Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 21, 2010 – 12:09 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before I take questions, I just want to call your attention to — obviously you all have seen the news today that GM is paying back $4.7 of the $6.7 billion loan via TARP to it. The White House has issued a report that should be — if you don’t have it in your inbox, it will be out momentarily.
I just want to call to a few — some of the highlights of the report that looks back at the decision that the administration made relating to the American auto industry about a year ago. Some highlights: In the 12 months before the President took office, the auto industry lost nearly 40 percent of its sales volume and over 40 — I’m sorry, lost over 400,000 jobs. Today employment in the auto industry has stabilized. Since GM exited bankruptcy in early July 2009, the industry has added 45,000 jobs.
The President undertook the decision to loan money to GM and Chrysler for several reasons, not the least of which was the economic impact of their bankruptcy, estimated by the former Treasury Department to be as many as 1.1 million jobs; some economists had assumed that it could be on the order of magnitude of 2.5 to 3 million jobs lost in both direct auto jobs as well as spinoff parts supplier jobs that could have been affected.
As you know, the President also insisted on, for those loans, a restructuring of past bad company decisions had to be reconciled. The good news about today’s announcement from General Motors is that it is repaying its loan five years ahead of schedule, which, obviously we’re not out of the woods, but I think demonstrates the path that General Motors is on. Chrysler announced its earnings today, and despite losing money from the time that it exited bankruptcy last year to the end of the year lost money, part of which was a one-time restructuring charge, it achieved an operating profit in the first quarter of 2010, the first quarterly operating profit since the beginning of the economic crisis.
Again — and I would say one other thing, that the Treasury Department’s program on lending facilities freed up the credit market as it related to auto loans last year. We all remember back to a point in which even individuals with good credit couldn’t find the ability to get an auto loan.
So I would say all of those things are highlighted in the report. The last thing — 12 months ago auto sales were at their lowest point since 1970. Average annualized sales in the first quarter of 2009 were approximately 9.5 million units. Today U.S. sales have begun to rebound with annualized sales of 11.8 million vehicles in March. Analysts are currently forecasting 2010 sales to be 11.5 to 12 million units.
So, again, you all should in your inboxes have that report; if not, it will be in there momentarily.
Q Can I ask you about that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Are you making the announcement on GM in order to make the case that the administration believes sometimes government bailouts are worthwhile?
MR. GIBBS: I’m making the case that looking back almost a year later from the President making a very difficult and unpopular decision to loan money to GM and Chrysler in order to go through a structured bankruptcy and save 1 to 3 million jobs, I think we could all agree that the depth of our economic downturn would hardly have been helped with those million or so people additionally out of work.
I think the way that the process was managed, again, allowed — this was not a loan to continue the type of practices that had led each of the two companies to the brink of bankruptcy. It was a loan in order for them to begin to make the tough business decisions in order to restructure for a new time. That’s what they’ve begun to do.
I restate again, we’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. We have seen improvement. I think it is — it’s testament to a lot of people’s hard work and should be noticed.
Q After the meeting on the Supreme Court, Senator Leahy had some criticism of the Court, saying that it’s very partisan, activist, doesn’t reflect the American people. He said that he hopes that the President’s nominee will help change that. I’m wondering if the President agrees with Senator Leahy’s criticism. And in picking the nomination, is that something that he has in mind?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ve heard the President talk about what he’s going to look for in a nominee. I have not spoken to the President since the meeting broke up. Again, I think you get a sense of he is looking for somebody who has a fidelity to the law, somebody who is independent, and somebody who has the legal stature necessary. I think all of those things the President will, as he said over the next coming weeks, look for in announcing a nominee.
Q But does he agree with what Senator Leahy said, that the current court is partisan, doesn’t reflect the American people?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not had a chance to speak with him about what — if Senator Leahy brought that up in the meeting or if he mentioned it.
Q Senator Leahy has talked about what he sees as the merits of appointing somebody outside the judicial monastery. What does the President think of that? President Clinton also talked about that too.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is — I think the President has mentioned both in this as we look for a nominee now and as we looked for a nominee last year, somebody who understands how the law affects real people in the real world, not just in a classroom, not just at a school. I think, as was true last time, there are people that will be on this list, some that are judges, some that are not or have been but are not currently judges. I think the President will get an opportunity to look through and select from a broad diversity of experience.
Again, I think that’s what — one of the things that Justice Sotomayor brought, was somebody that had worked in the law at many different avenues, both as somebody who had, as a prosecutor, as a judge, as an advocate and provided a broad swath of different experience.
Q Does he think that a politician could maybe reflect the real-world experiences better than a judge? Or is he sort of open-minded about that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t think I’ve heard him weigh one versus the other. I think he understands the desire, and certainly the team understands the desire to have a broad group of qualified and talented individuals from which he can select his nominee.
Q And separately, can you preview the Cooper Union speech at all? And also, can you say who is going to be there in the audience?*
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I will check on the audience stuff after this. I know there were some e-mails on that that I haven’t had a chance to look through. The President has gone to New York several times to speak on financial reform, twice during the campaign. We are obviously entering a critical period of time. The House has passed financial reform and the Senate is on the cusp, we hope, of both taking up and moving forward on changing the rules of the road for how banks and our financial system operate.
So I think he will tomorrow remind the American people what’s at stake, what’s important in financial reform. And I know sometimes it can feel — some of these issues can feel, as the President goes to New York, it can feel disconnected from the rest of the country. But obviously financial reform is something that is borne out of an economic collapse that started on Wall Street and spread to Main Street America very quickly. So I think the President will remind the American people and the Senate what we all have at stake as we move forward, and hopefully get something passed out of the Senate and quickly to his desk so that, as I’ve said here many times before, when we get to the second anniversary of the economic collapse we do so with new rules governing how our financial system operates.
Q Robert, on that point about the President going to Wall Street, what we can expect in terms of his tone? Various times he’s said if they want to fight, I’m ready for a fight. He’s called bankers “fat cats.” But other times he’s said there needs to be a balance and you need to not hurt private enterprise, basically, and he’d be careful.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, look, the President — I don’t think that — I don’t think calling out obscene bonuses but also saying that we don’t want to overly or unduly burden private enterprise and American business from operating — I think, quite frankly, financial reform — I think that is quite complementary to financial reform. I think there are a number of people, not the least of which are hundreds of millions of Americans who have played by the rules, even as the economy has collapsed around them.
So I think that the President will — I mean, you’ve heard the President over the past not only couple weeks but over the last few years discuss the notion that the reason why we have to have strong rules in place, that those rules are for the benefit of the American people; that we are not incentivizing a set of risky decisions where banks reap all of the reward yet none of the responsibility for the decisions that they make.
But the President is a strong believer that our financial system is part of a larger system of commerce that we all treasure. We just have to have rules in the road — rules for the road in place so that we don’t find ourselves at the mercy of a series of risky decisions as we have in the past.
Q Another quick thing on taxes. Recently, Paul Volcker, one of the President’s leading economic advisors, suggested that the VAT tax is not such a bad idea; that maybe the President should take a look at it. And yesterday Austan Goolsbee was asked about this on a program repeatedly about whether the President would consider a VAT tax and he didn’t really directly answer whether —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I directed an answer to this the other day by saying that it wasn’t something that the President had under consideration.
Q But since the debt commission is clearly looking at this and many other things —
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’re going to let — the debt commission I think meets later in the month, the President will open by speaking to them, and we look forward to their recommendations.
Q The VAT tax would affect people making less than $250,000 a year, wouldn’t it?
MR. GIBBS: The deficit commission is going to — is, as you know, comprised of Democrats and Republicans that will come forward with bipartisan recommendations and the President looks forward to those recommendations.
Q I’m going to take another crack at Caren’s question. Is it important to President Obama that there be somebody on the court who’s not from the judiciary; somebody who has experience —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, you know, Jake, the President will make a decision on whom that nominee — whom that next nominee will be. I think that — again, the reason I used the Sotomayor example is somebody who both had judicial experience but also had legal experience outside of simply rendering judgment on different cases.
Again, I don’t — the President is somewhat early in this process and I don’t know that — obviously he’s not made a final decision on where that all comes down, except I think that it is important that — for the President that a nominee have a diversity of legal experience, not just as a judge but in different venues.
Q On financial regulatory reform, would the bill being considered in the Senate or the one that passed the House, would either of them have prevented the alleged fraud that the SEC is currently suing Goldman over?
MR. GIBBS: I would direct you to the SEC in where they figure and where they’ve decided their case is. I think not the least of which broader — in broader terms of financial reform — let’s take the issue that the President has talked about in terms of derivatives — bringing that type of activity out of the shadows into an exchange, something that’s monitored and regulated.
Look, I think in many ways as these are complicated — as the financial system is — has a series of very complicated instruments, in many ways reform is simple in the premise of having it brought out of the dark and into the light, having the measure of transparency and regulation is a fairly simple concept in moving important reforms forward.
So I don’t doubt that there are a host of things in the legislation that would have changed people’s behavior from several years ago.
Q Do you — does the administration have an opinion on those on Wall Street who say that this action you’re proposing with derivatives would cost them hundreds of millions, if not a billion, dollars to take those steps?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that we have to figure out a way, and the President believes that bringing activities like this out of the dark and into an exchange that’s regulated, is a common-sense step that prevents the potential for a set of risky decisions to be made that no one but taxpayers bear responsibility for. I think that is — that’s what animates the President’s decision-making on this and I think it will animate the Senate’s decision-making on passing financial reform.
Q Goldman Sachs has been very kind to Democrats over the years. Have you heard the President or anybody else in the White House express concern that by going after Goldman, the administration is risking losing political contributions not just from them, but from other Wall Street firms with the tone of the President?
MR. GIBBS: Not at all.
Q There’s never been any connection whatsoever, no discussion of it at all?
MR. GIBBS: No. Chip, we — the President visited Wall Street in the middle of September of 2007, when some thought we were on the midst — we were in the midst of something calamitous about our economy and spoke pretty fervently about the need to change the direction of our regulation. He visited Wall Street again in March of 2008 and has had much to say about Wall Street between now and then. I think he’s taken, again, a pretty tough stance on behalf of taxpayers as it relates to ensuring that risk is not put ahead of common sense.
Q And you’ve never heard anybody on the fundraising team, for example, argue for toning it down a bit?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Following up on Ed’s question on the VAT, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like Mr. Goolsbee and you are both leaving the door open to the possibility of a VAT down the road.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q After the commission reports —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, it’s a great Washington thing to not say something, which means something else. I’m not prejudging anything the commission does. I think it would — to get into the hypothetical of prejudging a commission, which is yet to have its first meeting, is sort of a silly thing to do.
Q But you’re not ruling it out, not ruling anything out?
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the opportunity.
Q Okay. So on the Supreme Court, can we — when people talk about the judicial monastery or whatever expression they want to use, they’re not just talking —
MR. GIBBS: That was Caren’s term, not mine.
Q Yes, well, it’s actually —
Q It’s Patrick Leahy’s term.
Q It’s Leahy’s term, actually — and various other people too. But I think we all know what it means — it’s you don’t want somebody with limited real-world experience. And people have defined that to mean either being a judge or being a law professor. So can we assume that if the President wants somebody with real-world experience, anybody who has spent his entire career as a law professor or a judge is not going to make the list?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we’re in the process of providing the President with extensive information on a number of individuals that I think he will find highly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. They will have a diversity of experience. I think there are — again, I’d go back to the Sotomayor example as somebody who held positions and different types of employment in many different legal avenues. I think the President wants somebody who understands, as we said in the first instance, that — understands how law and decisions affect people that live in the real world.
Q And has the President started vetting and talking to potential nominees at this point?
MR. GIBBS: He has.
Q Can you give us any —
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.)
Q — any elucidation there? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No. Except to say that he has —
Q Is he spending a lot of time on it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he’s working on a lot of different things, but obviously this is one of the main priorities.
Q The President just said when asked about the issue of abortion that he wants somebody who’s interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights. Isn’t it artifice to say that this is not a litmus test?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q So he’d be open, for example, to choosing somebody who didn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’re playing the Washington game again. If I say this, then I don’t —
Q We’re in Washington.
MR. GIBBS: I know, I know.
Q But I think it’s a fair question. I mean, here’s the question, would he be open to —
MR. GIBBS: No, I think — I think the fair response is — I think the fair response is that the President, as you heard him enumerate, is going to look for somebody that shares the notion of legal principles that are enshrined in case law and in the Constitution. I think this is — again, the President has some familiarity with the Constitution and constitutional law and I think he can, while not having an explicit litmus test, can talk to somebody about a full range of their beliefs.
Q But if he rules out somebody who doesn’t share that belief, isn’t that de facto a litmus test?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not going to get into the “if this, does it mean that; if that, does it mean this” — I would go with what the President said in terms of understanding the legal principles of our Constitution.
Q And in terms of the list, I think last week you all were saying that the list was expanding. Is it now contracting?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t — I would still consider the process not as one that’s winnowing. Part of it is the team is in the process of getting information to the President on a series of potential nominees that he can look more deeply at.
Q If it turned out that the person he appoints to the court someday provided the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, would Barack Obama be upset about that? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve just —
Q I’m just asking if, after the fact —
MR. GIBBS: It’s a legitimate 20-plus-year hypothetical and I just —
Q Well, it could be a two-year hypothetical. Or a one-year.
MR. GIBBS: And I will — not wanting to get into hypotheticals, not — just not getting into 730-day hypotheticals. I will — again, I would point you to what the President said in what he’s looking for in a nominee.
Q When he goes to West Virginia, is he going to be there simply as a mourner, or will he also be talking about accountability of the mine companies?
MR. GIBBS: The President, as you heard last week in speaking to our mine safety folks, Secretary of Labor, has asked for a full investigation of what happened. Obviously there are other agencies in the government that will deal with accountability as to what that investigation shows. I think what the President hopes this weekend, though, is to go and celebrate the lives of those that were lost. I would not expect that the President would use the opportunity to outline a series of policy proposals.
Obviously the administration is working through that investigation and working through different aspects of mine safety proposals. But I don’t expect that he’ll outline them there. I think he’ll find it more appropriate to be mourning the lives of those lost than getting into policy solutions — again, not to say that that’s not ultimately important. That’s why he asked for the investigation and something he’ll come back to.
Q He won’t be slapping anybody’s wrists or saying anything negative about the companies —
MR. GIBBS: Again, our focus will be on the — celebrating the lives of those that tragically lost their lives.
Q Robert, I’m not sure about the “outside the judicial monastery” phrase. Does that mean the President would not consider a non-lawyer for the high court? You haven’t discussed that with him?
MR. GIBBS: I have not.
Q Could you? (Laughter.)
Q Could we?
Q I’m not a lawyer, by the way.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, this is just another attempt to get your name in the stack. I think I’ve tried to tell you a few times, Bob has tried to tell you that it’s just not —
Q That would be interesting, I mean, there’s —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I know. Yes, I know. All of us hold out hope that a non-lawyer might — no, I’m kidding. So I will — I have not talked to him about that, but I can certainly pose that to him.
Q And on the bailout question, is it accurate the President would not foreswear the use of bailouts in the future?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President wants to put into our law a series of regulations that he believes will prevent having to do that, rules of the road that require people to change their behavior and because of that act differently, not put taxpayers at risk. I think that’s the goal of — the strong goal of financial reform, and that’s what the President would like to see the Senate pass.
Q Back to the speech in New York tomorrow, I want to take another crack at the tone. Is he going to have a speech that’s sort of like the radio address last Saturday, which was pretty rough, or is going to be a little bit more conciliatory? What exactly is he —
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ve heard the President now for a number of weeks and, quite frankly, a number of years, talk about why we need strong reform, why the actions of some led us into an economic calamity that all had to deal with, as I said, something that started on Main Street and is — I’m sorry, started on Wall Street and then spread throughout Main Street all over this country. So, look, I don’t — I don’t think you can talk about financial reform without talking about bad actions that have happened in the past.
Q Is he going to ask them to call off the lobbyists, for example?
MR. GIBBS: It’s a safe bet that the lobbyists will be mentioned as part of this. Again, I think you’ve heard the President mention that before. This is — the President has mentioned this directly to those in the financial industry. I happen to think, and I think the President shares this optimism, that we’ve made over the course of just the last few days some good progress in ensuring that we’ll have bipartisan support for this legislation — I think the way Senator Dodd has continued to talk with Senator Shelby, Senator Corker and others. Secretary Geithner has met with many Republicans. Larry Summers has met with many Republicans in order to continue trying to find a solution to this. I think clearly some Republican opposition has been overcome.
Q And speaking of Dodd, he said this morning, as you intimated, that there’s — in his words, there was an awful lot of Republicans who are willing to come onboard provided the leadership lets them do that.
MR. GIBBS: I think he’s speaking — in all honesty, not to put words in his mouth — I think he’s speaking from the experience of having dealt with a senator before that senator got pulled back, dealing with another senator before that senator got pulled back, dealing with another senator before that senator got pulled back, having the first senator coming — I mean, I think there is — I certainly believe within the Republican caucus in the Senate there is a desire to get this done. Whether that desire goes to the top, it certainly — it appeared to go closer to the top yesterday than it certainly has in the past several weeks. And maybe that’s a good sign that more people are understanding of what the President has spoken about for so long in that we have to get some tough rules in place.
Q Does the President feel he’s at the point where he should be making phone calls up there to reinforce things or are you not at that point or maybe don’t need to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we’ve made — I think we’ve made good progress in the past week. Obviously Secretary Geithner and Dr. Summers have been very involved in this on behalf of the administration.
Q Will he be making calls?
MR. GIBBS: The President? At some point I don’t doubt he will, sure.
Q A couple months ago at NYU, John Brennan said that post-9/11, American Muslims have been subjected to excessive surveillance, overly broad no-fly lists, the government has been unhelpful to Muslim charities. Does the President agree with this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, John Brennan works for the President and I don’t recall the exact lines in your speech, but the President has great confidence in John Brennan.
Q Let me ask about his relationship with the American Muslim community. He has been very —
MR. GIBBS: John’s or the President’s?
Q The President’s.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q He’s been very much out front in dealing with Muslims abroad. There’s some question about whether or not he has been quite so visible at dealing with American Muslims. Do the complaints of birthers and other folks complicate the President’s dealing with the American Muslim community?
MR. GIBBS: I have to say, you — I got to give you credit, Wendell, for getting a lot of crazy people in one question. (Laughter.)
Q I hope you’re not including me as one of the crazy people. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I’m — but you artfully got in a lot of Internet complaints about the President in one —
Q Not to give credence to the arguments — I wonder if it complicates the President’s outreach politically.
MR. GIBBS: No. We have — the President has dealt with the crazy Internet rumors for years. I don’t think that’s deterred anything that he’s done in understanding what the right thing is to do for this country and to broaden our relationship with Muslims throughout the world.
Again, I’ve said this many times, Wendell. If you’re — if after I asked that the President’s birth certificate be put on the Internet hasn’t dissuaded you from where he was being born, I’m almost positive that no argument is somehow going to dissuade you from that. I don’t — I got to tell you, I don’t — we don’t spend a lot of time here worrying about what to do about people that don’t think the President was born here. I don’t — again, I’m the guy who said “put the birth certificate on the Internet.” It has apparently, among those people, dissuaded virtually none of them.
Q And on the debt commission, it’s understandable —
MR. GIBBS: I got to say, you are — woo, you’re all over the map today, Wendell.
Q Just two places, just a couple places.
MR. GIBBS: I know.
Q It’s understandable you don’t want to tie the debt commission’s hands by ruling out things like a VAT or a tax increase. The President has said he wants to consider all the possible ways of dealing with the nation’s debt. But isn’t it the purpose of a commission to come up with the suggestions that are politically difficult for the President and members of Congress to deal with on their own?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, in order for a recommendation to come forward that has to be voted on by Congress, you’re going to have to have bipartisan support for those recommendations. Look, I think some of the reason that we’re in the fiscal trouble that we’re in now is — you’re not going to have to — you’re not going to make tough decisions, as the President has already had to, in terms of freezing non-security spending over the course of the next three years without getting bipartisan support.
Again, we can for the life of the commission play, “if you don’t rule this out, does that mean you rule this in” on virtually every line in the budget from — again, from here until sometime in December. I think the President believes, and I think members of Congress must have believed as well, that this was a worthwhile activity because they nominated many of their own to participate in this activity. I think we all realize that the type of debt that has been run up over the past many years is simply not sustainable.
Q Following on Savannah’s question, looking at what the President actually said — “I want somebody who’s going to be interpreting our Constitution to take into account women’s rights” — how is that not the dictionary definition of a litmus test?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what the dictionary definition of a litmus test is.
Q Well, how is that not — how is that not a litmus test?
MR. GIBBS: I think a litmus test is when you say, Ann, will you ask a direct question about, do you believe this, do you believe that. I think the President will ask any nominee to discuss how they view the Constitution and the legal principles enshrined in it.
Q Can I ask, why is the President not going to an American mosque, like President Bush did? What reason, then, has he not done that in his time in office?
MR. GIBBS: I can talk to scheduling. I don’t know the answer to that.
Q Is it a priority?
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, I don’t doubt that our continued outreach, both here and abroad, is, as the President said, quite important.
Q Can I ask on the Supreme Court, does the President want a nominee with empathy?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President, he wants — the President wants somebody who understands how the decisions that a court makes affects real people in the real world.
Q Would you define that —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if that’s the dictionary definition of empathy, but I’d point you to Ann. (Laughter.)
Q Is that the White House definition of empathy?
MR. GIBBS: I would just go with what I said. I don’t know whether all of that meets the test of — the definition of a certain word.
Q Do you avoid that word now, after last year? I mean, that word was prominent —
MR. GIBBS: You just asked me if you thought that — what I said was that word, and I clearly didn’t shy away from the definition.
Q Following up on that, does gender or race have any part — balancing a court have any part in his thinking — how does that work?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will look at men and women I think among the nominees — potential nominees. I think he will look at whites, African Americans, Hispanics. I think it’s safe to say — I don’t know what the — how the — what the President obviously will make in terms of a final decision, but I think he will have a broad group of people that represent many — that represent America as a way of looking at the nominee.
Q Would those factors influence him? Would he be —
MR. GIBBS: I have not asked him specifically about that this time.
Q Real quickly, on Goldman Sachs, has anyone inside the White House suggested that the Obama campaign might want to give back any donations that came from Goldman Sachs personnel?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not heard that. Again, the President doesn’t take, and didn’t in the campaign, take PAC money, doesn’t take money from registered federal lobbyists. And I think anybody that contributed to the campaign at any point knew where the President stood on regulating Wall Street and regulating the financial industry. From, again, that first speech on Wall Street in 2007, the second speech in March of 2008 in the same venue we’re going to go to, and then — anybody that watched the campaign from sort of mid-September on, obviously the focus was on what to do on Wall Street.
Q The Senate seems to be moving more quickly on President Obama’s nominees; last night a few who had been around for a long time were confirmed. Is there a sense that there’s a new chapter beginning, and is there a fear that a Supreme Court confirmation could undo the progress?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I think that the last two times the bipartisan leadership has met with the President, the President has brought up the speed at which his nominees have been considered and mentioned, as I have on several occasions, the notion that there appear to be purposeful delaying tactics largely to slow down whatever the Senate is working on for the express purpose — for that express purpose, rather than anything that has to do ideologically or in any way with the nominee. He brought that up specifically with Senator McConnell at the last meeting, mentioned the extent to which we had nominees that had cleared the committee and were on the calendar to be dealt with that still had to go through a cloture process.
So I think that clearly progress is being made in the Senate on getting some of those considered and voted on. I think as the President mentioned at the beginning of the pool spray just a few — just a little while ago, which was, we are actually at a point in the process — Justice Stevens signaled his intention to leave the court several weeks before Justice Souter had the year earlier. We’re ahead of that process. I think you heard the President say we’ve got — that gives you a few more weeks and still be able to get something done before the Senate leaves town for the August recess. And we expect that that is a timeline that can and will be met.
Q Robert, why is the President expanding his list of candidates at this point?
MR. GIBBS: To get a broad group of and look at potential nominees.
Q Is he not happy with the list he’s got?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t — again, Christi, we’re fairly early in this process. And I think the team here wants to provide the President with as many options as is possible, and that’s what they’re doing.
Q Does he just think it’s fun? Does he like to —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think — I’ve seen some of the briefing memos. I’m not sure I would consider all of that fun. But even — I can firmly say that’s not what he had in mind, in terms of fun.
Q And can I just ask you this, were there actual names discussed today in the meeting with the senate leaders?
MR. GIBBS: I will get a readout from those that were in the meeting.
Q Thanks. Robert, in terms of tomorrow’s speech, how much will President Obama focus specifically on derivatives, the notion of regulating derivatives, in that speech? We’ve heard it may be a focus, the focus. Will he detail specific policy on derivatives?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Margaret, I would say this, going back to the white paper that the administration released in I think June of last year, we had some very specific recommendations for bringing out of the dark and regulating derivatives. It is an aspect of something the President will talk about. I do not anticipate that it is the focus of the speech.
Q And then, the Republicans seem to be suggesting that the White House is pretty deeply involved in shaping how the derivatives legislation will come to the floor, either in terms of the Lincoln bill or in terms of the floor bill. How much is the White House driving the train, in terms of the derivatives legislation? And how much is the President still at this point letting what happens happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have — again, I think as I said a couple of days ago, I think many in the industry believe that Senator Lincoln was going to introduce, or maybe hoped Senator Lincoln was going to introduce a bill that wasn’t strong on derivatives. Obviously, that was not the case. There’s overlap in the proposals that the administration made in its white paper that are also contained in Senator Lincoln’s bill. They’re going to — Senator Lincoln’s bill, I believe, passed out of committee just as I was making my way down here. And the administration will continue to work with Senator Reid, Senator Dodd, Republicans, and others in ensuring that whatever gets out of the Senate is very strong on derivatives.
Q But today, has the White House kept a hands-off approach, or have you been very deeply involved?
MR. GIBBS: Let me speak — let me speak to Secretary Geithner about that. I know that they — I think Senator Lincoln has obviously shared proposals. We’ve looked at their proposals. And, as I said, there’s commonality and there’s some things that we also would like to see contained in that legislation.
Q Robert, is the apparent progress that the White House is making winning or potentially winning over the Republicans on the financial legislation a sign that — you believe, a sign that Republicans are coming over based on merit or based on their political position, based on the politics of the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Merit-based?
Q Are you winning Republican votes, if indeed you are, based on the merits of the legislation? Or is there also, do you believe, a political calculation that Republicans are making on this based on politics?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this, I think that from a pure policy perspective, we’ve got — Senator Dodd has, and we have, worked with him on ensuring a piece of legislation that puts those strong rules into place. I think there is much merit in the bill, obviously. I don’t doubt, to be perfectly candid with you, that Republicans have realized for going on a week that they were in a politically difficult position after a Wall Street meeting and a speech that seemed to read right out of a memo written a year ago.
Q Robert, questions on two different topics. One, how many candidates or potentials has the President vetted so far?
MR. GIBBS: Has he?
Q Vetted so far.
MR. GIBBS: Several.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q I want a specific, quantified number, please. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: More than a couple. (Laughter.)
Q That means more than two?
MR. GIBBS: Well, “several” generally does, but I’m not going to — look, you’re getting better at the — at the —
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: — ability to pry information I’m not going to give. (Laughter.)
Q That’s my job.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. Again, I will say this, I do believe the — I do believe we are earlier in the process, again, just from the sheer standpoint of what has been on the President’s schedule. As I’ve said this before, there’s no doubt the President has had an opportunity, as a result of people that participated and went through this process last time, that we have more information on. That’s not to say, though, that there aren’t a series of individuals and potential nominees that the team is assembling more on for the President to look.
So since he’s talked — he’s personally vetted at least two, are some of those he’s vetted minorities?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think I’ve probably given up all I should give up for today, lest we blow through all the questions for the remainder of the term.
Q Not likely. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was trying. (Laughter.)
Q On the second topic, on Black Farmers. There’s a lot of contradiction between one end of Pennsylvania Avenue here, and with the Black Farmers themselves. One, the Black Farmers want to meet specifically with the President; they’re saying that they don’t feel that there is enough commitment from this White House because the monies have not been attached to anything on the Hill. Then the Hill is saying that it was not made into an emergency issue of the White House, was not deemed emergent — an emergent issue for them to act on quickly. So what is happening?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know that representatives met with administration officials last week. I’ll get you more information on who and —
Q Minus the President?
MR. GIBBS: Right, right. And, April, I’ll just continue to say that this is an issue that folks very high up in the administration continue to be focused on and working on and we’re working towards a solution that would keep the commitment that the President made.
Q So are you looking to find ways to attach that $1.25 billion to something on the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there’s legislative and there’s financing decisions that are being looked through.
Q Robert, what was the — could you tell us what was the impetus behind the President’s call to Senator Brown, I believe it was yesterday? And in a related topic, what’s the President’s view of the legislation now pending before the Arizona governor on immigration?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some background on the immigration one and I’ll get that out to everybody.
The President made a series of phone calls yesterday from the plane, including to Senator Brown, about the issue of immigration — a commitment that the President had made in meeting with immigration reform advocates and with Senators Schumer and Graham, that are working on legislation, that he would spend some time talking with Republicans to gauge their desire to participate in the process of finding a comprehensive immigration reform solution and to talk through the timetables of when that can happen.
Q Which senators did he call?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the list with me, but I can try to find — I’ve got that in my e-mail. I will say this, obviously the conversation with Senator Brown also included some discussion I don’t have a download on, on financial reform. I think that’s something — I want to say I think that’s something that Senator Brown brought up, but I will check.
Q Are you telling us you will tell us who the President called? Because sometimes you say you’ll get back to us, but then when we check — (laughter) — so I’m just wondering if you’re committing here to tell us who he called.
MR. GIBBS: Do I do that? That’s weird. (Laughter.) I will get you a list of those names.**
Q Robert, the White House chief of staff in a TV interview a couple of days ago mentioned that he might be interested in running for the job of mayor of Chicago. Do you think —
MR. GIBBS: It’s a good gig. (Laughter.)
Q — do you think it’s generally a good idea for someone whose portfolio includes the entire country and has a whole bunch of issues on his plate that are sort of nationwide issues to talk about a preference for serving in a specific locality?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Glenn, in all honesty I’m not sure that in that interview that the chief of staff said anything that he hasn’t said before. This obviously — look, Chicago is Rahm’s home, it is — it’s a city that he greatly loves and I think it’s something that has certainly been — something that he’s discussed in the past.
I think I would also point out that he’s a strong supporter of the current mayor and is supporting him for reelection.
Q Do you think the President would endorse him? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That’s one of those 730-day hypotheticals that I’ll stay away from.
Q Just sort of following up on the phone call to Senator Brown, can you give us a sense of — because the reports seemed to convey that the President was set to start on immigration reform rather soon. And you just mentioned that he was gauging the interest of Republicans to participate. Can you give us a sense of the timing about where the White House stands on this?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I think it was — I think I saw reports that there was this notion that the Senate would take this up within the month or within a month. Obviously the President has — is very interested in this, has been a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. I don’t — the President made a commitment to those working on the proposal in the Senate to help find additional support, but the President — I’m not aware that the President enumerated a “we would go to this in a month” timeline.
Q Senator Brown said that the President told him the issue was moving forward, not necessarily to the Senate floor, but moving forward in a month. Is that accurate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that — well, I mean, look, Senator Schumer and Senator Graham have been working on this for many months, but I don’t — so I think, quite frankly, it’s —
Q So what’s the purpose of reaching out and talking to Republicans at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s safe to assume that we’re not going to get comprehensive immigration reform legislation through the Senate on a party-line vote, which means you’re going to have to have bipartisan support and that’s what — again, the President made a commitment to Senators Shelby and — I’m sorry, Schumer and Graham, to reach out to Republicans and did so.
Q The President was heckled pretty persistently on Monday night about “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Six LGBT veterans chained themselves to the White House gates yesterday — I think you actually saw it. All of these actions —
MR. GIBBS: I was walking through the park at that time.
Q You were walking, just a casual walk through the park. Were you pushed back by Park Police — no, I’m just kidding.
MR. GIBBS: I will say — can I mention the Park Police?
Q Yes, sure.
MR. GIBBS: I think many people I’ve seen, and I think we were asked yesterday the role in which the White House played in that. Obviously the Park Police has — rightly took responsibility for some overzealous actions; they corrected those — albeit belatedly. The White House and the Secret Service did not have any role in that decision-making and I think the Park Police has taken — rightly taken responsibility.
Q Let me get back to the question. So there was the heckling on Monday night, there’s the veterans yesterday at the White House gates handcuffing themselves to the fence. All of these actions are aimed at getting repeal this year, something the White House has sort of declined to commit to since the State of the Union address. Has the White House misjudged the level of patience among LGBT and grassroots activists on this?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I would remind anybody on this issue — look, first of all, I will say this. Obviously the President made a commitment in the presidential campaign, and understands the passion that people hold the belief that all should be able to serve. The President holds that belief too.
But I would remind folks that wasn’t a belief that the President held in 2007 — that’s a belief that the President held in running for the Senate as far back as 2003.
The President has made and is committed to making this changed law. I don’t think he’s underestimated the — as you said, the patience of some. The President wants to see this law changed, just as you’ve heard the Chair of the Joint Chiefs and others in the military say that it’s time for that change to happen.
Q But he’s committed to them letting the Pentagon work through its working group process until December 1st, is that true? He’s committed to that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. The President has set forward a process with the Joint — the Chair of the Joint Chiefs and with the Secretary of Defense to work through this issue.
Q Before any legislative action is taken — that rules out legislative action this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again — the House and the Senate are obviously a different branch of government. The President has a process and a proposal I think that he believes is the best way forward to seeing, again, the commitment that he’s made for many years in trying to — changing that law.
1:04 PM EDT
*The audience (approx. 700)for the President’s speech at Cooper Union tomorrow will include leaders from the financial industry, members of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, consumer advocates, representatives of the millions of people impacted by the downturn of the economy, local elected officials and Cooper Union students and faculty.
** Yesterday while aboard Air Force One, the President called Senators Brown, Lugar, LeMieux, Murkowski and Gregg to discuss immigration reform.