Transcript: Robert Gibbs on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the January 24, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: I'm Chris Wallace and this is "Fox News Sunday." The political winds of change rattle Washington. In the wake of Scott Brown's upset win, will President Obama be forced to reshape his agenda? We'll ask one of his closest advisers, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive.

Then, Republicans celebrate their victory in Massachusetts but have their eye on a bigger prize in November. We'll handicap GOP chances to cut into the Democratic majority with John Cornyn, chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee.

And the Obama administration takes aim at Wall Street again. We'll ask our Sunday regulars if this new populism is smart politics and good business, all right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And hello again from Fox News in Washington. Joining us now, one of the president's top advisers, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

And, Robert, welcome back.


WALLACE: Let's start with the effort to get Ben Bernanke a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Do you now have the 60 votes you need for confirmation?

GIBBS: Well, I think you saw the chairman — statement from Judd Gregg, a Republican, and Chris Dodd, a Democrat, working together in bipartisan fashion to ensure stability in our financial system, by approving Ben Bernanke for a second term.

We believe he will be confirmed. I hope that you'll ask Senator Cornyn and others in later segments to come out and support some of that stability in our financial system by ensuring the re-nomination of the Fed chairman.

WALLACE: You talk about stability. The Dow Jones lost 400 points this week. What does the president think the repercussions would be on Wall Street and markets around the world if Bernanke is not reconfirmed?

GIBBS: Well, Chris, I think the best way to not have to deal with any of those repercussions is to support Ben Bernanke for a second term.

There's no doubt there's anger and frustration in this country — we saw it manifest itself in Massachusetts — about the direction of our economy, about what's happened with excessive risk-taking with big banks and the American people having to lend their hard-earned money to bail them out.

We have taken some extraordinary steps to try to get past that, to stabilize our financial system. And now it's important to take the next steps to create an atmosphere where the private sector is hiring again, so we can put millions who have lost their jobs back to work. I think now would be a particularly bad time to send a signal to the international community and to our overall financial system by playing politics in any way with this upcoming vote.

WALLACE: You talk about that, but in recent weeks, and especially in the last few days, the president has taken a populist line, bashing Wall Street, calling for new restrictions on banks.

Do you worry that that may feed the mood against Bernanke, that it may have been fueling the drop in the market, and that it may scare businesses from hiring people?

GIBBS: No, not at all. Let's — let's — what you call "bashing the banks" the American taxpayers call two things, getting the money back that they lend...


WALLACE: ... fat cats and...

GIBBS: Well...

WALLACE: ... you know, the...

GIBBS: Right. Well, again, the American people lent big banks in this country an extraordinary amount of money after they took extraordinarily excessive and greedy risk-taking that nearly caused the absolute collapse of our financial system, OK? So the president has proposed ensuring that we recoup all of that money on behalf of taxpayers.

And then secondly, we don't let banks, investment firms own a bank, able to get access to capital from the Federal Reserve and invest that money and make huge profits, not for their clients but for themselves.

You've seen — you saw on — when the president announced this, we had the SEC chairman from a Republican administration, Paul Volcker, the Fed chairman during part of the Reagan years.

There's support for what the policy that the president outlined across the political spectrum from people on the left all the way to the Wall Street Journal. We haven't had many of those over the past year or so.

I think we can work together to bring about financial reform and put some commonsense proposals on the table and pass them so that we never find themselves in a situation we did last — in September of 2008 where the American people are held hostage to a bank that's too big to fail.

WALLACE: The president gives his state of the union speech on Wednesday night. Will he emphasize the populist line, fighting for the little guy, that we heard so much in his speech in Ohio on Friday?

GIBBS: Well, absolutely. The — what you're going to hear from the president is the same thing you heard from him over the past several years.

And that is that for far too long people in this country felt like Washington was about the special interests and not about them. That's why they're frustrated.

That's why they're frustrated about the rising cost of health care, the rising cost of a college education. That's why they're frustrated that there aren't more jobs in this country and that they feel like the banks are getting a better deal than — Wall Street's doing better than Main Street.

WALLACE: But do — but didn't your administration play into that in the health care bill when there were backroom deals being made — the "Louisiana purchase," the "Cornhusker kickback," big labor unions come in to talk about Cadillac plans and walk out with a billions-of- dollar exemption?

Haven't you played into that idea that it's an inside game?

GIBBS: Well, Chris, I will tell you this. I think one of — one of the things that we've seen, quite honestly, over the past several years is that there's no doubt that there is a tension in this town between the process of getting something done and what that process produces. And I know that the president has certainly seen that.

And there's no doubt that this health care bill has become a caricature of what's actually in it. If you look at the exit polling out of Massachusetts, a state that has a health care plan very similar to the one the president proposed, it's very popular. It was very popular among the electorate and sent Scott Brown to Washington to serve in the United States Senate.

The only difference between Massachusetts and the plan that the president has is the plan the president has puts in strong cost controls that protect families from watching their premiums skyrocket.

So I do think that the process has caused things like the health care plan to be caricatured when, in fact, they contain tax cuts for small business to provide coverage for employees, cost controls so that, as I said, families don't see skyrocketing premiums, and checks on insurance companies that can't discriminate against people with preexisting conditions.

WALLACE: I want to get back to health care in a second, but...

GIBBS: Sure.

WALLACE: ... we keep hearing that the main emphasis in the state of the union is going to be the economy, putting people back to work.

The president is talking about a $175 billion jobs program, more tax credits, more spending for infrastructure and green energy jobs.

After the experience of the stimulus, does he really think that borrowing billions more, adding to the deficit, is going to cut employment and put people back to work this year?

GIBBS: Well, Chris, let's take, for instance, the example you just used of the stimulus package. We had four quarters of economic regression in terms of growth, right?

Just last quarter, we finally saw the first positive economic job growth in more than a year, largely as a result of the recovery plan that's put money back into our economy, that saved or created 1.5 million jobs.

WALLACE: You didn't have job growth in the last quarter.

GIBBS: No, you had economic growth.


GIBBS: And you can't...

WALLACE: But the job — you still lost 69,000 jobs.

GIBBS: Right, but, Chris, are you — can you imagine an economic scenario in which we're adding jobs when the economy is retrenching? No. You have to have economic growth before you have job growth.

The recovery plan, in a transparent way, put money into the economy to invest in...

WALLACE: But what about the fact that...

GIBBS: ... clean energy economy...

WALLACE: ... there are 3 more million people out of work?

GIBBS: Well...

WALLACE: What about the fact that you said it wasn't going to be any more than 8 percent unemployment and it's now 10 percent?

GIBBS: Because, Chris, what we inherited when we walked in the door was an economic situation that was far worse than anybody ever knew.

Nobody ever went on Fox Business and thought we would lose 741,000 jobs in January of 2009. But if you look at where we have gone, from losing 741,000 jobs to on the verge of creating more jobs, we've made a tremendous amount of progress.

The hole we inherit and the hole that we have to fill is very, very deep.

WALLACE: You know there are a lot of...

GIBBS: And it's going to take...

WALLACE: ... people out there that are...

GIBBS: ... a lot of...

WALLACE: ...that are going to hear...

GIBBS: ... a lot to fill that hole.

WALLACE: ..."he's still blaming Bush. He's been president now for over a year."

GIBBS: No, no, no. No, no, no. Look. The president — well, look. The scenario that he came in and took office and what existed in this country when he put his hand on the Bible is what it is, right?

Regardless of how we got there, that's the situation the president was asked to deal with. He understood that. That's why he ran for president, to make some very tough decisions.

Nobody wanted to help the banks, right? Nobody wanted to give money to stabilize the financial system. Nobody wanted to ensure that two auto companies in this country didn't go out of business and go bankrupt and we lose several hundred thousand more jobs.

Those are tough decisions, based on where we were, that the president had to make. What the president will outline in the state of the union are several things, including continuing to take the steps that are necessary to provide an environment where the private sector once again can start hiring people.

WALLACE: As for health care, the president sent, I think it's fair to say, mixed messages this week on the day after Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, he said this.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on.


WALLACE: But on Friday in Ohio he said you can't just have insurance regulation reform, you also need mandates that everyone get insurance.

So let me ask you just a couple of specific...

GIBBS: Sure.

WALLACE: ... I hope, quick questions and answers. Will the president push for comprehensive reform or a scaled-back package?

GIBBS: Well, right now, Chris, we're working with leaders on Capitol Hill to try to figure out the best path forward. We have don't know what that is quite yet.

But understand, Chris, the problems that existed in American health care that existed a year ago or a week ago continue today. And we know this, Chris. If we don't do anything, premiums are going to go up. More people are going to lose their health insurance. They'll be discriminated against by their insurance companies, and our deficit will get worse because we're not dealing with the long-term costs of health care reform, so...

WALLACE: Does he agree — you talk about taking some time to figure this out. Does he agree with the statements from Speaker Pelosi and Senator Dodd this week that Congress should take a break, maybe a month or two months, before — focus on jobs and then come back to health care?

GIBBS: Well, Chris, we've always been focused on jobs. We — the president has been focused on jobs since the moment he walked into the Oval Office.

WALLACE: But Congress has been more focused on health care, certainly you'd agree. And the question is should Congress take a break for several months and focus on...

GIBBS: Well, again...

WALLACE: ... jobs and leave health care for later?

GIBBS: ... I think there's — those discussions are happening right now to see whether or not we can get something done and when we can do it.

But I know the president, again, is convinced that the — health care is part of the economy. People have an anxiety that — "What happens if my child gets sick, right? I'm on the verge of possibly losing my job. I don't have good health care, and if my child gets sick and I lose the health care that I have in my job, I could go bankrupt."

That's part of the anxiety that people are feeling every day and that's the — part of the anxiety that we have to address.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the message from Massachusetts on Tuesday night. Here was the president's first reaction on Wednesday.


OBAMA: The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they're frustrated, not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened in the last eight years.


WALLACE: But, Robert, Scott Brown had a clear platform, and let's lay it out — stop health care, cut taxes, end backroom deals with special interest, and don't give terrorists Miranda rights.

It wasn't the same thing that swept Barack Obama into office. Scott Brown explicitly campaigned against the Obama agenda.

GIBBS: Well, that may be what he campaigned on, but that's not why the voters of Massachusetts sent him to Washington. If you look at an exit poll that was done by the Washington Post...

WALLACE: Well, it wasn't an exit poll, but it was a — I mean, they did a poll.

GIBBS: Well, they did a poll of voters that participated...


GIBBS: ... as to why they voted, right. So more people voted to express their support for Barack Obama than to oppose him. His approval rating among that electorate was 61 percent.

Their enthusiasm for Republican policies among that electorate was — for Republicans was 40 percent...

WALLACE: But you're not suggesting...

GIBBS: No, no.

WALLACE: ... this was a...

GIBBS: No, no.

WALLACE: ... mandate for Barack Obama?

GIBBS: Of course not. But I'm also not suggesting that what you said a minute ago meets the truth test either, and let's...

WALLACE: You don't think that...

GIBBS: No, no. Chris, hold on.

WALLACE: You don't think that when they voted for...

GIBBS: Hold on, Chris. Chris, hold on.

WALLACE: ... Scott Brown they were voting against Obama's policies?

GIBBS: That's not what they told pollsters. No. I think people are angry in this country — they were angry in Massachusetts — that we haven't made more progress on the economy.

Let's ask the question on health care. They asked specifically — now, again, this is somebody that you're saying is all about stopping health care reform.

WALLACE: He said he was the 41st vote.

GIBBS: I understand, and I hope he doesn't misread the electorate. Seventy percent of the voters in Massachusetts want him to work with Democrats on health care reform. Only 28 percent want to stop health care reform from happening.

Chris, if Republicans want to assume that the outcome of what happened in Massachusetts is a big endorsement of their policies, when 40 percent are enthusiastic about them and 58 percent are angry about them, then I hope they misread that election as badly as anybody could.

What people want in this country is they want to us focus on getting this economy moving again. They want us to work together. And the president has tried, and I hope that Republicans will try to work with the president.

But that kind of anger and dissatisfaction at the fact that Washington far too many times puts the special interests ahead of their interests — that anger still persists. That's what people said in Massachusetts.

WALLACE: We — we're beginning to run out of time, so I've got several more questions I...

GIBBS: Sure.

WALLACE: ... want to ask you. The president has now asked 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe to come back. Is it just to work on the midterm elections, or will he advise the president on policy and legislative strategy?

GIBBS: Oh, no. David is — David is as smart as anybody that I've ever met and I think anybody's ever seen in politics.

He will help supplement an already good political staff led by Patrick Gaspard in the White House in helping us watch the 2010 elections, the gubernatorial, the Senate and the House elections, that will obviously be important to the direction of the country.

WALLACE: So it's almost exclusively political is what you're saying.

GIBBS: Yeah, absolutely.

WALLACE: Osama bin Laden has apparently, because it — we say apparently because it hasn't been authenticated yet — made a new tape...

GIBBS: Right.

WALLACE: ... claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day attack. Two questions. One, your reaction to the fact that he's still out there, and does the government think that bin Laden really had any role in the Christmas Day would-be bombing?

GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into the second question. I would say this. Obviously, we have — nobody's had a chance to authenticate that tape.

I would say, again, you know, I think everybody in this world understands that this is somebody that has to pop up in our lives over an audiotape because he's nothing but a cowardly, murderous thug and terrorist that will some day, hopefully soon, be brought to justice.

WALLACE: Minute left. Our top intelligence and homeland security officials told Congress this week that none of them were consulted beforehand on the decision to charge the Christmas Day bomber, Abdulmutallab, as a criminal defendant.

And we've now learned that he was read his Miranda rights on the day he was arrested, on Christmas Day, after just 50 minutes of interrogation. You said this week that it was Attorney General Holder who made that decision. Was the president informed before or after the decision was implemented?

GIBBS: Which decision?

WALLACE: The decision to charge Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant and not treat him as an enemy combatant.

GIBBS: Well, Chris, the charges didn't happen until several days later, and everybody...

WALLACE: Well, he was read his Miranda rights. Was the decision — was the president...

GIBBS: Right.

WALLACE: ... told before or after...

GIBBS: That decision was made by the Justice Department and the FBI, with experienced FBI interrogators. But understand this, Chris. Make no mistake. Abdulmutallab was interrogated and valuable intelligence was gotten as a result of that interrogation.

WALLACE: But we now find out he was interrogated for 50 minutes. I mean, this is a guy who was...

GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. No, no. That's...

WALLACE: The reports are — no, the reports are that he was interrogated for 50 minutes. He was then drugged. They — because he had, obviously...

GIBBS: Right.

WALLACE: ... you know, some injuries. They — when they came back, he was read his Miranda rights and he clammed up.

GIBBS: No. Again, he was interrogated. Valuable intelligence was gotten based on those interrogations. And I think the Department of Justice and the — made the right decision, as did those FBI agents.


WALLACE: And let me just press one last question. You really don't think that if you'd interrogated him longer that you might have gotten more information, since we now know that Al Qaida in Yemen...

GIBBS: FBI — well, FBI interrogators believe they got valuable intelligence and were able to get all that they could out of him.

WALLACE: All they could.

GIBBS: Yeah.

WALLACE: Thank you very much. Thanks for coming in.

GIBBS: Chris, thanks for being here.

WALLACE: Always a pleasure. Don't be a stranger.

GIBBS: Happy to do it.

WALLACE: Come back.

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