White House Press Briefing: March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009 | 49:54

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing. (public domain)

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/25/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                              March 25, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:58 P.M. EDT
      MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon.  I'll make a couple of brief announcements before we get started.
      The President just had a good meeting on the Hill with Senators Dorgan and Conrad, Representative Pomeroy of North Dakota, Senator Klobuchar and Representative Peterson of Minnesota.  The President is following the situation in Minnesota and North Dakota closely.  He approved the disaster declaration last night and assured members of Congress that he will act on any request for assistance quickly.
      Secretary of Homeland Security has spoken to the North Dakota Governor to ask for what he needed and to convey that the government was coordinating at all levels.  The ice floes in the river bear watching closely and the President assured members -- assured the members that the administration will do that, and remains ready to react as necessary.
      I'd also note that the President has watched with admiration as students whose schools have been closed joined volunteers from all over both states to assist first responders with sandbags and additional preparations.
      Secondly, I want to announce the bilateral meetings that President Obama will hold in London next week at the G20 summit.  In addition to meeting, obviously, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the President will also meet with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  On Wednesday, April 1st, President Obama will meet President Hu of China.  Also on the 1st, President Obama will meet for the first time with Russian President Medvedev.  On Thursday, April 2nd, President Obama will meet with Indian Prime Minister Singh, in addition to the President of the Republic of Korea, Lee -- that's also on April 2nd.
      And lastly, the President, as you know, has been on Capitol Hill this morning and is enormously pleased with the progress that both the House and the Senate are making on working toward a budget that reflects the priorities and the investments that he wanted to see in a budget.  He's happy that those investments are on track to be made in this budget, and is also pleased that the budget also fulfills his goal of cutting the budget deficit that he inherited in half over the course of his term in office.
      Again, significant investments in health care reform, energy independence, and in education.  So I'm sure there will be some more on that topic.
      And with that, Ms. Loven.
      Q    Thank you.  Can you just describe a little bit more fully the meetings he had on the Hill, what some of the give-and-take was between them?
      MR. GIBBS:  I'll get a better readout from -- Josh Earnest went up there with the President; I did not -- I did not travel with the President up to Capitol Hill today.
      I know that -- to answer more broadly, as I just said, I think the President is enormously pleased with the progress that the two committees are making; that the progress demonstrates that what the President set up and what those two budget committees are working on is to make important investments, as I said, in health care reform and ensuring that our children are educated for a 21st-century global economy, and to make necessary and needed investments in energy independence, all while cutting the budget deficit in half over the course of his term in office.
      Q    And I just had, quickly, a different topic.  And did he come away from these meetings, do you think, with any more certainty that Democrats won't be -- up to this point, Democrats have been almost as loudly critical of the budget as Republicans and wanting certain changes made to it.  Does he feel any differently about their -- Democrats' position after this meeting?
      MR. GIBBS:  Let me focus, I think, on what Peter Orszag said in a conference call with some of you all this morning.  The budget documents that the House and Senate are now considering -- they are about a 98 percent -- or about 98 percent the same.  So I know there's a tendency in this town to focus on the two of a hundred that you might not be getting.  The President prefers to focus on the 98 percent that are in these budgets that are similar or identical to what he hoped each of the House and the Senate would do, and more importantly, as he's talked about and talked about last night, put our country on the path not just to renewed fiscal responsibility, but to making important investments that have long been delayed and instituting a strong foundation for long-term continued economic growth.  I think both these budget documents appear to be headed strongly in that direction, and the President is pleased with that.
      Q    Can you say anything about the F-22 crash in California?
      MR. GIBBS:  I just saw it as I was coming out, so I don't have anything on it, but we will try to get something on that.
      Q    In the meeting the President had with the NATO Secretary General today, was he able to brief him on the details of the Afghanistan review?  And when is he going to make those details available to the public, and in what format?  Is he going to give a speech about it or --
      MR. GIBBS:  I think it is -- when the President is ready to make an announcement, obviously we will -- that's likely to happen before we go overseas, and I would look for that as early as the next few days.
      I know that the President spoke about it today in the meeting.  I don't know to the degree to which he fully briefed on that.  But obviously, I think it's something you'll see as early as the next few days.
      Q    Okay, just one other question on a very different topic.  I just wanted to follow up on the question that Major asked to the President last night about the dollar.
      MR. GIBBS:  You mean Garrett?  (Laughter.)
      Q    Ha ha ha.  (Laughter.)
      Q    I'm just wondering is it -- is it a concern that the President is even being asked about the status of the dollar at a time when he's going to the G20 trying to show leadership on the economy, that questions are being raised about currency?
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't blame Major at all for the question that he asked the President last evening.  (Laughter.)  No, I'm kidding.  No, no, I --
      Q    Do you think that it makes a statement about the questions that are being raised abroad about the American economy and its strength and the dollar --
      MR. GIBBS:  No, the President's first job in -- when he walked into this White House was to do everything he could to strengthen our economy, to create jobs, to get it back on a sound footing, to put it on a path towards sustained economic growth, but also to acknowledge that we've gotten away from fiscal sanity, and that this budget puts us back on a path towards doing something far more responsible with our budget.
      I've said, and the President has said now a couple of different times, that America is the strongest and safest place to invest in the world.  And I think that will continue to be the case for a long, long time.
      But the President is -- the President is going to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the American people in getting the American economy growing and moving again.  I think the steps that have been taken thus far in the Recovery Plan and in financial stability plans -- we've seen already domestically a drop in mortgage rates, some of which are attributable to the plan that was put forward to stabilize the housing market.
      I think the President is pleased with the progress that we've made, understanding that we've got a long way to go.  And I don't think he's too worried about what other people might think about the actions that we're taking.
      Q    To focus on that 2 percent for a moment:  Is the President at all disappointed that the middle-class tax cuts that he talked so much about on the campaign trail may not end up in the budget?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's understand what is -- what's already been signed into law.
      Q    Beyond --
      MR. GIBBS:  Right.  But let's understand, again, that within the first month of walking into the White House, the President got his middle-class tax cut and Making Work Pay for 95 percent of working families in this country to be law for the first two years of his administration.
      Look, we're -- we understand that legislating is an active sport.  But we've got now a couple of years to make decisions about how to include that for the long term.  Again, I'd -- it's hard for me to focus exactly on what's going to happen in years three and four, when I think we feel pretty good about what we've gotten in years one and two.  Obviously OMB announced today the creation of a task force to look into ideas of tax simplification and closing the tax gap in this country as a way of bringing about ideas -- bringing ideas forward as to how to make Making Work Pay permanent, and it still remains one of the President's priorities.
      Q    On another unrelated issue, the National Urban League today released a study talking about the disparity -- African Americans twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty, six times as likely to be incarcerated.  What is the President's reaction to this?  And I know that the Urban League is calling on the President to do something about these disparities.  What's his reaction and what can he do to make this --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the best way to address a number of the statistics that you just mentioned are the same way the President talked about this last night, which is we have to get this economy moving again; we have to give job opportunities and hope to everybody in America, that -- and the best to do that is to get the economy moving again.
      Obviously the President has worked on, throughout his career in Illinois and in Washington, ways to reduce recidivism, to provide a second chance, and is working day and night to get that economy moving again and provide the opportunity that's needed to reduce homelessness and unemployment.
      Yes, sir.
      Q    If the President is as pleased as you say with progress today on the budget, does that mean that he got the leadership of his party to drop some of the conditions that they were beginning to put in there, like taking out health care, taking out -- perhaps taking out --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't -- I think if you'll read the budget document that is being worked on in the House and the Senate, health care is not taken out of the budget.  The budget that we proposed was -- you've already -- you're already looking a little forlorn in my answer.  We proposed --
      Q    I'm looking at Ed; I've got more.  (Laughter.) 
      MR. GIBBS:  Good, all right.  Let me -- let me address the here and now.  We can get to the what's next.
      The President proposed a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care reform.  Contained in the budget today is a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care reform.  We're quite pleased with that and think we're making progress towards cutting costs and reducing the number of uninsured.
      Q    If it cuts the deficit in half as you say --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't say that.  No, hold on, let's be fair -- hold on, let me do the here and now.  I don't say that it cuts the deficit in half.  The House Budget Committee document says it cuts the budget deficit in half.  The Senate --
      Q    All right, fair enough.
      MR. GIBBS:  Hold on, I'll finish.  The Senate document says it cuts the budget deficit in half.  We proposed a plan that would cut the budget deficit in the House, and both the House and the Senate concur that that goal was met.
      Q    Using which assumptions?  The OMB or the CBO?
      MR. GIBBS:  Using the assumptions that they are to create the budget document that has to pass each committee before going to the floor and approved by both House and reconciled together to create the budget of the United States of America.
      Q    It seems less likely that they could get there using the CBO assumptions than they could using your more rosy assumptions.
      MR. GIBBS:  I think Congress is, if I'm not mistaken, legally bound to using its own budget office for assumptions.
      So if the House has determined that the budget document that it's considering in its committee cuts the budget deficit in half using the congressionally mandated assumptions of the Congressional Budget Office, doesn't it meet the test you just laid out for me?
      Q    If they --
      MR. GIBBS:  And if the Senate were to do the same thing using the congressionally mandated assumptions in the Congressional Budget Office, wouldn't that also meet the test of cutting the budget deficit in half?
      Q    Yes, if in fact that's what's happened.
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would suggest that a quick call to somebody on Capitol Hill will denote that -- if I'm believing what I read in the press -- and sometimes I temper that -- but I understand that we've met those objections and I think you can feel relieved.
      Q    And the President still gets what he wants in terms of energy and health care?
      MR. GIBBS:  We have a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care reform.  There's a reserve fund for energy independence that will allow us to make critical investments in energy independence.  That's in there.  There are increases in education funding in addition to the $100 billion in education increases that we saw in the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, including in the budget changes that will update Pell Grants -- all of which magically using the Congressional Budget Office estimates cut the budget deficit in half in his first term as he pledged he would do.
      Q    Well, I want to get into this 98 percent that you claim -- because to go to -- one of the things they do is -- so if you have no middle-class tax cut that they take out, if there is no more honest budgeting as far as the TARP funds are concerned, that's one thing -- they seem to take it --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think they -- you know, they've just -- they've accounted --
      Q    -- cap and trade, which is something you needed to account for.  You guys were --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, understand that --
      Q    -- revenue from cap and trade.
      MR. GIBBS:  Right, well, that's why -- I mean, that's why Make Work Pay is not in years three and four of the budget.
      Q    I guess I'm just trying to figure out how you get to 90 -- why you believe this is a document that's 98 percent?  And also, you guys made the case -- and I'm not going to judge whether 10 years or five years is more honest budgeting -- but you guys made a big deal out of this 10-year projection.  And they're out saying, no, no, no, no, no, five-year projection.  They also have the AMT -- they are taking the AMT fix out, which you said was part of it.  So I'm just trying to figure out how you get to 98 percent --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, because --
      Q    -- because this was a document that's 98 percent, when there's a lot of things that you guys bragged about --
      MR. GIBBS:  Right, the spending --
      Q    -- when you unveiled this budget, that's gone.
      MR. GIBBS:  I think I would refer you to Peter's transcript, which I don't have with me --
      Q    I have it.
      MR. GIBBS:  -- that showed -- do you have it?  Great.  I think it's on page two where he's asked specifically about the spending differences in the House and the Senate.  And I think the spending difference in the House is less than 1 percent, and the spending difference in the Senate is less than 1.5 percent.
      Q    But you're saying the President is satisfied to sort of -- there's some parts of the honest budgeting thing that you guys were really proud of --
      MR. GIBBS:  And change is not easy to bring in Washington.  The President -- would the President like to see a 10-year budget?  Would the President like to see disasters fully accounted for?  Would the President like to see budgeting that accounts for the possibility of more money to stabilize our financial system?  Yes.
      Q    And you acknowledge that --
      MR. GIBBS:  I hesitate to say I'm almost positive that many in this room, including Bill, have yet to give the President credit for such a thing.
      Q    But you acknowledge that Congress doesn't have any of that stuff in there.
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm going to wait, like Bill, and see what's in there.  (Laughter.)
      Q    But that's 98 percent -- I mean -- I don't mean -- but you throw the 98 percent out there as a way to, you know, to sort of lecture us, saying, oh, you guys are just focused on 2 percent.  But is it really -- are we really focusing on 2 percent?  It's a lot of --
      MR. GIBBS:  Or one-point-something percent like Peter --
      Q    No, but that's a lot of rhetorical pledges that you guys talked about earlier that --
      MR. GIBBS:  Yes, well -- I mean, look --
      Q    -- that have been --
      MR. GIBBS:  But let's also understand -- again, let's understand what's in the budget.  The President wanted a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care reform, and he gets one.  The President wanted investments in clean energy, so that we wouldn’t be at the whim of foreign countries for the importation of our fuel, and we get one.  The President wanted increases in educational spending to create a workforce that's ready for a 21st century economy, and he gets it.  The President wanted to cut the deficit in half over the course of his first four years in office, and it happens.  The President wanted Congress to budget for and account for the spending in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that's in there.
      Did the President get everything he wanted?  No.  I think Presidents rarely do get everything they want.  Is the President satisfied that we're making critical investments in health care reform, education reform, energy independence, all while cutting the deficit in half in just four years?  He's pleased with that.
      Q    Strictly speaking on budget shortfalls, the Postal Service is up there testifying today they may not be able to make payroll without a bailout.
      MR. GIBBS:  The check isn't in the mail.  (Laughter.)
      Q    That's part of the problem:  People aren't mailing checks.  So they don't have -- they may not be able to make payroll in September, at the end of their fiscal year.  Does the President -- and they may want to cut back and say, where's the President on this --
      MR. GIBBS:  I can certainly check on that.
      Q    -- does he --
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't have anything on the Postal Service for you, but I can certainly check.
      Q    Thank you.  You said that you were not in the meetings with the President on the Hill today, and I respect that.  But going into the meeting, what was the President's message to the Democrats that he met with?  Was it:  Here are my priorities, and this is what I'd like you -- my priorities to be your priorities; we're all on the same team.  Was it party unity?  What exactly did he --
      MR. GIBBS:  I think a little bit of both.  But I don't think he has to convince the members of the Democratic Senate Caucus that we need to make important investments in health care, energy, education, and put ourselves back on the path toward fiscal responsibility.
      Q    What did he want to say to them that --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President talked to -- the President did as he did last night in front of many of you, which was to advocate for his budget and his priorities, to understand that for a long period of time we've failed to make investments, to lay a path toward long-term economic growth, that instead we've sort of depended on bubble and bust; that we are making those investments, putting ourselves back on a path toward fiscal responsibility, and that working together we can see this happen.
      Q    So his message to them was no different than the things he's been saying publicly all along?
      MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
      Q    And how concerned are you in terms of if there is additional bailout funds, which you referred to a moment ago, if they are not included in the budget, how concerned are you about the administration's ability to deal with another problem if it were to come along?
      MR. GIBBS:  The economic team is confident in the resources that they have previously appropriated in the Troubled Asset Recovery Program.  And obviously the plan that Treasury put forward earlier this week uses a mix of public and private investors to ensure that stability.  So I think the plan that they outlined leverages a much larger amount of money to stabilize the system, and they think they're okay.
      Q    So if you're confident you'll be fine, then why did you ask for $750 billion?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, we asked for as part of a budget plan to account for the possibility that it may be needed.  But obviously I think in the middle -- middle to late April we'll get bank health assessments back that give us a better sense of exactly what banks are holding and what might be necessary in a worst-case economic downturn.  You know, we wanted to account for that -- for the possibility that it ultimately might be needed.
      Q    Robert, can you talk a little bit about tomorrow's online forum, how the questions are going to be chosen?  I know that there's some voting going on online right now, but is there going to be another process to kind of go through all of them, make sure that they're all read?  And also, what --
      MR. GIBBS:  Bill is voting right now.  (Laughter.)
      Q    And what is the President hoping to get accomplished with this?  I mean, is this another way to sort of pitch his budget, or what's the intent?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the -- I mean, obviously -- and I'm a little less tech-savvy than the folks that are putting this together, but we -- (laughter) -- we wanted to -- look, I think the President wanted to give the opportunity for people that might watch all over the country to vote on areas in which we've talked about and that are important priorities for the administration, like education, energy independence and health care reform, to give them a chance to ask the President about some of those issues, along with our economic recovery.
      The President just thinks it's another opportunity to talk directly with the American people about the challenges that we have, the choices and the decisions that we're making, and the path that we're -- the path that we're taking to get us back to prosperous days.
      So it's a -- it's not a whole lot different than when we were in California doing the meeting, it's just we'll have people hooked up from a lot of different places all over the country.  But he'll be able to do all that from the East Room.
      Yes, sir.
      Q    Robert, there are a couple of legislative proposals floating around on the plight of the nation's newspapers -- tax considerations and other issues.  Has the administration weighed in on this, and what, if anything, do you think the government's role should be?
      MR. GIBBS:  Boy, I'm going to answer this question carefully.  (Laughter.)  Joking.
      I have -- I will check and see if the administration has weighed in, in any way.  I saw a blurb about them, but I don't know whether or not the administration has in any way taken a position on that legislation.
      Q    From a philosophical standpoint, do you think the government should have a role in saving companies --
      MR. GIBBS:  Let me -- let me get some specifics from folks who would have a better sense -- obviously, strong believer in freedom of speech and -- but I don't have anything on the specific -- let me check on whether there's any specific guidance on the legislation.  I'll note that a radio guy asked that question.  (Laughter.)  David Jackson seems relieved.  (Laughter.)
      Q    An hour or so ago there were some reports about missiles on a launch pad in North Korea.  Is that causing any concern here?  What -- can you tell us anything about that?
      MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen those reports.
      Q    All right.  Another question.  On Friday, the President is having bankers come in.  Can you talk to us a little bit about the nature of that, who's coming, and why?  And is he making any requests of the bankers?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think along the lines of what the President said in interviews -- in an interview over the weekend -- and we'll provide a list of the CEOs that will be here.  I think the President wants to talk to them -- obviously Secretary Geithner will testify tomorrow on regulatory reform.  The President and the Secretary have talked about the idea of giving the government the ability to resolve systemic risks that pose great problems to our financial system were they to get into trouble.
      I think the President looks forward to getting an update on what they're seeing happening in the economy.  And I think, much as the President said, like he said this past weekend, that Main Street and Wall Street, all of us are in this together.  We're all in the same boat.  We have to understand that what is -- what is good for one has to be also good for the other.
      So I think the President will talk to the bankers about -- about that, and I anticipate that some of the concerns that we've read about over the past two weeks will be mentioned.  It's not intended in any way to be the focus of the meeting, but I think the President wants to have a discussion with the leading bankers in America about ways to get the economy stabilized and moving again.
      Q    Is executive compensation going to be on the agenda?
      MR. GIBBS:  I imagine that will be mentioned in the meeting, yes.
      Q    Robert, last night the President said he does not believe there's any need for a global currency.  This morning, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Treasury Secretary Geithner was asked about that, and he said that the suggestion originally made by the Chinese Central Bank Governor is one that deserves consideration, and he called the Governor someone whose credibility is -- has a great record of credibility.  And it sounded as if the Treasury Secretary was at least opening the door to this as a concept.
      Since this is likely to come up at the G20, can you say definitively that it's not something that the administration is open to and is not going to consider under any basis?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the Secretary of Treasury has put out a statement saying that and echoing what the President said last night, that the dollar will be the reserve currency for a long, long time.
      Q    Two other quick ones.  Yesterday on the Hill, representatives of the Fed and the FDIC briefed folks on the Banking Committee saying, if in fact there is cram-down legislation passed and signed by the President, it could diminish the value of some of the very toxic assets the administration, with the plan announced this week, is hoping outside investors will purchase.
      Does the administration believe these two things are now on a collision course, and what would it choose to -- what would it prefer to do?  Not have cram-down legislation and let the toxic asset plan that's been announced proceed?  Or have cram-down legislation that could diminish the value of these things and make them hard to sell?
      MR. GIBBS:  Let me -- I'm not aware of what FDIC and Fed -- I'm not aware of what they spoke about.  Let me get some idea --
      Q    In general, is the cram-down legislation something that could complicate this plan?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, let me get some better understanding of what they told the committee.  I think the President, the FDIC and the Fed have worked -- all worked together to develop the plan that Secretary Geithner talked about on Tuesday.  So I think it's very safe to assume that in working together they're all supportive of that idea.  They're also supportive of the ability to resolve systemic risks in our economy, as the Secretary and the Fed Chair talked about yesterday.  I don't have anything specifically on -- I'll look for some guidance on that and we can talk.
      Q    Last quick one.  The Washington Post blogged last night that there's an effort to expunge or get rid of the terminology "global war on terrorism."  Can you tell me if that's true or untrue and what, if anything, the administration has for or against that particular phrase?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- you know, I saw the blog and I saw the comments from OMB.  There's no language or memo certainly that I've seen or has been passed around.  I think from the President's perspective, I think the phraseology is -- he's far less concerned with and much more concerned with steps that he's taken and that we need to take as a country to protect our citizens and to keep our homeland safe.  And I think that's what he's focused on.  But I'm -- I have not seen or am unaware of said memo.
      Q    Robert, can you talk a little more about what the President would like to see come out of this tax reform panel?  Is he looking for ideas to raise revenue, close loopholes?  I know Orszag talked about corporate welfare, and could you give some example of that?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- you know, without getting too far ahead of where the task force is, obviously, as Peter described in his call -- and if you guys don't have a transcript, we can certainly make it available -- there is obviously a tax gap in the country.  Many have talked about the fact that several hundred billion dollars each year of taxes goes uncollected.  The President addressed the need and necessity to close tax loopholes in his budget in order to institute fairness in our tax code.
      And so the President has asked the recovery board to take a look at and forward to him by Friday, December 4th, ideas for exactly how -- what loopholes might be looked at or might be closed; that the size of the tax gap and ways to ensure that that's closed, as Peter said.  I think the charge of the board is to do all of those things, and understand that recommendations -- the President is not interested in recommendations that would affect people that make $250,000 or less, as he said repeatedly during the campaign.
      Q    Did Mr. Orszag have anything specific in mind when he talked about corporate welfare?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- look I think we've talked about  -- we've talked about some of them, and some of them are certainly in the budget, whether it's cuts in ag spending for large corporate farms, things like that.  Obviously this is -- the hope of what this task force will do is take an honest look at the budget and go through and determine if there are steps that can be taken by Congress and this President to institute greater fairness in the tax code and how that would affect putting us back on that path to fiscal sustainability.
      Q    Robert, the President talked last night about urging Americans to look beyond their self-interest.  Tonight he's going to two political fundraisers, one of them $30,000 a couple.  Is that an example of looking beyond our self-interest?  And are you worried about the tone that that sets in a time when Americans are struggling?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I think you -- I think when you -- though I hope he's not placid and unsmiling -- I think you'll see in the remarks he makes tonight and I think you can be rest assured in the remarks he's made yesterday that he fully understands the hardships and the troubles that the American people are undergoing in their lives each day.  But I think it's also safe to assume that the President wants to see a strong party system in this country.  And I would mention that in that, the -- we haven't seen politics by either party stop in this period, though I think the President fully understands the situation the American people face.
      Q    Will he urge some of those donors to contribute to charity or use his remarks in some other way to --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- look, I --
      Q    note the broader situation as --
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the -- I think the situation will -- I think the remarks will denote the situation.  I think the remarks will denote the actions that he's taking to change the situation in this country.  I think the President has been focused every day on how to make the situation for average Americans better.  He always encourages people to get involved, to knock on doors, to give to charity, and to do whatever they can to help out their neighbors.
      Yes, sir.
      Q    Robert, just a couple quick -- more about tomorrow's online forum.  First of all, is this going to be a regular feature, has the President had in mind doing something like this?
      MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I -- you know, again, it's a way for the President to do what he enjoys doing out on the road, but saves on gas.  (Laughter.)
      Q    Should we also see this in the context of the weekend -- you know, going door to door, political organization as well as -- sort of like nonstop, 24/7, keeping in touch with the American people?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, again, I think the President -- this was part of what he wanted to do last night and what he told the American people in his opening statement, which was -- I think he looks at all these opportunities as a way of providing an update to the American people about the steps that we're taking to get us, as he said last night, from recession to recovery; to document the challenges that we have; but also understand that steps are being taken and that if we follow through on this, that brighter days are ahead, as they always have been for this country.  So I think it's just another opportunity for him to communicate with the American people.
      Q    I guess what I'm asking is, is this another sign of the never-ending campaign?
      MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- only if you look at press conferences like last night as a sign that there's a never-ending political campaign or a Saturday radio address as if it were part of a never-ending political campaign.
      Q    Why would he do that?  (Laughter.)
      MR. GIBBS:  To give the -- to give you guys something to report at 7:06 a.m.
      Q    I just had a clarification -- I had a clarification on Roger's question, before I ask my question.  Friday, with the CEOs/bankers -- I'm not clear as to what these folks are, but --
      MR. GIBBS:  It's bank CEOs, sorry.
      Q    Okay.
      MR. GIBBS:  I think it's -- I don't have the schedule in front of me.  I believe it is Friday afternoon here.
      Q    Okay.  And I just was wondering, in terms of what the President is going to be promoting or alleviating fear about -- are we talking mostly about Geithner's plan to unfreeze credit markets with the budget, or both?
      MR. GIBBS:  I think both.  I think -- and as I said, I think the agenda will be broader.  I think you'll -- like I said, I think you'll get into some of the issues that we talked about last week.  I think he'll talk about -- they'll have a discussion about the administration's plan to institute new rules of the road in regulatory reform or in the plans that Secretary Geithner laid out in terms of resolution authority.
      I think -- look, I also think -- just from the point of view of the President getting an update from what they're seeing in the global credit markets and what that means for economic recovery.
      So I think the conversation will be broad and wide-ranging.
      Q    And the Czech Prime Minister I believe today referred to Obama administration's economic plans as "the road to hell."  Beyond just your reaction to that, aren't you -- isn't the President scheduled to meet with this leader next week in Prague?  And doesn't this complicate that meeting at all?
      MR. GIBBS:  No, the President looks forward to his first meeting with the EU as an opportunity to discuss issues of transatlantic cooperation; we're going to be in Prague, and he looks forward to a deepening relationship with the Czech people.
      From what I can tell, the speaker has some domestic political problems that might speak more to what he was talking about, and I think the Czech people and the American people can stand assured that the President of the United States of America is going to do all and everything in his power to get our economy moving again and to restore confidence in that economy.
      Q    Set aside the budget resolution, since most of the tough policy questions are going to be settled down the line in the process anyway; it does seem to me that the most important part of your program that's got a real political challenge in terms of its prospects for passing is cap and trade.  What is your assessment of the viability of that program specifically?  And if you can't pass it, what are alternatives that might achieve the President's goals?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, as you know, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is working on cap and trade legislation.  There are ideas that are bouncing around in the Senate and have for some time about -- about ways to institute a cap and trade program that the President and the administration are looking at and are encouraged by.
      I think, though, that the President believes, whether it's - - whether it's funding in the recovery or moving forward with more comprehensive energy -- legislation on energy independence, that there are steps outside of a cap and trade program that he talked about during the campaign and has talked about as President that can put our country on a greater path towards energy independence -- whether that's increased domestic production, whether that's something like the stop he did last week on battery technology, alternative fuels, investments in tax credits for wind and solar power generation -- that all of those things, be it in the budget, in the recovery plan, or in separate energy legislation, the President believes we have the opportunity to do what hasn't been done in quite some time.
      And I've talked about it here where -- I think you go back to, and it's probably even farther than that, but you go back to Nixon, and every President stood up in front of a joint session of Congress or in a big speech and declared the desire to see a lessening of our dependence on foreign oil. 
      The President believes that we've taken important steps in the recovery and in this budget, as well as steps that we can take through the separate legislative process to put us on that path.
      Q    So you're not looking at cap and trade specifically as the test for achieving his --
      MR. GIBBS:   Well, no.  I think there's a number of different ways that -- I think in many ways a cap and trade system and investments in alternative energy and alternative fuels work very much hand in hand.  And I think the President sees that as an important step forward in how we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
      This is a conversation that is largely joined sometime in the middle or late summer when gas prices spike.  And hopefully, the President believes, we can take steps now to avoid some of those price spikes in the future, and not be at the whim of a foreign country for our energy.
      Q    Thank you.
      MR. GIBBS:  April.
      Q    Robert, I want to piggyback off of Ann Compton's question last night on race.  Today, the National Urban League came out with the State of Black America 2009:  A Message to the President.  Also, this month marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama's famous race speech in Philadelphia.
      Now, going back to the State of Black America, it says there's a tale of two black Americas.  One is for pride for the President, Barack Obama.  And then the other one, it goes on to say our prisons are disproportionately populated by African American males, the economic crisis is hitting our communities especially hard, leaving huge numbers of African Americans without homes, jobs, or life savings.  We see an unemployment rate that's double that of whites, and wide academic achievement gaps.
      What say you?  And how is this administration going to deal with the issues on a socioeconomic level, as well as the issue of race, compassion, heart issue?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, as I talked about earlier, the best way to deal with a number of the statistics that you talk about;  a rising achievement gap, rising unemployment, and a disparity -- in that is to make important investments in things like health care and education, and to work toward an economic recovery.
      I think the President believes we took a step forward in that in his plan that he believes will save or create 3.5 million jobs; that will make critical investments, down payments in education reform; open up the doors of opportunity not just for young people and early childhood education, but also through tax credits to make college more affordable, or in this budget, that will raise the level of Pell Grants that are available for students.
      I think the President believes that we've got a long way to go in this country to providing more hope and opportunity, and to get our economy moving again is one of the best ways to begin that.
      Q    Is some of this a heart issue, an issue of compassion?  I mean, you know, there are disproportionate numbers across the board, according to this book from the Urban League.  Is some of this a heart issue versus just policy?
      MR. GIBBS:  Well, absolutely.  I mean, I think, first of all, you have to -- and I think the President is a believer in this -- and that is you have to use your heart in your policy; that the President believes strongly in the investments that he's asked the Congress to join him in, in this budget.  That's why priority was put on a big expansion in education funding in the Recovery Plan, again, to ensure that kids were getting a healthy head start.
      We all know the statistics about early childhood education and the difference that it makes even before kids get to kindergarten.  As the President talked about a few weeks ago, investing in our teachers.  The single most important aspect of any child's education is who is standing in front of their classroom each day, instructing them and helping them learn -- whether at a young age, the basics, or math and science as they get older and into high school, and hopefully, providing more and more young people with the grades and the opportunity to seek higher education.
      And I think the President challenged all of America to, in his speech to Congress, to seek one year of post-high school education, whether it's vocational training or college education, to create a more educated workforce that can meet the growing demand for the jobs of the future.
      George -- I'll take one more.
      Q    On the upcoming summit, first a logistical question.  What are the briefing plans?  Will there be a briefing this week?
      MR. GIBBS:  We talked about -- I don't know whether this is going to be Friday or early next week or not, but we will -- we will do a logistical briefing to run you through some of what I talked about here today and some of the upcoming events that the President will have on his schedule over the course of the many days that we're overseas.
      Q    And a quick follow on your answer to Major and Caren, isn't he on the defensive going into this summit with all the things that were talked about there -- on the dollar, the Czech --
      MR. GIBBS:  No, I think the President is -- as he said last night, I think the President looks forward to working in concert with the G20 to get our economy moving again.  And I think what you'll see come out of this summit will be an agreement on further evaluating what efforts need to be taken to meet the drop in global demand.  I think you'll see the President talk about -- and there will be some broad agreement on a changing of the rules of the road and financial regulation.
      And lastly, I think you've already seen agreement among many of the nations that are going to be involved in the G20 to look for ways at stimulating export growth that we've seen pull back considerably in this global recession and how that has affected and impacted developing nations most of all -- what that means for each individual countries are exports and real jobs.
      And so I think the President looks forward to that.  I think the President believes that what will come out of this will be broad agreement among the G20 on the steps that we have to take to get our economy moving again.
      Thanks, guys.
                                END                  3:48 P.M. EDT

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