Press Briefing 6/25/09

June 26, 2009 | 46:10

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6-25-09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                          June 25, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:44 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon.

Q    Where's the dunk tank?

MR. GIBBS:  I went out there to see it.  It's out there.

Q    Who's going to be in it?

MR. GIBBS:  Rahm is going to be in it.  Phil Schiliro is going to be in it.  Robert Gibbs is going to be in it.  My only concern at this point is that the water gets a little warmer maybe before we start throwing --

Q    Can we go out there too?

MR. GIBBS:  Let's just say -- I will be more than happy -- if I get the same number of throws you get, then I will see if it's available earlier this afternoon.  (Laughter.)

Q    Deal.

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, I'm ready to go.

Q    But your arm would really hurt if --

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, but I tell you what, if -- how many people in here?  I like my chances at getting warmed up on two or three throws if I get them times 40 or so people.

Q    Coverage?  Coverage?

MR. GIBBS:  Of the dunk tank?

Q    Yes, sir.

MR. GIBBS:  Unclear.  I don't know what the -- I just agreed to do it.  I did not -- I have not yet set up a pool for it.  But we will -- I will endeavor to see what --

Q    That would be fun.

MR. GIBBS:  For you.  (Laughter.)  Speak for yourself.  (Laughter.)

Q    We can bid on it.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Now, that's a good idea.  I will --

Q    For charity.

MR. GIBBS:  I can't imagine that this is going to get a lot of money.

Q    For charity.

Q    I don't know if we all want to see you in your swimsuit.

Q    Did you bring your swimsuit?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  This is awfully -- (laughter) -- apparently off the beaten path.  I brought some clothes to go to the gym in, and I think I'll do that.

Q    We could probably raise a substantial chunk of change to get video of you in the dunk tank.

MR. GIBBS:  What's it going for?

Q    Well, shall we bid?  (Laughter.)

Q    One hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, three hundred --

Q    For charity, five, 10 bucks a head for charity?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.

Q    Make it $20.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm happy to -- you guys collect a pot of money, you guys pick your best arm, and you can have a shot at it.

Q    Deal.

MR. GIBBS:  You can throw it at me and I'll get you the video.

Q    Deal.

MR. GIBBS:  All right?  Sounds good.  Thank you.

Q    Going to the gym or doing yoga?

MR. GIBBS:  No, just going to -- again, no evidence there -- no evidence, but, yes, visiting the gym.

Let me do one quick announcement and try to get this back somehow onto the rails.

Q    What time are you --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm in the tank at 7:20 p.m.  But, again, we can do this -- we can do the warmup pitches a little earlier for that, too.

Just one quick announcement.  During his upcoming trip to Russia, on July 7, the President will give a speech at the commencement of the New Economic School in Moscow.  The speech will be an opportunity for President Obama to discuss areas of mutual interest between the United States and Russia such as nonproliferation, global security, and economic growth.  So that's one aspect of the upcoming trip.

Ms. Loven.

Q    On the climate bill, is the White House confident you all have the votes to get it through the House tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President is spending time talking with members of Congress.  I think obviously many people understand that it's a historic opportunity to take significant action to reduce our dependence on energy, to reduce greenhouse gases, and most importantly to create a firm marketplace for clean energy jobs.  We like where we are now and I'd bet on the President.

Q    How many calls is he making, and to whom, and what other officials in the White House are also doing that sort of lobbying

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how many he's -- how many members he's talked to.  I know -- you know, the energy team and the congressional team have been working for quite some time on this, and I think others in the White House have made calls too, but I don't have an exact number.

Q    Has he swayed anybody's vote yet?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not talked to him about the outcome of --

Q    Who is the energy team?

MR. GIBBS:  Carol Browner is -- I mean, Carol obviously is the head of that inside here but, you know, obviously that includes Secretary Salazar, Secretary Chu, and others that are involved in these issues.

Yes, sir.

Q    Two questions.  First of all, on Ben Bernanke, he spoke on Capitol Hill today.  Many lawmakers expressed concern about the Fed's role in the Bank of America/Merrill merger.  Does the President believe that the Fed overstepped its boundaries?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- I won't parse the words of the President by saying he has confidence in the job that Chairman Bernanke has done and confidence in the role that the Fed will play going forward to ensure what's happened never happens again.

Q    But any concern at all specifically about the Bank of America --

MR. GIBBS:  Nothing.

Q    Okay.  And my second question is, forward looking to tomorrow, can you give us a flavor as to what President Obama and Chancellor Merkel will be discussing?  And just kind of how the White House views U.S.-German relations.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think -- I think U.S.-German relations are strong.  Obviously, we saw -- we saw her in Germany not too many weeks ago.  I think they're going to continue conversations as we head into the G8 about the importance of continuing to make progress in getting our world economy back on track.  No doubt -- and they talked about this in Germany -- they will talk about clean energy and climate change.  Obviously North Korea and Iran will be discussed, as they were in Germany.  And I think -- I assume issues such as Guantanamo Bay and others will be on the docket.

Yes, sir.

Q    Yesterday at the health care forum, President Obama expressed some frustration with the way that the Congressional Budget Office scores health care bills, and I was wondering if there was any ramification to this.  Is the President planning on not necessarily listening to what CBO says, whatever ultimately comes out of the Senate or the House?  Is he planning on dismissing that number because of these concerns at all?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think he -- as I've said here before, obviously they're the budgetary scorekeeper, and obviously we will abide by that.  I think -- I think there are some frustration -- some frustration in the notion that some things aren't -- I mean, look, the CBO has a defined mission, and some of the agreements and the savings that are being put together here are not "scorable."  They don't show up in reports, and I think in some ways sometimes get glossed over.  I think the President mentioned that.

But no, I don't -- we'll abide by the CBO. 

Q    Robert, I'm wondering if you have any reaction at all to Ahmadinejad's latest remarks about the President.  And also, when the White House looks at the Iranian President, do they see him as relevant at all, or are you more concerned about the relationship with the Supreme Leader?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me take those individually.  Look, I've said and the President have said for more than a week and a half now that there are people in Iran who want to make this not about a debate among Iranians in Iran, but about the West and the United States.  And I would add President Ahmadinejad to that list of people trying to make this about the United States.

On your second question, I think the -- as I've also said in here before, obviously the person who is -- who has the authority to make decisions over national security and foreign policy and the primary national interests that we hold, as I've talked about, the nuclear weapons program and the support and sponsorship of terror are things that are directly under his purview.

Q    And on immigration reform, as you test the temperature, I know it's early on in terms of getting everybody to talk about where you agree or where you disagree.  But as you test the temperature, what would you say it is at this point in terms of reaching some agreement?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I hesitate to predict different -- well, I'm not sure what number I could give on a --

Q    In the 70s?  Is it warm?

MR. GIBBS:  -- what different scale we're using.

Q    Warmer would be better, I guess.

Q    How about an inning?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Early.  Look, I think -- I think the President looks at today's meeting, as I talked about yesterday, as a continuation of a process that he hopes will result in this process becoming a more formal legislative debate later in the year.

I think he's -- I think he looks forward to -- and I think if you look at the group that is coming today, you've got those that have in the past been for and been against comprehensive immigration reform.  The President believes and looks forward to today's meeting as a way to make progress toward moving down the road to something more formal later in the year.

Q    Can I follow up on that?  Does the President agree with Senator Schumer's suggestion that in order to make immigration reform work, all Americans may need some kind of biometric ID card, all American workers -- fingerprint, retinal scan, something like that?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen the specific things that Senator Schumer has laid out.  I don't have anything on that aspect of the legislation or his idea, because I don't think at this point there is a bill yet to -- that's moving through Congress.  I don't have anything.

Q    So you wouldn't weigh in on the President's thoughts about something like that?

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to talk to him about that.

Q    Different subject?

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    The President -- you said a couple of days ago that Americans are concerned and anxious as the President about the deficit, and they have a right to be.  The President says it keeps him asleep at night.  The polls also indicate --

MR. GIBBS:  Keeps him awake.

Q    Keeps him awake, I'm sorry.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Fox is what puts him to sleep.  (Laughter.)

Q    Ooooh!

MR. GIBBS:  Sorry, I just -- I couldn't resist. 

Q    Slam dunk.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  I try, I try.

Q    He just means it's the last thing he watches before he goes to bed.

Q    He gets to throw the ball.

MR. GIBBS:  Exactly, exactly.  (Laughter.)

Q    Is the President concerned that polls indicate that Americans -- 60 percent -- don't believe he actually has a plan to deal with the deficit?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has a budget that cuts that deficit in half over the course of the next four years -- the current budget deficit.  I think as you've heard us talk about before, this is -- we did not get here overnight.  And it's going to take us a while to get back on a path toward fiscal responsibility.  One of the things that he's talked about, Wendell, is ensuring that we're making progress on health care reform as a way of bringing that deficit down, and changing the curve on our health care spending through Medicare and Medicaid.  I think the President has outlined projects, as well as the Secretary of Defense, that he believes are not necessary spending.  And we issued yesterday a statement of administration policy that said if the projects that the Secretary of Defense had outlined to the President were included in appropriations bills, then, upon the advice of the Secretary and senior advisors in the White House, those bills would be sent back, as I think Peter Orszag testified today. 

I think the President is and the American people are rightly concerned about the enormous jump in spending that we've seen over the past few years.  I think they understand it will take time to get back on that path, but the President does have a plan.  Part of that is getting this economy moving again.


Q    Is the President concerned that he's losing a lot of ground with liberal supporters?

MR. GIBBS:  In what way?

Q    In what way?  His compromises and so forth, I think a Bob Herbert column and others.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the President would agree with many who have said that he's not going to get everybody to be with him all the time, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.  But the President believes first and foremost that we have to make progress on the important issues that face this country.  And I think his record in the Senate and in the state Senate in Illinois is in bringing groups together to do that.

Q    Why doesn't he have plans of his own and shoot for it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Helen, he does have a plan of his own.  But as we've discussed a few times in here, those plans have to get through the legislative branch down the street and then ultimately hopefully to come back here.  And there's give and take and there's the finding of common ground, and I think that's what the President --

Q    He doesn't think that Baucus is going to carry the ball for him, does he?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the Finance Committee is making progress, as is other committees on CapitolHill, in getting comprehensive health care reform to the floor of both the Senate and the House.

Yes, sir.

Q    The President said there's a lot of inaccurate information out there on the energy bill.  Could you elaborate on that, and what are the three or four main pieces of inaccurate information that he's concerned about?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the biggest thing, and you still see some that oppose taking strong action, say -- well, I would say two things:  one, that this is going to hurt jobs, not produce jobs.  And as you saw in the President's statement today and as you've seen in the investments that we've made in clean energy through the Recovery Act, creating a marketplace for clean energy will create jobs.  And as the President said today, we're going to have to figure out in this country whether -- those jobs are going to be created.  I don't know if you -- who was in the pool for the flight to Buchenwald in Germany, but one of the things that struck me in that helicopter were the number of windmills producing energy in a clean way in Germany.  The question is, are we going to produce those jobs that create those blades and build those turbines, or are we going to import them from somewhere else?

I think secondly, I think many opponents have either -- have used inaccurate information or made up numbers on how much a piece of legislation like this would cost the average American family 11 years from now.  CBO reported that -- I believe that's the equivalent of 60 cents a day in 2020. 

Yes, sir.

Q    On the immigration bill, do you feel that you have to make a lot of progress this year, as the political calendar sort of ends up altering the dynamic, considering what happened to immigration the last time, that as the campaign season heated up both in the midterms and then in the presidential year -- I mean, how important is this year for immigration as opposed to --

MR. GIBBS:  Even-numbered rather than odd-numbered?  Look, I think as much as anything, Chuck, I think this is obviously a debate that will take some time to move its way through Congress.  So I think the more time you have,  the better. 

Q    Do you think -- I mean, that could work against you though, too, right?  I mean, doesn't it make it harder for you to get the votes that you need in an even-numbered year if this thing gets closer to that calendar --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, unless we can find -- unless we can find some common ground, unless we can, you know -- unless we can figure out a way -- and I think the President hopes the meetings begin to start this process -- which is to find a way to do -- strengthen our borders, ensure that there aren't incentives for employers to hire undocumented workers, as well as finding a way of bringing them out of the shadows -- I think if we can make some progress on all three of those goals rather than splitting it up into three different coalitions.

Q    Could you break up the bill?  Could you do -- could you do this in pieces rather than do a comprehensive bill?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President's approach would be to do something that's comprehensive.

Q    But he wouldn't be opposed to -- I mean, if he gets feedback in here today that says, you know --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we'll see what he hears today.

Q    We can craft this, we can do this.

MR. GIBBS:  My sense is, without having talked to the legislative people directly about this -- I think the President believes that the approach has to be one that's comprehensive; that we -- the idea or the notion that we can deal with this larger problem by simply dealing with one aspect, legislative timing aside, that if all you're doing is dealing with one of the three pillars, that you're not going to make --

Q    At his 100-day press conference, though, he said, actually, a first step should be enforcing the laws that are on the books.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Again, I'm not suggesting that the legislative timing might not be this or that.  I'm just saying that I think what the President agrees with is the notion that one aspect of this bill does not constitute comprehensive, and that we have to do that in order to make progress, and, I think, in all honesty, to put together a coalition to get something done. 

Q    Can I just follow up?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me go to Laura real fast.  Yes.

Q    On the energy bill, what is the President or the White House's view on this provision that's come up regarding punishing imports from China and other countries that do not have similar controls on their carbon emissions?  And sort of as a corollary to that, how important are the details of this actual bill right now, or is it more important just to get sort of anything out of the House?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I've seen very little -- something but not in any detailed way, and we can look through something relating to I think some of these Ways and Means provisions.  Again, I haven't -- I have not focused in on that. 

I think in terms of your larger picture, look, obviously getting something through -- onto the floor and through the House would constitute I think a big step towards progress and create momentum that it's possible to get this done.  I think we are at a time and a place where, as the President said today, those that can deny that the planet is getting warmer -- we're past, in many ways, that debate.

We have an opportunity to create millions of clean energy jobs.  We have an opportunity to further lessen our dependence on foreign oil.  And all of that together represents -- would represent a big step forward, and I think the President believes that that would be an important facet of getting something ultimately to his desk that he can sign.

Q    So, really, the details are less important than just moving the process forward?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean -- I think obviously the fundamental details are important.  I think moving the bill forward is tremendously important.  And I think this is the first of quite a few steps, and I would assume that some of those details will be debated even -- will be debated further as this goes to the other side of the Hill and then ultimately when both bodies iron out whatever differences exist.

Q    Robert, in the East Room event last evening the President got a number of questions about health care rationing, but it seemed like he wasn't able to give much detail about what he has in mind for limiting health care, who would make the decision, how would it be enforced.  Is he clear in his mind about what he wants with respect to that aspect of his health care plan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think as you heard and saw last night, there are highly skilled professional people in our health care system -- doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, specialists -- that are making those decisions now and those are the people that are going to make those decisions moving forward.  I think the President used examples of how we can increase the quality by paying for health outcomes rather than per test and procedure. 

I was struck by one of the questioners -- I think it was a doctor -- who said there's a hefty amount of waste in the system.  And I think -- and the President said this to the AMA -- that these are individuals that have spent a lot of time in school, racked up a lot of debt, because they want to practice medicine, not because they want to be administrators or bean counters or paper pushers -- they want to be healers.  Those are the -- they're going to make those decisions.

Q    Does he believe that end-of-life health care ought to be limited even more?  There was a doctor on one of the videotapes who said way too much is being spent on caring for terminally ill patients.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think those are decisions weighty and complicated.  I think the President mentioned one aspect of what people can do and that is clearly signal to loved ones your intentions for some of those end-of-life decisions, if you're unable to make them, through a living will.  But, again, those are decisions that can and should be made by medical professionals.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, on the meeting tomorrow with Chancellor Merkel, the Chancellor said today that she wants to talk about an exit strategy with the President.  A couple of weeks ago when the finance ministers met, Secretary Geithner said, wait a minute, it's a little bit early to be talking about that yet.  Does the President think --

MR. GIBBS:  Exit strategy for?

Q    Exit strategy for pumping money into the global economy --

MR. GIBBS:  I see.

Q    Does the President think that it's time to talk about an exit strategy?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President expressed in his news conference the other day the notion -- expressed the notion that he's thus far unsatisfied, as I think millions of Americans are, at where this economy continues to be and that we have a Recovery Act that's a two-year -- largely over a two-year time frame. 

We're making progress, but I think the President is still focused on ensuring the quick implementation of the recovery legislation and the continued monitoring of different aspects of our recovery, whether it's housing, financial stabilization, capital markets.  So I think the President believes there's work left to be done.

Q    Okay.  On another subject, you mentioned the speech in Moscow.  Will the President be taking U.S. business people with him?  Have they been -- some been invited?

MR. GIBBS:  I can check on that.  I don't know.  I know there -- I think there was on the schedule, there's something that celebrates the cooperation of U.S. and Russian businesses, but I don't know if that's -- I don't know how that's all worked out.  We can certainly check on the schedule.

Q    A follow-up, if I may?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    Actually, there will be a business summit, they announced it, the Russians.  (Laughter.)

Q    Tell us about that, Robert?

Q    It's off the record.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that's what I'm alluding to.  There's a -- later in the --

Q    Is this on background?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I think it's the second full day we're there, or second day we're there -- I don't know if it's the full day.  It's the day -- I think it's the 7th.  There's a -- I'm doing the schedule from memory -- there's a civil society event and there's a business event that will talk about the cooperation between the two countries and business.

Q    My question is about the same thing.

MR. GIBBS:  But you gave him the answer.  (Laughter.)

Q    Arms control is supposed to be the centerpiece for this trip, as you have said to us, and many others.  So this choice for venue for the speech, does this mean like a hint, a subtle shift in an emphasis from the arms control issues to the economy?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Discussing the economy I think is an aspect of virtually everything the President does.  It will be something that is discussed in Russia.  On the trip I think the primary focus and the goal that we have in going is to make progress, further progress, on agreements that we hope to be finished by the end of the year to make progress on further eliminating the number of nuclear weapons on each side.

Q    Would you say the plans for the trip are mostly complete on the American side?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I think so.


Q    I was wondering if the President had had any direct conversations with his friend Warren Buffett over this climate --

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I -- not that I'm aware of.

Q    He's spoken out against it, saying it's regressive.  I was wondering if -- if he has conveyed those views to the White House.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't believe they've -- I don't believe they've talked recently.  Having seen parts of the interview on CNBC, I think -- it appeared to me to be the analysis might have been based on legislation where more of the permits were sold and auctioned rather than -- rather than given --

Q    Right, but has he spoken to him?  That's my only question.

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I know of.

Q    Okay.  And how about Vice President Gore?  Do you know if the President --

MR. GIBBS:  If he's spoken to Vice President Gore on this?

Q    If the President has spoken to Vice President Gore.

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen that he has, but I can check on both of those.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Quick question about the immigration bill.  You keep saying that you expect to begin a debate, and you say you expect a formal debate to begin.  Are you expecting something that the President could actually sign this year on immigration?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we would certainly -- we'd like that.  We'd be hopeful of that. 

Q    Realistically?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, you know, I forgot my crystal ball, so I don't -- I can't predict what inning the game will end in.

Yes, sir.

Q    On the immigration meeting today, originally it was billed as a small, bipartisan leaders meeting on this issue.  It's turned into 30 members of Congress, of which 26 support a path to citizenship.  And Representative Steve King, who's the top Republican on the Immigration -- House Immigration Subcommittee, was left out.  How was that list devised?  Why did it grow?  And can anything get done in a meeting with 30 people?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  One, two, three, four, five, six -- (laughter).

Q    We know the answer to that.

Q    We rest our case.  (Laughter.)

Q    Exactly.  Has anything ever gotten done here?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  Look, there's 535 members of Congress.  Thirty of them I think constitutes, in a very quick manner, less than 5 percent of Congress.  I think that --

Q    A little more.

Q    Fifteen.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  You guys wonder why I'm not at, like, the Department of Math?  (Laughter.)  But I think if you look at the list of people, there's a pretty diverse cross-section.  There's members from both sides of the aisle.  I don't -- this isn't the first meeting where immigration has been a big -- has been the big topic.  I doubt it will be the last.  And I think a number of people that are important to the debate are in this meeting.  But I don't think a meeting of -- I don't think if you have a meeting of 30 people that denotes that you can't or won't get something done.

Q    But in leaving Steve King, the top Republican on the subcommittee that deals with this in the House, off, what's the message there?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the answer to why he's not on there.

Yes, sir.

Q    You mentioned a subject for the meeting with the Chancellor, also Guantanamo and possible detainees.  Is there any move on the American side, because as far as I understand, Europeans have two conditions.  First of all, there should be -- if detainees are moved to other countries, especially European countries, first of all they shouldn't be a danger to our security; and second, if they do that, that the Americans are also willing to take Guantanamo detainees into the states.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think if you look at -- and I don't have it all in front of me -- I think the European Union put out a statement on this within the last 10 days.  I think you've seen -- obviously Italy came here and said they were going to take three detainees.  I think Spain has said that.  I think Portugal has said that.  I think there's been a lot of progress on this issue -- some of it maybe not quite getting out to everybody or the coverage on it being out to everybody.


Q    Thanks.  On health care, sort of a two-parter.  Last night on the ABC special, the President did make it a point to draw a distinction between taxing all health insurance benefits versus taxing the Cadillac portions of health insurance benefits, while he maintained that it's still not his choice.  Could you characterize for us, is he -- would you say that his appreciation for the possibility of this is increasing?  Is it more likely?  Do you think that Americans should be prepared for the chance that this will probably happen, or do you think it's totally up in the air?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would point you to members in Congress that are writing the legislation.  I think, as the President said last night, I continue to believe it would be the wrong way for us to eliminate -- it would be the wrong way for us to go; continue to believe it's not the best way to do it. 

I think the President has outlined $950 billion in savings that he believes is a better way to go about paying for it.  I think what the President was doing, based on the question, was explaining what had been proposed in the campaign and what Congress was talking about.  But I think he was pretty clear in his other statements about what he thinks is the best way to do it.

Q    My quick follow-up question was, I read an interesting story about the First Lady's getting a new chief of staff and wanting to become more involved in things.  And I'm wondering, on any level, should we be looking for her increased presence in the health care debate?  And can you talk about how you guys are thinking about that?  Maybe wanting to avoid mistakes made back in '93 or lessons learned or whatever, but can you talk about whether she'll have an involvement at all?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think there are a series of issues that the First Lady has cared about deeply for quite some time, one of which you saw today which was national service -- or service in general, I should say.  Obviously throughout the campaign she spent quite a bit of time with military families.  That's a passion of hers.  And I think as a former health care professional and as a mother, I think she's obviously had interest in wellness, prevention, and things like childhood obesity.  And I would expect that she will continue to spend her time speaking out on the issues that she's passionately interested in.

Q    But on the passage of a bill?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think on those topics, and I think you've seen her talk about those topics as it relates to health care reform.  Obviously prevention, wellness, obesity are all I think key aspects to what the President believes is the ultimate goal of health care reform, and that is to create a healthier society.


Q    Center for American Progress this week put out a report on how to undo "don't ask, don't tell" -- five steps.  The first step is, the President signing an executive order banning further military separations based on "don't ask, don't tell" and sending a legislative proposal for the repeal to Congress, and then forming a presidential panel on how to implement the repeal.  Can you tell me why the White House doesn't believe that seems to be the way to go?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has had meetings about this, has talked with members of Congress.  His staff has talked with members of Congress.  All of them have talked to Pentagon officials and the administration believes that this requires a durable, legislative solution, and is pursing that in Congress.

Q    I understand that for the long-term solution, but what do you take issue with about signing an executive order that will suspend the separations before an endurable solution is reached through the slow legislative process?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, I think there could be differences on strategy.  I think our belief is that the only and best way to do this is through a durable, comprehensive legislative process.

Q    Can I follow up on that?

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    Thank you.  So there was a letter sent last week from 77 members of Congress that went about having this interim solution just slightly differently, not actually doing an executive order, but asking the President to implement -- or asking the President to qualify and tell the Department of Defense to implement the policy slightly differently, which is to not investigate whether someone is gay when they are told on, of course, "don't ask, don't tell."

This does not require an executive order.  It's a change in how the Department of Defense does the regulations and actually whether or not they investigate these allegations.  Does that seem like something -- and it's an interim step -- I mean, the members of Congress that were advocating for this suggested it as an interim step until congressional members could actually push through the legislation to full repeal.

MR. GIBBS:  I have not -- I have not seen and have not heard about that letter.  Let me find out who might have that and examine what's inside of it in terms of -- I'd have to look at the process before I have a better sense of the effectiveness of the interim step. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Could you talk a little bit about the job that Dennis Ross has been doing, now that the sort of mystery of his appointment has been revealed?  He seems to have quite a wide geographical responsibility.  Is there any danger that this could come into conflict with some of the other special envoys that are already operating in these areas?  Is there any danger that foreign countries may not know who's the go-to guy on these various issues? 

MR. GIBBS:  No, I mean, obviously Dennis is a valued member of the President's team.  He will have a portfolio as a special assistant to the President and be senior director for the central region that largely extends -- encompasses the Middle East, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and South Asia.  There are a number of people that will work directly with Dennis on different aspects of that wider region.  And Dennis will report to Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  I think if you look at all of the regions that are encompassed in that larger framework, you have different parts of the Middle East -- Iran and Iraq, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  You've got a number of very important places in our foreign policy and in our national interests. 

So I think what the President has done is simply add to a very strong national security team with Dennis and I think -- I can assure you, given the list of countries, that they'll be plenty busy.  I don't think that anybody should, though, believe that this will conflict or supersede the important work that special envoys are doing on the ground in many of these places, even as somebody is here at the White House coordinating a series of people dealing with an important region of the world.


Q    Robert, a few questions.  I want to go back to the Cairo speech a bit.  What was the anticipation from this White House and how it would affect --

Q    (Inaudible.)  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you, April.  I'm going to get mad at Helen.  She made a joke.  (Laughter.)  Okay, I'm ready.  I'm sorry.

Q    Dunk tank.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead, I'm sorry.  I wasn't --

Q    We're all going to nominate April.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you.  I would love to do that.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Twenty dollars for charity, you can take your throws.  (Laughter.)

Q    All right.  Again, going back to the Cairo speech, what was the anticipation of this administration on how would it affect the election margins in Iran when the President gave it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the speech wasn't either intended to -- I mean, the speech was a comprehensive look at our dealing and our relationship and the President's desire to better that relationship with the Muslim world.  It was not done or not timed for the benefit of one country's election.

Q    Well, according to a White House -- well, an administration source -- they said that the margins were affected in some way, they just don't know by how much.  And even RNC Chair Michael Steele said that the speech empowered so many in so many ways.  When you went into the speech, you didn't think that it could or couldn't -- I mean, maybe the focus wasn't to do that, but do you --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think we hoped and I think -- I think we obviously hoped that the greater Muslim world would see in the President and in the President's approach a change in how we looked at that part of the world.  How that impacted or affected different areas, I don't know.  I don't know precisely in terms of -- and I'm not sure how one would measure exact swings in vote patterns. 

I do think if you -- I do think the administration feels like we are making progress.  The view of the United States in that part of the world seems to be improving, and I think observers have talked about the notion that the President's speech has already begun to pay some dividends as it relates to that.

Q    Okay.  And also, Michael Steele, speaking of him, he wants to have a meeting with the President.  He wants to talk to him about health care and a whole host of issues, especially since this administration has had such a wonderful Republican outreach.  He wants to be one of those that public and the President reaches out to.  What do you say?

MR. GIBBS:  You guys want to take a turn at him in the dunk tank, too?  (Laughter.)  I don't --

Q    Thank you.

Q    I'm not finished.  Wait a minute, Jen.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Careful, careful.

Q    You can stay, we'll go.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I think the President has Republicans here at the White House today.  I'd be interested to know what -- whether Mr. Steele believes that we can make progress working together or if the tone of his rhetoric is something that might prevent him from working constructively with the President of the United States.

Q    And my last question real quick.  There was a resolution by John McCain coming out of the Senate for the President to pardon the late black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was sent to prison nearly a century ago because of his romantic ties with a white woman.  Do you have any comments on that?  What are your thoughts about that?  They want the President to pardon this.

MR. GIBBS:  I will -- I can take a look at that.  I don't have anything on that.


Q    Thank you, Robert.  I have two quick ones on health care.  The first one, in the speeches about the $80 billion deal with the pharmaceutical companies, I haven't heard anything about negotiating price -- Medicare negotiating price with the pharmaceutical industry.  I wanted to know if that was one of the tradeoffs for getting this $80 billion was that we're not going to pursue that now.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, the structure of part of that agreement was to use a portion of that $80 billion to pay up to -- for the pharmaceutical industry to pay up to 50 percent of the cost for a name brand drug for a senior that falls between the point at which Medicare Part D stops providing help, and when catastrophic coverage -- I think it is $6,500, a little bit more than $6,500 -- level kicks in.  So filling in that -- what's commonly known as -- ironically, in health care -- the doughnut hole, about -- that up to 50 percent of the name brand -- the price for that name brand drug would be paid for, and I think that provides a hefty discount that will bear appreciable benefits for seniors all over the country. 

Q    Has there been an agreement not to pursue a Medicare --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the answer.

Q    I'm talking about S. 330.

MR. GIBBS:  What was that?

Q    Senate bill 330?

MR. GIBBS:  You're 330 bills ahead of me on that.  (Laughter.)  I will check on it.

One more, and I'll get back to my day job.

Q    Following up on Mark's question on the rationing.  There are pretty well established health industry guidelines on medical policy now.  Would you expect that the public option would deviate significantly from those?  And if so, would they be stricter or less strict?

MR. GIBS:  Well, no, again, I think, you know, the public option is simply one more -- one more addition of choice for those that, as I talked about yesterday, don't have access to coverage at work or find themselves on the individual market that -- but find the system unwieldy and far too expensive.

But I think the -- I mean, I think you saw the President use examples last night:  the Mayo Clinic; I think one of the hosts used the example of Safeway grocery stores as places that are providing incentives not to -- to move away from payment for each and every test conducted, but instead to pay for the health outcomes of their patients.  The President normally uses the example of, are we going to invest some money to treat somebody so that they don't get diabetes, rather than paying a specific reimbursement for an amputation of the part of a leg that's normally the result of diabetes?  That's the type of change in positive health outcomes that will benefit, greatly benefit, consumers of medical care, and make the system cheaper for everybody.

Thanks, guys.

Q    Thank you.

3:32 P.M. EDT

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