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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6-18-09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                          June 18, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Mr. Elliott, take us away.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Hundreds of thousands of people are marching in Tehran today.  I know the administration is trying to stay out of the drama going on following the Iranian elections.  But is there a point where the President would be comfortable stepping in saying enough is enough?  Perhaps a timeline, or numbers of people that have been hurt or injured, or numbers of people in the streets?  Is there a threshold?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Phil, our response is -- I think on this has been, from the very beginning, consistent even before the election.  I was asked if -- about our candidate of preference.  I said that the United States wasn't in the position of picking candidates for President.  And I think the President has spoken to, in many ways, the causes and concerns of many that are marching in Iran by demonstrating, one, that he shares their concern and the international concern about the way the election was conducted.  Secondly, he believes that there is a universal principle of demonstrating without the fear of harm. 

So I think he has expressed on both of those -- in both of those areas concern for the way the election was conducted and concern to ensure that demonstrators can peaceably carry out their demonstrations. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, a follow-up on financial regulation from yesterday.  One thing that struck a few observers is the fact that the proposals that came out yesterday did not mention rating and speculation in oil markets.  Why not?  And is that something that the administration plans to address in a future proposal?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if it's a part of a future proposal, Jeff.  I know that one of the great concerns that drove -- or the great concern that drove the process for financial regulatory reform that was outlined by the President yesterday was ensuring that the causes for the economic catastrophe that we saw over the past many months and the lack of regulation that caused many of those events be remedied to ensure that they don't happen again.  That's what drove the creation of the proposal.  That's what drove the President to create -- or seek to create an agency that protects consumers and has their best interests in mind.  And we are hopeful and we see encouraging words from Congress that this proposal can be gotten through the legislative process this year and signed into law by the President.

Now, that having been said, I don't doubt, and you see it in reports today, very organized, very powerful special interests that will oppose the creation of the consumer agency or different aspects of the proposal.  But the President intends to fight for each and every one of those.

Q    But energy speculation is certainly something that the President as a candidate expressed concern about. 

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    Are you still concerned about speculation in the oil markets, and will there be something to address that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think the President's concern has changed.  I think yesterday's thrust was to ensure that what had gotten us into this mess over the past many, many months -- and, remember, this speech dates back to one of the -- a speech that the President gave that wasn't altogether noticed a lot in September of 2007 on Wall Street, and that we had to take steps to ensure that this never happened again.  And that was the thrust of what was going on yesterday.

Yes, sir.

Q    We've talked about this before a little bit, but there's more recent polling indicating that while President Obama's personal popularity is still quite strong, there are concerns among the American people and less support for some of his policies, specifically his economic policies, whether it's spending proposals, the bailout of the auto industry, the deficit, the stimulus package.  And I'm wondering what you think is going on, whether you guys haven't made your argument as well as you could, or what exactly the dynamic is that Americans, although still a majority supporting the President on some of these economic policies, seem to -- there seems to be something of an ebb.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think you can look at recent polling from the past day or so -- you can go back a week or so -- I think the American people are rightly frustrated with where the economy is and how we ended up where we did.  I think the American people and the President both are greatly concerned about the deficit. 

I think that -- you know, look, numbers and different questions bounce around, but when you look at something like the auto industry -- look, the President knew that wasn't a decision that was based off of something that was wildly popular, but the President believed it was something important to do to ensure the viability of an American auto industry, to ensure that towns and communities and companies had a chance to thrive again, and thought it was part of what we had to do to get our economy back on track. 

Some of those things are popular, some of those things aren't popular.  I think the President would tell you that he's going to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the American economy.  Some of those things will be, as I said, more popular than others.  But, look, I think the American people are rightly anxious and concerned about the economy, just as the President is.

Q    And just one other question.  There seems to be some wrangling right now between the Treasury Department and the Special Inspector General of TARP, Neil Barofsky, about how independent Barofsky's office in TARP is.  And based on the letter that Senator Grassley sent and response from Special Inspector General Barofsky, it seems like the independence of his office has been challenged; he hasn't been able to get all the documents he's wanted from the Treasury Department.  And Grassley even suggested that an outside agency has been -- or an outside entity of some sort has been asked to weigh in.  Can you tell us what exactly is going on and --

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen Senator Grassley's letter, so I'm not as familiar with that.  I will look into it.  I know the President is -- has talked about, whether it's in recovery or TARP or other programs, making sure -- ensuring that there is the type of accountability that Americans expect when we're using their tax dollars.  So let me take a look.

Q    So Inspector General Barofsky should be able to get whatever documents he needs?

MR. GIBBS:  I think we want to ensure that there's sufficient accountability.  I don't know any of the details on this, but let me check.

Q    Okay, thanks.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, on Iran, is there an internal debate in the White House now between those who clearly support what the President is doing in terms of the hands-off approach and those who think the President needs to have some stronger language?  Is that ongoing in the White House?

MR. GIBBS:  There's no debate in the White House.

Q    Never?

Q    Is there division at all?  Is everyone on the same page on this, or are there those who think that the President -- internally, that the President is --

MR. GIBBS:  Everybody is on the same page.  There's no difference of opinion.  I think the only thing I might take -- the only thing I would take some exception to is the notion that the President has been hands-off.  Again, the President --

Q    Well, in terms of not wanting to interfere with the election.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I think that's a fairly time-honored principle.  At the same time, the President has been -- has talked about, and we talked about it from my statement on Sunday and every statement either by me or other administration officials and by the President, concern about how this election was conducted, as well as stating, as I said earlier to Phil's question, ensuring that the world knows and that people in Iran know of our belief that they have the right to have their causes and concerns heard and not fear violence, while at the same time respecting that this is a debate being had in Iran, by Iranians, about their leadership.  I think if you look at Democrats and Republicans alike, they share where the President has been on this as we continue to watch the developments unfold.

Q    And tomorrow, what is the plan for the Father's Day -- I understand the President might have some visitors here, and perhaps a town hall meeting with that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if there's a town hall.  I know there will be some visitors.  I know there will be some -- we'll have some names for you later today, and hopefully, I know some senior staff will be participating in ensuring that we're talking about mentoring and fatherhood.  And we'll have more on that a little bit later on today.

Q    Is it informal or a formal kind of event where --

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, it would be a formal event here, yes.

Q    Is Ethan coming?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if Ethan is coming; I should make sure that he is.  He could tear some stuff up.

Q    You said there's no difference of opinion.  Well, we've been led to believe this President seeks out different opinions from his advisors.  You've got these incredibly knowledgeable people sitting around the room.  He can't find a single person who does anything other than nod, "Yes, Mr. President, you're absolutely right on this"?  I mean, how can there not be -- how can there not be some difference of opinion on this?

MR. GIBBS:  There is a belief by all here that this is a debate that, as I've said I think every day for the last five days, four days, plus my statement, that the American people and this government are not going to pick the next leader of Iran.  That's something that the Iranians have to do.

We have to ensure that we express our views, as I've said, about ensuring that people can demonstrate, have their causes and concerns heard.  And that's what people here believe.

Q    But is there nobody who believes he ought to be a little more open in supporting the demonstrators?  Nobody has expressed that opinion to him?

MR. GIBBS:  Everybody is on the same page.

Yes, sir.

Q    Just absolutely verbatim?  Nobody --

MR. GIBBS:  We walk around like robots, Chip.  (Laughter.)

Q    Can we quote you on that?

Q    Too late.

Q    It's already there.

MR. GIBBS:  It's on the record -- I'm a senior administration official -- (laughter) -- robotic knowledge of Robert Gibbs' thinking.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

Q    So you say "We're all on the same page."  But the world sees many members of the United States government, members on Capitol Hill, who believe that --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chip didn't ask me did the entire Congress believe everything --

Q    I didn't say that -- no, no, no, no --

MR. GIBBS:  That I can tell you on the record is likely not the case.

Q    I understand that.  Does the President or does the administration believe --

Q    (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  A little delayed back there, Lester.  What was the --

Q    I know, we're on the seven-second --

MR. GIBBS:  Right, I know, it's --

Q    -- delay.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Does the administration believe that the vocal criticism of -- that members of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, and many very prominent members of Congress, have said -- have spoken out forcefully in favor of the demonstrators, do members of the administration believe that's a bad thing for the U.S. government to be doing?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, it's not -- it's not the tack that we've taken.  But, Chuck, let's --

Q    But should the government -- I mean, are you guys reaching out quietly to members on Capitol Hill, saying, hey, guys, this is what our intelligence is saying, you shouldn't be doing this?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Look, I appreciate the opportunity to get Congress to agree with everything that we believe.  I will wait and see whether that comes to fruition.  Again --

Q    But this is a national security issue.  It's not uncommon sometimes for -

MR. GIBBS:  Chuck, let's be honest.  Let's -- but hold on.

Q    -- for the White House to reach out to Capitol Hill and say, hey --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, but let's be honest. 

Q    -- let me tell you what we know.

MR. GIBBS:  You make it sound monolithically like the President is saying one thing and everybody else is saying another thing.  That's not even true in the Republican Party, right?

Q    So you think it's good that there are members out there, prominent members of the United States government, saying --

MR. GIBBS:  The President and his team are responsible for what the President and his team say.  I'm not going to get into what motivates other people to do or say what they do or say.  But I think the President believes that he's struck the right tone, and as do others in the administration, as do others in the Republican Party, as do others in the Democratic Party.

Q    And you're not reaching out?  Nobody in this administration is reaching out to members of Congress who have been very vocal in saying, can you buy us some time, can you give us a few days to get this sort of --

MR. GIBBS:  Give us a few days for what?

Q    To see what happens.  I mean, it seems to be --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think everybody is watching what happens, but I'm not -- you know, I'm not -- ask for two days to do what?  Count the ballots

Q    I'm talking about the critics -- the very vocal criticism that is now --

MR. GIBBS:  But what are we asking for a few days for?

Q    I'm asking you.  

MR. GIBBS:  Okay.  (Laughter.)

Q    So I guess the answer is no.  Okay, fine, one other question.  Can you reconcile -- it's always this one night only.  It's the second time, I think, that the President is going to go to a fundraiser in the DCCC and the DSCC, this one night only.  They won't take lobbyists' money and all this stuff --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President won't be involved in a fundraiser that does that. 

Q    But as the titular head of the Democratic Party, why doesn't he have any influence to change the rules of the two major national committees?

MR. GIBBS:  I think people know where the President stands.  I think -- we're the head of the DNC, and they don't take lobbyists' money, and the President is not going to be involved in fundraisers where that happens.

Q    But it's the Democratic Party -- I mean, you're head of the Democratic Party, why can't you have this influence on the DSCC or the DCCC?

MR. GIBBS:  Call Bob Menendez. 

Yes, sir.

Q    There has been criticism that the regulatory reform plan centralizes too much power with the Fed.  How do you ensure that there are enough checks and balances on the central bank, and is the President open to alternatives that could put this balance somewhere else?

MR. GIBBS:  Let's understand -- let me push a little bit on the premise of your question, because some of the powers that the Fed currently has that will be put in as part of our proposal in the consumer agency, I don't -- I think if you're removing some of those powers, that isn't necessarily consolidating within one entity.  Obviously there is with the Fed a knowledge, a technical expertise, and a jurisdiction over a number of already regulatory issues, and we think this proposal strikes the right balances to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

Q    Is he open to alternatives that could --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we'll see -- we'll certainly see what Congress comes up with as the process goes, but I think the President feels -- I think the President feels enormously comfortable with his proposal.

Q    Robert, the Pentagon says it's tracking a North Korean vessel that may be in breach of U.N. sanctions.  Can you tell us what role the President is playing in weighing in on rules of engagement with such vessels?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into intelligence matters.  I've certainly seen some of these reports.  Obviously you know because we had Ambassador Rice last week discussing what this administration and countries in the U.N. believed were important tools for acting against North Korea moving missile parts or nuclear material or what have you as part of a proliferation regime.  The U.N. took some very strong, strict steps through those sanctions.  I'm not going to get into the specific intelligence, though, of this, except to point you to what I know that has been said publicly at the Pentagon today.

Q    But on rules of engagement, if the North Korean vessel were to fire on a U.S. vessel, would the President be the one as Commander-in-Chief to authorize returning fire?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I could check on the rules of engagement.  I presume that the -- as was the case in other instances that we've dealt with, the Commander-in-Chief also has great confidence in commanders in the theater.

Yes, sir.

Q    There's been some slip in the schedule on the consideration of health care on the Hill.  Is the President concerned that a draft might not be done by the August recess?  And if it's not, is it okay if it slips until later in the fall?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think the President believes that this is -- there are a lot of moving parts, this is part of the long process.  I don't think it's a surprise that this is going to take some time to do.  It's an issue that we've been discussing for 40 years.  So the President isn't pessimistic about being able to get this through Congress this year. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Following up on Mark's question, when he was at the press conference in the Rose Garden with President Lee, the President was asked if the U.S. is not going to board the vessels, what practical effect these new U.N. sanctions would have.  And he said, "What the U.S. is going to do will be worked out in the coming months in conversations with the Russians, the Japanese, the Chinese, other member nations and those in the region."  Now that the Pentagon has confirmed the tracking of this vessel, it would appear that those conversations would need to take on a degree of urgency.  Has the administration worked out clearly in its own mind what its procedures are going to be in tracking this vessel to -- in order to enforce the U.N. sanctions?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I'm not going to get into commenting on sort of specific instances --

Q    I'm just asking you to --

MR. GIBBS:  I understand.

Q    -- what the President said.  Okay. 

MR. GIBBS:  Let me try to finish one.  I think if you look through, as Ambassador Rice discussed, there are some specific actions that have to be taken by countries who are near these ships, whose waters these ships are in, ports that they might be destined for that are all part of this process.  But I think the White House feels comfortable and confident that we have an understanding of what this resolution does.

Q    And how it intends to enforce it as a member state called upon under the resolutions to enforce it?

MR. GIBBS:  Correct.

Q    You talked about the debate that's going on in Iran and developments as they unfold.  Does the White House believe those who have been killed as peaceful demonstrators are victims of human rights violations or crimes?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have anything specific on this except I think the President has -- on a couple of occasions, he's been asked and he's deplored violence and unnecessary killing, of course.  The President was very clear and direct that violence is not the answer; that demonstrators have what he called a universal principle to act peacefully and not fear for their own safety.  And I think the international community and the world know where this President, and my guess is others throughout the world, where they stand on ensuring that we don't see violence or unnecessary killing.

Q    On the banking regulations, when he was testifying today Treasury Secretary Geithner was asked if the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac contributed to the financial meltdown.  His one-word answer was "absolutely."  Does the administration wish that the Treasury Secretary and his team had put in more regulations or new types of enforcement procedures for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which were not a part of this proposal?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check with the Treasury Secretary on what they're doing as it relates to that.

Q    Do you agree with that assessment, that those two entities were absolutely part of the problem?

MR. GIBBS:  I am -- because -- in honor of Chip, I will tell you "absolutely."

Yes, sir.

Q    You've said a couple times, Robert, that the administration -- there's concern about how this election was conducted in Iran.  Is the administration convinced this was fraudulent, the election was fraudulent?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think this administration shares the concern, again, expressed by the international community, about the results, and concern about some of the procedures surrounding that.  I think those are investigations that are ongoing and we strongly believe that this should be looked into.

Q    But you're not convinced that the election was --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, just as I'm not going to pick the leader, the United States isn't going to be the investigative body here.

Q    Have you seen some of the reporting and polling that suggests that perhaps these results could be valid?

MR. GIBBS:  I've seen reporting on it.  I think -- but I've -- we've also seen other reporting on other aspects of the election.

Q    Just one last thing on this.

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    You had mentioned early on you had enumerated a couple of your concerns -- Mousavi losing his home district and some things like that.  Have you gathered any more specific information that feed your concerns?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I've gotten particularly from NSC on this, no.

Q    During the presidential campaign, several times Senator Obama would say -- would criticize the way things work in Washington and the way things are explained in Washington.  I'm wondering if he would find any hypocrisy in the fundraising going on at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel using that standard that he used to describe things as when he was running as an outsider?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- what criticism are you --

Q    Would he find this -- would the old Senator Obama find this hypocritical?

MR. GIBBS:  Find what hypocritical?

Q    The fact that on Thursday evening, he'll be raising money where lobbyists are not allowed; Friday morning, lobbyists will be allowed.  When he said during the campaign, "We will not take a dime," I'm wondering if the candidate Obama would find those 12 hours hypocritical.

MR. GIBBS:  I think that the policy that we had in the campaign is the policy that we have as President.  We stand by what we said in the campaign, and we haven't changed that policy now that we're here.  So I think the President has been consistent, has taken steps, both in the Senate and as a candidate and as a President, to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington.  And I think he'll continue to do that.

Q    How do you think his actions tonight reduce the influence of special interests in Washington?

MR. GIBBS:  We're not taking their money.

Yes, sir.

Q    Back to -- following up on the health care question before, the congressional schedule -- health care has slipped a bit and may be slipping further.  You've got a Sotomayor nomination coming up; energy, climate change.  And now you've asked for the biggest overhaul of the financial system in a half-century or so.  Is this really --

MR. GIBBS:  North Korea, Iran --

Q    You're making my point.  Is there no concern here that some of this stuff is just going to drop off the map?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, there's concern that -- there's always concern that the President -- the President always has concerns that we have many problems and that we have to work quickly to deal with them, absolutely.  But, as we discussed in here some of the polling, I think one of the questions was, as has been posed by many of you, do you think the President is dealing with the issues that confront him, or do you think he's doing too much?  I would denote that 60 percent of the American people felt like he was dealing with the issues that are put on his plate. 

I'll say again what the President always says.  He would -- trust me, Mark -- love to come to work one day and we give him -- take away all these red folders and say, "Good news, boss, today there's nothing to do.

Q    Just as a tactical matter.  Was there not any thought given to try and spread some of this out so that it didn't all hit at once on Capitol Hill?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I mean, you know, we don't control when justices retire from the Supreme Court.  We don't control when the economy takes a massive downturn.  Lord knows we don't control what the North Koreans do or say. 

Q    Can't you control energy proposals?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, but we also don't -- you know, we don't have -- we don't control the fact that -- well, we do have -- I should say this, we do have control over the fact that we import a greater import of our energy today than we did 30 years ago when Presidents walked up to Capitol Hill and said they were going to end our dependence on foreign oil.  We do have the ability to ensure that small businesses that are watching their premiums skyrocket and have to drop their coverage, we have control over that, and we think -- and we believe Congress believes that those are the problems of the American people and they should be addressed.

Q    Tell us about the red folders.  Are you color-coding issues?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  The ones that say "Top Secret" are generally red.  I'll give you that.

Q    Is that right?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Robert, last Friday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan came to the White House and she met with President Obama and Rahm Emanuel and Valerie, and they wanted to try to convince her to run for the Senate from Illinois.  Were these one meetings or three, and why do they want her to run for Senate?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me just -- let me be explicit.  The President has -- the President is not going to pick a candidate in the Illinois Senate race.  The President has a very long relationship with the Attorney General, dating back to their time in the State Senate, and has enormous respect for what she accomplished there and has as Attorney General.  I think she'd be a terrific candidate.  But we're not going to get involved in picking that candidate in Illinois.

Q    But by having -- when you say that, and bear with me --

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    -- this meeting was designed to help get her to run.  That's what her -- are you saying that's not true?  Then why did you call her into the White House, or somebody did?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know whether she got called in or she came in.

Q    So could you find it out, by the way?

MR. GIBBS:  I might.  I might not.  (Laughter.)

Q    But Robert, when you say that, it just doesn't make -- it doesn't square with the reality on the ground that she is -- the DSCC is doing a poll -- has been polling for her --

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I would refer you to any number of the questions that clearly denote that I don't control the DSCC --

Q    Well, first of all --

MR. GIBBS:  -- from both rows one and two.  So --

Q    Robert, then let's go to what you do -- could you --

MR. GIBBS:  Right, but I appreciate being able to not have -- or have responsibility for rows one and two, but not for rows four.

Q    Robert, could you just try and say more succinctly and clearly what you said --

MR. GIBBS:  I thought what I said was fairly succinct and clear.

Q    No, you said that they're not trying to recruit her to run, when in fact every point is that that meeting was to get her to run.

MR. GIBBS:  I said we're not picking a candidate, we're not going to endorse in this race.  Does the President have enormous respect for the Attorney General?  Absolutely.  That was succinct and rather clear.

Q    But wait, has the President prohibited members of his staff from weighing in and helping a particular candidate?  He won't pick a candidate, but --

MR. GIBBS:  The White House is not going to pick a candidate.  The staff assistants aren't going to pick a candidate --

Q    But are they free to help?

MR. GIBBS:  And the President is --

Q    Why go as far as you just did --

Q    Are they free to help particular candidates?

MR. GIBBS:  Why did I go so far as to --

Q    As to talk about what a great candidate she would make?  I mean, that --

MR. GIBBS:  Because the President has --

Q    You know the power of those words matter, too.

MR. GIBBS:  The President has enormous respect for her, Chuck.  He sat next to her in the State Senate.

Q    Well, have they tried to recruit her, even if there's not going to be an endorsement?

MR. GIBBS:  The President is not going to get involved in this race.

Q    But isn't it meaningless for him not to pick a particular candidate if his staff is out there working on behalf of one particular candidate?  Has he said --

MR. GIBBS:  I just said his staff isn't going to do that, Chip, so I took that off the table.

Q    So has he prohibited them from getting involved in it in any way?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me be succinct and clear.  I said the staff assistants aren't going to pick a candidate, the assistants to the President aren't going to pick a candidate, and the President is not going to pick a candidate.

Q    How does this meeting fit within what you just said, that the White House is not going to get involved in this race?

MR. GIBBS:  The President enjoyed meeting with the Attorney General --

Q    Will he meet with everyone else?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if they've asked.

Q    Does he think Carolyn Maloney would be a terrific candidate for New York?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to get into something --

Q    Will he meet with everyone else in Illinois?  Will he meet with everyone else in Illinois?

MR. GIBBS:  If people want to meet, the address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Q    Why doesn't he think Carolyn Maloney is terrific?  (Laughter.)

Q    Thanks, Robert.  A question about Iran again.  Earlier today, a few hours ago, John McCain, on his Twitter feed, said -- and it's short, as it has to be -- "Mass peaceful demonstrations in Iran today; let's support them and stand up for democracy and freedom!"

MR. GIBBS:  Was that vociferousness or are you --

Q    "The President and his administration should do the same."  Do you think that it is helpful, or not helpful, for members of Congress to be making declarations like this, and putting pressure on the White House to do and say more?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I'm not going to get involved into commenting on the motivations that other members may have.  I know some people agree with what Senator McCain said; some people agree with what other Republicans have said that's very much like the President's position.  The President strongly believes that we should and have spoken out to ensure that demonstrators have the universal right and principle to demonstrate without fear of harm.  But at the same time, we have to respect their sovereignty.

Q    Robert, former President George Bush gave a speech yesterday where he talked about Guantanamo Bay and the President's policy, and he said, "Therapy is not going to cause terrorists to change their minds."  What is the President's reaction to that?

MR. GIBBS:  Is he talking -- I don't -- I'm not sure what he's discussing.

Q    I think he's trying to suggest that the President's policy on Guantanamo Bay is not the right policy and saying -- comparing it to therapy, that we're treating the prisoners --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what he's discussing.  I know that -- I know the previous administration moved or transferred hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo to a program in Saudi Arabia.  I don't know if that's what he's -- maybe that's not what he's referring to, since it appears to be contrary to the actions that he took.  So I'm happy if he can clarify what it is he was talking about.

I think we've had a debate about individual policies.  We had that debate in particular -- we kept score last November and we won. 

Q    And he also talked about -- saying that the private sector is better handled to help the economy more than the government.  And do you just have any response to him taking a swipe at President Obama after remaining kind of on the sidelines for so long?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, again, I think the President -- President Obama inherited an economic catastrophe:  massive unemployment, a huge deficit, insolvent banks, car companies that were being handed billions of dollars to perpetuate a plan that had them coming back every three months to ask for more.  The President -- President Obama took action to pass a recovery plan and to take steps to put some regulation back in our economy

President Obama believes that the free market is what governs our economic principles and looks forward to getting out of the business of being involved in banks or in auto companies.

Q    Has he talked to President Bush?

MR. GIBBS:  I think they've spoken.  I don't know how recently.

Q    Robert. 

MR. GIBBS:  Carol.

Q    Thanks.  I think he pointed to me.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'll go to Carol, then I'll come back to you.

Q    Okay, thank you.  Does the White House believe that Muslim women can be forced to remove their veils when they're testifying in court as the --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, I can't --

Q    Does the White House believe that Muslim women can be forced to remove their veils when testifying in court as the Michigan Supreme Court ruled yesterday?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not familiar with the ruling. 

Q    Is that something that the President would view as constitutional?

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to look at the ruling and have somebody in the Counsel's Office --

Q    On Hamas, there has been some really frightening footage on a few of the networks about Hamas or al Qaeda -- whatever you want to call them -- strapping explosives on horses, and preparing to blow up the horses to attack in Israel.  Does the White House have any knowledge of this, and do you still favor this two-state solution if they're going to have these tactics by Hamas or al Qaeda in Gaza -- coming from Gaza?

MR. GIBBS:  I've not seen the footage.  I don't know if anybody here has.  Connie, the President continues to believe that it's in the best security of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to be involved in a two-state solution.  I think the President was clear at his speech in Cairo where he stands on Hamas and what they have to do to be more responsible.  That includes recognizing Israel, relinquishing their support for terror, and abiding by past agreements.  Those are their responsibilities and their obligations.


Q    Robert, following your answer on the Fed, there are those in Congress who want to use the President's regulatory reform package to greatly increase congressional oversight of the Fed, particularly spending and disbursement of money.  Is that something you'd resist or -

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen those proposals, and obviously this is a process that's going to wind its way through.  I can just tell you that the President hopes and looks forward to signing much stronger financial regulations by the end of this year to ensure that what's happened doesn't happen again.


Q    Robert, back to health care and the public option for just a minute.  The Heritage Foundation put out an open letter on health care today where they say "the inclusion of a public option is nothing more than a Trojan Horse … Once a government plan is in place, private insurance companies will be eventually run out of business."  Is that your secret agenda here?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President addressed the critics of this using the exact example of Trojan Horse in front of the AMA on Monday.  Since we've talked about polling here today, I think we can discuss that one of the polls that was out in the last 24 hours showed extremely strong support for a public option that provides the uninsured with choice and competition that is so greatly needed.  Those are two universal values that we hear discussed a lot in the health care debate.  Are we going to have choice?  Are we going to have competition?  Those are values that the President believes are important in this debate; rejects this notion that seems to be perpetuated in the letter that you're talking about, that this is in any way a takeover of health care -- I think that's patently ridiculous -- but it provides a choice and some competition and in the end will drive down costs.

Q    And on the other hand, Senator Tom Daschle today, -- who, of course, first choice for HHS Secretary -- said that the public plan option could be dropped and maybe should be dropped if it gets in the way of getting a bill this year.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President believes it's a strong component of getting the right type of reform this year.  We're a strong supporter of including that option because, as I said, it provides choice and competition and it drives down costs.  That's what the President is most concerned with, is ensuring that those that haven't had the luxury of having affordable health care coverage get an opportunity to enter a market where they can find an option that is affordable.

Q    Putting aside the Illinois example, I'm wondering if you can characterize generally what you expect the White House's level of involvement is going to be working with the campaign committees in the races this year and next, and also how involved you think the President will be personally on the campaign trail?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President has -- obviously the President has some interest in the makeup of Congress.  The President I think is obviously going to be involved with the committees; that's denoted by our presence and participation tonight.  And I think you'll -- obviously his first priority is getting this economy fixed and ensuring that we lay a foundation for long-term economic growth.  But I know he'll be out there campaigning, as well.

Q    Robert, just one?

MR. GIBBS:  Hold on.  (Laughter.)  Yes, ma'am.

Q    On health care reform, one of the other --

MR. GIBBS:  I might come back.  I don't know.  I'm feeling frisky.

Q    Appreciate that.

Q    You mentioned all the moving parts in health care reform and one of the other options is to have a nonprofit cooperative.  I just wondered why the White House wouldn't entertain that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think Nancy-Ann and others have discussed the fact that those options are constructive and can and should be discussed as part of health care reform.  Obviously, as I said and you said back to me, there are a lot of moving parts and this is going to be a long process.  Again, it's not going to be solved in a matter of weeks or a matter of just a couple weeks, but a number of proposals that the White House sees as very constructive.

Q    Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  Lester, I'm feeling good today -- let's just do it.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Could you tell us if, as you said yesterday in the briefing --

MR. GIBBS:  Uh-oh.

Q    -- quote, "the President is committed to ensuring fairness" --

MR. GIBBS:  I can confirm to you that the President is committed to ensuring fairness.

Q    Good.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    -- how, then, he and you feel about two brief statements mailed by two candidates for the White House Correspondents executive board -- they're just two sentences.  First:  "Even reporters in the first three rows have told me that they feel the inequity demonstrated by the Press Secretary is insupportable -- the need to recognize all journalists in the room, not just a few."  And the second:  "One hour and one minute passed before Robert Gibbs reached our colleagues in the third row, and soon after, the briefing was over."  How do you and the President believe this is fairness?

MR. GIBBS:  Lester, I don't want to be party to your attacking the fine journalists that work and inhabit the first three rows of the Brady briefing room.

Q    I didn't attack them.  I didn't attack them.  These were candidates.

Q    Could you pick a candidate, Robert?  Could you pick a candidate?  (Laughter.)

Q    That were their statements.  What about that, Robert?

Q    You want to moderate a debate?  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  I am --

Q    Thank you. 

MR. GIBBS:  This is a debate -- this is a debate that should be had by correspondents as correspondents choose their own leadership.

Q    But this is aimed at you.  This is a question for you.

MR. GIBBS:  I understand, I understand, and I'm not running for anything in the White House Correspondents Association.

Q    Thank you, Robert. 

MR. GIBBS:  I have a good place to stand already. 

Thanks, Lester.

3:24 P.M. EDT