This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Aboard Air Force One en route Andrews Air Force Base

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base

January 12, 2011
11:44 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: So I just wanted to give you guys -- Julie, you sent me an email about wanting to come back with a few more details, so let me give you a little bit of what I know.

The President first heard the story on the drive from University Medical Center over to the McKale Center from her husband. And what I understand happened -- and I talked with Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Wasserman Schultz -- Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz -- who were in the room with Nancy Pelosi. And they -- Senator Gillibrand had -- was holding her hand, and these are all personal friends of hers. So they’re talking about these personal experiences that they’ve had together as friends and with family and things like that. And during this process she began to -- she began to rub the hand of the senator.

And so it’s obvious she’s -- it’s obvious that she’s hearing them. And at some point, she begins to try to open her eye. And this obviously hasn’t happened before, and as this is happening, many in the room are obviously getting quite excited. And she opens her eye, and she’s --

Q Eye singular or eyes plural?

MR. GIBBS: Eye, eye. I believe one eye is bandaged. And so she opens her eye and she’s trying to focus. And her husband says, if you can hear me, if you can -- you know, if you can respond, give me a thumbs up. And that’s when she raised her whole arm.

So -- and that’s a little bit of the back story on -- and again, the President heard this on the ride over, and her husband was okay with him telling that to the crowd. I think that was a pretty powerful moment.

Q Who conveyed it to the President?

Q Who told him?

MR. GIBBS: Her husband.

Q Okay, so he called in the ride over.

MR. GIBBS: He was riding -- excuse me, he was riding with the President in the limo, and with her mom over -- with the First Lady -- over to the memorial service.

Q And he had been in the room the whole time that the --

MR. GIBBS: He had been in the room the whole time. And he was in the room with the President and the First Lady.

Q Could you tell us a little bit more about what happened when the President was in the room with her? Did he hold her hand?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t have anything on that. Let me see if I can try to get that. I think there was -- obviously I think -- he spent some time obviously with her husband, and I think there was some of that. But I don’t -- I have no reason to believe that when they left she had been responsive.

Q Do you know about how much time passed between when the President was in the room and then when the --

MR. GIBBS: No, it would have been a fairly quick thing, because we were moving around pretty quickly. And I know that that group had gone to see a couple of her staff members who were there and who some of them know personally. So it was fairly quickly, I think.

Q So just to be clear, because it’s hard to hear, the President was not in the room at the time? This was separate with Senator Gillibrand, Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi in the room?


Q How long after the President’s visiting?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the exact timing. But I don’t think it was -- I don’t think it was a long gap of time.

Q This was when the President was still at the hospital? This was when the President was still at the hospital visiting other people?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, we had not left the hospital yet because her husband went with us in the motorcade. So it was probably -- I mean, at most it was -- it couldn’t have been more than half an hour.

Q And did those --

MR. GIBBS: And I think it was much earlier than that.

Q Did Senator Gillibrand and Nancy Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz, did they come with you to the arena for the speech, or did they stay there with Congresswoman --

MR. GIBBS: They left not long after what I just told you. And again, that’s gleaned not, obviously, from being in the room but from talking to Senator Gillibrand and Senator -- I’m sorry, Congressman -- woman Wasserman Schultz.

Q They’re on the plane right now?

MR. GIBBS: They’re on the plane now.

Q Would you see if they would want to come back and talk to us?

MR. GIBBS: I will see. I don’t know that they’re going to want to, but I’ll see --

Q Which arm did she raise? Was it her left arm, then?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer --

Q Did the doctors say anything about what this means going forward?

MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously -- again, this is according to the senator and the congresswoman, I think obviously the doctors were very pleased that something as significant as that had happened.

Q Just to be clear -- you may have said this -- but Mark Kelly told the story to the President on the way over?


Q And that’s when he --

MR. GIBBS: So after they left -- after we get in the motorcade -- so 6:50 p.m. Eastern, 4:50 p.m.-ish local time -- he’s riding over with the First Lady and he recounts the story to them.

Q To the First Lady?

MR. GIBBS: To the First Lady and the President.

Q And the President.

MR. GIBBS: Yes. And that’s when -- look, I think it was a -- I mean, obviously it was among the more powerful moments tonight.

Q Can you just talk briefly about how sort of the whole day was for the President? I mean, he seemed rather emotional and pretty touched by his meetings with everyone.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, look, I think if you read -- look, obviously this was -- look, I think this obviously has been on everybody’s mind since we first heard about it on Saturday. And I guess I’d point you to some of what he said in the Oval Office with Sarkozy, because I think in many ways -- I think he’s gone through thinking about this as the President, I think he’s gone through thinking about this as somebody who knew the congresswoman, and I think he’s gone through this, as I’m sure many of you guys have, as a parent might or a sibling might -- if you read some of the stories that -- about the victims that are still very, very hard to read. And I think he’s been thinking about this on a lot of different levels.

He had his first conversations with Cody Keenan, who was the writer on this, on -- would have been probably late on Monday. And what they usually do is the President will -- they’ll bring a laptop in and the President will download a little bit on what he’d like to say.

The President sent Cody -- excuse me, my voice is still bad -- sent edits back to Cody, which would have been this morning about 1:00 a.m. So he’s been working on -- he’d been working on the speech most of the day. They made edits even after we landed in Arizona.

So I think he was -- again, and I think he -- having watched him do this a lot, but it was clear that this was something he’d focused on and thought about, as I think all of us have, in different aspects of our lives and how much he wanted to largely discuss I think the characteristic of empathy and thinking about how we can -- how our lives can be better and the examples of what some of those that lost their lives in this accident can teach us.

Q Did he feel good about the speech?


Q Did he feel good about the speech?

MR. GIBBS: He did.

Q Do you know if he looked at similar eulogies by other Presidents at times of sort of crisis?

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard that he has, but I don’t know the answer to that.

Q Would you spell Cody’s name for us?

MR. GIBBS: It’s C-O-D-Y K-E-E-N-A-N. And I’ll double-check that, but I’m almost positive that’s --

Q Pride of the Big Ten.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, they -- a proud Northwestern fan.

Q Oh, Northwestern. All right, Northwestern.

MR. GIBBS: So that’s basically what I got. All right?

Q Thank you, Robert.

Q Thank you very much.

MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.

Q Did the President -- I’m sorry, just one -- did he spend any of the time on the way out there talking with any of the legislators who were onboard?

MR. GIBBS: I need to figure that -- he has spent -- he talked to some even when we got on the plane. So my sense is that he had an opportunity, as he would normally do, on a trip like this with a lot of folks, to spend some time on the way out. I don’t know the substance of the conversations.

Q Is there enough room for everyone up there? I mean, I know when Clinton brought people out to Oklahoma, there was standing room only.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say -- I mean, obviously this is -- generally we don’t travel with -- a bunch of our travel has happened obviously when Congress is in session, so it’s obviously -- it’s harder to bring folks like that. But there are folks here that -- we don’t normally manifest the conference room, which I think some of you guys have been in when we do some briefings on some of these trips. We don’t normally manifest people to be sitting in there. We have on this trip. So a bunch of the cabins are pretty full.

Q Are all three of the women who were in the room on the plane going home?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t believe -- I don’t believe that -- Ms. Pelosi is not, but the other two are.

Q There were some raised eyebrows about John Boehner attending a fundraiser in D.C. this evening and declining the President’s invitation to come to the memorial service aboard Air Force One. Any thoughts on that?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s appropriate for me to get into tonight.

Q What’s the First Lady doing? She seemed to be especially moved by the speech tonight.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think she -- I mean, I was standing with some of her staff, and obviously -- again, I think that -- I think when you hear some of the stories, particularly the really moving story of the nine-year-old girl, again, I think you think about this stuff as a mom. I know that when I first heard about the nine-year-old, I immediately started to think about my seven-year-old. And again, I’m sure a lot of people throughout the country have, in the sense of the randomness, the unspeakable senseless nature of something like that to happen to somebody so young and innocent and full of life. And I think that’s what -- I think that’s -- I think of these events, it’s the hardest thing to explain, to wrap your mind around, to come to an explanation of why.

And as the President said, there aren’t any answers to that. And we may never know. But I think that impacted her. And, look, I think it was a powerful event where there was a celebration of life, there was a celebration of -- and I think that’s all part of -- it’s all part of a natural grieving process.

All right?

Q The President isn’t doing anything public tomorrow. Is that -- what’s going on, do you know?

MR. GIBBS: I honestly have not -- I have not seen the guidance tomorrow.

Q It doesn’t have -- it has just the meetings with senior advisors and the briefing -- his own briefing --

Q And your briefing at 10:30 a.m. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I did know -- that’s about the only aspect -- that’s about the only aspect of the President’s schedule I knew. Yes, that’s good to -- yes.

Q You and Bill Daley are starting out on the right foot, you know?

MR. GIBBS: Very little sleep for the weary, I have a feeling tonight. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he was. I honestly just haven’t looked at the guidance.

All right? Thanks, guys.

11:57 P.M. EST