Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/1/10
2:00 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Sorry, guys, no --
Q Where's the jersey?
MR. GIBBS: We're in the process of getting the hockey sweater -- thank you, Major, for correcting a southerner's -- it's on its way. Trust me, the Canadians have kept in very close contact for this. And we are working on delivering that, figuring out the best way to --
Q What size is that?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm definitely a medium. I mean, can't you tell? (Laughter.) We'll have -- I presume before the week is over you will have the opportunity to see that. It was a fabulous game.
One quick announcement before we get going. On Monday, March 8th, President Obama will welcome President Funes of El Salvador for a meeting at the White House. The President looks forward to discussing the wide range of issues that comprise the dynamic relationship between our two countries, including economic security and immigration-related topics.
Q Thanks, Robert. Can you tell us what the President has been doing since the health care summit to get a bill to his desk? Who has he been lobbying?
MR. GIBBS: I can look and see what calls he's made. I don't know the degree to which he's talked to members of Congress on this or not.
Q Is he involved in the discussions about what the next proposal will look like and --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, absolutely. This has been brought up in a number of meetings, both over the weekend and this morning.
Q When the White House calls for an up or down vote on a bill doesn’t that mean reconciliation, and isn't it one and the same at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President will speak on this later in the week, likely on Wednesday. And I will wait until we have something from the President then. I do believe the President believes that an up or down vote is necessary. I think the Republicans could decide not to filibuster and that would be one way.
Q And does the President believe that the American people care about process, or just that the bill, itself, is important, regardless of how it gets done? Does he think they care about this debate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think let's understand, first of all, the bill that passed -- the basic health care bill has passed the Senate, it passed with 60 votes. So it didn't -- that legislation passed the Senate with a supermajority, not just with a majority of votes. Again, we'll have time to discuss this later in the week when the President makes an announcement on moving forward.
Q I just meant on that broader issue of -- regardless of how this gets done, does the President think that the American people are watching this and that they care about the process that Congress uses?
MR. GIBBS: The process in what way?
Q The process that they use to get a bill passed, that this is --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the American people care about what's in the bill. I think that's why you've seen the President take out a number of things that were added in this process in order to make it more to his liking.
Q Thank you, Robert. One follow-up on that and then one question on financial reg. Can you give us any sense of what to expect in the Wednesday announcement without describing what the details are exactly?
MR. GIBBS: I think that would be harder to do. (Laughter.)
Q What should one expect? I mean, what in general does the President want to do --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think the President, Jeff, will outline what the next steps are and what are the -- what's the way forward on health care reform.
Q And does that include a revamped proposal from what you guys released last Monday?
MR. GIBBS: This is why my first question -- your first question I found it probably harder to do.
Q All right. Moving on to financial reg. The topic of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency -- we've talked about it before -- Senator Shelby has suggested that it be housed in the FDIC. Is that something that the White House would look upon favorably?
MR. GIBBS: Look, Jeff, I think most importantly the CFPA has to have strong independent authority, an independent head, an independent budget, independent authority to do what it needs to do. That will be the test that we will look for as this legislation moves forward. But I will tell you the President is very serious about this proposal.
If you look at -- if you look back over the course of what has happened as a result of and what may have caused a good portion of our financial downturn -- subprime lending, credit cards, the easy availability of credit cards -- these are things that the President believes and I think many believe can and should come under greater purview in a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
Q But can that agency have the independence that you're seeking and also be part of another --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know the degree to which we've looked at what Senator Shelby has discussed. It's my understanding that at some point this week we're likely to see legislation unveiled. We'll certainly evaluate that. But, again, our test and the President's strong test is to ensure strong independence for consumer financial protection.
Q But even without -- just the last follow-up, even without commenting specifically on his suggestion to the FDIC, the crux of the question and apparently the crux of the debate which might lead to this financial regulation bill going through is will the White House allow or support this being in another agency at all?
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, I don't think its address is the seminal test for this proposal. I think we have to determine whether or not the proposal that's put forward has sufficient independent -- is sufficiently independent, can it sufficiently make the decisions that it needs to do and affect consumer financial policy in a way that helps -- finally helps consumers, not just the development of loans and the easy availability of credit cards that in many ways penalize consumers.
Q Last month the President told Diane Sawyer that not having the health care negotiations be more public -- the CSPAN cameras -- was a mistake, because he had campaigned on process just as he campaigned on the substance of health care reform. And I'm just wondering if going forward, knowing that there's going to be furious lobbying to get 216 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate, are you guys planning on any additional steps in the name of transparency, whether it's releasing names of members of Congress that the President or Mr. Emmanuel or whoever reach out to? Is there anything you guys are planning on doing in the name of the forum you had last Thursday, to continue that kind of transparency -- are there any additional steps you're planning on taking?
MR. GIBBS: I can check. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Okay. And then in terms of the President's health report, I know that he was given basically a clean bill of health, but there was some talk about his cholesterol being a little higher and the smoking cessation needing to continue. Is there anything for all the Americans who are struggling with both cholesterol and cigarettes that you or the President wanted to say about either of those?
MR. GIBBS: Well, his -- I think it's the bad cholesterol measure was slightly elevated from where it had been previously. I think the doctor had told me that obviously he's a few years older from when it was last measured and I think candidly if you asked him the diet of first and foremost a campaign is not as conducive. We are all living and thankfully breathing examples of that.
I think he would be also the first to tell you that he has probably had a few more cheeseburgers and I think he would admittedly tell you he's had more desserts in the last year than I've seen him eat prior to this.
Q Is that because of more fancy events or because he has his own kitchen? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I would say this, that --
Q Or it's the smoking --
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- look, I think most people will tell you that if it's available you're more likely to eat it. And I think he's had more access to sweets and desserts in the past year than he -- look, those guys make good desserts over there and I think he's on more than one occasion sampled more than he needed to. The good news is the number is only slightly above where the doctor would like to see it. So we were talking in the -- on the helicopter on the way back that he probably had to push away from the table when the pie came more than he had in the previous year.
Look, on the smoking, the President continues to chew nicotine gum and, you know, I'd point at many of you and I'd point you to the comments he made in June of -- I think in this room in June of last year, that while he's quit smoking he is -- occasionally falls off the wagon when it comes to that and -- like many who have struggled with kicking that habit.
Q Is it more difficult because this is probably the most stressful year he's ever had, I would assume?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, I can't imagine that that helps. But, look, I think he -- the doctor -- obviously you saw in the report -- he, as I said, continues to chew the gum and continues to both work hard at it as well as struggle with it probably each and every day.
Q Who does he bum smokes from, seriously?
MR. GIBBS: I don't smoke, Ed, so I don't know the answer.
Q Minority Whip Eric Cantor on health care told Speaker Pelosi that if in fact, in his words, that they'd ram this bill through the House, that the Democrats would lose their majority. Does the White House believe that that's true? And is there any kind of sense of the calculation, the political calculation --
MR. GIBBS: I don't understand when you say "ram it through the House," what do you mean?
Q That's what Cantor said; that's not my words.
MR. GIBBS: What do you think he meant?
Q Reconciliation -- well, not reconciliation, but simply puts pressure on members to get this thing accomplished, to get this thing through.
MR. GIBBS: You know, again, I'd let Eric try to explain what he meant. The President believes strongly that we were -- that he was elected to make progress on issues that had confounded and vexed Congress and the political system for years, health care being one of the bigger ones. Congressman Cantor is probably focused almost entirely on the next election. The President is focused on the next generation and making progress on some of these issues.
I sent this article around and I'm sure a number of you all saw it in the newspaper this weekend, and it was about the cost of doing nothing. What happens if Congressman Cantor's viewpoint wins out? "'People think if we do nothing we'll have what we have now,' said Karen Davis, the President of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group in New York. 'In fact, what we will have is a substantial deterioration in what we have.'"
This is not her quote of this part of the -- "Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone's dollar will go to health care and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate."
"'It will break all of our banks if we do nothing,' said Peter Lee, who oversees national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health. 'It is a course that is literally bankrupting the federal government and businesses and individuals across the country.'"
There are more of these quotes, including the fact that the typical price of family coverage now runs about $13,000 a year but premiums are expected to nearly double to $24,000 for a family by 2020.
So if we don't act, this is what our future is. If we don't act, insurance companies like Anthem that are sending letters to individuals in the individual insurance market saying their rates will rise 39 percent -- that's what will happen. Congressman Cantor says let's start over, but the insurance companies aren't starting over; health care inflation is not starting over; being dropped from your insurance coverage because somebody says you have a preexisting condition, that's not starting over.
Q Is there any sense though or analysis from the White House that there's a possibility of losing a certain number of seats either in the House or the Senate? There is a political calculation.
MR. GIBBS: That's not what -- that's not being discussed, "if you do this, then this." That's -- what we're focused on is trying to move forward for the millions of people that are struggling with the high cost of their own health insurance each day.
Q I had two questions. The first one is moot now, but why did the President not give any voice to single-payer and to the government plan during the whole debate? The second question is, why are the Republicans and some Democrats so solidly against everything you proposed?
MR. GIBBS: An excellent question.
Q They're both wise. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You're a validator for that.
Look, let me take the second question. I was reading an article before I came down about the fact that the filibuster is on a record-breaking pace in this Congress. We've seen the notion of either an actual filibuster or the threat of a filibuster used unlike we've ever seen before. We have -- and we mentioned this on Friday, we can't even get an emergency extension of health and unemployment benefits for those whose benefits expired at midnight. We can't even get agreement on moving forward with that. In fact, you can't even get an agreement with the person holding that up to let us -- to let the Senate vote on what he wants to hold up.
Q Why don't you shame him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm trying as best I can. (Laughter.)
Q Why don't you use his name?
MR. GIBBS: I did on Friday -- Senator Bunning for Kentucky --
Q Does he want everyone to run out of benefits?
MR. GIBBS: Look, sometimes even using their names doesn’t create the shame that you would think it would normally engender when there are people that lost their unemployment benefits because one person decided they were going to gum up the works. It's just never -- it's just not how it's ever worked. I don't know why. I don't know why.
Q Why did he oppose -- I mean, why didn't he fight for a government plan?
MR. GIBBS: We've debated this a number of times --
Q No, you never do --
MR. GIBBS: I know. (Laughter.)
Q -- you’ve never explained. You always acted like it was out there --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President, Helen, put forward the plan he thought was best for the American people.
Q And he doesn’t think the government plan is --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think there are elements of -- obviously strong elements in the exchange that would set up the type of choice in competition that the American people need to get access to affordable health care that creates a benefit and a plan that works best for them. There were a bunch of different options for this and I think the President has landed on one that not only does he think will be effective, but he also thinks has the ability to become law.
Q Does he think that Social Security and Medicare don't work?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he believes they are programs that have for many decades worked enormously well. We've got to put them on a sounder financial path, but there's no doubt that whether it is through measures of senior citizens that are no longer either in or facing the threat of poverty or no longer have or no longer face the threat of not having health care at the time in which they need it most, obviously those are tremendously valuable programs.
Q Going back to smoking -- and I know some people think it's a trivial issue, but it really isn't at all since, number one, he's setting an example for an entire nation, including children. And secondly his health is obviously a concern. Have you ever heard him talk about smoking from that point of view -- setting an example, the disappointment and what it means for his health? I mean, it's not just his issues, it's the nation's issue.
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I think he -- I mean, again, in the remarks I pointed you towards, you know, I think -- and he says, I don't smoke in front of my kids, I think he understands that what he struggles with is not a good thing for his children to see or for anybody to see.
Look, Chip, I don't doubt that he would tell you he wishes once and for all he could wipe away that struggle. I know he works on it each and every day. He understands -- he understands it.
Q Do you know where and when he does it and how he manages to avoid the cameras and the children and everything else at --
MR. GIBBS: You know, Chip, we're all running around here, so I am not with him 24 hours a day.
Q He said he was 95 percent cured when he spoke about this last year. Is he still at 95 percent?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes. He's --
Q Hasn’t made any progress since then? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, but I think in many ways staying at 95 percent doesn't change the percentage but is controlling a problem and an addiction that I think he's talked about struggling with and I think, in all honesty, millions and millions of people across the country do. My father struggled with quitting. He wasn't as good at sneaking it as some people have and he didn't quit until a doctor told him he had lung cancer.
So I think -- again, I think there's a lot of struggle that goes on with this and I think he's one of those who struggles.
Q He said at one point during the campaign that he smoked at some point -- I don't -- I didn't get the timeframe -- five or six a day. He's not doing that, is he, do you know?
MR. GIBBS: No. Not that I'm aware of, no. I don't remember when he said that, to be honest.
Q It was still during the campaign but he -- he said --
MR. GIBBS: Let me take a look at that, but that's not -- no.
Q On health care, can you -- just another crack at this -- is Wednesday about the way forward on process or is it about the way forward on substance?
MR. GIBBS: My sense is it will be both.
Q Okay, so we may hear new proposals that we haven't heard before?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. Does the President feel it's part of his job to explain or justify the use of reconciliation, or to educate the American people about what it is from his perspective, given the fact that of course Republicans are referring to it as "ramming" the bill through? Does he feel the need to kind of provide another perspective on that issue?
MR. GIBBS: I think he would hope that that would be the cause many of you would take up.
Q So he won't just rely on --
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I'm sure he'll discuss -- again, I think he'll discuss process and policy. As we've discussed in here, Savannah, and I don't want to get ahead of what the President might decide, but the notion -- I think we've spent a lot of time over the past two months, whether it was on the issue of are we serious about creating a deficit commission; are we -- how and where are we going to try certain terrorists in this country; and things like reconciliation.
It is -- it's enormously informative to watch a group of people who, to go through each of these examples, thought we ought to set up a deficit commission and a debt commission -- until it came time to vote on that deficit and debt commission and then decided they weren't for what they were -- what some of them were cosponsoring only a few weeks earlier; or when criticisms about how a shoe bomber are dealt with and never get called out for eight years and an analogous situation happens in Detroit and all of a sudden everyone wants to handle this differently than they said they wanted to handle it for the previous eight years.
Then you take the view of something like reconciliation, something that has been used -- it was the vehicle for welfare reform; it was the vehicle for the Bush tax cut in 2001, at a cost of $1.3 trillion; it was the vehicle for the tax cut in 2003 at a cost of $350 billion; it is how S-CHIP came to be, which is parlance for the Children's Health Insurance Program; it is how COBRA came to be, which provides the ability for an individual that loses their job to continue their health care coverage when that happens.
And I think there are virtually limitless quotes on why this was good then versus why they view it differently now.
Q I guess my question was just whether he felt he needs to advocate that -- if he feels it's something he needs to address specifically?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know whether he'll address it specifically -- whether he'll address the specific hypocrisy or not.
Q Last thing. Is the President irritated or does he bristle at all about the fact that his medical report has to be made public and the whole world knows about it?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- look, I spent some time with the doctor Friday and Saturday going through the release of this. Obviously it's important, I think, for privacy -- for those that are concerned about medical privacy to understand, as the document related, that the President had given permission for both me to have a discussion with the doctor about his medical records as well as for the doctor to release those -- that memo.
The President understands that his health is more than just something that should be of concern to him and those that know and love him, but that his health is important based on the responsibility that the American people gave him in the election. He might not want to explain why he had a few more desserts last year than he had the previous few years, but --
Q That's really hard to believe. He's really skinny, you know? (Laughter.) It's hard to imagine he's hoarding desserts back there.
MR. GIBBS: I actually was -- I was joking with the doctor about this, that all you guys think he eats carrots and celery and there's more cheeseburgers, fries and pie than you previously knew.
Q When Senator Michael Bennet got a primary challenge from Andrew Romanoff, the White House pretty quickly got out and endorsed Senator Bennet. Are you going to endorse -- take a position in the Blanche Lincoln Senate contest?
MR. GIBBS: We support Senator Lincoln as an incumbent senator, yes.
Q Okay. And does the President see a responsibility -- see a responsibility that he has to help Nancy Pelosi get the votes this go-round? What role does the President have --
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, the President helped get votes in all the go-rounds. I don't doubt that he will use the -- do the same thing this time to get the votes necessary to pass health care.
Q Can the participants in last week's meeting expect to hear from the President before this announcement on Wednesday? Is he going to talk to people on both sides to tell them what he intends to say and do?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don't know whether he'll call each and every one of them or not --
Q Well, not and each and every one of them, but the leaders on both sides?
MR. GIBBS: I think he will -- let me check and see what the plan is for notification on that.
Q And is this part of the agenda tomorrow at all? Is he going to talk about health care reform when he's in Georgia?
MR. GIBBS: No. I should have brought with me -- he will focus on jobs and visiting a couple of businesses tomorrow, and talking specifically about details for weatherization and retrofitting as part of the economic plan -- an idea that we rolled out in December, but details that we'll have more of later today.
Q Robert, does the White House subscribe to the notion that there's more than one way to measure bipartisanship on health care? Namely, that if some Republican ideas are incorporated into the bill it doesn't matter whether the bill ultimately gets any Republican votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, ultimately how Republicans vote on their ideas is up to them. But, Ed, I think obviously there's a part on our Web site where we posted the bill that shows the number -- a sampling of the number of ideas that had been accepted as a result of the committee process. You saw some agreement last week on additional ideas.
Quite frankly, taking individuals and individual small businesses and putting them into a collective pool is an idea had by many Republicans, which is in many ways a foundation for a great part of the bill that governs individual insurance coverage.
So I think as the President said in here a few weeks ago, bipartisanship can't simply be none of your ideas and all of our ideas. That's not bipartisanship.
So, look, I think whether it's on getting our economy moving again, whether it's on health care, whether it's on energy, I think you'll see the President has ideas that Republicans have said they supported and enunciated in the past. Whether or not that drives them to supporting comprehensive reform will be up to them.
I do think, Ed, and I said this on Friday, I think what you saw in many ways, though, last week, there was no doubt a fundamental difference in the regulation of insurance and the regulation of the insurance market. I think you have a plan in the President's that through the exchange will allow policies to be purchased across state lines. The plan that the President proposed, though, has a minimum standard for what that insurance has to entail. And I think that's important for a number of reasons, not the least of which consumers have to feel confident that when they're purchasing insurance it's not something that in fact is too good to be true.
It also matters, quite frankly, for the rest of us because those that do get access to affordable insurance, if their insurance continues to not provide them with the ability to get the treatment that they need, that cost simply gets passed to you and I.
Q I guess what I'm asking, Robert, is can the White House claim bipartisanship on content if not on votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think without a doubt I can say quite clearly that the legislation includes the ideas of members of both parties in Washington.
Q Speaker Pelosi said a couple of hours ago that "in a matter of days we will have a proposal" -- she said this about health care -- "It will be a much smaller proposal than we had in the House, because that's where we can gain consensus. But it will be big enough to put us on a path of affordable, quality health care." Does Speaker Pelosi have it about right -- a smaller proposal coming from the President that will put the nation on a path -- maybe not provide it entirely but put it on a path toward these goals?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think I would disagree globally with what she's talking about, keeping in mind, again, that there were differences between the House and the Senate in terms of the viewpoint of the House on their bill.
Q Would you disagree locally? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I would think globally and act locally. (Laughter.) No, I don't -- I think the summary is about right.
Q It's not an insignificant phrase -- "a much smaller bill." That encompasses potentially a lot of policy territory, taxation territory, spending exposure -- all these sorts of these -- and a path toward these goals the President put out --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the specific quote so -- I can certainly talk to -- no, no, I don't -- I'm not saying you don't have it right. I don't know -- not having talked to her staff, I don't know what she's predicated that --
Q Is it fair to say that what the President will outline Wednesday will take the place of what's on the Web site currently?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think, though, you'll see -- you're likely to see a decent amount of overlap.
Q Will it be in legislative language? Is this going to be the new bill? Since we have leaders on both sides of Democrats saying, well, we don't have a bill right now so it's hard to get a whip count, we can't really tell you if we have the votes or anything because there is no bill that we're asking them to consider. Will this thing that we see Wednesday be the next thing for Democrats and Republicans to consider?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it will definitely be the next thing for them to consider. I don't -- I doubt that it will be in legislative-ese, but I don't think, to be honest with you, Major, that -- obviously the broad outlines of -- leaving aside Wednesday, the broad -- I think one can evaluate the broad outlines of where you would be based on the specificity that's on the Internet now.
Q You told us Friday that one of the tasks of the weekend was to look at the Republican suggestions from Thursday's summit and see if they fit within something the President wants to endorse. Can you update us on that?
MR. GIBBS: That's an ongoing process here.
Q Let me read you a couple of things that Warren Buffett said this morning: "Unfortunately we came up with a bill that really doesn't attack the cost situation that much and we have to have fundamental change. We have to have something that will end the constant increase in medical cost as a percentage of GDP." Then he's asked on CNBC, "Are you in favor of scrapping this and going back to start over?" "I would be if I were President Obama," is Warren Buffett's answer. He seems skeptical on the issue of this legislation dealing with the cost and suggests possibly it might be better to start over.
MR. GIBBS: I think later in the same interview, Major, he I think speaks probably equally eloquently if not more so about the notion of doing nothing, about the notion of what happens. The cost of -- as I said earlier, the cost of doing nothing on health care -- we know what that means. It doesn't mean a lot for Warren because he's okay, right? But for somebody that lives in Warren, Michigan, they're watching their health care premiums go up; they're watching the small business they work for drop their health insurance. So he says --
Q He doesn't say those things you said.
MR. GIBBS: He says pretty clearly in there if it's where we are versus nothing, then the Senate bill is a good place to start.
Q Right, but he also says if it's a choice between Plan A, which we've got, or Plan B, which is what's in front of the Senate -- "I would vote for the Senate bill but I would much rather see a Plan C that really attacks costs."
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I do not think that the President --
Q Do you think he's saying what Republicans are saying, start over from scratch? Or do you think he's saying something different?
MR. GIBBS: No, because I don't think that the -- I think that Mr. Buffett wouldn't -- I don't think that Mr. Buffett would evaluate the proposal that the House Republicans put forward and think that -- I don't think that it scratches the surface on dealing with virtually every issue, including cost. It does virtually nothing on cost, it does virtually nothing on coverage, it does -- it leaves regulation up to insurance companies.
So I think that's why he was -- again, were -- if the choice is between the Senate bill and nothing, he supports the Senate bill.
Q But the President is not persuaded by his suggestion -- strongly worded one -- of a Plan C?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is -- and what has animated his actions from the beginning is dealing with costs. I don't think that -- I don't think that the -- I don't think that the last word on health care will always just be this -- will be the legislation moving forward. I think the President will continue to look at ways to cut costs in health care.
Q Quickly, one last one on financial regulation. Does the White House consider it somewhat of a victory that Republicans are talking about a consumer protection agency that may be in Treasury when for a while that appeared to be a potential sticking point entirely? I mean, do you think you've made some headway here, even if you can't get one that has its own address, its own edifice, its own letterhead, if you will?
MR. GIBBS: I think, honestly, Major, what is most important is the authority that that entity has. Whether that is -- if that authority is something that isn't constrained by other forces, that's that the judgment that the White House will make about its efficacy. I would say if you have Republicans like Senator Shelby and others beginning to understand the importance of protecting consumers against various financial instruments, I do think that is -- I do think that's progress. I think this will be -- this is going to -- many steps to get to where we need to go.
But I think bottom line for the President is we have to have a very, very strong -- legislation has to contain a very strong mechanism for protecting consumers.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Jeffrey.
Q I was wondering if President Obama was concerned about the three vacancies that will be coming up on the Fed Reserve Board of Governors and how quickly he plans to act on all three.
MR. GIBBS: I know that on the current vacancy, our plan -- the one announced today -- our plan is to nominate somebody in time for their confirmation prior to the term expiring.
Q In terms of all three vacancies, though, I think he said he would plan to nominate someone by June. But in terms of the other vacancies, is it concerning the President that this seven-member board is quickly evaporating?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Jeff, I think the President will seek to have nominees -- that he'll seek to nominate somebody quickly and hopes that they can be quickly confirmed. Obviously we spent some time and energy earlier in the year working for Chairman Bernanke's confirmation, as the continuity and stability in the financial system the President and the economic team believe to be very important. And I think the same can be said for the Board of Governors.
Q Do you think that this will be a similar difficult way forward for you as it was with Chairman Bernanke? I mean, would he like to hold it off until he gets some other legislation through?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, I don't think there's -- I think, again, our goal is to -- particularly in the most recent announcement is to get somebody there nominated in time to -- and ultimately confirmed in time to take up the seat as the term expires.
Q On his speech on health care on Wednesday, what type of venue is that? Is that like an address to the country? Is it a press conference?
MR. GIBBS: No, it will likely be off campus but it will be in the D.C. area.
Q In the form of a speech, though?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. Last Monday you were asked twice about the claims of Congressman Sestak, that he had been offered a high-ranking administration position and --
MR. GIBBS: I have not made any progress on that.
Q Just to let you know, I was in touch with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon who said there was no discussion of it at all but Mr. Sestak's spokesman, Jonathon Dworkin, said the Congressman stands by his story. Can you check if the White House made any offer?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was remiss on this and I apologize.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: There's not much to follow up on. Let me check into that.
Q Thanks very much.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Robert, does the White House see this episode with Senator Bunning as something isolated or is there something bigger that you're trying to draw attention to here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what we're trying to draw attention to is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who've lost their job and lost their health care because of that and their unemployment benefits -- all of that is threatened because one person has decided to stop the entire process.
Again, normally the way this is always -- this can be dealt with, they can talk about this, and it almost -- I can't imagine a scenario in which, in almost every other aspect of life, offering that individual a vote on what they propose to do wouldn't remedy the situation. It's hard to bargain with somebody when -- if you say, I won't do that because of this, and you say, well, how about we vote on that, and you say, I object. I don't -- what we're trying to do is highlight the fact that because of the games of Washington, hundreds of thousands of people are without the benefits they need to continue as they look for work. Seems to me to be pretty common-sense.
Q Robert, over the weekend, Speaker Pelosi gave herself an A for effort. Given, though, that Capitol Hill has yet to pass into law any of the President's three key priorities -- cap and trade, health care, financial reform -- what grade would you give Congress, and the Speaker, for that matter?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously as it relates to health care, financial reform, and comprehensive energy legislation, as you mentioned, none of them are in law, but understand the House has passed all three of those. So it's hard to argue that they haven't accomplished their end of that bargain. And I think that's what Speaker Pelosi was mentioning.
I think if you look at credit card legislation, cutting funding for wasteful defense projects, an economic recovery plan, I think there are a host of things with which the House has played obviously an enormous role in becoming law, in addition to making progress on the President's priorities that you mentioned.
Q What about the Senate?
Q Yes, what grade do you give Harry Reid?
MR. GIBBS: We're working on getting them caught up.
Q Robert, thank you. There's been a lot of focus on the issue of broken government. Does the President believe that paralysis in Washington has reached a point where political reform might become a worthy -- systemic political reform might be a worthy project of his -- for example, where he focuses on, say, redistricting, showing that there's more competitive districts in Congress, term limits, and maybe even changing the filibuster rules?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard specific conversation here about the issues that you mention. I think the President's viewpoint would be -- and I think last week demonstrated some progress on these fronts until Friday with Senator Bunning. But last week the Senate passed with 70 votes on a bipartisan basis, passed a plan to provide tax cuts for businesses that hire the unemployed. The House, with over 400 votes -- thus in a bipartisan way -- passed removing the antitrust exemption from insurance companies, therefore increasing competition available for individuals.
So as is true in most things in Washington, it's fits and starts; it's one step forward, one step back, or two steps back. I think if it relates to somebody like Senator Bunning, I think what confounds 99 other senators is when one decides to stop the entire process while the will of either the majority or a supermajority continues to exist. The comments from Senator Kyl over the weekend about the fact that, well, we're going to get this done -- I think what Senator Bunning has done has frustrated a lot of people across the political spectrum.
Q Can you fill us in on the rest of the week beyond Wednesday remarks? And then also --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on Thursday or Friday yet.
Q Not yet. So as far as the Wednesday thing goes, will we have a definitive answer on whether or not Democrats are going to pursue reconciliation? Will there be any question about any of those sort of details?
MR. GIBBS: Again, it doesn't make sense for me to give you the President's announcement for Wednesday on Monday, except to say --
Q Sure it does. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I realize I was -- that I did not necessarily have a willing room of agreement on that.
Q I'm not asking what it's going to be, but just --
MR. GIBBS: I think what I said earlier to Savannah, that the way -- what he discusses will point toward not just a policy, but a process moving forward.
Q So that means -- you think we will know definitively -- it's not going to be a question --
MR. GIBBS: I think you'll have a good idea of how we would proceed.
Q You mentioned those other items that have passed on reconciliation. What Republicans say is those things had some bipartisan support; there were Democrats who supported welfare reform, there were Democrats that supported COBRA. This is strictly a partisan deal. What would be your response to that?
MR. GIBBS: My response would be they continue to move the goalposts. When Judd Gregg said if you have 51 votes for an idea it passes, what did he mean? I think he meant -- I think he meant reconciliation was fine for what I want to reconcile, and it didn't mean it if I didn't want it; therefore pay attention not to what I said in the past, but what I said in the future in hopes of you not catching the hypocrisy in my argument.
Q Are you concerned about Byrd's objections to using something this massive, using the reconciliation process --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, understand this -- the base Senate health care bill passed the Senate not with 50 or 51, but with 60 votes. Right?
Q Just back on that, just very briefly, an unknown White House spokesperson did say in the Philadelphia Enquirer -- or did deny what Sestak had said three times --
MR. GIBBS: I said I would check on this. It's hard for me to do follow-ups on something I can't work through.
Q So at this point the White House is not ready to deny what Sestak said?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think I said I would check on the situation.
Q Robert, on another issue. It's March 1st and the National Black Farmers Association says this appropriation, the $1.25 billion appropriation for their settlement, has not been attached to any bill as of yet. And they're concerned, again, that their monies will not be approved by Congress, again pushing this whole Pigford Suit case to another year or two maybe.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on where the process would be from our end. I don't -- I can't speak to the appropriations process on the Hill, but let me check on it from here.
Q Also, on the President's health, has the pastry chef been given a mandate -- (laughter) -- no, seriously, though --
MR. GIBBS: Are you kidding me? The President loves the pastry chef. (Laughter.)
Q Right. That's the problem. That's the problem. Seriously, since Mrs. Obama is the woman of the house and she has talked about healthy eating -- she has a garden outside --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let's --
Q No, no, no, no, this is --
MR. GIBBS: On behalf of the President of the United States, let's -- I'll do this. He doesn't look like me, right? So let's -- I mean, he's doing just fine. Let me tell you, I'd love to go to Bethesda, have them work through and tell me that I was where the cholesterol was on him and what have you. So let's not --
Q Robert, I understand --
MR. GIBBS: The doctor would like to see his LDL lowered, but --
Q And that's the point -- are there going to be more fruits and vegetables in his diet? The LDL -- are there going to be more almonds in his diet?
MR. GIBBS: This is funny. I love this. You guys thought he, like --
Q But it's real, it's a real issue, it's a real issue. This is the President of the United States.
MR. GIBBS: You guys thought he, like, carried arugula in his pocket to snack on, and now all of a sudden he's -- now all of a sudden -- now all of a sudden he's breaking into my office looking for quarters for the vending machines. (Laughter.)
Q There are fresh apples on --
MR. GIBBS: "Put the potato chips down." (Laughter.)
Q There are fresh apples in the Oval Office at all times. I mean, will there be --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, which he eats a lot of. Look, I got to tell you, I mean, again -- no, no, he does. I had an apple today; I can't say Axelrod had an apple today. (Laughter.) Now I'm getting myself in trouble.
No, but, look, in all seriousness, because, look, I think obviously the health report is important, that, look, again, on the helicopter ride back he was the first one -- he said, look, I just have to say no to dessert more often. Look, there's not a -- I don't think there's a magic formula except just, as he said, pushing away from the table before they put the pie in front of him.
Q So the pastry chef has not been given a mandate --
MR. GIBBS: No, to keep baking but he's just got to use a little bit more presidential restraint, I would say.
Q It's a demand problem, not a supply problem. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Not untrue.
Q Going back to the CFPA, if it's not given sufficient authority, is that enough reason for the President to threaten or actually conduct a veto?
MR. GIBBS: Well, David, I don't want to get that far ahead of the process given the fact that we have not yet seen all of what the Senate bill will be. Obviously the House is on record with a strong CFPA. Look, again, without getting into where this thing -- what might happen "if," I know this -- let me just leave it at the President is -- the President believes strongly that final legislation should and must include strong consumer financial protections. This is something that he outlined earlier, it's been through the House, and he's enormously serious about ensuring is part of the final product.
2:53 P.M. EST