The White House
June 10, 2009
Briefing by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6-10-09
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 10, 2009
PRESS BRIEFING BY
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
AND SECRETARY OF COMMERCE GARY LOCKE
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 10, 2009
PRESS BRIEFING BY
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
AND SECRETARY OF COMMERCE GARY LOCKE
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Again, in my endeavoring pursuit to bring you special guests, today obviously we have the Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke, who is going to talk to you guys and give you a little bit of an update on the impending deadline of the transition for digital television, which takes place at the end of this week.
So, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY LOCKE: Thank you, Robert. And today I'm here to remind Americans about the impending national switch to digital television. It's just two days away, Friday, June 12th.
In February, President Obama signed the DTV Delay Act, which set June 12th as the final deadline for television broadcasters to transition from analog to digital signals. The President acted out of concerns for the millions of Americans who would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned.
The Commerce Department and the FCC have been spearheading efforts to ensure all Americans are ready for the switchover, and great progress has been made in just the last three months since Recovery Act funds were made available. But with the deadline fast approaching, some people are still unprepared, some 2.5 percent of American households, or 2.8 million households.
Here is what the American people need to know about the June 12th switchover: If you currently have cable, satellite, or some other paid-for television service, you have nothing to worry about. You are prepared; you don't need to do anything, and June 12th you'll see no change in your television reception or programming.
If you have a new television set purchased, let's say, within the last one year, those new television sets come automatically with a digital tuner. So if you have a television set a year old or newer, you're prepared; you don't need to do anything, you don't need to worry.
But if you have a television set more than a year old and you're not on cable or satellite, and you're relying basically on free over-the-air service, you are not ready. And you will lose your television service this Friday if you don't act now.
So you have three options: You can subscribe to cable or satellite; you can purchase a newer television set that has these automatic digital tuners built in; or you can purchase a converter box. The Recovery Act provided Commerce with money to help consumers having trouble affording a digital converter box. Millions of households have applied for and received the $40 coupons to cover the cost of these converter boxes. And the converter boxes start at $40 and we mail out two coupons per household, requesting household. So that basically means that with the coupons you get a free converter box.
While coupons are still available for eligible households, it will take some nine days for us to process and send out, first-class mail, these coupons, and so they will not arrive in time for this Friday's conversion. We will have these coupons available until the end of July -- July 31st -- or as long as supplies last. The coupons are good for 90 days each.
If you already have a coupon, please make sure to purchase the converter box immediately at a partnering retail store like Target, RadioShack, Circuit City, or Wal-Mart. Take it home, hook it up right away -- in fact, you can use these converter boxes now and receive the digital signal now.
You can get more information about the transition, or apply for a coupon, or even find a nearby retailer selling these converter boxes by calling us toll-free at 1-888-DTV-2009. And for those Americans who need extra assistance, the FCC is offering free in-home installation for consumers in most cities. They can call the FCC, or if you have a technical question about how to install the converter boxes, call the FCC at 1-888-CALL-FCC. They have a robust call center that's in operation to help Americans with the transition and the call center will be fully staffed for many days even after June 12th.
For those families already prepared for the transition, make sure to help other friends and families. If they have leftover coupons, unused coupons that are still valid, feel free to share them with other individuals so they can rush out and get a converter box.
We will continue to reach out to the most vulnerable communities to ensure as many Americans as possible are ready for this switch to digital television. We want to make sure that families are able to not only receive their favorite programming, but more importantly, to receive news broadcasts of emergency alerts, impending storms, and any other emergency situation within their community. It's very important that communities and people throughout our nation have the information they need to respond in times of emergencies.
And I want to thank you now, and I'd be happy to take any questions you have about the transition or the progress that we've made in decreasing the number of families who are unprepared.
Q Can you tell us what kind of planning you have in place for the families who, come Friday or Saturday, despite your efforts, will not have gone through this and will lose their service?
SECRETARY LOCKE: Well, the television stations, even though the screens will go blue, will have telephone numbers on the bottom -- either our telephone number, our toll free number, 1-888-DTV-2009, where they can continue to request the coupons; and also telephone numbers for the FCC.
Q This will come up -- the TV turns on, this will come on their screen?
SECRETARY LOCKE: It's a rolling conversion starting midnight Thursday night, 12:01 a.m. Friday. Some stations will start converting to digital throughout the day. But by the end of the day all television stations must be exclusively on digital.
Q And do you have a sense of how many people will be affected, who will not have converted by now?
SECRETARY LOCKE: Well, as of this last Sunday we had some 2.7 million households -- excuse me, 2.8 million households, roughly 2.5 percent of all households in America with television sets that are not prepared. And when we say "not prepared," we mean who don't have at least one television set that can continue to receive news.
I mean, in our own household we have several television sets that are on cable, that are hooked up to cable, but I also have an old television set in the garage that's not hooked up and will not be able to receive the broadcast after June 12. But we are prepared because our other television sets have cable and therefore not affected. So we're talking about families that are completely unprepared, that have neither the converter box, don't have a new television set, or don't have cable or satellite. We call them "totally unprepared." And on June 12th, if they don't do something between now and then, they will get nothing but a blue screen.
Q Are there particular pockets of the country where families are unprepared, or are they scattered throughout the country?
SECRETARY LOCKE: It's actually -- we're finding that it's primarily on the West Coast and the Southwest that are more unprepared than the rest of the country. Los Angeles, while having a small percentage of families unprepared, a small percentage of a huge market is about a quarter-million households that are unprepared.
We're also finding that it's -- ethnic groups are more unprepared than the general population: African American, Hispanic, almost twice the national average; Asian Americans just slightly above the national average. Surprisingly enough, seniors are prepared. And it's the younger generation, households of under 30 that are also more unprepared than the national average. Maybe it's because they rely on new forms of media for news and programming and don't care about television anymore. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: None of the newspaper guys are -- (laughter.)
SECRETARY LOCKE: So you new media people, you must be loving it.
Q Don't watch the news tonight.
SECRETARY LOCKE: The Recovery Act provided $650 million. And we have more than enough coupons to handle all the unprepared households if they were to ask for coupons. We also have several million coupons that have not yet been redeemed, but we've also provided funds to the FCC for outreach call center support.
But we've really been pleased with the amazing interest and activity in just the last week. The last few days we've been receiving requests from over 100,000 households asking for coupons. So we're seeing a dramatic drop in the number of unprepared families.
When the President took office, there were some -- almost 6 million households, 6.8 -- excuse me, almost 7 million households not prepared -- 6.8 million, to be exact. That's roughly 5.9 percent of the households not prepared. And that's now down to 2.5 percent, or 2.8 million households.
Q You had said that this -- there was an ethnicity -- Hispanics and African Americans. Is this a language -- so is this a language issue that -- has there been enough done on the language front?
SECRETARY LOCKE: Well, it could be a language issue. Ethnic minorities, for whatever reason -- it may be due to language -- are not as prepared as others. But we've been reaching out using Hispanic -- Telemundo, Univision; held a press conference with Mayor Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, Mayor Kevin Johnson in Sacramento.
And since those press conferences and those special events -- I've conducted more than 50 events -- interviews, on-air radio shows, television shows, working with the print media -- the activity in request for coupons have really spiked. But we're using a lot of free media as well as paid media. And I want to thank all the partners in the television industry and broadcasting industry for getting the word out.
Q Mr. Secretary, isn’t it possible that some just decided not to do it, and isn't that okay?
SECRETARY LOCKE: That's true. As long as -- we believe that there's almost universal understanding of it. We know that there will be some people who don't want to make the conversion or maybe they'll wait until they get a new television set, or maybe will just -- don't want it for now. And we do know that there are a lot of people who procrastinate, whether it's paying taxes or, when we were in college, studying for exams -- or not -- (laughter) -- and getting by. But, again, just in the last few days more than 100,000 households have been calling asking for coupons.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you explain how you're getting these statistics? Like how do we know that 2.5 percent of TV households don't have it?
SECRETARY LOCKE: It's from Nielsen data and they collect the data almost every week or every other week. And the data that I've given you is the data as of Sunday, this past Sunday.
Q What about people who are prepared, hook up the converter box, but still don't get a picture? How many of those might there be?
SECRETARY LOCKE: It could be a problem of reception because for digital it's all or nothing. Using the old analog signals, if you had a building that was blocking the airwaves you might get ghosting, and if you were pretty far from the transmission tower the signal might be weak and you might not have a very good picture, it might be very grainy. With digital it's all or nothing. So there may be some problems and households may need to buy a little antenna that they could attach to a converter box as well.
But if people are having some questions they should call the FCC, and it's toll free at 1-888-CALL-FCC. And if people are having some problems with installation understanding, the FCC has free in-home consultation and installation service.
Q May I ask on a different subject, the WTO? The Russians and their two neighbors, Kazakhstan and Belarus, have indicated that they now want to join the WTO as a union other than individual nations. Have you heard about that? Do you have anything to say about that?
SECRETARY LOCKE: No, I had not heard that. I'm sorry, I had not heard that.
All right, thank you.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
MR. GIBBS: Let me make a couple of other short announcements before we get going. Earlier today the President called President Sleiman to congratulate him on Lebanon's successful parliamentary elections; commended Lebanon's interior ministry and security services for their hard work. President Obama reiterated his strong commitment to Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, and indicated that he looked forward to working with the President to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Lebanon. Finally, President Obama noted that his Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, would be in Lebanon on Friday and looked forward to meeting with the President.
Secondly, the President will travel on Monday, to Chicago, to address the annual meeting of the American Medical Association. He'll start with the recognition that the health care system status quo is unsustainable and he'll outline the case for health care reform. He'll make clear why we can't afford to wait another year or another administration to bring down costs that are crushing families, businesses, and government.
In the speech the President will discuss the reasons why past efforts have failed and he'll address the consequences of failing to act again this year. He'll lay out plainly what health care reform will mean for American families and their doctors and what it won't.
The President will also address the importance of making sure that reform doesn't add to our deficit, and what we can do to strengthen what works in our health care system and to fix what's broken so that we can build -- what we build provides the best care in the world at the lowest cost.
And then, finally, I would add, not too long before coming out here, probably about 1:55 p.m. or so, I had an opportunity to speak with the President about the shooting at the Holocaust Museum today, informed him of the situation, gave him the details that we had been given via that Situation Room. He asked about the condition of the security guard. So he is aware of the incident this afternoon.
And with that, Mr. Feller.
Q Two topics, Robert, thank you. First of all, following up on that, did the President have any other reaction? How would you characterize --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously -- I walked in and told him there had been a shooting at the museum -- obviously, concerned and concerned for the security guard that appears to have been hurt. I gave him, Ben, mostly a factual briefing of the facts as we knew it, or knew them at that point, and that's about it; obviously, saddened by what has happened.
Q And in terms of -- can you just give us a little bit more detail about the White House involvement in a tragedy like this? How does coordination work? Is it through the Homeland Security Council?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we get regular updates through the Situation Room. We're in contact with and get updates from the Homeland Security Council and other agencies like the FBI. So I assume throughout the day we'll continue to get information about -- facts and what's happened at the museum.
Q I also want to ask you a couple of quick things on health care. Can you give us a progress report on the President's meeting today with the senators? How does the White House think it went? Was anything accomplished today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President continued to discuss with important and leading members of Congress on health care reform the challenges that we have before us. Obviously, he'll travel tomorrow to Green Bay and have a town hall meeting on this. We just announced, obviously, the speech in Chicago on Monday.
The President is pleased that what appears to be happening is making progress. I think you'll hear him both tomorrow and Monday, as I said, lay out the strong case for health care reform to bring about some relief for families and small business from the cost that they're seeing rise each and every year.
Q Senator Baucus said afterwards here on the driveway that everything remained an option. He said "We are all flexible on all these points -- we are, the President is." Is that an accurate statement?
MR. GIBBS: The President is anxious to let the legislative process work. I think you've all had a chance to cover the letter that he sent last week regarding the principles that he has for meaningful health care reform. And we're going to continue to work that process to ensure that progress is on the right path.
Q A couple of financial questions. First, how confident is the administration that GM's bankruptcy restructuring will proceed smoothly now that the Supreme Court decided not to intervene with Chrysler and the sale to Fiat has gone through?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it gives everybody confidence. Obviously, we had great confidence in the restructuring plan that had been put together as part of the deal that's now been finalized with Chrysler and Fiat. It gives Chrysler a restructured opportunity to move forward. And it's our strong hope that the same happens relatively quickly for GM.
I think the time frame is slightly longer. We've discussed a 60- to 90-day period rather than a 30- to 60-day period for Chrysler. Obviously, GM is a little bit bigger company. But we have confidence that the process that's been put forward will work its way through the system.
We understand, as I said yesterday, that people are entitled to their day in court if they have grievances about some situations surrounding the bankruptcy. But the President and the Auto Task Force strongly believe this gives car companies, communities, workers, and investors the best opportunity -- and taxpayers -- the best opportunity moving forward. It's what's kept plants open; it's what's kept people on the job. And I think we are heartened by what happened at the Supreme Court and hope to see the same follow for General Motors.
Q And on executive compensation, will the administration be naming Kenneth Feinberg as the pay czar to oversee the packages -- pay packages for executives and companies that are receiving bailout money? And how much of the decision on these measures was driven by the President's desire to quell public anger about compensation news that has come out recently?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Ken Feinberg is going to assume the role of special master that will allow him to review for soundness, appropriateness, and to limit risk relating to compensation packages for those companies that are either receiving extraordinary assistance or might in the future.
I think obviously this is an individual that has great experience in mediation in things that are -- these type of things that are important. And I think -- obviously this is a topic that the President has spoken about. I don't know if the factsheets have all gone out from Treasury yet, but there's additional legislative efforts that we will undertake, as you heard the President talk about.
Q A couple questions. The shooting today at the Holocaust Museum, combined with the shooting of Dr. Tiller, as well as the shooting of the military recruiter in Little Rock -- is the White House at all concerned that there is some sort of trend of political violence or domestic terrorism going on?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I would want to ask somebody in law enforcement if they see links such as that. I don't think it would be wise for me to surmise something like that. I think, as the President said in a statement after the shooting of Dr. Tiller, that regardless of disagreeing or disparate viewpoints obviously in our society, this is not in any way the type of action that anybody wants to see in settling even the most vehement disputes. But it's hard for me to surmise without having a more in-depth conversation with law enforcement.
Q This is really just out of curiosity more than anything -- how do you guys decide which acts of violence prompt a White House response and which ones won't? There was a statement that went out about Dr. Tiller. How was the decision made that that would get a presidential statement whereas the military recruiter in Arkansas shooting would not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I believe a statement did go to many stations in Arkansas regarding that.
Q Oh, okay, it did? Okay.
And just about executive compensation, what's the response of the White House to the pushback from business groups that the federal government should have no role in deciding how their executive compensation is delivered; whether it's a nonbinding resolution or not, it's not the job of the government to tell them how to run their companies?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously this is split up into at least three different baskets, I'd say. You have the congressional amendment -- the Dodd amendment -- that passed covering for the top five corporate officers and the next highest 20 paid employees for all companies receiving some measure of TARP assistance that governs limits on bonuses. That's one. That was congressional intent.
I think you'll see from the fact sheets that will soon go out -- my apologies that they haven't -- there's a bit of an expansion from what is in the congressionally mandated amendment that gives for the seven current companies receiving extraordinary assistance the ability to not simply look at the top five plus 20, but indeed the top 100, in order to judge, as I said, the soundness, the appropriateness, and whether or not the risk is being taken into account in this.
Lastly, the President has supported as a member of the Senate and continues to support efforts that are nonbinding shareholder efforts to provide -- so that shareholders are empowered to provide some say on the compensation for the managers for the companies for which they invest.
It's nonbinding, but we have seen in certainly other countries that have had arrangements like this that the power of public opinion is persuasive in ensuring that compensation doesn't become so aligned with short-term gain, rather than long-term incentive, which is why most people own stock in a company.
I think the President believes that there are steps that we can take to ensure that there are mechanisms in place, again, that bolster this notion of long-term incentive rather than short-term gain, so that that doesn't contribute to something like we've seen in this economic crisis.
Q Forgoing the TARP, just on the publicly traded companies, you didn't mention the push that Secretary Geithner mentioned today to have the compensation boards be more independent.
MR. GIBBS: That's another legislative thing that allows -- like in Sarbanes-Oxley, with the independence of the accounting committees, this provides the independence for the compensation committee not to be connected with management -- again, in order to set compensation that is outside of what we believe rewards that long-term incentive.
I think the President believes, rightly, that these two legislative efforts, in addition to the regulations surrounding the congressional -- around the Dodd amendment, as well as what Mr. Feinberg is going to do, are common-sense reforms that will give people confidence in publicly traded companies.
Q To follow up on that, what's Feinberg's jurisdiction going to be?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Feinberg's jurisdiction.
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is -- these are for, again, for companies that are receiving what's termed exceptional assistance.
Q That's it?
MR. GIBBS: At this point -- right -- at this point, those are seven -- it's AIG, Citi, Bank of America, GM, GMAC, Chrysler, and Chrysler Financial. Those are the ones that are, at this point, determined to have outstanding exceptional assistance through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Obviously going forward, were somebody to fall into that category, they, too, would come into that jurisdiction.
Q But that's just jurisdiction and that's --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, some financial institutions seem to be rushing to want to pay back some of the bailout money, which, on the one hand, that's good because it shows they're in a good financial position; but on the other hand, it seems that they want to get out from under the thumb of the government, the oversight, some of the restrictions. Is the administration troubled at all by that, that the oversight that has been put in place to protect consumers, they want to get out from under that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as the President has said numerous times, he doesn't want to run car companies, he doesn't want to run banks, he doesn't want to run insurance companies with hedge funds on top of them. There is, obviously, a robust free enterprise system that is going to determine with reasonable regulation the rules of the road.
So if banks, based on the recommendations and approval of their regulators, are deemed able to have the capital cushion that's required that allows them to pay back that TARP money, we obviously believe -- again, assuming the regulators obviously approve that -- that that's a healthy thing for our system. It gives confidence that the program was run in a way that provided temporary assistance through extraordinarily bad times.
The government, as per the announcement yesterday, recouped not just $66 billion in money that was lent, but $2 billion that was paid in interest. We're happy to get out of the business of being any sort of creditor.
Q But what's the thinking, though, when you hear that they want to get from under the restrictions or that oversight, when it comes to how much they can --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think what the President believes is -- and I think it's why it's extremely important the President's effort through legislation, to gain a say on pay, which allows again a non-binding vote of shareholders to judge the compensation levels for the management structure for the company in which they've invested their hard-earned money. As we've seen in other countries, despite the fact that it's non-binding, obviously there's a tremendous power of public opinion and we've seen that that can bring about tremendous reforms.
Obviously, the President continues to believe, as I've said earlier to Jake's question, that nobody finds fault with people that are doing well and are being paid well, as long as that compensation appears to be aligned with the long-term incentive for growth in a company rather than for the short-term gain of an individual, which happens to generally be, -- or can be at the expense of stockholders. These are I think practical, common-sense safeguards that the President advocates, and in these regulations, has put in place that I think give people a lot of confidence.
Q Thanks, Robert. Could you tell a little bit -- give us a little more information on how Ken Feinberg will actually do this, what kind of power he has? Does he just set salary and bonus figures and say, here it is? Or do they propose a package that he then denies or approves?
MR. GIBBS: He is a -- he has the jurisdiction to review, for those companies receiving that exceptional assistance -- the seven companies I outlined and anything if it were to be added in the future -- he has the ability to review the compensation structures and determine whether or not we believe they met the criteria of being sound and appropriate, rather than excessive.
Q But can he -- if he disapproves of one, can he then set his own figures? Or do they just keep coming back --
MR. GIBBS: He can set his own figures. People can -- he will be able to ensure, for those companies receiving exceptional assistance, for those top 100 paid employees, a compensation structure that he believes and the government believes is sound and appropriate.
Q And for how long will these companies be under this?
MR. GIBBS: For as long as they have that exceptional assistance. So, as Dan said, if "Chip Reid Bank" is receiving exceptional assistance, you work with your appropriate regulator, whether it's the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, come to a conclusion that the money that you've been given you can pay back -- if that money is paid back then obviously you're not a recipient anymore of exceptional assistance.
The Dodd amendment for the top five corporate officers and the next-highest-20 paid employees extends for all businesses, all companies that are receiving any TARP assistance. And what that law, as you know, does -- doesn't cap pay, but allows only someone to receive as a bonus one-third of what they're paid.
Q So isn't this a pretty extraordinary departure from the way American capitalism has -- I know these are extraordinary circumstances, but, still, to have a government employee setting the salaries for hundreds of private-sector employees --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chip, these are private-sector employees that, in many ways, have their job based on the extraordinary assistance that has been provided by taxpayers to ensure that they can continue to have their job.
Q -- all companies have taxpayer assistance in one way or another.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, I mean, there are all different forms of so-called corporate welfare all through the tax code.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at, but --
Q I'm getting at if any company that gets any kind of government assistance can have their salary set by the federal government, where does that stop?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, that was the appropriate question if what I had outlined met that criteria. Again, I denoted there are seven companies that have received extraordinary taxpayer assistance, anywhere from -- I don't know the rankings of how much they've made, but obviously these seven companies have received extraordinary assistance. Congress passed the Dodd amendment that relates to any company that receives funding or money directly through the TARP program.
But again, this is not an effort to set the salaries, as you said, to the penny of every publicly owned or traded company in this country. This is a proposal that protects the taxpayer.
Q But there are many in the business community who think once you've set this precedent, where does it stop?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, you guys have asked me any number of times about the role that the government has to play in the event that it's providing, as I've said, the exceptional or extraordinary assistance that has been provided by the taxpayers. The President believes and Congress believed that that was something that was important to do to protect the taxpayers, to ensure that compensation, either through salary or bonuses, was done in a way that was consistent with sound and appropriate practices and that limited risk for taxpayers.
I think that's what's important here, is that these are investments that have been made through the TARP program by taxpayers through taxpayer money. This is an effort both congressionally mandated and through the Treasury Department to ensure that that investment is protected in order not to rationalize an irrationally risky compensation package.
Q Robert, just in the array of questions, there have been questions about government involvement in the auto industry, what Chip is getting at about compensation, and now you've got the President tackling health care. There's concerns among some of the public -- obviously Republican criticism. At what point -- how do you reassure the public that says, I don't know if the government is reaching in too much to too many things and, you know, maybe health care is one step too much? How do you respond to that criticism of government's involvement in so many things right now, whether it's the auto industry, financial industry, now in redoing health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously -- I don't know if you've asked a question this week about the budget deficit, but Medicare and Medicaid, as Peter said, take up a big chunk of our federal budget. Those costs are simply going to grow, if not dealt with, exponentially over the next few decades.
The President believes that health care reform will help on a path toward fiscal responsibility, and that millions of Americans, families and small businesses are looking for relief from the crushing costs of health care that, again, rise several times the rate of inflation each year.
I think on any number of occasions, Chuck, the President wishes that any number of problems might not be on his plate, but that's not necessarily the set of cards that's been dealt to him.
Q All right, let me ask it in another way, then. Are you worried that the political problem, you know, that Republicans are using as angles, saying, well, government is trying to get too involved in that -- that could hurt the President's chances, for instance, of getting a government plan, a public plan in his health care because there is this sort of rising discomfort among the populous about government involvement in everything? You know, the government's involvement in the auto industry --
MR. GIBBS: I think if you listen to the debate on Capitol Hill about health care you're likely to hear two very important words: choice and competition. A public option that you're referring to is nothing more than the ability to provide more choice through competition. Those I think are values that you'll hear throughout this debate as being held near and dear to the hearts of not just people on Capitol Hill, but throughout the country. And the President and Congress are working to design health care reform that provides more choice and more competition.
Q Is there an issue that you guys are ready to say, you know what, we can't wait for government, we want less government involvement?
MR. GIBBS: We don't want to own a TV company. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We'll talk about your -- yes, sir, I'm sorry.
Q What's Ken Feinberg being compensated?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q What is the compensation of Ken Feinberg?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know.
Q I mean, is it a paid position? Is it a full-time position?
MR. GIBBS: I assume it is, but I don't have his compensation.
Q You don't know if it's a full-time position?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what he's being compensated.
Q Right, is it a full-time position?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I don't know what it's -- what I'm saying is I don't know how much he's being paid.
Q There have been reports he's not receiving any compensation. Do you know if that's true?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I don't -- I don't know if there's a special master for him. (Laughter.)
Q When are the rules going to be released on the Dodd TARP bonus legislation?
MR. GIBBS: That's today.
Q Is that today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Is that going to happen -- that's going to be --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. You should get a series of factsheets at some point.
MS. PSAKI: Two are out; there's one more to come.
Q And finally, when the President unveiled his own compensation proposals, there was a lot of fanfare, it was before the Dodd legislation passed. How would you characterize this -- the new rules in relation to his original proposal? Is he walking back from his original proposal? Was it trumped by legislation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say, obviously Congress passing the Dodd amendment does require, obviously -- as you mentioned with wanting to see the regulations -- is the law of the land for compensation relating to anybody receiving TARP funds. The President outlined a set of proposals that in many ways, because of the law of the land, were superseded. We believe that what Mr. Feinberg will do broadens the scope of what can be looked into because of just the simple number of employees that are affected in companies receiving that exceptional or extraordinary assistance.
Obviously if there -- if a proposal comes to his desk that is equal to the number that we talked about earlier, that's something that will obviously -- is a safe-harbor part of this provision. But we believe that Mr. Feinberg's role gives him the ability to better understand and better look into the soundness, the appropriateness, and ensuring that balance of risk.
Q Why stop short of giving shareholders binding say on executive pay?
MR. GIBBS: Chip thought it was a bad idea. (Laughter.)
Q Ha ha. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm trying to play CBS off -- against each other.
Q Won't work.
Q -- shorthand for "American people." (Laughter.)
Q That's what it stands for --
MR. GIBBS: Right, exactly. No, I think that the President believes that the appropriateness of giving shareholders the power of public opinion is an appropriate role. I think the President believes that -- the President does not want to, just as he doesn't want to own a bank or a car company, doesn't want to be the person that sets pay at every single entity for every single business in this country. I think this provides the nonbinding ability for public opinion through greater transparency and empowering of stockholders who have a vested interest in the health and well-being of the company to have their say on managerial pay and compensation.
Q What kind of say is it if it's not binding?
MR. GIBBS: Is this the opposite of the question you asked the first time?
MR. GIBBS: Okay. We will -- if you look at -- for instance, this was done in Great Britain. There was a non-binding say on pay that was instituted that gave, as I've said, greater transparency and empowered those that owned the company to have a say. And it's worked because public opinion is very powerful. If a compensation package is not approved by the stockholders that own that corporation, there's a tremendous amount of public pressure that has resulted in instituting common sense pay reforms.
Q Robert, you hinted at it, but can you say explicitly that you are -- the administration is dropping plans to limit salaries at companies receiving bailout funds?
MR. GIBBS: Receiving what type of bailout funds?
Q The TARP money.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as Jonathan asked, the original proposal that the President had limiting at a certain amount exceptional assistance was, and has been, superseded by implementing regulations relating to the law of the land.
Q You're dropping it because of the Dodd amendment?
MR. GIBBS: Because, again, we believe actually that we've got probably a stronger proposal in terms of having somebody look into a greater number of the people that are involved.
Q Because at the time the administration did say that the two proposals would work hand in hand.
MR. GIBBS: Obviously, there has been a lot of time and energy spent on working through regulations to implement the law of the land. We believe we've struck the right balance.
Q If I could ask a question on another executive pay question, the issue of independent directors. Will the administration propose a tightening, a changing of the definition of what it means to be an independent member of a compensation committee? Because most companies already are required to adhere by that rule. So it looks to the people --
MR. GIBBS: Let me have you look at the fact sheet -- I don't know if that's the one that's not out -- take a look at that and then let's talk and see if you have questions beyond that.
Q Robert, something completely different. Mike Rogers is a member of Congress, Republican from Michigan, has come back from Afghanistan and he tells our network that while he was there he witnessed U.S. military personnel reading Miranda rights to high-value detainees at Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan. He said this -- was informed by the military there that this is a common practice now to, upon their capture of these high-value targets, read them the Miranda rights. And he considers this a significant policy change, one that suggests to him, at least, that the administration has changed the orientation in Afghanistan from war fighting to law enforcement with this use of Miranda rights read to detainees. Would you care to comment on any of those observations?
MR. GIBBS: I think I'd need a little bit more information.
Q Do you know if that's true or untrue, that the Miranda rights are read?
MR. GIBBS: I have no reason to disbelieve a member of Congress, but I don't know any of the circumstances that are involved around it.
Q Would it come as a surprise to the White House that that's what would be happening?
MR. GIBBS: It's not a surprise to me, but again, I think I'd need a little bit more information to begin to surmise some of what the Congressman has -- I don't know if he spoke with commanders on the ground, I don't know if he saw General McChrystal or --
Q In general does the White House think that's a good idea?
MR. GIBBS: Major, let me get a little bit -- I'm happy to look at whatever longer-form information and get someone at NSC also to look at it. I hate to speculate on four sentences off of a report.
Q Okay. Just so I understand what you're saying, when you said it wouldn't come as a surprise to you, what did you mean by that?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not surprised by a lot in this town anymore. Let me look at what you're talking about --
Q You're not contesting that that's a policy that's being used? I'm just trying to make sure I understand what you're saying.
MR. GIBBS: I feel like you should be reading me my rights. (Laughter.) That's why I'm hoping to get my lawyer.
Again, I'm happy to look at whatever you have and try to give you an informed opinion based on somebody who's got greater jurisdiction over detainees at Bagram. That's outside of my portfolio.
Q Okay. On Judge Sotomayor, Republicans have begun to complain about what they consider to be omissions from the questionnaire, gaps in it, information that they think is relevant to the confirmation process, particularly as they say, from their point of view, it's somewhat more accelerated than they would prefer. Is the White House satisfied that the questionnaire is as complete as it needs to be, number one, and as complete as it's ever going to be?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, as is the case with many Supreme Court nominees, additional information based on questions that they have or going back into the record quite some time -- for instance, whether it's her work as a district attorney, obviously that was a number of years ago -- those files have to be pulled. And anything that is lacked in the questionnaire will be provided in a timely manner to the committee.
The questionnaire --
Q Is that process underway, are you aware?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes. I mean, again, this is similar to, I think, in the case of John Roberts there were thousands of pages that were in archives that ultimately had to be delivered after the original questionnaire was sent to Capitol Hill. So that obviously is something that seems to be fairly usual.
Q And when you say "timely basis," what do you mean?
MR. GIBBS: As soon as the information comes from wherever files are being held, for instance, in her work as a district attorney, or other information that's being gathered on her.
Q And just one quick on one health care. You said, flexibility on everything. Does that mean the President is --
MR. GIBBS: I think Ben said that --
Q No, Max Baucus said that and you agreed --
MR. GIBBS: We promoted Ben to chairman of the Finance Committee just a minute ago.
Q But you said that that was something that is a fair representation of what the President said and what the senator said. So I just want to make sure that that also means the President is therefore flexible on the question of taxing benefits? Because Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said yesterday that he considers that not only a live option, but a very good option to provide financing that the White House has conceded may not exist currently. And so after having said that on --
MR. GIBBS: When --
Q -- yesterday -- which is a new development since the issue has been raised in this briefing room. Okay, that's a new fact.
MR. GIBBS: Well, actually, I think he also said that a week ago and I got asked about it then, right?
Q Your memory may be better than mine on this one.
MR. GIBBS: If you give me that information, I'll look at it and we can trade --
Q Robert, what is he inflexible on?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q What is he inflexible on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chuck, he ran for the Presidency a few years ago, and is not a member of any of the relevant committees; and he's not a legislator and he's not a senator. This is a process that -- he, you saw, wrote a letter based on the principles that he'd like to see as part of health care reform, and he's going to watch what happens on Capitol Hill.
Q But Senator Baucus said the President was flexible when I asked him specifically about this question. So I just want to make sure if Senator Baucus is properly interpreting the President's position on this issue -- heavily debated in the campaign you just referenced.
MR. GIBBS: And heavily answered in the preceding weeks from this very room and this very podium. The President is going to watch what happens on Capitol Hill and will have more to say as it gets closer to us.
Q Robert, just two questions, one on Ken Feinberg. I think that he's maybe the 20th czar-type position you've named.
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the title is "special master."
Q Right, special master. But in terms of naming these people, bringing them in from the outside to do these jobs, I think you have more than any other administration. I'm just wondering why --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know have any special masters. (Laughter.)
Q Well, whatever you're calling them. I'm just curious, why not use somebody who's already in the administration? Why bring people in from the outside to do this?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously this is -- the seven companies that we're talking about, a hundred employees for each of these seven companies is obviously something that's going to take a great deal of time and somebody -- something that we think is better focused on by the use of a special master.
Q And just another question about the public plan. As you said, the President is very flexible on all the details of health care, but he has been specific about this one. I mean, he wrote the letter to Congress saying he wants a public plan to be in there. In terms of how that plan is structured, which is the subject of a lot of debate on the Hill -- how robust it is, whether there's a trigger, is it owned by the government or is it a co-op -- is he open to all possible forms of this public plan or does he have a preference?
MR. GIBBS: Mara, on this and other questions, though I appreciate the opportunity to comment on every single juncture of the legislative process --
Q These are pretty big, important junctures.
MR. GIBBS: They seem to be each day I get asked. We're going to let the process work its way through and get a sense of where we're going.
Q But Organizing for America, an arm of the DNC, which I would imagine is sympathetic to the overall agenda of this White House, and the White House is encouraging of its grassroots effort, is making a very strong public push for a public option in this plan, saying it is consistent with the President's approach. Doesn't the public have a right to know what the President's general approach is?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. And I answered earlier that we -- that's why the President put it in his letter and that's why the President believes increasing choice through competition is important. Now, in terms of the design for exchanges and co-ops, I'm just not going to get into doing that each and every day of the week.
Q We shouldn't ask about those?
MR. GIBBS: You can --
Q -- of the detail every day on this massive reform --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not the special master on press questions; you guys can ask what you want.
Q But, Robert, when Congress sets a schedule as --
MR. GIBBS: You seem to be here each and every day doing it, so yes.
Q Wait. When Congress sets a schedule of having bills off the floor by the end of July, that gives the public a very limited time to evaluate all the policy implications of what the health care legislation is going to mean in their lives, because every lawmaker said it's going to affect a hundred percent of America. Doesn't the White House at some point have an obligation to tell the public exactly what it believes should be in the bill that's going to change their lives?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I appreciate the question. I would refer you to the multitude of times in which the President has talked about this: the campaign, the letter that was sent out last week, the fact that there's a town hall meeting tomorrow that I would look forward to your network, for the basis by which a hundred percent of Americans that watch FOX News will be able to share with the President and those attending the meeting their feelings on health care reform. I'll do this -- I'll watch your network tomorrow to see what percentage of that meeting is shared with a hundred percent of the public that you just appropriately asked me about.
Q Well, if you let me know how specific he's going to be, maybe we'll take more.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the basis of your question seemed to be that all public information was good and --
Q I couldn't agree more.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can hardly wait -- you can watch it in my office, we'll watch FOX and see how much they cover tomorrow. I think I just set the bar kind of high. (Laughter.)
Q I want to look ahead to the speech on Monday. The President has talked to the American people saying if you like the health care you have, you get to keep it under my plan. But I haven't heard him talk that much particularly to doctors, which he's going to do on Monday. Doctors are obviously concerned that their reimbursements will be cut. They're worried and have worried for a long time about lawsuits and the rising cost of malpractice insurance. So what is his message to doctors, what will we be hearing from him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, whether or not there are specifics about hospital reimbursements or malpractice that you talked about, I know that's something that has been talked about in here and talked about in some of the meetings with legislators.
Obviously, health care professionals writ large and doctors obviously are as integral as anybody in the delivery of health care and in the practice of health care. I think obviously the President will -- has talked about and will talk about in the speech not just his case for reform -- and you've heard Peter also talk about this just this week -- how we improve the way health care is delivered, the steps that have been taken as part of the Recovery Act to make those steps easier and more cost-efficient. I think all of that are things that you'll hear both tomorrow and Monday -- on FOX.
Q But no word on if we'll hear explicitly on reimbursements or liability --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the draft to see if those specific topics will be covered on Monday.
Q Back on the Holocaust incident, the President just five days ago was in Germany at a very dramatic site. Did he say at all to you or is he thinking at all that that visit could get people thinking about the Holocaust and issues, that there was some kind of perhaps backlash of this person at the Holocaust Museum?
MR. GIBBS: Let me separate the two, because I think that's -- I mean, obviously I think it was for both the President and all of those that were there an extraordinarily powerful stop and reminder of the horrors that we saw not too long ago.
But without, again, having a conversation with law enforcement about circumstances for why what happened today -- I would hate to, at this point based on what I know, connect anything.
Q Is there a candidate in Iran's elections that the White House sees as most conducive to the President's engagement strategy? And how is the White House interpreting this outburst of campaigning and enthusiasm towards the elections?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into candidates. Obviously the President, as he talked about in Cairo, believes that free and fair elections and the robust task of democracy in picking a government for yourself is tremendously important as -- just as I said and he said, it's not just that, it's also how that government reacts. Obviously as I've said here, the President was heartened by the increase in activity and turnout relating to the elections in Lebanon and we'll certainly wait and see what happens this coming week.
Q Two questions. Does the President have anything to say about the closing of the clinic that was run by George Tiller?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him, so I don't know if he has a opinion on that.
Q Okay. Second question, the other night Newt Gingrich said that the elite media has to prop up Joe Biden and pretend he actually knows what he's doing. Any comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: Should I speak on behalf of the elite media or the -- look, the Vice President is among the most trusted advisors that the President has. The role he plays is important and very significant, from his efforts to implement the recovery plan through our efforts on foreign policy. We're lucky and grateful to have him, as I think the country is, for his continued service.
Q Two things on the Holocaust shooting. When you briefed the President did you have any information about the background of the suspect and were you able to convey that at that point?
MR. GIBBS: No, all I -- this was I think around 1:55 p.m., almost 2:00 p.m. All I had was the detail of somebody had gone in with a gun, shot at a security guard, the security guard shot at the individual that came in. On the way out I learned that -- I think the individual is 89 or 90 years old. But at that point that's all the background -- I didn't have the age even when I went and talked to the President and see if he's gotten -- I assume he's gotten additional updates with all the time we've been out here.
MR. GIBBS: If there is stuff that the President relays, yes.
Q That age you just -- 89 or 90, was that -- who was that age?
MR. GIBBS: That's what I had seen on the way out, was the age of the gunman that entered the museum.
Q You saw that on TV, not at -- you didn't get that --
MR. GIBBS: I saw that on TV. I have not seen -- I have not gotten on e-mail or BlackBerry additional updates while we've been in here.
Q Did you have indications in that briefing that this was a hate crime?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, at that point I just was relaying a series of facts.
Q One on GM actually. Ed Whitacre, the new chair of GM, told Bloomberg, "I don't know anything about cars. A business is a business and I think I can learn about cars. I'm not that old and I think the business principles are the same." I guess my question is, what would you say to anyone who might be alarmed that the new GM chair doesn't know about cars? But secondly, I mean, is it possibly -- do you look at that as a virtue because he's --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, the one company that we haven't talked about in receiving assistance or asked for assistance from the government is Ford. Alan Mulally came from Boeing. So I think the notion that one has to come from the car industry in order to change the management mind set or to make tough decisions in restructuring a company -- I think what the task force looked for and I think what the American people can be confident in is that we looked for and found somebody that exhibits that toughness, that has experience running a company of the size that GM is, and I think the praise for Mr. Whitacre has been universal since we've talked about -- or since his name was announced yesterday.
Again, I think if you look at the experiences of the companies that we've talked about in here because they are receiving funds, the company that we didn't talk about -- I think prior experience in the car industry was not required. What was required was somebody with savvy, big business experience that could take a company, change its management culture, make some of those tough decisions to put it on that path toward viability.
END 3:20 P.M. EDT