Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/2/2011By USGOV
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
1:13 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Take us away, Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. We have your statement earlier about developments in Egypt, but I'm wondering if you could start off by telling us the President’s personal reaction to the bloody chaos in the streets.
MR. GIBBS: Ben, the President has been updated throughout the morning on this, both as part of his PDB as well as some written updates throughout the morning on some of these images. The President and this administration strongly condemn the outrageous and deplorable violence that's taking place on the streets of Cairo — that's taking place on the streets of Cairo today.
We have said that throughout this process. Obviously if any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately. That has been our message throughout this.
I think, Ben, this underscores precisely what the President was speaking about last night, and that is the time for a transition has come and that time is now. The Egyptian people need to see change. We know that that meaningful transition must include opposition voices and parties being involved in this process as we move toward free and fair elections. But that process must begin now.
Q He said last night that he — he said, “I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it’s shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people.” What does he — what are his thoughts this morning about the way the military is handling itself?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we're watching, as people are throughout the world, what is happening today. We continue to urge restraint. We continue — I will say what the President said last night — I do think that the role that had been played by the military was exceedingly important in what I think many people thought might happen late last week. Again, it is imperative that the violence that we're seeing stop and that the transition that was spoken about last night begin immediately.
Q On that point — just two others — when he talks about that the transition must be meaningful, peaceful and must begin now, a phrase that you’ve repeated today –
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q — can you explain how this situation moves from President Obama talking about change now, President Mubarak talking about change in September? Is President Obama powerless to actually make that happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s be clear that these are very fluid and dynamic events. I think what we’ve seen happen over the course of the past many days, quite honestly, Ben, are events that many people have not seen — nobody has seen in their lifetime.
I think you heard the President last night pretty clearly, and I’m certainly here to say that the conversation that the President had with President Mubarak was direct, it was frank, it was candid. And without getting into exactly what was said, I think the message that the President delivered clearly to President Mubarak was that the time for change had some.
Q But I guess I’m still trying to get at that core question of what the President — this President can do about that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the — I think change in all of these instances — what we’ve seen transpire, Ben, over the course of the past many days in Cairo and around Egypt has taken place as a result of change that's needed to happen from within the country.
I think you have seen statements from throughout the world, both in the region and outside of the region, where President Obama and leaders have been clear about what needs to happen. Many of these changes are going to have to happen on the ground in Egypt, and only those in Egypt will — can determine when those demands have been satisfied. But it is clear that the Egyptian people need to see progress and change immediately.
Q And finally, we have not had a chance to ask President Obama any questions since this crisis began. There have been at least a couple occasions that could have been open to the press that weren’t. Can you explain why we haven’t been able to talk to him?
MR. GIBBS: Ben, I think you’ll get a chance likely to talk to the President later in the week when Prime Minister Harper is here. We have had a couple of occasions that have been still photographers only. It was — those are part of the coverage plans that have been in place for a bit now in terms of those events.
I will say this, Ben. I think we have, like you all, watched a series of rapidly moving events. You’ve heard from the President in what’s happened in Egypt. We’ll continue to keep you up to date as best we can on what goes on, knowing, quite honestly, that some things in foreign policy have to be done away from TV cameras. Those are the types of direct and frank talks that the President had last night with President Mubarak.
Q So it was to avoid questions on Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: I said that it was not.
Q The President, just like the protesters on the streets in Egypt, are clearly unhappy with Mubarak’s insistence on staying in power until the elections in September. To put pressure on him, what are the specific steps that the administration is considering? Could that include a cutoff or curtailing of aid to try to push this along?
MR. GIBBS: Let me — I want to peel these questions apart slightly. First and foremost, these are very quick, rapidly moving events and we are watching them like you are. The question specifically on aid, as I said I believe last Friday, we will evaluate the actions of the government of Egypt in making and reviewing decisions about aid. That continues.
Q Secretary Clinton said that that was not under discussion as of the weekend –
MR. GIBBS: No, no, that’s –
Q — is that now under discussion?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, that’s not what she said. I think she — go back and read the transcript. She said, had a decision been made to cut off — and she said no. And I would say that no decision has been made. She also said later in that answer that we certainly review our assistance posture, and that’s what we’re doing.
Q Okay, but the President says he wants Mubarak to begin the transition now.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Is he asking him, with those words, to say that he’s leaving before September, to announce his resignation, or to speed up the election process?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Matt, some of these obviously are decisions that are going to be — as you heard the President say, need to be made in concert with a whole host of and full range of voices in the ground in Egypt. I am not going to get into a greater level of specificity as to the direct nature of the conversation that was had except to reiterate what the President said in terms of that transition beginning now.
Q And what’s the level of contact right now? Is the President going to be speaking to Mubarak? Has Ambassador Wisner had further contacts, either meetings or talks?
MR. GIBBS: Ambassador Wisner is — remains in the country. I do not know of plans as I walked out here to speak with President Mubarak today. I know the President did end his call by telling the President that he would remain in contact and would remain in contact and would feel free to — President Obama would feel free to call at any time if he needed to speak directly with President Mubarak.
Obviously there are a range of conversations that are happening throughout our government at many levels. We have a very, very capable embassy and an ambassador there that’s working with former Ambassador Wisner on a full range of these problems.
Q I assume, as this crisis has developed, that the President and the national security team have been gaming out all the possible outcomes each step of the way. Is that a safe assumption?
MR. GIBBS: I think we have done that as events have transpired and as events have changed, sure.
I will say this, Jake. I would go back again and look at what this administration, what this President, has said specifically about changes that need to happen to respect the universal rights that we’ve spoken of both in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. And I would point you to Secretary Clinton’s recent speech in Doha as outlining a series of these steps.
Q As you game this out, what’s the best-case scenario here, and what’s the worst-case scenario?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to get into a series of hypotheticals, because I think what’s — I think we would –
Q I thought you just said you guys are getting into a series of hypotheticals.
MR. GIBBS: I'm just not going to get into them here. Of course we are planning for a full range of scenarios.
I think it’s important, Jake, to understand that — I think it is hard to even imagine several days ago the events that happened yesterday. So events across this landscape are happening very quickly. We’re watching those events. We’re planning for those events.
There’s a deputies committee meeting that starts very shortly where we will get into a — they will get into a whole range of issues. Obviously we are concerned about violence that I talked about. We’re concerned about reports of food and fuel shortages in some of the cities and the ability to get what might be certain entry points and ports over to people that are in desperate need of them.
Q Do you think that Mubarak is a dictator?
MR. GIBBS: I think that –
Q More importantly, does the President think Mubarak is a dictator?
MR. GIBBS: The administration believes that President Mubarak has a chance to show the world exactly who he is by beginning this transition that is so desperately needed in his country and for his people now.
Q Does the President have any regrets that when this crisis began to unfold eight days ago he — his public statements were not more in line with the speech he gave in Cairo in 2009? In other words, the initial comments were a lot more pro-Mubarak, cautioning demonstrators not to engage in violence, as well as –
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, I don't think — let me be clear. Eight days later we don't think violence should be — we don't want to see violence on protestors. We don't want to see looting. Let’s be –
Q His comments yesterday –
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me –
Q — were that the protestors were an inspiration. His comments on Friday were they had the right to do what they’re doing but they shouldn’t engage in violence.
MR. GIBBS: And that continues to be our posture, Jake. I think –
Q Certainly it’s a journey. I mean, certainly his –
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I think for us to not acknowledge that — again, I don't know what you guys, from a coverage standpoint, predicted would be what we’d be looking at on Wednesday last Thursday. Again, I think we are watching events that have not transpired as they have in this region of the world in thousands of years. We have — obviously a considerable amount of staff time has been spent on this. Some of the President’s time obviously has been dedicated to watching and — watching, taking note of, and responding to the events that have transpired. Again, what we're watching is history being made.
Q So no regrets that his initial comments weren't more in line with the 2009 Cairo speech?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the notion that what we have said in public and in private at all levels of our government to all levels of the Egyptian government, to governments throughout the Middle East, have not been in line with the Cairo speech is simply wrong. the Cairo speech, the President stood up for a universal set of values and actions that had to be taken by governments, as you’ve heard him say over the course of many days here, that have to be responsive to their people. That is precisely what the President believes.
These are not going to be determinations that — and I said a few days ago, these are not determinations that are going to be made by us. Nobody in Washington will determine the range of freedom of assembly or freedom of speech for those in Tahrir Square. And I don't think anybody in Tahrir Square is looking for us to gauge what the fence posts are on those freedoms.
Q No, but I think they're there — they want the President to be standing up more for them and less for Mubarak. I think that's what they — that's what they're telling our reporters, anyway.
MR. GIBBS: I think you’re — I don't know the degree to which they’ve heard everything that the President’s said. I think the notion that the President has somehow shifted from one side or the other is completely inaccurate.
Q Thank you, Robert. When you talk about the transition happening now, how do you define “now”? Because now means today not September.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, now means yesterday — because when we said now we meant yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: So I mean I think the definition of now is –
Q But when you say now today, it means now –
MR. GIBBS: And I meant yesterday –
Q — or yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: This is — again, I want to be clear. This is — though we are in the here and now, now started yesterday. Again, I think that's what, Dan — what the people of Egypt want to see is not some process that starts a week, a month or several months from now. This is a –
Q So you’re not satisfied with September as an out date for President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: If you’re asking if now is September, it is unseasonably warm, but it is not September. Now means now. The transition — there are things that the government needs to do. There are reforms that need to be undertaken, and there are opposition entities that have to be included in the conversations as we move toward free and fair elections that we’ve advocated for quite some time.
Q So is the White House then satisfied with Mubarak in power until September?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I am not going to get into all the details of what they discussed. The conversation was frank and the transition must begin now.
Q What was the major event that seemed to cause a shift in I guess policy for this administration — a week ago talking about Egypt being a stable government, seemingly supporting Mubarak, and now –
MR. GIBBS: Wait a minute. I think I was asked if –
Q — trying to nudge him –
MR. GIBBS: I mean, Dan, again, I don’t know what — I’m not in editorial meetings at CNN. I don’t know what a week ago you guys thought we would be seeing now. I don’t know –
Q I’m not saying what we’ve seen, I’m saying what you were saying then was there was a stable government and –
MR. GIBBS: But, Dan, if you’re asking me if events have changed over the course of the week, the answer to that is of course.
Q I’m not saying — I said what was the one event that caused the shift from saying that it is a stable –
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t — there have been a series of events on the ground that have I think shifted, quite frankly — when you shift anchors into the region, I assume that’s based on certain things that are happening on the ground. Events have, again, moved enormously quickly in a very volatile region of the world and we have — the likes of which, again, we have not seen in our lifetimes. That just simply demands that we continue to watch and continue to ensure that we are taking the steps to communicate directly with all of the entities of their government about what we expect in terms of non-violence, what the world expects in terms of non-violence, and the steps that need to take place in order to see that transition.
Q Robert — and maybe I’m parsing words too much here — but yesterday the President, talking about the transition, said it must begin now. And when you walked in you said the time for a transition has come, and that time is now. You didn’t say “begin now.” Were you ratcheting up a little more by not putting the word “begin” in there?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, I don’t — and I don’t want to parse too much, but I think the events of yesterday began that transition yesterday. And I think that’s — I think that is what — most importantly, that’s what the people of Egypt expect. And I think the people of Egypt need to see progress.
Q Would the President object to a decision by Mubarak to step down now? Would there be a fear that that would leave Egypt leaderless? Does he need to stay in power, at least for the short term?
MR. GIBBS: That is not a decision that –
Q I know it’s not your decision, but would he think that’s a bad idea?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, again, I'm not going to get into fleshing out some of the very specifics of the conversation that was had. I think progress and change must come to Cairo, progress and change must come to Egypt, and it needs to happen quickly.
Q Is there going to be a timeline — at some point, isn’t there going to have to be some kind of timeline, other than September? Isn’t he going to have to get out before then if these protests are not going to simply continue and increase?
MR. GIBBS: Again — well, I assume those are discussions that are being had by the top levels of their government.
Q And are they being had by the top levels of our government?
MR. GIBBS: As I said to Jake, I think a full range of scenarios and a full range of events are being watched and discussed in many buildings throughout Washington.
Q Including putting more pressure on Mubarak to get out sooner?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'd point you to what the President said last night.
Q Were you in the room when he was on the phone with Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: I was.
Q Did you get the sense that the President thought Mubarak gets it, or was there some frustration on the part of the President?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get into reading out some of that stuff.
Q Do you believe that President Obama’s communications to Mubarak made the difference here? Does the President have that kind of power in this situation?
MR. GIBBS: I will say, Chip, I think that — I think we have been clear with the government of Egypt before this the steps that needed to take place. I think we have communicated publicly and privately important steps that — and important reforms that need to take place.
I think, though, it is important to understand that we are obviously watching — we’re watching some — we’re watching the events based on what is happening on the ground there. And I think, as I said earlier, I think the world is watching, and the world is commenting on what we’ve seen happen and what we know must take place over the next many days and weeks.
Q But as far as what President Mubarak did and what he will do in the future, is President Obama basically calling the shots?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, again, I don't know the direct answer in terms of that, Chip. Again, I think at each juncture of this, we have again made I think public and private comments about the situation and what needed to have happened.
I think you will hear this administration, whether it’s at the Pentagon, at the State Department, inside of this building, again, continue to communicate with both the government of and the people of Egypt about what the world expects.
Q Do we have evidence or indications that some of this violence is being instigated by the government?
MR. GIBBS: I have not been — I have not seen the latest on that in terms of whether or not we do, Wendell. I don't know the answer to that.
MR. GIBBS: I shouldn’t hypothesize. Again, I think what’s important, though, is that the message must be that the violence stop, and that in the event that any entity or any government entity is behind any of this, it must stop.
Q Because some of the reporting out there indicates that its government thugs who are responsible for this.
MR. GIBBS: I understand.
Q Did the President ask Mr. Mubarak to supervise the transition? Did he ask him, don't leave, supervise the transition of power?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of — Wendell, I think the President was clear and I think the President was clear publicly that the transition must begin now.
Q Senator Kerry of Massachusetts has suggested a caretaker government. Does the President support that?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not seen exactly what he’s suggested, and I’m happy to take a look at that.
Q Did the President get any indication from Mubarak that there was going to be a crackdown today?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Did — even if — I understand you can’t talk about hypotheticals, but was it made clear — did the President make clear to Mubarak that there were consequences in the American-Egypt relationship if he did not –
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think –
Q — if he did not take the President’s suggestion?
MR. GIBBS: Let me — we have been clear with the government and the President was clear on continued stance of non-violence. Quite frankly, we would not have accepted anything less. Again, I think we have made it fairly well known what we think needs to happen and what is and what is not acceptable.
Q Have we made it clear there are consequences if they do not abide by what we believe is the right thing to do?
MR. GIBBS: We have — we talked late last week about our aid posture. And I think first and foremost, Chuck, the — I think those are — that’s precisely what’s happening on the ground right now. I think the people of Egypt need to see change. The people of Egypt need to see progress. And that’s what the world needs to see.
Q Are you — is there a fear that you will lose — if you push Mubarak too hard, you will lose the ability to influence him?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I would go back to what I said earlier to Jake, that we are — we evaluate a whole range of activities and scenarios.
Q And let me circle back one more time. It seems like you’re avoiding using the word — are there policy consequences on the table that Mubarak is aware of if –
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I think you have to understand that there are limits to what I can say about all of the private discussions.
Q I understand you can’t say what’s on the table, but is it clear — I mean, is it –
MR. GIBBS: I do not think the President could have been clearer with the President of Egypt last night.
Q The President last night praised the professionalism of the Egyptian military. Right now the military is being criticized for not intervening to help protesters who are being brutalized. Is there such a thing as a sin of omission by the military, and would this — would the U.S. government call for the Egyptian military to intervene on –
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, let me — I don’t want to get over — let me see if I can get a direct answer from some of the military-to-military contacts on that.
Q I wanted to ask about the military-to-military contacts. And one other thing — back to the aid review. I mean you brought that up on Friday.
MR. GIBBS: Back to the –
Q The review of U.S. aid to Egypt.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q You brought that up by yourself on Friday. Can you at least tell us where that review is? What is the status of that review?
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if I can get an update. I said that we would — that review would be based on actions going forward, and I’ve not gotten any greater guidance on it from there. But I’ll see if there’s any review to that.
Q Just following up on that, you mentioned before the role of images of violence. Do you think what’s happening today is particularly important in this review of assistance to Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, any violence and any role that entities play — will take part in that. I do not want to — I don't have anything to announce on that. And obviously, we will evaluate what has happened, and the images that we see based on that and a full range — as it relates to a full range of options going forward.
I think it’s — I do want to — if I can just be clear, though, and reiterate that we have said this from the very beginning, the President has said this at every opportunity, and every official in our government in speaking with officials in the Egyptian government have used every opportunity first and foremost to reiterate that any steps that are taken must not include violence. We reiterate that call today.
I think the people of Egypt — they do not want to see appointments. They do not want to see speeches. They want to see concrete action by their government, and I think that’s what the world waits for.
Q And since the beginning of the uprising, you called the Egyptian government to stop the shutdown of the Internet.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q The President called yesterday for transition to start now. Well, the shutdown of the Internet continues. The foreign minister of Egypt seems to suggest that they don't want to start an immediate transition now, and it’s continuing to inflame more violence. Do you get the impression that your messages to Cairo at this time fall on deaf ears?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think not just President Obama but leaders throughout the world have in many ways signaled the same call that we’ve made. I know that this was a topic that has been discussed in some of the calls that he’s had with leaders in and outside of the region. There is no acceptable excuse for not turning back on the Internet, giving people the ability to communicate with cell phones, to access social networking sites. That stuff — those are — as you’ve heard the President say in trips throughout the world and in calls with the government of Egypt, those are part of the basic human freedoms that people everywhere should enjoy.
Q Do you think the government of Egypt is responsive to you at this time?
MR. GIBBS: I think that given the reports that Internet reception remains spotty at very best, they have not yet done what needs to happen as it relates to fulfilling that individual and basic right.
Q Robert, following up on Wendell’s question, what was your motivation for bringing up or raising the specter that the Egyptian government may have been involved in instigating trouble today?
MR. GIBBS: It is something that I think at all levels we want to ensure that the message that is sent — and the reason I said the first message that is talked about in what we say, what I say, and what you see others say is the need to respect the rights of individuals and to ensure that this is done in an orderly and peaceful way. I just want to make sure, Peter, that everyone understands that violence at any level is unacceptable.
Q There are reports that the administration does have evidence that someone in authority in the Mubarak government gave the go-ahead for these people to go into that square –
MR. GIBBS: Again, I've been in — I've been out getting ready to go into this, and I have — the last meeting I was in on this was earlier this morning. So I can go see if there’s anything that I know of on that.
Q Did the President finally –
Q One Mubarak –
Q Excuse me, excuse me. You’ve had a lot of questions. You listed a number of things that the deputies were taking up in this meeting. Would it be safe to assume that they’re also going to talk about the very stability of the Egyptian government?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, I think there’s a — we have talked throughout this process about the transition, as I mentioned a second ago, being peaceful and orderly. And I think stability in the country and around in the region is tremendously important, most importantly for the people.
Q Would military officers be good leaders of this orderly transition given the restraint they’ve shown so far?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into picking either transitional or future leaders of Egypt. I think that is — that’s something that the people of Egypt and a broad cross-section of those in political entities are going to decide for their country.
Q And is the U.S. preparing any sort of aid package for Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as the President said last night, we are — we stand ready to — and I think one of the — again, as I mentioned earlier, I think one of the topics that was likely to be discussed this afternoon was what assistance needs or could be provided to meet some of the basic needs of the Egyptian people; what processes can we undertake, as I said, to see if there’s a way to move some of those resources from entry points or ports into cities and areas that are in need of those resources.
Q Any idea on specifics, dollar amount or –
MR. GIBBS: No, nothing that I have to announce.
Q And who else in the region has the administration made contact with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know the President spoke late last evening with King Abdullah of Jordan. I don’t know of any other calls that he’s made today.
Q Can you talk about what came of that discussion?
MR. GIBBS: Let me see if I can get some more information on that.
Q Robert, what is the President meeting with Senators McCain and Bingaman about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Senator McCain, there’s a whole host of issues that — ranging from certainly domestic to foreign policy — that I anticipate the two will discuss.
I think — having been in the chamber for the speech itself when the President mentioned ending earmarks and the actions that he would take to veto something if it came with earmarks, I remember two people standing up and clapping — Senator McCain and Senator McCaskill. It was a little bit of a lonely group in that part of the speech. But I know they’ll talk some about that, as obviously you’ve seen announcements made on the Senate side that it appears as if we have seen the end of earmarks.
Q And Bingaman?
MR. GIBBS: Bingaman — obviously, Senator Bingaman plays an important role in the development of ideas around clean energy, and I think a large part of that conversation will center around the proposals that the President outlined to increase the amount of electricity that we create using clean energy, research and development around clean energy, and the manufacturing jobs that it can create.
Q The President has indicated he’s open to some changes in the health care law. Is the mandate something you would be open to — any kind of switch in the individual mandate investment because of the –
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’ve heard of, Perry. I think the President outlined in the State of the Union some adjustments to the way small businesses are treated, particularly around the 1099s. But we are not going to go back and fight the battles of the previous two years, and we’re certainly happy to talk to those who want to see the law improved. But we’re not going to go backwards. We’re going to move forwards.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions. One, do you think the President believes that this is a wake-up call not only for Mr. Mubarak but also dictators around the globe, including in China? And is the President going to speak about other dictators in the future?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me speak broadly to this in the sense that you’ve heard the President now on two occasions talk quite clearly about — off of what’s happened in Egypt — the obligations and responsibilities that those in power have to those that they represent.
I think you can go through a whole host of our discussions on both a public and a private level with leaders throughout the world about steps that we believe need to be taken to improve human rights, to improve basic rights, and to uphold individual liberties. Those are discussions that the President will continue to have in public and private with leaders throughout the world.
Q And second, if I may, WikiLeaks and Julian has been nominated for Nobel, and do you believe that WikiLeaks, all the leaks, are authentic, has not been altered?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q That all these WikiLeaks, all are authentic, has been not –
MR. GIBBS: I'm not a document veracity person.
Q Robert, there is a very sizeable school of thought that says in the elections that the President would like to see, if they were truly free and fair, Islamic fundamentalists would come to power in Egypt. Is the President ready to accept that outcome?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Mark, I think we’re getting way ahead of the process and we’re getting into — well, there’s a lot that — we need to get the transition going to get to the point of free and fair elections. Again, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about “what if.” I think what we would like to see is a continued, stable partnership with a country that has played an invaluable role in providing some stability to a volatile region in the world, and that we would expect that a government — that whatever government comes next, that that government respect the treaties that it has — that previous Egyptian governments have entered into.
Q Is there an element of “be careful what you wish for” here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we are looking through a lot of different scenarios.
Q Thank you. On Israel, do you have any special concern for their security? Do you have any particular coordination with Israel? And are you still pushing for the supposed peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, our consultations — we have had consultations, as you know, between the President and the Prime Minister over the weekend. Our position has not changed about either our involvement or the benefit of comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Q Robert, when you talk about your support for transitional process, whether you or the President, this seems to contradict what people want on the ground. If you listen to the chanting in every language, in English or Arabic or French, they’ve been saying basically one thing — that President Mubarak has to go, not in weeks, not in September, but tomorrow. How you reconcile these two contradicting messages?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm not going to get into the very specifics of what President Obama and President Mubarak talked about. I would direct you to what he said last night about the timing of that transition and the, as he has mentioned now both in Washington speaking about Cairo and in Cairo speaking about the broader Middle East, we hear and respect the aspirations of those throughout the world to seek greater opportunity, to seek greater freedom, and the promise that it holds for them and their families.
Q One more thing regarding Ambassador Wisner. Is he still in Cairo and is he still in touch with President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: He is still in Cairo and he is still in touch with all levels of the Egyptian government
Q Does he have — if I could follow up on that –
Q — the report on the economic crisis –
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back.
Q Does he have entrée if he needs to go back and talk to President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: He’s there at our behest to speak with, again, all levels of the Egyptian government. We asked him to go. He is obviously a very respected ambassador, respected widely by the Egyptian government, and provides us an opportunity to speak directly with the President.
Q Okay, so just two other things. Was the President angry this morning when he saw the violence in Cairo? It does seem that there has been some change in marching orders to the police on the ground.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President found the images outrageous and deplorable. Everybody did.
Q And do they seem to be a message of some kind about the interactions between the administration and Mubarak yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
Q Are they in some way a reaction to the message from Frank Wisner, for example, and the President’s remarks?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q Okay, and let me also just ask you this. I need a follow up on what you said about the message to the allies — or to friends — U.S. friends in the region. Is there a suggestion in these conversations that there’s a template for other relationships between the U.S. and leaders in the region in what has transpired between President Obama and President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Well, I mean, is the message that, look, these ideals are important to the people whom you represent. You just said the obligations — you were just talking about the obligations of those in power. Is that part of the message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it’s — let me do a couple things. As I’ve said here for many days, I think if you — I don’t want to — you have different countries throughout the region at different stages of their political development. But regardless of that, as the President has said and as I have said, there’s a responsibility to be responsive to those that you represent. The conversations that the President has had with allies or partners in the region have continued to reiterate what we have said in bilateral meetings or in conversations that the President has had previously about the important steps that need to take place to honor and adhere to the individual freedoms that the President has talked about.
And so those have not taken — those have continued to take place, but they haven’t started as a result of this. And again, that's why, I think I said earlier, what the President has said in these individual meetings and particularly what Secretary Clinton said in her recent speech I think provide you some pretty good road maps to what our feelings are as it relates to what countries need to do to respect those human rights.
Q Robert, you’ve used the word “transition” about 15 or 20 times today. In terms of the definition of that term, is the definition of the term “transition” a government that does not include Hosni Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: I think what President Mubarak said yesterday is he’s not going to be the next leader of Egypt. I think that was clear.
Q But you have said now versus September, transition now. Does transition now mean no Hosni Mubarak now?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Glenn, I’m not going to get into more specificity about what the Presidents — the two Presidents spoke about.
Q And to follow up — you’ve mentioned a couple of times also that we are having discussions with all levels of Egyptian government. Are we speaking with leaders in the army?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And what are we talking to them about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I’ve talked about over the past several days, Admiral Mullen has spoken with his counterpart. Secretary Gates has spoken with his counterpart. Officers throughout our command ranks have spoken to their counterparts. It speaks to a couple of different things: one, the importance of robust military-to-military contact; being able to have the relationships and the knowledge of who you’re talking to and who you need to talk to in times of great crisis.
And I think it’s safe to say, again, each and every one of those conversations starts out with a conversation about restraint and nonviolence. And that's what the President spoke about yesterday.
Q Do you think you have an impact? Do you think those military-to-military contacts have helped maintain this restraint?
MR. GIBBS: I do believe they have.
Q Well, following up on Glenn’s question, and then something else. With this military-to-military communication, was there also any communication about timelines, when the military should or could step in?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that.
Q Okay. And also, with emotions so high in Egypt, realistically what is the timeline that you think that the violence will quell there — realistically?
MR. GIBBS: April, I don’t know the answer to that. I know that it is in — it is within the power of all of those involved to step away from that violence. And I said very early on in this that the legitimate concerns and grievances of the people of Egypt are not going to be addressed with violence or by violence. And it is our hope that what we saw today we won’t see tomorrow or Friday or into the weekend. Obviously this is going to take — this is not all going to be wrapped up in a matter of hours. It’s going to take some time. Regardless of the amount of that time, it is tremendously important that restraint and non-violence carry the day during this important transition.
Q And also, one more domestically. We’re seeing a major storm hitting this country. Could you talk to me about the economic impact, what Americans should be expecting? We’re hearing power is out in some places, places are shut down, airlines are not –
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say a couple of different things. Obviously each of the past two days the President has spoken directly with — I’m sorry — directly with FEMA Director Craig Fugate on the preparations that we are assisting with across the number of states have been affected by the breadth of this winter storm. I think you all got a readout yesterday that indicated that FEMA had coordinators on the ground across the arc in the country of where we were predicted to see that winter weather.
They spoke again today. The President received another update. I believe the FEMA director was going to do a briefing on camera today to talk about some of the preparations that have been had as we assist state and local entities and as we help businesses deal with the repercussions of, say, losing power or things like that. Obviously we anticipate that we could see appeals for disaster declarations, again, which come from the state level up to the federal level.
I think at this point it is hard to make some broad macroeconomic determinations about the impact of this storm. Obviously we’ve had tricky weather for, as is the wont of this time of the year, for many weeks. How that affects some economic statistics or hiring certainly remains to be seen.
Q How about the airlines? Do you have any numbers just on the airlines shutting down?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DOT and FAA for the particulars of that. I mean, obviously some of the pictures that you see in places that are used to dealing with pretty tough weather dealing with snow on the magnitude of 20 inches, it’s a stunning thing.
Q Is the President glad he’s not in Chicago today?
MR. GIBBS: We did remark that — my son gets excited any time it turns cold because he knows there’s a decent chance that he won’t have school. (Laughter.) But we did remark that I guess this is the first time in 12 years that kids have shared that same feeling across the city schools in Chicago.
Q Who’s checking on his house in Chicago, with the cold, the snow?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a very good question. I don’t know the answer to that. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no, seriously.
MR. GIBBS: You guys have –
Q Is Rahm shoveling the sidewalk? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn’t wave you off that answer. I wouldn’t wave you off – Chuck thought Rahm was, the sidewalk outside of the — (laughter.)
Q He thought Rahm was going to handle the shoveling? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Ben LaBolt, if you’re listening — (laughter.)
Go ahead, Margaret.
Q So I've got a very quick one on Egypt and a slightly more complicated one. The quick one is, did President Mubarak –
MR. GIBBS: The Egypt is the easy one? (Laughter.)
Q They’re both about Egypt. The first one is, did President Mubarak explicitly commit on his call yesterday with the President to nonviolence? And I'll just ask you the –
MR. GIBBS: I'll say this. The President reiterated that any action — any events should take place with the same restraint and nonviolence that we’ve seen. And as I said to Chuck, we’ve received no indication on that call about any action that might take place.
Q But either he didn't explicitly commit to it, or you don't feel comfortable saying?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President reiterated our strong call for nonviolence.
Q My second question is sort of a little broader. Was there any debate internally yesterday about whether President Obama should come out and make public remarks?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And what do you hope is gained domestically from doing so? We know internationally — and especially the people of Egypt — what the thrust of his message is, what he wants them to hear. What does President Obama want Americans to hear about his leadership, about his command over foreign policy, and about why anything that happens in Egypt affects us at all?
MR. GIBBS: I got to tell you, Margaret, that of the three scenarios that you just outlined, I’ve not heard discussion of the first two inside of here in terms of dealing with events.
We have had — and we’ve talked about this in here — we have had an extremely important governmental partnership the past many years with Egypt, as I’ve talked about even today, providing the cornerstone for stability off of the Camp David Accords. So I think there is a great imperative that the relationship that we have with Egypt and with countries throughout the Middle East, those are — again, those are important relationships. We seek to bring, again, stability and peace to that region. And we seek to engage all of those entities in bringing about comprehensive peace to the region.
That's — I think that outlives any particular administration. And I think that's what people throughout the world expect to see.
Q I don't want to — I’m sorry I’m taking a lot of time. But Americans are very obsessed right now about the economy, if you look at all the polls. And I just wonder, do you think that the average American makes a connection between the fate of Egypt and the fate of the United States? And what is that connection?
MR. GIBBS: You know, Margaret, I don't think that anything that's happening is going to change that, whether it is their personal economic situation. Somebody just asked about the weather, which obviously is some great cause of concern for a huge swath of this country. But we understand what peace and stability, and we understand what uncertainty and instability bring to the global economy and to the global economic recovery.
So I think that — this is an administration that obviously has spent a considerable amount of time working on the storm, on Egypt, but continues probably a majority of what we’re doing to work on aspects of the economic recovery.
Q Robert, one of the partnerships with Egypt is with counterterrorism. Is there concern that this situation is going to undermine U.S. security in that area?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we have, as you mention, an important partnership with them and with a number of countries throughout the region, and obviously not just that but a whole host of issues like that we are monitoring very closely.
You had a financial stability –
Q Robert, on the economic recovery, the Angelides commission issued a report giving a rather extensive description of the build-up to the crisis over the last few decades, indicating in particular the deregulation and particularly the revoking of the Glass-Steagall legislation which built a firewall between commercial banking and investment banking was the cause of the build-up of this bubble.
My question is, given the fact that you did not go back to Glass-Steagall, even though there was some discussion in Congress and a large number of congressmen who were supportive of that, that given to believe that the House leadership and the White House was not in favor of that — now that the report is out, now that the unambiguous conclusions are drawn that this was an important element in preventing a crisis, would it not be feasible to go back and relook at this in order to create the kind of firewall that would be needed now?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I think that the steps that this administration has taken and the time that we have dedicated to the passage of financial reform and ensuring that what happened — there are common-sense regulations that ensure that that kind of thing never happens again. I think the report underscores that we were right to do that.
We have put into place resolution authority. You’ve seen the beginnings of the Consumer Protection Bureau, the Volcker Rule, a whole host of important policy developments out of that legislation to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. I think the administration believes that we have taken a giant step forward in the passage of that to ensure that the impacts to our economy because of regulatory failures are not something that we see again.
END 2:14 P.M. EST
Tags: Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse