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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/25/2009


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                         February 25, 2009

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:09 P.M. EST
     MR. GIBBS:  How is everyone?  Good. 
     Q    How are you?
     MR. GIBBS:  I'm great. 
     Q    Nothing?
     MR. GIBBS:  I got nothing.  I got -- were you expecting something big?
     Q    Well, the big speech, you know.  We thought we'd have something.
     Q    Details.
     Q    -- about Friday.
     Q    Why don't I just start? 
     MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead.
     Q    The Pakistani Foreign Minister has told the AP in an interview that he asked General Jones for Predators and that Pakistan wants to take control of any missile strikes inside its country.  Can you talk about that?  Can you say whether that's something that the U.S. would be willing to do?
     MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to talk about --
     Q    -- not asking about strikes, I'm asking about a request about strikes.  (Laughter.)  
     MR. GIBBS:  It seems enough in the overall architecture of said strikes that I will honor the long-held tradition of not talking publicly about that.
     Q    Iraq, then.  Can you talk about the President's thinking in terms of the different plans, why he appears to be leaning toward this middle-road 19-month withdrawal option?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me say I think you've been told and others have been told on the record that the President has not made a final decision about our force structure in Iraq going forward.  I don't think it would be a surprise to anybody, though, in this room to know that the President, since his first full day in office, has been working toward a solution that would responsibly draw down our troops in Iraq, give more responsibility for governing and security to the Iraqi people, and to do so in a way that protects our brave men and women in uniform. 
     So I don't want to get ahead of a decision the President has yet to finally make.
     Q    Well, talk about that and just the process of thinking about -- how could he -- what would be the thinking behind considering anything other than the 16 months --
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I don't want anything that I say to predetermine or prejudge a decision that, as I said, the President hasn't finally made.  I think throughout this process the President and his national security team have outlined a process in reviewing, as he said last night, our commitments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, to do so in a methodical way, and as Secretary Gates said, to hear from all of the people that are involved in those commitments and in that decision-making process.  The President did that in making a decision to increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, based on the security -- the short-term security situation there that he thought was increasingly dangerous.
     The President continues to work through that process as it relates to, as he said last night, an announcement that we presume will be very soon on Iraq.
     Q    Like tomorrow at Camp Lejeune?
     MR. GIBBS:  We are not going anywhere on Thursday.
     Q    Friday -- I'm sorry.
     MR. GIBBS:  I anticipate the President to make a decision very soon, and I anticipate that very soon I will have an announcement about a decision he'll make very soon.  All right?
     Yes, sir.
     Q    The President said bluntly last night that more money might be needed to stem the banking crisis.  Is there any sense of how much more might be needed, when the President might be asking for that money, or is he holding off because he sees it as being a politically unpopular move?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't know what the audience share last night was, but -- he obviously -- mentioned in a speech viewed by many.  Let me sort of address this in a couple of different ways.  The President has always talked about ensuring that we must do whatever is necessary to stabilize our financial system.  That was the charge that he was given in this election and that he and his economic team have undertaken each day.
     The President also will deliver to Congress an outline of a budget plan tomorrow.  And one of the important principles that's contained in this budget document is transparent and honest budgeting, and an end to some of the Enron accounting that we've seen over the past few years that didn't take into account commitments in Afghanistan or Iraq in the regular budgeting process; didn't account for the possibility of natural disaster; often didn't account for year-to-year cuts in things like the AMT. 
     So the President, underscoring that he'll do whatever is necessary, also believes that a budget document that he sends to Congress should be honest about the full range of possibilities that might or could be necessary down the line to stabilize our financial system.
     Q    So can we expect the budget proposal tomorrow to actually contain a request for further money?
     MR. GIBBS:  I think the President will uphold his commitment to honest and transparent budgeting tomorrow.
     Q    Robert, last night obviously the focus was the economy and the President touched lightly on Iraq and Afghanistan -- only a few seconds, I believe, on Afghanistan.  He's committed 17,000 additional troops to that region.  Was it a mistake not to spend more time giving a little bit more focus to Afghanistan, since this is such a critical, as the President points out, sort of the front, new front on the war on the terror?
     MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't -- look, I think the President has spoken on a number of occasions throughout an almost two-year-long campaign, the transition, and even as President of the United States, about the tremendous danger in that region of the world; that the administration has undertaken a review of our policy as it relates towards Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to ensure, as the President says, that there aren't terrorists plotting attacks on American soil and safe havens in Afghanistan as we speak.
     Look, I think the President's focus last night was primarily on the economic challenges that we face as a nation, the path that he sees the administration and the country taking to get out of and get past many of those challenges to seek brighter days ahead.  I don't think it was a mistake for him.  I think the President has spoken clearly on many occasions about our challenges in that region of the world.
     Q    And in terms of the economy, when will we hear more details?  He was giving a lot of broader themes last night.  When will he sort of fill in the blanks?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you'll see stuff -- you've already seen some information from Treasury.  You'll likely see more today, as it relates to the health evaluations of banks, so that we can appropriately diagnose what might be needed to stabilize the financial system in many of the banks that may have bad assets or capital needs.
     But, look, I think the reaction from the speech last night from the American people was them seeing a strong and determined leader who laid out an economic vision to get this country back on a path towards sustained economic growth.  And I think the reviews were -- demonstrated that they share confidence in that pathway forward.
     Q    Has the President learned any lessons from the past?  What makes him think he can prevail in Afghanistan after Russians, the British, Alexander the Great could not?
     MR. GIBBS:  Good question.  (Laughter.)  You had me -- I had you up until you said Alexander the Great.  (Laughter.)
     Q    Genghis Khan -- Genghis Khan.
     MR. GIBBS:  -- Alexander the Great -- (laughter.)  No, I --
     Q    It's under -- (inaudible.) 
     MR. GIBBS:  Unfortunately, it's not.  No, I'm kidding.  (Laughter.)  No, the President -- again, the administration is undergoing a review as it relates to our policy there.  The President's decision in the interim to send additional forces in the spring and in the summer related to a sharp deterioration that we've all seen in the security situation; that General McKiernan had long requested additional troops --
     Q    Why are we there?
     MR. GIBBS:  Why are we there?  Because that's the part of our planet that is exceedingly dangerous, and saw on September 11th the root cause of attacks that resulted in the death of more than 3,000 Americans -- the deadliest attack on American soul.  The President has, I think, stated clearly and forcefully last evening --
     Q    Were they all Afghans on 9/11?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't know what their citizenship were.  I know where they were when they planned the attacks.  I think the American people do, too.  But the President said clearly and forcefully last night that, under his watch, we're not going to have safe havens in the country of Afghanistan that are planning a next series of attacks on our citizens.
     Yes, Chip.
     Q    The President laid out a very ambitious plan when it came to energy, health care and education.  And I know he alluded to things that were in the budget and talked about requesting a legislation on cap and trades.  But could you lay out just in a little bit more detail how this is all going to play out, what the President wants to see Congress bring up, and how he's going to try to get this agenda through Congress over the next few months or years?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, there's also I think a meeting here this afternoon with Democratic congressional leaders to talk about the focus of the next work period in Congress.  Obviously I think a big load of that will be the budget and the outline that the President will send up to Capitol Hill in the next 24 hours or so, that begins to invest in those things that you mentioned -- in affordable health care, in lessening our dependence on foreign oil, or reforming our educational system so that our children can compete in the 21st century.
     I think each has different components and each has different wants and needs from legislators on Capitol Hill.  Obviously I think the President alluded to the fact that health care -- he was under no illusions that it would be difficult, and obviously it will go through many committees on Capitol Hill.  But he understands the only way to do that is to bring together stakeholders on both sides of the aisle -- business and labor, doctors/providers.  That process will begin next week here to discuss health care reform.
     I know there are different proposals on Capitol Hill regarding energy legislation, including cap and trade.  And there will be elements both in the budget and forthcoming after the budget in terms of legislation to deal with some reforms in our public education system. 
     I would point out, as the President did last night, we made important down payments on each of those investments in the recovery and reinvestment plan, whether it was through medical technology that will reduce errors and result in better quality and outcomes in our health care; an investment in doubling our renewable energy output in three years; as well as a commitment to build and refurbish schools that will result in the 21st century classrooms that our children so richly deserve.
     Q    Just to quickly follow up, does the President anticipate shuffling money around under each of those headlines?  I mean, in terms of education, not spending more money on education, but just spending it differently, or is there going to be a definite -- additional hundreds of billions of dollars?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, we'll have more details on the budget soon, which we'll give you the short answer on that.  Obviously, again, I would point out that some of those investments have come through the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will create that foundation for economic growth.
     Q    Last night -- I don't have the text with me, so I'm paraphrasing -- but he talked about health care, not going to waste another year or not going to delay it another year.  Was he setting a deadline for when he wants to have health care reform passed?  Is that going to be this year?
     MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't think it's -- I don't think we'd set any artificial deadlines.  Obviously -- I think the President mentioned that with the work of Congress and the administration, we've done more in the last few weeks than has been done in probably the last 10 years to ensure both affordable health care through, as I just mentioned to Jake, investments in medical technology, as well as a commitment to ensure that every child in America has access to health care through an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program that's run through the states that's been wildly successful.
     I think the President acknowledged what many of the American people and what business owners across the country know, and that is we have watched for far too long as health care inflation has skyrocketed, often at far greater than the normal rate of inflation each year; that businesses have to make decisions about whether to lay off people or offer their workers health care -- families certainly sit around the kitchen table making these decisions.  And I think the President, both in discussing health care, as well as education and energy, talked extensively about the notion that for far too long we have put off making these invaluable investments at the detriment of making progress on these issues.  That --
     Q    How long will people have to wait? 
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, hopefully not too long.  Hopefully -- again, the process starts formally next week here.  I know I was asked last week about discussions that have already been ongoing on Capitol Hill involving many players that will ultimately take part in a White House health care summit. 
     Q    So there's no target date for doing --
     MR. GIBBS:  Not -- not as of right now, no.
     Q    Okay.  On Afghanistan.  Obviously a big part of his budget savings is drawing down troops in Iraq.  But, stating the obvious, pouring troops into Afghanistan -- 17, it could be 30, it could be more, you don't know what's going to happen in Afghanistan and what's going to be required.  How can you be so sure that the tradeoff between Iraq and Afghanistan is going to be a huge savings.  Couldn't it end up being a wash?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, without getting into specific force structure numbers, that's part of the necessary long-term review of our policy in the region and what that hopes, through its undertaking, hopes to spell out.
     Obviously what the President has talked about during the campaign is a significant drawdown of our troops in Iraq to end our current commitment there as we know it, ahead of what this country and Iraq have agreed to for later down the road.
     And I think many in the Pentagon and certainly commanders on the ground in Afghanistan and throughout the region would tell you that what the President decided to do in Afghanistan would be impossible to do without a sharp and significant yet responsible drawdown in Iraq.
     Q    I want to go to -- from the speech last night, there were some generalities that I was wondering if you had the details on, and has to do with spending cuts.  He had said that you had identified $2 trillion over 10 years, so $200 billion, I assume, in spending cuts that are coming for programs that you thought -- savings that you thought you had found.  I assume we will hear some of those.  But you also said you identified specific education programs, agribusiness.  Can you name three or four of these programs that you've identified?
     MR. GIBBS:  I can later -- later as the budget comes out, without getting ahead of where the budget it.
     Q    So you will do this tomorrow?  We will see a list of programs that you guys are saying this is what we believe --
     MR. GIBBS:  I would check specifically with OMB about what we -- what the nature of the document is that we'll put forward.  But it's an extensive --
     Q    You will show us the $2 trillion in savings that you believe --
     MR. GIBBS:  I can show you the $2 trillion reduction in the deficit, yes.
     Q    Now, the other question is, what is the President's position on earmarks?  We've heard him talk about earmarks, he doesn't want them -- but he seems to acknowledge he may be signing some legislation that's going to have it.  At what point does he draw the line on earmarks and say, you know what, you send me a bill on earmarks -- with an earmark in it -- what's the line here where he says, I'm not going to sign a piece of legislation that has this many earmarks in it?
     MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Well, again, I've not spoken directly with -- I don't know about the specific reviews that have been or are being undertaken regarding legislation that the House or Senate may or were going to be considering in terms of the omnibus appropriations bill.
     Q    I mean, is that the line here, so if it's a bill that was already being written --
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I hesitate to get too far out on this without having a broad discussion with those that are evaluating legislation that, as I understand it now, isn't likely to come up immediately, based on some objections in the overall legislation.
     The President talked -- and I can certainly pull this for you and everyone else -- specific proposals in legislation that the President, as a senator, was deeply involved in; that was contained in larger ethic reforms that passed Congress and was signed into law, I believe in early 2007; that contained some earmark reform and identifying of the sponsors of earmarks.  The President remains concerned about, and I think this was a concern he shared with -- even with his presidential opponent about earmarks -- in understanding how over the past few years, they grew exponentially, that we have seen a reduction in that growth recently, and that the President was extremely proud of the bill that Congress presented him that didn't contain those.
     Q    Would he use his veto pen as a --
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's --
     Q    -- as a way of encouraging --
     MR. GIBBS:  I know there's great concern in this building and by the President about earmarks.  Without having looked specifically at a piece of legislation, I'm hesitant to throw out the word -- that four-letter word "veto."
     Q    But is he for -- if there was a line-item veto --
     MR. GIBBS:  Oh, I can assure you he'd love to take that for a test drive.  (Laughter.)
     Yes, Mark.
     Q    Robert, in recent days whenever the President spoke about cutting the deficit in half, he said his goal is to do it by the end of his first term -- not his term; his first term.  What should we construe from that?
     MR. GIBBS:  The meeting of the electoral college in December conferred upon the President-elect a four-year term in which he's -- when I hear back somewhere in the 36th or 37th day of that four-year term -- and I think he was mentioning that four-year term.
     Q    But he was saying "my first term," which seems to suggest he's thinking about a second term.
     MR. GIBBS:  You know, I hadn't really thought about it.  (Laughter.)  The President is focused on day 36 or day 37 and not what would be day 1,400 or 1,401.
     Yes, Ed.
     Q    Robert, to what extent has the health care process been slowed by the absence of a Secretary of Health and Human Services?  And if the process hasn't, what does that say about that job for whoever takes it?  (Laughter.) 
     MR. GIBBS:  Don't you think that would have been a much more appropriate follow-up once I took the bait on one side of that question or the other?  (Laughter.) 
     Q    Do you think that's -- 
     MR. GIBBS:  I would love to if we can do that on Fridays.  I'm kidding.  (Laughter.)  No, I don't --
     Q    Big step --
     MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- as I just talked about, I mean, the health care summit that will be -- that will take place here in the White House will include a number of people that aren't just the Secretary or Secretary-designate of Health and Human Services.  I don't think that the President would look at the process as being controlled entirely by one job or by one person.  I mean, obviously the process that the President had set up in the original configuration of the White House obviously had one person dual-hatted to do health care reform and HHS.
     So there's a process here in the White House to discuss it.  There will be, as the President said, more detail on that in the budget that's released tomorrow that will show, as he said last night, a down payment on a commitment to health care reform.  I would again return to the answer I gave earlier, that health care reform has moved forward in the past 30 or so days because of investments that we made in the Recovery Act and legislation that was signed because of a strong bipartisan vote in Congress. 
     That's not to say, though, that whoever that eventual nominee and secretary is won't play an extremely important role in both the design, hopefully the passage, and ultimately -- in some ways -- the delivery of the federal government's current responsibilities on health care, certainly relating to Medicare and Medicaid.  The process is ongoing to find that nominee.  And hopefully, we'll have an announcement on that soon.
     Yes, sir.
     Q    You just said a moment ago, Robert, there's great concern in this building about earmarks.  A couple of Cabinet secretaries in their previous life as members of Congress have earmarks in the pending omnibus legislation -- Congressman Solis and Congressman LaHood -- now they're Cabinet secretaries.  Would the President be open to at least encouraging them, in the spirit of taking on earmarks directly, to withdraw those requests for those earmarks in the legislation?
     MR. GIBBS:  Again, I would -- I'll do some checking on the larger discussion about --
     Q    But I mean, would that be a sign of the President's seriousness on earmarks?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you can take one sign of the President's seriousness on this that there aren't any from him that I know of in that omnibus, largely because there weren't any that were requested last year.
     Q    Would he be open to extending that standard to his Cabinet?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, and that's what I'll certainly seek to look for.  Again, the President has discussed and worked with Congress to pass some reform of this process that now ensures that people like you that are interested can go into a piece of legislation and see the names of those sponsors.  I'm sure that helped greatly in the formulation of said question. 
     But again, this is -- we saw over a period of years a great expansion of the number of earmarks that were considered and approved by Congress.  There has been in the past few years a downward trend on that line, and that the President hopes to continue that downward trend.
     Q    To follow up on Chip's talking about Afghanistan.  The President said last night, we will no longer hide its price -- the price of the two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yet at the Pentagon today, Geoff Morrell, the spokesman, said there will be a supplemental in 2010 for war costs.  And the Pentagon frequently asserts that the reason there are supplementals is not to hide the cost, but because it is impractical and difficult, if not impossible, to fully predict the cost of ongoing military operations.
     First of all, do you agree there will have to be a supplemental in 2010, the President's first budget under his signature?  And second of all, do you at least have some comment or evaluation of the necessity at times to supplementally fund ongoing military operations -- and that doesn't necessarily constitute hiding the cost.
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I will check on supplementals, in terms of going forward.  I don't think that -- I think you'll see in the President's budget that he considers honest and transparent, while it may not be a perfect accounting of what one might ultimately find, I think you'll find an effort, a good effort to denote in that budget that there will be costs.
     I think it's hard to -- I mean, take for instance, in previous budgets in which we've had troops in Iraq there's been no accounting for any of that spending in that budget.  Now, that's either -- you could say, I guess, if you wanted to, that there was some delineation of the complexity of budgeting that number, or you could be surprised we had troops in Iraq.  I think that's hard to posit, given what happened over the last seven years.  The President believes --
     Q    So the administration will try to come up with a number, but not necessarily assert that that is the only number?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President will come up with what he believes is an honest number that accounts for, as best he and the team can come up with, an overall spending number for our overseas commitments in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
     But again, I just want to make the point, there -- I'll give you the point on supplementals in terms of understanding, again, that it might be hard to throw a dart and hit the exact number on a board that accompanied the exact total of spending in that fiscal year.  But there wasn't -- there wasn't even a picking up of the dart and throwing it at the board.  There was just a -- I assume their hands were not unlike mine, saying, well, there's no accounting for it in the budget.  I think that was -- would not have met the President's commitment to open and honest budgeting.
     Q    Quick one.  Will the White House still have supervisory interest in the census under Governor Locke if he's confirmed as Commerce Secretary?
     MR. GIBBS:  Who oversees the census wouldn't -- won't change with who that person is.  The director of the census always would report to the Secretary of Commerce. 
     Q    And also, the White House senior staff, as was suggested under --
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think members of Congress and the White House have a -- both have an interest in a fair and accurate census count.
     Q    To follow up on Ed's question about HHS.  Can you tell us a little bit about what's taking so long?  We've been led to believe, repeatedly over the last couple of weeks, that there is a leading candidate for this job.  And also, isn't it a little weird to go ahead with a health summit without your health secretary?
     MR. GIBBS:  No.  Again, let me get back to -- I'll take the second part first and get back to what I said with Ed.  I don't  -- I mean, yes, if one person determined the ultimate outcome of all things health care, relating to everything that Democrats, Republicans, business, labor, doctors and providers were doing, yes, we'd wait.  But I think there is a -- I think it's pretty easy to assume that there isn't one person alone that would meet all of those criteria. 
     That's why planning goes forward, both in this building -- you'll see details come forward in the President's budget denoting his commitment to health care reform, as you've seen in the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.  Because it's important whomever is a nominee at that agency, that this building is working on, as Capitol Hill and others throughout the country are working on, ensuring that ultimately and quickly we can get some health care reform finally passed in this country.
     In terms of names and such, like I said, I'm sort of hesitant to spin the big wheel and play the name game, but as soon as we have an announcement we'll announce it.
     Q    Can I follow up with a quick question about last night?  What did you make of Governor Jindal's response, and did the President see it?
     MR. GIBBS:  I was separated from the President at that point.  I was in Statuary Hall.  I heard some of the speech through an earpiece.  You know, I'm always struck by people that are in and around the budgetary process for a number of years relating to spending in the federal government that suddenly discover we've added $5 trillion to our bar tab.  I thought some of the statements relating to borrowing money and running up debt were certainly interesting given the actions of the previous several years regarding an additional $5 trillion in debt.
     But I -- you know, I would be honest with you to say I focused much more on the President's speech than the response.
     Yes, sir.
     Q    Robert, you talk about honest and transparent budgeting and I wanted to come back to Chuck's question about the $2 trillion figure that the President used last night of savings over the next 10 years.  We were told last night that that basically referred to two things.  One is the expiration of the tax cuts on the wealthy that would happen next year.  And two is a reduction of what we are currently spending in Iraq --
     MR. GIBBS:  I think that's a -- I think that's certainly a decent part of it.  I don't know, not having seen -- or at least not having in front of me the formal documents to know whether that's 100 percent.
     Q    Okay.  But let me ask -- is it transparent to say that tax increases are part of savings?  And is it transparent to say that we're going to be saving that much from Iraq when nobody expects that 10 years out we would be spending what we're spending today in Iraq?  Even the previous administration agreed to get out of Iraq by 2012.  And that's the baseline you're culling savings from.
     MR. GIBBS:  It isn't -- I mean, if we're not spending the money, and the money doesn't go out the door, and the money doesn't increase the deficit, and the deficit decreases by some amount, ultimately getting you to the President's goal of having a $1.2 trillion to $1.3 trillion deficit in his first four years in office --
     Q    But nobody expects to spend 10 years from now what we're spending today in Iraq.  And if we use that as our baseline, saying, oh, we're saving because we're not spending what we did 10 years ago, I mean, isn't that sort of setting up a funny money comparison?
     MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't think so at all.  It's an end of -- it's an end to the commitment and the spending of that money.  You know, I think -- I think, again, when you see the budget you will see that decrease in the deficit, and that's reflected both where we started and where we'll end over a four-year period of time in terms of budget deficits.
     Again, revenue that comes in or doesn't go out, I certainly -- I think both whether it's a family sitting around a kitchen table doing a budget or the federal government doing a baseline budget for many years in advance, I think when you're not spending money and your budget deficit goes down, that certainly counts for a decrease in that deficit.
     Q    Does a tax increase count as savings?
     MR. GIBBS:  Again, it's -- you've got additional revenue -- as the President I think clearly said, tax cuts for people that are -- for families that are making $250,000 or more a year, quarter of a million dollars or more -- again, that's an increase in the amount of money that --
     Q    But you said you've identified savings.  That's not really a savings.
     MR. GIBBS:   Again, I think some of this will be clearer when we can be -- can give you physically a budget for you to look at.
     Q    Congressman Kucinich last night said that if the banking bailout doesn't work, there's going to have to be a plan B, which he would actually include even moving the Federal Reserve under Treasury -- a big move.  What would be a plan B?  And is that even in the realm?
     MR. GIBBS:  I did not see Congressman Kucinich's comments and wouldn't get into government restructuring regarding an independent agency adding to the executive branch.
     Q    But how about a plan B?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that the President is focused on getting right the best -- as best he and the team can at the moment for stabilizing our financial system through any number of things that he laid out last night -- an expansion of a lending program that will lend to small businesses and to families, that will address the home foreclosure crisis, and that will, through a series of actions that Treasury will do, measure the overall health of individual banks and make some decisions about capitalization.  That's what the -- it would be hard to work on that and work on some alternative plan at the same time.
     Yes, ma'am.
     Q    When the President stood there looking out over the House Chamber last night, what was his impression of the reception he got?  Did it sound as partisan as it had always been in the past?  Does it give him any pause when he considers the kind of projects he now has to move forward with?
     MR. GIBBS:  I haven't -- I haven't seen probably as many of these speeches as some people have.  But I was awfully struck by the notion that -- and I don't -- somebody had the statistics, but I forget the exact ones -- that in the number of ovations that people gave during the speech, the amazing number that involved both sides of the aisle standing up and applauding.
     Q    What did the President think?
     MR. GIBBS:  I think the President thinks that, as he said in his speech, and particularly, in the conclusion, that though we may disagree on individual issues, and we may not agree -- and certainly haven't agreed on everything up until this point, that our charge by the American people is to work together for that common good.
     And I think that the reception that he received last night was heartening not for the President -- not simply for the President and for members that were in that hall, but I think for the American people that have watched -- it looks a little bit like two kids on a see-saw.  One sits up and one sits down, and then the other sits up and the other sits down, and there's this sort of -- sort of game back and forth.  And I think last night, it seemed that on virtually every broad measure the President outlined in his speech, there was a reaction from both sides at the same time.  Somebody told me -- I did not see -- well, I won't say that, because I didn't see.
     Q    Does he think Governor Jindal had any good ideas in the response?
     MR. GIBBS:  I don't know whether the President -- because he was on his way back here, I don't know the degree to which he physically saw the response.  Again, I think that the President  --
     Q    Has anybody told him what the response --
     MR. GIBBS:  Good question.  I haven't.  But again, I think that -- I think what the President was -- what the President focused on in his speech was laying out the remarkable number of economic challenges that our country faces primarily, but to do so in a way that demonstrated a path forward to meeting those challenges.  I think people -- certainly based on a number of reactions I've seen -- felt confident that the President understands that path toward better days, and that his administration is taking actions to get there.
     Yes, sir.
     Q    Robert, you slowed down the vetting process a lot, and that has created sort of a dearth of nominees to the Senate for these second and third-level political jobs -- under secretaries, deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, administrators.  Can you talk a little bit about what you've done to change the vetting process and whether that's a problem for the government operating right now?
     MR. GIBBS:  Let me get guidance from counsel on any specifics that you might be talking about.  I don't think that the administration believes that we lack the necessary infrastructure to move the country forward and get things done, and I think that's demonstrated by what the President has been capable -- been able to do in a little over five weeks time.
     Look, it takes time to put together that full government and we certainly continue that work.  But I think by any measure, what's been accomplished thus far in this administration -- Fair Pay Act, an expansion of Children's Health Insurance to ensure even more children, a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will save or create 3.5 million jobs and contained in its passage one of the largest and most progressive tax cuts our country has ever seen, just to name a few -- demonstrate the remarkable amount of change that in only a short period of time this President has brought to Washington.
     Q    Can you say the thrust has changed from wanting quick appointments at that level to wanting to be careful about not having more --
     MR. GIBBS:  I don't possess a law degree and don't work in the Counsel's Office, so let me get a little bit --
     Q    The Vice President said today that the lack of procurement officers may slow down some of the stimulus Recovery Act spending, and you want weekly reports from those who haven't filled the second and third tier positions in their own Cabinet agencies to expedite that.  So it appears to be a problem, at least as it specifically relates to the stimulus bill.
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, as the President noted last night, the Vice President and his office are in charge of ensuring transparency and accountability in that recovery plan.  I would note that the President announced on Saturday the tax cuts will soon move out in people's paychecks.  I think Housing and Urban Development moved a good chunk of the money that's involved for them just today.  Energy is working to do the same. 
     The President announced just a few days ago with the governors in town, a big chunk of money relating to Medicaid and health care to ensure that they're not having to make drastic cuts that will hurt the people that, because of this economic downturn, need that health care and need that supportive safety net the most.
     The President is satisfied, and the Vice President is working each and every day to ensure that we make progress to get that money out as quickly as possible.  That's why -- that's why he put somebody as important as the Vice President in charge of  -- in charge of that process.  That's why there's an Inspector General that has a very clear record of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse, to ensure that that money is spent only in its intended way.  And the President told both the mayors and the governors that he would not hesitate to call out projects that were being funded that didn't meet the test of what this bill was supposed to fund.
     Q    Thank you, Robert.
     Q    Robert, yes, two questions really fast.
     MR. GIBBS:  I'm here.
     Q    Governor Jindal talked about Katrina in New Orleans.  Then-candidate Obama was talking, had this ambitious agenda for dealing with New Orleans and how to repair the levee system.  When is that going to start surfacing under this presidency? 
     And also, I want to spin the wheel for HHS.  Tell me about John Podesta?     
     MR. GIBBS:  Which one do we want to do first?
     Q    John Podesta -- let's talk about --
     MR. GIBBS:  You want to spin the big wheel?
     Q    Spin the big wheel.
     MR. GIBBS:  Can I buy a vowel?
     Q    Yes.
     MR. GIBBS:  Okay.  Obviously John is a trusted advisor of the President's, was deeply involved in the transition and helping to put together a -- helping to put together the government that we have now.  You know, I am not, though --
     Q    Man for the job.
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I appreciate your confidence in me being able to do that.  But I'm not certainly going to get into or entertain for any number of reasons, not the least of which are each of these individuals by rolling out a cast of many and picking one.
     Q    Okay, now Katrina.
     MR. GIBBS:  On Katrina, I think last week the President extended a Gulf Coast recovery office that's important in taking steps involving our Katrina relief efforts throughout the Gulf Coast.  And I know that there are some Cabinet secretaries that will make trips to the region as early as next week to look at progress or lack thereof that's being made regarding that recovery.
     The President obviously is deeply concerned about ensuring that the federal government keeps its commitment to rebuild not only New Orleans but the Gulf Coast, that we keep the commitments that have been made.  And I think federal funding is one thing that both the President and Louisiana's Governor agree on as it relates to that.
     Thanks, guys.
                                           END            1:55 P.M. EST