Press Briefing - 11 February 2009
ROBERT GIBBS: My apologies for being late. Let me just take a second and get set up here. A couple quick announcements before we get started. The President spoke today with Governor Henry of Oklahoma, and both Senators Inhofe and Coburn about the deadly tornadoes that struck there, and passed along his condolences and best wishes to the victims.
Later this afternoon, as many of you know, state transportation officials from nearly every state are here at the White House and speaking with Secretary LaHood. They will be visiting the stakeout location at 3:15 p.m. to discuss infrastructure needs and projects that are ready to go, once a recovery and reinvestment plan is through Congress and signed by the President. So you guys can go out and hear all of them.
And with that, let's take a few questions. Yes, ma'am.
[REPORTER]: Thanks, Robert. Going back to Secretary Geithner's announcement yesterday on the bailout, can you talk about why the administration didn't realize that the market reaction was going to be so bad, and why there weren't more details attached to it?
GIBBS: Well, let me -- I'm going to give a broader answer to -- sort of a broader walk-through of the plan. But one of the things I'll talk about is that yesterday's speech and framework were not designed for a one-day market reaction. I think we can all go back in the both recent and not so recent history and see that one-day announcements have provided positive changes in the market for plans that ultimately turned out to be unsuccessful, just as negative reactions have sometimes been at the forefront of plans that worked. The plan that the Secretary outlined is not designed, though, to take care of the market for one day.
Let me walk through just sort of a little bit broader answer on the plan, though. Obviously, as many of you know, we've dealt with this for quite some time. This is an enormously complicated problem. And to date, the program that has dealt with many of these bad investments and bad assets has been flawed. It's important that as we move forward, that the government is able to follow through on the commitments that it makes.
Secretary Geithner understands that, again, as I said, this is not going to be judged on the one-day market reaction, but instead by what is best for the long-term economic health of America.
Understand -- let's understand a few things of what the Secretary talked about yesterday. He outlined -- what he outlined was comprehensive. It addresses not simply the needs of banks, but also the financial system in general, as well as the needed access to capital by America's businesses and families. It's based on transparency and integrity, through a comprehensive scrub of the financial system and a rigorous evaluation of the need in the financial system. And it recognizes that the problem cannot be solved and will not be solved with taxpayer funding alone; that this must work with and for the private sector.
Some of that market reaction may be based on what the plan does not do -- right? I'm sure many in the banking sector had hoped, presumably, that bad assets would be paid for either in an unreasonable way or at an unreasonable value, or that insurance that -- whose cost is borne primarily by the taxpayers but might primarily benefit shareholders isn't, in this case, part of that solution.
I've counseled many times in my very brief tenure of standing up here not to always judge leaks in the newspaper as fact. I know -- I have no doubt that at some point in this briefing today somebody is going to ask me about Secretary Gates and the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan -- a decision I have counseled that the President has yet to make, despite reading it many times in the newspaper. I have no doubt that what some people read in the newspaper charged their excitement and expectations up about something that wasn't ultimately in a plan.
[REPORTER]: Are you talking about --
GIBBS: That's certainly one of them, yes.
[REPORTER]: If I could just push back just a little bit, I mean, I understand you're -- you want to play down the implications of one day in the market. But markets thrive on certainty, and a lot of the commentary yesterday was that there wasn't enough certainty, there wasn't enough detail in the plan for them to know what it would do. Maybe it is the right thing, but how do they know if they're not given a clearer readout?
GIBBS: Well, again, let's again go through -- obviously there are going to be twists and turns in all of this. But let's look at some of what the plan addresses and how it focuses on some of the greatest and biggest weaknesses of what we saw beforehand. One, this is predicated on transparency and disclosure in an effort to restore market confidence -- something that everybody criticized the previous plan for lacking. This puts private capital into the system and doesn't rely solely or completely on taxpayer funding.
For the very first time, the response is coordinated across each agency in the federal government that regulates the financial system. We are -- the plan evaluates the health and the condition of individual financial institutions, again, to understand what's needed, to understand their health, and to ultimately, again, restore that confidence. And primarily, first and foremost, there's a dramatic expansion that provides -- that will provide lending for the entities that we know need it most. We all hear horror stories about people with good credit that are looking for a student loan, or for an auto loan, or for a housing or commercial real estate loan that can't get access to that capital.
The announcement yesterday expands a program that's happening right now at the Fed at a rate of about $200 billion that expands to -- with a fluctuation of -- or with both public and private money, about a trillion dollars' worth of lending. So I would also say that in terms of detail that that's, again, a program that's working now and will be expanded.
Secondly, some of the stress tests involved and regulators looking at the health of institutions is ongoing. So I think that the market certainty that will be provided ultimately is by a plan that is focused not just on yesterday or today, but how do we best stabilize that financial system in the long run.
Again, this isn't something that happened last month or that even took only a year to get us involved in. In pulling -- particularly one aspect of the plan that's talked about is pulling bad assets off of balance sheets, which hasn't been done, that I know of, with active institutions -- right? We talk about RTC, which was set up largely to divide up bad assets for banks that were closed. So it's taken us a while to get to this point. It's undoubtedly going to take us some time to get to a system of financial stability. But I think the beginnings of a framework to do just that were outlined yesterday by the Secretary.
[REPORTER]: Robert, if I can follow up on Jennifer's question, do you feel -- the President said on Monday night in his press conference Secretary Geithner would unveil details the next day. Do you feel that -- do you feel that it was ready? Was the plan ready? Does the President feel it was ready? And number two, if so, is he pleased with how it was communicated yesterday and how it was rolled out?
GIBBS: I was going to say, you're not judging me already, are you? Again, I think there's a -- again, I think there's a tendency to look at simply one measurement of this, and by and large that measurement was a few stock markets. I don't believe --
[REPORTER]: Well, a few stock markets that people all over the country are investing in.
GIBBS: I understand, I understand. But what I'm saying is the plan wasn't created, nor do I think it should be judged by a one-day reaction in any of those stock markets. The plan that was outlined was ready. Again, part of what this plan will do will be to consult with those private entities in not just the formation, but the execution of the plan. And those consultations are ongoing.
But again, the -- again, I just hesitate to judge the breadth of this and the comprehensiveness of this based on one day's reaction. I don't think that's -- I don't think that's how we judge the health of the financial system and I don't think it should be how one judges this plan.
[REPORTER]: Even if you don't -- even if you disregard the fall in the market, there was widespread confusion about the plan, period. Is that a result of poor communication, or is that a result of it not -- just all the details not being there?
GIBBS: You know, I would ask you to go back and look at all of the news on this, read beyond the larger font and the bigger, bolder print, and dig deep into many of the things that I outlined that were pointed out as big weaknesses in the previous plan that are addressed by what Secretary Geithner said yesterday -- a plan that's based on transparency and disclosure; something that works with the private markets and understands that the taxpayers alone can't do all of this work; that coordinates among the agencies that are involved; that evaluates the financial health of the system and the individual banks, and does so by greatly expanding a program that we think will help provide credit to families and businesses and to people looking to buy homes right now.
I think if you look through this you'll find -- you'll undoubtedly find, as I said, some disappointment by people that had hoped that there would be some large big bank announced that would take up in one fell swoop everything that had been wrong with the system over the course of several years and wipe it away overnight. But I think the President was very clear yesterday in saying there's no easy way out of this. There's no easy way out of this for the country, and there's also no easy way out of this for Wall Street.
[REPORTER]: The President this morning, Robert, talked about the fact that the CEO of Caterpillar had praised the idea of a stimulus package, and how the company had recently announced 20,000 layoffs and if the stimulus package passes, they'll be able to rehire some of those people. And the CEO, according to local press in Peoria, is going to deliver that message to the President tomorrow, although I guess the President already got it somehow.
GIBBS: Text. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: He texted it. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: Well, he is on the recovery board, right? I guess two things. Caterpillar has also opposed the "buy American" provisions in the stimulus package. Recently a spokesman for Caterpillar said that they were like snake oil. And I know that the final package is still being finalized. But I'm wondering, that, and the fact that Caterpillar -- probably one of the companies that most supports the Colombia free trade agreement, and says that the stalling of that on Capitol Hill -- and I believe the President also has expressed concerns about that free trade agreement -- that that stalling is basically sending a message to businesses in Colombia, please buy Canadian products, not American. Does Caterpillar's support for the Colombian free trade agreement and opposition to the "Buy American" provisions, under the same idea of what's good for their workers and good business, would that have any effect on the President's thinking?
GIBBS: On those two issues?
[REPORTER]: Yes, Colombia and "Buy American."
GIBBS: I'd certainly -- I'll talk to the President about that. I think his concerns with the Colombian free trade agreement and -- as it relates to labor and environmental standards being a core part of those agreements -- I think have been laid out extensively in the campaign.
Obviously you heard the President speak about a week ago about ensuring that, while we have strong "Buy American" laws on our books that should be heeded as the law, they're also -- they also have to be done in a way, in this bill -- the provision has to be done in a way so as not to spark a larger trade disagreement at a time of economic peril. And I think that's why the provisions that were in I believe the Senate legislation ultimately included those -- a strong provision to "Buy American," but also to do that in a way that didn't violate existing trade agreements.
The President believed that that was a necessary and positive compromise that allowed those provisions to be in the bill, and I presume that, without speaking directly for Caterpillar, that they found that to be a positive development, as well.
They did communicate to the White House a reevaluation of their employment situation based on what they see as a big investment that could be coming shortly to put Americans back to work and to put, particularly, those workers in Peoria and downstate Illinois area, in particular, back to work. We're encouraged by that development. You saw the President today at an infrastructure project in Northern Virginia, that with the right kind of plan presumably is something that can -- phases three and four of that project can begin work and put people back to work.
I think in many ways we are hopeful that businesses across this country, in particular, will evaluate the positive impacts of a recovery and reinvestment plan and hopefully plan their businesses accordingly. We've certainly seen alternative energy companies, wind developers that have taken positively to what potentially could be in a final agreement. We hope that that's also true for construction companies like Caterpillar, and it's why we believe that with the right plan we can get this economy moving again by putting people back to work quickly.
[REPORTER]: Just to follow up, I'm sorry. Wouldn't the Colombia free trade agreement, since that's not like -- unlike some other past trade agreements, that's not one that American workers are necessarily worried about costing American jobs -- opposition to it has more to do with human rights and Colombia and environmental concerns -- wouldn't rethinking that free trade agreement, given the state of this economy, also be a logical step?
GIBBS: Well, what I don't want to do is conflate the reinvestment and recovery plan directly with the President's thinking on an individual trade agreement. I think the concerns that he and others have are still valid around that trade agreement, and we certainly don't want discussions on that to get in the way of a recovery or reinvestment plan moving ahead quickly.
[REPORTER]: Robert, what -- the reports on the Hill are suggesting that they're pretty close to a final deal. The President had Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi here yesterday. You haven't given us a readout on that yet. How did that meeting go? What's the level of the President's involvement? Is he working the phones? Is he -- you know, what's he doing to push beyond his public speeches? And are you encouraged by what you're hearing?
GIBBS: Yes, I've watched some of the remarks from people involved directly in the negotiations, and I am, like them, reticent to read out minute by minute what is going on. I've said this and I'll continue to say that the White House believes we're making -- taking steps to make good progress toward a final solution on this recovery plan that will have a positive impact on our economy.
We're certainly hopeful, as we have been throughout this process, to get it done quickly. I don't know whether that announcement is today or soon, but we're certainly hopeful. It appears as if we've got -- again, we've got Democrats and Republicans working together to get an agreement moved forward.
We've, quite frankly, always been hopeful about this process. We think enormous progress in a very short period of time has been made, getting it through the House and, as the President announced during the town hall meeting yesterday, getting it through the United States Senate. I think that that progress continues. Obviously you guys know that members of our budget team were up on Capitol Hill late last night, as was our Chief of Staff, hoping to get an agreement quickly for the American people.
[REPORTER]: Back on Geithner, you said before you've got to get past the headlines and the bold type and look at the details. Barney Frank, a key Democrat, is saying that he's disappointed that there was nothing on the housing crisis in this rollout. Where is your plan? I mean, every economist across the board says housing is at the root of this. People -- thousands of people every week are being thrown out of their homes. Where is your plan?
GIBBS: Thousands of people every day.
[REPORTER]: Where's your plan?
GIBBS: Well, as the President said yesterday in visiting the location that was -- that had the highest rate of home foreclosure of any area in the country last year, that that likely was coming very soon. And I agree wholeheartedly with his timetable.
[REPORTER]: So -- but you've been in office for a few weeks. Now, I know it's still early --
GIBBS: Almost -- almost four.
[REPORTER]: Okay. So -- but how many times can you keep saying "soon"? I mean, this isn't the root of the problem. Why was that not the top priority of the Geithner plan? You know, you're saying people wanted a bad bank --
GIBBS: I wonder if Jennifer's question would have been phrased differently had we focused on one rather than the other. And I think you've heard the President speak -- if there was one thing and only one thing that we had to be worried about or involved in, the President would be involved in it -- as he is right now. Unfortunately, we've got a recovery and reinvestment plan that has to put people back to work in order to get this economy moving. We have a financial stability package that has to be put in place so that the money that the taxpayers have given and appropriated to deal with this financial system and what's wrong with it can be spent differently now than it was before, and restore confidence not just in consumers, I think, but in the way government acts.
Involved in that is also dealing with home foreclosures. There's also an entire series of reregulation that the President has been working on because, most of all, you could certainly say regulation -- to ensure that we never find ourselves in this situation again -- being reinstituted is tremendously important. There are many legs on this stool, as the President has talked about. The President is working on each and every one of those.
[REPORTER]: But isn't housing the one that the American people really feel the most, more than --
GIBBS: You know, if somebody has a house but not a job, my guess is they'd say a job. If somebody has a job but not a house they might say the home foreclosure. If somebody has lost their job because -- or can't get a loan because of something that a CEO did in rigging the system, my sense is they might say regulation.
Or my guess is that millions of people all across this country are struggling with a little bit of each one of these problems. We feel very confident that in the very short period of time that the President has been here that we've made remarkable progress on getting a recovery and reinvestment plan through, a process that we believe will quickly get aid out to the American people.
We'll announce a plan to deal with the rising number of foreclosures that are happening each and every day. We'll discuss a financial stability package, not just to prevent or to be rated by the market in one day, but look toward long-term health, as well as begin the process with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to reregulate the financial industry.
Again, if we only had to do one thing, we'd probably have lighter circles under our eyes and a little bit more of a spring in our step. But my sense is that we're working every day -- morning, noon, and night -- to get that -- to get those solutions through Congress and on the President's desk and out quickly, more importantly, to the American people.
[REPORTER]: Following up on Ed's first question, we're told that the stimulus deal that may be announced pretty soon up on Capitol Hill is unlikely to attract much more, if any, additional Republican support. Is the President at the point now where he's saying that he won the election, the American people are behind him, according to the polls, and the Republicans can either support his plan or get out of the way?
GIBBS: Well, he's clearly won the election. That's -- that's more based on the occupation of our current real estate. (Laughter.) I don't want to get ahead of what an agreement might look like. You certainly saw members over the weekend, as the Senate struck an agreement, wanting time to evaluate whatever might be in that agreement in order to evaluate their support for it. So I don't want to -- I certainly don't want to get ahead of an agreement and ahead on what others might do to look through that agreement to see whether it's something that they can support.
Our hope is that members of Congress from both parties will look through and find a balanced approach that provides some stimulus to the economy that will create jobs and get people working again, put money directly into people's pockets, make the necessary long-term investments to ensure our long-term economic growth, and to do so in a way that gives people confidence based on the transparency and accountability that's in that legislation.
Without getting into or knowing the exact levels of each of those specifics, I think it's hard to prejudge what support may or may not happen.
[REPORTER]: I'm asking more about his mind-set. Have you seen a change as Republicans have refused to respond to his overtures? Is he now saying, hey, it's my way or the highway?
GIBBS: No, I don't think so at all. I mean, we had a Republican congressman with us on Monday. We met a Republican governor in Florida on Tuesday. We're --
[REPORTER]: Very small numbers, though.
GIBBS: Florida is a pretty big state. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: One governor.
GIBBS: There are certainly many Republican governors that support it. I think that to look through -- look, there's no doubt that people are going to look at who votes for what. The President, as I've said many times, and he has, too, is focused not on what the score is on the outcome, but how many jobs this plan can and will create to put people back to work. I think that's how people in America are looking at this. I think that's -- the people that came and -- came to the town hall meetings and asked the President questions, I think that's how they look at it, too.
Individual members of Congress will certainly make up their minds and -- through an evaluation of the specifics of any final agreement. That's not going to change the President's reaching out to Democrats and Republicans. This isn't the first or the last issue that either this White House or Congress will deal with this year. And obviously that outreach is going to continue on any number of issues to ensure that we get some -- we hope to get their support on many things particularly dealing with an economic recovery.
[REPORTER]: Are we in the seventh-inning stretch now?
GIBBS: You know, I was -- I fear we're now past the seventh-inning stretch, and I had -- I had hoped to use these fancy screens, have a little Harry Caray going, but we may have zipped right by the seventh-inning stretch, and just for your own edification, well past last call. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: I was struck by what you I guess were implying about -- you said some of us are going to ask about comments that Secretary Gates said, or I guess you were saying that they were leaked. But these were --
GIBBS: No, no, no, no.
[REPORTER]: Secretary Gates said --
GIBBS: No, no.
[REPORTER]: -- the President is going to make a decision about --
GIBBS: Let me make sure --
[REPORTER]: -- troops in Afghanistan in a couple of days, and he said that a couple of days ago.
GIBBS: No, I think he said it yesterday.
[REPORTER]: Okay, but -- well, okay, a couple of days --
GIBBS: Well, let me be more clear on the point that I was trying to make. I think we've all read about the decisions that have already been made twice, yet I've already gotten emails today about when the President is going to make the decision he's already made twice. My counsel is just to --
[REPORTER]: I understand -- but the Secretary of Defense, a quote from him -- this is not a leak or an attribution to a source close to the situation.
GIBBS: Well, let's probe this for a second. What does the Secretary of Defense say? What did he precisely say?
[REPORTER]: The President is going to make a decision in a couple of days.
GIBBS: And that is completely accurate. My admonition is take heed in what he says, because many have asked about the ramifications of the decision that have already been made. But the Secretary is saying it's coming soon. I agree with him.
[REPORTER]: Fair enough. Is it possible that he will -- the President will make this -- will implement -- that this decision gets implemented before he announces the decision to the American people?
GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. Obviously I think he would want to be in consultation with any families that might be involved in the decision that he makes and as well as members of Congress.
[REPORTER]: Does he feel he needs to make a public sort of speech, or say -- explain why he needs to send more troops, or something like that?
GIBBS: I think you can be satisfied that when the President makes the decision and activates that decision, that you'll know about the decision as well as the reasoning behind it. I think the President believes that that's very, very important to do. I talked yesterday on the plane about a review process that looks into our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that's ongoing over the course of the next 60 days or so, to reevaluate where we are. I think that's all accurate and I think that's all very much what the Secretary is working on.
My last admonition -- if you'll look at last week's press guidance, you'll see Secretary Gates on the schedule. If you wait a week, you'll see him again. The Secretary has a standing meeting. It normally happens on days -- on Tuesdays. It happens today because we were out of town yesterday. So I guess my only thing is that -- I think you'll see Secretary Gates on the schedule throughout the year. It doesn't always mean --
[REPORTER]: We should not assume that he is telling the Secretary, here's my decision on Afghanistan and that's happening right now?
GIBBS: Since I'm not in that meeting, I don't know what exactly the President will say to him. It's likely the topic will come up. I'm saying the meeting isn't scheduled simply to deal with this, it's part of a standing meeting that the President and his Secretary of Defense have.
[REPORTER]: Totally off topic, what's the decision behind having the First Lady participate in a Vogue cover shoot? Should we read anything into her role --
GIBBS: You'll be surprised to know I'm not a subscriber. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: What is her -- what does this say about the role she wants to play as First Lady?
GIBBS: I think many people, myself included, are enormously proud of the First Lady. I think that throughout the campaign she expressed interest in issues like the work/family balance, something that she and the President have dealt with over the course of their marriage and with children, as many of us deal with. She's also been very involved in issues about military families, which I anticipate her continuing.
I don't think any one thing or one interview speaks definitively about the First Lady. I think -- obviously the President is and we're enormously proud of who she is and what she represents and the issues that she's going to continue to be involved in -- chief among them, as a mother, in ensuring that the girls have a routine that, in an otherwise fairly insane process, has kept them very normal and very rooted.
[REPORTER]: Now, a lot of people on Wall Street I think would agree with you on your assessment that much of the selling yesterday was because there were things that were not announced yesterday they expect --
GIBBS: Can you talk to Ed after this?
GIBBS: Okay. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: But they would say that the reason -- much of the speculation over this was because of the White House's over-zealousness and fear of leaks and that your -- you did not collaborate, you did not talk to them about what you were doing and what you were going to come up with.
GIBBS: Didn't talk to who? Wall Street?
[REPORTER]: Wall Street.
GIBBS: Well, the President feels -- feels, as well as the Secretary and his economic team, we have -- feel comfortable with having reached out. Obviously the collaboration involved continues. I'm going to decide not to give part of my -- the answer that I'd originally constructed. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: Can you say what you were just thinking? (Laughter.)
GIBBS: If you guys could see the bubble box, you'll know that --
[REPORTER]: We can't write it down unless you say it. (Laughter.)
GIBBS: That's why I'm not going to say it. No, again, I think that the people that have been involved in the creation of the plan that the Secretary outlined yesterday, throughout the agencies in this government that have to coordinate the response -- the federal response to financial stability, would say that the outreach has been quite vigorous. People have been involved in both -- that work in both government and in the private sector. But, look, the transparency involved continues on our side, the collaboration with the private sector. Obviously one of the strengths of the plan involves an understanding that it's not just taxpayer money, it's private money, as well, that's going to help solve this problem, and that collaboration will continue.
[REPORTER]: How can you simultaneously say you have been transparent and you took a lot of people on Wall Street by surprise?
GIBBS: Well, what I said was that I think some of what was put out there may not altogether have been true -- right? Many people that -- I know people that have talked to me always got counseled -- I've said it any number of times from this podium -- to be very leery and very careful about policy before it's announced. I've certainly said that enough to turn blue in the face. It's my admonition yesterday and today -- and sometimes expectations based on something that's in the newspaper or on cable television that isn't true may inflate expectations about what may or may not happen, or what won't happen.
Do I think some of those market expectations happen? Probably. I don't doubt that there was also a psychology involved, as I said, about a hope and a wish that something would -- bad assets would be paid for in an unreasonable way may also have inflated some of those expectations.
But again, I think that brings me back to my first answer with Jennifer, which is, I think it's important not to look at a market reaction over the course of one or even several days, but the horizon in which -- the financial and economic team look at this not based on some set time period, but what in the long term will help the health of our economy.
[REPORTER]: Robert, can I interrupt you for just a second. Senator Reid has announced that there was a deal on the stimulus package.
GIBBS: I would like to announce -- (laughter.) If I can read your BlackBerry, I might be able to give you some --
[REPORTER]: We all have it.
GIBBS: Oh, there you go. And you guys are in here listening to me. (Laughter.) Hopefully when I'm far better briefed on the announcement that Ms. Loven just made, I'll have a far better reaction.
[REPORTER]: Will you have a statement or something, Robert?
GIBBS: Soon. Once these guys -- (laughter.)
[REPORTER]: Understood. Can I go back to Caterpillar for just a moment? You said that Caterpillar had communicated to the White House. Did Chairman Owens call here or did the President speak to him --
GIBBS: I think he's talked to the Secretary of Transportation, but I will look -- I'll figure that --
[REPORTER]: Talked to Ray LaHood?
GIBBS: Yes, I believe that's right. Ray -- obviously Secretary LaHood was -- represented a constituent for quite some time.
[REPORTER]: Right. And will CEO Owens be going out on Air Force One?
GIBBS: I don't know if he's traveling on Air Force One. We expect him to be there. But I'll check on
[REPORTER]: -- Peoria paper says he will.
GIBBS: And the Journal Star is a paper I read and believe. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: Oooh --
GIBBS: Come on. Don't get all thin-skinned now. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: You just -- you made their new ad campaign.
GIBBS: I'm for it. I'll pose for the picture.
[REPORTER]: Can I check on just one more thing? The -- on the jobs numbers -- the President last month was using the figure usually "up to 4 million" created under stimulus. Today he used "more than 3 million" at the construction site. Is there any significance to that?
GIBBS: I didn't -- I admit I did not watch the remarks as the President said them, but will certainly look at that.
[REPORTER]: Foreign policy question, Robert. How does the administration evaluate news from Israel about the election there? And does it have any appraisal so far on what it might mean for the future of Envoy Mitchell's trips and negotiations?
GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously we congratulate the Israelis on another successful election. Obviously all of the votes have not finally been counted. President Obama looks forward to working with whoever makes up that next Israeli government in a search for lasting and durable peace in the region.
Like our own democracy, I think whether it's turbulent or tumultuous times, or bad weather, did not seem to deter millions from voting yesterday. I think that's the sign and strength of a strong democracy. But until we see something more definitive, it's hard to -- hard to talk specifics, except to say that the President, as you've heard him say many times, is anxious to work with Israel and those in the region to form that lasting, endurable peace.
[REPORTER]: Can I ask you about Secretary Geithner's presentation yesterday? You said one of the things that may have driven the market reaction was the wrong impression that the government would pay in an unreasonable way an unreasonable value for certain assets. But Secretary Geithner has said that he doesn't yet know, nor does the Treasury Department know, how to value those assets. So how can you be sure that the government is not eventually going to pay an unreasonable way -- or an unreasonable value for assets?
And how would you evaluate the criticism that what happened yesterday delayed an inevitable reckoning that this government and the American taxpayers are going to have to make with the financial systems that are, if not drowning, sufficiently held back by toxic assets?
GIBBS: Well, on the first question, obviously I think that's why consultations continue with the private sector and with financial institutions as we move forward on this stabilization plan. You've all read stories, and I won't get into the technical details because, to use your water analogy, I'll be swimming in a deeper pool than I can see the bottom of.
But we've all talked and Elizabeth Warren's report makes mention of the perils of overpaying. Look, if you overpay, from the government's side, the taxpayers lose. If you underpay, from the bank's perspective, you create a whole series of problems there.
I think that's why it's important that as we move forward that that collaboration continues, to ensure that a solution involving the removal of bad assets is done in a way that makes sense for banks and taxpayers, not something that maybe we could say happened in the beginning of a very complicated program.
In terms of your second question, which had to do with, I think, if I'm not mistaken, had to do with sort of what's next after this money, the President and his economic team believe that it's important to restore confidence in our government and our financial system through restoring confidence in the way this program works.
Obviously, the taxpayers have -- in September Congress appropriated $700 billion in taxpayer money. Half of that the Congress voted on before this President was sworn in; $350 billion obviously is a huge chunk of money. It's important that the President and his economic team signal to all that are listening that the way that this money is going to be spent will be different than the original $350 billion was spent -- to do it in a way that's transparent, to ensure that that lending gets to the families and the businesses that need it.
You heard the President talk -- and many hailed regulations dealing with executive -- excessive executive compensation and the activities of some banks in how they've used some of that money. And I think --
[REPORTER]: Isn't that the easier part of this equation -- that executive compensation? It attracts a certain amount of attention, but these other tricky details are much more complicated to unravel?
GIBBS: I would agree with that because I don't make $18 million a year. But I don't -- as I said, I think this is an enormously complicated program. I know there is a sense of wanting to get to what's next before we get -- or what's next after what's next. But I think it's important -- our financial team certainly believes that it's important that the money that is -- that Congress and the taxpayers have appropriated and approved is spent wisely and differently than the money that was spent before that. Again, $350 billion is an enormous sum of money, and it's imperative that we get that spending right.
[REPORTER]: Is the President confident that Hilda Solis's nomination to be Labor Secretary will get back on track?
GIBBS: He is.
[REPORTER]: He is. Is he concerned about the delays?
GIBBS: He's not. And hopefully that process will continue through the committee today and hopefully on to the floor soon, and she'll be sworn in as the next Secretary of Labor. The President has confidence in her ability to continue the Department's mission, and I think that that process will hopefully conclude quickly.
[REPORTER]: Robert, I wanted to go back to Afghanistan. How urgently does the --
GIBBS: -- with great trepidation. Yes.
[REPORTER]: How urgently does the President see the need -- I mean, he said that he wants to send two additional brigades. How urgently does he see the need to get those two brigades there quickly, particularly in light of what happened in Kabul today, and the continued disarray in the country?
GIBBS: Well, I think what happened today underscores two things. It underscores the security environment with which our forces and Afghanistan forces -- the environment in which they operate in. Obviously we're reminded today of the brutal tactics that extremists like the Taliban wish to employ. It hardens our resolve, but it also hardens our resolve to get the next steps in Afghanistan right.
To go back to the attacks for a minute, I think the -- as the President said in his inaugural address, that we will not be judged by what we tear down, but by what we build up -- I think it's obvious that the Taliban are interested only in tearing down -- but believes that a renewed coalition will be focused on building up.
Having said that, again, it's imperative that we get the review process done correctly; that we understand that, as the President has said in dealing with Iraq, there's not a -- there's not only a military solution to this problem, that we're going to have to have renewed diplomatic resources, that we're going to have to look at the way we do construction, and all of that is encompassed in the larger review. The security situation remains dangerous, and one that this representative is focused on getting right.
[REPORTER]: But you're not saying that he would wait until this review is completed before he decides on the immediate --
GIBBS: Not necessarily. Again, I think the review encompasses more than just a military decision. It involves any number of things, as well as dealing with Pakistan and the many issues that go along with that.
[REPORTER]: Yes, Robert, one more on Secretary Geithner. Again today he was refusing to even estimate how much more money is going to be involved. Why is that? Surely there must -- and I realize you guys have only been in office for a few weeks -- but surely there must be some floor that you're operating with, that you know it's going to be at least a certain amount of money.
GIBBS: Well, I think what's important and what he outlined yesterday was a series of what he called stress tests to underscore and to evaluate exactly what's needed. I think you could make a fair summation that we may not entirely know all of the property lines of what we're dealing with.
Obviously we've seen -- banks may or may not trust each other in lending from bank to bank. And a very important process in this plan, to do so transparently but also to do so in a way that restores confidence, is to look deeply into each of these financial institutions and figure out what's on their books, what they may need in order to begin to get credit flowing again to businesses and families. And I think that's a very important step in this process and one that shouldn't be given short shrift in order to, again, simply get to what's next after what's next.
[REPORTER]: Surely there's some internal estimates that he and the others are operating with.
GIBBS: I think rather than guessing, it's important, and the financial team believes it's important, to get that right.
[REPORTER]: Robert, on stimulus, why would the President be willing to scale back the tax cut that he promised for the middle class during the campaign now that they've announced a deal up on the Hill? What would his reason be? Just to compromise? Everybody has to give a little?
GIBBS: Well, I think that the President obviously campaigned on ensuring that we put money directly back into the pockets of many middle-class families. I think it's accurate to say -- and you could ask probably many members of the House and probably 61 -- at least 61 senators, they may -- and particularly one President -- they may have written something slightly different, but, as the President said, let's not make the perfect the enemy of what's absolutely necessary now. This President, without having seen the details -- caveat -- this President believes strongly that we have to get a plan through Congress and to his desk so that we can get that help out to the American people. So I think, without, again, not having seen what's in the final outlines of this, the President isn't going to let the perfect stand in the way of what he thinks has to happen right now.
[REPORTER]: Will we hear from him this afternoon?
GIBBS: It's entirely possible. Again, I'm up here a little on the high wire without knowing all the news. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: What does the note say?
GIBBS: Bill says he's worried the mess is going to close before we finish briefing. (Laughter.) Let me go to Mara.
[REPORTER]: You keep on saying that we can't get to the next step before we finish this step. And the main question about Geithner --
GIBBS: On any number of questions.
[REPORTER]: For any number of -- (laughter.) But the questions about the Geithner plan are not so much, well, what are you going to do next; are you going to ask for more money? But he still hasn't answered the preliminary questions: How are you going to -- what is the plan by which you're going to take these toxic assets of banks? And he says, you know, he doesn't want to talk about them until he's figured out the structure. Obviously this is really, really difficult. Do you have any sense of when you think that very crucial piece of information is going to --
GIBBS: Well, again, I think it's -- it's something that, in collaboration with the public and the private sector, they'll continue to work through.
The reason I answered the question about what's next is, many of you have asked.
[REPORTER]: Oh, no, no, I understand that. But yesterday the problem with Geithner was just that people were expecting some details they didn't get, not so much about --
GIBBS: Well, again, I would -- as I said earlier, I would point out to you I think that we learned quite a bit yesterday about what the next steps are going to be. We learned about a very comprehensive plan that will focus not just on one aspect of this but in totality. It will do it in a transparent way. And I won't go through all of what I said earlier. Many of these steps -- the lending program that we're going to expand is up and running. Some of the evaluations of financial institutions are in the process of beginning to take place.
Again, I think that if you look through much of the coverage, you'll find a lot to like about what people have said about this plan.
[REPORTER]: I just have one follow-up, which is, you're right in saying that this plan shouldn't be judged by a one-day market reaction, but one of the things that is really going to affect your ability to reboot the economy is the price that people who buy our debt demand in return for investing in it. And long-term Treasury bonds are going up. That's going to -- that has the potential to choke off the recovery and stop mortgage rates from going down. And I'm wondering how concerned you are about that.
GIBBS: Well, I think -- again, I think that's why we have to get this thing right for the long term. Obviously there are -- as I've said, it's enormously complicated. And within each aspect of this, there are many, many moving parts. Look, I think Ed's question was enormously fair. Obviously home foreclosures is something on the minds of millions of people. And it's something that we're working through and working on.
Again, the administration takes the long view of what can we do in order to ensure the long-term economic health and economic growth of this economy. And that's what -- that's the work that continues.
[REPORTER]: Robert, on the process of the conference committee, during the campaign the website had an ethics pledge that said that Obama would work to reform congressional rules, to require all legislative sessions, including committee markups and conference committees, to be conducted in public, and that would enable the American people to hold their leaders accountable for wasteful spending. Why wasn't this conference committee done in that way?
GIBBS: I'd have to look at what you're referring to. I don't -- I don't know what the Congress has done. Obviously some of that might have been enormously helpful to what we were just asked.
[REPORTER]: Well, Republicans are charging -- and I think accurately so -- that a lot of the discussions were behind closed doors, that a lot of this --
GIBBS: But I think a lot of those discussions behind closed doors have involved Republicans. They've happened behind those closed doors here; they've happened behind large wooden closed doors on Capitol Hill.
[REPORTER]: What difference does it make if it's Republicans?
GIBBS: Well, the question was about Republicans, so that's specifically what I'm --
[REPORTER]: No, no, it's about the public's right to know and observe the process.
GIBBS: Well, look, I encourage you to ask many members of Congress the question that you posed to me. I'm addressing simply the larger notion of whether or not, in your follow-up question, whether Republicans have been consulted. I think they have, and I think many have said that they've seen and talked with the President more in this administration than they have in previous administrations.
[REPORTER]: I think the question is, would the President like to see these conference meetings open, whether they're Republican --
GIBBS: The President would like to see -- and the Press Secretary would like to see the outlines of a purported agreement that has been signed off on so that I can get you appropriate reaction.
[REPORTER]: -- answer the question. The question was on the process.
GIBBS: I understand. I don't have anything more than what I gave you.
[REPORTER]: Robert, can you talk a little bit about the role that Rahm Emanuel and other administration officials are playing on the Hill? What message are they conveying? Are they talking about the size of the package, about the tone of package?
GIBBS: We're a little out of what I -- what I know coming up here. Obviously Rahm and others on the team -- Peter Orszag, Rob Nabors, Phil Schiliro -- spent a lot of time up on Capitol Hill last night. I have not gotten a full download on all the negotiations last night and what we have, or where we are, up to date at this point. I think that obviously the team and the President are -- want to focus on getting something done, getting it done in a bipartisan way with leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill so we can get some help to the American people.
Hopefully we'll have a little bit more for you when I get the confines of what we're looking through.
[REPORTER]: Thank you, Robert.
[REPORTER]: Will you read the note now?
GIBBS: It's -- you'd be bored by the note.
GIBBS: Yes, sir.
[REPORTER]: Thank you. First, in --
[REPORTER]: In President Kennedy's first press conference in 1961, he announced 37 questions -- he answered 37 questions in 40 minutes. My question: Will President Obama study this transcript? (Laughter.)
GIBBS: Do you have a copy of it from your attendance?
GIBBS: Come on, wait --
[REPORTER]: I listened to it.
GIBBS: I would have said that if anybody would have asked that question.
[REPORTER]: How does the President believe --
GIBBS: How many -- 37 questions in 40 minutes?
GIBBS: You know, I can only imagine that if -- Lester, if -- I can only imagine that the next day I'm sure the embattled press secretary probably wondered -- or was asked aloud at the sheer lack of detail involved by the President's quickly running through 37 questions in just over 40 minutes on national television. So I'm empathetic with many of those questions.
[REPORTER]: How does the President believe that the First Amendment can be upheld if the so-called Fairness Doctrine is reinstated and applied only to electronic media and not to any newspapers, magazines, and wire services?
GIBBS: Les, I pledge to you to study up on the Fairness Doctrine so that one day I might give you a more fulsome answer -- even after 37 questions in 40 minutes.
[REPORTER]: Thank you.
GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
[REPORTER]: How is he reacting to the Iranian olive branch?
GIBBS: Let me get you something from NSC. Thanks, guys.