Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/17/10
*No disaster declaration requests have come in yet for the most recent Mid-Atlantic winter storms.
1:42 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Let me give you guys a quick readout of the President's meeting in the Situation Room to get an update on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And obviously throughout the course of this, I'm happy to go through what questions I can answer.
President Obama met with his national security team and chain of command for his regular update on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The meeting began with a briefing on the situation in Pakistan from Ambassador Patterson, including a discussion of the progress made in building a strong partnership with the Pakistani government and people on behalf of our mutual interests.
The President then received a briefing from General McChrystal on the status of the offensive in southern Afghanistan and from Ambassador Eikenberry on our civilian efforts. Both noted the leading role that the Afghan government and security forces are playing alongside the international community in the current offensive.
And with that, Mr. Elliott.
Q Thanks, Robert. Pakistan has confirmed it has Baradar in custody. Do you know if he's providing actionable intelligence or if he's still just negotiating on what -- the terms of what, where and how he would talk?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I didn't talk about this yesterday. Obviously the Pakistani government has confirmed that Mullah Baradar is in custody. I am not going to get into information that we are getting from those interrogations. I do think obviously this was the number two Afghan Taliban and the operational chief, and it's a big success for our mutual efforts in the region.
Q And Holbrooke today, before the meeting with the President, said that Taliban in and around Marja were talking about switching sides perhaps, talking to their Afghan counterparts. What evidence about this did the President receive during his meeting in the Situation Room?
MR. GIBBS: Well, General McChrystal began in walking the President through an update of the situation in Marja. As you know, this was highly planned and orchestrated. The effort was shaped by Afghan forces and ISAF forces with those on the ground, which is a key in our efforts. It's clear that a lot of individuals with the Taliban decided that they did not want to stay in this stronghold and had left.
And without getting into specifics, obviously the President heard from Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal about our continued efforts at reintegration, assuming that, as always, there's a renouncement of the violent extremists that they're tied to, a renouncement of violence, and that they agree to uphold the Afghan constitution and Afghan laws. Obviously that's part of what's going on in southern Afghanistan, in the Helmand province right now.
Q On the arrest of the Afghan Taliban commander, does the U.S. believe that this might be the start of deeper Pakistani cooperation in this area? And will they be helping in the arrest of and pursuit of other militants on the U.S. hit list?
MR. GIBBS: Well, one of the updates that the President got today was a discussion about our military cooperation with Pakistan and the recognition on the Pakistani military side that extremists in their country posed not simply a threat to us but an existential threat to them. They have been working productively and cooperatively for more than a year now in assisting international efforts, and cooperating in an effort to rid that area of violent extremists.
Matt, I don't want to get into operationally what might or might not come next. But obviously the capture of Mullah Baradar is a significant win.
Q Well, officials in Kabul and the Maldives said that the Taliban-allied representatives and members of Afghanistan's parliament met there secretly at the resort in -- at a resort in the Maldives in January. Can you confirm that, whether the U.S. had any involvement in that, or has the U.S. had any contacts with moderate Taliban elements?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have information on that. I could -- I would direct you to NSC on that.
Q Is the U.S. talking to the Taliban at any level?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you've heard -- again, you've heard and the President received updates today about efforts on reintegration. You've heard General Petraeus talk about efforts -- again, assuming the renunciation of violence, extremist ties, and an acceptance of the Afghan constitution and the laws that govern the country of Afghanistan -- the efforts that were undertaken in parts of Iraq and the benefits that he saw if he found willing members also in Afghanistan.
Q Robert, is that authoritative, the way you're pronouncing his name, Baradar?
MR. GIBBS: That's the way it's been pronounced to me, yes, Mullah Baradar.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q What does the President think most Americans feel about the stimulus package on this one-year anniversary? He seemed a little -- he has seemed a little frustrated in comments he's made, including today, about depictions of the stimulus package.
MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to him recently about that. Jake, I know that -- I would describe it the way I described it yesterday. It's understandable the frustration that the American people feel about the direction of their economy based on what we've gone through since December 2007 in losing more than 8 million jobs, and what we've gone through over the past decade where there was virtually no job growth and in many cases people working harder and bringing home less. We're at 9 percent unemployment -- 9.7 unemployment. So, look, it's -- the President is frustrated with where this economy is, as well. That's not to mention housing, the financial system, and a whole host of other events that we encountered at the beginning of our administration.
Q What does he think Americans think about the stimulus package, though -- specifically about the -- you guys are obviously very proud of it. What do you think the American people feel about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me explain what I think we believe the Recovery Act has begun to do. I think it is undeniable that the Recovery Act has increased and added to the economic growth that's been reported in the third quarter and the fourth quarter of 2009. Maybe the best way to look at this is absent what was pumped into the economy by the recovery plan, economic growth, rather than being plus 2.2 percent for the third quarter of 2009 -- which was, by the way, the first positive economic growth we'd had in a year -- estimates range from negative 0.6 to negative 1.1 percent. So the economy is actually contracting -- would have been contracting for a fifth quarter, fifth consecutive quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the economy grew by 5.7 percent. Economists believe that that number would be 3 to 3.7 percent where it not for the recovery plan. We know that 2 million people would not be receiving paychecks that are now.
And I think, most importantly, and what the President discussed today, and what you've seen -- would have seen when Vice President Biden traveled to Saginaw, Michigan, is that we have begun to invest in and lay the new foundation for creating jobs in the future.
The President used today the example of domestic electric battery capability in autos, something that -- the United States was largely responsible for 2 percent of the world's output the year before the Recovery Act; next year we'll be responsible for 20 percent of the world's output, and by 2015 40 percent, based on the investments through the recovery plan in clean energy jobs and in laying that foundation for long-term economic growth.
Again, it is understandable I think that people are frustrated with where they are economically, with their personal economic situation. And it's also understandable that despite the impact of or the effects of individual components of the Recovery Act, it's likely that because one of the components of the Recovery Act was to stem the bleeding in state and local government budgets, that actions that have had to be taken at that level have impacted the way people feel about what happened at a national one.
All of that is an exceedingly long way --
Q What do you mean by that last part? I'm afraid I don't understand.
MR. GIBBS: For instance, if you got a tax cut at the federal level, but because of record budget shortfalls in state and local government budgets they may have had to raise taxes, so your net impact may be that not only did you feel, but you got -- because of shortfalls -- a change in your taxes in a way that you didn't feel was positive.
You know, Chip is not here today, but Chip mentioned the poll yesterday, the CBS/New York Times poll -- I do think one thing -- one of the numbers that stands out is if you ask the American people, "How long do you think this recovery is going to take," 70 percent of the American people said two years or more. I think they get that this current recession started in December 2007. Economic anxiety probably dates back a good full 10 years. It's going to take quite some time to dig out of that hole.
Q Is that the same poll that shows that half the American people -- almost half, 48 percent -- think that the stimulus package will never create jobs when -- I mean, it's just an empirical fact that even if they're government jobs, it's clearly created jobs. Do you think it's just because it's almost 10 percent unemployment that the American people are so sour on the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: I think that's a huge weight on all this. I don't think there's any doubt that -- do I think when the economy does recover that people will view the efforts to help the economy recover in a different way? Absolutely.
Q Robert, following on that, one of the criticisms Republicans keep harping on is that the President promised that the jobs that would be saved or created would be about 90 percent private sector, and Republicans keep pointing out that it's woefully inadequate in that department; it's mostly been government-related jobs, public sector jobs, not private sector jobs. And it's important obviously to save public sector jobs as well. It's nowhere near what the President promised. How do you account for that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't have the latest figures in front of me. Obviously a big chunk of jobs that did result in unemployment last year -- the biggest chunk was teachers, which, regardless of what category you put that in, I think there are very few parents in this country that don't value a good teacher.
Q Absolutely, but the President sold it as private sector -- I don't disagree on the teachers, obviously, but --
MR. GIBBS: So they admit that jobs have been created?
Q Well, I don't think they'd go that far. I'll let them make their argument, but my point is that they are saying the President -- I'm not -- the President sold it -- it's what the President sold it as, 90 percent private sector.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I don't have the figures in front of me. Obviously the impact on job creation will -- 70 percent of the money will be spent by September 30, 2010. That means we've still got money that goes -- extends through that. I don't know what the final -- so I don't know what the final figures would be.
Look, I think what is undeniable is about 2 million people that are currently getting paychecks wouldn't be. What they would be doing is getting unemployment benefits. So, look, there will be plenty of time for the political sparring and the back-and-forth. Everyone has noticed that more and more Republicans are writing letters for, showing up at, as the President said, ribbon-cutting activities for these projects. So, look, I still think there's hope to win people over.
Q Last thing is a quick follow related to the economy. Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit cities in the country in terms of unemployment, foreclosures -- some of the President's fellow Democrats, like Harry Reid, Oscar Goodman, the mayor, have been upset about the President's comments about Vegas. There are others who are saying they've been taken out of context, it's sort of unfair. But Mayor Goodman has been saying he wants an apology when the President goes to the city tomorrow. How does the President view it? How is he approaching it? Should we expect an apology from him or --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the remarks for tomorrow, but whether the President wants to put in -- help people in Nevada understand the context of what he said, we'll wait, give us something to look forward to for tomorrow.
Q In spite of those 2 million jobs and in spite of all the talking you've done about the opportunities the stimulus spending has created, the fact remains, as we discussed about the poll, people don't see it. They don't see $800 billion worth of job creation.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we haven't spent $800 billion yet.
Q Well, you've spent -- depending on where you allocate the money, that much has gone out.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, between obligation -- right. Look --
Q Why don't they get it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand, again --
Q What's their problem?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think it's their problem, Bill. Understand this: 2 million jobs fill in a hole that was 8.4 million jobs deep, right? One of the things you never heard was anybody in this room -- meaning me -- say that this was going to be a dollar for dollar -- that dollar for dollar we were going to meet the downturn in overall loss of GDP. In fact, we said this would provide some dirt to fill that hole.
But again, I think as I told Chip yesterday, I think if a pollster calls you, and you have been laid off and your wife has been laid off, and you're having trouble finding money to pay for college, your neighbor has been foreclosed on, I don't think it's surprising if they ask you about the Recovery Act that you're a little sour on it.
I do know this, that -- again, this is undeniable -- there are about 2 million that are getting paychecks that wouldn't be. That's not 8.4, but that's 2 million more than would otherwise be getting that. It has led to the first quarter of positive economic growth in a year and now we've had consecutive positive quarters. We are not going to have job growth in our economy unless or until we have positive economic growth.
So this is not -- this was not a full cure for what ailed our economy. It is a way of putting people back to work, creating positive economic growth, and importantly, Bill, laying that foundation for long-term investments in jobs.
The example I used yesterday was wind energy. In 2009, the Wind Energy Association believed that, in comparison to 2008, there would be -- the growth in wind energy would be about half what it had been in 2008 based on the availability of credit. What we saw was not a 50 percent reduction, but in fact a 39 percent increase, because investment in wind energy through the Recovery Act fixed the credit market as it related to investment in those long-term energy jobs.
Q The wind energy people ought to come in here, might find some energy.
MR. GIBBS: Set up right here and just let it blow? Is that what you're -- (laughter.) You said it, not me. (Laughter.)
Q Did you start tweeting because you felt that you needed some further response to all of the social media out there, that your message wasn't getting across?
MR. GIBBS: I had all this free time on my hands. (Laughter.)
Q Oh, no, come on, give me a real reason.
MR. GIBBS: No, I said this earlier -- the truth is it was fascinating to watch. It was fascinating to watch you all in real time --
Q -- your voice wasn't being heard?
MR. GIBBS: No, I didn't. I felt like -- did I feel like it was a good avenue for our voice to be heard in? Sure. I thought it was -- all of you are on and I'm reading now all of what you're writing; I'm reading what you're reading; you're reading what I'm reading.
Q It's going to take up most of your day.
MR. GIBBS: I have noticed that it takes up -- it can be addictive. Trying to keep up, like I said yesterday, with everyone's Olympic emails is a task that simply prepares me for college and professional football season.
I will say this, one of the -- I obviously spent time with the lawyers yesterday based on questions we got about the Presidential Record Act of 1978. And I know Mark wrote specifically on this. What I write and what I tweet is archived as a part of this Presidential Records Act of 1978 because it is work product created as part of my job at the White House. People that follow me, people that read that, people that retweet that, none of that goes into or is archived as a result of the Presidential Records Act.
The only thing that would be archived other than what I produce is if you respond directly to me, and only me. It's analogous to sending an email to the White House, which is already archived. So if anybody believed that -- mentioning me, mentioning the White House, mentioning the President in any of the normal tweets that they do is of course not subject to the Presidential Records Act.
Q What if you send something and someone retweets it and comments, like, "I agree," or "I disagree"? That doesn't go there?
MR. GIBBS: If it only goes to me --
Q -- direct back to you.
MR. GIBBS: If it only goes to me then it would be archived because it would be the equivalent of an email. But let's say both of Mike's followers -- (laughter) -- if you retweeted something I said and sent them to both of his, that would -- neither of those two people would fall into the archives.
I say this because Mike poked me a little bit yesterday for not having enough followers and --
Q That's kind of a violation of the ethics -- (laughter) -- say things like that.
MR. GIBBS: Bill, I have to say this, Wendell had by far the best line, as we all know, yesterday. So that's -- yes.
Q What lessons have you guys learned and the President learned from this stimulus, from not just selling it -- which it seems that there's even plenty of people here acknowledging that there are different ways you guys could have sold this to the public -- but also in how it was put together by Congress and your -- are there things that the White House learned from dealing with this Recovery Act that they will do differently in trying to put together big legislation, in try to work with Congress?
MR. GIBBS: If you look at the speed in which -- well, first of all, let's go back to a little --
Q But you acknowledge that you guys could have done better on the PR front?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I acknowledge that it is -- I acknowledge that at 9.7 percent unemployment there are a terrific amount of economic --
Q But you didn't anticipate at the beginning --
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- I'm not going to spend a ton of time thinking -- speaking -- that would take up far more time than the computer. But again, Chuck, I think a lot of this derives from the fact that people are in this country, as the President hears from each and every day, hurting economically. That's understandable.
But let's go back a year or so ago. Economists -- liberal, conservative, left, right, the economists that advised John McCain's presidential campaign -- believed what we needed was a robust Recovery Act. It was put together and passed in I think -- put together, passed, and signed by the President in three weeks, because what we needed was to begin to get investment and money into this economy quickly. That's what happened. The effects were felt quickly because of that.
Look, from a pure PR perspective, you could break out everything into its 25 component parts, spent several weeks selling the component parts of wind energy, and passing it -- would it have made a PR difference? Who knows?
Q How about in your interaction with Congress in how you guys largely let them write big pieces of this? I mean, is that -- are you going to change --
MR. GIBBS: Do I think that impacts the way people see it? I don't. I think -- again, I think, understandably, 9.7 percent unemployment is -- sours your look on the economy. It naturally would for anyone.
Q You indicated that at the beginning of the AfPak meeting that's happening now that it was the Pakistan -- our ambassador to Pakistan gave the first update?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. Did he indicate what the --
MR. GIBBS: She. Anne Patterson.
Q My apologies. Did she indicate what motivation -- why the Pakistani government suddenly now decided to cooperate and get Baradar, I guess we're calling him now -- sorry, everybody -- we're all -- we've all got our different pronunciations --
MR. GIBBS: Mullah Baradar was what --
Q Did she get into the -- what is it about --
MR. GIBBS: We discussed --
Q And you're not going to tell us.
MR. GIBBS: But I can't get into that.
Q Okay, so you did discuss the motivation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I don't want to say -- we discussed his capture broadly. I don't want to get into operational details.
Q -- the dynamics going on inside Pakistan's --
MR. GIBBS: Look, Ambassador Patterson gave a robust update on both the governmental and military side of Pakistan.
Q And when are we going to get the details of how this debt commission is being -- I mean, we were discussing this earlier and --
MR. GIBBS: Probably either later today or first thing tomorrow I know the President will sign the executive order.
Q Rules of the game, who appoints who, all that stuff?
MR. GIBBS: The President will sign the executive order tomorrow and I'll figure out when those details are going to be --
Q With remarks?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Is this before or after the Dalai Lama meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I think it's before but I will double-check.
Q The Dalai Lama is also meeting with Secretary Clinton, as I understand. The White House has said that the President is meeting the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader. What does it say to have the Secretary of State also meeting with him?
MR. GIBBS: I will direct you to the Department of State to answer that question.
Q But the White House didn't have any consultations on who in the administration would be meeting with him?
MR. GIBBS: I'd point you to the Department of State on that.
Q And so the President is going to have two events tomorrow? He's going to be meeting with the Dalai Lama and he's going to be doing an actual event around the commission? So could you tell us about the choice of Alan Simpson, what you are trying to project and what it might do -- what you hope it will do to get Republicans onboard with this thing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- we confirmed obviously co-chairs for this bipartisan commission on the debt and the deficit. You have in -- look, you all should be thankful. He is a guy with a sense of humor in a town that often lacks one. And I think that will be fun for you all. I think it is a great service for --
Q A personality. (Laughter.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I say that -- I think he is somebody who has dealt with many of these issues throughout his tenure in Washington in a serious way. I think having Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to the President, who helped negotiate a balanced budget agreement in 1997 -- I think having these two individuals work together demonstrates the seriousness with which the President looks at the commission and this issue.
Now, Jonathan, what the Republicans decide to do is largely up to them. Senator McConnell spent a lot of time on cable television lauding the Conrad-Gregg commission until it voted against what he lauded. John Boehner was a cosponsor of the House version of the Conrad-Gregg commission. We'll see -- I think they understand the seriousness with which the President looks at this effort and attaches bipartisan leadership to, and we'll see where they go from here.
Q Has there been any consultation today, any progress in getting --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know what calls have been made today. I know that last week calls were made to -- I believe to Leader Boehner and Senator Mitchell -- Senator McConnell, excuse me -- to talk about this. Obviously in the bipartisan meeting last -- it all sort of blurs together -- I guess it was last Tuesday, this was extensively discussed. We'll wait to see what their response is.
Q Robert, why shouldn't the commission be seen as a device by which the President and Congress are being let off the hook from making tough decisions they were elected to make?
MR. GIBBS: Because what this commission will do is, in a bipartisan way, recommend to Congress ways, tough ways in which to solve this problem. Mark, you've been around this town long enough to understand that only by working together are we going to be able to find solutions to difficult problems such as this. This is a way of creating a bipartisan vehicle for making that discussion serious.
Q Will the President bind himself to accept the recommendations?
MR. GIBBS: We'll go through the makeup of and the rules governing recommendations. As you've heard, the President is not going to prejudge where the commission lands and hopes that recommendations will be forwarded to and acted on by Congress.
Q You could fill a library with commissions' reports that have gone nowhere.
MR. GIBBS: You could. I think the President, though, discussed and has discussed throughout his tenure here having to get serious with our budget situation, and had hoped that a statutory commission would be set up. That, for political reasons, failed. He's taken the step of setting this up through an executive order because he's serious about making progress on this issue.
Q Will there be any coverage of the meeting with the Dalai Lama?
MR. GIBBS: The meeting will happen, as you know, in the residence -- in the Map Room. There will be an official photo released out of that. Whether the Dalai Lama goes to the stakeout or what have you is up to him.
Q Wait, the stakeout is up to the Dalai Lama? Okay.
Q He's done it before.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I mean, I wouldn't --
Q I heard that's on the table.
MR. GIBBS: It would be a little more than awkward to restrict the right of speech to -- (laughter.) And he just signed up for Twitter. (Laughter.)
Q You know, you laugh. I think the Pope tweets.
Q Is the President ready to meet Dalai Lama and, let's say, he asks for freedom or independence or more autonomy for his people?
MR. GIBBS: We will give you guys a readout for what they talk about tomorrow.
Q The President keeps referring to the $787 billion stimulus, but the CBO has said it was $862 billion. Why doesn't he use that number?
MR. GIBBS: That's, again, an estimate based on economic circumstances that change as a result of safety net programs like COBRA and unemployment extension. What that number ends up being at the end of the bill will be determined largely at the end of the bill. The $787 billion is obviously what passed Congress. We've asked for extensions of unemployment benefits, of health care, so I don't think anybody is confused about that.
Q Is the $862 [billion] wrong? I mean, how should we be referring to it then?
MR. GIBBS: By crediting the CBO.
Q And what will be discussed at the meeting with General Odierno today?
MR. GIBBS: General Odierno and Ambassador Hill are both in town. The Vice President, who has been deeply involved with the political situation and the upcoming elections in Iraq, and the President will meet with those two to get an update on where we are, again, as we head toward these important elections; as we transition our combat forces out of Iraq ahead of August and then ultimately ahead of what the status of forces agreement requires next year.
Q On the stimulus, I want to give you a chance to respond to something that Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, said this morning about the Recovery Act, and I'm quoting him directly here now: "The other fiction we need to dispense with is this 'saved and created' nonsense." I'm still quoting: "I don't know what that is. I don't know what that looks like. And if I can't put my fingers on it, if I can't touch it, and if I can't get up at 6:00 in the morning and go to work there, then it's not happening. And that's the reality of a lot of people right now."
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can find a school that Chairman Steele can go to at 6:00 a.m. and put his fingers on -- (laughter) -- an elementary school teacher who -- (laughter) -- no, no, no, hold on, come on. A little bit of decorum -- that he can look at as somebody who, as a result of the economic downturn did not lose their job as a result of the recovery plan.
I'm happy to find you -- the President has visited businesses in Maryland that have created jobs. He should come to the White House and talk to the solar energy company executive today who's added jobs.
Continuing to deny what is undeniable leads one only to believe that Chairman Steele is far more interested in playing politics than he is in fixing what was broken in this country over the past eight years.
Q When CBO looked at the five largest categories of Recovery Act spending so far, it broke down along the Social Security payroll tax refund -- the tax cut, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, state -- emergency aid to the states, and student loans. Would you say, therefore, that a big part of the initial benefit of the Recovery Act or stimulus was to rescue people from situations that would have been far worse than had it not been there, and that these five categories of spending are now what we would traditionally regard as job creating but saving people from dire -- more dire circumstances -- a rescue component as opposed to reinvestment or recovery?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand that one of the hallmarks of a bill that has not seen fraud and abuse is that you have to set up a system where an investment in an energy company is -- through a grant -- is going to have to be a system that's going to have to be set up. Cutting somebody's payroll tax can be done by changing the rate at which that tax is levied. Being able to go to a facility that provides you unemployment benefits and extend those benefits because you've lost them is not something that requires additional setup. So obviously the pacing of different activities has happened at varying times based largely on how those services are delivered.
Q But so far what's happened has been mostly rescue as opposed to a hard-core jobs creation kind of thing --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the chart that I had earlier this morning with me; it's on my desk. But I think that -- obviously a cut in taxes, AMT relief, unemployment benefits, extending health care for those that have lost their job happens pretty quickly. And quarter by quarter, we've seen an increase in different investments to -- different investments in different sectors of what the recovery plan invested in -- understanding, Major, that one of the primary things that -- probably one of the three main components of the legislation was, as you said, aid to states, that also goes out quite quickly.
And you've seen the impact of state and local employment on the overall jobs numbers. Were it not for state -- I think this is true; I forget the exact number of jobs lost last month, but I know that state and local I believe was 41,000. So removing that you I think would have had -- again, I don't have the number in front of me, but I'm pretty sure you would have positive economic growth -- positive job growth for that month.
So, again, there's not one -- as I said yesterday, there's not one single thing that any piece of legislation can do, because we faced problems on any number of significant fronts.
Q Austan Goolsbee told me this morning one of the problems he thinks this recovery has had is that too many Americans confuse it with TARP or bank bailouts. Do you think that you've failed to make a communications distinction between the two and that's one of the problems you face as people try to decide whether this was good for them or not?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think -- I'm not sure how we would have done it differently. Instead of calling it the Recovery Act, we could have called it the not-TARP act. But, I mean, look, I think that people have conflated money lent to banks, much of it paid back with interest, to stabilize the financial system, or investments that had to be made in restructuring auto companies with the recovery plan. I'm not sure exactly what could have been done to rectify that.
Q Is Mullah Baradar an enemy combatant?
MR. GIBBS: Mullah Baradar is in Pakistani custody.
Q And will remain?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an update that he won't.
Q So there's nothing with his status in Pakistani custody that either the Justice Department or the White House has to weigh as far as his status?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he's in Pakistan custody; he's an Afghan national.
Q Two quick questions. Tomorrow I gather, when he goes to Colorado and Las Vegas, it's fundraisers. Can you talk a little bit about Friday morning and what event that's --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I don't have that all in front of me, but I'll be happy to get it to you. I know he's going to do a couple different events, one of which I believe is a town hall.
Q And for my colleagues on Metro, he's now been to Lanham, Maryland, three times. Does he have something he particularly likes about Lanham?
MR. GIBBS: No, but apparently we should bring Michael Steele next time. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, are Republicans winning the message war over the stimulus bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think so because quite a few of them are, like I said, showing up at ribbon cuttings. I don't know whether they have decided that it's good to make sure that you are seen being an active participant in trying to get the economy growing again rather than sitting on the sidelines and saying no.
Again, look at where -- the unemployment rate today would probably be 11 percent or higher were it not for the recovery plan. Two million people who are getting paychecks today wouldn't be getting paychecks. Economic growth would be decidedly different in quarters three and four than they were in quarters three and four as a result of what's happening on the recovery plan.
Q But, Robert, we know that the Republicans are saying things like -- Eric Cantor said today, "Still no job creation." John Boehner called it the one year of bloated -- broken promises, bloated government, et cetera. They're arguing no jobs have been created. And we also know --
MR. GIBBS: What's weird is that Eric Cantor --
Q Wait, and we also know --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, it's weird that Eric Cantor was trying to get some high-speed rail money to Virginia to create jobs.
Q Okay, fine. We're talking about -- but we also know that he was confused about this bill.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. Hold on. Let's not say "fine," let's not say "fine." When you're trying to create jobs through high-speed rail and then you're telling you that it's not creating jobs, it's hard to kind of square the circle between the rhetoric of what somebody says in Washington to a New York Times reporter and what they tell their constituents in their district in Virginia.
Q If you would let me finish -- they are making the case that jobs were saved or created, and we also know from polls that we've discussed here today that many Americans are confused about what this bill has achieved and whether or not it in fact has created any jobs. So I'm asking again, are they winning the message war?
MR. GIBBS: No. The answer is no. Again, I don't know what message Eric Cantor delivers when he tells you in Washington that it hasn't, but then tells his constituents, gee, I hope we get this grant to build high-speed rail in the district and create jobs. In Alabama, we call that hypocrisy. In Washington, we call that par for the course.
Q Debt commission -- how many people are going to be on it? And does the President have commitments to serve from all the people he's going to name tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: The two that he'll name tomorrow are locked and loaded.
Q So those are the only two people he's naming tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So he still doesn't have the full complement?
MR. GIBBS: We're not announcing the full complement.
Q Have you convinced them?
MR. GIBBS: Convinced who?
Q To join.
MR. GIBBS: Who?
Q The rest of the complement.
MR. GIBBS: We just haven't announced them. But we will -- we're waiting to see what -- it will be interesting to see what the Republican reaction is.
Q In other words, he's got Republican members that he has in mind or has asked Boehner about? You said before that --
MR. GIBBS: We had members -- members of the economic team, and I think Tim and Larry talked to -- I'll find out exactly who made calls to who -- walking them through a commission, and then again in the Cabinet Room there was a discussion about -- the President asking Senator McConnell and Congressman Boehner directly to appoint members. I think Senator Simpson was quite eloquent on this yesterday, too.
Q So tomorrow he's going to announce --
MR. GIBBS: He'll announce the co-chairs, the structure of the commission, sign the executive order.
Q But he won't --
Q But he still doesn't have names for the rest of them and he's --
MR. GIBBS: We will announce additional names tomorrow.
Q Meaning that they have agreed? I don't --
Q Is the Dalai Lama one of them? (Laughter.)
Q He does not have agreement from the rest of the commission that he --
MR. GIBBS: We're not announcing additional names tomorrow.
Q Presidential travel is expensive. Will you provide to us the breakdown when the President, on a political trip like the one this week, how much the local campaigns pay for, for instance, a visit to Colorado?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the campaigns and the DNC -- I don't know how all that works, but we will certainly --
Q The DNC or is it Senator Reid's campaign?
MR. GIBBS: There's a --
Q A formula.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Are you using the Bush administration formula?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not in charge of reimbursements for Air Force One so I honestly don't know the answer.
Q Well, but it's a legitimate White House issue. Would you be able --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I'm not saying it's not a -- you just asked me -- I don't know what the mileage reimbursement is so let me have somebody check on that.
Q Would you be able to provide that? Thank you.
Q If the congressional Republicans don't name members to this commission, is the President -- does he have a plan B?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get ahead of what I assume will be them naming members to the commission.
Q Thanks, Robert. I had a question, but first I wanted to get an update. You had said a couple weeks back that you would check the timeline as to whether the President knew in advance whether Abdulmutallab had been or would be Mirandized.
MR. GIBBS: I did not. I don't know the answer to that.
Q And a follow-up question. The Vice President said on "Meet the Press" that he guarantees that KSM would not be acquitted. Isn't part of a civilian trial presumed innocent --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q -- and does the administration believe that he is presumed innocent?
MR. GIBBS: The administration is in charge of presenting the case against an individual that killed 3,000 people on American soil. I not only think he'll be convicted, I think he'll be executed for his crimes.
Q Can you make that guarantee, though?
MR. GIBBS: I think he's going to be executed for his crimes.
Q Quickly, a little more on Tibet. The Chinese have made clear they're not delighted about tomorrow's meeting, but does the administration have any sense that this meeting is going to substantively set back U.S.-China relations or -- not really?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to speak for the Chinese government. I think, Margaret, when the President met with President Hu and other officials in Beijing in November he was clear that this meeting would happen. Before we announced it we reiterated that the meeting was going to happen. And in response to questions that I've gotten on whether the meeting will still happen, we've said yes. The Chinese officials have known about this and their reaction is their reaction.
Again, I think a mature relationship between two countries allows you to do things like working on nonproliferation on North Korea, or working on a response to the global economic crisis, but also have disagreements.
Q And then, quickly, also, is there any sort of subject matter that is from the get-go off the table in tomorrow's meeting, or could anything be discussed? There's no pre-agreement not to discuss certain things?
MR. GIBBS: I imagine anything could be discussed. And we'll provide a readout afterwards.
Q You said that General McChrystal briefed the President on the progress of the offensive in the south. Could you -- I noticed you didn't offer any sort of public assessment. Could you possibly do that now? There's been some reports that the soldiers have been slowed up by human shields, the use of human shields, perhaps IEDs, that kind of stuff.
MR. GIBBS: All I'll say is that the response that we got from General McChrystal today was that the operation was going well, that the operation -- that he believed the operation was going well because of the time that had been taken to shape it with local authorities; that extra caution was being paid to preventing civilian casualties. And both, as I said earlier, Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal lauded not just the size of this offensive but that for the first time Afghan national security forces were in the lead.
The President, after getting the update, said to General McChrystal to tell all of the men and women that are under his command how proud he is of their efforts and how heartened we all are to see Afghans in the lead in this important offensive.
Q But the Marines are doing the lion's share of the fighting, are they not, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Again, alongside -- alongside and training --
Q I mean the tactical and the movements -- it's basically led by the U.S. Marines.
MR. GIBBS: And I'm not in any way minimizing the role that ISAF is playing, but they're fighting alongside Afghans at a scale not seen at any point in our involvement in Afghanistan dating back to the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
Q Robert, I want to go back to the anniversary of the stimulus package, and also the issue about throwing some dirt in a hole. The Advancement Project has come out with a statement saying communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the recession, and they say states with greater racial and ethnic diversity received less ARRA funds in 2009.
MR. GIBBS: I would have to look at the statistics. Some of that may have to do with the size of the state; some of that may have to do with formula grants. I hate to just, without having seen what backs that information up --
Q But the President has said -- he's talked about this universal approach, and it's almost the rising tide lifts all boats. What does this administration say to hearing things like that? Is there going to be an effort to try to make sure more money is funneled into certain areas, particularly after some of the civil rights leaders came up saying they want urban communities to be targeted?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, when we -- one of the things that we have seen in this dramatic downturn in our economy is that it affects -- the effects of this are wide and great; that it is not something that in earlier recessions you've seen has not affected, say, white-collar jobs or -- and only affected sort of manufacturing and blue-collar jobs. You've seen -- I don't have the statistic in front of me, but the degree to which, say, college-educated individuals have lost their jobs in this is far greater than we've seen in other recessions.
I think the Recovery Act was intended to, and has done what it's intended to, to jumpstart economic growth, save jobs, and, more importantly, invest in new jobs for the future.
Q And another question, on another note, on the snow. Is the federal government looking at pumping in some monies into communities -- Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; up north -- that are impacted by the snow? Many streets are still snow- and ice-laden.
MR. GIBBS: Right. If localities like the District or if states like Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, if they want to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government, those requests are made by those states and localities. They go to FEMA, and then FEMA makes a determination about a disaster declaration.
Q Any requests yet?
MR. GIBBS: I will go back and check.* I think -- well, let me not guess what I think I've seen.
Q Thanks, Robert. Yesterday Senator Bayh said, "If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months." Is he right?
MR. GIBBS: I answered yesterday that obviously the Recovery Act was something that passed legislatively, as we know, a year ago, and the President -- I think the President and Senator Bayh both agree that now is the time to act accordingly in passing additional measures to create an environment for additional hiring.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q One other quick thing. When Mr. Brennan briefed us last month, he said, "I told the President today I let him down." Did he tender his resignation?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Did he offer it?
MR. GIBBS: No. And I can't imagine that the President would under any circumstance accept it.
2:43 P.M. EST