Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 21, 2010.
See below for an answer to a question(marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
*As Mr. Brennan said, we don’t deal with Hezbollah, Hezbollah is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Our policy towards Hezbollah has not changed. We do not recognize separate military and political wings. Hezbollah’s leadership and funding are fungible across all parts of the organization. All parties within Lebanon must adhere to their obligations under UNSCR’s 1701 and 1559.
12:57 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Let me — let’s start today with a little bit of the week ahead. Tomorrow, the President will deliver the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in West Point, New York — obviously laud the graduates for their accomplishments, their service to the country, discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and outline some broad principles that will be in the President’s national security strategy released later next week.
On Sunday, the President has no public events scheduled. On Monday, the President will visit with Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon at the White House. This will be the Prime Minister’s first official visit to Washington during his premiership. And the President looks forward to consulting with the Prime Minister on a broad range of mutual goals in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, regional peace, and security. Also on Monday, the President will host a reception to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
On Tuesday, as part of National Small Business Week, the President will host award-winning small business owners from around the country for an event at the White House, where he will discuss the important role that small businesses play in our economy.
Also on Tuesday, President Obama will welcome President Napolitano of Italy to the White House. The United States and Italy, a leading NATO ally, have strong bilateral relations. The President appreciates Italy’s robust contributions to peace efforts around the world, and looks forward to continuing his consultations with the President following up on their July 8 meeting from last year in Rome.
Later on Tuesday, the President will travel to San Francisco, California, to headline events on behalf of Senator Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On Wednesday, the President will visit the Solyndra Incorporated solar facility in Fremont, California, where he will tour their 300,000 square foot high-tech facilities and make remarks to workers on jobs and the economy. Following his remarks, the President will return to Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, President Obama will — this is hard for an N.C. State graduate to say — welcome the NCAA men’s basketball champion Duke Blue Devils to the White House — Reggie will be in rare form — (laughter) — to honor their 2009 and 2010 season.
The President and First Lady will also host a first-ever White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, and we will have more details on Friday through the weekend later on.
Q Yes, a couple things. The Lebanon and Italy leader events remind me if we could ask you to have pool sprays with questions regularly?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I honestly don’t have — I don’t know what the coverage is, so I’ll check on that.
Q I understand — I understand you’re not telling me about those specifically, but it’s more of a broad question that we’d like to have pool sprays, including questions for most of these events, which you do not usually have.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I’ll check on what the coverage is. To be honest with you, some of that is going to be very schedule-dependent.
Q I’m asking for it not to be schedule-dependent, but to become more of a tradition like it used to be at the White House.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. You and I should go see the scheduler, that’s —
Q But you’re still meeting. What — I mean, do you have to like —
Q It’s an extra five minutes. It’s not really schedule issues.
Q We’re talking five minutes.
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to talk about this offline. There are — I’ve yet to be in one of these that lasts five minutes, but I —
Q And me. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think I’ve been in one of those either. But I appreciate it.
Q So on BP, the President referred to it today as a disaster, a disaster in the Gulf. And I’m wondering if — well, I guess if you could explain why the federal government isn’t treating it like it would treat a normal disaster, where you should have come in and take charge. I know you have the expertise at BP’s level and the other companies, but why isn’t the federal government sort of taking over this operation?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve gone through this question. We went through this question yesterday. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, for reasons that were obvious in 1990, put the liability and the responsibility for recovery and cleanup with the company rather than with the taxpayers. That’s why —
Q No, I’m not asking a financial question. I’m asking a management question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no — no, no, but the management question is a financial question. Understand —
MR. GIBBS: Because they’re responsible for the cleanup and they have to pay for it. They’re not two separate questions. So it is —
Q There’s no legal way to sort of separate that out and say, we send the federal disaster experts —
MR. GIBBS: Again, the Oil Pollution Act — let’s be clear — I’ve tried to explain this many times. They are responsible for, and we are overseeing that response. That includes — as I discussed yesterday, there are many different departments and agencies that are involved here. The Department of Interior and what used to be the Minerals Management Service is in charge of regulation and drilling issues. NOAA deals with a series of issues including water sampling, detection of oil inside the water. The Department of Homeland Security is where the Coast Guard is housed. The Coast Guard obviously was on the scene right after the original explosion, and Thad Allen, the head of the Coast Guard, is the National Incident Coordinator. The Environmental Protection Agency does air and water quality testing. And once oil hits land, they have purview over that.
Q I just want to be clear that I understand what you’re saying, that you’re legally not allowed to take sort of command and control of the whole situation.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, we’re — Jennifer, they are responsible for and we are overseeing the recovery response. I will add that SBA is also in the area dealing with disasters for fishermen because NOAA has closed 19 percent of the Gulf for fishing. And SBA is there to provide low-interest loans for people that have had economic damages as a result of that disaster.
But understand, Jennifer, as I’ve — I think I’ve also said on a number of occasions, the technical expertise to clean up and deal with the equipment that is 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea, that’s equipment that BP has; that’s the equipment that other oil companies have. That is not based on equipment that the federal government has in storage.
Q I understand, I’ll let this go because I’m using up my time. That’s not really the question I was asking, is whether you’re physically doing the work. I’m asking why you don’t take control of the whole operation.
MR. GIBBS: Again, maybe I’m just not being — over the course of several weeks have not been clear on this. It is their responsibility. They have the legal responsibility and the technical expertise to plug the hole. Obviously Secretary Chu, Secretary Salazar, Secretary Napolitano, and others, have been involved in efforts with other scientists, both government and nongovernmental scientists, in conjunction with British Petroleum, which has been working in conjunction with other corporations and other oil companies.
So I guess — I’m happy to try to sift through the question. I just — they are responsible and we are overseeing to ensure that what they’re doing is what needs to be done.
Q But if they’re not getting the job done, does the government just stand there as a spectator and hope for the best?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, there’s nothing that would denote that the federal government has stood there and hoped for the best. I mean, the premise of your question doesn’t match any single — hold on, let me finish this.
Q You’re confident they’re getting the job done?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish this. That doesn’t match any single action that our government has undertaken since the call came in that this rig had exploded in the Gulf. So, you know, the premise of your question doesn’t fit any of the actions that are currently happening on behalf of the federal government in the Gulf of Mexico.
Q But Robert, there’s a whole problem here with BP in that every piece of information that they’ve delivered — every piece of information hasn’t been — has turned out not to be true when it comes to the amount of oil that’s spilling, how many leaks there were, I mean, and every single — so you guys are having to rely on them — and I understand you’re saying that they’re legally responsible.
MR. GIBBS: It’s not — we are —
Q The government has to rely on them for the technical expertise, I understand that, but do they have the credibility any more? I mean, why not just say, you know what, we’re going to — we’re running this thing; you guys aren’t running this thing — we’re running it.
MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck, we are overseeing the response — okay? I don’t know what you think — we are working each and every day. That’s why Secretary Chu — the Department of Energy — it sounds technical — the Department of Energy doesn’t have purview over oil, oil drilling. That’s not in their governmental sphere. But Secretary Chu has been down there working through a whole host of ideas, including enhanced imaging to get a better look at a disaster that’s 5,000 feet underneath the water.
We have taken every step. We have pushed relentlessly for BP to do what is necessary to contain what is leaking, to deal with both the environmental and the economic impacts of what, as the President said today, is unquestionably a disaster. One of the questions you asked, Jennifer, was, this is not something — there’s not a — you may have been — be confused about the notion of a disaster declaration that —
Q But I’m wondering if there’s something analogous to that, where you could just — like an AIG or a disaster where —
MR. GIBBS: There’s — the Oil Pollution Act is where — the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is what governs how one responds to and who pays for a spill.
Q But then when I asked if you’re legally non-able to step in and take actual control, you said, no. So I’m just confused.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t — I guess I’m confused at what are you — what are you asking then.
Q If BP is not accomplishing the task, why doesn’t the federal government come in and take over and get the job done?
Q So that they can —
Q Federalize it — can you just federalize it?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Well, why?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’re — let me just — I also want to address Jake’s question. BP is working — and I would refer you to BP on the actual efforts that they’re undertaking and they will undertake as the course of this weekend — different ideas on how to stop the leak both out of the pipe, which they’ve done through the insertion tube, as well as what’s going on in the riser.
I would say relating to some of the earlier questioning, we’ve asked them to provide more public data on air and water quality, and we asked them 10 days ago and reiterated in a letter yesterday to provide video footage of what’s happening 5,000 feet underneath the sea —
Q Why didn’t you order them to do that rather than ask them?
MR. GIBBS: Because it’s — you can’t do that from a private company. We — the information — first of all, the —
Q You had the authority to tell AIG what to do.
MR. GIBBS: Pardon?
Q You took over AIG.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we — the company is largely in receivership. That’s — there’s a difference between —
Q Well, I know, but I mean, isn’t there a way to declare some sort of emergency —
MR. GIBBS: I hate to — let me just get through — let me get through Chip’s question.
Chip, that’s proprietary video that was in the Joint Information Center and was working through — the command had the video in order to see for the response efforts that we were doing on — in conjunction with them, that video is now public.
Q Robert, can I ask —
Q It took 10 days.
Q Can I ask a question? Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Let me go to —
Q Thank you. I’d like to ask about Dennis Blair. Will James Clapper be replacing him either temporarily or permanently? And can you talk more about the process during which the President lost confidence in Mr. Blair?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me discuss — first of all, the Director will resign, as he said, effective next Friday. The Deputy Director at DNI will become the Acting Director. The President has talked to a number of well qualified candidates and will make an announcement on who the next permanent DNI will be soon.
Q Just soon? That’s as much of a timeframe as you’re going —
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into names or timelines. Look, my guess is there is probably no harder job in Washington, besides being President, than being Director of National Intelligence. The coordination across many different intelligence agencies is — and given the fact that this job was simply — was just created only a few years ago means that Director Blair had to bring some clarity to the challenges that the DNI has. He has done that. The President is thankful for his continued service to the country.
The act that set this up, again — what I mean by that is the act that set this up put off some of the more difficult questions legislatively for the DNI to have to go through. Admiral Blair did that in, again, working through questions like budget authority, working through questions like chief of station representation. So I think there are a number of things, obviously, that Admiral Blair did.
There’s no doubt that we continue to have as a result — and we saw this, that the President identified on the attempted Christmas Day bombing — that there’s still coordination issues that we have to work through. The President simply believed that it was time to transition to a different Director of National Intelligence, and we’ll have an announcement on a permanent replacement soon.
Q So you can’t talk more about what led to the decision. Are there any —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think — I think I outlined basically where the President’s thinking is on that.
Q The administration won a court victory today about Bagram, basically giving it — affirming that the Obama administration can pick up anywhere in the world except for the United States a non-citizen of the United States and hold them beyond the process of the court. And I’m wondering how that comports at all with the language that President Obama used on the campaign trail when he was talking about —
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I know Counsel was working on a response to some of these points, and I’ll get that as soon as I get out of here.
Q Yesterday you were asked about comments that John Brennan made about trying to build up the more moderate elements of Hezbollah.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve asked John for that, but I haven’t gotten anything back from him.*
Q Do you have — does the President have any concerns at all about President Calderón criticizing American laws at Congress or from the lawn of the White House? Some Republicans have objected —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think Ann asked me that yesterday and — look, I know that President Calderón has strong feelings about — particularly about the Arizona law, on the belief that we should have strong, comprehensive immigration reform. The President shares his concern on both those aspects.
Q So it’s not inappropriate at all?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to the Mexicans to see if they think it’s inappropriate. I think — again, I simply think the President has similar concerns with those laws.
Q Thank you, Robert. On BP, there is an official who said — from BP — who says that he expects that the leak would be plugged some time next week, as early as next week. How much confidence does the White House have in that timeline, that they could actually get this —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, they’re going to undergo — and they can explain the technical nature of this better — the process of trying to clog this leak with heavy mud, injecting that into the system I think beginning sometime this weekend. I would point you to them in terms of the degree to which they think that’s going to be successful. We continue to work on with them ideas for how to both plug and contain what is leaking, even as BP begins to drill a longer-term solution through a relief well.
Q But obviously they’re telling you, this is what we think will work. What is the confidence level from the White House? Do you think they’re going to be able to stop this by next week?
MR. GIBBS: We’re certainly hopeful, yes.
Q And then back to Jennifer’s question — I mean, if they can’t, does there come a point when the White House has to say, listen, we need to take charge of this — not just from an oversight point of view; we’re going to step in and we’re going to bring in whatever —
MR. GIBBS: The National Incident Coordinator in Thad Allen, agencies throughout the government, have been working on the ground since right after this explosion in the Gulf to do all that we can to plug this leak; to contain what was leaking; to deal with what happens in the event, and as we have seen, that that oil gets to land; we now know some of that oil has begun to get into the loop current, and how do we deal with that; sampling — water quality sampling and how we deal with both surface and subsea dispersants.
So we have — we’ve been there every day of this crisis, and we will stay there until this hole is plugged, until we deal with what is either in the water or on the surface, and the impacts of that both environmentally and economically, which will probably take quite some time to sift through.
Q Robert, a follow —
Q Hang on a second, hang on — but you will still just be essentially assisting in any way possible as many times as they want to keep trying something that doesn’t work? So you’re not going to walk in —
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, we’re focused on —
Q — if that doesn’t work, well, we’ll wait and see, and they’ll try something else.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, Dan, this notion that the government is simply waiting and seeing — again, Dan, if you’ve got an idea of how to plug this hole, I’m happy to put you in charge of — with John Holdren here, with Secretary Chu, or somebody at the Joint Information Command. Everything —
Q — that the White House has, that this administration has —
MR. GIBBS: Everything that can be done is being done. That’s why we have scientists here and throughout the administration that are working on trying to make that happen.
Q Robert, the questions about federalizing —
Q I have another question, actually, on something else. After the so-called “underwear bombing,” the President talked about the failures, and I think you characterized it as coordination issues. But he also talked about pushing for solutions to fix the problem. What is the sense here in the White House about intelligence sharing and the analysis of intelligence? How does the White House feel that the various agencies are sharing information or analyzing it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that the President took responsibility for that lack of coordination and information sharing on Christmas Day.
Q Since then, has it gotten any better?
MR. GIBBS: The improvements that were — the problems that were identified and the improvements that John Brennan and others have begun to put into the system have improved it. We will — Dan, the President has asked every member of the intelligence community and the national security team to evaluate our processes every day to see if there’s anything that can possibly be done better. That’s what the intelligence community and the national security teams do each and every day. We strive to get it as good as it can be.
Q Can I just follow —
Q I’d love to get at least initially a yes or no answer to this question. Is the President satisfied with BP’s response?
MR. GIBBS: The President is not satisfied that we’ve plugged a hole in the floor of the ocean that’s leaking a barrel — thousands of barrels of oil a day and polluting the Gulf of Mexico.
Q Is the President satisfied with BP?
MR. GIBBS: We are continuing to push BP to do everything that they can.
Q So, no “yes” or “no” on whether you’re satisfied with BP.
MR. GIBBS: I thought I gave you a fairly fulsome answer.
Q Does he have full confidence in BP?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we are asking BP to do — to take the steps that we believe are necessary.
Q I have another question. You sent out that Tweet about — it was 10 days between the time you first asked for the live video and when you got the video.
MR. GIBBS: May 11th.
Q And on the other hand, which sounds like you’re asking without any kind of power behind it at all, and on the other hand you say you’ve got your boot on their throat. That sounds like they’re wearing the boot if they can just go along for 10 days. I mean, seriously, Robert, there’s this growing perception that the United States, that the government is somewhat powerless to make BP do what it wants them to do if it can’t even get them to put a live feed of video up for 10 days.
MR. GIBBS: Chip, we have pushed them to make things more public. There are laws that govern the proprietary information of companies. We can’t change each and every one of those laws, Chip. We will work every day to ensure that BP is doing everything that it can do, everything that we believe it should do. We asked again yesterday that they make more transparent their air and water quality samples, that they update their website on that on a daily basis, that they provide live video footage of what is happening on the floor of the ocean 5,000 feet beneath it.
And we will continue to push any company, and the President and the team here will continue to push all elements of the government, to get this right. We are facing a disaster, the magnitude of which we likely have never seen before, in terms of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. And we’re doing everything humanly possible and technologically possible to deal with that.
Q Very quickly on financial regulation —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I got to get to somebody else.
Q Do you like Blanche Lincoln’s —
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, let me give somebody else another turn.
Q Quickly, you just said about the air and water quality, that they’re doing the testing.
MR. GIBBS: No, no —
Q Why isn’t the EPA doing the —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no — again, EPA does air and water quality testing. NOAA does water quality testing. They also do testing and we’re asking them to make public their samples of that testing. The EPA —
Q So the EPA rechecks the tests, and does their own?
MR. GIBBS: And does — they do their own testing, yes. It’s all up on a website if you want to look at water — air and water quality samples.
Q Secretary Napolitano is still the person I guess that’s overall in charge. Is there any concern —
MR. GIBBS: No, the National Incident Commander has been for several weeks Thad Allen and, again, as I said — well, let me, because — I’m apparently not being clear. Thad Allen has postponed his retirement from the Coast Guard to continue on as the National Incident Commander. A new Commandant of the Coast Guard will be put in. They’ll be able to focus on their job while Admiral Allen focuses on — as the overall National Incident Commander, as is required by law.
Q Are you guys confident that Secretary Napolitano is not being taken too much away, considering the other part of her job at Homeland Secretary?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the Coast Guard is part of DHS —
Q I understand.
MR. GIBBS: — so there’s some equity there. Again, the National Incident Commander is Thad Allen — okay? Secretary Napolitano certainly has equities in this based on the fact that DHS is there. Secretary Salazar has equities because of DOI and MMS. The Department of Commerce is where NOAA sits — they have equities in this. The Environmental Protection Agency has equities.
Q No, I understand, but are you at all — is there any concern here that she’s being taken away —
MR. GIBBS: Based on what?
Q Just how much time she has to spend here, she had to testify on the Hill, and considering the Times Square — that she’s being taken away from any of her duties having to do with —
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard anybody say that.
Q Another question on DNI. Is there any thought being considered of getting the position itself restructured, going back to Congress and saying, here’s what we’ve learned, maybe it ought to be structured like this?
MR. GIBBS: I have not — I have not heard discussions today about greater intelligence reform at this point.
Q You guys are still confident that this structure is the right structure?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the government continues to work through the challenges that the law and the position have always presented to government and in the coordination of many different agencies and departments and the intelligence functions that they represent. As I said earlier, this is a — this is an extremely difficult job for any person to do, and we think that Admiral Blair did a great job.
Q You have a Intelligence Advisory Board, Chuck Hagel and some others serving —
MR. GIBBS: President’s — PIAB — the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Q Are they being asked to look at the structure of this? And will they make — could they be making recommendations about how the DNI should be structured?
MR. GIBBS: They have been — they have been asked, and they did.
Q And are —
MR. GIBBS: It’s a —
Q Is there anything you have to go to Congress with?
MR. GIBBS: I read the report again last night and I don’t remember that that was the case.
Q Robert, can I ask you a question, a follow-up question?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get around here. Yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. One, as far as this immigration problem is concerned, how seriously you think President thinking this is a — really time has come to do something? This is a serious problem and also as far as supply and demand.
MR. GIBBS: As far as?
Q Supply and demand.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Goyal, I think you’ve heard the President on a number of occasions — certainly this week with President Calderón here — reiterate his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, understanding that this is not something that he can implement alone, this is not something that can be implemented by simply one party, and that those that have traditionally supported immigration reform on both sides are going to have to do that again. We’re not going to be able to create a solution without the bipartisan help of members of the House and the Senate that have worked on this before.
Q Robert, can I just follow-up on that?
Q And second —
MR. GIBBS: Let me come around.
Q And second, as far as freedom of press is concerned, more than half of the countries are not free as far as freedom of press is concerned. I know the President signed the Freedom of the Press Act, but do you think President is thinking of signing a Freedom of Press Act week to celebrate? Because press is really a bridge between governments and the people, and what do you think for a press —
MR. GIBBS: Look, Goyal, I would simply say that I think this was a fitting week to sign a bill that adds freedom of the press to the State Department’s study of human rights and the role that it plays in a free society.
Q What options does the U.S. realistically have to punish North Korea? And what response has the U.S. gotten from China?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I — there are several — obviously, you know that the Secretary is in the region. I don’t have anything to add to what I said yesterday, but we continue to consult with the South Koreans. I know they had — they had some emergency meetings last night and yesterday, based on the report that came back, providing responsibility for what happened to the North Koreans.
Q And will the administration push to have the Consumer Protection Agency stand alone, as Barney Frank wants?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think what — the President met with Senator Dodd and Congressman Frank today to — first, I think to congratulate them for their effort. We have — I think many people might have believed at the beginning of the year and certainly into February that getting financial reform done this year wasn’t possible, and that certainly having a strong consumer protection portion of this — having the Volcker rule, limiting the size and scope of the activities that banks can be involved in and regulating derivatives was not something that — we’d be lucky to get one of those and were likely to get none of those in a final piece of legislation that passed the Senate. Throughout this process, the legislation has gotten stronger.
In term of consumers, the bill is very strong in the Senate. They’re going to go through each of these provisions together, the conference committee will, in making some of those decisions. We think it is important that there be less the address and more the independence of the consumer agency in having its own budget and its own leadership.
As I said yesterday, that many families in this country, their interaction with our financial system is through the many things that this area would regulate, whether that’s getting a loan for a car, getting a loan for a house, getting a credit card. It’s the very type of protections that the American people need the most.
Q Can you talk about timing and strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, broadly on timing, I think both members and the President believe we can get something done by the Fourth of July.
Q On Dennis Blair, were you suggesting to us that he solved the problems that necessarily come with that position because of the ambiguity of the law, or will the next DNI still face those ambiguities and statutory limitations?
MR. GIBBS: I think many DNIs beyond whoever is next will deal with some of the vagueness and many of the complexities. I don’t think that — I don’t think anybody here, and I certainly don’t think, recalling the President’s remarks after the attempted bombing on Christmas Day, that we don’t have improvements that we continually have to make in our intelligence system.
Q Does the President believe this is a naturally unwieldy process, having a strong CIA director and a DNI and an inside White House counterterrorism advisor, that inevitably there will be turf battles, inevitably there will be either disputes or disagreements about —
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s just say —
Q — who has authority or —
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s important to understand — no, no, no, I think it’s important to understand that the principal intelligence advisor for the President of the United States is the Director of National Intelligence. The Director of National Intelligence and their department produce each day the President’s daily briefing. The President begins each of those days both with that briefing and either with the Director of National Intelligence or employees of the Director of National Intelligence in order to go through the President’s daily briefing. So there’s no ambiguity as to who the principal intelligence advisor to the President of the United States is.
Q Did the President ask Leon Panetta to consider becoming DNI?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into personnel replacements.
Q Okay. Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee voted 59 to nothing to move forward the defense authorization bill. It contains language that denies all funding to build or convert any facility of the United States for Guantanamo Bay detainees. How far does this set the President’s goal back of closing Guantanamo?
MR. GIBBS: I think, if I’m not mistaken, the committee asked for a report on and some ideas on exactly how a facility might be structured. That report and details will be going up to Congress. I will say —
MR. GIBBS: I can check on a timetable. I will say that we have always maintained that we need increased prison facility, and I think the law prevents the Department of Defense from — but not the Department of Justice — from purchasing such a facility.
Q Okay. And on the Gulf oil spill, I want to ask it this way — is there anything that in the process of dealing with this, you have found in the 1990 law that limits the federal government’s authority in ways you wish it did not? Anything incumbent?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of except what we’ve asked — obviously, we’ve set up — we’ve sent up structures that change liability in order to ensure that a disaster of this magnitude is not — the economic damages are — that are going to be — that our citizens are going to suffer through are adequately compensated even if they’re beyond the $75 million liability threshold that the law currently has.
Q But the law itself has not created limitations that you wish did not exist?
MR. GIBBS: I will look through the exact legislation that was set up and see if there’s anything as a part that’s in there.
Q Robert, in talking a lot about the structure of the DNI job, I guess what I’m confused about is, is the problem here then the DNI job or the person who filled the DNI job?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll just say this, that I think the job is very challenging. I think Director Blair took on a number of those challenges that the law and the job presented. Those aren’t always easy to take on. I think Director Blair also dramatically focused our government on counterterrorism and radicalization and rightly increased our focus on Afghanistan and Southeast Asia in pursuing terrorists that seek to do our country harm. The President believes that at this point a transition in who that person is, is the best for the country.
Q Robert, you just said that “We think Admiral Blair did a great job.” Why then is it the time for a transition?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because I think we have — some of the challenges that continue — that we have to continue to take on, the President simply believes it’s time to make a change.
Q Well, I mean, can you give us any elaboration on why? I mean you’ve just gone through all these ideas about what Admiral Blair did that you think were good, but that it’s time for a change. I mean —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President simply believes that where we are and what we have to do moving forward, that it’s time to make a change there.
Q Do you disagree with his theory that the President lost confidence in him?
Q Yeah, that was my question. Are you disputing all the various people who have said, he’s lost confidence?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President — the President decided to make a change. I’ll let that speak for itself.
Q How often did Blair — did Director Blair actually come and do the Presidential daily brief?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have that number in front of me.
Q Most of the time?
MR. GIBBS: I can — I don’t know the answer to that. I can see if there’s —
Q Sorry, Robert, can I just come back on one other thing. A number of people have said this is a sign that the administration’s intelligence apparatus is in disarray. Would you like to dispute that?
MR. GIBBS: Who said that?
Q Op-ed pieces. I mean I haven’t got — I don’t have a list. Sorry.
Q Peter, do you have a list?
Q I have a list. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yeah. Peter — you know he would except his iPad buddy you can see is conspicuously absent.
Q He’s my researcher.
Q You really think that nobody said that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I — no, I was just asking to take on — rather than something broader than maybe the proper —
Q So you don’t —
Q That’s very helpful. I can report that.
MR. GIBBS: Good. Report that I changed the premise of your question based on — no, no, I — there are a series of laws and structures in this country that provide for a very robust intelligence effort by the federal government. I don’t think that in any way we lack any sort of capacity.
I think if you look at — look, there’s no question that we’re facing different challenges based on, in many ways, some of the things that we’re doing overseas, without getting more specific. And I think if you look at what is — what the intelligence community has been able to do in tracking Zazi, in identifying and tracking Headley in Chicago — there’s a whole host of things that the intelligence community does each and every day that aren’t discussed in the newspapers that the American people can have great confidence in.
Q And Congressman Peter King’s assertion that Blair was made a scapegoat for other failures here?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what the basis for that is, given the fact that — I think the President spoke pretty clearly and took direct responsibility for the failures in coordination and in information sharing that we saw around the Christmas Day — attempted Christmas Day bombing. I think the notion that anybody has shirked that responsibility, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what the President has said and quite frankly what each member of the intelligence committee has had to say as a result of what happened on Christmas Day.
Q It’s a follow-up on the Calderón question. It’s been nearly a month since S.B. 1070 was passed, and I’m just wondering how much longer does the DOJ need from President Obama’s orders to decide on whether or not they’ll file a lawsuit based on the constitutionality of the law? How much longer will — President Calderón will need to hear from President Obama about the lawsuit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that question is better directed to the Department of Justice, which is working on that report.
Q Who runs the Joint Command Center down in the Gulf? Is that a federal government —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the Joint Information Center and the Command Center — I mean obviously it’s —
Q BP doesn’t run it?
MR. GIBBS: No. They have a center I believe in Houston.
Hold on, I got to — I get beat up because I only take the first two rows.
Q The House Armed Services Committee last night voted to ban funding for modification and construction of detention centers on U.S. soil.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think I did that a little while ago.
Q Did you?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q While I was reading about it here?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q Well, could you — but could you just say is — should the state be proceeding with its plans still to do the purchase?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think when the transcript is out, I think Major asked that question and I answered it.
Q Thank you. On the BP oil spill, is the federal government exerting as much control as legally possible —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q — in your oversight?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Or — I’ll just finish my question for the sake of finishing it —
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I can say yes to the first part.
Q Are there any powers that the federal government has held off on using either because you feel —
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q — that it would be disruptive or send the wrong message about government interference in private business?
MR. GIBBS: Meaning what?
Q Is there any sort of level of control or oversight that you could assume that —
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q — you have not yet assumed?
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, again, the premise of your question is somehow the federal government is not doing everything that is humanly possible to stop the leak.
Q It’s not — okay, but I’m not trying to premise that in a political fashion. I’m asking a technical question —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I’m not reading it in a political fashion. I’m — again, I’m not trying to be flip here, but that’s — inherent in your question was that we’re — that somehow — you’re asking whether or not we think we’re doing — there’s something we could be doing that we’re not —
Q That you’re not doing for a good reason, I mean, is what I’m asking. The government doesn’t come at something with everything in the playbook all the time unless you think it’s the right thing to do. I’m asking because I don’t know the answer. Are there powers that theoretically you have that you have chosen not to exercise —
MR. GIBBS: Theoretical powers? (Laughter.)
Q Are there powers that you have chosen not to exercise yet because you think it would be unwise, but that you have in your back pocket as something additional you could throw out to clean up?
MR. GIBBS: No. No, again, we’re doing everything humanly and technologically possible. Obviously we follow the law. I think that’s inherent in — or at least if it’s not, I’d like to make it overt — obviously we’re following the law.
Q Thank you, Robert. As you requested, I’m following up on my question Monday about no-bid contracts. I only read the preliminary reports then —
MR. GIBBS: I have not held up my end of the bargain. Come on Monday and I’ll hold up my end of the bargain.
Q Right. And I beg your pardon, but I only had the partial story then, so just — should I ask you on Monday?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let’s do this on Monday.
Q Thank you for the moment. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, 1965 Voting Rights Act was put in place to give blacks first-class citizenship. And does Rand Paul’s comments on the Civil Rights Act give pause to the wave of racial discourse currently taking place and what could eventually be challenged, a challenge to it?
MR. GIBBS: Give me the second part — the wave of —
Q Racial discourse, conversation about race right now that’s going on, especially after his comments. I mean, ever since really this President has come on the national stage with his efforts of running for office and then becoming the first black President — I mean, what do you think about — what’s being said about Rand Paul’s comments around here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday, this was — the laws passed in 1964 and in 1965 are — while we continue to improve race relations in this country, they are debates that have been rightly and correctly settled many decades ago. I think the notion that somehow in 2010 we’re debating whether or not all of our citizens ought to enjoy equal opportunity, something that I think many believe was rightly settled in 1964 and 1965 and 1968, has, as I said yesterday, no place in — or shouldn’t have any place in our debate right now. I think we’ve — those were very difficult times and we dealt with them and we settled many of those issues in landmark legislation that continues to serve this country and all of its people well.
Q Do you think we’re having this conversation because of the first black President, who some in this White House have said race and politics will always follow him. Do you think we’re hearing more —
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we’re having the current conversation because in 2010 you had somebody who seemed to — not seemed to — called into question whether or not it was appropriate for a private company through a lunch counter to discriminate against a group of citizens in this country. Again, in 1964 and in 1965 and in the preceding years, we’ve settled those issues. I think that’s why we’re having the current conversation.
Q And back on BP really fast. Back on the current questions, basically are all federal options on the table — going back to that question.
MR. GIBBS: Such as?
Q Meaning, are you going to take more of an aggressive role in oversight? I mean, like yesterday on CNN —
MR. GIBBS: Again, there’s nothing that — there’s nothing that we think can and should be done that isn’t being done. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Q Okay, well, will there be any efforts to try to change that? Because, I mean, many people have been talking about this comment from the EPA Administrator yesterday on CNN. She was asked by I guess Wolf that if there is — what’s the relationship with BP and the federal government. She said, “Trust but verify.” And so many people are saying if you’ve got to verify, there’s no trust. So with that, again, will you try to —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that’s a monitor that follows our relationship with countries around the world, not just with companies that do business in the Gulf. I’m not going to get into the explanation of historical “trust but verify,” but again, we have — BP has the obligation and responsibility to plug the hole in the floor of the ocean and to respond to the oil that has leaked out — with our oversight, the strong oversight and strong response that we’ll continue to exercise.
Q Robert, thank you. Coming back to BP, and not to be presumptuous about some of the other questions.
MR. GIBBS: We didn’t leave. (Laughter.)
Q There’s sort of a — BP’s response from the get-go. One of the first things they did was they tried to buy people off with five grand if they wouldn’t pursue future liability. And there’s a lot of information —
MR. GIBBS: I think the Attorney General of Alabama and — as well as we communicated through this administration that trying to hire people to — trying to hire fishermen that couldn’t fish anymore because NOAA had closed part of it, asking them to help and paying them to lay boom but then prohibiting them from, as fishermen, ever filing economic claims was not the right thing to do.
Q I haven’t gotten to the question yet. I’m saying that’s the first thing they did. And in general, there’s the sense that they provide information with an eye-dropper. And then the video —
MR. GIBBS: Which is why we’ve asked them to be more transparent about air and water quality samples and about a video footage of what’s happening 5,000 feet beneath the sea.
Q No, no, but the video on CBS the other night of Coast Guard officials on that ship with what were described as BP contractors threatening to arrest journalists for merely taking pictures — all of this put together —
MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about 60 Minutes?
Q No, I’m talking about it was on — Chip would know — it was on — and so all of this paints —
MR. GIBBS: I did not see the particular —
Q They threatened to arrest a CBS crew for taking pictures — for daring to take pictures —
Q And they said that BP had told them that they —
Q So all of this paints —
MR. GIBBS: Who was threatening to arrest?
Q There were two agents on the boat, too. It was a BP boat and BP had —
Q Why is the Coast Guard being co-opted with BP officials and threatening the arrest of journalists for trying to take pictures?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to look at the story. Other than — I’d have to look at what CBS reported. I just haven’t seen that story.
Q Thanks, Robert. In the spirit of Peter Baker and maybe more homework over the weekend, I wanted to go back — I asked you about the landmines treaty, the administration’s position.
MR. GIBBS: I will get something on that.
Q Sixty-eight senators have asked the President to sign —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, right, right.
MR. GIBBS: Or later today. I don’t want any homework over the weekend. (Laughter.)
Q You guys were very prescriptive in the latter days of the financial regulatory reform negotiations. In the Senate you weighed in on specific amendments. Do you intend to play that kind of interventionist role during the conference committee? And where do you stand specifically on these various competing derivatives proposals?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t think that that level of detail was gotten into today with the President and the two chairs. They talked more broadly about the strength of the bills. And I’m sure that the — I’m sure that as we go through — as Congress goes through to look at and compare provisions, we will have an opportunity to weigh in, and I’m not going to get ahead of that process.
Q There’s some individuals who say that the derivatives proposals in the Senate bill would trim 20 percent off of bank profits. Do you buy that number and do you think that that’s a genuine concern?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what the basis is for that number. Again, we — the proposal the President put forward in the white paper last year called for pulling the type of activities that we’re talking about out of the dark and into the light, putting them on exchanges and regulating those exchanges. The Volcker rule, which met initial resistance and may have continued resistance on Wall Street, the President believed was enormously important as it related to the size of banks and the scope of what activities they can take part in.
So I think as they get through the process of appointing who’s going to deal with these issues, we’ll have a chance to go through and compare those provisions.
Q One more on Admiral Blair. You said the President decided it was time to make a change. Can you give us a sense of when he began to think that? I mean, was it Christmas Day or was it more recently?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the timing of it.
Q Robert, why did he interview candidates before Director Blair gave his resignation?
MR. GIBBS: To have people ready to — if he decided to make a change.
Q Robert, Senator Dodd says he’s clearly sticking with AG Blumenthal as the — to run for the seat that he’s vacating at the end of the year. Where does the White House stand on —
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not heard anything that would — from the political shop that would lead me to believe anything other than our continued support as well.
Q As a candidate, President Obama said that he would like to see fuel economy standards doubled to 50 miles per gallon by 2027. Is the President committed to that goal?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and see where — what the progress we’ve made and where we are on that goal as it relates to the improvements that have been made with cars and light trucks and with the additional announcements today of larger trucks and work vehicles. Let me talk with Carol Browner and others to see sort of where we are on that goal.
Q Robert, on the rat, mouse, mole, vole? Have you gotten anything from the Park Service yet? (Laughter.)
Q Do you have some control mechanisms in place? (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us what it is?
Q — red-tail hawk to get —
MR. GIBBS: I will say this —
Q Is this Burton’s wheelhouse? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, he’s in charge of varmint. I would say — Reggie and I were discussing this. Based on the picture that — the President didn’t see this yesterday, so I was telling him about it today. And Reggie says field mouse.
Q No, uh-huh. (Laughter.)
Q Way too big for a mouse.
MR. GIBBS: I said, based on the size of the photograph, comparing it to the diameter of —
Q What’s Reggie’s technical expertise? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: My sense is that Reggie has lived in some houses with field mouses — field mice. (Laughter.) But I would say, again, judging the size of the animal, based on the diameter of the seal, I got to tell you, that’s a rat. (Laughter.) Where I’m from that’s a rat and we should treat it as such.
Q A mole or vole?
Q We think it’s a vole.
Q What is the President’s level of concern about the rat in the Rose Garden?
MR. GIBBS: It’s a mole?
Q A vole. We’ve been online all day working on this.
MR. GIBBS: What’s a vole?
Q I don’t know, but they keep —
Q A vole is a rodent about that size.
MR. GIBBS: But it’s not a mole, it’s a vole?
Q Ask the Park Service to give us an answer.
MR. GIBBS: If we didn’t have so many people in the Gulf working on this we could —
Q What does the President want done about it?
Q Are you using humane traps?
MR. GIBBS: What’s that?
Q What does the President want done about it?
MR. GIBBS: That he did not get into. Look, my guess is that it lives out there somewhere in the Rose Garden quite comfortably.
Q And he’s okay with that?
MR. GIBBS: It’d be a pretty good Rose Garden to live in. I still think — it’s definitely not a mouse. I’ve seen a mouse and they’re not nearly that big. But I’m now going to go Google “vole” and see if John Holdren is around.
1:53 P.M. EDT