Opinion: Robert Gibbs’ final briefing: And the White House spokesman gets spoken to by a surprise guest
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After more than seven years speaking for and to Senate candidate Barack Obama, Sen. Barack Obama, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and President Obama, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held the 250th and his last White House news briefing Friday.
The departure cover story is that he wants to spend more time with his family. (See the briefing’s full text below.)
Despite the Alabama accent, Gibbs has been one of the more effective recent presidential press secretaries because of his long, intimate knowledge of the boss, strong emotional ties forged....
...in public and private over years in good times and bad and his ongoing access to the president. All White House spokespersons play games, dodge sometimes deftly and walk a fine line between explaining and advocating for both their boss to the media and for the media to their political colleagues.
Politicians see the media as a dangerous necessity, one to be used whenever possible, treated with feigned familiarity that strokes their ample egos, but never fully trusted. The trick for a press secretary is to satisfy both sides as much as possible.
Gibbs is actually on duty all weekend. Former reporter Jay Carney, late of Vice President Biden’s staff, starts Monday without those long years of experience with Obama.
Jay Carney to replace Robert Gibbs; What that says about the not-so-new White House team
Just as things looked brighter, Obama’s approval on deficit handling craters
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Daily news briefing by Robert Gibbs, as provided by the White House
MR. GIBBS: You should brief today. (Laughter.)
Q We got a one and one. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: All right. Well, listen, obviously Gibbs’s departure is not the biggest one today. (Laughter.) Having said that, I thought I should come into the briefing room just to say a few words about my departing press secretary.
As some of you know, Robert started very early with me on this wild ride that I’ve been on. I had run for the United States Senate. I was not expected to win. When I won the Democratic primary in Illinois, I realized that I was going to have to start staffing up a little bit; at the time I only had I think six or seven people working for me. And I still didn’t have a lot of money, so all I could afford was Gibbs. (Laughter.)
And so Robert came to work with me and we had what appeared to be a pretty significant general election, and then Alan Keyes came in and so that ended up not being our primary focus. We then had this incredible opportunity to speak at the national convention in Boston. And I know that a lot of you think that probably most attention was devoted to the speech that I delivered, the keynote speech in Boston, but in fact actually the most challenging problem was what tie to wear.
And this went up to the very last minute. I mean, 10 minutes before we were about to go on stage, we were still having an argument about ties. I had bought five, six ties. And Michelle didn’t like any of them. Axelrod didn’t like a couple of them -- him being, you know, one of the best dressed men in the world. (Laughter.) So we really valued his opinion. (Laughter.)
And then somebody -- I don’t remember who it was -- turned and said, you know what, what about Gibbs’s tie? What about Gibbs’s tie? That might look good. And frankly, Robert didn’t want to give it up because he thought he looked really good in the tie, but eventually he was willing to take one for the gipper. And so he took off his tie and I put it on. And that’s the tie that I wore at the national convention.
He has not said about -- anything about this tie all these years. But I have to tell you that I know there’s a simmering resentment -- (laughter) -- that he never got it back. And so as a consequence, I wanted here today -- I wanted this on the record, on camera -- (laughter) -- that I am finally returning Robert’s tie. And if he chooses to break the glass, he can. (Laughter.)
But this is going to be a reminder to me that Robert has not only been an extraordinary press secretary, but he has been a great friend. And you could not ask for somebody better in the foxhole with you during all the twists and turns of my candidacy and then the incredible challenges that we faced over the last two years.
So I’m so proud of him, and everybody here loves Robert. He’s going to be working closely with us. I don’t think we could have a better press secretary. I think Jay is going to do an outstanding job of filling Robert’s shoes. But I certainly couldn’t have a better friend at the podium each and every day. So I just wanted to say congratulations, Robert. (Applause.)
Q Did you sign?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I didn’t actually --
Q What’s it say?
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t actually sign the tie, because as I said, he may decide he wants to wear it. It just said I thought that I should finally give you your tie back. It and you helped me get started. All right. Thank you, brother.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: You notice, by the way, that he bought one just like it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I like that tie.
Q Can we ask you about Egypt?
Q Anything further about Egypt?
MR. GIBBS: I like that tie. Let me get a few things -- let me just say a few things before we get down to talking about what we have every day and what we should every day, and that’s the business of the country.
It is a tremendous honor and privilege to do this each and every day, to serve and to take part in days like today that are so momentous. And I want to thank the President and all of his team for, again, the privilege to serve.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time doing this. I don’t talk about myself well. But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about a group of people that, I want to be clear, doesn’t work for me, but I have the great privilege and I’m lucky enough to work with. I would not want to do this job, as amazing and as exciting as it is, without them. And I wouldn’t have made it through it without them.
I don’t intend, today or tomorrow, to tell any of you goodbye, because I don’t intend to go anywhere. You all are forever a part of this experience for me. You’ve become a greater extension of my family. We’ve shared a lot of extraordinary times.
I will miss boring days like today at the White House. (Laughter.) I should tell you that for all of you that are looking for help on your morning shows, that Jay likes calls around 4:15 a.m. in the morning. (Laughter.) If you don’t get through at first, just keep dialing. (Laughter.)
And, again, it has been an extraordinary privilege. And I will have more to say to all these guys and more to say to those of you that are in the back of the room that have meant so much to me and continue to mean so much to me. But before I lose it, we should probably start the 250th briefing of the Obama administration with Mr. Feller.
Q Thank you, Robert. Well, first of all, congratulations and best wishes to you. Hope we see you on the campaign. If you do get homesick, you could bring back the dunk tank at any time. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Some of you have better arms than I -- where’s Bill Plante? (Laughter.) I would have bet a serious sum of money that Bill Plante would not have been the one that dunked me, but I would have lost that and gotten wet, too. Go ahead.
Q Shifting to Egypt, a few questions. First of all, could you tell us whether President Obama was surprised by the news this morning?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that throughout the morning we had gotten -- and into last night -- gotten indications that the last speeches may not have been given, and the last changes, particularly this morning when, with the -- with everybody reporting that there would be a statement from the office of the president.
So the President, as I think many of you have reported, was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the Oval when a note was taken in to him to let him know what had been announced. And since then, prior to giving the statement, he spent about an hour with his national security team from about 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Situation Room talking about what’s going on there now, and what we have to plan for now, going forward.
Q But he learned, when he got that note after the announcement -- essentially he learned with the rest of us.
MR. GIBBS: Well, he learned what precisely had been said. I don’t want to get into what other information he might have gotten.
Q Big picture, is this change helpful or harmful to the interests of the United States?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think that any time that a government changes based on the popular response of its people, as you’ve heard the President talk about a lot, is important. All governments have responsibilities to those that they represent. I think as you heard the President say in his statement, there will be many bumps along this road as this transition continues toward free and fair elections.
So I don’t doubt, as I said, that there will be -- there’s much work to be done. This was -- this is the beginning of that process, not the end of it.
Q Does the President have any concerns as that process unfolds about the unknowns, about the -- any sense of instability right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the partnership that we’ve had with the people and the nation of Egypt for 30 years has brought regional stability and has brought peace, particularly between the countries of Egypt and Israel. And I think it’s important that the next government of Egypt, as we’ve said in here many times, recognize the accords that have been signed with the government of Israel.
You know, I think that, again, a lot has yet to be determined. I think it is clear, though, watching the events unfold over the last couple days, the real breadth of Egyptian society that’s been out seeking the type of change that we saw happen today, I don’t think is dominated by a single group or a single ideology. I think the breadth is quite wide. Yes, ma’am.
Q Robert, since the protests began, all of your statements about Egypt have been very carefully worded. I thought last night’s statement from the President was especially carefully worded. Mubarak wasn’t even mentioned. Did the President have a sense then, when he issued that statement, that maybe the speech yesterday from Mubarak wasn’t the final word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is safe to say that the very same contacts that we have in Egypt are some of the very same contacts that many of you all had that seemed to tell everyone that a different speech might be what we would hear -- that we didn’t hear last night.
And I think -- I think as the statement says, it was at that point a missed opportunity for the government of Egypt to take the necessary steps toward that orderly transition. I think that was -- I think, quite frankly, Caren, that’s been true building throughout the week, that you have seen as the government failed to take the necessary steps to broaden the coalition and to make some fundamental reforms that would signal to those in the opposition that they were serious, the crowds grew larger and larger.
So there is no doubt I think that there has -- this is a situation where I think the phrase we’ve used a lot around here is “threading the needle.” There are a lot of equities in the country and in the region. And ultimately this is something that started with, was driven by, and will ultimately only be solved by the people of Egypt. I think that is true in the lead-up to the historic announcement today but will be even more important in the days ahead leading to elections.
Q Can you talk about contacts with leaders in the region that have taken place since the announcement?
MR. GIBBS: Since the announcement today? The President has not made any phone calls either to those in the region or -- not talked to any heads of state.
Q What about senior-level contacts? And what kind of assurances, if any, can you give Israel and Jordan about how this may affect them and their concerns about stability?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have throughout this process wanted to see protests that were peaceful, protests that were -- our outcome in this process we wanted to see happen in an orderly way to ensure some of that very stability. I think that if you -- that’s what, quite frankly, is what has guided us this entire time.
The President -- again, the President has not spoken with anybody. I do not believe at this point -- though I would check -- you should check more carefully with the Pentagon, in terms of whether in the last few hours -- I don’t think there have been any contacts. Obviously we’ve got pretty good relationships, as you’ve seen throughout this process on a military-to-military basis.
I will say it is remarkable to watch in the region how Iran is dealing with this. We saw I think about a week or so ago they made some provocative statements about what these marches meant. We now know what -- how they’re responding to the images that we see in Tahrir Square. They are arresting people in Iran. They are blocking international media outlets. They are turning off the Internet.
So for all of the empty talk about Egypt, I think if the Iranian government -- I think it’s up to the -- the Iranian government should allow the Iranian people to exercise the very same right of peaceful assembly and ability to demonstrate and communicate their desires. I think we’ve all seen, again, their response. The head of the Revolutionary Guard said today, “Seditionists are no more than a corpse. We will severely crush any of their movements.” So I think what you’ve seen in the region is the government of Iran, quite frankly, scared of the will of its people. Jake.
Q Thanks, Robert. Before I ask my last questions of you in this room, good luck, and I hope you get to spend a lot of time with Ethan. I’ve also taken the liberty of going back and looking at all the questions you said you’d get back to us with an answer -- (laughter) -- that you didn’t get back to us with --
MR. GIBBS: Jay --
Q -- starting in January 2009.
MR. GIBBS: Jay will have a transcript of all of those for you on Monday. And if you don’t get it, just keeping pinging him.
Q When was the last time President Obama spoke with President Mubarak?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to double-check, but I believe it was -- I’ll double-check. I think it was right before he spoke -- was it -- it was Monday, right? The Monday that he spoke. The last one we read out.
Q The last time you announced that --
MR. GIBBS: There haven’t been any calls since that that I’m aware of.
Q Under the Obama administration, the State Department changed the way that civil society in Egypt was funding -- was funded. First of all, it didn’t directly fund civil society groups or democracy groups as the Bush administration had done. It instead went through the Egyptian government through approved civil society groups, and then also lowered how much civil society groups were funded. In retrospect, does the Obama administration regret that?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, I can get you a little bit longer fact-pattern on this. I think that -- I think our commitment to the universal principles that the President has talked about throughout this process, and in countries not just in Egypt and not just in the region but around the world, I think are best exemplified by what he said standing in Cairo, saying many of the things you’ve heard him say over the past several days.
Obviously, we are watching the situation and will, as, I think, members have testified just in the last day or so up at -- up on Capitol Hill, tailor our assistance to a changing situation.
Q Okay. And lastly, Egypt has been a tremendous ally to the United States, according to the government, on the issue of counterterrorism. Where are you concerned that there might not be as much support in the next government, whoever it is? What areas --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, Jake, let me -- obviously, we’re going to watch the events, as you and many others will, in the days and months ahead. I can say that our -- the important relationships that we have at different levels in our government with their government, I think the President was assured continue, and particularly the one you mentioned.
Q Thank you, Robert. And all the best in your next endeavor. Can you talk to us about the role that the Vice President played in what ended up happening in Egypt? I know he sent a strongly worded letter to his counterpart, Mr. Suleiman, a few days ago. Can you describe his role --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- yes, I mean, look, I think the Vice President has -- we talked about it in here, there’s a -- he had a counterpart-to-counterpart relationship with Vice President Suleiman, and has on a number of occasions spoken directly with him and, quite honestly, Dan, reiterated largely the very same set of points that you’ve heard us make public, and that is the genuine steps that needed to be taken to address the concerns that those in Tahrir Square and throughout the country have had. I think he has -- he’s been on the phone fairly regularly. I think -- obviously he has brought to meetings in the Situation Room and in the Oval Office, like last evening, quite a bit of knowledge and experience in foreign affairs and foreign policy that have helped guide the administration along the last 18 days or so.
Q Was that phone call, though, that we got the readout with some of the demands, was that a pivotal moment in this crisis?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- I think that there -- it’s probably hard to go back and pinpoint all of them, but I would say that it was -- hard to, I think, be any clearer and more blunt than the Vice President was on that call about the steps that we, that the international community and, most importantly, the people of Egypt needed to see happen. And I think that -- I think that certainly helped move this process along.
Q Yesterday when the President made his comments on Egypt at the top of his remarks in Michigan, was the White House at that time fairly optimistic that Mr. Mubarak was going to step down yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said, Dan, I said earlier in this briefing, I think many of the same contacts that we had are many of the same contacts that your network and many others in this room had in reporting what might happen in Egypt yesterday. I think the President talked about historic transformations, which we’ve seen, quite frankly, play out each and every day in the last 18 [days].
But I think what’s important now is we have to look forward and work -- help all work through a process to get us to the free and fair elections that so many have spent time yearning for.Q And finally, just to follow up on what Ben was asking, I’m not sure I heard an answer to this notion of concern from the White House as to what happens between now and the elections in September. Is there concern about what the leadership structure will be like, what could potentially happen before the people of Egypt start voting in September?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that -- I don’t think we have to fear democracy. I don’t -- I think the international community has, and again I think most importantly the people have, laid out a series of steps that they need to see taken. But I think it’s important, Dan, to understand that this was a group of demonstrations and protests that were -- that demonstrated the breadth of concern across Egyptian society.
Again, I don’t think you can look at it and say this was the group that did this, or these are the people that -- again, what you’ve seen is mothers and daughters. You’ve seen this process in some ways led by somebody that works for, as I said a couple of days ago, one of the larger companies in Silicon Valley.
So I think this is -- what you’ve seen is the breadth of cause and concern that had to have been addressed and needed to be addressed by the government, and I think today was the very first step in that process. Chip.
Q Thank you, Robert, and congratulations.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
Q I hope it was as good for you as it was for us. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He’s trying to date me and I’m not going to do it. (Laughter.)
Q You said that obviously there are going to be some bumps in the road and that the military needs to lay out a clear path. What is going to be the role of the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, publicly over the next weeks and months? Do they now pull back and say, okay, this really is up to the Egyptian people now and we’re not going to intervene? Or do they keep up the public pressure with statements and --
MR. GIBBS: I think again, first and foremost, this was always about the people of Egypt. This always was going to be solved by the people of Egypt. No statement here, no comment that was made here, was going to, I think, bring the fundamental change that people were looking for in Egypt. We talked about it a lot in here. I think the people of Egypt -- again, they have their concerns and they’re not going to be -- the definition of how to solve those concerns is not going to be solved here.
But again, I think we will continue to try to play a constructive role in helping this process along. But, again, I think this is -- this started with the Egyptian people, and it will end with the Egyptian people.
Q But do you think the President, Vice President, Secretary of State will be as publicly out there in pressing the military?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, again, I think this is -- I think what we’ve seen -- well, I think at every step along this way we have been very clear about the response -- and you heard the President discuss it today -- about violence. And I think it’s remarkable. What we’ve seen in the past 18 days, in terms of the type of sweeping change, is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a short period of time. And I think the next process of this is going to play out over a much longer arc.
We will continue to be involved and to ensure that the transitional government in Egypt and ultimately the government that the people choose to represent the people of Egypt, if they take the steps that are necessary to meet the concerns of those in Egypt, then this government will be a strong partner to it and to all of our friends in the region.
Q Why exactly did the President choose not to call a foreign leader, either Egyptian leaders or other leaders in the region, over the last day or two?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- let me go back and see if there’s any been yesterday -- he has not talked to anybody today.
MR. GIBBS: I think we have -- I think we are watching events and monitoring them. And I don’t doubt in the days ahead that the President will reach out to those. But this is an Egyptian story today.
Q And the last question, is there a hope in the White House that the example in Egypt could inspire another uprising in Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think there is quite a contrast between the way the government of Egypt and the people of Egypt are interacting, and the government of Iran is threatening its very own people. I think if the government of Iran was as confident as they would have you believe in the statements that they put out, they would have nothing to fear with the peaceful demonstration like those that you’ve seen in Cairo and throughout Egypt.
They’re not that confident. They’re scared. That’s why they’ve threatened to kill anybody that tries to do this. That’s why they’ve shut off all measure of communication. I think it speaks volumes about the strength and the confidence that they have in fulfilling the wishes and the will of its people. Mike.
Q Robert, do you have any sense if the images coming from Egypt are somehow getting into Iran? We’ve heard the Vice President and now you talk about Iran. I’m wondering if the administration thinks there’s a chance that the message is getting in somehow to Iran.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we have all seen reports that -- over the past many days that there -- those in Iran have and want to march and demonstrate peacefully. The government of Iran, again, has met those -- the concerns of its people with threatening to kill them. Again, I think it speaks volumes as to what -- it speaks volumes to the grip that they have, or lack thereof, on the popular beliefs of their own people.
Q Can you talk about Vice President Suleiman’s role at this point? Is he still in a key role, or is he on his way out as well?
MR. GIBBS: Mike, I think that is a question for the transitional government in Egypt.
Q Talk a little bit, if you don’t mind, about the communications challenge with this event unfolding halfway around the globe, trying not to get ahead of the message. How challenging was that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, as I said earlier, I -- we have -- there are a lot of different audiences, there’s a lot of different equities. We -- and I think the bottom line was, as I said, this was -- this started in and it will be solved by the people of Egypt. We spoke throughout this process about the universal values that went into the creation of our country and what those marching thought needed to go into the creation of their new government.
I think -- I don’t think there’s any doubt it has been challenging and there have -- not in quite some time have we had probably one topic take up so much space inside of here over the past 18 days like it has. But there’s no doubt it is, and it’s a -- was a challenging topic for us to discuss. But I don’t -- and I think as the President said, there will be challenging days ahead for those in Egypt to construct what their country will look like in the months and years ahead.
Q Do you mind giving out your personal email address so we can keep in touch?
MR. GIBBS: Marissa has it. I probably shouldn’t say it on TV. (Laughter.)
Q You don’t want the American people to have it?
MR. GIBBS: J-a-y -- (laughter.) I’m kidding. (Laughter.)
Q Everything’s been said before, I guess just everyone hadn’t said it yet, right? Let me ask you --
MR. GIBBS: And that’s sort of -- that’s the --
Q Isn’t that the way this works?
MR. GIBBS: -- that’s the thematic of the briefing, isn’t it?
Q Sometimes it is. Was it a bigger -- the events of yesterday or the events of today the bigger surprise to you guys and to the President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think everyone was surprised at -- a bit at yesterday. Again, I -- we -- I think you can go look at my transcript from yesterday. I was on the cautious side because I think it was clear that things were happening, as they have over the course of 18 days, very quickly.
Again, it is remarkable to stand here or to sit there or anywhere in our country and watch what’s happened over the span of that 18 days. It is a remarkable arc in human history. But, again, I think many people were surprised at yesterday.
Q How much -- is there a sense of relief in the administration, versus trepidation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- as I said a minute ago, I don’t think we have to fear democracy. I don’t -- I think that whenever the will of the people shapes the demands of those that govern it, that’s what many had in mind with democracy and representation. So I think that’s an important step. And again, this is about Egypt and about its people.
Q Does this change Middle East policy for the United States from here on out? Just what happened in Egypt, what could happen elsewhere, is it fair to say that this is going to change America’s foreign policy in the Middle East over the long term?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I don’t -- we don’t know the ultimate outcome of what free and fair elections will be. We don’t have a sense of who that next leader will be, but -- we don’t know that person’s exact identity, I should say.
But I think that we will continue to have important relationships. This is a volatile region of the world. The relationships -- the bilateral that we have -- bring some measure of stability and peace to the region.
Obviously, there’s still great work to do to bring peace throughout this region, and the President has worked tirelessly with the team on that. But -- and I think, again, there will be many days ahead to see what comes next here. But I also think it’s important, we will continue to talk about -- as we have -- as we did with the Egyptian government -- of the universal values that we hold dear.
Q On Iran, I just want to follow up on that. Obviously, you guys made a decision to do something -- on those, the Vice President’s comments, you read from specific -- what appears to be things that you wanted to say about it --
MR. GIBBS: I wanted to get the Revolutionary Guard senior commander quote correct.
Q You guys have always walked this line with Iran, even the last time when there were protesters, that you don’t want to look like America is interfering, that you’ve always feared that. So I guess talk about that line today.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t -- look, we’re not interfering. This is -- remember, this started with the government of Iran discussing what was happening in Egypt. And I think probably a week or 10 days ago, I think I said to Stephen Collinson in question that if that’s what they believe, then they wouldn’t have any problem letting their people demonstrate about the concerns that they haveNow we know they didn’t really mean that. Now we know that what they really are scared of is exactly what might happen. They’re scared of that, and they’re threatening those that might do it with death. It’s a strange -- to say the least -- reaction to a government and a military that -- governments and militaries are pledged to protect their citizens. And it is clear that the government of Iran is quite scared of theirs.
Q I feel like I should give you an opportunity to talk about Cam Newton’s pro day yesterday. You did bring plenty of college football to the room.
MR. GIBBS: Auburn will be -- Auburn will be here in mid-April, and I will be back. (Laughter.)
Q Following up on Chuck’s last question, second to last question --
Q On the Cam Newton? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: They go together, don’t they?
Q With the benefit of hindsight, are there any regrets that the administration didn’t do more to support the revolution in Iran at the time and boost it?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think you -- I think what we said then is true now. And I think we -- again, we supported universal rights, and we support the ability for those to exercise them. And I think it’s up to the government of Iran to allow that to happen.
Q So it was handled --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I -- I think there’s -- as we’ve talked about in here, there’s different degrees of development in each society.
Q And on a different subject, because I do think we’re maybe getting to the end of the possible Egypt questions, but I’m sure there are -- others will be more creative --
MR. GIBBS: You seem hopeful, Laura. (Laughter.) Q On the budget, do you think that what you put forth on spending cuts will be enough to be credible in the eyes that the bar that Republicans have set for cuts to federal spending? And do you think you can have a credible budget without taking on entitlements?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s important -- I think if you go back and see what I said about the budget yesterday and the day before, I think it’s important that we not just talk about cuts, but we talk about its -- their impact on the defcit. And I make that point because I think the seriousness with which anybody approaches this has to be taken in some totality, right?
We’re going to have a debate for a number of years -- for a number of the next two years about tax cuts for those who make above $250,000. We have had a debate that takes us back to the debates of the last two years about whether or not we should repeal health care.
We know the impact of both of those is to add far more than anybody pledges to reducing cuts to the deficit. So I think that what the President will put forward on Monday will be a -- will certainly meet the measure of credibility: a spending -- a five-year spending freeze that results in a 10-year reduction of about $400 billion, and the smallest percentage of government spending in relation to size of the economy since Eisenhower was President.
I think the President, though, has been clear that there’s more that we have to do. And I think that will be part of the conversation over the next many years. Peter.
Q I bet you’re going to be following every facet of that budget process over the next few weeks. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I will email Jay repeatedly about --
Q Back on Egypt, looking back at the full scope of everything that’s been said, starting on January 25th when Secretary Clinton talked about the stability of the Mubarak government to what the President said today, do you think that you all have been proactive or reactive to what’s happened there over these 18 days?
MR. GIBBS: Peter, I think we have been -- I think we have been fairly steady in what we’ve said. I think you can chart what the President said today and what -- from when he talked publicly about this the first time and when I talked publicly about this the first time, the measure of what we were for, the fact that this was about the people of Egypt and would be solved by them.
Look, I don’t doubt that -- there were some people, again, in the region that saw us too much on one side, and others watching the same statement saw us on too much of the other. I think we had to -- and I think the President and his team showed steady leadership that continued to voice the concerns of those that wanted greater rights and greater opportunities.
Q Is what happened today that result that the President desired?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President and the team desired to see greater recognition of the rights that he talked about in Cairo in 2009 and that those that have marched in Cairo in 2011 have sought. Again, I don’t think we have to fear -- I don’t think this is something we should fear. I think this is, as I said and the President have said, that we -- those that are in government have an opportunity to represent the will of the people. And I think that process, that long transition, has just begun in Egypt.
Q One more shot on Iran. Would you like to see in Tehran -- would you like to see what happened in Cairo today happen ultimately in Tehran?
MR. GIBBS: I would like to see, and I think the administration would like to see, the ability of the people of Iran to voice what they’d like to see from their government. And I think if the government of Iran didn’t fear the voices of their own people, they’d let them do that.
Q So you don’t want to go so far as to say you’d like to see that government overthrown?
MR. GIBBS: I’m comfortable with my previous answer.
Q Does that apply to Saudi Arabia?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I -- we have conversations with governments throughout the world in this region and in other regions about adhering to universal values.
Q Following on Karen’s question earlier, how concerned is the administration specifically about unrest spreading to Jordan? Queen Rania has been accused of corruption. How closely are you looking at that situation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, throughout this process we have watched -- again, we’ve watched throughout the region. And again, I reiterate that when we have meetings with -- when we have bilateral meetings with these countries, we discuss, again, the universal values that we discussed on many occasions with the government of Egypt.
Q Are you particularly concerned about unrest spreading to Jordan and Syria and these other --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into some of those conversations.
Q Could you talk a little bit more about the role the administration thinks that the Egyptian military should be playng now that they’ve essentially taken over?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the -- look, this is -- I don’t -- I’m not going to go through each and every step of this process. I think the President was clear in the responsibilities as a transitional government that they have. Some of the changes that are necessary need to take place, and the important steps that have to be demonstrated and the constitutional change that we need to see, that the people of Egypt need to see, on the road to free and fair elections. And I think they have those -- they have those obligations to that. Connie.
Q Best of luck, Robert. Be happy. Three housekeeping questions. Are you going to recommend to Jay that he continue the pattern of really very heavy questions in the first two or three rows? (Laughter.) It’s a serious question for everybody in the back rows.
MR. GIBBS: Connie, would you have that question if you weren’t situated today in the middle of the second row? (Laughter.)
Q It’s not my seat, but I’ve been here for 43 years.
MR. GIBBS: Connie, I am only moments away from not having to wade into the politics of many of the rows in this room, and I am not going to -- I know that you guys will solve all these problems together.
Q Two more. Will you recommend that you have the prearranged questions, a list of questions, at press conferences?
MR. GIBBS: We don’t have a prearranged list of questions at press conferences.
Q Arranged questioners, I think.
MR. GIBBS: Is that what she meant?
Q Yes, that’s what I meant.
MR. GIBBS: I think we bring some order to how the President calls on you guys. We don’t have -- I want to be clear, because I think your original question before Jake amended it was, does the President have a prearranged list of questions at the press conference?
Q He reads my mind.
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to leave that aside. (Laughter.) Again, the President does not have a prearranged list of questions at a press conference.
Do you realize that you’re just -- Dana is just writing all this down. (Laughter.) He’s absorbing all of this, and this stuff just writes itself.
Q He had a great book, by the way.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll have some time to read it.
Q I can’t remember my last question now.
MR. GIBBS: Jake may know. (Laughter.)
Q Prearranged question. (Laughter.)
Q Who decides -- oh, yes, the last question. Will you keep your excellent staff, press staff, on board?
MR. GIBBS: Keep these guys? Absolutely. (Laughter.) No, no, this is very serious. These guys -- there’s no better group of -- there’s no better group that I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve done this -- I took my first job in politics February 14th, 1994, paid job. And I will walk out of here on February 13th, 2011 -- 17 years. I have not had and not worked with a greater group of people than what I have worked with on a campaign and in this office. And they are terrific. Each and every day they make the President and they make all of us look good. They are and will continue to be the backbone of the White House press operation.
Q Thank you. You guys owe me one for that.
Q Now, this is a prearranged question -- (laughter) -- so you already know it, but for the benefit of everybody else here --
MR. GIBBS: I’ll let you finish it just so it looks --
Q Just for appearances.
MR. GIBBS: “No.” (Laughter.) Oh, I didn’t, sorry. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q What is your -- what is the President’s message to people in Jordan and Saudi Arabia who are looking at Egypt, saying, we want to have the same sort of nonviolent revolution; get rid of our monarchy. Would he encourage that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t think it is -- it hasn’t been during the 18 days here, and it’s not our role to make that kind of statement. Again, I think it is important that -- we have bilateral relationships and in those meetings we say publicly and we say privately that governments throughout the world -- we just did this when the government of China was here -- have to recognize a certain level of individual and basic freedom. And I think that has been true for this administration and previous administrations that were here before us.
Q Thank you, Robert. Now that you have more time on your hands, you’ll be returning all our phone calls and emails, won’t you? (Laughter.) I love he does a “no comment.” I’m going to depart from the Egypt questions and follow on Laura’s budget questions. The House Republicans have been very divided among themselves over how much cutting to do. As you know, conservatives are pressing for additional cuts. The President met with Speaker Boehner earlier this week, and I’m wondering how closely is President Obama watching this debate among Republicans? And how concerned is he that the pressure that their party faces from the right will make it more difficult for him to reach some kind of agreement with Republicans on a budget?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t -- I think the President obviously is a pretty big consumer of news. I have not heard him discuss in the past few days the articles about, as you mentioned, the pressure that House Republicans have come under from different entities in their caucus.
I think that -- I think out of that lunch and I think even well before that lunch we had a model in December of being able to sit down and make some important decisions for the people of this country to take some important steps like reducing our deficit that only can be done when we both seek common ground. And I think that’s what will be the end of this, is there will be some agreement.
I think there will be some tough decisions along the way, and you’ll see some of those tough decisions from our side in the budget. But I think in the end you will see that the two parties have to come together. And we have divided government. That’s the nature of any our solutions.
Q So he’s confident that he can avert a shutdown of the sort that happened in the mid-1990s, and that you’ll --
MR. GIBBS: I doubt that -- I think there’s probably some very serious concern in the Republican caucus of not wanting to repeat that. And I think that you’ve heard the notion of some of -- even Speaker Boehner has said we have to make some tough decisions around and some tough votes on the debt that require us all to be adult. Yes, ma’am.
Q Thank you, Robert. Compliments to you and your family.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
Q Regarding the six-party talks, South Korean government had mentioned today the issue of the preconditions for resumption of the six-party talks. And does the United States have any preconditions to rejoin six-party talks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what was clear in the bilateral talks that quickly broke down earlier this week between South Korea and North Korea was that North Korea genuinely lacked the seriousness to be involved in this. And I think before we return to six-party talks, I think North Korea has to demonstrate a seriousness -- the seriousness with which they need to employ to live up to their commitments.
And I think it was clear, again, when talks broke down earlier this week bilaterally, that they were -- they had no real intention of entering into a constructive dialogue like this. And I think it results in further isolation of North Korea, and they can make a conscious decision but it’s going to require that conscious decision.
Q What is the detail of the United States --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- look, I think the broadest thing is they’ve got -- again, they have to show a willingness to live up to their commitments and to denuclearize. And I -- that’s what we have said throughout this process and I think they need to demonstrate how serious they are about that. Yes, sir.
Q Thank you. Mr. President said Egyptians have changed the world. And so far what I am hearing about states, other oppressive states in the region, it looks like your administration has not yet adapted to this changing world. Or could you please walk us through what is the changing world and what does your administration need for the changing world?
MR. GIBBS: I think I gave this -- I’ve given this answer a couple of times, but I’ll repeat it. We spend time in public and in private with governments throughout the world -- not just in this region, but throughout the world -- on what we see -- I’m not sure what that noise is. There we go. Sorry. Caren’s recorder went from recorder to player, or somebody’s did. I thought maybe -- I thought that was in my head, but now it appeared to be -- (laughter.)
Q That’s why --
MR. GIBBS: It appeared to have been -- I felt much better when you guys recognized it as a noise too.
Q Is that why you’re leaving? (Laughter.)
Q He’s hearing noises.
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- again, there are certain basic and universal rights that people yearn for throughout the world. That’s exactly what the President talked about, and I think that’s what -- that’s the -- the responsibility of governments is to meet those rights.
Q But the statement came from the President and he openly said the world has changed. So my question is, again, has any kind of policy changed so far that can we see dealing with these states? Have you adjusted your policies yet?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I -- I’ll try it one more time. We had these conversations directly with those -- with governments throughout the world. Again, we mentioned what happened not too long ago with the government of China that resulted in the leader of the Chinese saying there was much work to be done. Ann.
Q You’ve worked for the President both -- while he was President and as a presidential candidate. Do you think as we move in toward the 2012 campaign -- presumably we’ll see you again sometime during that period -- do you think he can make governmental decisions and simply leave politics out of it? Is he the kind of person who can make governmental policy decisions without always thinking maybe in the back of his mind on his own political future?
MR. GIBBS: Like that brilliant auto bailout? (Laughter.) I mean, I will say I think most of the first couple years of our administration have been marked with decisions that you didn’t need anybody to tell you weren’t hugely popular but needed to be taken.
Q Saw how that came out.
MR. GIBBS: And -- but I think part of that is because we had an election -- there’s a calendar of elections and then there’s an arc of recovery that may not perfectly align with an interim election.
This is a President who has, again, made a series of very tough, sometimes unpopular decisions to ensure that we didn’t go from what some have called a great recession to a great depression. And I think the President -- I think one of the things you’ll see is you’ll see a lot more of the President trying to tell the story of why we’re making these decisions.
I think that’s -- I think he said that. That’s one of the threads that we lost over the first two years was we made a series of decisions that had to be made quickly, and we forgot to tell a larger story.
Q Will you and others advise him to make those tough decisions even when it’s him up for reelection?
MR. GIBBS: We will. I mean, I will tell you that I remember being in the final decisions around the -- what to do about the auto companies, and it is a tremendous story and people that have worked on it here have done a tremendous job.
But even -- I remember sitting in that meeting and even with -- the notion was even if you give -- if you make some of the required management changes and give them a lifeline, it was still a 51-49 proposition. I think it will go down as one of the best decisions we made because now you see companies that are fundamentally restructured and capable of surviving and thriving in this economy and that will only get stronger. Mike.
Q Two questions if I can. First, can you talk about what -- how much, if at all, the recommendations from the budget commission, deficit commission, are going to be reflected in the budget that we see on Monday?
MR. GIBBS: That is a good question for somebody next week. (Laughter.)
Q All right. Well, then on the subject of --
MR. GIBBS: I should use that more often in the next few minutes.
Q CPAC is happening just up the road, and a number of potential candidates are speaking there today. Mitt Romney called the President a weak President who lacks clear direction, and Tim Pawlenty invoked the birth certificate controversy and asked what planet the President is from. I’m wondering if you want to take a shot at responding to potential rivals of the President --
MR. GIBBS: I think we did pretty well Minnesota and I think the President has -- though he didn’t talk about it a lot, Mitt Romney -- I think what Governor Romney did on health care was one of the decisions that Ann just alluded to that was a tough decision, but it was a series of the right decisions. I’d be interested to see if throughout the next two years the two words “health care” come out of his mouth. Carol.
Q Can you -- I know you won’t be here, but can you give us a little week-ahead, how the President plans to --
MR. GIBBS: I have a week-ahead, yes. You want to just fast-forward this whole thing, don’t you?
Q No, no. And then I have others. One or two.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll do the week-ahead last, how about that?
Q The Chicago election, do you know how the President intends to vote? Is that absentee?
MR. GIBBS: He has requested his absentee ballot. The last time I checked, the First Lady had voted and the President had yet to. I will --
Q But do check, because she hadn’t voted as of Tuesday.
MR. GIBBS: I think -- I think the last time I checked was yesterday.
Q Okay, so you think --
MR. GIBBS: So I think she voted -- she’s voted sometime in between. I don’t know whether the President has voted, b will check on that right -- as soon as I get out here.
Q And then if you could --
Q And get back to us.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q How would you -- just on your departure, how would you assess the President’s relationship with the press corps at this point in his present --
MR. GIBBS: Soon somebody is going to pay me a lot of money to give that assessment and I look forward to -- (laughter) -- I look forward to sharing that with them.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q Hey, wait a minute. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He does that just to do that, April. That’s why -- if you can see the size of the grin on Ben’s face every single day when he does that. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to stir the pot as I leave.
Q Oh, yes, you do. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Ben. For the last time, promise me --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I will get that to you. I have not had a chance to -- (laughter.) [Email Redacted] -- (laughter.) No, I will -- I will try to find that out.
Q You promised Wednesday you were going to call me at home, and you did not. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I did.
Q You did, on tape.
MR. GIBBS: Promised I’d call you at home?
Q Well, you said you’d call me that night. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think I said that I’d call you that night. (Laughter.)
Q You said that night --
MR. GIBBS: April, can I --
Q Okay, just on the cell phone -- you said --
MR. GIBBS: April, there may be --
Q Anyway, moving on --
MR. GIBBS: April, can I -- I’ve got a follow-up. Who were you talking to that promised to call you? I will go find out whether he’s voted or not.
Q I know these are things that I -- I have an interest in that answer, too, so --
Q A lot of people do, yes.
MR. GIBBS: I will go find out as soon as I walk out of here.
Q All right, now on the economics of Egypt, now that there is --
MR. GIBBS: Quite a segue. (Laughter.)
Q Now that there is a change in leadership, let’s talk about the American pocketbook and gas prices and things of that nature. Should we expect to see some change in prices of a barrel of oil now because things have changed? Or is there still volatility to push the price up?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think inherent in the pricing of oil is some volatility. As much as I would love to tackle a few subjects that they tell me never to talk about, I should not do that in the last briefing I have. I will say this --
Q What can they do? (Laughter.)
Q Fire you? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to make people rich or poor based on what I say.
Q You’re not an oil expert.
MR. GIBBS: But on a daily basis in the deputies committee meeting that have been taking place around Egypt, we have discussed what is happening with transportation in ports of entry and in the Suez, and we continue to monitor that and do not see a disruption on that.
Q And lastly, congratulations on your new chapter.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
Q Now -- (laughter) -- Monday it’s going to be different for you. Do you think you will be going through news and information withdrawal?
MR. GIBBS: No doubt.
Q How are you going to handle Monday when it comes?
MR. GIBBS: I will do that in my week ahead. I’ll show you -- (laughter.)
Q Thanks. I wanted to follow up on Mitt Romney’s glaring omission in his remarks today. Has the President been watching the CPAC coverage inbetween watching the -- okay. (Laughter.) And why do you think -- do you think that it’s important for Mitt Romney to talk about his health care plan, and why? Why would that be important?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know why he wouldn’t.
Q Really? Okay.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know.
Q I had an Egypt one, believe it or not -- actually a couple on Egypt. Have the -- have the Secretary Clinton and the Samantha Power camps kind of gotten together? Are they on the same place now on -- in terms of --
MR. GIBBS: I’m not entirely sure what you’re speaking about.
Q Internal divisions on how publicly to push for change and on how much change is enough change, in terms of the Egyptian government. Is there -- is the White House and the administration all on the same page about --
MR. GIBBS: Margaret, I think we’ve been all on the same page for quite some time. Rich and Stephen and then I’ll go.
Q No, it’s okay, it’s fine.
Q Robert, congratulations. And on Egypt, I’m wondering -- you’ve been talking about, like with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the bilateral relations, what the President says privately and publicly. I’m wondering, though, at this moment, isn’t there more that he could be saying publicly? Does he plan to play any sort of a greater role in terms of trying to empower the people of other countries, like the Egyptian people are now being empowered?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, Rich, I don’t know of anything that is planned to do that. I would point you to what he said today. And I think what’s important to remember about all of this is it didn’t start by -- we didn’t start it. We didn’t finish it. This is an issue for the people of Egypt and the people of countries around the world to petition their governments. Stephen.
Q The President just said now that the Egyptian people forged change through peaceful means, and not terrorism and violence. Is the administration arguing now that expressions of popular will like this and democracy could drain a sort of swamp where -- from which extremists find their recruits?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- I think the line, Stephen, that you point to is one with some I think very specific meaning. And I think if you go back to what the President said in his inaugural address by -- there are those that seek to change by building, and those that seek to change by blowing up and destroying. And I think what we have seen in Cairo goes greatly in contrast with entities like al Qaeda that have killed people that share their belief, their religious belief, in order to scare and to terrorize.
Q So, in that case, is it -- will we see more of an emphasis on pushing for democracy in the Middle East in the foreign policy than we’ve seen --
MR. GIBBS: I think you’ll see the President continue to hold up the concerns of those throughout the world that seek a greater recognition. I’m going to do the week ahead and then I am going to go.
Q One more --
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Let me just do the week ahead, guys. Before I do, I’m going to give you my week ahead, April. Are you ready?
MR. GIBBS: On Monday, the former press secretary will travel with Ethan Gibbs to school.
MR. GIBBS: In the morning he’ll catch some SportsCenter and a bike ride if the weather holds up. In the afternoon he’s hoping for a nap -- (laughter) -- before walking several hundred feet to the bus stop to greet Ethan. Travel pool will accompany. (Laughter.) Fortunately for me, I do not anticipate any further public events for the remainder of the week.
The President, on the other hand, and you all have a very busy week. On Monday, the President will travel to Baltimore County, Maryland -- I don’t know if it’s city or not -- to speak to the students at Parkville Middle and Center of Technology. I don’t know if that’s the right --
Q Parkville Middle and Center of Technology.
MR. GIBBS: I see, there’s an “and.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan and OMB Director Jack Lew will join the President for the visit, where he will lay out key priorities in the 2012 budget and discuss the importance of investing in education to prepare our children to be competitive in the global economy.
On Tuesday, the President will honor recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House. The Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors.
On Wednesday, the President will meet with state legislators at the White House. Later the President will deliver remarks at the White House on the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
On Thursday, the President will attend meetings at the White House before leaving in the afternoon to travel to the West Coast.
On Friday, the President will visit Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Oregon. While at Intel, the President will tour the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility, as well as learn more about Intel’s science, technology, engineering and math education program.
It has been a tremendous honor and a privilege to do this over the past little more than two years. I wish you all good luck. I will miss you. I had a lot of fun. And I hope, as we covered some very serious subjects and we watched the world change, I hope you had some fun, too. Thank you. ####