WASHINGTON – "FOX NEWS SUNDAY" CHRIS WALLACE: When Barack Obama takes over Tuesday, one of the most influential and visible members of his team will be White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
And, Robert, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."
OBAMA SPOKESMAN ROBERT GIBBS: Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me.
WALLACE: Let's start with the inauguration. Give us a preview of what Barack Obama's going to say.
GIBBS: Well, I think the themes that you'll hear on Tuesday around noon will be very familiar to people that have watched the campaign, but they'll be heavily infused with this notion of responsibility and getting our country back on track.
You know, he had us clear his schedule from virtually everything last weekend. I sat down and wrote out the bulk of the speech as it is now. And I think he's relieved to have something on paper and ready to give on Tuesday.
WALLACE: Now, when you say responsibility, are you saying he's going to ask for personal sacrifice or personal responsibility from the American people?
GIBBS: Well, I think there's — you need — you know, we need more responsibility and accountability, certainly, in the way our government acts.
We have to have it, certainly, within many of our financial institutions that sort of have gotten us to where we are in this economic crisis today.
Obviously, the American people are all going to have to give some. What's important, though, is ensuring that those that have had the short end of the stick for the last few years — make sure that they get the help that they need, that this administration begins to create the jobs and give some financial stability to families so that they can feel hopeful about going forward.
You know, the great thing about our democracy and our country is we always find ourselves at crossroads, and we always find ourselves — at least this country always has — doing what is necessary to make this country and the lives of the American people better for each and every generation that follows.
WALLACE: Now, you talk about he's going to talk about the responsibility of the financial institutions. I remember in 1933 — I remember I read about it — FDR talked about the money changers.
Is he, either in that speech or in subsequent action, going to get tough with financial institutions and say, "Tet lending, get going, let's get this economy going again?"
GIBBS: Chris, there's no doubt that if we don't do that, nothing is going to get this economy moving again. There are no silver bullets.
The president-elect and his team have been working with members of Capitol Hill to get an economic recovery and a reinvestment plan moving as quickly as possible. We have to get a financial stability package that works far differently than what we've seen over the past few months.
When this country lends money to banks and buys a stake in those banks, those banks have to lend that money to small businesses and families that are looking to buy cars or send their kids to school.
We have to do things differently, in a more transparent way. We have to ensure that the American people feel confident that the stakes that they're buying in these banks — that that money isn't going simply directly into the pockets of executives that got us into this mess.
We have to do things differently. We're going to ask the financial sector reform itself — not reform itself, but be involved in a reform that asks them to do things far differently than they've done in the past few years.
We have to get ourselves out of this mess, and only by demanding more of the financial institutions will we be able to do that.
WALLACE: On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama will reportedly meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Will he keep his campaign promise and tell them right then that they have a new mission to get us out of Iraq?
GIBBS: He will, Chris. But he's interested — in his first day, he's going to meet with his economic team to see where we are on an economic recovery and reinvestment plan to save and create millions of jobs, and do so in a transparent and accountable way so that the American people can feel confident that things are moving in the right direction.
And he'll also meet with military advisers to talk about the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal of the meeting, certainly as it relates to Iraq, is to — is to keep our commitment to remove responsibly and safely our troops, our combat brigades, over the course of the next 16 months, to give the Iraqis more responsibility...
WALLACE: But the new mission is to get out of Iraq given those provisos.
GIBBS: Absolutely. But we're very interested, and the president-elect and the vice president-elect are very interested, in hearing from military commanders both here and on the ground about what that entails.
And just as I said a minute ago, what's also key is we have to give more responsibilities to the Iraqis as we remove our troops safely and responsibly.
WALLACE: There are also reports that the president-elect, as soon as he becomes president, will issue in the first 24 hours a series of executive orders. On what?
GIBBS: Well, I think it's safe to say that next week we'll address ethics and transparency in government and how it relates to senior White House staff and members of departments and agencies.
We're going to close the revolving door that lets people come into government and then leave quickly to go lobby the government that they were just in. I think you'll see stuff on that.
I think, obviously, you've seen mentioned the closure — the process for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
And I think you'll see a series of things where the president will keep his commitments that he made during the campaign.
I would be remiss if I didn't say that we did not get — we did not get into this situation overnight. The problems and the challenges that our country face didn't happen all last week. They've been building for years.
It's going to take — it's going to take us some time. Everything's not going to be done in the first month of this administration, but we're going to work hard each and every day to bring change to Washington and to bring hope and confidence to the American people.
WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because as you just heard me discuss with Speaker Pelosi, House Democrats have come up with an $825 billion economic stimulus plan.
Is that the Obama plan, or is he open to Republican criticism about needing more tax cuts and less spending?
GIBBS: Look, Chris, the president-elect went up to Capitol Hill. That's one of the very first things that he did when he got to Washington earlier in January. He sat with Democrats and Republicans, the leadership on both sides of Congress, and said, "If you've got a good idea, then let's talk about it."
He's willing to listen to any of the ideas that Democrats or Republicans have. He's often been quoted as saying that he doesn't think that good ideas are the province of simply one person or one political party.
WALLACE: So the House plan is not the end point. It's the starting point.
GIBBS: Well, we've all watched Capitol Hill, and as you go from a proposal to what the president expects to sign into law by the Presidents' Day recess, we understand there's going to be some give and take in that. We've already seen some give and take.
We think that we're going to have the best plan possible, that we're going to get ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans, as long as they do a few things — as long as they get this economy moving again, that we save or create the millions of jobs that we're going to lose if Congress and this president don't act swiftly and surely to get something in front of the American people that improves this economy.
WALLACE: Now, you said a moment ago we didn't get into this mess in a quick period of time, a short period of time, it's — we're not going to get out of it.
WALLACE: That's a theme we're beginning to hear, in effect saying to the American people, "You're going to have to be patient."
Are we talking about a recession that goes into next year, into 2010?
GIBBS: Well, I think the American people understand, as the president-elect does, that this economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. And I think the American people and the president- elect understand also that it's certainly going to get far worse unless or until we act immediately.
Chris, if we wait and wait and wait, more and more people are going to lose their jobs. We're going to fall further and further behind. Credit is going to be harder to get. People aren't going to borrow money to go to college. People aren't going to borrow money to buy cars.
Congress and the president I think are both committed to acting quickly to getting an economic recovery and reinvestment plan on his desk and signed into law by mid-February so that we can get this economy turned around quickly.
WALLACE: Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner — we know now that he did not pay back taxes.
GIBBS: Well he's paid back taxes.
WALLACE: Well, wait. Let me finish. He did — he paid back taxes after he was audited in 2006, but that he didn't pay some of the back taxes for 2001 and '02 until you guys were about to nominate him in November.
WALLACE: We also know that he claimed a tax deduction for sending his kids to sleep-away camp, which I have to say is the first time I've ever heard of that.
Do you really want someone in charge, as he will be as treasury secretary, of the Internal Revenue Service who has what even the New York Times calls such a cavalier attitude towards paying his taxes?
GIBBS: Well, I don't think Mr. Geithner has a cavalier attitude toward paying his taxes at all.
I think there are two things that are the consensus in this town, that even as Mr. Geithner said, he made a — he made some embarrassing but honest mistakes as an employee of an international organization, but also...
WALLACE: Can I just pick you up on that? Because I keep hearing...
GIBBS: Well, let me finish...
WALLACE: Well, let me just — let me just ask you the question.
GIBBS: Let me finish this answer, because...
GIBBS: ... there's also a consensus among both Democrats and Republicans that Tim Geithner has the intelligence and the experience to do this job, that he's somebody who's dedicated to public service and is the right person to steer this economy and lead the Department of Treasury.
That's not just me saying it. That's Democrats and Republican senators on Capitol Hill that understand it's important to have a treasury secretary in place and that Tim Geithner is the right man for the job.
WALLACE: But I keep hearing from your team and from president- elect Obama, "Innocent mistake, honest mistake."
Here's a fellow who, one, was audited in 2006. He was told pay back taxes because he hadn't paid the self-employment tax for the IMF in 2003 and '04. He had done exactly the same thing in '01 and '02 but didn't pay the taxes.
And we now know that he was getting notices from the IMF, which he signed, which said you've got to pay these self-employment taxes. It sure sounds like he was trying to get away with something.
GIBBS: No. Again, Mr. Geithner has paid all those taxes, paid the interest in any of those back taxes. These are honest mistakes. If you go on the IRS Web site, in '06 and '07, they've got a part of that Web site that allows people that work for organizations like Mr. Geithner do — it's a — it's a fairly common mistake that happens.
Mr. Geithner said this was embarrassing. His accountant told him he didn't have further tax liabilities. He's made amends for those mistakes.
You know, Chris, I'm reminded that if you or I couldn't make a mistake but still work in this town, it's entirely possible that I wouldn't be able to finish this interview. You might not be able to finish a series of interviews before they shut us down, too.
WALLACE: Well, I certainly wouldn't survive a Senate confirmation.
GIBBS: Well, I think Mr. Geithner has made honest and embarrassing mistakes that even he admits.
But you know, again, the consensus is this is somebody who has the experience and intelligence and the dedication to public service to move this economy forward. He's the right person for the job. And we look forward to him being sworn in very quickly as the...
WALLACE: Finally, I want to do a lightning round, which we do...
GIBBS: All right.
WALLACE: ... around here, of quick questions, quick answers, and I want to talk about Robert Gibbs and your new job as White House press secretary.
WALLACE: Who do you work for, the president or the people?
GIBBS: I work for both the president, the people and the working press of the United States of America.
WALLACE: So to what degree do you see yourself as putting the best face, the best spin, on things to help politically your boss, and to what degree is it your job to level with the American people?
GIBBS: Well, I can assure you, Chris, that each and every day that I answer questions, whether it's on your show or whether it's from the podium of the briefing room of the White House of the United States, that I will always tell the truth.
Not only would I not be able to look at myself in the mirror any morning, but I certainly wouldn't be able to do my job every day if I wasn't honest and frank and truthful in every answer that I give.
You know, I understand that...
WALLACE: That raises my — let me just say that...
GIBBS: Well, hold on. Let me...
WALLACE: Go ahead.
GIBBS: I'm told that my office — it's almost equidistant between the Oval Office and the White House briefing room, between the president and the press.
It's a unique role. I want to make sure that — I know the president fairly well, and I think the — I think that what I want to do each and every day is help the press understand a little bit about his decision-making process, what's going through his mind, and endeavor to make sure that they have the information and the access that they need...
GIBBS: You're breaking the rules of the lightning round here, Robert.
Any excuse for ever telling a lie — operational security, you know, national security? Any excuse for telling a lie?
GIBBS: No. There will be times in which I will tell people that there are things that I'm not going to be comfortable talking about. I think the press understand that.
And I'm certainly — I would never endeavor to endanger the lives of the men and women that protect me and the rest of this country each and every day.
WALLACE: What's your attitude towards leaks?
GIBBS: They're frustrating at times. There's no question about that. The only thing that — the thing that concerns me most about leaks is I get concerned that unless or until I hear from the president that a decision has been made, it always makes me nervous when information is out there that might not altogether be accurate.
We're going to — we will endeavor to make sure that any information that's given to the press is completely accurate and that it reflects the current thinking and the decision-making of the president of the United States.
WALLACE: And finally — again, lightning round, so I need a...
GIBBS: All right.
WALLACE: ... quick answer from you here — you were known for going after reporters during the campaign. In fact, you once said, "Sometimes I used a sledge hammer instead of a fly swatter." Will this be a combative press room?
GIBBS: No. I look forward to working with the press in making sure that they have the information and the access that they need from the administration, and making sure that they have an understanding of what the president's thinking each and every day.
I look forward to it. I think it's going to be a lot of hard work, but I think it will be a lot of fun.
WALLACE: Robert, thank you. Thanks for coming on. Please come back. And savor the next couple of days.
GIBBS: We'll try. Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Coming up, our Sunday regulars discuss the inauguration and the challenges facing the new president. We'll be right back.