Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–June 21, 2010 – 1:01 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: So to start out I just want to read out a couple phone calls the President just made to Chancellor Merkel and President Zapatero.
The President values his excellent relationship with the Chancellor and he expressed his appreciation for their continued strong cooperation. They discussed the importance of continuing to take resolute steps to foster a durable recovery and to strengthen financial regulation, looking ahead to the G20 meeting in Canada. The President also emphasized his interest in rapid action by the European Union to resume the terrorist finance tracking program.
President Zapatero — the President expressed support for the difficult but necessary economic actions that President Zapatero has taken in recent weeks to strengthen Spain’s economy. They discussed the importance of continuing to take resolute steps to foster a durable recovery and to strengthen financial regulation, looking ahead to the G20 meeting in Canada. The President thanked President Zapatero for excellent cooperation during the Spanish EU presidency, particularly progress on counterterrorism and addressing the threat posed by Iran.
As with Chancellor Merkel, the President also emphasized with President Zapatero his interest in rapid action by the EU to resume the terrorist finance tracking program. And the President also wished the Spanish team luck in the World Cup — which explains where Gibbs is right now, as well.
So, with that — Julie.
Q A couple questions on the oil spill. Feinberg said he wants to speed up the claims process, but it still seems like there aren’t really strict guidelines for what claims would be paid out, what claims are legitimate. Should people in the Gulf be expecting some sort of outline on those claims?
MR. BURTON: Well, the claims process is now moving over with Feinberg, where he’s setting up a process by which to handle the $20 billion facility that was set up. So hopefully in the very short term that will be handled. BP right now is already handling some of the claims. And the President has said he wants to make sure that the process if fair, that it’s prompt, and that BP has the money set aside to do exactly what’s necessary in order to pay the claims.
Q So would the recommendation to Gulf residents be to wait until you get some guidelines on what’s going to be paid out, or to just file whatever you think is appropriate at this point?
MR. BURTON: The recommendation would be to, if you’re ready to file, file, and try to get this in process as quickly as possible. If you file now and you want to appeal it later, then you can do that through the facility that Mr. Feinberg is setting up. And he would encourage you to move as fast as you can to reclaim some of the damages that BP owes you
Q And I know that BP announced its new total for costs today. The government has so far only announced that its cost were $69 million. Should BP be getting a larger bill?
MR. BURTON: Oh, well, we’re going to continue to make sure that BP pays for every single penny that they’re responsible for. So we’ll be pressing them —
Q Is there a new government estimate beyond that $69 million?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have one for you, but I can guarantee that we’ll be pressing them to pay every single dime that they ask, so, yes, there’s going to be more bills.
Q Could you get back to us on a new estimate bill?
MR. BURTON: As soon as we’ve got one you will get it.
Q Bill, a question about the yuan and the announcement this weekend by China. Is the White House happy or satisfied with the reaction in the markets so far? And when can we expect to get the updated currency report?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would just say that, as the President and Secretary Geithner said this weekend, we’re obviously encouraged, but we’ll be monitoring the progress. Implementation here is going to be key, and so we’re just going to be keeping an eye on that.
Q How did the President first react when he found out about it?
MR. BURTON: You know, I didn’t talk to him specifically about it, but I think that his statement probably says it all.
Q You guys don’t chat about the yuan?
MR. BURTON: You know, it’s funny, we did not — (laughter.)
Q Well, and the second part of that question was, when should we expect the currency manipulation report? Will that happen after the G20?
MR. BURTON: Certainly won’t happen before it, but I don’t have anything new for you on timing.
Q Will this issue still be on the agenda of the G20, as Obama says — the President signaled in his letter on Friday?
MR. BURTON: Well, in terms of the broader discussion that they’ll be having about job growth, about financial regulatory reforms that need to be put in place and have been put in place, and how we get on a path of a durable global economic recovery, currency will certainly be a part of the discussion.
Q When you say you’ll still be watching it, is there anything else that the President will be saying to his Chinese counterpart about the currency specifically this weekend? Is there anything more you want them to do now?
MR. BURTON: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the conversations that they’re going to have. But for what’s going to happen at the G20, I’d encourage you to hop on one of the preview calls that’s happening.
Q I’m wondering that since the meeting the President and other administration officials had with BP, has anything changed at all in terms of BP being more transparent, more forthcoming with information? Anything at all changed significantly since that meeting?
MR. BURTON: Well, the thing that changed is there’s now an account with $20 billion in it from which we’re making sure that BP pays out the claims that they owe.
Q But in terms of the tone? I mean, there had been this sense that leading up to that meeting, the President was using strong language in calling out BP. Does the administration feel like BP is now working more with the administration, working harder to do what it’s supposed to do in terms of cleaning up the spill and plugging this leak?
MR. BURTON: BP has a large set of responsibilities that they need to be attending to in order to make sure that they are cleaning up the oil that’s spilled, plugging the hole that’s still open on the bottom of the ocean, and making sure that folks in the Gulf are paid their claims in a quick, prompt, and fair manner. And we’re making sure that they do all those things. Thad Allen is leading that effort down in the Gulf. But we’re not going to let up as a result of any meeting. We’re going to continue to apply pressure until we feel like they’ve paid what they’ve owed, that they’ve cleaned up the mess that they’ve made, and that the people down there are taken care of.
Q On another subject, the Father’s Day proclamation, the President here talks about the different kinds of families that are out there and he talks about fathers — children who were raised by fathers and mothers, a single father, a stepfather or grandfather, and two fathers. Why was it so important for the President to include that in the proclamation, the two fathers?
MR. BURTON: He was just trying to be inclusive of all sorts of families, just like he was on the Mother’s Day proclamation.
Q Ambassador Holbrooke’s plane was fired on today as he left Afghanistan. What does the White House know about the situation, and do you consider it a specific threat aimed at him specifically?
MR. BURTON: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t know that they’re fully accurate that his plane itself was fired on. But we’re gathering information, and as soon as we know more, we’ll let you know. But as it stands, I don’t know that his plane specifically was fired on.
Q And on the immigration vote in Nebraska today — cities voting on an Arizona-esque vote to see if they should prohibit illegal immigrant renting or hiring — does the White House have a position on this vote? I know that the President spoke, obviously, before the Arizona vote, as well.
MR. BURTON: Since I’m not familiar with that specific law in Nebraska, I’m not going to comment on it. But I will let you know if we got anything for you.
Q On a lighter note, has the President spoken at all about the intangible toll that the oil spill has taken on family structures in the Gulf at all?
MR. BURTON: On family —
Q A lot of the people in the Gulf are saying that — the increase in domestic violence, they’re struggling along with the family structure. He spoke a lot about this in his Father’s Day message today. Is there any personal concerns he says more than the monetary or jobs?
MR. BURTON: Well, you know, I was with the President last week when we went down to the Gulf, and you talk to some of these business leaders who own small businesses that have been around for decades and decades. And it creates a lot of tension when the income that you’ve been relying on for so long is suddenly come into question.
And this is an area that obviously was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The recession took its toll on the area, as well. And as they were about to bounce back, they now have this to deal with. So the President does feel deeply personal about living close to water, having grown up next to it, and is, of course, concerned about all those families and what they’re going to be able to do to turn their lives around. But in terms of specifically to what you are mentioning, I don’t know that he’s addressed that specifically.
Q Tony Hayward and his yachting habit, does the administration see that as just a problem with Tony Hayward? Or is that reflective of how BP has addressed this entire problem?
MR. BURTON: You know, look, if Tony Hayward wants to put a skimmer on that yacht and bring it down to the Gulf, we’d be happy to have his help. But what’s important isn’t what Tony Hayward is doing in his free time; it’s what BP is doing to take responsibility for the mess that they’ve made. You heard Rahm talk about it this weekend. You heard everybody in the administration continue to press BP. They’ve got to clean up the oil. They’ve got to stop that oil from coming out. And they’ve got to make sure that they’re paying the claims to the people of the region.
So Tony Hayward, I guess, took himself at his word that he was going to get his life back here. It’s clear that he has. But what’s important to us is that the people in the Gulf get their lives back. It’s not so easy for them to just take a weekend away and forget about everything that’s happening down there. They’re dealing with it every single day. They’re going to have to deal with it for the foreseeable future, and what we think is important is that BP takes its responsibility to make sure that they’re doing everything that they can.
Q But the new man supposedly in charge on a day-to-day basis — it was weeks before he even got any oil on his clothes. I mean is there — is it not just Tony Hayward? Is this reflective of the attitude of BP? And does it make it difficult for them to be a partner of the administration in fighting this thing?
MR. BURTON: We’ve fought hard to make sure that BP is living up to their responsibilities. We’re going to continue to do that. There’s been times when we’ve pushed them and they’ve listened in quick order, like when we said that their containment strategy wasn’t fast enough, that it wasn’t good enough. In 48 hours, they turned around and gave us a better plan.
So we’re going to continue to push them. And where we think that they’re not moving fast enough, we’re going to continue to make sure that they do. But that’s what we’re focused on — not necessarily on how people are spending their free time.
Q Another topic, immigration, and forgive me if this has already been asked of somebody in the administration. I was yachting with Tony so I didn’t see it over the weekend. (Laughter.) But Jon Kyl, on immigration at a town hall, said, “the problem” — that he met with the President in the Oval Office and he then said, that the President told him “the problem is if we secure the border then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.” And that’s on fire in the conservative blogosphere with people saying, ah-ha, the President is holding immigration reform hostage to this — or holding securing the border hostage to immigration comprehensive reform. He said he doesn’t want to secure the border because then that dooms the chances of immigration reform. Did the President really say that to Kyl?
MR. BURTON: No, the President didn’t say that. Senator Kyl knows that the President didn’t say that. But what everybody knows because the President has made it perfectly clear is that what we need to do is everything that we can to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. And that includes not just securing the border, but doing a lot of other things.
Now, when it comes to securing the border, we’ve put more resources at the border than have ever been there before. The President has doubled the number of border agents who are there. We’ve put other surveillance systems in. We’ve continued to work to make sure that we’re taking care of the security of the folks who live down in the border states, and we’re going to continue to do that.
But, no, that statement is not true. And we’re just going to continue to work and hopefully get the support of senators like Senator Kyl for comprehensive reform because that’s the only way we’re really going to be able to address this problem.
Q Did Kyl lie? Or is this within the range of acceptable political exaggeration?
MR. BURTON: I’ll let other folks make that determination.
Q Well, the White House would have to make that. You’ve said it’s not true. Is that just a lie?
MR. BURTON: Exactly, I said it’s not true.
Q Somebody from the White House reached out — Senator Kyl is a member of the leadership. This is somebody who comes into this building all the time. Did somebody from the White House reach out to Senator Kyl and ask him to clarify his remarks?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know if anybody specifically called his office, but as you know we are in constant contact with the leadership on the Hill and I’m sure this will come up in conversations.
Q So you assume somebody will reach out if they haven’t do so already?
MR. BURTON: I assume that we’ll be in contact with his office.
Q Afghanistan meeting on Wednesday. What — should we expect — other than the President getting an update and discussing how the strategy is going, can we expect anything else to come out of this? I mean we’re sort of — it seems as if the July 2011 deadline gets interpreted differently depending on what Rahm Emanuel says versus what Secretary Gates says. So will there be some clarity on that coming —
MR. BURTON: I think that they were both pretty clear on the shows that they appeared on yesterday in that the timeline is firm. And the reason the timeline is in place is to give some urgency to the folks planning in the U.S. government to Afghanistan and to our partners around the world who are helping in that effort. You know, so far President Karzai has been able to make some progress himself. He attended and held the peace jirga there. He went to Kandahar to help build support for that effort there. Recruitment and retention rates in the army are either on target or ahead of target.
And obviously we’re in a tough period in Afghanistan. One of the unfortunate realities of ramping up your force and going on the offensive is that you’re going to create more violence. And that’s what we’re seeing there right now. But the President is committed to that timeline, and he’s also committed to making sure that we have a full review at the end of this year, as he announced in his West Point speech. And we will go from there.
Q If evidence warrants, is he willing to rethink his timeline, either sooner or later?
MR. BURTON: The timeline is not moving. What the President is committed to doing is —
Q The timeline is not moving even if there’s an assumption like, boy, this isn’t working —
MR. BURTON: Keep in mind that what July 2011 is, is the date at which we start to draw down our forces. There’s not a prescribed amount that we’re drawing them down. It’s an inflection point in where we are in that conflict. But what’s important about it is that it helps to provide the urgency that we think is necessary in order to hand over the safety and security to the Afghan government.
Q Oil spill. How does Ken Feinberg — does Ken Feinberg get compensated out of the $20 billion fund, or separately by BP?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know. I’ll check.
Q And would you waive the Jones Act for Mr. Hayward if he chose to put a skimmer on his yacht? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: As I’m sure you know, I don’t think he would need it, because he’d be so far out at sea. (Laughter.)
Q Bill, in light of the BP internal document that has just surfaced regarding the possibility that there may be perhaps two times as much oil spilling into the Gulf, does this administration still think that the initial $20 billion in the fund is adequate?
MR. BURTON: Well, keep in mind we never said that $20 billion was a cap. It’s where we started because we feel like we needed to move as quickly as possible to make sure that people were getting their claims paid by this independent facility that was set up. So we’ll continue to apply pressure until we see that all the claims are paid.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q The President met with General James Amos last Thursday. He’s the nominee for Marine commandant. Are you familiar with that meeting —
MR. BURTON: I’m not familiar with the meeting, no.
Q Okay, all right, well, I’m wondering since he’s the nominee for Marine commandant, if “don’t ask, don’t tell” — if his views on “don’t ask, don’t tell” are something that the President is taking into consideration? In other words, all the service —
MR. BURTON: I’ll have to check and get back to you.
Q Okay, thank you.
Q Some Republicans are equating the President’s weekend golf games with Tony Hayward’s yacht. I wonder first, is that fair? And if it’s not fair, is it really fair to take off after Tony Hayward’s yachting?
MR. BURTON: Well, for starters, I welcomed his yacht to the Gulf. So I don’t know if that’s taking off on it. But secondly, I don’t think that there’s a person in this country that doesn’t think that their President ought to have a little time to clear his mind. And so after a week where the President was taking on the oil spill, got an historic agreement with BP to put aside $20 billion to pay claims; after a day on Friday when he strengthened lobbying ethics rules in the White House; after going to Ohio to talk about the economy and see the progress that’s being made in some of those stimulus projects that are happening around the country — all the different issues that the President is dealing with, I think that a little bit of time to himself on Father’s Day weekend probably does us all good as American citizens that our President is taking that time.
Q And do you have an update on the $100 million issue — the $100 million pot for the moratorium workers? As of Friday, there was still not much clarity about how exactly that’s going to be doled out, since it’s not part of the Feinberg pot. Is the White House even involved in that? And where does that stand?
MR. BURTON: Well, we’re involved to the extent that in the legislation that would eliminate the cap on punitive damages for oil companies that’s currently moving its way through Congress, in there, there are ways to take care of oil rig workers that maybe weren’t eligible for unemployment like contractors and folks like that who are working in those outfits.
So we’re looking at a variety of different sources where some of those workers can be compensated for their lost work, and we’re going to continue to do that.
Q Actually on that line, the President asked his commission to see if they can hasten their findings that impact the moratorium. Do you guys have an ETA on any of that?
MR. BURTON: I’ll check.
Q Bill, did Secretary Clinton speak out of turn last week when she said there would be a legal challenge by the administration to the Arizona immigration law?
MR. BURTON: This has been addressed, but as far as we’re concerned, that law is still under review and I would check in with the folks over at the Justice Department to see the status of that.
Q Still under review meaning no decisions have been made on a challenge?
MR. BURTON: That’s right.
Q Back to the oil rig workers. Can they claim money from the $20 billion, or is that a separate, segregated fund? Can money for the oil rig workers be taken from the $20 billion fund?
MR. BURTON: Well, it’s a separate pool of money specifically for the oil workers. Now, if they’re affected somehow as a result of another business that they have or some other claims that they’re filing, I don’t think that they’re precluded from making claims to that $20 billion.
Q Can it be used to compensate oil rig workers?
MR. BURTON: Specifically for — I’m going to double-check and make a hundred percent sure, but that’s what that extra fund is for.
Q And I want to make sure, BP’s contribution of $100 million, that’s its liability for that? It was a goodwill gesture — are they liable for anything?
MR. BURTON: It was voluntary on their part, but we’re going to keep going to BP as far as we think that it’s necessary to reclaim what we think they owe.
Q So they would be on the hook for more than $100 million?
MR. BURTON: They’re certainly on the hook for more than just was agreed upon at this meeting last week, so if there are places where we think that we can come to agreement, then we’re going to do that.
Q I’m sorry, I’m not clear. Will their liability exceed $100 million?
MR. BURTON: I think there’s a lot of legal questions that we’re still going over and we’ll take those one day at a time.
Q Will that be under the 1990 law —
MR. BURTON: I think there’s a lot of different legal questions as it relates to that.
Q Related to that, a couple days ago I asked Robert if at some point the administration would put forward so the public can look at and all interested parties could look at the actual legal language of the agreements reached with BP, both on this $20 billion fund and the $100 million fund for compensation for these very questions. Is the administration committed to putting that document out so everyone could take a look at it?
MR. BURTON: The document is still be finalized itself. You already have the one-pager that explains everything that’s in there —
Q But as you just said, there are lots of outstanding legal questions and I’m curious if we’ll all be able to take a look at that at some point in the future.
MR. BURTON: Yes, you sure will.
Q You will be putting that out?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q Okay. There was a federal lawsuit or injunction filed today by those in the deepwater industry seeking to reverse the six-month moratorium, arguing that just because there is — in their words — one accident, it shouldn’t be able to idle an entire industry. The judge said today that he will rule on this by Wednesday. How involved is the administration in combating that request for an injunction, and what’s, again at this point, the defense for a blanket moratorium on everyone when many argue we can do this safely; one bad actor should not penalize an entire industry and the people who are dependent upon it for employment?
MR. BURTON: Well, the defense for the moratorium is that the President thinks we need to do every single thing that we can do to ensure the safety of those workers who are out on those rigs, and until he can say that he’s done everything that he thinks is appropriate to ensure their safety he doesn’t want to move forward on this drilling. So the defense is we got into this mess in large part because of people who cut corners, and we’re not going to cut corners as it relates to protecting American workers. And that’s why there’s a moratorium.
Q You mentioned a moment ago the deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is not moving — correct?
MR. BURTON: That’s right.
Q Can you define what the country should expect to see when those troops start coming out? Are we talking about a small number, a large number? Is that still conditions-based and dependent on the recommendations from the commanders on the ground, meaning it could be very, very slow after July 2011, or it could be rapid? I mean, what does it mean on 2011 — what should the country understand about that deadline not moving?
MR. BURTON: It will be conditions-based, that’s right.
Q So it could be very slow?
MR. BURTON: It could be a whole different range. But there will be about 100,000 troops in the country and that’s the point at which we’re looking to start drawing down our forces.
Q And that is a drawdown related to the surge forces, the 30,000?
MR. BURTON: That’s right, yes.
Q Not the others who were there before necessarily?
MR. BURTON: Well, we’re talking about 30,000 troops, so I think the odds that it’s 30,000 on July 1, 2011 — right, right, right — so I think that you will see the initial drawdown of surge forces.
Q On the surge forces?
MR. BURTON: Yes, that’s right.
Q First question, over the weekend Sarah Palin tweeted that “Rahm Emanuel is as shallow, narrow-minded, political, irresponsible as they come to falsely claim Barton’s BP comment is GOP philosophy. Rahm, you lie.” Can you give us as unvarnished as possible reaction to that that you may have gotten from Rahm or, if not, then —
MR. BURTON: If only Vice President Biden were here today. (Laughter.) Well, I think as a leader of the Republican Party, people would be interested in knowing whether or not she thinks that, as Congressman Barton said, that $20 billion set aside in a fund to pay the claims for people who have been harmed by BP’s oil spill was a “shakedown.” I don’t think the American people think that. And I know that Governor Palin spends a lot of time on the speaking circuit and maybe she didn’t see that a lot of leaders in the party — in her party — were actually going out there and saying, in fact, this was a shakedown and were defending Barton’s comments. And so I would just say that we’re satisfied that we’re doing everything we can to take care of the folks in the Gulf region and if she doesn’t want to own Congressman Barton’s comments, that doesn’t surprise me.
Q Did Rahm say anything, though, that you’re aware of about this tweet from Sarah Palin?
MR. BURTON: I did not talk to Rahm about the tweet from Sarah Palin.
Q Did you say she’s “a” leader or “the” leader?
MR. BURTON: I said “a” leader.
Q “A” leader.
Q On the subject of Ken Feinberg, one of the criticisms that a lot of conservatives are making about the $20 billion is that it would be administered by Feinberg, who is a political appointee. I wonder if you could speak to that criticism. I guess the theory is that, I don’t know, that he would dole out the compensation in a political fashion.
MR. BURTON: I don’t understand the criticism. Ken Feinberg is a leader in issues like this. He showed his abilities in a similar situation with the victims of 9/11. And the President is confident that he’s the right guy to make sure that people in the Gulf are taken care of.
Q I have one more. You said that you know that the President didn’t say what Senator Kyl says he said, but do you have the White House’s version of what he did say, how that conversation went, or can you get that?
MR. BURTON: No. I mean, what the President — the President’s feelings on immigration are crystal clear. I went over them earlier in the briefing.
Q Well, why not release the quote? Why not release what —
MR. BURTON: Well, there’s not a transcript of the meeting.
Q Is there a taping system in the Oval Office? (Laughter.)
Q There’s not a steno — actually, there’s not a steno?
MR. BURTON: No.
Q There’s not a — there’s not anybody taking notes at that meeting?
MR. BURTON: There’s no — there’s no stenographer.
Q There’s no — nobody taking notes at these meetings with the Senate —
MR. BURTON: If it’s just one-on-one, unless one of the people in the room is taking notes.
Q This happened at a leadership meeting.
Q It was just a one-on-one, right, that you —
MR. BURTON: What Senator Kyl said was one-on-one. Now, at the leadership meetings, there are more people in there and some people take notes, but even in that, there is no stenographer.
Q But in these one-on-ones, there’s nobody else in the room?
MR. BURTON: Not if it’s one-on-one.
Q Right. Now, the original denial came from Dan. Did Dan talk to the President specifically about that?
MR. BURTON: Rahm discussed it with the President.
Q So it went from the President to Rahm to Dan?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
MR. BURTON: Scott Horsley.
Q Bill, Bill, just —
Q On the energy meeting Wednesday —
MR. BURTON: Let’s just hold tight — hold tight, Lester.
Q On the energy meeting Wednesday, is this just a listening session for the President, or does he have specific pieces of legislation he’s going to be putting out there for the lawmakers?
MR. BURTON: Well, there’s already a lot of really good proposals out there. Obviously the House has passed a bill; proposals have made it through committees in the Senate. And the President is going to talk about the progress, talk about what we need to do to get a deal and actually move some legislation forward. So I would say it’s one part listening but also one part trying to bridge some differences.
Q Does that include a price on carbon?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s feelings on this are very well known. The President thinks that if we’re going to change how we deal with carbon, if we’re going to move our energy future in a different direction, then we have to be pretty aggressive in how we do it. But he’s not — he doesn’t think there’s just one good idea on this. He wants to listen to some of the other ideas that folks have.
Q Bill, just one — just one question, Bill.
MR. BURTON: I don’t know, Les.
Q On the subject of the schedule, tomorrow there’s a health care event. What is this particular event about and particular angle that the President is talking about?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President is going to talk with some commissioners from around the country about the patient’s bill of rights, which is something that essentially has been discussed for some 15 years and now is codified into law. And he’s also going to talk about the responsibility that all the different players have to ensuring that health care is implemented in the right way and that people aren’t using health care reform as an excuse for skyrocketing premiums.
Q To the extent that he’s got this health care event, he’s got the G20 coming up, obviously we have the economy event Friday — I don’t notice a Gulf event here. Is there some thought that perhaps the President is over the hump on his public role in the Gulf response?
MR. BURTON: No, there is not. The President is going to continue to take that issue on and deal with it both publicly and privately. He obviously has a lot of faith in the people who are working on the issue right now, but he’s not going to stop his very intent focus on that issue.
Q Bill, just one —
MR. BURTON: April.
Q Just one question, Bill —
Q On the Black Farmers and Cobell, that money is stuck it seems in the Senate. What’s the White House doing in reference to trying to get the sticky situation unstuck?
MR. BURTON: We’re continuing to stay in contact and try to find a possible remedy as quickly as we can.
Q What’s the timeline? Is it by the end of this month again, the deadline?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have a timeline —
Q So what — I mean, has the President made any calls to the Senate? I know Harry Reid said he was trying to push it through, and even some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are saying — asking people to call and get this unstuck. What is the President doing? Has he done anything? Has he called on the Hill to try to help this move forward?
MR. BURTON: He hasn’t made any calls that I know of.
Q Bill, in Jonathan Alter’s new book, apparently he reports on a conversation that occurred with Joe Biden in which Joe Biden claims that a lot of — I’m paraphrasing here — but a lot of people will be leaving Afghanistan in July 2011. Secretary Gates said he was not knowledgeable about the Vice President expressing that opinion. Has that opinion been expressed internally either from the Vice President to the President, or in another context?
MR. BURTON: No, as I understand it — I wasn’t in the room, obviously, for the interview — but you should check back with the Vice President’s staff to get an even fuller readout. But the context of this was the reporter, the author, pressing pretty hard on whether or not that timeline was a firm timeline, and the Vice President just stating exactly what you’ve heard from everybody else in the administration, that it is in fact a firm timeline.
Q Bill, just one question.
MR. BURTON: All right, Les.
Q Thank you. Considering the high unemployment rate among black American citizens, why is the Obama administration opposing Arizona’s effort to stop the invasion of Hispanic illegal aliens, so many of whom have come to obtain U.S. jobs?
MR. BURTON: Well, Lester, I could give you a serious answer to an un-serious question. But I’m going to take a pass on this.
Q No, it’s a serious question. It’s very serious in Arizona, isn’t it?
Q Can you answer that?
Q Could you just answer the question?
MR. BURTON: Immigration is indeed a serious issue in Arizona, and for all the folks who live along the border and all over this country. And the President thinks that the best way forward here is a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. It includes making sure that we’re securing the border, and it includes making sure that we deal with all the different elements that are important in this debate. It’s not just one specific issue. He is not doing it for one particular group. He is doing it, because he thinks that if we’re going to be a nation of laws, if we’re going to be a nation that is protecting our border, if we’re going to be a nation that has common sense about the way it takes on this issue, then we need comprehensive immigration reform.
Q The administration just put out an official endorsement of the DISCLOSE Act. And I noticed in the — two questions. One is can you talk about the exemption for the NRA and how difficult it was to support the legislation that was designed to combat special interests with a special interest carve-out? And, two, is the President going to be lobbying members on the Hill — and the House, specifically — to get this legislation back on track after it looked like it was pulled because it didn’t have majority support?
MR. BURTON: Well, obviously, the statement of support is clear that in showing where the President is on the issue. But, as it says, this is not a perfect bill and the President thinks that we need to work to make it as strong as humanly possible. The Supreme Court made a decision that allowed all sorts of money to be injected into the political system. The President just doesn’t think that’s how it should go. He doesn’t think that foreign-owned corporations should be able to donate unlimited amounts of money into our political process. And he thinks that the bill that they’re working on right now is the best way to help address that issue.
Q Is he going to make phone calls, talk to members about getting their support?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know that he has a specific agenda to call members on this one.
Q Just following up on something you said earlier, on the immigration meeting Wednesday, I think you said — the President will talk about —
MR. BURTON: Energy?
Q Yes, thank you. They’re kind of running together.
MR. BURTON: It’s okay.
Q You said the President will talk about what they need to do to get a deadline and move some legislation forward. Does the White House have a deadline in mind, or just this year will suffice?
MR. BURTON: The President is hoping that we can do it as soon as possible.
Q Robert Bork spoke out strongly against Elena Kagan this week as a very activist judge on the issue of abortion.
MR. BURTON: I don’t think anybody was surprised to see that.
Q Do you have a response?
MR. BURTON: No, not in particular. I don’t think anybody is particularly surprised.
Q Also on Kagan, there was a statement just put out by Senator Sessions in which he suggested that the White House has been engaged in a pattern of misrepresentations and untruths regarding Kagan, particularly over the Harvard years and the military recruiters. He singles out comments from Joe Biden in which he suggested that she was right on the issue and was merely following the law as being an example of that. How do you respond to his statement?
MR. BURTON: I think Vice President was right. She was in fact following the rules of the campus. And as a lot of you already know, while she was at Harvard, military recruitment either stayed the same or went up every single year that she was there. She has the support of many of the young men and women who went through ROTC while they were there at school. They said very specifically that she had real respect for both their military service and their academic careers. And that’s why you’ve got people who are serving even in Afghanistan and Iraq supporting her nomination right now. So obviously there’s — there are partisans who are part of this debate, and that’s fine, but on the facts, Elena Kagan was right on this one.
Q There was a report over the weekend that the 9/11 decision about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other co-conspirators could be pushed back until after the midterm elections. Several weeks ago now, Attorney General Holder said the decision on that would be announced within weeks. It appears there’s no real solid movement on that. Is that a decision that the administration is now looking to make after the midterm elections?
MR. BURTON: It’s going to be going forward here, but there’s no specific schedule for it that I know of. But I’d stay in contact with the Justice Department on that.
Q But you wouldn’t deny the possibility that it could lapse over until after the midterm elections?
MR. BURTON: I just don’t know what the schedule of it is. So I would just encourage you to talk to the Justice Department.
Q Has progress has been made in the last month since Attorney General Holder told the country the decision would be coming in a matter of weeks?
MR. BURTON: Yes, progress has been made.
Q I know that the administration has said repeatedly —
MR. BURTON: Can you speak up?
Q Yes, sorry. I know the administration has said repeatedly that BP is a responsible party. But over the weekend, BP and Anadarko, a Texas-based oil company, kind of traded barbs over whether Anadarko should be partly responsible because they own 25 percent of the well that is currently gushing. Has the administration had any discussions with Anadarko about their potential liability?
MR. BURTON: The administration is going to be — there’s obviously a lot of different players here in this specific well and in the lease. And we’ll be examining all the responsible parties to ensure that people who share in the responsibility share in paying what they owe.
Q Were they contacted as part of the $20 billion claims fund?
MR. BURTON: They weren’t part of that, no.
Q EPA has sent out draft legislation today on extending — or reinstating the Superfund tax. And I wondered why now? And do you think you have better prospects for it given the fact —
MR. BURTON: I think you should ask my friends at the EPA about that one.
Q About the upcoming visit of the Russian president, is the President taking time to prepare for the visit, or what does he focus on specifically, if there is a specific issue that you want to point out?
MR. BURTON: The President looks forward to the visit from President Medvedev. This is something that they discussed as far back as a year ago when President Obama was in Moscow on that trip. We have a very strong relationship as it relates to a wide variety of issues. And we’ve done some important work as it relates to the new START Treaty, North Korea, Iran, a whole host of issues — not the least of which is the strengthening of economic ties between the countries. So we imagine that they’ll talk about a whole range of issues, and we really look forward to having President Medvedev here.
Q So in terms of specific preparation, does he meet with his advisors? How is it done?
MR. BURTON: Yes, he does meet with this advisors and talk to the appropriate people at the White House before such an important visit.
Q Bill, last week, 12 Turkish soldiers were killed by PKK terrorist organization, and Turkish side right now are worrying about U.S., whether U.S. administration stop sharing intelligence with Turkish partner. Do you have any comment?
MR. BURTON: I’m sorry. I can’t understand your question. Can you say it one more time?
Q Turkish soldiers were killed by PKK terrorist organization last week. And Turkish side is worried about U.S. administration stop sharing intelligence with Turkish side. Because a few years ago — Turkish and American administration set up an mechanism sharing intelligence in regard to solving this problem. And recently — incident happened and United Nations Security Council, Turkish votes no, so between Israel, America and Turkey, the relations are getting really tense —
MR. BURTON: You know I’m going to ask my colleague Ben Chang to get back to you on that. He probably knows a little bit more about that.
Q Going back to the oil spill, last week, the (inaudible) said they will crack down on underwater drilling. What does the administration think of that?
MR. BURTON: The administration thinks that we need to do everything we can to keep workers safe and keep our environment safe. And so the President instructed Secretary Salazar to make sure that he was doing the things that were necessary in order to make sure that we were achieving safety goals. And obviously, as a part of the presidential commission, we’re going to be learning a lot more about the causes for this accident and to ensure that it never happens again.
Q Thanks, Bill.
Q Bill, did the President get a BP briefing today? It wasn’t on his schedule.
MR. BURTON: I will check. I’m certain that he’s been keeping up to date with it, but I will see if he’s —
Q — briefing for him?
MR. BURTON: He does get information on it every single day.
Q And, Bill, do you know if the deepwater commission has named its executive director yet, it’s staff?
MR. BURTON: I don’t.
Q Bill, how does the President get it on like Sundays, like yesterday, some kind of information on BP, how is he getting it?
MR. BURTON: There’s always staff with the President — whether he’s here at the White House or whether he’s somewhere around the country. And the National Security staff is there to brief him. He often has one or two meetings on weekend days, even though he’s technically down. So a variety of different places.
1:45 P.M. EDT