'This Week' Transcript: Brown, Corker, Gibbs


TAPPER: Good morning, everyone. George Stephanopoulos is taking a well deserved vacation this week.

Joining us this morning from Cleveland, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and from Chattanooga, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Of course, gentlemen, the big story is the economy, and we'll get to that in a second. But first, for the second day in a row, Israel is launching air raids into Gaza as a response to Hamas violating the fragile cease-fire and firing rockets into southern Israel. The death toll so far is the largest in this conflict in decades. About 280 killed, more than 600 wounded. Hamas is now calling for a third intifidah.

Senator Corker, you're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Are you at all concerned that these Israeli strikes are disproportionate or will ultimately hurt the cause of peace in the region?

CORKER: Well, look, certainly I'm concerned about the conflict itself. This is the largest, as you mentioned, in casualties we've had in two decades there, and I think the Palestinian government has actually condemned Hamas.

So far, certainly all of us -- our hearts and prayers go out to people on both sides, and certainly especially the civilians who have been harmed in the Gaza area. But mostly, it's been confined to people who are part of the security forces for Hamas, and certainly all of us want to see an end to this conflict and some long-term peace settlement actually occur there.

TAPPER: Senator Brown, Israel is now talking about sending ground troops. They're calling up the reservists. Is this a good idea?

BROWN: I'm not sure it's a good idea. I mean, Israel certainly has the right to self-defense, of course. Hamas has not recognized Israel's right to exist. What Hamas has done by shooting its missiles into Israel has been condemned, as Senator Corker said, condemned by the Palestinian Authority and so many others.

But I'm hopeful that with a new president -- you know, you look at President Bush is now in a petty weakened state, and countries around the world know that. I'm hopeful that as this transition comes, as we look to January, that strong presidential leadership can make a difference here.

TAPPER: All right. Turning to the economy. In this morning's Washington Post, incoming Obama economic adviser Larry Summers writes that, quote, "in this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much." The Obama team is working with Congress, pushing them to have an economic stimulus package of perhaps as much as $850 billion on President-elect Obama's desk by inauguration day.

Senator Brown, how big should this package be? What number are you looking for?

BROWN: Well, I'm not looking for a number today. You know, as this -- as we get more and more -- as we see more and more how this economy is going, that number continues to increase, that economists, conservative and liberal economists alike, are calling for it. It was originally a few hundred billion, then it was $500, now it's a bigger number than that.

When you see what's happened with consumer spending, at Christmas especially, Christmas sales, holiday sales, and you understand that 70 percent of the economy is all about consumer spending, we need a real stimulus to get people to spend money. And that means putting money in infrastructure, water and sewer.

I held around Ohio about 130 roundtables in all 88 counties in the last couple of years, and one of the things I hear everywhere, mostly from economic development people, is that the federal government doesn't do what it used to do with water and sewer systems, and if we don't invest in water and sewer, we can't do the kind of long-term economic development and job growth we need.

So it's not just shovel-ready projects that are ready to go now that will create jobs. It's also green jobs, and it's also building for the future. So when you do economic stimulus, it really needs to look at what kinds of jobs it's going to create, not just immediately, but two years, five years, 10 years down the road.

TAPPER: Senator Corker, you voted against the last stimulus package, which was a relatively paltry $152 billion. How much are you willing to spend here?

CORKER: Well, the last stimulus package was silly. It had no effect and I certainly voted against it.

I think at the end of the day, the biggest thing we can do still -- and I know that every president during an economic downturn has to feel like a package is forthcoming, and we hope that it's productive. The minimum requirement ought to be that it does no harm.

But still, the biggest thing we can do -- and what I'm seeing here in my own state -- is get the credit markets functioning so that local banks are lending money to small businesses that create the jobs that all of us care so much about.

So I'm not looking at any number. Certainly I hope that whatever we do is transparent, I hopes it goes through the regular committee process, I hope we have an opportunity to see the effect. And certainly, anything that's done in a stimulus package ought to be those kinds of things that are productive and move us ahead and are not just throwing money out in order to say that we've done something.

So I'm concerned about the size of it. You know, the numbers that have been thrown out are actually larger in today's dollars than the entire interstate system that was built 50 or 60 years ago. So whatever we do, again, let's make sure that it's productive, it actually consists of things that need to be done, and actually move our economy ahead.

And let's remember the backdrop. A year ago, we were concerned about the huge federal deficit that we have. We still have the Medicare and Social Security issue to deal with.

So -- and let me mention one other thing, the retail numbers. There's actually to me a silver lining there, and that is that we have citizens in this country that have taken on far too much debt. What we saw during the retail, this last retail cycle was people were actually saving money.

There's going to have to be a good deal of that for our citizens to get back in sync, if you will, with incomes versus debt. And so, we can expect that some of that is going to occur.

Obviously, what we hope any stimulus will do is sort of keep us from having a harsh cycle. So again, I think the credit markets are still the biggest key. That to me is the 90 percent issue. Anything else to me is much smaller as it relates to actually dealing with this economic cycle we're in right now.

TAPPER: We'll get to the credit markets in a second, and then the $700 billion that you both voted for. But first, just on the stimulus package, a few days ago, Vice President-elect Joe Biden said this about the stimulus package.


VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.: I know it's the Christmas season, but President-elect Obama and I are absolutely, absolutely determined that this economic recovery package will not become a Christmas tree. Every dollar will be closely watched to make sure it's being used in an effective manner. We'll spend what we need to turn this economy around, and no more.


TAPPER: No Christmas tree, no pork or earmarks in this bill, but per President-elect Obama's request, the nation's mayors have put together a list of what they call shovel-ready projects. You talked about that a second ago, Senator Brown. Some of them might look an awful lot like pork to the average voter. For instance, in Akron, Ohio, Senator Brown, a request for $14 million to construct a 100-room hotel next to the convention and visitors bureau there. That would create 25 jobs. And about 45 minutes from you, Senator Corker, in the city of Cleveland, Tennessee, a town of only 37,000 people, they want $10 million to construct an airport, even though they're already less than an hour from the Chattanooga airport.

Senator Corker, you talked about this needs to be projects that needs to be done. Are these worthy projects? What should the standard be for Congress to allocate money?

CORKER: Well, I think that's where it's really tough. Look, you know, Cleveland is very close to us here. They, you know, to me, those type of projects, whatever they are, ought to maintain whatever federal match is necessary.

What we don't need to do -- I think the worst idea that I've heard put forth so far is just straight grants to cities and states. There are cities and states out that are having difficulty seeking financing, and helping them borrow money possibly through -- I know the auction rate facilities have been shut down for some time. Many municipalities access that from the standpoint of funding.

But again, straight grants to cities and states to me are exactly the wrong thing to do. We need to keep the matches in place. It needs to be the kind of thing -- look, if the city of Cleveland is willing to put up their share and this actually fits within the FAA ground rules, fine. But again, causing projects to happen that wouldn't happen otherwise is not what we ought to be doing.

TAPPER: Senator Brown, I want to turn to the money allocated for Wall Street. This month, the Government Accountability Office issued a report on that $700 billion in funds, expressing concerns about the lack of oversight.

ABC News business unit asked 16 of the banks that have received billions from the Treasury Department. Only one bank was able to point to a specific example of a recent loan. And not one of the 16 would disclose how much they're paying in bonuses to executives.

Are you concerned, at all, about this money? And what can you do about it?

BROWN: Well, it's outrageous, I think, how Treasury has invested, if you will -- spent this $350 billion of the $700 billion, so far, on the -- with little accountability, even though Congress very specifically called for accountability in these -- in the distribution of these dollars.

There is still too much -- there is still money going into executive bonuses, into dividends.

The money has not been accounted for. It made the auto situation much more difficult because people -- it really poisoned the well for government involvement, anyway.

So my view on this is, with a new secretary of the Treasury, that we're going to see a -- we're going to see a very different release of this money. We're going to see more ties to requirements that this money unfreeze credit, as Senator Corker suggested a minute ago.

That, coupled with what we need to do with the stimulus package, is what, over time, is going to get this economy going.

And let me -- let me -- a couple of real quick comments on your last question to Senator Corker on the stimulus package. I -- part of it needs to be a middle-class tax cut to put money into the economy, to unleash consumer spending.

And part of it is -- you mentioned those projects in Cleveland, Tennessee and Akron, Ohio. Every one of these projects -- this is not going to be a bunch -- this can't be pork. It can't bee seen as a Christmas tree, as Vice President-elect Biden says.

It needs to be money, one, that will -- investment that will bring job growth, not jobs to build that project itself. It needs to be in categories, like the combined sewage overflow situation in my state and all over the country, where these water and sewer systems are old and really are a threat to public health, and they will create long-term jobs, if you invest the way that you need to.

That's not pork; it's not earmarks. It's categories of assistance that the states need.

We also will put significant money into Medicaid, because there are people particularly hurting, with this economy, in food banks, food stamps, Medicaid, extension of unemployment, which Congress did earlier.

All of this will put money into people's pockets that they will spend, increasing consumer spending. And even though we are not at the worst part of this recession yet, according to President-elect Obama and most economists, it will set the stage for longer-term economic growth.

TAPPER: OK. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have this morning.

Senator Corker, before we go, we know that residents of your state are experiencing a huge environmental disaster with the spill of that coal ash. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Senators Corker and Brown, thanks for joining us, and happy New Year to you both.

CORKER: Thank you.

BROWN: Thanks, and to you.

CORKER: Thank you.

TAPPER: For Robert Gibbs, life has been a perennial campaign, usually standing behind or at Mr. Obama's side as an adviser and spokesman.


GIBBS: How's everyone doing tonight?

TAPPER (voice over): That's about to change. The 37-year-old Alabaman will soon become the internationally known face of the next administration, standing at this podium under the harsh daily glare of TV lights.

I talked exclusively with Gibbs earlier this week and had some of his predecessors offer advice.

But we began talking about the Obama team's report, released this week, into their limited contacts with the embattled Illinois governor and the way President-elect Obama handled the controversy.

(on camera): Do you wish that you and the president-elect had done anything differently?

GIBBS: No, Jake. We were -- the president-elect tasked the staff to come up with any contacts or lists of contacts that they may have had with the governor and the governor's staff.

But the president-elect was also very mindful that we had, through no fault of our own, been brought into an investigation by the U.S. attorney, looking into the actions of the sitting governor of Illinois.

TAPPER: There has been, in New Mexico, some questions about a contributor to your new designated commerce secretary, pending Senate confirmation, Bill Richardson.

How confident are you that Governor Richardson and all of your proposed Cabinet nominees will clear the Senate confirmation process?

GIBBS: Well, look, what President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden and the transition team have done is put together what we think is a great Cabinet, with many, many strong choices that will be able to tackle the many problems and challenges that this country faces.

TAPPER: So you're confident he'll be the commerce secretary?

GIBBS: I don't doubt that any -- in the case of Governor Richardson and in the case of anybody else, I think at the end of the day, you'll have a very strong cabinet in place that's confirmed in a way that allows the president-elect to hit the ground running on the 20th of January.

TAPPER: But you're about to enter a sphere of fame that you're probably not prepared for.

GIBBS: Definitely not prepared for.

TAPPER: Considering what a pinata the press secretary's job is, why would you want this job?

GIBBS: I think it's a tremendously important time in our country's history, and if I can help the president through the role of the spokesperson that talks to the country every day, in a briefing room, or through the work of reporters, that doing that and furthering an agenda that will bring about change and move the country forward -- that's a hard opportunity to say no to.

TAPPER: President-elect Obama's favorite movie is "The Godfather," and he was asked which character in "The Godfather" you remind him of. His first instinct was to say Tom Hagen, who is the attorney, the consiglieri, played by Robert Duvall.


ROBERT DUVALL, ACTOR: Things are starting to loosen up a little bit. If you go after Tattaglia, all hell's going to break loose. Let the smoke clear. Pop can negotiate.


TAPPER: But he said also you have a little Sunny in you too.


JAMES CAAN, ACTOR: No, no, no more. Not this time, Consiglieri. No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks!


TAPPER: What do you think that meant?

GIBBS: There's no question that everybody has different styles, and I think the president-elect in that article said that, you know, there's times in which I can be combative for his point of view, and I don't doubt that that's at times going to happen.

TAPPER: I know that you've met privately with former press secretaries, but we also talked to some press secretaries ourselves and asked them to give you some advice.


WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY DANA PERINO: I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever gotten was to not take the questions in the briefing rooms personally. It can sometimes feel like they're coming after you or coming after him through you.


GIBBS: I should be writing this thing down.

TAPPER: We'll get you a transcript.


TAPPER: Is that going to be tough for you? You are known to a degree as a political knife fighter. I think that's what the president-elect was getting at when he compared you to Santino, who was not a good don, by the way. Too emotional.

There were some times during the campaign you probably took things personally a little bit.

GIBBS: I do think the crucible of the campaign, I think, is a little different than I think what governing will be like. I think Dana's right. My guess is if you took every one of them personally, you probably wouldn't make it through a whole month without becoming so enraged that you didn't want to talk to anybody in the press, and I don't think that's probably a very good way of operating.

TAPPER: All right, some more advice.


FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SCOTT MCCLELLAN: You want to be able to vouch for yourself and for the president, but be careful about vouching for others. When you're not there, someone may tell you one thing, but you can't know with absolute certainty.


TAPPER: Scott McClellan speaking from personal experience. He of course felt very burned by two presidential aides, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, about their conversations, and his vouching for them from the podium.

There have been times in this campaign and currently where you are asked to vouch for somebody else, what conversations Rahm Emanuel, your -- the incoming chief of staff had with the governor. That's difficult, isn't it, to speak for so many people?

GIBBS: Sure. You have to communicate things that, as Scott said, you may not have been in the room for every one of those decisions or every one of those conversations. I believe that the people that we've assembled, that the president-elect has been able to assemble in a government that will take over on the 20th of January, I think we put together a caliber of people that not only that I trust, but certainly had the trust of the president-elect.

TAPPER: Those are idealistic words. And I don't begrudge you for them, but isn't it inherent...

GIBBS: If I can't be idealistic now, it's never going to happen.


TAPPER: Isn't inherent in having this cabinet full of such strong personalities a risk for you, a risk for you...

GIBBS: I think a far greater risk is to assemble a group of people that whenever the president opens their mouth, they all nod their heads in agreement.

TAPPER: What about people who are trying to protect their reputations before the public of the United States of America? You're going to have Hillary Clinton, your incoming likely secretary of state, is going to have a real power base in Foggy Bottom, at the State Department, and you know, she obviously disagrees with your remaining secretary of defense, Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration. He's going to disagree with Jim Jones, who comes very much out of John McCain's world. How are you going to make sure everybody stays on message, publicly?

GIBBS: This is the charge that the president-elect has given every one of the people that he selected, be it for a White House job or for a cabinet position.

TAPPER: Keep your mouth shut outside the room.

GIBBS: But -- well, what the president-elect -- there's one person in that room that's going to make the ultimate and final decision. That's going to be President-elect Barack Obama.

TAPPER: I've got some helpful tips from the Bush administration for you.


PERINO: Oftentimes, you have to defend, of course, the president to the press. But an even tougher job sometimes is defending the press to the president. It's part of the job. And I took that very seriously, and I think that we were able to be successful.


TAPPER: Dana Perino, talking about defending the press to the president, while she's standing there sporting a black eye from when a member of the Iraqi press threw his shoes at the president. Not always easy to defend the press, I would imagine.

GIBBS: I certainly know that President-elect Obama believes that and understands that role.

TAPPER: But he thinks that we, the media, spend too much time on silly things.

GIBBS: I wouldn't disagree that there were times in the campaign that that was -- look, there were, you know, we were watching hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs, and we were debating the meaning of the phrase "lipstick on a pig."

In large ways, the public gets their information through a working press. It's up to the press secretary to advocate for the type of access and for the type of knowledge that they need, to do their job in order to be able to communicate the president's message. My guess is, if you can talk to the current administration, particularly as it relates to the economic recovery or the money that's been used to help, you know, banks and to relieve the stresses on our financial system, is -- if they could do it all over again, I bet one of the things that they might tell you is, they need -- probably needed a stronger communications strategy for letting people know and understand how this was going to work and what this money was going to be used for.

TAPPER: Last bit of advice.


JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: In a little tiny hidden office in the White House press secretary's office, there is a literal flak jacket, a kevlar flak jacket, and tradition has been passed on from press secretary to press secretary to write a note to the next person who is going to take the job. It provides the best advice you can ever get. Some of it's very funny. Some of it's very poignant, but most importantly it's secret. But I would advise Mr. Gibbs to read them carefully.

PERINO: It's a great tradition, and I look forward to passing it on to you, Robert.


TAPPER: Who is the press secretary whose advice you want to read the most? Who is the one who you hope to be most like?

GIBBS: Well, I think each of them has brought many strengths to the job.

TAPPER: Don't give me that. Who do you -- who...

GIBBS: See, I'm already -- I'm practicing for my next job. Right?

TAPPER: Very diplomatic. All right. We'll leave it there. Robert Gibbs, incoming White House press secretary, thanks for joining us.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me again.