Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/1/2010
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Let me do one quick statement before I start taking questions. I just want to call your attention to a significant step forward for the agenda that the President outlined during the nuclear security summit in April. Belarus has agreed to eliminate all its stocks of highly enriched uranium by the time of the next nuclear security summit in 2012. This removal represents a significant, as I said, step forward in President Obama’s worldwide effort to secure nuclear material.
The United States intends to provide technical and financial assistance to support this effort. The Republic of Korea, as host of the 2012 nuclear security summit, has agreed to invite Belarus, contingent upon the completion of its highly enriched uranium removal.
And with that, take us away.
Q On the tax cut negotiations, given that the most obvious compromise is a temporary extension of all the tax cuts, does the White House think that a one-year, a two-year, or a three-year extension would make the most sense?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Erica, I am not one of the two that the President tapped to work through this and these issues with the Republicans. Obviously you know Secretary Geithner and OMB Director Jack Lew were on the Hill earlier this morning. They’ll reconvene at 5:30 p.m. with members and senators to work through some of these issues. And I think Secretary Geithner was clear in the brief stakeout that they did that we're not going to get into reading out the negotiations as they happen, and I'm not going to either.
Q And I believe that Senator Kyl said that he thinks that the tax cuts issue needs to be wrapped up by Monday in order for there to be enough time to deal with START. Do you agree with that and do you think that that timeline is realistic?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think first and foremost, everybody agreed yesterday that the issue of taxes needs to be resolved before anybody can go home and certainly before the end of the year. The President’s position obviously is, as he stated -- as he stated before, and that is our goal is to ensure that middle-class families don't see their tax bills go up on New Year’s Day.
We're going to work through a series of these issues. But if people come to the discussions that are being had up on Capitol Hill with an open mind and a desire to find common ground, the President believes we can get an agreement on this and still have time to sequence other issues that are important to the country to get done before the end of the lame duck, and START is certainly one of those.
I think we still have -- I don't think the Congress is going anywhere just yet and we'll have plenty of time to get a whole host of things done.
Q Just on the deficit commission, how would the President interpret a majority vote in support of the recommendations that was short, though, of the 14? Would he be then inclined to embrace the recommendations?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to -- as you know, the commission is meeting today. The President looks forward to reviewing their work at that conclusion of their votes, which I think will be toward the end of the week, and evaluate their proposals and those votes as we move forward and put together a budget of our own for next year. So let me not get too far out on the commission until they’ve had a chance to complete their work, as we’ve said before.
Q Just to follow up on the debt commission, as well -- does the President actually see the possibility of picking and choosing what he likes from these proposals? Or will he be willing to look at -- take it all wholesale, as presented?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Matt, I think some of this is going to be -- again, we’ll get a sense of where the commission comes down on certain things, again, toward the end of the week as they complete their work. I know that in the meeting yesterday both the President, Democrats and Republicans -- I know Senator Durbin for one is on the commission -- mentioned the important work that's being done and hoped that the work of the commission would be looked at as -- in certain ways, at its conclusion, as a way to make some decisions on getting us toward a path toward fiscal responsibility.
I’m not going to, again, prejudge the outcome of those votes. As the President said before, I think we believe and have believed that it’s important to give the commission space to come up with its judgments.
Q And on the European debt crisis, there’s talk of possible expansion of the nearly $1 trillion stability fund that's already in place, and that would come through the commitment of additional money from the International Monetary Fund. Would the administration support that? And is enough being done to ease that crisis?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, obviously as we said throughout last spring, we think that obviously this is a concern not just in Europe, but it has -- and certainly last spring -- affected our economic recovery. It was brought up yesterday by Secretary Geithner and Director Summers when they went around in discussing where we were on the economy.
I'd point you to Treasury for specifics on the stabilization fund. But Europe obviously is something that -- a series of issues that are going to have to be addressed by the European Union because they’re not going to -- they’re going to affect more than just the continent. They’re going to affect the overall global economy. And that’s -- we’ll certainly stay close in monitoring what’s going on.
Q Has the President been briefed on the negotiations, these tax cut negotiations, up on the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: I believe so. Secretary Geithner and Director Lew came back, oh, let’s see, a little after -- a little before, I think, 12:30 p.m., and I presume -- I'll double-check and see if they directly briefed the President. I believe they did.
Q And I know you don’t want to give a readout of progress, but is there a sense that the President is encouraged by what has transpired so far?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it’s encouraging that they’re meeting. I think it’s encouraging that they’ve had a meeting and they’re going to go back again this afternoon.
This is -- it’s going to take a little time to get something done, and we understand that. I think what’s important is what everyone agreed on yesterday, and that is this is a problem that has to be dealt with by the end of the year. We cannot have Congress leave for the holidays without a solution to an issue that will bring a hardship -- potentially a big hardship to middle-class families at the end of the year.
Q You said it’s going to take a little time, but I think yesterday you were talking about a couple of days. So what are we talking about now in terms of getting something actually done?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm not -- I hung up my hat on congressional predicting months ago.
Q Wait, I have one more question, on Colin Powell. He’s here today meeting with the President on education but obviously START as well. Is the White House looking for sort of a heavy hitter to help push this through, and Colin Powell is that person?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s be clear that the number of people that are I think by any estimation you’d consider heavy hitters on either the Democratic or the Republican side have weighed in in strong support of ratifying the New START treaty.
Certainly General Powell is among those. General Powell, former Secretary of State Powell -- call him either one, I guess -- is somebody obviously whose advice the President seeks on a regular basis. He’ll be here, as you said, to talk about national security issues, particularly around the New START treaty, as well as to talk to the President and the Vice President about his work on dropouts and education, which obviously is a passion of his, and important work that he’s doing on behalf of the country.
But I think if you look at the number -- I think there’s a reason why 75 percent of the American people think that ratifying the START treaty is a good idea, and I think one of the reasons is Henry Kissinger or Jim Baker or Colin Powell or Madeleine Albright -- I’m leaving out dozens -- but a whole host of important national security heavyweights from both parties that understand the importance of reducing our deployed nuclear weapons, having a verification regime as it relates to the nuclear arsenal of Russia, and our engagement and our place in the world all make a -- all those are important factors in trying to get something finished this year.
Q Senate Republicans have said they don’t want to move ahead on anything until the tax issue is done and the continuing resolution. Is that reasonable, considering those are the President’s priorities, too?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t know that I’d get real hung up on process. I think that -- I think we’re in the midst of productive discussions and negotiations around what I think everybody agrees is, as I said, an issue that has to get done in taxes. But I think we can get a substantive -- I think we can get some substantive agreements and I think we can move to the sequencing of other issues that are important, like START. So I think there’s miles to go before we sleep.
Q And Secretary Geithner’s mandate in these negotiations, again, at 5:30 p.m. is to come up with numbers and to be able to compromise, expecting the Republicans to compromise as well?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ve heard the President discuss his focus in ensuring that middle-class families don’t see their tax rates go up. I think you’ve heard the President lay out what is not acceptable to him, and that’s borrowing an additional $700 billion for a permanent extension of upper-end tax cuts.
Q -- rule out temporary?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s why they’re having meetings. So when we have a more substantive report on the outcome of that we’ll walk through it.
Q So the President yesterday issued this appeal for an end to posturing, and then Republicans in the Senate signed an agreement not to pursue anything but possibly these tax cuts. What does he make of that? What do you make of it?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think there’s, with a willingness to find common ground, plenty of time to solve the issue of taxes and do many things.
Q How do you know there’s a willingness to find common ground? What evidence is there of it, given that particular act?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Bill, there’s an agreement that we have to do something on the issue of taxes before the end of the year. That’s why they had a meeting earlier today and that’s why they’ll go back and have a meeting.
Q What about everything else?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there’s anything that precludes a healthy legislative agenda --
Q You don’t?
MR. GIBBS: No, not at all.
Q Despite what’s being said on the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: Despite what’s being --
Q What makes you such an optimist?
MR. GIBBS: I’m a hopeful man, Bill. (Laughter.) I’m a hopeful man.
Q I see.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q To the House, where Democrats want a vote on the middle-class tax cut only tomorrow. That seems to have irritated Congressman Camp, who is one of the negotiators in the room. Does the President have any concern that this could blow up the spirit of goodwill?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Anything further you care to say? (Laughter.)
Q He’s still optimistic, apparently.
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, I think -- if you take everybody at their word, they support making middle-class tax cuts permanent. So there’s going to be a vote on that. We’ll get to -- get a chance to see where people are.
We strongly support making tax cuts for middle-class families permanent. Again I think, as the President said yesterday, that's what -- if you read the statements from everybody involved, that's what we agree on. Let’s agree on that and that gives us more time to finish what we have some disagreements on, as well as finish up Bill’s agenda.
Q Congressman Camp called it a sign of bad faith after everybody agreed to sit down and talk -- why are we talking, in effect, if we’re just going to vote on -- go ahead with a vote?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is going to take a little time. It’s not -- it’s going to take a little time. And I anticipate that Congress will continue working during that time.
Q There are a couple other tax issues still looming out there -- the AMT patch, the estate tax. You had the IRS commissioner write a letter saying that without an AMT patch it could create chaos for the IRS. Your thoughts? Have there been assurances made that that patch will get done and the estate tax will --
MR. GIBBS: We've talked about -- I've mentioned this on multiple occasions. That is something that’s not in the Bush-era tax cuts from ’01 or ’03. And understand this is not something that expires at the end of the year. There is no AMT patch for 2010.
Now, one would have thought, based on what you said, the concern for an AMT patch -- as I've said in here before, that patch was included in the Recovery Act. In 2009, the reason there wasn’t -- the reason that the AMT did not impact the middle-class families it was never intended to impact was because of -- and I think this is important to understand -- because of what -- that patch was contained in the Recovery Act. There’s no similar provision -- no similar provision was done in 2010, and that is certainly among the issues that these talks are going to have to address.
We had a two-year tax cut for Make Work Pay for -- 95 percent of working Americans got a tax cut, middle-class families, small business people. That expires also at the end of the year. So there’s some stuff -- there’s some work left to be done on these issues.
Q Is the President hopeful that these will get resolved -- the estate tax and --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I think that -- the estate tax was talked about yesterday; AMT was talked about yesterday; Make Work Pay was talked about yesterday. These are all -- when we talk about not having -- when you hear people say tax rates shouldn’t go up on anybody, we’re talking about not just ’01 and ’03 Bush tax cuts. There are a panoply of other taxes that are either -- that either have to be patched for the 2010 tax year or are set to expire at the end of the year that weren’t originally composed -- or comprised of ’01 and ’03 Bush tax cuts.
Q What’s the test in the debt commission plan? That it gets the bipartisan support or that it’s a good plan -- as far as the President’s ability to support it?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck, I don't want to prejudge what the commission might come up with at the conclusion of their work toward the end of the week. I think the President will -- looks forward to evaluating, and I think you’ll get a sense -- it will be interesting to see sort of where people line up and whether or not you can get certain things done.
Q But is he -- I mean, does basically the ability to get bipartisan support for it maybe trump parts of the plan he may not like?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think to evaluate that in a vacuum would be difficult to do. Obviously, you’re going to --
Q It’s pretty obvious that’s going to be a case in some form or another.
MR. GIBBS: But, again, I don't want to do that as a one-off without some context. I think it’s important also to understand that you’re -- look, you’ll get a sense of some of the dynamics on each side of the aisle. And I think obviously look, something has got to go through Congress. And we’re in the midst of preparing a budget and anxious to see the end of their work.
Q On tax cuts on this tax -- how is Senator McConnell -- what did you do?
Q Killer spider --
Q Spiderman. (Laughter.)
Q So I want to just follow up on Bill’s --
MR. GIBBS: Let me know if there’s a bigger one behind it. (Laughter.)
Q So nothing about what the Senate Republicans did today punctures the happy talk from yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think that --
Q You totally brush it off?
MR. GIBBS: Yes -- much like the spider. (Laughter.)
Q They continue this next week and it’s a different story, or --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t get, and I know the President isn’t going to get hung up on this. We’ve got important work that has to be done. We’ve --
Q The President sent out a tweet today about the DREAM Act. He didn’t say anything, but these guys are basically saying, look, we’re not going to touch any of this stuff until --
MR. GIBBS: Again --
Q Is that fair, the Republicans saying -- you believe that this is a fair proposal on their part?
MR. GIBBS: I think there is plenty of time to get plenty of work done. And I think --
Q And you’re okay with their prioritizing?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we all agree that we have to get the tax issue resolved by the end of the year. And I think once -- I think we can get an agreement at some point on that, and then we can figure out the sequencing on the rest of this. I mean, look, I will point you to --
Q So you’re okay with their sequencing for now?
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m not hung up on their letter -- how about that?
MR. GIBBS: I will say that -- I’d point you to what Secretary Gates said yesterday on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This is an issue that is going to be solved in one of two venues. It is either going to be solved in a legislative venue in Congress or a court. And a court is not likely to provide the Pentagon with the type of transition period that they’d like to see.
And that’s why Secretary Gates, after going through the study, and Admiral Mullen have urged Congress to act in this lame duck to change this law, because they understand that, one, it’s not disruptive. That’s exactly what the survey said. It doesn’t threaten unit cohesion. There’s an ability to do this without any harm. And it does this in a way that provides an orderly process for doing so.
Q Are you making the case that, say, “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be brought up at the same time as the taxes and the same time --
MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that is among the issues that I think many people believe -- the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff included -- should be addressed over the next few weeks. And I think we’ll get an opportunity to address not just how we fund the government and not just the tax rates for next year. The President and everyone in that room agree that’s the most important thing to address. But there’s plenty of time to do plenty of other work.
Q Robert, do you think you can combine all those into one bill? I mean -- and link it to the UI extension?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a -- I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, I don’t know if you could put it into one big, massive bill. I don’t, to be honest with you, know whether that’s possible. Again, I think there’s the ability to get a lot of this stuff done.
Q Beyond appearing here at the White House today, what are you hoping that General Powell will do in support of the START treaty?
MR. GIBBS: Well, General Powell and others have been helpful in having conversations with and discussions with a whole host of people, I believe including those on Capitol Hill, on why it is important -- why this treaty is important, why it’s important to get it done -- why it’s important to get this treaty done, and its impact on our relationship in the world and the progress that we can make in reducing dangerous weapons.
Again, he and others, many of whom I outlined earlier, have been helpful in this effort. And I think over the course of the past -- you guys have mentioned this letter -- I think over the course of the last 24 hours we’ve seen -- last week we were ready to pronounce START -- or two weeks ago ready to pronounce START dead. We’ve got Senator Voinovich who said just yesterday that he hopes we get it done this year and I think he said he would likely support it. I think there’s an understanding that it’s something that's tremendously important to do.
Q Do you think that Colin Powell or some of the other Republicans who are in support of this treaty have more credibility with Republican senators than the people in the administration do?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, look, I think you get different things from different people. Obviously, there’s -- Colin Powell brings I think a unique perspective as somebody who was the chair of the Joint Chiefs, so he brings a military perspective. He brings the perspective of having been the chief architect of foreign policy as a Secretary of State.
But look, there are technical experts in the administration that can walk people through what different parts of the agreement mean. This is -- our DNI Director has had top-secret briefings with folks. There are a whole lot of different questions that people might have, and a lot of different places to get those answers.
I think the unique -- again, the unique perspective that Powell brings as a former secretary of state and as a former commander and general that I think lends particular weight and credibility to his words.
Q Robert, what have you done on this WikiLeaks review panel that's reported on the wires?
MR. GIBBS: I believe there’s something that's going to go out --
Q It’s already out.
MR. GIBBS: -- see, that was fast -- (laughter) -- on different procedures, and we’ll get you some more information if you have questions on that.
Q And what did you say earlier about Korea’s role in the Belarus nuclear material?
MR. GIBBS: Korea is the next host of the nuclear security summit in 2012. They will be extending an invitation to Belarus if they follow through on their commitment -- to participate in the next nuclear security summit if they follow through on the commitment that they’ve made to the Secretary of State to remove all their highly enriched uranium.
Q Do you know what costs are involved for the U.S.?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- State has the technical answers on that.
Q On START, has the President made any more calls to senators himself? And as from Senator Voinovich, is there any indication that this could happen in the lame duck session?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President, to my knowledge, has made any -- that I know of, has made additional calls. I know Vice President Biden has been working on this extensively. Obviously, Senator McCain made some comments yesterday, as well, I think that demonstrate that there is the ability to get this done. So obviously we still think it’s going to happen.
Q Any more discussions with Senator Kyl?
MR. GIBBS: Not since yesterday, no.
Q And following up on Matt’s question, how concerned is the President about the financial conditions in Europe? And can you say anything more about what the administration is planning to do about it?
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think that it is something that we’re watching. It bears watching because we understand the impact that what happened -- what was happening and what happened in Greece had on our recovery last spring, so obviously it is something that the President has received updates on during his economic daily briefings. It’s half a world away, but it’s important to the global economy and to our economic recovery.
Q Does he get those briefs in the daily briefings?
MR. GIBBS: I can’t remember the last time that Europe was specifically brought into this. It’s probably been a few days, but that's -- he gets -- if there’s news on that, that's where he gets it.
Q Given that oversight, transparency, accountability have been such buzzwords for this White House in the last two years, to what extent does the specter of Republican oversight in the House in January seem worrisome to the White House? And to what extent could it dovetail with the White House’s interests?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, Ari, you mentioned that many of the things that are important to the President, both as a senator and as President, oversight is -- oversight and transparency are important and obviously, important functions of carrying out an efficient and effective government.
I think obviously it is our hope that Senator -- I’m sorry -- Vice President Biden met with Congressman Issa here yesterday. And I think we’re certainly -- efficient oversight is important. That was something that we made a great hallmark in the Recovery Act.
I think everybody’s hope is that we don't see, as we did certainly in parts of the early to mid ‘90s, where oversight becomes the buzzword for gamesmanship, political posturing and witch hunts -- I don't think anybody, particularly the American public, has an appetite for that.
Q Following up on Ari’s question, has the White House had any formal contact with Congressman Issa, who will be in charge of the committee that could do a lot of the investigating --
MR. GIBBS: I think the only -- I think, again, nothing other than -- that I know of -- than the lunch yesterday -- or not the lunch, the meeting yesterday.
Q Can you talk about the President’s meeting today with Mayor-elect Gray in terms of what issues they may have discussed, and did the President commit about -- did he make any commitments about voting rights in D.C. --
MR. GIBBS: I need to follow up with -- that was breaking just as I was getting ready to come out here. I know that obviously they talked about education and the economy. They did talk about -- I need to get some specifics on -- I know they touched on voting rights and home rule. And let me get a little bit more -- let me get some more details on that.
Q Robert, is there -- on the Belarus thing, is there anything that the United States can provide in addition to support for the specific removal of the HEU? In other words, lifting of sanctions, visa, things -- there are a whole lot of actions that America has taken against Belarus over the years. Is there any other incentive to them beyond simply paying for --
MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check on that from NSC. Not that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, can you confirm that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to the White House the beginning of January? And will she receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom then, or is there a different ceremony with all the other recipients?
MR. GIBBS: My understanding -- I will double-check the date. My understanding is that she is not going to be here during the ceremony where most of this will happen. But let me double-check on the early January date.
Q Thank you, Robert. You have spoken forcefully from this podium and the President has certainly spoken forcefully about no higher taxes on the middle class. Will you commit now or will the President commit to rejecting the suggestions of the debt commission if they include a 15-cent per gallon increase on the gasoline tax?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m going to reiterate what we’ve -- this is an independent commission that was set up by this White House to look into our long-term fiscal crisis, and we’re going to let the commission do their work. We’re going to let them --
Q To follow up on that for a second, is the White House weighing in on the report at all in advance of the vote on Friday? The report is out, and the co-chairs say it’s not going to change at all.
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Okay. And also, what will happen if you don’t get a recommendation that has 14 votes from the commission?
MR. GIBBS: What happens --
Q What if there aren’t 14 votes for a recommendation?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t want to get into guesswork on what some of these votes -- how they may end up, what may happen, what evaluation some in here, including the President, might give to certain vote counts. I think we’ll have a chance to obviously examine the full record of their work at the conclusion of their meeting later this week.
Q And let me just ask, you mentioned also the ATM, the estate tax and Make Work Pay were talked about yesterday. Do you know if they were talked about today on the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. Well, let me check. I want to double-check on that.
Q And also, the UI extension, if that came up also today.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me check.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: You didn’t even have your hand up, April?
Q I did have my hand up.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, you did. I didn’t --
Q Ari was blocking. (Laughter.)
Q Even with the hand raised. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You need a booster.
Q Let me get a phone book.
Q Let’s not start this again. (Laughter.) I can’t take it.
MR. GIBBS: This is the most entertainment I’ve had since the spider. Go ahead.
Q Anyway, from the vertically challenged person, first of all, do you have any day, timeline for the Black Farmer signing ceremony?
MR. GIBBS: I don't. I will -- let me check.
Q Next week, possibly?
MR. GIBBS: That's certainly a possibility. Again, I don't know -- we get emails when a bill gets received here, and I don't remember if I’ve seen one where the bill has made its way down yet or not.
Q Also on the issue of Vince Gray, could you talk to me about the President’s relationship --
MR. GIBBS: Sorry --
Q Okay --
Q There’s another spider.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think it’s the same very active spider that -- let’s just say if my ankle is this big tomorrow, you’ll know. (Laughter.)
Q Is Bill trying to take you out or something?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just kill that spider.
Q Is Bill trying to take you out with the spider?
MR. GIBBS: Here he comes.
Q Is it still alive?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to call him --
Q You know if you step on him, you’ll get emails.
Q I was going to say, PETA is going to be after you guys.
MR. GIBBS: No, he’s going --
Q Crush it with your fingers.
Q Geez --
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m just going to --
Q Leave him alone --
Q Okay, it’s not a -- (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I hope it’s not a brown recluse.
Go ahead. I’m sorry.
Q Okay, what about the relationship with Vince Gray and President Obama, their meeting today -- could you talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I had the list of the issues. I did not have a chance to -- and I’ll get some more detail because I know this is important for many of you. I went to see the President right before the lunch on a topic, but I have not had an opportunity to talk to him afterwards. But let me get -- I know that’s of particular --
Q And also, one more, on the unemployment benefits expiration, unemployment is said to help the economy. It’s also --
MR. GIBBS: The unemployment benefits, yes.
Q Yes, unemployment -- I’m sorry, unemployment benefit insurance when it goes into the economy, every $1 supposedly generates $1.90 for economic growth.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And if this is a number-one priority for this administration, why is it at this critical bypass right now? Why are we at this point that we haven’t seen in decades for an expiration of unemployment insurance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you can go back throughout congressional history and find that the expiration of unemployment benefits, the extensions and things like that, that have gone back and forth. That is not to say that this isn’t -- as you’ve heard the President and others discuss here how important it is.
You mentioned the economic impact that those benefits have. That's money that -- look, if you are drawing down your unemployment benefits, you don't have full-time work, and you’re using that money to pay your bills, to continue to look for work. And it’s an important part of the efforts that individuals that have lost their jobs use to continue to keep going to pay their bills. And it’s an important part of the economy. It is something that the President and the economic team particularly feel strongly has to be extended.
I will say this. If we are going to have a debate in this town about extending tax cuts for people that make a billion dollars a year, how do we not have a debate and how do we not come to some conclusion for unemployment benefits for people that have lost their job? Nothing could be more completely out of whack with what is important to the American people and to getting our economy going again than to watch a debate about billionaire tax cuts while people lose their unemployment benefits.
Q Thanks, Robert. Yesterday, Congressman --
MR. GIBBS: I was pounding on that -- that is not about the spider.
Q Good to know.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Yesterday, Congressmen Boehner and Cantor both called on the Smithsonian to pull a National Portrait Gallery exhibit that featured among other things, an ant-covered Jesus. Is that something that should continue or --
MR. GIBBS: I would need to get some more information on this. I don't have anything on this.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Savannah?
Q We just got your fact sheet this morning about everything the White House and the State Department is doing in response to the leaks by WikiLeaks. And I’m just curious why it is that we’re just hearing about these remedial efforts now or in the last couple of days when you guys have known about the leaks since at least July when Bradley Manning was arrested. Why did it take so long to try to implement new procedures? And I think you're just starting to examine --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’d point you to DOD and to State on some of the particulars on that. Obviously, look, this is the same -- working through the same databases and systems that have existed across administrations.
Q But why start months and months after this leak was well known?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it’s accurate to say that we somehow read the paper over the weekend and started to do this. I just think that's --
Q So you guys were working on this for months?
MR. GIBBS: This is an ongoing effort to -- as we talked about here on Monday, to ensure that we have the type of information-sharing that we understand is important.
Again, look, some of the initial stuff that came out of these leaks was battlefield assessments and battlefield intelligence that are used by those on the ground in particular places in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's important that they have access to that. But at the same time -- I said earlier this week -- we have to balance the need to know and the need to share with appropriate oversight. And that's what we’re working on doing.
Q Robert, since the release of the Pentagon report yesterday on “don't ask, don't tell,” has the President contacted any fence-sitting senators who are reluctant to back repeal to get them to support it?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And has the --
Q Will he do that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is a priority of the President and as I’ve said in the past, he’ll be involved in this.
Q Has the President issued any guidance to Senator Reid in terms of scheduling the “don't ask, don't tell” vote or in terms when it should come up relative to the START treaty or tax cuts?
MR. GIBBS: We have not provided specific calendar guidance. I would reiterate, though, what I said here earlier, and what was I think a fairly powerful and eloquent statement from Secretary Gates about the strong need to get something done and address this issue in the lame duck session. It is tremendously important that we do this over the next few weeks.
Q Do you anticipate that Secretary Gates will make calls on this? Will he be calling senators?
MR. GIBBS: He has. He already has.
Q He has.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
END 3:13 P.M. EST