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The White House

Press Briefing 2/3/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                 

February 3, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EST
      MR. GIBBS:  Just a couple of quick housekeeping things and we'll do some questions.
      The President spoke -- has spoken today with three more Republican governors who I believe have signed a letter in support of the economic recovery plan that's winding its way through Congress.  He spoke with Governor Crist of Florida, Governor Schwarzenegger of California, and Governor Rell of Connecticut.  Again, they signed a letter, part of 19 governors that signed a letter in support of an economic recovery plan that they understand will help them make it through tough budget times so that they don't have to cut valuable services like health care and public safety; that will put people back to work and create more than 3 million jobs; as well as get our economy moving again.
      So he made those phone calls earlier today.  And with that, I'll take a few of your questions.  Yes, ma'am.
      Q    Thanks, Robert.  Why the about-face from here on Tom Daschle yesterday?  The President said he absolutely stood by him.  Today he accepts his withdrawal of his nomination.
      MR. GIBBS:  You know, let me step back and do a little bit broader answer.  We're at a critical junction -- juncture in our nation's history, at a crossroads economically.  And the President has a robust agenda to deal with many of those problems.
      As Senator Daschle said in the statement that we released, and told the President on the phone, that he did not want to be a distraction to that agenda.  Senator Daschle has served this country for almost three decades with distinction and I think America can be proud of that service.  The same is true for Ms. Killefer.
      I think they both recognized that you can't set an example of responsibility, but accept a different standard in who serves.  They both decided and recognized that their nominations would distract from the important goals and the critical agenda that the President put forward.
      Each joined in an effort to change this country -- in Senator Daschle's case, to help more Americans get affordable health care, to get our economy moving again, to institute some fiscal responsibility and some fiscal discipline.  The important work that the President does on those agenda items continues here today.  They realized that that agenda and the President's call for change was more important and did not want to be a distraction.
      Q    That doesn't say who decided that this was the best move.  And if I could just follow up quickly.  Are there other nominees out there with tax problems that we don't know about?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President is quite confident in the people that serve in this White House and serve in this administration; that we've put a standard of ethics and accountability that's unseen and unmatched by any previous administration in our country's history.
      Again, Senator Daschle -- as it relates to your first question, Senator Daschle decided to remove his name from consideration and remove his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
      Q    What about --
      Q    Robert, a question --
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry --
      Q    Are there other nominees with tax problems?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President is confident in the people he's chosen to serve in government.
      Q    Question on two issues.  First, to follow up on Daschle.  What does the -- or what is your time frame for announcing a new Secretary?  And will this withdrawal affect any of the appointments to other health-related areas, like the FDA and the Surgeon General?
      MR. GIBBS:  We're working on nominees for both of those positions.  Obviously families all over the country have -- understand the importance of getting somebody at the Food and Drug Administration who will set forth a regulatory structure  that protects American families, whether it's the medicine that they take or the food that they eat.  We've all been reminded of that more so than ever, just in the past few weeks as it relates to the contamination of peanuts that are affecting millions of people.  And I thought about it the other day when I was making a sandwich for my son.
      In terms of, you know, nominees for each of these positions, obviously the administration is looking for replacements as we speak.
      Q    I want to flesh out another issue, just while I've still got your attention.  On Iran today, the satellite launch from Iran, how does that affect President Obama's attitude about reaching out towards that country?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously the White House has seen reports on Iran.  Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts that continue on an illicit nuclear program, or threats that Iran makes toward Israel, and its sponsorship of terror are of acute concern to this administration.  The President is clear that he wants Iran to be a responsible member of the world community.  Again, I would underscore the "responsible," that with that goes responsibilities.  The actions -- this action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region.
      All of this continues to underscore that our administration will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community.
      Q    Robert, back on Daschle, you said a moment ago that both Daschle and Killefer realized there was a new standard of responsibility.  How do you explain, then, sticking with Tim Geithner, who had some $34,000 in back taxes and standing behind him for Treasury Secretary -- because Ms. Killefer had much less money in taxes that she owed.
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, Mr. Geithner has gone through a process, Ed, that -- he's gone through finance committee, he's gone through the full Senate with bipartisan support and serves --
      Q    Serves in principle -- not just process, but shouldn't principle guide it or --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, the process has guided Mr. Geithner to be the Secretary of Treasury of the United States of America, a position that he was approved for by the Senate with bipartisan support and serves in today.
      Q    What happened to the -- there was sort of -- everyone was holding it up, especially in the media, as a vaunted vetting process.  It seems to have hit some bumps.  How do you explain what happened to the vetting process?  And are you making changes to it because of what's happened, and asking people more questions about taxes, for example?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, the President has confidence in the system.  The President has confidence in the nominees that serve his administration.  We're always looking for members and people that want to serve to advance an agenda that provides more affordable health care, that gets our economy moving again.  Obviously, as it relates to the positions that withdrew their nominations today, we look for good people with records of distinction that can serve in those --
      Q    Then what happened to the vetting process?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President has confidence in the process.
      Q    Robert, two questions.  One, on the Daschle issue, you talk about an era of responsibility -- we talked about that yesterday.  Is there anybody at the White House taking responsibility for what has been a very messy confirmation process for Richardson, Geithner, Senator Daschle and Nancy Killefer?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, we all take responsibility and the President takes responsibility.
      Q    Okay.  And then a follow up question -- not a follow up question, a new question, which is, there are a lot of military experts who think that the recent incursions into Pakistan constitute a new and separate war that the President should address the nation on, and not just an aspect, a side war in Afghanistan.  Does the President view the new CIA attacks in Pakistan as a new war?
      MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen those reports and I'm not going to comment from here on intelligence matters.  But I have not seen the reports that you refer to.
      Q    Is the White House at any level considering Leo Hindery as a possible Commerce Secretary throughout this process, as recommended by Tom Daschle?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President nominated a Commerce Secretary today, Senator Judd Gregg, who we believe will serve with distinction, shares the President's view on getting our economy moving again.
      I don't know -- I have no news on that or no information on that.  Again, the President has made a selection for that position today, announced that selection, and we look forward to his speedy confirmation.
      Q    Just a follow-up.  Do you believe that the Daschle situation has been compounded or confused or slowed by the fact that there are so many of his top advisors serving in President Obama's administration -- did that cloud any judgment here?
      MR. GIBBS:  No.
      Q    If there's a new standard of responsibility, and it's the President's standard, why wouldn't he have been the one to make the decision to say, this guy doesn't meet the standard of responsibility?  Does he wait for the nominee to say, I don't meet that standard?
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to spend a lot of time up here today looking through the rearview mirror or playing Monday morning quarterback on all this.
      The President understands that each of these individuals has served this country with distinction, appreciates that service.  Each asked to withdraw their nomination and the President on each occasion accepted those withdrawals.
      Each also decided they couldn't distract from the agenda that the President was pursuing.  The agenda that he was pursuing is bigger than them, it's bigger than me, it's bigger than any of us that serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.  That's the work that continues here at the White House; work that started many days ago and will continue both today and tomorrow.
      Q    So if Senator Daschle hadn't withdrawn, the President would have stuck by his nomination?
      MR. GIBBS:  You know, I would love to play hypothetical games with you all day long, but --
      Q    Well, it's obviously --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Chuck, I think you were distributed through fairly rudimentary means the decision of Senator Daschle to step back and that's where we are.
      Q    And on the meeting with congressional Democrats last night, there's a couple of news accounts that describe it as a terse meeting, or that it was a little bit of a -- not a rallying of the troops, but of, you got to get this done.  Are those fair descriptions of the meeting that the President --
      MR. GIBBS:  The meeting was not described to me as tense or -- I forget some of the adjectives used to describe it, or I've seen describe it.  The President's meeting with Democrats, both from the House and the Senate, was to talk about how to get the best bill quickly to his desk.  The deadline --
      Q    So he said it can't get over $900 billion and you're going to have to give up some of your --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth on that.  I think the President thought the meeting was productive, that they made progress toward the goal of having the strongest stimulus package possible.
      Q    (Inaudible.)
      MR. GIBBS:  They will put -- (laughter) -- I'll try to give you the best answers I can, Chuck, and you can -- we can ask questions.  Again, the President thought -- if I can, just, you know, thank you --
      Q    Please.
      MR. GIBBS:  Thank you.  We need lights like those debates.  (Laughter.)  At least wait for mine to turn yellow.  (Laughter.)
      The President thought the meeting was very productive.  The President thought the discussions that he had, the discussion he had with Government Douglas, the discussion he's had with Republican governors today, the discussion he's had with Democratic members of Congress -- he's going to see more this week -- all these discussions are working toward the strongest possible package to put people back to work.
      I do think -- again, I think people have lost sight of what the legislation does.  It creates -- we think it will save or create more than 3 million jobs and get our economy moving again.  And then if we fail to act or if this town fails to act, the recession will be far worse and far deeper than it is right now, and many in America are facing dire consequences.  Again, we'll get statistics later this week that demonstrate how many people lost their jobs in the previous month.  I think that will continue to underscore for people how important it is to get something to the President's desk as quickly as possible.
      Q    Robert, are you saying that no one at the White House whispered or conveyed the word to Senator Daschle that it might be time for him to withdraw?  That was totally his decision --
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm saying the decision --
      Q    -- and he was not pushed at all?
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm saying the decision was made by Senator Daschle.
      Q    Can you also say whether or not President Obama or anyone at the White House spoke with Governor Lynch of New Hampshire about nominating a Republican to replace Senator Gregg?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, when news reports surfaced of Senator Gregg's interest in, or that we were looking at him as a possibility for Secretary of Commerce -- did the Governor of New Hampshire call the White House and voice his support?  Yes.  Did this White House have anything to do with the selection of who might be picked to replace a standing senator if he were selected?  No.
      Q    I'm sorry, can I follow up real quick?  You didn't quite answer the question.  Was Daschle given any kind of signal, yes or no, from the White House that he should withdraw?
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how much more clear I can be.  The decision was Senator Daschle's.
      Q    No, no, no, no.  He could have decided after he got a signal.  Did he get a signal -- just say yes or no -- from the White House?  You can answer that question, yes or no.
      MR. GIBBS:  No, from the White House, he did not get a signal.
      Q    From anywhere else?  (Laughter.)  I just -- words are chosen --
      MR. GIBBS:  You know what I'm going to do from now on?  I'm going to have you guys write down your questions so I don't misinterpret --
      Q    Words are chosen very careful in this briefing room, as you know, that's why I'm --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how much more clear I can be with the word "no."
      Laura, please phrase your question clearly and succinctly.  (Laughter.)
      Q    I'll do my best.
      MR. GIBBS:  Speak in slow monotone so that I can understand.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.
      Q    I don't know about the slow monotone.  But Robert, the President and others have spoken of Senator Daschle's unique qualifications to lead the health reform effort.  Given his withdrawal, two questions.  One, what impact do you think that will have on the opportunity to get health care reform, which was a heavy lift to start with?  And secondly, was there or is there any consideration of keeping him on in the White House post, which does not require a confirmation?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President -- well, Senator Daschle has withdrawn his nomination and withdrawn from serving in the White House in the capacity that we had talked about earlier.
      As it relates to your first question on health care, I think Senator Daschle would be -- and I think he says it, in essence, in his statement -- that much like the agenda that the President has outlined on any number of subjects, the issue of affordable health care for every American is bigger than one person; and the job of ensuring health care reform will outlast any person nominated for the Secretary of HHS and likely anybody that serves in this administration.
      This a problem that confounds federal and state governments.  It confounds families and businesses large and small.  We watch each year as health care prices get higher and higher and higher, and more people slip through the cracks, more businesses are unable to afford to provide health care coverage for their employees.  We are hopeful to sign a bill this week that closes that gap for children by expanding the popular Children's Health Insurance Program.
      I don't think the effort slows down for health care reform, and I think Senator Daschle and others would admit that the effort is far bigger than any one individual.  It's so important, it encompasses so much of our economy, and we understand that the system that we currently have whereby Americans pay more for health care and get less from it than virtually any industrialized country on the planet underscores that this is bigger than any one group or any individual.
      Q    But given the fact that you now have to start all over trying to find someone to lead this effort --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, we have to --
      Q    -- to be HHS Secretary, you don't think that this is going to put things back?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- no, because I think there are obviously many people in this administration that are working on this issue right now.  We're looking for a new nominee, but the problem has existed for quite some time and the work toward a solution to make health care more affordable won't stop or won't pause while we look for that nominee.
      Q    Since you brought up the process with Secretary Geithner -- Max Baucus, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, has put out a statement saying he thinks that if allowed to stay, Tom Daschle would have been confirmed.  John Kerry put out a statement saying it was a mistake to withdraw his nomination.  Why would the White House believe it's a good idea to disappoint Democrats, who are their natural allies on health care, by preemptively taking away someone they believed could have been confirmed, as Mr. Geithner was -- despite his tax problems -- and they believe would have been someone that --
      MR. GIBBS:  Major, I wouldn't -- I think I'd address those questions to Senator Daschle, who, taking all of my answers into account on these subjects, made a decision to withdraw today, a decision that the President accepted.
      Q    But it's the President's health care reform agenda, not Senator Daschle's, and --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well --
      Q    -- the natural allies of yours appear to be, A, believing he could have been confirmed, and disappointed that this was done, in their view, prematurely.  What is your explanation to them?
      MR. GIBBS:  My explanation to them is if you want to know the decision-making process of Senator Daschle, that's the best person to address that question to.
      Q    How seriously would the White House consider Howard Dean for the Health and Human Services Secretary?
      MR. GIBBS:  I've given -- been given many opportunities to play the name game and I don't want to spin the wheel and start today.
      Q    So assuming that Daschle stays in the private sector, will he be able to lobby the administration on health care?  And will he be in any way involved in health care?
      MR. GIBBS:  I assume that Senator Daschle's passion for health care isn't diminished by today's announcement.  But Ann, as you know, Senator Daschle has not been and is not a registered federal lobbyist; therefore, based on the rules that the government -- stringent rules that the government sets out, he can't lobby the federal government.
      Q    Robert, if loopholes and exceptions are built in for various appointees who have lobbied in the past, and if key appointees are shown to have had problems in terms of not having paid back-taxes, is there a risk that this administration, in its ethics practices, begins to look like every other that preceded it?
      MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think if -- I'll be happy to provide you the names of the people that have already said that this administration has laid forward, in executive orders, the strongest ethics and accountability rules of any administration in the history of this country.
      Q    But Robert, didn't he say that before the exemptions and loopholes were --
      MR. GIBBS:  No.  No, in fact, the very same people that said that applauded the fact that you are going to have a few exemptions to allow people that are uniquely qualified to serve their country.  I'll be happy to provide you the quotes from Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann that both address the fact that we've -- the bar that we've set is higher than any administration in the country's history has ever set, and their quotes for  understanding --
      Q    Would you acknowledge difference of opinion among government watchdog groups on this particular question of loopholes and exemptions?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, you know, I have read the quotes of government watchdog groups much like you have for many years, and I think those two are --
      Q    More now than the others.
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I'm not saying -- golly, I don't -- we should play the Jeopardy version of this.  You guys will give -- (laughter.)  No, I think -- I would hazard to guess that your network has shown either or both of those as experts on congressional reform.  I'm simply holding them to the very same fair and balanced standard that many in your network have.
      Q    Robert --
      Q    You've had -- you've had a couple of setbacks --
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, let me --
      Q    You've had a couple of setbacks today.  Does this have any impact on the President's broader agenda, starting with the economic stimulus --
      MR. GIBBS:  No --
      Q    -- which you want to have some Republicans onboard?
      MR. GIBBS:  No.  In fact, he's worked today on that.  That's what his focus is.
      Q    How do you mean?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, he's -- he's had conversations with Republican governors to build support for an economic recovery plan.  We're not losing sight of what's important on the President's agenda to get moving forward.  The President will make a stop fairly shortly at a local school and talk about the valuable investments that are contained in -- that are contained in the recovery plan that make long-term investments in 21st century classrooms, in ensuring the very best schools for our children and ensuring that those schools are led by the very best teachers and principals that our children can get.  All of those are long-term investments that will leave a lasting footprint for long-term economic growth.  So the work on this continues.  It hasn't stopped.
      Q    Yes, sir.  Were there conversations, aside from that, of Governor Lynch calling the White House to talk about the appointment?  Were there conversations after that at all between this White House and --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't understand your question.
      Q    Were there conversations between this White House and Governor Lynch, aside from his first phone call that you mentioned earlier, calling to talk about the appointment?
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a list of every time a governor has called the White House.  Again --
      Q    But about the seat, though, I mean.
      MR. GIBBS:  About the?
      Q    The seat, the Senate seat.
      MR. GIBBS:  The seat.
      Q    Is that the only conversation had between this White House and Governor Lynch?
      MR. GIBBS:  The White House -- let me just be clear, so as not to be misunderstood.  This White House is not involved with picking who will be the next senator or who would be the next senator if somebody were to be selected to be the Commerce Secretary.  That is --
      Q    But Robert, the issue isn't who it is, but what party they are in -- the issue isn't the name, it's what party they came from.
      MR. GIBBS:  We weren't involved in picking which party they were.
      Q    Aside from -- you said today Governor Lynch first calling the White House to talk about the matter.  After that, there was no communication between this White House and Governor Lynch about the seat.
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't know of any more calls than what I -- what I talked about.  Again, Jonathan, I want to be clear that the person that -- the sole responsibility and the sole person for selecting the next U.S. senator from the state of New Hampshire is the governor.
      Q    But Senator Gregg said he wasn't going to take the job if it was going to change the balance of power.
      MR. GIBBS:  I would -- I would -- there may have been conversations between senators and governors from the state of New Hampshire, and I would direct those questions to --
      Q    Well, what does that say --
      Q    His contact --
      Q    Robert, back on the situation with Daschle, what is the breakdown in the vetting process as it relates to not getting the information from these appointments on tax issues and other issues that are coming up?
      MR. GIBBS:  April, I appreciate the opportunity.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror.
      Q    There is a break -- I mean, but it's an embarrassment to this administration.  Do you acknowledge that there is a breakdown in the vetting process?
      MR. GIBBS:  The President is confident in the process, and is confident in who serves this administration.
      Q    And another question on Ghadafi.  How is the President going to handle Africa and the issues out of Africa -- antiterrorism issues, issues about oil -- as you have Ghadafi now as the head of the African Union?
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't have anything specific on Ghadafi.  Obviously the President and many on his national security team understand the importance of the continent of Africa and the role that it plays in our security.  And I'd leave it at that.
      Q    Thanks, Robert.  You like to say, let's take a step back.  Can I ask you to take a step back?  (Laughter.)  On the campaign trail -- I can do that, too -- the President often talked of changing the ways of Washington.  We look at some appointments that have failed or had some bumps:  Tom Daschle, he wasn't a lobbyist, but he made a lot of money giving strategic advice to lobbyists; George Mitchell more or less did the same thing; Mark Patterson, chief of staff to Timothy Geithner, lobbied for eight years for Goldman Sachs and a host of issues; and you have the number-two man at the Defense Department, too, having been a lobbyist.
      Is it more difficult than you or the President imagined to actually change the ways of Washington?  Are you somewhat hindered by relying on this -- some of the same old players in Washington?
      MR. GIBBS:  I think the President would say to you that he didn't believe that we were going to change the way Washington has worked the past three decades in the first two weeks of this administration.  I think that's accurate to believe.  I would point you to, again, a set of ethics requirements that exceed any that have come before.  David, anybody that walks in and serves in this administration will -- can never walk out of it and lobby this administration.
      Is changing the way Washington works going to be more than a two-week job?  Yes, it is, and thankfully we've got four years to try.
      Q    Well, do you think we'll have -- will there be other questions on other nominees, or are you perhaps changing your perspective on some of this as you move along?
      MR. GIBBS:  Again, the President is quite confident in the staff that surrounds him and the staff throughout the executive branch.
      Q    On Afghanistan, Robert.  Did the -- just to be clear, in the history of what just happened, did the vetting teams just not know all the details or did they not appreciate --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I appreciate the opportunity to once again answer the question that has been asked here.  I'm not going to spend the day --
      Q    This is a valid question.
      Q    This isn't the --
      MR. GIBBS:  I understand.
      Q    Is there a way that you could still figure out a way to give us a little insight as to whether or not the vetting team did know and just didn't appreciate it --
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm -- again, I'm --
      Q    -- or did not know?
      MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to spend the rest of the day looking --
      Q    But, Robert, a lack of vetting problem says that --
      Q    -- a large amount of paper and you've gone through all of the rigmarole of saying how you were going to vet, and then now there's a problem and you've acknowledged an embarrassment, and you don't want to talk about it.  This is happening now.  It's not a hypothetical situation.  It's something that we want to find out about.
      MR. GIBBS:  I understand.  The two names for the nominations have been withdrawn.  We're looking for new nominees for each of those positions.
      Q    But how is the process going forth?  That's what we're asking you, the breakdown on this.
      Q    If you won't talk about the breakdown, something else this administration has prided itself on is being able to take on a lot at once -- you know, walk and chew gum at the same time -- is there a sense in the White House that maybe things have moved too quickly; that it's not necessarily a matter of not knowing the facts about the nominees, but of not looking for nominees who can fit your new ethics and your new standards, and that maybe the process should be slowed down a little bit?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't -- I think the problems that this country faces are many.  The work that we have to do to address those problems is obviously a lot, but it doesn't slow down.
      We've talked about it in here, the notion that -- and probably in a very short period of time we'll be working on a recovery plan, which we are currently doing.  We'll be working on some manner of financial stability that changes the way the money that had previously -- the ways the money had previously been spent to stabilize our financial system will be spent differently.  We'll be working on financial re-regulation.  We'll have news soon on executive compensation.
      I think that -- that's just on the economic issue.  I don't think that what's happened today or what would -- could happen tomorrow is going to slow down the many challenges that we face.
      Q    Can you also describe just quickly -- we haven't really gotten anything from you about the President's reaction to Daschle stepping down, to these number of bumps in the road.  Is he frustrated?  How does he feel about it?
      MR. GIBBS:  I know the President spoke with Senator Daschle.  He was in his private study when he talked over the phone.  But I have not talked to him since --
      Q    What time was that?
      Q    Was that today or yesterday?
      Q    Mr. Gibbs.
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't have the exact time.
      Q    Thank you, Robert.  There's growing concern among some quarters of the American society about this buildup in Afghanistan.  Has this very savvy administration considered taking an electronic poll, some sort of referendum of the American people to see if they support this buildup in Afghanistan?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, as I said yesterday, let's -- I know four weeks ago there was an announcement by an individual that didn't have the constitutional authority to order troops to a different part of the country -- or different part of the world -- that he'd made to send 30,000 troops.  Yesterday I was asked about a decision to send 15,000.  I don't know if that's 15,000 additional troops, 15,000 less.
      The President is undergoing a comprehensive review of our policy in Afghanistan.  The President has met with commanders on the ground and those in the region dealing with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Those comprehensive reviews were what he believed was important to evaluate the current direction of our policy and make some corrections as it goes forward under his administration.
      Obviously some initial decisions on that will need to happen soon.  The President certainly isn't going to make those decisions without being in touch with the units that might be involved or their families, and certainly without the coordination of Congress.
      So before we -- before we talk about the decisions that the President has made, I think it's important for the -- one, for the President to make those decisions, and two, for those decisions to be announced by the President.
      Q    May I follow?
      MR. GIBBS:  Sure.
      Q    The Bush administration made a terrible mistake -- they never went to the American people to ask:  Do you want a broader war in Iraq or do you want any war in Iraq?  Will the Obama administration make the same mistake?
      MR. GIBBS:  I think it is safe to say that when the President makes a decision relating to -- makes a decision related to our force structure in Afghanistan or our force structure in Iraq or the health of our forces in making either of those decisions, that the President believes it's in -- it's exceedingly important that he explain those decisions to the American people.  Again, yet another reason that I would counsel you to wait until the President has made those decisions before we get off and running.
      Q    Do you believe that cutting these nominees loose will help restore the President's credibility on changing the culture in Washington?  And also quickly just to follow up on the earlier Daschle questions --
      MR. GIBBS:  Can I address your first question, because -- I appreciate the question, but -- the decisions that these nominees made were to withdraw.  So I think I'd --
      Q    (Inaudible.)
      Q    (Inaudible.)
      MR. GIBBS:  Hold on, hold on.  I think -- let me just -- I know people have questions and they bring in questions, but I hope that the information that I provide you throughout the briefing might change the phraseology or the tensing of some of those questions.
      Q    Whether they chose to remove themselves -- and I'm not trying to imply who began the momentum on the issue.  Could you --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't know why I could have gotten such an implication.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)
      Q    Do you believe that the decision by them and the acceptance by the administration to remove themselves from consideration will repair the President's credibility on the change message?  Or do you believe that there was no credibility problem, because of --
      MR. GIBBS:  I think the President -- as I said earlier, the President understands that changing the way Washington works is not a one, a two, or even a 15-day project; that it's something that encompasses work that he does and has to do each and every day as the President of the United States.
      The President has set the highest ethical standards for this administration and has spoken often of an ethic of responsibility that he expects all of us to meet.  That work -- he expects nothing less from anybody that would serve in this administration.
      Q    The President, as was referred to earlier, met with congressional leaders last night; he's giving interviews with the anchors today.  Is he worried about losing control of the message on this?  And is he concerned about the status and the posture of the legislation right now?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I think the President believes that the efforts last week to pass this through the House was an important first step.  The President meets with members of Congress virtually every day, or talks to them on the phone; and we're happy to speak with a vibrant, working free press about the issues that surround an economic recovery plan.
      I think the President certainly is -- works hard every day to make sure that this administration and the Congress are working toward meeting the deadline the President has set to get action on his desk so that we can get help and relief to the American people.
      Q    So the President would be satisfied if something along the lines of the House bill went --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the basis for -- and the fundamentals in the House bill meet many of the tests that the President laid out -- and I enumerated them yesterday -- do you have a piece of -- do you have a proposal that, if he signed, would create more than 3 million jobs and put people back to work?  The President believes that's the case.  Do we have a proposal that does so in a way that's accountable and more transparent than any piece of legislation of that size or of even a smaller size?
      And he believes that the fact that we're going to put individual projects on a website meets that test.  Does the legislation meet the test of putting money into the pockets of middle-class and -- middle-class families that have watched their incomes dwindle over the past few years?  Yes, he believes it meets that test.  Are we going to make the critical investments that will help our long-term economic growth?  He does believe that it meets that test, as well.
      Q    Real quick, a housekeeping thing.  Would the replacement for Mr. Daschle at HHS, would that person, whoever it is, retain the health policy czar --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the answer to that at the moment.  Once we have that person we'll --
      Q    What about the other nominees that have already been announced for health positions?  Are they going to still -- I mean, are their positions --
      MR. GIBBS:  There's no changes in those.  Stephen, I'll call on you, and then I'll --
      Q    Has the President made a decision yet on what position to take regarding the "Buy American" legislation language?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, the administration's review of those provisions continues, and I'll let you know when we have more on that.
      Q    Has he noticed the protests in Europe this morning about it?
      MR. GIBBS:  Say again?
      Q    Has he noticed the growing anger and anxiety in Europe about it?
      MR. GIBBS:  I did not -- I did not ask him if he'd noticed developments in Europe.
      Q    Thank you.
      MR. GIBBS:  Thank you, guys.
                        END                  2:21 P.M. EST