Press Briefing

January 19, 2010 | 39:03 | Public Domain

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/19/10

1:42 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Take us away.

Q    You said something last week about the Massachusetts election that Ax sort of repeated today that I'm intrigued by.  He said, "I think the White House did everything we were asked to do.  Had we been asked earlier we would have responded earlier." And that's similar to something you said I think maybe on Friday or Thursday.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think I was asked Friday why we weren’t coming on Tuesday but were coming on Friday, and I said we had been asked.

Q    No, I understand, but the implication here is that the White House, with an election this important to the majority and to your agenda and to health care, can't assert itself or won't assert itself into this issue and try to make a difference.  So can you talk about that a little bit?  

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously the President went on Sunday, lent his support for Martha Coakley, talked about why he believed she would be the best senator, somebody who has fought for middle-class, working-class folks in Massachusetts.

We're going to have plenty of time to get into the back-and-forth of all this.  I'd prefer to do that when we know what the result is.

Q    Well, it sounds like you're either saying that you don't want to assert yourself when something is important unless you're asked to do it, which seems a little weird, or that you're setting yourself up for this election to be lost by the Democrat. 
MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, we'll have a chance to discuss the outcome of the election when we know the outcome of the election, which, as many people know, is ongoing.

Q    Stay tuned?

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    Quickly, on another topic, tomorrow there are I believe six hearings having to do with the Christmas airline attack, Yemen, al Qaeda, Fort Hood -- six all in one day.  Can you talk a little bit about the object of that and how the White House is getting ready for that, how you want that to play out tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I don't know much about preparation other than -- I mean, obviously you've seen John's report on both topics.  Obviously many of these hearings were announced after the incident but before these reports, and I think the administration obviously is more than happy to discuss what's in these reports, but more importantly, the steps that we're taking to address the concerns that these documents bring up.  That's been the President's charge to the team this entire time.

I think you've seen the President be quite open in discussing our failings.  The onus is on, now, all of us, both Capitol Hill and the White House, to ensure that we do all that we can to plug those shortcomings.

Q    So in the event of a Democratic loss in Massachusetts, what kind of contingency planning is the White House doing to prevent the -- to keep the health care bill alive as well as to keep everything on track?

MR. GIBBS:  Obviously health care is a great priority to this President.  We can get into discussing the results of tomorrow, tomorrow when we have results.

Q    But whatever the outcome of the election up there in Massachusetts, what's the thinking within the administration that this has exposed public skepticism, perhaps even backlash against the President's agenda, not just health care, but financial reform and --

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I don't -- I think to get into why something happened before it happens -- we will schedule a briefing not unlike this at approximately the same time tomorrow where we can discuss a lot of it.


Q    Forgetting the results of the election -- (laughter) -- the fact is it's incredibly close, right?  You guys have said it's an incredibly close --

MR. GIBBS:  It's a heavily contested election.

Q    Heavily contested election in Massachusetts.  Does the President think that the fact that it's so close is any reflection at all on him or his agenda or his governing style?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, again, as I said to Matt, we'll have a chance to get into --

Q    But I'm not talking about --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I understand.  Let me finish the -- I think there is obviously -- and this isn't something that's known simply because there's an election in one state.  I think there's a tremendous amount of upset and anger in this country about where we are economically.  That's not a surprise to us in this administration because, Jake, in many ways we're here because of that upset and anger.  That upset and anger, quite frankly, dates much farther back than simply the 2008 election.  That's not to talk about any previous administration, except for quite some time the middle class has thought that Washington was looking out for Washington and the big special interests, and not looking out for them.  I don't think there's any doubt of that. 

I think the President, who reads letters from people every day, will be in Ohio during a town hall meeting later this week  -- I have no doubt that people are going to express anger and frustration about where we are.  We have seen an economic downturn and collapse that we haven't seen since the late 1920s and the early 1930s.  I think that is going to be the source of, rightfully so, a lot of frustration, understanding that there were a lot of people that were hurting well before that economic calamity hit Wall Street.  Wages weren't going up -- you guys heard the President talk about this.  People were working longer, people were working harder, people were more productive even as their wages weren't growing.  So, look, the President understands there's a lot of economic frustration out there.

Q    If you look at the right track-wrong track number, which I know you guys pay attention to, it was improving after President Obama took office.  And it became that a majority of Americans at one point thought that we were on the right track, and that number has started to go down, even as the economy has continued to tank.  So it would seem that a lot of Americans are now attaching their frustration with Washington to President Obama and what he's doing.

MR. GIBBS:  I think there is certainly some attachment to us.  I think there is some larger attachment to this town.  I think there's an attachment to the pace of that recovery that you would count the President among those frustrated about.  The President is -- understands that there is frustration out there and is frustrated himself.

Q    But when you look at the polls on what the American people think about his handling of health care reform and the health care reform bill itself, they don't -- they don't approve. Is it possible that it's not just -- that along with President Obama, they are frustrated with the pace of economic recovery, but maybe that Americans disagree with what President Obama is doing, disagree with the direction he is taking the country?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, we have had a vigorous back-and-forth in this country about health care.  I think we'd be the first to admit that we think there are a lot more benefits than people see and feel in these bills.  If that's a failing, I think that is certainly a failing that I and others here at the White House take responsibility for, up to and including the President.

Q    Robert, if the Senate loses the 60-member filibuster-proof majority, does the President feel that it would be in the best interest of moving health care forward for House Democrats to support the Senate bill and get it on his desk as soon as possible?

MR. GIBBS:  These are going to be all great questions tomorrow.  But I just --

Q    You'll answer them tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS:  I promise I'll be here tomorrow, how about that?  (Laughter.)

Q    Can we turn to Haiti then, if you would?

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    U.S. planes are flying -- are U.S. planes flying over Haiti broadcasting a message to the Haitians that they should not try to come to the United States, that they would be turned away? Can you tell us what that's about?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know of the particular message that you're talking about.  We certainly -- we have seen no preparation for any type of mass migration that some might have been concerned about.  We don't see any evidence coalescing around that at this point.

Q    And you're not aware of any message that the United States government is broadcasting?

MR. GIBBS:  I can certainly check on that.  I know that there's a 2:00 p.m. call, the regular updated calls that we've done on giving you all information from our disaster response teams about the latest on the ground.  And our focus obviously is on search and rescue right now.

Q    And Governor Rendell said that the White House was involved in actually getting the plane of the orphanages, taking them out of Haiti, bringing them to Pittsburgh.  Can you explain what the administration's role has been?  And just clear up --

MR. GIBBS:  They're working on putting some of that together for me now, but I don't have that up to date with me.

Q    Okay.  And do you know if half of those orphans were actually sent to Pittsburgh?  There was a number, 53, that they had --

MR. GIBBS:  They're working on some of that, and we'll get a better -- a fuller readout of that.  They're putting that together.  Some of the folks that were involved in that are on their way back from Haiti back to Washington today.

Q    And is there a 4:00 p.m. meeting with USAID here at the White House?

MR. GIBBS:  With?

Q    USAID -- here at the White House?

MR. GIBBS:  There is a principals committee meeting, not a presidential meeting.  And there may be some updates out of that that we would brief you on as well. 

But it's a meeting not unlike we've had before -- sometimes the President has been in, sometimes he hasn't -- coordinating our response and ensuring that if people feel like we need -- if they need more help in doing stuff that that reaches the highest levels and we can make sure that happens.

Q    What's the President's agenda for his second year in office and what's the top priority?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the top priority, obviously, Helen, is to continue to work hard on getting this economy back on track and creating jobs again.  I think that is -- he outlined some ideas in December on -- some successful programs, some of which were in the Recovery Act, that many people have, in the parlance of oversubscribed in terms of the amount of money that was available but having applications for two or three or four times that amount of money.  His primary focus will be on creating jobs.


Q    I'd like to talk about a different topic -- the election in Massachusetts.  (Laughter.)  You said earlier that you don't want to discuss -- you don't want to discuss why something happens before it happens, but something has already happened, and that is that there has been a groundswell of support for a Republican in the blue state of Massachusetts for a candidate who's running against the President's agenda.  Is this --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, now, just -- well, again --

Q    Go ahead?

MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead.  I don't know if that was the end of your question.

Q    Well, there are so many different questions here, but one of the questions is -- the big question that a lot of people are posing now is, is this a sign that the White House has simply lost touch with the American people, that they just don't get it? This is not something that's happening --

MR. GIBBS:  When I read your poll I didn’t come away with that conclusion.  When I read the CBS poll and they said 70 percent of the American people thought the President was -- cared about people like them, I came to the conclusion that 70 percent of the people believed that he cared about people like them.  So, no, I don't --

Q    That's a good diversion, but I mean this is still happening -- it's still happening in Massachusetts.

MR. GIBBS:  No, that's your poll.  I hate to quote CBS to CBS.  I should have tried it out on you and used your poll on him and sort of --

Q    It sounds to me like you're confident that the Republican is going to lose in Massachusetts if you think that poll is reflective of where the American people are right now.

MR. GIBBS:  Your question was whether the vote would be reflective of the American people.  I simply said what I said your poll showed, Chip.  Again, we'll have time --

Q    -- question of do you think that this White House has just lost touch with the American people?

MR. GIBBS:  I think according to any reasonable measure, the answer to that is, of course not.

Q    Has the President -- have you heard him express surprise or frustration about how close this race is in Massachusetts?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  He was both surprised and frustrated.

Q    Can you give us some details?  Anything else?  Angry?  And at whom?

MR. GIBBS:  Not pleased.

Q    Frustrated at whom, about what?

MR. GIBBS:  We'll get in more of that tomorrow.

Q    Recognizing you don't know the results yet, in the interest of preparedness, which I'm sure the President views as a virtue, have you talked to Speaker Pelosi at all about this so-called plan B of the House passing the Senate bill as is?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if the President has had an opportunity -- I can check on whether the President has spoken directly with Speaker Pelosi.

Q    Have any member of staff that you're aware of?

MR. GIBBS:  I assume some people here have talked to the Speaker.  I do not have a catalog of each and every one of those conversations.

Q    Why didn’t the President lay out the stakes when he was in Massachusetts on Sunday and say to those folks --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President did.

Q    -- if you don't put Martha Coakley in the United States Senate our health care bill likely dies?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- again, let's wait for the results.  I don't think the President believes that.

Q    Okay, so he doesn’t look at health care as sort of hanging up by a string here?

MR. GIBBS:  Health care is a priority for him now.  It will be a priority for him tomorrow.

Q    Is there any particular reason why he didn’t -- that could be a pretty compelling argument to Democrats.

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President laid out exactly what was at stake.  For the people of Massachusetts, it's about electing somebody that will represent their interests in the United States Senate.  And are you going to elect somebody who has consistently fought for middle-class, working-class interests, as you heard the President say, or somebody who campaigns as an independent and has voted 96 percent of the time with Republicans in the state Senate?  I think he laid it out quite clearly.

Q    Is his decision not to put it in those terms -- that if you don't send Coakley to the Senate my health care bill could fail -- a tacit acknowledgement that that's not a very compelling argument for voters right now?

MR. GIBBS:  No, again, I don't think the President believes and subscribes to that as an overall premise.

Q    Beyond talking about -- focus on the economy and --

MR. GIBBS:  -- there's a race near Connecticut.  (Laughter.)

Q    I wasn’t going to mention New England at all in this question.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  (Laughter.)  States that begin with "M" --  

Q    My question is -- but feel free to answer your own question if you -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Mississippi is lovely this time of year. 

Q    Can you give us some concrete, specific examples of what you'll be doing in the coming months to persuade the American people that you are focused on the economy and on jobs, beyond just talking about it in general terms.

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I could give you a list of what we're going to do -- we'll have economic events here later this week, on Thursday here.  He'll visit Ohio on Friday.  He'll talk to the U.S. Conference of Mayors about a jobs-creating agenda here also on Thursday.  But the President isn't going to get focused on the economy in the coming months; the President obviously has been focused quite clearly on the economy since his first moments in office.

Last week the President discussed a bank responsibility fee that focuses in on the health of the economy.  The President will talk about an agenda for creating jobs, about getting ourselves back on a path toward fiscal responsibility; making college education more affordable and taking the banks out of being the middle men for college loans.  A lot of those things the President has talked about and will continue to talk about, and you'll see obviously some of that in the State of the Union.


Q    Well, since you've answered all our questions on the special election, can I ask you if the President is going to take notice in any way tomorrow about the end of his first year in office?

MR. GIBBS:  Nothing special, no.

Q    No?

MR. GIBBS:  No. 

Q    Press conference?

Q    Is he aware of it?  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I don't want to be technical about it, but wouldn't today actually be the end of his first year?

Q    Well, noon tomorrow would be the end of it, technically.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if there's anything that he'll do prior to noon that's -- I mean, I've got to be honest with you, Mark.  I think in many ways it is -- it's an anniversary of types, but I don't see that a lot of people are ultimately focused on marking the first year.  I mean, since we've been here, we've had the anniversary of the election -- that was the first year; and then there was the end of the first year, which was the end of the year; and then there will be the end of the first year, which you appropriately point out will be at or around noon on -- so, I mean, there's --

Q    First 100 days.

MR. GIBBS:  Right, first 100 days, first 200 days, first six months -- I mean, there is --

Q    It's what we do.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Much to my chagrin.  (Laughter.)  No, but I don't -- there will be no surprise parties for the end of the first year.

Q    Will the President call for a bipartisan commission on the debt in the State of the Union?

MR. GIBBS:  He has -- in talking about Laura's question about the economy -- the President obviously has talked a lot about the need to get our fiscal house in order; shares the concern about where our fiscal situation is, and is exploring many options for, in both the budget and in the State of the Union, that we would talk about our commitment to doing so. 

Q    And back to health care, why didn't the President and Harry Reid work even harder to keep Olympia Snowe on their side back in October and November?

MR. GIBBS:  The President continues to work hard on that.

Q    Robert, I understand you're still gathering information on Governor Rendell and the adoptions.  But I'm wondering does the administration hope that maybe this is a blueprint for future adoptions of Haitian children following this?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get a little bit more information before I get -- I mean, look, I think obviously it is a -- I think we have all seen remarkable stories coming out of such a calamitous disaster; our search and rescue teams finding more and more people every day, a record number of people for an earthquake just yesterday.  And I think as you've heard administration officials on the ground in Haiti say, we will do better today than we did yesterday.  We will do better tomorrow than we're going to do today.

We're trying as hard as we can in working with the Haitian government and with our international partners to address I think what anybody would term the largest humanitarian effort they've ever seen.  Again, what we do today will be bettered by what we do tomorrow.

Q    Can we follow on Haiti?

Q    A totally new topic -- any update on where the President is going to donate his Nobel Prize money? 

MR. GIBBS:  I know they continue to talk about it.  I think he has not received any money yet.  But as soon as they -- as he makes those donations, we will let you guys know.

Q    Robert, you talked earlier about that during the campaign, you guys were able to tap into the sort of anger and angst in the country, as essentially the outsider fighting on behalf of --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I also said that obviously we -- that anger was there and we certainly acknowledge it.

Q    So I guess the question is, do you guys feel that what you've -- what's now happened to the President and the White House is that you guys are now the recipients of that anger in a way that you maybe didn't expect would happen as quickly --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, no.  To go back to Mark's question, we haven't been here for a year wondering what it is we were here to do.  Obviously, the President was elected to deal with a set of problems, to make the right decision whether or not it was the popular decision.  Look, this was the case long before the poll that Jake or the poll that I mentioned to Chip point out.  Some of those decisions weren't popular ones -- well before we got to what you were talking about, Jake.  Ensuring that the banks didn't collapse was not a popular decision.  The President strongly believes it was the right one.  Ensuring that two domestic auto companies didn't go out of business -- not popular. Again, the President believed it was the right decision to make.

He understands -- again, he understands that frustration.  He's heard it -- in all honesty, he heard it when he ran for the United States Senate beginning in 2003.  So I don't believe that -- certainly there's frustration.  I think it is with a lot of people in this process.

Q    Robert, you said moments ago that you'd be the first to admit that there are more benefits in the health care bill than many Americans see, and that if that's a failing to communicate that, that you and others at the White House, including the President, take responsibility for it.  Why do you think, given the many words that have been spoken, the many appearances the President has made around the country on this --

MR. GIBBS:  Do you think he's over-exposed?

Q    Why do you think he's been unable --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm baiting you.

Q    I know; I'm not taking the bait.

MR. GIBBS:  I know.

Q    Why has he been unable to convince the American people, to fully convince them that this bill is a good idea and the right thing to do?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think in many -- some of this is drowned out -- there's no doubt, as many words as the President has uttered and as many interviews as he's done and as many appearances as he's had, there's no doubt that in some ways it's drowned out by arguments that may or may not be central to the focus of the bill.

But whether we had -- whether health care today was passed or not, the President would be talking about the benefits of that bill even if it was passed.  Many of those benefits that he would talk about go into effect immediately -- ensuring that a child that had previously been discriminated against in trying to get health insurance because of a preexisting condition will get wiped away as soon as the President signs health care legislation.  And he'll discuss that. 

Q    We're talking about failings.  Was there anything that you would do differently, looking back?  Is there something you could have done better to make your case better to the American people so that we wouldn't be -- you wouldn't be in this situation that you're in right now?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, if we -- I'm sure that -- Sheryl, I'll read this transcript and think there's things that I could have done better.  I don't think there's any -- there's no doubt about that.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time, at least now, going through all that.  Suffice to say we do not -- nobody believes anybody has pitched a perfect game.  I don't think anybody does.

Q    You mentioned Olympia Snowe.  The President spoke to her by phone, I gather, on Friday.  Can you tell us what they talked about?  Is she part of a plan --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me -- I don't have a readout on whether they talked or not, and I can certainly look at it. 

Q    And is that also the subject of the meeting this afternoon, Chris Dodd coming by here?

MR. GIBBS:  I believe, if I'm not mistaken, my guess is I'm sure they'll touch on health care as well as financial reform.

Q    Just can you give us an overall state of what we were talking about last week, the negotiations to try and bring the two houses together, or if that's on hold until --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I know the staffs met and discussed a lot of this going through the weekend.  I don't have any meetings at this point to announce that the President is in, but I know they continue to work through at a staff level based on hours and hours of meetings of merging these two bills together.

Q    It's not on hold, pending the outcome of the election?


Q    Should President Obama take this special election personally?

MR. GIBBS:  How so?

Q    You have said it's not a referendum on him, but should he feel, or does he feel, that he bears some responsibility for the vote?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, let's see what the outcome is before --

Q    Will you say anything about it tonight?  Do you imagine a statement or anything?

MR. GIBBS:  I assume that -- well, the President will call the winner.  We'll have a readout of that call.  I don't -- I mean, I think the polls closed, what, at 8:00 p.m.  I don't anticipate that the President will have a statement tonight.

Q    On financial reform, is the President going to do a little arm-twisting as far as the Consumer Protection Agency, or is he coming around and thinking that maybe that could be a responsibility divided up among --

MR. GIBBS:  No, the President's viewpoint on this I think is quite clear that we have to have a strong, independent voice on behalf of consumers.  That's something the President has talked about repeatedly in this process, and something he'll emphasize again.

Q    Do you expect him talk about this with Senator Dodd?

MR. GIBBS:  I believe that -- my sense is financial reform writ large will come up.  I can get a sense after the meeting whether the consumer part came up.

Q    Okay, leading --

MR. GIBBS:  You don't have to stand up.  I can hear from you from here.

Q    I have trouble projecting.  So excuse me.

MR. GIBBS:  Jake will help you out.  (Laughter.)

Q    Leading bank economists last week predicted that private sector hiring will increase during the first three months of this year, and they suggested that politicians refrain from spending more tax dollars on job creation until the end of the three-month period.  They said, if our projection is wrong, well, then you should spend federal dollars.  I'm just wondering if the President, this week when he talks about the economy, will exhibit that kind of patience -- let's wait and see -- or is he ready to go full speed ahead and spend more money?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President outlined a series of ideas which I mentioned earlier:  increase in funding for clean energy jobs; there's obviously been discussions about infrastructure aid.  There have been discussions about state and local fiscal relief.  The President believes that the ideas he outlined in December are no less needed now than at any point.  And he'll continue to push forward. 

Do I hope the private forecasters are correct?  I think there are certainly millions of Americans that hope that's true. The question, obviously, we will eventually get to is the pacing of that and are there things that can be done to accelerate this process?  That will be -- that's what the President has asked his team, and that's what the President will demand of all of us, including Congress --

Q    So you don't have an answer yet?  Because these economists say that if you spend more money now it's overkill.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I mean, the hole -- the employment hole as we sit here and speak is about 7.5 million since that recession began in December of 2007.  I don't think that anybody that -- and, again, that's just -- 7.5 million that have lost their jobs.  There’s obviously people that continue -- that are not even in the statistics anymore because they continue to look but they've been looking for more than six months.

I don't think we're in danger in this three-month period in filling that hole completely.  The President believes that we've got to do that and begin to add jobs based on a new foundation that doesn't depend on the bubble-and-bust economy that we've relied on for a long, long time.

Q    Robert, so broadly speaking, can you talk about the difference between 59 and 60 votes in the Senate and what that means for the President's agenda this year?

MR. GIBBS:  Broadly, it's one. 

Q    All right, can I try another?  (Laughter.)  So tomorrow, several progressive groups including --

MR. GIBBS:  Mark taught me that.

Q    Technically, it's one.  (Laughter.)

Q    -- including Code Pink, Greenpeace, are planning a rally outside the White House to protest what they say has been a failure to act or at least deliver on a lot of the change that was promised a year ago.  What's the White House's message for folks like that who are questioning the lack -- or at least the pace of the action on a lot of those priorities?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I -- this isn't directed at -- look, this isn't directed as a response to those interest groups or what have you.  I guess, going back to Mark's question, the President -- I guess the reason that there's not a lot of recognition about one year is it's certainly -- it's a calendar date that denotes you've been here a year, but the President didn't outline throughout the campaign, here are the things I'm going to do the first year, here's what I'm -- here's how I'm going to fill years two and three, and then on year four it will be this volume of -- change takes a long time.  Change isn't ever easy.

Q    What did he learn?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he learned, Helen, part of what I'm talking about, which is that change is never easy; that change takes time; that change has to go through Congress.  And that's not to say -- I think what Congress has accomplished this year has been enormous.  Getting a recovery plan through as quickly as was done to get resources into the economy that we've already seen has helped pull an economy from negative economic growth for four consecutive quarters to the positive -- I think there's an awful lot to be proud of in what has been accomplished. 

I can assure you the President never thought that we'd wake up at 11:59 a.m. January 20th, 2010, and he would think, wow, I've finished it all and now what am I going to do?  We always knew we'd have plenty to do.

Q    Robert, is it fair to expect that the tenor of the State of the Union address next week will depend greatly on what happens in Massachusetts today?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think that's true, no.  I think we've been working on a series of ideas and proposals -- Helen asked what the most important issue was -- on jobs.  The President will -- regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, the President is going to talk about jobs.  The President is going to talk about fiscal responsibility.  He'll talk about our obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan to address terrorism. 

I honestly don't think that -- they're writing the speech right now, so if they're going to change it all tomorrow, I hope Favreau hears me and just goes a little early to the gym today.

Q    But isn't there a little difference, perhaps, in the body language between boldness and contrition?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President understands that regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we face a set of circumstances that have to be addressed and have to be dealt with.  Whether there are 59 seats in the Senate or 60, we still have to work hard to get our economy back on track.  We still have to work hard to make the promise of affordable, accessible health care for millions of Americans a reality.  I don't believe that there's an entirely new agenda behind some door based on the result of tonight.


Q    Senator Voinovich said he thinks that President Obama agrees with him on the need for the bipartisan debt commission but isn't sure the politics are there for it.  Does that sound right?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I know that in the coming days the Senate is going to vote on what Senators Conrad and Gregg have proposed.  That's certainly one thing that, among others, that we have looked at to get our country back on a path toward fiscal responsibility. 


Q    Back on the State of the Union.  What number draft is the speechwriter on for the speech?

MR. GIBBS:  Jon, if you can hear this, please call.  (Laughter.)  I don't know -- I honestly don't know.  I don't know.  We've been working on it for a little while.

Q    When you say "a little while," so this is not like a first or second draft?  This has been ongoing?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, it's been -- he's been writing for a while.

Q    Also on the speech, when it comes to Haiti, will the President deal with the issue of Haiti in the speech, and giving and the compassion of the American heart?  Is that part of the speech next week?

MR. GIBBS:  He will undoubtedly mention Haiti.  I think what we are all enormously proud of as Americans is the outpouring of support for the suffering that people have seen on their televisions.  One of the things -- that's one of the reasons he wanted to visit the Red Cross yesterday.  I think we have -- the spirit of the American people always meets the challenges that it faces, and I think again we can all be proud of that spirit.

Q    A follow on that.  Is there a concern about some of the organizations that are raising funds, raising food, raising clothes for the relief effort there -- is there a concern in this White House about some of the controversies around some of these organizations right now, as there's an immediate need and a long-term need?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I don't know enough about individual -- all the individual charities.  Obviously there's a set of criteria that people can look at before they give their money on how much is spent on overhead, how much goes to what is needed on the ground.  Obviously former President Bush and former President Clinton have helped to set up an organization to deal with both the search and rescue and what is needed to get food and water and resources there now.  But we'll also be there in the months and years to come in what will clearly be a very long-term project of renewal and of rebuilding.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  Two things.  You've said the President was angry.  With whom is he angry?  Could you clarify  --

MR. GIBBS:  I didn't expand on that.  (Laughter.)

Q    Okay.  Can you now?

MR. GIBBS:  I won't now. 

Q    But you might tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS:  There's always hope.  (Laughter.)

Q    Audacious.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  -- should have Mark annotate the transcripts -- (laughter.)

Q    You've emphasized the President's concern about the unemployment numbers and about the deficit.  In dealing with one, do you exacerbate the other?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think that the President understands that -- for instance, the recovery plan was split up to basically cover two fiscal years because nobody believed that we would have turned this completely around, given the depths of the recession that we were in, immediately or only after a year. So I think the President is understanding of whatever -- what tension may be there in dealing with the medium- and long-term fiscal challenges that we face.

But, absolutely -- if you necessarily pull back completely, you're not -- you've got a gas-and-break going that isn't going to necessarily help where the economy is.

Thanks, guys.

Q    News conference tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS:  Be here around 10:00 a.m. -- if we're not here, start without us.  (Laughter.)

2:23 P.M. EST

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