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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/22/09

10:25 A.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Hello, guys.  Good morning.  I thought -- last week we did a sort of happy hour briefing -- today we'd do sort of a brunch briefing.  Welcome to the last press briefing of the year.  I know many of you will be disappointed.

Q    Awww --

MR. GIBBS:  I know, the collective Christmas groans.  Lester, you'll have to save all those insightful questions for next year.  Today, my friend, is not Christmas.  (Laughter.)

Q    I'm hoping for Christmas spirit.

MR. GIBBS:  If you can't feel it from here, Lester, just come a couple rows closer.

Go ahead.

Q    A few quick things.  First on health care.  The President said this morning that his vacation plans are going to be contingent on the Senate vote.  Does that mean he'd stay in Washington through Christmas Eve? 

MR. GIBBS:  They are going to make a decision later this evening about when the President will leave.  As soon as we know the outcome of that decision, we will let you guys know.  But I don't -- nothing has been made -- no decisions have been made at this point.

Q    And then, second, on Iran, Ahmadinejad said this morning that the U.S. can set all the deadlines it wants, it doesn't matter to them.  Is that the same message that the U.S. is getting from its negotiators?  And if that is the case --

MR. GIBBS:  From its negotiators?

Q    With Iran on the nuclear deal. 

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think that the international community is united in this.  This is not something that the President has said.  This is not something -- or just that the President has said.  This is something that the members of the P5-plus-1 have said.  That's why we are at the point where we are now with the international community, waiting to see, and have been waiting to see for months, whether Iran will live up to its responsibilities.

Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline for the international community.  And I think all of those involved in the P5-plus-1 would encourage Iran to take that deadline as seriously as it's being taken by us to live up to their responsibilities.  It is in his control what Iran decides to do.

The offer that was put forward by the P5-plus-1 and by the IAEA that -- I think clarified for the world what Iran's intentions were.  Now they have to live up to those responsibilities, and if they fail to do so, the international community will act accordingly.

Yes, sir.

Q    OPEC met today and decided to hold their output targets unchanged.  So does the White House have any reaction to that?  And also, there is kind of a strong message coming out of OPEC that they are comfortable with oil prices in a range between $70 and $80 a barrel.  How does the White House feel about that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have any guidance on OPEC, but we'll try to get some from Energy and from NSC. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Once the Senate passes health care and the conference starts next month, how does the President see his role?  Is he just going to be a bystander and sort of a cheerleader, or is he going to be up to his elbows in it?  How is that going to work?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think the role that -- well, let me say one thing first.  I am not going to get into, from here now, getting into what that conference, what those negotiations may look like.  Obviously, we are hopeful that the bill will pass the Senate prior to the Senate leaving for Christmas, whatever day that -- whatever day they may decide that to be.  I think the bill has, as you heard the President yesterday say, has a number of overwhelmingly good benefits for the American people.

The President and his team will continue to play the role that they have throughout this process, John, and that is working with leaders in the House and the Senate, discussing with them policy options.  I think the role that he and his team have played up to this point has gotten us to the point where -- in all honesty, health care is not a matter of -- health care reform is not a matter of if; health care reform now is a matter of when.  And I think the President is enormously encouraged by that.

Q    Well, as you know, he's been criticized for not being more active by some people the past year and that he gave Congress too -- it's had too much -- 

MR. GIBBS:  He's been criticized for being too active and -- the one thing the President has resolved in the new year is not to let any of the criticism bother him.

Q    But when this goes to conference, he is going to be involved about as much as he has been in the past -- is that what you're saying?

MR. GIBBS:  John, we would not be at the point where we are today if it weren't for the President's everyday involvement in this.  I know there have been reports to the contrary.  I think the President believes that we've gotten health care reform right up to the point where, as I said a minute ago, it's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when.

Yes, sir.

Q    On Iran again, I'm wondering if now that Iran has sort of made its intentions clear that it doesn't plan to apparently abide by this December 31st deadline, has the White House then started making plans for the next phase, realizing that --

MR. GIBBS:  We began making those plans weeks ago, Dan, as you heard the President talk about on his trip to Asia.

Q    And so it's clear to the White House now that Iran is not going to back down?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that's an Iranian decision.  That's not a decision that we and the P5-plus-1 will make.  The decision for them to live up to their responsibilities is their decision.  We have offered them a different path.  If they decide not to take it, then the American -- our delegation with the P5-plus-1 will move accordingly.  Those preparations have begun.  Discussions have been had with leaders about those next steps at the U.N., as you know, in September in meetings with the President and the Chinese on his recent trip.  So we've begun to take those steps if China is unwilling to take -- I'm sorry -- if Iran is unwilling to pursue its responsibilities.

Q    As the President is winding down this first year in office, as he looks back over this year, is he at the point now where he can say, this is kind of what I expected, in terms of the fight for health care, for economic recovery?  Is it about what he expected, or much more difficult than he expected?

MR. GIBBS:  Expected how?  In terms of getting legislation through Congress?

Q    Getting what he wanted, the fight to get what he wanted -- is it about what he expected, or much more difficult?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think that the President was never under any illusion that anything was going to be easy.  We're talking about fundamental health care reform.  We're talking about fundamental change that will help, in terms of health care reform, millions have access to affordable health care; millions that have that access see their costs reduced.  We know that this is a good thing for our fiscal picture.  We know that whether you have insurance or you don't have insurance, important reforms about the way insurance companies treat patients are in this bill.  The Senate bill has some very strong provisions about -- that prevent insurance companies from padding their own pockets and medical loss ratio. 

I don't think the President was under any illusion that anything was going to be easy.  When he came into office on the 20th of January, we were looking at an economic picture that I think is fair to say had not been seen by a President likely since President Roosevelt.  And if you go back to that month -- we had 741,000 jobs lost.  The first quarter of 2009 saw a GDP reduction of more than 6 percent, an economic loss that had not been seen in almost three decades. 

The President was not under any illusions, again, that any of this stuff would be easy.  But I think he has focused domestically and in foreign policy on the ideas that he thinks will make this country safer, more secure, and get our economy back on a road to recovery.

Q    Just one quick thing.  Any reaction to the death of Ann Nixon Cooper, the 107-year-old woman who the President mentioned in his --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me talk to the President and I'll get something.

Q    On health care, on the contentious issue of abortion language, has the White House been talking with Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan?  And secondly, how confident is the President that some sort of compromise in the conference can be worked out that will satisfy all parties?

MR. GIBBS:  I will check with Legislative Affairs as to whether we've had any conversations -- I don't believe the President has talked to Congressman Stupak in the last few days. I don't know if staff have had conversations with him or not.

I don't want to get into, again, where some of these issues may -- how some of these issues may be hammered out in a conference.  I think it's better to let the Senate work their will and get us to a point where we would have those negotiations.  But again, I think the President is quite confident that we are going to be able to figure out how to make health care reform a reality.  Again, I don't think this is a matter of if, I think this is now a matter of when.  And the President looks forward to that.

Q    Robert, on the -- I want to get the President's take on some of the language that's been used in the last several days regarding the health care reform bill.  I don't know if you've heard that the chairman of the Republican National Committee twice yesterday said that the Democrats are "flipping the bird" at the American people. 

MR. GIBBS:  How much did that interview cost -- (laughter.)

Q    Oooh --

MR. GIBBS:  That wasn’t directed at Norah.  That was just simply directed at the RNC. 

Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Q    Is the language inappropriate?

MR. GIBBS:  I think if you look back -- just to give everybody some context as to why he came up with whatever verbiage he came up with -- this was I think predicated on the fact that he had in his mind deduced that the White House had pressured the Congressional Budget Office into coming up with statistics that were good for the bill.  I don't know how many questions I've been asked about CBO numbers in the past nine months.  I think it's -- the notion that somehow this White House is in cahoots with the Congressional Budget Office is delusional, to put it mildly. 

I would suggest this for the RNC and for anybody that's in the Republican Party:  There are millions of people that don't have health care this Christmas.  There are millions of people that are watching their health care rates skyrocket.  And instead of giving chippy interviews, it might be good to actually be part of negotiations and a solution to get health care reform -- to make health care reform a reality for the American people.  I think that's what they want to see from their two political parties in Washington.

Q    And then can I just follow up on John's questions about the President's involvement?  Because Senator Feingold said that the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle.  And I asked Chairman Dean about this yesterday, whether it was the administration's fault that the public option was not in there, and he said simply, "yes."  There are some Democrats who believe that the President did not push hard enough.

MR. GIBBS:  I think all those are certainly entitled to their opinions.  Again, we would not be at this point in health care reform were it not for the President's leadership.  We would not be at a point where we were a couple of votes away, not in people but in sequencing, to getting health care reform through the Senate.  At that point we will have -- (cell phone rings.)  Is somebody ordering a pizza?

Q    Steele.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Good, good.  (Laughter.)  Let me tell you, it's $30,000 if you answer that call.  (Laughter.) 

We will have health care reform through the House and through the Senate.  That's never happened before.  I think, again, we're at a place that we've never been.  We're closer to reform than we ever have been.  You saw David Axelrod and others over the weekend I think disagree with -- and I think, quite frankly, if you look at -- disagree with Dr. Dean, and I think if you go through what's in this bill and what's good for the American people, I think far and away this is a bill that will provide people with important protections and make health -- true health care reform a reality for the first time in 70 years.


Q    Can you talk a little bit about the President's meeting today with community and small bankers?  What is the message to them, and how is that message different than the meeting that he had with the big banks the week before?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously, there are -- this group probably represents several thousand small and community banks throughout the country.  The President wants to have a discussion with the bankers here about ways in which we can all work together, as he did with the bigger banks, to spur lending to small and medium-sized businesses.  The President will again reiterate his support for comprehensive financial reform. 

I think those are the two main things that will be on the President's list.  Obviously, some issues like compensation are less of an issue for these banks.  We'll have a more fulsome readout of the meeting.  I think it's taking place right now. 

Q    And does he believe that the small and community banks are as reluctant to lend as the big banks?  Does he fault them for that?  And does he --

MR. GIBBS:  These meetings aren't about -- finding fault with somebody doesn't help somebody get a loan.  We want to figure out how to work with small and community banks.  We want to figure out ways in which the environment for lending to these small and medium-sized businesses, where that can be conducive for these banks.  And if there are things that we can continue to do to help that process, the President wants to hear it directly from them.


Q    Robert, do you have any examples of ways in which lending could be increased by these banks?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me get a full readout of the meeting once they conclude the meeting.  I don't think there's a lot that's done without hearing directly from what they talked about.

Q    So far this morning, you have said three times it's not a question of when, but -- not a question of if, but when the health care bill will be enacted.  Do you see no possible deal-breakers in conference?

MR. GIBBS:  I think -- I'm not saying that there aren't issues that have to be worked out.  I think, though, that there is significant and important momentum for health care reform.  I think evaluating this legislation in the many ways that it will help the American people -- whether you're lucky enough to have health insurance in this country; whether you want accessible, affordable insurance; whether you think it's time that the insurance companies have to change their actions as it relates to things like preexisting conditions; whether you're a small business that wants help; or whether you're concerned about the fiscal picture of the federal government -- this bill will help all of those groups.  And I think the President believes -- continues to believe that we're going to get health care reform passed, to his desk, and signed.

Q    Just a follow-up?  On the hacking at Citigroup, the cybersecurity breach, has the White House been briefed on this?  Is the President aware?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sure he saw the articles today.  I do not know whether he's been briefed by others on this or not.

Q    Is Schmidt on the job yet, or would this be something that --

MR. GIBBS:  Obviously he would have equities in that, as well as NEC and others.

Q    And on the debt limit, the House -- the Blue Dogs voted for it and a lot of them think they're negotiating with the White House for statutory PAYGO, which of course the President was for in June and for all throughout the campaign.  Is the White House negotiating in good faith with these White House Democrats?  Are they serious about enacting statutory PAYGO, attaching it to raising the debt limit?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously we've got -- the House passed a temporary raise in that limit through I think sometime in mid-February.  I'm not going to get out ahead of negotiations going forward.  Obviously the President and the White House are of course negotiating in good faith.  We share the concerns of many in the Blue Dog caucus and many in the Democratic caucus and the Republican caucus that are concerned about the fiscal health of our country.  I think --

Q    Is it on the table, though, in terms --

MR. GIBBS:  Lots of things are on the table.  I don't --

Q    You don't want to use this opportunity to negotiate --

MR. GIBBS:  When you get elected and join the Blue Dog caucus, Hans, we can do this right here.

Q    I don't have outfits for that.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not sure entirely sure the pants are going to work in caucus, but I don't want to dissuade you from trying. (Laughter.)

Q    A pink polka-dot shirt and a checkered tie.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  What color are your socks?  What color are your socks today?

Q    All right.

MR. GIBBS:  What color?  Come on, we're going to be transparent, we're going to be open.  (Laughter.)  What are we wearing today, Hans?  Show them to the world.

Q    Robert, my socks --

MR. GIBBS:  With your purple-striped tie.

Q    -- my socks are -- they're the color of your tie.

MR. GIBBS:  Excellent.  (Laughter.)  I rest my case. 

Major, with the snappy blue tie and hopefully darker socks.  Go ahead.

Q    Much darker.

MR. GIBBS:  Good, good.  (Laughter.)

Q    Which bill does the White House think is better for the American people, on health care, the House bill or the Senate bill?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not asked whether they've come to a conclusion as to what exact legislation is better.  I will tell you this, Major, I think in both bills you have many of the things that I've talked about in this briefing and many of the things that you've heard the administration talk about for months.  Each of these bills meets the principles that the President laid down in front of Congress and the American people back in a speech in September.  Comprehensive health care reform is in each one of these bills -- help with the skyrocketing cost of premiums; help with the cost of health care; help with affordable insurance; help with insurance reforms.  All of those things are in both of these bills, and the President looks forward to signing a bill making health care reform a reality.

Q    Two principal differences -- there are many, but two principal I'd like to ask you about.  The House bill of course has a public option; the Senate bill does not.  The Senate bill has a taxation system on so-called "Cadillac" health care benefit plans; the House has a surtax on the wealthy.  Which does the White House prefer?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, Major, I'm not going to get into the negotiations that will take place once the Senate passes a piece of legislation.  Those will happen when we --

Q    The White House at some point will offer an opinion?

MR. GIBBS:  As I said earlier, the President and his team will be involved in -- as they have been to get bills to this point -- in the negotiations to get a bill from that point to his desk.

Q    Does the White House prefer that these conference negotiations be carried out in public?

MR. GIBBS:  We're hopeful to get things done quickly and have something that the President can sign.

Q    Does it have -- I mean, you've mentioned throughout this debate a commitment to transparency.  Is now a time for transparency, or is speed a more important factor for the White House?

MR. GIBBS:  Getting something done for the American people is the most important thing that we can do for millions of Americans that struggle with the high cost of health care.

Q    GDP at 2.2, revised downward.  What's the economic team believe about this?  What did they tell the President about it, if they did offer an opinion today at the economic briefing?

MR. GIBBS:  We did not have an economic daily briefing this morning.  The President usually gets this information --

Q    -- which started at 10:20 a.m. so I apologize.

MR. GIBBS:  You and me both.  Look, I think obviously you've seen the number revised down, I think largely based on inventory. Again, I'd take you back to what we saw in the first quarter of the year, a GDP downturn that we hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.  We saw an increase in that -- just a slight lessening in the GDP in the second quarter.  And now we've seen positive growth for the first time in over a year in each of the numbers that were put out for the third quarter.  And we're certainly hopeful to continue a trajectory for the economy that we've seen over the past few quarters.

This is -- as I've said countless times, this was not a problem that was going to be solved overnight.  We didn’t get here overnight --

Q    Satisfied with --

MR. GIBBS:  We are -- I don't think the President will be satisfied until we see not just positive economic growth, but positive economic growth that leads to positive jobs growth; and that the millions of people that want to find work and can't right now in this country will be able to do so.

Q    One last quick one on health care.  McConnell said yesterday the deals tied in the last few days to procure the necessary 60 votes were "smelly," among other adjectives.  Does the White House consider anything that they saw play out within the Senate caucus in any way objectionable?

MR. GIBBS:  I'd refer you to what David said over the weekend, which is the legislative is what the legislative process is and has been for several hundred years.  I think --

Q    Changing that part of legislation is not something the White House considered crucial in this debate?  I mean, the President often talked on the campaign about things that could be done differently.

MR. GIBBS:  Sure, right.  Well, I think one of the things that's going to be done differently is we're going to have health care reform in this country.  The President thinks that's an enormously good thing for the American people.

Q    Robert, over the weekend the White House issued a statement noting the death of Ayatollah Montazeri, and I don't recall any White House noting the death of previous leaders of the '79 revolution in Iran.  He's obviously a critic of Ahmadinejad and a prominent figure in the opposition.  Why did the White House choose to note his death?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would point you to what the President said in his speech in Oslo, and I would simply say that I think if you look at his actions post the revolution that you're talking about in order to seek greater human rights is something that we all support.  And I'd refer you back again to what we talked about earlier with Iran.  They have an opportunity to take steps to fulfill their international responsibilities.  We haven’t -- we not only haven’t seen that from the Iranians, we've actually seen throughout the course of this year and the past several years attempts to very much hide what their activities were. 

This administration, working through the IAEA and its allies, have taken steps to bring the international community along.  And if Iran fails to live up to its obligations by the end of the year, we'll take our next steps. 

Q    A quick follow.  Does the White House believe that this statement had an energizing effect on demonstrators who showed up in Qom around his funeral?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know.  I haven't heard directly from NSC on that. 

Q    Robert, can I ask about the budget that's coming up that I guess we're about a month and a half away from?  In his contracting remarks earlier this week, the President briefly spoke about it and said it requires some tough choices.  Has he actually said to the Cabinet chiefs, okay, you guys got to come back to me with savings?  Has he said, this is going to be an austerity budget and talked about things like spending freezes or anything like that?  Are there marching orders yet for that?

MR. GIBBS:  The President has been involved over the course of the last three or four weeks, probably four or five different budget meetings.  Obviously, Peter has worked with agencies about their budget requests for the next fiscal year.  And I think, though not all those decisions have been made, I think the President has expressed a concern -- twofold -- about continuing our economic recovery, doing what we have to do to create an environment where the private sector is creating jobs; and secondly, in the medium and the long term, take steps to greatly reduce our deficit and take the necessary steps to get ourselves back on a path toward fiscal responsibility.

I mentioned fiscal responsibility in health care not simply based on the fact that CBO reports that our budget situation will be -- this bill is not just deficit-neutral, it will actually improve our fiscal situation.  And, again, remember that we are having -- one of the reasons that this debate has taken so long is, unlike other things that have come down the pike in Washington over the past several years, the President made a commitment to pay for it.  The two biggest drivers in the budget deficit that we have right now -- I should say two of the three biggest drivers -- one is economic, just simple economic activity, which the President as I mentioned earlier is working hard to restore.  But the two biggest spending programs are 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that weren't paid for and a prescription drug benefit that wasn't paid for. 

Major talks about changing the way Washington works.  The President proposed comprehensive health care reform in this country, and then changed the way Washington works by actually talking about and paying for it, understanding that we have to take steps to get our country back on a path toward fiscal responsibility. 

Q    My question is about agency budgets that the President is going to have to submit shortly.

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.

Q    Has he told them it's time for an austerity budget?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get ahead of what the budget is going to look like in February.  But suffice to say, that it will not look as it has in the past.

Q    Robert, just two questions.

MR. GIBBS:  Just two, Lester.

Q    Only two.  First, does the President support Senator Akaka's native Hawaiian government reorganization act, creating a native Hawaiian government within the state of Hawaii?  And, if so, why not support statehood for American Indian reservations?

MR. GIBBS:  Are those -- is that both questions?

Q    No, no, that's one.

MR. GIBBS:  That's two questions.

Q    No, I said -- it's a one question.  I really have just one more, that's all.

MR. GIBBS:  That seems like three.

Q    No, no, no.

MR. GIBBS:  Are you sure?

Q    I'm positive it's only one, and it had two parts.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.  It was on the same thing.

MR. GIBBS:  Can I just contemplate that for a second, your two-part one question, Lester?

Q    You're a very funny man.

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I practice.  (Laughter.)  I will give you a one-part answer, which is, this was asked last week and I neglected to check on it.

Q    Okay, does the President believe that a flight attendant who directed passengers to adhere to the rules by turning off cell phones should be called a "bitch" by any U.S. senator?

MR. GIBBS:  We may need a couple of those flight attendants in this room to tell people to turn off their cell phones.  I think Senator Schumer has apologized.

Q    He didn't apologize until it was reported.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, if it wasn't reported, Lester, you wouldn't be asking your three-part question.

Q    That's right.  Thank you very much, and Merry Christmas to you.

MR. GIBBS:  Merry Christmas to you.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, there's a couple meetings with the NEC this week.  Is this with an eye towards some new proposals for the new year?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?

Q    A couple meetings with the NEC this week.  Are they cooking up something for the new year?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, they continue to talk about details for what the President talked about in his Brookings speech, to create -- to help that atmosphere to create jobs.  Some of those meetings have also been budget meetings that Mark talked about as well.  So those certainly continue.  I don't know if there are any on the books for tomorrow.  But they'll certainly continue throughout this week.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Now that we've finished the 2010 spending bill, I'm just wondering how you all viewed the process. The final two bills had about $8 billion in earmarks and obviously they had to do another omnibus.  So how would you guys evaluate the way things worked this year and what, heading into next year's budget, if anything, is the White House going to call on Congress to do differently?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of budgetary announcements that will be made when a budget comes up toward the beginning of February.

I said this I think last week whenever we were asked about this, that far from perfect, the legislation did have a reduction in earmarks, which the President believes is a good thing.  Obviously the President said at the beginning of the year that we'd like to see bills go through in regular order and done so in a more orderly way.  I think that was made much more difficult this year based on, in all honesty, we've watched the floor of the Senate be taken up by a series of delaying tactics which I think many would find curious, given the fact that delaying tactics normally follow bills that I think have passed, in one case 88-10; in another case I think it was something like 95-5 -- sort of unclear why people would delay a piece of legislation that ultimately passes 88-10.

Look, we'll certainly look for more congeniality and cooperation next year in making the process flow more easily.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  I have a question on the Navy SEALs case.  One of the SEALs were arraigned today, and I want to ask, does the President believe that court martial was the appropriate --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think the President should get involved in legal cases like this.  And if you have -- if you're looking for comment, I think either the Pentagon or the Department of Justice is a good place to be.

Q    And one second question.

MR. GIBBS:  Just one, right?  (Laughter.) 

Q    It's -- well, yes.  It's holiday related, actually. This is -- will the President be attending church on Christmas, and how is the search for a church going?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what the President's schedule is.  As I mentioned at the very beginning, some of that is up in flux. The President has, as you all know and as we've discussed, attended fairly regularly up at Camp David a church that he's comfortable in and has enjoyed attending.  The President also understands that whenever he does go to church it's, in many ways -- there are a number of inconveniences that other parishioners have to go through, and the President has tried in many ways to minimize that.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  I wanted to get just a little more detail about how the President will structure his vacation schedule -- because Presidents are never really on vacation.  Can you tell us, is the plan to set aside a certain window for briefings?  And specifically on two issues, health care and Afghanistan, do you expect that he would get at least once a day an update on that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have the schedule -- like I said, I don't have the schedule in front of me.  I would hit on the point that you did in the premise of your question, which is rarely are Presidents on vacation.  I went to Hawaii with then-candidate Obama and I would mention that national party nominees are not also on vacation much either. 

I think the President has, in discussions with his team here, if there are updates regarding and surrounding health care, that he's obviously always available.  The President will continue to get daily intelligence updates and security updates, as he does here and when he travels abroad, and will have obviously an extensive network of whatever is needed to stay on top of whatever situations happen.

Q    And a quick follow.  Can you tell us, does he plan to actually begin working on the State of the Union address on this vacation?  And can you tell us which aides -- like, is the speechwriter going for all or part of the trip; anyone at the chief of staff or deputy chief of staff level going for some or all of the trip? 

MR. GIBBS:  Let me try to get a list of who is going.  I do not believe that a speechwriter is going.  I think the President -- the President has had meetings on the State of the Union -- there's a meeting later today, unless it's been rejiggered that is on the State of the Union and preparations that are being made for that.  Obviously lots of those meetings have happened at the staff level.

Let me get a fuller list.  I know from the press shop obviously Bill and Nick are going.  But let me get a -- I have in mind but I just want to confirm which people are going on behalf of the staff.

Q    Do you expect any public events at all during the vacation?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Again, I think as he's wont to do, he will probably take the girls out for shaved ice; they may go do various and sundry things in and around Hawaii.  But there are no public events that --

Q    Is there a date for the State of the Union yet?


Q    Do you have an idea?

MR. GIBBS:  I do.  (Laughter.)

Q    -- for planning purposes only.

Q    Right, we won't tell anyone.

MR. GIBBS:  Sometime in 2010.

Q    Do you know if the President called up Tim Kaine's radio show this morning, identifying himself as "Barry from D.C."?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if he did, but that would not be inaccurate -- yes.

Q    It sounded like him.  I just wasn’t sure.

MR. GIBBS:  I think this is Governor Kaine's last radio show and I know there was a call sheet that went in.  Likely it went in -- if he identified himself as Barry from D.C., is to surprise the Governor of Virginia.

Q    Just to follow up on an earlier question --

MR. GIBBS:  Which one?

Q    Norah's.  Why did the President and his team never bring up the public option in discussions with Senator Joseph Lieberman, as he said yesterday?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I'm not going to rehash --

Q    It's not really rehashing.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, if you're looking back, it's generally rehashing.  Look, I think the President has been clear on what he supported.  I think members of the Senate have been clear on what they didn't support.  The President believes that, and I think you -- refer you to an interview that he did yesterday -- health care reform that passed in the Senate contains about 95 percent of what he wanted in health care reform.  And the President is quite pleased with the product and looks forward to signing comprehensive health care reform.

Q    About two weeks ago you said that he had done everything he could to get the public option passed.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, that's true.

Q    Do you still stand by that, having not talked to Joseph Lieberman about his objections to the public option?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely, absolutely.


Q    Thanks, Robert.  The commander in northern Iraq has issued a new ruling saying that women soldiers who get pregnant will be subject to court martial.  Is that -- does***4532 that rule pass the chain through Defense Department and the White House before it was issued?  And does the --

MR. GIBBS:  I have no knowledge of this, so let me --

Q    -- Commander-in-Chief approve of it?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me go find some background information.  I don't have anything.

Q    You might have already addressed this with some of the Jack Johnson stuff, but with the holidays here, is the President actively considering any pardons?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think in terms of -- well, let me -- I don't know, in terms of broader pardons.  In terms of Jack Johnson, I think the Department of Justice came back recommending -- not recommending a pardon on that.

Q    Are there others he's considering --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check and see whether there are holiday ones.


Q    On health care reform, over the weekend Senator Snowe said that one of her major concerns about the cost of this bill, Senate bill is the one on long-term insurance that half of the revenue savings would come from that provision alone, it's front-loaded.  Does the White House share any concerns about that provision?

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to talk directly to some of the guys on that, but I think the President is very comfortable with where the Senate bill is and looks forward to its passage in a couple of days.

Q    And also, I know the White House doesn’t like to set deadlines for health care reform, but would it be safe to say the President would like this signed into law before the State of the Union?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, since we don't know when that is -- (laughter) -- that might be a series of moving deadlines.  The President looks forward to signing this as soon as Congress sends it to him.

Ken, did you have a question?

Q    Yes, sir.  Some of the back-and-forth with the folks who were pro the public option or the Medicare extension seems to have cooled off a little bit, but there's still a few people who have some complaints.  Is the White House doing anything to reach out to these folks, considering that they are part of the President's constituency, to try and keep things cool?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think, and I think David mentioned this on the Sunday shows, Nancy Ann spent 45 minutes with Governor Dean on Saturday on the phone to walk him through what actually was in the Senate bill.  I think Governor Dean mentioned in that show that things like medical loss ratio that prevent insurance companies from padding their pockets was something that was in the bill, and I think his earlier criticism that nothing was done about things like that, after hearing from somebody as smart as Nancy Ann was in terms of that policy, I think he obviously came to the conclusion that some of the things he didn’t believe were in the bill were in the bill.

Q    Beyond Governor Dean, there are some folks who think that there could be some lasting damage from this whole episode. What concerns does the White House have that some folks who obviously supported candidate Obama have some problems with the way things have gone?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would simply say to them I think the very same thing the President would say to them, which is, look at the entire bill.  Look at what this bill does -- if you're concerned about the skyrocketing costs of health care for families and small businesses, that's addressed in this comprehensive health care reform.  If you're concerned about 30 million or so Americans that have lacked basic insurance, look at what this bill does for them.  Look at what this bill does to curb insurance abuses in preexisting conditions.  Look at what the legislation does, as I mentioned a minute ago, on medical loss ratio.  Look at what this bill does for our fiscal picture.

And understand, as the President said, about 95 percent of what he wanted out of health care reform is in this legislation. The President is enormously proud of this legislation and what it -- and the fact that it's about to get through the Senate.  He's enormously proud that it's gotten through the House.  And as I said, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when we have comprehensive health care reform in this country -- something that Presidents have tried to do for 70 years and what many of the people that you talk about have been working decades on as well.

I think when people have a chance to look at all of what is in the legislation, not just focus on one provision, that people will be as enormously proud of what we're on the cusp of accomplishing as the President and his entire team are.

I'll take one more from Christina and then we'll disappear for 2009.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  Senator Dorgan has charged that the White House pressured the FDA to send this letter that helps kill the drug reimportation amendment.  What is the White House response to this?  And I know a lot of people have referred us back to the FDA -- the FDA is not denying it; Senator Dorgan stands by his charge.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, and I would simply say -- Christina, concerns by the Food and Drug Administration about reimportation are not something that came to the fore in the Obama administration, right?  Drug reimportation, which the President supports if one can do it safely, were the concern of the previous administration's Food and Drug Administration and the concern of the Food and Drug Administration to the administration previous to that.  So this is about a 10-year concern by the Food and Drug Administration in terms of safety.

So I think the notion that somehow this argument cropped up in the last two weeks by our Food and Drug Administration, I think if you simply look back at the history of concerns that have been had about safety, they've been there for quite some time.

Happy holidays, guys.

Q    Any chance for a press conference before he leaves?


Enjoy your holidays.  Thank you.

Q    -- Parker Griffith, Democrat from Alabama announcing he is switching parties today.  Any comment?  

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen that information, thanks.

11:10 A.M. EST