Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/1/2010By USGOV
Friday, October 1, 2010
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: So let’s — I don’t know, we’re missing a few folks, but they’ll be on their way. Let me just do a quick week ahead and then I can answer your questions.
On Monday, the President will attend a meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board here at the White House.
On Tuesday, the President will join Dr. Jill Biden at the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges. This event will highlight the critical role that community colleges play in developing America’s workforce and reaching our educational goals. The President will join Dr. Biden at the open — at the opening session.
Later, the President and the First Lady will host a diplomatic corps reception here at the White House. And in the evening, the President will address the 2010 Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women’s Summit in the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., to talk about the impact of women in business, on the economy, and the steps we can take together to ensure that America remains competitive over the long term.
On Wednesday, the President will award Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller of the U.S. Army the Medal of Honor. Staff Sergeant Miller will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in Afghanistan on January 25th, 2008. The First Lady will also attend that event. Later, the President will travel to New Jersey to attend a DNC dinner.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Prince George’s County, Maryland, to attend an event for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and later travel to Chicago to attend an event for Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.
On Friday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
Q Is he going to overnight in Chicago?
MR. GIBBS: To be determined. Working on that. That was — we were going back and forth on that just as I came out.
Q Can you talk about the likely timeline for a permanent chief of staff?
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, let me give you a little bit of a broad answer to — look, Pete Rouse and the President have talked through Pete’s new assignment and both come to an agreement on being chief of staff on an interim basis. The President believes that this is the best thing right now for our staff organization. Obviously we had a pretty short runway with the mayor’s decision in Chicago and ultimately Rahm’s decision.
We were in the midst of, and Pete was in charge of, looking through a two-year organizational review that, again, was in place before Rahm made any of his decisions and before the mayor announced his decision not to seek reelection; that, again, part of the normal course of turnover here at the White House.
So I would expect that nothing is likely to be decided on chief of staff for several months. Pete is — as I discussed yesterday and I think many of you all have written, Pete enjoys the complete trust of the President. Pete has an important strategic sense that has been — that he’s used on Capitol Hill as chief of staff to Senator Daschle, as both the minority leader and the majority leader. He has a keen organizational sense that will be invaluable here as we embark on new challenges based on that two-year organizational plan.
Q Does he not want to be permanent chief of staff?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that's something I think that he and the President are going to have to work through. But the President is pleased with Pete agreeing to do this. And I think they're both looking forward to the job.
Q And is the President going to campaign for Rahm in Chicago or have any –
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe any — I don't have anything on that. I don't know the answer to that, to be honest with you. I think — I mean, obviously, the President was — you’ve heard what the President said over the past several weeks and what the President said today about Rahm and his next endeavors.
Q Will the President consider Pete Rouse as on a short list of candidates for a permanent replacement?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely, absolutely.
Q Is there — does such a short list exist right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Pete is in — Pete is, again, as I mentioned, there’s a reorganizational process that — part of the natural process with turnover here that Pete’s heading. But obviously, simply because Pete has the — is the chief of staff, but only on an interim basis now, does certainly not — certainly does not preclude him being a permanent chief of staff at a later date.
Q Okay, it’s a completely different subject — Iraq. The main Shiite block in the Iraqi parliament has picked Maliki as the nominee for — as their nominee for prime minister, which means he’s on the way to controlling enough seats to form a new government. What’s the administration’s reaction to this development, which seems to open the way to a break in the deadlock in the forming of that government? And would there be a concern if there was not a Sunni representation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously, we are — this is a matter for a very young democracy to figure out. But as — we were talking about this earlier today and as somebody said, politics is breaking out in Iraq. This is a — this is what young democracies go through to form a government, a representative government of the people. So obviously we are helping and assisting in any way we can with this process, but these are decisions that have to be made by the Iraqis.
Q But does the administration want to see, as it has said before, a broad-based Iraqi –
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. Look, there’s — I think the — a government that represents everybody is what — is what everybody here is focused on.
Q Bin Laden has a new tape out. It’s one in which he calls on Muslims to give charity to victims of the Pakistani floods. This new approach, this new kind of message that he’s been putting out, comes at the same time that officials are worried about a Mumbai-style attack being plotted by al Qaeda. I was just wondering if you guys had any comment on the new tape, any comment on his new propaganda effort?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I don’t have anything specifically on the tape. Obviously our government and — has done quite a bit in terms of aid and help in what were obviously very tragic events and tragic floods in Pakistan. We understand that that is an important part of our bilateral relationship, ensuring that assistance.
I don’t want to get into threats and what have you, except to say that obviously the President is updated and has been an active participant in meetings — is an active participant in meetings every week dealing with whatever information we have and insists on that information being shared and ensuring that every department has whatever it may or may not need to deal with the crisis.
Q And then on Pete Rouse. I'm wondering, first of all, if you could talk about his — or explain why he’s a registered voter in Alaska.
MR. GIBBS: He’s not.
Q He’s not a registered voter –
MR. GIBBS: No. He’s a registered voter in the District of Columbia.
Q But he did vote absentee ballot in Alaska in 2008.
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I know — talking to Pete yesterday, he voted, I think — I don’t know who he voted for, but he voted in the mayor’s race here.
Q Okay. And Governor Palin — former Governor Palin has insinuated that Rouse — she suspected Rouse was part of a plot against her. She wrote about this in her book. She’s tweeted about — tweeted suggestions about this recently. I was just wondering if you guys have any comment on that.
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, it’s a fairly silly accusation that is baseless.
Q So he had nothing to do with any of the — okay, thank you.
Q If I could follow up on the bin Laden tape, does the administration believe that the tape is authentic, that that is a message from bin Laden?
MR. GIBBS: I am responding to the reports that it is. I have not — I have not seen the back and forth on authentification.
Q And what does the administration think about the fact that this is not a message calling for jihad, but rather talking about the need for relief, whether it’s famine or poverty or the Pakistani people that –
MR. GIBBS: I think they’re — and this is not addressed at one person. But as we have said, and as the President has said on multiple occasions, I think — I don’t think it is lost on the greater Muslim world that those that have perverted that great religion have harmed and killed more of their own religion than of anybody else. I think that speaks volumes and maybe their new tack speaks volumes of the fact that they are very much losing the battle for hearts and minds among the Muslim people.
Q And just to follow up on Iraq, the Washington Post reports it’s 208 days that they haven’t had a coalition — have not been able to get a coalition government together. Is there any concern that there is going to be a threshold, a timetable in which the Iraqi people are going to give up on the process, are going to feel as if this is — the election wasn’t worth it?
MR. GIBBS: No, because — look, obviously there is a functioning caretaking government that makes governmental decisions. But look, this is — these are the pushes and pulls that a young democracy goes through. I don't think anybody is under the illusion that democracy is just an election. Obviously, not only is there an election, you get to formation, but there is formation and then there is government.
So this, I think, is just what young democracies go through. Obviously we have spent quite a bit of time, and the Vice President in particular, in doing what we can to assist that process, understanding that the Iraqis and the Iraqis alone need to make these big decisions.
Q Robert, thank you. On Pakistan more broadly, you’ve got the recent missile strike that has caused so much difficulty. You’ve got the floods that have caused so much instability. You’ve got reports that the military may try to install a new President. Are we at a point of — are we at a point or near a point of crisis in Pakistan? Is the administration ready to sound the alarm here, or are these reports overblown?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I would say, Chip, that obviously we are all understanding of — Pakistan is located in a dangerous neighborhood. Obviously everybody understands the concerns that we have and now the concerns that the Pakistanis have in dealing with extremists in lawless areas.
Pakistan is an important strategic partner and a key ally to the United States. We believe that the government of Pakistan is committed to democracy and to the preservation of civilian leadership, obviously which we believe is tremendously important.
Look, you mentioned a series of events. We will continue to work with our ally in ensuring we can do whatever is possible to assist them in their fight against those extremists that, again, not just threaten us, but threaten the existence of their own government in Pakistan.
Q Has the administration sent any signals to Pakistan about these reports that the military may try –
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and see what specifically –
Q — to potentially engineer a coup, putting another –
MR. GIBBS: Look, I know that Ambassador Patterson, who the President receives weekly updates and is involved in all of the Situation Room discussions around the Afghanistan/Pakistan — not just the review, but the monthly meetings. Let me see if there’s anything that she or the State Department have in terms of specific recent dialogue with the Pakistanis.
Q On Pete Rouse, is he actually going to move into Rahm’s office?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q He is?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q He is. Okay. Sounds pretty permanent to me.
Q Sweet office.
Q Yes. I mean, he could stay in his office and use that as a conference room. But by moving there, is that sending a signal that he’s going to be –
MR. GIBBS: It’d be a palatial conference room, but — (laughter) –
Q He’s going to be around a while?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look — you know, Pete — look, Pete may just — regardless of whether the timeline is for several months or several years, Pete is the chief of staff. He has — I’ve worked with Pete since 2004. I’ve known him longer than that. There isn’t anybody in here that doesn’t have tremendous amount of respect for him.
I would tell you, one of the great testaments to Pete, if I can share a little aside of who he is as a person, I went to see Pete right before this on a couple of questions I had. And there were younger staffers that wouldn’t necessarily always be seated in the chief of staff’s office. But that's not to — that's not a knock on any chief of staff, it’s just — it’s a busy job.
Pete prides himself on the mentoring of young staff. And I remember as — when Pete and I worked together in then-Senator Obama’s office in early 2005, there was a steady stream of these young staffers coming in and out of his office, because he’d committed in a big Senate operation in Senator Daschle’s office, who’d lost reelection, to do everything he could to find every kid that worked for him the next job.
Pete is selfless. Pete is — in everything I’ve ever dealt with him on, has always put the organization ahead of himself. I think that’s one of the things that the President reveres in him — his loyalty to him. And I think that’s why he enjoys the President’s complete trust.
Q You said you went in to him to ask a couple of questions. Could you share those questions and answers with us?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I wanted to — I knew I was going to get asked about some reorganization, some timeline stuff, and I wanted to make sure that I understood it as he understood it. And I’ve always had that ability with Rahm; I'll always have that ability with Pete.
But again, I think what Pete — Pete is a — Pete, as I said, is just — there’s a great respect for Pete amongst the people that have worked here. And I think part of that is, Pete’s in those morning meetings; Pete is in a senior advisors — every senior advisors meetings that’s in the Oval Office; Pete is — has been intimately involved in strategic decisions dealing with Congress in order to get big pieces of legislation through. Pete has been, as you heard the President discuss — we joke that Pete has — Pete gets the file on Friday of the problem that nobody wanted and sort of it’s lunchtime on Friday and Pete has three hours before the close of business to solve it. And we joke that, “Pete, it’s Friday. Clear your afternoon.”
But Pete has been somebody who –
Q What problems? What does he solve?
MR. GIBBS: Just different bureaucratic problems, different — just different — the back-and-forth of governing. But Pete is somebody who is trusted to handle anything and everything, and now he’s got everything.
Q Is he going to remain behind the scenes, or do you think he’s going to have to come out and be on the Sunday talk shows and that kind of stuff?
MR. GIBBS: I will tell you what I told somebody yesterday who wanted an interview with Pete. I said, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. I said the bad news is Pete won’t be doing an interview with you. I said the good news is he won’t be doing an interview with anybody else. (Laughter.) So you won’t get scooped.
Look, Pete is — Pete’s a behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t anticipate, in all honesty, that that changes. That’s the way he’s — that’s the way he’s been for decades of government service.
Q Robert, are we safe in assuming that the President is hoping Pete will like the job more than Pete thinks he’ll like the job?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a good way of phrasing it. No, look, Pete is — again, the President has had several occasions to talk to Pete about this over the last little bit, and Pete is — Pete may not come out and say it, but I think Pete is excited about this and I think Pete is, given his strategic sense and his organizational sense and his trust — the trust the President has in him, I think he’s perfectly situated and capable of doing a great job. And we’ll all help him make sure that happens.
Q Is it fair to say that part of today’s event was a public endorsement of Rahm’s campaign for mayor?
MR. GIBBS: As I said earlier, the President — well, I think it’s pretty well known how the President feels about Rahm and how he feels about his ability to make some tough decisions and govern a city like Chicago that's going to have some tough decisions to make.
I think it was testament to the service that Rahm has provided the President, that he’s provided us, and has provided this country, in serving this President, that I think he deserved everything that was said today. We have — as I said before, we begin each day and we end each day, as the President does, with — usually in his office. And he has been a tireless advocate for this President and in getting done what this President wants to get done.
I have no information on political endorsements, but I think you know how the President feels about Rahm and his ability to do the job of mayor of Chicago.
Q Any concern about alienating other longtime friends, supporters in Chicago who want that job, as well?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't doubt there’s a lot of people who have gotten dressed over the past several weeks and looked in the mirror and saw the mayor. But look, again, I think the President’s words were fitting of the service that Rahm has provided to him, to the staff and to the country over a pretty tumultuous 20 months. Rahm gave up — Rahm did not come to this — some of us, we were on the campaign, and the next thing we were likely to do is to come here. Rahm wasn’t on that track. Rahm had to give up and sacrifice a lot — as you heard the President discuss today — not just personally but obviously what his family had to give up. And I think the President is remarkably grateful for that.
Q A quick one on another topic. You got a stimulus report coming out today. For TV folks, can you talk a little bit about what the report suggests to you, and what you draw from it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the report is going to discuss a couple of things — first and foremost that — and the President was briefed on this at the economic daily briefing yesterday, along with a report on AIG and TARP — and that is we have — we’ve met the legal deadlines that are set out in the law, that Congress set out in the law. We met our own deadline for ensuring that the money that was appropriated was gotten into the economy. We’re on track to create the jobs. We’ve said that, CBO has said that.
We’re going to discuss a little bit about the importance of what the Recovery Act has meant to increase economic growth, to job growth, and I think also two other things. One, that — I think the number was 0.2 percent of their — if you look at the number of projects and the number of complaints, it’s about 0.2 percent. I don’t think that amount of funding has ever been spent with less complaint than what you’re seeing.
And I think there is — there’s a practical impact as well in what you’re seeing that Republicans proposed in their pledge. It guarantees rolling back what is left to be spent in the Recovery Act will stop important projects dead in their tracks, like clean energy projects. It will stop tax relief for 110 million Americans. And for folks that talk about not wanting to raise taxes, that’s exactly what that pledge would do and make some — make some tough cuts in programs like education that we know are so incredibly vital for preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow.
Q Has the stimulus been a success? And if so, why doesn’t the American public seem to grasp that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the stimulus has been a success. It’s created jobs. It’s created economic growth. It has turned our economy from one — as you heard the President discuss today in the — close to slipping into the brink of another Great Depression into one that is moving in the right direction.
I think there is no doubt that people are — and are right to be — continually frustrated by the fact that our economic progress, though headed in the right direction, is not fast enough. And we’ll continue to do what we can to strengthen that recovery.
Q When did Rahm tell the President he was leaving?
MR. GIBBS: I believe — what’s today, Friday? I believe he told him officially on Wednesday. I will say this, they have — this is a — Rahm’s next steps and his decision is something that obviously he and the President have talked about since the mayor surprised everybody, including the President and Rahm, in making his announcement not to seek reelection.
Q Okay. You’ve been quite effusive about Pete Rouse. But to those who would say this is a White House that fears outsiders and is too insular and the choice of Pete Rouse just demonstrates that, what’s your response?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. I think if you look — I don’t know the exact date in which Mayor Daley said he wasn’t running for reelection, but it’s an awful short period of time to bring somebody in midstream to do that job. I think Pete will take over some functions that Rahm has had. But Pete has had overlapping functionability in the chief of staff’s job for quite some time. I mean, to get to Rahm’s office, you walk into a set of offices where, if you turn one direction, you end up in Rahm’s, and in the other direction, you end up in Pete’s. So I think that Pete is well suited for that.
Q There was a government study revealed today about human experiments done on Guatemalan citizens in the 1940s. Secretaries Clinton and Sebelius have apologized. Has the President been briefed? What’s his reaction, and will he add his apology to that?
MR. GIBBS: The President has been briefed. Obviously, this is shocking. It’s tragic. It’s reprehensible. These are — I know there was a call, a briefing call that was done on this out of the Department of State. This is — it’s tragic, and the United States, by all means, apologizes to all those that were impacted by this. The President is slated to call the leader of Guatemala later today and personally express that apology.
Q It happened in the 1940s, but does it hurt America now to have a story like this come out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it — obviously, it’s tragic and has impacted many. But I think we have dealt with it in a way that — we were brought this information and acted on this information. I think the apology is one that is well deserved.
Q Could you tell us anything more about the meeting with the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board on Monday? Is there any particular subject there?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have that with me, Jonathan, but I will shoot it out to you as soon as I get back. I think — it was on my desk but I don’t have it with me. I believe they’re going to be talking a little bit about some of what you’ll hear on community colleges dealing with the challenge of creating a skilled workforce.
Q And on the Giannoulias fundraiser. Is the President going to say anything about this Green Party candidate who is getting something like 6 to 8 percent of the vote in Illinois? Is there anything that he can do about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will find out the answer to get you one of those. I don’t know off the top of my head, Jonathan.
Q Robert, the President met yesterday with Democratic leaders. Does he think there’s any point in calling Republican leaders here for a similar meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President was talking with, as you mentioned, Democratic leaders to talk about certainly the next few weeks as we head into an important election, but also what still remains on the calendar — and I mentioned some of that yesterday — that has to get done. I don’t know if there’s — I don’t have any meetings on a planning schedule with Republicans between now and then. But I don’t doubt that there will be — there may well be meetings before we head into session in mid-November.
Q It sounds like there’s a lot of bridge-burning going on between the White House and Republican leaders.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, with the words President Obama uses in his fundraising speeches and his political speeches, denouncing the Republicans as obstructionist, holding back recovery, holding issues hostage.
MR. GIBBS: Those are all things, Mark, that the Republicans have bragged about. I hope that — I hope the President doesn’t give it a bad name by mentioning what they’ve done. Mitch McConnell bragged about saying no. John Boehner helped a lobbyist author a pledge that would roll back the Recovery Act and raise people’s taxes.
The President is just — the President is in many ways reiterating exactly what Republicans have said themselves on the stump. They want to stop everything from happening. They want to roll back things like Wall Street reform. They want to roll back the protections that we’ve seen put into place as part of health care reform. I don't know that the President doesn’t have the same message that Republicans have, and that is, they're bragging about slowing everything down and we’re mentioning that that's what they're doing.
Q And they're drinking Slurpees. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Mark, I’m going to find the Slurpee answer. I know this one has lodged close to your heart, and I will — (laughter) — like I said, I tried my best to get him off the tater tots, I get it, and now I got to address Slurpees. And that might just brighten the President’s day to go talk about that this afternoon.
Q Pete Rouse was charged with closing Guantanamo and that's one area where the President has said the administration has fallen short. Why hasn’t it been accomplished, and will he continue to focus on it? What’s the latest?
MR. GIBBS: It was one of the projects that Pete was given. I think it was safe to say that there was — there wasn’t as strong a process around seeing that come to fruition as there needed to be. And that's generally the type of things that Pete fixes the best.
Look, it is — we always knew this was going to be hard. And we have met resistance even among Republicans that, before the President decided that we would close it, actually supported closing it. But I’m not sure Pete will have this directly in his portfolio given the fact that now Pete has a little bit in every portfolio.
But Pete was brought in to create and ensure that we had a good process around that. And I think it’s been — it’s worked much better since.
Q Is there a lot of regret about not being able to finish that task?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't — the door is not closed on finishing that task. That is — if you ask counterterrorism experts, if you ask our commanders in the field, they’ll tell you that that is — that Guantanamo Bay prison is a recruiting call that echoes around the world for extremism. It is used in recruiting new individuals to that effort, and the President remains committed to ensuring that they will soon not be able to do that.
Q And counterterrorism officials say they believe Osama bin Laden was involved in this latest terror plot on European cities. Do you know anything about that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, not anything that I’m going to discuss publicly.
Q Robert, I think you said the President was briefed on TARP as well as the –
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q I know that Secretary Geithner gave a speech to some Treasury employees a couple of weeks ago about TARP and how history would view it, compared to how it’s viewed by the public today. What’s the administration’s thoughts on how TARP’s going to be –
MR. GIBBS: As I talked about yesterday, and I have not — I did not look at stock prices today, but if you take AIG converting into common shares of stock, selling that stock would net this government, as of yesterday morning, a $20 billion profit on its investment in AIG.
Now, that is — I think it’s — I’m not walking way out on a limb to say that was not the conventional wisdom. Most people, I think, in their accounting of the Troubled Asset Relief Program was that — that that money was gone. The briefing the President received reiterated that financial institutions — the investment made through TARP in the financial institutions is likely to yield a profit, and that what we estimated TARP would cost last August, we’re at roughly one-tenth of that cost today.
And it’s — I will say — I’m going to take a minute to brag — this is not an accident. I think if you take some of the steps that were taken today at AIG or some of the steps that were taken at places like GM and Chrysler, this was not — and this was — this created a bit of a stir, but this was not money to meet a balance sheet for money’s sake. This required some very, very tough cultural changes inside the company, management changes inside of a company. And it changed the way these companies were operating, because they were not operating in a way that provided assurance to anybody that they’d be here for long.
And instead of handing out money and perpetuating a series of bad practices, for instance in the auto companies, we made investments to ensure the jobs of millions of those who work not only in auto facilities, but in auto part manufacturing, that if you visit an auto plant or are normally situated fairly close to those plants — to save those jobs, but to ensure that we weren’t just handing out a check that in three months they’d need to come back for another; that we’d institute the type of management changes that now find companies back making a profit again and that are much healthier than when the President assumed office 20 months ago.
Q Why is TARP such a political poison?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know that people know a lot of what I just said. I don’t — we’ll help tell it. I hope — I hope everyone will too, because it’s not — it’s not the conventional wisdom. AIG alone was — like I said, that — most people put on the tally sheet, just put $180 billion in that column over there, because you’ll never see that back. Now, we know we’re — again, it will take some time to sell the common stock; I don’t want to say that this is something that’s all going to get sold tomorrow. Obviously it’s a pretty big chunk of money. But I think we’re likely to end that with a profit.
I saw a release before I came out here on shares of Citigroup that netted a profit. And that’s because we’ve taken important steps to ensure the management changes, but also to create an economy where companies like that can function and make a profit.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q That AIG and Citigroup are doing well, does that suggest that they would have done well anyway, that they didn’t need necessarily to be bailed out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand that GM and Chrysler, without government help, you’d buy — you’d go see a new GM and a Chrysler somewhere in the Smithsonian. AIG, again, was a very successful insurance company that somebody had the bright idea of attaching a hedge fund on top of, which turned out to be a $180 billion bad decision.
So I don’t — I do not think that, left completely to their own devices, these companies would have seen — necessarily seen a turnaround. I think there were some important management decisions that we impacted because of that investment. And because of that, we see companies that are moving in the right direction. You see taxpayers that will recoup their money and then some. I think that’s an important story for everybody to understand.
Q Could you just — going back to Rouse a little bit — could you talk a little bit about how you see the White House changing with Rouse in place in terms of strategy or culture or atmosphere?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, as the President mentioned, there’s no doubt there’s a personality difference in Pete and Rahm. That’s the understatement of the day.
That having been said, look, again, Pete is — Pete’s been very involved in this organization and with this President since late 2004. Pete was — I remember having dinner with Pete and then Senator-elect Obama, and the President said, “There’s two lists for chief of staff in my Senate office. You’re the only name on one list and there’s a bunch of names on the second list.”
Pete was an important — has been an important part of this for more than six years. He’s been involved in a lot that’s — almost everything that’s happened here — the strategic, the tactical. So I think in many ways you’ll see important continuity over the next several months, which is important to the functioning of how this place works.
Q Another Rouse question, Robert. In thinking about the shape of the White House and personnel decisions, does the election play a role? Will the outcome of the elections kind of determine what kind of people he’d want to bring into the White House, including the new chief of staff?
MR. GIBBS: It certainly could. Obviously that’s hard to divine three or four or five weeks away. Again, as we discussed yesterday, there was — there is always natural turnover in an administration. We were seeing that natural turnover. And Pete was charged with organizing for the next two years, regardless of an outcome in an election, what has to be put in place.
I have no doubt that many — some of the decisions about that staff reorganization will take into account what happens — ultimately happen in an election, even as we begin now to identify a cast of people that can fill Dr. Summers’ job at NEC or other jobs around the White House.
Q I guess what I’m trying to get at is a lot of people in Washington, Republicans and Democrats, are saying that the White House needs a new face, and will it need one even more so to deal with what is likely to be a strengthened Republican presence, if not a Republican majority on the Hill. Pete doesn’t really provide that new face. He’s, as you just said, continuity.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but I don't — I guess — well, I don't know if you can break down –
Q How would you address that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if you can break down sort of what you’re hearing from Democrats and Republicans. Is that mainly on Capitol Hill? Because, look, Pete is — Pete’s a fairly well known quantity up there. I think a lot of people on the Democratic and Republican side have dealt with Pete for — dealt with him as the chief of staff for Senator Daschle for 10 years.
Q Those that are still there.
MR. GIBBS: Those that are still there, but there’s — there are a decent amount that are still there. I mean, look, Pete was on — Pete was a Senate staffer through part of 2007, so it’s not that long ago that he was up there. Again, look, we will — we’ve got several weeks to go before an election. And obviously, without knowing the results, it’s hard to divine what the message might be, so –
Q Is the expectation, though, that a decision on chief of staff will — on a permanent chief of staff will be made once the election is over?
MR. GIBBS: I do not anticipate that that will be made in any way prior to the election.
Q And does Pete have a set time for which he is — plans to serve as interim as far as –
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Does the President have a timeframe in mind?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think — I don't anticipate anything happening — I don't think anything happens there for the next several months.
Q Did Pete Rouse have a meeting with the congressional leaders yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that, but I can check.
Q Well, wouldn’t that be part of his portfolio?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q And what did the President tell the leaders, in terms of holding down the tax rates on the middle class — what he calls the middle class extension? Did he make it clear that he wants that, even if he has to give on something else?
MR. GIBBS: I was not in the meeting yesterday. It was during the briefing. I don't — I mean, obviously the President reiterated, and I will double-check on the tax question, but reiterated his position on ensuring that the middle-class tax cuts not expire, but that the cost of having that happen isn’t $700 billion in tax cuts for people who don't need it.
Q But what is the administration prepared to do after the election to make sure that that happens? Is there any danger that Congress will not act to extend the current tax cut?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that may be a better question for Republicans on Capitol Hill. I think that this President — I think his position is fairly well known. We’ll have some time to deal with that in mid-November when the Senate and the House come back.
As I mentioned yesterday, and I think the readout said, we’ve got — there are a number of issues that we’ve got to deal with. We’ve got children’s nutrition; we’ve got obviously the tax stuff; there is a very important START treaty that needs to get — that's passed through the committee with important bipartisan support, and we’d like to see it — and expect it — that it will be passed by the full Senate.
Q Is the President worried about the lame-duck session?
MR. GIBBS: Worried how?
Q Worried in that he might not have the same political dynamics — he’s got the same members of Congress, but depending on the outcome of the election.
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, tell me what it feels like that morning and I can probably answer that question, but it’s hard to do that in more than a month before that.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. One, at this United Nations meeting last week, the Prime Minister of India was not among the world leaders because he was preparing for the President’s visit to India. What India is expecting from the United States or from President Obama’s visit to India? Is that India’s seat on the United Nations Security Council — that India deserves to be the world’s largest democracy on the United Nations Security Council. But what does you think United States’ or President Obama’s expectation from India, as far as war in Afghanistan and also situation in the region?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously that's kind of a series of broad questions. I don’t have anything on the Security Council stuff, Goyal. Obviously, I anticipate that the world economy and our bilateral business relationships with India will be an important aspect of that trip.
And from a security standpoint, obviously Afghanistan and Pakistan and how that is all interrelated in that area of Asia, particularly with India, will be a big focus of what the President discusses with the prime minister then.
Q And second, as far as the Osama bin Laden status is concerned and situation in Pakistan, we have not seen anything in the last couple of years, videotapes from him anymore, only the audio tapes once in awhile. And also, the situation in Pakistan is really quite bad because the flood came in a messy way; so did the corruption. And the people of Pakistan are now fed up with the present government and –
MR. GIBBS: I doubt they’ll be comforted in getting the aid that is necessary from somebody that is not showing their face to the world. I think they’ll be comforted by the relationship, the bilateral relationship they have with this country, that has no problem standing up here or standing up anywhere in the world and pledging our commitment and assistance to help its people in a tragic time.
Q Robert, you mentioned that there was a short runway for Rahm to depart the White House. Is he going to be involved on a continuing basis in any decisions, consulting with the President? And will he retain his security clearance?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don’t know the answer to the second one. But I can — I will try to find out that question. Look, in terms of — look, I think the President will always listen and — listen to the insightful and candid opinions that Rahm has shared with the President and with staff here for 20 months, as you heard him say.
Look, Rahm is going on to what is charitably a fairly busy endeavor, it appears, next. So my guess is that his focus will be on that, as it should be. The President has — I don't want to take anything away from what the President said in terms of the friendship that he shares with Rahm and what he’s meant to the staff and what he’s meant to this President in getting things done.
I will check on security. I honestly have no idea how that works.
Q And you mentioned that the — you mentioned that Pete is going to take over Rahm’s office. Does he inherit that people-tracking system? Didn't Rahm have like a staff-tracking system that he –
MR. GIBBS: It usually involved yelling, but I don't know what — (Laughter.) “Where is so and so?” I don't know if that was a fancy intercom that Rahm had installed or whether it was — no, I will –
Q Was electronic implants involved?
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, I’ve –
Q Did they take the chip out of you? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’ve neither a bracelet on my ankle or on my wrist that would denote my current location. But, look, we — as I said, it’s a group of us that start every day in that office, regardless of who that person is. We’ll be there Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., as we have every day for the past 20 months. And, you know, we –
Q Is Rahm finishing his day today? In other words, is today his last day? Or is it Sunday? Or what is –
MR. GIBBS: I think — I believe today is his last day. And I think there will be some — a little celebration for him later today up in the residence before he goes.
Q Cooking the fish? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The fish was Austan’s idea. It was — it stunk. But it was quite a funny way to — for two people from Chicago to say good-bye.
Q Where is it now?
MR. GIBBS: It’s the special at the mess. (Laughter.) On the menu it said — I think it said –
Q Fresh. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think it said — I’m not responsible for this joke; I’ll give credit to Jon Favreau — it was supposed to be “East Meets West Fish Tacos,” and Jon said that they’d already updated the board to “East Meets Midwest Fish Tacos” — (laughter) — $10.95. I have not eaten yet, and it will not be the fish tacos.
Q So Robert, since you’re saying that this departure is part of the natural rhythm of history here at the White House, are people casually talking to the President now about the possibilities of departures beyond the situation? Are yourself and others possibly talking about “I’m going to stay on about” — casually?
MR. GIBBS: I certainly have not had the conversation with the President. I don’t know, honestly, April, if others have. Again, it’s hard for me to make — it’s hard for me to deliver that answer knowing — not knowing, honestly, what other people have talked to the President about.
I will say this. Look, it’s a — obviously it’s a day of kind of extraordinary staff changes anytime a chief of staff comes and goes. But the to-do list that we have today, that we have Saturday and Sunday, will be largely the same that we have on Monday. So in many ways I don’t see operationally a lot changing. We don’t — we have the same series of challenges that are before us.
Q Well, in other administrations they would say — they would send out a message, now is the time; if you’re ready to leave, you need to make your decisions known. Is this that time here in this administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, April, I think each individual has to — individuals themselves are going to have to make those decisions based on their individual circumstances –
Q But organizationally, is this that time?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think naturally it is. I have not — I have not seen or heard a broader call for making a decision.
Look, I don’t think, honestly, you need an email or what to understand that there — as I’ve characterized it, I think there’s a very natural cycle to this, and two years has in many ways — is in many ways a breaking point in that cycle.
Q And also, following up from my question to you yesterday, I asked about the protests this weekend and I know that civil rights leaders have been talking. I know that civil rights leaders have been talking to people here at the White House, staffers here at the White House, about the event this weekend. And you addressed the issue of the economy, but you never specifically addressed the protest itself. Could you talk to me about the protest?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I don’t honestly know that that’s going to broadly, April, change my answer from yesterday. I think there is — we have gone through the most tumultuous economic time for virtually everybody in this country — historic depths of job loss, of economic retraction. It is important to note that we are heading now in a different direction. We are making progress. The economy is strengthening. Is it strengthening as fast as we would like it to? Of course not.
But at the same time, we weren’t under the misimpression that somehow taking a job loss from — adding the job loss in recessions in 1981, 1991, and 2001 was somehow going to be easy, since if neither of those three was easy to get out of, how would adding all of them together be easy to get out of? It’s going to take some time. The economy has gone through some very deep and fundamental shifts. We have seen not just job loss, but a housing crisis, a financial stability crisis — all happened simultaneously. That is — I’ve described it and I think many others have, as in many ways a perfect storm of economic disaster.
Q But with this perfect storm, the perfect storm is being led — I’m sorry, but the perfect storm is being led by people who are friendly with this administration, civil rights leaders that the President talks to, black community leaders who will be marching in this demonstration. And they’re marching not just about this issue, but they’re marching about education, justice, and jobs, and they’re also talking about Capitol Hill. But what do you specifically say about that? Your allies are marching for something that you guys are not putting out yet.
MR. GIBBS: Well, April, I will take our record on any of the topics that you just mentioned, over the past 20 months, and compare them to the 20 months before that and feel very comfortable with that comparison. We lost more than 8.5 million jobs. That wasn’t going to get fixed overnight. It’s not going to get fixed over a lot of nights. It’s going to take a long time. If it was a simple problem, it would have been solved before we got here. It wasn’t. When we got here, things were going drastically in the wrong direction. The President made some important steps, some courageous steps, to turn that around. It’s going to take some time.
I will say this about our education. It’s been a focus of a lot of activity this week. You’ve seen the President talk about it. I will put our record of education reform up against that of any administration at any economic time. What Secretary Duncan and what President Obama have been able to do in getting states to make decisions to strengthen their standards is once-in-a-lifetime reform. It’s important because it matters to the types of families that get raised, the type of economy we have, the type of income that they have. It’s important reform.
Bill handed me a note, Glenn, that says, “Rahm will not maintain his clearance, secretary clearance, as of departure today.”
Q No more Secret Service either, as of the end of the day?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. Will you Google that too?
MR. BURTON: Sure. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Sorry. I'll take one more, Bill, and Stephen and then — yes.
Q Robert, on the midterms, the President the last couple of appearances has talked about the enthusiasm gap. Does he believe in an enthusiasm gap and is he worried about it?
MR. GIBBS: I think anybody that reads a poll can know that — if you look at some polls, some Republicans are more excited about the upcoming elections than Democrats. I will say, if you look at — I mean, the NBC poll this week showed a lessening in the generic ballot and a lessening in that enthusiasm gap as well.
Q So his message to independents and Democrats about the midterms who might be inclined to sit it out is what?
MR. GIBBS: Get involved. It’s too important not to. Everything that — everything they care about is at stake. The direction of our economy is at stake. The direction of our foreign policy is at stake. We have — you have — people have an important stake in the outcome of this election.
Q Yes, it’s been a week since the President gave his speech at the U.N. focusing a lot on the Middle East. Could you talk about what he’s been doing personally since then to try to keep the talks going and whether there was a letter to Netanyahu, a memo or whatever? Have you been willing to lay out to the Israelis particularly what kind of incentives they can expect to see for concluding a deal?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. Obviously our special envoy George Mitchell has been in the region over the past several days, met with Abbas, met with Netanyahu, met with the parties. We were disappointed at the news of the expiration of the moratorium last Sunday. That does not, though, dampen our resolve to continue to move this process along. The parties that came here several weeks ago came here and demonstrated a genuine seriousness in getting something done.
That remains our mission. The President had a meeting — right before I came down here, was meeting with Secretary of State Clinton to get an update from the region. She’s obviously — she and envoy — special envoy George Mitchell are point on our negotiations. And we understand that there are — there will be hurdles along the way to a comprehensive and important peace. We will seek to get over each one of those hurdles as they come, and keep the direct talks moving along with the sense of purposefulness that we witnessed here and have witnessed in subsequent talks.
Thanks, guys. Have a good weekend.
Tags: Bin Laden, Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse