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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/15/09

4:05 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon.  Welcome to the midnight briefing here at Casa Blanca.  Whenever we brief past happy hour it should be -- all right. 

Sir, take us away.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Can you tell us a little bit about what the President said when he met with Senate --

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  The President opened up the meeting.  They had a -- he spoke for some period of time about what is -- the importance of getting this issue done; that for generations we've talked about reforming our health care system and we're on the verge of making it happen.  The President went through what's in the bill, as you heard him do in his statement, going through the fact that this is legislation that changes affordability and accessibility, that it bends the cost curve, that it helps our deficit, that it reforms insurance practices, that it provides greater coverage for 30 million Americans.  And the President walked through why he didn’t think there was any better time than now to get this done.

Q    Did he weigh into any of the specific negotiations, the different versions that different senators are offering up?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, there wasn’t a roll call at the meeting in terms of voting.  I think it's safe to say that after the President spoke there was Q&A from -- Q&A and comments from members from across the political spectrum in the Democratic Caucus.

Q    Did he leave the meeting more or less optimistic?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President left, as he said to you all, the meeting cautiously optimistic that we'd get something done.

Q    But more or less?

MR. GIBBS:  I think more optimistic.  I think that he believes we are closer to getting this done than we ever have been.  And he'll continue to work through this process until we see it through.

Q    Were all 60 there?

MR. GIBBS:  I do not believe Senator Byrd was there, and I'm not sure that Senator Johnson was there.

Q    Senator Lieberman?

MR. GIBBS:  Senator Lieberman was there.

Q    Robert, when does the administration now want or expect to close Guantanamo Bay?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a date certain to give you.  I know the President believes that we've continued to make progress.  Obviously the announcement today that the President has instructed the Bureau of Prisons to begin the purchase of the Thomson facility in Illinois is a big step in that process of closing Guantanamo Bay. 

Q    Can you give us any more details about how many prisoners will be transferred to that prison?  Senator Durbin said roughly 100.  Does that ring true?

MR. GIBBS:  That's -- I wouldn't get in the way of contradicting him.  I would say that obviously there's a -- there will be a process by which -- well, there's a process, obviously, ongoing now to review files.  As you know, those that can be safely and securely transferred either back to their home country or to a third country, more of those transfers have taken place in the past eight months than have taken -- than took place in the previous eight years.  So that process will continue.  Determinations, as you know, will be made at the Department of Justice as to the venue for trying those that need to answer for their actions, and they're going through those files as we speak.

Q    When you say you won't contradict him, does that mean that figure is roughly correct?

MR. GIBBS:  I wouldn't -- I'd go with -- I'd quote Senator Durbin on that -- how about that?

Q    Can you explain why that particular facility has been closed for the last eight years, I think? 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think it was honestly built in a different budget era in Illinois.  Governor Quinn and others can probably speak to this.  I will tell you this, it's not the only facility in Illinois like it that has been built and isn't currently housing inmates. 

Q    There is an overpopulation of prisoners in this country right now, right?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if that's true in the federal facilities.  Obviously, that is true in some state facilities -- obviously California comes to mind, based on budgetary problems that they've certainly had.  I think one of the things that this is -- if you look at some of the people that have supported today's decision, you have taxpayer advocates that understand that the price of operating a facility in Guantanamo is probably about twice as expensive as it would be to operate a facility in Thomson.

Q    Do you have a price for what it would cost to operate the Thomson facility?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a -- in terms of -- I think it's roughly -- in the briefing that I had, it was half of what it currently -- roughly half of what it currently cost to operate Guantanamo Bay.

Q    Do you have a figure for that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a total figure.


Q    Does the President understand at all those who have concerns, security concerns about up to 100 detainees at Guantanamo Bay -- (cell phone rings) -- oh, I'm sorry --

MR. GIBBS:  I like that you still checked it.  That was -- (laughter.)

Q    I think it's from the White House, and it says "private number."  You're the only person who --

MR. GIBBS:  Somebody is trying to change --

Q    It might be you -- I think you're doing a little bit of hoodwinkery.  (Laughter.)

So, anyway, does he understand at all the concerns that some Americans have about whether or not this puts Illinois in any sort of jeopardy security-wise, one hundred or so detainees coming to one facility?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think what we have to do, Jake, is separate what might be legitimate concern with what is nothing more than scare tactics and hyperbole that we haven't seen in quite some time, even in a glorious town like Washington.  Understand that there are I think more than 350 prisoners convicted of terrorist acts currently serving in prisons in the United States.  Let me get the list of --

Q    They're not all in one facility, they're spread out all over.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  But understand that just alone in -- see if anybody recognizes these names currently housed in a supermax facility in Colorado -- I would say nobody has ever gotten out of one of these prisons -- Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber; Terry Nichols, the co-conspirator of Oklahoma City; Zacarias Moussaoui, the other hijacker; and Richard Reid, who tried to light his shoe on fire that contained a bomb to blow up a 767 over the Atlantic. Those are all housed in one facility. 

Understand also the President has great confidence in the military of this country.  Those are the people that operate Guantanamo Bay.  Those are the people that would operate a facility at Thomson.  I think if there are concerns for security reasons, I would hope some of those people would address why they think the military can do what they're doing at Guantanamo and can't do it at Thomson.

I will say this.  I have seen some far crazier comments today -- comments from people like John Boehner.  Here's what I would suggest for John Boehner.  Call up Leon Panetta or Denny Blair at the CIA or the Director of National Intelligence.  Ask them if he can come down and watch a video put out by al Qaeda senior leadership like -- the names that we recognize -- Zawahiri.  Thirty-two times since 2001, and four times this year alone, senior al Qaeda leadership and recruiting videos have used the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a clarion call to bring extremists from around the world to join their effort.

Closing Guantanamo Bay makes this country safer.  And if he's confused about that, or if anybody is confused about that, he can ask the Secretary of Defense in the previous administration, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the previous administration, the commander for Afghanistan and Iraq that oversees that region of the world from the previous administration, why they support closing Guantanamo Bay and support today's decision.

Q    In a conference call that the White House established earlier today, senior administration officials told reporters on the call that the goal of the Obama administration is to house those detainees in that fourth category, the ones who cannot be tried and yet cannot be released, of whom there have not been any identified as of yet and signed off by the President -- that the goal would be to ultimately house them at Thomson, and the administration will work with Congress to do that.  How would that be constitutional to indefinitely hold somebody in the United States without trial?

MR. GIBBS:  Understand that the President does not seek new authority; that under the auspices of the declaration from 2001, that would be allowable.  But understand this, Jake, what we have said is -- again, that's the collective decision of Congress -- not one individual, the President -- a collective body in Congress -- that would be and can be reviewed as it is now by the judiciary, and has been -- as you know, a number of the transfers have been required by U.S. courts that have said there's no reason to continue to hold this individual.  So there are certainly -- that is built into the newer regime that the President is moving forward on.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  We saw the First Lady emerging from the EEOB meeting with the President.  Was that a spontaneous decision for her to attend, and did she --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, she did not attend.  She was -- when I walked out and the President walked out, she was in West Exec. But she was not in the --

Q    In the meeting with the senators.

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think she was talking to, when I walked out, Senator Stabenow, and then the President walked over with her.

Q    If I could follow up on deficit reduction --

MR. GIBBS:  I will say that the First Lady told the President that I had let them off taking pictures tonight and then giggled and walked off over to the East Wing and left me to explain to the President that that was in fact not the case.  (Laughter.)

Q    On deficit reduction, there are some moderates -- Democrat moderates in the Senate who say they will only support a large increase in the debt ceiling unless there is a bipartisan deficit reduction commission -- legislation establishing a bipartisan deficit reduction commission.  Does the White House have a position on where that is?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously a number of things have been talked about.  You all have heard the President and his team talk about the concerns that they have about fiscal responsibility as we steer our economy toward recovery.  We share Congress's concern about the medium- and long-term effects of rising deficits and debt, and look forward to working with them to address how best to deal with those circumstances.  But I don't have anything specific or anything new on commissions.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    On Gitmo, isn't their recruiting appeal of Gitmo in terms of al Qaeda the policy of indefinite detention, which will continue, to some degree, at Thomson?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that -- understand that what the President has set forth in reviewing the files of those that are there is to bring justice on behalf of the American people to those that are in Guantanamo.  So that is -- again, reviewing those files, and if a court determines that there's no legal right to hold them, then we have worked with other countries to find -- either their home countries or third-party countries -- to transfer detainees that courts have decided or the committee has decided should not be held. 

Q    There's still a number that's non-triable, non-transferrable.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Also understand that there will be, as you've heard the Attorney General make decisions on trying certain detainees in military commissions, certain detainees in Article 3 courts.  And as the President said, there certainly are those that may fall into that other bucket.  But what the President has set out and what the President's team will do is go through each of those cases and ensure that for justice on behalf of the American people, whether it's in an Article 3 court or in a military commission, there are trials or commissions that take place to render punishment.

Q    On health care real quick.  Was part of the goal of this meeting to placate or mollify progressives who've really had to give up a lot in terms of the public option, now the Medicare buy-in?  Was the President trying to tell them this is worth fighting for?  I mean, Dean is now saying we should just kill the Senate bill, that this health care reform is not worth doing.

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I wouldn't argue medicine with Dr. Dean.  I would argue policy with him.  In 2004, Howard Dean as a candidate sought to build on an employer-based health care system in order to cover millions of Americans that currently lack coverage.  There are two differences between what the President is doing in 2009 and what Howard Dean proposed in 2004.  The biggest difference is -- well, the first difference is we have an increase in the number of uninsured.  The second biggest difference is we've added -- the bill is paid for; the bill reduces the deficit; the bill bends the cost curve; the bill adds insurance reforms. 

What people like Howard Dean wanted, what members of the Senate and the House want now is a mix of increased accessibility for the millions of Americans that go every day without the safety net of health insurance.  What others in the Senate and the House want are ways that we can control and contain costs for health care.  Those are currently contained in the Senate bill.

The President believes that whether you're on the left of the Democratic spectrum, or the right of the Democratic spectrum in the Senate, or concerned about health care in this country, that there is plenty to like in this legislation.

Q    And he has to convince -- he's trying to keep progressives on board?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- look, from what I read in the paper today -- I hate to single people out, but Senator Harkin is in the paper today, I think Senator Brown is in the paper, from Ohio, saying let's not be fooled -- there is a lot of stuff in this bill; let's not get sidetracked by -- and I think this is what the President said -- there's very little legislation that's passed that has each and every idea that each and every member of the Senate or the House wants to have in it. 

On balance does this legislation make a big difference in the lives of everyday working men and women?  It's not even -- it's not even a close call on that.

Yes, sir.

Q    Does the President agree with Senator Reid that there are consequences if this bill is not passed before Christmas?  And if so, what are the consequences?

MR. GIBBS:  Coal in your stocking.  Look, I think the President believes that we are at an important point.  I do believe the President -- the President said today we're never going to be in this position again.  Why wouldn't we take this opportunity to do what we've talked about for 70 years?

Q    Meaning that after Christmas we're going to be -- it's going to be harder --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't think -- the President didn't talk specifically about pre- or post-Christmas.  What the President talked about was seizing the opportunity now.

Q    But why would there be less opportunity, say, in the week after Christmas?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President would like to get this done.  I think the sooner we get legislation through the whole of the Senate, the sooner we start a process of conferencing two bills together and getting something more quickly to his desk.

Q    Just quickly, a month or two ago when people talked about a second stimulus, you would say, let's give the first stimulus a chance to work.  Now --

MR. GIBBS:  I think it's -- by the way, I think in many ways if you look at forecasts that are put together by economists throughout the economy, I think they would render the judgment, by the way, that if you look at third quarter growth alone, that that is a heavy result of the stimulus and recovery plan that went into effect.

Q    Well, a lot of the stimulus doesn’t hit until tax season -- that's when people get their refunds.  And a lot of the so-called shovel-ready projects will actually -- probably see them taper off in the spring.  So why are we talking about a second stimulus now?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, you haven't heard the President talk about a second stimulus.  You heard the President discuss targeted ideas that he believes and the economic team believe will have a positive impact on private sector hiring, and creating an environment that will allow the private sector to make those hiring decisions positively.

Q    So it's not a stimulus?

MR. GIBBS:  The President hasn't called it that and I don't believe it is.  Understand this -- we have this legislation split by -- roughly in buckets of a third, a third, and a third.  There were tax cuts.  There was aid to state and localities primarily through things like FMAP.  And then there were projects like infrastructure, and that sort of were in that third bucket.

All of that was designed not to spend out in one quarter.  It was designed to spend out over a two-year period of time.  Nobody wanted to see a one-quarter jolt for a problem that we knew was not going to be rectified in one quarter. 

And I have to say I'd admonish people that -- I heard this throughout Sunday show broadcasts, this notion that somehow only 20 percent of the money has been spent.  I think we've been over this before.  I think we're doing some briefings in the next couple of days.  The notion of spent money and obligated money, obligations that cause a shovel-ready project to hire a contractor, and for that contractor to hire workers to implement that project, puts people to work.  Though that doesn't meet the technical definition of what is spent, it falls under the umbrella of "obligated" -- and we feel and see that in the economy today.


Q    Robert, the President says we are closer than ever to health care reform, but does he make the argument that it's now or never?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he believes that we are never going to have an opportunity as good as the one we have right now.

Q    But nobody is saying that he would --

MR. GIBBS:  Plus, he was actually standing next to --

Q    If he didn't get it this year, he is not going to give up -- is that what you're saying?  I can't imagine that it is.

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President believes he's going to get it.  I think the President believes that we have legislation that meets all the principles that many have been working for, for decades.  We have the political will to do it, and we'll get it done.

Q    Why is Gitmo twice as expensive as another prison?

MR. GIBBS:  I will certainly get a better answer from those guys.  Obviously, it's simply a facility that took a lot to construct and a lot to operate.

Q    Can you give us a little more on the conference call the President had with Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown on Copenhagen, how they're going to coordinate their strategy?

MR. GIBBS:  As you know, the President talked with Prime Minister Brown, Chancellor Merkel, and President Sarkozy about the climate change negotiations that are currently going on in Copenhagen.  This conference was one of a number of conversations that the President has held with leaders from around the world in the last few days.  We did a readout of his calls with leaders of Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

The President reviewed efforts by the United States on climate change, reiterated his commitment to making progress towards a successful conclusion of an operational agreement in Copenhagen.  Other leaders described efforts that Europe was making -- and I don't want to read out what they talked about -- all committed to working together.  And, obviously, they will be all getting together in the coming days, and the President believes that we can get, as I said, an operational agreement that makes sense in Copenhagen over the next few days.

Q    Are they on the same page, strategy-wise?  Is this -- I mean, are they all going to be pursuing all-for-one, one-for-all type thing between those four?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, there's a myriad of different debates that are going on with different subgroups of the international community.  I think the President has been clear in setting forth a robust goal for the United States to meet by 2020.  We have voiced our support for financing through 2012.  And we have worked with China and India to bring them along in this process to the point where they have now released specific goals for decreasing their carbon intensity between now and 2020. 

Obviously, there are issues that exist.  You saw -- I think all of you saw the op-ed by Secretary Clinton, which laid out our concerns about transparency about any agreement.  And the President believes that to get an agreement that is truly operational, that we have to have that transparency.  That's one of the things that he'll work on as we go forward.

Q    Quick clarification, maybe it's because in one of the readouts from the other countries -- so Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. will be working together, but it's not like they're going to have one coordinated strategy, is that --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't want to get into what the three of them talked to the President directly about.  I'll let those countries read out for themselves what their leaders talked to the President about.

I believe that all of these countries share the strong goal of getting something done by the end of this week in Copenhagen.  The President certainly shares that and believes that we can make progress assuming we meet some of those operational goals.

Q    Back on the Thomson Correctional Center, since it seems from what you and others have said that there will be a number of detainees who will not have a trial, would that not create the possibility of a rallying point by the same people that you say are now using the Cuban Guantanamo as a rallying point?  Why wouldn't that be the case, since you will be having people held indefinitely?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, first of all, nobody will ever be able to use -- once the President fulfills his promise, no one will ever be able to use, to the degree to which they're using right now, Guantanamo Bay as a rallying call.

First and foremost, understand this, since Guantanamo Bay was opened -- I forget the exact number; I don't know why I forget whether it's two or three -- that went through some sort of judicial process, either through a military commission or an Article 3 court.  Two or three.

We have transferred those that courts have said shouldn't be held back to either their home country or third-party countries.  We have designated Mr. Gilani, who currently sits in New York awaiting trial for his role in embassy bombings in Kenya; the Attorney General has designated perpetrators to serve -- to seek -- that justice will be sought in a military commission, and some that will be tried, including those like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that participated in the planning for and the masterminding behind September 11th.

I don't think that anybody will ever be able to use, to the same degree that's happening at Guantanamo Bay right now, once that facility is closed and the process for seeking justice on behalf of the American people, that process begins -- understand that that process never actually began.  That was just simply a holding facility.

Q    So I understand that it might not be to the same degree, but could an Illinois Gitmo become a symbol as long as you have people held there --

MR. GIBBS:  I think it's called Thomson, but --

Q    What did I say?

MR. GIBBS:  Illinois Gitmo, which I don't -- the tourism department thanks you for your snappy suggestion for their green and white sign.  (Laughter.)

Q    The Thomson facility -- and I understand what you said -- as long as it does hold detainees, even at a lesser degree, could it still not become a rallying point for --

MR. GIBBS:  Not nearly to the degree -- not in any way, shape, or form nearly to the degree that currently exists.

Q    Can you just clarify, you said the President is not seeking authority, but on the conference call earlier, administration officials told us that he will need a change in law.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, what I'm saying -- I'm sorry, let me be more specific.  New authority for any long-term detention.  In other words, since Congress has authorized that as a result of -- in 2001, the President isn't seeking new legislative authority to do that.  That is still the -- that's still -- any decisions that are ultimately made about detention can be reviewed by the judiciary.

There's no doubt, Sam, that the supplemental language and other appropriations bills that have yet to be signed into law that prevent detention from happening now will need to be changed, and the President will work with Congress in order to change any law that prevents a facility at Thomson from being used.

Q    And for funding?

MR. GIBBS:  And for funding, absolutely.


Q    Robert, when Secretary Clinton said yesterday that the years spent reaching out to Iran produced very little, do you agree that that's true, or has there been some benefit of the open hand approach to Iran?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the remark you're referring to.  If you look back -- if you look at where we are now with our partners in the P5-plus-1, particularly our Russian counterparts, and you look at where we were with our Russian counterparts more than a year ago, about whether or not we were all moving together towards the next steps that must take place if time runs out and the Iranians decide not to live up to their international responsibilities, I don't think anybody can look at that situation and say that we haven't made dramatic progress in bringing the world forward.

I think that -- if you look at the IAEA offer around the research reactor, there was a very clear choice for the Iranians either to demonstrate to the world that their program was not a nuclear weapons program, but instead what they maintained was a peaceful program; or whether they were going to tell the world through their actions that what they sought for their nuclear program was something different.  I think that decision isn't made by the IAEA, it was made by the -- it was made in the response by the Iranians.

Again, I don't think anybody could look at the situation and not believe that we aren’t in a different place with the international community.  I think one has to only look at the statements of our P5-plus-1 partners or look at the strength and the unity and the vote -- including Russia and China -- around the board of governors decision to actively sanction Iran and for the first time call for the dissolution of their nuclear program.  I think that represents real and genuine progress that the President believes will pay dividends in the coming weeks.

Q    On health care you said that Senator Lieberman was in the meeting.  Was there any interchange between the President and Senator Lieberman?

MR. GIBBS:  Senator Lieberman spoke.  I will direct you to his office as to the way he saw the bill.  I would say that I don't think the President would come out and say he was optimistic if he hadn't heard what Senator Lieberman said.

Q    Robert, will all Gitmo detainees who are getting a military commissions trial go to Thomson?

MR. GIBBS:  I think it is -- I don't know that every final decision has been made.  But the decision the President made to close Guantanamo Bay, we would not keep open a section of that facility in order to conduct military commissions.  There is a facility there at Thomson that could be used for military commissions.  I think the plan for the Bureau of Prisons would likely be to construct another facility to do motions, in addition to those military commissions, and that that facility could serve both functions.

Q    And that's also within the Thomson facility, right?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    And what is it currently, the one that would be used for --

MR. GIBBS:  Right now it's currently being -- the commissions -- the motions and the process for those commissions take place at Guantanamo.

Q    No, at Thomson, what is within Thomson --

MR. GIBBS:  There's a facility, a courtroom-like facility that could be used for those activities.

Q    And so all Gitmo detainees who are coming here for indefinite or long term detention would go to Thomson as well, is that right?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, that's the -- those files would -- you could go through those files, but the action that the President took today is to seek purchase of that facility for the movement of detainees from Guantanamo.

Q    And will detainees convicted by military tribunals serve their time in Thomson?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check with the lawyers exactly on that.  I know that if you were tried in an Article 3 court, upon every conviction you're given a security rating -- if somebody is convicted and they go to a minimum-security prison or medium-security prison or maximum-security prison.  So you could -- you could conceivably be tried in an Article 3 court and transferred to the supermax facility in Colorado or at Thomson.

Q    And if I could just ask one last question:  I know you don't have a date for emptying Guantanamo, but is it possible to say what the earliest might be that the detainees would be arriving?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check and see if they have anything.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  The defense appropriations bill is coming up, and there is talk on Capitol Hill of attaching Senator Akaka's native Hawaiian government reorganization act, which as you know is very controversial.  Critics say it creates a special status for native Hawaiians, permitting them to sue the federal government.  Is that something the President intends to sign, if it's attached to the defense bill?

MR. GIBBS:  I will get some clarity on -- I have not talked to legislative affairs about Senator Akaka's legislation and whether that would be part of DOD.

Q    Is that something that the President favors separately?

MR. GIBBS:  I believe he has cosponsored that in the past as a member of the Senate, but I have not -- we've talked about Hawaii, but not that part of Hawaii recently.


Q    Robert, at the health care meeting today, did the President have any message to other moderates beyond Senator Lieberman that perhaps the liberals have taken enough and that we shouldn't have to compromise the bill any further?  Was there anything along those lines?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President was clear with members of the Democrat Party and with independents that caucus with the Democratic Party that he's supportive of the Senate bill and believes that -- believes that there are a lot of things in this bill that will make our health care system far better, and seek far greater reform than anything we contemplate now.

Understand this, the President very clearly set forth what happens if we do nothing.  What do we know what happens:  More people will become uninsured, more businesses will drop their coverage, more people will be discriminated against by their insurance company.  I think the President -- his main message was there are -- this is a good piece of legislation that meets the goals that he set out and that many have campaigned for and worked for, for their many years in elected office and in the United States Senate.

Q    Did he say anything along the lines of he doesn't want to see any further changes to placate the moderate wing --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't recall him saying anything.

Q    And did he say anything about this should be enough with Medicare buy-in no longer there, public option no longer there -- did he say anything about trying to get Republican support so that he can claim that it's a bipartisan bill?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the President continues to reach out to and the President continues to have conversations, as do staff here, with Republicans on Capitol Hill about seeking their support, absolutely.


Q    Thanks.  There appears to have been some progress, perhaps as recently as today, on the START negotiations.  Are reports coming out of Russia that there might be a deal by the end of this week and possibly a signing ceremony in Copenhagen realistic?

MR. GIBBS:  We certainly hope that we continue to make progress on the negotiations, hopeful that it gets done soon; I don't know if it gets done this week.  Steven, I'll be honest with you, we are not planning currently for a signing ceremony in Copenhagen, and we are not planning to visit any nearby countries on that trip in signing a new START treaty.


Q    My question was largely answered, but I want to nail you down on this one aspect, which is --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, wait a minute --

Q    Why?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I'm kidding.  (Laughter.)

Q    Okay.

MR. GIBBS:  If I answered your question, why would we want to do it all over again?

Q    Because I need the face time.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  I hear you.  I was just thinking the same thing.  (Laughter.)

Q    But to nail you down on this one thing.  Earlier you talked about the message that the President had to Howard Dean and other progressives that this is not worth sinking over one provision not being in the bill -- that there's so much good in this bill that it needs to pass.  And I guess the question that we all have is, is the same message applicable to people like Senator Lieberman, who are threatening to derail the entire product because one thing is in it that they don't like?

MR. GIBBS:  Look -- yes, the President was clear with -- again, the President was clear with members of the Democratic Caucus, those that caucus -- independents that caucus with the Democrats.  I think you heard -- well, I certainly heard people that you would say are -- you would align to moderates in the Democratic Caucus and those that you would align to more progressives in the Democratic Caucus, who spoke out in favor of this legislation and in voting for it and in moving it forward.

(Cell phone interruption.)

MR. GIBBS:  That's awesome.  (Laughter.) See?  Maybe I should just say I hope you see it my way.  (Laughter.)

Q    The other part -- the other part of Dr. Dean's statement is that he wants to see the Senate start over and go through reconciliation, there's been a lot of talk about the use of that.  It seems like the White House is hesitant.  Will you put it to rest, you're not going to use reconciliation?

MR. GIBBS:  I will put to rest that the President believes that under the current course we will get health care legislation very soon out of the Senate that meets all of the important points that he believes have to addressed in health care reform.

Q    But aren't you saying that without the public option you could still meet those goals?  Because the President has said before that it's only a preferred choice.

MR. GIBBS:  But the President believes that the bill ought to contain choice and competition.

Q    Right, but could he do that without a public option?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President believes that, again, where this legislation is, is something that members from both sides of the caucus ought to and should support because it makes important progress that includes choice and competition.

I'll take one more.

Q    Thank you.  Robert, have you decided moving forward and have discussions begun with the House, since there will probably be some problems with the liberal wing of the party after this piece of legislation?

MR. GIBBS:  I think certainly the House has watched the debate back and forth in the Senate.  But a -- in terms of reconciling whatever legislation happens, that's the process that's not begun.

Q    You asked us to contact Senator Lieberman about his comments, but could you give us a little bit more on the President's comments to Senator Lieberman, maybe the tone?

MR. GIBBS:  Well -- no, no, Senator Lieberman spoke about what he saw was positive in the bill, the concerns that he had.  Again, I'll let -- I'll let Senator Lieberman tell you how he concluded.  The President's tone -- the President didn't address directly -- well, he answered questions.  Senator Lieberman didn't have a question for the President.  Senator Lieberman made a statement to the caucus about where he was on legislation.

Thanks, guys.

4:46 P.M. EST