Robert Gibbs had to know it was coming. The press briefing on Monday was sure to focus on an apparent double standard from the administration when it came to the auto industry and financial sector bailouts.
But when asked to explain the disparity -- such as GM's CEO Rick Wagoner being forced to step down while bank CEOs remain in their perches -- the Obama administration press secretary seemed to struggle for words.
Was there a double standard? Read Gibbs' answer for yourself:
"Understand that we have taken and are prepared to take extraordinary steps to help the auto industry get it back up on its feet, to put it on a firmer ground, and see it return to a stronger position, to support the companies, the workers and communities they are in," he replied. "I think if you look at, I think this question was asked over the course of the last 12 hours. The original agreements contemplated a March 31 deadline whereby you would either give additional assistance or call the loan. So what I think what the president and his task force are doing is taking the steps forward to help these companies. At the same time [we are] expecting a plan for viability in the future. I would also say that the decisions that are made on any entity receiving assistance is done in a way that we think will stabilize the economy, create jobs, in some cases it is to protect jobs, and have to a have manufacturing base, like with GM, Chrysler and others. It is to get lending moving again. But I think that this administration is rightly matching and balancing the notion for responsibility, at the same time understanding that we want to be a partner in ensuring strong and viable auto industries moving forward."
Some members of the press in the room snickered. One reporter muttered under his breath: "that made absolutely no sense." Luckily for Gibbs, and those who wanted answers, he was given another bite of the apple. Responding to a question on the sacrifice that mid-westerners were being asked to make, he noted that Obama himself had traveled to those hard-hit towns and was acutely aware of their despair. Gibbs himself said he had spent the night before on the phone with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
But his remarks still seemed defined by vagaries. Gibbs dismissed one question as "general and somewhat non-specific." But when asked later if he wanted questions about individual banks, he said he didn't have specifics. Pressed repeatedly to explain why Wagoner was told to go but bank CEOs were not -- or, for that matter, why labor contracts for auto-workers were reworked when it was deemed illegal to revamp bonus contracts for AIG execs -- he declared a "hesitancy" to "look at every entity the same way."
Earlier, when he was asked if Wagoner's departure would serve as a warning to the CEOs of bailed-out banks -- that poor performance with taxpayer funds could result in the loss of a job no matter the industry -- Gibbs refused to be nailed down once again.
"I think it is imperative or important to ensure that we look at these things all individually," he said. "I think that it is safe for anyone to assume, and I don't mean just for CEOs, but obviously we've got, there are 300 million taxpayers who any of us owe it to be responsible with their money. We are going to do what needs to be done to ensure and protect their money and to use whatever we use wisely to get our economy moving, whether it is assistance to a bank that we hope will turn around and lend that money to a family or a small business, or whether that is in helping an icon like GM or Chrysler get back on its feet again."
In an interview with ABC News, House Financial Services Committee member Maxine Waters said Obama should "absolutely" force bank chiefs from their jobs.
"Absolutely, absolutely," Waters, (D-Calif.), said. "I think that they're in the same situation. Many of them are making huge salaries. They have stock options, they have bonuses, they have been responsible for predatory lending, sub-prime lending, they all made a lot of money, they were irresponsible in the way that they created this bubble, and they too deserve to be brought down, if necessary."
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