Press Briefing 6/2/09

June 3, 2009 | 40:28

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

Download mp3 (37.1MB)

Read the Transcript

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6-2-09

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                                         June 2, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:29 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Take us away, Mr. Feller.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Starting with the Mideast trip, specifically the Cairo speech, the President obviously has talked about the importance of improving relations with the Muslim world.  I'm wondering, for starters, how much does the President think he can accomplish with one speech?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, Ben, I think it is important to understand that this is -- the President has always looked at this as a process, not as a single point in time.  And I think if you look at the efforts that the administration has undertaken thus far in terms of outreach -- whether it's in interviews, whether it's speeches, the speech in Turkey -- this is about resetting our relationship with the Muslim world.  It's not about, as I said and I think you'll hear the President say, we don't expect that everything will change after one speech.  I think it will take a sustained effort and that's what the President is in for.

Q    And how do you -- how does the White House measure success in something as important but broad as that, this process you're describing?  How do you know that you're seeing improved relations in the way that affects the lives of everyday Americans?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you can see -- I mean, you certainly -- we see public polling that measures the perception of the country throughout the world, and particularly in the Muslim world.  Look, I think there will be a great effort on our part to distribute this through different means, social networking sites, in order to get this in front of as many eyes throughout the world as we can.

Q    I'm sorry, one other quick topic.  With Judge Sotomayor on the Hill today, I'm wondering what your early read is on the types of comments you're seeing, particularly from Republican senators?  Is the White House confident that she's going to get a fair shake?

MR. GIBBS:  I think if you look at -- I don't know what in particular, in terms of comments, you want me to respond to --

Q    There's been both a range about, obviously, the senators wanted to take a rigorous look at her record.  And also particularly Republican senators feeling that they want to do so on their own time table and not be rushed.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's take a couple of points.  I think first of all, obviously we believe that she will get a fair shake and a fair set of hearings.  I think the meetings that she's had thus far have been productive.  She'll see others throughout the day, including Senator McConnell I think a little bit after lunch here.

So I do think that that almost universally the comments have been, I think, productive.  I think it's obvious that Republicans understand and take their duties as it relates to the Supreme Court extremely seriously, as one would expect.

I would say a couple of things in terms of timing.  First of all, we anticipate that her Senate questionnaire will go up at some point this week.  And I don't want to belabor this, but if you look at the time frame of number of days between the announcement of a Supreme Court pick and the hearings, for the last nine confirmed justices it's been 51 days between the announcement and the beginning of the hearing.  For the last four justices -- that includes Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Roberts, and Justice Alito -- that has been 54 days.  That would put her hearing sometime in mid-July, which would I think provide a timetable by which the due diligence of senators on both sides of the aisle can be accomplished.

I think what's important about the timing, Ben, is that we get a Supreme Court justice not simply ready to hear cases at the beginning of the Court's work in October, but obviously so that that person can take part in the very important discussions in September as the new court decides which cases it's going to hear.  I think obviously to be part of that process is extremely important.  And given the historical norms of hearings I think that can easily be accomplished, while giving everyone the time they need to examine the record.

Yes, sir.

Q    I have a question about the speech that President Obama is going to give to the Muslim world.  I was wondering, where there will be an economic component to that speech?  Will he talk at all about U.S. interest in increasing trade with countries --  countries like Egypt, Pakistan, that face relatively high tariffs on their exports to the United States?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously, I think some economic component of this you'll hear from the President.  I don't want to get into specifics at this point, but we'll have a little bit longer time to discuss exactly what's in there as we get a little closer.

Yes, sir.

Q    Give us some guideposts, some signposts other than public polling as to how when you leave Cairo you know that it's been a successful speech.  The President has given the Turkey speech; he's had several meetings here with other Middle Eastern leaders.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I think our perception in the world is a big measurement by which to look at this.  I think the willingness and to be able to work with countries on our common interests are important.  But I mean I guess I -- let me just in some ways caution or hesitate that this is -- as I said earlier, the President sees this as a series of events, not something that may or may not be easily quantifiable at any given -- or after the end of one speech.

Let's just say this, I think if the President thought one speech would cure that relationship I doubt we'd be giving that in June.

Q    Have you seen signs already that the relationship has changed with the speech in Turkey and what he's done here in the past couple weeks, the meetings here?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President feels like -- again, as it relates to many of the problems that we've talked about, particularly in this room, we didn't get where we are overnight and it's not going to get solved overnight.  I think the President believes using his time and resources on an issue as important as this will pay dividends.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Does the President have any sense that he feels any responsibility to bring up any issues of human rights in Cairo during his speech?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I don't want to get ahead of this.  But I think the President will talk about a series of things that are important throughout the Muslim world.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    I've got two questions.  What's in the questionnaire to the judge?**(see end)

MR. GIBBS:  I think it's a basic series of -- not having been a Supreme Court nominee, Helen, they haven't given me the questionnaire to fill out.

Q    What does it cover?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me see if we have a copy of -- I'm sure there's a series of financial stuff as well as writings and things like that, that typical nominees have to send up.

Q    My second question is, is this against any international law to annex occupied land?  Is the United States going to stick by its guns in terms of new settlements?

MR. GIBBS:  Helen, I think the President has been clear with everyone where we stand on settlements.  I think the Secretary of State has been clear on settlements.  And I think that message is -- the President said no new construction and that's what we mean.

Q    A General Motors question.  There's a report that a Chinese company is looking to buy, basically, the Hummer division.  What's your understanding of what that means or what that will mean for jobs in the U.S.?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen that report.  I would have you talk to somebody in communications at GM.  I haven't seen that report, so I don't want to comment on it.

Q    A second question.  On the announcement today about the Army Secretary nominee -- can you just talk a little bit about the timing of that?  Was there a thought of maybe waiting, perhaps, until Secretary Gates was back in town or -- I know he's traveling.

MR. GIBBS:  He is traveling.  Obviously he's involved in some important stuff.  The President believed with all that we need to do to protect and to take care of our troops that it was important to get the process of that nomination started as quickly as possible -- so nothing out of the ordinary.

Yes, sir.

Q    Health care.  Up until now the White House, the President has been relatively low key, sort of allowing the Senate in particular to develop something organically through the legislative process.  But today you're having Democrats up here, so I'd like to see if I could get you on the record on a couple of things.  Will the President insist on a so-called public option version to health care?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- again, I don't want to get ahead of where he's going to be in the meeting.  They're going to have I think a robust discussion about health care.  And I think you'll hear the President reiterate once again how important it is to get something done, that businesses -- small businesses and families and the government, quite frankly, are being crushed by health care costs; that it is something that I know people have said whether or not we have the luxury to deal with, but many families are each and every day struggling with those costs, our budget is weighed down by a lot of those costs and we have to take steps to address it -- that's part of laying the foundation for our long-term economic growth.

I don't know how detailed he'll get today.  I know the President -- obviously the President outlined a plan that he thought could accomplish a lot of his goals during the campaign.

Q    The OMB director is quoted in an article today as getting some distance between Max Baucus and himself on the question of taxation of employer-provided health care benefits.  What is the White House position on that issue?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think we've covered this any number of times in here.  I think we've been pretty clear on where we are on that throughout the campaign.

Q    Okay.  Finally, 145 social conservatives have written to the Senate Republican leadership asking them to please use at the least what they term a traditional filibuster to make sure there's a full and fair debate and so forth, and that the base can be catalyzed, to use their terms.  What do you say to Republican senators who might be inclined to heed that advice?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think it's important, building on the earlier question that Ben asked, I think the White House, from quite honestly both sides of the aisle, sees a strong desire to have a fair series of hearings.  We believe those hearings can be done in a time frame that allows senators to do the duty of due diligence and understanding and being able to question the nominee, but doing so that can get the nominee seated in time not just to hear cases, but to take part in the choosing of which cases the court will hear.

So I don't want to get in the middle of that argument, except to say that I think we believe that we're making progress toward all those ends.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, did Judge Sotomayor consent to the statements by the President and you that she would now use different words in that Latina white male statement that has been out there?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think the basis for what I said and the basis for what the President said were the result of conversations that had been had with the Justice -- with the Judge, excuse me -- and members of the team working on the confirmation.

Q    Is there a possibility she would issue a statement to that effect?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I assume that she'll likely get this today, maybe in her meetings, and I think she'll have a chance to talk to senators about that.  And I have no doubt that the working press will get good readouts from their senators.

Q    On the Reagan Commission today, when was an invitation issued to former First Lady Nancy Reagan?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know when it was formally issued.  I know that she's in town and the President thought it would be a good opportunity to have her take part in that.  I'll try to find out if we can figure out exactly when it was.

Q    Were you surprised to learn she felt snubbed that she wasn't invited to the stem cell announcement some weeks back?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President lauded her active involvement in this issue, Mark.  I think it is safe to say that without her courageous and eloquent voice that the changes that have gone through Congress and that have been proposed by the President would have been much, much more difficult to get.  I think she speaks in real, personal terms about the issue.  I think, like I said, her candor and her courage have been heartening.  We certainly meant no slight whatsoever.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Just to clarify on the Baucus issue.  I know that the administration has said that it's not part of their plan, but have you said whether President Obama would sign a bill?

MR. GIBBS:  If you can show me the bill that we're about to sign I'll be happy to thumb through it and give you a sense of what we like and what we might not.

Q    And a related follow up.  Later this week you'll -- a health campaign is kicking off.  Will there be anything similar for cap and trade?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, cap and trade seems ahead of health care at the moment.  (Laughter.)  I think that you've heard the President not just throughout his few months here at the White House, but throughout the campaign talk passionately about both issues.  And I think we continue to be heartened by progress that's being made in Congress to address how to make ourselves more energy independent and protect our planet, and how do we drive down the costs for families and small businesses struggling with the rising cost of health care.

So I think we're -- obviously there will be -- a lot of the President's time will be involved over the next many months following up on these and other priorities, including financial regulation.

Yes, sir

Q    One on North Korea and a couple on Guantanamo.  There are reports in North Korea that there has been some effort to secure the secession of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.  And a U.S. official is quoted on background in a Reuter's story saying "It's my guess that the North Koreans are likely to come back to the bargaining table, especially now that it appears that the secession has been secured."  Does the White House have any overall comment on what appears to be happening in North Korea?  And is that quote I just read to you reflective of what the White House thinks may be happening in North Korea?

MR. GIBBS:  I can check.  Let me see what NSC has on that.  I don't have anything in particular on the quote relating to secession.

I think, Major, what's tremendously important is that the administration, and I think all our allies involved in the talks, believe that it's important for North Korea to take the necessary steps to live up to the responsibilities and the agreements that it entered into; that coming back to the table to have productive talks are important because the actions that they're undertaking, as we've said countless times in the past many weeks, are simply steps that further isolate them from the world.

Q    Does the White House have an opinion as to whether or not these activities that you just referred to at least partly have been motivated or promoted by any battle over secession or internal dynamics within North Korea as part of the understanding it has --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think it would be productive for me to speculate on that.

Q    The administration through the solicitor general filed a brief on Friday about the Uighurs.  I'm wondering if you could explain or put forth publicly the White House position on why they cannot be settled here in the United States.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously -- let me just go a little broader on this.  Obviously we continue to work with allies and nations throughout the world about the steps that will be needed to close Guantanamo Bay as the President promised to do at the very beginning of his administration.  Obviously there are nations that have taken detainees that have been ruled by judges and courts that they need to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay.  But we continue that progress and continue to try to make progress on that issue, but I don't have anything specific on that.

Q    Well, the brief appears to link part of the reason they can't come here to existing U.S. immigration law.  And one of the things I want to ask you about is the President, when he was a senator, voted for the Real ID Act, and there's a provision in the Real ID Act that says if you were involved or implicated in terrorist activities you can't be settled in the United States under any circumstances.  And I'm wondering if the White House, in taking a look at this entire issue, has confronted the Real ID Act as a genuine impediment legally to bringing anyone from Guantanamo to the United States and, if so, would it need to take redressive action in Congress to appeal that section?

MR. GIBBS:  That's a good question that I will check on with the Department of Justice and NSC.  I don't know if that's part of what they've grappled with.

Q    Will you confirm the reports from the Australian foreign minister over the weekend that the administration has asked the Australians to accept six Uighurs?

MR. GIBBS:  I shouldn't get ahead of anything that may or may not be official.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, is there any particular holdup with the completion of the questionnaire and the delivery to the committee, which was expected at some point maybe late last week, then Monday, and now it's apparently going to be after today.  I mean, is there anything that's holding it up and why is it taking so long to -- I mean, you guys knew that this was coming.

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, sure.  I don't know -- well, I haven't filled out one of these for the Supreme Court.  I know just filling out some of these questionnaires simply to get the ID that I possess is not something that you can do overnight.  They're fairly specific --

Q    -- having trouble finding --

MR. GIBBS:  April has pointed out most of them and we've catalogued them and -- (laughter.)

Q    Thanks.

Q    Robert, just a quick procedural question.  You said that you guys are going to distribute the Cairo speech on social networks.  Are you guys going to be Twittering it?

MR. GIBBS:  No -- that'd be awkward, wouldn't it?  We can't even get that on the computers here.  No, I think what I mean by that -- and we'll have some more in-depth on this, but obviously our goal is to ensure that the greatest number of people with an interest to see this -- not just through newspapers and television, but can see this through Websites, I think it will be broadcast -- I'm pretty sure it will be broadcast on our Website and the Internet team here is working with a host of others to get this information to as many platforms as humanly possible so that people will get a chance all over the world to see what the President has to say.


Q    I want to try to ask a better question about the inherent conflicts of owning 60 percent of GM than I did yesterday.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Take two.  (Laughter.)

Q    If it turns out that GM could make more profits for the taxpayer investors that you represent by outsourcing some of its production to China, even at the cost of maybe losing some U.S. jobs, is that something that you as the 60 percent owner would push them to do?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think we're -- there are core governance issues that, again, as I talked about yesterday, that the government will take part in as a holder of almost 60 percent or 60 percent of common equity.  I think the major thrust will be basically being involved in a majority of a new board of -- a newly constituted board of directors.

But, look, business decisions are going to be made by General Motors.  I don't want to get involved in making those business decisions for them.

Q    So if they did out-source that would be a decision for them --

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    I mean, there are public policy goals that the government has and then there's the goal of making the highest return for the taxpayers as you can.

MR. GIBBS:  And understand this -- I spent a little time thinking about this yesterday.  About half the questions yesterday were, you know, good golly, you can't possibly do that.  And the other half of the questions were, good golly, why aren't you doing that.

Q    Well, that's the whole point -- (inaudible) conflicting pressures, yes.

MR. GIBBS:  And the goal of the restructuring plan is to get a company that -- and again, I think when we got a look at some of the details yesterday of the filings, we've got a company that was -- these are rough, remembering these figures -- I think $85 billion in assets and $172 billion in debt.  One gets a pretty good grasp on why a company is where it is based on those numbers.

Obviously now this is a company that we hope in a short period of time -- 60 to 90 days -- that emerges restructured, competitive, and without the massive debt that it previously had.  And that they'll be free to make a series of decisions as a new car company in a new auto world.  And I think our goal and I think their goal, too, as a business is to produce profit for its shareholders.  And I can assure you the President's goal is to get out of the equity business in auto companies as quickly as possible.

Q    So all of these topics are for them to wrestle with and resolve, not for you.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  Yes, sir.

Q    You're asking for expeditious consideration of Sotomayor, but is there any conflict between --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the statistics that I read don't -- I think the average I wouldn't necessarily believe is "expeditious."  I think it is within the norm of what you've seen both the last four and, extending back even further, the last nine have gone from announcements to hearing.

Q    Is there any inconsistency between that and both President Obama and the Vice President having voted to filibuster the nomination of Alito?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- look, I think there is timing for when a hearing starts and then decisions that will be made after those hearings about each judge -- I'm sorry, about how each senator wishes to vote on each judge.

Q    Why would they -- I mean, it's a delaying tactic.  So you're saying that they were still -- that he would still believe he was justified in supporting what amounts to a delaying tactic on a previous Supreme Court nomination, while trying to move this forward by the end of the summer --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, we're talking about -- I'm sure we'll get a chance to traverse these issues at the conclusion of a hearing based on after senators have heard the testimony of the nominee and will render a decision, as they have twice before on this nominee about whether she should be elevated to the Supreme Court.  The statistics that I read I think denote that we believe that from announcement to the beginning of hearings can be done well within the norm, put her hearing probably sometime in mid-July.  And we see the likelihood that Judge Sotomayor can take part in the important pre-term work that the Supreme Court is involved with.


Q    Two unrelated question.  But first, on George Tiller, anything else for the President to say about that, or any actions that he or the White House is contemplating in the wake of that murder?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I mean, I think I would simply reiterate and point you to what the President said on Sunday.  Obviously it's a shocking crime and it is, regardless of whatever your viewpoint is, no way -- no way at all to settle differences, even on something that there's obviously great disagreement on throughout this country.

Q    And then secondly, when he meets the King of Saudi Arabia, are there any specific human rights issues he's going to raise?  In particular there are some Saudi critics here who point to the case of two U.S. citizens, two brothers, who were arrested, I believe, in March at some silent vigil, who face punishment there who are, I'm told, U.S. citizens.  Is that on his radar screen?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if that case is something specifically the President will discuss.  We will certainly look into that and have a fairly fulsome readout for you at the conclusion of the meeting.


Q    Robert, back to the speech in Cairo, at the end of the four years, moving forward, what is the hope of this administration from this succession of outreach speeches from the President to the Muslim world?  What's your hope?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, it's hard to -- it may be hard to, in many ways or in some ways, quantify in one term or one figure.

I think what is important is that we demonstrate that the United States wants to pursue a different relationship and ensure that Muslims around the world understand the message of the United States:  that we share common hopes and dreams, and that we can work together to fulfill those hopes and dreams, understanding that there are -- separating that from that the extremism and extremists that wish to do us harm.  But I think the great -- as the President has often said, we have more in common than we have disagreement about, and I think that's what he wants to ensure that the vast majority of the Muslim world hears.

Q    And a follow-up to that, is it mostly about hopes and dreams, or more about concrete situations:  economics, trade, things of that nature?  Could you talk about that, too?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think in many ways it's both.  I think unless you have -- unless we improve economies, it's hard to have hopes and dreams.  If we have -- I think if we don't have security, it's hard to have hopes and dreams.  So I think in many ways they're intertwined in a way that I think you'll hear the President continue to spell out in his speech.


Q    Robert, the Employee Free Choice Act, you've got a full plate, but that seems to have gotten pushed aside.  There are some labor leaders who feel that there has not been enough vocal support from the administration on the Employee Free Choice Act.  So two questions:  Is this something the President supports, and is it a priority for this year?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have anything new on it from what we've -- I don't know when the last time we were asked.  I think you heard the President talk about his support for it throughout the campaign, and it's obviously one of many things that we will work on throughout our time here.

Q    High priority for this year?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check.  I believe it is -- I believe it is, again, something the President campaigned on and we'd like to see happen.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, I have a quick question on Cuba.  How did the White House characterize the decision of Cuba to restart negotiations on immigration?  Is this kind of gesture that the President is expecting for Havana to take for the new face of relations --

MR. GIBBS:  For the migration talks?

Q    Yes.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think we are -- we're pleased that the government has accepted the invitation to resume migration talks and to engage in discussions about direct mail service.  Obviously they're in the interest of -- we think in the interest of both governments.  I think obviously direct mail service would increase the ability for the President's initiative to be able to reach out directly to the American -- I'm sorry, to the Cuban people and make communication greater and easier.  So I think it's -- the President is pleased.


Q    I've got two unrelated questions.  First, do you want to preview any of the wisdom the Churchill graduates are going to -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think it is important that I not get ahead of the Press Secretary's speech -- (laughter) -- later today to -- (laughter.)  Why do you want to -- you shouldn't up the pressure on me like that.  I've got enough pressure with my cousin in the graduating class.

Q    Oh, okay, I knew there was some reason they invited you.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Fair enough.  (Laughter.)  I will point out -- George, I will point out that Montgomery County public high schools apparently have not just inexplicably the current Press Secretary speaking, but Scott McClellan and Mike McCurry are also speaking, and so maybe things just happen in threes and well, they needed a third.  (Laughter.)

Q    The second question --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to want to see the transcript.  (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

Q    The President's message to the senators on health care -- on the Hill they're saying that the White House is saying, we want the markups in June, whether you have CBO scoring or not, want public option and want a bill by October 1st.  Is that the message --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, this is?

Q    On health care.

MR. GIBBS:  Right, but tell me who's speaking here.

Q    On the Hill, some of the senators --

MR. GIBBS:  The senators are saying that's what they want?

Q    No, that's what they're hearing from the White House.

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, well --

Q    Is that the message of the President?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think, without getting into a lot of specifics, obviously this is -- we know we have a sense of what the legislative calendar is.  I think moving as quickly as possible to get something done, as you've heard the President say, it's important to get that done this year.  We can deal with a high cost of health care in a way that helps families and small businesses and creates jobs.  So without getting into the specifics on a time table, I think the President is hopeful that it happens as quickly as we can.

Q    On the nomination of Representative McHugh, last year during the "don't ask, don't tell" period, he expressed a deep desire to move forward with a review of the policy, and he said, "I would hope and encourage both the Department of Defense and the various services to reconsider the reluctance they have displayed to this point."  Was a review of the policy something that the President took into consideration with this nomination?  And will Congressman McHugh be encouraged to move forward with talks inside the Department?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think it is -- I think from -- it's obvious from those statements and other statements that Congressman McHugh has made that he and the President are in agreement on changing a policy they both don't think is working for this country right now.  And it's a priority of the President's, and I think for any number of reasons we have a nominee that we hope will be confirmed quickly and will have --  based on his background and experience, will help to improve the lives of the Army.

Q    Vice President Biden is in New York right now. Last night at a fundraiser he, in talking about Governor Paterson called him a "once and future governor."  It's being viewed very much as either an endorsement or certainly a prediction about his reelection chances.  Is that something that's held -- a view held by the White House or was Biden freelancing on that?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen the remarks, but let me go see if I can find that, and see what the context is.

Yes, ma'am.  Yes, ma'am, you.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  This is first time I got a chance.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Long-time listener -- (laughter) -- first-time caller, right.  (Laughter.)

Q    On North Korea, do you have an update on two U.S. journalists in North Korea?  Did you hear anything from them?

MR. GIBBS:  The only update I have that I know is that the Swedish ambassador has met with each of the two detained American citizen journalists.  But I don't have anything beyond that.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. GIBBS:  I think that's been there for a couple of days, but I don't have anything beyond that.  I can certainly check with NSC.

Yes, sir.

(Cell phone rings.)

MR. GIBBS:  Do you think I should confiscate cell phones at Churchill's -- at the graduation today?  (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

Q    Two questions.  A fairly general question on the GM issue, with the government actually taking control of 60 percent of a company and putting $30 billion in it, could you explain why specifically the government should be able to do that without direct congressional authorization?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the money is based on Trouble Asset Relief and is related to money that was approved in the prior administration through that program to deal with, as they had in the past administration, we were dealing with loans to cover -- basically to bridge the operating costs.

Obviously, you know the history of this, the companies sought additional money and the President believed that their restructuring plans weren't sufficient enough to meet the requirements of viability.  And he's asked them to go back.  We've seen one company emerge from bankruptcy with a buyer and another company there now.

Q    And if I could follow up on that.  I mean, could such a large-scale, actually taking control of 60 percent of the company, could that be viewed as beyond anything anybody imagined and Congress, when they --

MR. GIBBS:  I can't speak to what people in Congress believed in terms of their motivations back in September or October when this was being debated.

But, look, I can assure you the President shares any trepidation and reluctance to do this.  As I said yesterday, if the President wanted to run an auto company he could have saved himself two years running for President.

Q    And just one more.  A couple weeks ago John Boehner added his name to, like, 20 or so prominent Catholics asking that the President remove Harry Knox from the faith-based council for comments that he made about the Pope and the Catholic Church; he referred to the Pope as a discredited leader.  Does the President disagree with those comments and is he planning any action on that?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen that letter, but I think the President is comfortable with the makeup of his faith advisory council.

Thanks, guys.

1:02 P.M. EDT

Close Transcript