Press Briefing - 9 February 2009
ROBERT GIBBS: How are you guys?
[REPORTER]: Good, how are you?
GIBBS: Not bad.
[REPORTER]: What's the cufflink?
GIBBS: Secret Service; the director game them to us, they're very nice. It helps in your protection. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: So have you done polling on this? Like, internal White House polling? I just want to say, what we've been seeing -- what I've been seeing for the last couple weeks. Is there any internal polling you guys are doing?
GIBBS: Oh, we -- I'm sure we've called. I haven't seen anything lately.
GIBBS: I'd have to check. I assume so. But I mean, you know, I think David talked to you about where the public is on this and I think it's illuminating because it may not necessarily be where cable television is on all of this. But, you know, we're sort of used to that. We lost on cable television virtually every day last year. So, you know, there's a conventional wisdom to what's going on in America via Washington, and there's the reality of what's happening in America.
I think today's trip in large part is -- this is not explaining to Indiana what's going on in Washington; this is taking Washington to show them what's going on in Indiana and all over the country -- and why people are hurting. You've seen the unemployment rate in this town triple in a year because of -- you've seen what the downturn of the economy has done to jobs and employment. And I think they are eager to know what's being done in Washington besides the same old, ordinary Washington arguments. They want to know what's going to be done to help them.
[REPORTER]: Does this mean you are officially back in campaign mode?
GIBBS: No, again, I -- again, we're --
GIBBS: No, no, I just spoke about bringing to Washington the viewpoint of what's happening in America. I think it's -- I think there's a myopic viewpoint in Washington. And I think Washington needs to understand what happens in Florida, and Indiana, and Michigan, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- states that have seen huge in unemployment; 598,000 jobs -- 20,000 -- Americans lost 20,000 jobs a day last month. That's what we're highlighting.
[REPORTER]: So will this result in more Republican votes?
GIBBS: We'll see at the end of the week. I think, though, that the number the President is focused on is not a vote number, but instead how many jobs is this legislation going to create, how many people are we going to put back to work.
[REPORTER]: David just said that we have a good plan and we're urging everybody to support it. Which plan do you support -- the House plan or the Senate plan?
GIBBS: Well, I think as you saw people say over the weekend, you've got about a 90 percent overlap. Without getting into specific numbers, I think the framework of each plan is largely similar. Some of the numbers may be different, but the basis of it is -- there's an infrastructure component, there's a tax component both for individuals, as well as a tax component that spurs investment in things like clean energy. There's aid to states to stave off massive cuts.
I think the reality is the two plans are probably in composition closer than most people would imagine.
[REPORTER]: Those differences are important, aren't they? Those differences are important to some people, particularly in the House and Senate.
GIBBS: They are, and I'm not minimizing the differences. Again, as I said many times last week, Washington has a tendency to focus on what we disagree on, not on the 90 percent that we agree on.
[REPORTER]: Robert, are you going to have negotiators from the administration in the House-Senate conference committee when it gets going?
GIBBS: I'll check on that. I don't know that particular answer. I know we've been in close contact with Republicans and Democrats. Obviously, before we can get to the negotiating we've got to get a bill through the Senate.
[REPORTER]: You'll want somebody in there, wouldn't you?
GIBBS: We want a package to get done quickly and to the President's desk.
[REPORTER]: You have everything you want -- technically, you've got a bill through the House, you're going to get a bill through the Senate. Why aren't you taking a victory lap?
GIBBS: I think we've made tremendous progress. I think what you've seen and hopefully what you'll see the Senate do by sometime tomorrow is get a pretty enormous recovery plan that's needed in America through both Houses of Congress. But there aren't any victory laps until we start putting Americans back to work.
[REPORTER]: But isn't -- by doing this, aren't you worried that -- you talk about the 90 percent that they agree on, but are you worried that the plan that comes out of conference is going to be just as close or tough of a vote?
GIBBS: I'm sorry?
[REPORTER]: Are you worried that the new plan out of conference is going to be a -- tougher --
GIBBS: I think the basis of what we have is the basis of what we'll see. You know, again I think members are going to have to make up their minds, members and Senators, about what they're for, and whether they're going to be for something that creates jobs and puts people back to work. I think those are all individual decisions. I think the President believes, I think most economists agree, that you're going to lose a trillion dollars a year in economic output, and the best vehicle to make up for some of that downturn is to stimulate the economy through a recovery plan like the one the President, his team, and members of Congress have framed.
[REPORTER]: When you say that the plans are closer than we thought, you're not expecting trouble in the conference? Do you think it's going to be able to get --
GIBBS: I don't want to prejudge what may or may not happen in Congress. I do think that the basis for the plan is not entirely that far off. I don't think you've got a huge discrepancy. Again, as Larry said over the weekend, Larry -- as Dr. Summers said, you've got a pretty broad agreement on the basis for what's going to be in those -- I don't want to prejudge a conference committee -- or less a conference committee, I guess, and judge, you know, what ultimately comes out.
But again, I think in large measure we know there will be some component for state aid, there will be tax cuts for middle class families to put money back in people's pockets, there will be investment in the agenda items for long-term economic growth, there will be valuable infrastructure spending. Some component of all of that is going to largely be in a final package because that's what economists agree will get the economy moving.
[REPORTER]: You're saying you can live with either bill or some meld of the two; you're not going to go in and try to change in some way or another that you would like to fix it to make it better?
GIBBS: I'll check particularly on sort of what the legislative strategy is. You know, I think we're focused on getting something to the President's desk as quickly as we can.
[REPORTER]: Are you concerned about what was cut out of the bill on Friday night in the Senate? I mean, those would be new jobs for school construction and state aid.
GIBBS: I mean, again, that's part of the process. We're pleased mostly, though, that the process is moving forward.
[REPORTER]: But would you prefer to have those -- that money for school construction and state aid?
GIBBS: I'm going to let the House and the Senate figure out the exact levels of what is going to be in each bill.
[REPORTER]: How important is it that you have more Republican votes on final passage than you've gotten so far? I mean, just politically.
GIBBS: Again, I'm worried less about, and the President is worried less about, what the makeup of that vote is than we are about getting something done and getting something to his desk to sign. I think that's what the American people are focused on. I don't think -- you know, much to the chagrin of those that watch the ratings of C-SPAN, I don't think they're worried about what the final score is; they're more worried about whether they're going to come out on the winning end of this by getting some needed help.
I think that's what you'll see today in Elkhart. You'll see people -- you know, the President was here in --
GIBBS: Yes, it was in August, and back again in, you know, earlier in May during the primary. I mean, people that we saw then that had friends that were out of work -- they, themselves, are now out of work. You hear stories today and over the weekend about, you know, members -- six members of the same family all unemployed. You've seen an unemployment rate that was well below the national average 12 months ago now being well, well above -- almost twice what the national average is -- is twice what the national average is.
Now you've seen a huge deterioration in the economy, and the people of Elkhart aren't worried about what the final score is; they're worried about, when are they going to get some help, and when is Congress going to work together to get them some help? And I think -- look, I think we saw the beginnings of that on Friday. You saw Republicans put together a package to move the process forward.
[REPORTER]: Speaking of ratings, any thought of a prime time address still?
GIBBS: It's something we've talked about, but at this point we're satisfied with travel and we're -- you know, we'll hit the road a bunch this week and obviously we'll get to measure whose questions were better over the course of the day -- the voters of Elkhart or the reporters of Washington.
[REPORTER]: Are you guys adding an event in Springfield?
GIBBS: Likely, yes. I don't know if it's been announced and I'll double-check, but I think we're going to stop in Peoria on the way and visit Caterpillar.
[REPORTER]: Still coming back Thursday night?
GIBBS: Yes, still a day trip -- or a day/night trip, so to speak.
[REPORTER]: Axelrod pointed out that the President's approval ratings, when you talk about the stimulus, are higher than Congress. Why isn't the President taking more of a leadership role. You just said, the makeup of the bill should be up to the House and the Senate. Why not -- why doesn't the President say, okay, no, no, this is a provision, this is a provision?
GIBBS: Well, let me -- let me start by rejecting more or less the premise of your question, that the President isn't taking a leadership role.
[REPORTER]: Well, I don't say he wasn't, I said "more of a."
GIBBS: Okay. Maybe I misunderstood the question.
[REPORTER]: No, I didn't mean to suggest that he wasn't taking a leadership role. Like, why not -- why not exert more about the details of the plan than the House and the Senate?
GIBBS: I feel confident that by -- certainly through Tuesday and then hopefully by the end of the week, we can get a plan that folks agree on and get it to his desk. I think you'll see the President continue to exert the type of leadership that the American people are looking for; that you'll see the President highlight for all of Washington the problems that Americans are facing, particularly in Elkhart and next in Fort Myers, and then Thursday in Peoria where, you know, Caterpillar announced layoffs based on a faltering economy.
[REPORTER]: On a economic question --
[REPORTER]: Over the weekend, Vice President Biden was in Germany. He seemed to suggest that there was some opening for a deal on missile defense with Russia. Can you talk about what -- how you look at that? Are you actually going to have a review of that?
GIBBS: Well, the administration's policy toward those missiles are whether they're technologically effective and feasible and whether they make sense budgetarily. Obviously, we are -- as I said, also, that we'll be candid with the Russians about our disagreements, but seek -- seek avenues of cooperation that are in mutual interest to each of our countries.
I think the Vice President had a strong trip, one that was, despite his speech, primarily focused on listening to the world rather than dictating to it. So I think the administration is pleased with the progress toward reaching out and being cooperative with the Russians. And I think the Munich conference was certainly a first step.
[REPORTER]: Is there a review of missile defense? Are you going to review that?
GIBBS: I will certainly check and see if there's a formal review. I know that obviously it's something that we've commented on before. And I'll check on if there's a formal review.
[REPORTER]: Robert, what is -- what is Plouffe doing in Azerbaijan? Is he representing the President in any way, the administration?
[REPORTER]: What is he -- what's the --
GIBBS: Plouffe is a private citizen in Azerbaijan. I honestly don't -- I don't have his itinerary.
[REPORTER]: He's not carrying any message or anything, then?
GIBBS: No, he's a private citizen.
[REPORTER]: Is it weird -- does it send a curious message that he's going to visit one of the world's most famous dictators --
GIBBS: I think what Plouffe is there primarily to do is speak. You'd have to ask David, I don't know.
[REPORTER]: (Inaudible) -- send e-mails for the DNC, on behalf of the DNC and on behalf of Organizing for America. What's the (inaudible)?
GIBBS: Well, I mean, again, he's a private citizen. He's not there at the behest of, and not delivering a message on behalf of, the President of the United States. If the President had a message for Azerbaijan, he'd pick up the phone. It's a longer flight and a shorter call.
[REPORTER]: Thank you.
GIBBS: Unscathed, all right. Thanks, guys.