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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 4/27/09

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
April 27, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:23 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: No announcements, so we'll start with Ms. Loven.
Q Thank you. Just a couple things. The European health commissioner, EU commissioner was saying that he didn’t think that any non-essential travel to the U.S. or Mexico should be cancelled. Is there any push-back coming from the White House or the administration on that?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, any --
Q Any push-back. Are you guys talking about saying we don't think that's an appropriate thing to say at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I will check on the European information. I had not seen that before I came out here.
Q Well, it's been in all the stories all morning --
MR. GIBBS: I would say -- let me just give you a sense of what has -- what the President has done on this today, including who he's heard from. At the end of the President's daily intelligence briefing he got a briefing on the latest developments from John Brennan.
As you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a public briefing today at 1:00 p.m. Mr. Brennan and Secretary Napolitano and the State Department will brief at 3:00 p.m. today.
Q Who from State?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who from State, but likely in that will be an increased travel advisory saying non-essential travel -- warning against non-essential travel to Mexico.
Q Likely?
Q Can you confirm that that's what they're going to say?
MR. GIBBS: I can. I can likely --
Q A warning against non-essential --
MR. GIBBS: Non-essential travel to Mexico. I will point you to them in terms of the details forthcoming.
Q In terms of the EU health commissioner, can you just follow up with that? It used to be if there was a question to follow up on in the briefing, that there would be sort of an asterisk in the transcript or some way to --
MR. GIBBS: I will --
Q -- get us the facts.
MR. GIBBS: I'll send it to you in that pink paper that Bill has.
Q That would be great. And then just quickly, you talked about the President getting his update at the end of the intel briefing. Can you just talk about his process of keeping updated and involved and kind of walk us through a little tick-tock?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. We did some of this yesterday. I don't know how many briefings he ended up getting yesterday, but he's getting regular briefings from Mr. Brennan, who, as I said yesterday, is Assistant to the President and in charge of the Homeland Security Council here at the White House.
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 -- HSPD-5 is what denotes that Secretary Napolitano, as head of the Department of Homeland Security, has primary intergovernmental authority over these types of incidents.
Again, they will brief, as I understand it, CDC at 1:00 p.m., because Dr. Besser is in Atlanta. Brennan and Napolitano will brief at 3:00 p.m. That will happen on a daily basis to keep you all up to date on any and all developments.
Q Following up from yesterday's briefing here, sort of what did you know and when did you know it -- the first case in Mexico was apparently either reported, or the first death was -- I'm not sure -- April 12th. The President was there about five days later. Did our team learn of this during the advance or in the course of the visit?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not aware that we learned until I think earlier last week. That's what I -- that's what I've been told and I will double-check on that.
Q So there was no warning or caution given --
MR. GIBBS: Not prior to the trip, no.
Q -- prior to the trip?
Q There are growing concerns in the financial markets about potential fallout for the global economy for those glimmers of hope and progress that the President has pointed to, if this were to turn into a pandemic. Is the administration at all concerned and taking any kind of preemptive action, if that were the case?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me split the question in a couple different ways. The National Economic Council, Council of Economic Advisers is obviously aware of and looking into this notion. There's, I understand it, a working group at the Department of Treasury to deal with this. Obviously what we have done and what we talked about yesterday in declaring a public health emergency in order to activate capacity and capability of this government ahead of anything was to get out ahead of any of these incidents and hopefully, prevent its spread. So I think it is a little early to determine the economic impact. But obviously, NEC, CEA and Treasury are monitoring that situation and looking into it. I hesitate to get a whole lot further than that based on what may or may not happen.
Q Has the President talked -- spoken on the subject privately that he felt any concern --
MR. GIBBS: There was discussion about it here today, yes.
Q I know that Kathleen -- Governor Sebelius' nomination is probably going to be voted on tomorrow in the Senate, but do you guys have just the litany of other assistant and deputy secretaries at HHS, as well as the Surgeon General, ready to go, to hit the ground running after she is confirmed, assuming she is?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. Let me -- as I mentioned earlier, the primary presidential directive for Homeland Security denotes -- I know there's been some discussion about why Napolitano's role in this. That's why I mentioned the presidential directive that denotes interagency coordination goes to the Department of Homeland Security.
And I mentioned this yesterday. There's -- our response is in no way hindered or hampered by not having a permanent secretary at HHS right now. Dr. Besser and thousands of people both at CDC and throughout HHS are responding to this. There are professional staff over there as we speak, helping to coordinate this. I'm sure many of you all have called public affairs over there and gotten your questions answered.
So there -- we feel confident with the team that is there now. Having said that, we're certainly hopeful that Secretary -- soon to be Secretary Sebelius will join them without delay tomorrow.
Q But presumably, you'd rather have more than a group there.
MR. GIBBS: We'd rather not have a swine flu.
Yes, sir.
Q I'm sorry, but could you just -- do you have them ready to go -- the Surgeon General, the assistant secretary?
MR. GIBBS: There are -- there's a whole group of people there and there will be more to follow. Some will, and some won't need Senate confirmation.
Yes, sir.
Q Can I just follow on the question of economic impact that Matt asked? Specifically, there has been some chatter this morning about during the stimulus debate, there was I think $900 million that Democrats wanted to put in to deal with pandemic preparations. I know we're not in a pandemic stage right now, but there have been some Democrats this morning saying the money got taken out by Republicans who thought it was pork barrel spending. Any concern here at the White House about that money being taken out? And any talk about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, before I get into that argument, let me -- I'd have to go look at the information. I would say to this, Ed, that the preparations that Congress took in 2006 were important in providing us the ability to respond now. And part of the reason -- 2005 and 2006 -- part of the reason I'm up to date on those things is because Senator Barack Obama was deeply involved in the appropriations activities to ensure that we had antiviral drugs in the event of an avian flu outbreak.
Some of the very first governmental money that went to avian flu came through work that Senator Obama did with Senator Lugar in terms of monitoring in foreign countries that didn't have the capability to recognize, or the infrastructure to test what was going on. That is part of what he worked on in '05 and '06. I'd have to look specifically at the $900 --
Q A quick follow to what Bill asked about Mexico. The fact that the administration was not told about what had been going on in Mexico when you got there, is there any concern the Mexican government was not truthful? Or is it that it hadn't been -- the whole thing had not been formulated yet, so maybe they didn't have all the information?
MR. GIBBS: Without speculating on what the situation might have been, it's hard for me to guess. I said this yesterday, and there's certainly been no change in that -- that the President's health was never in any danger.
Q In grading -- his report card, how does the President rate himself after 100 days in office?
MR. GIBBS: I was asked this question a few days ago and I gave the administration a B-plus. I think there's always room for improvement. But I think largely -- and I think the President and the administration are pleased with what has been done in the first 100 days if you look at restarting -- restarting credit flowing, increased financial stability, the passage of a recovery and reinvestment plan.
But as I've also said, I think the American people are less likely to spend a lot of time sitting around Wednesday judging what we've done in our first 100 days, and are more concerned with what we're going to do each and every day going forward to continue the progress that we started in the first part of this administration.
Q Does the President think it's right for Wall Street to be getting big pay raises now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President's viewpoint on executive compensation have been well discussed in each of these first almost 100 days.
Q Robert, two questions -- a quick follow on Jake's question. So your response hasn't been hampered at all by not having an HHS Secretary, by having an acting HHS --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I'm happy to respond to something that you think might have hampered that response.
Q It doesn't -- it's not a concern at all to the administration that you don't have your person there and then they don't have their people there? Not at all?
Second question, do you guys feel you owe folks in New York City this morning an apology for this incident having to do with the airplane that looks like Air Force One with two fighter jets? There seemed to be a lot of panic --
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to the FAA or Air Force.
Q Everybody's pointing us to the White House Military Office, so that's why --
MR. GIBBS: Well, then I would contact the White House --
Q Well, the White House Military Office won't tell us anything -- they'll refer us to you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, then let me go discuss with the White House Military -- I don't -- I have seen some news reports but --
Q What was the photo op for?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. That's -- I have no information on this other than what I saw --
Q I mean, I understand the way this works. I'm just saying, appearance-wise, it's odd that you guys don't have a response. I mean, this is the President's aircraft or what looks like --
MR. GIBBS: I understand. I was working on other things. You might be surprised to know I don't know of every movement of Air Force One or what happens to it. But I will certainly talk to the Military Office.
Q -- very edgy about it.
Q A follow-up?
MR. GIBBS: What's that? No, let's go to -- yes.
Q Another question on this swine flu. This is the first test for you all on a potential major public health crisis. What are some of the things that are guiding you in terms of your communication on this balance between how the President put it this morning -- reason for concern, but not alarm?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think yesterday's announcement I think in some ways demonstrates that. I mean, look, we -- I think anytime you were to utter the phrase "public health emergency," obviously initially there would probably be a lot of concern.
But understanding, as the Secretary -- as Secretary Napolitano denoted yesterday, it's very similar to an emergency declaration that one might make in preparation for a natural disaster like a flood or a hurricane that you know or can predict is coming. It helps us preposition resources. It frees up parts of the law that have to be activated in order to do that.
Yesterday, Mr. Brennan, Secretary Napolitano, and the CDC walked through all of the preparation that had previously been done. Look, we want to ensure that the public understands the steps that the government has taken, the capacity and the capabilities by which the government has, in order to respond to this -- to let people know and to hopefully give them information if they have questions. Again, I would repeat, go to -- there is something on -- obviously right there on the front home page that has frequently asked questions. There's also part of that in Spanish for people that need that.
So I think there -- we're trying to balance, as you said, ensuring that the public is aware and understands what's out there, but at the same time what we're doing is a precaution and not to alarm people.
Q What -- just to go back to the questions -- the earlier questions about the economic effect, you said there were discussions here. At what level --
MR. GIBBS: Well, it was simply raised in one of the meetings -- I forget which one I was in -- that simply a discussion that it was something that should be noted. That's why, again, there's -- we'll ask Treasury for more on their group, but just that the NEC and the CEA are monitoring.
Q Was it one of the meetings where the President was present?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it was, but I can go back and check my notes.
Q Robert, a follow-up on that. What was -- can you clear up what the President's contact was with Felipe Solis, the gentleman who died the day after? And we're hearing that he could have --
MR. GIBBS: Let me balance the -- let me balance exactly what Peter said. I've got no information on that. Again, I'm going to repeat what I've now said any number of times: Having talked to the doctors directly about this, the President's health was never in danger. The President, nor anybody that I know of traveling with him in either a governmental or press capacity has shown any symptoms that would denote cause for any concern.
Q Understanding that, what was his contact, though, with Felipe Solis? Can you clear that up?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to anybody about that.
Q Did this man actually escort the President in Mexico City? No, seriously, it is a --
MR. GIBBS: No, I am serious, but, April, if I didn't know the answer to the previous question, extrapolating on the follow-up is going to be hard for me to provide information, based on the fact that the basis of the previous question I didn't have any information to answer it.
Q Was the President in the room with this gentleman?
Q I can ask you one --
MR. GIBBS: Okay, and I will check on it. Again, it's hard for me to go three levels down when -- sorry.
Go ahead.
Q Robert, the President this morning, on the swine flu, said there was no cause for alarm. Was he giving the American people a snapshot? We know this is a very fast-changing situation. And what should be the level of concern at this moment and going forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think people should be vigilant in observing what's around them. Obviously, if they -- I think yesterday -- they talked here yesterday, if people feel sick, to take the precautions that you need to, to stay home. I think those are important things for people to understand. And I think it is important, as I said, that people remain vigilant, that they ensure that they're, as Mr. Brennan said, taking responsibility for themselves.
The President, again, and the team here, wanted the American people to understand that we're taking steps in the event that what is happening now becomes more concerning. It's enough of a concern, obviously, to take steps to begin to activate our response. And we're continuing to monitor it, and hopefully, with these daily briefings in addition to CDC and Mr. Brennan and Secretary Napolitano, the public will have all the information they need on this.
Q I understand this is a fluid situation, Robert. You may not have the answers right now, but if you could take these questions if you don't and get back, I'd appreciate it.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Is the White House actively curious about Mr. Solis and the cause of his death? He did -- he wasn't -- he was next to the President. He was there. There is video of him on the 16th.
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- let me check. Let me check.
Q Can you really come back to us? I mean, it's a serious question.
MR. GIBBS: I will check.
Q This man possibly died from swine flu.
Q Well, we don't know yet.
Q We don't know, but we've been hearing the reports constantly, and he possibly had contact with the President the day before -- that's a real question.
MR. GIBBS: A real question that I said five minutes ago that I would try to find out, April. I haven't forgotten.
Q -- curious if it's pursuing to try to find out some more information about the situation.
MR. GIBBS: I will certainly check. Again, but let me -- hold on, but let me -- I said this the other day, I'm going to try not to take it personally that giving an answer on the seventh time has yet to break through. So let me try an eighth. I specifically asked somebody on my staff to speak directly with the doctors of the President of the United States of America, ask them if they were at all concerned. They said, no. The President, as I mentioned yesterday and on many other previous occasions, has not exhibited any symptoms that would require that to be of concern.
So while I will check individually on your question, I think it's important to understand, for the eighth time, that there's no medical concern for the President.
Q Robert, just in my defense, my question wasn't about that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and I said --
Q -- discussion of a medical concern --
MR. GIBBS: As I said this yesterday, Chuck, we have -- I think it's important for both you and for the public to understand that if you -- as Mr. Brennan said yesterday, if you are exhibiting symptoms, if you feel sick, to take precaution. But at the same time, let's not crush our public health or private health infrastructure with every person just going to randomly get tested, despite the fact that there's no concern that they're exhibiting a symptom by which would denote that they have some reason to be concerned.
Q One more --
Q I had a second question, Robert. Now, the White House --
MR. GIBBS: We're only up to two? (Laughter.)
Q Yes, sir.
MR. GIBBS: I like the way you count. (Laughter.)
Q The record will reflect that this would be the second question.
MR. GIBBS: All right, I find that hard to believe.
Q In previous administrations, and I assume in this one, advance trips for the President -- wherever the President is going to go, medical teams go out with specific medical questions: the personnel who are going to be on-site with the President is going to be, and the larger medical -- or air quality, or any type of medical concerns where the President is going to be.
Were these teams dispatched to Mexico? Were questions asked about swine flu, do you know? And did you get any response from the Mexican officials either about what the President was likely to encounter, or possibly would encounter?
MR. GIBBS: I will ask. Without -- and maybe I shouldn't do this. I'm not entirely sure that somebody would have asked about that given the timing. But let me --
Q The President arrived on the 16th, and as Bill reported, the first case was documented on April 12th. So it's possible that within that environment --
MR. GIBBS: Let me find that out. But again --
Q But again, it could have been asked.
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to go for number nine.
Q No, that wasn't the question --
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand. I just think it's important --
Q -- it's about communication between --
MR. GIBBS: I understand. I understand. But let's -- for purposes of the previous question, I just, again -- boy, I'm glad I'm not a public health spokesman. Let me just this one more time. The doctors have informed me, based on my personal curiosity, knowing of yours, that the President's health was never in any danger; that he has not exhibited any symptoms; neither has anybody traveling with him; neither has any of the press that traveled with him that I'm aware of exhibited any symptoms that would cause some reason for concern.
Q Major's question is not getting at that. There's a lot of speculation --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no, no --
Q -- that the Mexican government was withholding information from the United States.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not -- Chuck, hold on, let me --
Q I'm asking a question --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- no, no, no -- and I'm --
Q His health is not what we're asking about.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I'm trying to balance what somebody previously asked about concern and panic, okay -- so I'm reiterating that answer as a larger global answer while I check on the other questions. Guys, I -- my ears work fine. I will check on the questions, all right.
Don't tell me, let me guess -- go ahead.
Q I am not going to ask about the President's health. This is a relatively new administration's first public health crisis. It's a new plan that stemmed -- that came out of the SARS thing several years ago, never been into place. Aside from the top officials, you have a lot of lower-level second and third tier people that have not been put in place yet. Do you guys have any concerns about respond -- sort of the overall bureaucracy's response and being able to ramp up, and are you reaching out to anybody in prior administrations or anybody outside the government to kind of help this relatively new government deal with this situation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can certainly check and see if any of our -- I assume some of the people here have -- would just naturally reach out to counterparts in past or previous administrations. I would also point out, Michael, that a ton of this infrastructure is done at a state and local level. You know, the -- in dealing with cases that have been reported based on testing at the CDC, obviously, for instance, New York Department of Public Health, their school system, their local infrastructure is also key in this.
But we have -- we're not currently concerned about our infrastructure and our ability to respond to this. Again, this is something that I think it is important to understand is at the top of the President's list right now and the top of many of the staff that work here. We have all been involved in meetings and briefings and discussions and calls well after normal working hours to stay on top of the situation.
The team will continue to evaluate whether or not there are any infrastructure demands that need to be reinforced or met a different way. Again, I think part of the -- it's important what you mentioned, which is the response in many ways is about the plan that you have in place and the plans that you've taken in many ways, whether it was SARS, whether it was avian flu -- both the President's interest and knowledge on this issue as well as the preparations that were taken we feel confident leave the government in a strong position to respond.
Q I'll pass my second question on to Major. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Jeffrey.
Q Robert, you know, when the President was in the Senate, he had a bill early on in the avian flu scare and both he and Senator Lugar thought that the country was not prepared for this -- a crisis. Where does he think that the country is at right now on this, and have there been strides made under the Bush administration to prepare for this -- or your administration? Or is there a great need for --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- and I can -- I don't know if I have this timeline here. Let me take a gander at this. In the early part of 2005, I think the first several months of Senator Obama's tenure, he worked on -- primarily on appropriating money for -- and authorizing money for the World Health Organization to begin to have greater resources that would be needed to test, to monitor, to notify the surrounding regions and the world of the increased prevalence of avian flu.
In November -- or by November of that year, there were increased appropriations dealing with both the planning for, as well as the response needed for, antiviral medication and other response resources. That was done with the Bush administration and members of Congress. There was a big push on that and a lot of money that was added at that point in 2005 and again in 2006 to address this.
So I think the President believes that part of that work was helpful in creating that infrastructure and that plan that is now being activated to respond.
Yes, ma'am.
Q As long as you're taking questions that you're going to get back to us on, on the flight of Air Force One, the aircraft this morning down along Lower Manhattan at a very, very low level, Mayor Bloomberg says he is furious, it was insensitive, poor judgment, and he would go all the way to the White House to stop it if he knew it was going to happen. Do you think it's insensitive to have a big aircraft fly low over an area that -- when it's clearly such a trigger for them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm going to find out this information based on Chuck's question and we'll try to get back to you with whatever details we can.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, when the President this morning said, of the swine flu, that it was cause for concern but not alarm and you've got like the EU Commissioner at first saying, don't travel to North America, before he toned it down, saying, don't travel to parts of North America -- is there a fine line here? Is the world overreacting? Have we crossed a line toward panic and is it unjustified?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- well, yes and no. I do think there is a fine line, undoubtedly. But I also think there is -- and the President and his team believe -- a desire for and a need for information in order for the public to have to make determinations, to understand what is -- what has caused the government to take increased preparations so that they can take preparations and increase their own personal surveillance as to the surroundings that they're in.
Yes, I think it's a tricky fine line, but I think what we are doing is hedging a bit more on the notion that more public information is important so that people can take the necessary precautions. Again, that information is out there on the CDC website, Mr. Brennan said it yesterday -- actions that individuals can take should they feel like they're sick.
One of the things I would -- to build off of Michael's question earlier -- I think one of the things that gives -- and Dr. Besser said this yesterday -- we are at the tail end of the normal flu season, which is a good thing in terms of the overall ability to respond as the normal course of any flu that one sees each year, where the prevalence of that decreases.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, thanks. The New York Times reported this weekend that compensation levels for workers at the largest financial institutions are coming back to levels prior to the financial market's collapse. What kind of message do you think this sends? And is the White House concerned at all that as unemployment levels continue to rise, people in Wall Street firms are getting more and more pay?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said to Helen's question, I think the White House was concerned enough in February about this issue and continues to be concerned enough about this issue for the President to issue a fairly stern warning, and to begin the completion of guidelines and proposals to rein in executive pay and I think to ensure that there's some measure in compensation, and that compensation rewards success and not failure.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, I wanted to go back to Helen's question, as well. You said you'd give the administration a B-plus on its first hundred days in office. I was wondering what grade you would give the Republicans in Congress and the national leadership on their first hundred days under President Obama.
MR. GIBBS: Did you put him up to this, Helen? No. (Laughter.)
You know what, I'm going to -- I will let all of you intrepid reporters file equally intrepid stories judging their 100 days.
Q Or a grade for us?
Q -- a B-plus or what would -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: I'd let them defend their actions. And they have very eloquent spokespeople who I think can take those calls.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, this is budget week on the Hill again. And you're likely to get reconciliation at least for health. Does the President have mixed feelings about, on the one hand, having an easier time towards getting health care reform; on the other hand, perhaps irreparably damaging relationships with Republicans who think that it's, you know, sort of heavy-handed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess I would disagree with the notion that a majority of the United States Senate believing something is finding that to be heavy-handed. I think the President believes that this provides, no pun intended, a little bit of an insurance policy to make sure that people are engaged in finding a solution for a problem that's vexed Congress and the public for decades; that the President believes it's time to find a solution to cut health care costs and to increase the number of people that have -- that are lucky enough to have access to insurance; that we have a big table and that people can and should come share their ideas from across the spectrum as to how to exactly do that.
And I think it's been noted many times there are -- there are many examples of a public policy that have come as a result of reconciliation, whether it's welfare reform or tax cuts in 2001. So this is the beginning of a very important process and that we hope that both parties and actors that are involved in the health care equation from across the political spectrum will work and act in good faith towards finally bringing about a solution that finally cuts the costs of health care.
Yes, ma'am.
Q What are the White House views on the impeaching of Judge Bybee?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q I'm wondering what the White House's view is on the impeachment of the --
MR. GIBBS: It's no different than what I've said last week when I said this was a --
Q Did you know of Podesta's --
MR. GIBBS: -- congressional review. I'm sorry.
Q Did you know of Podesta's letter before --
MR. GIBBS: I can check.
Q Under the debt exchange announced today by GM, the Treasury would own 50 percent of the company. Does that mean the federal government will run General Motors? And how would it exert its authority?
And secondly, could you give me a reaction to the Chrysler-UAW deal announced last night? Does it --
MR. GIBBS: Sure. Let me take the first one first. Despite the ownership percentage that under a restructuring proposal that you mentioned as part of these SEC filings, this administration and this government have no desire to run an auto company on a day-to-day basis. We believe that -- or I should say, we believe that the plans that were sent forward to us needed to be strengthened. We strongly back the -- an auto industry that we believe can and should be self-reliant of government funding. And that's the actions -- that's what the Presidential Auto Task Force and the stakeholders we hope and believe are working strongly towards. But it is not our desire to either own or run one of the auto companies.
In terms of the reaction to UAW as it relates to Chrysler and Fiat, I think obviously we're pleased that it appears as if another hurdle has been cleared. I know it was -- and I think the President thanks all of those that are and were involved in those negotiations. And we believe and are hopeful that we can continue to make progress with additional credit holders to get a deal to merge Chrysler and Fiat ahead of the deadline and continue a strong and viable auto industry.
Q Yes, Robert, thank you.
MR. GIBBS: I keep telling you guys, don't worry -- I love that I just point in that general direction and -- no, I'm kidding. (Laughter.)
Q We'll take it. Looking ahead, the first Thursday in May is the National Day of Prayer. For the last eight years, on that day, there's been a prayer service in the East Room of the White House. So that would be not this Thursday, but May 7th. Can you tell us what the plans --
MR. GIBBS: I need it now. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us what the plans are for this year's National Day of Prayer?
MR. GIBBS: Well, most of these guys will tell you, I'm so bad at the week ahead that two weeks ahead might be a challenge even I can't begin to overcome.
Q There's concern among evangelicals that there will be nothing held at the White House this year. Is that true -- nothing in the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I can't imagine that that would the case. I will check with scheduling and those in the faith office that would have a better idea. The President is somebody who prays each and every day and -- whether it's national prayer day or not.
Yes, sir.
Q Sort of a related issue, I guess. Today the former ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, announced that she was declining the highest honor from Notre Dame and that was because the President is going to be giving the commencement speech there. Does the White House have any response to that at all?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I have not seen whatever reasoning she might have given. I'll continue to say this: The President looks forward -- greatly looks forward to delivering the commencement address at Notre Dame. Obviously it's a -- any commencement is a very special occasion for students and families that are involved. I think Notre Dame has a strong record of healthy exchange of differing viewpoints and ideas. The President is glad and fortunate to have supporters of all faiths and looks forward to delivering that commencement address.
Q Can I just follow up, though, one more thing -- there's been some reports that Notre Dame does expect him to wear the traditional robe of the Prayer to Virgin Mary. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I honestly don't know what the dress code is for that day, but I can assume if -- the President will wear what one traditionally wears for that commencement and looks forward to doing it.
Thank you, all.
3:10 P.M. EDT