Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–November 17, 2010 – 11:13 A.M. EST
Note: See below for an answer to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the gaggle that required follow up.
MR. GIBBS: Good morning. Yes, ma’am.
Q On START, now that we have Senator Kyl’s announcement yesterday, is the administration still going to try to get START through in a lame duck? And if so, what’s the pathway for passage at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely, the President and the administration will push forward on having the Senate ratify the START treaty before the end of the year.
I think the Vice President’s statement on this was clear on why, and that is several things. We will not see what’s encompassed in the treaty, which is the reduction of deployed weapons — we don’t have an inspection regime currently to understand what is going on with their stockpile, and not seeing the reduction and not having that inspection regime endangers our national security.
These are agreements that have and should — have in the past and should now pass with strong bipartisan support. It came out of the Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support. The President will continue to push this and believes the Senate should act on it before they go home.
Q Well, what’s the next step now that Kyl says that it doesn’t look as if it’s even going to come up in lame duck?
MR. GIBBS: I think the treaty will come up and I think the treaty will be voted on and I think we’ll have enough votes to pass it.
Q Is the offer to Kyl, the $4 billion, is that still on the table?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President shares Senator Kyl’s concern about modernizing our nuclear program. And again, as the Vice President said in the statement, we’ve made a pledge to go seek not just long-term modernization money but to accelerate that at the beginning, in the early part of the window — and I don’t have the figures, I think it’s $4.1 billion. We share the concerns on modernizing the program. The team, the Vice President and others, have met with senators including Senator Kyl on a number of occasions. This not only should get done — can get done, but it should get done.
Q Is there any more money on the table than the $4.1 billion?
MR. GIBBS: Those are the figures that I saw yesterday.
Q And you have the votes without Kyl and his people to pass this?
MR. GIBBS: We think we do, or we think we’ll get them. I don’t, Mark, have a whip count in front of me. But these are — look, I will say this. I think this is going to be a test of the degree to which both sides can work together on things that are of common interest to the American people. I doubt that I have — I doubt that we have gone into the legislative arena with something that is supported by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Dick Lugar, Stephen Hadley — I mean, you could spend the better part of the rest of the morning discussing the people that have — may have disagreements with us on other policies that think this is the right thing for our national security.
It’s also, I might add, the right thing for our relationship in the world and particularly with Russia. We have the strongest Iran sanctions regime in place that we’ve ever had as a country because of the help of the Russians. The Russians have taken a missile transaction to the Iranians off the table — the S300s. We have a transit route that allows us to get our supplies into Afghanistan because of their help. So it’s a real relationship.
Q Will the President consider meeting with Senator Kyl?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’d be happy to meet with anybody. I think that — this is something that is very important not just to this President, not just this administration, but important to us as country. And if adding another meeting to what the team has done makes that possible, I’m sure we would certainly not rule it out.
Q And just real quick on your point about —
Q Has he asked for one?
MR. GIBBS: Senator Kyl? I don’t know where the meetings are on that. I mean, again, I think there was — I think there have been discussions with him and others in the administration, but I don’t think the President —
Q You said this is going to be a test on whether both sides can work together. There seemed to be another test last night that failed, which is that the President right after the election said, I’m going to invite the Republicans over for a summer, we’re going to have dinner; it was going to be all cordial. And Republicans are basically saying, we’re too busy. Aren’t they — do you think they’re showing disrespect to the President?
MR. GIBBS: No, and I — look, I think there are going to be more than one meeting over the next several months and several years on this. They came to us and said they have some organizational issues that they have to work through prior to that meeting.
Q Are you buying that? I mean — it’s like they’re taking class photos and orientation — that’s more important than meeting with the President?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’ll let them explain their organizational issues.
Q But you don’t seem to be taking issue with it. I mean, do you think that that’s a justified excuse to not meet with the President?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, there’s another meeting date that’s on the schedule. I don’t think that — we’re flexible. We are ready to sit down with them tomorrow; we’re ready to sit down with them on the 30th. I presume, as I said a minute ago, we’ll meet with them as well going forward. They asked that we change the date so that they can get their respective caucuses more organized. We’re going to — we’ll move the date —
Q Were you with the President when he found out that it was being postponed?
MR. GIBBS: No, not that I — no.
Q Do you know how he responded when he found out?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is — we’re happy — if it’s more convenient for them to wait, we’ll wait a little bit.
Q When did they ask?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know all the —
Q Was it yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — I spent 10 days, as some of you guys did, way overseas, so I do not know all the back-and-forth on that.
Q In other words, it likely happened during that 10-day period?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the whole back-and-forth.
Q Did they make it clear on the day the President announced the meeting, as Mr. Boehner’s office said, that he had a scheduling conflict then?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Robert, the point of the meeting, is it just for the lame duck? I mean, this would put the November 30th meeting almost halfway through the lame duck period. Is it more to look at farther —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it’s both. Honestly, it’s both. I mean, obviously — I mean, look, the lame duck period is going on right now. Obviously that is heavily tilted toward organizational issues and leadership.
Q But —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish the answer to this. But this is — again, this is not the first time, it’s not the last time that they’re going to meet. Regardless of the roles that each plays in the lame duck and the transition of those roles that are played in the regular Congress, the group of players is the same.
Q Are you disappointed that lame duck is getting off to a kind of slow start? They’re going to — they basically — they’re finishing this week and they’ll be gone next week.
MR. GIBBS: Well, next week is Thanksgiving so I’m not disappointed that next week is Thanksgiving, but I don’t — (laughter.) I will say, Ann, I don’t — in all honesty, I don’t think anybody either here or on Capitol Hill believed that you were going to get a ton of stuff done that first week. Look, traditionally, whether you have a lame duck session or not, you have orientation, you’re having a lot of movement, and I don’t think anybody believed that a lump of stuff is going to get done.
Because I think we’ve got — look, there’s no doubt we have, as you’ve heard the President say, there are a host of issues that have to be addressed. We are — there’s no doubt we’re getting closer to the end of the year, which means we’re getting closer to the point in which the tax debate is something that’s going to have to get worked out.
Q Robert, so it does not speak, this postponement, to poor prospects for cooperation moving forward between the White House and Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: We certainly don’t see it that way. Again, I don’t think this will be the first meeting that we have. I don’t think it will be — or it won’t be the last meeting that we have in this situation. And we are — if they have organizational issues they need to work through, we’re — I think the test of this is not when the meeting is held.
I think the test ultimately is going to be whether or not you have two sides that are capable of working together to make progress. That was the test — that was the message of this election, is Washington can’t just be what Washington has always been. It has to — we have to have people that are capable of sitting down together in a room and moving issues forward. Again, the tax issue is one of those. The START issue is certainly one of those. There are other issues that are ultimately on the docket.
So I think of it less as — I think to judge the meeting as a failure without having had the meeting is a weird bar to set.
Q So you take their reason for postponing it at face value? You don’t sense any lack of cohesion on their part over the tax issue, for example?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, in terms of what their position is?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I can’t presume and wouldn’t presume what their organizational — what organizational issues that encompasses. I think it probably has to do — some of it has to do with positioning, sure.
Q Are you just rationalizing this, though, calling this a test? Because typically when the President —
MR. GIBBS: Call what a test? The meeting?
Q Yes, the meeting that is no longer meeting, it’s postponed to something — another day. But are you —
MR. GIBBS: Can I just for a second, April, though — again, it’s going to be the same meeting with the same people at the same location a little bit later. I just —
Q Particularly in Washington when the President makes a request, you come. Or when the White House makes a request, you come.
MR. GIBBS: And they made a request that we move it because of organizational issues, and we said, sure. I mean, in a sense, we’ve met the first test of being able to work together.
Q But they didn’t really make the request. (Laughter.)
They didn’t make the request. They said, we’re not coming.
MR. GIBBS: No, that’s not exactly how it was —
Q But they said they never agreed to that November 18th date to begin with.
MR. GIBBS: Sorry?
Q They said that they never agreed to the November 18th date to begin with.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t know the back-and-forth that happened on the phone calls from here. I know that, again, their request was to move the date for their organizational issues around their caucus. We agreed. Bipartisanship has happened. (Laughter.) We agreed that it was inconvenient to have the meeting when we originally set it. We moved it to a different date. There will be a big ceremony on the lawn. (Laughter.)
Q But beyond this initial task, which you passed with flying colors, on bipartisanship, in terms of whether you — you just said — whether you have two sides capable of working together, have you been able to make a judgment yet as to whether they are willing to work with you? I mean, there are a lot of mixed signals, and you’ve even pointed out some of them. What do you think now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think — look, I continue to think that we’re going to get START done. And again — I’ve said this a lot and I’ll do it again — if you look at the most recent few START treaties, I think the lowest vote total was 86. Again, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz — you could name all — this is — these are the issues that have and should be done in a bipartisan way. I think there have been 18 hearings on the treaty.
There’s a whole host of things that — again, I think the test is — look, the test is going to be what’s the discussion like in that meeting and what happens throughout the rest of the lame duck. I think we’ll have a better way of looking at it.
Q Just one — a question on KSM and where he might be tried, if at all? The White House Counsel has — will make a decision when? Can you give us an update on that?
MR. GIBBS: I think — I don’t have any update on when that timing would be.
Q Robert, on the AfPak meeting today, just to clarify, this is the last one before the review — December review, right?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it is. And I will say that the bulk of today’s meeting obviously is dedicated to discussions about transition issues as we head to Lisbon tomorrow evening.
Q Robert, the fiscal commission is also meeting —
Q I’m sorry, transition issues? I don’t get that.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, the transition issues of both security to — transferring security responsibility for individual provinces that we’ve said will begin in 2011, and also, as we’re going to discuss at NATO, the notion that by the end of 2014, the Afghans will be in the lead of providing security throughout the country.
Q Robert, on Afghanistan —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me go — I’ll come back to Afghanistan.
Q The fiscal commission is also holding their meeting on November 30, and they’re going to be voting on a report that you all said is very important. And that’s also a bipartisan effort. Won’t that basically distract from any meeting you’re having with — bipartisan meeting you’re having that’s supposed to be focusing on the legislative agenda?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think so. The President obviously believes that the work of the commission is important. That’s why we took an idea, again, that had bipartisan support, but we couldn’t get it passed and did it through an executive order.
As you heard the President say last week in Seoul, that it’s important work, he looks forward to receiving the final product that’s voted on, and that we’re going to have to make some tough decisions as Americans, not as individual parties, about how we make progress on getting our fiscal house in order and making progress on our debt and our deficit.
Q Robert, some of those recommendations are like the third rail — Social Security, cutting benefits, tax reform.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t have a lot to add to what the President said, which is I think to begin to talk about what might be in a report based on a draft report before we see the final report doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Q Robert, the President’s close personal friend, Roger Ailes — (laughter) — was interviewed on a FOX property recently and said that he thinks the President has not — “has not been very successful,” and has “a different belief system” than most people in the country. Do you have a response to that?
MR. GIBBS: I think if you watch most of the programming on that channel, I don’t think you’d find many of those comments to be surprising.
Q Thanks. Can you give us any more sort of updated detail on the tax cut negotiations? Is the White House actually negotiating now with Democrats and Republicans, or are you waiting for things like the November 30th meeting or some warm-up, and where are things at exactly? Who’s doing the negotiating?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know of — I mean, obviously we’ve had and people in the building have had discussions with Democratic leadership to see what their thoughts are. I think the bulk of these discussions, though, will be had in the bipartisan meeting. I mean, I think you’ve heard what the President — again, what the President said at the end of the press conference on G20 where he was.
Q Is anything changed or updated since then?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Do you have any idea, because of the pushback of the meeting, of how that would affect timing on any resolution? Do you still think the lame duck session is —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we have to get it — I mean, again, as we know, the tax cuts expire at the end of the year. And the Recovery Act included an AMT patch for tax year 2009. There isn’t a tax year 2010 AMT patch. That’s something that likely is going to have to be addressed —
Q But the more they push it, don’t they prod you into a situation where you may have to agree to some kind of an emergency measure that you wouldn’t want to because you’re running out of time and nobody wants the sky to fall? I mean, or do you have a line in the sand that you’re just willing to say —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if the sky would fall disproportionately on one rather than all. I mean, I don’t — look, I think there is going to be — there is a strong impetus to get something done by the end of the year. There has to be or we find ourselves in a situation where — that nobody thinks we should be in, and that is watching middle-class families have their tax rates raised.
Q There’s been movement, Robert, about holding a single vote and even if it fails just to extend the rates for the middle class while letting the upper end expire, which is the preferred position of the White House as I understand it. Would the White House support allowing that single vote to happen even if the numbers aren’t there?
MR. GIBBS: I, Sam, would have to talk to Leg Affairs. That’s beyond what I’m —
Q Robert, if there’s an impasse, will the President direct the Treasury and the IRS to keep in place the withholding tables that currently exist for people and all people, or just people under $250,000 –*
MR. GIBBS: That’s a good question and I’ll take —
Q Will you share that with —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me talk to — check also with the counsel.
Q Could you put the answer on —
MR. GIBBS: We’ll find out.
Q Robert, thank you. In the Richard Wolffe book, there was some criticism of Rahm, saying he was excessively tactical, he wasn’t implementing decisions efficiently enough. I wonder if you or the White House have any thought about that.
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t — most of the reading that I do is briefing books and papers for meetings for the next day. I have not read that book. I’m trying to make it through a pleasure book and it’s increasingly difficult.
Q Which one?
Q What’s the name of the pleasure book?
MR. GIBBS: “The Help,” a fabulous book. I’d recommend it to anybody. But I’d have to see what the quotes are.
Q Robert, two questions.
Q Robert, just two loose ends on the meeting. One, I guess the question I have is why did the White House announce a meeting was happening in both of the press conferences and in your week ahead guidance if the people who were to attend the meeting had not accepted the invitation?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I can go back and try to figure out what the dissonance was. I think our notion was that there was going to be a meeting. They have some organizational issues. Again, I will say this —
Q Had they told you they were coming?
MR. GIBBS: I want to put this frame on this whole thing. I think we’ve fallen a little bit into — we do this on a very day- to-day thing, like oh, my god, there’s not going to be a meeting. See, I told you this wasn’t — we all agreed to move a meeting. Like, that’s a good thing. Like, we could be sitting here — we could dig trenches, we could fire at each other. I can’t believe you’re not going to meet. You’re not going to meet? You didn’t do this. You didn’t do that.
Q That would be good. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: It’s great theater. It’s just not what happened. So we’re happy to —
Q And you’re still planning it to be a meeting followed by a dinner in the residence?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that. I can check.
Q On TSA, Robert, please?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come to you, hold on.
Q Did the President call Reid and Pelosi on Monday to make his commitment firm to extend the tax cuts only for the middle income?
MR. GIBBS: I know they spoke. I do not know the outcome of that conversation.
Q And what’s your reaction to Tom Donohue pledging to work with you guys? Is this a sign of a truce between the White House and the Chamber of Commerce?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there are issues that we both have in common that we both want to see progress on: issues on trade, issues on jobs. I think there’s enough of an issue set that is important to the American people to make progress on and that we’re pleased and happy to work with them on. I think obviously we did not get a final agreement on Korea — South Korea free trade agreement because, quite honestly, the agreement wasn’t the best that we thought we could get. And that’s why we’re going to continue to make progress on that and not get something that is — we don’t think is best for us. But we think that’s an area where — and there’s no doubt to get any free trade agreement through Congress, you’re going to need bipartisan support in the help of those groups that find it to be important.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay, thanks, Robert. Senator Susan Collins joined Senator Lieberman in calling for early release of the Pentagon’s study group on repeal. Has the President made any phone calls to Senator Collins or any other swayable senators? I mean, does he plan to make any phone calls to those first?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we — I don’t know that the President has
— I don’t believe the President has talked to Senate Collins or Senator Lieberman on this issue. To my knowledge, the study has not come over here. I think obviously it is being finished up by the Pentagon. Secretary Gates will deliver that to the President. The President believes that this can be done in a way and should be done, as you heard Secretary Gates and others say, in the next few weeks. We ought to bring up and we ought to put this — we ought to keep this in the defense authorization bill. We ought to pass this in the defense authorization bill. And we ought to end the policy that the courts are rapidly getting close to ending on a timetable that those in the bureaucracy might not find as much to their liking.
Q Well, what do you say to John McCain?
Q Just today you’ve said that the START treaty is something that you think will get done and you’ve said that the taxes are something you have to get done. What category would you put the defense authorization bill in?
MR. GIBBS: I would put it in the same category. That’s a — as I’ve said before, it’s a priority for the President to get done before the end of the year.
Q Are you worried that Senator Reid wants to adjourn on December 10th? That leaves only two weeks after you get done with Thanksgiving.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what — I’ve not heard or seen a lot of the targeted adjournment stuff.
Q Robert, on Afghanistan —
Q Thank you, Robert. The Canadians, after saying over and over that they wouldn’t keep soldiers in Afghanistan after 2011, have decided to send 950 military trainers. Has the President reached to Stephen Harper on this issue?
MR. GIBBS: They had an opportunity to speak on the margins of —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if it was APEC or G20. But it was at the end of our trip.
Obviously we are pleased and grateful for their continued contribution. It’s important to making continued progress in Afghanistan, and as I said, we’re quite grateful for their action.
Q And so at the NATO summit, will it be like the main way of asking for troops, more military instructors, since obviously countries don’t want to send fighters over there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say, look, there are a number of ways that countries can and do participate in Afghanistan. You mentioned one — trainers. There are obviously countries that have contributed those that are on the ground in dangerous regions of the country that are actively fighting. You have countries that have pledged lots of money towards development and reconstruction, which are also important.
So I don’t think we would look at — there are a range of contributions that countries can make, and we’re pleased with them.
Q As you know, Robert, not only Buckingham Palace but all of Great Britain and quite a bit of the U.S. media is aflutter with the coming wedding —
Q Are you aflutter?
Q Speak for yourself, man. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You should see me — if this is aflutter, you should see when I’m not. (Laughter.)
Q I may have. Anyway — thank you. The question is, what would the President — what sage advice, having a successful marriage, would the President offer — (laughter) — or maybe even yourself — in terms of — (laughter) — or any official statement?
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this. I don’t have —
Q And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to impart — I don’t know what the President would say.
Q Best wishes?
Q Did he call?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say — he’s not made any calls — obviously would wish them well, best wishes. But I have not heard a lot of discussion.
Q Just a quick follow-up?
Q Do you like the ring? (Laughter.)
Q Believe it or not, there’s questions in Great Britain as to when the exact date would be — spring, summer — and there are some questions about, it would depend on when the President and First Lady may be coming to accept Her Majesty the Queen’s invitation this coming spring/summer. Is there any thought to that, when that might be?
MR. GIBBS: I can look for guidance on the schedule but I have not heard from —
Q See what we have to do to make a living in this business?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q On the TSA, does the White House support the actions with the magnetometer and the pat-down, or are you likely to maybe roll back those actions, especially with this chaotic week coming up?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I will say that we have all seen over the course of the past year that there are organizations like al Qaeda that continue with the intent on inflicting harm and damage in this country through airliners. I think what TSA has set up and what the public greatly supports — I think there was a CBS poll that said four out of five Americans are supportive of increased security to ensure that you feel rightly safe when you get on an airplane. I think the way — I think TSA administering this in a way that makes the public feel safe and comfortable is important, as well as implementing it to ensure the protection of privacy is important.
But, again, I think there is overwhelming support for ensuring that there is — that people feel as safe as they can when they get on an airline.
Q But if somebody has a medical condition — for example, if a woman is pregnant, can they be excused from the magnetometer?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this — I would point you over to DHS and TSA who will have more granularity on what all that means.
Q On that subject, Robert —
Q — Clyburn’s new position?
Q Can I ask on that subject please?
Q Can we talk about Clyburn’s new position?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s see, which one of you two can yell the loudest? (Laughter.)
Q I’ll yield to her if you’ll come to me.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll go April, Jackie, there, and then I’ll go back.
Q Any thoughts on Clyburn’s new position? They even had to create one because of problems on the Hill with the minority leadership and he wanted to bring —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that obviously Congressman Clyburn is somebody that the President greatly respects. Look, I think part of this is when you go from the majority to the minority, you lose a slot. I think obviously ensuring that those that have — those like Congressman Clyburn that have been instrumental in leadership continue to do so is a good thing.
Q The EU piece of this weekend’s summit is so small that — how does it affect, or what could you do in that short amount of time, what do you plan to do, now that there’s such a crisis brewing over Ireland that could — fears are it could reignite the same sort of sovereign debt crisis that occurred in May and which impeded not only the global recovery but the recovery here at home — so how is that changing the U.S. plans as it goes into this summit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I have no doubt that that will be a topic of discussion. That was something that was also discussed some at the G20 during the conversations that the leaders had. We continue to believe, as we did of Greece, that Europe has the ability to deal with the crisis in Ireland and possibly in other countries. I have no doubt that that will be a topic of conversation at the latter part of the week.
Lester, and then I’ll get — Lester.
Q Yes, thank you, Robert. Two questions. Now that the presidential trip to the Far East is concluded, will U.S. taxpayers continue being denied knowledge of how much this trip cost?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Lester, I think we had a nice little colloquy about what you believe and what you don’t believe —
Q Where you said — you wouldn’t tell us. You said my — what we heard all over the world was wrong, but you wouldn’t tell us what was right.
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I don’t talk about the measures that are taken to protect the President. That’s — let me finish — that’s because the Secret Service doesn’t take those measures — I’m going to be in the rare position of offering to share with you a column by Charles Krauthammer on the steps that were taken to — the steps that we take to ensure any President their safety and security and their ability to move around and conduct foreign policy is the right one, regardless of who that person is.
And as I said before we left, Lester, the hotel that we stayed at in Mumbai was what the people in India believe was their 9/11, the attackers coming into and killing innocent people staying in a hotel. So actions were taken to protect — and are taken to protect any President that travels around the world.
Q Presuming that the President —
Q But, Robert, couldn’t you give an overall cost figure?
Q But wait a minute, wait a minute —
Q I’m following up on your question. How about you give an overall cost figure without giving any of the security steps that are taken?
MR. GIBBS: That’s not what I’m told.
Q Robert, presuming the President supports the Transportation Safety Administration’s pat-down searches of airline passengers and that he believes they will never have male security personnel patting down female passengers, what if any of these male security personnel are not heterosexual?
Q Oh, lord have mercy. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You sure you want to follow up on his question? (Laughter.)
Q No, sorry — (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You put a big asterisk — Lester, I would normally point you to TSA, but I got to tell you, I can’t imagine that TSA, given their charge of protecting people that travel, have a lot of time to deal with whatever on Earth you just asked me. (Laughter.)
Q Can I follow up?
Q Have you worked out a deal with Senator Landrieu on her hold on Jack Lew? And how long can the OMB go without a budget director before your budget starts hurting?
MR. GIBBS: I will check on the first part of it, see if there has been an update on that.
On the second part of it, I think the real answer to that is, not long at all. Obviously there are deadlines that have to be met in this year to get a budget worked through and ultimately get one that can be sent up to Capitol Hill. That’s work that needs to be going on as soon as possible.
Obviously we have an acting director, but there’s a reason that we nominated Jack Lew. We think he’s somebody who did the job once very well, helped President Clinton devise a strategy on the fiscal side that brought us from deficit to surplus. So his leadership as the confirmed budget director is tremendously important. I will check with Legislative Affairs —
Q That suggests that you want the issue dealt with during the lame duck, because you said —
MR. GIBBS: We preferred the issue dealt with in September, but absolutely, though, within the lame duck.
Q Robert, the Interstate Recognition of the Notarization Act, the President had pocket-vetoed some time ago. The House I think is going to vote this afternoon to try to override it. Do you have anything on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t, but let me check with Legislative Affairs.
Q Can I get a quick START follow? Just trying to understand, reading between the lines, is the Democratic position that basically — or at least the White House position — to basically call the Republicans’ bluff? “Do you guys really want to stand in the way of START; let’s just call a vote?” Or is it more subtle and a matter of negotiations, and what’s to be negotiated?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. There have been — Foreign Relations Committee has voted this out. There have been, I think the statement yesterday said, 18 hearings looking into this treaty. There have been countless —
Q It was a big surprise yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: — countless meetings back and forth. I think in some ways, probably, Margaret, it’s a little bit between — there’s no doubt that there’s going to continue to be discussions. I think Senator Kerry has spoken with Senator Kyl. I think others have spoken with Senator Kyl. We’re going to continue to work through this process. But I think the bottom line is — it was the very first statement that the Vice President made yesterday — failure to pass this endangers our national security.
And we have a real opportunity to get this done, to demonstrate for the American people that the bipartisanship that we’ve seen in the past on nuclear arms reduction treaties continues in 2010 just as it has in the past. We’re going to work through that and we’re going to get not just a vote, but passage on this treaty before the Senate.
Q And are you pushing hard to get it done now because you simply wont have the votes next year?
MR. GIBBS: We’re pushing hard to get it done now because it’s crucial to —
Q But is it dead? Is it dead if it gets pushed into next year?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s going to get pushed into the next year. I think we’re going to get this done because it’s crucial to our security. It’s crucial to our inspection regime. It’s crucial to seeing a reduction in those deployed weapons. And it’s crucial to our international relationships.
Q But what makes you so confident? I mean, you seem to think you have the votes?
MR. GIBBS: I think this will get done before the end of the year.
Q The President said that on a plane coming back from Asia as well, sounded so optimistic. What happened between then and yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’ll let Senator Kyl speak for Senator Kyl. But I think that — again, I think that — I think this is a vote that will pass and will — it has to, based on what you need to pass a treaty, pass in a bipartisan way.
Q Of those people you named — Kissinger, Schultz, Hadley, the others — which of them are helping behind the scenes to help —
MR. GIBBS: Let me get it from NSC.
Q Have they been asked by the White House to do so?
MR. GIBBS: Let me ask NSC on that.
Q Just a quick questions on there are rumors that Roger Altman seems to be the front runner for NEC. Is he the front runner? And can you tell us a little bit about the meeting —
MR. GIBBS: They’re early in the process. I think there are a number of good candidates, including him. It would be far — it would be way too premature to say that anybody at this point is a leading candidate.
Q Any other chief executives on the list that you could name?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m — thanks, guys.
Q And real quick on the earmarks, on the earmarks. I know Obama has come out up front a lot on this, but does he want an outright ban on earmarks?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q He does?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
11:51 A.M. EST
* We are confident that Congress will act so that taxes for middle-class families will not go up at the end of the year. Questions about the income tax withholding schedule should be directed to the Treasury Department.