Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/26/10
3:26 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Before we get going with questions let me make four short announcements.
Announcement number one, on April 12th and 13th the President will host the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Center -- obviously here in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the summit is to discuss steps we can collectively take to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and prevent acts of nuclear terrorism. As the President stated in Prague, in April 2009, nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.
A little bit later on this afternoon our third release of visitor records will be made public. At that point we will have released the names of over 150,000 visitors to the White House complex. Those will cover official events between November 1st and November 30th of 2009.
Earlier this morning the President had a secure video teleconference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The President and his counterparts discussed nonproliferation, Afghanistan, terrorism, current economic and trade issues, as well as the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit.
And lastly, let's just go through a few days for the week ahead. The President has no public events tomorrow. On Sunday the President will travel to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he will undergo a routine physical. Afterwards he will visit with wounded warriors who are getting treatment at the same facility. Just a quick coverage note on that, if you are in the pool that day please see Katie and Ben; it will be a very early movement on Sunday morning.
We will have a readout from the doctor sometime hopefully early to midafternoon about the routine physical.
MR. GIBBS: Sorry?
Q Where will --
MR. GIBBS: We'll disperse it from here.
On Monday the President will announce new steps in his administration's effort to improve our nation's schools at an America's Promise Alliance education event hosted by Alliance founding chairman General Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. America's Promise Alliance is the nation's largest partnership organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth.
As previously announced, on Tuesday the President will travel to Savannah, Georgia. And the only guidance I have for Wednesday through Friday right now is attending meetings here at the White House.
So with those four announcements, Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two follow-ups on health care. Now that the summit is over, can you be direct about, at this point, will the President support the use of reconciliation to get a health care bill through if a bipartisan bill can't be reached?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, look, the President found yesterday's meeting and conversation to be productive. I think certainly there were points throughout the nearly seven hours, including the lunch break, in that time that were areas of common agreement and common interest on an issue that we know is important to the American people.
No doubt there were differences. I think one of the primary differences appear to be the treatment of insurance companies and the regulating of insurance companies. And in all honesty those differences may just be -- between the President and some members of Congress -- too big.
The President is going to take the areas that there was some common agreement on and work through those ideas and those issues and will likely make an announcement next week about the next steps forward.
Q Announcement next week, okay. So --
Q What were the areas?
MR. GIBBS: I would say primarily at the beginning, Helen, there were -- there was a lot of head nodding and agreement on Dr. Coburn, his discussion of waste, fraud and abuse in the medical system. Many of those ideas have been incorporated into the President's plan. There was some agreement also on a proposal that Senator Coburn and Senator Burr have worked on regarding defensive medicine and medical malpractice, including increasing grants to states to set up ways to help that problem.
I think there was some general agreement on the selling of insurance across state lines. Obviously the differences that I talked about earlier still include a minimum floor for standards to ensure that if you're purchasing a policy in a different state, you enjoy, as I said, a minimum level of standard coverage. So I think certainly those are the main areas yesterday where there seemed to be some agreement.
Q Can you clarify on the time frame? The President said yesterday that he hopes to resolve something in a month, a few weeks, or six weeks, but you just talked about an announcement next week, so --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will, again, take into -- take into account what he heard yesterday, work through with the team some ideas, and make an announcement next week about the way forward. I don't have a ton to add to that, Ben, except I think the President sees -- well, let me not get ahead of where the President might make an announcement.
Q But you still can't speak to the point about whether he would support reconciliation today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that those questions are better left for when we have an announcement from the President on the way forward.
Q Monday or Tuesday, or later?
MR. GIBBS: My sense is -- my sense is probably closer to Wednesday. Don't hold me to it; it could be earlier or later than that.
Q Is the President or anyone else at this point reaching out -- from the White House -- reaching out to Democrats who might be on the fence or unsure about how to move forward? Is that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I have not talked to -- I have not asked Nancy-Ann this, but I think Nancy-Ann in particular was going to follow up with Democrats and Republicans on some of the ideas and the notions that they heard yesterday.
Q Democrats are talking about an Easter break deadline for getting a bill done. Does that sound reasonable to the President?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President has been working on this issue for months -- more than a year. So obviously his desire is to see something that improves the lives of the American people soon. I don't -- I don't, again, want to get ahead of what the President might announce next week in terms of the way forward.
Q He urged the Republicans to do some soul searching and said to do that over the coming weeks. Does that mean he's willing to give them several weeks to do that soul searching before moving ahead with something like reconciliation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I would say, first and foremost, we've had many weeks with which to contemplate where we are. I think where people are was fleshed out somewhat clearly yesterday over the course of many hours. Again, I think the President will be looking at ideas that were offered up yesterday that he agrees with, where there's common agreement on moving forward on that.
So, look, I think this is a fairly dynamic process that will happen over the next several days.
Q And just following up on how you described yesterday, you said it was a productive session. Was it as productive as the President hoped?
MR. GIBBS: Would the President liked to have come out of there with a larger agreement? Sure. Again, I think there -- while there appear to some agreement on the issues that I outlined a minute ago, there are -- there appear to be some philosophical issues on -- I think the main ones seemed to be on the degree to which we're going to regulate insurance companies, whether it's for the policies that -- for a standard level of benefit in a policy; whether or not we're going to have the rate authority to ensure that people don't see huge swings upward in the price that insurance companies are charging individuals in the market as we move toward a health insurance exchange; whether or not dealing with preexisting conditions in its entirety was something that people, albeit wanted to do, could do.
Q But what tangibly changed between Wednesday and Thursday?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the American people -- I think the American people saw some agreement, as I said, on issues that -- in which there's just been in many ways back and forth screaming over the past many months. I think it was in that way a productive session to sort of cut through this and figure out where there are some common ideas.
Look, in many ways if you look at the proposal that the President started with and posted on the Internet at the beginning of the week, it's modeled after a proposal very similar to what Senator Daschle -- former Senators Daschle, Dole, and Baker outlined at the beginning of last year. It's very similar to an idea that was passed in Massachusetts and is now state law there, except the President has taken steps that Massachusetts didn't in the beginning to address skyrocketing costs.
So, look, one of the main ideas is allowing small businesses and individuals to pool their resources -- quite a popular Republican idea. So I think in many ways, despite some of the rhetoric, the initial sort of benchmark proposal here is predicated off of some agreement. And I think the President heard more yesterday.
Q Yesterday, when Senator McCain at the health care reform summit talked about the Medicare Advantage carveout, the exemption for Floridians who get Medicare exemption, President Obama said, "I think you make a legitimate point." Should we expect that that carveout for Floridians will be removed from the bill?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to add to what -- I think the President was clear. And as he moves forward next week, we'll have more on that.
Q So, well, just to clarify, what you guys put on the Web site on Monday is not necessarily what an outline would look like if a bill goes to Congress, right? You might change it even more.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Look, I think there are concepts -- again, concepts that were discussed yesterday that the President would work with the team on, adding into what a piece of legislation or a series of ideas that we started with on Monday, add to those and see if agreements on selling insurance across state lines, with some minimum requirements; some movement on dealing with defensive medicine and medical malpractice, if some of those issues can't garner greater bipartisan support.
Q And presumably, if he thinks somebody raised a legitimate point, that would be reflected in this new -- okay. White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers is resigning.
First of all, the President and the First Lady put out a statement saying that they thought she did a terrific job. Could you tell us what she did that was terrific?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think countless -- countless numbers of people have come to events here that have -- that showcased the People's House, as they said in their statement. I think the doors of this house were open to folks that had not necessarily always gotten to be here -- whether it was schoolchildren from the area, whether it was low-income kids that got an opportunity to see the White House not from outside of Pennsylvania Avenue through a fence or a gate, but instead up close and inside of it.
I think the President is tremendously grateful for all of her hard work in organizing literally hundreds of events over the course of the past many months, and thanks her very much for serving her country.
Q The White House has been criticized for the Chicagoans who are part of the team. I know this happens with every White House, they bring people from their home -- the President brings people from their home city or home state and they get criticized by Washingtonians. But certainly, Desiree Rogers was part of that Chicago circle. Is that an unfair criticism? What does the President think when he hears people going after Chicagoans like Valerie Jarrett or Axelrod or Desiree Rogers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we -- I've not talked specifically to the President on that. I think, as you said, Jake, there is -- there are criticisms of many people that work here --
Q Including yourself?
MR. GIBBS: -- including myself. But Helen, I didn't realize you blogged under that name. (Laughter.)
Look, that's part of what comes with this. I don't think anybody that works here understands that they're -- including myself -- are free from any of that criticism.
Again, I think if you look at the enormity of the number, the size, and the scope of events that transpired here at the White House, I think her service, as the President and the First Lady have said, is to be commended.
Q Does the White House see a scenario at all where Republicans could come onboard and support his health care reform bill? Because yesterday what they seemed to be saying is, while we can find areas of agreement, let's work with those -- let's start all over, from scratch. So do you see a scenario at all where they will come onboard?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, that's a question I think honestly for them, based on the ideas that we've not only previously taken and put in the President's series of ideas but ideas of common agreement from yesterday.
Now, the question, Dan, is whether or not -- again, whether or not the philosophical differences of regulating the insurance industry, regulating insurance companies and providing people with a base level of protection is a bridge just simply too far for the Republicans to come.
I think if you take -- if you look at statements from the past, from almost everybody in that room, there's a lot to be -- there's a lot in the President's proposal and a lot of ideas that were talked about yesterday that I think most people could agree with. The question is whether or not we're going to put aside game-playing and do something on behalf of the American people. That's a question that -- that's a question that they alone can answer.
But the notion of starting over, Dan, I would say this: Insurance companies are not starting over. They're mailing out letters right now increasing insurance by 39 percent in the individual market. So they've not decided that they're going to start all over. They're taking an individual's health insurance rates and increasing them somewhere on the order of 10 times health care inflation for the most previous years.
So we know what happens if we do nothing: more and more people pay more; more businesses drop the coverage if they're already extending to their employees; our budget deficit continues -- because of the amount of money that we're spending on health care, continues to get worse. The President believes we still have to act.
Q On Desiree, why is she leaving? Was she pushed or did she jump?
MR. GIBBS: No, you saw Desiree -- many of you, I think, saw the interview that she did, where she was asked to come here by the President and the First Lady to do many of the things that I told -- talked to Jake about. And she told them around the beginning of the year that she thought it was time for her to go back to the private sector. She's not been asked to leave. She's decided it's time to go back to doing other things that she loves.
Q And the State Dinner incident did not play into this at all?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it did, no.
Q Why does the President have this audacity of hope for the health plan when it's so clear the perception from yesterday was he struck out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, I don't agree that that was the perception of yesterday. Look, did the clouds part and the angels sing? No -- not even during the lunch break. (Laughter.) But, again, I do think -- look, you saw this in comments in the newspaper today, you had people that have in many ways spent a good part of the last year talking past and around each other, talking honestly about what needs to be done to make a situation better on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of the American people.
Q You think the Republicans want the health care in any way after their adamant --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know -- again, I think -- again, watching yesterday, there are philosophical -- there's a philosophical bridge, particularly on making sure that insurance companies act the way we expect corporate citizens to act.
Q I think there's a philosophical -- they don't want any health care.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll -- we will see. I think, again, the President outlined a series of proposals based on good ideas from Democrats and Republicans in the past, and I think you'll likely see him take issues that they agreed on yesterday and add them into a proposal going forward.
Q Can I just follow, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to wind myself -- I cancelled my afternoon so I could hang with you guys.
Q Aside from all the bipartisan talk, was it partly the President's purpose yesterday to make clear once and for all that the Republicans are the party of no, that they only want to obstruct health care, and that gives him freedom to move ahead on a Democrat-only plan?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, Chip, the President --
Q I mean, that is the conventional wisdom in Washington -- that that was the real purpose, the ulterior motive of this thing.
MR. GIBBS: Leaving aside my normal commentary on Washington-said conventional wisdom -- but I think that -- I do think that what cannot be doubted, again, is what I said to Dan, which is we know what happens if we do nothing. People walk to their mailbox and their insurance goes up nearly 40 percent. That's the outcome. That's not going to happen just next year, but the year after that and the year after that. The question is what are we going to do about it?
I think that the President has on so many occasions asked for the ideas, the help, and the support of people on both sides of the political aisle. Their desire not to help solve the problem on behalf of the American people is something that they've made a decision.
Q The President has clearly stepped up his involvement in this go-round -- I mean, by putting in his own bill, by holding this meeting and then dominating this meeting. Does he now see it -- is he also going to step up his involvement in getting the votes to pass this thing? Whose responsibility is it now to get the votes? Is it Pelosi and Reid? Or is he going to twist arms personally and make this happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President will likely make an announcement next week on where he sees the path moving forward. We've discussed this many times, Chip. I don't --
Q Right. But the circumstances have changed. Is he going to up his role in getting the votes?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don't believe that the President has in some ways been a passive observer in --
Q No, I'm not saying he was a passive -- I don't --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think --
Q But he has dramatically increased his role here in the last couple weeks.
MR. GIBBS: Look, Chip, I don't think this legislation would be at the point that it is, having gotten votes in both the House and the Senate, were the President not involved.
Q I agree with you. I'm not saying he wasn't involved, but he is deeply and more involved now, with his own bill and with this meeting yesterday. Is he going to carry that through to lobbying and twisting arms and making sure they get the votes, or is he leaving that up to Pelosi and Reid?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, we'll have an announcement next week on, again, where the President believes -- what the President believes is the best way forward. I can assure you, Chip, that whatever he decides, he'll put his focus and his energy into.
Q Is there a Plan B under discussion at all if they don't get the votes on this?
MR. GIBBS: The President is spending his time looking at what was talked about yesterday and how it relates to the proposal that he had on Monday.
Q So nobody in the White House is working on a fallback in case --
MR. GIBBS: No, we've been working on -- we've been working on any number of issues for many months relating to health insurance reform.
Q Quick on Desiree. You said she wasn't pushed, but did the President entreat her to stay -- "We need you"?
MR. GIBBS: Desiree came to the President and the First Lady to give them her decision in wanting to go back.
Q When was this?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the exact date, but it was -- again, I'd point you to what she said in that interview -- closer to the beginning of the year.
Q Can you confirm reports that Julianna Smoot will replace her?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any announcements to make on replacements.
Q Okay. On health care, some in the Senate say this notion that there could be a scaled-down health care bill isn't realistic and that there's only one road left, and that is the reconciliation road. Would you agree with that analysis?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to let the President make a decision and announce that decision as the best path forward. Look, we had a bill -- we've had a bill that's passed a majority in the House and quite frankly a supermajority in the Senate. That's where health care is right now. So I think that -- again, I'm going to let him make a decision, and he'll communicate that next week.
Q And the last thing, does the President agree with Speaker Pelosi's decision to keep Chairman Rangel in his position, given the Ethics Committee findings?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Savannah, I think that -- the President is not going to get involved in internal House matters as it relates to Chairman --
Q Does he have an opinion about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this. The President has worked on ethics reform as a state senator, as a United States senator, and has proposed and enacted reforms as President. He has said many times in those debates that he believes that rules are put in place for a reason, and that those rules can and must apply to each and every person. He would expect that members of both the House and the Senate understand and ought to be accountable for following those rules and that any violations would be acted on by the House and the Senate as appropriate -- and that applies to everyone.
Q In the call this morning with Prime Minister Brown and Chancellor Merkel, did the President discuss the situation in Greece? And does he think enough is being done by the Europeans to avoid a debt crisis?
MR. GIBBS: Without having a lot of detail on what was discussed, I do know that the issue of -- the issue did come up. I don't have a ton to add, except that, as I have said here before, that we believe that the European Union can and will act appropriately to ensure an effective response to the crisis in Greece.
Q Robert, did the President not believe the Republicans he heard from yesterday were not talking to him in good faith about why they opposed his health care plan?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I'm not going to doubt the reasoning or the rationality for why somebody has -- why somebody opposes a certain effort. Like I said, watching yesterday, Mark, again, I think most people were -- I think most people could see a difference particularly in how one treats insurance companies. The motivation for their belief is for them to talk about, it's certainly not for me or anybody to question.
Q But you used a minute ago a phrase calling on Republicans to put aside game-playing. If they're earnest and speaking in good faith, who's playing games?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what I mean by that, Mark -- you heard the President discuss this when he was down here last and that was that there's been a tradition in this town of working together to solve problems and that -- I doubt that the President in every piece of legislation that he's signed into law, that that legislation contained something that he agreed with a hundred percent every time; that bipartisanship can't be, "I don't agree with your ideas and you have to agree with my ideas"; that we have to work together to find common agreement on areas that matter for the American people. I think it's clear that from yesterday there are both disagreements, but there's also a healthy amount of agreement.
And what I meant by getting past those games is understanding that bipartisanship, again, can't be the President gives up on every one of his ideas and the only way forward is to accept every one of somebody else's ideas. I don't -- that's never been the definition of bipartisanship at any other point in time, and I don't think it's the President's belief that that should start now.
Q On the medical on Sunday, is that the President's first medical checkup since taking office?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it is. Again, we will have -- I've spent some time, Reid and I did, with the doctor this morning -- and we'll have -- hopefully, have, again, fairly early in the afternoon, if not late morning -- now I'm raising the bar on myself, which seemed to be a rhetorical mistake. And we'll have something on that as quickly as we can.
Q A paper readout?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes.
Q As a social secretary, would Desiree fall under restrictions the President has on lobbying by former officials?
MR. GIBBS: I'm under the impression that those apply to everybody that works here, so yes.
Q And does the White House have any reaction to Governor Paterson's announcement that he won't run?
MR. GIBBS: Let me find that out. I don't have that with me.
Q And, finally, can I ask what's on the agenda for Tuesday in Savannah?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some more details on that and get back to you on that.
Q Robert, when you were asked a moment ago about reconciliation you said the President will make a decision. Does that mean --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I said -- I said the President --
Q In the context of that question, you said the President will make a decision, announce it next week. I'm just asking if congressional Democrats have ceded the idea of the workability and the advisability of reconciliation with the President.
MR. GIBBS: I did not make a value judgment on how we go forward, just that the President would announce a way forward likely sometime next week.
Q What is he going to know next week that he doesn't know now?
MR. GIBBS: I think, Major, I would say this. I would -- we've discussed a little in here the notion of the use of reconciliation in the past. There have been various and sundry articles about this over the past several days. It's been used legislatively to pass big tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. It's also been used on a lot of occasions to pass health care legislation.
We have COBRA -- the last two letters of COBRA -- R-A -- for Reconciliation Act. So the notion that somehow health care hasn't been done this way, I think is -- has been offered up by people, but is not accurate.
Q Speaker Pelosi said today when she was asked about incrementalism, she said, "When somebody is drowning 90 feet out, and you throw them a rope that's 10 feet out and say, 'We're doing this incrementally,' that doesn't work." Would you say the White House agrees with that analogy, that incrementalism right now is not what this issue and what this White House is interested in achieving?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President addressed something along these lines yesterday, which was to say that, look, many of the protections that we want, and as I talked about relating to the insurance industry, many of those protections can only be afforded, particularly making sure that people aren't discriminated against by their insurance companies relating to the possibility of a preexisting condition unless you have a broader -- broader coverage.
So, look, I think that there have been many steps over many years to add different parts of the population to health care and to have accessibility for affordable health care. We've got to go the rest of the way.
Q David Axelrod told me yesterday after the meeting that the President is going to "contemplate" -- his word -- Republican ideas, the good ideas that were discussed today -- there are some he's expressed some interest in exploring -- see if these can enhance the proposal he's made and consider the alternatives and move forward.
Based on what David told me, what is it that Nancy-Ann is doing? Is she going to talk to Republicans? Are you going to bring them over here? Is there going to be some legislative process to incorporate what the President heard and said he's open to into a new proposal that will be visible on the Web site or someplace else?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I --
Q Is there a mandate here in this White House to take those ideas and do something with them?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Well, look, we didn't have the meeting yesterday because cable lacked something to show. We wanted to have an honest discussion about different ideas. As David said, as I've said today, the President is going to look at those ideas and see where they fit in and add to the proposal that he put up on the Internet on Monday.
Q But he's not sure they fit in yet?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't have any announcements to make now. I think the President -- I think you heard and saw the President agree on a number of areas yesterday. I don't have anything new to roll out from where I stand at this moment, but I think the President will and the team will work on that through the weekend.
Q A few Olympics questions. To what degree is the President watching? Does he talk to you about it? Is he engaged in all this? And will you be making any bets if the U.S. makes it to the gold medal game with your Canadian counterpart on that game?
MR. GIBBS: I have already emailed my Canadian counterpart about the possibility of -- he wanted to know what -- how "double or nothing" -- he asked me what the translation was for "double or nothing" up there. So we're still -- there's a SVTS on that later on the -- (laughter.)
He has been -- I know he has been watching I think a lot at night. Some of us have watched curling during the day. I still don't -- please, somebody email me the rules for -- (laughter.) It's fascinating to watch but I haven't the slightest idea what -- just tell me how you --
Q It's more fun to watch if you don't know the rules.
MR. GIBBS: I don't disagree. You know, we -- I know on the flight out last week to Denver and then to Las Vegas he had watched some of the skiing because at that point he knew that Lindsey Vonn had fallen in one of the last skates on that race last week. So I think he's been watching.
I think -- look, I think he is ,like every other American, is enormously proud of the effort of our athletes; has seen competition in these games and results like we haven't seen before. I think we're all -- I don't know if the hockey game, Chip, is going on right now, but I think we're all --
Q Six to nothing in the first period. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, there you go. I'm feeling better about my double-or-nothing.
No, look, I doubt that anybody that's of the age that isn't watching hockey in 2010 and thinking about hockey in 1980 -- I think everyone has, both about hockey and about all these other sports, an amazing amount of pride as it relates to that.
Q On the Paterson announcement, truly you don't need to check with someone to tell us what the White House reaction to this is?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that the White House has -- I think you all have written on what the White House viewpoint was on Governor Paterson running for reelection. I think obviously the reports that we all read about over the past many hours, past couple of days, were disturbing. I have not talked to the President about this. I think it's safe to say, though, that anybody that read these articles believes at a minimum he made the right decision about his reelection.
Q And can I ask you about Desiree? Is today her last day? Has she already left?
MR. GIBBS: No. She will be here for some transition period, but I do not have a final day.
Q Two quick questions on health care, Robert. First, this morning I heard an interesting criticism of the President. I'm wondering if you can respond to it. David Gregory was saying that he felt that the President's ability to engage the opposition was both a strength and a weakness, it being a weakness because the American people prefer -- they like a fighter, but they prefer a President who will stand back and achieve. A response to that?
MR. GIBBS: I didn't see the -- I don't know the context of the comments. I think what the American people got a chance to see, and what they've seen over the course of his presidency, is somebody who is willing to sit down, like yesterday, and listen to people's ideas, to engage lawmakers, and to engage the American people directly in discussions about the problems that we face.
Q They were saying too much into the weeds -- is there anything to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, in fairness, there have been criticisms even within the past 20 minutes about the President not having been in the weeds enough. So I think the President felt good about the discussion yesterday and feels good about the prospect of moving forward.
Q And, secondly, the President now admits that on health care the White House fell somewhat short on transparency. Now, I'm wondering if the White House would be willing to go back and rectify that and make available transcripts, tapes, documentation from the meetings that took place in the spring and the summer with the pharmaceutical lobby and the -- health care.
MR. GIBBS: There are not tapes of any meetings. I think that ended about the mid-70s. There are not tapes or transcripts of --
MR. GIBBS: -- of meetings. There's not a stenographer in these -- in these events.
Q Robert, I have a question on "don't ask, don't tell." Yesterday, Senator Carl Levin told reporters he doesn't know whether there's sufficient support in Congress right now to repeal that law at this time. Considering the President has stated that he's going to work this year with Congress to end "don't ask, don't tell," what is the White House doing to get lawmakers to come out and support a repeal of that effort?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, what the President has done is work with Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, the military and the Pentagon in setting forward a process for evaluating, studying, and ultimately repealing "don't ask, don't tell." I think you've heard -- you heard for the first time ever a chairman of the Joint Chiefs discuss the need to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." I think that is a very strong starting point for a process that the President believes will end -- believes will end in overturning, rightly overturning that law.
Q And is the White House working directly with lawmakers, though, to get them on board and support it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we have -- I think many have been -- we have talked to many about the process for this. We have talked to them prior to making some of these announcements and prior to some of this testimony.
Q Thank you. On AIG, is the White House upset, is the administration in a mood to help bail them out if they are another $8.9 billion in the hole?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that -- obviously an extraordinary amount of assistance was rendered in 2008 to prevent the giant collapse of AIG, which had previously been a somewhat successful insurance company in which somebody had the crazy idea of strapping a hedge fund on top of.
First and foremost, I think the President believes that financial reform making its way through Congress has to include strong resolution authority which would allow us to break the insurance company and the hedge fund -- break those two entities apart and deal with them before they cause systemic risk to the economy.
Q And on reconciliation, does the White House believe there are enough votes to pass it at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get ahead of where the President is. I will mention one thing. I mentioned a second ago COBRA as being -- the R-A in COBRA as being reconciliation. I do believe -- we've certainly -- the White House has seen reports of Senator Bunning objecting to, I think nine times, moving forward with a very common-sense proposal to extend COBRA benefits that are expiring for those that have lost their jobs. One senator has decided to hold up unemployment benefits that will expire at the end of this month for 400,000 Americans. One senator has decided to hold up legislation that would prevent a drastic cut in the payments for doctors serving Medicare patients.
We have seen over the course of the past week -- we saw this Thursday with the President's health care meeting; we saw on Wednesday the House pass with more than 400 votes a plan to increase competition in health care; we saw the Senate act in a bipartisan way to move forward on a bill that would help hiring. We've seen some good results over the past week on bipartisanship, only to have the week apparently end with one person decide that 500,000 people might not -- will lose their health insurance that they've had extended because they unfortunately lost their jobs; 400,000 people that will lose their unemployment insurance; and doctors that serve Medicare patients suffer a drastic cut in their payments.
That is fundamentally not fair and the White House would call on Senator Bunning to agree to -- agree to even vote on his own proposal so that the Senate and the House don't leave town with the health care benefits and the unemployment benefits of those that have lost their jobs, that those -- we would not see those expire over this past weekend.
Q Actually I want to follow up on that point. In the middle of the debate last night Senator Bunning complained that because it was running late he was missing the Kentucky/South Carolina game.
MR. GIBBS: Kentucky won and we should now get about to ensuring that 500,000 people, because one senator wants to see a game in which his team thankfully won, I'm sure --
David, Senator Bunning objected to voting on his own proposal. I don't -- it's hard for me to understand why if somebody went to you, including your own -- a senator from your own state and said if you object to the way this is happening, why don't we have a vote on your proposal -- and you object to that.
These are the type of games that the American people fail to understand. These are the type of instances where for some reason one person can throw out all measure of common sense and hurt hundreds of thousands of Americans that have unfortunately lost their jobs as a result of this economic downturn.
Q Robert, on -- just two questions on that. You'll come back to me?
MR. GIBBS: Not necessarily. (Laughter.)
Q Why not?
MR. GIBBS: Because I called on Mike.
Q I don't want to ask you what's in it, but I just want to ask -- don't ask you what's in it, but I do want to clarify what it is that the President is going to be releasing. Is this a preference of what kind of procedure he would like to see Congress undertake next week? Or is he laying down the law in terms of how he wants to see them move forward?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I don't -- I want to give you guys something to do next week besides mourn the absence of curling. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not asking you what --
MR. GIBBS: And I mean that literally, since --
Q -- his preference his. I'm asking you what --
MR. GIBBS: -- since I was watching hockey on your network yesterday.
Q -- what it will be.
Q I got it. (Laughter.)
Q We're all waiting for Ovechkin to get back into town. (Laughter.)
I'm not asking you what's in it, I'm asking you what it is. How do you define it?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will put forward an updated proposal on how to move forward. I don't -- I'm not going to get more detailed than that.
Q Going back to Paterson, does the White House have any thoughts on whether or not he should remain as governor?
MR. GIBBS: That's part of what I want to check. I don't -- I have not heard any talk of -- or I don't know where that is.
Q Do you have anything more on the President's phone call to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and what he said, and what --
MR. GIBBS: I know -- I think it was -- all my days run together -- Wednesday the President called the former Vice President at home to wish him a speedy recovery. The Vice President had previously called him. That's the only readout that I got from Katie on the call.
Q They did speak?
MR. GIBBS: They did speak, yes.
Q Thanks, Robert. Democrats made hay in '06 and '08 in congressional races by stressing ethical lapses by Republicans. Is the White House concerned that the Republicans can now turn the table, given Congressman Rangel and other issues bedeviling Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I can only speak for the President's viewpoint on this. And that is, as I mentioned, this is an issue -- when he worked on this issue in Illinois, you could literally buy a car for your personal use out of your campaign fund. The President, as a U.S. senator, worked to ensure that we strengthen ethics rules around what had been ethical lapses in 2006 and 2008. I think the President would just say that we -- we all enjoy and serve because the people elected members of Congress and the President to serve, and that we have -- we do that based on their votes and their trust, and that we should not do anything to violate that trust. And if that trust is violated, that, as I said earlier, the House and Senate should hold anybody that violates that trust accountable.
Q Can I -- can I ask you one other thing?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Why Savannah, Robert? What was the -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, as you well know, it's a wonderful place -- a wonderful place to visit. Look, I think it's a -- the President has gone all over the country talking about our efforts to get this economy moving again. And I don't have a precise reasoning of why Savannah was picked, but it's a -- as you well know, a wonderful place to spend some time.
Let me get -- you want to do Bunning?
Q Yes, Bunning. He's also reported to have said in response to the criticism of his objection -- he used the words "tough crap," only he didn't say "crap," he said "tough S" -- the S-word. I wanted to know if you had any reaction to that or if the President had reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- look, we've talked about -- we've talked about comments that people have made before. We've talked about the tone of our politics. I hope that one senator does not stand in the way of and tell hundreds of thousands of people that could lose their health insurance and their unemployment benefits -- I hope he has more encouraging words than that for them. The Senate should act on ensuring that nobody loses these benefits as a result of one person standing in the way.
4:13 P.M. EST