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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/10/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                              March 10, 2009

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:01 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS:  All right, I think I'm organized here.  Welcome back.
Q    Thank you.
MR. GIBBS:  Fire away.

Q    There's been a couple of -- there's been a little increase in bombings and attacks in Iraq since the President's announcement.  What is the concern here about any connection between the two, or what kind of information are you all getting about why this might be happening?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, obviously there are -- there continue to be, throughout Iraq, security challenges.  I think as the President enumerated in the speech that he gave at Camp Lejeune that our government and certainly our military remain strongly committed to ensuring peace and security in Iraq; continued training to give the Iraqis the opportunity and the responsibility for their own security; and that the President will continue to evaluate our policy in Iraq.

I don't know of any specific intelligence that has been gathered based on it, but I know that the President and the team remain committed to ensuring that Iraq is a stable and secure country going forward and that we'll continue to continually evaluate that.

Q    Was there any concern, though, that -- either here or from Iraqi officials -- that announcing a withdrawal and a schedule for withdrawal encourages or emboldens these kinds of attacks?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think, you know, in the conversation that the President had with the Iraqis that there was nothing about that.  Obviously, I mean, the previous administration negotiated and signed an agreement that ends not just our combat commitment but our entire military commitment, and I don't think that that would be done if it presented a scenario in which the country would fall into further danger.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, OPEC is meeting on March 15th to discuss potential future -- or additional cut in production.  Does the White House support or oppose a cut like that?  And are you concerned that if they did do that, that it would hurt the economy because oil prices may rise?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me ask folks around here whether there's -- what they've seen or said about this.  I mean, obviously the price of oil has come down greatly from the heights that we'd seen it in the middle of last year, the fall of last year, when folks were paying $4 for a gallon of gas.  And I do think that this administration, regardless of where the price is, is dedicated to ensuring that we take the steps necessary to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

I think there are those that have said that with the price coming down, that there's a desire to step away from the reforms necessary to deal with the flow of oil and what our normal policy reaction is when gas does get much more expensive, that the President understands that we have to take those steps regardless of what the price is.

I'll certainly look into any specific things relating to it.

Q    The crux of the question is, are you telling OPEC your position?  Are you -- do you have a position?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, let me see if anybody has communicated something specific to -- I don't have anything that -- at least off the top of mind -- to know whether anything specifically has been communicated.


Q    There was a provision in the omnibus spending bill that helped -- that's tied up the bill from passing or from reaching 60 votes, having to do with Cuba and restrictions on Cuba, dealing with the financing of food and medicine shipments and travel.

Secretary Geithner wrote a letter to some of these senators who were concerned about it -- (door creaking) -- needs some oil.  (Laughter.)  Secretary Geithner --

MR. GIBBS:  That's in the stimulus -- we're going to get that.  (Laughter.)  An earmark.  (Laughter.

Q    -- wrote a letter to some of these senators, basically seeming -- the way it's being described by one of the Democrats' offices is that Secretary Geithner is basically reassuring him that some of these provisions are not going to be enacted as the people who drafted the legislation intended.  Could you clear this up a little?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, and I think that somebody here has letters that we can share.  I think that what -- and I would also point you to Treasury, that obviously -- as you said, the author of the letters could -- some concern about the interpretation of what provisions met in terms of the ability to travel to Cuba for the purposes primarily of selling and for business that the Treasury Department deemed didn't -- in the bill, didn't fully equate to what some of the sponsors said or thought it might do in terms of legislative intent.

What the President talked about, obviously, throughout the campaign is a little different than this.  The President talked about increasing travel to visit family.  Right now, you know, there's a restriction relating to being able to go only a certain amount, usually surrounding a loved one becoming sick or ill or dying, and also provisions relating to sending money back.

But I would point to Treasury to get the exact language in some of those letters that are involved.

Q    The reason I ask is because it seems to -- and maybe I'm misunderstanding -- but it seems like the law as it's written would lift restrictions on financing that previously required cash-in-advance payment.  But Geithner is saying basically that cash-in-advance will remain the law, which seems to be kind of a like a signing statement, except it's not being done by the President at a podium, it's being done by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Q    Well, I mean, Jake, there's obviously, as you know, there's interpretations -- interpretations of what different provisions in each bill mean and those interpretations obviously are active -- it's like a presidential signing statement, except it's not the President and it's not a signing statement.

But I would go back to Treasury in terms of that letter and ask intent there.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, there are some reports that House Democrats got a briefing with some economists and a couple of them were predicting now that the stimulus will not save or create 3.5 million jobs, it will be more like 2.5 million jobs.  What's your sense about whether or not you may have to pull back from some of the predictions?  And also, is the door open to a second stimulus?  There's a lot of chatter about that right now, is there a possibility of that this year?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what specific predictions members of the House may have gotten that you referred to.  I think the President obviously, and the economic team, believe that the steps that we took in the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will have a concrete impact on getting our economy moving again and putting people back to work.

In terms of a -- and I was asked this yesterday about a second stimulus -- obviously, our focus, the focus throughout this administration -- and you've seen the President talk about this on a number of occasions -- is doing all that we can to move the spending that's been authorized by Congress and signed into law by the President, to move that spending out to the states as quickly as possible or move those out to localities or construction projects -- what he did at the Department of Transportation -- in order to do so not just quickly, but to do so in a way that's transparent and the taxpayers are confident and assured that their money is being spent wisely.  I think our focus is ensuring that that money gets out there as quickly as possible so that we can get our economy turned around again.

Obviously the statistics in the last few days, the unemployment numbers late last week were yet another sobering reminder of the many economic challenges that we face.  The President understood that throughout the transition and the reason why he pushed aggressively for a stimulus plan that he thinks will get this economy moving again.

Q    The VA Secretary was on the Hill today and he confirmed -- Secretary Shinseki -- that the administration is considering a plan to have veterans have the treatment for their service-related injuries paid for with private insurance, rather than the government.  And there are a lot of veterans groups who have written to the President saying they believe this is outrageous and the government should be picking up the tab for those who served.  What can you say about why the President is considering this --

MR. GIBBS:  I've not seen what the VA Secretary had to say on this today, so let me go back and get a chance to read up on it.


Q    A small flurry of reports on push-back from Democrats on the Hill, especially on the budget.  What's your take on those reports?  And are people here at the White House surprised by the push-back, or is it what you expected?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think most people that have seen budgets go from here to there are not surprised that different individuals with competing interests look at and see different parts of a budget -- some things they like and some things they don't like -- whether it's Democrats or Republicans.  I think that's all part of the budgetary process in order to get something moved forward.

I think that the President is confident that this process will work its way through and that we'll get and make progress on putting ourselves both back on a path toward fiscal responsibility and fiscal sustainability, as well as making the necessary and needed investments that we talked about yesterday in order to get our economy growing for the long term.  I don't think ultimately the criticism is surprising -- that certainly happens and is all part of the process.

I would say this.  I think -- you know, the President talked about this in his speech to the Congress, and that is, there are obviously competing agendas here.  The President believes, and I think many -- I've certainly -- certainly many in Congress have discussed the notion of putting us on that path to fiscal responsibility, of making sure we're not wasting the taxpayers' money.  And the President assembled a budget that makes a lot of tough choices that affect different parts of and different regions of the country, and understands that not everybody will agree with the individual tough choices.  But I think the American people can be assured that the President has put forward a plan that will cut in half the budget deficit in four years and, as I said, make those necessary and needed investments.


Q    A couple things.  One, the President today in the beginning of his education speech took time out to address some of the chatter about the economy and about whether there was a focus on -- he's focused on too many things or whatever.  Is that an acknowledgment --

MR. GIBBS:  I would -- I would say in the beginning that that strategy seems vindicated yesterday with the market up 200-some-odd points off of the education speech.

Q    The administration is -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I noticed.  I didn't know if anybody here did.

Q    Does this mean -- is it a (inaudible) acknowledgment that the President needs to be talking every day about the economy -- yesterday, by not talking to the economy, he's gotten people a little nervous, or is there a sense that the President needs to be more public about the economy, even more often than he is?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- I think the country can be reasonably assured that the President spends the vast amount of his waking time -- I can't speak to what he might think about when he's not awake -- but the vast amount of his time certainly working in this building in order to get the economy moving again and understanding the challenges that we face, but also understanding -- for instance, today -- I mean, let's be honest, there was a lot of criticism yesterday about this notion of tackling education as being part of the economy.

I think most people in America understand that unless we educate our children and create the workforce that's necessary and needed to support some of the industries that we hope will flourish in an economic recovery -- it's going to take a highly skilled, highly educated workforce -- that those things -- many of those things are connected.  Again, I think the American people can be assured that the President spends the vast majority of his time thinking and working on the economy.

Q    Citigroup apparently is profitable, or so we're hearing -- or at least this quarter.  The government has now got a huge ownership stake.  Did you guys get an -- did the President get an explanation today why Citi is showing a profit -- is it TARP, is it because of something else?  Have you guys been --

MR. GIBBS:  It wasn't the education speech.  (Laughter.)

Q    It wasn't the education speech.  (Laughter.)  But have you guys been given an explanation?  Do you feel --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I obviously -- I don't know whether the President got an independent briefing on Citi, and I sort of hesitate to get into talking about the ups and downs of individual companies or banks.  Obviously --

Q    This is one that the government owns --

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    -- a lot of.

MR. GIBBS:  A decent chunk of.  I mean, obviously -- I mean, I think the -- you know, the President and his team have been focused on a strategy that will begin to make progress and help stabilize our banking system and our financial system, and that -- you know, again, I'm trying to divorce these a little bit, only in the sense that, as I have counseled many of you, that this is going to go up and it's going to go down, and that's the nature and the volatility of what we're involved in.

Q    So you're a little cautious on -- you're not sure what to -- I mean --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, I just -- you know, I was very much joking when I mentioned what the market was doing today, and I'm sure tomorrow I'll get questions if it's headed in a different direction about the -- about that.  I just -- in terms of scorekeeping each day, I think, again, I think the -- again, not -- I want this comment not simply to be reflective of one company's progress in one day in the market; but that the President and his team are focused on a strategy that will stabilize the system and help us make progress in getting capital and loans out to small businesses and families that need it.

That's obviously what he spends a lot of time on, and I think, slowly but surely, we're going to make progress on this, understanding, as I've said, that it's going to take quite some time to get out of here.


Q    Mark Malloch-Brown, the U.K.'s representative for the G20, said -- told reporters that the United States and the British want to make a significant gesture against protectionism at the ministers meeting next week, and may have some kind of aid package or finance package for the poorest of the poor countries that are just being hammered by the fall in imports from the richer countries.  Can you elaborate on what he's talking about, what the administration has planned?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me leave big economic pronouncements up to the Treasury Department and the larger economic team.  I think it is safe to, in a larger sense -- I mean, obviously what we've seen with a -- not surprisingly with a global economic slowdown, as you mentioned, is imports -- the American people obviously look at it as exporting, that there's been sort of a collective pulling back or shrinking of global trade because of both demand and capital and credit that are flowing.  I think this, along with financial regulation and stimulus, will be on the docket and will be prevalent in the agenda at the G20 in April, because -- and I think, you know, continued economic growth through trade is important, again, not as a -- not simply as one individual item, but as we look towards sustained long-term and continued economic growth.


Q    Robert, is it still the President's intention to sign the omnibus bill when it reaches his desk?
MR. GIBBS:  It is.

Q    He has no second thoughts about it?


Q    Does he believe that everything in that bill is essential spending, considering the over $1.5 trillion deficit he's projecting for this year?

MR. GIBBS:  Mark, I dare say that -- I bet many Presidents have signed bills that may not meet a hundred percent of their desires.  As I've said before, this is -- we're finishing the appropriations process that is generally concluded before the fiscal year starts on October -- this would be October 1, 2008.  This stuff should have been done before Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama, and certainly before he became President Obama.

That having been said -- and I've said this from up here and I think it is safe to assume that tomorrow we'll have more on our concern for the appropriations and the spending process moving forward -- because though this represents one bill and several different appropriations bills, over the course of the President's tenure in Washington, dozens of those bills will come to his desk and that there will be some new rules of the road.

Q    Are you saying the bill contains more spending than he thinks is necessary or warranted?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I have not and I think it's reasonable to assume that the President has not gone through each and every item in the legislation.  This is necessary to continue funding government.  It represents last year's business.  Although it's not perfect, the President will sign the legislation, but demonstrate for all involved rules moving forward that he thinks can make this process work a little bit better.

Q    Is it going to be a public event?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know.  The President signs -- certainly some events that he signs things on are public, and some of them are not.

Q    These are the rules of the road?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Back to the G20.  Larry Summers said in a Financial Times interview that the EU, as well as other nations, should try to do more in the way of stimulus, like the U.S. did.  And Mr. Geithner made a similar suggestion last month.  Today the European Union finance ministers rejected that, saying that such suggestions are "not to our liking."  Does this kind of portend two nations, or two bloc nations, getting off on the wrong track as we head off into the G20?  And does that contribute any confidence in the world markets?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think that -- I mean, obviously, as we move forward -- look, the President believed that it was important to take aggressive action to move our economy forward through a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that he was proud to sign into law, and that's moving necessary money out for infrastructure and tax cuts and things like that.

And I answered yesterday the notion that on the agenda in April will be discussion of how we move forward together, as the President discussed at the latter stages of the campaign, that  whether it's stimulus or regulation, that if many nations work collectively in concert, the impact to the global economy will only be sharper and stronger.  And I think that's what the United States and other nations will discuss in April.

Q    But they're saying they won't do that.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that's why we have summits. 

Q    What -- can I follow up?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Is there a Sherpa named for G20?

MR. GIBBS:  I will check.

MR. HAMMER:  Froman.

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, is it Mike Froman?  Mike Froman, I'm sorry.  Mike Froman.

Yes, sir.

Q    The Vice President today in Europe said that he considered really only 5 percent of the Taliban to be incorrigible -- this just a few days after the President offered up, in a New York Times interview, the prospect of talks with them.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let -- before you -- I would encourage everyone to read the transcript of the interview.

Q    The President's interview or the Vice President's --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'd certainly read both -- (laughter) -- but I wouldn't -- that would be awkward, wouldn't it?  (Laughter.)

Q    It ain't going to be the first time he had to deal with that.

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.  But -- and I don't --

Q    This wouldn't be the -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  No, no -- well, but hold on.  Let me -- you know, read exactly what the President said on the plane on Friday.  And I think -- without, again, getting ahead of where you --

Q    Am I misrepresenting the President's comments by saying he --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that -- I think he was asked whether it could make sense to speak with more moderate elements of -- and I think the President lays out pretty clearly that -- as he did -- as Senator McCain, General Petraeus and then-Senator Obama in October of last year did -- that if there are prospects similar to our discussions that -- and efforts that were made that General Petraeus shuttled and was involved in, in Iraq -- if there was the possibility to do something like that, it's possible to look into it as part of -- and again, the President and the administration are undergoing a review of our policy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Q    But General Petraeus didn't just sponsor the talks with the Sunnis in Iraq.  He suggested we should be talking with elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  He did so last fall.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    So my question is, are you on track to do that, are you exploring it, is there a time frame?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I --

Q    Should it be done sooner rather than later?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think this and other important decisions related to Afghanistan and Pakistan are exactly what will be decided and looked at in the administration's review of our policies relating to that region of the country -- I'm sorry -- region of the world.

That's precisely why the review that the President ordered is being undertaken.  And I don't have the date off the top of my head as to when that will be completed, but I assume that that, as well as other decisions will be -- and ideas -- will be studied as part of that review.

Q    On another matter, if I may.  The judge's decision today to accept legal filings -- Judge Stephen Henley's decision to accept legal filings from five inmates at Gitmo -- the President had asked if those proceedings could be halted.  Are you troubled by the judge's action?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  The President -- not unlike our dealings with Afghanistan and Pakistan, we've developed a process to review the status of those at Guantanamo Bay and determine how best to deal with individual detainees and how to bring those that committed horrible acts to justice.  And that continues, as well.

Q    And this decision is consistent with that process?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not a judge in a court of law, but I can -- what I just gave you I think is consistent with what the President has done and what he believes.

Q    Following up slightly on that, Great Britain has decided that it's going to be talking to Hezbollah, and recognizes it as a part of the political fabric of Lebanon.  Given the President's comments about reaching out to some elements of the Taliban, is there a broader discussion about how to engage radical Islamist movements that play important political roles in the Middle East and in Central Asia, including Hamas, that's taking place within the administration?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't want to get too far afield on this except to reiterate the President's desire to strongly be engaged in bringing about a long-term and durable peace to the Middle East -- rather than getting into this and that.  Obviously I think the President has stated on a number of occasions that in order for anything like that to happen, there are certain responsibilities that those individual organizations have, including recognizing the right of Israel to exist and renouncing their involvement in terrorist activities.  So I think certainly there are activities and responsibilities that have to be undertaken by those organizations well before this administration can render a judgment.

Q    Robert, to follow on Jim's question on Iraq, the White House has reserved the possibility of rethinking the timetable if conditions on the ground there were to change.  I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what kind of changes you would want to take into consideration, given that the President wanted to withdraw even when violence was much higher a year ago and two years ago.  And what -- is a matter of violence that you would look at and --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me -- I would direct you to either Secretary Gates -- well, primarily Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs would have a far greater understanding of the evaluative criteria -- that both was used in making the decision to announce the plan that the President announced, as well as will continue to evaluate the situation on the ground as it relates to -- obviously there are any number of dates upcoming in the calendar aside from what the President announced in terms of agreements that have been signed.  But in terms of specific evaluative criteria, I think I'd point you to the Pentagon.

Q    If there was like an upsurge in violence, that by itself wouldn't --

MR. GIBBS:  They'd have a better idea of criteria.  I don't think it's necessarily in our interest to get into certain hypotheticals about certain -- what those criteria might be.

Q    Why not?  You -- I mean, the White House --

MR. GIBBS:  Because --

Q    -- is making the policy, isn't it?  The generals aren't.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, absolutely.  But the President discussed throughout the campaign that he would consult with commanders on the ground, commanders in the region, the full Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense and the -- in coming to a decision and a conclusion --

Q    He had many ideas before the -- I mean, during the campaign.

MR. GIBBS:  I think many of those ideas you see instituted in the President's pronouncement about winding down our military and combat commitment in Iraq.  I think the President said throughout the campaign that to make those decisions without the advice of the commanders on the ground is not something that he's interested in doing, as well.

Q    Why don't we know why we're escalating in Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Helen, we've had this conversation a couple times, but the President -- when the President came into office, sitting on the desk of the Pentagon had been a request from General McKiernan for additional troops in order to deal with what he believed was an ever-growing dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

The President approved additional troops in order to prevent that further deterioration of security in the lead-up to very important elections in that country.  That does not predetermine what decisions might be made at a later date about our force structure pending a regional review, which the President ordered, dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Q    Robert, can I come back to the education speech, and a clarification?  When the President speaks --

MR. GIBBS:  Happy to talk about education.  (Laughter.)

Q    Well, I won't talk about fire.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Stop, drop and roll.  Go ahead.

Q    Do I get credit for the stock market?

MR. GIBBS:  You know, we'll call it -- we'll make it your rally.

Q    Thank you.  When he speaks of rewarding excellence in -- sorry, rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, is he talking about merit pay?  Because we had someone from the NEA -- from the NEA who said, no, he's talking about certifications, that a teacher who achieved extra credentials, they get extra pay.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that what the President's speech outlined today was an expansion of performance pay that the President talked about during the campaign and spoke about in front of town hall meetings and the NEA; included in that is also certification.  But the President believes that school systems can work with teachers and parents to come up with a system that rewards our best teachers with more pay for their excellence in the classroom.  We specifically, I think, highlighted this on one instance in the Denver area, where the school system and teachers worked together to create a plan that was ultimately passed as part of a referendum, that -- part of what was spearheaded by the new senator from Colorado as the superintendent of schools in that area.

I think the statistics are quite clear, and I think it's important for all of us to understand the importance of what teaching means to our students.  It is the single most important -- this is backed up by data -- the single most important factor in determining the outcome of the education of a student.  It's not their parents' background, it's not their income.  It's who the person is standing up in front of that classroom each and every day instructing our children that improves their test scores, that improves their reading and math and enables them to achieve the educational level that they have to, to compete and be successful in our society.  The President believes that we should take steps to reward those teachers.

Q    So he does support merit pay increase for performance.

MR. GIBBS:  He supports the pay for performance, and I think a grand expansion of those ideas across a number of school districts was one of the many things -- including early childhood education, changes in data and innovation -- that I think lay out the strong foundation for an educational reform agenda that the President believes will ultimately lead to increased economic growth.


Q    On this his 50th day in office, does the President feel he's about where he expected to be on his policy initiatives?  From the tone of voice this morning it sounded like the criticism that he's tried to do too much has really kind of gotten under his skin.

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- well, first of all, I will check when I go back to the graph at presidential happiness at the intersection of the 50th day and chart its appropriate progress.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will you release that, please?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  We're not that transparent, Mark.  (Laughter.)

Q    And is the trend up or down?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  It depends.  I think I can speak authoritatively to that.

I think that, by any reasonable estimation, what the President and the administration have accomplished in a very short period of time -- even leaving aside the many challenges that we face, the number of things that the President has had to tackle, the number of things that the President has moved through Congress and signed into law, I think not just this administration but I think the American people can be proud of, in getting us on a path towards a sustained economic recovery, understanding that 50 days -- he understood that not all our challenges would be met in 50 days, that there would be much work to do, and that's why, I guess, the founders were graceful enough to extend our tenure beyond that 50-day mark.

But again -- I mean, we -- I talked about this yesterday, and, you know, I think it bears repeating, and that is, if you look at -- if we look at sort of how our economy grew in the first sort of seven or eight years in this decade, I think most economists would at least now go back and tell you that a lot of our "growth" was fueled by questionable mortgage-lending practices and mounds of credit card debt.

I don't think any reasonable economist would also demonstrate for you that that's a long-term path towards sustained economic growth; that we have businesses and families that deal with the rising costs of health care; we have schools that aren't preparing our children and our students to compete in that economy, not just with people in different cities in this country but with kids all across the world; and the choices that we've made relating to energy have put us in a competitive disadvantage, because we're so dependent upon foreign oil -- that all of those things are very much linked to our economic problem.

Much as I've said one solution to the credit crisis isn't likely to solve all of our economic challenges, the President I think strongly believes and, quite frankly, I think the American people understand that our challenges have accumulated largely because for many, many years we've put off making some of those tough decisions.  That's why it's not easy to go out and enumerate some of the things that the President did in his education plan, or as the administration has done on health care and energy, but the President understands it's the right thing to do to move our economy forward.

Q    The President, Robert, said that -- early this year -- that he intended to lay out a new framework for regulating Wall Street and the financial markets by the time of the G20.  It looks like that's slipping slightly, that time frame.  But when does the President believe that new system of regulation needs to be in place, and can realistically be in place, given the pace of the political problems?

MR. GIBBS:  Obviously this is -- we've talked about getting -- the shorthand for how a bill becomes a law.  Obviously any change is going to take time.  The President has started that process with members of Congress -- my 50 days tend to blur together, I can't remember if it was last week or the week before.  But the President remains committed as he did throughout the campaign to ensuring that we have a regulatory framework that meets our 21st century economic system.

The President spoke on Wall Street in September of 2007 and I think talked about a number of problems that our regulatory structure has had to deal with and have become more enlightening over the past many months that have led us to where we are.

Q    Does he believe that system should be in place and can be in place this calendar year?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that the President's hope is that we will move quickly toward that goal.  I don't know that if it was -- I don't think we certainly ever promised it or it would have been realistic to say that that would fully be in place by the beginning of April, given the number of challenges that we had.  But the President remains fully committed to ensuring that that happens quickly, because all of the effort that has been made to change the way we do business, the capital that's been funded in terms of a recovery plan, a housing foreclosure plan to deal with the rising tide of that -- to do all that without putting into that new regulatory restructure just risks repeating the same old mistakes, and I think the President --

Q    Well, he doesn't necessarily mean in 2009.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that would be the hope.


Q    Robert --

MR. GIBBS:  I know it's been, what, like three days since I called on you.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you.  Thank you very much.

MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead.

Q    Okay.  Robert, what is the timeline that this administration has for gauging the stimulus package, if it has worked, if there may need to be another stimulus package?  Many economists are saying that the timeline is six months.

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I haven't -- I haven't seen some of that.  I think the President has appointed in the Vice President, and in the Vice President's staff, and Inspector General, a system that will continually evaluate how money is being spent, evaluate whether that money is being spent on the projects that it should be spent for, and the impact that the taxpayers are getting back for the money that has been spent.

I think the President will also continue to evaluate the trajectory of where the economy is and make determinations of whether we need to do things differently.

In terms of that -- I mean, I think it's important to bear in mind that -- well, two things.  One, it seems like only two weeks ago that the criticism where we were going way too fast and doing way too much --  now it seems the criticism predictably has flipped to the point where we, gasp, didn't do enough.

The President, I think rightly, wants to ensure that what has been done gets into our economic bloodstream in a way that can make as big a change as he intends, and as big a change as he thinks is possible.  But again, we're in the very beginning stages of this, and it's going to take quite some time for that to both work and for us to get a reasonable evaluation.

Q    But do you feel that you're racing against the clock?  Does this administration feel that time is not on its side?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the American people are hurting, and we understand that.  That's why the President took the action that he did.  And as I've said countless times from up here, they also understand it's going to take quite some time for things to turn around.  You don't -- we're not going to just turn a ship around on a dime; it's going to take some time.  And I think people understand that, though they're confident and assured that the President is taking the steps to put in place, as he said, the pillars that need to be in place for that economic recovery.


Q    Thank you, Robert.  The President said something interesting that I think the schoolchildren of America might have listened to with great interest, given that we're getting towards the summer, today when he said we should rethink the school year and the school day.  Can you give us a little more insight as to what he's thinking -- of a summer vacation of just a few weeks, or leaving intact the schedule we have, and just adding a little bit?  So can you give us a little more --

MR. GIBBS:  I hope my son didn't hear that portion of today's speech.

No, I think that the President has spoken before, and I think there has been discussion in the education community and in the reform community about either restructuring the amount of time that is spent each day in school, or adding time -- several weeks -- to each school year.  I mean, you know, as far as 10 or 12 years ago, there were active proposals to do this, to add -- to go from, say, roughly 180 to closer to 200 school days.

The President, obviously, thinks that all avenues should be explored in order to improve our educational system.  This is one that advocates have talked about as a possibility of increasing the amount of educational work that is done, that our students do each school year.  Obviously, this is largely in the dominion of states and school districts.

But I think you've also heard the President talk about, and I think he would encourage students and parents alike to use the opportunity of whatever your summer vacation is to continue learning, to continue reading, to continue the activities that are necessary to prepare any student for the next school year.

Q    Right.  That feels pretty differently when you're on vacation, as opposed to being in school.  So you think he's talking more about weeks, not months, in the summer?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, there aren't many months in the summer.

Q    Two months -- three.

MR. GIBBS:  Wow I'm glad I'm not your kids.  No, I'm kidding.  (Laughter.)

Again, I think the President, without getting -- without having a specific number of days that he thinks can and should be added to the school year, I think the President believes it's appropriate for us -- and for school administrators and for state school superintendents that he visited with today -- to evaluate whether or not proposals to add to that school year makes sense.  Because I think -- obviously there's also data that would show you that maybe adding to that school year increases not just what you learned this year, but how you're prepared to learn and what you need to know in order to be ready for that next school year in order to improve learning.

And I think that's -- I think the overall speech today lays out a fairly ambitious plan for education reform, and I think the President, through the stimulus plan and the budget, looks to accomplish a lot of that.

Q    Robert, thanks.  What is the President's view of this resolution on Tibet that's working its way through the House, which accuses China of repression?  And does he agree, or what does he think about the Dalai Lama's comments that China has created hell in Tibet?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I have not -- I have not looked at any resolutions in the House, except to say -- to simply restate our position, that -- (cell phone rings.)

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  That's awesome, by the way.  Right?  That's -- wow.  (Laughter.)  You want to tell everybody what that song was?

Q    No.

MR. GIBBS:  All right.  (Laughter.)  That was pretty cool.  That was -- wow, I don't -- I certainly can't top that with an answer on our policy toward Tibet.  (Laughter.)  But thank you, "Mr. Wendal."

The United States respects the territorial integrity of China and considers Tibet to be part of China.  At the same time we're concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet.  The State Department recently released its annual report on human rights practices for China.  In 2008, the government increased its cultural and religious repression in Tibetan areas, and that we believe that substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama's representatives that makes progress in bringing about solutions to longstanding issues is the best way to achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet.
Thanks, guys.
3:52 P.M. EDT