Press Briefing by the Vice President and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6/17/2010
2:12 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, folks. Is this working? All right. You recognize our special guest. I want to turn this over to Vice President Biden.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You act surprised. (Laughter.) Well, I’m glad to see the reverence for the vice presidency still exists. (Laughter.)
Hey, folks, I’m here to talk about the Recovery Act, and I’m sure that was the first thing on your mind this morning. But very seriously, I think most of the skeptics have come around to the point that all the talk about the Recovery Act being dead on arrival and how it was going to be this great boondoggle and all the fraud and abuse that was going to occur and it wasn’t going to have much impact -- well, the fact is, the Recovery Act is working.
We’ve gone from hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs a month the first several months we got here and turned on the lights in the West Wing here, to adding more several hundred thousand jobs a month the last several months. We’ve gone from a GDP that was shrinking at 6.4 percent the first quarter we came into office to a GDP that grew 3 percent last quarter and averaged 4 percent over the last three quarters.
And we believe, and so does most of the blue chip consensus reports out there, that this growth is going to be sustained at that 3 percent-plus range for the indefinite future.
And so, again, from the intense skepticism and the doubt of many expressed 14 months ago, particularly some of the folks who didn’t want to vote for this legislation, I think it’s fair to say there’s general consensus among most economists that a significant portion of the growth in the GDP, as well as the job growth, is attributable to the Recovery Act.
Thus far, we have allocated over $620 billion of the Act, and as a result, the Recovery Act is responsible for somewhere between 2.3 million and 2.8 million jobs that were either saved or created.
So, folks, the Act is working. And because the Recovery Act is working and has done all these things, there’s a lot of folks, including some on Capitol Hill, who are of the view somehow that it’s over; it worked and it must be finished. The point of my talking to you today is that, although more people are going to be put to work this summer, the pace on the ball I talked about early on, the pace on the ball continues to increase, not decrease, as the Act rolls out in the final -- or this final summer.
Last summer, we have 1,000 -- and these slides, I don’t know if you can read them, they’re awfully small behind me -- but these slides show that we had 1,750 highway projects that were underway -- “shovel-ready.” When the governors finally let the contracts and did it by the numbers, there were 1,750 projects underway. This summer we’ll be starting 10,000 projects that will be underway in the states.
And as of Labor Day, of those 10,000 projects underway, 3,500 will be projects that are open to traffic, although not totally completed, and 500 will be totally completed, with 6,000 continuing to be completed and employing people through the fall.
Last summer, we started improving just shy of 10,000 miles of highway in this country. This summer, we’ll start and ultimately improve 30,000 additional miles.
Last summer, we started over 100 clean water and drinking water projects nationwide. This summer, we will have underway 3,000 additional clean water projects. And that means tens of thousands of more families in America will be able to be assured that their drinking water is safe when these projects are finished.
Last summer, we weatherized under the weatherization program in the Act 3,000 American homes. By the end of this summer, we’ll have weatherized 82,000 additional homes. And that translates into significant savings. It means 82,000 families out there will be saving on average 400 bucks a year on their energy bills that they would not have otherwise been able to save. And it means jobs. It means jobs of people doing the weatherization. It means jobs that accrue from the additional $400 savings that now goes back into the economy, keeping open the neighborhood lunch counter, as well as the movie theater and the hardware store.
And that means that this summer, a lot more people are going to be working on highways, building clean water projects, weatherizing homes, and they’ll be drawing paychecks that they wouldn’t have otherwise drawn. And that means a lot more money, again, into the local economies.
Economists tend to measure these things in terms of the actual job that is, in fact, created. But the truth is that job created means money spent in the community means someone stays employed -- someone out there is actually working. And it means a lot more lunch breaks at the local diner because there weren’t any lunch breaks, there weren’t the jobs that existed; and a lot more trips to the barbershop, to the movies, to the department store -- helping those businesses they go to maintain their employment base and increase their employment base.
So the ripple effects have been felt thus far since the Recovery Act passed. But my point is, this summer you’re going to see even more ripple effect out there. This is the -- the Act is now -- as I said, the pace on the ball is moving into its highest gear here in terms of direct investment in projects.
So, again, don’t take my word for it. I mean, private companies across the country are hiring people. You can go to recovery.gov -- which I know many of you have and you probably do that in your leisure time, wondering what’s going on, right? (Laughter.) But you’ve gone to second-guess, which you should, whether or not what we’re asserting is correct, look at the filings. Well, you know, recovery.gov; check it out for yourself. The illustration behind me just takes four of the 10,000 Recovery Act reports on specific projects. It’s an illustration, but there are 10,000 ones just like -- 10,000 reports just like the one behind me. And these reports will tell you two things: how much money the outfit got, what they spent it on and how many people they hired to get the project done.
And so, folks, these reports show that in just a three-month period -- January, February and March of this year -- approximately -- slightly under 680,000 jobs -- you can count, put a name to, look at who it was, where it was, what they did -- roughly 680,000 jobs were created.
And the other point I keep making to my colleagues in running this recovery operation is that much of what we’re doing here, much of what the Recovery Act is doing, we should be doing if we were growing at 10 percent, if we had full employment. The infrastructure in this country needs help. It increases productivity; it increases safety; it increases the safety from -- on the highway to the drinking water to providing access for a lot of people -- a lot of other means.
So another important point I’d like to make here is that we’re going to reach some fairly important milestones this summer in terms of goals that we set. The President tomorrow is going to travel out to Columbus, Ohio, for the groundbreaking of the 10,000th Recovery Act road project -- the 10,000th road project.
And, again, I’ve been around a long time in public life -- I was a senator for six full terms -- and I tell you, people back home know whether or not the guys in the corner with a hard hat on, putting in a crosswalk or building a four-lane highway, whether or not they’re working. They understand there’s activity. They know whether or not it’s real. And there’s a lot of real, positive things happening in people’s communities that are improving their quality of life, and these road projects are among them.
On June 30th, we will have built, expanded or renovated 1,100 community health care centers. Now, I know some of you have traveled with me and with others. Go into these communities, rural or in the municipal areas, and you’ll find that they are gems -- the public and the people in those neighborhoods desperately need them and rely on them. And the bottom line here is, there are 2.5 million people who weren’t having access to regular health care that have access to it now as a consequence of those investments in over 1,100 rural and urban community health centers.
In August, there will be an additional 100 -- excuse me, 1 million homes that will have smart meters attached to them. Now, you know, when you say “smart meter” to the average person, they go, what are you talking about? A smart meter just lets you be able to know and regulate the consumption of your energy so on balance it’s considerably cheaper. It will tell you how much energy you are using, when you’re using your dishwasher, when you’re using your hot water heater, when you’re kicking it up.
So these are real savings, real long-term investments. And we are on path to meet our goal of making sure that, in the United States of America, we end up with over -- I believe the number is close to 18,000 -- actually, 18 million smart meter -- excuse me, misspoke. No, that’s right, 18 million smart meters by 2014.
And this has multiple consequences -- not just in saving money, but it also has consequences in terms of reducing energy consumption, dealing with the environment, importation of foreign oil, et cetera.
In August of this year, because of the weatherization projects that are underway, there will be more than 200,000 homeowners -- 200,000 new homeowners -- that will be saving $400 a year on average in their energy bill. And to real people, that’s real money. That matters.
And the last slide I have behind me here shows that the Recovery Act is already responsible for up to 2,800,000 jobs -- low as 2,002 [sic] in the estimates, but somewhere, if you average it out to be, just take the average, about 2.5 million jobs saved or created. Or put another way: 2.5 million people who would not be working today but for the existence of the Recovery Act.
And so we’re on track, as the graph shows, to meeting the commitment I made when we announced this of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs by the end of this year.
And so we know there’s a lot more work to be done. The economic crisis that we inherited -- and it’s our responsibility, it’s not we inherited it, therefore it’s -- we inherited an economic crisis. But it turned out to be deeper than we knew or most of the econometric models showed, most of the blue chip estimates. It was deeper and it was more profound than we thought.
As a matter of fact, the President would kid early on, he’d say, we bought in too high. You know, if we had been sworn in March the 20th like the old days back in the ‘30s, it would have been clearer just how bad this was before we took over.
But the truth of the matter is that while there was a consensus among the experts that we’re now in a recovery or recovering, we don’t measure success by the growth in GDP. That is necessary but not sufficient. We set out -- we ran together for these jobs, we said, we’re going to measure success based upon whether or not there’s growth in the middle class, those people aspiring to the middle class have a fighting chance to get there, and those who get there have a fighting chance to stay there. We’re a long way from that yet. We’re a long way.
But the assertion I’m making today is there is no doubt that the economic policy we put in place in this Recovery Act is helping us move in that direction. And that means that, though, in the meantime, we can’t let up. We have to continue to invest in job creation; continue to support small business, which is the engine of job creation; and continue to help states and localities who remain under extreme difficult constraints.
I -- as most of you know, you get bored to death having to watch me do this initially, but I’m on the phone every week with somewhere between four and seven governors, depending on -- both parties -- I’ve now spoken to every governor I think -- probably there’s going to be some exception -- every governor at least twice so far, going into great detail about their use of this money -- how are they using it, are they using it wisely, what do they need -- and responding to them.
I have spoken to well over 140 mayors and county execs. I do this once a week for a couple hours -- an hour each with them. And privately every single one of them have thanked me for the Act. But one of the things they’ve all said -- every one of them -- you think my situation is bad in 2010, Mr. Vice President, it’s worse in 2011.
So when we talk about total government investment in the economy, total government -- state, local and federal -- there is a real shortfall that’s going to exist among the states and municipalities this year. So that’s why a lot of folks ask why do we think we need to continue to have some counter-cyclical help for the states and localities -- because essential services, teachers, cops, firefighters, they’re going to be laying an awful lot of those folks off. It not only has an economic impact on the community, it has a societal impact in terms of the public safety and the attitude about that community about themselves when you lay that many people off.
So the Recovery Act is working, but -- and it’s going to continue to work. It’s not over. A lot is going to happen this summer. And even after this summer, there’s more to come with the Act, which I’ll talk about another time, because as we continue to lay down the building blocks for a new economy, the thesis we’ve operated on, it’s not going to sufficient to lead the world in the 21st century by rebuilding the economy of the 20th century that collapsed on the last administration’s watch. We need to invest in new platforms to maintain our economic superiority.
And that’s why we continue to invest in these broadband projects, bringing us in line with more -- you’d think we’re the most advanced nation in the world, yet we’re way behind an awful lot of other countries. That goes to productivity. It goes to job creation. We also are going to continue to invest in solar and wind projects of consequence; new battery and electric vehicle plants, expanding operations and rolling new products off their lines; and new organizations set up to transition all those paper records in your doctors’ offices to computerized records, saving lives, saving money, creating jobs, and impacting on reducing the long-term debt.
And so this is just the tip of it. These projects continue to happen across the United States, across all industries, and they’re going to continue to put Americans back to work and help us move to a new and stronger future.
And with that, I will, as they say, yield the floor, in old Senate parlance, and take some questions.
Q If the stimulus is working, sir, why is unemployment at 9.7 percent when you predicted it would be 7.5 right now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, because every other major econometric model predicted the same thing, that we thought that unemployment wouldn’t go much above 8 percent. My point in my statement was this recession was so much deeper, so much more profound than anyone -- most people thought it was.
The bottom line is -- you can look at it two ways. It’s the old half empty, half full. The fact of the matter is, unemployment is unacceptably high. We knew that the hole dug by the recession that was created by the policies of the last administration resulted in a loss, a real loss of somewhere between $2 trillion and $3 trillion in the economy. We never thought that $787 billion was going to fill those holes -- that hole. The purpose of it was to keep people from falling into the abyss, keep us from sliding into a literal depression, and begin to build a ladder to climb out of that hole.
But, ultimately, it’s to stimulate economic growth, because the only engine that’s going to bring us back to total health is the free enterprise system and the American -- free enterprise system and the business community. And what we’re doing here is we’re building circumstances where their competence is increasing, their ability to continue to borrow, make money, expand is able, and ultimately this is going to catch on. We’re going to fill that hole only after the free enterprise system is able to kick in because of the corrections we’ve made.
I’ll let you recognize folks.
Q Mr. Vice President, the May jobs report was very disappointing for private sector job creation. Now, the Recovery Act is all about encouraging the private sector to boost hiring. Do you see any evidence in June that the private sector is doing better?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, I think the private sector -- if we -- there’s a tendency when we’re in a circumstance where the unemployment is so unacceptably high, when so many people are out of work -- my grandpop used to have an expression; he said -- there’s a suburb of Scranton, Pennsylvania, called Dalton -- he said, when the guy up in Dalton is out of work it’s an economic slowdown; when your brother-in-law is out of work it’s a recession; when you’re out of work it’s a depression.
It’s still a depression for millions of Americans. It’s still a depression. And -- but what is clear is when you’re in that -- you tend to look at every -- it’s like taking your blood pressure every hour. It’s looking at every single solitary little change that takes place.
You’ve got to look at it over a longer term. In the first five months of last year we lost 3 million jobs. The first five months of this year we created almost 500,000 jobs. I’ve said before and I say it again, we’re going to continue to create jobs on a monthly basis. It will be up and down, but the path is going to continue to be strong, sustaining a growth rate as predicted of over 3 percent -- that’s the consensus -- and we’re going to continue to push until we get to the point where the economic recovery really takes hold because business and the free enterprise system has decided that it’s ready to really invest again.
Q If I could just follow on that, do you still think that the Recovery Act will be responsible for 90 percent -- that 90 percent of the jobs will be private sector in hiring? Or will you revise that in light of recent jobs numbers?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that it will be perilously close to 90 percent -- the vast bulk. Look, last --
Q Even with last month’s job report, where -
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s it -- that’s who you’re talking about.
MR. GIBBS: Just remember, too, the census isn’t part of -- the census is a mandated, 10-year project. The census, which was responsible for a number of the government jobs that are created on a monthly basis in order to take that census, were not part of the recovery.
Q We’re now $62 million into spending this and you guys are nowhere near 90 percent in terms of jobs being created in the private sector. I’m just wondering -- if you’re sticking with it, then I mean, you’re sticking with it. I just want an explanation --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, the vast majority of those 2.2 million to 2.8 million jobs have not been census jobs. Some of them have been jobs that saved teachers’ jobs and cops. So you argue -- you can argue they are not private sector jobs.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So the truth of the matter is that jobs that are private sector jobs are going to make up the vast bulk of the jobs created by this Act. But a significant portion of the jobs also are saving those jobs that otherwise would have caused chaos in communities had they been lost -- teachers, cops and firefighters. That does both.
Q Mr. Vice President, on February 25th of 2009, right after the Recovery Act was passed, you said, this literally dropkicks us out of the recession. By that definition, by those words you said right after it passed, has this worked? Have we been dropkicked out of a recession?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, we have. Now, look, I’m not going to get into the technical argument of economists of when the recession officially ends or will end. But I can tell you that what I meant then -- and I’ll say it now -- we have turned this economy around. Instead of falling off the abyss, it is on firm ground. It is heading in the right direction. And every aspect of the economy is growing.
Is it growing as fast as we want it to grow? No. Has it -- is it able to wipe out 8 million jobs lost as a consequence of the recession which we inherited? No. But it has turned the country around. We’re moving in the right direction. And this is the basis upon which this full recovery over time is going to occur.
Q Mr. Vice President --
MR. GIBBS: Let’s to go Chip.
Q Mr. Vice President, thank you -- thank you for being here, but you say that economists, there’s a general consensus -- mayors, governors, all the people you talk to, there’s a consensus -- but is there a disconnect with the American people? And I know polls are not the be-all and end-all, but four times in our CBS/New York Times poll we’ve asked people if the stimulus has created a substantial number of jobs -- we haven’t done it for a few months, but I don’t think it’s changed dramatically since then -- the numbers saying, “yes, a substantial number of jobs” has been 4 percent, 7 percent, 6 percent, 6 percent. That is just appallingly low. Why is that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, but it’s also totally understandable. It’s totally, completely understandable. Look, the kitchen table I grew up in Claymont, Delaware, no one sat around and was able to make a distinction between, if that existed at the time, between bailing out the banks, TARP, between a funding program that was designed called the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. All they knew is whether or not there were more people being hired at Worth Steel. All they knew was where they were going to build a new Food Fair across from Holy Rosary School and it was going to create jobs.
Well, guess what? In Claymont, Delaware, and the Claymont, Delawares of the country, it’s starting to happen. At Claymont, Delaware, and Claymont, Delawares of America, they’re no longer laying off in big numbers. It’s stabilized. The bottom is hit. They’re hearing people are going back. They hired back some folks at; the General Motors plant has now been bought by; it’s now producing more cars; the following -- that’s how people measure what’s going to happen in their lives.
Again, I may have sat at a different kind of kitchen table than you all did. I never heard anybody in my family and their family members worried about losing jobs -- “You know, the GDP was up by,” or, “You know, you only created public sector jobs” -- it’s real simple. The measurement is, is it feeling better? Am I more confident? Can I go, instead of getting my hair cut every seven weeks, can I go back to getting it done once a week -- or, I mean, once a month or once every three weeks? Can I take a vacation? Am I going to buy this car? Do I feel better I’m going to be able to make my mortgage payment? That’s what’s happening in America.
And they do not associate that with -- nor would I expect to them to -- nor would I -- “that was the Recovery Act who created those jobs.”
Now, I hate to say this but there was another competing network’s poll that I saw -- which I think a single poll makes no sense at all, by the way. I’m not making -- but if you -- dueling polls, showing that something -- only 25 percent of the American people roughly thought the American Recovery Act was not working, a slightly larger number thought it was working, and the rest didn’t know.
I mean, look, folks, that old expression, the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating. (Laughter.) It’s real simple, man. It really is basic. And what’s going to happen, we’re going to find out every month whether the American people feel better about their circumstance, feel more secure in the job they have, feel more hopeful about getting a job, and are able to continue to send their kids back to college in September, being able to make sure they can pay their bills. That’s the measure.
MR. GIBBS: Laura.
Q If you don’t mind a question on another important topic, given your knowledge of the Senate, what do you think the outlook is for a comprehensive energy bill and particularly for a cap and trade --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Excellent. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: April. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, look, there’s only one thing I learned after 36 years in the United States Senate. Anybody who thinks they can predict what’s going to happen the next week in the United States Senate probably never served in the United States Senate.
Look, I think we’re going to get an energy bill. I think we’re going to get an energy bill that’s real. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be hard. The House has already passed a really good bill. And I think that this is one of those -- you know, I used to joke when I was a senator and some of you who covered the Senate remember these kinds of phrases, I used to say, they say, well -- you know, I’d say, it’s going to happen. This is going to pass. Well, how do you know? And I’d say, I don’t know, but I’ll tell you when the horses smell the water. I mean there’s a clear consensus out there, guys, that something has to be done on the energy side. There’s a clear knowledge and understanding on the part of all the folks up there in the Hill that they’ve got to do something to deal with the amount of carbon that we emit into the air and the amount of oil we consume from abroad.
And so based on the fact the House has already acted, and there are serious people like John Kerry and others working on coming up with a Senate bill, I believe that there is a clear possibility we’ll get a solid bill. But beyond putting odds on it, it’s just very hard to do.
Q Vice President Biden, you said this is pretty much basic, and you said there’s still millions of Americans who believe that they’re in a depression still. Do you -- with that, do you believe there should be targeted approaches for minorities, particularly African Americans, as well as Hispanics and even teens, when it comes to the unemployment rate?
And also, on another subject, what are your thoughts about Mr. Barton’s comments this morning?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, since you know I never say what’s on my mind -- (laughter) -- I probably shouldn’t comment on Mr. Barton’s comment.
Q Oh, come on.
Q Please --
Q Is it that bad?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re encouraging me, what can I say? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, okay, you should --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, look -- (laughter.)
Q How big of a deal was it? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank God my mother wasn’t around. (Laughter.) Look, guys, I find it incredibly insensitive, incredibly out of touch. The reason why I got involved in politics, the reason why the President and I ran, the President got involved, is the one primary role for government is to protect people who are being taken advantage of; protect people who are in an extreme straits and not able to take care of the circumstances themselves.
I’ve been down in the bayou area off and on for the last 36 years. My daughter went down to Tulane -- I was worried she was not going to come home. I think I know the area relatively well as an outsider. There’s an entire way of life in jeopardy. This is just not about jobs. This is just not about whether or not the waterfowl is polluted and you can’t -- this is an entire way of life that’s in jeopardy. And to sit there and say that we’re being -- in effect, as I understood the statement -- that he was ashamed we’re being tough on an oil company who caused the problem -- I mean, I -- look, I just think that it’s pretty important to the people of Louisiana all the way through Florida and even in his home state of Texas that people disassociate themselves from that.
That’s not the role -- there’s no shakedown. It’s insisting on responsible conduct and a responsible response to something they caused. And I find it outrageous to suggest that if, in fact, we insisted that BP demonstrate their preparedness, to put aside billions of dollars -- in this case, $20 billion -- to take care of the immediate needs of people who are drowning -- these guys don’t have deep pockets. The guy who runs the local marina, the guy who has one shrimping boat, the guy who has one small business -- he can’t afford to lose $10,000, $12,000, $15,000, $30,000 a month.
And so the thing the President did -- and I was so proud of him -- is when we had the meeting with BP -- and they were cooperative in the meeting. They were cooperative. He said, look, what I want you to do is take care of those people now who, if they don’t get help now, are going to be under, gone. Gone.
And I might add, this fund is not a ceiling, and people can go back to it as many times as they can prove they have been damaged and they need help. And the cleanup costs are all BP’s costs, separate, apart and above that $20 billion.
What is wrong with that? How is that a shakedown? I mean, I just -- I don’t know, I find it pretty astounding, the comment.
Q And also on targeted approaches, sir -- I’m sorry, the first part of my question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, look, a lot of this, what we’ve already done has had a targeted approach. You start off and take a look at what we’ve done with focusing on unemployment, COBRA; what we’ve done in terms of FMAP -- excuse me, I’m starting to sound like a wonk -- FMAP, meaning be able to help states and communities keep available Medicaid for people; the bulk of these -- a significant portion of these construction jobs; and significant portion of the weatherization programs and public housing -- an awful lot of this is, in fact, benefiting the people who you describe.
The people hurt most in the construction industry have been Hispanics, and this is -- a big chunk of this is in the Hispanic -- in effect, is construction and rehiring an awful lot of those people.
But the truth of the matter is there continues to be a real disparity between the unemployment rate before this happened and subsequent to it happening between minorities and the rest of the country. And I might add -- you’re going to think this is totally unrelated, but I don’t think it is -- that’s why we invested over $100 billion of the Recovery Act in education -- early education, in a Race to the Top, in improving the quality of education -- because that’s an investment that has to be made.
Let me conclude by saying, look, I mean this sincerely. I don’t know anybody -- I don’t think the average American is prepared to settle for this country being second in anything. And they know, in order for us to be the economic engine of the world and to lead the world again, we have to make a fundamental change in our education policy, our health care policy, and our energy policy. There is no way out. There is no way we can lead the world without those changes.
And part of this Act -- which I’ll be coming back and talk to you about later -- lays down the building blocks for a new energy policy, for a new education policy, as well as for a new health care policy -- or the completion of the health care policy.
And if you don’t call on her I’m going to be in trouble -- I’ll take one more.
Q I just had a question about the unemployment measure in the Senate that’s been stuck because people are worried about the deficit. Do you think if it doesn’t pass it could actually stall the recovery? And what do you do to convince people that the deficit shouldn’t be first and foremost in people’s minds right now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’ll make two points, briefly as I can. One, this is not a time to take -- to use the metaphor -- take our foot off the accelerator here. We still need to continue to create jobs and spur job growth now.
We are in consultation with Chairman Baucus now as to what kind of compromise we can put together in what was roughly $140 billion bill, and with about $55 billion in pay-fors. We’re in the process now of trying to negotiate a compromise to get -- we got 52 votes, but as you know, a majority no longer rules in the United States Senate, so you need 60. In the old days that would have been enough, you know, 52.
So we think we can put together a compromise that will continue -- won’t be all we ask for -- but will continue to spur job growth.
On the larger question -- and maybe this is the best way -- on the larger question of deficits versus job creation and stimulus, it’s kind of an important point that it’s understandably -- I’m not being a wise guy when I say this -- understandably difficult to sort of -- it’s not intuitively arrived at.
The American Recovery Act, which is over $787 billion, added less than one-half of 1 percent -- less than one-half of 1 percent -- of deficit to GDP by the year 2012. These one-off projects, the one-time projects of short-term deficit spending have virtually no impact on what we really have to attend to: the long-term debt, the accumulated debt.
And so it’s understandable why people say, look, we want you to spend, in emergency spending, $50 billion or $60 billion to continue to spur growth, and don’t worry about that having much of an impact on long-term debt. And that is an economic fact of life, but is a politically difficult issue.
And that’s what leadership is about. Leadership is about making the right decisions based on what the facts are, even at the time when they’re viewed to be unpopular.
And so my hope is that my colleagues will make those distinctions. That’s a very different thing than saying, by the way, we’re going to increase -- we’re going to initiate a new entitlement program and not pay for it, or we’re going to raise everyone’s salary 5 percent and forever. I mean, they do have gigantic impacts on the long-term debt.
So, that’s the deal. Anyway, thank you for having me, and -- thanks.
Q Thank you. (Applause.)
Q How’s your son doing, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He’s doing great. He goes back to work the end of the month and he is -- he’s in great shape. I’m really excited, thanks.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q One thing about yesterday. In the meetings, did BP ask for the President to make the comments that he did about the importance of a strong and viable BP? Was that a request from the company?
MR. GIBBS: I was not in there the whole time. Not that I’m aware of. Obviously I think everybody -- as the President said, everybody in the country, everybody in the Gulf, has as interest in a company that’s able to uphold its responsibilities, particularly the ones that they outlined yesterday.
Q So you don’t know if the company is saying, this would be important for us?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of.
Q And then the -- going back to the speech Tuesday night when the President talked about a Gulf Coast restoration plan, he didn’t really explain what that would mean. Is this a government program? How much money are we talking about? What kinds of -- what sort of scope does this have?
MR. GIBBS: As you know, Governor Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy -- former Governor Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, is here and will see the President -- may have already seen him, I think. The President has tasked the Secretary to develop and devise a process for a long-term Gulf restoration plan that includes all of the stakeholders -- states, local communities, Gulf Coast residents, a whole host of -- those that have significant equities in the environment and the ecosystem.
One of the things that is not covered in the economic claims are the natural resource damage assessments that will be done on the Gulf environment. And BP is liable for those damage assessments. And I believe that will be the basis for a lot of the restoration that we’ve seen --
Q So BP funded –- basically the government --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, those are -- I wouldn’t close off anything. Obviously it’s the beginning of a process that will take some time. And I think it’s safe to assume and safe to say that recovery for the Gulf will take years. But the basis for -- the basis for that will be those NRDAs.
Q But I think when people in the region heard him talk about that, they took it to mean something bigger than just let’s think about what this oil --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t -- and I don’t --
Q It’s a topic that people talk about down there for a long time.
MR. GIBBS: And I don’t foreclose that that will be part of it. I wouldn’t get into what we would fund based on the fact that there’s a process right now going forward to create that --
Q So he hasn’t established parameters, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the parameters that he roughly laid out in the speech was to leave the Gulf in a place that was better than it was prior to this accident.
Q Okay, and then just really quickly, you just mentioned about the natural resources degradation being a separate liability for BP.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q There was some confusion about this yesterday because both in the fact sheets from here and the statements that BP was putting out --
MR. GIBBS: I think I know where you’re going --
Q -- it looked like the fund was supposed to be paying for that stuff as well.
MR. GIBBS: The fund can -- let me -- I’ll try to -- because I think I knew where you were going. There’s $20 billion that’s set aside as a minimum for economic claims. As we said yesterday, and as you heard the Vice President reiterate, that’s not a cap. So if the economic damages are more, then BP is liable for that amount. Let’s say, for instance, those economic damages were $15 billion -- that $5 billion left over could go to --
Q The environmental work --
MR. GIBBS: -- could go for the natural resources assessments if all the economic claims are covered. But it is not two pots of money that compete against each other. The prioritization in the escrow fund are for the economic losses -- loss of income, loss of jobs for individuals and small businesses.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q I’d like to come back to the remarks on the Hill, the shakedown. I mean, do you think -- or does the White House think there’s any risk of alienating businesses by dragging BP up here for hauling over the coals? And also, the Congressman’s remarks sort of raised the question of the legality. I mean, could you have stepped over a constitutional boundary?
MR. GIBBS: No, they’re responsible for -- let me be clear, they’re responsible for the economic loss that happened in the Gulf. That’s what they agreed to pay into. There’s no constitutional problem. And I don’t have a lot to add to what the Vice President said. I think he was very clear on this. I think Republicans are going to have to ask themselves whether Congressman Barton should be the ranking member of a committee that’s doing what it’s doing today, given the fact that he believes we owe an apology to BP, rather than BP owing an apology to the Gulf.
Q (Inaudible) for him to resign? Step down?
MR. GIBBS: I will let Republicans make that decision.
Q You usually don’t comment on things like that, though, Robert. Why take this particular opportunity?
MR. GIBBS: Because there’s a fairly pointed comment about the notion of whether or not BP is going to be responsible for the damage that they’ve caused. The President and the Vice President believe so. I think the people in the Gulf believe so. Congressman Barton, who, let’s understand, is the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, apparently believes -- and did so by apologizing to BP. I don’t --
Q That’s a disqualifier, in your mind, in the White House’s mind --
MR. GIBBS: As somebody who’s going to oversee -- as we look into what the company is doing, to begin by apologizing to the company, I think is an interesting way to start.
Q Can I follow on -- Congressman Barton seemed to raise a question about the propriety of having the Attorney General in the room yesterday. Just on that narrow point, are you concerned --
MR. GIBBS: Not at all, not at all. But let’s understand that there were -- the President, the Vice President and the relevant Cabinet agencies -- the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior -- I’m trying to go around the room -- the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice -- I’m going to miss some -- Commerce was there -- they’re the relevant agencies that have purview over what’s going on in the Gulf.
And as I think we said pretty clearly yesterday, this wasn’t a -- this was not a discussion about what happened that night on the rig, whether or not they cut corners, took shortcuts, tried to take the cheap way out -- none of that was discussed. And those Cabinet members were in there only for the first 20 minutes with what the President --
Q But the Secretary of Commerce does not have an open criminal investigation of this company --
MR. GIBBS: No, the Secretary --
Q The question was, they had that hanging over their head and had the Attorney General --
MR. GIBBS: No, the Secretary of Commerce has within it NOAA, which closes the Gulf to fishing and affects those that earn their living --
Q But the Attorney General has an open criminal investigation, he’s sitting across the table from them -- doesn’t that make them more likely to be willing to write a $20 billion check?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q On containment, on Tuesday morning, I think you said on “Good Morning America” that more than 90 percent of the oil would be contained by the end of June.
MR. GIBBS: I think I said in the coming weeks, or end of June, right.
Q I think it was in response to a question that said end of June. Do you still stand behind that? Because how do we really know how much oil is in the Gulf when the numbers keep changing about how much is spewing into the Gulf? It’s 90 percent of what?
MR. GIBBS: Well, 90 percent of what’s coming out right now. That’s what we -- our containment strategy is based on what’s coming out of the leaking well as you and I speak, Ed. Let’s understand that the --
Q So it’s just 90 percent of, say, 60,000 barrels if that’s what’s coming out per day?
MR. GIBBS: Up to 60,000 barrels. The flow rate group, using new information and pressure readings -- Secretary Chu asked and directed BP to take pressure monitor readings from inside their two top vents inside the top cap itself. He knows what the pressure is outside of that; by measuring the pressure inside of that, you get a far better scientific conclusion as to the amount that’s coming out.
We know what’s coming to the top from the top cap. And that allows you to make as best a scientific assessment as you can, understanding, as we’ve always said, that we are estimating a flow rate for something we cannot see or touch.
In terms of containment right now, the top cap is drawing oil and gas to the surface to -- from the LMR -- the lower marine riser cap to the Enterprise. The Q4000 came online yesterday, and I should have an estimate -- we’ll have an estimate later in the day about the rate at which going through the choke and kill line and off of a device that was set up for the top kill procedure, using those lines to direct oil to the surface, that adds an additional approximately 5,000 to 10,000 barrels to our containment strategy.
By the end of June -- and, again, I think you guys have seen all of our correspondence with BP directing them to move forward more quickly with a containment strategy -- there is a riser that’s being fabricated now that will be hooked to another vessel that will increase by the end of June 40,000 t0 53,000 barrels per day. And there are additional containment strategies by the middle of July that would take that figure to the capacity of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels a day.
Q Last thing, Secretary Mabus, is he planning to step down as Secretary of the Navy?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Wouldn’t this be a full-time job, the Gulf recovery?
MR. GIBBS: The President talked to the governor about this and they both agreed that he had the ability to do both.
Q Robert, I know there was some review early on with the EPA regarding the dispersant. I just wonder, at this point, is the administration comfortable with the amount of dispersant that is being released into the Gulf? And are you comfortable with the substance itself? Because a lot of marine biologists that we’ve talked to say that this is a very toxic chemical, that this could actually be more harmful to wildlife in the Gulf than the oil itself.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that -- I don’t know what the -- I wouldn’t know what the scientific basis for that is. I think far and away the most harmful substance that is being emitted into the environment in the Gulf is the oil. That’s why to clean the beaches, you’ve got to wear a hazardous materials suit.
The EPA early on -- and I think you probably have a copy of the directive -- I think the number was to reduce by 75 percent the amount of both surface and subsea dispersants that were being used. NOAA continues -- as does EPA -- continues to do water sampling of -- in and around the areas of the Gulf to ensure that we’re accurately monitoring the health and safety of the Gulf and anybody involved in working.
We were concerned about and remain concerned about the sheer amount of dispersants that have had to be used. And that’s why the EPA came through with a directive to significantly reduce the amount that we emit into the environment.
Q So do you think at the current quantity it’s safe to release that dispersant into the water?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that -- yes, we believe that the dispersant that’s being used at the amount that it’s being used at now is safe, yes.
Q This particular chemical, this Corexit, as it’s called -- because it’s patented, scientists are not able to see the actual formula of what this is, so it’s difficult to know what’s in it. Is there any move to try and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, how does the marine biologist say that it’s more toxic?
Q Well, given the studies that they’ve done based on what’s happened on Alaska, they say -- they call it Corexit in Alaska, but they also call it “Hidesit,” because it essentially hides it from the surface of the water and pushes all the chemicals underneath.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but, again, that’s the purpose of the --
Q It is the purpose, but it keeps it in the water.
MR. GIBBS: -- right, the dispersant -- well, if you’ve got something we can put in the water that takes the oil out, I’m -- come see me and Bill right after this because we should sign you up. You add this -- you add -- we’re doing this for the first time at a subsea level. And April asked a question of Admiral Allen about this yesterday. The point is not to have it accumulate on the surface and allow it to spread either onto beaches or into marshes. At that depth, it can biodegrade more quickly, which is exactly what you want the oil to do.
Q On the $20 billion not being a cap, what’s to stop BP four years from now, after they’ve contributed the full $20 billion, from saying, that’s it, that’s all we’re giving; if you want more, take us to court?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we certainly would retain the right to do something like that. We --
Q But it’s up to them whether it’s a cap, right? And they could declare at any point it’s a cap.
MR. GIBBS: No. Well, I will say this, Chip. One of the things that we need Congress to do -- and Senator Menendez from New Jersey tried today again to get consent for the Senate to move forward on lifting the liability cap that’s in the Oil Pollution Act. Right now we know it’s $75 million; obviously what BP has pledged greatly exceeds the $75 million. But we need that -- for our own purposes, we need that cap to be lifted.
We will continue to monitor the claims process and direct BP with whatever they need to do. Obviously we have -- as part of the deal, we have some collateral.
Q On the oil rig workers, you’ve stated very clearly, and I think other administration officials have, too, that the administration believed that BP was legally responsible for compensating oil rig workers who are out of work because of the moratorium. Yesterday, Carol Browner said, well, there are legal issues here. Where does that stand now? Are you backing off your position? And is that because BP said you’re wrong --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’re looking into the legal issues. I think one of the things that is tremendously important out of yesterday was a $100 million commitment for those rig workers --
Q Right, but that was not a legal obligation. That was a goodwill gesture.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it was. And it’s a -- it was one that was part of what we worked out yesterday.
Q Are the comments you’ve made in this room before saying that BP is legally responsible, is that null and void at this point?
MR. GIBBS: As I said a minute ago, Chip, we’re looking into any of the any of the legal issues.
Q So you’re backing off the affirmative statement that you made?
MR. GIBBS: I would just say we’re looking into the legal --
Q Have you been in the President’s presence when he either heard about or responded to the Joe Barton comments? And what did he say?
MR. GIBBS: I briefed him on them earlier and he shook his head and couldn’t understand why anybody would say something like that.
Q Did he say anything?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he said, I can’t understand why anybody would say that.
Q Shakedowns aside, isn’t it true that BP essentially didn’t fight the $20 billion fund?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- let me -- I want to disassociate the premise of your question from the beginning. Yes, look, I don’t want to characterize how they came to the meeting yesterday. They have said and we have put into place an assurance that the economic damages that have been caused will be compensated.
Q BP essentially has laid down many of its legal rights voluntarily.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I mean, they -- there’s no doubt that they -- yes, again, the cap that I spoke about with Chip a minute ago, I think would be exceeded -- well, they’ve given states money to advertise for tourism in the four affected states that exceeds the $75 million cap in and of itself.
Q Just bottom line, they’re not really fighting?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t want to be a BP spokesperson. I think it is -- there’s no doubt that -- I will characterize -- let me characterize it this way, we did not give up the ability to do the natural resource damage assessments and give them the bill. Nobody gave up anything in terms of them paying for the cleanup costs that they’re liable for. There was no discussion about anything involving -- and they’ll get a bill for this -- the penalty for the pollution that’s been emitted into the Gulf. And all we did for claimants was add to their ability to appeal.
Q You’ve said that it’s in certainly BP’s interest but also the government’s interest for BP to stay solvent and not go into bankruptcy, as that would imperil the ability of victims to get their recovery. So --
MR. GIBBS: It would, but I would say this. The important -- one of the important parts of the -- what was worked out yesterday was -- I mean, obviously BP is a company that possesses tremendous assets. If I’m not mistaken, I think they have the largest producing oil well in the world -- obviously a number of assets in order to take something like that and make it the largest producing well in the world. We have that collateral as they pay into the fund to ensure and to make sure that nothing risks the amount that they’ve put in there.
Q Right, I mean, they’re giving it over four years. But setting that aside, given the federal government’s interest in BP staying solvent, didn’t the government, the administration, exacerbate BP’s financial position last week by taking such an aggressive view of liability -- Salazar, you at this podium --about the oil rig workers -- a position it now disavows, as Chip says, Carol Browner saying --
MR. GIBBS: No --
Q -- let me just finish the thought -- Carol Browner said there are very significant legal questions about their liability; every lawyer will tell you that’s true. BP’s stock dove 16 percent on the day that Ken Salazar made those comments. So doesn’t the government have a role to act responsibly and not exacerbate that situation for BP?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand -- understand that the amount that, even if you fully compensated rig workers, right, you’re not even close to a billion, let alone $20 billion, right? So let’s understand that what might imperil the company financially is not paying for the sidelined rig workers at 33 drilling points in the Gulf of Mexico. What it -- hold on, let me finish my thought. What they’re responsible for, and what I think has caused -- I don’t want to get into commenting about their stock, but I think what has caused -- let me not get into commenting on the stock -- I think that they are responsible for the nation’s greatest environmental disaster and they are going to have to pay to compensate those that were impacted economically, they’ll pay the government the damages for what it’s done to the environment, they’ll pay the cleanup costs, and they’ll be fined. And that’s their price for doing business in a way that caused this damage.
Q I guess the bottom line, just to put a bow on it, does the administration recognize that it has a special responsibility to not take a very aggressive and legally flawed position that could exacerbate an already precarious financial position?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think we’ve done that. I don’t think we’ve done that in any way.
Q Yesterday, did the President spend any time alone with Mr. Hayward, or was it only with the chairman?
MR. GIBBS: No, he spoke for -- the first 20 minutes was with all of the six -- I think it was six -- BP representatives and their outside counsel, and then 25 minutes with the chair.
Q Good? Okay. A couple things. (Laughter.) The fund doesn’t --
MR. GIBBS: Didn’t think Major was going to pass. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q The fund doesn’t exist. The negotiations, according to people I’ve to talked to at Justice today, are going on about the contours of it -- is that your understanding?
MR. GIBBS: Of?
Q The fund, the escrow fund.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes. Well, understanding the framework agreement that was laid out, the appeals process that has been laid out, the payments in the collateral --
Q Those things have been locked down.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Obviously we are working through the setup of the independent claims process that will be overseen by Ken Feinberg.
Q And the three-member panel.
MR. GIBBS: And the three-member panel that allows a claimant to --
Q Do you have a timeline for that, agreed upon with BP, that the American public can evaluate as far as how’s it going and when they should be ready to see this -- and the folks in the Gulf?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve told -- I believe in the negotiations we told them and expect that Mr. Feinberg will set this up as quickly as possible, he obviously -- one of the reasons that he’s selected as somebody who has expertise and experience in this type of work. The claims process that we have now continues as we transition to an independent body, and that anybody that’s involved in the claims process now -- so you filed -- so you filed a claim two days ago, you still have the 90 days to get your claim processed. And if -- as I understand it, if you don’t like the outcome of what BP says, you can enter the appeals process in the new system.
Q And I heard this commented by folks in the Gulf now, they’re sort of wondering there are these places, there are these numbers, there’s a process that we’ve somewhat grown accustomed to. Will all of those portals, if you will, to this claims process remain, or will they be replaced?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- my guess is that they will remain, Major. What we envision is a fairly seamless process because -- and I forget the number that Admiral Allen read yesterday about the --
Q Sixty-six thousand --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the number of claims that are in the process, the number of claims that are being adjudicated. I think we believe it’s important -- and certainly did yesterday in the agreement -- believe it’s important to get an independent process to evaluate those claims.
Q One other thing, technically, on the agreement, will that be released in written form for the public to view at any point?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I wouldn’t see why not.
Q One thing on Svanberg’s comments yesterday. Did the President see them? Did he, in his meeting with Svanberg, detect any of the clumsy language that he used in reference to “small people”? Did the President think that was an accident on his part? Does he have any --
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not talked to the President specifically about that. I don’t -- the President did not -- I talked to him about the meeting and the President did not mention anything.
Q To shift gears a little, does the administration have any comments about Israel’s decision to allow, I guess, construction materials in by land but leave the naval blockade in place?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that we welcome the principles that were announced by the Israeli government today. They’re a step in the right direction. We will continue to work in the coming days with our Israel friends to continue to improve a humanitarian situation in Gaza that the President has said is unsustainable.
Q For the deepwater rigs that are under inspection now, how is that going? Have you -- have they had a chance to look -- will any of those open up again?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the commission that is in the process -- the commission -- that will be part of the commission’s work, to discuss the regulatory framework around their operation. And I will say this, as I’ve said and as the President said in his speech, that’s something that doesn’t have to wait for a six-month deadline. It can be something that he would encourage that they do quickly.
Q Is there any indication that any of the companies are either pulling out, stopping -- taking wells that were due to be built or planned at least for the Gulf and moving them to other countries?
MR. GIBBS: You mean the MODUs -- the mobile drilling units?
Q No, that exploration that was going to be American-produced oil now going to other oil-producing countries because of --
MR. GIBBS: Again -- and I think we’re probably saying the same thing, largely -- because I don’t know the answer if anybody has -- you’ve obviously got -- you remember what the Deepwater Horizon looked like. I do not know if those drilling units, if any of those drilling units have left for other places.
Q Let me just phrase it this way, then. Does the President fear that the government response to this will drive away what would have been American-produced oil and then now make the country more dependent on foreign oil?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what would make us completely dependent on foreign oil is if this happened again, right? So the President believed that, in weighing all of the economic and environmental concerns, and all the safety concerns, especially given that we did not have and still don’t know exactly what happened, that continuing drilling on those 33 sites was not what should be done.
Q Robert, just one question? Just one?
MR. GIBBS: Let me go right in front of you, and then -- don’t worry, Lester, I’ll --
Q Thank you very much.
Q A quick question on the stimulus. There have been repeated attempts to try and cut it and use some of that money to pay for other emergency spending, like unemployment benefits, all of which have failed. But in the last few weeks Majority Leader Hoyer and Chairman Obey have both said they’re open to the idea of redirecting stimulus funds to pay for other jobs proposals. Are you guys open to that idea as well?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I know that we’ve got a plan you heard the Vice President talk about that we believe is helping what was a very fragile economy become more stable; that we need to continue to implement the plan that we have and not take away particularly, for instance, money away from very important projects like education right now.
Q Thanks, Robert. I want to quickly clarify the answer to Major. In terms of the framework that was agreed to yesterday, is anything at this point actually signed, and will it ever actually be signed between BP and the administration? Or is it more of just an agreement?
MR. GIBBS: I can find out if there’s a piece of paper. I mean, I don’t know -- beyond the fact sheet, let me check and see.
Q And prior to their voluntary agreement yesterday, it’s been the administration’s position that you had the legal authority to compel them to do this if they didn’t do it on their own. Can you provide us -- it doesn’t have to be at this exact moment, but what the actual code, the actual statutory --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it’s within the -- let me see if --
Q It’s all in the Oil Pollution Act --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes.
Q -- it’s not in any other place?
MR. GIBBS: It’s in the Oil Pollution Act.
Q Okay, I want to make sure I get that language.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q Robert, again, referring to the Oil Pollution Act, the threshold for the liability cap being lifted in that law, as I understand, is a threshold of gross negligence. You guys have said -- used various terms to describe BP’s behavior in the Gulf; recklessness is one of them. Do you think at this point in time that that gross negligence bar has been reached?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me be careful not to get into the Department of Justice’s investigation, and they’ll come to that determination. As you mentioned, Glenn, gross negligence is one of the automatic ways that that cap is lifted. I don’t think -- it’s our view that we should not wait for that investigation as hundreds of thousands have been impacted and are -- continue to be surprised that people object to lifting a 20-year-old number for a disaster in a far different place that we all know is greatly going to exceed that amount of money.
Q Robert, just one quick follow on that. The bill that’s proceeding -- the energy bill that will emerge from the Senate will almost certainly include a liability cap -- the liability cap being lifted. Would you accept that alone without comprehensive energy reform? Would that --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think this is part of comprehensive energy reform. I think this is -- lifting the liability cap shouldn’t have -- should not be impacted -- should not impact the debate about our energy policy for the future. This should be --
Q So it would be a separate piece of legislation --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And I think what Senator Menendez was trying to do was get them to act on that separate piece of legislation.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on. It’s not like you’re going to go anywhere.
Q Other than what Representative Barton said this morning, other Republicans and conservatives have said similar things. (Laughter.) They’re not interested.
Q No, I am -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You hung around, Savannah. Go ahead.
Q Michele Bachmann called the fund a redistribution of wealth fund. On FOX they’re calling it “Chavez-like” as in Venezuela Chavez. Can you speak --
MR. GIBBS: Not the boxer?
Q Not the boxer. (Laughter.) Can you speak to the larger theme here of Republican and conservative opposition to this as yet another Obama socialistic, big-government initiative?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I don’t -- it’s hard to tell what planet these people live on. It’s hard to understand -- it’s hard to understand their viewpoint, but it may explain their votes on financial regulation; it explains how they view whether or not the banks ought to be able to write their own rules and play the game the way they played it in -- several years ago that caused our economy to crash. It’s understanding how we got an MMS that was handing out drugs in favor of drilling permits.
I don’t think that’s the type of regulatory structure we ought to have, and it certainly sends an awful message to any company around the world, particularly one as large as BP, that they can come here, do what they’ve done to our economy, the environment, and as the Vice President so eloquently said, a way of life for so many -- and if you listen to Congressman Barton, Congressman [sic] Bachmann, Congressman Price, you’d think somehow BP was owed a handkerchief and a crying shoulder. And --
Q That VP was what?
MR. GIBBS: The VP was so eloquent in talking about how much it threatened a way of life. It’s a delusional thing. And, again, I think the Republican Party is going to have to, on Capitol Hill, look at whether or not somebody that has the viewpoint that Joe Barton has, if he should sit on -- not just sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee, but be the ranking member, as we look into and as that committee looks into actively what happened on the Deepwater Horizon if his opening bid is an “I’m sorry” to BP. Maybe Congressman Barton should drive to the Gulf Coast of Texas or to the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and ask the people down there whether his opening bid should have been an apology to BP.
Sam, and then I’ll go to Lester.
Q All right. Two questions. One is, what have your impressions been of Tony Hayward’s testimony so far? He’s been criticized by some on the Hill.
MR. GIBBS: The truth is I have not watched -- I watched a very little bit of the opening statements in which I saw Congressman Barton, but I have not seen much of what’s happened.
Q Okay. And the second question is, Secretary Clinton was speaking to Ecuadorian television I guess today and she said that the Department of Justice “will be bringing a lawsuit against the Arizona immigration act.” Do you have any understanding of where that process stands?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DOJ to discuss how they’re looking into the law.
Q Thank you very much, Robert. The Washington Post reports that South Carolina’s one-time chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Donald Fowler, thinks that the state’s U.S. Senate Democrat nominee Alvin Greene is a Republican plant, even though he got 100,000 votes. And my question, how does the President react to this and will he support nominee Greene?
MR. GIBBS: I think the South Carolina party is rightly looking into the circumstances of that nomination.
Q You’re not going to tell us what the President is going to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know that the South Carolina Democratic Party has settled on him as a nominee.
3:24 P.M. EDT