Ron Bloom, Senior Advisor to Treasury Secretary Geithner and Senior Counselor for Manufacturing Policy, and Ed Montgomery, Executive Director of the White House Council on Auto Communities and Workers joined Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in the first half of the briefing today to discuss the President’s upcoming visits to auto plants in Detroit and Chicago.
Yunji de Nies: Robert, you can't keep jobs if you can't sell cars. I wonder how confident you are in the strength of these auto companies and if the administration thinks it's appropriate to do another round of cash for clunkers or something similar, to sort of stimulate this sector.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't have the exact figures with me. Look, you — when we talked about the decisions that were made around a structured bankruptcy, we were dealing in an economy, I think, where — I think that yearly car sales were certainly less than 10 — 10 million -
MR. BLOOM: Nine, nine million.
MR. GIBBS: And, you know, this is — that's off of a high of probably around 17. We're in a better environment now. I think right now it's about 11.
MR. BLOOM: Eleven million.
MR. GIBBS: And so because of consumer demand, obviously, as these guys mentioned, working through that planned retooling and summer shutdown in order to meet an increased amount of customer demand I think demonstrates, one, that the economy as a whole is getting stronger, and that pushes demand for more automobiles, and secondly, these guys are making a profit.
And so at this point we don't — we don't see or have plans for redoing the cash for clunkers program, but I would say the investment that was made on that, not only did that spur an enormous demand, but it took cars off the road that were by definition older and more of a — more polluting, and put newer, cleaner models on in their place.
I will say it is hard to talk about the success of the decisions that were made in the auto industry without mentioning again the efforts that — of many, including all of the auto industry, and certainly efforts like — with people like Carol Browner on the president's staff, to provide certainty in emissions and fuel economy. The rules that were created working with the industry added certainty for cars, and now we've added work trucks to that rule as well.
That, again, provided some certainty in emissions that cars — the emission targets that cars have, as well as took the mandate that Congress passed on fuel economy and moved it up several years.
It had been, you know, somewhere between 20 and 30 years since we'd had a substantial improvement in fuel economy. The Senate finally broke that impasse in 2 — I think in either 2007 or 2008. Giving (sic) the certainty of this rule, we were able to push the 2020 target to 2016 in a way that, again, helps our goals in reducing our dependence on foreign oil and gives auto manufacturers the certainty that they have always wanted on the manufacturing side.
Later Bloom and Montgomery left and briefing turned with the day’s news.
de Nies: Robert, the president talked extensively at the Urban League and also on "The View" about this whole — about Shirley Sherrod, about talking about race. Now Ms. Sherrod says she's going to sue Andrew Breitbart. I wonder, does the White House think that that suit is justified? And also, how –
MR. GIBBS: I will excuse myself from that, based on the fact that I have — I'm not a lawyer. Even if I was, I wouldn't — I don't know why I would get into answering questions about one citizen's decision to sue another.
de Nies: But how does that play into the whole narrative — the whole teachable moment? I mean, if you have an incident like this and it turns into a lawsuit, surely that doesn't play into what the White House hopes comes out of an event like this.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to speak for the actions of the individual that put up a video that clearly was heavily edited to the point of not showing the end of the story. But I'm not going to get into the legal back-and-forth of this.
de Nies: But is this — (inaudible)?
MR. GIBBS: No, no — but let's understand this. The — regardless of the lawsuit or who wins or who files it or where it's heard, that's not the — I don't know how that detracts from the fact that, as the president has said since that and reiterated in the past couple days, that it is important to listen to all of what people have to say, to hear their entire story before making a judgment. I don't — I don't think that has changed at all by legal decisions that are made around that. That's — that is still — that's still the lesson that someone should take from all this. And I don't know — I don't why you wouldn't take that lesson based on the fact that somebody made a legal decision.
de Nies: But because this was an administration employee by the fact that this person actually worked for the USDA, so that — the president stepped in with Henry Lewis Gates and held the beer summit with something that he was much less involved in. Is it appropriate, then, so that this does not descend into a lawsuit, for him to hold some kind of a conversation on race –
MR. GIBBS: No, the –
de Nies: — or to do something to mitigate this so that we're not talking about this forever?
MR. GIBBS: We're not talking about what forever? The lawsuit?
de Nies: So we're not having this back-and-forth between Sherrod and Breitbart
MR. GIBBS: The — I — the president got 60 — or close to 60 million votes not to be somebody's chief legal adviser but to be the commander in chief and to run the affairs of the United States of America. Individuals can and should make their own legal decisions regardless of who their employer is.
April Ryan (Urban Radio): Robert, that's not what she's saying. You were brought — this administration was brought into it, in the weeds of this, because of your reaction.
MR. GIBBS: But April, I would not get involved in — if a federal employee had been dismissed from federal service, got into a car and –
Ryan: Forced to resign?
MR. GIBBS: Or however, and got into a car accident that they believed they should sue about, why would — why would the president or the administration get involved in that?
Ryan: But this administration –
MR. GIBBS: No, no. But why would –
Ryan: (Off mike.)
MR. GIBBS: Hold up.
Ryan: Casualty of this Breitbart’s –
MR. GIBBS: April, why would the president –
Ryan: Heavily edited videotape?
MR. GIBBS: Why would the president or the administration get involved in that lawsuit?
Ryan: Because you are — this administration –
MR. GIBBS: We would get involved in that lawsuit?
MR. GIBBS: April, I just –
Ryan: What I'm saying is, you –
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate it. I'm happy to talk about what the president talked about. The president, I just want to be clear, doesn't work for the Legal Services Administration, okay, he doesn't provide legal advice to employees of the administration.
I wouldn't ask the president legal advice on something that I was doing. I don't –
Ryan: Would you consider yourself a casualty of this Breitbart case and what happened here?
MR. GIBBS: I think as I said in the days past it, I thought the administration acted rationally, I think the media in moving this story quickly acted rationally. I think people probably based on that video came to conclusions, about what was or wasn't said, rationally.
I said that all a week ago.
de Nies: But if the conversation on race was worth having for Henry Louis Gates, why is it not worth having and being a leader on that now?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the president has to be the teacher at every teachable moment. I hope you can look at what happened and discern the lessons that one should take away from it, without having to have to the president tell you what to take away from it.
de Nies: They're still fighting.
MR. GIBBS: Who's still fighting?
de Nies: Shirley Sherrod and Breitbart.
MR. GIBBS: And, you know, I assume that that's going to happen — I don't understand how that's part of — I don't understand how that's part of what you take away from — that now is what you take away from this whole moment?
de Nies: (Laughs.) What I take away from it is irrelevant. I just wondered –
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, you posed the question. Let's delve into what — you said that the teachable moment is now erased based on the fact that one person has decided to take legal action. Does that erase the teachable moment that you took away from this individual circumstance?
de Nies: Absolutely not –
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it takes away from most people's teachable moment.
de Nies: — but I wonder if the president could have been more of a mediator or a leader in this circumstance –
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the president has spoken about what he takes away from it. I hope you take away something from it without necessarily having to speak to the president about it. I think we can all come to our own reasonable conclusions about it.
Chip Reid (CBS News): I take it, the president's not planning a major speech on racism? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I — if he does, he'll hire Yunji as a lawyer beforehand.