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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5/19/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                   May 19, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:46 P.M. EDT 

MR. GIBBS:  No Supreme Court announcements to make, so we'll just take it away.

Q    Mr. Gibbs.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.

Q    Senator Durbin, explaining the Democrats having pulled the $80 million out of the funding bill for the closure of Guantanamo, said that the money might be forthcoming once there's a plan.  Is there a plan coming right away?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we agree with Congress that before resources that they should receive a more detailed plan.  I think the President, as you know, has plans to outline issues relating to detainees and detention policy at a speech in Washington on Thursday.

Q    And one would expect that plan to be detailed on Thursday?

MR. GIBBS:  A hefty part of that, yes.

Yes, sir.

Q    The GM CEO was at the President's auto emissions announcement this morning, and even as word was leaking out about how the automaker might go about a bankruptcy.  And I'm wondering, does the administration consider it all but inevitable that GM is going to go to bankruptcy, or is there still some hope being held out that they can -- that can be averted?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, obviously we've got almost two weeks before the deadline.  I don't want to interject myself from the podium into the negotiations between all the stakeholders.  Our goal is, as it was with Chrysler, to find a way of seeing a company emerge from whatever happens, from whatever restructuring, to be a viable auto company. 

So without prejudging what might happen over the course of the next 10 or 11 days, I think we saw -- usually these things, there's a flurry of activity as we get a bit closer to the end of that.  So I think that's the best place for it to work.

Q    Would the President prefer that bankruptcy be averted?  Is there any sign of progress on that -

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President would prefer that GM and the stakeholders come up with the best plan possible to put it on that path toward viability that doesn't include continued government assistance.  I think the automakers took a big step forward today in the certainty of auto fuel efficiency and auto emissions standards, something that they have sought for quite some time, a uniformity -- not many standards, but one.  And I think today is a big step in that direction.

Q    What do you say to consumers who are concerned about the fact that the cars will cost more upfront and that perhaps they won't be as safe?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the safety arguments have been dealt with for a very, very long time, and I don't think they have a lot of credence.  I think, as you all do your stories today, I would expect that you would report that any increase in cost is quickly ameliorated by what one saves in fuel efficiency.  That's generally paid quickly over the first three years.  And in fact, over the life of the car, the average life of the car, a consumer is likely to actually save a considerable amount of money, rather than seeing an increase in cost.

Q    So in other words, consumers don't have to make any sacrifices at all?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I don't know what sacrifices they may make.  They may decide to make --

Q    That this new policy will require no sacrifices?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, this policy won't require, over the length of the average life of their car, that they'll see any increased expense.  In fact, they will save money because a higher fuel efficiency standard obviously uses less fuel and ultimately costs less money to operate. 

I think this is a big win for consumers; this is a big win for anybody that's concerned about our dependence on foreign oil; it's a big win for those that are concerned about harmful greenhouse gas pollution.  And I think in many ways it's a testament to the hard work of a lot of people in the administration in bringing a very disparate group of stakeholders together for the very first time to agree on one standard for emissions and for fuel economy, something that hasn't been done before. 

Usually when we're talking about this issue and we see the actors and the stakeholders that were involved in the announcement today, they're usually lined up on opposite sides of the room bargaining against one another.  Today they shared the stage along with elected officials and others that have long been proponents of today's policy in celebrating something that I said -- as I said before, will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, make our planet cleaner, and is a win for everybody involved.

Q    Just one follow-up on my colleague's question about the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.  So far since President Obama has taken office, two detainees have been released, one to the UK and one to France, where they are essentially free.  And I understand that's court-ordered by a judge.  What's the consultation process that's going on before these moves are happening?  Are you informing Congress at all?  Because it seems to me from talk on Capitol Hill, they don't know of these things until they happen.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we could find somebody to describe for you what the process is for transfer of a court-ordered detainee out of Guantanamo into a country that will receive them.  In terms of security and surveillance, I would point you to each of the individual governments in Great Britain and in France for follow-ups on those specific questions.

Q    The President tomorrow I think is having the meeting with the economic recovery advisory board.  Will this work so that they're sort of advising him and updating him on how the first stimulus is working, what's happening out there?  Or are they going to be making sort of recommendations on proposals, whether it be a second stimulus or tax changes?  How do you see this board working and sort of what kind of a status report do you expect on the economy?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, tomorrow, as you mentioned, will be the first quarterly meeting of the board.  It's a board set up to work outside of the White House and provide the President with some thinking that he doesn’t always see on a regular basis from people that he works with every day inside of here, a perspective that he thinks is important.  Tomorrow specifically they'll focus on the creation of clean energy jobs and what the administration can continue to do in working with the private sector to spur an environment -- no pun intended -- where those are created.

I don't doubt that the meeting will also involve some discussion of larger economic issues, and I know they're working on -- part of the group is working on some tax reform proposals for toward the end of the year.  And I think if I'm not mistaken the meeting will be streamed live on the web site for all of you to watch.

Q    Newsweek has an item claiming that Vice President Biden has been telling people in recent days that he found some sort of a bunker at the Naval Observatory that allegedly former Vice President Cheney created.  And there have been some critics popping up and claiming that this was sort of giving away a government secret that shouldn't have been told.  What do you know about this?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, what I know is the Vice President's office was telling folks yesterday that the Vice President described in his comments, and as some reports have -- not as some reports have suggested an underground facility, but rather an upstairs workspace in the residence which he understood was frequently used by Vice President Cheney and his staff.  That workspace was converted into a guest room when the Bidens moved into their residence.  So there was no disclosure of any classified information whatsoever.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, did the President have a sit-down with Governor Granholm today about a possible federal nomination?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into discussions he might have had related to Supreme Court or other issues.

Q    What about Duval Patrick?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into a discussion about any of that either.

Q    Can you read out the meeting with Charles Holden today?

MR. GIBBS:  I will.  I don't know when that is, but we will -- I'll get you something on that.  I know with what's going on with NASA and the Hubble, there's obviously great interest in that.

Q    Is an announcement of an administrator imminent?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President looks forward to meeting with him and hopes that he's the right person to lead NASA in the coming years and through its evolving role.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Is the President afraid to take on the NRA in terms of assault weapons and all the other things -- gun shows and so forth?  He backs away from everything.

MR. GIBBS:  "He backs away from everything."  Hmm.  You know, Helen, I --

Q    Almost everything.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, well, since the premise of your question seems to have changed somewhat since you originally asked it -- (laughter) -- I think we've gone over the ground on a number of these issues before.  I think the President is making decisions that he feels are in the best interest of this country on a whole host of issues right now.

Q    Why do you say that when there are so many guns and he isn’t -- voted for any bans?

MR. GIBBS:  What the President did through the recovery and reinvestment plan was advocate more cops on our street to enforce the laws that are on the books in order to make our cities and our communities safer.  The President will continue to take steps to do that sort of thing throughout his administration.

Yes, sir.

Q    So to follow up on Mark's question about Governor Granholm, so what you're saying is -- you're not sitting here saying they didn't meet.  We're trying to interpret your Gibbs-ese.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what the -- I don't know what I said, but I -- you can interpret that I'm not going to get into it.

Q    And that you wouldn't have any response to it whatsoever?

Q    Transparency.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm being very transparent that I'm not going to tell you.  (Laughter.) 

Q    So it's possible, and it's not possible? 

MR. GIBBS:  Who's to say?  (Laughter.) 

Q    You are. 

MR. GIBBS:  Interesting.  I'll decline.  Thank you.

Q    You'll decline to respond.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to decline to say -- yes.

Q    On the Gitmo question, after his speech on Thursday, then will he immediately go back to Congress and ask for that money again?  Do you think it will be clear from what he's laid out, that it will make it a lot easier for Congress to deal with this --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we're going to work with Congress on a timeline that makes sense for us and for them.  I think the President looks forward to speaking at longer length about a series and a basket of issues:  detainees, detention, photos, OLC memos and the like. 

Q    You just said the word "timeline."  It's possible that it may not be a year?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I was asked this yesterday and I -- there's been no change in the date from the executive order.

Q    But you just said you'd be willing to work with Congress on a timeline.

MR. GIBBS:  A timeline for asking for the resources, yes.

Q    Not a timeline on, again --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not being as transparent as I-- or as fluid as I -- yes, the timeline I meant in terms of the premise of your question asking when the timeline for them to request --

Q    So that's a non-negotiable, that's off the table?  This thing is being shut down in a year?

MR. GIBBS:  That’s what the executive order says. 

Q    Thank you.  On the auto efficiency standards, how would you reply to an argument that's been made for years, if not today, by particularly American auto companies, that, number one, American drivers, when given the choice of cars, want SUVs, particularly in -- low-mileage SUVs -- particularly in a time when gas prices happen to be low, and that when it comes to --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't remember the last time the Wall Street Journal reported on auto sales, but I might not necessarily agree with the premise.

Q    Well, during -- I mean, historically, at times when -- with low auto prices -- I'm sorry, low gas prices -- SUV sales have been the most robust market for American buyers.

MR. GIBBS:  Right, and I would -- I might suggest that when you see auto sales that -- for particular brands, I don't know what Hummer's auto sales are for recently --

Q    There are other more popular SUVs than Hummers.

MR. GIBBS:  Okay, well, we can pick one of those.  We're not in here generally discussing robust auto sales on a daily basis. It was after the question predicated on whether or not we'd like to see bankruptcy.  I think that sort of denotes that there has been a structural change in consumer preference on cars.

Look, gas is certainly far cheaper than it was -- is far cheaper now than it was last summer, but -- I'm not entirely sure that Hummer is such a bad example when you had a very specialized, luxury SUV that GM is looking to sell.  They're looking to sell the brand.  Generally that doesn't happen on a company that works so well.

Q    -- pickup truck which has very poor mileage and is the best-selling product in their line.

MR. GIBBS:  And scientists and manufacturers have come to agree that you can make modifications that allow the very same care to be produced in a way that's more fuel efficient.  The President mentioned he drives obviously a smaller SUV.  I drive the same car.  It's the car I want to drive and it happens to also get great gas mileage.  One of the other things about -- what's always been for CAFE is that you've got a slightly different standard for cars and light trucks, but what I think this allows -- this allows people to continue to purchase what they want, but it also provides certainty for the industry in a market that is obviously and clearly changing.

Again, I think if we were talking about robust auto sales, my guess is the second questioner might not have posed whether or not we wanted to see GM restructured in or out of bankruptcy.  But that having been said, today -- usually these announcements are had without GM, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, and others; usually doesn’t involve the United Auto Workers. It generally involves some administration picking one side of this argument over the other.  Today you had all of those stakeholders assembled in one place; all of them today just happened to be standing behind a President all agreeing to changes that they think will help each of them individually and, I think the American people can take confidence in, will help this nation collectively.

Q    To follow up on what -- the point you just made, GM and Chrysler have been two of the, in the past, loudest opponents of CAFE -- tougher CAFE standards.  To what extent do you think their presence here today is related to the fact that they are so dependent on the federal government and on the Obama administration?

MR. GIBBS:  These are two companies that are working their way toward viability.  You might have a point if they were the only two companies that were standing behind him, but Ford has not received any assistance.  Ford, Toyota and Honda I think represent the next three biggest auto dealers.  If you think about the 10 companies that were represented here today, two right now are in the midst of temporary government assistance.  But I think the notion that you have collectively an industry speaking with one voice and, in this time speaking with a voice for reform, I think that honestly says all you need to hear.

Q    Just to go back to the Supreme Court questions, does your guidance stand there have been no face-to-face interviews?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into that.

Q    Well, what's changed since yesterday when you ruled it out?

MR. GIBBS:  I've become much more coy.  You know, I think the President believes that this is a process that should be allowed to unwind with some privacy for all of those that may or may not be involved, and that as soon as he has a decision on who he feels is the person best able to serve on the Supreme Court, you'll be among the first to know.

Q    Should we assume that the face-to-face process has started?

MR. GIBBS:  You can assume whatever you like.

Yes, sir.

Q    Does he still feel that he's on track with the naming of a nominee by June 4th, I guess it is, before he leaves for the trip?  Is that still on track?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he feels like he's making progress, and without getting into any specific timelines except to say that we want a confirmed nominee of a new Supreme Court Justice in place for the work that the Court starts in October.

Q    I've got a question on the Economic Recovery Board tomorrow -- the meeting.  Is the President going to be in that meeting the entire time?  Is he going to drop in?

MR. GIBBS:  I believe he will be in there the entire time, yes.

Q    And is he expected to take some action on some recommendations?  You mentioned clean energy jobs --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he looks forward to --

Q    What will he be --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he looks forward to hearing what I assume will be all sorts of different views on this.  I think he'll have an opportunity to talk about the Recovery Act and talk about the announcement that was made today, which I think, based on the targets that it set, is going to require greater innovation and research from the American economy.  And I think that will be a discussion that they have.

Q    No announcements, then?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q    Robert, what about the process of keeping the interviews private is violated by just confirming whether or not they've occurred?

MR. GIBBS:  Probably nothing.

Q    What do you think?

MR. GIBBS:  Not necessarily.

Q    So that's an arbitrary decision on your part?

MR. GIBBS:  One made arbitrarily by me.

Q    Is it open for revision?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  There's a quarterly board meeting tomorrow where I will revisit these decisions and get back to you probably in July.  (Laughter.)

Q    Back to autos.  I just want to make sure I understand you correctly that you're disagreeing with the assessment of Governor Schwarzenegger, who told us at the stakeout that one of the factors here was that two of three major domestic automakers needed money, and when they needed money from the federal government they said "We need money," and in his words the government said, "Well, here's what you need to do to change."  He said that was part of the matrix of bringing this decision which he hailed and hailed the President as helping bring about  -- but he said that was a legitimate understandable factor involved.  Do you disagree with that?

MR. GIBBS:  I do, because it didn't play a role.  This isn't --

Q    So the governor of the state that had a lawsuit that set a lot of this in motion is fundamentally wrong about what factor that played?

MR. GIBBS:  I think we should congratulate the governor and the state of California.  They are many times ahead of the public policy curve; they were in this case, in setting an emission standard that led the nation.  I'm simply saying that the notion that two of the 10 companies represented here are receiving assistance played a role in the other eight agreeing on something that they have generally been on the opposite side of for the better part of 20 years, I just don't think that makes sense.

Q    I think Toyota and Nissan and Volkswagen and others would not agree with the premise of your statement that they've always been opposed to these things.  They've been trying -- they would market and create vehicles that were ahead of the curve on fuel efficiency.  And one of the --

MR. GIBBS:  One should not --

Q    -- impediments has been Chrysler and GM.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't think one should denote the development of those cars has necessarily been foursquare for a change in CAFE standard.  Look, there are certain brands that are represented here today that, based on their previous -- based on the line of cars that they have, don't have a great fluctuation in their corporate average fuel economy.

Q    So what appears obvious to the ordinary person, like me, and that the governor says, is just completely false?  That's the White House's take on it?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, it didn't play a role.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, back on Guantanamo.  Are you saying that you have a plan that will satisfy the concerns of Congress and that  -- but that hasn't been shared with them yet?  The President has a plan --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't remember that -- I appreciate that, but I don't remember making any remark like that.

Q    So do you believe that the plan that the President will outline or discuss on Thursday will be enough to satisfy the concerns of lawmakers, such that they will put the money back in the bill?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me try to say what I said earlier.  The President and Congress will work together on a timeline for a renewed request for whatever resources are needed.  The President still believes it in our national interest to close Guantanamo Bay; that's why he signed the executive order.  And Thursday he'll outline his thoughts on detainee and detention issues, as well as the other issues like photos and memos that I talked about earlier.

Q    The main concern on the Hill seems to be that detainees will be released from Guantanamo either inside the United States or will be even held in prisons inside the United States, which some find objectionable, or that they'll be sent to other countries and released there.  So will the President address these concerns in his speech on Thursday?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  Yes.

Q    And does he have some plan that -- for doing something else with these detainees, other than --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's not get -- I'm not going to give the President's Thursday speech here on Tuesday. 

Q    You'd probably do a good job of it.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not quite as tall.  But I think the President will outline in greater detail his thoughts and thinking on this.  He'll outline the reasoning of why he strongly believes, and many in both parties believe, that closing Guantanamo Bay is in our best national security and foreign policy interest.  And he will go through a number of the decisions related to that and other issues that we've discussed in the last few weeks that all relate to it.

Q    Isn't this, though, kind of a vote of no confidence, this withholding of the money that he has asked for?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't agree with that at all.

Q    Did any of the 10 carmakers -- or did all of the 10 carmakers tell the President of the United States, we can meet this deadline; we can come up with these kind of fuel --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we're talking about -- well, keep in mind, we are accelerating these targets about four model years ahead of where Congress had passed the legislation.  I don't know that anybody objected, and I believe that -- let's just say they didn't come here unaware of what it is we were going to be talking about today and the goals that we would outline.

Q    What would the President do if he were President in 2016 and a company couldn't meet that --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the great thing about the certainty of a CAFE standard -- and understand that these standards can only be promulgated five years out, so the 2012 model year, the next available model year -- you can only go five years out on the goals.

The great thing about what the companies are getting today is the knowledge and the certainty of the standard and an understanding of what they have to do to meet those standards and whatever technological advances, research and development have to be made in those intervening years to meet those goals.

So I don't -- I didn't even want to get ahead to Thursday's speech.  I best not interpret what the President might tell an auto company in 2016.  So I'll wait on that.

Q    Without giving the speech on Thursday, can you characterize a little bit why he's giving it and whether he feels that some of his positions on these issues -- detainee detention, photos -- have been mischaracterized or spoken of as being sort of Bush-like, like the last administration's decisions?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't want to characterize the President hoping for a better understanding of his policies from the people that cover him.  You guys aren't in a very good mood today, I can tell.  (Laughter.)

Q    We're being coy.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, good answer.  (Laughter.)  Maybe I can flesh out a laughter here or there.

Look, I think the President wants to frame this issue for lawmakers and for the public about the issues that we face.  I think we've talked a number of times in here about the litigation and the court cases that are driving a lot of -- or at least some of the decisions that are being made particularly around photos and things like that.  I think putting this into that larger frame and explaining to the American people the importance of his decision is the goal of what he hopes to accomplish on Thursday.

Q    Is it like his Georgetown speech on the economy, then, where he's trying to bring together a bunch of different decisions that his administration is making?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that's probably a fair analogy, sure.  I think that's fair.

Q    After the military tribunal decision on the photo decision, there was a lot of commentary that the President had learned that governance is tougher than campaigning.  Can you talk about that?  Has he discovered that the governance has --

MR. GIBBS:  How so?

Q    Well, that things that look simple when you're campaigning, you confront competing interests, things are gray, not just black and white.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm still tired from the two years I spent on the campaign trail, so I'm under no illusion that that was somehow easy.  I'll do this one more time and see if it works.

The President was very clear about military commissions in 2006, in 2007, and in 2008, that military commissions, as he said on the floor of the United States Senate during the debate on this bill, played a role, played a significant role in how to deal with certain detainees, but, for instance, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the debate that was being had wasn't one that he thought was properly structured.  Coincidentally the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with that.

The President has modified commissions from where they were during that passage of that legislation in 2006.  But, George, as the President said many times -- and I've certainly heard him say this a lot -- the red files don't end up on his desk because a series of easy decisions have now been passed to accompany his time.  The easy decisions don't get to his desk.  Obviously -- I don't think the President was under any illusions this was going to be easy in the campaign.  He's not under any illusion that it's going to be easy now.  But a lot of things that are right and worth doing aren't necessarily easy.  The President isn't shying away from making those decisions or taking on those challenges as we face them.

Q    We're asking whether he changed his mind.

MR. GIBBS:  And I think on both of those -- I think I just talked on military commissions I think somewhat credibly based on what he had said previously, that he hasn't changed his mind.  The President always talked about military commissions that were structured properly, that protected the rights of those that were detained.  Keep in mind some of the people that are being transferred now are being transferred because courts have ruled that we don't have enough evidence to keep them for what they're being charged for.  Right?

The President believes that that, coupled with the fact that the military commissions system up until this point has seen in almost eight years three cases disposed of, it's a system that's not working for the swift and certain justice that the American people and many families believe has to happen.

Q    Just to follow up on that, Robert.  Critics say the 2006 position that Senator Obama took was in opposition to an executive branch decision that the legislature was trying to force an alternative to.  That impediment being the executive branch is now his, he can go in a completely different direction. And the critics say --

MR. GIBBS:  And he did.

Q    -- why would he fall back on the 2006 posture, which was a legislative alternative to a different executive branch approach?  Can you address that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would address it by saying I think you're mixing up --

Q    I'm just quoting critics.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me answer critics for you.  Military commissions have long played a role in our history.  This notion that -- the notion that military commissions began in 2002 or 2001 would simply ignore decades of history in dealing with people that are picked up on an enemy battlefield.  What the bill in 2006 did that became law, that was signed into law by the chief executive of the United States, and was ultimately partially struck down by the Supreme Court, the President didn't believe was properly structured.

He thought a proper structure for that bill was legislation that he spoke in support of and voted for on the floor that provided the ability for military commissions to be conducted, as they had been historically, but to do so in a way that provided more certain and swift justice, and did so in a way that didn't compromise our values and needlessly get hung up in court.

I think what critics should understand is that what the President -- what's different is what the President supported and what was the law.  That's what's different.  The notion that somehow military commissions, again, were created by the previous administration in 2001 or 2002 to deal with people that were picked up on the battlefield, again, simply ignores American history.

Q    Robert, can you clarify a little bit what you said last week about it being counterproductive for people to lobby on the issue of the Supreme Court?  And what do you think is the proper role for the public?  Is it the President is not interested in the --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, no, no.

Q    You're talking about a very private process.  I'm curious if the President has no interest in the debate that's taken place in the last few weeks about what kind of people, what types of people should be on the Court.

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.  I mean, the President, based on where he lives, gets an opportunity to listen to that debate on any given day.  And as you know, the President has reached out to both Democrats and Republicans about the process around the selection, the ultimate confirmation and, he hopes, the quick seating of his eventual nominee.  So obviously there's a consultation that's part of any of this process.  It will be, in all honesty, once we have that nominee.

What I suggested was that lobbying by interest groups in order to either put people on a list or change an order of whatever a list might be to what they're looking for is ultimately not going to be advantageous for that particular interest group.

And look, I'll be honest with you, the President -- I think the President has watched a couple of these from Washington and watched more of these as a citizen living in Illinois, that you've watched a process that hasn't altogether worked so smoothly.  And I think he'd like to see that process revised and changed so that we can have a little bit more civility in all this and hopefully get somebody who's eminently qualified.

Yes, sir.

Q    Can I just follow up, Robert?  It wouldn't be helpful to the interest groups because that person who came out of the process would somehow be seen as a token or a representative --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I'm not suggesting that it's -- I'm suggesting that I don't think their efforts will have much of an impact beneficially on the President's thinking.

Yes, sir.

Q    Noting in the past couple of days you've declined to join the fray in the debate between Speaker Pelosi and the CIA,  and then noting today that she was so pointedly at the President's side as he walked out of the Oval Office into the Rose Garden, I'm wondering if you know what they were discussing as they made that short walk that was very publicly seen.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't.  You can't do much in the Rose Garden that's not publicly seen, but I will -- I have no idea what they were talking about.

Q    She was the only one on the side talking to him as he walked out.  Was that a signal --

MR. GIBBS:  I watched in my office, so I don't know -- I can see what they may have been talking about.  I don't --

Q    Was that a public praising of hers?  Is that a sense of he wanted to buck her up a little bit?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think the President talked glowingly about a number of people that were involved in today's announcement.  I think the Speaker has always been a proponent of greater fuel mileage standards, and my hunch is that, like many of the people that were at today's ceremony, that they probably didn't think that a ceremony is usually had at the White House that brings together so many differing viewpoints in agreement for a change in our fuel economy standards.  So I don't think that's the case.

Q    Now that Iraq's parliamentary elections have been pushed back to the end of January, are you open to flexibility in the date for withdrawal of U.S. troops?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- obviously General Odierno and Ambassador Hill were here last week to talk to the President and give him an update on both the military and the political situation in Iraq.  And I think both of them -- at least I saw General Odierno I think address the notion that he doesn't see a need at this point to change in any way that timetable.  So I don't see that there is a need to change that at all.

Q    I have a question on Iran.  Several Baha'i leaders have been imprisoned there now for a year on accusations ranging from spying for Israel to spreading corruption on Earth, which carries the death penalty.  What is the White House message to the Iranian government on this?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check with the NSC guys on some better guidance on that.

Yes, sir.

Q    Yes, Robert, I was wondering if you had any comment about some of these pictures that have come out.  This one in particular we ran on our site at Politics in Color.  The Telegraph has a picture --

MR. GIBBS:  I can't --

Q    I can pass it forward.  Can you pass that up for me?

MR. GIBBS:  Generally, they just text me this stuff on my cell phone.

Q    These are photos that were taken -- these are classified pictures basically that have been leaked, and I'm just curious if you have any response.

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen the photos, I have not seen the web site.  I don't know what the pictures -- I don't know the basis for what the pictures are.

Q    SBS is an Australian television station.  They released them, the Telegraph in Britain published them, and then we published them on our site, as well.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I have no understanding of what -- I don't know what the background on the pictures really is.

Q    So as more of these things come out, are you going to comment on them?  I mean, if there's more pictures that are leaked?

MR. GIBBS:  I guess we'll have to see on what comes out.

Thanks, guys.

2:27 P.M. EDT