Saturday, January 31, 2009

Robert Gibbs Press Briefing Jan. 30

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: Happy Friday. How's everyone today? I have my trusty week ahead -- though it's not that detailed, you'll find out. (Laughter.) Saturday, I have. We'll get it out a little bit later. Again, I apologize, I'm still a little under the weather.

Let me give you a couple of quick announcements and give you a better answer to a question that was asked yesterday that I didn't have any information on, and should have.

First of all, Director Blair conducted his first PDB this morning with the President. So we're glad to -- glad that he's been confirmed and glad to have him onboard. The Obama administration today announced an emergency contribution of more than $20 million to relief efforts in Gaza, as part of the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund. That was announced by Senator Mitchell in the region this morning.

The President has called and talked to President Hu Jintao of China, and we will have some more information and a readout on that a little later this afternoon.

And then lastly, let me go through just quickly the DTV question from yesterday, which as I said, I should have been better prepared for.

I think you all have copies of letters that were sent from the transition to both Houses of Congress in January. The transition, obviously, in an agency -- in the agency review process determined what it believed to be shortfalls in planning for the DTV transition. For instance, it found that the coupon program for converters had 3.3 million requests sitting on a waiting list, and that the FCC told Congress that the call center that it had established could not handle the rate of incoming calls.

The transition asked that Congress delay the February 17th transition. The House -- I'm sorry, the Senate voted on that last week and passed that delay. The Senate took -- I mean, sorry, I'm confused today -- the Senate voted on that, the House took the bill up under a suspension of the rules requiring two-thirds of those present supporting the bill. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, but not with the necessary two-thirds. The Senate last night took the bill up again and passed it. I'm told that the House will vote next week. We anticipate that the House will pass a delay on DTV to June 12th. If that gets to the President's desk, and when that happens, the President will sign that delay into law so that we might undergo a little bit better planning process to ensure no interruption for people with televisions.

And with that, let's get going.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Thanks, Robert. A couple questions on the economy. Can you explain what the President's strategy will be in the coming days to all these senators on the stimulus package? What kind of meetings does he have planned? Does he plan any sort of different-looking strategy than he did with the House, for whatever reason? And then secondly, I want to clarify, or see if you can clarify, something that Vice President Biden said in an interview yesterday. He said that any new money for the financial industry-type bailout would not be requested until all the $350 billion has been spent. Is that accurate?

MR. GIBBS: I don't remember that part of the transcript but let me -- let me check on that. Obviously -- I hate to do this, I think both of these answers are largely going to hedge toward answers that I gave yesterday to a couple of these questions.

As I said, the President will continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans and seek ideas on ways to improve or strengthen the package if those ideas are out there. I said he didn't forestall the idea or close the door on sitting down with leaders in order to do that, from both parties.

You know, the President will continue to do whatever is possible to get this bill going and to get it moved quickly to his desk.

Q Does he have anything on the schedule, in terms of calls he's making?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything for next week, but I will -- let me see what there is. I know the President will work next week on an economic stimulus bill. And as I've done here several days this week, you know, again we've got more statistics that remind us just how important it is to get something that stimulates the economy quickly to the President's desk so that we can get relief to the American people.

The economy shrank at its fastest pace since 1982, according to statistics released just today. In addition, those statistics demonstrated that consumer spending was down I think for the second quarter. Sales of new homes -- these were figures released yesterday -- were their worst since the 1960s. More companies announced mass layoffs. And Ford Motor Company reported a huge loss in their quarterly earnings.

Again, I think all of these demonstrate the need for Congress and the President to work together to get something done as quickly as possible for the American people.
Q There have been new revelations that call into question the ability of the FDA to keep our nation's food supply safe with the salmonella epidemic. More than 500 people are sick, more than half of them are children, eight people have died. On the campaign trail last year President Obama said as the parent of two young daughters, "There are few issues more important to me than ensuring the safety of the food that our children consume."

So what are you guys doing about this?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we've read reports, I think on the AP wire today, about trouble at FDA last year. We've certainly read reports -- and I think the Justice Department is looking into the business practices of the company in Georgia. And I know the President hopes in the next few days to announce a pick for commissioner at FDA to address all of what you said.

I think the revelations have no doubt been alarming, that whether it was our own regulatory system or a company that repeatedly found salmonella in its own testing would continue to ship out that product is beyond disturbing for millions of parents. The President, like I said, in the coming days will have a new commissioner at FDA and hopefully we'll be able to announce also picks at things like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and places like that to put in place a stricter regulatory structure to ensure that the type of thing that happened in this case doesn't happen again.


Q Senator Judd Gregg said he's under consideration for Commerce Secretary. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I -- let me give largely the answer I gave to some of you yesterday, which is -- and some of you heard my ranting on this during the transition -- I'm not going to get into the name-game or the final four of picks for this job or that.

I talked to the President specifically about a decision on the next Commerce Secretary, and the last time I talked to him this morning a final decision had not been made. I know that's something that he hopes to make a decision on and announce shortly. But until the President tells me to make a personnel announcement from this podium, I'll refrain from getting into individual names on that.

There's so much more here.