Press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/04/2010By USGOV
Thursday, November 4, 2010
2:42 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q In the time since the gaggle, Mitch McConnell has given a speech in which he again said that his job is to deny the President a second term. He also said that if the administration wants cooperation in the next two years, you’re going to have to move in the Republicans’ direction. Is that a position that the President can work with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I’ll say this. I think, first and foremost, the message of Tuesday’s election was that the American people want both political parties to work together. There will be time for another political campaign, but we just finished one.
Candidates weren’t elected to have more fighting in Washington or to re-fight the battles of the past two years. I think, again, what the President said today in inviting Senator McConnell and other leaders to the White House on November 18th is to sit down, listen to each other, work together, and find common ground. I think that’s what the election was about, and that’s what the President is intending to do.
Q But when you hear these remarks from McConnell, do you get the impression that the Republicans walked away from this election with that same message that you got?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I think that if you look at candidates, a lot of candidates ran against Washington, and typically didn’t portray Washington in their ads as a place where people listen and work together. So I think in and of — given those dynamics and those images, what they’re looking for is what those campaigns were about — working together.
I think, look, we will — the President yesterday signaled — and again today — his intention to work with Republicans on extending tax cuts, our first priority obviously being the middle class; to work with Republicans on things like education policy, improving our schools; and to work with them on energy independence, that we’re not wedded to all of our ideas.
I hope that Senator McConnell comes to the White House with that in mind in a couple of weeks.
Q And just back to tax cuts for a second. We’ve kind of been talking around this and I think you mentioned it in the gaggle, but the President is open to a possible compromise in extending the upper-income tax cuts for possibly one or two years –
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to do the negotiations here, but we’re certainly open to listening to their position, talking about it and working together to find a compromise that moves this issue forward. Our biggest concern is if this Congress does not act by the end of the year, taxes for middle-class families is going to go up. We can’t, and we shouldn’t, let that happen. We have the power to change that and I think the power is sitting together and coming up with a plan that works for both sides. I think the President is confident that we can do that.
Q Robert, is the White House hopeful that the actions that the Fed took yesterday will help the economy grow?
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, they counsel me ad nauseam not to comment on the Fed and I don’t want to go crossways to said good counseling. I think one of the things that the election told us was people are rightly concerned and frustrated by the pace of our economic recovery, even as we’re pointed in the right direction.
I think you’ll see that is the focus of the President’s trip abroad in broadening our market — broadening our ability to sell in markets like India, South Korea and throughout Asia. And that’s what we’ll be focused on.
Q Are you concerned at all that there are countries that you will be meeting at the G20 who have reacted poorly to this and saying that it will hurt your ability to get –
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, I don’t want to get into commenting on the actions of the Fed.
Q All right, I’ll try one other thing, then. You mentioned this morning — the President mentioned this morning that taxes will be one of the major priorities during the lame-duck session. What other priorities would you list in the next couple months?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think the President — and the President listed this and I think it’s very important — and that is getting ratified a new reduction in our nuclear arsenal with Russia by approving the START treaty. And again, I think this is a place where bipartisan traditions have always held. The very first START treaty passed 93 to 6. The most recent treaty was approved 95 to nothing. There was a strong bipartisan vote out of the Foreign Relations Committee on this, and I think that’s why people from Sam Nunn on the Democratic side to Senator Lugar on the Republican side, Henry Kissinger on the Republican side, George Shultz on the Republican side believe that reducing our nuclear arsenal is a good thing.
I think there are some other pieces of legislation that are close that we didn’t finish at the end — things like child nutrition, which obviously is a huge priority for the First Lady, and no doubt we want to get our budget director confirmed. Our fiscal situation is something that this administration, the fiscal commission and Congress will spend a lot of time on. And it makes sense to have a budget director in order to do that.
Q Just a quick one on START, again, do you think that this election, the results would have — could have any effect on the viability of the START agreement? Could it slow it down? And also, I just wanted to follow up with that story coming out of India that the President’s trip is allegedly costing $200 million a day — 3,000 people. Can you set the record straight exactly?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have set the record straight with you guys. I’m not going to go into how much it costs to protect the President. Costs are comparable to when President Clinton and when President Bush traveled abroad.
I think the same report that you’re referring to said that there were — I think it was 34 warships off the coast, which I understand the Department of Defense has said — as we have — that that’s simply not true.
When it comes to the START treaty, I think — I do not think that the election should change the — again, the bipartisan history of arms reductions. It was, after all — I think the last President to call for a world without nuclear weapons before President Obama did that in 2009 was Ronald Reagan.
So this is an issue that has enjoyed support well across the political spectrum and across party lines, and I think it would be a good message to send both the American people and the world that we can work together on issues of mutual interest and concern like reducing nuclear weapons in this world and demonstrating for the world that we are — we’re serious.
The President mentioned also today that our actions at reducing our nuclear weapons, our nuclear stockpile and Russia’s nuclear stockpile is sending a powerful message around the world as we seek to hold Iran responsible for the commitments that it has made, and I think that’s an important to message to carry through.
Q You have said, and the President also suggested, that the message of Tuesday’s elections is that the American people want the parties to work together. Where do you get that from?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think if you look at — both parties are — both parties in the exit poll were not held in tremendously high regard. I think Washington writ large was not held in high regard, and I think people disapproved of — according to those polls — the way Congress worked. I think if you were to look at how to fix that, it’s working together. I think that’s — I think that’s what most people took.
Q The same exit poll indicated that a majority of the American people think that the President’s policies will do long-term harm to the nation. I know the President said that if unemployment were lower they’d have more confidence in the policies. But if you’re going by that exit poll, it would seem that the message from Tuesday is they don’t like what this administration is doing and, therefore, when the Republicans say they were elected to stop what the President is doing, at least based on the same exit poll you cite, they have a case to make.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think if you look at — let’s take the issue of health care, which I think is what Senator McConnell’s speech was on. I think most of the people that cited health care as an issue for voting supported the Democratic Party.
And I think almost evenly split were improving or keeping what we have versus repeal. So again, I think we are — we’re in the midst of — and we’ve seen independents in, quite frankly, the last three election cycles side with different political parties. That’s because they want Washington to work for them, not against them.
And I think that’s — again, that’s the message that we took from this campaign.
Q Since Senator McConnell today did say that the Republicans would be pressing repeatedly in his words to repeal the health care bill and to repeal the financial bill — he suggested also the financial regulation reform — will the President veto any efforts to do either of those?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I honestly don’t think, Jake, it will come to that.
Let’s take financial reform. I just mentioned health care reform. There’s certainly nothing in the message I think that came out of Tuesday that suggests that going back to the health care system that allowed insurance companies to control whether or not patients that think they have policies are covered when they get sick, I don’t think that’s — I don’t think any data suggests that that’s what people want to see after Tuesday.
As it relates to financial reform, there — rules were put in place to change the behavior of Wall Street and to prevent what happened in September of 2008 and what led up to it from ever happening again. I think that’s what — I think those are commonsense policies that the American people strongly believe in.
I think, whether it’s protecting consumers, ensuring that people aren’t hoodwinked into bad loans, making sure that trading things like derivatives are done in the light of day on an exchange rather than not, is what is people want.
Q McConnell said he’s going to try to — if he can’t repeal the bill, which he suggested that Republicans won’t be able to because of the President being in the White House, and Democrats still controlling the Senate, they will at least try to starve the health care bill by depriving it of funding.
I should have been more specific. Is that — would the President veto those kinds of efforts?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Jake, I don’t think it’s going to — I don’t think we’ll get to that.
Q The President indicated an openness to the repeal of the 1099 aspect of the health care law. Are there other provisions that the White House has identified that you guys think could go or be revised? Any specifics at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that’s — Mike, I think the President looks forward to hearing from during these upcoming meetings what Republicans — what’s on Republicans’ minds as it relates to that. I think, again, the issue of 1099s was something that many have talked about changing because, as the President said, the burdensome paperwork on business doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But — so I don’t want to speak, quite frankly, for what aspects of that they’d like to see changed. I think the President believes that it is dangerous to go back to, as I said earlier, a system where insurance companies made decisions rather than doctors and patients, and that some of the protections like a family being able to keep somebody up to the age of 26, or not being denied coverage because of a so-called preexisting condition are important protections that the American people don’t want to see rolled back.
Q Are there any redline provisions or whatever that you think are deal-breakers in terms of — that absolutely have to say, if there are negotiations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think I outlined a series — again, I don’t want to speak for what the Republicans have in mind. I think the President believes that many of the protections that he’s talked about over the past many months are very important.
Q Obviously you and the Pentagon have spoken about the India stories that have been out there. Are you surprised that there are kind of these stories about lots of protection, or more planes than usual? Is there something about this trip that’s different than others?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t — look, whenever you move any President in a foreign country, you not surprisingly take certain precautions. This is — the first stop on our trip is at a memorial for victims of a terrorist attack, November 26, 2009, at the hotel we’re staying at.
So obviously the Secret Service takes the duty of protecting this and any President seriously. They do an amazing job. And they’ll continue to do so.
Q Just trying to make sense — just trying to make sense of — he’s traveled overseas before — why are there articles this time about this trip being different than perhaps others?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a good question for whatever media is writing these stories in India.
Q Can I just follow, Robert?
Q Are you guys reopening health care?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q So you believe this is a settled issue?
MR. GIBBS: I think the — again, I think the President mentioned something specific yesterday. And I think Democrats and Republicans want to change that paperwork requirement.
Q So you’d be okay on that, but nothing else?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chuck, I don’t know what their list is. But again, I will say that — I think Senator McConnell said today we should listen to — we listen to the American people.
Well, again, the exit poll we cited was evenly split. So I don’t know what he heard that the others didn’t.
Q Well, I guess to go with that, the exit poll is evenly — that is a fair way to read it — evenly split. That does mean half the country, or half the folks that went and voted, don’t like it at all. Should there be some acknowledgment –
MR. GIBBS: It also means — it also means half –
Q — but is there anything to — that’s right. I mean, but is there any — do you feel that you should open up this for some discussion for more additional things than just this paperwork requirement?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we look forward to having meetings and people bringing constructive ideas.
Q Reading these exit polls a little bit, there’s a couple things that stand out. One is there was clearly a Democratic base problem — didn’t show up. A lot of voters didn’t show up in Missouri and Pennsylvania and Ohio, turnout down compared to 2006. Why do you guys think that is?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to some of the political folks on that. I mean, obviously — I don’t know whether — I don’t know what in those particular states or among those different regions might have impacted it. Obviously we saw in some places Democratic enthusiasm and turnout up. It certainly varies from state to state.
Q Do you guys take from this election that you have a policy problem or a communications problem?
MR. GIBBS: I think we have economic problems. I think we have 8.5 million people that lost their jobs. I think — and I think what the American people want both political parties to do is stop the squabbling and start working together. That’s what we took. That’s what the President has offered Republicans and Democrats in coming to the White House and in continuing that conversation. And I think that’s what you’ll see over the next many months.
Q By the way, should we expect a golf outing between the Speaker-to-be and the President anytime soon?
MR. GIBBS: I have to say, Mr. Boehner looks like a pretty good golfer so I’m not — I think he would — might take some money from the President on that. I’m probably in trouble for saying that now. (Laughter.)
Q For all of the talk yesterday and today of cooperation and reaching out and working together, what the President said yesterday didn’t indicate that he thought there was anything wrong in his policies. He blamed everything on the economy and nothing on his policies, per se.
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think, Bill, 60-some percent of the people said they voted based on the economy. I think there’s — I think the President, and I think he said this yesterday, and certainly has before — that the pace of economic recovery is one that has frustrated he and the American people.
Q Sure, but a number of the people who fall into the category of people who voted based on the economy believe that the economy is in the state it’s in because of his policies.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t think there’s many economists that would — again, I mean, let’s — if you look at where we were in — when the President took the oath of office and the jobs report for that month and where we have been, we’re obviously in a different direction.
Q Has the President spent any time studying the history around President Clinton’s history when he faced a similar situation?
MR. GIBBS: He was reading — what’s that?
Q Taylor Branch.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, he was reading Taylor Branch. I knew he mentioned it in Peter’s interview. But other than that, I don’t know what –
Q Do you know what lessons he’s taken away from that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t. I can certainly talk to him and see what –
Q Robert, when the President says he wants to work on the people’s business –
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me separate these two before there’s a fistfight.
Q When he says he wants to work on the people’s business, which people is he talking about — the people that elected Rand Paul and Marco Rubio or the people that reelected Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what they have in common is they’re Americans.
Q That’s about it. (Laughter.) Well, I mean, they have irreconcilable differences, don’t they?
MR. GIBBS: You know, the President spent a lot of time traveling around the country, and I think he always said that there were — we tend to put people in boxes and all that sort of stuff on television and everybody disagrees on this and everybody disagrees on that.
I think that — I haven’t been in a room with those leaders, per se, but I bet if people listen long enough they’d find things that they agree on. They’d find things that they could work on.
Is everybody’s — is the solution that everybody brings to the beginning of that meeting going to be what we all walk out with? Probably not. It’s going to take some give-and-take on each side. That’s the way we’re likely to make progress.
I don’t — again, I don’t think there’s anything in this country that would have you believe that the message that people took away from this campaign was gridlock, more arguing, more bickering, more partisan, more not working together — I don’t — people ran against the way this town works. And to go back to the way it’s always operated would be the wrong message.
Q On the Republican side, it seems they ran against give-and-take, compromise. They don’t want gridlock, either. They want you to surrender.
MR. GIBBS: And wasn’t that largely the message — wasn’t that what they said drove them to run for office because somehow that happened on the other side? Again, I think that’s an incongruence that is maybe a subtlety that’s lost during the back-and-forth of a political campaign. But you don’t make progress — and you’re certainly not going to make progress in a divided government saying, my way or the highway. You’re going to end up with a lot more of what drove people away from having faith in both parties and in their government.
And I don’t think that’s what the American people want to see. I don’t think they want to see an endless recitation of last week’s battles, because we have problems that we haven’t faced and that we haven’t dealt with and that we know if we don’t are going to put us at a competitive economic advantage [sic] as it relates to the rest of the world. And I know that’s not what — the President doesn’t want to see that, and I think you have a good number of Republicans that believe that, too, Mark.
Q Earlier you mentioned the President would invite CEOs to the White House to help ease that relation. Do you have any details on timing or who or –
MR. GIBBS: Not yet. There have been some internal discussions about it but there’s no details beyond that.
Q Is it part of a series of meetings that you’re planning to have?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve had a series of CEOs in for several years — lunches, events — and I think that we’ll not only continue that, but talk a little bit and do a little bit about what the President talked about yesterday in terms of business.
Q And what’s the state of play on the free trade agreement with Korea now that — ahead of the President’s trip?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President outlined the concerns that he had both during the campaign in 2008 and just recently with what he thinks has to be improved in an agreement that he can support and he can be a party to. Whether it’s autos or whether it’s other issues, we know that we’ve got to make some progress. And I think both sides are going to sit down and see if they can make some of that progress. And if we can make enough progress to where the President feels like, for instance, on autos, there’s a better deal for our automakers and for our workers, then it will be something that we can support. If not, then we’ll have to keep trying.
Q How likely will it be that it is announced during the trip?
MR. GIBBS: I think that depends on the negotiations. I think that depends on the progress that’s made in changing what the President felt was an agreement that was tilted against auto companies and autoworkers here in this country.
Q Beyond the meeting on the 18th, is there any sort of a plan to create some sort of structural bipartisan — something going forward to address the new reality in Washington?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I’m not following you. Like what?
Q There’s this bipartisan meeting happening on the 18th. Is there any plan to make a regular –
MR. GIBBS: No, no –
Q Right, right. Is there any plan to make some sort of a regular White House bipartisan event, something going forward?
MR. GIBBS: I know we have — again, we’ve talked here and I think the President is anxious to talk to leaders on both sides on the 18th about what they think is — what do they think are the ways best going forward. I know the President is — as you heard him say in the Cabinet Room, this is more — this has to be and it will be more than just a photo op. We have — obviously have substantive business to work through and issues that we have to make progress on. So I anticipate that this is the first of many.
Q And you said there are no major staff shakeups to announce, but is there anything minor, either, in the Office of Legislative Affairs, in the White House Counsel’s Office, to deal with investigations, oversight that may be coming down the road, staffing up for –
MR. GIBBS: None that I’ve heard of or that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, just two questions. Last year –
MR. GIBBS: There are always just two, aren’t there, Lester?
Q Yes. Last year, that influential Democratic leader, James Carville’s new book was entitled, “40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.” Have you and the President read this book, and if so, what was your reaction to it?
MR. GIBBS: I have not read the book and I don’t know that the President has, either, so it’s hard for me to comment on it. I haven’t read it.
Q Okay. Could you specify which trip President Bush ever took which cost $200 million a day?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, this trip doesn’t cost $200 million a day, so –
Q That was what was reported all over the world. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: So let me get this straight, Lester.
Q Another questioner asked about –
MR. GIBBS: Lester, you subscribe to the veracity of everything that you read in the press, right?
Q No, not everything, but several things.
MR. GIBBS: But just the things that you previously agreed on that you agree with?
Q Are you denying that it’s –
MR. GIBBS: We seem to be several steps down a slippery slope.
Q Are you denying that it’s $200 million a day?
MR. GIBBS: For about the third time, yes.
Q You’re denying — how much is it, then?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into what it costs to protect the President. But the same report, Lester — if you don’t believe me, which I can understand — surely you would –
Q I’d like to believe you. I enjoy you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate that, Lester.
Q Should we leave you two guys alone? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: With a Slurpee and a twisty straw. Can I — again, Lester, I think the same report said there were 34 warships.
MR. GIBBS: The Pentagon said that’s not true.
MR. GIBBS: “Oh.”
Q They didn’t say how many there were, though.
Q May I just follow, Robert?
Q But nobody has denied the $200 million except you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: All right. We said — we now seem to have come almost full circle on a circular argument, haven’t we?
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: If I had read it somewhere else that it was a different cost, would it be true?
MR. GIBBS: You just said you believed everything that you –
Q No, this came from a number of different sources, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: You’ve talked to them?
Q No, I’ve read them.
MR. GIBBS: Oh. So, again, if you’d read that the cost was different other places, how would you reconcile those differences? I’ll just have two questions on that tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Peter.
Q We do the questions here, Robert. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: It’s a good thing, right?
Q Sometimes. Actually, I don’t have one. (Laughter.) Lester got my question.
MR. GIBBS: Lester had your question? (Laughter.) Now that — that’s news. (Laughter.) Can I just say — in the spirit of completely bipartisan cooperation and in the spirit of –
Q I read his paper.
MR. GIBBS: And you believe, consequently, everything that’s in it.
Q No, no, no, I won’t say that.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I don’t — I think he’s — you seem to have some — I thought a minute ago — can I see the transcript of that? I thought you said that –
Q You have to be selective.
MR. GIBBS: So the selectivity is based on what?
Q On what seems to be accurate.
MR. GIBBS: What seems to be accurate.
Q And what seems to be inaccurate.
MR. GIBBS: I see. And how does one determine that?
Q By using your judgment.
MR. GIBBS: It’s interesting.
Q Robert, can I blow a whistle here? Because I do have a question.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know, I got to tell you, I thought the last — I thought this was fairly fascinating, but –
Q I’m sure yours are much better than mine, but I do want to come back to tax cuts because you were making a distinction this morning between temporary and permanent tax cuts. I gather the President is still adamantly opposed to permanently extending the upper-income tax cuts, which Republicans campaigned on.
MR. GIBBS: The President believes, and I think there’s common agreement on extending permanently the middle-class tax cuts. And as I said earlier, I think it’s important to understand what happens if we don’t act by the end of the year — those tax rates will go back up. I think there’s common ground to be found in how to move forward. The President does not believe and I think would not accept permanently extending the upper-end tax cuts, which we know the cost of that is borrowing $700 billion over 10 years.
But that having been said, I think there’s something that can be come to between that.
Q But when he said he was ready to negotiate, the one thing — part of it that he’s not ready to negotiate on is a permanent upper-income tax cut.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q Robert, Michael Steele yesterday asked for a meeting with President Obama, and will the White House grant it in the air of consensus? And he says that also that he’s for consensus but the President governs from the left and he needs from the far left.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry –
Q The President is governing from the far left and he needs to come to the center for there to be a consensus. What say you on those questions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think consensus is, again, not going to be 100 percent of what anybody wants. So I guess the question for Mr. Steele would be, does he believe consensus then is 100 percent of what he wants?
Q Well, will the President grant Mr. Steele a meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to — I have not heard from scheduling that there’s a pending request.
Q If you do get a question from –
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to speak for scheduling on that. I mean, I assume that the arguments that the chairman of the Republican Party is going to make would be brought up by those that are in the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate.
Q So it would be a redundant meeting if he were to come — if he were to ask — so you would say no –
MR. GIBBS: Again, I just think the viewpoints that — I assume his — well, most of his statements are in line with what the leaders have said. Obviously there have been some diversions on some issues.
Q Thanks, Robert. The President was criticized during the health care debate for investing too much time in bipartisan outreach, in effect, for waiting for the Republicans to come along when in fact their cooperation never was forthcoming. Is there a period now where the President might see if Republicans are willing to meet him halfway, and if they don’t, he may decide that that time is not well spent and bipartisan cooperation is just not going to happen in this new reconfigured Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Peter, as I said this morning, I think we now have — and I think let’s be honest, Republicans now control and have the responsibility for governing half of Congress. So there are certainly responsibilities that are going to go along with something like that, and I don’t — I think the President is eager to sit down, eager to listen and eager to work together. I have not heard him or others discuss what happens if. Again, I think we’re — the message we took from this election was working together.
Q Going into the G20, does the President have a message for emerging markets of these fast-growing economies like Brazil who are worried that the actions of this country are going to create bubbles in their own?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, what we have talked about at each of the G20s is the need to find strategies for balanced growth. And the President has discussed throughout this the fear that what we have seen that’s driven economic growth in the past, the sort of bubble-and-bust economies that may, in the short term, drive demand but find the consequences of that demand on the back end detrimental, that we certainly can’t continue to also do that on a worldwide basis. We can’t — the American consumer can’t drive worldwide demand, which is part of the reason we have to open up other markets around the world, and emerging markets, for the sale of our goods.
And, look, I think Secretary Geithner at the G20 finance ministers meeting talked about and got the cooperation of those throughout the world in seeking a path toward that balanced growth in the future.
Q Robert, back on the McConnell speech for a moment. He said, “I don’t want the President to fail. I want him to change.” You can decide what degree of wanting to compromise that is, but do you really believe he doesn’t want the President to fail?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’m going to let he and his spokespeople speak for him. Again, I don’t — I do not think that the American people two days after a contentious election are — believe that the next election should start the next day. I think there’s a period of time in which we’ll have for that election, but that we have a period of time that we need to work together to address those problems. I hope that –
Q But he’s also been reported as saying he wants President Obama to be a one-term President, and that’s the goal.
MR. GIBBS: I think he said that was the single most important job he had. I think the single most important job that the American people and the President want to work on are creating jobs and strengthening our economy.
Q Thanks, Robert. A question on — or actually a couple of questions. A couple weeks ago, there was the Indian farmers settlement. The President still has an outstanding request for $1.25 billion to settle with what the Justice Department says are 66,000 African American farmers discriminated against by the USDA between ‘81 and ‘96. Beyond compensation, first question, would there be like accountability on that? I mean, will the administration insist that some of those USDA employees who did practice discrimination be fired or disciplined?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you over to USDA in terms of what was listed inside of that settlement related to things like that.
Q Okay. But I mean, will there be a accountability aspect to –
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’ve not read the judgment of the settlement, and I would point you over to them.
Q Second question would be, where do think requests for $1.25 billion stands now with the new Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I know that it was outstanding in the last Congress. I don’t know if it will be in — and I don’t have an update on whether it would be in spending bills that would be done by the end of the year. I don’t know the answer to that.
Q Since Democrats control the Senate now, would it possibly go through? Because Republicans were the holdup in the Senate.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have an update on the settlement.
Q But I mean, do you think — I mean, do you think, though, the climate is more conducive for it to come through? The White House and the President have said that he wants it to go through Congress.
MR. GIBBS: And he does. And April, again, I just don’t — I don’t have a legislative update on this.
Q How quickly would you expect the President to name a new director of the National Economic Council? And should the American people anticipate that there will be any changes in the President’s Cabinet between now and early next year?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I know that obviously there are and have been organizational meetings that have gone on through here that the chief of staff is — a process that he’s overseeing. We are I think in the preliminary stages of selecting a new NEC director, so I don’t anticipate that in the next couple weeks we’ll have any announcements on that. And I know of nothing in terms of the Cabinet.
Again, I think there’s a natural cycle of people coming into the administration pledging to stay for two years, and returning back to the pursuits or — either new pursuits that they had or — that they have or what brought them — what they were doing before they came here.
Q Yes, we know that the currency issue would be the — it’s high on the agenda for the President’s trip to Asia. And will the White House push harder on the issue, because — in response to the result of the midterm elections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, it was a concern of this administration. It’s been a bipartisan concern of Capitol Hill even before this election. I don’t think that that concern certainly in any way is lessened. The President and the Secretary have said that China has to take steps and that we will evaluate and watch what they do. And I have no doubt that this will be a topic that is talked about at the G20, at the APEC meetings, and directly with the Chinese.
Q And also — sorry — and Reuters has a report saying that NSC senior director Jeff Bader said the U.S. and its allies are seeking to rebalance to the — seeking to rebalance the –
MR. GIBBS: Let me check in on that. My sense is it’s not in — I don’t second-guess Jeff on what he says, but –
Q Which Jeff are you talking about? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Did you write the story?
MR. GIBBS: Either Mason or Bader, “comma” Jeff. Let me check on what the report is you’re talking about.
Q Robert, still trying to understand this possible middle ground here on health care reform. I hear you say the President wants to change the 1099 thing, and then open to other ideas they may come up with. But yesterday again –
MR. GIBBS: Let me be clear, Bill. I think I said that — look, I don’t think the President is going to prejudge what Republicans want to talk to him about. That’s what getting together and talking about things are. I think the President obviously is a big supporter of his health care plan.
Q Okay, I didn’t mean to misstate what you said. But we do hear from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, we heard it very clearly: “Repeal, repeal, repeal.” That’s all they talk about. So it’s kind of a non-starter, isn’t it, when that’s where they start?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s what the American people said out of this election that they wanted to see.
Q But where’s the middle ground if they’re just all for repeal? I mean, where do you –
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of what some of these meetings and discussions might be about. I think both sides would agree that this provision that is overly burdensome paperwork-wise for business is — makes sense to change. I think we — there was an effort to try to do that before the election that got held up.
So, look, the President, I think, thinks that first and foremost our focus should be on the economy. I think tax cuts is certainly important on his list because of what happens at the end of the year if we don’t act.
Q Just, I’m hoping — sort of in that same vein — but I’m hoping you can clarify what you said to Jake. You said — Jake asked you if you anticipate the President would veto attempts at repeal. You said you don’t think it will come to that. What do you envision will stop it from coming to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I just don’t think it’s going to make its way through both Houses.
Q Let me also ask just on a different topic. You all are going out of the country for 10 days. Most of the people here are leaving. I know Bill is staying. Republicans obviously won’t stop talking while you all are gone. Do you have a plan in place to sort of deal with what they’re saying while you’re gone?
MR. GIBBS: Well, not a how-to-stop-Republicans-talking plan. (Laughter.) No, I don’t — I can confirm that we don’t have one of those. But, look, you know –
Q Have you looked for one? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: It’s on one of those warships that Les has.
No, look, we’re — the President, I think, has — will on several occasions on the trip meet with the traveling press, and we — my sense is you’ll likely ask about what’s going on both over there and back here. That’s expected and that’s part of it.
Q Robert, yesterday at this press conference the President seemed to acknowledge, at least in the short term, we’re not likely to see a bill that would impose a price on carbon emissions. And I’m just wondering, how does he explain that to other world leaders who are looking to the U.S. for action on global warming?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President has said and what you’ve — there are certainly bipartisan proposals that would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases but not necessarily have to be done through what is commonly referred to as a cap-and-trade system. You could, for instance, as many states have done throughout the country, have a renewable energy standard that said a certain amount of your power will be generated using renewable sources, which obviously would cut down, by definition, on greenhouse gases.
I think there’s — I think that in this case there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I think there’s — the President has — and I mentioned this this morning — the President has made some — you know, changed our — changed a policy that had been — that had not seen a loan guarantee on behalf of a construction of a nuclear plant in three decades. We entered into one of those just late last year. Again, that’s — generating power that way is by definition going to reduce greenhouse gases.
So I think there — people are still concerned both about climate change as well as our ever-growing dependence on foreign oil. But there’s more than one way to fix that.
One of the ways that we’ve worked on is working with car companies to increase fuel efficiency standards, not just on cars and make that happen actually faster than the legislation requires, but also for the first time on trucks. Again, it’s not a legislative thing. It’s working with business to bring about change in energy.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Ken.
Q Robert, I’d like to follow up on the question that Sam asked. Do you believe that the era of not attacking the President when he leaves our shores is over? Do you feel that, given this climate, that there will be –
MR. GIBBS: Don’t think Sam is going to attack the President when he leaves –
Q No, no, do you believe that there’s — (laughter) –
Q Easy, man.
MR. GIBBS: Just kidding.
Q That would be again. (Laughter.) Do you believe that the Republicans will honor that — I don’t even know if it still exists — protocol or gentleman’s agreement where when a President leaves our shores, partisan attacks are limited, shall we say?
MR. GIBBS: Look, certainly that’s been what, in previous times, has been what most in Washington followed. I think the President, again, goes overseas on this trip on behalf of not one political party but on behalf of a country to improve our relationship with a very important region of the world, a fast-growing economic place where, again, at the very beginning of the trip I think you’ll see working with American businesses and CEOs to open up markets and create jobs here in this country. That’s the focus of the President’s trip. I’ll leave what the Republicans do and say about that –
Q What do you think is going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: I stopped guessing a long time ago.
3:29 P.M. EDT
Tags: Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse