Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 17, 2010 – 1:55 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Chuck, take us away.
Q Okay, thank you —
Q Robert, why is the White House pressuring Democrats to back off from the Cantwell-McCain attempt to bring back Glass-Steagall?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything on that.
Q Why is it opposed to Glass-Steagall?
Q Robert —
Q Why is the White House opposed to it?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q Is the White House opposed to reestablishing Glass-Steagall?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any information on the amendment. I’m happy to look at it.
Q Robert, in the Iranian uranium statements today, is there anything at all that changes the administration’s position or posture towards Iran on the whole nuclear question?
MR. GIBBS: No, Chuck, because I think — look, let’s look at the totality of what this proposal is. You certainly have my statement that their shipping their low-enriched uranium out would be a positive sign. That would be progress. But understand that the proposal does not appear to address Tehran’s recent announcement of increasing its enrichment to 20 percent, a justification that — the research reactor was used as the direct justification for doing so. That, in and of itself, would make them non-compliant with their obligations and responsibilities.
First and foremost, this is — a proposal should be submitted directly to the IAEA to evaluate, fine print and all, so that the international community can take a look. But it does not change the steps that we are taking to hold Iran responsible for its obligations, and those — including sanctions.
Q Or the timetable of those steps?
MR. GIBBS: Not at all.
Q Can I follow up? Has the White House heard back directly from Russia and China in terms of their commitment to keep going —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if the White House directly has. I know that State has been in touch with — and certainly I have no doubt that our representatives at the U.N. through the P5-plus-1 continue to work through this.
Q You’re not concerned at this point that this is going to unravel the whole deal?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I think there’s — as I said, there are certain steps that would certainly be progress. I think it’s important to understand what this proposal signifies is less than what they agreed to last October — an understanding that the words and the deeds of the Iranian leadership rarely coincide. So I think before we have — I think we have to get — the international community has to see the proposal in its detail through the IAEA before it can make a final determination.
Q President Medvedev has suggested a small pause in the sanctions process. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan says there should be no sanctions push at all. Are you saying, though, it’s full-speed ahead on sanctions, that you’re not going to take time to hold off or ease the pressure for a swift passage of sanctions?
MR. GIBBS: No, we are continuing to work through the Security Council and through the P5-plus-1, as I said, to hold them accountable not just for their words, but for their deeds — a willingness to live up to their international obligations or face consequences including sanctions.
I would point out that Medvedev also mentioned a concern about the 20-percent enrichment — again, done as a justification that — their unwillingness to accept this last October, that was used as justification for increasing enrichment. That in and of itself puts them in non-compliance.
Q Has the President spoken directly to any world leaders, or will he be speaking to leaders like Medvedev or President Hu in coming days about this deal?
MR. GIBBS: He talked with Medvedev late last week. But I am not aware of any calls that have been made today.
Q And did the President speak with leaders of Turkey or Brazil as this proposal was being put together?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I believe the State Department has been in contact with them. But the President has not talked directly with any leaders.
Q Just the fact that Iran appears to be agreeing to something, even though you want more information to be sent to the IAEA, is this a step in the right direction?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m reticent to — well, even as I said — if they were to make good on this and ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, yes, that would represent progress. But, again, Dan, I think it is important to understand that this is less than — this agreement is — or proposal is less than what they agreed to last October. And understand that even though they agreed to this last October, it never came to pass because they changed their mind. So that’s why I say the words and the deeds of the leadership in Iran have rarely coincided.
So I think obviously, while shipping out the low-enriched uranium would represent some progress, we still have concerns about the overall thrust of the nuclear program, and certainly the 20-percent enrichment is something that, as I mentioned a minute ago, President Medvedev and others, including us, share great concern about.
Q On the Black Farmers, John Boyd, who is the chief lobbyist, has expressed concerns about the pace of getting them what they are owed. And his claim is that the administration, the President in particular is slow in moving in this direction because this is a black issue, it has to do with race. Is there any truth to that claim at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, I think precisely because this shouldn’t have anything to do with race is exact why the President is involved in this issue. This is a lawsuit that dates back to the late 1990s, that also includes — there’s a separate case, the Cobell case, that includes Native Americans, who sought and were — the case was settled for discrimination against the Department of Agriculture dating back many years. So the President’ approach to this is not based on the color of skin, but because of what is right.
Q Why won’t you get involved more so?
MR. GIBBS: We are very involved, April. We’re — representatives have met with the staffers that are working directly on this in the West Wing in order to try to bring this to an end.
Q The reason why I ask why isn’t he more involved, granted he put out a statement, a written statement showing strong support, but many have said that the President could have declared an emergency designation for the farmers to get their money, and then you could —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think — I understand that that — if he had done that, that was objected to last week in the Senate.
Q Right, but the way I understand it, Nancy Pelosi had said early on that it could have happened, and this was —
MR. GIBBS: That seems like hypothetical —
Q And then — and this administration was supposed to come back to find something to attach the monies to, and the Congressional Black Caucus —
MR. GIBBS: April, I would say that’s what the President and the team here continue to work on.
Q What’s the difference between your foreign policy and Bush’s foreign policy?
MR. GIBBS: In what respect? In what issue?
Q In terms of the rest of the world — Afghanistan, Iraq and so forth.
MR. GIBBS: Well, in Afghanistan, we committed three times the number of troops that were there during the Bush administration because we believe that was the central front on the war on terror.
Q Do you still think so?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Eight Americans killed on Saturday and so forth; we keep killing and dying there.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there’s any doubt that Afghanistan and that region of the world present the most significant danger to our homeland in terms of the possible planning of attacks and the possible providing of a safe haven if the Taliban were to come back in control as they were before 2001 and 9/11 —
Q You’re in their country.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q Who’s the enemy when you invade a country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think as you saw last week, we are working with the — in a partnership with the government of Afghanistan to secure an area and ultimately turn it over to them to provide peace and security for their people.
Q And one other question. Why don’t you know your position on Glass-Steagall, in view of the economy?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any information on the amendment that might come up.
Q That’s to take care of all the bankers in the Treasury Department.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q I said, why do they have such a dominance of bankers in the Treasury?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, based on what the Treasury Department is doing on financial reform and the way that banks are fighting us, I’m not sure that the two — I’m not sure that statement actually lines up with what’s going on in terms of financial reform right now.
Q Thank you, Robert. On the oil spill, it’s kind of a good news/bad news day. The good news is that they did get a pipe down and they’re siphoning off what they estimate to be about one-fifth of the oil. But the bad news is that on BP — well, there’s plenty of bad news, but one piece of bad news is that BP refineries — according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, two BP refineries are responsible for well over 90 percent — 97 percent, according to one statistic — of all flagrant safety violations in the United States over the last three years. The question is, does the President still have confidence in BP, and should he?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I’d have to take a look at the particular report. I have not, Chip, looked deeply into penalties for refining. I would say there’s no doubt that, as you heard the President talk about on Friday, there are failings of — there have been failings of corporations and companies — Transocean, Halliburton and BP all pointing fingers at each other and walking away from the responsibility that must be taken in this instance.
But there’s no doubt there’s been a failing of government in a regulatory approach, which is on of the reasons why Secretary Salazar began reform at MMS when he took over. And that’s why the President and Secretary Salazar agree that this department should be split; that we should have a regulatory approach for safety and inspections that doesn’t coincide with drilling permits and royalty checks.
Q In that statement on Friday, the President of course denounced all the finger-pointing, but then he seemed to point the finger at the Bush administration, saying that over the last decade or more that it’s — as you said, problems with government.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, the last decade or more includes us, so I don’t —
Q So he was pointing the finger at himself — at his own administration, too?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, we — I think the President was clear that there have been failings at a government level and certainly those include us. But my guess is you guys did some stories in the previous decade on what was going on at MMS, which is what caused Secretary Salazar, when he came in, to begin reforming that.
Q Right, but that’s what the President, in his statement, pointed the finger at the last 10 years, but then said ever since we came into office, Secretary Salazar has been trying to change this, as though this administration was not part of the problem.
MR. GIBBS: No, I think I just was pretty clear on that. I don’t think there is any doubt, though, Chip, that — again, I don’t have the story log in front of me, but my guess is that your network and others did stories on MMS, which is what caused Secretary Salazar to begin that reform upon taking office in 2009.
Q One other question on a different topic. You have another state dinner this week. Is the White House confident that all procedures have been corrected, changed, whatever needs to be done to make sure you don’t have the kind of security problem you had last time?
MR. GIBBS: We are. We are.
Q Can you elaborate what has been done?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to elaborate on increased security procedures. That would be — that would invite people to try to figure out how to evade them.
Q Going back on the BP, there’s a — the Washington Post is just reporting that a top official in MMS has announced his retirement as of May 31st. Is this a firing, or is there a forced retirement?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don’t —
Q You don’t know anything about this?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t —
Q No, but you guys —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have my BlackBerry.
Q No, I understand that —
MR. GIBBS: I got to change that somehow, though, because whenever you guys are asking questions off of your BlackBerry, I know it’s something that I am —
Q But this is an administration decision, this is a senior person —
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on it. I will check on it as soon as I either get a BlackBerry up here or get off of — (laughter.)
Q That’s the last thing you need —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, could you imagine?
Q We’ll take a vote. We don’t want you to have a BlackBerry up there. Let Bill be the BlackBerry.
MR. GIBBS: They have a Brick-Breaker up here, so — (laughter.)
Q How does that work? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: If that appears — high score.
Q What about Bill’s crossword? (Laughter.)
Q Is it — at what point do you think the government is going to be able to know how much oil has been spilled? BP clearly doesn’t have the answer. Scientists are telling us one thing. I mean, where are you guys getting your information about how much oil has been spilled out there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, NOAA does projections on a whole host of — look, off obviously satellite imagery on what’s come up. We know through the use of subsea dispersants that NOAA is also investigating the degree to which we may have oil underneath the surface. And I know there’s been reporting on that today.
I think as the President said on Friday, our — and I think that Admiral Allen said on Friday, as well — that our response was for a catastrophic event. So there’s not — let’s just say this — we did not employ a 5,000-barrel-a-day response for a 10,000-barrel-a-day accident. It has been — always been predicated on what he said was a catastrophic event.
Q As you guys are skimming this oil — and I know that there is some skimming — where is it going?
MR. GIBBS: I know that they’re — I know certainly that what is being vacuumed up from the insertion tube goes onto a tanker, and I assume that that tanker — and the skimming goes into — when they’ve collected I don’t know how many gallons of oil-water mix, that that goes to a port and that that is separated.
Q Tomorrow’s elections in four states — do you see any — do you accept the fact that any of them have some bearing to the President’s political standing, his agenda, and things like that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ll I assume get a chance on either later on Tuesday or on Wednesday to talk — I hate to sort of do the “what does it mean” —
Q I’ll be honest. That says that you’re waiting to see what the results are to tell us what it means.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s going to be hard to tell you what it means until I know the results. I mean I’m — trust me, even if they give me a BlackBerry, it’s unlikely to tell me what happens on Tuesday before —
Q But that says something obviously if they go one way, yes, a referendum on the President; he’s done well with —
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, if you’re asking me to —
Q Do you think it’s fair that these Democratic primaries, specifically in Arkansas and Pennsylvania —
MR. GIBBS: What value would you give my opinion if I told you what it meant right now if it didn’t actually correlate with the result?
Q But is it you — is it fair to say —
MR. GIBBS: I mean I hate to be picky about how to —
Q — want to get you on the record before it happens —
MR. GIBBS: Right, exactly. (Laughter.)
Q No, it’s not about — but the President —
MR. GIBBS: I feel like I’m —
Q Is it fair to say the President — I mean he’s endorsed the two incumbent —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Senator Lincoln and Senator Specter —
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Look, I —
Q So what does it say about the President, if one of them lose — if one or both of them loses?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m happy to talk about the results when they happen. Obviously, I don’t think it’s breaking news to say that this has been, based on the election results that we do know, it’s been a tough year for incumbents. Everyone noticed that a senator from Utah, reelected just six years ago with 70 percent of the vote, got a quarter of the convention vote to be re-nominated.
We will get a chance to look at a whole host of primaries tomorrow. And my guess is — look, you’ve got interesting races in places like Kentucky, as well. So, again, I’m happy to spend some time on — like I said, either Tuesday night if we — when we get results, or Wednesday, talking about what they mean.
Q Just briefly, the President and Vice President are both traveling tomorrow.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Both going to be in swing states, and neither one of them is going to be in Pennsylvania. Anything to read into that?
MR. GIBBS: The President is in Ohio to talk about the economy.
Q The Vice President — the Vice President is going to be Iowa?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, I think we have, for both in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, done quite a bit for each candidate.
Q How closely has the President been following these campaigns?
MR. GIBBS: Not that closely.
Q A couple of timing questions.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q At one point, you had said that — well, the deadline at one point for Iran was the end of last year. We were going to see sanctions —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no — right, yes, I think — just in fairness, I think that — I think as to your first point, our government and the governments of those involved in the P5-plus-1 said that Iran had a year-end deadline to change its behavior, yes.
Q Okay. And then you said fairly recently that you thought that the sanctions could be moving by the end of — by spring.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q I’m not sure when you’re defining “spring,” but could you give us a sense —
MR. GIBBS: Well, when do you define spring?
Q I kind of think the end of May.
Q We’ve been through this before —
MR. GIBBS: Walk outside right now and tell me it’s the middle of summer. It’s about 60 degrees out there, so I don’t know.
Q Are you still aiming for roughly the end of May or something like that?
MR. GIBBS: I would — again, not to get cute with when spring starts, but I think we are making steady progress on a sanctions resolution, yes.
Q Okay. And the other timing issue was on financial regulation. At one point, the President hoped to get a bill to his desk by Memorial Day. Is that still realistic?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there’s some reason to believe that the Senate will conclude its business this week. We’re hopeful. And I think the bill is a very strong piece of legislation in changing the rules that govern our financial system. Obviously, the next steps will be working through those differences with the House. And I think we’ll have a bill to the President’s desk somewhat shortly.
Q Somewhat shortly — by July 4th?
MR. GIBBS: That sounds about right.
Q Robert, Christy Romer yesterday said that there was more to do in terms of jobs and stuff like that. Is that going to the President’s message in Youngstown tomorrow? Is that going to be the main message?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President is going to — certainly going to talk about the economic recovery. I think we’re going to speak specifically about a business that, through an investment in — through an investment by the Recovery Act, is greatly expanding its business and it’s going to hire several hundred people. I think what Dr. Romer spoke about were many of the things that the President continues to believe need to happen — sending legislation to Capitol Hill to increase small business lending, the housing retrofit plan that will help create jobs — all of those things the President believes, and the economic team, believe still need to happen as our economy improves and is on a positive trajectory.
Q Is there anything else — anything else new about —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that he’s going to talk about tomorrow, no.
Q The New York Federal Reserve says the pace of the recovery may be slowing, and cites a couple of stats. Does that trouble you? Does the President intend to act based on that?
MR. GIBBS: Wendell, I’m not familiar with what the New York Fed specifically has said. I think the President was pretty clear the other day that if you want a job and don’t have one, then there’s still a recession going on. Again, we have seen three quarters of economic growth, positive economic growth, for the first time in more than a year — that economic growth for the first time in more than a year. We’ve seen four consecutive jobs reports that show positive job growth and the largest job growth in more than four years, the largest job growth in manufacturing in more than 10.
So, look, we are — today is — next month’s economy will be stronger than this month’s. This year’s economy is stronger than last year’s economy. So we’re continuing to make progress. Again, I think the President is concerned, Wendell, each and every day about our recovery and about the strength of our economy.
Q And on the primaries in Arkansas and Pennsylvania in particular, is the President — does he have less a stake in these primaries than he did, say, in the races in New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, that everyone wanted to make a referendum on him? Is he less an issue in Blanche Lincoln’s race, less an issue in the Arlen Specter race?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I don’t think in either one of those races the — I mean, obviously we’ve appeared in commercials, but I don’t think that’s been a political — I don’t think the two sides have argued about that per se. Again, we’ll have a chance to talk about the results and the outcomes and what they may or may not mean.
Q I’m sensing — before the races last year — I sense the kind of animate White House insistence that the President was not an issue here. And you don’t seem to be arguing that strongly this time.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — maybe I’m not following you. I just — I guess I just — it’s just hard for me to tell you what the results of Tuesday mean on Monday. I can’t tell you how the MBA finals are going to go and why just because they really haven’t happened.
Q Not so much tell you what the results mean as to try and get a sense of whether the President feels he’s got something to gain or lose in —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Wendell, I think everyone knows that we’ve supported — who we support in those two races. Again, we have supported incumbent Democratic senators and we’ve done a lot on behalf of each campaign. Again, there are races all over the country that we’ll have a chance to look at from a Democratic and Republican side as to what it means.
Q Well, you want to handicap the Kentucky race then if you won’t do the —
MR. GIBBS: No, but I’m looking forward to the results and the analysis of that just as much as everybody else.
Q What about the NBA finals?
MR. GIBBS: That’s — hold on, let me get my — I’m sorry, nothing on that. (Laughter.)
Q First, I’d like to encourage you, to follow on Chuck, to find out something about this resignation of the MMS official, when you can.
MR. GIBBS: You want me go to now? (Laughter.)
Q Well, no —
MR. GIBBS: Would you defer your question time for me to go find that out? I will as soon as I get —
Q And then, on West Point at the end of the week, do you have some sense yet whether that’s a speech that’s likely to produce something other than the typical graduation speech? I mean, is he —
MR. GIBBS: I do, but I don’t have — I’m not at a point where — we’ll get into that I guess a little bit later in the week, I should say.
Q Robert, McClatchy had a story out of Kandahar saying that key military operations have been delayed until fall, and that NATO officials who once spoke of demonstrating major progress by mid-August now say the turning might not be till November. Do you want to say anything about —
MR. GIBBS: No, I haven’t seen that, Peter, and I think General McChrystal briefed at the Pentagon on this. This is not a — the notion of major military operations, I’d have to see exactly what the writer means about that. This is not going to, as General McChrystal I think said at the Pentagon briefing and certainly has said in the Situation Room meetings, this is not going to look like the battle of Fallujah. This is not going to have — rushing across the field in a D-day-type moment. And in some instances, Peter, those operations around and in Kandahar have already begun.
I’ve heard General McChrystal say that this is something — this is an operation that is likely to dominate our focus through the end of the year. So the notion of August or — I forget whether August or the fall — I think in many ways would be a false deadline in the sense that we’ve — again, this is something that is going to take some time and last through the duration of the year.
Q Did President Karzai, when he was here, ask, or did the President agree to any changes in a timetable?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of, but I will double-check with a few people.
Q Thank you, Robert. During the campaign the President was highly critical of Halliburton and the process of no-bid contracts. His exact quotes were —
MR. GIBBS: I know the quotes.
MR. GIBBS: I know the quotes.
Q You know the quotes?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q All right. What’s the administration’s reaction to the news that Halliburton has just been given a $568 million no-bid contract by the administration?
MR. GIBBS: On what issue?
Q Not sure yet what that was.
MR. GIBBS: Well, how about we reconnoiter on both and we’ll figure that out. Do you have another?
Q No. Well, yes. (Laughter.) You will give me an answer on that when I find the reports on what it was exactly? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Like I said, we’ll meet somewhere in the middle on that one. Yes, I will find that one out.
Q I was going to ask you about — you didn’t discuss, in talking about the primaries, Pennsylvania’s 12th district, which is a special election, not a primary, tomorrow. You said the President is not following very closely the campaigns. Is he aware the Democratic nominee ran against the health care program —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q — and said he would have voted against that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if he’s directly aware. I mean, obviously — I’ve certainly seen those reports, sure.
Q Robert, just two questions?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Only two. The New York Times reported that, “Democrats said the White House is not eager to be embarrassed by having the President make a last-minute visit on behalf of a candidate who goes on to lose, as happened in the Massachusetts Senate and New Jersey governors races.” And my question: Is that the reason the President has not campaigned for Senator Specter this month?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think that — I doubt The New York Times reported “Democrats is” — but I’m going to check on — I’m going to check on — I’m going to —
Q They didn’t identify them —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if Peter wrote that — (laughter) — but I’m going to — I wrote that down on —
Q Subject/verb was never my strong suit. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Right, exactly. I struggle the same way.
The President, as I answered last week, had not — did not have plans to return to Pennsylvania.
Q Okay. Why does the President believe that the people who wrote the Obama health care bill were justified in exempting themselves from it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ve heard the President discuss and I think we’ve pledged to put the President into his own plan, so I think that’s been dealt with.
Q Quickly, any reaction to apparently an immigration court in Ohio has just granted asylum to the President’s aunt?
MR. GIBBS: This is an issue I think that first came up at some point during the campaign. The President was clear that this is an issue that is — that he was not aware of and should be dealt with through the necessary legal proceedings. You’re telling me for the first time what the decision is. We had no involvement in that, and that’s something that we’ve always said should be dealt with through the normal course of how these cases are determined.
Q And then looking ahead to the Ohio trip tomorrow, there have been several of these White House to Main Street trips at this point, and I wonder whether — if you have any measure of whether the President’s project to sell his economic policies to the American people has been successful through these trips?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think more and more people, because of the economic news, are feeling more optimistic about the direction of the economy. I think that’s both a result of — well, I think it’s primarily a result of the fact that, as I said earlier, three consecutive quarters of economic growth, four consecutive months of positive job growth, some of which is because of the actions that the President took on the Recovery Act.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, Eric Holder came under fire last week for not having read the Arizona immigration law. And knowing that the President clearly shares some strong views on that issue, I’m wondering has he read the law?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I believe in the very — when we were first discussing this, he asked counsel to provide him some information on that.
Q Yes, thanks. As far as the CMS nominee, you mentioned this last week, but just as recently as last summer, he had said that “The decision is not whether we will ration care, the decision is whether we will ration care with our eyes open.” Since part of the selling point on health care reform was that it is not rationing —
MR. GIBBS: What were the circumstances, though, which he was talking about that law — which he’s talking about that quote?
Q He wasn’t speaking directly on the health care reform.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but I’m suggesting what are the circumstances — if it wasn’t about the law that you’re asking me about, what were the circumstances around that quote that he was speaking about?
Q I think he might —
MR. GIBBS: You can get with — you guys can — yes, and then we’ll — go ahead.
Q Robert, the administration has emphasized its desire for BP to fully reimburse costs beyond — there was a letter to that effect. BP has written back. I want to ask you — I understand why you push for it. Are you entirely confident that BP will — is good for whatever you guys say the money is? And what are you prepared to do, beyond letters, to — does case law support you?
MR. GIBBS: Margaret, first and foremost, obviously the letter sent by Secretaries Salazar and Napolitano late last week and reported on, on Saturday obviously was an attempt to understand the degree to which — the responsibility that they’ve said they will and which we believe they should take. We’re evaluating the response to their letter from a legal perspective, and understanding that we have asked for in legislation that the $75 million economic damages cap be lifted retroactively to ensure that the Oil Pollution Act covers the type of damage that is obviously happening as a result of this spill, and that taxpayers — as the President has said numerous times, including last Friday — are not on the hook for the damages caused by BP or Transocean or Halliburton as a result of this damage.
Q Does case law support the likelihood that they’ll be good for the money, whatever you —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re — Margaret, we’re evaluating their response to ensure that they will do all that is necessary.
Q But what would the next step be if you don’t think —
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me have them evaluate that, and we’ll have some — we’ll have an update on that.
Q Robert, can I follow up on that question?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q One of the arguments that you’re hearing from the Republican leadership is that if you raise the liability it’s going to effectively eliminate the possibility that smaller oil shops can drill offshore. And I’m wondering if there is a White House response to that. Are you essentially creating a system that only benefits big oil companies now?
MR. GIBBS: No, but, Sam, I think somebody has to understand that if the project that you’re undertaking has the potential to cause the type of damage that exceeds what is — what could or may happen, that the law take that into account regardless of the size of your firm. I think if — I think that’s, quite frankly, a series of steps based on common sense to ensure that the protections are there for people in the event that something catastrophic does happen.
Q So how are you going to move this legislatively forward? It looks like you’re at an impasse right now.
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, there was an objection last week. I think that was — and I think the administration believes that that was — that Senator Murkowski was wrong in objecting to that, and the only possible way to move forward is to ensure, again, that there are a series of protections to take into account the potential size of a catastrophe.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q I want to find out about two White House topics and two White House conversations on these topics — one on Halliburton. What is the White House — what is the conversation with the White House and Halliburton officials as it relates to the oil spill? We’ve heard the President say he was very upset and frustrated about what was said on Capitol Hill, everybody is pointing fingers at one another and not wanting take responsibility. What is the conversation from this White House with Halliburton right now, as they are partly responsible for what’s happening?
MR. GIBBS: I can check the degree to which counsel or Carol or others are dealing directly with Halliburton. Obviously, the letter on Friday dealt primarily with British Petroleum.
Q Right, but so are you saying there are conversations with Halliburton?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s what I said I would check on.
Q Okay. And also another conversation — could you talk to me, give me a little tic-tock this weekend about this White House’s efforts in trying to bring in the civil right’s community as it relates to Elena Kagan, when there were questions as late as Friday about her record on affirmative action? And now we’re hearing that the NAACP is on board. And we understand that the White House made some outreach calls.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they — not just on board, I think they endorsed the nomination of —
Q They did — they did endorse. Yes, yes. Well, that’s “on board.” Okay, you say tomato, I say tomato. But the bottom line is could you talk to me about what the White House gave to these civil right’s organizations so they could come on board? Because there was a dearth of information from this White House to them, and they were very concerned.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if — I can’t speak to — let me just say this, April. Obviously what we’ve shared with that organization is what we’d share with any organization, is her record on these issues. I think there — look, I think we saw it on the — we saw it on the Sunday talk shows. There’s — I don’t know whether it’s a dearth of information or a dearth of understanding, but we’re happy to provide information on what the facts are. I think that’s what —
Q Can you just —
Q Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute — Lynn, Lynn, Lynn, let me finish —
Q You wanted to tell him what happened.
Q Right, right, but — okay.
MR. GIBBS: That’s what I’m in the process of trying to do.
Q The names, the names.
MR. GIBBS: Lynn, Lynn, Lynn, hold on. I’m trying to do that. Just give me a —
Q You’re slow-pitching. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’m from the South; we do things a little slower, Lynn. So just buckle your seatbelt and just hold on.
She interrupted me — just let the record reflect that it’s harder — you delay the windup, it’s harder to deliver the pitch.
Q I understand what Lynn — Lynn’s frustrations, but go ahead.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve been dealing with that same frustration for seven years. (Laughter.) No, but we provided information. I’m happy to get Josh and others to talk to you all about the process by which they contacted board members that would be voting in and weighing in on an endorsement for our Solicitor General to be the next Supreme Court justice, just as we’ve shared information via the blog and other places about her record on a whole host of other issues — some of which was misunderstood — like many comments that you heard over the weekend that were inaccurate about her involvement on the military.
Q Okay, well, many of these civil rights leaders have come to this White House and had conversations, and they felt that was the time to have all of her civil rights and affirmative action letters, what have you, laid out to them. And many of them said that it would — they laid the blame on this White House for this delay in their endorsement. What say you to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can’t speak of any delay about the endorsement. Look, the White House has — over the weekend, April, asked that the Clinton Library speed up the production and the release of a 160,000 pages of documents from her service at the White House — letters, writings, emails, as well as the release of papers that she wrote at both Princeton and Oxford, despite the fact that they haven’t been asked for by the committee.
Q And what do you say to the fact that she was one of the ones who was in the Clinton administration at the time who was fighting against the President putting out more of a civil rights agenda that had more teeth? She wanted — she was one of the ones who wanted to water it down. Back then, there was a big fight of factions over race, and she was one of the ones allegedly who wanted to tone it down —
MR. GIBBS: I think that the documents will show that she’s a strong supporter of civil rights. This is — she’s a clerk for — she was a clerk for Thurgood Marshall.
Q But that doesn’t —
MR. GIBBS: She works for Eric Holder and she was nominated by Barack Obama. I think that —
Q But some people would say that’s symbolism — or they have said that it might be symbolism versus substance —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think the NAACP would endorse on symbolism rather than substance. I think they would endorse based on the fact that she has a very strong record on these issues. She has a strong record on these issues as a solicitor general. And that’s why she’s pleased to enjoy their support.
Q I have two questions, but can I do one follow-up first? Is that okay —
MR. GIBBS: A follow-up to your question or to somebody else?
Q Chuck’s question about the state dinner. Can you say whether —
MR. GIBBS: Chip’s question, I think.
Q Was it? Okay, can you say whether it’s going to be —
Q — another good-looking TV guy —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, all those TV guys look alike. Go ahead.
Q All right, can you whether there’s going to be a representative from the Social Secretary’s office at the checkpoints?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on the procedures. My understanding is there will be.
Q Okay. And my first question is, yesterday Greg Craig said that the Elana Kagan is a progressive in the mold of Barack Obama. Is that something the White House agrees with? And is that going to be —
MR. GIBBS: I think Ron Klain, when describing her judicial — describing her political beliefs, put her on the progressive side, yes.
Q I mean is that going to be the White House strategy going forward to —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think it’s a strategy as much as it is a belief in that’s where she is.
Q My second question: Do you have any on the — there’s a new book that’s quoting someone from the White House on Rush Limbaugh, telling him what he can do with himself. Have you —
MR. GIBBS: You’re going to have to be more specific. (Laughter.)
Q What do you think?
MR. GIBBS: You guys are just —
Q Limbaugh is our colleague on talk radio.
MR. GIBBS: I’m just asking you to be more specific. I don’t know why you think I’m disparaging anybody.
Q There’s a book quoting a senior White House official responding to an invitation to golf with Rush Limbaugh by saying that Limbaugh can play with himself. And there are some that have speculated that the source of that quote was the President via an aide. I’m wondering if you can —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. Lynn, do you have —
Q Has the President ever said anything like that?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I — not in my presence, no.
Lynn, do you have —
Q Thank you, that’s very nice of you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I know that, too. I know the — that’s a slow windup as well. Go ahead.
Q Just to get back to April’s question, I think it would be — the question is not so much that overview that you gave but simply who met with who when and called, who had meetings. I think Valerie Jarrett had one meeting, I believe. That’s what I think —
MR. GIBBS: Right, I think Valerie met with people.
Q So that’s — the tick-tock.
Q Eric Holder.
MR. GIBBS: Let me find out from Josh. I know Mike Strautmanis talked with people. I’m sure Eric Holder, who’s, as you know, her boss at the Department of Justice, I’m sure either talked to or would be happy to talk to anybody about her record.
Q Did the President get on the phone, by any chance?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q So the people you named — do you think there’s more than that that were involved —
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Josh. Let me just check with Josh.
MR. GIBBS: David.
Q Thanks, Robert. Last October, you said that in terms of Afghanistan, we needed to work with a partner that was “free of corruption and transparent.” Given all the conversations that happened last week, including the one between President Obama and President Karzai, how close do you think the Afghan government is to the standard that you set back in October — being free of corruption and transparent?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, David, we’ve got progress that needs to be made. I outlined steps that the government had taken last week prior to the visit, whether it was on the Electoral Complaints Commission, whether it was on laws on subnational government, whether it was on the high office of corruption, that there had been steps that had been taken, and we were watching the implementation of those steps to ensure increased transparency, increased accountability, as well as the promotion of fair and transparent parliamentary elections, which are upcoming.
Q Now, a lot of people who have been to Afghanistan recently talk about corruption in historic terms, that — people there, they say their parents and their grandparents were used to a certain level, find what’s going on now completely unbelievable; it’s almost hyper-corruption. You have to pay to pay your taxes.
So do you think, on the ground, people — Afghans — are seeing any change in terms of corruption?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not sure I’m the person to talk about what Afghans are seeing on the ground. Again, I think — I would simply impart what we have seen and what — some of the steps that we’ve asked the government of Afghanistan to take in terms of making those steps —
Q I guess the question is, is that sufficient?
MR. GIBBS: No, I — look, I think there’s no doubt that we have — we will continue to work with and move them in the direction that we think is in everybody’s interests.
I’ll take Bill, and then I’ll — yes.
Q Robert, we talked about this a little last week, but the bar was raised yesterday by Senator Jeff Sessions who said that when she was dean at Harvard that Elena Kagan actually broke the law by not allowing the military on campus. Has the White House researched that, the White House Counsel is confident that she’s within the law?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think the White House Counsel had to research that. There’s — I don’t think anybody has brought anything that would say that she’s ever been in violation of the law. I think last week the former dean of the Harvard Law School wrote about the series of events that happened. Military recruiters were never barred from the campus. They were not afforded access to the Office of Career Services but had access to students through the veterans organization. Military recruitment for the semester that is being looked at actually increased from the prior semesters.
I think last week Senator Scott Brown spoke pretty eloquently about the notion that Elena Kagan was a friend of the military. And I think, to quote the dean of West Point, it is ludicrous for anyone to accuse her of being anti-military. So, again, I think if one actually looks at the facts and the record, they see the truth.
Q Thank you.
2:42 P.M. EDT