Where does that stand right now?

MR. GIBBS:  That's something that this White House is looking at.  I think the -- I will repeat what the President said.  I'm not getting ahead of what he's going to talk about tomorrow, but one of the things that the report that Jake made mention of is that if you compare the amount of money that the administration believed would be necessary as part of the Midsession Review and what we believe is necessary now, that difference is $341 to $141 billion, which is approximately -- obviously $200 billion; and that the White House is looking at whether or not using that for legislation to create an environment for increased hiring for jobs, whether that would be available.

Q    But that money wasn't really appropriated for --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that money was appropriated to stabilize the economy.

Q    It wasn't appropriated for things like weatherization and the kind of thing that you had in the first stimulus.  I mean, these are the kinds of -- money to states to keep them from laying off workers, tax breaks for small business, weatherization infrastructure.  It sounds like exactly the kind of stuff that was in the stimulus.  I mean, isn't it a little silly not to say this is a second stimulus?  And how can you use money from TARP to pay for a second stimulus without it turning into basically a slush fund, as Republicans say?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think Republicans are just simply dead wrong.  I think you can look at any number of figures to denote that while they have continued to criticize the Recovery Act, we've seen the first positive job growth in four economic quarters.  And we saw the best jobs report that we've seen in 22 months, dating back to the dated beginning of the recession in December 2007.

The President again, and the team, as well as members of Capitol Hill are looking at these questions to see what are the important and necessary next steps, some of which, but not all of which, the President will discuss tomorrow.

Q    Are you still saying this is not a second stimulus, but it's going to be?

MR. GIBBS:  It's not.

Q    It's not.  Even though many of the components are the same thing that was in the first stimulus?


Q    One last question, just a straight, factual question.  The Chicago guy indicted on the Mumbai situation, do you know anything about that?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  That's my job.  (Laughter.)

Q    Is that --

MR. GIBBS:  I can factually say that indeed I do.

Q    Can you tell us what the latest is?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I would, for information relating to his indictment, obviously I would point you to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, which handed down the indictment.

Obviously, I continue to say, and the President does, too, that we have taken and will continue to take every step necessary to protect the American people.  Today was an important day in doing that.

Q    I want to follow up on something, Robert.  The President just now actually, when he was asked about the use of TARP funds, he seemed to indicate that he believes there are parameters around what can be used.  He said that, you know, the initial reason to use the TARP funds was to unfreeze credit markets and that's one of the things that he'd be looking to use that money for when it comes to trying to move credit for small businesses.  So I guess my question is does that mean he believes there are some parameters on what this money can be used for and what it can't be used for?  Do you guys believe the --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, no final determinations have been made.  And when final determinations are and have been made then we'll discuss what those decisions are.

Q    Is this an interpretation of the law as it was passed? Is that what you guys are looking at?  I mean, what's the --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the exact criteria of which they're going through each and every thing, except the top line of -- that they're looking through this.  And as we move forward we'll make that determination.

Q    And that will be clear tomorrow?  Or could that be --

MR. GIBBS:  If it's clear tomorrow it will be.  If it's --

Q    No, but I mean, is it possible --

MR. GIBBS:  -- if a determination isn't made then it won't.

Q    And so he may roll out some things, but leave it up to Congress to decide whether TARP money can be used?

MR. GIBBS:  I would describe tomorrow as not the totality of all the President's ideas.  The President will discuss a few ideas that he has heard in his discussions with CEOs and small businesses.  I think obviously one of the things the President talked about today was that even as things are getting better for larger banks that there are many, many small businesses throughout the country that still have a lot of problems in getting access to the type of credit that they were normally getting before the economic -- the great economic downturn.

We are looking at ways that would help small businesses get that credit, find access to that capital, and the President will discuss other ways that he believes the government can assist the private sector in an atmosphere that leads to additional hiring of jobs.

Q    Is there going to be a Cash for Clunkers-style program that has to do with weatherization that was sort of one --

MR. GIBBS:  I won't get ahead of where the President is on that tomorrow.

Q    Two quick December deadline questions on the international front.  START -- anything new this week?  Can we expect anything this week?

MR. GIBBS:  You know, the two sides continue to take part in negotiations, and we believe that we can get something done soon.

Q    Soon this week, or soon, you're not ready to commit --

MR. GIBBS:  No --

Q    Would you rule this week out as a week that --

MR. GIBBS:  Not if they get it.  (Laughter.)  Look, I mean -- you know what I mean.  I mean --

Q    Look, we're going to be in Europe, that's why we have -- that's why I ask.

MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't -- I don't expect any European vacations, how about that.

Q    And on the Iran front.  Where do things stand with pushing on the sanctions?  And then the second question is, there's been some confusion about whether -- is Iran a supportive actor of what we're doing in Afghanistan or are they part of the problem?  I mean, how much do you believe they're playing a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get some guidance from the NSC on the second part.  On the first part, Chuck, the President will -- continues to actively work with our partners in the P5-plus-1 in order to -- in order to continue to ask the Iranians to live up to their obligations.

Q    Are those negotiations still active?  That hasn't been shut down, sort of -- has it moved to the U.N.?

MR. GIBBS:  But again, that's -- it's not up to the P5-plus-1.  It's not up to us.  It's up to the Iranians, right.  They've got a certain set of obligations that they've always had.  Those obligations can be met at any time by the Iranians.  Failure to meet those obligations, as the President and others have said, will result in next steps.

Q    Have they failed -- I guess -- I've heard this failure -- have they failed to meet these?  Have you guys determined --

MR. GIBBS:  As of right now, yes.

Q    Right now they have failed and therefore you're moving on to step -- plan B?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think we've talked largely about the fact that time is running out, that that -- hold on, hold on -- that the sand in the --

Q    -- is going to run out.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, running.

Q    Okay.

MR. GIBBS:  The sand in the hourglass is running out.  As of this moment -- minus anything that these guys tell me has happened since I've been up here -- have they failed to meet their obligations?  Absolutely.  They've failed to meet their obligations --

Q    And therefore you go to plan B?

MR. GIBBS:  That's why we would move to next steps.

Q    But you haven't yet.

MR. GIBBS:  Not yet.


Q    Last week the President obviously held a jobs summit here.  He invited business leaders, union leaders to come and talk about jobs ideas.  Today the EPA promulgated its -- had its finding on greenhouse gases, and the Department of Labor also unveiled -- promulgated a bunch of new workplace regulations.  Do you see -- does the White House see a potential short-term jobs cost to energy, environmental and --

MR. GIBBS:  No, there's a short -- there's a short-, medium- and long-term benefit to establishing our nation as the clean energy leader of the world.  Somebody is going to build millions of solar panels.  Somebody is going to build wind towers and wind turbines and create the power that's going to light our homes and heat our homes and cool our homes for decades to come.  The question is, which country is that going to be?

The President, through the Recovery Act, incentivized the building of those implements that I just discussed in a way that had not previously been incentivized.  I think the President wants to see us create that type of clean energy economy through comprehensive legislation that would establish us as the leader in the world.  That will create -- it's created jobs all over this country and it has the ability to create far, far more.

Q    But does he believe that a cap-and-trade system, like the one that passed the House, like the one that he would like to see pass the Senate, is a better instrument to do what you're talking about than a regulatory approach like EPA --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, the President's belief is that the preferred method is through legislation.  That's what the President would tell you if he were standing here today.  That's what the President and I have said going back probably since the beginning of this administration.  Again, Massachusetts v. EPA was not something that was decided sometime last week and the process was started.  This was decided back in 2007 and the clock, in a sense, has been ticking since that time period.

But, again, if we incentivize, through comprehensive clean energy legislation, an economy that puts a premium on alternative energy like wind and solar, we're going to create a lot of jobs -- in the short term, in the medium term, and ultimately in the long term.

Q    Real quickly on TARP, does the President believe that a jobs bill funded in part out of savings from unexpectedly smaller TARP payments -- does he believe that that's revenue neutral, that it does not cost the taxpayer money?

MR. GIBBS:  I think it goes to the same pot of money that ultimately would have been used for something else.

Did you have a follow on energy?

Q    How do you know that the -- regulations like that will create more jobs than they might cost?  You're regulating industries across the country, but you're talking about one sector that you want to grow -- the green sector.  How do you know it will create more jobs than lose them?

MR. GIBBS:  Because how are you -- if you can't -- if you're finding incentives in other ways to produce power, for instance, that's less polluting, then you're going to do that through solar and wind.  I forget the number now -- the number of electric car factories in this country at the beginning of the year I think was none and I think we're somewhere either between three or four.  The largest pollutant emitter of greenhouse gases -- the largest sector of that is used in transportation.  We can create jobs by meeting the requirements of clean energy.

Q    I understand that you will create jobs, but what I'm asking is how do you know you will create more jobs than you will lose by putting these restrictions on all industries across the country?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again --

Q    Or is there a study or have you studied that at the White House?  I mean --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sure there are tons of studies that do indeed say that, yes.

Q    Do you know of any?

MR. GIBBS:  We can get you some, yes.

Q    Getting back to the Copenhagen meeting and the timing of these announcement by the EPA today, first of all, did the President have to sign off on this himself or was it approved at some other level here?

MR. GIBBS:  I can check.  Not that I'm aware of.  I mean, again, we've stated throughout the campaign and through our time here that science isn't going to get -- science won't be vetoed in the Oval Office.  Science is up to the scientists.

Q    All right.  And you said that the timing is based on the first step being completed, and you pointed to the Supreme Court action on this that required this endangerment finding.  So you're telling us that it was just a coincidence then that it happened today, a week --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm telling you this is part of a process that started more than two years ago with the Supreme Court finding that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases that threaten the public health because it's a pollutant.

Q    And it all came down, just coincidentally, a week before he's going to Copenhagen.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Can I just follow?

MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead.

Q    If the stimulus plan is to save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year in this new environment to foster job growth that the President will discuss tomorrow, how many additional jobs does he want to see saved or created?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get ahead of what the President will talk about tomorrow.

Q    But whether he talks about it or not, how many jobs would the President like to see added on top of the stimulus spending next year?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, understand that we're seven and a half, I think, seven and a half million jobs below what the employment level was in December 2007, which was the last unemployment report released by the Department of Labor that showed positive job growth.

We've got quite some way to go, but understand, Julianna, the President is not going to unveil the silver bullet idea, which adds all the jobs that are -- all the jobs that will be made up by the loss in the economic downturn and then some.  This is -- if there was one idea to do this, I assume it would have been done sometime in the intervening 22 months, that, by which we haven't seen a jobs report that showed positive job growth.

Q    Would he like to see new measures add to that 3.5 million number?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely. 

Q    Okay, and also, back to the TARP funds, some Democrats are talking about using as much as $70 billion from the unspent TARP funds to go toward new jobs for infrastructure and whatnot.  Is that a figure that the President is comfortable with?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, when there's a decision on that made here, we'll let you guys know.

Q    Okay, so hypothetically speaking --

MR. GIBBS:  I'll refer you to my Chip Reid hypothetical answer.

Q    But if TARP funds were used to go towards measures to create jobs, what message does that send to Main Street?

MR. GIBBS:  What message does that send to Main Street?  Help is on the way.  It sends the message that your economic vitality is just as important as anybody that lives or works or breathes on Wall Street.  That's the message the President has hoped and wanted to send for his entire administration, and that's what he's done in the recovery plan; that's what he'll continue to do tomorrow in his speech.

Q    Did you just answer a hypothetical?

MR. GIBBS:  No, she said, "what would that mean," and that's easy -- that's both knowable and announceable.

Q    So if it's knowable it can't be a hypothetical.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, if it's knowable, then it's not hypothetical.  (Laughter.)

Q    She actually started the question with the word, "hypothetically."

MR. GIBBS:  I think I largely dispensed with that clause.


Q    A couple of quick ones.  Robert, when the announcement was made on the Nobel Peace Prize, the White House said the President would devote that money to charity.  Has a charity been determined yet?

MR. GIBBS:  A series of charities are being looked at, but we haven't made any final decisions yet.

Q    Okay.  Has the administration decided whether or not it is permissible under the existing TARP law to use these funds?  Republicans argue that it's not; that the funds that are unobligated should go to debt reduction only.  Has a determination been made there?

MR. GIBBS:  No --

Q    Not whether you will or not, but whether you can.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, no decisions have been made, and once those decisions are made we'll enunciate those unhypothetical decisions.

Q    Right.  Well, I guess what I'm trying to get at is not whether a decision has been made but whether you've determined whether or not you can even make that decision.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have any guidance other than the fact that the decision hasn't been made.

Q    Okay.  Picking up on what Admiral Mullen said today, he referenced when he was talking to the Marines at Camp Lejeune about July 2011, he said "There is no exit strategy associated with that."  That's a direct quote.  Is that accurate, and does that --

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to look through --

Q    That's exactly what he said.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what the context of the surrounding --

Q    He said --

MR. GIBBS:  I understand, I'm sure that's -- I'm sure he said more than that at Camp Lejeune.  It's a nice flight to get there.  I'm sure he had more than six words to --

Q    No, I know.  He said, I know you Marines are interested in the 2011 July deadline, and I want to tell you, there is no deadline, which is what Ed asked about.  Right after that, the very next phrase:  "There is no exit strategy associated with that."  That's a direct quote.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what he meant.  I can simply -- I can simply, again, reiterate what I did at many points last week and in discussions with the President this week:  July 2011 is the transition date, the date --

Q    The date when forces begin to come out.

MR. GIBBS:  -- the date by which our forces will be thinned and responsibility for Afghan security will be the responsibility of the Afghans.  Now, again --

Q    Can you define "thinned"?  What does that mean?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, what I've said and what the President has said --

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, that we will begin, based on conditions on the ground, to make decisions about the pacing for that.

Q    Not whether it begins.

MR. GIBBS:  I think there have -- not whether it begins.  That has been determined.

Look, there were erroneous reports the day of the speech that somehow the President was going to say everybody involved would be out of Afghanistan in three years.  That wasn't true then and it's not true now.  The President doesn't envision, like is happening -- similar to what's happening in Iraq, where there's a drawdown based on what General Odierno says are conditions on the ground.  The same will take place in Afghanistan.  There's not going to be some drop off of a cliff.

But, again -- and I think, quite frankly, look exactly at what was said yesterday by Secretary Gates.  That's the date in which the transition will begin.  I can't be any clearer than that; the President can't; I doubt Secretary Gates could.

Q    Okay.  I'd like to run something that Joe Barton, a Republican, said today about the EPA decision and about the climate e-mails.  "When the scientists whose work is the bedrock for our global warming policy use words like 'travesty' and 'trick' to describe their actions, it's time to slow down and consider what we're doing, not sound the charge.  Good sense got run over today when the EPA hit the gas instead of tapping the brakes."

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not entirely sure what all that meant, but -- no offense, but I -- that seemed --

Q    Well, they're saying that the climate e-mails --

MR. GIBBS:  It seemed to hit the rhetorical gas rather than sort of tap on the brake.  I don't -- again, it's hard for me to discern what all that meant, except to say --

Q    Some of the folks (inaudible) have set down.  The U.N. has begun its own investigation into this.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think --

Q    But none of those things should slow the momentum in any way, shape, or form?

MR. GIBBS:  It shouldn't because the science is clear.

Q    And settled?

MR. GIBBS:  And settled.

Yes, sir.

Q    How is Friday's surprisingly strong jobs report factoring into the President's thoughts about a jobs bill?  Is it making him sort of limit what he --

MR. GIBBS:  No.  The truth is obviously that was better news than we have seen, understanding that the report still mentioned that we lost 11,000 jobs in the previous month, adding on to the already large jobs losses.  I don't think it changed in any way the President's viewpoint on decisions that he will -- in the speech that he'll make tomorrow, largely because the depth of our downturn -- I should just have the chart loaded up -- but just the sheer depth of the trough in terms of job loss from -- dating back to the beginning of the recession far exceeds anything that we've seen in recent recessions.  We have to do, and the President and his team have talked about doing everything that is possible and responsible to fill that trough in, and that's what the President will talk about tomorrow.

Q    Does he see things on the -- being on the right trajectory now, even absent his --

MR. GIBBS:  I would say, yes, the President does believe things are on the right trajectory.  We've seen -- before you can have positive job growth, you have to have positive economic growth, and we saw that last quarter.  This report continues moving in the right direction a trend -- again, the first jobs report I think we got when we were here was January's jobs figures, which showed 741,000 jobs had been lost in that month.  Last month showed 11,000 jobs.

Now, the President would continue to be cautious in understanding that there will no doubt be bumps along the way, and we just should keep in mind that that's going to happen and the President will do all that he can to continue to force that trajectory in the direction of which it's going.


Q    As health care moves forward, if the Senate decides to work up until the 24th and if the Senate decides to work the week after Christmas, will the President adjust his Hawaii trip schedule?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not talked to him about -- I mean, obviously he can -- they can -- we can all do our jobs wherever we need to do our jobs.  I would say that if the President --

Q    That sounds like no.

MR. GIBBS:  -- if the President can be helpful, the President will be helpful.  It's getting into that Hawaii hypothetical.

Q    If the Senate is in session the week after Christmas, which is a possibility, why would he not want to rethink being here?  And wouldn't it be awkward for him to be on vacation -- or not, is he not needed in the process?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he's needed in the process.  I think he went up and was part of the process.  I don't -- when the Senate makes some scheduling decisions, we'd be happy to look at them.  Jeff, I daresay the President can do his job wherever he is.  They invented phones -- they're wonderful.  There's secure video teleconferencing if anything needs to happen.  And the President can conduct his business -- like he will do in Oslo just this week.  I mean, the President is not going to cancel his trip to Norway or Copenhagen because the Senate is in session.

Yes, sir.

Q    Is that the same as vacation though, if I can just ask one more?  I mean, is that the same as being on vacation?

MR. GIBBS:  Jeff, I think if you ask the President whether he is ever really on vacation, and I think if you asked any President whether they were ever really on vacation, one call, one report, one piece of information I can assure -- I can assure you, can change all of that in a heartbeat.

Yes, sir.

Q    Can you explain the purpose of the meeting with Al Gore?

MR. GIBBS:  Just to talk through the upcoming trip to Copenhagen and his thoughts on that.  This will -- we'll have more information today, or later today, on a similar meeting with business executives and CEOs that are supportive of comprehensive climate change -- a comprehensive climate change agreement as well.

Q    What happens to the 2011 July date if President Karzai's government simply proves unable to address corruption and they're just unable to train a significant number of soldiers in time?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, suffice to say we won’t figure that out in June of 2011, that and I think the President addressed a series of steps that would be taken at both that level and underneath the national government level as to how to address the delivery of basic services without corruption.  There will be a month-by-month assessment on -- on our training.  This isn't going to be a surprise.

But what's important is we create an incentive with the government to take the actions that are ultimately necessary to improve their own security situation.  The President believed that was important.  Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thought providing those incentives were important.  The Pentagon came up with that as a day -- as a date, and the policy and the strategy fit all of that.

Q    Do you think the Afghans want to do it?

MR. GIBBS:  I do.  They've said that.  The proof is in the pudding.  And we'll hold them to that, and take whatever steps are necessary to meet those goals if they're unable or unwilling to do so.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, a bunch of Democratic candidates are running against the President's surge in Afghanistan -- the top four contenders in tomorrow's Massachusetts Senate primaries, the top two candidates in the Ohio Senate race, several other House candidates.  Will this deep opposition among Democrats on the campaign trail harm your hopes for -- your chances for success on Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS:  No, look, I think the President would be the first to tell you that people can look at the situation and come to different conclusions on both the Democratic and Republican side.  I think that was, in some ways, obviously true for Iraq.  The President put forward a plan and a strategy and a mission that he believed was narrow enough to succeed, coupled it with the resources that he believed were necessary to have it succeed.  And now it is up to the commanders on the ground and others to implement the strategy the President laid out.

I think you all know from the guidance, later on this afternoon the President will see in the Oval Office Ambassador Eikenberry, General McChrystal ahead of their testimony later this week.  And I think the President will reiterate with them what he's told the American people, and quite frankly, what he told them on the secure video teleconferencing that all of what has to go in to, and all of what is necessary to make this plan succeed.  I think you've heard from General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry that they believe that this is both the right strategy and has the resources to succeed.  Obviously, people can come to different conclusions, but the President made his decision based on that.

Q    But what if the Taliban knows those resources?  Last week, I believe you said the administration hasn't made a decision yet regarding a supplemental.  Can you just talk about what are some of the issues involved in making that decision?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think what they're trying to figure out now is the degree to which they're -- obviously, a lot of issues that will go into account as we create -- put together a budget.  We determined the length and ability of money that's there now to fund operations in the theater.  And I think the most important point that the President said in his speech in West Point, that we cannot -- we cannot -- we're unable to walk away from the human cost as well as the cost to our Treasury.  I think that's -- I think -- the President said we have to said we have to take this into account; we're going to have to take this into our budgetary account, which is something that hadn't previously been done for a while.

Q    Robert, since Fed Chairman Bernanke testified last week at his confirmation hearing, there are more and more Democrats who seem to be concerned or offended by some of the comments he made suggesting that Medicare and Social Security might need some tinkering.  Does the White House have any concern that there is this kind of pressure from within the party?  Does the President stand by his nomination?

MR. GIBBS:  The President obviously stands by his nomination.  I, truthfully, Ken, have not seen the comments on those issues that he made, but the President has -- the President nominated him for a reason and believed he'd be the best person to serve going forward.

Q    What is the administration's policy on privatizing Social Security or privatizing a part of Social Security?

MR. GIBBS:  The President obviously, I think, stated his opposition to plans to do that in 2005 and 2006.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  I know you can't get into specifics for security reasons, but does the President plan to go to Afghanistan personally anytime soon?  Could you tell us sort of, by the end of the year, or in the first quarter of next year?  And what would be the value -- does he think it's important, in the process of executing this new strategy, to be there in person?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, look, the President, as you know, visited in I don't remember which month it was, June or July of 2008 -- I'm not going to get into future scheduling decisions about something like that.  I think the President obviously would love to honor the commitment, the sacrifice and the service of all those that serve in Afghanistan, that serve in Iraq, and serve around the world, without getting into some specific scheduling decisions.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  Has the President called President-elect Lobo in Honduras in the same way that he's called other leaders after they were elected?

MR. GIBBS:  We can check.  I don't know the answer to that.

Q    And does he plan to send a representative to his inauguration in January?

MR. GIBBS:  I can -- I don't know the answers, but we can certainly check.

Q    Robert, two questions --

MR. GIBBS:  Hold on, I'm going to go to April.

Q    Neither of them are on global warming -- alleged global warming.

MR. GIBBS:  You caught yourself.  (Laughter.)  April.

Q    Thanks, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  You're going to get kicked out of the secret club, Lester.  (Laughter.)

Q    Come back to me.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to go April, then I'll go Lester, and then I'll seek refuge.

Go ahead.

Q    Robert, on jobs and black America, President Obama made some comments to some reporters recently.  He said, "I think it's a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think we are all in this together and we're all going to get out of this together."  The Kirwan Institute says that when you have certain groups that are unique, having unemployment rates maybe double that or close to double that of mainstream America, you have to deal with unique approaches.  What say you and this administration about that, even as the President is saying that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don't think there's any doubt that what the President will do is seek -- I think if you go and look through -- and I did not do this for the most recent figures -- but the economic team has, on certain different months, provided me -- broken out by high school and college education, I think one of the things you see in this recession is that unlike previous recessions, this has -- the joblessness has affected a huge swath of the American public.  I think what the President will do and what he has done is look for ways, understanding, as I said earlier, there's not a silver bullet.  There's not one solution that will lift everybody.  It is, how do we create jobs in -- and bring manufacturing back by that investment in clean energy?  How do we lay a foundation for our future economic growth with education so that people can go to college and get the skills that they need for the jobs of the future?

I think what the President is saying is that we have -- we are facing such a large problem that we need to do everything in our power to make it better, and I think that's what he's -- that's what he's done as part of the Recovery Act, and ultimately as part of the jobs --

Q    The Congressional Black Caucus has come out strongly about his comments about this universal approach.  Is this White House talking with the CBC?  Because they have -- they're more grassroots in the communities to find out what people are saying.  Is there a concern?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, you know, obviously the chief of staff and others were up talking to the CBC last week.  One message I think everyone would have is part of getting our economy back in order is getting financial reform moved through Congress.  Whether it's establishing that resolution authority that I talked about earlier that allows us to take something like an AIG, break it apart, and deal with what threatens our economy versus haphazard risk-taking -- that's part of financial reform; as is a consumer financial administration that would protect anybody from skyrocketing credit card rates, loans that are -- teaser rates that are used to attract people for loans that ultimately don't have the wherewithal to pay.  I think the first step in that is ensuring that that legislation moves forward, and I think the White House hopes that all of Congress will come together to support and move that forward.


Q    Thank you, Robert.  Senator Mark Warner is supporting Virginia's 90-year-old Colonel Van Barfoot, who's a Medal of Honor recipient, whose homeowner's association near Richmond has threatened to sue him if he fails to remove the flagpole on which each morning he raises the U.S. flag.  And my question, the President joins Senator Warner in support Colonel Barfoot, doesn't he?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't talked to the President specifically about this.  Obviously I've heard about this through news accounts.  I think the --

Q    You would presume the President supports him, wouldn't you?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'd like to presume to finish my answer.  The President believes, and I think all of us believe, that the very least we can do is show our gratitude and thanks to somebody that served our country so admirably.  I think it's silly to think that somebody that's done that can't have a flagpole and show the proper respect and appreciation that any flag deserves by flying that in their neighborhood.

I dare say that we've all had run-ins with neighborhood associations that somehow have forgotten what it means -- whether it's to display -- I got into an argument about displaying -- in fact, it might have been for Mark Warner for governor -- in my yard a sign when I lived in a townhouse.  And I have had the same thing happen to me in flying a flag that I got that flew over the Capitol.  I think the notion that you can't do that is kind of silly.

Q    I think that's an excellent answer and I have one other.

MR. GIBBS:  I should probably leave then with that, shouldn't I, Lester?  (Laughter.)

Q    No, no, no.  To The Point News reported that President Obama is the first President to refuse to address the Gridiron Club since Grover Cleveland.  And if that is accurate, why did he refuse?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the history of this.  I know that the President addressed the Gridiron Club before the President was President, and before the President was a senator.

Q    But he didn't this time.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  See, I knew I should have left, right, Lester?  I think the President has -- look, I don't know what you got against Sarah Palin.  I thought she was quite funny.  (Laughter.)

Q    I don't have anything against --

Q    Thank you.

MR. GIBBS:  Thank you.

2:59 P.M. EST

Close Transcript