12/22/10: White House Press Briefing

Uploaded by whitehouse on 23.12.2010

Mr. Gibbs: Good afternoon.
Good morning.
Good night.
Before we take and do our regularly scheduled program,
John Brennan -- who you all know as the President's chief
counterterror and homeland security advisor --
is going to give us a quick update on a couple things --
some steps that we are taking around the holiday season to
ensure security, as well as to discuss some actions that have
been taken over the course of the past year after incidents
like December 25th and Fort Hood.
And I'll turn it over to John, and we'll take a couple
questions afterwards before letting him go.
Mr. Brennan: Thank you, Robert.
And good morning, everyone.
As we enter the peak of another holiday season,
the homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence
communities are collectively focused on doing everything they
can to prevent terrorists from disrupting the safety and
security of Americans as they travel,
spend time with family and friends,
and enjoy holiday festivities both at home and abroad.
We remain vigilant to attempts by al Qaeda and other terrorist
organizations to carry out cowardly attacks against
innocent men, women and children.
And we are working very closely with other governments to share
all threat information immediately and to coordinate
closely our counterterrorism and security activities.
These international partnerships are critically important to our
ability to identify would-be terrorists and to thwart their
plans before they are able to act.
In response to President Obama's direction,
senior officials from departments and agencies met
yesterday at the White House to review the latest threat
reporting, and to coordinate security and counterterrorism
plans that will be in place during the holiday season.
Finally, President Obama has been provided an update on the
many steps that have been taken over the past year to enhance
our counterterrorism capabilities as a result of the
after-action reviews on several terrorism and security-related
incidents, including the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas,
the attempted bombings of passenger and cargo aircraft,
as well as of Times Square in New York City,
and a variety of arrests and disruptions of terrorist plots
in the homeland.
These enhancements include protocols for strengthened
cooperation and information-sharing between the
Department of Defense and the FBI;
clarified analytical responsibilities and new
analytic training courses within the counterterrorism community;
improvements and refinements in the watch-listing process,
as well as in information technology systems that service
the counterterrorism community; the accelerated deployment of
advanced imaging technology at domestic airports,
and advances in cargo screening and international aviation
security cooperation.
Protecting the American people from the scourge of terrorism is
an ongoing and constantly evolving process.
It is the goal of the counterterrorism community to
stay several steps ahead of our terrorist adversaries so that we
can stop terrorists dead in their tracks before they are
able to carry out either small-scale or potentially
devastating attacks.
That is what the President has directed.
That is what the American people rightly expect and deserve.
And that is what we are bound and determined to do.
Thank you.
Mr. Gibbs: Dan.
The Press: Mr. Brennan, I'm just wondering if you have any --
I know you can't talk specifically about any
intelligence, but is there anything out there that you know
about at this point that's kind of driving this stepped-up effort?
Mr. Brennan: Well, as we have discussed previously,
we're concerned about al Qaeda's plans to carry out attacks,
and the Department of State had issued an advisory about Europe
and about plans by al Qaeda to try to carry out attacks there.
We do not limit our focus to one geographic area.
That's why we are constantly looking at whether or not there
is something that is directed at the homeland here.
We always receive reporting; what we try to do is to
investigate it and to scrutinize it very carefully.
So we need to be on top of our game,
particularly during the holiday season, but throughout the year.
Mr. Gibbs: Ari.
The Press: It seems as though in the past there was a primary focus on a
single catastrophic attack and it sounds like that's been
shifting recently to a concern about multiple small attacks.
Is that an accurate description of what the landscape is right now?
Mr. Brennan: Well, I think we're concerned and we are staying vigilant
about both ends of that spectrum,
as far as a large-scale attack as well as smaller-scale ones.
But I think the enhancements that we have made to our
security over the past decade has made it much more difficult
for terrorists to conduct these large-scale attacks.
We've degraded their capabilities.
We've degraded their training capabilities and ability to plot
and to move operatives.
So what we have seen recently is an increased focus, I think,
on the part of terrorist groups to try to carry out some of
these smaller-scale attacks.
And so we are staying very focused on our ability to detect
those types of attacks and stop them whether or not they're by
individuals or they're part of a larger organizational effort.
Mr. Gibbs: Mark.
The Press: Mr. Brennan, should your statement alarm Americans or
reassure them that they'll be safe?
Mr. Brennan: I think what the statement is intended to do is to reassure
Americans that their fellow Americans who are working in the
homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence
communities are working around the clock to protect their
fellow citizens.
We will not rest because we know that al Qaeda and other
organizations are still out there.
We're going to do our best to disrupt these plots and their
plans before they ever make it to the homeland.
So what we want to do is to let the American people know that
we're on the job, we're staying vigilant,
we're working with our partners --
and not just our international partners;
with our state and local partners as well --
and we will continue to do so throughout the holiday season
and beyond.
Mr. Gibbs: Ben.
The Press: Just to follow up on Dan's point,
to the degree you can speak to this,
is there a particular concern during the holidays,
given the enormity of passenger travel?
Mr. Brennan: Well, I think as you pointed out,
there is a fair amount of volume that is going through the
different transportation sectors,
whether it be aviation or rail and other areas.
So what we want to do is to make sure that we're able to provide
the security to the traveling public.
We also want to make sure that we run to ground any type of
report out there about a threat to the American people.
So I think as Secretary Napolitano said the other day,
as far as something specific and credible, we don't see that.
There is a constant stream of reporting throughout the course
of the year about al Qaeda's plans.
So some plans we have that strategic warning;
we're not going to wait for a tactical warning --
we're going to be poised every day to respond.
The Press: Mr. Brennan, as you know from last time,
the Christmas Day bomber, there was intelligence gathered in the
field that wasn't fully shared with the appropriate people
before the plot moved to execution.
Are you confident now that that situation won't happen again?
Mr. Brennan: I'm absolutely confident that the deficiencies that were
identified in the system as a result of the after-action
review of the Christmas Day bomber have been addressed.
And some of the reasons why certain information was not
shared, certain information didn't make it through the
system, we have taken steps to ensure that that type of problem
does not happen again.
So one of the things that President Obama has insisted
that we do on each of these incidents is to take a look back
and to see where the system worked well, where it fell down,
what changes we could make, either in information technology
or in business processes.
And so I'm confident that those deficiencies we identified as a
result of previous reviews are being addressed and that we are
in a much better position today than we were last year at this time.
Mr. Gibbs: Jake.
The Press: On Monday, there were 12 individuals in the U.K. who were
arrested on a suspected terrorist plot.
I was wondering if you can tell us anything more that we know
about that or anything about their intention.
And also, if the problem of intelligence-sharing has been
solved, if you could explain why Director of National
Intelligence Clapper did not know at 3:45 on Monday about
those arrests -- in an interview with Diane Sawyer that you and
Secretary Napolitano did -- how that's possible that hours later
he had not been told --
Mr. Brennan: I would be pleased to address that question, Jake.
The Press: Thank you very much.
I mean, even today, as you know, that he didn't --
Mr. Brennan: Let me address your first question first,
and I will defer to my British counterparts to provide
information about the status of their investigation.
We are in constant contact with the British --
we were since the beginning of this takedown of the individuals
in Britain -- to work with them closely to find out whether or
not there's any nexus here to the homeland,
find out what we can about their motivations,
intentions and where their operational planning was going.
So that is ongoing.
On the second issue, Jim Clapper is, I think, the consummate DNI.
He was working on developments in the Korean Peninsula in terms
of political and military developments.
He was focused on trying to provide support to the Congress
as far as the START treaty deliberations were concerned.
He was engaged in a variety of classified matters.
Should he have been briefed by his staff on those arrests?
And I know there was breathless attention by the media about
these arrests and it was constantly on the news networks.
I'm glad that Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of the TV 24
hours a day and monitoring what's coming out of the media.
What he is doing is focusing on those intelligence issues that
the President expects him to focus on,
and to make sure that we don't have conflict in different parts
of the world.
He continues to focus on those.
And his not being briefed yesterday afternoon --
this is something that they've acknowledged that he should have
been briefed on.
They've taken steps to correct that now,
and if that happens again I'm sure that he is going to be au
courant as far as a takedown overseas.
The Press: Just one quick follow-up.
Is that -- by implication, are you suggesting that the arrests,
that the threat was not serious enough to have risen to that level --
Mr. Brennan: No, what I'm suggesting is that there was the sharing of the
information from the British to U.S. officials.
We were in touch with the British throughout the day and
continue to be so.
There was no action that the DNI had to take;
there was nothing that was required of him to do.
And so he was focused on those matters that required his direct
and personal attention.
And he was giving full attention to those matters.
And the President was very appreciative that he was focused on that.
There is going to be continued interaction with the British on this.
There may be things that the DNI personally will need to be
involved in.
But as of that time, there was nothing that the DNI needed to
do or to be engaged in that would have required him to set
aside other pressing intelligence matters to get
briefed on things that were being put out in the press.
Mr. Gibbs: Thank you, John.
Mr. Brennan: Thank you.
The Press: I just have a clarifying question.
Mr. Gibbs: Sure.
The Press: Did he say that there currently is no credible specific,
imminent threat?
Is that what he said?
Mr. Gibbs: I would refer you -- we'll send around the transcript,
which will have the answer I think to both Dan and the
earlier questions.
And then I hope you guys all should have the paper,
which will also come electronically, going through,
as you heard John say, the corrective actions and the
result of the President's asking for after-action reports on
incidents and disruptions that have taken place over the course
of more than a year.
The Press: If I may, are folks going to see and feel more security during
their holiday travel, and are you giving us this in part to
give them a heads-up about that and give some explanation why --
Mr. Gibbs: No, think you guys overblew that when we did it at Thanksgiving.
So I think that's sort of taken care of.
No, no, Wendell, I think we wanted to give a sense,
I think importantly, of what has been done as a result of what
John mentioned last year as a failure in our security and
intelligence apparatus relating to the attempted bombing on
Christmas Day.
I think it's important for the American people to understand
that, as John said, we take the threat enormously seriously.
There is a huge part of our government that is focused on
those threats and on their security.
And we wanted those to be aware of the steps that have been
taken in the intervening weeks and months to address that.
I do not anticipate that people will see or feel an increase in,
or an inconvenience in their travel plans,
but suffice to say we are taking all the necessary steps and
measures across not just air travel,
but other modes of transportation.
The Press: Robert, can I follow on that, please?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
The Press: So are the recently initiated searches of bags here in the
D.C. Metro a part of this program,
and we'll we expect to see that in other transit systems?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't want to talk about specifics.
Obviously John and others look at intelligence and reporting
across, as I said, many different modes of
transportation and many different --
are aware of and acting on information across a broad spectrum.
The Press: But this is, to my knowledge, this is the first instance right
after 9/11 there have been searches of bags in public
transit systems, and it's happening at this holiday,
right at this time, so --
Mr. Gibbs: We are going to take whatever steps and actions are necessary
to ensure a heightened sense of protection.
Yes, sir.
The Press: But isn't -- maybe my recollection is wrong,
but isn't it true, aside from the underwear bombing attempt
last Christmas Day, we in Washington and official
Washington and the media get breathless each holiday time about --
Mr. Gibbs: I don't know that your breathlessness is reserved
simply to holidays observed on a calendar.
But, no, again --
The Press: My point is that these are -- that the attempts and attacks
have been random it seems --
Mr. Gibbs: Look, I think that John would probably tell you there's,
quite frankly, a little bit of both.
Look, obviously you have around the holiday season,
whether it's Thanksgiving or whether it's around Christmas,
you have a huge increase in just the volume of those that are
moving around.
You have, as you mentioned, at other times --
Times Square or the AQAP plot involving cargo planes,
which is not -- as you mentioned,
not affixed necessarily to a holiday.
So that's why -- I think one of the points that John wanted to
make was, regardless of the day on the calendar,
there's a vigilance that must be maintained around the clock in
order to ensure that we are doing all that we possibly can,
and taking the steps that are necessary to rightly protect the
American people and to inform them of threats that might be
had outside of the homeland.
So, again, this was largely an informational briefing on John's
part to give you a sense of what we're doing.
The Press: I have a follow-up question about the signing ceremony for
"don't ask, don't tell."
I was struck by the President saying at the top that he was overwhelmed.
And obviously there was a lot of emotion to that ceremony.
Can you offer some context, having been with him for many
years -- is that one of the more emotional times you've seen him
in that kind of setting?
Did it stand out to you that way?
Mr. Gibbs: I think watching it on television as well as --
I was not there; I wish I would have been --
but I think this is something that the President has fought
long and hard for and believed needed to be done --
has needed to be done for many years.
Again, when I started working for him in April of 2004,
and as part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate,
he had pledged to vote for the repeal of this policy because he
thought it was wrong.
I think today represents the beginning of a process that ends
that policy.
The President had occasion to speak with Admiral Mullen and
several of the Joint Chiefs yesterday to discuss what is now
being implemented in terms of a working group to --
that will lead to the certification by the Secretary
of Defense, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs and the President
that the policy is officially ended.
The President's belief, in discussing with the chiefs is
that this is a matter of months.
And he looks forward to that happening.
I do think it was -- I do think this was one of --
this is an accomplishment that he's enormously proud of and
happy that it was one that was not just the work of one party
but by those across party lines that believed that the policy
was wrong, didn't make any sense for our national security,
and is now in the process of being ended.
The Press: And just one other on that.
Do you -- some of the advocates who have fought for this for so
long see this as an opening of greater justice for their cause.
Do you see that as well?
Does the White House see this as the country is ready for more
equality on this front?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, look, I will say this.
I think whether you look at the attitudinal study that was done
at the Pentagon or you look at any assortment of public polling
conducted by many of your news organizations,
I think it is clear to see that the attitudes of Americans about
who should or who could serve in the military has clearly changed
over the course of the past several years.
What that leads to in the future I think is harder to tell
because some of this stuff obviously has to go through a
divided Congress.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: Two things.
One, on START, Harry Reid said he expected that it would be
ratified by 2:00.
Can you talk any more about how many calls the President has
made specifically --
Mr. Gibbs: We'll have more on that when the bill is --
when the treaty is ratified.
The Press: And then on North Korea.
South Korea today announced that they were going to be doing a
large military operation.
What is the White House thinking in terms of whether it might
provoke a response from North Korea,
what South Korea is doing --
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again --
The Press: -- and if that could lead to any escalation?
Mr. Gibbs: Look, our belief is that obviously the exercises have
been well publicized.
They're well advanced -- announced well in advance.
Everybody I think in the world is aware that they're happening.
And they are exercises that are defensive in nature.
The United States is obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea.
The Press: Just given the climate lately with Pyongyang and the bombing
of the island, is there concern that there might be more of an escalation?
I mean, is there anything --
Mr. Gibbs: Again, I think exercises that have been announced well in
advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature,
should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans.
Yes, sir.
The Press: What's the fundamental principle underlying the President's
belief that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is important?
Is it national security?
Is it equality?
Is it both?
Is there something else?
Mr. Gibbs: I think it's all of that.
I think the President believed it was unjust and I think it --
believed that we had a number of brave men and women that were
willing to sign up for their country,
willing to serve their country, and willing to die for their country.
And I think the story that the President opened his remarks
with today was one that was quite moving.
I think the President is glad to see this day come on the grounds
of both greater equality and an enhancement of our national security.
The Press: Is it any less unjust that those same brave troops can't get
married to somebody of the same sex?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, that's not what -- not the bill we were signing
today, Jake.
The Press: I understand that, but if that principle is important to the
President, about those brave troops being able to have
equality, should they have marriage equality also?
Mr. Gibbs: I would refer you to his remarks on that.
The Press: His remarks are that he thinks that marriage is between a man
and a woman.
Mr. Gibbs: And that he supports -- strongly supports civil unions and --
The Press: But the military doesn't recognize civil unions.
Mr. Gibbs: I understand.
You didn't ask me what the military recognized.
You asked me what the President believed.
And that's what I've said.
The Press: Well, just to pinpoint it here, it's unjust to not
let them serve --
Mr. Gibbs: Jake, to pinpoint it here, I'm not here to make news on
that issue.
The Press: I'm just trying to point out the fact that this principle seems
to have a border in a way -- it doesn't apply to everything.
Mr. Gibbs: I understand what you're trying to point out.
The Press: All right.
Can I ask one question about Israel?
Mr. Gibbs: Sure.
The Press: Is there any consequence at all for the Israeli government
constantly disagreeing with the administration's position on
housing settlements, or is there not?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again, as we've discussed many times in this room, Jake,
we have -- our government has had a position that dates back I
think probably to the administration of Lyndon Johnson
about our views on housing.
And we will continue to make our position known, again,
as we have for many administrations.
That does not stop our efforts to remain engaged in a
comprehensive peace process.
We understand as a country what happens --
or I should say, we understand as the world what happens when
our country is not engaged and involved in the process of
actively working with each side to bring about a comprehensive peace.
That is a long and bumpy road, but the President will continue
to do that.
The Press: Is the same basic idea at play with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,
that we continue to engage with them even if they do things we
don't like that are at -- that harm what we perceive to be our
national interest?
Mr. Gibbs: Meaning what?
The Press: The ISI and its reluctance to -- as the AfPak report said,
that there's still safe havens and yet we still --
Mr. Gibbs: I'm happy to address the -- I don't know if you were trying to
link a series of those things.
Obviously we have important bilateral relationships where we
agree and we disagree within those relationships.
The Press: Can you give us a timeframe as to when the policy will
be certified?
I know the President said he wants this to happen without
delay but --
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again, the President discussed with Mullen and others
yesterday the fact that I think as a group they believe this is
a timeframe that is a matter of months.
The Press: But nothing more specific than that?
Mr. Gibbs: No, I don't have anything more specific than that.
The Press: And what is the President going to do to make sure that it stays
within this matter of months timeframe?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again, he had an interest yesterday in discussing with the
chiefs and with the chair, and I would point out both Gates and
Mullen played a big role in seeing this day happen.
And to watch the testimony of the Chair of the Joint Chiefs
say that this is a policy that should be changed was a historic moment.
Now they have -- they are charged with the job of
implementing this change and their commitment to the
President is that it can be done in a very timely manner.
Again, I think you've seen -- or there's been conjecture about
when that would happen.
Again, I think the President was very clear that this is not
something that needs to or should drag on.
The Press: A couple housekeeping matters.
Anything more on whether we'll see the President today and when
is he leaving?
Mr. Gibbs: If you can tell me when Congress leaves,
I can answer all of the above questions.
I anticipate at some point you'll see the President today.
I should start a pool as to when that would be.
The Press: -- what time we'd like it to happen?
Mr. Gibbs: Let me tell you, if -- look, I'd like to do it now and then we
can go about Christmas shopping and doing whatever things we
haven't been able to do as a result of this.
Regrettably, Dan, you and I have --
we hold very few cards in this long process.
But I anticipate that you will at some point see him.
I will say as a pure housekeeping measure,
we are not likely to have a ton of time in terms of when you see
the advisory.
So to help out Caroline and others,
when you see the advisory please RSVP.
If there are people that need to come into this building that
aren't here on a regular basis, they are going to have a very,
very limited time with which to do that.
Please tell your organizations and give them that heads-up.
The Press: So there will be a news conference,
it's just a matter of when?
Mr. Gibbs: That's my hope.
Again, Ben --
The Press: News conference or a statement?
Mr. Gibbs: A news conference.
But again, Ben, I got out of the prognosticating business around health care.
The Press: So the President and you and others in the administration
have made it pretty clear that even though the DREAM Act failed
to pass you'll continue to pursue it in the next Congress;
that you'll continue to pursue other goals like tax reform --
even though the deck is stacked much more heavily against you.
Is there --
Mr. Gibbs: I'm sorry, is -- somewhere in there is presumably the
punctuation of a question mark, but --
The Press: I'm glad you find it amusing.
Well, my question is --
Mr. Gibbs: I did.
The Press: -- how do you propose to do these things when it was hard
enough to do what you were able to do, if not almost impossible,
when the odds are stacked further against you?
Mr. Gibbs: How much would you have bet me that we would get that all that
we're about to get done, done?
The Press: No problem, but --
Mr. Gibbs: Oh, somebody please begin -- hit record on my VCR so I can
save this tape.
The Press: VCR?
Mr. Gibbs: I'm talking to Bill.
The Press: Oooh --
The Press: Merry Christmas.
The Press: That's tough.
The Press: Why should this time be different from any other time?
Mr. Gibbs: I think -- again, look, I think the President will have an
opportunity to discuss what has been accomplished over the past
six weeks, the path for how we can work together and accomplish
stuff that's in the national interest next year.
But, Bill, I guess I'd start with your question --
no pun intended -- in noting that I doubt many people would
have thought that we'd have a free trade agreement that enjoys
the support of the Chamber of Commerce and the United Auto
Workers; huge bipartisan majorities supporting a tax
agreement that allows unemployment benefits to last
throughout all of next year, provides certainty in tax rates
that won't rise for middle-class families;
that we have begun the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" through
a congressional process; and -- knock on wood --
let me finish, let me finish -- the likely ratification of a
START agreement whose obituary has been written more times than
I could care to remember.
None of that was easy, and none of what has to happen going
forward is easy.
But I know the President believes that there are --
and I think those milestones that I just mentioned --
I think what they show the President is that when people
get together and understand and believe what is in the best
interest of the American people --
certainty in tax rates, repeal of policies that people believe
are unjust, or something that protects our national security
-- that we have far more in common than we do in opposition,
and that working together we can get things done.
That's what animated him to run for public office.
That's what animated him to run for President.
And I think that's what animated his actions over the past six weeks.
The Press: That's all good for you, but what incentive do Republicans
have to cooperate with him in the next Congress?
There's an election coming in two years.
Mr. Gibbs: And four and six and eight.
But, Bill, they --
The Press: Will they remember these things?
Mr. Gibbs: We'll write them down.
They also -- they control part of government.
A budget is going to originate in the House of Representatives.
Funding bills are going to originate in the House of Representatives.
I mean, the incentive that they have is less of an incentive and
more of a responsibility.
They're charged with having to run half of the legislative branch.
I think -- as I said yesterday, I think that has kicked in over
-- I think that responsibility has kicked in to some degree a
bit early, and you've seen all of what I just mentioned happen
-- obviously a free trade agreement has not yet gone
through Congress but you saw bipartisan support for that free
trade agreement.
And you saw each of the things that I mentioned that went
through Congress legislatively done not by the votes of simply
one party but by the votes of both parties.
And I think it is a path that the President thinks won't be
easy to follow but provides a path for how we can get things
done that are in the interest of the American people.
That's what that election was about.
As I said yesterday, the election was not about how do we
grind this place more to a halt, how do we play more political games.
It's about how do we get things done that the American people
understand are in the best interests of the American people.
The Press: And I'll play back the 8-track tape in six months.
Mr. Gibbs: I thought you were still on reel-to-reel, Bill,
but that's an upgrade.
The Press: Ooooh --
Mr. Gibbs: You never groan when he makes fun of me.
I don't -- I get it.
The Press: The President has ordered changes in the treatment of
prisoners at Gitmo who can't be brought to trial,
or at least can't be brought to trial now --
can you talk about those --
Mr. Gibbs: Sorry, start again.
The Press: The President has ordered some changes in the treatment,
the rights, if you will, of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who
can't be brought to trial --
Mr. Gibbs: Are you talking about the draft executive order?
The Press: Basically, yes.
Mr. Gibbs: Okay.
But let me change the --
The Press: You're right, because it's not finalized yet.
Mr. Gibbs: Let's go farther than that.
This is a process -- that is a document that has not even begun
the process of a deputies committee meeting.
It has not been read, looked at or reviewed by the President.
I do not think it is -- or it should be surprising to many,
off of the speech that he gave in May of 2009,
that there are going to be those that are currently in Guantanamo
Bay that, for whatever reason, are not going to be able to be
tried in either a federal court or in a military commission,
that are going to have to be indefinitely detained.
The President was clear on that in May.
And I wouldn't -- I have no comment on the draft executive
order, largely because it is a long way from ever even reaching
the President's desk.
The Press: I'm wondering if that process is intended to make the facility in
Guantanamo Bay somewhat more acceptable to the President.
He has said it's a recruitment tool, but you can't seem to --
Mr. Gibbs: Again, not to mess with the premise of your question,
but he has said that because al Qaeda has used it as such.
The Press: Exactly.
Mr. Gibbs: They have used it as a recruitment tool,
and our generals and our commanders see them using it as
a recruitment tool.
Look, obviously the President is --
again, I'd refer you to the speech in May of 2009 that seeks
to do -- well, I'd say broadly, the President does not believe
that our national security and the protection of our homeland
has to be in contradiction with our values as Americans.
And that's what animates him in this entire process.
The Press: And the draft order is in no way connected with having to
basically live with Guantanamo Bay because --
Mr. Gibbs: Again, this isn't -- I want to divorce this answer from, again,
from the draft executive order because it's --
again, it's a process that has certainly not worked its way
through even to the deputies committee procedure.
But I think, as the President said --
I don't think anybody would find it surprising that the President
and this administration understand that there are those
that have been evaluated by our intelligence community,
by our defense infrastructure, and we understand,
as the President does, that there are some that will require
indefinite detention.
The Press: So let me finally say the President is still committed to
closing Guantanamo Bay --
Mr. Gibbs: Absolutely.
The Press: -- when is it going to happen?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't know the answer to when it's going to happen.
I know that remains the President's goal.
Let me make one other quick announcement.
I don't have the timing on this --
I'll go back and try to find it --
but the President did sign the continuing resolution that funds
government through early March this morning.
The Press: Time?
Mr. Gibbs: And like I said, I'll go back and try to find the time.
I just -- can you email somebody on that?
Yes, sir.
The Press: Obviously it looks like you're peeling off significant numbers
of Republicans on the START treaty vote.
Mitch McConnell has said that his priority is to stop the
President from being reelected.
Now he's losing apparent control of his own caucus,
at least on this.
Is this a one-off, or is this a pattern moving forward?
Do you really need to negotiate with him in the next Congress?
Mr. Gibbs: No, no, I think that -- I think as we've said before,
we're going to have to, and we will,
work with Republican leaders in Congress more closely than we
have in the past couple of years.
As I said earlier, they have a responsibility to the governing
of this country unlike they have had in the previous two years.
I think -- again, I think what is --
I think the result of what has happened over the past few weeks
is not -- is less somebody losing control of their caucus
and more those in that caucus understanding that the message
is work together and get things done;
don't relitigate the fights of yesterday.
There's plenty of time before that next election;
focus not on your political future but on our future.
That's the message that the American people are sending and
I think that's the message that those in Congress have heard in
everything, again, from the tax agreement to the hopeful
ratification of the START treaty.
The Press: So how do you -- did Mitch McConnell not get that message
when he said he was going to try and defeat the President in the
next election?
Mr. Gibbs: Again, I think that is a broad and fundamental misreading of
what the election was about.
I do not believe that, regardless of your vote,
people went to the polls thinking let's extend gridlock
and political gamesmanship for another two years.
I just -- if that's what some up there believe, then have at it.
I don't think that's where the American people are.
The Press: Robert, a follow on that briefly?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
By the way, I like the tie.
It must be an important day.
The Press: It's Christmas.
I just want to get out of here.
Senator McConnell went on the Sunday shows saying that he was
opposed to START.
His folks said that that was to sort of halt the momentum for this.
He also got a bit brushed back on the earmarks thing from his
own conference.
Do you think he's sort of made a miscalculation here in taking
too hard a line to appease these Tea Party types?
Mr. Gibbs: Look, I think that -- I think on a number of --
I think certainly on the issue of START,
he miscalculated that there are those that believe,
as the President does, that we can put aside partisan political
interests to do something that's in the best interest of our
national security.
I think that's why the treaty will be ratified today.
I think that -- again, I think people want us to put aside the
way Washington has traditionally worked and worked together.
The Press: Do you think the days of sort of "Fortress McConnell,"
him holding the 40 people -- the 40 members of his conference
more or less intact, are essentially over --
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I don't doubt that there are going to be times in which
-- look, you see it on the 9/11 bill.
There's 58 on one side; there's 42 on the other.
I don't know how that might change if that were something
that was considered next year or not.
But I still think as the -- and I think the President believes
that there will be times in which we will have splits along
partisan lines because we're fighting about something that we
all hold deeply.
I don't think those days are gone.
And I think that's the reason we have two parties.
But at the same time, I think the President believes that on a
whole host of issues -- national security, middle-class tax cuts,
and things like that -- that there ought to be --
we ought to be able to put aside some of those differences to get
what we agree on done for the American people.
Again, I think that's the message of the last several weeks.
The Press: Can I follow up on his follow-up?
Mr. Gibbs: Let me -- I'll come around.
The Press: At the signing ceremony this morning,
the President very pointedly thanked Nancy Pelosi and thanked
Harry Reid and talked about the productivity of the first two years.
First, is that -- do you think that was an appropriate thing to
be doing at a signing ceremony on a landmark civil rights bill?
And do you think that -- was that a victory lap of sorts?
Mr. Gibbs: This was a victory for everybody that was in that room and for
many that couldn't be in that room.
I don't -- this was something that a lot of people, men and women,
those in Congress and out of Congress, those in the military,
those out of the military, that have fought a long time for.
I don't see anything inappropriate for the President
to discuss what he believes is and has been a very productive
two years in Washington.
The Press: But that was a reference not to "don't ask,
don't tell" repeal but --
Mr. Gibbs: I think it was a reference to "don't ask,
don't tell" plus financial reform, health care reform,
economic recovery, credit card reform --
a whole host of things.
The Press: And is that a theme that you expect him to take up
this afternoon?
Is that the point of --
Mr. Gibbs: I anticipate he might dip his toe in that water, yes.
The Press: Did you say the Joint Chiefs were here yesterday?
Mr. Gibbs: No, no, I'm sorry, he spoke with them on the phone.
The Press: Yesterday?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
The Press: Was General Amos among them?
Mr. Gibbs: He was.
The Press: Is the President confident General Amos will abide by the
repeal of "don't ask, don't tell"?
Mr. Gibbs: General Amos told that to the Commander-in-Chief, yes.
The Press: On the phone yesterday?
Mr. Gibbs: On the phone yesterday.
The Press: Thank you.
Mr. Gibbs: Yes, sir.
The Press: Robert, you addressed this the other day;
I just wanted to see if there was any change.
Will there be any staff changes announced over the holidays?
Mr. Gibbs: Not that I'm aware of, no.
The Press: The child nutrition bill -- do you know when the President
plans to sign that?
Mr. Gibbs: I thought we signed that on Monday.
The Press: Oh.
Well, no, it had to go back and --
Mr. Gibbs: Are you talking about child nutrition or food safety?
The Press: Food safety.
Food safety.
Mr. Gibbs: Food is obviously close to our hearts.
So I don't -- let me find the answer to that out.
I think there was some -- the congressional --
the continuing resolution was signed at 9:50 a.m.
My apologies.
The Press: So nearly 10 hours without funding for the
government, right?
Mr. Gibbs: No -- I asked this question last night because we were getting
pinged by a number of you all.
We were told that we had until fairly late today to be able to sign it.
The Press: Who told you that?
Mr. Gibbs: The guys at OMB.
I have called my bank to ensure that did not --
-- I've got one of them on the phone if you need them to vouch
for an impending direct deposit.
The Press: You said 9:50 a.m.?
Mr. Gibbs: At 9:50 a.m., yes.
It would have been I guess fairly close to him getting back
from the signing.
I'll find out on food safety.
The Press: Thanks.
And moving away from hard news for a second,
can you just give us a snapshot of what the President is looking
forward to in Hawaii -- golf, books?
The Press: Rain?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes, I was going to say.
The Press: The budget, State of the Union.
Mr. Gibbs: I think the President is -- I think he is,
as much as anything, anxious to spend time where he grew up with
his family and to see his sister, to see his niece --
nieces, I should say.
I should get a rundown of which childhood friends.
Normally a bunch of them usually come back and it's an
opportunity for the President to spend some time with them.
I think that's what he's most looking forward to.
The Press: Related to that, will he be looking at the --
will there be a staff review that he's looking at while he's there?
And also will he be looking at the State of the Union address
at all, or will he be working on that at all?
Mr. Gibbs: I anticipate that he'll take a number of things with him and
that he'll read a good amount of stuff.
He'll have, obviously, his daily intelligence briefing as well as
probably a novel or two.
The Press: One more.
You mentioned education yesterday.
Is he giving speeches on that after the election --
or, I mean, after December, early next year --
his views on education reform and that kind of issue?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't -- I'm trying to remember through --
I would anticipate that that doesn't happen until post-State
of the Union.
The Press: Robert, two quick things on "don't ask, don't tell."
Was the White House aware -- last night,
apparently Senate Republicans were working to insert some kind
of amendment to the defense authorization bill to require
the service chiefs to sign off.
Were you guys on the phone late last night to try to dissuade?
Mr. Gibbs: Let me check on that.
I know that -- I think that would have required unanimous consent.
And given the lift to get the repeal done after 17 years,
I don't think that Senator Reid had that in mind.
Again, I think what's important is that --
this has been true since the President told the chiefs and
told Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen that his goal was to see
this policy repealed -- not if, but when.
That was in one of the very first meetings that was had
about this.
And obviously implementation is enormously important to him.
That's why he reached out yesterday.
But I will say that regardless of where any individual has been
in representing the views of themselves or representing as
part of the Joint Chiefs some views of their branch of the
military, all told the President before repeal was voted on and
all have said since that they will implement the law of the land.
And that's the -- I think that's what --
certainly, that's what the courts would expect.
And that's clearly what the American people and the
Commander-in-Chief expects.
That's why, again, I believe he thinks,
based on those discussions, that this can be done in a matter of months.
The Press: Just one other thing?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
The Press: Did the White House invite any other congressional Republicans
from the House or Senate, other than those who came this
morning, to the signing ceremony?
Mr. Gibbs: I would have to -- let me check with legislative affairs and see
if there was -- who might have been invited and didn't come.
The Press: Was there anyone --
Mr. Gibbs: I can check.
The Press: Robert, as you know, there's been some complaints from some
members of the New York congressional delegation --
Carolyn Maloney and others -- that the White House has not taken an active enough role in
taken an active enough role in the 9/11 responders bill.
Apparently that's changed a bit over the last 24 hours.
Can you sort of detail for me what the latest --
Mr. Gibbs: Let me check and see what has -- I mean, again, we have been --
we came out for this bill in August.
We detailed those views both publicly and in statements of
administration policy to the House when they voted,
and to the Senate when they voted.
And you've heard me say for the past more than a week or so that
we were strongly supportive of this.
But I'll say this.
There's nobody in our party left to convince.
They're all there.
They're all there.
And I hope that, and the President hopes that when this
bill is likely brought up for its reconsideration today that
there are those on the Republican side that do just
that and reconsider.
The Press: Has he been contacting people about that?
Mr. Gibbs: Let me check with Legislative Affairs.
The Press: Thank you, Robert.
Two brief questions.
First, there will be a formal ceremony next year for the
promulgation of the START treaty with the President and President
Medvedev, right?
Mr. Gibbs: Medvedev -- I don't know what the schedule is.
I don't know that -- as I understand it,
the treaty is ratified once the Senate does it.
I don't know of, at least right now,
plans to do a ceremony that you speak of.
I think that we had the signing, obviously,
of the treaty last April-ish in Prague.
The Press: All right.
The other thing, Robert, is that you this week gave a lot of
credit to three secretaries of state in Republican
administrations for securing --
Mr. Gibbs: And likely, I've left out dozens of people that have
been helpful.
The Press: Right.
Mr. Gibbs: Go ahead.
The Press: You mentioned yesterday Admiral Mullen and General "Hoss"
Cartwright, appointees of the previous administration.
Will the administration count on more identifiably Republican
figures and figures from past administration in the next
Congress to win --
Mr. Gibbs: Look, I think that, as is true on a number of issues,
not just on issues of national security,
that there are those that share an interest in different policies.
And when they can -- when the President talks to them,
or the Vice President talks to them,
or people in the administration talk to them,
and they desire to be helpful, we think it is always helpful to
have Democrats and Republicans --
those that are currently serving and those that have served our
country -- out to discuss why they think this is an important
priority for the American people.
So we've certainly done that in the past,
and I hope to continue to do that.
The Press: Thank you.
I wanted to just follow up on your answer to Wendell's
question about indefinite detentions.
You said that the order is "a long way from reaching the
President's desk."
And I think in at least one of those leaked stories yesterday,
there was an intimation that it would be some time in January,
so -- I'm not asking you to confirm --
Mr. Gibbs: I would just say this, Margaret.
I don't -- it's hard to know the process at this point because,
again, it's not one step away from the President's desk.
It's many, many meetings.
And again, there's a -- this hasn't been brought to him.
It's at I think a deputies committee level.
At some point in the next few days,
that would likely lead to a series of things before a
principals committee that -- a principals' level,
which would include the President.
The Press: I mean, it's not going to happen before the end of the
year is clear.
Mr. Gibbs: Certainly not, no.
The Press: Maybe not even in January?
Mr. Gibbs: It's hard for me to give a timeline.
Definitely not by the end of the year since that's rapidly approaching.
The Press: And then just so that I understand the planning purposes
for today, is the President poised to do the press
conference after the START vote or after they gavel out?
Mr. Gibbs: To be determined.
Again, our hope is to -- I'm not trying to be coy.
I'm just trying to -- I've been in more scheduling meetings
about this than I would care to recount.
And every time you go through a scenario and people leave,
there's a new set of times.
Our hope would be that we could do something sort of mid to late
afternoon, which would allow for some normal deadlines for you guys.
The Press: Where?
Mr. Gibbs: Again, that is -- I think we would likely do it over in the
auditorium on the first floor of EEOB.
So, again, my -- I'm out here to tell you on behalf of Caroline
and others -- Marissa and folks --
when you do see that advisory, do just take a second and RSVP
or have your organizations RSVP so that the process can be
rather smooth.
There will be a very tight timeline, as I said,
to get people that are not pass-holders in the building in.
And those are not our deadlines, as much as they are Secret
Service deadlines.
There's a lot of people coming through the White House for
tours, so please be attentive to that as you can.
And we will try to give you guys as much notice as we can.
The Press: For wheels up, is he committed to staying until they gavel out?
Or until he gets the stuff he was babysitting until it concluded?
Mr. Gibbs: My understanding until they're reasonably done.
So again --
Please stay in touch, again, as to --
The Press: It will be dark.
Mr. Gibbs: I should have just started with that and seen if that worked,
and I will associate myself with that answer.
The Press: Just to follow up on those housekeeping questions --
do you have a vision for bill signings beyond --
Mr. Gibbs: I don't yet.
And I think -- I'm going to check on food safety.
And we will try to keep you up to date throughout the day
pending additional needs for bill signers.
The Press: Will he try to do START before he leaves?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't think he has to sign it because it's --
once it's ratified.
The Press: So then 9/11 health care would probably be the
only thing, right?
Mr. Gibbs: We hope that passes, and we hope that that's something that can
be signed into law.
Yes, sir.
The Press: Is the administration concerned about the escalating price of
oil, which appears to be going up beyond the cold-weather premium?
Mr. Gibbs: Look, obviously, anything that has the potential to impact our
economy, we watch, and we are concerned about.
The Department of Energy would instruct me not to speak
specifically about those prices, and I would point you over to them.
The Press: Thanks, Robert.
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
The Press: Besides outlining the accomplishments for this year,
would the President put Congress on notice about those that he
anticipates they will try to repeal?
Mr. Gibbs: In today's remarks?
The Press: Yes.
Mr. Gibbs: I don't remember off the top of my head.
I don't think that's -- let me check,
and I'll try to get back to you.
Yes, sir.
The Press: The Middle East peace process has been one of the President's
main foreign policy priorities, but it has been stalled for some time.
Does he plan to make any calls to Mr. Abbas or Mr. Netanyahu
before the end of the year?
Mr. Gibbs: I can check with NSC on that.
None that I'm currently aware of, but we will double-check.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: Getting back to Gitmo -- you said there are those who can't
be tried for whatever reason.
Could you spell out those reasons beyond just the
intelligence community says so?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I think obviously some of that has to do with whether or
not, because of torture, evidence can't be used.
The Press: But if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded,
and Attorney General Holder says that he can still face trial,
what else happened that we maybe don't know about?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I think what happened has been fairly extensively covered
in documents that were released last year on the topic.
The Press: So what else -- what's a review going to do?
Is it going to change the fact that they were tortured?
I mean can you try them?
If you review it, it's not going to change the fact that they
were tortured.
So what's the point of a review?
Mr. Gibbs: On -- I'm sorry --
The Press: On reviewing their detention status.
It's not going to change the basic facts.
Mr. Gibbs: We have reviewed their -- we reviewed every --
we review the status of every person's detention as a result
of our taking occupation of this administration.
As we've discussed here before, a number of --
we didn't feel like that there was sufficient information on a
whole host of detainees.
Obviously we have had to -- there's a process that went
through to determine the status of each detainee and we've also
obviously had to balance decisions on habeas petitions
that have been ruled on by the courts.
Yes, sir.
The Press: Do you foresee the next two years of Congress being more
productive, considering the President said today that the
last two years were very productive and you're saying
that Republicans seem to have taken a earlier responsibility
to governing -- so do you foresee the next --
Mr. Gibbs: I will say this.
I do not think that the next two years,
because there is a divided House and Senate on different party
lines, that the next Congress has to be by definition unproductive.
I don't think that's the case.
I think -- and our belief and our hope is that,
as you've seen over the past many weeks,
that people have made determinations on issues that
are important to them and important to the national
security of this country, and have acted not as simply agents
of one party or another but as lawmakers and Americans.
And our hope is that that is an atmosphere that we can continue
to foster and that will lead to a host of things that you'll
hear the President discuss at the beginning of the year and
throughout the State of the Union that are important to us
continuing our economic recovery,
protecting our citizens, and ensuring that we are competitive
with the entire world in the 21st century.
The Press: Thank you, Robert.
Mr. Gibbs: Thanks, guys.