Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 3, 2010 – 1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: I’ll do one quick readout before we do Q&A here.
The President spoke late this morning with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. They discussed how best to work together to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in particularly by making full use of substantive proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians and transitioning to direct negotiations as soon as possible. They also discussed regional challenges and the President reaffirmed his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
The call took place just before noon and lasted 20 minutes.
Q Robert, on the oil spill, two questions on BP. One is my understanding is that the Oil Pollution Act caps their liability beyond cleanup costs at $75 million, so I’m wondering how you will make sure that they do in fact pay other costs — wages, et cetera.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check — I would need to check with Interior on that, on the $75 million figure. I don’t — I think there are different provisions for different things, but let me take that question and try to find that out.
Q I mean, is it your commitment that BP will pay all costs associated with this spill?
MR. GIBBS: That is our commitment, yes.
Q Including like lost wages and that sort of thing?
MR. GIBBS: That’s specifically one of the things the President spoke with Thad Allen about and with parish presidents and fishermen yesterday, is setting up a system — and Secretary Napolitano talked about this, this morning — setting up a system for compensation and claims that isn’t bogged down. Fishermen particularly are — we understand what they catch — they’re going to sell what they catch in order to spend money to go back out and do it again. So obviously we’ve got to set up a system that is — that provides for that to happen quickly.
Q And just generally, what is your satisfaction level with BP’s performance?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, they’re responsible; we have oversight. I did this a couple times I think yesterday — look, there are many different things that we’re focused on. First and foremost is capping this well. There were tests over the weekend on the application of sub-sea dispersant, which have thus far performed well and they’re continuing to test that — which is, instead of spraying the dispersant on the surface of the water, it is to release the dispersant near the source of the leak. And that had some positive impact during the first round of testing.
The second — the relief well began — the drilling began on that last evening, which is a more long-term solution. Obviously BP is working on a structure to possibly put on top of the well and vacuum up the oil to the surface with the water to deal with that. So that certainly — that’s one aspect of what we’re dealing with.
Secondly, we’re dealing with, as the pollutants rise to the surface, containing the spread of that oil on the surface of the water and how that affects both the environment that we’re dealing with as well as the local economy.
I would say all of those things are what we are overseeing. They’re responsible for that. Obviously they have the unique equipment for dealing with this at a depth of 5,000 feet under the floor — under the surface of the ocean. But we are going to continue to ensure that they’re doing all that they need to do from the perspective of state, local and federal authorities.
Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Salazar and Lisa Jackson are meeting this afternoon with BP to get an update from them on their ongoing process and to ensure that they’re taking the steps that we feel are necessary to respond to an incident of this magnitude.
Q My understanding is it’s going to be the BP CEO that’s having a meeting today.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Actually the guidance I have has the CEO and the American chair.
Q Can you tell me — I have two questions, one to follow on BP, which is can you tell me who the President has actually spoken with at BP? And then also if any reaction on Ahmadinejad’s comments that he made today?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — I can check. I don’t believe the President has spoken with anybody at BP. Obviously, they have — Secretary Salazar convened a meeting with the CEOs of the oil companies last week. I think we put that list of folks out. Secretary Salazar was in Houston at the BP command center, and these individuals will meet with BP later on — I think it’s at 3:00 p.m. today.
Look, I think the speech that you heard today was predictable in that Iran failed to speak about the obligations that it won’t live up to. And I think rightly, our delegation and many others left as a series of wild accusations were made during the speech.
Q Do you think it will have any influence on the movement toward actually getting some sanctions against them — more sanctions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the speech today — I think those that have — those that are involved in the NPT conference and are living up to the obligations would have wanted to hear the Iranians discuss living up to their obligations. I think them not doing that again shows how further isolated they are from the world community. And we continue to make progress on sanctions at a multilateral level even as we look at ways that we can do so within our own government.
Q Progress, how so?
MR. GIBBS: Continue to meet with the U.N. Security Council and continue to make progress moving forward on a Security Council resolution.
Q Robert, two questions. The first one is, we hear so many different time frames as to when this oil well will actually be under control. What is the best case and what is the worst-case scenario? I mean, I’m hearing anywhere from a matter of days to 90 days in the worst case. What is your sense of how long —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would direct you to BP in terms of what they might say. Look, I think a series of processes that, as you said, could take a matter of days. I think — I forget the exact term of the structure putting on top of the valve would take probably another week. The original well took 90 days to drill and it could take that long to drill a relief well.
Q So if it takes up to 90 days, is that the something that the President is comfortable with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not sure the President can alter the pace of drilling in the Atlantic.
Q But that’s what we’re looking at.
MR. GIBBS: Look, we’re — I mean, in the Gulf, I’m sorry. We’re — I used this phrase yesterday, as Secretary Salazar used this phrase, and that is we are going to do what we have to do. We will keep our, as Secretary Salazar said, our boot on the throat of BP to ensure that they’re doing all that they — all that is necessary, while we do all that is humanly possible to deal with this incident. Absolutely.
Q I wonder, on the plane ride back yesterday, did the President share any personal reflections with you about what he saw on the ground, how he’s feeling about all this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the — I talked a little bit about this on the trip home. You get a real sense of the topography, the geography of what we’re dealing with, and how — the President said that you could see from the air the — the wetlands in that area, obviously, have undergone lots of change and not for the good over the past many years. The President said you could see that from the air.
Speaking with the parish presidents, speaking with the local fishermen, you get a sense of what’s at stake, both environmentally and economically. And I think the President reiterated to all of us, as he has said over many, many days, and that is we must do all that we can, as aggressively as we can, to combat this incident.
Q Robert, I just want to follow up on that. When you say, “keep your boot on the throat of BP,” obviously sounds tough, but how do you actually follow up on it when, as was pointed out, the liability cap seems to be $75 million?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will check on that before we —
Q Well, because Senator Menendez has a bill he just introduced today with other senators, saying he wants to expand it from $75 million to I think $10 billion. You said earlier, we want to set up a system to make sure BP pays more than just the cleanup; pays for lost wages, et cetera. What kind of system can you set up retroactively if the law is the law?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, the law provides for — BP is the responsible party, right? So if local fishermen can’t fish, that’s an economic loss that BP is going to have to pay. I’m talking about setting up the actual system for the filing of those claims with BP and others in order to get them reimbursed as quickly as possible. That’s not a retroactive thing, though.
Q But if they’re just responsible for cleanup and containment, can you really force them to pay the lost wages?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. That’s part of the law. Absolutely. The economic damages that are incurred are part of the cost of this incident. Absolutely.
Q And two other quick things. The Prime Minister Netanyahu call — there have been reports that President Abbas may be coming to the White House in mid-May to try to get Mideast peace talks. Where are you on whether he’s coming? Are you inviting him?
MR. GIBBS: I have no announcements on that.
Q And then on the Supreme Court, where is the President in his decision-making process? We know he did some interviews, face-to-face interviews with potential nominees last week. Do you anticipate more face-to-face meetings this week? Is he close to a decision? Where are you?
MR. GIBBS: Close. (Laughter.)
Q Close as in?
MR. GIBBS: I couldn’t agree more with your characterization.
Q Close. So how close? Is he — will he announce it this week?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I was thinking about this as I was
getting a series of emails, will it be today, will it be tomorrow. I am happy to advise you of when the event is when we do announce it. I think it would be — might be duplicative to announce each day when the event is not going to be.
Q Well, but last week you did. You ruled out last week.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I did rule out last week.
Q Can you rule out this week?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Okay, there you go.
Q Hmmm —
MR. GIBBS: See, I just had a whole week’s worth of duplicative email — (laughter) — that’s awesome.
Q He has a lot of free time — not free time, but I mean not public time on his schedule today — (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Chip, where you got the impression that the President has a ton of free time, I —
Q I’m sure he’s —
MR. GIBBS: What are you guys watching at CBS that I’m not afforded to watch at —
Q I mean, there’s not a lot on his public schedule.
MR. GIBBS: I see. Okay. I’m going to forward that along to him. (Laughter.)
Q Is he doing — is he using that time to do some interviews with Supreme Court nominees today?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the interview process that the President has. I will — safe to say, Chip, there is a lot on the President’s plate and a lot that he’s doing out of the watchful eye of the public.
Q And today does that include Supreme Court?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that he is working on the process of the Supreme Court, without getting into the specifics of what those actions might be.
Q What is his involvement, how actively involved is he in either getting information or whatever else on the Times Square situation?
MR. GIBBS: Yesterday, in traveling to the Gulf, John Brennan was with us, briefed the President on the helicopter ride from here to Andrews on Times Square. We spent about 50 minutes in the conference room of Air Force One on the ride down on the Gulf — the situation in the Gulf. John got information throughout the day and passed that along to the President and has done so again today.
Q And is there anything new on claims from groups overseas that they were responsible for this? Does the White House have any reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: We are actively participating in the investigation, making sure that local authorities have all the resources necessary to determine who is responsible. We have not made that determination yet, but that’s actively ongoing.
Q On the “boot on the throat” thing, Ed said it sounds tough. Well, it actually sounds hostile. Is that an accurate reflection of the relationship between the federal government and BP right now? Is it a hostile relationship? Do you really need to keep your boot on their throat in order to get them to act?
MR. GIBBS: I think that is — I think the expression largely conveys that while the responsible party is BP, we will do, as the oversight authority in managing the cleanup, the spread — we’re going to ensure that the responsible party is doing everything that it can and should do.
The President heard yesterday from local officials that were concerned about the plans for — the plans that BP had when the oil got closer to different parishes for extra booming and for different activities that could be undertaken. The President understands that frustration and worked — Admiral Allen met with the parish presidents in order to get — move the process with BP forward more quickly. That’s the process that has been ongoing throughout this and will continue.
Q Do you think the President feels like he needs to keep his boot on their throat? Is that the way he’s reacting?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President accurately conveyed in his remarks yesterday that we are going to do everything humanly possible, and ensure that BP is doing everything humanly possible, to deal with this as comprehensively and as quickly as they can.
Q Does the administration feel that BP has done a good job with this cleanup?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, again, I’d refer you to what I said. We are going to, every day, evaluate what has to happen, and if it’s not being done, we’ll make sure it is.
Q Okay, so you’re not ready to give an endorsement or —
MR. GIBBS: Well, we still have an active incident. I think the President will be pleased when there’s no more oil leaking from the floor of the ocean. The President will be pleased when we’ve taken sufficient measure to ensure that its spread isn’t vast. But I will say this — I don’t — this is a process that’s going to, as the President said yesterday, is going to take some time.
Q To the extent there are any deficiencies in the cleanup process, does the federal government have some responsibility for that? You guys have taken pains to emphasize that you’ve been involved in day one directing and overseeing BP’s response —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that’s the — the law mandates, based on the incidents that happened in Alaska in the late ‘80s, to ensure that companies that cause these type of accidents don’t hand the taxpayers of this country a bill and walk away.
Q — but in terms of what they decide to do or how they try to mitigate it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re — that’s why I used Secretary Salazar’s colorful phraseology to talk about the role that we’re playing and the role that Thad Allen as the National Incident Commander, and others are playing in order to ensure that BP does everything it can.
Q So if Gulf Coast residents find the response in any way lacking, would it be fair for them to hold the federal government responsible as well as BP?
MR. GIBBS: The President is doing everything we can to respond. As you mentioned, we have been there since the very beginning in responding to the reports of — the accurate reports of an explosion, with the Coast Guard assisting in the recovery efforts. That began our effort in this and it won’t stop for quite some time.
Q Can you say that the taxpayer, the American taxpayer will not face any cleanup costs?
MR. GIBBS: The commitment the President made yesterday is the responsible party will pay for this and that responsible party is BP.
Q And regardless of caps or anything, somehow, something —
MR. GIBBS: I will look into the notion of caps. I will look into that.
Q And I know that the review is ongoing, but is there any way you can point to where — what you’re looking at? Is this a regulatory issue for the federal government, where regulators fell down on the job? Is it a technological issue? Where is this review headed?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I think that the President’s charge to Secretary Salazar over the course of the next 30 days is to examine every aspect of what may have gone wrong and contributed to, or caused the incident that we have — that we’re dealing with in the Gulf today. And his charge is wide open and I believe that what he finds will determine our next steps as it relates to offshore oil policy.
Q When you say the company is responsible and the government has oversight, does that mean that the government is ultimately in charge of the cleanup?
MR. GIBBS: No, the responsible party is BP.
Q But who’s in charge of the cleanup operation? Who’s calling the shots?
MR. GIBBS: The National Incident Commander is overseeing to ensure that BP does what is necessary.
Q And then will the government ultimately hand BP a tab for every dime that, say, the Coast Guard, the EPA, and every other agency —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So there’s like a running account of this?
MR. GIBBS: They will — we discussed this in a number of meetings here last week, that specific actions — these are the actions that we’re going to take and these are — this is who will pay for it, yes. And again that’s — and that’s dictated by the law. That’s dictated by the law.
Q From the Valdez —
MR. GIBBS: From the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
Q Can you elaborate on what kind of a claims process you want to establish?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can — let me put you in touch with the Joint Information Center down there for a more technical analysis. But the President wants something that is not duplicative, that is not overly bureaucratic, one that — obviously, you’ve got folks that are losing money because they are unable to do what they do for a living. Those are people that can’t be out of — if that’s how you make your living, losing that money is a very big deal. We want to make sure that that money is made up as quickly as possible.
Q Robert, does the President have any plans or does he want to meet with the CEO or president of BP? Or is it just a matter of they haven’t gotten the schedule together yet or —
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the — I think those that are meeting with him — with the CEO and the president today are — and again, Secretary Salazar has been in touch with folks at BP throughout this.
Q On the dinner tonight, the Executive Committee dinner, will the President be sounding out any members of the Executive Committee on a new program or new policies in advance of his speech tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President — there’s obviously a lot on the Senate’s docket right now in terms of financial reform. I think the President will reiterate his support for, and ask business for their support for, financial regulations, discuss the efforts that the administration is currently undertaking to rebuild the economy and to put in place an environment for continued hiring. We’re hopeful and optimistic that by the end of the week, we’ll have another positive month of job growth.
Q Will there be a readout?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I don’t know what we’re going to do on that yet.
Q One last thing. You mentioned financial reform. There’s a package of amendments being proposed for the financial reform pending in the Senate. One of them is calling for a tax on excessive bonuses on firms that got individual assistance from the government. Does the President support that?
MR. GIBBS: I have — I’d have to have those guys take a look at the amendment.
Q Has BP been truthful with the administration?
MR. GIBBS: Can you —
Q In all of its — either representing what its doing, what it’s capable of doing, in its understanding of how much oil was leaking? At any point in the communication with BP, does the administration believe it’s gotten willfully errant information?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to ask somebody at the Department of the Interior or Homeland Security if they felt otherwise. Major, our focus has been throughout this process to plan for the very worst and to ensure that our response flowed from what could be the very worst. So that’s what has governed our actions since the night of the explosion when the Coast Guard came to the assistance of those that had been hurt and those that were missing.
Q The reason I ask, the boot on the throat metaphor indicates or suggests at least to those who might hear it for the first time that something went awry or has gone awry with the relationship, and the administration or the federal government needs to be much more forceful to force an intractable partner to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do. I mean, it suggests that the cooperation has broken down.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I’m just from a different part of the country. Would “hold your feet to the fire,” would that be something more that would be understandable to —
Q I’m just asking why that metaphor —
MR. GIBBS: I’m glad I didn’t wear my boots today, right? I don’t know, holding your feet to the fire could create some pain, Chip — again, I — maybe you guys don’t go camping either. (Laughter.)
Q The law creates this sort of partnership that’s being worked out for the first time in real time where the industry —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think this is the — I don’t think this is the first time that —
Q Of this magnitude.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, so not the first time, but the first time — right — of this magnitude. Look, again, I can’t phrase it any differently than the President has over the past many days, which is it is our obligation to ensure that the responsible party is doing everything within their power to cap the well; to respond to the pollution that has — that is on top of the water; to ensure that we’re doing all that is necessary to ensure that we mitigate its spread, and where it does spread and interrupt economic activities for local communities, that that’s being dealt with. I think those are all — that is the full range of things that we’re supervising.
Q For those who wonder and ask the question, what was the time lapse for the designation of an incident of national significance? Can you walk us through that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I —
Q Because when I talked to Thad Allen on Friday, he said you really have to look at this as two calendar events — the explosion, the search and rescue, putting out the fire; then a catastrophic leak. He said you really need to measure these as sort of two separate instances of intervention at the federal level and with BP. Do you view the calendar that way, and that day one is when the leak became the top priority after dealing with the explosion and the search and rescue and everything else?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost — again, first and foremost, the Coast Guard arrived on the scene I think with four vessels over the course of some period of time after the explosion — I think that happened at roughly 10:30 p.m. that night — to assist in the fire that was ongoing and to ensure that all that could be was being done to get folks that were injured off, and to look for those that were missing.
I think pretty quickly after that, though, it’s pretty clear that there is, for whatever reason, oil in the water. The response — I think there were — I’d have to go back and look at my notes — I think there were some 70 vessels in the water, there were scores of planes in the air, dealing with this even at that point of designating it a spill of national significance. This is a response that has been ongoing since the report of that explosion some many days ago.
Q How would you characterize what happened in Times Square? Was that an act of terrorism?
MR. GIBBS: I think anybody that has the type of material that they had in a car in Times Square, I would say that that was intended to terrorize, absolutely. And I would say that whoever did that would be categorized as a terrorist, yes. We don’t know who’s responsible and that’s what we’re looking at now.
Q In the speech at the U.N. today, does it in any way lead the administration to say, okay, the door is now closed? I mean, you’re not going to come to your — to live up to your obligations is the formulation from this podium and elsewhere — does it do anything to narrow the ability of this administration to wonder aloud if Iran is going to do anything different?
MR. GIBBS: I think the likely — I would say this. The offer is still there. The likelihood that they’ll take that offer and walk through the door seems — they seem, and I think through their words and their actions, unwilling to live up to their obligations. That’s why we’ve got a dual-track approach going to ensure that if they fail to live up to those obligations, that we take those next steps.
Q Last question. Does the President have any reaction to immigration —
Q No, no, no —
Q — the immigration protests all over the country this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President for quite some time, dating back to his membership in the Senate, is somebody who’s pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. I think regardless of what side of the political argument you’re on, I don’t think there’s any doubt that what has happened in Arizona leads you to understand that this town has to act on something that’s comprehensive, lest we have an immigration policy through — by 50 states.
The timing will depend, I think, quite frankly, Major, on willingness from individuals in both parties to step up and meet those obligations.
Q How intensively is the President monitoring the Greek debt crisis, and what does he think the long delay in the Europeans getting together to actually do something about this says about their cohesion?
MR. GIBBS: Let me point you to Treasury for the response to the latter. The President has gotten updates throughout this process on a number of occasions. Time has been taken in the President’s economic briefings that happen most days to go through — that go through what’s at stake.
Q Does he worry that it will have an effect on U.S. recovery?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve certainly talked about the notion that — look, we’re happy with the steps that Greece says they’re going to take and happy with the response. Obviously anything — we are greatly concerned about anything throughout the world that could cause a disruption in the continuing recovery of the global economy. That’s something that the NEC, the CEA, and the Treasury have looked at throughout this process.
Q Only two questions, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: It’s early in the week, Lester, but I’m ready.
Q Thank you very much. In view of President Franklin Roosevelt’s 998 press conferences, why has President Obama held not a single White House press conference since last July?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, what would you — let me ask you this. Can I ask you just — I just have one question.
Q You can ask me as many as you wish.
MR. GIBBS: Excellent. I’m just going to use one. When the President took eight questions from members of the White House press corps at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Center, what would you call that?
Q That was not a press conference.
MR. GIBBS: What would you call it?
Q It was a select few.
MR. GIBBS: A select few what?
Q A select few reporters. It was not a White House press conference. That was my question.
MR. GIBBS: Well, can I ask another question? I do want to — I’m going to —
Q Of course you can.
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to — can I take Chip’s thing and just ask one more? What differently do you think the President would have done at the Nuclear Security Summit in taking the eight questions from members of the White House press corps that might have denoted — might have tripped your definition of a press conference?
Q It would be a wonderful thing if he had allowed all reporters — just it would be wonderful if you would allow these front-rowers two questions and then go all the way back to the back and then come back and let them start again. That would be fair. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, you’re a happy occupant of the front row today and I hope that you will —
Q No, it’s not the front row, it’s the second row.
MR. GIBBS: Front rows today — pardon me. I hope that you’ll take the opportunity to speak with each one of these members individually. Now, I didn’t — I don’t — I hope you didn’t dodge my second question.
Q No, I try not to dodge.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I just — I’m trying to figure out — the President answered eight questions from the White House press corps. Unclear — I will admit —
Q But only eight of them — only eight selected.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, so how many unselected would it have checked your box as to being a White House press conference?
Q I think that if he wanted a press conference, he would have invited all of us, not just a select few, which he does so often.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I don’t — were you at the event? Did you apply for credentials to come to the event?
Q I would be delighted if I thought there was any chance. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, no, but I asked you, did you apply for credentials to come to the event?
Q No, I did not.
MR. GIBBS: So you were offered the opportunity but declined to do so? I don’t know if you saw the hall that we were in — it’s a whole lot bigger than where we are. It’s a whole lot bigger than the East Room.
Q — you only had eight.
MR. GIBBS: There were a whole lot of people there. Again, I just — can you give me a number? Is it a number thing that would — you think if we would have — if it wasn’t eight, it maybe was like nine?
Q Well, there’s 47 that are here today.
MR. GIBBS: So 47 —
Q Sitting, and eight more standing.
MR. GIBBS: Right, so 47 and 8 is 55. So the President would have taken — if the President took 55 questions, would that have —
Q John Kennedy took 20 — no, 38 questions in his first press conference. You remember that, don’t you?
MR. GIBBS: So it’s not 55 — it’s not eight, it’s not 55, it’s 38?
Q Can I go to my second question?
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m just trying to get an answer to my second question. (Laughter.) I suddenly have found this to be wildly amusing.
Q You’re an enormously amusing man.
MR. GIBBS: And inexplicably, I’m finding this to be equally amusing. I’m just trying to — just help me out, Lester, because we’ve now established that 55 is probably a lot, right? Thirty-eight you said Kennedy took — so that could be an early entrant for the number of questions in which it is possible for the event to be designated a press conference. Eight appears on your measure to be too small. Are you comfortable with somewhere between eight and 38? Or do you want to — is there a more specific number that you want to —
Q I understand that 90 — that 90 reporters usually come to those —
MR. GIBBS: So we got a 90. That’s — apparently 55 seems to be quite in the middle.
Q And then there’s 60, the number we need to end this filibuster.
Q If he could give shorter answers and only recognize them for two —
Q Let’s move on. Let’s move on.
Q — he’d get through a lot. But I want to ask my second question, if I may.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, will the transcript please — just you can just put this in parentheses —
Q — more questions —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, hold on, Goyal. I’m — this is my press conference.
Can you just put in parentheses that it appeared as Lester didn’t answer my second question, but we had like 90, 55, 38 and eight to the — now, I will — just for a point of personal privilege, it’s unclear as if Lester’s definition of the President ever having participated in a White House news conference would have been the case because I don’t believe that — I don’t believe the President has ever taken 38 questions at one event.
I’m sorry, Lester. Your second?
Q It’s the last one. What is the President’s reaction to how Mexico treats illegal aliens from Central America as detailed by syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not aware that the President —
Q I mean they’re very tough in enforcing that border.
MR. GIBBS: I will take a look at that.
Q On the Times Square incident, is this like the incident on Christmas Day in that it was a missed — it was a near-miss? Remember how angry the President was on screening for the flight that came into Chicago on Christmas Day? Does this —
MR. GIBBS: Detroit —
Q — does this incident represent in Times Square on Saturday night represent an incident where they just lucked out and a terrorist incident didn’t happen?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President and the mayor have both mentioned that as you’ve heard for many years, if people see suspicious activity to quickly alert the authorities. The President — Bill handed me a note that the President spoke with Duane Jackson to commend and thank him for his vigilance in alerting authorities — and for those authorities acting quickly to prevent anything from becoming — anything from happening as a result of what was placed in that car.
Q The police have apparently now questioned the original owner of this car. And it appears that it was sold without any paperwork in Connecticut I think last month. Does that kind of information reach the President?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes.
Q Anything more you can tell us about the —
MR. GIBBS: (Laughter.) No. That was some of the updates that John provides the President.
Q Robert, you all have pointed to the meeting the President had in the Oval Office on the day that the rig sank, and there were a lot of people there — Napolitano, Salazar, the FEMA boss, Admiral Allen. How unusual is that kind of meeting? Can you give us some context of how high on the radar screen that something gets when you have that many folks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously that was — obviously, leaving aside sort of where we’ve gone from the 22nd, obviously a rig of that size, an explosion, 11 people dead, that sinking into the Gulf is something of great importance. And the best way — I think the President would believe, and I think many people would believe — the best way to get the most up-to-date information as to what everybody is doing in real time is to do something like that.
Look, the President’s involvement though — later today, the President is going to speak with the governors of Tennessee and California about the flooding — I’m sorry — Tennessee and Kentucky — about the flooding that’s going on there. And I think our FEMA Director is headed to that region later today. So whether it’s a large meeting or it could be just a discussion with each of the governors to get what’s going on on the ground, I think that provides the President and the team with a lot of information.
Yesterday was a good — when we got to the command center in Venice, you had representatives from — you had the governor, the lieutenant governor, the parish president, the Coast Guard, the EPA, all giving input into what was going on, what they wanted to see happen differently, along with senior staff members from here at the White House that can work out any kinks in the command chain.
Q Robert, there are reports today that the chairman of the FCC is leaning towards abandoning his push for rules that would ensure what some call net neutrality, something that would obviously be a big blow to public interest groups, as well as many supporters of the President. What’s the White House reaction?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get an update on where that is without going off of what may or may not happen.
Q Why was New Jersey canceled?
MR. GIBBS: We discussed —
Q (Inaudible) — (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s what George meant. But we discussed travel for the next few days; on Friday, thought that moving — obviously, when he goes there’s a lot of assets that need to be moved. Those assets were moved in order to support our trip to the Gulf. And we look forward to going back, but it won’t be on Wednesday.
Q Sheila Bair has been urging lawmakers to scrap this plan for a derivative regulation, saying it will destabilize banks and also drive risks to other parts of the financial sector. What’s the White House reaction?
MR. GIBBS: I saw the article. I have not talked with folks in the administration. Obviously, what was contained in the President’s original — in the original plan was to ensure that derivatives were — these were activities that were moved out of the dark and onto regulated exchanges. We continue to believe that that is a strong route to go to ensure that what is happening is regulated. I have not spoken specifically as to what Sheila Bair had to say.
Q Can you describe the chain of command on a minute-to-minute or a day-to-day basis in terms of the cleanup and trying to staunch the flow of the oil leak? In other words, does Admiral Allen tell BP, okay, you’ve got X number of submersibles; we want them down there doing this, that, or the other thing? As BP endeavors to create this cofferdam, is the United States giving advice on the design of the cofferdam, resources or facilities to build the cofferdam?
MR. GIBBS: Let me — on the cofferdam, let me get some information from the Joint Information Center. Look, obviously, this is a response that touches on a lot of different departments, right? The Department of Interior — Minerals Management has purview over drilling; DHS over incidents; when pollutants hit the land it becomes EPA. Obviously, Thad Allen, as a result of the declaration, is the National Incident Commander and —
Q Right, but I’m talking about the federal government. All those entities together, regardless of their distinctions and what their jurisdictions are, who is calling the shots in terms of the deployment of the resources and the technology of — the government doesn’t have submersibles, BP has the submersible. So does any one — or any one of those agencies dictate when that submersible goes down, what it does down there?
MR. GIBBS: Those submersibles by BP have been in the water, the robotics — look, they’re doing what they can do safely at the site in order to try to fix the valves, to get as accurate a picture as they can of what is happening underwater. You see — and I think some pretty specific diagrams and explanations of where these breaches are, which is governing the engineering of the instrumentation to put on top of that leak.
But, again, we’ve got — today we’ve got Interior, Homeland Security, and EPA — Thad Allen is not at that meeting, had to — was doing something else at that time — but all these people are ensuring that BP is doing what they need to do.
Q Robert, what kind of discussions have there been between this administration and the British government in terms of the spill? Any at all?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don’t know off the top of my head.
Q I want to follow up on that and also on Israel. On the British government, if BP defaults or goes bankrupt, does the British government have any obligation to help pay this huge, multibillion debt?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a legal question that I don’t know the answer to.
Q Could you look into that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I will certainly look into it.
Q And on Israel, did you get into specific topics — settlements, Jerusalem, and so forth?
MR. GIBBS: Nothing more than the readout that I have here.
Q Last Friday, Senator Bill Nelson said that a energy legislation that included a component of offshore drilling would be dead on arrival. Lindsey Graham today says, we’ve had problems with car design, but you don’t stop driving, as a way to suggest that you continue the offshore drilling. Has the administration’s viewpoint of this evolved since last week when you said it would affect possibly the plans, but you weren’t ready to talk about it?
MR. GIBBS: Sam, the President was specific in ordering Secretary Salazar to look at all the possible aspects of what could or did go wrong in this instance, to report back to him in that 30-day period — after that 30-day period of time, and that this is an administration that is going to take whatever information we get from that and have that dictate our decision-making going forward.
I think it would be premature to get too far ahead of where Secretary Salazar’s investigation is, even as our priority, Sam, is to plug the leak in the floor of the ocean, deal with the spread of the oil on the surface, to ensure that we’re doing all that is possible to prevent environmental and economic damage.
Q So you haven’t gotten enough information to fully rule out further offshore drilling and amend your legislation?
MR. GIBBS: The investigation, Sam, is to determine what happened and to use that information going forward to dictate any changes in our policy — understanding this, Sam, that — I forget the number of active wells that are currently in the Gulf. I mean, the Gulf is — this area of the Gulf was, if I’m not mistaken, largely unaffected by the President’s announcement on the Outer Continental Shelf.
So I don’t know if what you — if your question was to ask how this affects the President’s announcement, or how does this affect any drilling that’s done in the Outer Continental Shelf.
Q I want to know how it affects the administration’s proposal for offshore drilling —
MR. GIBBS: And I would point you to what Secretary Salazar will ultimately report to the President.
Q Thank you for your openness, Robert.
1:58 P.M. EDT