TAPPER: Can you explain to Americans who heard the president today why there seems to be this disconnect, a lot of tough talk and tough demands from the administration when it comes to the auto industry, but that doesn’t seem to be carried on when dealing with Wall Street or the banking industry?
GIBBS: Yes, well, I think — initially I think the first thing I would say to anybody, including the American people, is understand that we have — have taken and are prepared to take extraordinary steps to help the auto industry get back up on its feet, to put it on firmer ground, and to see it return to a stronger position to support the companies, the workers and the communities they’re in. I think if you look at — and I think this question was asked over the course of the last sort of 12 hours — you know, the original — original agreements contemplated a March 31st deadline whereby you would either do — you would either give additional assistance or call the loans.
So I think what the president and his task force are doing are taking a step forward to help these companies, at the same time expecting a term, a plan for viability in the future. I would also say that the decisions that are made on — on any entity receiving assistance is done in a way that we think will help stabilize the economy, create jobs. In some cases, it’s to protect jobs and create — and to — to have a manufacturing base, like with G.M. and Chrysler. In others, it’s to — to get lending moving again. But I think that this administration is — is rightly matching and balancing the notion for responsibility, at the same time understanding that we want to be a partner in ensuring a strong and viable auto industry as we move forward.
TAPPER: Just a brief follow-up. On Friday, you had a bunch of bank CEOs meeting with the president in the State Dining Room, and then they came out, and they talked, and obviously it was an amicable but honest and frank meeting. At the same time, Rick Wagoner was being told at the Treasury Department, "You need to step down." Even if you don’t support the premise of my question, there at least is an appearance, optics of the administration being nice to one industry and tough with another one.
GIBBS: Yes, and let me …
TAPPER: That’s what it looks like. Whether or not you agree with it, that’s what it looks like.
GIBBS: Right, well, let me — let me — I guess, let me answer — let me answer — ask — answer your question with a bit of a question. Who represented at the meeting on Friday Merrill Lynch and Wachovia? *
TAPPER: I guess they weren’t there. Is that right? *
GIBBS: Because those entities no longer exist. I think we’ve taken some tough measures, and this includes expanding — on different administrations. I’m not — we think that the decision that the task force and the president made today present the very best opportunity to move these companies forward, to create and protect these jobs, to ensure that America has a strong and viable auto industry in the future, and that’s exactly what the president wants to see. I think you heard him talk today about insuring — insuring warranties, ensuring through additional staffing that people will be in auto communities and talking to workers about ensuring that they have the benefits that they need and that the communities that support these auto industries get what they need going forward. We’ve talked about in the past week or so help for auto suppliers who have also been part of the downturn that has seen jobs go away. So I think all of the steps that the administration has taken are to put us on a path back toward viability.
* I must confess I found this question a bit puzzling, given that both banks have been purchased by other banks — during the Bush administration. Bank of America announced it was purchasing Merrill Lynch last September, and Wells Fargo bought Wachovia on December 31, 2008. Both Merrill Lynch and Wachovia continue to function under their previous names. I wasn’t really sure what he was asking or driving at, given my question.