The White House
February 05, 2009
Press Briefing 2/5/09
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
February 5, 2009
February 5, 2009
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:11 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- before we start, the reason I was slightly delayed, I went to talk to the President about the news that Justice Ginsburg has had surgery for pancreatic cancer. He has -- he has not talked with the Justice, but his thoughts and prayers are with her and her family right now. And we hope for and wish her a speedy recovery right now.
With that, Ms. Loven.
Q Two things, Robert. Senator Collins said that President Obama told her he was interested in seeing the bill come down to $800 billion. Is that true? And was he meeting with a group of moderates today to try to hash some of this out?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't -- I have not seen the latter part of his schedule today, and I don't know -- I'll check on the $800 billion. I was not in the meeting.
Q Is that what he wants, though?
MR. GIBBS: I think he, as we've said, wants a package that will do what it needs to do to meet the scope and the size of these challenges. Obviously the package that -- we had some principles that laid out a broad range earlier in the process; the House passed a package I think in the low 8's. The Senate obviously has I think added $100 billion to that number through some amendments.
So -- and I think the President was clear today at the Department of Energy that we need a package that meets the size and the scope of those challenges.
And again, you know, we are reminded again why getting something like this is so important. New jobless claims came out today that showed those claims at the highest point since October of 1982, with 626,000 new applications for jobless claims. And I think we all expect that tomorrow's unemployment numbers are likely to show this country with the highest unemployment rate in 17 years.
So the President continues to watch what happens on Capitol Hill, and I think we're making progress toward getting a package that he thinks -- the ballpark and the fundamentals at least that he thinks will move our economy forward and create jobs.
Q Can you hit one other topic really quickly, if I could? Hilda Solis, the committee vote was postponed. There are apparently some concerns that she might have a conflict of interest as Labor Secretary. Can you talk about that?
MR. GIBBS: I believe she, in a question to the committee that the committee asked on follow-up about her participation I think on a board of some sort that was omitted from her original questionnaire, that she has answered that question and those questions are into the committee.
Q Is her nomination in trouble?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it is at all. No, I think -- and I think the committee -- the committee's statement that I think you've seen from Senator Enzi and Senator Kennedy denote that they will continue to work together to move this nomination forward as soon as possible.
Q Can I follow on that? Can we follow on Solis?
MR. GIBBS: I'll get to you, don't worry. Caren.
Q Can I ask a question about the stimulus? There seems to be a change in tone from the President about the stimulus. Definitely his tone today was more combative than the emphasis on bipartisanship that we saw last week. He talked about the worn-out policies of the Republicans, suggesting that they're the obstacles here. And I'm just wondering, has he given up on bipartisanship? Does he mainly only want enough Republican votes --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he only -- obviously I think the way to get this thing done, the best way to do it is to do it with both parties. We have seen ideas debated and we've seen those ideas rejected by the Senate that would take out the full package and replace it with tax cuts, which I don't think are surprising would disproportionately cut taxes for those that have done quite well this year and over the past eight years.
I think what the President referred to is the notion that we tried those policies, right? We tried those policies in 2001. I don't think anybody would look back at the last few years and think that our economy grew nearly as much as it could or should have. And I think we've -- we've tried many of those ideas. We've tried cutting taxes for those that are doing the very best as a way of watching it trickle down and help everybody else. I think the policy hasn't worked and I think the idea, certainly in November, was rejected as a way of moving our economy forward.
So I think what the President has done is lay out throughout this process a plan that he believes will save or create 3 million jobs. We do have tax cuts in our plan and the tax cuts are targeted toward middle-class Americans that are in need of some help. The plan also has what many economists believe is the best way to stimulate the economy, and that is by spending money that will create jobs. I think that's the best way to do it.
Q Robert, last week your emphasis from the podium, and the President's emphasis, was that he wanted to listen to Republican ideas. Now he's going out today and criticizing their ideas and saying their ideas and saying their approach isn't going to work. Does he mainly hope to only get enough Republican votes to squeak this by in the Senate or does he want broad support --
MR. GIBBS: Let's understand that, you know, just yesterday he had Republicans here at the White House, talking to them. I think if he rejected bipartisanship, I think we could have freed up some time on his schedule yesterday. Obviously that's not the case. Obviously he's reaching out to -- and he's always said he would reach out to people that had good ideas, in a way that strengthens the package that we have as the process goes forward.
Q He's specifically reaching out to Republican moderates at this point, the Republican moderates who may be --
MR. GIBBS: He's reaching out to people that I think have demonstrated -- I saw some of Senator Collins's remarks on one of the cable channels earlier today, and she said she'd had a good conversation with the President. And the President had, in some ways, convinced her that we needed a package that met the size and the scope of our problems.
I think that's bipartisanship. I think a Democratic President talking to a Republican senator and getting some agreement on strengthening the package and moving it along in a size that denotes the scope of the challenges that Americans face economically, challenges that we're reminded of each and every day, the President believes that's the best approach for moving this package forward.
We're making good progress. I think the Senate is going to vote at some point soon and move this process even further along.
Q Robert, what will the President's message to House Democrats be tonight? Will he be telling them that they need to cut spending in conference committee, since the bill had a lot of spending --
MR. GIBBS: Look, first of all, let's deal with a couple of these issues because, as I've said earlier, we've got a bill that was -- and I don't remember the exact number, $815 billion, $820 billion, $825 billion -- and we've now got it -- there's a Senate bill that now is in excess of $900 billion. The two biggest amendments that have been put forward thus far to increase the level of that spending was an amendment -- two amendments by Republicans.
So let's first understand sort of where we are in terms of spending. The President will, much as he did with the leadership here earlier in the week, first thank them for all the work that they've done, whether it's the fair pay bill that they passed and got to his desk; whether it's an expansion of children's health insurance that will cover children that currently lack health insurance; whether it's moving that stimulus package along. I think first to thank them for their work early in this session and early in this year on an agenda that's important for America's working families.
I have no doubt that they'll talk about ways to strengthen the bill and ways to move the process forward. Hopefully the Senate will soon vote on this proposal, and we'll be in a situation where we'll be reconciling different pieces of legislation, and hopefully meeting the President's important timetable in getting that bill to his desk, getting his signature on that bill, but, most importantly, moving the assistance that the American people deserve and expect -- moving that assistance forward quickly.
Q Yes, but earlier when the President talked about policies that have been tried and failed, he cited that he had been left with a trillion dollar deficit -- budget deficit.
MR. GIBBS: $1.2 trillion.
Q $1.2 trillion. So, even more. Thank you for that. And so now he wants to -- why then, if that's been a failure? Does he want to add $800 billion or $900 billion on top of that, plus the children's health insurance you just mentioned; tens of billions more? Is there any concern by the President about the cost of all this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand -- hold on. Let me just -- inherent in your question is understanding that the bill -- the children's health insurance bill was paid for, right?
Q Well, it's paid for, as we discussed yesterday, with a cigarette tax, and you're not sure whether or not that's going to --
MR. GIBBS: No, I wouldn't -- Major was not sure. I was sure. (Laughter.)
Q Well, you raised that question -- well, we don't know how many people are going buy a cigarette. I mean, that's --
MR. GIBBS: Right. But I'm just -- I just want to -- I'm not holding up with you, you're okay. (Laughter.) Right, you didn't realize we were shooting at each other around you. No, I just -- I just want to make sure that the phrasing of the question was -- there's -- the President did inherit a $1.2 trillion deficit. And I think you've heard him speak before of what is going to happen in our economy if we don't act. I said it earlier -- I said it yesterday that our estimation is, without a significant stimulus, more than 5 million jobs will be lost over the course of the next three years. Each of those years would represent roughly a trillion dollars in lost output -- what the economy would produce and what the economy could produce with a significant stimulus.
You could imagine what would happen to our deficit if 5 million more people are applying for unemployment claims -- the money that has to go along with that, the spending that would be involved in that -- as well as what would happen to tax receipts if economic output was, over the course of three years, $3 trillion less than what that economy could produce.
Our failure to act is going to worsen the deficit. The President has spoken in the short term, we're going to have to stimulate our economy with a robust reinvestment and recovery plan. The President has also spoken about, once that has gotten into place and has a chance to impact and affect our economy and put millions back to work, that the deficits that he inherited are unsustainable on the long term. And I think you'll see in a budget that he presents to Congress either later this month or sometime next month, you'll see that the President is involved in serious decisions to begin to get that deficit under control. There's no doubt that $1.2 trillion each and every year is unsustainable.
Q This thing on Hilda Solis -- USA Today is reporting that her husband had tax liens in the neighborhood of $6,400, I believe -- and that has been holding up the nomination. Is the White House aware of that? Is that true? When did the White House find this out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I read the story in USA Today and it quotes somebody that worked here, so obviously we've -- we know about the story. I'll say this: We reviewed her tax returns and her tax returns are in order. The story denotes that her husband had some issues with paying a business tax, and obviously that taxes should be paid. He's -- she's not a partner in that business. So we're not going to penalize her for her husband's business mistakes. Obviously her husband I think has and should pay any taxes that he owes.
Q Robert, two questions. One is a housekeeping one. In the name of the transparency that you and the President herald so much, is there any way we could get the copies of the waivers that the OMB issues to allow certain Cabinet posts or deputy posts --
MR. GIBBS: I'll check on it.
Q -- free of the ethics constraints you put up? And also the disclosure forms that your nominees put out that go to the Office of Government Ethics that somehow they're not able to email or put on the web -- is there any way we can get copies of those?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I don't -- I don't know how those forms are distributed.
Q Just based on listening to the President's rhetoric, I'm sure it's something he'd want to do. (Laughter.) The question is --
MR. GIBBS: Knowing of your crystal clarity on his opinion, I'll certainly check.
Q He doesn't believe in transparency?
MR. GIBBS: Did you have another more pertinent question?
Q I think that's pretty -- I think it's fairly pertinent here, Cabinet nominees and whether or not they pay their taxes and whether or not they have speaking fees. With all sorts of industries they're supposed to regulate, I think it's fairly pertinent. You don't?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously I do, and obviously the President does.
Q Okay, well, then we'll move on. A majority of the American people apparently support blocking or making major changes to the stimulus bill, according to a Gallup poll. Are you worried at all that you've lost control of the process on how this bill is perceived?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Robert, you said just now, actually, in an answer to one of the questions, that the President said if he hears good ideas from Republicans he's all for it. Has there been a good idea from a Republican that he is now trumpeting in this stimulus package?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President talked with Senator Snowe and Senator Collins yesterday.
Q Is there a specific, like, okay --
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten --
Q -- that's a good idea, let's do it?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten from him that. I know that he believes that, and stated over the course of the negotiations, that there are things that he didn't -- while good policy, didn't believe should be in the bill. And I think he is watching what is going on in the Senate in order to see where the process moves this along.
Q Do you regret not -- you guys not being more forthcoming about what you're for and what you're against? I mean, it does seem as if you're allowing Capitol Hill to say --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Capitol Hill has a job, Chuck.
Q You're allowing Capitol Hill saying what you guys are for or against, and you guys haven't been the ones --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I don't think Capitol Hill speaks for what we're for and what we're against. You know, we traded gigs -- (laughter) -- we traded one for the other. But I don't -- he's not a senator, Chuck. He's not a member of the House. He's the President of the United States. I think people are pretty clear about the viewpoints that he has on what a stimulus plan has to have. There's going to be a back-and-forth on this stuff, and the President obviously is watching that in order to, at some point, get a bill that's on his desk quickly.
Q One housekeeping. You come out here and talk about different world leaders that he calls, and when you did Russia, you said it was -- he called the President. Has he spoken to Putin? And he does not consider -- by making the phone call to the President of Russia -- which, of course, I'm trying to not pronounce the name -- Medvedev --
MR. GIBBS: Medvedev, yes.
Q Does that mean that's who he believes is the leader of Russia, not Putin?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is Medvedev and the Prime Minister is Putin. I'm not aware that he's talked to the Prime Minister, but I know he has talked to President Medvedev.
Q Should we be reading into the fact that he made a phone call to the President and not the Prime Minister?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is the President of the country. I mean, I think you should read into it that he spoke with the President.
Q Thank you. Some of the moderate Republicans who are in these big meetings up there have said that they've told the President that they absolutely could not support a bill that's as high as the House -- $819 billion. It's now about $100 billion above that. He absolutely must have their votes, at least a few of them, to pass this thing. Has he agreed with them that he will keep it under the $819 billion?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, going back to Chuck's question, we haven't voted on the $70 billion amendment on the AMT or the $16 billion or $18 billion amendment on the housing that Republicans offered in each of those occasions. I'll see where the President is in terms of the level. I think we tend to get focused on this number or that.
The President wants to -- obviously wants to move the process forward, but also wants to have a package that is -- meets the principles that he has in moving forward -- are we going to create jobs? Are we going to meet the size and the scope of those problems with something that's appropriate enough to save or create the more than 3 million jobs that he's talked about? Is the tax relief going to be focused on those who need it the most in the middle class? Is the spending that's involved also laying down important investments for the future?
I think all of those are the principles that the President has.
Q Some of those moderate Republicans have also said that there was just a fundamental mistake made in the beginning by giving an outline to the Hill and letting them fill in all the details, and that what should have been done is that you guys should have written a bill and sent it up there and said, make some changes but this is basically it.
MR. GIBBS: I have a feeling --
Q Has there been any discussion back there?
MR. GIBBS: I have a feeling it's a little bit like skeet shooting, no matter who throws the skeet. You know, it's -- you're going to get -- whether the plan comes from us and gets shot at or whether the outline comes from us -- I mean, it's -- look --
Q Has there been any second-guessing back there?
MR. GIBBS: No, not at all. No, I -- you know, it's referred to as sausage-making and probably for good reason.
Q Does the President believe in separation of church and state?
MR. GIBBS: He does.
Q Then why does he keep this religious office open in the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the -- the President signed an executive order today that establishes under his administration an Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. The President spoke throughout the campaign about what he believed was important -- an important role that faith-based institutions play in providing things like Head Start, child care. He made it clear in his remarks at the prayer breakfast and throughout the campaign that all of these programs should adhere to constitutional principles such as -- as church and state. The order establishes specifically in the job description of the executive director the ability to look into, specifically with the White House Counsel and the Department of Justice, any legal concerns that are out there regarding hiring practices.
Q Well, are they across the board equivalent to a program which is nationwide and so forth, has no religious context?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that one more time.
Q Are they competitive with the government program?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, again, I think in some cases you could go to -- you can go to a Head Start program that's run in the basement of a church. I think the President has long believed that the institutions of faith have a role in -- have a valuable role to play, but he also, as you asked me about, clearly believes in constitutional principles.
Q A couple of questions. First, there's a lot of talk about having to get Republican votes to get to 60 in the Senate. Does the President believe he needs 60 votes, or is there the prospect that Republicans will actually let this go to an up or down vote because they don't want to look like they're blocking this thing?
Secondly, there's been some -- the President talked yesterday with some senators about holding a press conference on Monday, and possibly an Oval Office address on this. And I wonder if you could fill us in on those plans.
MR. GIBBS: I -- let me take a crack at your 60 first. You'd have to ask somebody on the Hill about the notion of what the number is and what the legislative procedure will be in order to move the process along.
I think the President would tell Democrat or Republican -- nobody wants to be seen as standing in the way of progress toward getting a package quickly to his desk and, more importantly, getting that package of assistance out to the American people. I don't think anybody wants to be seen as obstructing that process.
I do not know exactly where we are on the 24th for a joint address. But I do know that the President will have a news conference next Monday night at 8:00 p.m.
Q And the Oval Office address? There was some talk about that.
MR. GIBBS: There's not one on the calendar right now.
Q Robert, I'd like to follow up on one of Caren's questions. Are you saying we're misreading the President's remarks today when we -- if we say he sounded more combative and increasingly impatient with the speed at which the stimulus plan is going through Congress?
MR. GIBBS: No, I wouldn't quibble -- I mean, I think when he said the time to talk is over, I think it's fair to read impatience into that -- at the same time as he says, obviously, the debate -- the debate over something the size and scope of this is important to have, but I think, Mark, he would tell you that the numbers that he sees and the briefings that he gets about the worsening economy demands action by Congress and the President, and that a failure to act will result in millions more jobs lost, far greater economic output.
I think the President did take on arguments today that -- about what type of approaches he and many other economists believe are best at stimulating this economy; that I think it is fair to say that economists believe, and the President believes, that simply doing more of what has gotten us to our current economic situation is not likely the recipe for getting us out.
Q And, Robert, there's another story today that the administration is trying to come up with a phrase other than "war on terrorism," to describe the conduct against extremism in the world. Is that accurate?
MR. GIBBS: I would refer you to the President's answer on I think it was the CNN interview, that -- where he addressed -- where he addressed this. We'll have -- I'll circulate that for you. What the President, I believe, said was he's used that phrase, but he'd also used different words and phrases in order to denote a reaching out to many moderate parts of the world that we believe can be important in a battle against extremists. I think you saw that in his initial interview with Al Arabiya before George Mitchell went on his trip overseas.
Q After meeting with Senators Snowe and Collins yesterday, what other moderate Republicans is the President reaching out to today? And does he plan to invite them here to the White House? And also --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the latter part of his schedule for today in front of me. I don't -- so I don't know if there are specific meetings on this today.
Q Who has he reached out to?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that today.
Q And how is he deploying Judd Gregg to help shore up support?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that. I mean, again, I think he's -- I think he's reaching out to any number of people. I'll check and see if there are specific names that we have.
Q Robert, on a stimulus, there are about 17 senators working right now -- roughly divided Democrat/Republican -- to, in their words, "substantially change the composition of the stimulus bill." The Majority Leader just said a few moments ago "they have another thing coming if they think they're going to succeed." Who does the President believe is more productive in the process right now, this group of 17 or the Majority Leader who's essentially saying to them, don't go too far because we're going to pass the bill the President wants?
MR. GIBBS: Another good example of why we're not in the Senate and not involved in some of the individual debates.
Q Is the President therefore encouraging of the 17 who are working on something?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President would encourage any good ideas, working with members and the leadership to get something moved forward. Obviously you've got to get -- there's a calculus of the number that have to move a project or a bill forward. The President looks forward to that process continuing, and thinks that it's important to get a vote in the Senate soon and get this thing moving. Obviously we've set a date for President's Day. And I think he believes that the process moves in that direction, and is doing so in a good way. I wouldn't -- I'm not going to get involved in different things based on reports I haven't altogether seen.
Q On the faith-based initiative, the previous administration believed organizations who had a faith-based focus could function best if they were free of certain federal anti-discrimination laws. This administration has a different point of view. Why do you believe these faith-based initiatives can succeed if they have to, let's say, for example, bring into their ranks employees that they're not as comfortable with, and under the previous administration, they were allowed some waivers and ability to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said to Helen's question, the executive order that he signed, and in the job description of the executive director of the new office, provides a mechanism that didn't exist in order to look at all of the legal issues that are surrounding the hiring and the functionality of faith-based organizations as they help to deliver what the President believes is needed help. And I think the process that the President has put in place will allow us to evaluate all of those issues and meet the constitutional principles that the President holds in dear regard.
Q How concerned is the President about Kyrgyzstan and the base there and reports that it might be in the process of being closed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- obviously we've seen the reports and I believe we've been in consultation with leaders there. Obviously Kyrgyzstan has provided an important -- an important air base in Manas that has been vital to our efforts and coalition efforts in Afghanistan. And we look forward to working with them to remedy that situation.
Q During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama would travel to places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and other places selling his ideas and selling his message to the people from the ground up. Do you believe that -- or does he believe that his approach on this economic stimulus bill has been successful? And is it as effective doing an op-ed in The Washington Post as it is to sell some of these ideas from the ground?
MR. GIBBS: We could have picked any number of papers. (Laughter.) Kidding. I think the -- the President believes that the work that he's involved in right now is obviously very important. And a lot of this stuff is going on in Washington. I think the President has done interviews that reach all over the country. You've seen him -- he does events, obviously, that are covered all over the country. And we're confident that the message of this stimulus package is getting through, and that it's important. And people understand the importance of that process moving forward.
You know, I mean, obviously there's a million ways you can do this. But I think the President feels comfortable -- very comfortable with the process. And obviously, I think whether it's a news interview or a press conference, it gives him the ability to -- not just to talk to people here, but to talk to people all over the country.
Q I'd like to follow up on the faith-based thing. Is this his final word on this? Or will he be perhaps issuing a decision on the hiring practices overall? Or is it his intent to have the executive director of the office review these?
MR. GIBBS: The intent and the -- the order provides specifically for the executive director working with the counsel and seeking advice from the Department of Justice to get involved in hammering out those issues.
Q Isn't that handing off a controversial decision? Why shouldn't he make a decision on this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you can be reasonably assured, Jeff, that the decision that the White House makes will reflect the important principles that the President holds dear. I don't -- it's safe to say that we don't make a lot of decisions around here that the President disagrees with.
Q Robert, some Senate Democrats are expressing frustration that the reason why this particular stimulus package is losing popularity is because the Republicans have been very successful in focusing on these small parts of it that are easily caricatured and that have come to define this package, where the President is just kind of staying above the fray and talking about the need to pass a stimulus package. He said today he'd love to see additional improvements. Can you at least talk about the kinds of improvements he wants to see specifically? Or is that something he's just going to wait to do until it gets to conference?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's something we're going to wait and watch and see what the Senate does. I mean, it's a -- the bill is a moving target. The bill is different than it was last night; it was different than it was two nights ago. He continues to reach out.
You know, I do think we, in many ways, are -- and I've said this before -- that the number of -- the number of things that people seem to largely agree upon far outweigh what differences exist. There are I think still some that believe we may not need a stimulus plan, or that doing nothing is a credible option.
Q Do you really feel that -- that sounds like a straw man. I mean, that people -- you're not talking about the difference between no stimulus versus a stimulus, or 100 percent tax cuts versus -- you're talking about what is the correct mix and whether these specific things should be in it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, do I think that there -- do I think that there are some proposals that the President believes are -- won't meet the size and the scope of those challenges based on the size of those packages? Of course. I think you've seen that from members -- different members on -- in Capitol Hill. I don't think that's a straw man by any stretch of the imagination.
We have to move the process along and get a package and a proposal that addresses the need to create jobs, cut taxes for working families, and make critical investments in things like 21st century schools and a down payment on energy independence and affordable health care. And I think the President believes that the proposal that his economic team put together -- and in large part what passed out of the House -- meets that test. He hopes that the Senate passes something similar. And then we can come together and begin to decide the final outlines of that, but more importantly, get something to his desk and get it signed.
Every day that goes by without something that gives assistance to the America people is another day where unemployment benefits are applied for, jobs are lost, the ability for families to make decisions like buying a car or sending a child to college are dreams delayed. And the President spoke today I think quite eloquently about the fact that the time just to talk was over, that we needed to move forward on action.
MR. GIBBS: Christina.
Q This morning when Vice President Biden spoke at the MARC station in Maryland, he said of the stimulus bill, it's not our moment right now. So given all these questions you're getting, when is it your moment and when will the President step in and say, it's so urgent, it's a dream deferred?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said earlier, I mean, I -- I'd underscore it even more for somebody who served in the Senate as long as Senator Biden did. Both traded gigs to come here. We're not members of the House or the Senate. That legislative process is going to have to work its way through. We understand that. I think the American people understand where the President stands on these issues and the need to move something quickly forward that addresses the big challenges that they face.
Look, this -- I've talked about it in here -- this is not something that's totally going to get solved today. It's not something that we got into yesterday. It's going to be a long process and I know we're going to evaluate it each and every day, but it's a process that will continue to move forward.
Q The Senate is (inaudible) to allow tax deductions on sales tax and loan interest on new car purchases. Does the President support that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I would have to check and see whether -- I think you're referring to the Mikulski amendment. I don't have the specific answer to that. Obviously we've seen earlier in the week the severe downturn in year-to-year car purchases affecting not just domestic auto producers but now foreign auto producers as well.
Q Would he like to see something in the bill specifically targeted at auto purchases?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes, without having a direct opinion on this amendment, that if we can get a bill that creates jobs and puts money back into people's pockets and turns the economy around, that that recovery and stimulus is likely to have an impact on the number of people that look to purchase automobiles each day. Obviously we'd like to get the economy back to where when you're reading the Detroit papers you're reading about the increases in sales in autos and not the big decreases.
Q Robert, Hilda Solis's husband yesterday paid back 15 liens, some of which dated back 16 years. And granted it's the nominee's --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's what your story says.
Q Is that not right?
MR. GIBBS: It's not the story that I read.
Q Well, regardless, it's not the nominee's -- I mean, it is the nominee's husband, granted, but did he pay back those liens at the direction of the White House, and does that in any way --
MR. GIBBS: I think he paid the liens back because he owed the taxes.
Q But he owed them for a long time and hadn't paid them back.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- and the White House believes that if you owe taxes that you should pay them. But at the same time, this obviously is a business that she's not a partner in, and we're not going to hold her responsible for --
Q Do you have any concern that this might add to any trouble she might have getting confirmed?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think, as I said, the committee released a statement that looks forward to working together to move this nomination forward even more.
Q Robert, your Domestic Policy Advisor is saying that one of the first orders of business for the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Initiative is to go out and tout the President's stimulus package. Now, is there a line crossed with the issue of church and state as many of these committee members are church leaders? I mean, is there some kind of --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the report that you're referring to.
Q Well, no, it's not a report. She just said it just a little while ago -- one of the first things that they will be doing is --
MR. GIBBS: Okay, let me rephrase, I didn't see what she said and I guess I'd like to have a chance to talk to her about what she might have said.
Q Robert, the President spoke this morning at the prayer breakfast about his own path to Christianity, how he discovered it, found it on the south side of Chicago. Does he still plan to join a church here in Washington, or what's the status of that?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I know that he has visited a couple of churches, obviously, around the inaugural, and I think there's -- he and Michelle would like to visit some more and figure out a congregation in the area that they can -- that they can worship in. I think the President spoke about his faith a lot in the campaign and I know he's -- I think he likely misses not having someplace regular to go to exercise that faith in church. Obviously, I think given the enormous problems that the country faces, it's quite safe to assume that prayer, even not in the confines of a church, is something that he practices regularly.
Q Can I follow on the breakfast -- thank you. He referred to Tony Blair as his good friend, Tony Blair. How close is the President with former Prime Minister Blair? Does he consult with him on a regular basis?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the last time that they spoke. I know they've met several times when the President was overseas during the most recent campaign and also when the President traveled with Senator Lugar to -- overseas and back through London in 2005. I don't know if they've spoken most recently, but obviously Mr. Blair is somebody who has enormous experience in dealing with problems not just as the leader of a country, but now in his involvement in trying to get peace in the Middle East, like George Mitchell is working on and, like the President has said, that this administration will be engaged on each and every day.
Q Is there still a special relationship between the U.S. and England?
MR. GIBBS: Say that again?
Q Is there still a special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Robert, given the President spending so much time on the economy, how important to him is Vice President Biden's trip this week in terms of laying out the new foreign policy? And will the Vice President take advantage of some of the more conciliatory signs coming out of Moscow to have a meeting with the Russian delegation?
MR. GIBBS: I'll have a longer readout on the President -- sorry, the Vice President's trip to Munich tomorrow. I know he leaves I believe tomorrow for the security conference, and we'll get a little bit more information out on that tomorrow.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
END 2:53 P.M. EST