Press Sec. Robert Gibbs from 2/23/09 Press Briefing

This was an awfully interesting back and forth from yesterday’s White House press briefing, to which I want to refer in an upcoming post.  

But I wanted to give you a read in its entirety simply because so many places in this briefing transcript Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is asked about several issues we’ve all been discussing of late.  And his answers — as well as the questions — raise some other questions entirely here and there.

It’s especially fascinating to read through this particular transcript to match up questions, perspectives, and responses. Illuminating in so many ways.

Let me warn you up front, it’s quite long.

So those of you on dial-up might want to wait for the shorter summary post hitting a couple of key moments which will be coming up shortly hereafter.  And with that, here’s the transcript in full as provided by the White House:

PRESS BRIEFING

BY

PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:10 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, guys, how are you? I have absolutely nothing to announce, which means we’ll go straight to questions.

Yes, ma’am.

Q Thanks, Robert. Is it true that the President was considering announcing a Social Security task force, but decided not to? And can you talk a little bit about how he wants to, today, put meat on the bones of actually addressing some of these problems that carried through on his deficit reduction promise?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jennifer, I think everyone has seen the President convene today a summit on fiscal responsibility here at the White House. And reports over the weekend about a budget — that will be outlined in greater detail on Thursday — that shows a deficit that was inherited before the stimulus of nearly $1.3 trillion that the President believes and the economic team believe that we can cut in at least half at the end of four years, the end of his first term. I think the American people are rightly concerned about the path of this economy, but also concerned that for many years we’ve had a borrow-to-spend attitude. And what the President hopes to get our country back on is a program that helps us save and invest.

The President outlined in his radio address a budget that is sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting — which is a change — that will, as I said, invest in what we need, cut in what we don’t, and restore fiscal responsibility.

The President also talked during the campaign about this notion of the fact that it is hard to get to some degree of fiscal responsibility without addressing all of our challenges. I think you’ll hear the President begin to talk on Tuesday, and continue what he did in the campaign, to talk about strengthening retirement security, as well as cutting health care costs. I think the articles in the paper demonstrated, for instance, that you cannot — if you’re going to talk about Medicare and Medicaid, you’re talking about the rising costs of health care in this country that we’ve seen outstrip inflation sometimes more than double over the past 10 years.

So without getting ahead of where the President’s going to be on Tuesday, I think you’ll hear him begin the discussion on restoring a sense of fiscal responsibility to this town and understanding that we have to begin to live within our means.

Q I understand that he’s displaying a commitment to that by staging the summit and, as you said, talking about it tomorrow night and further, I assume, on Thursday. But if he doesn’t start to put actual action behind that, those numbers aren’t going to come down. So –

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ll see — I think you’ll see this week the action behind that.

Q What about the Social Security task force?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me, again, not get ahead of where the President is going to be over the course of this week. I do believe, getting back to that first phrase, I think you will be able to see, both in what the President says on Tuesday and ultimately what is forwarded to Congress on Thursday, will demonstrate clearly the President’s intention and desire to see our country return to a path of fiscal responsibility, and in doing so, through honest budgeting, making very tough decisions that the American people understand we have to make, and cutting this deficit in half by the end of his first term.

Yes, ma’am.

Q On the question of bank nationalizations, both Greenspan and Senator Graham have called it a possible option. I think Greenspan said it was the least bad alternative. Are they wrong, or is this something that you’re planning to do as part of the program announced today to allow banks to convert their government preferred shares into common –

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — without getting into individual actions between banks and financial regulators, I would point you to first the statement that the Department of Treasury put out about that.

The reports mentioned that Citigroup is seeking to take part — possibly seeking to take part in a provision contained in the financial stability plan that Secretary Geithner outlined last week. The President believes, the economic team believe, and I would simply reiterate what I said here on Friday, that the President believes that a privately held banking system regulated by the federal government is the best way to go about this.

Q So are you ruling out the possibility of taking a controlling in interest in any of these large banks?

MR. GIBBS: Let me repeat that I’m not going to get into discussing what individual banks might do with — in relation to discussions with financial authorities or individual regulators.

Q Robert, on Jennifer’s question about — when you said action this week, in terms of Medicare and whatnot, without giving away the specific numbers yet and getting ahead of the President’s budget, will he have specific cuts to these entitlement programs, to lay them out, when you say honesty in accounting?

MR. GIBBS: I think you will see the President making hard choices, the President making specific — some specific cuts. There is — there’s no way for us to institute a budget that is free of gimmicks, that’s honest in its accounting, and reduce that deficit by half in four years. I think — I think you’ll see real detail around what he’s proposing and I think you’ll see some real detail around the important investments that he believes this country does have to continue to make, whether that’s in health care or in education or in making our country energy independent. All of those things, I think you’ll see the President discuss on Tuesday, and then I think you’ll see detail wrapped around that on Tuesday.

Q And the — during the stimulus talks, the President was very firm in saying there could be no earmarks in there at all. Right now, Democratic leaders are crafting this omnibus spending bill of over $410 billion, and there are reports from the Hill that there are over 9,000 earmarks in there already. The President is talking about fiscal responsibility today. Is he going to be leaning directly on his own Democratic leaders to say, cut out these earmarks or I’ll veto that spending bill?

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President about the individual spending bill that, as I understand it, is largely left over from last year’s session to fund — minus a continuing resolution — to fund government. I think that Congress will take that up. I have not talked to the President on that. Obviously he is — there is concern. Everybody has to be involved in the sharing of pain in this. There are — when you’re at $1.2 or $1.3 trillion deficit, an economy where we are, I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to act accordingly, and — but short of talking to the President specifically on that –

Q Would he be willing to use his veto up against the Democratic Congress to back that talk up?

MR. GIBBS: Let me — let me not get ahead of a discussion with him, not having seen — or not having had land on his desk what Congress might ultimately send him.

Jake.

Q Without getting ahead of the President, he has made it clear that — (laughter) –

MR. GIBBS: I’m going to bring him and put him right here, so that I can stand at least two steps behind him. (Laughter.) He, when we do that, won’t be taking any questions. So just FYI.

Q But he’ll just be ahead of you.

MR. GIBBS: Slightly. (Laughter.)

Q Without doing that, he’s made it very clear that at the very least, letting the Bush tax cuts expire is in the game plan. I’m just wondering, there have been other ideas floated out there in terms of tax cuts, whether — or tax increases, rather, on people who make more than a quarter million dollars a year.

If it doesn’t make sense to raise taxes this year because of the recession, might it also be problematic for the economy to recover if taxes are raised next year? Would that principle not still apply?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess it — some of that depends maybe where we are on the economy. Let’s understand where we are in terms of the fiscal — I’m sorry, in terms of the economic recovery plan. You have one of, if not the largest, tax cut ever enacted in a two-year period, as the President stated this weekend, going into people’s paychecks beginning April 1.

The President campaigned on a promise to ensure that money would get into people’s pockets that had seen their wages decline over the past few years. And he made good on that promise through the recovery plan, and believes that will have a stimulative effect on the economy.

The President has also talked about in some form or another letting the tax cuts for the top 1 or so percent either be repealed or expire, because the President believes that after many years of having a tax code that favored the few over the many, that a combination of both the recovery plan and what may or may not be in the budget for future years begins to right the tables a bit on who this tax code is written for and the people that deserve to be part of the benefit now.

Q Because — if I could just follow up — to be more precise in my question, isn’t it true that the people who we’re talking about raising their taxes, people who make more than a quarter million dollars a year, whether it’s going from 35 to 39.6, or the hedge fund managers going from 15 to 35 or 39.6, or capital gains taxes going from 15 to 20 — that these are the people who will invest to create the new jobs, and at a time of recession, taking their money and giving it to the government or giving it to other people actually could impede the cause of job growth?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President talked about this extensively on the campaign –

Q But that was before the recession became as big as we now see it.

MR. GIBBS: I think I would posit that the recession was big at the end of the campaign. Again, I think there’s an element first of tax fairness. And I think that — I think this President understands that there have been many benefits for the few at the expense of a few benefits for the many; that through the recovery plan and in the coming years, the President believes it’s important that those that have not seen much in the way of an increase in their paycheck have more money in their pockets. That may require those that shared in great benefits, huge benefits in the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 — again, importantly, for those making more than $250,000 a year, I think the top 1 percent of all wage earners in this country — is fairness that the President believes is important.

Chip.

Q On health care, a lot of talk in the summit about health care being the number one item for long-term fiscal responsibility, and moving in the direction of health care reform. For people not terribly sophisticated about all this, like me and the average viewers out there, it just seems counterintuitive that you would insure 40-some million people who aren’t insured now and that would save money. How are you going to get the long-term deficits under control by health care reform, which means spending more for more people?

MR. GIBBS: Well, but Chip, let me — I think one of the things that’s inherent in the health care system that this country has right now is we spend more than I think virtually any industrialized country in the world for outcomes that lag many other industrialized countries in the world; that we are, through lack of fundamental reform, paying amazing amounts of money and we see spikes in that each year in what it costs somebody to go get health care coverage in this country. It puts small businesses out of business. It creates a tension where larger businesses aren’t able to offer health care to their employees because something that was affordable last year is unaffordable next year because the price increases by 10 percent.

What you will see the President talk about going forward and certainly contained in the recovery plan are investments and steps that can be taken that will ultimately save this country money. The health IT in the economic recovery plan will make health care more affordable, will save patients’ lives, and increase the quality and the outcome of the health care that millions of people are provided.

We’re not going to be able to — let me say it this way: Reform is important in order to cut the incredible increases in cost that we see each and every year as businesses and families and individuals struggle to keep up with the pace of health care inflation. What the President will talk about and begin to outline over the course of the next several weeks is to build on the reforms that we saw in the recovery plan, as I mentioned, on health IT that will begin to streamline the process and make it more affordable.

But I think you’ll see — again, not wanting to get ahead of him — talk — the President talk about lowering costs for those that are fortunate enough to have health care and ways in which we can provide greater access for families and small businesses to get health care. I would point to the legislation that passed a few weeks ago in Congress and the President signed, increased the share of children covered through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a model that has worked for many years and was expanded and signed into law by this President.

Chuck.

Q Robert, I want to follow up on Jennifer’s first question, which was, did you guys have a Social Security sort of task force or something that was going to be a part of this –

MR. GIBBS: I’ll have to get back and — I will have to go back and read the article and see exactly what’s in there and check on that. Whether it is a — whatever you call it, the President — I think many of you –

Q So you’re not disputing the story?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — can you read back the — (laughter.) Let me go back and look through. But regardless of what you call it, Chuck, the President is committed to dealing with the rising costs of retirement security and health security in this country. You saw the President talk about, in Iowa and throughout the campaign, ways in which to strengthen the solvency and the longevity of Social Security. You’ll see the President talk about, as I just talked about with Chip, take actions to reform our health care system, which will add life to the Medicare trust fund.

Q Speaking of the health care issue, one of the executive orders that I think some people expected the President to sign pretty quickly was something lifting some of the restrictions that President Bush had put on stem cell research. Why is — is there a reason why he hasn’t made that one of his first sort of — those initial — like Guantanamo Bay was –

MR. GIBBS: Stay tuned.

Q You said that, I think, a couple weeks ago, "Stay tuned." Again, I’m waiting for the glass –

Q Is it two weeks or less?

MR. GIBBS: This is that sitcom where it says, "To be continued…"

Q Do we tune into next week’s episode? I mean — (laughter.) But what is –

MR. GIBBS: In the running sitcom, it will be –

Q Is it weeks and days, not months?

Q Is there a preference over legislation, Robert?

MR. GIBBS: I would say weeks.

Q Weeks?

MR. GIBBS: Well — and I’m a — I don’t want to get too far afield from where I am, but I think, as I understand it what the — what President Bush did through executive order and what legislation sits on Capitol Hill doesn’t necessarily — in some ways, they’re two different issues: there’s existing federal funding — there’s federal funding for existing lines, and then a broader expansion of federal funding that obviously the President, through Congress, stated his support for.

Q And he believes they are two different things. Some things he can do with executive order — and that’s expanding the lines?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean again — well, what you specifically asked me about was an order that President Bush did in I believe September/August of 2001. And then legislation, which again doesn’t — those things don’t fully overlap.

Q So one will be done on executive order, and one will be legislation that you –

MR. GIBBS: To be continued. (Laughter.)

Q Why tinker with Social Security when it’s solvent?

MR. GIBBS: Because it is –

Q And you took (inaudible) to 2040 — there are other issues in front of us.

MR. GIBBS: There are many issues in front of us. But we are not going to get ourselves onto a sustainable path of fiscal responsibility unless, or until, we address many of those issues. The President obviously wants to do –

Q Why is it an issue?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — I don’t know the exact years, but there is an inflection point in the funding where the trust fund is, if we haven’t already passed that line, we’re soon to pass the line where what is going in and what is coming out no longer adds to that solvency of the trust fund and is no longer equal to each other.

I think that –

Q Some people are just wanting to take from it. And there’s great suffering going on now. So I don’t see why you ought to –

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, don’t posit that what the President wants to do is institute great suffering. But understand that the way the program is structured, and although the solvency may go to 2040 or 2041, there I think is great concern that the number of people paying in and the number of people — what is paid in no longer equals what is going out. Therefore, in order to get to some sustainable path to fiscal responsibility, the President understands that hard choices are going to be made, and he’s going to –

Q Like raising taxes?

MR. GIBBS: The President talked about some specific ways to do that in the campaign, and I think you can’t have a discussion without people bringing a lot of ideas to the table to hash through.

David.

Q Thanks, Robert. Two completely unrelated questions.

MR. GIBBS: Excellent.

Q And the first is about climate change legislation. I presume the President will refer to it in his speech tomorrow night. On Capitol Hill, there’s been some difference of opinion, with at one point Speaker Pelosi and, on the Senate side, Jeff Bingaman saying that this will be — that they’ll — they expect to pass climate change legislation by the end of next year. And Henry Waxman and others are talking about doing it on a faster pace. Given that during the campaign the President talked about the urgency of now related to climate change, would he like to see this done this year as opposed to waiting a whole session to get it done?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I — urgency, as you pointed out, is important. Whether or not — I mean, I — I don’t know enough about the individual politics in each House and in each proposal to understand whether it’s this year or next. I think the President would say if we had significant legislation that began to address climate change and allowed us to spend even more money investing in alternative energies to ensure that we weren’t adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, whether that’s this year or next year, I think both of us would agree that that’s a big change that we would welcome.

Q And then on –

MR. GIBBS: Your second unrelated –

Q — the unrelated front. The Justice Department under the Bush administration took a position in opposing the lawsuits you brought regarding the White House email system. Two groups — National Security Archive and CREW — filed a suit to force the White House to locate up to perhaps 5 million missing emails and protect others. And the Justice Department filed to dismiss that suit — the Bush Justice Department filed. You just missed a deadline on Friday, the Obama administration, to remove that Justice Department motion. So is it the Obama administration’s position — is it the same as the Bush administration position on the White House emails? And do you not want to have a full accounting of what might have been missed, lost during the Bush administration?

MR. GIBBS: I’m out of my depth in terms of the legal issues on Friday. Dare I say email the Justice Department and — I think they’re the best repository for such –

Q But given your transparency, your love of transparency and all the wonderful executive orders –

MR. GIBBS: I’m not sure I would — there are many things I love, David. I’m not sure transparency –

Q I meant institutionally.

MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.)

Q I mean, would you — do you think that citizens who care about these matters would expect a different approach to this issue from the Obama administration than the Bush administration?

MR. GIBBS: Without understanding the specifics of what the Justice Department has been engaged in, I think you understand that this administration and this presidency seek a greater amount of transparency than Washington has seen. I would leave the specific issues relating to the case that you’re talking about to — for somebody at the Justice Department to answer.

Yes, sir.

Q Back to Social Security. Any speculation about a task force or whatever aside, do you think that it’s politically and practically possible at this time to tackle major Social Security reform when you’ve got all these other big economic challenges that the President has been talking about doing?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that — I think the discussions that were — I mean, all of what we’re talking about, whether it’s fiscal responsibility, financial stability, health care, education, energy independence, recovery — all of those are — I think are contained in the larger economic challenges that this country faces right now. The President understands he wasn’t elected to preside over a series of fundamentally easy choices and decisions to get us from where we are to where he knows this country can be. Some of those decisions will be hard. He’s made many of them in a budget that you’ll see on Thursday. But I think the President understands that we have any number of big challenges that have to be addressed and that we can’t shy away from.

Q Do you get the sense your Democratic allies have the political stomach to deal with tackling major Social Security reform now?

MR. GIBBS: I think that it is going to be hard. I think it is going to be hard to address a lot of our challenges without dealing with all of them at the same time.

Q In terms of capturing new revenue and counting hedge fund profits as an income, politically is that a much easier risk now than it was? I mean, is that low-hanging –

MR. GIBBS: I think this issue was — came up in — they all blur together — probably the spring of ’07. I don’t know if it was any easier then, when the President supported those changes. I think that he — I don’t think the decision that — any decision that he makes on that is not based on the politics of the ease of right now. I think that the decision that he made back in the spring or early summer of the campaign were based on the fundamental fairness of those funds acting a lot more like income than capital gains.

Q But it didn’t happen then. I mean, there was opposition and Democrats controlled the Congress then. And now that you’re running the tables, do you expect this to happen?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I — again, not getting ahead of what might be in his budget, but I think the plan that he puts forward, he’s confident it provides the best way forward to addressing those problems and putting us on a path toward fiscal responsibility.

Major.

Q Other reports –

MR. GIBBS: Two unrelated questions? (Laughter.)

Q Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee, arrived in Britain today. This would constitute the first Guantanamo detainee released freely into society. How does the administration respond to criticisms from some of the military families he met with just a couple of weeks ago that this is premature, it’s before the 180-day review is complete, and does not fulfill his promise to them and to the country at large that he would weigh all security implications before making a decision on a detainee for release?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as you state, the President made a decision at the beginning of his administration to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay and to start a process of evaluating the detainees there in accordance with his solemn obligation to do all that he can to keep our country safe, to do it in a way that protects our men and women in uniform, and does so in accordance with our American values. That process, as you know, is ongoing.

In terms of the specifics related to Mr. Mohammed’s case, I would point you to the Department of Justice. But the President feels confident that the process that his administration has undertaken will yield results that keep us safer.

Q Can you comment in any way on how the administration decided this person was not only subject to release but would not pose a future danger to the country –

MR. GIBBS: I would point you to Matt over at Justice.

Q Okay. On the question of Treasury, I know you don’t want to comment on things that are part of existing authority — banks coming in and seeking something it can already do. Can you say today, because the markets have been roiled for two days on rumors or speculation or fear of nationalization, that the administration is not actively contemplating anything beyond existing authorities and transactions that can be engaged with between banks and the Treasury Department?

MR. GIBBS: For a lot of reasons –

Q Can you say anything more definitive than that. And if not, why not?

MR. GIBBS: Let me — let me read — I felt good about what I said on Friday; the markets seemed to feel good about what I said on Friday — that the President believes that a privately held banking system regulated by the government is the best model.

Q A follow-up on the question about Guantanamo Bay. Can you tell us who from the administration has gone down there? I know a number of people — Eric Holder is there today. Who has actually gone to Guantanamo, and what have they reported back?

MR. GIBBS: I know Greg — I believe Greg Craig has gone, and I know Eric is — sorry, the Attorney General is down there today. The process for making these decisions is ongoing, and when we have larger announcements and decisions to announce, we’ll do that. I’m not going to sort of roll and comment on what the Attorney General or the White House Counsel might have deduced from one visit.

Yes, sir.

Q Is the President going to see General Kayani when he’s in town at all?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that.

Q Will you check?

MR. GIBBS: I will.

Q Robert, going back to the bank nationalization issue again. You chose your words very carefully when talking about this and there have been market repercussions.

MR. GIBBS: Gibb market, come on. (Laughter.) Somebody called it the Gibbs rally, for goodness sakes. Let’s go with that. Right? Come on. (Laughter.) Because people are watching. No. (Laughter.)

Q You were hot on Saturday.

MR. GIBBS: I know. I went up, like, 200 points or something. (Laughter.)

Q Are you in favor of one-day market trends? Because last week you said you didn’t — (laughter.)

Q No, he said "depends." (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Only one-hour market trends. (Laughter.)

Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Q What is –

MR. GIBBS: There’s no telling what the market just did. (Laughter.)

Q Has the White House crafted a communications strategy to talk about the sensitive issue of nationalization? I mean, do you have to be careful and take great care, at least in talking about this issue, for fear of market repercussions?

MR. GIBBS: I was counseled that when I stood up here that I should take great care in speaking about any number of subjects, for the ramifications for our relationships with other countries, our national security, our banking system, the stock market, my overall well-being — (laughter) — might be impacted.

Q I can’t help but notice you’re reading from a prepared statement on –

MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m reading exactly what I said Friday, in order to make sure that you all understand that I feel so good about what I said on Friday, I thought I’d try it again on Monday. Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts in the financial stability plan. But — it may sound like a broken record, but it’s the belief of the President and the economic team that the structure of a privately held system regulated by the government is the best way to do things.

Q Why not say, "We are not going to nationalize the banking system"? Why not say it just like that?

MR. GIBBS: Like I said, I felt so good about what happened on Friday, I thought I’d do it again.

Q But that hasn’t been enough to quiet these fears and anxieties in Wall Street, and bank stocks — they go up a little bit, they have gone down again.

MR. GIBBS: Major, again, my job is not to –

Q But it leaves open the perception that it’s possible.

MR. GIBBS: I understand –

Q Can you close that door at all?

MR. GIBBS: I think you could look at the transcript and posit many possibilities based on any answers on any given day. I don’t think that the — there are any number of challenges that we have in front of us on any number of economic issues. The President and his team work every day on, as you saw today, implementing the recovery through a very strong — the naming of a former IG at the Department of Interior that’s used to rooting out waste and abuse, fiscal responsibility summit to get us on the pathway towards a sustainable budget. Work goes on in financial stability and later this week we’ll have legislators down to talk about regulation in the financial industry. A lot goes on to continue to meet each and every one of these challenges.

Christina.

Q On Afghanistan, the Progressive Caucus plans to send a message to the President that they’re a little frustrated with his decision to send more troops there. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters said Friday, "We don’t want to send our young people off to war without really understanding what we’re doing." Is the President concerned about these more liberal members and voters out there frustrated with his decision with Afghanistan? And does he have an exit strategy for Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t — the President spoke throughout the campaign about the fact that we had long ago taken our eyes off of the problem that we faced in Afghanistan, the attacks that struck this country and were planned there; that we needed to draw down our forces in Iraq, add forces to the fight in Afghanistan to ensure that the attacks that we had faced in 2001 don’t happen again. I’m not — I don’t think anybody would be surprised that the President made that decision based on the fact that he campaigned on that for a year and a half.

To your larger question, look, the President talked about this in his statement, and will talk about this to some degree tomorrow — the dangers that we face in a very uncertain world, one of those issues being Afghanistan.

I think that the President’s strategy of placing, for the first time in a long time, a focus on that area, in addition to the ongoing 60-day review that the administration is undertaking relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are important to reorient where we are in terms of our national security to prevent attacks like the ones that happened in 2001.

Q And an exit strategy will come out of that?

MR. GIBBS: I think the — the review is a comprehensive review of our policy in that region, including our force structure and our posture as it relates to that.

Q Can I just follow?

Q What do you expect that to be done?

MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s a 60-day review that I think began a week or so ago, or 10 days ago. So we’ve got 50 or so days to –

Q Can I just follow –

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q Two questions. One follow –

MR. GIBBS: Two?

Q Well, one — one is not question really, if I may ask you, did the President watch last night Academy Awards, and if he had seen the famous movie from India?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t –

Q And you think he — if he has not seen it, if he’s planning to see it?

MR. GIBBS: Well, he — I don’t know how long he was dancing to Earth, Wind & Fire last night. (Laughter.) I don’t know how much — I left here and still saw a good portion of the Academy Awards while I was trying to go to sleep. I don’t know if he’s seen "Slumdog Millionaire." I know he — I know he wants to. (Laughter.) I don’t know if he –

Q What movies does he not want to see?

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I mean — look, I think the — a lot of the movies that he has seen recently are movies that might also entertain a 7 and a 10 year old girl — not sure that "Slumdog Millionaire" would be on that list.

Q My question on Afghanistan, I’m sorry, to follow — if President was ever briefed as far as A.Q. Khan’s nuclear network, which he was the one who gave nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea and many other countries. Now he’s a free man; the Pakistani government has freed him. And now he’s free to go anywhere and now Iran has already announced that they have — they are ready to go for the nuclear program.

MR. GIBBS: Well, when that decision was in the papers, I think this administration expressed its concern and — but without going into a lot of detail about discussions on that subject, I’d leave that for others.

Yes.

Q Robert, the President spent the first month of his administration talking about cutting taxes and increasing spending, and now he’s pivoting as necessary with this fiscal responsibility to talk about, in essence, the opposite. Will his budget say that he’s going to delay those spending cuts and tax increases to some degree, until we come out of the recession? And if so, does that water down the deficit reduction that he’s going to be showing, because he won’t be instituting the tough stuff until a couple years from now?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, not wanting to get ahead of what Thursday might bring, throughout the campaign and throughout that first month, I think the President has talked — the President has certainly talked about the need to invest in a recovery plan that is now the law of the land, but to understand that in order to continue to have long-term economic growth, that a deficit that was at or near 10 percent of our gross domestic product was by all accounts completely unsustainable; I think I read today that deficits relating to GDP that rivaled that of World War II. Obviously that is something that the President believes can’t continue.

So I think you’ll see, as I said, the President — the larger framework of a budget that will include cutting that deficit in half over the course of his first term in order to lessen the percentage of our deficit as it relates to our GDP, and get us on to some sustainable path.

Q But if he’s doing that right away, if he’s cutting the deficit in the first couple of years, can he also rebuild the economy simultaneously? Doesn’t that work against the stimulus?

MR. GIBBS: I think it’ll be more illuminated on Thursday, but the President believes that obviously there’s a little bit of a push-pull here that we — we need to ensure the recovery and reinvestment necessary to get our economy moving again.

There’s virtually no way to bring down the deficit, long term, unless there is some economic growth. Continued unemployment, increasing unemployment, is certainly not a recipe for our ability to demonstrate progress on the fiscal side of the ledger.

Q Has the White House so far received a letter from a senior figure in Hamas that was passed through Senator Kerry? And given — well, notwithstanding the restrictions on U.S. contacts with Hamas, is that something that the President would be likely to read?

MR. GIBBS: As I understand it, the letter — some letter was passed — conflicting reports from whom — to Senator Kerry, and that that letter is with the consulate in Jerusalem. That’s the only update I have on that.

Thanks, guys.

END 2:55 P.M. EST

 
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