The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/14/2010

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:15 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Mr. Feller, take us away.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Two topics.  I wanted to follow up on some of the discussion yesterday about the "don't ask, don't tell" ruling.  Does the President have a message yet for officers and service members on how to react until the legalities are settled?  Should gay service members keep their sexuality secret?

MR. GIBBS:  What I would tell you is that the Department of Defense is working on guidance with the entire chain of command. That should be ready and out soon, and I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that.

Q    What can you explain is the White House’s role, if any, in that discussion?

MR. GIBBS:  In what?  The guidance?

Q    That should be in the guidance, yes.

MR. GIBBS:  My assumption is -- and I would double-check  -- my assumption is we've -- people here may have seen it.  I don't know the answer to that, though, and let me check on it.

Q    Okay.  And more broadly, can you describe, since this ruling came down, I guess a couple days ago, what the President’s engagement and/or involvement has been?

MR. GIBBS:  There have been discussions obviously between this building and the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.  The President has been involved in meetings with the Counsel’s Office to get an understanding of the lay of the land and has been very involved in this.

Ben, you know that the President has -- as I stated yesterday after having talked to him -- the President believes that this is a policy that undermines our national security, discriminates against those who would sacrifice their lives for their country, and is unjust; that the policy needs to be changed and should be changed.  His hope is that the Senate will take up the legislation pending before them to do just that, as the House of Representatives has already done.

Q    One last thing on this.  I mean, you just talked about how the DOD is doing guidance and the call to Congress to pass that law, but is the President comfortable with sort of how this stands?  There’s a lot of -- at this moment, a lot of deferring going on.  Does he feel like he needs to --

MR. GIBBS:  Deferring what -- I'm sorry.

Q    Deferring to Congress to pass the law, deferring to DOD to take the lead on responding.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t know if I -- there are certainly places that -- obviously Department of Defense, working on guidance for the entire chain of command, that would be the department that would have obviously purview over that.

In terms of -- I don’t think we’re deferring to Congress.  The President has been active in encouraging and imploring Congress to do the right thing and end a harmful, discriminatory, unjust law.  That’s been his position for as long as I’ve worked for him since 2004. 

I think we’re close; the House has voted on that.  And as I said yesterday, the courts have demonstrated that the time for “don’t ask, don’t tell” is coming to an end.  There is a legal road map that shows the courts are ruling on behalf of plaintiffs and against this law.  So I think, as I said yesterday, in discussing with the President, I think this policy -- I think the end of this policy -- the time for the end of this policy has come, and that it will end quite soon.

Q    One other quick topic, please.  Can you give the latest assessment from the White House about the peace talks that Afghanistan is trying to hold with the Taliban?  Specifically, I mean, should the American people view these as serious talks that could actually lead to some sort of resolution?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Ben, as far back as his speech at West Point, he has mentioned an Afghan-led process for reconciliation. We understand that a political -- there’s certainly a political dimension to ending the war in Afghanistan, as there was in Iraq, and as we’ve seen in -- and we’re likely to see in conflicts that are not going to involve the entire defeat or surrender of and the signing of documents on the deck of the battleship.

This process, as we’ve said and as the President has said, will be Afghan-led, appropriately so; that those that seek to come back into the fold of life in Afghanistan must renounce violence, abide by the Afghan constitution, and break from al Qaeda.

I would mention that these are talks that are happening at a time in which you have heard General Petraeus discuss the tempo of our operations in Afghanistan.  The tempo has never been higher.  We have the most resources that we’ve ever had in the country, and the tempo of those operations also has never been higher.

Q    On the NATO subject, are U.S. and NATO forces, as is being reported, willing to help the Taliban leaders, negotiators, get safe passage to participate in talks?

MR. GIBBS:  I think ISAF has discussed some of their logistical roles in this and I would point you over to ISAF on that.

Q    Okay.  On the housing foreclosure crisis that seems to be building, there is growing signs that this is not being contained.  What is the level of concern within the administration and what, if any, new steps are being considered to prevent this from spreading further?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Matt, as I talked about the other day, we believe that every servicer should live up to the full extent of the law and their failure to do so should be met with accountability.  We are in full support of what is being done at the state attorney general level in the announcement of their investigation.  We have federal regulators at FHA who started earlier this summer a comprehensive review of FHA-approved mortgage servicers to monitor the steps in the foreclosure process.  That process is ongoing and last week they expanded that to a full review process.

In addition, the financial fraud enforcement task force of the Department of Justice is examining the issue, and the Attorney General has discussed publicly that the task force finds -- if the task force finds any wrongdoing, that that also should be met with appropriate action.  Failing to deal with the obligations under the law to live up to your responsibilities in mortgage servicing is a serious problem and has to be rectified by those servicers.  And we’re certainly supportive of those steps.

Q    So are you completely ruling out any administration support for a national -- a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures?

MR. GIBBS:  As we discussed, what happens at that point is that anybody that's entered into a contract or a pending contract or a pending sale of a home in a distressed area that has seen a lot of foreclosures, that those transactions and therefore that recovery in the housing market stops.  It’s frozen.  That obviously can have -- we believe and others believe -- a very negative and detrimental impact to our economic recovery efforts and the housing market in states that have been hardest hit.  We believe the best place to examine this is, as I mentioned, directly with the obligations of those mortgage servicers.

Q    Are you ruling out supporting a moratorium?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we have -- I think we have stated clearly the reasons why we have not called for and don't altogether think it’s the best idea.

Yes, sir.

Q    On a couple of occasions from the podium you have talked about how the President hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about his reelection campaign in 2012.  Now, in light of what the Vice President has said, has the President made up his mind about running again?

MR. GIBBS:  If he has, he hasn’t told me.

Q    And what about today’s town hall?  What does the White House hope to gain from that?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think it’s another opportunity, in an open setting, to hear from -- directly from Americans, in this case younger Americans, about their cares and their concerns.  I’m sure you’ll hear -- as we do at all -- almost all the town hall meetings that we do -- a wide range of subjects dealing with the economy, to our foreign policy, to a whole host of domestic issues.  And I think it’s another opportunity for the President to describe the steps that we’re taking to address our economic recovery and deal with a whole host of those issues that we have to deal with. 

Q    Going back to the back-and-forth the White House is having with the Chamber of Commerce, can you respond to the argument that the Chamber is making that this might -- opening up their books might cause potential harassment to their donors?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, again, I think this is a nonsensical argument to make in order to continue to hide and shroud the identity and the agenda of those that are giving -- writing million-dollar checks to influence the outcome of elections and ultimately influence the next legislative body.  Are those donors -- is their identity being hidden because the voters in a certain state would rather not be confronted with the fact that they’re for rolling back Wall Street reform?  Maybe they want a whole host of things from the next government that knowing their identity would know their political agenda.  It’s the easiest problem in the world to solve; simply open your books.

Q    On one other issue, Michelle Obama early voted in Chicago today, as you know.  And in the print pool report, one of the people, Dennis Campbell, who she met said -- this is quote from the pool report -- “She was telling me how important it was to vote to keep her husband’s agenda going.”  Some people have raised the possibility of this being against the law, as far as election hearing rules, not campaigning within 100 feet of the polling.  Can you respond?

MR. GIBBS:  Obviously, I wasn’t in Chicago today.  I’d point you to the First Lady’s staff.  I don’t think it would be much to imagine that the First Lady might support her husband’s agenda.  But that’s just me going way out on a limb.  (Laughter.)   

Q    Speaking of which, has the President watched her events out there?  And have you heard him say anything about it?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I have not heard him say anything today.  Obviously, look, she is a -- she’s a remarkable campaigner.  She spent -- in 2007, she went into a lot of the early states, did a lot of campaign events and was enormously valuable throughout the general election.  It’s not surprising to us that she got the type of rave reviews that she got yesterday.

Q    On the Chamber and Karl Rove and all that -- and I might have missed this if anybody already asked it -- but Tim Kaine compared it to Watergate, said this could be the biggest political process scandal since Watergate.  Does the President feel that way, too.

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen what Chairman Kaine said.  Look, obviously what happened around -- this is pure conjecture about what he’s discussing, but after that campaign we passed what -- the campaign finance laws that we now have on our books that require the giving to a federal candidate, that giving to be reported -- who that person is, who they work for -- the basis of our campaign finance and our disclosure laws.  I think what everyone should be able to agree on is that sunlight and disclosure are the best policy.

Q    And on Afghanistan, how big is this?  Does the President see this as a potential turning point?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, as I said earlier, Chip, I think that -- and I would certainly refer you to -- Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton are at a joint meeting of NATO defense and foreign ministers, and both spoke about this process today.  I think it was Secretary Clinton who said you -- if you're in the Afghan government you don't make peace with your friends.  There’s a political element to an ultimate solution in Afghanistan.  And it is appropriate for us to provide support for an Afghan-led effort to do just that.

Q    Is this the continuation of what’s been going on or is this is a new moment?

MR. GIBBS:  I think this is new press for a continuation, to be totally honest with you.  Again, this is something that the President mentioned in his speech at West Point; this was discussed in the Rose Garden in the presence of Hamid Karzai.  This is -- reconciliation and reintegration have been topics that have been discussed for many, many months.

Q    But the idea of there being talks in Kabul and with people coming in and with the U.S. military and ISAF reportedly paving the way for people to come to Kabul, couldn’t that be the start of something new?  Couldn’t that mean a turning point?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think our hope is that certainly those that once sought refuge in the Taliban will, as I said, renounce that membership, renounce violence, break off from al Qaeda, and adhere to the laws and the constitution of Afghanistan.  That would represent in any form a positive development in the history of that country.

Q    Is this significant enough that the President has been on the phone with General Petraeus or Secretary Clinton or Gates?

MR. GIBBS:  This is a -- the topic of reconciliation is something that comes up in every meeting that is done in the Situation Room on this, and if I'm not mistaken --

Q    In the last day or two, have --

MR. GIBBS:  No, he’s not spoken to General Petraeus in the last day or two.

Q    With respect to Peter Baker’s impressive 19 pages in the coming Sunday magazine, can you talk to me about Obama 2.0?  The President seems to think that he’s going to have a different and probably better relationship with Republicans whether they do well or poorly in the November 2nd election.  Explain why.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don’t know the outcome of what’s going to happen in several weeks, but I think the President is hopeful that regardless of that outcome, that Republicans will come in from outside and come off the sidelines and help begin to solve problems.  That’s what governing the country is all about. That’s what’s required. 

We have problems that have to be dealt with.  Our long-term fiscal situation, it has to be dealt with.  Education reform next year is going to have to be dealt with.  Implementing Wall Street reform is going to have to be dealt with.  And the President believes that it’s possible that Republicans will actually begin to take part in that.

Q    John Boehner put out a release today in which he called your infrastructure rebuilding proposal more stimulus spending to be paid for by higher gasoline taxes.  What indication do you have that Republicans will join the process?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think that the message that voters have sent for years now is, stop bickering and start working.  We’re hopeful that eventually that message reaches even John Boehner.


Q    A couple things.  You mentioned in the Afghanistan -- the tempo has never been higher.  So you believe -- we should draw the conclusion that with the surge fully in place, you think that is what is --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think that -- I certainly think that there are those involved in the conflict that have never seen the pace of operations as high as they are.  Look, obviously there are going to be some that you never assuage.  I think there are others, though, that, as you’ve heard the President talk about, will look for an opportunity to come back into life in Afghanistan.  That’s part of that process.

Q    But you guys believe there’s a direct correlation here? As you guys have beefed up the operation in Afghanistan, suddenly you’ve got reconciliation talks.

MR. GIBBS:  I think it is unlikely that it normally happens the other way around.  But I think it’s important to understand that even as we -- even as there is an Afghan-led effort to do this, we still have our operational goals that are being fulfilled by General Petraeus and our troops on the ground.

Q    “Don’t ask, don’t tell” very quickly.  What’s the President think of the court case itself?  Does he agree -- and we know -- I know what his position is on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Does he agree with the ruling that this is the way to go?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I will say this.  I think the President agrees that it’s time for this law to end.  I don't -- I have not heard him discuss specifically the ruling or go through the ruling of the case, in the sense that you might as a law student. But certainly his belief about the injustice that's done, the discrimination that's done, are all part of what frames his view that it’s time for this law to end.

Q    Is it fair to say that he wishes this were not done through the court process, that this had been done through Congress and the Department of Defense?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, that's the process that we’re -- the President has, through the legislative process, begun the repeal of the law and, through the work of the Department of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary Defense, and the other Joint Chiefs, working through how to ultimately transition from one to the next.  And I think it’s clear, based on the cases that you’ve seen around -- not just this case but other cases, that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not going to last much longer.

Q    Does Justice have to challenge the ruling?  I'm sorry.

Q    That's okay.

MR. GIBBS:  I'll just say, Wendell, news on that will be -- you’ll hear from or come from the Department of Justice.

Q    This week?  Should we expect something like that this week?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I'd stay in touch with Justice.

Q    But is there -- is Justice ordinarily bound to challenge a judge’s ruling that strikes down existing law?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, without getting into what might happen, I would just stay in touch with Justice.

Q    Very quickly, everybody else is setting expectations for you guys in the election.  What's a win, as far as the White House is concerned?

MR. GIBBS:  Nice try.

Q    No?  I mean, is holding Congress -- you know, what's a win, what's not?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve said I expect that we will hold Congress. 

Q    And if you don't, that's a loss, as far as you guys are concerned?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have my wallet with me and -- (laughter.)

Q    No, but I mean, you guys know what's winning and what's losing.  I mean --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I’ve said clearly that I think on election night we will retain both the House and the Senate. 


Q    From your answer to Wendell’s question, it sounds like you did read the New York Times magazine piece. 

MR. GIBBS:  I did.

Q    Can you elaborate a little bit on what the President meant when he said there’s no such thing as a shovel-ready project?  Does that mean that the stimulus on the infrastructure side has not been helpful to the economy?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- look, there are -- more than 75,000 job-creating projects have been started as a result of the infrastructure investment in the Recovery Act.  Did every project start as quickly as you would have hoped?  No.  But 75,000 have. Investment in each state in improving the infrastructure of the roads, the bridges, the airports -- fundamental investment in building a foundation for a stronger tomorrow, which was necessary and needed, and has created jobs, has led to economic growth.  The President has no second thoughts about that.

Q    Do you think that the timing of this self-criticism is helpful to Democrats going into this election?

MR. GIBBS:  No offense, I don’t think -- I don’t know how many people will read the New York Times magazine.

Q    Okay.  And one more question on something else. 

Q    A guy from the Wall Street Journal likes hearing that.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  The same could be said and underscored for the Wall Street Journal. 

Go ahead. 

Q    MTV has asked some of the people who’ve submitted questions if they also have light questions regarding pop culture.  And I’m wondering if -- do you think that the President wants --

MR. GIBBS:  I think I’m the last pop culture person that anyone is going to want a question from, Jonathan.

Q    I mean, does the President want these things to be light-hearted or does he want some harder hitting questions than, say, he got at George Washington University? 

MR. GIBBS:  At George Washington University at -- oh, at the town hall?  Look, Jonathan, I’ve been doing town hall meetings with the President since 2004.  I don’t know how many hundreds we did in 2007 and 2008 and we’ve continued to do them in 2009 and 2010.  I don’t recall ever coming back thinking, boy, that was a series of easy questions -- because the issues that we are dealing with in this country right now, from economic recovery to the challenges that we have overseas and in Afghanistan, there aren’t any easy issues.  I don’t --

Q    Boxers or briefs?

MR. GIBBS:  No comment.

Q    I wasn’t asking.

MR. GIBBS:  I know.  But, look, do I think that do sometimes people ask questions about something that doesn’t involve a piece of pending legislation before a subcommittee in front of Ways and Means?  Sure.  That’s just human nature.


Q    Do you know if the White House approached MTV and BET and offered the President for a town meeting, or was it the other way around?

MR. GIBBS:  I thought it was an invitation from them but, Mark, let me check.  I mean, they have handled the logistics for this.

Q    And on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” if you say the President agrees it’s time for “don’t ask” to end, he thinks it’s unjust, discriminatory, why isn’t he celebrating the court ruling -- say, great, it’s over, don’t enforce it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously there is -- as I said yesterday, Mark, there has to be an orderly transition.  That’s what the President has worked on with the Secretary and with the Joint Chiefs.  I think it’s safe to say the President believes that the court has dealt another blow, as the House of Representatives vote did, to ending this law -- as you said, a law that the President believes is discriminatory and unjust.  I think, again, the court demonstrated that the life expectancy of this law is coming to an end.

Q    The court said it was at an end.

MR. GIBBS:  And I think it will be at an end very soon.

Q    Can I follow on that, Robert?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ll come around.  Mr. Dorning, welcome.

Q    Thank you.  On Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton was talking about red lines in these talks.

MR. GIBBS:  Talking about?

Q    “Red lines” in these talks.  Can you tell us what the
-- give us a better sense of what the U.S. deadlines are, and does that include, for example, allowing the Taliban to continue as a political movement?

MR. GIBBS:  You know, let me get some -- let me see what she was discussing in that interview.  I don’t remember seeing that particular line.  This obviously is an Afghan-led process.  They are -- as we provide help, this is something that is up to the Afghans to lead and the Afghans to construct.

Q    But if we have red lines, those -- when you say “red lines” it usually means those are strict lines that we think shouldn’t be crossed.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, we have enumerated that that must include, as I’ve said, renouncing violence, breaking from al Qaeda, and ensuring your willingness to adhere to Afghan laws and the Afghan constitution.

Q    Would that include just allowing the Taliban to continue --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I don’t -- I'm not an active participant in the talks.

Q    Another easier question.  You guys are going to Delaware tomorrow, where the Democratic candidate, I believe, is 19 points ahead in the latest public opinion poll and the Republican loser has declined to endorse the Republican candidate.  Can you give a better sense of why, less than three weeks before an election, it makes sense to devote both the President and Vice President’s time to this Senate race?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think it’s a very important race, Mike. I think that’s why you had a national news network hosting on its airwaves last night a debate on its airwaves about it.

We understand that every vote and every race is important. And obviously this one is sort of near and dear to the Vice President, and they’re both happy to go do that.  They were both in Philadelphia over the weekend.  The President and the First Lady will be together this weekend.  And it’s an important race that we certainly hope and expect to win.

Q    Is the President going to do early voting in person?

MR. GIBBS:  No, he’s going to vote by absentee.  He has requested the ballot.  I believe the ballot is somewhere in the building.  I think he has it.

Q    You said yesterday the President hoped to speak with the CEOs of some of the companies that were involved in the rescue.  Has that happened?

MR. GIBBS:  I will check with OP on that.  I know they had gotten some numbers, but I don’t know the answer to that.

Q    Also, are there ways in which you expect this afternoon’s town hall to be fundamentally different from Tuesday’s, or is it sort of the same thing, different venue?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what the participants will ask.  I don't doubt that there's an element of commonality in a number of the questions that you hear throughout the country in town halls. So, look, I think there will be some overlap on topics, as you always hear, but I have no idea what they’ll ask.

Q    Robert, you said that the President is hopeful that after the election the Republicans will come off the sidelines and participate more.  He’s been hopeful before for Republican participation and he hasn’t gotten it --

MR. GIBBS:  Hope is kind of big with us.

Q    Hope is big with you, yes.  And is there -- does having more Republicans in Congress give him more leverage to bring them into the game, or is there --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think there are a series of problems that are going to be dealt with and have to be dealt with by both sides.  We are not going to solve our long-term fiscal problems -- one party alone is not going to solve our fiscal problems.  One party alone is not going to reform our immigration laws.  There are a whole host of issues that Democrats and Republicans are both concerned with and need to take part in solving. 

The President has remained optimistic and hopeful throughout the process that Republicans will at some point, as I said, come off the sidelines and begin to participate in the act of governing.  The President remains hopeful that that will happen.

Q    By having a larger Republican presence in this -- or outright control, though, will he be using words like “obligation” to participate?  Will he be making clear that --

MR. GIBBS:  Look, you take an oath to -- you largely take an oath to obligate to participate.  That's what their job is, drawing a paycheck to do that.  We’ll see if they begin to earn some of that money.

Q    Robert, you were asked previously, I think it was yesterday, whether the President believes “don’t ask, don’t tell” is constitutional or unconstitutional.

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve not gotten anything else on that.  Wrong, unjust, discriminatory.

Q    All right.  Can I ask about the trade deficit?  It’s back up again sharply this month and it’s at its highest level ever against China.  Isn’t it time to get something done about the currency?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, which is why the President raises it in meetings with the Chinese, why the Secretary and others have been involved in pushing the Chinese government to take action on its currency.  Absolutely.  The legislation that was passed in Congress is a reminder, as I’ve said here, of the extent and the concern about this issue.  It’s not just something that’s here or at the Department of Treasury; it’s on both sides of the aisle and it’s on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The United States -- I think we’ve seen over the past many months that the United States cannot drive world demand anymore. We cannot as a group create the demand all over the world for everybody else to sell their goods.  That’s why the President has pledged to increase our exports, and we’re working to do that.  But there’s no doubt that the President, the Secretary of Treasury, and others will continue to put pressure on the Chinese government to live up to its obligations.


Q    Clarifying on your suggestion of the new guidance will be coming out for the military chain of command.  Wouldn’t any new guidance have to be based on whether the Justice Department and the President intend to seek either an appeal or a stay of the current injunction?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I’d point you over to DOD.

Q    Separate from --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, they’re not, but I’d point you to DOD for the answer.

Q    Well, but DOD isn’t making the decision on an appeal, is it?

MR. GIBBS:  DOD is involved in that, yes.

Q    And so any new guidance they get would have to wait and see what the Justice Department wants to do.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think they’re in the midst of constructing the guidance and it will be out soon.

Q    On the MTV event this afternoon, are you aware that the network put out a casting call on a professional site for -- asking for people to apply for --

MR. GIBBS:  My understanding is MTV is selecting their audience the very same way that -- through the very same means of seeking interested participants as ABC did when we had our health care town hall, or CNBC did when we had -- we did our recent town hall on the economy and jobs.

Q    And this is a regular presidential official event?  This is not a campaign event?

MR. GIBBS:  Right, that’s true.

Q    And you don’t have a -- do you have advanced knowledge of the questions?

MR. GIBBS:  Never have.

Q    The same way?

Q    And just two things.  Is the President planning to go to Cancun for the climate summit in the end of November?

MR. GIBBS:   Is what?

Q    Is the President planning to go to Cancun for the climate summit?

MR. GIBBS:  This November?

Q    In November, yes.

MR. GIBBS:  No, not that I’m aware of.

Q    That’s not under discussion?


Q    Also, has he personally heard that some members of the military overseas have not gotten their absentee ballots yet?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve not talked to the President about this.  I know the Department of Justice has recently been involved in cases with states around military ballots and the MOVE Act.  I’ve not talked to the President about that.

Q    What’s your reaction to that?  Does that outrage you?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think the Department of Justice has said quite clearly that states must comply with the law. 

Q    Robert, there have been some recent polls out showing that the President’s approval rating among people has taken a pretty precipitous dip.  Why do you think that is?  They were a huge part of your success in 2008.  What do you have to do to reclaim it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, not shockingly, our approval rating is not the same as it was when we came in.  The good news is nobody expected that it would be.  Look, I don’t think young people are immune to the frustrations of our economy any more than voters my age or others. 

Look, the pain of our economic devastation has been spread wide; it’s deep.  It affects those who are coming out of college and looking for jobs in a job market for the first time.  And I think the President will be able to make a pretty forceful case that we’ve taken big banks out of being the middlemen in college loans.  We’ve made college, by definition in that case, more affordable, more available.  We have economic growth for the first time.  We’re creating private sector jobs, which are important.  My guess is his message will also be the same as it is to others in that it’s going to take time.

Q    One other thing.  Yesterday the First Lady mentioned on the Tom Joyner show that she was encouraging supporters to pray for her and the President.  Do you think that that’s a good idea -- (laughter) --

MR. GIBBS:  Praying on behalf of people?  Sure.  Do you have anything against prayer?  (Laughter.)  I mean, I used to pray before tests.  Look --

Q    Did it help?

Q    On your knees?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  No, but let’s be serious.  In church they pray for -- we pray for our troops.  We pray for those in harm’s way. Each individual may pray for people that are important to them.  And I think the President is always uplifted by those when they pray for him and for the country.


Q    Robert, going back to this event this afternoon, what is the specific youth demographic that you’re trying to reach?  I’ve been told today that -- by David Bositis at the Joint Center for Political and Economic that African American and Latino youth are younger than white youth.  So what is your demographic that you’re really trying to reach --

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the answer to -- I think this is -- I think the demographic for the town hall is -- I think youth in this case is considered under 30.  But, look, I don't know if there's a demographic standard for such.  I think that's what's  -- again, those are those that are participating in the event itself.  But, look, I think you’re talking about people that are -- that participate in a democracy that are near the voting age, that are in college, that are just coming out of college, that are young professionals.  I think it’s a whole host of different ages.

Q    And also, do you have a definitive answer as to when President Obama last spoke with Nancy Pelosi?  I asked that a couple of days ago.

MR. GIBBS:  I believe it was during the meeting that she was last here.

Q    September 30th?

MR. GIBBS:  If that was the date, then that was the case.  I know the Vice -- I think the Vice President is supposed to speak with her at some point today.

Q    But understanding that he’s going to go on the campaign trail with Harry Reid, do you think that's a long period of time not to talk to the leader of the House who’s in his party?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the Speaker and the President and Senate Majority Leader are clear about what we need to do in the remaining few weeks.


Q    So we’ve got this, like, really busy domestic political season, and then he’s leaving almost immediately for India.  And what I’m wondering is, in between, is he trying to make some time to get ready for the trip?  I don't -- he has not been to India before at all, has he?


Q    Is he building into the schedule over the next few weeks some time to meet with Indian Americans, to read any literature, to study up on the Diwali?  And can you describe any of that?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get some better guidance -- I have not certainly seen -- there’s regularly scheduled national security staff time.  I know there's been a lot of staff meetings about our itinerary and our list of events.  But let me see if I can get a longer answer for them on some of that.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  The very first question I asked you on Tuesday was whether there had been any discussion of how to bring DOD into compliance with the injunction.  It’s now 48 hours later.  There's been nothing -- to this very minute, there's been nothing yet out of you guys or DOD or DOJ on how to bring them into compliance with the injunction. 

Meanwhile, as first reported by The New York Times this morning -- I’ve also verified this myself -- there are recruits walking into -- hopeful gay recruits walking into places, trying to enlist and being turned away by recruiters -- one specifically, Omar Lopez in Austin, Texas.  Are you saying -- I know you said that DOD is going to be issuing guidance on this, but you seem completely deferential to them.  Are you saying the White House has no concern and bears no responsibility for the fact that DOD seems to be out of compliance and potentially in contempt of court?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I’m not a judge or have a legal degree in terms of the last part of the question, Kerry.  We have been in and are working with DOJ and DOD regarding the legal questions surrounding the judge’s ruling.  I expect, as I said earlier, that DOD will have guidance soon.  And I would stay tuned to the Department of Justice for news or developments on the legal side.

Q    But any back-and-forth between the White House and the Pentagon on what to do about this, on the fact that they’re -- I mean, these recruiters said --

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the nature of every discussion, Kerry, but the White House counsel has certainly been in touch with the counsel at the Pentagon over the course of the past 48 hours, yes.

Q    And what is the nature of that conversation there?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not been in most of those discussions, Kerry.  Again, I think they are working through legal issues and I would point you over to the Department of Defense on that.

Q    Is the President concerned about that?  I mean, the fact that the DOD isn’t --

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.  Look, as I said to an earlier question, I think the President clearly has been involved in and been in meetings about our policy, about the steps that we’re taking.  I came out yesterday after -- only after I’d talked to him about the case itself.  So, yes.

Q    And one last question?

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    Thank you very much.  In the lame duck session, you’ve talked about being hopeful that the Senate will actually pass this.  Will the President actually lobby senators and work to make that happen?  I mean, will he be reaching out to people, along with Secretary Gates perhaps?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I know that the President -- it’s an important priority of the President.  It has been for a long time.  We’ve made progress in the House.  And I anticipate, yes, that the President will be involved in moving that important piece of legislation that contains a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in it.

Q    So actually talking to senators?

MR. GIBBS:  I think -- again, the President believes it’s time for this policy to end, that the best and most durable way for it to happen is through legally repealing it.  That’s what he supported.  That’s what he’s worked with members of the House to get passed, and will do so in the Senate as well.

Q    No commitment on talking to senators?

MR. GIBBS:  I just said that he would be actively involved in that.  If that, Kerry, involves talking to senators, absolutely.  Does that involve staff here talking to the staff of senators?  Absolutely.  I think you took “yes” for “no.”


Q    Is it unusual that the President would go more than two weeks without talking to the Speaker of the House?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

Q    I mean, do they regularly go that length of period without speaking?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have a list of all the times that they’ve spoken, Sam.  Again, Congress hasn’t been in session.  I’m fairly clear from every part of this White House what our objectives and goals are for the next several weeks heading into the election. 

Q    Well, you could see how that would seem odd, though.  I mean, it’s the --

MR. GIBBS:  No.  No, actually. 

Q    Does she have his email address?  (Laughter.)

Q    Back to the Peter Baker interview.  One of the sentences that struck me -- as the President said, one thing he has learned is “you can’t be neglecting of marketing and PR and public opinion.”  Is that a general admission on his part that, well, we got a lot done but we did a lousy job selling it?

MR. GIBBS:  Bill, what I think you’ve heard him and others say, myself included, is we did a lot of things that we knew didn’t poll well.  I’ve said it in here a hundred times.  If the actions that we took were based on the information that we got from a pollster, it would be time to get a new pollster -- right? Nobody ever went into a meeting and thought, you know what, helping the auto companies stave off bankruptcy is huge.  Nobody thought stabilizing the financial system had dramatic political benefits.  Leading the country, though, is about doing what’s right when it has to happen, not waiting for it to be politically popular.

Q    But he seemed to be saying it wasn’t enough to do it; we should have been better salesmen.

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think anybody would dispute that. 

Q    And was he particularly talking about the health care reform legislation or just in general?

MR. GIBBS:  I’d have to go back and look at the -- what surrounds that sentence.  My sense is that it has a lot more to do with, again, some of the things that had to be done that weren’t necessarily easy or popular to do.

Nobody likes to have to take extraordinary action to ensure that the economy doesn’t fall off a cliff and into a Great Depression.  But that’s what we had to do and those are the actions we took and it staved off that Great Depression.

Q    Thanks, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  Thanks, guys.

Q    Robert, can I ask a quick question about Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton is campaigning in dozens of districts across the country.  Is the President pleased with what he’s doing and is he frustrated that Bill Clinton is so popular he can go so many places where the President doesn’t seem to be welcome?

MR. GIBBS:  I think President Clinton has long relationships with many people that are running for many different jobs on many different levels.  We’re, of course, enormously thankful for former President Clinton to be able to go and campaign on this administration’s behalf and on behalf of candidates that we also support.

Look, there are some -- sending a President -- and I think President Clinton would probably be the first one to tell you he travels with a slightly smaller entourage of assets as a former President than you do as the sitting President.  That’s also true for the Vice President and for the First Lady.  Plus you don’t have that day job called the presidency.

But, look, we’re enormously thankful, and I think Bill Clinton has done a wonderful job.

Thanks, guys.

3:03 P.M. EDT

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