We received a communication yesterday afternoon that the White House would hold a conference call for bloggers with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Mr. Pfeiffer made a brief statement and then took questions on the DREAM Act, Social Security, Republican obstruction of nominations, filibuster reform, energy policy, and the real estate/mortgage foreclosure crisis. The transcript:
….Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director: Thanks everyone, uh, for joining us, uh [inaudible] as we get so close to the holidays here. And we’ll try to do this quick so you can, uh, be done with us and do whatever else you were hoping to do today. Um, I hope folks saw the pre, the President at the, uh, press conference he just finished up over in the old Executive Office Building. Uh, this, you know, we obviously have had, um, when you go back to the day after Election day I don’t think anyone would have, uh, predicted the, uh, sorts of successes we’ve been able to have on some very important issues, uh, during this lame duck session. Um, you know, most notably, uh, the big ones getting obviously, uh, some resolution on taxes, uh, which as the President said, threatened, uh, the economy and the, uh, well being of millions of middle class families and particularly two million unemployed folks who would go without benefits, uh, would continue to go without benefits had we not got this done. Uh, getting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed which the president signed today. Uh, and I hope folks were able to see, uh, that event today. It was a very, uh, emotional event for everyone involved and, uh, when I think when the history is written, um, of this administration it will be seen as a very, uh, significant moment, uh, a real civil rights victory there. Uh, getting, uh, START done, uh, was, uh, a very important national security priority for the President. And then, uh, you know, the way today we were able to get the 9/1, uh, firefighters bill, which was just passed by the House, which, uh, was something that, uh, is obviously very important to get done, the right thing to do and was just caught up in a bunch of, uh, senseless politics. We were able to get that resolved at the last minute.
This has been a, uh, great, uh, a great month for the causes that we all care about and a real opportunity, and it gives us a little, uh, all of us a little wind at our backs as we head into next year which, um, will obviously, you know, this President said today the, uh, the, the toughest fights and the biggest issue, and the, uh, most difficult issues are ahead of us and, uh, but it’s nice to have a little momentum as we head in to tackle them. And with that I’ll take, um, any, any and all questions you guys have….
Question: …With respect to moving forward and looking at the lame duck I think there’s a lot of concern with, uh, the continuing resolution ending in March with the, uh, move to increase the debt limit coming up, uh, as a need some time in the Spring, um, will the President commit to not, uh, signing, refusing to act on any, uh, budget related legislation that hurts the economy by reducing aggregate demand and the impact of the tax cut deal?
….Dan Pfeiffer: Um, well, you, you raise, there are, there are two things that I should have pointed out in my initial, uh, remarks that the President pointed out, uh, in, uh, at the press conference today that he was disappointed we were unable to get done. One was the DREAM Act and the President spoke, uh, very passionately why that was so important to do. And the other one was resolving, uh, the budget for next year. And, you’re right, that is, that is, that is a, uh, is an unfortunate situation. It’s a, it is a, it’s a problem. Look, we’re gonna have, uh, a, we’re gonna have some real debates about, uh, how we cut, how we deal with spending and the deficits over the next, uh, year here. And the Republicans ran on, um, you know, ran, ran campaigns on how they were gonna cut spending, how they were gonna reduce deficit. But they never explained how they were gonna do that. Now, now they’re gonna have to do that. They’re gonna have to put forward a budget in the House. They’re gonna have to talk about where and what they’re gonna cut. And we’re gonna have a big debate about that. You know, in their pledge to America the House, uh, Republicans proposed a twenty percent cut in education funding which would be the largest cut in education funding in history. That’s something the President thinks would be a, uh, disastrous mistake for the long term competitiveness of the, of America and the well being of our students and he’s, and we’re gonna have a big, a big fight on that. You know, we, we’re, you know, there’s been a lot of speculation about the debt limit and how the Republicans are gonna approach that and, uh, you know, there has been, there are obviously some, uh, in their base who’ve been agitate, agitating to use that as a fight. Uh, the leadership has, uh, uh, uh, incoming Speaker Boehner in particular, has said that he didn’t, he didn’t want to make that be a overly political issue and we’ll see what happens. But we’re, you know, we, you know, I suspect that you’re gonna have some, uh, that in a, in a year in which you’ll see, uh, some compromise and some confrontation I think that you’ll probably see some, uh, see [inaudible] confrontation over spending issues ’cause this is a place where, uh, we have, you know, we are very different phil, philosophies of the Republicans on what’s best for the country and the President is prepared to, uh, draw some pretty tough lines in the sand. What those are gonna be and how we do them we’ll have to see how it plays itself out, but, uh, he’s not gonna let, uh, the Republicans take this country in the wrong direction. Um, uh, you know, particularly in ways that will, as he said, and I think at a recent event, that where you try to make the car go faster by taking out the engine. And it’s, when he, when he says that he’s referring to things like education, innovation, research and development, the things that are, will make us more competitive.
Question: …I was wondering what sort of strategy is being outlined for pursuing the DREAM Act over the next two years.
Dan Pfeiffer: Well, we’re, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re gonna spend a lot of time thinking about that over the, uh, over the next two weeks here. Um, as the President said in his press conference, uh, he, he believes fundamentally this is the right thing to do. And as he said, he’s very persistent on the things he cares about, like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and he will push very hard. He believes that this is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do, uh, uh, for the future of the country, it’s the right thing to do for the, as he said, these kids who are, um, they are, they are American in, in all parts of their life except for where they were born. And they didn’t come, it wasn’t their choice to come to this country and they want to fight for our country and they want to go to school and get educated, contribute to our society. And we ought to, um, to, uh, you know, we ought to do right by them. And so, he, what he said today that, you know, he’s gonna make that case publicly, you know, ’cause he said the Republicans won’t support this because the politics, uh, aren’t, aren’t good. Then we’re gonna do something to change the politics. So he’ll, he’ll make, he’ll make the case publicly on it and then I, you know, we’re gonna, you know, we’ll engage in conversations with the, uh, with the Democrats and the Republicans who oppose this bill to see if there are, uh, are some, are some areas of compromise that we can maybe come to that, uh, we maybe can pair the legislation with something else that may get people on board. But what, that’s just in the early stages right now. That’s something the President’s very committed to, uh, and he, uh, is, is willing to wage a, uh, very public campaign for it.
Question: …My question sort of follows up on the DREAM Act. There’s been some criticism that the President hasn’t been sort of engaging his grassroots supporters enough, the Washington Post op-ed by Sam Grahm-Felsen, and a lot of people noticed during the tax cut debate for example the, the, the press list was very active. I mean, is there something like this that will happen for the DREAM Act or the President’s other priorities, sort of a reengaging of, of the, the grassroots supporters?
Dan Pfeiffer: Uh, yes. I mean, I, I believe that, um, that, uh, OFA was actively involved in having, uh, both on DREAM Act and during this lame duck session with [inaudible] DREAM Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, uh, activating, uh, activists around the country to, uh, call in and write in, uh, lobby, um, wavering members, um, to support both those initiatives. I think we’ll continue to do that. Um, and I think that, that it’s one of the ways in which we would get this done. This, you know, the President always said on the campaign trail that, um, change comes from the bottom up, um, and I think on issues like the DREAM Act it’s gonna have to because there’s, uh, some real resistance in Washington, uh, from folks, primarily in the other party, uh, but some in our own. And, uh, you know, I think we’re gonna need to get people activated and I think that you’ll , you will see a lot of that over the next, uh, uh, months and years.
Question: …Uh, Obama mentioned in the, uh, press conference that he, one of the things he didn’t mention, I should note he did not mention the climate bill among his biggest regrets. Uh, but he did mention that he wanted to engage republicans on energy as soon as possible in the new session. I wonder if you could give us any preview of what that looks, uh, like and whether it goes beyond natural gas and, and clean coal?
Dan Pfeiffer: Well, I think, to be fair, the President was referring to his biggest regrets of things that, uh, were [inaudible], were, could potentially have gotten done during this lame duck session which is why he mentioned the DREAM Act, um, and collective bargaining for firefighters. Um, he has said on multiple occasions, on many many occasions, that uh, you know, there are several things that he promised to do in the campaign that he’s been trying to do that he wasn’t able to get done the first two years. And, um, and comprehensive legislation that, uh, gives us a, uh, a clean energy economy for, uh, the jobs of the future and deals with, uh, climate change is something, you know, he worked, he worked to get done. He got it through the House, we’re gonna get through the Senate. Um, the politics of that, of that which were obviously hard in a, uh, in a largely Democratic, in a, in a, in a majority Democratic House and a, um, in a signifi, in a Senate where you had, uh, sixty votes at some time, uh, get harder next year obviously as you have Republican control of the House and more Republicans in the Senate. So, we’ll, we’ll continue to work on it. And if you can’t do, um, everything, uh, that was in the, uh, the, uh, Markey Waxman bill maybe there’s some things you can get done and continue to make progress on the issue. So we’re gonna work on it and it’s one of the things we’ll, uh, be engaging Republicans about next year.
Question: …I was wondering, two things, um. First, um, I was wondering if there was any reaction to the Robert Kuttner’s article in which he, um, claimed that sources, uh, I don’t know, he didn’t exactly say, he said they were high placed sources, I believe [laughter] without getting any more specific , said that there’d be, uh, Social Security cuts put on the table in the State of the Union, um, and in addition, I think he also said budget cuts, but that’s something I think President Obama has always said that, um, programs that don’t work need to be cut, [Dan Pfeiffer: “Um, hmm.” ] um , and isn’t anything new. I was wondering if there was any comment on, on that article and then just more generally where would the line be drawn with Social Security in terms of sort of what’s not, uh, on the table as far as cuts go?
Dan Pfeiffer: Well, um, you know I have, uh, I, I don’t go to all the economic meetings in the White House but I go to most of them. And I, I’ve never seen, uh, uh, Mr. Kuttner in any of them. So I’m not sure, uh, who his sources are. Um, what, what I can tell you is that the President believes that whatever solu, he believes that we need to strengthen Social Security. It needs to be, uh, preserved, it needs to be preserved for current beneficiaries, uh, and future ones. And that it’s gonna take, uh, you can’t, one party alone can’t solve this, um, can’t solve this problem. And so, you know, he, he’s willing to, uh, engage in, uh, conversations with the Republicans on this if they’re willing to be constructive. And we’ll see, see if that’s possible next year. But he’s not gonna do anything that, um, that, uh, that weakens social, Social Security. He, he wants to strengthen it. And, and with the, and the, what, uh, you know, the leading proponents on the Republican side have wanted to do is either privatize it which would be devastating to the program, or essentially, um, you know, I think it was, uh, some members of the Republican leadership who said that the only, uh, way that they would, uh, increase the longevity of the program would be through cuts, only cuts, nothing else, no revenue increases or anything else. And that’s obvious, that’s obviously a nonstarter and it, and what it’d basically be is an attempt to do, is to, uh, destroy the program. Uh, sort of, you know, by a million cuts. And so, uh, the, you know, we’ll , uh, we’ll look to see if there’s a conversation to be had on this next year but the President is, uh, uh, is a strong believer in Social Security and wants to strengthen it.
Question: …So my question is about the, uh, the President and judges right now. President Obama is the first judge, the first president in American history to have to fight to get district judges confirmed. This has never before been a problem. And I recognize that’s not resident Obama’s fault, that’s Mitch McConnell’s fault. But the reason why Mitch McConnell was able to make that happen is because he could exploit all the Senate rules that allow for endless delay and it’s led to this dynamic where we have to bargain away district judge. We have to bargain to get our district judges confirmed and we have to bargain away really great circuit judges that other people really want to get confirmed just to get, you know, just to keep the, the judiciary running. My question is what is the President gonna do to change that dynamic and will it include some supporting changes to the rules governing post cloture debate?
Dan Pfeiffer: Well, I would say a couple things on this. One, uh, this is a, this is, you’re actually correct, this is a problem [inaudible] judges, Republicans have taken, uh, an unprecedented approach to essentially requiring sixty votes for every nominee, even the least controversial people who get through committee, uh, with, you know, unanimously or with minimal partisan opposition. People are entirely not controversial at the district court level, uh, even at the circuit court level, who, uh, would normally in previous years get through. Um, and in, that’s even, I mean, it’s not just judges it’s all of our nominees. [voice: “Right.”] People who’ve been sitting there for, you know, you know, well over a year, um, for issues that have nothing to do with their nomination itself. It’s, uh, uh, you know, it, you know, it’s some pet issue of, uh, you know, of this member or that member. And I think you remember when, uh, one Republican senator put a hold on all of our nominees ’cause of a, uh, essentially a pork barrel project they wanted, uh, built in their state. And, uh, that, that’s a very real problem. I think we will, um, you know, and next year we’re gonna have, this gets more challenging, not, not less, because of increased Republican numbers in the Senate. We’re gonna have to, they’ll have even bigger fight about this and you can expect to see the President raise the profile of the issue.
The President has expressed concerns on, um, many occasions about the fact that you need, that the require, that now we’re in a place that you need a super majority for everything. You need sixty votes for everything you do and, um, it, it slows things to [inaudible] down to a crawl and gives the minority, uh, the power to, uh, just, block almost, block almost everything. And, you know, were it not for the huge numbers we had in the Senate, um, you know, for much of the last two years, uh, literally nothing would have gotten done. Um, you know, how the Senate rules play itself out, now that’s a conversation for, uh, uh, yeah, for the, for the Senate to have, um, amongst themselves. And, you know, at this point we’re not prepared to, uh, uh, endorse any specific proposal on how to address that. And I’m not sure that a president, um, getting involved in a legislative branch matter like that would be, um, seen as particularly constructive by the other branch.
Question: …My house hasn’t sold for like seven months so I’m wondering, uh, what the President’s gonna do with real estate prices which continue to keep cratering.
Dan Pfeiffer: Well, um, you, you know, the, the housing market continues to be, um, a, uh, a major concern of the President’s and we have made, while we have made, um, some progress in terms of reducing the number of foreclosures, um, in providing, um, some help, uh, to homeowners who are under water there’s still a lot more work to do. But, one of the problems we have now is that in the, the best thing that we’re gonna be able to do to, uh, help the housing market [inaudible] , there are gonna be individual things you can do to protect people from unfair foreclosures, you know, you know, we have a task force working on that, at helping specific homeowners [inaudible]. But, in terms of the housing market writ large the, um, the, the most important thing we’re gonna do is to, uh, is to grow the economy, create additional demand. We are over leveraged when it comes to housing market, we, because of the housing that we’ve, built millions of houses that, more than we would in an average year and there’s excess inventory. Um, it, the more the economy grows the better that’s gonna get. But, we’ll, I can promise you the President is very focused on this issue, looking for every possible opportunity he has to help, uh, folks who are under water on their homes, um, folks who are, uh, have been victimized by, uh, predatory lending or through some sort of improper foreclosure. And we’ll, we’ll continue focused on that but this is, this is a very, uh, vexing and challenging problem. And fixing the economy as a whole is gonna, uh, help this a lot.