James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:43 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q: Can you comment on the conclusions of the financial crisis investigatory commission? And do you agree with the finding that the crisis was preventable and that current members of the administration were partly to blame? Geithner, for example?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let me say this. I would — I think Treasury has a statement on this. We certainly applaud the efforts of the commission to explore the causes for the financial crisis that occurred in 2008. Our biggest task in assuming office as it related to the financial crisis was getting our economy back on track and taking the necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that it never happened again. That’s why the President put so much effort into Wall Street reform to ensure, again, that what happened leading up to and during that crisis never repeats itself. And we are obviously focused on taking all the necessary steps to implement that legislation to ensure that that is the case.
One member of the commission, though, on that point said today that the financial system is “not really very different” today from prior to passage of the Wall Street reform bill, if anything else, that they’re more concentrated. What would you say to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there are a whole host of authorities, resolution authority being one of them, that is markedly different.
We saw in the crisis, taking AIG as an example, a fairly successful insurance company that somebody put a hedge fund on top of. And instead of being able to break the company apart, the hedge fund caused government officials to have to put quite a bit of resources into the overall company rather than just dealing with some of the root causes of the downfall.
So we now have the ability to break those things apart and deal with them very separately. I would point out in my example that AIG’s money has been paid back to the government as a result of some of the steps — management steps that have been taken since the President came into office.
Q: On one different topic, could you comment on the White House’s use of social media, which seems to be increasing? What’s the thinking behind that? Is Plouffe behind that? And is that something we’ll see continuing into the election?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I — look, obviously David is a big believer in social media. Are you talking about around the State of the Union, about some of the interactive stuff around the State of the Union?
Q: Yes, and the YouTube thing today.
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously YouTube is a reprisal of I think something we did back in 2009. I think the President looks at something like YouTube as sort of an online town hall meeting.
Obviously a number of us use different types of social media like Twitter to communicate what the government is doing to the people in this country. I think it is a — I think it’s just another way of bringing people a little closer to the decisions that get made here and why. And I think the President, and the entire team, will continue to look for avenues and opportunities to expand the use of those entities, again, whether that be Twitter, whether that be YouTube or other aspects of social media.
Q: Two questions, one financial and one foreign. The IMF today singled out the U.S., as well as Japan, as heavily indebted, advanced economies that need to lay out clear deficit reduction plans before the market sentiment turns against them. What’s the — how concerned is the administration that investors will in fact lose patience with the U.S. over its deficit handling?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President demonstrated the seriousness in the issue of deficit reduction that must be taken, as you heard the President say, to win the future on Tuesday during the State of the Union. The President understands that we have to take steps to reduce the level of government spending. He outlined very specific steps, as an opening bid of sorts in the State of the Union, to freeze non-defense discretionary spending over the course of five years, saving $400 billion and bringing non-defense discretionary spending, as a portion of our economy, to its lowest level since President Eisenhower was in this building.
So we certainly understand, and the President certainly understands, that this is an issue that has to and will be addressed.
Q: Do you think the IMF’s concern is legitimate, then?
MR. GIBBS: I have not focused on the IMF report because I think the President believed it was legitimate several years ago. Again, we didn’t get into — as you heard the President say, we didn’t get into this — we’re not dealing with a $14 or $15 trillion debt because of the last two plus years. This is a problem many years in the making and will take a concerted effort by Democrats and Republicans working together to find a solution to it.
Q: And in Egypt, street protests are continuing. Former IAEA chief ElBaradei has returned to the country and is calling for Mubarak to step down. How would the — does the administration see ElBaradei as a viable alternative to Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s broaden the discussion and have a little bit of a discussion about some of the events in Egypt. First and foremost — and I said this yesterday, but I want to reiterate it — that there’s an obligation by the government not to engage in violence. There’s an obligation by those that are protesting not to engage in violence by burning government buildings. So, first and foremost, this is a process that should be conducted peacefully, and that is one of our primary concerns.
I’m not going to get into different personalities except to say that we believe that this represents an opportunity for President Mubarak and for the government of Egypt to demonstrate its willingness to listen to its own people and to devise a way to broaden the discussion and take some necessary actions on political reform. Those are issues that the President talks with President Mubarak about every time they meet, and I doubt that there is a high-level meeting that happens between the two countries in a bilateral nature where those issues aren’t brought up.
Q: And how concerned is the administration that the unrest, the upheaval in the Middle East, is now spreading to Yemen, which is a key base for al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it is important not to — because every country is different and every country is at a different stage in its political development — to not generalize across the platform. So I think you heard the President talk about the people of Tunisia, and I think myself and the Secretary of State have said quite a bit on Egypt. Again, I hate to generalize across a whole series of countries at different stages in their political development and their history.
Q: Just to follow on Egypt, does the White House believe that the Egyptian government is stable?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: So Hosni Mubarak has the full support of the President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Dan, I think it’s important to — this isn’t a choice between the government and the people of Egypt. Egypt, we know — and President Mubarak has for several decades been a close and important partner with our country. And every time the President meets with President Mubarak — and I would point you to the speech in Cairo in 2009 where the President also specifically addresses this, as well as the readout that we put out on the September meeting that the President had with President Mubarak as part of the Middle East peace process — that we consistently have advocated for the universal rights of assembly, of free speech, of political reform. All of those are important and we have at every turn encouraged President Mubarak to find a way to engender that political discourse in a positive way. And we will continue to do that.
Q: And on the YouTube and other uses of social media, in addition to this being a chance for the President to reach out and promote jobs or the economy, is this also an effort by the President to engage younger voters ahead of the 2012 election?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think this is just an opportunity to go to — it’s not a demographical slice and dice. It’s an opportunity simply to go and, again, talk with people directly about the decisions that the President is making and that the government is making. I think CNN hosted the YouTube debate back in 2007.
Again, I just think it’s a perfect opportunity to be able to discuss these things much like you would at a town hall, but bring people inside of that. And at 39 and being on Twitter and Facebook, I don’t consider myself necessarily a younger voter. (Laughter.)
Q: Well — true. One final question — and I know you’ve been bugged about this quite a bit — are we any closer to naming a successor to you?
MR. GIBBS: As soon as the President and the team have announcements to make on the job of press secretary and others as part of the reorganization, they’ll be made. I don’t know when that will be. It could be later today, it could be tomorrow.
Q: Has he made up his mind?
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to my previous answer.
Yes, sir — oh, I’m sorry.
Q: Robert, on the new color-coded terror alert system, is the President confident that the new system will be able to communicate to Americans appropriately and effectively?
MR. GIBBS: It’s designed to try to take some of the uncertainty and confusion out of — and you’ve seen this from both Democrats and Republicans agree that while there might have — while there was some utility to this at the beginning, it has caused some confusion. And the Secretary — Secretary Napolitano is going to speak on this very shortly at George Washington, and I would point you to that.
Q: On the jobs front, the CBO projected this week that the unemployment rate at the fourth quarter of 2012 will still be 8.2 percent. Obviously with the reelection campaign coming soon, does the President feel like the message of “it could have been worse” will resonate with voters?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can assure you that what the President is — the President is not focused on what — is not focused today on what the unemployment rate will be in the fourth quarter of 2012. He’s focused on what the unemployment rate is in the first quarter of 2011. And I think that’s what animated his decisions in the tax agreement in December, again, a payroll tax cut which analysts have said will increase economic growth and job creation, tax incentives — and we saw some of this yesterday in Manitowoc — that allow companies to accelerate the expensing of investments, which we and others believe will help businesses expand and we hope hire more people.
So I don’t think people here are flipping through to the fourth quarter. We’re focused on today and tomorrow.
Q: One other — Nelson Mandela is in the hospital. Has the President been briefed on his condition and reached out to anyone in the family?
MR. GIBBS: The President, to my knowledge, has not spoken with anybody. We’ve seen the reports that he’s in the hospital. Obviously the President and the First Lady, their thoughts are with Nelson Mandela. And we will try to keep up to date on his prognosis.
Q: On Egypt, Mubarak has been the leader of Egypt and the United States has worked with him for a very long time. By not vocally supporting him but simply saying we support the people of Egypt, is that sending a message to the people who are out there protesting against him that they should just go full-bore and is that going to inflame the situation? And is that what the President is trying to do?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I —
Q: It sounds like he’s being tossed aside to a lot of people.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, it’s what I said to Dan, Chip. This isn’t — our government and this administration and I presume previous administrations aren’t here to pick the leaders of countries over the people of those countries. We stand for the universal rights that are enshrined in our Constitution and what led our country to be created more than two centuries ago. We think that and believe strongly that those rights are held by those throughout the world.
Just recently when President Hu was here, the President discussed universal rights. We do not see this as a choice between one or the other, and I don’t believe it should be. We think that — again, he is a close and important partner.
Q: He is?
MR. GIBBS: He is. And every time the two meet the President talks about the steps that he believes that President Mubarak should be taking to have that fuller conversation and to make some important reforms as it relates to political freedoms, we believe — and they’ll have an opportunity to do this later this year — to have free and fair elections. We believe that the emergency law that’s been largely in place since 1981 should be lifted, and spoke out in a statement by me that its extension was not a good thing. It gives the government obviously extra judicial powers, which we don’t find to be necessary.
So all of these things we will continue to push and prod President Mubarak on in order, again, to create a situation peacefully — peacefully — and I think that needs to be underscored, both the government and the protesters — to get into a place where a political dialogue can take place.
Q: Since he has been so heavy-handed for so many years and you are saying that the most important thing here is adherence to international human rights or the international rights of the people of Egypt, would it be a good thing if he were overthrown?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into picking the leaders of Egypt and that’s not what the government of this country does. Again, I think that what is important is we can — President Mubarak and those that seek greater freedom of expression, greater freedom to assemble, should be able to work out a process for that happening in a peaceful way.
Q: The perception by many on the ground in Egypt is the United States is taking sides here — not with Mubarak, but with the people out there protesting. Is that accurate?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’ll say this for the third time. This is not about taking sides. This is not about choosing —
Q: But I’m saying the perception there is that you’re taking sides.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me try it a fourth time. This is not about taking sides. So I hope you’ll perceive to them that, again —
Q: We don’t perceive — they perceive from you, not us.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hope you’ll play each of the four times in which I said it’s not a choice that you make.
Q: And one other question on this —
MR. GIBBS: Because, again, let me just — when President Mubarak was in the Oval Office in September, these were issues that were brought up. When the President spoke with President Mubarak around the events that were taking place in Tunisia — again, go to the readout that we put out about that. It’s very explicit that the President talked about the political reforms that have for quite some time needed to take place in Egypt.
So this is a sustained and important message that we want to deliver to President Mubarak, to the government of Egypt, and we think they have an important role to play.
Q: There are some analysts who believe the President is expressing that message much more forcefully now than, for example, he did during the Iran uprising; that he was a bit slow and cautious then in supporting the people out in the streets but he’s not now.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think our response has been quite similar in speaking out in support of universal rights. The President I know spoke with you all in the Rose Garden prior to the Iranian elections. And, again, as I said earlier, I hate to — political conditions and development in different countries are different, and I would hate to generalize.
Q: Robert, I’m curious what the President’s thoughts are on this metropolitan area’s response to the snowstorm last night? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Honestly, Mike, I have not talked to him about it.
Q: How long did it take you guys to get in from the motorcade?
MR. GIBBS: It took a little while to get in. I think —
Q: No, it took more than a little while.
MR. GIBBS: I think if you were — anybody here that was in the in-town pool? Yes, I think you could — Jackie can appropriately report that based on the conditions on the Suitland Parkway, it was somewhat evident that we don’t get a lot of special treatment as it relates to that. (Laughter.)
I think it took a — it was interesting, last night it seemed like everybody was on the room and this morning it seemed like nobody was on the road. So obviously we hope — and you see a lot of stranded cars. I know some of — even some of our staff coming from Andrews found the conditions to be too hard to travel through and parked their car in a parking lot and took the metro. So I certainly hope that everybody is safe and accounted for in an arduous natural disaster of sorts.
Q: Does the White House believe the financial crisis commission was a good use of time and resources?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we applaud their efforts to look into what caused and — what caused the crisis and what steps might be taken to ensure that it never happens again. That’s — again, that’s why the President spent so much time over the course of the previous two years trying to ensure that the steps that we took in Wall Street reform ensured that we don’t need a commission like that ever again.
Q: Following up on something Sunlen asked, Doug Elmendorf said that the natural and sustainable unemployment rate of 5.3 percent probably won’t be back until 2016. Does the White House agree with that or —
MR. GIBBS: I would have to look at what estimates folks have. I know there’s an economic report that we have coming out. Look, I think what we saw was in many ways a perfect storm. And we’ve seen it with the financial sector, we saw it — it continues — we see the continuing effect of the downturn in the housing market.
And I should have it — I should always have it, the graph that, again, just shows the level of job loss. Again, they’re not quite apples to — red apples to red apples comparisons because obviously the size of the economy is marginally different. But if you look at the job loss in the recession in the early ’80s, the recession in the early ’90s, and the recession in the earlier part of the previous decade — 2001, 2002, 2003 — all of those dips added together don’t equal the amount of job loss that we saw — more than 8 million jobs — as a result of this calamity.
So it’s going to take some time. The key, though, is very much the path the President outlined in the State of the Union. And that is, we have to take steps as manufacturing jobs have left or as companies find it more profitable to set up shop in some other place, to provide incentives through research and development and manufacturing and exports right here.
That’s what the President focused on in the State of the Union: How do we out-educate, out-innovate and out-build countries? How do we reform our budget and our government in order to lay that foundation so that the jobs that we need today and tomorrow are created here; that companies are expanding and doing business not just in different parts of this country but in different parts of the world as we see emerging markets take place? And I think that will animate almost all of what the President does this year.
Q: Part of the State of the Union, the President was talking about green energy. Some of the more traditional energy producers say if you want the economy to do better, maybe take some of the regulations off in terms of making it easier to drill or to gather coal until you can develop those green energies.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what’s important is — and I think is embodied in the promise that the President — or in the proposal the President made and the promise to increase the amount of electricity produced through clean energy sources, to double from 40 to 80 percent through 2035, is not to take an either/or approach. If drilling were just the answer, if nuclear was just the answer, if solar was just the answer, if wind was just the answer, my guess is the problem would have been figured out long ago.
But instead of picking this, this, this and this, you see in the standard that the President put forward is, yes, let’s do all of that. Let’s do wind, let’s do nuclear, let’s do solar, let’s do clean coal technology. We have an energy problem because too much of our energy — we’re dependent for too much of our energy on other places in the world. And the creation of the jobs around the newer forms of energy we can’t lose out to a place like China, as you heard the President talk about yesterday.
So let’s not pick just wind or just solar. Let’s pick a whole — let’s pick everything. And that’s what’s embodied in what the President laid out on Tuesday. And I think it’s — I think that’s, quite honestly, why Democrats and Republicans can all find something to like about that. And the question is, are we going to have the courage to take the steps to do something like that, to continue to make those investments?
And the last stop yesterday in Manitowoc, at Tower Tech, watching the manufacturing process of creating a wind turbine that might sit 100 meters upright and harness and create electricity, harness energy through wind, that’s putting people to work right there — creating the steel in some place, moving it in, manufacturing those towers, shipping those towers out, putting those towers up. We’re going to have to decide whether we’re going to import that type of technology from China or India or someplace else, or whether we’re going to put Americans to work, back to work, creating those energy sources right here. I think that very much embodies what the President was discussing on the State of the Union.
Q: Robert, would it be easier to be on the side of the protestors in Egypt if the Egyptian government weren’t such an important ally to both us and Israel?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I think, Chuck, that we very much recognize the right that those in Egypt want more freely to assemble and to speak, and to be involved in political reform. That’s a bedrock American value. And I think the government of Egypt and the President of Egypt need to find a way to ensure that this is — this type of dialogue and these types of reforms can happen.
Q: You say, though — you say that the President has spoken to President Mubarak about this in the past, and all these words, but financially we don’t speak that way. I mean, this is the — in the top four of foreign aid, Egypt is. And so, if — why — I mean, why not use a carrot and stick approach if we were so concerned about the democratic — the lack of democratic reform in Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck, this is just as the President talked about with China. We have a whole host of bilateral concerns in relationships. But that does not change our desire to see in Egypt free and fair elections, the ability to assemble, the ability to speak more freely, to be involved in a healthy democracy.
Q: Is that our policy for Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as well?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t want to — we certainly support — it is our policy to support the universal rights which I’ve spoken of and which you’ve heard the President speak of. Again, I hate generalizing across different platforms, but when you say that — you said you know that the President brings this up, again — and I’ll be happy to circulate some of these because I know sometimes when we put out a readout of a call or a meeting and it’s not on the front page of the newspaper or in the first five minutes of newscasts, it’s understandable that you might not immediately focus on some of the things that are in those readouts.
But, again, whether it was the President’s meeting with President Mubarak in September, the statements around the extension of the emergency law, or even the readout that we did just recently on the call to President Mubarak about the tensions in Tunisia, these are things that are brought up on each and every one of those calls.
Q: A couple other issues. One is the Republicans are trying to get rid of the matching funds, the tax check-off, to use it to basically save some money for the government. How committed is the President in supporting this? Would he veto any sort of bill that had this in it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me recirculate the statement of administration —
Q: I understand what his position is, but is it a — is this one of these he will veto this if it shows up in any appropriations bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s getting through.
Q: You think it will die in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s getting through.
Q: With the government reorganization project and housing development that you’re entering on, do you expect it will result in —
(Cell phone rings.)
MR. GIBBS: Was that me squeaking or was that one of you? You don’t have your ringer on, do you? (Laughter.)
Q: Got a new one, too.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q: Play it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q: I could make this question into a ring tone — it would be very popular. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You should do that one.
Q: That’s a good idea, next time record it. “My question is right here.”
MR. GIBBS: Right, and you just play it.
Q: Do you expect it will result in savings to government outlays — saving government money in the end?
MR. GIBBS: I think the hope would be to see some savings, yes. But I think what’s primarily most important in a reorganization like this is that we — and I think you probably would see some savings as a result of the duplicative nature of many departments or departments and agencies and what have you, all having certain equities in the same basket of issues or ideas. But, first and foremost, I think as the President talked about, it’s reform for the creation of a government that hasn’t been reorganized in decades and needs to be more fully tilted toward the challenges that we have now and that we face tomorrow. I think those are the President’s objectives.
Q: But when we’re talking about the debate that happens in Washington over the size of government and how much we should be spending each year — and that obviously is a very active debate — is this something that should be part of that, that is part of the administration’s thinking about this?
MR. GIBBS: I think so. But, again, I think it’s important to understand, as the President outlined in his State of the Union, domestic discretionary spending — if you did away with it all, you’d still have I think what most people would consider to be a deficit number that we don’t want to live with. So, again, I think there’s — I don’t think people think that we’re going to balance the budget based on a reorganization.
Q: Sure, but this is part of the administration’s response to that conversation?
MR. GIBBS: I think that it is. Again, I think from the viewpoint of the President and the team here, it is to align — it is more so to align the priorities of our government with a structure that is able to more efficiently and adequately address those problems.
Q: Why is the President not going to Colombia or Panama on this upcoming trip, given that we have trade deals pending with those countries?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’m not entirely sure how each country was picked. I know that the President seeks to expand our alliances in a very important region of the world. And my guess is you could spend — there’s reasons to go and see virtually — or most countries down there. We are, as we talked about in the briefing that we did around the State of the Union, hopeful that first and foremost, we can get the Korea Free Trade Agreement through Congress as soon as possible, and that the USTR and others can continue work on Panama and Colombia.
Q: Robert, when the President is ready to announce your successor, will he do it in person?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt it.
Q: Really? Could be paper?
MR. GIBBS: Or trumpets.
Q: Or trumpets?
Q: Ring tone, maybe?
MR. GIBBS: Ring tone?
Q: On Twitter?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think it will be on Twitter. But I assume it will likely be on paper.
Q: And on yesterday’s snow gridlock, does it raise questions that if there were an emergency and the President needed to get back to the White House or get to Andrews in a situation where there is no Marine One available, does it not raise national security concerns?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I talked to some of the detail leaders when we got back to the White House. And based on the resources that it would take in this instance to get enough equipment, manpower or what have you to fully block off that route while we were having this emergency, they did not necessarily think made sense at that time given, again, how many people were also trying to get home.
That having been said, obviously if there was — if we were coming in a weather emergency like yesterday and needed to have that happen, I have no doubt that that could easily happen because, again, it just was a matter of the resources that you move out there and then ultimately how quickly those resources you might need to get back.
Q: And does it raise questions about what might happen were D.C. to be evacuated because of a national emergency?
MR. GIBBS: I’m probably not the right person in terms of an emergency management official to render something like that, but I can see if there might be an appropriate agency to address that.
[In the event that a mass evacuation of the National Capitol Region becomes necessary due to an emergency, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police, in close coordination with other federal and local law enforcement partners would activate the emergency evacuation plan which would facilitate the safe movement of evacuees from the District.]
Q: Tomorrow morning the President is going to be speaking at the health care Families U.S.A. Health Action Conference. Can you give us a sense of the kind of message he’ll be delivering?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President will take the opportunity to largely reiterate a lot of what was in the State of the Union, to talk about the economic challenges that we face, what we have to do. And I expect that he’ll also reiterate what was said in the State of the Union around health care, the progress that we’ve seen in getting benefits to the American people as a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. And no doubt, as we talk about the fiscal impacts of decisions the government makes, what would repeal look like to the fiscal situation. And we know that the CBO says that the immediate impact is a couple hundred billion dollars.
Q: Also, on corporate tax reform, when the President addressed it in the State of the Union it was in the context of the corporate tax rate in the U.S. being higher than anywhere else in the world and it really hampering businesses to compete. Is addressing the corporate tax rate an area that Jeff Immelt and his new — the competitiveness and jobs panel would advise the President on? Would there be a recommendation coming from that panel on it?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if that’s the primary policy — let me get a little bit better answer on that. I don’t think this would be the primary policy driver, but at the same time I think the President would certainly want to hear from members of that group and other members in business and — economists, academia, that want to weigh in on that. I think this is a process where the President and the team will engage stakeholders in a process that typically takes quite some time.
Q: Would GE, the global reach of that company and Jeff Immelt, is he somebody that the President would counsel on corporate tax matters?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President — I think whether it’s Mr. Immelt or a whole host of those with direct experience, he’s certainly eager to hear their opinions.
Q: Can you talk about your successor, the process of picking your successor at all, about what kind of things the President has looked for in the person — what the process has been? Can you discuss it at all?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure we’ll have occasion to do that. I wouldn’t do that today.
Q: I’m going to follow up on Julianna. When the President was deciding what to do or how to proceed on tax reform, and there had been talk for weeks that it was going to be limited to corporate tax reform, he did say in his speech — he left open the possibility he’d do individual as well. Ben Bernanke, when he testified recently before the Senate, said that he thought tax reform should be done in a comprehensive way, individual and corporate together. That’s how it was done, of course, the last time the code was overhauled. Could you tell us a little bit what went into the President’s decision-making that he’s sort of singling out the corporate side of the tax code?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, I mean, look, I think each of these are going to be longer-term projects. Obviously — and that may indicate sort of a bit of a reason for the bifurcation because I think the complexity on the individual side and obviously discussions that are had as it relates to the fiscal side are going to be important and probably, again, take some time, even as we — as we did tax reform in the mid-’80s, or I should say, started in the early ’80s and ended in the mid-’80s, we know that it is a process that takes quite a bit of time to do.
I know the President is eager to address corporate tax reform as we need to take the steps to make our country more competitive and create those jobs — create jobs here rather than create those jobs overseas.
Q: When you say each of these is going to be a longer-term project, does that indicate he’s not far along on the specifics on the corporate side, won’t have any, perhaps, in the —
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jackie, I think — and we talked a little bit about this yesterday — I think this is — I think the President wants to have and wants to hear from stakeholders, Democrats and Republicans, about what they want to see as part of corporate tax reform. I don’t think this is the President has a take-it-or-leave-it plan and you take it or leave it. I think the President wants to engender a discussion on the size, the scope, what all that may look at. And I think we’re certainly eager to have that conversation.
Q: Now that the House Oversight Committee has had its first hearing, do you have any thoughts about the tone and content and what it bodes for the future in terms of oversight?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t have a — I traveled yesterday and didn’t see a ton of the hearing. Again, I think our posture hasn’t changed from even before Congress was sworn in. There is an obvious and necessary role for needed oversight. There is — and there has to be vigilance that it does not become and get into political witch hunts where we try to dredge up or fight the battles of many, many years ago. And we’re certainly — we will certainly cooperate on ensuring oversight and efficiency.
Q: On the storm yesterday, is the President satisfied that the welfare of federal workers, the way they were released yesterday, many of them stuck in hours and hours of traffic home — that’s under the Executive Office of the President, isn’t it?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, Ann, I’ve not had an occasion to speak with him on this this morning. Let me see if I can get some further guidance from OPM on that, which may honestly be the best place. I mean, look, you have a fairly large city that has few ways home, to be quite —
Q: Why weren’t they given more time to get out?
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if OPM can address that.
Q: And would the President sign a continuing resolution if it has any earmarks in it?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President was clear about — I think the President was pretty clear about earmarks in the State of the Union. And I also —
Q: Even if it meant the government had no money to continue after —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President would tell leaders in Congress before the bill got here not to send it up here because he’s going to send it back.
Q: And he’ll tell Senator Reid that?
MR. GIBBS: There’s 535 people that he told that on Tuesday, and he’s happy to reiterate it. I mean, I think that — I also think we’re entering into a period — I mean, I think there’s a reason why the piece of legislation that was contemplated at the end of last year never made it, because I think the days of those types of things have passed us by.
Q: Robert, Senator Reid doesn’t seem to have gotten that memo, though. I mean, he said the President needs to back off. He said that the earmarks are coming back because he plans on being around for a long time. I mean, that’s a serious area of disagreement between the President and the leader of his party on the Hill.
MR. GIBBS: It is.
Q: So, I mean, has the President talked to Senator Reid about that or is there —
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: — is there going to be a “come to Jesus” meeting or is it going to end in a veto?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know who would be Jesus. (Laughter.) No, I don’t — again, I —
Q: You must be getting at the end of your reign here. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, I just — no, no, I mean, again, I think —
Q: First Jesus reference. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think the — again, not to be flippant or funny but to go back to the original answer. Again, the President was clear on this. We can’t — we’re going to make some very, very tough decisions, as the President talked about in his budget. We’re going to make some decisions that cut programs that Democrats and Republicans alike would both say are important. But we’re doing that because we know right now the government spends far, far more than it takes in and that that can’t continue.
So I don’t know why or how you could ask different agencies and different places to undertake an exercise that those on Capitol Hill are unwilling to take themselves. That’s what’s animated the President’s decision to include not just an end for earmarks but a specific pledge that if they show up in that legislation he will veto it and he will send it back. And he said that after the election in an interview with 60 Minutes and I take him at his word.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Can you talk a bit about the President’s domestic travel schedule this year? Do you think he’ll be traveling more domestically than he did in the first two years? And also, he went to Wisconsin, an important swing state. Might there be a special focus and concentration on swing states that are part of the 2012 map?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we picked yesterday because, again, I think you saw three fairly dynamic companies. They’re adding jobs, they’re innovating, they’re meeting many of the challenges of tomorrow. And it was — they were good examples.
That’s why Manitowoc was picked. I can assure you, several days after the Bears lost, we wouldn’t have so closely targeted a suburb basically of Green Bay to — but I think that — I do think you’ll see the President travel more, and I think you’ll see the President — I think the President always feels better when he gets out of — I don’t mean out of the city, but out of — you live and you work in the same place, it’s nice to get out, it’s nice to see and talk to those that — like yesterday — that are innovating, that are building. We’ll take trips to schools to see decisions that are being made at a local or a state level to better educate children. And I think you — for those that are in the pool, I think he goes on these tours with a genuine amount of curiosity as to why they’re doing certain things, what they’re building. And I think to be able to get out and talk directly with those that are putting those projects together, they’re fun trips.
Q: Just a quick clarification about what you said regarding a press secretary announcement. You said it could be either today or tomorrow. Do you mean that it will come either today or tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: It could. (Laughter.) It could.
Q: Might it come later?
Q: It’s either going to be today or tomorrow? One or the other?
MR. GIBBS: Or — what I said was — I think the beginning of the answer was the announcement will come when the President and all his —
Q: How about before midnight Saturday?
MR. GIBBS: I was going to make an odds joke and that will just get me in trouble. Again, I think the decision will be announced when all the decisions have been made.
Q: On the question about the jobs and competitiveness council, when will the President make a decision about those members? And a related question about — is anything going to change about how the President interacts with that council, compared to the previous one, in terms of it doing its new mission?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t have a timeline for some of those appointments, but let me check and see if there is anything updated on that. Look, I think the structure of setting up PERAB and — took some time and that probably got it off to, in terms of presidential meetings, a bit slower than the President and I think members of the PERAB would have liked. This I think — I do think the President will have the occasion to meet with this group on a more regular basis. And let me find some guidance on timing of that.
Q: Robert, two quick ones. First, back on the press secretary. If it could come today or tomorrow, does that — that means a decision has been made, just not announced, correct?
MR. GIBBS: I have not been told that, no.
Q: And the other thing is unrelated. Do you have any idea what Governor Palin — former — meant when she said that the President’s remark about —
MR. GIBBS: Governor Palin’s —
MR. GIBBS: Oh, okay, I’m sorry.
Q: When she said that the President’s comment about Sputnik in the State of the Union was a WTF moment?
MR. GIBBS: Are you asking —
Q: I know what it means but do you know what she meant?
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, we should talk (whispers.) (Laughter.) I’m sorry, what —
Q: What’s she trying to say — a WTF —
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure all the answers are on her Twitter account. I probably —
Q: World trade —
MR. GIBBS: Do you think it means world trade? What is — what would —
Q: Winning the future.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, winning the future. Oh, wow, that is — you’re hired. (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, just to go back to Egypt for once more, for 30 years presidents have been saying to President Mubarak exactly what you say President Obama has been saying to President Mubarak with no effect. What additional leverage does President Obama have and can you blame the Egyptian people for seeing just the presidential pro forma statement of, well, you’ve got to do more on human rights to be more than pro forma after 30 of this —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to — I don’t know the level that — I don’t know the level of seriousness or exactly how each of those conversations transpired prior to when we got here. I can only speak for our time here and that is this has — as I said, this has been an important part of not just President Obama’s dialogue with President Mubarak but, as I said, in talking to those here that are involved in senior meetings around government with — that would interact on a bilateral basis with the government of Egypt, these are topics that we push on each and every one of those times.
I think what makes maybe this unique is — and I’d refer you back to the statements on this where we say this is an opportunity for President Mubarak to seize in order to address the decades-long concern and — concern that the people of Egypt have for their lack of rights. And I think our hope is that in a peaceful way we can all witness the government of Egypt, President Mubarak, and the people of Egypt come together in an important dialogue and a forum where these rights and these universal values can and will be addressed.
And, again, I think it’s important to reiterate one more time that as these discussions and as these protests happen, that first and foremost we want to caution both the government and the protesters to do so in a way that is peaceful and respects the very rights that we’re having a discussion about.
Q: Hey, Robert, AfPak, did you go, any news?
MR. GIBBS: I did go for about three-quarters of it. The President — and you guys have a roster of who was there — the President got an update on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, both from a counterterrorism perspective as well as the security situation in Afghanistan. The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing our goals for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011, goals and objectives and how we’re going to meet those. That was the bulk of what the team went through this morning with the President.
And, look, I think the assessment of where we are security-wise is not a lot different than when you heard the President in here during the AfPak review, that we’ve — while we’ve seen progress, we understand that that progress is — can be reversed if we don’t continue to take the steps to ensure that as we clear, that we hold, that we build, and that ultimately the goal, as enumerated in Lisbon, begin to transfer those security operations back to the Afghan government, the Afghan people, and we see an increase in the training and their security forces.
Q: And is Joe Biden right that it will be more than a token withdrawal of troops in July?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you back to, again, what the President has said repeatedly and reiterated in the State of the Union just on Tuesday.
END 2:40 P.M. EST