White House Press Briefing by Robert Gibbs, June 22, 2010

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–June 22, 2010 – 12:52 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Let me read a quick readout from a meeting the President held this morning.  The President had a productive video teleconference this morning with President Karzai.  The two leaders focused primarily on plans to stabilize Kandahar City and the close alignment between our two governments there.  They received a briefing from senior U.S. and Afghan officials detailing their plans to provide better security, improve governance and increase economic opportunities.

The two Presidents agreed on the need to make tough decisions on a range of issues, including removing corrupt officials, eliminating sources of corruption and providing the people of Kandahar better access to government services.  They both emphasized their plans to monitor progress in Kandahar closely.  The two also agreed on the importance of the U.S.-Afghanistan long-term relationship, and plan to discuss the joint effort to negotiate a new strategic partnership declaration during their next conversation.

And with that, Mr. Feller.

Q    Thank you, sir.  What is the President’s reaction to the incendiary comments by General McChrystal and his aides?  And has the President spoken to the general about this yet?

MR. GIBBS:  The President has not spoken with General McChrystal.  I think you all know that General McChrystal is on his way back to Washington, will take part in tomorrow’s planned Afghanistan meeting in the Situation Room.

As Secretary Gates’ statement says, he was recalled back to Washington to speak to Pentagon officials and to the President about the remarks that were made in that article.

Q    What about the President’s personal reaction?  What is it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Ben, suffice to say the — our combatant commander does not usually participate in these meetings from Washington.  The President has — the President asked for him to come back to explain those remarks, and that’s what he’s on his way to do.

Q    In the story, McChrystal or his aides are quoted as ripping on the President, the Vice President, Eikenberry, Holbrooke.  How can the President keep someone in his job who offers that level of insubordination?  Does he plan to fire him?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me say, first and foremost, there are more than 90,000 of our bravest men and women in Afghanistan.  And what we owe them is nothing short of our fullest support and our best efforts to get a new strategy in that country right.  That’s the President’s focus.  That should be everybody’s focus.

It was a strategy, as you all know, that was worked out in long consultation last fall and last winter, and the President went around to many of the people that will be in the Situation Room tomorrow asking them if they agreed with this new strategy and asked for their commitment to implement it.  That’s — again, that’s what we owe the men and women that are fighting each and every day over there.

Q    But that —

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, let me finish by saying that, again, the President will speak with General McChrystal about his comments, and we’ll have more to say after that meeting.

Q    Is McChrystal’s job safe?

MR. GIBBS:  We’ll have more to say after that meeting.

Q    Can you confirm that Peter Orszag is leaving the administration?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    And will there be any changes in fiscal policy?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would say obviously Peter has served alongside a valuable and within a valuable economic team that has faced the greatest economic crisis that any President has faced since the Great Depression.

It has taken — it’s an enormous task.  Peter has been instrumental in, for instance, this year’s plan to freeze non-security discretionary spending for three years and has decided to leave before we get into the creation of the next budget.  He’s been here for two budgets, and we’ll look for a replacement.

Q    Can you talk at all about who his replacement might be?  And will there be any other departures from the economic team?

MR. GIBBS:  I know of no other departures.  Obviously we’re looking at a number of very talented candidates.


Q    Does the President consider the remarks in the story from General McChrystal and his aides insubordination?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President is looking forward to speaking with General McChrystal about those remarks.

Q    Can you characterize at all the President’s reaction to hearing that aides for McChrystal called Vice President Biden “Bite me”; McChrystal advisers said Obama clearly didn’t know anything about McChrystal when they first met; here’s a guy who’s going to run his f-ing war; he didn’t seem very engaged; the boss was pretty disappointed?

MR. GIBBS:  He’ll have his undivided attention tomorrow.

Q    Does the President dispute the characterization that he wasn’t engaged in his first meeting with General McChrystal?

MR. GIBBS:  We look forward — the President looks forward to speaking to him tomorrow about what’s in that article.  We owe — every member of this team, from the commanding general to anybody that works in this building, to anybody that works in the State Department or throughout the Pentagon, we owe it to — as I said earlier — the men and women that are fighting there to implement the policy that each agreed to.

Without a doubt, General McChrystal, as Secretary Gates has said, has made an enormous mistake, a mistake that he’ll get a chance to talk about and answer to tomorrow to both officials in the Pentagon and to the Commander-In-Chief.

Q    Does the President still have confidence that General McChrystal can run this war?

MR. GIBBS:  We should wait and see what the outcome of that meeting is.

Q    Robert, why hasn’t General McChrystal talked to the President yet?  I mean, wouldn’t the President be the first person that he would pick up the phone, he would call and apologize directly to?  We know he’s talked to Mullen and Gates and a whole bunch of other people.

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know why — I don’t — General McChrystal has not called the President.  The President has not called General McChrystal.  The President asked that General McChrystal come, and they’ll get an opportunity to talk about this article face to face sometime tomorrow.

Q    Does the President not want to hear from him right now?  He wants to wait for the — a face-to-face meeting?

MR. GIBBS:  I think right now he’s on a plane coming back here to have that face-to-face meeting.

Q    And are the two of them going to be alone in addition to the Situation Room meeting?

MR. GIBBS:  I anticipate that, yes.  I don’t have a time yet for a meeting for that, but yes.

Q    Does the President make a distinction — Senator Carl Levin makes a distinction in the Congress.  He says that the disagreement is not over policy, per se, but he says it’s over personalities, that this is — would have a negative impact on implementing the policy.  Does the President make a distinction between the kind of criticism — personality conflicts that are taking place in the Pentagon versus, okay, we’re on the same page when it comes to policy?  Or does it matter?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I will say this.  I think the President believes — and I think most believe — that personality differences aside, we’re here to implement a new strategy, again, put together over the course of I think three months and 12 meetings in the Situation Room.  And it’s our job to implement that strategy.

The President doesn’t believe that personalities, whatever your disagreements are or whatever your disagreements were, should distract from the strategy to get Afghanistan right.  The President talked throughout the campaign and throughout the time as we created this strategy in the Situation Room that this war effort in Afghanistan had for years been under-resourced.  Now there are on the order of four times the number of troops in Afghanistan — or will be, I should say — and coming into that country on a pace laid out in this new strategy.

It is incumbent upon anybody involved to put aside whatever those differences are — and this goes for any policy decision.  If there’s a disagreement in a room here at White House, at the State Department, at the Pentagon, in a foreign capital throughout this world, it’s incumbent upon those in the policymaking world to set aside those differences and implement the decisions that, in this case, the Commander-in-Chief has made in conjunction with both military and civilian officials.


Q    Is removing the general from his position at least an option the President is considering?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I’m not going to prejudge the meeting.  I think the President is anxious to talk to him before he has anything else to say on it.

Q    But wouldn’t the President know ahead of time whether or not that’s an option he’s considering?

MR. GIBBS:  I would say all options are on the table.

Q    Including firing him?

MR. GIBBS:  I think every option is on the table.

Q    Last year you’ll recall when there were — there was a series of leaks when these meetings in the Situation Room were going on, and the President very clearly said that that was a firing offense.  Isn’t this worse than that?  Wouldn’t this be a firing offense, this kind of insubordination?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I — Chip, I think the magnitude and graveness of the mistake here are profound.  And the President took everyone to task last year for, as you said, the leaks that were coming out of those meetings.  He said there’s a reason we don’t have these meetings at Starbucks, that we have them in the Situation Room.  And he takes this seriously because we have — because he has made a life-or-death decision to put people in harm’s way.

And we owe it to those men and women — some of whom are serving their third or fourth tour in Afghanistan or in Iraq — we owe them our very best.

Q    If McChrystal were not so vital to the mission in Afghanistan, would this be an easy decision?

MR. GIBBS:  I will say, Chip, I think that — I think our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger than one person.  I think there was a strategy that was borne out of discussions on both the military and the civilian side.  We said this about Iraq, and it’s true about Afghanistan.  There is not a military solution alone to this problem, because — and we’ve seen this even in our efforts in Marja — if you cannot hold an area, if you cannot create or if the type of governance structure cannot be created in order to secure that area, then you can’t transfer it.

So this is bigger than anybody on the military or the civilian side.

Q    Were you with the President when he reacted in any way to this story?  And if so, how would you describe it?  Was he surprised?  Was he angry?

MR. GIBBS:  I was — I gave him the article last night.  And he was angry.

Q    How so?

MR. GIBBS:  Angry.  You would know it if you saw it.  (Laughter.)

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Has McChrystal offered his resignation?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of.  I don’t — again, he’s not met with the President so I don’t — not that I’m aware of.

Q    Would the President accept McChrystal’s resignation?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he looks forward to the talk tomorrow.

Q    Isn’t pulling a general off the battlefield in the middle of war tantamount to saying that he expects him to offer his resignation?

MR. GIBBS:  I’m not prejudging the outcome of tomorrow’s discussion.

Q    The purpose for calling him here.

MR. GIBBS:  The purpose for calling him here is to see what in the world he was thinking.

Q    Is there a certain aspect to this that’s serving as a shaming function?  Certainly he could elicit the information by a video teleconference.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, this is — this goes far beyond the President, let’s be clear about this.  The meeting tomorrow — and I think — we’ll have the manifest for you in the guidance — there are a lot of people that are involved, right?  We’ve got a diplomatic corps that has to — that is sending civilians in to create the governance structure that I was speaking about.  We’ve got, as I said, men and women at all levels of the military involved in this.  This is a — these are discussions that have — I assume General McChrystal will have with more than just the Commander-in-Chief.

Q    Is there any aspect to this that’s about, frankly, humiliating McChrystal?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think he spoke clearly to that in his statement, that — I think that was taken care of largely in the article.

Q    And then last thing — what bothered the President most about what he read?

MR. GIBBS:  That we’re distracting from what the President considers to be an enormously vital mission for our country and for our Armed Forces.  We’re at an important time in seeking to make progress in a country that we have been in for a number of years.  We have dedicated, as I said, more men and women to this effort than have ever been dedicated before.

And we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Our focus should be on that work.  Our focus should be on implementing this policy and on creating the security and the governance environment that allows our good men and women to come home.


Q    As soon as the Walter Reed scandal broke in The Washington Post, Secretary Gates fired the people involved — didn’t involve President Bush.  When the live nuclear weapons were put on a — accidentally put on a bomber at Barksdale Air Force Base, Secretary Gates fired the people involved.  Why would you want to have General McChrystal in this White House and not have this handled by the Secretary, who has shown himself willing to make these tough decisions on his own?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, this is a decision that will be made by the Commander-in-Chief.  This is a — as I said just a minute ago, this is an enormously important effort and we’re at an enormously important time in that effort.  The President believes that General McChrystal ought to have an opportunity to discuss with him that article.

Q    And one more thing on that.  General McChrystal has already had his woodshed moment with the President — it happened last year after London.  How many times can this man be taken to the woodshed by the Commander-in-Chief?

MR. GIBBS:  We’ll know more about that tomorrow.

Q    Robert, you’ve spoken a couple of times about what’s owed to the people who are serving over there.  What should people put in harm’s way make of their commander taking these kinds of shots at the Commander-in-Chief, and the comments made by his close aides about the Vice President, about General Jones, about Ambassador Eikenberry and others?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, we — I think anybody that reads that article understands, as Secretary Gates talked about, what an enormous mistake this was, given the fact that mothers and fathers all over this country are sending their children halfway across the world to participate in this.  They need to know that the structure where they’re sending their children is one that is capable and mature enough in prosecuting a war as important as Afghanistan is to our national security.  I think that is one of the things that the President will look to discuss tomorrow.

Q    What does this do to the general’s credibility with his own rank-and-file troops?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that’s a question better asked for — to those serving with him.  Look, let’s be clear, General McChrystal is a — has fought bravely on behalf of this country for a long time.  Nobody could or should take that away from him, and nobody will.  But there has clearly been an enormous mistake in judgment to which he’s going to have to answer to.

Q    One quick procedural question.  When they have the meeting in the Situation Room, so many of the people there who are targets of this criticism will be around the table.  Will each one of them have a chance to call him to task?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don’t — you all may know more about calls that he has already made on this to different members that will be around that table or not.  Again, I can’t — it’s hard to speak about what the interaction would be like for that meeting since it hasn’t happened.

Q    Can I just follow up on one thing you said?  You said that the parents of soldiers need to be sure that the command structure in Afghanistan is capable and mature enough — did I hear you correctly?  So you’re questioning whether or not General McChrystal is capable and mature enough to — for this job he has?

MR. GIBBS:  You had my quote right.

Q    Robert, you said he was angry.  But I was wondering, in the larger sense, was the President’s anger more having to do with what the comments seemed to say about respect for the chain of command?

MR. GIBBS:  Roger, it would be hard to limit — I don’t know that I could focus like a laser on particular aspects.  I think you’ve probably read the article, too, and you could guess there are a number of points in which anger might be your reaction.


Q    Does it matter to the President that General McChrystal has apologized and is making these other calls to try to remedy the situation?

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    In what way?  In what way will it affect the President’s decision as to how this strategy can go forward and whether or not McChrystal is still the man he trusts to carry it forward?

MR. GIBBS:  I think one of the question — and obviously the President will get an opportunity to speak with other members on the team about the confidence in the structure that they have.  And, again, Major, I just do not want to prejudge the President’s conversation.  That’s not fair to the President, and it’s certainly not fair to General McChrystal.

Q    But the President has taken note of that and it will factor into his consideration?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.

Q    Does it matter to the President that President Karzai today, through a spokesman, said that he would like to continue to work with General McChrystal in the theater and that is generally supportive of him as the operations in Kandahar and elsewhere go forward?

MR. GIBBS:  It is important that President Karzai have confidence in the entire team.  And I think many people enjoy — at a number of different levels on that team, enjoy good relationships with President Karzai.

Q    Just to follow up on Jake’s question.  So it would not be inaccurate for us to assume that from the President’s perspective, General McChrystal’s capability and maturity are now open to question?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think there are open questions based on actions that were reported in that article that the President seeks to speak to General McChrystal about.

Q    One of the underlying themes in the article, separate from General McChrystal’s more controversial comments, is the frustration that rank-and-file soldiers have — the rules of engagement and the frustration of dealing with the realities of trying to prosecute the counterinsurgency strategy on the ground on a day-to-day basis.  Separating McChrystal from that analysis and that theme in the article, how concerned is the President about that, that rank-and-file soldiers find themselves — if they’re being accurately represented in this article — trapped by limiting and constricting rules of engagement?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I’ve not spoken with either the President or the team on that aspect of the article.  I would simply surmise that it is something that is — has been and will be discussed in the past and in the future.

I will say that we know that — we know that civilian — we know what civilian casualties do to the mission.  We know what happens.  And you’ve seen both General McChrystal, you’ve seen Ambassador Eikenberry, you’ve seen others — you’ve seen the President speak about the anguish of knowing that innocent civilians have been killed in these battles.  And, again, we know the effect that it has on the population, in which already believe — which does not believe that the insurgency has their best interest in mind.

So I will say that great care has been taken — and you saw it in Marja — great care is being taken in prosecuting a war that does not create amongst the general population sympathy towards those we’re trying to defeat.

Q    In addition to feeling angry, does the President at all feel betrayed since McChrystal is there because the President decided he would be there and has largely backed McChrystal’s recommendation for the counterinsurgency strategy itself?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I would simply sum it up as I have before in saying that over the course of many weeks a strategy was defined — refined and developed, and that each member of the team pledged to implement and agreed with that strategy.  That’s what we want anybody from the ambassador, to the combatant commander, to anybody else involved in this to focus on and focus on alone.


Q    After the review last year, one of the things you all stressed — and you’ve talked about it here again today — is unity of purpose and consensus that you all had reached going forward.  Given both the general’s comments, but also the sort of sense of dissention and disagreement that the article portrays between the various players, are you convinced that that kind of consensus still exists?  And if not —

MR. GIBBS:  I can only take the word of those that sat in the Oval Office as the President went around person to person —

Q    But that was a lot of months ago, so I mean this —

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I understand, it just happened to be at a fairly pivotal moment at the point in which the President lays out a decision for a strategy and asks those involved, do you agree with my decision, and do you pledge to implement it.

Look, I’m not speaking out of school to say there are disagreements in this building probably every hour of every day about what to do and when.

Q    If you could tell us more about those on a regular basis.

Q    Like every hour.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  But it is — it’s the President’s job to make those decisions, and it’s our job to implement them — not to re-litigate them, but to move forward based on what the President has decided.

Q    But shouldn’t there be — I mean, you know, that was many months ago, the times have changed.  Is there a concern that something needs to happen to make sure that the folks that are now pursuing this are still on that same page?

MR. GIBBS:  I have — the President gets, obviously, in his presidential daily briefing, in weekly memos from the combatant commanders, from the ambassadors and weekly meetings with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, and no one has walked into any of those meetings, and nobody has written in any memo that they disagree with the decision that they agreed with late last year.

Q    One last just quick question.  The briefing that he got with Karzai and the senior officials today, I take it McChrystal had already departed and so was not part of that meeting?

MR. GIBBS:  That’s correct.  This was a regularly scheduled SVTS with President Karzai.

Q    Robert, when you described the President, giving him the article and he got angry, had he read the whole — were you with him when he read the whole article?  Or was it based on your highlights?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I had — he had heard something, I don’t remember who, about the existence of this article.  I walked the article over to the residence last evening.  He came back to the Oval Office on a couple of occasions.  I was not in the room when he —

Q    About this?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I was not in the room when he read the article, per se.

Q    Can I follow up?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  Let me — I’ll go to here and then I’ll come — I’ll come, don’t worry.

Q    And who do you know — whom did he talk to last night other than you about this?  Who did he call, email?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, obviously General Jones, the Chief of Staff and many members of the national security team.

Q    Has he talked to or heard from any of the NATO — leaders of the NATO countries?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t — no, the only call that we’ve done today is with President Karzai.

Q    And one last thing, would he have expected — you said that General McChrystal had not called the President and the President has not called him — would he have expected General McChrystal to try to call him by now?

MR. GIBBS:  No, again, I think — I think given the fact that we’ve requested he come back for a meeting I think — is let’s say a meeting in lieu of a call, how about that?

Q    Briefly on that SVTS call, did the subject of McChrystal come up?  Did President Karzai, for example, voice support for him?

MR. GIBBS:  I believe President Karzai — I’ve seen certainly the comments I think you’ve seen from his spokesperson.  I don’t know if that separately came up as part of the SVTS, but I can certainly — I can check.

Go ahead.

Q    Robert, thank you very much.  You said that the President was angry and that you would know it when you see it.  The problem is we’ve never seen it.  Can you elaborate a bit more?

MR. GIBBS:  Aren’t you lucky?  (Laughter.)

Q    Was he pounding — did he pound the table?  Did he curse?  Can you elaborate?

Q    Jaw?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I’m not going to elaborate.

Q    Just to clarify, you don’t believe McChrystal was in on the Karzai briefing?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, he was not in on the SVTS, no.  He was either preparing for or on a plane back here.

Q    Well, if you had not had this big meeting tomorrow, would the President have called him back anyway?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    This is the kind of thing he’d have —

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    How would you — will he meet with the President privately in the Oval Office separately for the —

MR. GIBBS:  That’s my understanding.  Again, I don’t have a — I do not have a time for that.  My assumption — and did not have a full conversation with scheduling right before I came out here — but the distinct impression I was given was that that would be at some point tomorrow.

Q    And separately from that, looking back over the weekend, is the anger at Tony Hayward for going to a yacht race justified, do you think?   And does the President ever consider whether a weekend golfing trip for himself is something that he —

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I don’t — I’m not going to get in the business of deciding what people do on the weekends.  Mr. Hayward, at one point, said he wanted his life back.  It appears that this past weekend, he got it back.  And maybe he forgot about — at least for some stretch of time — in the clear waters of a race what was happening back in the Gulf with polluted waters with people whose lives have been shattered and who can’t readily assume the life they had as Mr. Hayward has.

I think more than anything, the President conveyed this in the meeting with BP.  We should be cognizant in our dealings with this about those that have lost their livelihoods, have seen their lives shattered, and who are facing an uncertain future.  I can’t speak for Mr. Hayward.  I can speak for the President that he is — and has been for going on now nine weeks — been enormously focused on ensuring that we’re doing everything we possibly can in that region.

I will say, because I’ve seen — the President has an enormous number of duties.  The President has an enormous number of activities because of the job that he has.  I don’t think anybody is going to say that the President shouldn’t have an Afghanistan meeting because there’s — because of what’s going on in the Gulf, just like nobody would say — and vice versa.  The President has — and has for the better part of now 17 months — had a lot on his plate.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    On North Korea, does the United States have any separate plan to initiate economic or financial sanctions against North Korea before the U.N. Security Council resolution comes up?

MR. GIBBS:  Obviously, the Security Council through — partly through U.S. leadership and certainly other leadership — has, in Resolution 1874, placed a serious — placed serious sanctions on North Korea.  And we will work with our South Korean counterparts through the United Nations on those next steps.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    A number of initiatives at the agency level have aimed at leveling the playing field for same-sex partners.  It’s the expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act, the hospital visitation — extending certain benefits, limited benefits to same sex partners.  Was there ever a decision made within the White House to chip away at the inequities faced by LGBT families that — sort of at the agency level rather than going straight at DOMA, to chip away at it at the agency level?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think many of the things that the President is instituting — I mean, hospital visitation was something that the President always talked about during the campaign.  So I think many of the things that you see happening implemented by this White House are implementing promises that the President made on the campaign trail.  And obviously there’s — there are things that you can do to demonstrate your values through executive action, which is what he’s working through.

Q    Are there any announcements today that — anything new at the LGBT pride event?

MR. GIBBS:  I will be honest with you, I have not read the remarks — but let me see if there’s anything on that.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  The President has expressed concerns in the past about leaks coming from the Pentagon.  We now have this episode.  Is the President worried that this crop of military leaders may not accept the basic principle of civilian control of the military?  And also —

MR. GIBBS:  I have not heard anybody, including the President, say that.

Q    Robert —

MR. GIBBS:  Let me go here, and then I’ll come back.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, Steny Hoyer said you all should seriously reconsider extending the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 and that you should do this in the next couple of weeks because of its impact on the debt.  What does the White House think about this?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen the comments.  I’m happy to look at and try to get a response after this.

Q    Is the Gates meeting still on for today?

MR. GIBBS:  3:15 p.m., yes.

Q    And will the President specifically ask Gates for a recommendation on what to do with McChrystal?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the answer to that.  I know that obviously this will be the primary topic of the meeting.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Just going back to BP here for a second, we continue to get updates by Admiral Thad Allen — Allen is one of them — the ongoing response.  I understand that Allen worked with retired General Russel Honoré in Katrina, during the Katrina — has there been any talks about maybe bringing him out of retirement to work with —

MR. GIBBS:  General Honoré?

Q    Yes.

MR. GIBBS:  None that I’m aware of.

Q    Do you think the President would mind working — pulling him out of retirement to have him work on this?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, the President — you’re talking about for the Gulf, right?

Q    Absolutely.

MR. GIBBS:  I realize we’re moving people around, so I don’t want to — it’s a joke — (laughter) — a moment of levity in an otherwise somewhat serious meeting.

I have not heard — again, I haven’t heard the name specifically come up.  I would say that if the President believed that adding anybody to the structure of our response, if that helped that response, that we wouldn’t hesitate to do it.


Q    Robert, what is the expectation of a commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in conducting an interview?  And also —

MR. GIBBS:  What are the what?

Q    When conducting an interview, and did this interview go through regular channels for request?  Did the interview request go through regular channels?

MR. GIBBS:  That’s a question for his staff.

Q    — this White House has asked, hasn’t it?

MR. GIBBS:  That kind of interview request would not come to my desk.

Q    In light of everything though, you would probably find out all — make sure all the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed in light of everything that’s happened, right?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I will say this.  I think many of us found out about the I’s and the T’s when we were reading the article last evening.

Q    All right, well, what is the expectation — the level of expectation here at the White House for a U.S. commander in Afghanistan to deliver in an article for an interview?  What is the level of expectation?

MR. GIBBS:  Maybe I’m missing — I don’t —

Q    What do you expect out of him?  I mean, clearly you’re very upset with what he said.  You said it’s a personality —

MR. GIBBS:  I take him at his word that — in his apology he believes he’s also made a big mistake as well.  Again, the President has asked him to come halfway back across the world to talk about it, so I think that speaks to the President’s viewpoint on the article.

Q    But either way it’s out there, it’s in print now.  And do you think that this personality conflict has prevented a win, or at least helped to inhibit a win in Afghanistan of late — in this last —

MR. GIBBS:  Look, we are in the process of implementing the strategy that we spoke of earlier.  We’re on pace in getting new forces into the country.  And I don’t think anybody — certainly anybody that sat through those meetings would be under the illusion that the pace of progress would be enormously quick.  We understand that this is going to take some time and that’s what we’re working through.


Q    A follow-up to Steve’s question.  One of the biggest challenges for the administration and for Congress is striking a balance between spending in the short term that you need to — believe you need to support the economy, and watching debt and deficits in the long run.  Why do you think it has been so hard to persuade the American people and Congress to strike that balance?  And do you think the departure of Budget Director Orszag is any indication that he’s uncomfortable with how the administration is resolving those two priorities?

MR. GIBBS:  If he’s uncomfortable he hasn’t told that to anybody here or to the President.  Look, we are — we face unique challenges, as I said, unseen economically since the Great Depression.  This economic team and the President strongly believe that a Recovery Act that we passed was desperately needed.  I think there’s no doubt, regardless of how you voted in January and February on that legislation, that we have seen as a result of that, increased growth, we have seen a lessening of those losing their jobs, and we have taken an economy on the edge possibly of another depression — we’ve now seen a path, albeit fragile, a path toward greater recovery.

The President, at the same time, spoke of — and I think this has been the agreement among staff and the economic team — that we have to take steps in the medium and long term — and we’ve outlined certainly steps recently to get rid of wasteful spending, spending that may not — take, for instance, since it’s the topic today, take for instance what the Pentagon has done on procurement.  Nobody here is going to tell you that procurement reforms are going to solve, in and of themselves, a structural deficit.  That doesn’t mean that if we’re doing things in a wasteful fashion we shouldn’t stop doing those.

And that’s what the President believes that in the short term, even as we take steps in the medium and the long term to get our fiscal house in order.

I’d say the one place where they all overlap is I think everybody would — I think most economists would readily agree that it is going to be harder to close that structural deficit without sustained economic growth — without job creation certainly the likes of which we did not have the months leading up to the President taking office and the depths of which we hadn’t seen for quite some time.

Q    So why is it so hard to get Congress to pass extended unemployment benefits, aid to states for Medicaid, money to avoid teacher layoffs, that sort of thing?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, we continue to work with Congress on all of those things.  They are — obviously we believe unemployment insurance, continued job creation, ensuring that — it certainly wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for our investment in education to lose teachers or to have schools that we have in some states that are already operating on a four-day-a-week schedule.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, the harshest words in the article that were attributed directly to General McChrystal were about Ambassador Eikenberry, about his pessimism, his doubts about the effectiveness of the Karzai government.  At this point, does the President have full confidence in Ambassador Eikenberry?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, we have — I think most of the comments that were made were about disagreements that were had prior to those meetings last year where a strategy was put forward and everybody said they agreed with that strategy.

Look, this goes — this is true not just for anybody in the Rolling Stone article — and I’ve said this a few times and I’ll do it one more time — this isn’t about us.  It shouldn’t be about the personalities and the egos; it should be about the men and women that are there doing the hard work under some of the toughest conditions in the world.  And I’m sure that the President will say tomorrow that it is time for everyone involved to put away their petty disagreements, put away their egos, and get to work implementing a strategy that we all agreed had the best chance for our success in Afghanistan in the coming years.


Q    Are there petty disagreements beyond those of General McChrystal?

MR. GIBBS:  Look — yes.  I would — I don’t — if I picked up a newspaper from the past couple months and threw it on the floor, I bet I could find some background sniping about this group or this aspect of — I think the President message is get over it.


Q    You didn’t answer his question on whether the President has confidence in Eikenberry.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, the President has confidence in the team that pledged to implement a policy that they devised and agreed upon.


Q    Just to clarify, you said no decision will be announced on the general’s future until after the meeting tomorrow.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    But has the President made up his mind?  Has he made the decision yet?

MR. GIBBS:  If he has, he hasn’t told me.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  I have two questions.  First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you as angry as you seemed to be for the first 20 minutes of this briefing, and I’m wondering if you wanted to give us a reading —

Q    Lucky you.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  There are a number of people that would like to be on background in the first few rows that —

Q    The first three rows disagree with that.

MR. GIBBS:  I can’t agree more.  I don’t know — I don’t know what all these people —

Q    So I’m wondering if you could give us your personal feelings at reading this article?

MR. GIBBS:  No, that’s — my job is not to give my personal feelings.  My job is to give you all, as I do, the President’s thinking and the team’s thinking about what’s going on here.

Q    Was it fair to say you were angry?

MR. GIBBS:  Again —

Q    Was it anger I saw?

Q    Are you pounding —

MR. GIBBS:  Call Tapper right after this.  (Laughter.)

Q    It’s not anger.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.

Q    I have one more, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead.

Q    Last week, on the same date that the BP chair was talking about the “small people,” former Senator Alan Simpson was making remarks about Social Security recipients being lesser persons in this country.  And as a result, groups like MoveOn are calling for him to step down or be removed as the chair of the Deficit Commission.  I wonder if you had any reaction to the comments or any reaction?

MR. GIBBS:  I would love to look at them, but I have not seen them.

Yes, sir.

Q    Seen the comments?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I have not.

Q    Okay, thank you.

Q    Robert, back on the NATO issue, it’s hard to imagine that with all the concern about NATO participation with Germany, Britain, that there wouldn’t be a phone call.  Will there be a phone call between now and the time any decision is made?

MR. GIBBS:  With members of our NATO coalition?

Q    NATO leadership and the individuals —

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me check the schedule.  I know the President has a number of pre-scheduled calls as we head to the G20 where he will see a number of our important partners.

Look, it goes without saying that we have asked an enormous amount of our Armed Forces.  We have also asked for the cooperation and the continued commitment of our NATO partners, and out of the review last year, asked for an additional commitment — not all of which has been easy for those countries certainly in Europe.

And I think it’s safe to say that one of the things that — given what we’ve asked of our partners, that was —- what is in the article about that is in certainly no way helpful to our boarder coalition efforts.

Q    But I think the question is whether or not the President would seek their input before he would make any decision on the general’s future.

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the answer to that.  Let me check and see what is — (telephone rings) — is my pizza ready?  I don’t know what the — let me look at the schedule and see whether — my sense is the President will largely make this decision on his own.

Q    Any conversations with Senator Levin or Skelton — Congressman Skelton on —

MR. GIBBS:  No, none that I’m aware of.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thanks, Robert.

Q    Robert, to the Gulf, is there any discussion between the administration and BP over what should be done if the relief well fails in all this?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not had a chance to read Admiral Allen’s briefing today.  I think some of that came up.  There are — as you know, we directed two relief wells to be drilled.  The first one — the second one started after the first one, and part of that had to do with the use of different blowout preventers possibly on the failed blowout preventer.*

They’re at different levels and at different ranges in terms of finding and intersecting with the original well.  There are discussions that continue to take place and direction that’s given by us on increased containment.  But let me check specifically on relief wells.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  Prior to the publication of this article, was the President pleased with the performance of General McChrystal as Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think that — I think that the President was and I think the President has — I’ll say this, understanding that, again, we are — I don’t think anybody was under the illusion that we would — that all the progress would be quick and easy, that it’s going to take some time and that’s one of the reasons that everyone gets together as they do both in the region in Afghanistan, Pakistan and here for these monthly meetings.

Q    Robert, a judge in New Orleans has just ruled to block President Obama’s moratorium on offshore drilling.  I’m wondering if you — this was anticipated — I was wondering if you have any response.

MR. GIBBS:  We will immediately appeal to the 5th Circuit.  The President strongly believes, as the Department of Interior and the Department of Justice argued yesterday, that continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened is — does not make any sense and puts the safety of those involved — potentially puts the safety of those on the rigs and safety of the environment in the Gulf at a danger that the President does not believe we can afford right now.

Thank you.

END                1:47 P.M. EDT


* Remarks from a briefing on the BP Deepwater oil spill by National Incident Commander, Admiral Thad Allen, referenced by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during the White House Press briefing, regarding options if the BP relief wells are unsuccessful.

Richard Faussett:  Hi, Admiral Allen.  Can you talk a little bit about the worst-case scenarios going forward?  What happens if the relief wells don’t work out?  How long could this go on, and what kinds of other contingencies have been drawn up?  What kinds of conversations are you guys having about those possibilities?

Adm. Allen: Well, first of all, we’re mitigating risk on the relief well by drilling a second relief well alongside it.  Hopefully that won’t be needed.  Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu had a meeting last week in Washington with other industry representatives beyond BP, other oil-producing companies that are out there, and we’ve actually identified a couple of platforms that are in the area that might be capable of taking the product coming out of the wellbore through pipelines and either producing it or putting it back down into the reservoir.  We’re exploring that over the next couple of days.

If we’re able to do that, that would give us an option of controlling the flow without having any surface vessels there, to some extent.  That wouldn’t be the capacity we’re looking for, but that would be another risk mitigator to handle some of the oil.  We’re in exploratory conversations, and again, that was as a result of a meeting that we held last week where we asked industry to basically unconstrain their thinking and see what they could do for us.  So we’re actually looking at whether or not there are dormant wells out there we could use as alternate production facilities.

Operator:   Your next question is from Ray Henry of the “Associated Press.”

Ray Henry:  Admiral, Ray Henry.  Wanted to see if you could explain a little bit about what you just talked about, putting the oil potentially back in the reservoir.  Give us a little bit of a sense of where those conversations stand, what you’d be looking at.  Would this be a production platform that would be brought in to do this? Would you need to drill a new well to accomplish that?  That’s the first time I think I’ve heard anyone speak of that.

Adm. Allen: Well, it is the first time we’ve talked about it.  We’ve had some communications with BP.  At the industry meeting that was held last week hosted by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu, we were looking at alternatives that would help us increase capacity, and there was an idea in the room among all the people that were talking, and this is the reason we bring other people in and ask them continually searching for new and better ways to do this.  They talk about whether or not within the immediate area where this well was being drilled, if there were other production facilities that are already there – that could be used if we were to extend the pipeline along the bottom of the ocean, and that’s what we’re looking at right now.

The question of how many of those might be available and the capacity that we could generate is all being looked at right now through a series of letters of request for information that we are working, but it is something that we’re actively looking at because it could allow us to continue production out of that well without the – requiring a service vessel to be there, which is problematic, as you know when a hurricane.

Ray Henry:  So you would extend a pipeline back into the reservoir to return the oil in a loop, or would it go to someplace else?

Adm. Allen: No. We would extend the pipeline to an existing facility that’s not being used for well production right now that has access to a different reservoir.