Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/12/2010
1:42 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, all. Let me start with a quick statement. The President called Ugandan President Museveni this morning and expressed his sincere condolences for the loss of life and offered to provide any support or assistance that the Ugandan government requests. The leaders reaffirmed their shared commitment to working together to combat terrorist organizations that threaten innocent civilians around the world.
Q Thanks. A few topics today, Robert. Just to follow on that point, is there any specific assistance that the U.S. is providing at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I’m told that the FBI will assist in the investigation of the bombings yesterday.
Q On the oil spill, obviously BP is working on this new cap today. What’s the view from the White House? How confident are you all that this is going to work?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s take this in a couple of different stages because the containment capacity prior to -- let’s go through Friday, right, which included the top hat going to the Discoverer Enterprise and the Q4000, which was connected to the choke line, represented about 25,000 barrels of containment capacity on any given day. Sometimes it fluctuates to a little bit more or a little bit less.
The containment capacity in the new structure, the sealing cap, will draw to two different boats and increase the containment capacity from roughly 15,000 to between 20,000 and 30,000. The Helix Producer, which was -- is not related to the sealing cap -- was coming online separately. We made the sealing cap and the Helix Producer movements happen together rather than separately, as was originally called for but changed because of weather.
The Helix Producer was installed over the weekend and began containment around noon today. Initially we expect to get maybe 8,000 barrels of oil a day as the Producer ramps up, pressurizes to a containment capability of 20,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. And because of the increased containment capacity out of the sealing cap, the choke line, which was feeding to the Q4000 at about 10,000 barrels a day, will have its containment capability increased to 20,000 to 25,000 barrels a day.
So in short, as we replace the sealing cap and as we add the Helix Producer, we’ll go from a containment capacity of around 25,000 barrels of oil a day to a containment capacity of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. In addition, the sealing cap will assist in the eventual killing of the oil. You could either do it separately if the integrity of the wellbore has been maintained through the explosion, and if not, it helps when the relief well intersects to the well in having a separate point of pressurization for mud and cement. So that is the process that is ongoing.
The progress report that we have all gotten here is, as I just mentioned, the Helix Producer is now online and they are making progress with the new cap. And we’re certainly hopeful that over the course of the next several days, they’ll get that on, they’ll get that tightened appropriately. And the containment capacity that I just described will increase in a way like we haven’t seen thus far.
Q You said several times in breaking that down, the idea that these things will happen, that capacity will increase, so is this a point at which the White House can say to the American people, this is a turning point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think obviously a turning point in the sense that our containment capacity is likely to be equal to what is coming out of the damaged blowout preventer. Obviously, I think -- well, twofold; obviously, we still, at some point, believe the permanent solution to that well is to cap it. And obviously that's going to -- I wouldn’t change the original time frame of intersecting the well and capping it by mid-August.
And then obviously you’ve got -- you’ve still got hundreds of thousands of gallons -- hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in the water, and we will continue to deal with that oil as it makes its way around the Gulf, as it hits landfall in several of the Gulf states.
Over the weekend, obviously, there was an increase in skimming and in-situ burns that -- in order to try to gather the increased capacity that was coming in taking the top hat off, which did increase the flow by about 15,000 barrels of oil a day.
Q I wanted to switch topics to one other point, a couple leftovers on the Russian spying incident. I heard you say a couple of times that this whole incident will not affect the improving relations with Russia, but I’m still unclear as to why it won’t. These folks were caught in the United States, spying on the United States. Why wouldn’t that affect -- or not erode the relationship?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, not to say that -- certainly not to give you the impression, or anybody the impression, that we don’t take that seriously and that we don’t -- we didn't handle that in a serious way. We certainly did. And I think the President strongly would commend the law enforcement community for their activities.
Obviously, we have an important relationship that we have worked hard to improve and need to maintain. And the President will continue to focus his energies on that, based on the reasoning that its -- that’s good for the American people.
Q Is there any update on where the folks who have come back to the U.S. are resettling? Was there any debriefing of them?
MR. GIBBS: None that I have heard.
Q Robert, with Congress back in session, can you talk about what the President’s preferred timetable for extending the middle-class tax cuts is? Does he think that Congress should try to do it in the next few weeks, or does he think it would be better done in the context of the deficit commission’s recommendations in December?
MR. GIBBS: I think that if you look at the schedule that is likely to take place over the course of the next several weeks, I don’t know whether I’d push it that far or not. I would just say that if you look at what needs to get done in the short term, meaning the next three to five weeks, depending on -- the House is here for three, the Senate for five -- obviously we would like to see Wall Street reform finished and I think obviously are making good progress on that. Senator Brown from Massachusetts came out, as you know, this morning in support of financial reform.
There will be another attempt to extend unemployment insurance to the long-term unemployed. We’d like to see the small business lending package approved by Congress. There will be an energy debate obviously at some point. I know I’m forgetting something besides -- obviously Kagan. There was -- I can see the list I have on my desk and I know there’s one that I’m forgetting.
Q Just the Supreme Court.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, it wasn’t -- that wasn’t the one I was forgetting. There’s one in addition to that. Obviously the President would like to see progress on getting the START treaty through the Senate as well -- something that is a big priority of his. My sense is that debate on the tax cuts is likely to happen later in the year.
I will say this. I mentioned this to several people. I did think it was an interesting thing to see over the weekend that Senator Kyl, who has insisted on extending unemployment insurance, that that be paid for, did not believe that extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- and when I mean that, I mean the Bush tax cuts for those making above $250,000 a year -- that extending that permanently did not need to be paid for. I think that is an interesting prioritization of your economic values.
Q Is the President open to any kind of deal with the Republicans on the tax cuts for the wealthy in exchange for other things that the deficit commission might suggest?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s premature to get too far into that. Again, I think the tax cuts will likely happen sometime -- that discussion will likely happen sometime in the fall, and I think the deficit commission some time in December.
Q Okay. And just one more question about President Medvedev’s comments about Iran. He said that they are gaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon. And I’m just wondering what your reaction to that is.
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, I believe that his comments demonstrate the international consensus and a unity of purpose in the international community in addressing Iran and its illicit nuclear weapons program. With the help of Russia and China, we have instituted the strongest sanctions ever placed on Iran -- sanctions that will have bite and that will greatly complicate their ability to do business around the world, and have a real impact on Iran’s ability to pursue this type of capability.
So, again, I think it demonstrates the progress that we’ve made internationally in bringing along a community of nations, as well as taking concrete steps to make it more difficult.
Q On the six-month anniversary of Haiti, all our reports say that the money is all being so slow getting into the country -- $700 million of U.S. donations still haven’t been put into the country.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously there are -- some money is tied up in the legislative battle around supplemental appropriations -- that was the one I forgot that in the next three to five weeks that is on tap, obviously the supplemental bill.
Look, I think the six-month mark reminds us of several things. First and foremost, this was a tragedy of unspeakable proportion -- several hundred thousand people killed. Several hundred thousand people are killed in what before that earthquake struck, was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It reminds us all that we have work to do in responding not simply to the humanitarian crisis that we see continuing today, but the long-term efforts to rebuild Haiti and make it a stronger nation.
Again, we are working with Capitol Hill to try to get that supplemental bill through and hopefully that we’ll make some progress certainly on that score.
Q Has the President expressed any frustration over the pace of how things are going on the region?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, look, I think that -- again, it reminds us that we have a lot of work to do. It reminds us that the situation that we found in Haiti long before that earthquake struck called for the type of action that President Obama and several of his predecessors -- President Bush and President Clinton -- have been attuned to.
Q Does he have plans to visit the region anytime soon?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, what’s different about the offshore drilling moratorium --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think April has got a Haiti -- do you have a Haiti question?
Q Robert, there are reports that former President Bill Clinton is very disappointed with the progress. Does it take President Obama to come down to Haiti, to go to Haiti to make things move faster? And why hasn’t he gone to Haiti as of yet, six months after --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, whenever a President goes into a place like that, you create -- we have not wanted to go in and create the movement of resources that it takes to support a trip like that. The First Lady has gone. Former President Clinton, former President Bush working in conjunction, have been. And again, I think the anniversary reminds us that we still have work to do and we’ll continue to do that work.
Q When you talk about that work, what are you getting? Are you still getting daily updates? And what are the assessments?
MR. GIBBS: The President does get regular updates, as do many in the National Security Council. And this is above and beyond what the State Department gets. I know that later -- or they’re probably in the middle of doing this briefing -- our USAID Administrator is doing a briefing on our efforts thus far in Haiti over at the State Department today.
Q This new offshore drilling moratorium coming out later today at Interior, what is different about this that allows you to believe that you can escape another court turnover?
MR. GIBBS: I would say this -- I don't want to get ahead of their announcement later this afternoon, but I will say two things. First and foremost, the President has and continues to believe that we have to be careful with what we’re doing given the uncertainty around what happened 84 days ago. We know that that is not without some economic consequences to the region, but it’s imperative that we have a sense of what happened before we continue to do this again.
And secondly, again, not to get ahead of what the Department of Interior will say, but obviously they will take into account what the judge laid out in his initial ruling at the district court level.
Q So you really think you can craft it so that it is substantially different and will stand up in court?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we do. We do.
Q Robert, I just wanted to follow up on --
MR. GIBBS: And I can say -- just one second. I do think there was some misreporting off of the appeals court case from the end of last week. The judge did not rule against our ability to prevent. The judge simply ruled that with no company seeking currently to actively drill in deepwater, that basically there -- without -- we did not -- in a sense, we lacked standing for a ruling because the type of activity that we were looking to ban was not happening. But again, I think that the new moratorium that's issued by D of I will take into account the original suit’s comments.
Q But there’s still a wide perception down there that you’re choking off economic activity and jobs for people who won’t even be drilling in deepwater but just in shallow water?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's simply a misperception as to what we’ve ruled on, because nobody has suggested that shallow water drilling presents any different challenge than it did 85 days ago. Our moratorium has nothing to do with shallow water.
Obviously, if you’re drilling in shallow water -- and one of the things that makes our response to the Deepwater Horizon so difficult is the blowout preventer sits 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. In shallow water drilling, the blowout preventer sits on top of the water, so if there’s a problem with the blowout preventer, access is unencumbered. Five thousand feet below the surface of the ocean, we were at the mercy of remotely operated vehicles in order to change that situation.
So deepwater and shallow water are -- have not been and will not be treated differently -- will be treated differently, will not be treated the same.
Q Robert, I just wanted to follow up on Haiti --
MR. GIBBS: A little off -- go ahead.
Q When President Prevál was here on March 10th, President Obama said specifically, “America will be your partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort.” So when you read these stories saying that only about 28,000 people out of the 1.5 million who had their homes destroyed are back in real homes, doesn’t that suggest that this partnership has failed?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think if you look at the response by this government, the response by -- the brave and courageous response by our military -- again, there are challenges that are unique to this country based on, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that you were dealing with the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere the moment before the earthquake struck. Again, it reminds we have work to do. That work is ongoing. Help is ongoing. And we will seek to continue doing it.
Q I wanted to ask you, there are some comments that the NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, made a couple weeks back that drew some interest, specifically from conservatives who are wondering why we he said that one of the charges that the President gave him when he got the job was that he had to focus on outreach to the Muslim world. Why is the NASA Administrator doing that?
MR. GIBBS: That's an excellent question, and I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA.
Q So did he just misspeak?
MR. GIBBS: I think so.
Q Has the President spoken to him about that clear it up?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Anybody here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure people -- people at the White House here talk to NASA all the time.
Q Quick follow-up on the drilling moratorium, are you redefining what deepwater is? Is it still going to be anything over 500, or --
MR. GIBBS: Again, D of I is going to have an announcement on this later today, and I will defer to them.
Q Does this mean you’re not going to pursue an appeal -- is it still six months starting today now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q Is it going to be back --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not going to -- I’m going to let D of I do this. If you have questions after that, we’ll certainly --
Q Going back to the rest of your legislative agenda, clearly political rhetoric has heated up among all sides. How concerned are you --
MR. GIBBS: Political rhetoric in Washington?
Q Yes, I know, shocking. But how concerned are you that sort of the fact that the campaign season is here, for better or for worse, is going to basically slow down or end much of what you can get done?
MR. GIBBS: Slow down what we can get done? (Laughter.) Wow, you mean somebody might vote no? (Laughter.) Look, I mean the election calendar is what the election calendar is. I don't -- it’s not any different this year than it is every two years in a national election.
I will say this, though, Chuck, what I just outlined as the business that is left in front of this Congress before heading home for the August recess is substantial. It’s meaningful. Whether it’s extending unemployment insurance to those that have been out of work for longer than in any recession since we began keeping statistics on long-term unemployment, making progress on funding for Afghanistan, a small business lending package -- there are a whole host of things that are important and the President believes should be done.
First and foremost, getting financial reform done and making it the law of the land so that we don't find ourselves celebrating the two-year anniversary of an economic collapse with rules that continue the way they did two years ago. That will be a big push of this President and a big push of this administration to get that done.
Q Can I ask you about a comment that Senator Harry Reid made, oh, about two hours after Air Force One took off apparently from Nevada, where he said -- he was asked about some things that -- some ways he differs with the President. And he said that the President doesn’t like confrontation, he’s too much of a peacemaker, that he wishes that he’d be a little more forceful at times with the opposition --
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to take a look at the context of that. I doubt that -- I doubt what you think they might have meant are what they mean --
Q No, he’s just saying he thinks the President doesn’t -- isn’t forceful enough with the opposition.
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything to say.
Q Investors are very nervous right now and bearish sentiment is up because you have a lot of economic commentators predicting that we might have a double-dip recession or even worse, you know, employment still hasn’t picked up. What’s the bullish case that the White House is making? I mean are you -- do you still have confidence in the economic direction you’re taking the country and why?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because I think if you go back and look at where we are and where we’ve been, you can no doubt see an improvement in -- whether you want to use the statistics on economic growth, whether you want to use the statistics on private sector hiring -- I think on each of those cases, there’s no doubt, whether you look at the last six months of 2009, the last six -- the first six months of 2009, the last six months of 2008, you find yourself in a markedly different situation both on economic growth and on private sector hiring.
Now, as I said this weekend, we’re not unfurling the “mission accomplished” banner. Seeing an increase and an improvement in our economy does not mean that the job is done. And I think it’s important to understand -- I probably have said this more than anything that I have said in this room for the last 18 months -- we did not get here overnight. We didn't even get here as a result of what happened in September 2008, just by what happened that month. There were -- this was a long time coming, and the hole that it left in our economy, particularly with jobs, was as deep as it has ever been. That is going to take some time.
The President has put us on a course toward an improving economy. We have to remain vigilant. That’s why financial reform is important. That’s why unemployment insurance is important. That’s why small business lending is important -- important task that Congress needs to get done before August.
Q You’ve had some days to digest what the Business Roundtable sent over, things that the administration is doing that is an obstacle to growth and hiring. Are you having second thoughts either about the direction of your policies or even the policy advisors that the President has?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I’m happy to compare the environment that business operates in now and the environment that they operated in, say, the end of 2008. I think corporate profits are a pretty good example of increased business activity. And I’m not entirely sure that the Business Roundtable would look at the list that they sent over and think that was necessarily their best case. I don’t necessarily think putting equal pay for women as a drag on the economy as necessarily a message that they fully want to carry forward.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q When you talk about corporate profits rebounding, actually analysts would argue that rebounding corporate profits is predicated mostly on cost-cutting and job cuts rather than top-line growth -- in other words --
MR. GIBBS: Well, but -- no, no, no. You can’t tell me that the consumer demand and economic growth on July 12th, 2010 is as it was October the 12th, 2008. You simply can’t sit there and make that -- you can’t make that comparison. You can’t look at an economy that was contracting at more than 6 percent in a quarter with an economy that’s growing at 3 percent a quarter and say that the consumer climate is the same. You can’t look at a month in which we were losing almost 800,000 jobs and a month that we were gaining 100,000 jobs and say that the business environment is the same. I don’t think anybody would with a straight face would make that --
Q Is the consumer robust then? How would you characterize it?
MR. GIBBS: I would say that, again, the consumer environment is improving. Are we out of the woods? By no means. Do we have to do -- do we have to remain vigilant in ensuring the recovery of our economy? Yes. Will it take some time? Yes.
Q To follow up on the corporate issue, the business community is also arguing that if you’d lower the corporate tax rate, that could possibly encourage hiring. And the President, early on in his administration, said that he might be willing to look at that further down the line --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President talked about looking at in conjunction with -- also with the loopholes that we have in our tax code that allow, for instance, companies to derive a tax benefit from moving a job overseas rather than investing here. Look, I don't doubt that a corporate tax structure looking at the loopholes, as the President talked about a long time ago, isn’t something that could be valuable.
Q But that's one of the points that the Business Roundtable was raising -- this whole issue of tax deferrals and others saying you have to remain competitive abroad -- U.S. competitiveness, and that argument that closing this loophole would --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, closing tax loopholes and restructuring the tax code I think the President believes can and should be done simultaneously.
Q Robert, on the bombings in Uganda, is the administration accepting the claim of responsibility from the Somali group Al Shabab?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously, the FBI is involved in this investigation. All I will say about this group, Mark, is that obviously this is a group that has made threats to the Ugandan people, and to the Ugandan government based on its support of African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. That is not to say that there’s been a definitive conclusion on who is responsible, but this is certainly a group that has threatened Uganda in the past.
And I will say this. I think there is no clearer signal about the hateful motives of terrorists than was sent yesterday. What they seek to destroy and who they seek to kill -- innocent people -- just as the continent of Africa, just as the country of South Africa, shows the world what it had built, I think speaks volumes to the hateful motives of those that history will judge as looking only to destroy and to kill, rather than to build.
Q Robert, on the moratorium, do you have a time when that's coming out from Interior?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. My sense is that it will be sometime later this afternoon, probably like 4:00 p.m. or so. I don't know the exact time. I’ll be honest with you.
Q Follow-up on the moratorium. There was a report over the weekend, the 33 or 34 rigs stationed down there, that one of them was pulling up stakes just because of the uncertainty and the legal challenges in a revised moratorium coming out. What concern is there at the White House about other rigs possibly doing this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say, Roger, this was -- this came up in our original discussions about the moratorium. We understand that this is not without -- the economic consequences of this were talked about. But what was also talked about at the same time was, what is our containment capability -- what’s a company’s containment capability and what is the government’s containment capability in the event that something that -- something unique -- a series of unique circumstances -- whether the Deepwater Horizon was something unique or something that is much larger relating to blowout preventers, relating to the conditions in deepwater drilling? That is a chance the President weighed and decided not to take.
Again, there are certain risks that are taken when drilling at that dept. The Deepwater Horizon explosion happened at a point in which the drilling had reached the oil reservoir, as we now see. There are obviously risks as one gets to that reservoir. But the President believed in weighing all those circumstances that pausing deepwater drilling during an investigation made sense based on many factors, including containment capability.
Q So you’re not overly worried about rigs pulling up --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that it was a concern, but on the scale of concern, having something like this happen again before we know what happened at the Deepwater Horizon site the President believed did not make a lot of sense.
Q One more, if I may, separately. There was a report that Netanyahu says that he sees direct peace talks with Palestinians beginning in early August. Do you have anything on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything specific on that. I know obviously the President is hopeful in creating conditions that move us from proximity talks to direct talks, and that we aren’t having direct talks simply to have them; we’re having them as a means to an end. And we’re certainly hopeful that we’re on that path.
Q Robert, The New York Times reported this morning that Democratic governors privately expressed some anxiety about the lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law in meetings with two senior White House officials. They were anxious about the climate economically, the issue of immigration, the timing of the lawsuit. Has any of that been conveyed to senior administration officials here or the President? And what’s your reaction to that level of anxiety?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, just that I will say from the reading that I got from the individuals that were at the meeting, that this came as a fairly small part at the end of a meeting.
Look, our reaction is that we understand the frustration of all of those involved, Arizona included, in the federal government’s inability to comprehensively deal with the problem of immigration. The President believed, and the Justice Department believed, that you could not have 50 states piecing together patchwork immigration laws. And that's what the suit was -- that's why the suit was filed.
Q So this came up at the tail end of a meeting --
MR. GIBBS: That's my understanding.
Q -- you would describe this incidental to the concerns raised?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not saying that it took up even a huge part -- or even a big part of the meeting.
Q Are these concerns the administration takes seriously? Or do you think they are somewhat an overreaction at this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not spoken individually with governors. Again, everybody in political season and in the calendar has certain equities. Arizona acted, again, based I think on large parts in frustration in this -- in the federal government’s inability to deal with this situation.
We understand that. But while the timing of these things may be inconvenient, this administration is here to do what it thinks is right -- not simply to look at the calendar and then decide what is right.
Q Just to follow on that one?
Q Why did the administration ask the Business Roundtable to submit -- or did, in fact, ask the Business Roundtable to submit the list of regulations it would like to have reviewed? And would any of that fall within the issues that are currently pending before Congress? You would reopen financial regulatory reform, would you, to meet these needs? Okay, what other kind of --
MR. GIBBS: I think, quite frankly, we’ve worked with people like the Business Roundtable in implementing the health care law, such that to the point that I think they have found our discussions with them and with folks like Nancy-Ann to be extremely helpful in understanding how this law is going to be implemented?
Look, during transition, the then, soon to be administration said that we would look at an evaluate regulations from all perspectives to ensure that we had a common-sense review. That review continues even now.
But I will say, while the President has always said he would look at any list of regulations that people believed to be onerous, obviously we have to ensure the health and safety of this country and we will evaluate any regulation based on that scale.
Q Just to clarify for me, you're looking at things you proposed that they’re concerned with, correct? All this is a regulatory -- conversation about regulations that predates your administration. Are you trying to explain the things that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think if somebody came to this administration to make a case for onerous regulation, we have been and we always will be happy to take a look at that. That's not to say that we're going to walk away from our obligations at ensuring the nation’s health and safety.
Q -- doesn’t concede any points of whether or not you’ve been over-regulatory.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think you know my position on that.
Q But you can state it if you want. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'll let you. Make sure --
Q One last question. You were talking about politics equities a second ago. You said yesterday on Meet the Press that enough seats are in play that Republicans could take control of the House. Some of the people who have equities in that work at the DCCC and they were not so happy to hear you so declare. Do you really believe Republicans are -- could take control of the House?
MR. GIBBS: I think I did what is maybe uncommon in this town and yesterday I opened my mouth and stated the obvious. (Laughter.) I do not believe that you all are now scurrying around to cover this election markedly different based on my having said that there are a number of seats that are in play.
I think -- understand this: I think this is going to be an election where, as I said yesterday during my answer, there will be a choice. There’s going to be a choice about whether you want an economy that looked like the last six months of 2008, or the last six months of this year. You're going to have a choice between the leadership that we have now and the leadership that believes that BP should be apologized to first and foremost, and that the type of calamity wrought by the financial meltdown in the end of 2008 is analogous to the size of an ant. Those are choices that the American people are going to get a chance to hear and make in November.
Q Robert, you said earlier, ticking off priorities for things in Congress you all wanted -- you mentioned make progress as much -- to see progress made on the START treaty. What is the current thinking about that in terms of timing? Is that something that could happen this summer? Is that something --
MR. GIBBS: I think it is our hope that we can make progress -- meaning getting this to the President’s desk this summer. Again, we have -- what I outlined is a very busy Senate schedule, made more difficult by the fact that we don't have a full Senate at the moment. That's going -- that may well delay moving forward on some of these topics. I believe the President still strongly feels that we will get START done this year.
Q -- happen after the election in a lame duck session?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the Senate will be back after the August recess before they go home and I certainly think there’s an opportunity to do it then as well.
Q May I ask, do you think there’s any impact, the White House worried about any impact of the spy scandal -- what would you say to critics who say that this whole episode has shown we can't trust the Russians, so why should we approve a treaty with them that involves some degree of trust?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there’s -- to quote Ronald Reagan, there’s both trust and there’s verify. And there’s certainly plenty of protocols within the treaty that allow us a robust verification protocol that ensures that each side is living up to the spirit and the letter of the treaty.
Q Two quick questions, thanks. One is on immigration. Robert, you think whatever is going on in Arizona is going to affect, or is affecting the U.S. relations with other countries on national, international --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously I think the Mexican government has spoken to this. I would point you toward them for their viewpoint on that.
Q As far as small businesses are concerned, they are still blaming banks that they are not still lending them, what President Obama has spoken and told the banks that small businesses need to be helped.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, one of the things I think the President believes that is on the agenda and should be done before we leave for August is an increase in our ability to lend to small business through a small business lending initiative that we think will make progress and feed the job creation businesses -- the businesses that are most charged with creating jobs in this country.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, Robert. I have two quick questions, but first, can I follow from last week -- did you get anything back from the President on the Glenn Beck rally or the New Black Panther case?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that, no.
Q All right. First question then, does the White House or the President have any reaction to this Sarah Palin “Mama Grizzly” ad? Has the President seen it?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Any reaction to the prospect of Palin as an opponent in 2012? There’s been a lot of talk about that.
MR. GIBBS: I assume 2012 will sort itself out in the years 2011 and 2012. But, again, I will say this. I think there is a viewpoint that we will have a debate and discussion about in both likely in 2010 and probably again in 2012 about the direction that this country is going to go. And I made this point, David Axelrod made this point -- you're going to get an opportunity to think about whether we're going to go back to what we came from or that we're going to go forward. And that's a debate I think the President and many here are anxious to have.
Q And the second question is, a lot of folks are wondering why nobody from the former MMS or Interior Department has been held accountable for their part in the BP disaster. I'm wondering is there anything happening there or --
MR. GIBBS: I would say that both the director of MMS and the director of permits within MMS no longer work for the federal government.
Q They were voluntary resignations -- I mean, you said they weren’t related to --
MR. GIBBS: They no longer work in the federal government.
Q Robert, last week you said you would check on why the President --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, they should have gotten something back to you on that. If they haven’t I'll get that done right after this.
Q What were you checking on?
MR. GIBBS: I was checking on the notion of sanctuary cities and the Department of Justice. Don't tell me -- if you didn’t have that on your list, Mark, then what the -- (laughter.) I'm just saying. I mean, come on, if we can't -- wow, I'm just -- please note that in the transcript that I --
Q I thought you were going to make a statement of the obvious.
MR. GIBBS: I'm just saying that’s remarkable.
Q Is there a path to passage of immigration reform this year? Could it happen in a lame duck session?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that the calendar is determinative of this. I think it’s the support of those in both parties. I think the President feels pretty confident that he can bring most of the people in his party in the House and the Senate to the table on this. But again, as we've discussed on many occasions in here, there are those that have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past that don't appear to be supporting comprehensive immigration reform now. It’s certainly no less of a problem than it was when the Senate tackled this in 2005, in 2006, and 2007. There are 11 senators currently serving in the U.S. Senate that supported comprehensive immigration reform. So there is certainly a path to get this done, but it has to include those that originally thought this was both a priority and that spoke out passionately for a solution that was comprehensive in nature.
Q Did the President make any progress on Friday in his call with President Abbas about the idea of moving to direct talks? Because given the statements of various Palestinian leaders, it doesn’t seem as if they’re more convinced about moving to direct talks than they were -- any more convinced than they were about the talk than before the Netanyahu meeting.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, again, as I stated earlier, we think we have made progress in proximity talks and believe that those conditions can lead to and should lead to direct talks. So I have nothing beyond the readout that came out on the call with Abbas, but believe that we are heading in the right direction to make progress.
Q One more on Haiti. President Obama’s meeting with the Dominican Republic leader -- is he going to ask him about taking some of the Haitians from Port-au-Prince and relocating them there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just say, April, I'd be happy to take that question after that meeting rather than -- I don't want to posit what the President might do or say.
Q How much of the meeting is about Haiti, though?
MR. GIBBS: I think that's certainly a part of it. Obviously there are a host of regional issues that they’ll get into.
Q Is it the administration’s goal or desire that deepwater drilling resume after the safety review?
MR. GIBBS: Once it’s safe, yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. You point out frequently the differences between this administration and the previous administration. With the latest recess appointment, the obvious question is, why do you simply not wait for the confirmation process to go through and submit it to a Senate when they schedule a hearing before the appropriate committee and --
MR. GIBBS: This wasn’t a hearing problem, right? This is -- we've had plenty of nominees that have had hearings that wait months and months and months and months before the Senate will be allowed to take it up. And what I mean, be allowed to take it up, meaning simply getting unanimous consent to have a debate and a vote. Sometimes after 10 months of waiting, that unanimous consent is gotten and the approval of the nominees is unanimous.
And then one simply wonders why we've waited 10 months. The health care law --
Q So you're saying the Senate was too slow on Berwick, is what it is?
MR. GIBBS: I will tell you, there are those in the Senate that had no intention of dealing with this nomination other than to play the political game --
Q But how do know -- are you that cynical of the process already that you don't even want to see it play its way through?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not a cynical person. I just have ample evidence -- 21 times -- 21 times. Let me compare the Bush administration and the previous administration and find a break. On 21 occasions, unanimous consent was blocked in order to -- and cloture had to be invoked to get somebody a vote -- 21 occasions. In the first year of the Bush administration, how many times did that happen? How many times did that happen?
Q Did the President ever take --
MR. GIBBS: How many times did that happen? How many times did that happen?
Q How many?
MR. GIBBS: How many? Zero. Zero. And guess what, both of you knew the answer to that.
Q Did the President ever ask -- Chairman Baucus for a hearing?
MR. GIBBS: Did who?
Q Did the President ever ask the Chairman for --
MR. GIBBS: Not to my knowledge.
Q Robert, on Israel and Iran --
Q Excuse me, Robert. How can you complain then about the process when the President --
MR. GIBBS: Because as I said, this wasn’t a hearing. This wasn’t an issue about a hearing. This is your latest attempt to decide that the process was being upheld because there hadn’t been a hearing scheduled. The hearing wasn’t a problem, right? If there would have been a hearing, he would have gotten out. And guess what. Months and months and months would have passed before anybody would have consented to simply taking up the nomination.
Now, we passed a law -- Health Care Affordable Care Act that has to be implemented. There are things that have to be implemented by the first of the year per the law. We are not going to wait for those in the Senate that want to see this delayed and delayed and delayed before --
Q Well, Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Let me finish my answer -- before this is taken up.
Now, I know there’s these grand conspiracy theories, right, that somehow the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Association of Retired Persons, Mark McClellan, and Tom Scully seem clearly not to be complicit in, in supporting somebody amply qualified to run CMS and to implement the law. And that's what the President sought to do.
Q Well, why not have a hearing where all of that can be decided in July and if there’s a blockage, a recess appointment in August?
MR. GIBBS: Because -- because, Major, we’re not going to --
Q What you just described would not be affected by that. He’d still be in place.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. What’s today? July 12th -- we got three weeks until August. We’re going to implement the law, Major. We’re not going to wait around --
Q If you had a hearing in July and a recess appointment in August --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. We’re not going to wait around for the same old people to play the same old political games time after time after time. We’re just not waiting around for that.
Q Robert, I hate to get away from the excitement, but --
MR. GIBBS: I know -- (Laughter.)
Q -- on Israel and Iran, given the Netanyahu statements just in the last few days, and Medvedev’s statements, is there a feeling -- does the President have a feeling that the U.S. has bought enough time against a possible Israeli --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that type of discussion except to say that I think if you look at the level of sanctions placed both unilaterally, by Congress -- by unilaterally, I mean by the Treasury Department -- by Congress and by the United Nations, there is no doubt we have made it harder for those for, as I said earlier, for Iran to pursue that capability. We will continue to ratchet that up until we see the type of progress that we need to.
Q Robert, the administration is about to unveil its HIV and AIDS policy. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the scope of exactly what the administration has looked at? The previous administration have a very robust policy with respect to --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, look, Ken, let me -- I’m going to let -- they're going to do a call on this fairly shortly. They’ll have the information that I think you guys are all ready for.
Thank you, guys.
2:30 P.M. EDT