James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller.
Q: Thanks, Robert. A couple questions on Egypt and then I want to ask you something about the Chamber speech. The President said as he was walking back that Egypt has to negotiate a path and I think they’re making progress. Can you elaborate a bit on his thinking, where specifically do you think they’re making progress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, Ben, what the President was referring to is that, as you heard him say on Friday, that we have the beginnings of a process that is taking place, a process that we know has to include a series of steps that have to be taken and a series of things that have to be negotiated with a broad section of the opposition parties in order to move us towards a free and fair election.
I think that we will — meaning the world and I think most importantly, the Egyptian people — will evaluate where we are in terms of the steps that are being taken in order to see the words that are spoken about meaningful change actually result in some concrete actions. I think that’s what people are looking for. Words are not enough. It is actions toward a meaningful change that the Egyptian people are most looking for.
Q: This thing, as you know, has changed by the hour. So the President as we stand today is optimistic about how the process is headed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again — optimistic, and I think it’s important in a couple things, because I think what you just said is very important, that this thing does change very quickly, hour by hour.
Understand if you take half a step back what we’ve seen happen over the course of 10 to 14 days. You’ve heard me describe it. You’ve seen some monumental changes in Egypt: a leader say he’s not going to run for reelection; a leader say that his son won’t be running in his place for election; the appointment of a Vice President and the tasking of that Vice President to lead a process to result in a free and fair election — many other points along the way. But I think that is important.
Again, the most important thing is that there has to be a process toward meaningful change, that we have to see, again, the government sit with a broad cross-section of society that makes up — when I say the opposition, people that aren’t in government — to get us toward the free and fair elections that we know ultimately will be a result of this.
Q: It wasn’t entirely from the President’s comments yesterday as they relate to the Muslim Brother — whether in that broad spectrum you’re talking about he is comfortable with that group being part of the conversation, in fact, whether he sanctions them.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, those that will be involved in the discussions about what happens next in Egypt, as we have said throughout many occasions, will not be determined by us. I also think if you look at what has happened, again, over the last 10 to 14 days, I think the notion that somehow all of what you’ve seen as the result of one political faction or one set of beliefs is not at all the case. There are a whole host of elements throughout Egyptian society not represented in its current government, seeking the rights that we’ve enumerated in here that they have sought that want to be part of this discussion. And quite frankly, we strongly support democracy in Egypt.
Q: But I guess —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me say this. But democracy is — again, I said probably more than a week ago — democracy is not one group hijacking a process so that they can take power from another group that they didn’t think fairly represented their views and their rights. That’s not democracy. Democracy has to be a broad section of people that are represented in what would be a free and fair election.
Q: Well, the reason I asked, in particular —
MR. GIBBS: And I think it’s important — one more interruption — and I think it is very important to restate as we have said many times, we will be a partner to a government that does exactly what I describe and we would expect that that partner would uphold particularly the treaties and the obligations that the government of Egypt and ultimately the people of Egypt have entered into.
Q: I’m asking in particular about the Muslim Brotherhood because in his answer yesterday the President acknowledged — I don’t have the exact wording, but there’s an anti-American strain —
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: — to some of their thinking. So the American people might look at that and say, well, where does this President stand if that group is going to be involved?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean — look, again, who is involved in the larger process is up to the Egyptians to determine, understanding, again, that the only — I think it would be horribly inaccurate to simply say that there are two factions in Egypt — one is the Muslim Brotherhood and the other is the government of Egypt. That’s clearly not the case and clearly wasn’t the case in what we’ve seen transpire on the streets.
But obviously, as the President said, the anti-American rhetoric and the anti — the rhetoric that goes very counter to the very regional peace and stability that I spoke of is of course not something that is supported by the United States.
Q: I wanted to squeeze in a quick one here about the Chamber. In his speech the President said to the Chamber leaders, ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, to invest in this nation. I guess I’m wondering — I understand the broad point about shared responsibility, but why does he think he would need to say to them, ask yourselves what you can do to hire workers. Doesn’t he think they’re already doing that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we are — look, I think it is clear we are coming out of a period that we have not seen in our country’s history in probably the 80 or 90 years — the economic collapse that we saw, the jobs that were lost as a result of it.
Obviously, what the President wants to see and wants to have a continued discussion on are ways that we can foster ideas for innovation, for building, for education, that continue to give business confidence in the strengthening of our economy. That’s how they’re going to make decisions. And we want to do what we can to help them make decisions to hire folks here in this country because they feel like the economy is getting stronger and coming back.
MR. GIBBS: Robert, what is the U.S. assessment of how badly the protests in Egypt are hurting its economy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there’s — without getting into the assessments that we may discuss in private, I think you can see there’s a lot of reporting about concern about food and fuel prices inside of Egypt. And as we talked about last week, we were concerned, and there have been several meetings on how we help get commodities that are either close or at the edge of at entryways or in ports into the cities where they’re needed most. Obviously we are concerned about capital that might leave and obviously we continue to monitor to see whether — what impact some of these — all of these actions might ultimately have on the global economic recovery.
Again, we’ve — at least the last time I had a longer discussion about this, we did not see impediments in the Suez and things like that that would result in big fluctuations.
Q: Does that mean so far the assessment on the global economy is not a major concern to —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that — obviously we continue to monitor important things like the Suez. As we’ve talked about in here, Egypt is not an oil exporter. But I think this is — needless to say, this is something — whenever you have a crisis in a country with the magnitude of this, its impact on the global economy is watched quite closely here.
Q: And while you are weighing, at least, or threatening on one hand, to look at your aid policy towards Egypt based on how they respond to the protesters, are you also looking at potential financial help to help the country because of this impact?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, again, we have had discussions about ways to assist the movement of goods and services, commodities, throughout the country. Obviously the President has discussed on a lot of his conversations with other world leaders about the situation not just what the United States but what other countries can do that are closer in the region to help the process of business and commerce. Obviously you’ve got banks that are opening back up again and such.
Q: One question on the Chamber if I may. A lot of people from the Chamber were hoping or expecting that the President today would outline some kind of a specific way forward for the Panama and Colombia trade pacts. Why did he not do that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, be patient. That’s all I would say. I mean, I think, look — and let me expand on that a little bit. I mean, we picked up an agreement with South Korea that had not made any progress. We spent a lot of time working on that agreement to ensure that all of the stakeholders felt like it represented the best interests of this country.
We walked away from what would have been a nice PR hit in Seoul because we didn’t think the agreement did what it needed to do for us — only to come back and get an agreement that we thought was even better, which then got stakeholders from the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, business and labor to support the agreement that we did come up with. I think the President believes that is a model for moving forward on other trade pacts like Colombia and Panama. And as for that, I’d stay tuned.
Q: Does that model have a timetable?
MR. GIBBS: We’d like to move forward and those are discussions that are beginning.
Q: Congressman Issa has solicited suggestions from industry about regulations they feel are impeding job growth, per the President’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. Has the President pinpointed any regulations he feels like can be changed immediately or in the short term so as to help with job growth? And has the White House reviewed any of these regulations that industry is asking you —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if there’s an update on what our op-ed was a couple weeks ago, Jake. I can certainly check. The President — and I think he mentioned it again today — a review process that goes through and looks at outdated or unnecessary regulations. At the same time we have to balance that with, as the President said today, sensible standards to ensure safe and clean drinking water, and safe and clean — the safety and cleanliness of the air that we breathe, in order to create, again, some sensible standards for — to protect our families.
So let me see if there’s an update on what the President wrote about.
Q: Okay. A couple of weeks ago, Axelrod told me in an interview that the President had been confronting — that’s the word he used — Mubarak directly on human rights and political reforms. That was the strongest word you guys have used to date to describe those conversations. Usually it was just done in a readout that said that the issue was raised. Can you elaborate a little bit more on how confrontational the President has been with Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some guidance on NSC. Again, I think this is a topic on human rights, on democracy, on freedom of assembly that the President has had on a number of occasions with President Mubarak. It’s brought up in virtually every bilateral meeting that I’m aware that our country has had with, at any level with the Egyptian government.
I think you saw a pretty clear statement about elections that were held last year and a pretty clear statement in opposition to — our opposition to their decision to continue emergency law, one of the things that has to be looked at in the process of negotiations that’s going forward now.
So, again, I don’t know that I’d ever get, Jake, into reading out with some specificity the tone or what have you, but I can assure you, as those readouts have said that you guys have gone back into your emails to look at, we’ve been clear with President Mubarak and the Egyptians about what we needed to have happen. And that is true not just of this administration but many of these arguments have been made for many years by other administrations.
Q: Right. But bringing it up with just words is one thing. You guys, since this crisis began, have dangled out the prospect of reviewing aid to Egypt depending on how the government deals with this crisis. That’s an action, to threaten to withhold aid if certain steps are not taken. Was that done in previous —
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q: One final thing. Apparently the Google executive Wael Ghonim has been freed. Google sent out an announcement. I was just wondering if you guys had any response to that or if you guys were involved in that in any way.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC on whether or not we were involved in that.
Q: Is President Mubarak president in name only? I mean, it seems as if the United States is behind the Vice President as leading this transition process.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the Vice President has been tasked by the President to lead this transition process. But I think it’s important to understand this isn’t about a process, Dan. This isn’t about a series of personalities. This is about ensuring that we have meaningful actions through negotiations between the government and the opposition that lead us to free and fair elections.
I do think, again, as I said earlier to Ben, stepping back and understanding we have a Vice President for the first time in almost three decades of President Mubarak’s leadership in Egypt. He tasked Vice President Suleiman with the process of working through these changes. And I think it was clear when the President said yesterday that Egypt has let the world know they’re not going back. And our policy is obviously to move Egypt forward.
Q: And how does the White House then view him as —
MR. GIBBS: View?
Q: President Mubarak — is he still the leader of Egypt, the go-to person for the administration? Or are you dealing mainly with the Vice President at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I would say I don’t — I’ve not been apprised of any leadership changes in Egypt. Obviously, President Mubarak has resigned I think on Saturday his leadership position — as his son did — in party politics. Dan, we have conversations with a whole host of players throughout the Egyptian government.
And it’s important that the leadership of Egypt is not going to be determined by us; it will be determined by the Egyptian people. And what the Egyptian people want to see most is a meaningful process that brings about these changes. They’re going to be the judge of whether this process is moving at a pace that’s required, and we want to see that process move forward. You heard the President, again, not just say yesterday but say on Friday, the transition has to begin now.
Q: Just to follow on Ben’s question about the Muslim Brotherhood, I know you keep insisting that this is something for the Egyptian people to figure out, it’s not for the United States to interfere. But would the White House be comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood playing a significant role?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, obviously, as I said, we have significant disagreements with — we have not been in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. But Dan, we don’t — the United States doesn’t pick leaders of other countries.
Q: I’m not talking about picking them, but would you be comfortable if they became — took on a leadership role?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we have said in other countries in the world that becoming part of — you have responsibilities if you become part of the government to adhere to the agreements that that government has laid out, to adhere to the rule of law and to the constitution, and to adhere to non-violence. So obviously we have many disagreements with the rhetoric of some of the leaders in that organization.
Q: One other thing, on Sarah Palin. Any reaction to the remarks that she made about Egypt being the President’s 3:00 a.m. call that went to an answering machine?
MR. GIBBS: I got to tell you, I read that answer several times, and I still don’t really know what she said.
Q: Do you have anything on the reports over the weekend and more today about Mubarak possibly going to Germany for —
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q: You’re not aware of discussions going on about that?
MR. GIBBS: I have nothing to report on that, no.
Q: Could you tell — what is the President doing in terms of calls? Is he still making calls?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think believe the President has made any calls today. I think Tommy read out the latest calls from over the weekend. There obviously was another — a fairly standard meeting this morning at the deputies committee, and this obviously was a huge chunk of the daily briefing that the President got this morning.
Q: Could you — from the administration’s point of view, what exactly is the role of Suleiman and —
MR. GIBBS: The role of Suleiman is — as I said to Dan, he is the individual tasked with the government’s part of a process toward meaningful change. And that change — the change that ultimately leads to a recognition of rights, a renouncement of the emergency law, and the emergence of free and fair elections.
Again, this is about a process. It’s not about a personality. And it is important that the people see progress toward that meaningful change, just as it is important that those in the opposition take part in this process and put forward what they want to see come out of this, so that there is a meaningful discussion and meaningful negotiations about what Egypt is going to look like going forward. Because as the President said, it is clear Egypt is not going back to what it was.
Q: On yesterday’s interview before the Super Bowl, did the President have any feelings about it afterwards? Did he express any —
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he was eager to get to the — I think he was eager to watch the game.
Q: How about you? What do you think about the interview?
MR. GIBBS: I was also eager to watch the game. (Laughter.)
Q: Has the White House received a readout of precisely which opposition groups have met with the Egyptian Vice President?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously we get some update on who is involved in the process. But, again, I want to be clear, it’s not for us to determine who should and shouldn’t be involved in that process. For the process to be a legitimate process, it has to include a broad cross-section of those that are in Egyptian society, in Egyptian civil society, and not involved in that government. And there are — this is a process that is going to be at times bumpy because when for 28 years you have had one leader without a series of — without really a robust opposition, it’s going to take some time to work this stuff out.
But I think what is important is that process — as the President has said, the process has to begin now, the process has to move forward, and the people in Egypt will know whether that process is moving forward at the pace that they need it to move forward, and whether or not the concerns that have brought them to Tahrir Square are being addressed. And I think that’s what the world is watching.
Q: Do you guys feel like you have an accurate way of assessing what the average Egyptian believes or wants at this point? I mean, we’ve seen obviously certain people who are anti-the government take to the streets. We’ve seen some people perhaps on the government payroll on the other side of the street. I’m just wondering what the average Egyptian who is going about his or her day — do you guys feel like you have a way of assessing what they’re thinking at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that one of the things that the embassy — and we’ve talked about this — one of the things that the embassy is tasked with and does well in Egypt is to have conversations with a broad cross-section of people in Egypt. People — and this isn’t just potential — or people that are just focused on government. Obviously, there’s business, there’s cultural, there’s a whole cross-section of people that are important for us to communicate with, and those are primarily done, and done fairly routinely, out of the embassies that we have around the world. And I think our ambassador there is doing a remarkable job.
Q: On the Chamber, real fast. On efforts to lower the corporate tax rate, the upper tax rate from, I guess, 35 to 28, I’m wondering how far along in the process are you guys at this point. Is everything still on the table, being considered? Because obviously you want it to be deficit neutral, right?
MR. GIBBS: And I think this is — I think, Mike, what’s important is that this has to be an open process that is one that — and I think you heard the President discuss it clearly today, that those involved in this structure, in this system, take part in. You’ve seen as a result of some meetings that we had at the Blair House, discussions that Secretary Geithner and others have had — I think we’re in the midst of this process and hearing from stakeholders about their ideas.
Q: I know tactics are changing all the time. What is our policy toward Egypt right now? How would you describe our policy toward Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Our policy toward Egypt is we watch and we are strongly encouraging the process of meaningful change transpiring, resulting in a more open, a more transparent society, a more responsive government; one that the United States can continue to partner with; one that results in — a process that results in free and fair elections, and one that is democratically elected.
Q: If Egypt is not an ally, or not as good of an ally as it has been, is that a policy failure? Or is the goal to just try to —
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I think that is — I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to get into electoral hypotheticals. Our focus is twofold: One, to continue to speak out against the violence. I think we’re going to see more and more of this. I know you all are probably more aware of this than — because these are your colleagues that are coming back who have — who we saw were targeted and beaten last week. Obviously, those types of actions can’t continue. Violence cannot be the response from this government to the cares and concerns of its people.
And our energy right now is focused on doing what we can to encourage this process of change along. Again, it’s going to be bumpy. It is going to be — it’s going to have to be determined by the Egyptians.
Q: Is Mubarak growing increasingly — do you guys get the sense that Mubarak himself is becoming increasingly isolated inside his own government?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t honestly have anything for you on that, Chuck.
Q: And you said definitively there’s been no American government contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. Last week you sort of left it open that we were reaching out to a broad section. So last week we reached out to everybody except the Muslim Brotherhood?
MR. GIBBS: What I was describing was some of what I was talking about earlier, which is we have fairly regular and robust discussions with a lot of different people in Egypt. Again, the last time I was — I talked about this we had not had conversations with them.
Q: But you wouldn’t rule it out, that there would be some outreach and some embassy —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think there’s a responsibility, as I said earlier, for those that want to have responsibility in governing that they have to do several things. And democracy is a commitment to something larger than themselves.
Q: Who did the President call last night after the Super Bowl?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think he’s called anybody yet. I think they’re going to call some folks this afternoon.
Q: He still hasn’t called Aaron Rodgers?
MR. GIBBS: I think that is scheduled for a little later this afternoon.
Q: A question on Lockerbie, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: As a Packer fan I know that there —
Q: This is killing me. He has bias toward the Rooneys — that’s pretty clear.
MR. GIBBS: No, I think — look, Ambassador Rooney is a good friend. It was a good game. I think everyone — I think the President — look, the President was hoping for a meaningful process that resulted in — (laughter) — his Bears being in the Super Bowl. Now that we don’t have that, you want a good game.
Q: Today, Robert, there was a release of 150 documents in Great Britain on the al-Megrahi-Lockerbie case, showing that contrary to prior statements by the Labor government, the Labor government may indeed have developed a policy behind the scenes to do all they could to ensure the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Can you comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, all I’ll say on this is I think our position throughout this process was public and very clear. We did not think in any way, shape or form that his release was in anybody’s interest. We continue to believe that.
Q: Switching gears here, a week from today the President is going to be releasing his budget. And a lot of the things that he’s gone for in the last couple of years haven’t gone through — things like cutting farm subsidies. But now you have a new crop of Republicans —
MR. GIBBS: No pun intended.
Q: I didn’t even — anyway — who might be looking — who might be more amenable to some of these things. And I’m trying to find out —
MR. GIBBS: Try and see if I’ll read out that particular line of the Ag budget that, as you appropriately mentioned, might be released sort of in a week?
Q: Exactly. (Laughter.) Is there any outreach that would go on before the budget release to members of Congress, especially new members of Congress, to try and make sure that some of these proposals actually have life this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me see — we can check and see if there was anything — obviously the budget gets — the process of putting together a budget starts — has been going on for many, many months. So I think obviously this is — look, the introduction of the President’s budget, as you saw in Jack Lew’s op-ed and you’ve heard the President discuss, will contain some very significant and some very tough decisions — significant cuts and some tough decisions, resulting in the five-year non-security discretionary freeze, about $400 billion in cuts, and will result in our government spending the smallest share as a percentage of GDP going back to the Eisenhower administration.
So we’ve made some significant cuts. And the truth is this is a — this will be an ongoing process and an ongoing discussion that will be had over the course of many months. The President is anxious to hear from Democrats and Republicans. We understand we have to make some serious changes in our fiscal policies going forward.
Q: But does that mean that the five-year freeze is what we should be looking for as far as tough decisions, or is there — will he say anything beyond that regarding —
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I do appreciate how everybody puts out ideas and then they’re quickly cast aside. It’s a $400 billion 10-year idea that takes us to the smallest share of government spending as a product of our GDP since Dwight D. Eisenhower was roaming these halls. So I think just to throw that off as, well, so do we already know what’s in it — you’ll get some more specifics, but obviously that’s the top line of what you’re going to see.
Q: And was Jennifer Lopez sufficiently interested in the game last night? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think a good time was had by all — (laughter) — unless you were a Steelers fan.
Q: Robert, did the White House solicit an invitation from the Chamber to address them today?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the exact process. I think they invited us, but I can double-check on that.*
Q: And on Egypt, does President Obama see any merit in what Frank Wisner said over the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: I want to be clear that, as I think many of us told you, former Ambassador Wisner is not an employee of the government. He was, based on his broad experience in Egypt, asked by the State Department — and I would direct you to the State Department on the specifics of anything regarding him — to travel to Cairo and have a specific conversation with President Mubarak. He did, and reported that back to us.
But his views on who should or shouldn’t be the head of Egypt don’t represent the views of our administration. The views of our administration are that those are decisions that will be made by Egyptians.
Q: Can I follow on that specifically, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: Were you aware that he works for Patton, Boggs, which represents the Egyptian government and the Egyptian military?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would direct you to my friends at the State Department who brought this recommendation to us.
Q: Can I follow on that also —
MR. GIBBS: Sheryl, I don’t know that I’m going to add much to the fact that you should —
Q: Well, a little bit of a different twist, that —
MR. GIBBS: — talk to our friends at the State Department.
Q: There has been considerable criticism of the Obama administration and the President for sending him, in light of Patton, Boggs’ ties, business interests in Egypt. And I’m wondering do you think —
MR. GIBBS: Again, let me — let me —
Q: Let me ask the question, and then you can say you’re not going to answer it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’m almost sure I know what you’re going to say so I’m just shortening the —
Q: Well, don’t shorten it.
MR. GIBBS: I’m shortening the great experience that you and I are having today. I will say this. Again, it’s my understanding that the State Department selected him based on his experience with Egyptian policy. Again, the specifics of what you just said and what you were just about to say, I would reiterate for the third time that there are many good people over at the State Department that have answers to those questions.
Q: And my question is, in the future, do you think you might consider these kinds of business interests more seriously before sending such an envoy? Do you think it’s a problem or a conflict in any way?
MR. GIBBS: Please call the State Department, Sheryl.
Q: In terms of — Mr. Biden has called Mr. Suleiman twice now. Is it safe to say that Biden has the Suleiman brief?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there’s a counterpart-to-counterpart, Vice President-to-Vice President call relationship.
Q: Any calls from President Obama to Vice President Suleiman in —
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: And then one final call question. Did the President call or hear or know of Jane Harman’s decision to leave?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. I think some people may have known that she was interested in that position, but I don’t know that — I can check with OLA and see if there’s anything on that.
Q: Robert, just the question on the Chamber speech and then Egypt. When he’s talking about the $400 billion over 10 years, that’s net after he’s made the investments he wants to make and paid for them? Is that correct — the $400 billion is net?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there’s a — we all understand we have to cut spending. And as you freeze the level of spending over the course of five years at a certain level, you’re still spending X amount of money. So inside of that money, you can cut some and add to others. But the baseline is a freeze.
Q: Okay, but in terms of cutting some and adding to others, he said he’s going to make room for the new investments he wants and they’re all going to be paid for. Will the budget on Monday explain how much all of these are going to cost and how he’s going to pay for them?
MR. GIBBS: The details on next year’s budget will be released next week.
Q: But he’s been — he hasn’t given any indication of how much the stuff is going to cost except for $50 billion for infrastructure, but that’s all going to be revealed? Okay, my question about Egypt is — when he talked this weekend about how there shouldn’t just be two factions, or we shouldn’t look at it as two factions — Muslim Brotherhood or a repressive government — how much influence does the United States or does the President feel he has to encourage third, fourth, or fifth options for Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we have and we continue to reiterate that the process must include a broad cross-section of those in Egyptian society and representing the viewpoints of that group of people. And it’s clear that — it is clear as we watch what transpired over the course of many days that this was not a series of protests organized by one group. They were the cares and concerns of a lot of different people in Egypt. And democracy, which we’re supportive of in Egypt, has to include that broad cross-section. There’s not just two factions in Egypt.
Q: But there’s one really organized one and then a bunch of other ones who turned out to protest. That’s what I’m asking you, how you can —
MR. GIBBS: I think you just proved my point.
Q: Well, okay, but the other thing you said earlier, we expect them to uphold all the treaties and obligations, do you feel that what — whoever and whatever is the next government of Egypt should be bound by the previous government’s —
MR. GIBBS: Yes — just as we are and just as democracies throughout the world are.
You want to try it one more time? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I have a separate Egypt question.
Q: Drum roll. (Laughter.)
Q: Apparently Vice President Suleiman has made remarks on Egyptian television that Egypt is not ready for democracy, that it may not be time to lift the emergency law, and that the protest movement is fueled by outsiders looking to undermine Egypt. The question is, has the administration spoken to him about these statements, challenged him to explain them in any way?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that there’s been any contact with Vice President Suleiman today, Sheryl. Again, I don’t need anybody to call the Vice President of Egypt to know that our government and many past administrations have believed strongly that the emergency law needed to be lifted. It is quite clear that what we have had in Egypt for three decades is not what we’re going to have in Egypt moving forward. So the notion that Egypt isn’t ready for democracy I think runs quite counter to what we see happening in Tahrir Square and on the streets on cities throughout the country of Egypt.
It is incumbent upon the government to play a meaningful role and to encourage a meaningful process. It’s clear that statements like that are not going to be met with any agreement by the people of Egypt because they don’t address the very legitimate grievances that we’ve seen expressed as a result of these protests.
Q: You can sort of look at this as a follow-up, actually. You’ve said a couple of times that it’s not a matter of personalities, it’s process. But isn’t the point that a lot of the demonstrators are making that it is personalities and that whatever process begins cannot be legitimate if Hosni Mubarak is still in power and pulling the strings?
MR. GIBBS: Right. But I —
Q: Are you taking sides against some of the demonstrators?
MR. GIBBS: Because I think, quite frankly, Mark, I don’t think it’s — we want to see this process move forward. We understand that there are a whole host of things that those that seek recognition of human rights, legitimate rights want to see. We’ve heard the government and the people discuss constitutional changes that they need or would like to see before we get to free and fair elections, and they’re important.
I think it’s important that we can’t see meaningful progress if one side is as — where Vice President Suleiman’s remarks are today, and the other side is, we’re not going to do anything until everything changes. The process has to be dynamic and we have to see the government take part in a meaningful way and outline a series of steps and a timeline that the Egyptian people are comfortable with. And we have to see those that are not involved in government put forward a set and a series of ideas of what they’d like to see, so that negotiations can take place and we can move forward.
I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest to have two sides be so far apart and the process be stopped. I don’t think that’s a process.
Now, the leaders — who picks the leaders of Egypt, that’s going to be determined by the Egyptians. That is not — and we’re not saying — I want to be clear, this government does not come down on the side of, one way or the other, who those leaders are. That’s a process for the Egyptians.
Q: By saying that you don’t really — that you’re indifferent to the personalities, it’s the process involved, are you not taking sides against many of the demonstrators who said the process needs to begin with Mubarak leaving?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, because I think I was pretty clear about what the government just said as being unacceptable, as well.
But again, I guess the point I’m trying to make, Mark, is that if one side says we’re not going to change at all, and one side says we’re not going to participate until everything changes, you’re going to simply have — you’re going to have a very static situation. And I think what is important is that we have to have and see meaningful progress, and both sides have to be involved in that progress.
Q: May I follow on two very important things you said? You said before there was no economic impact. What about the sabotage —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I want to be — we’re monitoring the economic impact. We have — I think we have not seen impact in the Suez in particular.
Q: What about the sabotage of the gas pipeline in Jordan? Do you know —
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think we continue to monitor and get updates on what that is.
Q: I think you said that President Obama had resigned his leadership. Has he technically? I thought he was —
MR. GIBBS: President Obama is still very much — (laughter) —
Q: Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean that —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t wasn’t to reprise an Al Haig role here at the very end. (Laughter.) Be calm. Be calm. I’m sorry, I’m sorry —
Q: Robert, I’m so anxious to get a question in. I think you said President Mubarak has resigned from the leadership —
MR. GIBBS: Of the ruling party, which I think was announced was Saturday.
Q: Well, I’m not sure if — I thought his name was still on the announcement from the ruling party.
MR. GIBBS: I think he resigned that on Saturday, along with Gamal.
Q: Robert, what did the President think of his reception at the Chamber of Commerce speech?
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t speak with him directly about it. I think —
Q: He had a lot of applause lines in there and they sat on their hands. There was total silence when he talked about such things as regulation, moderate applause when he said he’d go anywhere in the world to talk about exporting U.S. goods. Does he think he got his message across?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ann, the President didn’t go there so that everyone would clap when he came in the room. I think he went there to — and you go and deliver these speeches because, I think as the President said in the very beginning, we have a lot of work that we have to do together, and the only way we’re going to make progress is if we work together on a whole host of issues in a very challenging global economy.
I think the President is clear that we are not going to agree on everything. And we’ve seen some of that transpire over the past two years. But as the President has said, we’re not looking to refight the battles of the past two years. We’ve got significant challenges that continue to lay ahead of us and the only way we’re going to make progress is to tackle those challenges together.
Look, I think — let’s take the President’s infrastructure proposal as a way of outbuilding our worldwide competition. To watch that endorsed by the head of the Chamber and the head of the AFL-CIO is exactly the type of bringing people together that I think the President believes has to happen in order for us to break out of the boxes of Washington and make some real progress.
Q: Thanks, Robert. I have two questions on the health care ruling, the most recent health care ruling. One, does the administration believe that the penalty for not carrying insurance, is that considered a tax justified by the general welfare clause or the —
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve covered this in many past briefings and I’d point you to those answers.
Q: Okay. One more on that. Judge Vinson said that a injunction is not necessary — a quote from that decision — because longstanding presumption is that the official — is that the official of the executive branch will adhere to the laws as declared by the court. In this case, is the administration adhering to the law?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there are many courts that have heard many cases on this. Twelve have dismissed the case. Two have — more than 12, I’m sorry, have dismissed this case. Two have ruled in our favor as to its constitutionality. Two have ruled against us. Implementation of the health care bill rightly continues to move forward, as it’s the law of the land.
Q: I understand that, but the other decisions didn’t speak so much to the totality of the law, even Judge Hudson’s decision.
MR. GIBBS: No, they ruled on its constitutionality. And, look, I’d point to you even places — I think you saw just late last week the state of Wisconsin, despite the attorney general’s participation in the lawsuit, the state of Wisconsin announced that the implementation moves forward. And I would point out that one of the statehouses in the Commonwealth of Virginia passed by a vote, I think, of 95-3 to begin setting up health care exchanges. I think that’s pretty clear indications that the implementation of this important law move forward.
Q: Can I follow quickly on that? Has the administration been in touch with any of the Republican governors who are questioning whether resources should be devoted to implementation to insist or assure them that they should continue with plans?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we have had specific outreach. I know the Governors Association is in town later this month. But our policy has and continues to be that implementation moves forward.
Q: Anything on Sudan?
Q: Just another question about the Chamber speech. One of the times that the President went off of his remarks a little bit was to say that retirement spending is dragging on the deficit. And I’m wondering, is this — I know you guys have mentioned Social Security as a way of reinforcing the system, but is this something that the President wants to address to deal with the long-term deficit? And does he plan to lead that sooner rather than later?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say, I think as the President mentioned in the State of the Union, that unless we deal with all of our budget, there’s not enough — we don’t spend enough in discretionary spending to solve the problem.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, Lester, you’re awfully excited today.
Q: I’m sorry.
MR. GIBBS: I know.
So unless or until we deal with — and look, I think the steps that the President took in health care clearly have an impact on the long-term deficit. That’s why the CBO said repealing health care would cost more than $200 billion in the next 10 years, and certainly cost more in the 10 years after that, because you’re changing the arc of health care costs and health care spending.
So I think there’s no doubt that this has to be a process that’s dealt with. But it also has to be a process that everybody is involved in. I don’t think we’re likely to see big changes around that unless all the stakeholders across different — across the political spectrum are involved.
Q: Robert, Robert, just two — just two questions.
MR. GIBBS: I think she’s got a follow-up question. Just — I think you’re next, so just —
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: There you go. Go ahead.
Q: He specifically mentioned retirement —
MR. GIBBS: She’s sitting next to you, Lester. For God sakes, what do you mean? (Laughter.)
Q: She’s a very nice lady.
MR. GIBBS: I know. I know.
Q: I thought she was finished.
MR. GIBBS: That’s — she expects the same niceties. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q: I guess he specifically mentioned retirement spending and said that there was more to do looking to the future, so is he going to lead the bipartisan process that you talk about?
MR. GIBBS: I think a bipartisan process has to involve more than just him. I think you have seen, again, his willingness to tackle some of our health care spending as a way of showing how serious he is about addressing this. And I think he wants to have a serious discussion and work with those that are serious about this coming forward.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Just two questions. There was a great deal of media coverage of the President’s inviting guests to watch the Super Bowl with him, plus the menu — great deal of coverage of the menu. Could you tell us whether the President, as Commander-in-Chief, also asked guests to watch with him the Army-Navy game? Or did he skip that classic which is so much older than the Super Bowl?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — obviously, the Army-Navy game is —
Q: He’s Commander-in-Chief.
MR. GIBBS: No, I — have you been to the Army-Navy?
Q: I’ve been to 43 of them.
MR. GIBBS: It’s a remarkable tradition. I went —
Q: Did the President watch it on TV?
MR. GIBBS: I will go back and look at his schedule. I don’t know whether the President watched the Army-Navy game, Lester.
Q: The second — what does the President think of the move that already involves 20 percent of the states to require presidential candidates to prove with documentation their natural-born citizenship status in order to be on the presidential ballots in those states?
Q: Seriously —
Q: Send that to the State Department. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Again, I will — offer that to all secretaries of state, Lester. And — go ahead.
Q: Any comments on the results of the referendum in Sudan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously — I think, first and foremost, you saw an overwhelming turnout. You saw an equally overwhelming support for independence. I think it marks a new day in the region. And it is something that the President and his team have spent an awful lot of time on. And there are still — again, there’s a lot of work to be done, but we are heartened by the participation in those who sought their freedom.
Q: Robert, is this your last week with us?
MR. GIBBS: It is. I am going to miss almost all of you. Thanks, guys. (Laughter.)
END 2:21 P.M. EST