Major Garrett's questions to Robert Gibbs

At today's White House briefing with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Major Garrett asked about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, how the administration would characterize the attempted bombing in Times Square - Major made some news with this question - the White House definitively characterized Saturday night's incident as an attempted act of terrorism - and the likelihood of comprehensive immigration reform being addressed this year.  

Q    Has BP been truthful with the administration?

     MR. GIBBS:  Can you --

     Q    In all of its -- either representing what its doing, what it’s capable of doing, in its understanding of how much oil was leaking?  At any point in the communication with BP, does the administration believe it’s gotten willfully errant information?

     MR. GIBBS:  I would have to ask somebody at the Department of the Interior or Homeland Security if they felt otherwise.  Major, our focus has been throughout this process to plan for the very worst and to ensure that our response flowed from what could be the very worst.  So that’s what has governed our actions since the night of the explosion when the Coast Guard came to the assistance of those that had been hurt and those that were missing.


     Q    The reason I ask, the boot on the throat metaphor indicates or suggests at least to those who might hear it for the first time that something went awry or has gone awry with the relationship, and the administration or the federal government needs to be much more forceful to force an intractable partner to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do.  I mean, it suggests that the cooperation has broken down.

     MR. GIBBS:  Maybe I’m just from a different part of the country.  Would “hold your feet to the fire,” would that be something more that would be understandable to --

     Q    I’m just asking why that metaphor --

     MR. GIBBS:  I’m glad I didn’t wear my boots today, right?  I don’t know, holding your feet to the fire could create some pain, Chip -- again, I -- maybe you guys don’t go camping either.  (Laughter.) 

     Q    The law creates this sort of partnership that’s being worked out for the first time in real time where the industry --

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t think this is the -- I don’t think this is the first time that --

     Q    Of this magnitude.

     MR. GIBBS:  Okay, so not the first time, but the first time -- right -- of this magnitude.  Look, again, I can’t phrase it any differently than the President has over the past many days, which is it is our obligation to ensure that the responsible party is doing everything within their power to cap the well; to respond to the pollution that has -- that is on top of the water; to ensure that we’re doing all that is necessary to ensure that we mitigate its spread, and where it does spread and interrupt economic activities for local communities, that that’s being dealt with.  I think those are all -- that is the full range of things that we’re supervising.

     Q    For those who wonder and ask the question, what was the time lapse for the designation of an incident of national significance?  Can you walk us through that?

     MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I --

     Q    Because when I talked to Thad Allen on Friday, he said you really have to look at this as two calendar events -- the explosion, the search and rescue, putting out the fire; then a catastrophic leak.  He said you really need to measure these as sort of two separate instances of intervention at the federal level and with BP.  Do you view the calendar that way, and that day one is when the leak became the top priority after dealing with the explosion and the search and rescue and everything else?

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, first and foremost -- again, first and foremost, the Coast Guard arrived on the scene I think with four vessels over the course of some period of time after the explosion -- I think that happened at roughly 10:30 p.m. that night -- to assist in the fire that was ongoing and to ensure that all that could be was being done to get folks that were injured off, and to look for those that were missing. 

I think pretty quickly after that, though, it’s pretty clear that there is, for whatever reason, oil in the water.  The response -- I think there were -- I’d have to go back and look at my notes -- I think there were some 70 vessels in the water, there were scores of planes in the air, dealing with this even at that point of designating it a spill of national significance.  This is a response that has been ongoing since the report of that explosion some many days ago.

     Q    How would you characterize what happened in Times Square?  Was that an act of terrorism?

     MR. GIBBS:  I think anybody that has the type of material that they had in a car in Times Square, I would say that that was intended to terrorize, absolutely.  And I would say that whoever did that would be categorized as a terrorist, yes.  We don’t know who’s responsible and that’s what we’re looking at now.

     Q    In the speech at the U.N. today, does it in any way lead the administration to say, okay, the door is now closed?  I mean, you’re not going to come to your -- to live up to your obligations is the formulation from this podium and elsewhere -- does it do anything to narrow the ability of this administration to wonder aloud if Iran is going to do anything different?

     MR. GIBBS:  I think the likely -- I would say this.  The offer is still there.  The likelihood that they’ll take that offer and walk through the door seems -- they seem, and I think through their words and their actions, unwilling to live up to their obligations.  That’s why we’ve got a dual-track approach going to ensure that if they fail to live up to those obligations, that we take those next steps.

     Q    Last question.  Does the President have any reaction to immigration --

Q    No, no, no --

Q    -- the immigration protests all over the country this weekend?

     MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think the President for quite some time, dating back to his membership in the Senate, is somebody who’s pushed for comprehensive immigration reform.  I think regardless of what side of the political argument you’re on, I don’t think there’s any doubt that what has happened in Arizona leads you to understand that this town has to act on something that’s comprehensive, lest we have an immigration policy through -- by 50 states. 

The timing will depend, I think, quite frankly, Major, on willingness from individuals in both parties to step up and meet those obligations.