Obama’s appearance on Comedy Central dominates discussion in Thursday press briefing.
On Obama’s Daily Show performance:
“When the president gets to talk about what he’s done and sift through what people may or may not have heard, then it’s a positive benefit.’
“I think Jon Stewart is as good an interviewer as there is in the public domain right now.”
“Nobody here scheduled the interview with Jon Stewart expecting that [he’d be asking easy questions].”
On GOTV efforts:
“[Obama has] held outreach calls with different groups in different areas that are in tight races, and that’s something he’ll continue to do.”
MR. GIBBS: Everybody got quiet quite quickly. That was — that was made —
Q We’re just waiting for the Twitter question.
MR. GIBBS: The Twitter question I believe was on India. It was why we’re going to India.
Q Oh, you don’t do it here, you’ve already done it.
MR. GIBBS: No, we did it up there. The video will be out very fairly shortly.
Q We thought you were going to show it out here. At least I did.
MR. GIBBS: You should write in a question.
Q What was the question?
MR. GIBBS: What was the purpose of the trip to India? Why going to India?
Q Taking real hardballs, huh? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, since we did a whole hour-long briefing on it yesterday it seemed like we should take one hardball and give it to the rest of them.
Q Anything happening with the Indian journalists with the President?
MR. GIBBS: I believe there was — not with the President. I think the — obviously I’m sure most of you were obviously either in this briefing or — I know Ben emailed — briefed the Indian press also yesterday.
Take us away.
Q Egypt’s Foreign Minister has been in the West Bank trying to move the peace process forward, and he said today that there’s been no breakthrough. If the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t change their position on the settlements, is there any way for this process to move forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know that Special Envoy Mitchell, Secretary of State Clinton have obviously been very involved in this process. I forget when the timing of this was, but the Arab League had given — had extended some deadlines about a month in order for the United States to try to bring the two parties back to the table to continue what we all believe were serious and constructive talks. And we continue to work on that.
I don’t have an update on that, based on what he said. And it’s obviously — it’s a very difficult issue. It is — it’s one that has been with us for decades, and we are trying to make some slow progress on it.
Q There’s a feeling, though, in the process — there has been when he’s tried this process before — that there’s always one issue where parties get hung up and then the process falls apart. And it seems that the settlements could be that issue in this process.
MR. GIBBS: Well, it’s sort of interesting, I was going through some — looking through some different documents on different subjects just yesterday, and I ran into a question that was asked of President Reagan in 1982 on settlements in the West Bank. So, look, there are — interestingly enough, he had the same position that we did, as many administrations have had over those years.
Look, there are a series of very tough issues that have to be addressed between the two sides as we move forward. That’s been that way for decades. We are — we continue to work. I know Senator Mitchell has spent a lot of time trying to get these two parties back to the table.
Q I guess the question is, though, why should we expect the process to be any different this time than it has in the past?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there are no guarantees in this process. We do know this, that the process works best and has its maximum chance of working if the United States is actively engaged in the process of bringing these two parties and these two sides together. We know we’re not going to make progress if the United States is not involved. That’s why the President has dedicated such time to trying to bring about a two-state solution to, again, a problem that has been very, very difficult.
We started this process, again, at the beginning of this administration and even in the talks that were held here with no illusions that it would be — that this one was going to be the easy problem that we’d pick to solve. We will continue to work to try to bring folks together.
Q If I could just ask one question on the D.C. Metro arrest yesterday. I know you said that the President was aware of the investigation before the arrest, and the FBI said they’ve known about this man, going back I think to last January. When was the President made aware?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know when the — I know that he certainly was briefed very recently, as many of us were, on the developments that happened yesterday. I can go back and see whether — as you know, the President has regular counterterrorism meetings in the Situation Room. And I do not know the degree to which one of — whether this individual came up in those or not.
Q New claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell to a three-month low last week. Is there — does the administration have any belief that this is a trend that might continue, and could it be reflective of some improvement in the unemployment figures, the monthly unemployment figures, due out next week for October?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we — I think we have — I was looking through some of the statistics, Matt, on that today. We have seen good news in drops in the last two weeks, averaged out — CEA usually averages out also over a four-week period to give us a sense in week-to-week volatility in the statistics and how they might — how one might read that, because it obviously — nobody here would hang their hat on simply one week’s movement as indicating a trend.
Obviously, any even week-to-week drop is good news. We’re still — we’re getting a little closer to the level, I think, that most people here would believe needs to happen in order to see stronger growth in the job market.
The numbers are above — in all honesty, they’re a decent amount above pre-recession levels, in terms of weekly claims. They’re also a bit — quite a bit below, I think, the high water mark, which, if my memory serves, is in March of 2009.
So it’s progress. It is, as you’ve heard the President over the past many months and myself included, it is — it’s going to take some time. It’s — recoveries out of recessions caused largely by financial concerns take longer. That’s what we’re in the midst of. The week-to-week claims, look, are a heartening bit of good news, and we certainly — our hope is that it will certainly continue. And we’ll continue to watch that.
Q There’s a New York Times report that the administration and European allies are putting together a new offer for talks, nuclear talks with Iran, and that it would include tougher conditions for a third-party fuel swap of the sort that the Iranians already rejected last time. Is there any truth to the report?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as you have — I think when we were up in New York for the United Nations, Iran themselves suggested that in November they would like to meet with the P5-plus-1. I think that was a demonstration at that point and continues to be a demonstration that economic sanctions instituted through the United Nations, unilaterally through us, unilaterally through the European Union, and other entities, is having an impact on the Iranian economy.
So our offer, Matt, has been on the table to meet. It’s not — those talks are not intended to be open-ended. They’re intended to fulfill Iran’s obligations in dealing with its illicit nuclear program.
So our P5-plus-1 partners are united. The EU High Representative for these talks has offered to meet Iran in Vienna, and thus far — and despite what they said in New York, we have not heard back on that invitation. I think, without getting into the specifics of what might be in those discussions, I think it is very, though, clear to understand that what Iran both accepted and then ultimately rejected last year with the Tehran Research Reactor, that in order to meet their obligations and in order to have economic sanctions that are having a bite lifted, they’re going to have to do more because in that interim period of time they have stepped up their — the percentage enrichment for low-enriched uranium and created a much stronger impetus to require that the Iranians do more in order to see progress on the sanctions front.
So we certainly await word from the Iranians, again, based on not only simply what they said in September but what our partners have issued in terms of an invitation for them to come and discuss with us living up to their obligations and responsibilities.
Q But at such talks, if they take place, the Iranians would be required to agree on a larger amount of fuel —
MR. GIBBS: Without a doubt.
Q — to be sent to a third party than had previously been put on the table.
MR. GIBBS: Well, they have, based on the unilateral actions that they took, increased their enrichment. In order to live up to the responsibilities that they’ve made and to lift any sanctions, they’d have to — they’d have greater responsibilities. Their responsibilities get greater each and every day, even as the sanctions impact their economy more and more each day.
Q Yes, Robert, what was behind the thinking of today’s Rose Garden event on the miners, the people who helped in the miners’ rescue? It seemed to come out of left field in a week where there’s been so much focus on getting out the vote for the midterm.
MR. GIBBS: This was — look, we had both government agencies and private companies here in the United States that were instrumental in helping a story that many of you guys dedicated a significant amount of your airtime to, and it’s a — I think the efforts of those that were helping and involved is a good news story that we wanted to laud the efforts of those individuals for.
Q So taking a little break from midterms and the get-out-the-vote push to do this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there’s some of that going on here today, too, so there’s — it’s —
Q It just seemed — it’s a Rose Garden event that sort of elevates it.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think it’s a — yes, I mean, look, it was, again, something that captured I think hearts and minds all over the world watching what had happened. And, look, I think as an American, we can certainly be proud of the efforts of folks like NASA and private companies in helping to solve a dire situation.
Q Can you take us behind the scenes a little bit to what the President is doing in terms of his get out the vote? We’ve seen it publicly where he’s gone on these radio shows and on Stewart as well. But what is he doing behind the scenes? Is he working the phones? Is he talking to some of these lawmakers in these states that are in tight races? What is he doing?
MR. GIBBS: He has — we’ve certainly done, as you mentioned, we’ve done a decent amount of press. We’ve done some TV; we’ve done some radio. The President will continue to do some of that as we lead up to Tuesday. He’s held outreach calls with different groups in different areas that are in tight races. And that’s something that he’ll continue to do as well.
Q You said that the President was going on “The Daily Show” to reach out to — mainly to young voters. Do you think that appearance achieved what you wanted it to achieve?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, look, first and foremost, there’s a big audience. There’s 2 million people that watch that show. I think the President had an opportunity to walk through what the last almost two years have been about and what he’s been able to accomplish.
Q Do you think that Stewart’s skepticism, Stewart’s seeming —
MR. GIBBS: Cynicism? (Laughter.)
Q Well, he seemed disappointed in the President and he’s generally I would say not unsupportive of the President. Do you think that that might have hurt with some viewers at all?
MR. GIBBS: Look, our viewpoint, Jake, is that when the President gets to talk about what he’s done and sift through what people may or may not have heard, that it’s a positive benefit. So I would think of it as a success.
Q The President signed a waiver on the 2008 child soldier law, which precludes the U.S. providing military assistance to countries that recruit child soldiers. And the President waived it for Chad, Sudan, Yemen and Congo, saying it was in the national security interests of the United States. Why is waiving the child soldier law —
MR. GIBBS: Jake, let me get some stuff from NSC. I don’t have any update on that here. So let me get some stuff from NSC and get it —
Q Okay. Well, can I read one question that you didn’t answer from Twitter —
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q — which was — in the feed that you asked people to send their questions to, somebody said, “Where are the jobs?”
MR. GIBBS: Well, some of them — well, first of all, we’ve lost 8 million of them. We have seen nine months of positive private sector job increase and job growth after a recession that started in December of 2007 and saw the economy shed jobs through I believe October or November of 2009.
As the President said yesterday on “The Daily Show,” the Recovery Act and other steps that the President took have had a chance — had a chance at that point to kick in. You saw positive economic growth where the economy was contracting at 5 or 6 percent, losing 700,000 or 800,000 jobs a month, to one that is growing in a positive direction and adding jobs. We are not moving or adding those jobs fast enough and we’ve got a big hole to fill in, the 8 or so million jobs that have been lost.
I’d point out that — separate announcements today by both GM and Chrysler in increasing their investments at plants in Lansing and in Belvedere, Illinois, are signs of an economy that is beginning to improve. Adding jobs at those two plants are good news. There are a lot more that needs — a lot more jobs that need to be added, because we have come through, as the President also said yesterday, probably the worst two economic years that this country has faced since the Great Depression.
Q Okay, but just to —
MR. GIBBS: I realize that might have been a little more than 140 characters.
Q It was, but just to probe a little deeper into the “where are they,” you obviously expected and hoped that there would be more jobs that had been created by now. Why haven’t they?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, Jake. We — if you take what we thought and what has happened as part of the Recovery Act and take the hole that we’ve been in, nobody was under the impression that what — the Recovery Act alone would spur the depth of the job loss that we face. We are seeing private sector investment. Obviously — and we’ve talked about it in here — we’re at a slightly different trajectory than we were earlier in the spring. There were some — certainly some things that happened in Greece and overall in Europe that put the brakes on a recovery that was moving more strongly in that direction.
But, look, the bottom line is that those jobs are going to take some time to bring back; that none of this was going to happen overnight or even necessarily in the first 18 to 20 months. But the President and the team have the economy moving in the right direction.
Q Thanks, Robert. Has the President accepted the dismal predictions on the House of Representatives yet? Has he — or is he still —
MR. GIBBS: Has he accepted the predictions? I don’t —
Q Conventional wisdom in this town is the House is gone. Is the President wavering on that or is he still —
MR. GIBBS: No, the President is still actively working in this election, as I’m sure both sides are.
Q I know he’s working, but, I mean, in his private conversations, if you could share those private conversations, is he —
MR. GIBBS: I will share with you that he has not mentioned any of that in any of our private conversations.
Q Can you share anything — does he yet know what he’s going to do or do you know what he’s going to do the day after Election Day?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the schedule finalized on that yet, no.
Q Okay. How about after that? There have been stories about his meeting with Republican leadership, perhaps even at Camp David. Anything on that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t know that — obviously we are — I mean, obviously Congress is certainly going to come back after the election. We’re obviously going to be in India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan before obviously also going to the NATO summit in Portugal. I don’t doubt that over the course of some period of time in the next several weeks we’ll have a chance to sit down with leaders from both parties. I don’t have a finalized schedule yet, though.
Q And from the briefing today, it was clear that he’s not going to have time to take a stroll down memory lane when he’s in Jakarta, to visit his school, or — is he disappointed that he’s not going to be able to do that, to show the First Lady where he grew up for a few years?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I think that, as we talked about, this trip is anchored in two important stops at the G20 and the APEC economic summits. We have an important relationship, obviously, as we talked about yesterday, with India, a quickly growing economy in a rapidly growing region of the world. And Indonesia, obviously, is an important counterterrorism relationship that is important to this country and to this administration.
But it’s a quick trip that covers a lot of ground. I don’t think he’s too disappointed.
Q The original plans were that he was going to take the family and kind of show to them some of his haunts.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that was last March. That was —
Q Do you think that will happen in the future? At the briefing —
MR. GIBBS: That was decades ago. (Laughter.)
Q At the briefing today it was said that he certainly would be going back there during his presidency. Do you think that he will plan a family trip to take a look at —
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I honestly don’t know. I don’t even know that there have been — there haven’t been a tremendous number of even foreign travel discussions for next year yet. Obviously in the readout of the call to President Zardari in Pakistan, the President mentioned his strong desire to visit there next year. But there has not been extensive planning for the next year.
Q And could you clarify one thing from the “Daily Show” interview where he said that Larry Summers did a “heckuva job,” and Jon Stewart came back and said, “Hey, you don’t want to say that, dude,” and the President then said, “Pun intended”? What was he —
MR. GIBBS: I think that was just the comedy portion of “The Daily Show.” I think he was having a lot of fun with Larry.
Q He’s not poking fun at Larry Summers, then.
MR. GIBBS: He might poke fun at Larry. Larry pokes fun at us. And that’s the way it goes.
Look, I think if you look at the substance of his answer and you look at, again, what the team has had an opportunity to do in moving the economy in the right direction, it’s an effort that the President and the team can be proud of.
We were in a much different economic situation when we came in here. And we were looking at something that was far worse than the situation that we have now, even though we’ve got more work to do.
Let me just make one point on — there was a report — you mentioned the foreign trip — there was a report going around, I saw on my email before I came out here, that the President was visiting the Taj Mahal in India, despite walking through the schedule yesterday. That is not on the trip and was not on the schedule. So I can just —
Q Robert, does the President or any member of his inner circle regret in any way him doing “The Daily Show” last night?
MR. GIBBS: Jake tried that and I — no, I don’t have any regret, no.
Q Well, because some of the takeaway from people who, I think — columnists who generally have been supportive was that the joke was on the President. I mean, does he take any offense to that?
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q Being called “dude” as opposed to “Mr. President,” or “sir” or —
MR. GIBBS: Let me say, if the President took offense at somebody calling him “dude” — (laughter) — given the names that are hurled around this town — (laughter) — I hazard to guess he’d rarely leave the top floor of the residence every day for being — for fear of being called, “Hey, guy.” I mean, it’s — no, I mean, again, it’s a comedy show, guys.
Q Can we follow on that?
Q But was he surprised at all by Jon Stewart’s tone? I mean —
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think he had — the President had an opportunity to talk about what we’ve done, and to tell that to a set of viewers that may not watch — may not get their news from traditional places, or watch or listen to normal newscasts. But it’s — look, we’ve done — we’ve sat at “The View.” We’ve done Jay Leno, David Letterman, “The Daily Show,” all of which have had really big audiences. I don’t know — it’s on average, it’s about 2 million on “The Daily Show.” That’s a pretty good chunk of people.
Q Robert, do you think Republicans get the same kind of treatment when they’re on networks that are supposedly friendly to them as the President got on Comedy Central?
MR. GIBBS: Are you asking me or Mike? I’m not going to get into that.
Q Yesterday in a session with bloggers, the President said that his attitude was “evolving” with regards to same-sex marriage. I’m wondering if you can elaborate on that and when the President might finish his evolution of his thinking and come to a decision? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would — I’d point you to — the blogger, I think, posted the fairly — the full text of what the President said. I think he went through what his position is. He went through why his position was that. But, Mike, at the same time, he talks to colleagues and co-workers and hears them talking about being treated differently. And the President internalizes that.
So I don’t have a lot to add to the answer, because I think he went through where he is and what he thinks about it.
Q When the President was asked and others have been asked about prospects for cooperating with Republicans, whether they be in the majority or simply enhanced minorities in both the House and the Senate, he mentioned specifically I think in the same interview yesterday infrastructure, education, but he didn’t mention some of the big-ticket items that are really left over from the first two years of his term — immigration, energy. Is that an intentional omission? Does the President think that those things are unreachable in terms of compromise?
THE PRESIDENT: No, because, look, we have had — I forget the exact number — 11 or 13 Senate Republicans that have in the past supported comprehensive immigration reform.
So there’s certainly a path — a legislative pathway to making something like that happen because you’ve got, as you have in infrastructure, as you have in education, you have an issue that has broken out of what has happened here in the last two years where Republicans oppose everything. Somewhere in the past, they’ve supported infrastructure and immigration and education reform. I think the same is true on energy.
I don’t think that — I don’t think the prospects of those are diminished because — and I’ve said this again — I’ll say this again, I’ve said it certainly before — and that is that we have problems like immigration, like infrastructure and creating jobs for blue-collar workers who because of the housing market collapse find themselves disproportionately unemployed; education reform we know is certainly one of the most important issues that the President faces. There are pathways to work together if both sides want to do it.
The President has said, regardless of the outcome of this election on either side, that he’s ready to sit down and work through some of these tough issues that remain. And I anticipate that the President will seek to do that.
Q And finally, one of the Twitter questions you had was about presidential decorum and if it’s being diminished somewhat by appearing on “The View” or “The Daily Show” or being referred to as “dude.” How would you respond to those concerns?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we have a, as you all well know, a very different and changed media environment, right? We’ve — you’ve got a news cycle that — there isn’t a news cycle that last three or four hours and then another news cycle. There’s — many outlets that are represented in this room right now were — didn’t exist only a few years ago. So as the President of the United States and certainly in campaigning, the President wanted to explain to the American people why he does what he does, the decisions that he has to go through, and the choices that we face as a country and as a people.
And there may be people that watch “The View” that don’t watch NBC News. It doesn’t make them less involved in the political process. It just makes them — it makes them a group of people that watches a different segment of television, and the President still wants to talk to them, too.
I don’t — look, I was — there were two or three of us that were involved in the first decision to put — I think it was “The Jay Leno Show.” It was one of the easiest decisions we ever made. There were 9 million — I think it was 9 million people that watched that show. I mean, that’s a — in today’s media environment that is a sizable audience, not all of whom are — probably not all of whom spend all day like I do or Bill does or we do reading news on the Internet. So I think it’s an interesting and an important place to reach people and to talk to them about what’s going on in this country. I promise I’m not going to call any of you guys “dude” anymore, so that you don’t —
Q Can we follow on “Daily Show”?
MR. GIBBS: Laura.
Q Following up on that, I guess the question on “The Daily Show” that I had was usually you expect when you go on something like this, this is going to kind of be fun and he’s going to have a chance to show his sense of humor and a lighter side. But it felt very serious and a very serious recitation of his accomplishments, which I know he wants young people to hear. But I’m just wondering if the tone was what you were expecting.
MR. GIBBS: I will say this. I think Jon Stewart is about as good an interviewer as there is in the public domain right now. I certainly — we didn’t walk into that interview with — thinking that we were going to get asked a bunch of softball questions and somebody was going to hand us a list of jokes that — and they’d hit the laugh machine and it would sound like a bunch of people — we didn’t expect that to happen.
Again, I think Jon Stewart is somebody who on either side of the aisle usually gives pretty good interviews. And it’s not surprising. I think, again, the President thought it was a good opportunity to talk about what we’ve been able to do and, honestly, to talk about what is left to do and how to try to do it.
Q Following up on the gay marriage question, are you — you were talking about an evolution and he’s heard all of this input from people who care about this. So should we anticipate that at some point in the future, he is likely to feel comfortable with gay marriage being legal?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer to that, Laura. I think he — I think he, again, listens to those around him who — and those that he meets that talk about feeling like they’re not treated the same — and even while they’re good parents, they’re good people, and that’s something that he thinks about.
Q So in his mind, what’s the best argument against gay marriage?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would simply point you to what he said in the answer in outlining why he believes what he believes. Again, this is — he gave a pretty lengthy answer on sort of where he is on that.
Q Robert, as California voters vote to legalize marijuana under Prop 19, will the administration and the DEA accept that vote?
MR. GIBBS: Mark, I would you over to ONDCP — National Drug Control Policy. I think they have — I think those guys have made statements on that and I’d point you over to that.
Q Anything on what you expect in the GDP tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I have — I don’t have any expectations and the poor people at CEA are currently watching me answer this question for fear that I might give the impression that I know anything about tomorrow’s number, which I do not. So given the EKGs that have now been attached to the arms of economists throughout the West Wing, I think I should probably call on Roger and hope he doesn’t ask a follow-up. (Laughter.)
Q Well —
MR. GIBBS: Cross that one off, please. (Laughter.)
Q Within the past hour, The New York Times reported that China has ended the embargo or restrictions on rare earth exports. Are you in a position to confirm that at all?
MR. GIBBS: Roger, I don’t think I’d add much to what I’ve said here and what the Secretary of State said in meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister earlier today.
Q She said she didn’t — she didn’t address that, so she apparently didn’t know or —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think she — I think what she said, if I read the transcript correctly, was that she would welcome any clarification of Chinese policy as it relates to rare earth elements and to how that — obviously underscoring how that is seen in terms of trade and commerce. So we would certainly welcome that clarification.
Q Are you checking that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, again, we’ve — NSC has looked in — is looking into the reports I think that surfaced last week.
Q On another question, for tomorrow evening, this will be — aside from Speaker Pelosi, this will be the first campaign rally he’s attended for a House member. How did — what was the reasoning behind going to this —
MR. GIBBS: This was — look, I think you — I would say this. I think one of — I think the best answer around that, honestly, Roger, was what the President said in mentioning Congressman Perriello directly on “The Daily Show” last night, somebody who is in a tough race but is — has done the right thing in the votes that he’s cast to represent Virginia and to represent the United States in Congress.
Q All the polls show that he’s way behind the Republican candidate.
MR. GIBBS: It’s a tough race and the President looks forward to traveling down with him.
Q Just to follow up on that, and then I have two questions of my own, right next door to Perriello’s district is Glenn Nye’s, where of course if Perriello has done the right thing, I guess Glenn Nye has done the wrong thing, because he’s voted, I mean, almost the opposite of Perriello on issues like health care and energy.
I’m wondering if, since he’s going to be there, does he also hope that his visit helps Nye get reelected, too?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President’s visits, the President’s media, the President’s outreach is not always simply confined to the area that he’s in. And I think we’ve seen that — I think you’ve seen since the President has been out there that enthusiasm among Democratic voters has increased, and that’s why the President continues to do it.
Q So he can’t just confine — I mean, when he goes to one district, obviously his impact is much broader. I mean, you’re not just —
MR. GIBBS: That’s our hope.
Q — trying to help one guy.
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, that’s why you guys tag along.
Q Okay. My two questions, one economy and one Jon Stewart. Apparently in the last 18 months, corporate profits are up 62 percent, which is faster than any other 18-month period since the 1920s. And I’m wondering, what is the President’s theory of the case as to why this hasn’t translated into hiring?
MR. GIBBS: That may be a better question for those that are reporting the greatest corporate profits since the 1920s.
Q I’m just wondering what is his — I mean, he must have some theories as to why —
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that obviously — look, I don’t think it’s any mystery that certainly part of it is we still have not seen the type of consumer demand for — that would return us to sort of where we were pre-recession levels; that there’s still — I mean, look, consumer spending drives 70-75 percent of our gross domestic product. Please don’t worry, I’m not going to get into the number. So, look, that, by definition, is what’s going to move consumer demand; it’s what’s going to move companies to hire more employees to make more products to meet that increased demand.
That’s what we’re trying to change, based on the fact that in December 2007, a recession officially started, but for far longer than that people have felt a frustration and an anxiety about where our economy was going. That’s why we had, as you’ve heard the President say, in a time of economic expansion, the past 10 years actually added fewer jobs than at any period of economic expansion since those same 1920s.
There’s an economic anxiety that, again — it didn’t start when it was reported that Lehman collapsed. It started a long time ago with shifts in our manufacturing, watching your neighbors and your friends work longer but not see their pay go up.
Q No, I get that part, but it seems like there’s such a disconnect between companies literally booming and not hiring people. I mean —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t disagree, but I also think that, again, some of those decisions — I’m not a corporate CEO, but I assume some of those decisions, if not most of those decisions, are met based on, again, consumer demand. If you’re anybody but Apple, your — just joking — that, again, consumer spending, consumer demand is what drives economic — what will drive large amounts of the GDP, as you’ll see tomorrow. We’re obviously working on trying to get our economy in a place where people are more hopeful.
Q Just one question on Jon Stewart. Last night he — I just wanted — he really seemed to express this sense of kind of liberal grievance and how he took the President at his word you were going to change everything and the political system was going to be completely reformed and now, look, it looks like your stuff has been timid. Of course, on the other side they say that he’s destroying the American way of life and the capitalist system, but I’m just wondering —
MR. GIBBS: I think we’re anti-colonialist. (Laughter.)
Q But I’m just wondering if that —
MR. GIBBS: Which will be interesting when we go to Charlottesville. I hope nobody tells the late Thomas Jefferson.
Q But I’m just wondering if that incredible gap between the expectations of the President’s supporters and base and their sense of disappointment is a kind of singular problem —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. I will say this, Mara. I think if you — I think by any empirical data, and this — Pew had this a couple of days ago; each and every one of your news organizations is doing as much if not more polling than individual campaigns. Our numbers among — I’m addressing your question particularly on our base or on Democrats. I think Pew had our support among Democrats, among the five most recent Democratic Presidents, at the highest at this point that any of those five Presidents saw — again, at this point — at this respective point in their term.
So I think — I will say this. I think this overall notion of huge disappointment among Democratic voters is — it is not matched in any of the empirical data that you guys produce and that we see. I will not — look, certainly — and you can go back quite clearly in the speeches that the President was giving at that time running, this is not going to be easy. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s only going to happen if you stay involved. And it’s going to take a while. I don’t doubt that — look, there were pretty high expectations.
We also faced some really, really, really big problems. And, look, the President is frustrated. We want to see things happen faster, but we understand that it takes a while to turn the ship around and move it back in the right direction where we are.
Q Can I follow up on Mara’s questions?
Q Did the President make any comments about his appearance on Jon Stewart? Did he feel like he did a good job? Did he feel like he was effective? Did he feel like the joke was on him?
MR. GIBBS: I rode — David and I rode back with him yesterday. We rode to the interview with him. And the President said he thought it was a good opportunity to walk through what he had done. That’s what he said to us.
Q May I follow on this, too? You’ve been skirting around the issue of the “timid” question, which is a very valid question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. You’re asking me, based on the fact that the President very clearly answered that question. So I don’t — I’m not going to — I don’t — well, I don’t think anybody, the President most of all, skirted around that question.
Q Well, my question is, is there any second-guessing here in the administration whether he could have acted faster on the war, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” health care, jobs, the big issues, and is there anything that could be changed by executive order in the lame-duck session?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s go through some of these, right? There are 100,000 troops in Iraq — that were in Iraq that are not in Iraq anymore because they’re — they’ve been brought home, right? I’m happy to send the clips around when the President goes to Camp Lejeune and says, “By the end of August, we’re going to have our combat troops out of there.” And you know what? Most of those articles say, “Good luck. Pie in the sky. Won’t ever happen.” And it did. The President said that’s what he was going to do, and that’s what we did.
The President said we were going to take some extraordinary steps to get our economy moving; they may not be popular, but they’re the right things to do. That’s what we did.
I don’t think taking — I don’t know anybody that would say that taking two auto companies, putting them into bankruptcy, asking them to restructure, firing the CEO of one of them, was timid. That certainly wasn’t — that wasn’t the case when — it certainly wasn’t the Republican reaction when they thought we were doing too much for the auto industry. It was the right thing to do.
Connie, change takes time, as you heard the President talk about yesterday. It’s just not all going to happen overnight. That’s maybe why the Constitution affords Presidents four-year rather than four-month terms.
Q Thank you, Robert. Today NSC senior director Jeff Bader mentioned that “China should abide by global norms, like in South China Sea and Central Bank.” And also he said the President could raise the issue of rare earth when he meet with President Hu. So the President will also mention the issue of South China Sea when he meets with President Hu?
MR. GIBBS: I have learned long ago never would I contradict the honorable Jeff Bader when it came to anything Asia. And, look, obviously those are important issues in our relationship with countries in that area of the world and, as we discussed here, the global trade and commerce around rare earth, I don’t know what the President will bring up with Hu Jintao, but we will certainly let you know after that happens. Certainly those are issues that could come up.
Q Just a fact check, I believe Jon Stewart’s own company says that his average viewership is about 1 million a night.
MR. GIBBS: The memo I saw said 2 million. I wouldn’t sneeze at 1 million, so —
Q And it’s an easy — I mean —
MR. GIBBS: Plus I do think this kind of stuff — it’s replayed — I can’t stay up until 11:00 p.m. to watch it, so I usually — well, I watch — if I watch parts of it on television — on the computer.
Q The President in his interview with Hispanic radio —
MR. GIBBS: Can I ask why you were fact-checking 1 or 2 million? (Laughter.)
Q That’s a hundred percent difference. And the three network newscasts I think are about 20 million. You said it was an easy call for Leno at 9, so —
MR. GIBBS: It is. It was an easy call at Jon with 1 or Jon with 2.
Q Most people are in bed watching Jon.
Q Let me ask you about the interview that he did with a Hispanic radio station where he said —
MR. GIBBS: The largest Hispanic radio station in the country. I’m not going to guess the viewership for fear that —
Q I wasn’t going to ask that.
MR. GIBBS: — you already know the answer and I —
MR. GIBBS: See?
Q The President said if Latinos sit out the election instead of saying we’re going to punish our enemies, is that how he views Republicans on issues such as immigration?
MR. GIBBS: I think if you go through the entire interview, you’ll see that Piolin asks some tough questions of the President about why we haven’t made more progress on immigration reform. And the answer to why we haven’t made more progress on immigration reform was the answer I gave over here, which was, again — I’m going to say 11 or 13 — I don’t know the answer and you may have it —
Q I don’t.
MR. GIBBS: — Republicans in the Senate that supported immigration reform until just recently. So —
Q It’s the use of the word “enemies.”
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think that the President was making a pitch to Latino listeners that he has made progress on issues important to them, that he hopes that they show up on Tuesday, and in the process of early voting, in numbers similar to what they did in 2008. And I would note that enthusiasm among Latino voters has increased over the past several weeks, and I think that the President — the President is serious about doing something about immigration reform.
We know what happens when — and it’s understandable that states like Arizona along the border are deeply frustrated about the federal government, for, over the course of many administrations, has done little to address the problem. We’ve instituted more strongly our border security than ever before, but more must be done and it can only be done comprehensively.
Q And those who fundamentally have a different approach to immigration can be called enemies?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President was talking about those that have and have not supported — I haven’t asked him about the specific word. I think — again, I think the President was making an argument about helping those that have been a true friend to the Latino community.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. As far as the President visit to India, Indians are ready to welcome him with open arms, hearts and minds. And I think the President will make history while he is in India. One, what Indians want to hear since the President will be in the city where India’s 9/11 took place on 11/26, they want to hear that what sort of U.S.-India will have relations, as far as fighting cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. And also, from Carnegie, Mr. Ashley Tellis is telling the President, if he is listening, that the President will have a historic opportunity as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned. So what do you think the President will have the message for the Indians in India and also across the border as far as terrorism is concerned?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as you guys know from the briefing yesterday, our first stop is a ceremony that commemorates the lives lost, as you said, on November 26, 2008, in a horrific terrorist attack. We have — and you heard I think Bill Burns say yesterday that we have unprecedented cooperation with the Indian military. We do more exercises now than we have ever before with them. And our relationship on counterterrorism and subjects of the like is tremendously important. That is — will be the subject of some of the talks that the President has with Prime Minister Singh and the subject to the very first stop on the trip.
This is — as we said yesterday, this is a rapidly growing region of the world; Asia and India is a rapidly growing — it’s the largest democracy in the world. Its economy is moving quickly. And our investment — our partnership is paying benefits in our ability to increase our exports and create — and support jobs here in America. Both of those will be highlighted by the President on this trip.
Q And second, before my question on Afghanistan and India, people who are getting ready for — to welcome President also at the Taj Mahal and also in Amritsar at the Golden Temple, it’s really — they were expecting that he will visit. And now, finally, as far as — you said that he is not going to visit Taj Mahal.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q And since during his visit in Delhi, I’m sure the Afghanistan issue will be on the table with the Prime Minister of India and other officials in Delhi, and they will want to hear from him that as far as India and Afghanistan is concerned or their investment and their workers in Afghanistan, how is the safety concern? It is a concern in India, as far as their safety is concerned.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, one of the things that has happened in the last 12 to 24 hours is — as it relates to the United States in particular — is President Karzai’s agreeing to keep some private security contractors at development sites which are important to making progress in Afghanistan. Our goal, obviously, is to get us out of the private security business — private security contracting business. That’s the goal. But in the short term, we have to ensure the safety of our workers. And in that, I anticipate that our cooperation on this subject and on many others will come up with the Prime Minister.
Q Thanks, Robert.
Q Robert, you differentiate between folks like Stewart and the mass of the base of the party, just in terms of the —
MR. GIBBS: Say it again?
Q You’ve differentiated between Jon Stewart and some of these other folks and sort of the liberal base of the party, just in terms of the polling. You just talked about it before. Do you think this sort of — this group of sort of liberal pundits gives the President a tougher time than sort of the same equivalent to Republicans, you know, the conservative pundits do to the Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I — Glenn, I’d be — I don’t spend a lot of time watching conservative pundits grade Republicans. Look, I can’t speak to that. Again, nobody here scheduled the interview with Jon Stewart expecting that he would ask does he like living at the White House, what’s his favorite color, does he like a dog or would he like a cat. I mean, again, that’s not —
Q What is his favorite color?
MR. GIBBS: I wish he would have asked.
Q But did you want to have this sort of like couples — (laughter) — how do I put this — this sort of discussion of the President’s larger — bad choice of words.
MR. GIBBS: Glenn, you’ve now completely lost me on the whole couples therapy analogy so I don’t — (laughter.)
Q Did you really want this sort of very public discussion of the President’s difficulties with the liberal base a week before the midterm election in this milieu?
MR. GIBBS: Glenn, do I think people that might be frustrated watched that and came away with a better understanding of where the President is, why the President did what he did, and the progress that we’ve made? I hope so. I think that’s probably the case. And my guess is that — look, that’s what — putting him out there to talk to an interviewer and to ultimately talk to the American people is to explain, as I said earlier, why he does — why he makes the decisions he makes, why we approach problems that we have the way we do, and our belief is that the American people are helped with that discussion. That’s what we expected to happen yesterday and I think that’s what we got. I was very pleased; the President was pleased with how it worked out.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q In Ohio, there’s a lot of firepower happening on Sunday in Ohio. What was the White House’s decision-making in terms of putting so much behind that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Ohio Governor Strickland is an important — that’s an important race, it’s an important area. The President has worked hard to turn around and help the people of Ohio. Certainly we talked earlier about some of the things that the President did on autos and manufacturing. It’s an important place, and it is —
Q The Vice President is also going to be there.
MR. GIBBS: He’ll be there. The President will be there. I think it’ll be — we had a good crowd the last time we went to Ohio and I anticipate we’ll have a pretty good one here. It’s an important place and worthy of both of them being there.
Q Yes, hi, one of the things that the President said was going to have to be fixed is the way that the filibuster operates. And I’m wondering if you can get into some specifics about how he wants to see that fixed.
MR. GIBBS: I have not — Sam, I don’t have or have not gotten from him specifics. I think if you look at what has happened over the past almost two years and what has historically happened, you’ll find a great variance with the way in which the filibuster has been used by this Senate. We’ve talked about it in here. Having to go through a cloture motion simply to get — simply to get an up or down vote on a non-controversial nominee that has gone through a committee unanimously, and then ultimately gets through the Senate with one or two no votes or also gets through unanimously, is nothing more than a ridiculous abuse of the rules of the Senate.
Q Doesn’t he want the filibuster now? My goodness, isn’t that going to be his friend? I mean, he wants to give it up now when he’s losing all these votes in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Mara, you’d have to come to the conclusion that the rules of the Senate are more important than getting something done for the United States of America. I think the President was pretty clear yesterday — if all you have to do is muster 40 people to say no, how do you foster an atmosphere in which each side knows they’re not going to get everything? Now, again, this is —
Q That’s very high-minded of them.
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s called governing. Right? I know this is — it’s not always just a sport. It’s not always just about who’s up and who’s down and who wins. That’s the crazy viewpoint of this administration. I think it’s what drove most people to come here — whether the rules and the atmosphere of this place have largely corrupted some into believing that this is all about stopping you from doing this and me from doing that. I mean, tell me, Mara, how we make progress on any single issue if this is the case. How do we address anything?
Q So he doesn’t want it as a tool to stop the Republican agenda?
MR. GIBBS: How do we stop anything? No, I think — look, there have been reasonable uses of — so that — right? There’s reasonable uses and there are irrational uses of, right? But to take the administrator of the GSA, who none of us can name right here, right? She’s that controversial that we don’t even know her name, and require that she be — require that she have a cloture vote, and then pass the Senate almost unanimously, if not unanimously, seems like an irrational use of the time rules of the United States Senate.
Q Robert, you’ve been putting a spotlight on it for a while now, and I’m wondering if we can expect to see any efforts at actual rule change.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t have any specifics on this, Sam, but I can certainly look through for some of that.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am. I’ve got a meeting. Sorry, go ahead.
Q Yes, could you just clarify the answer you gave Mara about corporate profits? Because you’ve been making the argument it’s business uncertainty. Isn’t it business uncertainty —
MR. GIBBS: I have what?
Q Haven’t you been making the argument that it’s business uncertainty, and since the corporations don’t know what the tax law is going to be at the end of the year —
MR. GIBBS: I have not made that argument — no, I don’t work for the Chamber. (Laughter.) I haven’t made that argument, no.
All right. Thanks, guys.