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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 8/3/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                       August 3, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS:  Just a couple of quick announcements before we get started.
Today's previously scheduled event to honor NASCAR champion had to be rescheduled because the race yesterday was rained out.  That event will now be August 19, here at the White House.
The second announcement is the Senate Democrats will come down to the White House tomorrow and have lunch here with the President.
Q    All of them?
MR. GIBBS:  All of them.
Q    Open press?
MR. GIBBS:  Unclear.
Q    But we're all invited to the lunch?
MR. GIBBS:  You didn't get your invite?
Q    Is beer being served?  (Laughter.)
Q    Why are they --
MR. GIBBS:  To continue to talk about the priorities that they have, talk about what has been accomplished in the first six-and-a-half months of the administration, and to talk about our priorities.
Q    There's no particular issue?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  No.  And it's the President's birthday, and Chuck E. Cheese was booked.
Q    I got it.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Good.  That didn't actually cause you to laugh, though.
Q    No.  (Laughter.)
Q    Spoken like the father of a six year old.
MR. GIBBS:  Who celebrated their birthday a few weeks ago at?  Chuck E. Cheese.
Q    Is that his only celebration tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I was joking about that.  (Laughter.)
Q    You don't celebrate your birthday with the United States Senate?
MR. GIBBS:  Take us away, Phil.
Q    Thanks, Robert.  The President has been pretty clear he wants to cut the deficit in half within a decade; he wants a health care overhaul that's deficit-neutral; and during the campaign he promised no tax increase on the middle class.  Is there a point where you just say two out of three of these ain't bad?  And can you get everything done, all three of these done?
MR. GIBBS:  The President is committed to doing those things.  The President was clear in the campaign about that.  I think in some ways those goals overlap.  We're not going to make progress on the deficit without dealing with health care.
So some of those goals actually work in tandem.  I don't think we're going to get the deficit under -- begin to get the deficit under better control until we get the economy moving again.  In order to get -- lay that new foundation, the President strongly believes that health care reform is important.  The President was clear during the campaign about his commitment on not raising taxes on middle-class families.  And I don't think any economist would believe that in the environment that we're in raising taxes on middle-class families would make any sense, and the President agrees.
Q    Then why didn't Secretary Geithner and Dr. Summers say that they would not raise taxes on those families?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, having -- I did not watch the shows; I read some of the transcripts -- I think they allowed themselves to get into a little bit of a hypothetical back and forth.  I will say this, and I think this is important for all of us to understand, and we've talked about this issue throughout the team that we've been here:  We do have big, structural deficits that are going to have to be dealt with in order to meet the President's commitment of cutting this deficit in half and getting us back on a path toward fiscal responsibility.  That there's no question about.
And I think what they both talked about was, one, we're not going to have -- we're not going to be able to sustain any sort of economic recovery unless or until we do have a path toward fiscal responsibility.  But they also said that that shouldn't be done in a -- as a way of burdening middle-class families.
So I think the President's commitment on this is clear.  We have a lot of big challenges.  We're already looking at ways to cut wasteful spending.  As part of health care reform, the President has identified half a trillion dollars in spending that he thinks can be cut.  We've worked just in the past two weeks on a bipartisan basis to look at a program like the F-22 and cut some of that wasteful spending out of the budget as well.
Yes, ma'am.
Q    If Iran doesn't agree to talks with the United States, is the U.S. discussing with its allies the possibility of steep sanctions, such as sanctions on gasoline and other refined petroleum products?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, as you know, the P5-plus-1 have an outstanding invitation for the Iranians to come to the table.  The President strongly believes that we should -- and many of our allies believe that we should not allow the Iranians to acquire a nuclear weapon.  That invitation has not been responded to.  As you've heard the President discuss recently, we will evaluate as part of the G8 process where we are on that engagement in September.  But I don't want to get into discussions amongst allies or hypotheticals as we get toward those dates.
Q    Well, when you say you're not going to allow, what do you mean by that?  Do you think you can stop it?
MR. GIBBS:  We think it's important to do what has to be done in order to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, yes.
Q    Like what?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, a host of things, including I think beginning by engaging directly with them, so that they can live up to their own responsibilities in not pursuing that technology.
Q    Robert, in terms of what Geithner and Summers had to say yesterday, it really wasn't too much of a hypothetical back and forth.  It was about the -- do they think it's possible to do deficit reduction.  But that's not a -- that's --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, we can quibble about whether the word "possible" --
Q    No, that's not what the word "hypothetical" -- is it possible to do everything the President wants to do without increasing revenues from the middle class?
MR. GIBBS:  Right, and I want to just state again clearly here that the President has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle-class families, period.
Q    But if economists, including the President's own economists, don't necessarily think that it's possible to do so without raising taxes on the middle class, how is that dealing candidly with the American people?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Jake, there are a series of things that have to be done.  I think you'll actually hear an announcement from Treasury later this afternoon about how much money has to be borrowed versus what they thought was going to have to be borrowed and what will have to be borrowed as a result of financial stabilization.
In terms of cutting the amount of money that's needed, again, I think the President has been clear on this.  The first thing that we can do -- the most important thing that we can do right now is get our economy growing again.  We know that the deficit -- part of the reason that the deficit is up right now is that the economy has slowed down so much that tax revenues -- because it's what happens in an economic slowdown -- have regressed a lot.  I think the President -- obviously we're going to have to make some decisions down the road on some of the President's legislative priorities and some of the things that Congress wants to do to evaluate how we move back towards -- on a path toward fiscal sustainability.
Q    So did Geithner and Summers go off script or were they sort of testing the temperature out there of what something like this would --
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know.  I know the President has been clear about his commitment on it.
Q    So there is no -- there's no real scenario there, as the administration sees it, where middle-class taxpayers might be hit with a hike?  There's no scenario right now --
MR. GIBBS:  The President has been clear, very clear.
Q    Could I make that even a little more precise?  The President, as you well know, is -- not just middle class, but he's been very precise about it:  no family --
MR. GIBBS:  Let me be precise.
Q    Go ahead.
MR. GIBBS:  Let me be precise:  The President's clear commitment is not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year.
Q    So any implication anybody drew from Geithner and Summers yesterday to the contrary is flatly wrong?
MR. GIBBS:  I think the President has been clear.  I think you heard him reiterate it not that long ago right outside this room in the Rose Garden.
Q    But you can understand why people took what they said yesterday as Geithner and Summers trying to open the door a little bit?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I hope you'll take my reiteration of his clear commitment as an update.
Q    So they were not -- the door is closed?  They did not open the door at all?
MR. GIBBS:  I am reiterating the President's clear commitment in the clearest terms possible, that he's not raising taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year.
Q    Did he speak to them about the fact that they did raise this little bit of a --
MR. GIBBS:  We talked about a number of economic issues this morning in the Oval Office as part of the daily briefing.
Q    So is everybody going to be on message now, that absolutely no tax cuts [sic] for families --
MR. GIBBS:  Promising that everybody is going to be on message may be a bar that's too high for me to leap over.
Q    But that's the goal -- everybody is on --
MR. GIBBS:  The goal is to get the economy moving again.  The goal is to get our government back on --
Q    Without any tax cut [sic] for any family making less than $250,000 --
MR. GIBBS:  Our goal is to get our government back on a path toward fiscal sustainability; to lay the long-term foundation for economic growth.  And let's also -- one point that I forget that I think is important in this:  Within the very first month of the President taking office, 95 percent of Americans received a tax cut.  That's everybody in the middle class.
The President ran because for eight long years the middle class had borne the brunt of bad economic policies.  Even when jobs were being created, even when you saw positive economic growth, for the very first time in our history you actually saw wages for the middle class decline.  That's one of the reasons that led the President of the United States to want to run for President of the United States:  to protect the middle class, to cut their taxes -- which he did -- and to make sure that their voices were heard in the economic policymaking of this country.
Q    The door is not open even a millimeter on raising taxes?
MR. GIBBS:  I hope you'll take seriously what I said.
Q    Do you have an update from Senator Baucus if he'll get a bill out of the Finance Committee this week?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't.
Q    When was the last time the President contacted him?
MR. GIBBS:  Sometime probably last week.  I don't think there were any calls over the weekend.
Q    There hasn't been this weekend?
MR. GIBBS:  No, not that I know of.
Q    And can you explain, do you feel like Friday's GDP number -- it seems like every time there's a reported number, then there's a revised number -- and lately it's been revised downward.  Do you guys worry that the GDP number, which you guys jumped on as a positive step forward, do you have any reason to believe it could get revised downward?
MR. GIBBS:  You know, obviously, one of the things that was done -- one of the things that was released on Friday were revisions based on newer economic modeling back decades.  I could ask if we assume -- I certainly don't believe that at this point --
Q    Do you feel like this is a precise number --
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I think so.  But plus, you know, look, obviously the number is not more than a weekend old, so I know they feel confident in that.  Obviously, the one thing that we do know now that we didn't have as clear a handle on that you see in this economic revisions is the sheer depth of what we were facing economically.  You know, the positive growth that you saw in the second quarter of 2008 was revised down sharply.  The first quarter of 2008 went from a period of supposed economic growth to economic contraction.  The depth of the third quarter in 2008 began to show you just how deep a recession we were in and continue to be.
I think we take heart -- take some heart from the numbers, obviously, on Friday, that show, one, that the recovery plan we think is having an impact cushioning the economic downturn that we saw, saving and creating jobs; understanding with this caveat, we'll get new jobs figures on Friday.
Q    Thursday or Friday.
MR. GIBBS:  Right, and I think -- I don't think there's anybody that doesn't believe that we're going to see several hundred thousand more jobs lost in this economy.
Q    Just to clarify, is this confusion on the tax thing -- this is something that Summers and Geithner maybe got caught up in hypothetical questions?  Or is this a media interpretation?  I mean, who is --
MR. GIBBS:  I think a confluence of some of that stuff, sure.
Q    Robert, is the administration looking at Fort Leavenworth as a possible site for detainees from Gitmo?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't know to the degree to which they've gotten into specific siting, and certainly no final decisions of any sort have been made.  We, I think, made progress on dealing with a number of the issues that the executive order -- that needed to be dealt with as part of the executive order in reviewing the case files and in deciding who can and should be transferred.  But no final decisions on any of that have been made.
Q    And on another issue, the 10 letters a day the President gets from the correspondence office -- does he get letters critical of his policies?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  He gets letters that are critical of his policies.  He gets -- I would characterize most of the letters that he gets as -- and what I think he wanted most of all to see was, one, to get some representative sample of what people are concerned about, but also I think it's a way of stepping outside of the presidential bubble and seeing and hearing from people about the challenges that they face.  You know, they own a small business and they're struggling with the inability to get credit, to be able to borrow money and meet a payroll.  You get letters from family members who have loved ones serving bravely overseas in our military.
So I know that -- the President talks about it a lot because they have a profound impact on what he hears and what he thinks. And he's certainly not shy -- if he reads a letter that he thinks we all should be aware of, he is not shy about making copies and making sure that we see those letters as well.
Yes, ma'am.
Q    Does the administration consider an extension of unemployment benefits to be a second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know that I'd get into what to call it, except to understand that -- you have two different scenarios here.  You have over the course of the next few months you're going to have people that will exhaust the benefit cycle that they're in.  Then on December 31, you'll have an expiration of some of the Recovery Act parts that extended unemployment for those that had -- that were dealing with the recession long before Washington became aware of it.
The President and the economic team believe that extending those benefits and ensuring that the unemployed can get what they need and continue looking for work is tremendously important.  I don't think it makes -- I don't know what you call it, except ensuring that we're taking care of those that have fallen on hard times.
Q    Are you worried about Friday's report, jobless rate report?
MR. GIBBS:  Worried, how?
Q    Concerned about the numbers that you're going to see?
MR. GIBBS:  No, I mean I think I've said a number -- I don't think it's any mystery and we've said it a number of times -- you heard the President say it on Friday -- I think the expectation is there will be more job loss, because I think barring something wildly unforeseen, a one in 10 million chance, you're going to have several hundred thousand jobs lost.  You'll probably have the unemployment rate tick up.
I think the President remains concerned that we get this economy moving again and creating jobs for the millions of Americans that have lost them in this recession, and that's what he'll continue to work on.
Welcome back.
Q    It's great to be back.  How are you?
MR. GIBBS:  You're lying, but that's -- (laughter.)
Q    Well, it was also great to be away.
MR. GIBBS:  I see.  That's a better --
Q    Were you in the morning meeting on the economic topics you talked about a moment ago?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Who else was there?  Was Mr. Geithner and Mr. Summers there, I guess?
MR. GIBBS:  They were there; Peter Orszag, Rahm Emanuel, Anita Dunn.
Q    Did the President bring up what was discussed in the Sunday talk shows, or did Mr. Summers and Mr. Geithner volunteer --
MR. GIBBS:  I don't believe --
Q    -- did either one of them volunteer the hypothetical back-and-forth characterization --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, what?
Q    Did either one of them explain --
MR. GIBBS:  No, I made that up all by myself.
Q    That's how you interpreted it, as a hypothetical back and forth?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I read the transcript a few times.  And I do think that -- yes, I think there was some --
Q    Did the President seek an explanation from either Mr. Summers or Mr. Geithner about what they were trying to do?
MR. GIBBS:  We talked about it as an issue, but we didn't -- it wasn't sort of -- this wasn't a, you know, like "school is in" type of thing.
Q    Or a woodshed type of thing?
MR. GIBBS:  Right.  No.
Q    Okay.  Why no Republicans at this meeting tomorrow?  And would it be fair to interpret that since health care is the dominant issue that the Senate Finance Committee is wrestling with now and the senators will be dealing with considerably during their recess period, that health care would be the principal topic of this meeting?
MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think there will be a number of topics.  In terms of -- I mean, this is -- I would look at tomorrow's --
Q    It's a team-building exercise.
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if there will be trust falls or not.  But I think it is -- you know, Mark, I'm just not getting it today.  Like I can't sort of -- (laughter) -- I'm trying. 
Q    We're with you.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  I'm trying.
I  mean, I think one of the things that I would say is, you know, you have -- I would look at this as the President speaking to the Democratic Caucus.  They have a regularly scheduled caucus lunch that happens every Tuesday.  It's just we're having that lunch here at the White House rather than up on Capitol Hill.  So I think that explains talking to Senate Democrats --
Q    But the dominant go-home topic is health care?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you will -- again, I think you will hear a number of -- I think you will hear -- I don't doubt that health care will be discussed.  I believe the economy will also be heavily discussed -- the numbers that we've been talking about, numbers that we'll see throughout the week, unemployment, manufacturing reports, just in general where the economy is.
I think we'll probably -- they'll go through and discuss energy legislation.  I think in some ways -- I know one of the things that will be discussed is the continuation of the President's push to continue the Cash for Clunkers program, which without some help from the Senate in terms of moving the $2 billion from the recovery and reinvestment plan's energy efficiency programs into this account will likely mean that the program will have to be stopped by the end of the week.
But I also think the President will use it as an opportunity, as I am about to, to talk about the benefits of what that program has done.  The initial analysis of a group of the applications showed that the transactions were generating a 61 percent increase in fuel economy -- that vehicles purchased under the Cash for Clunkers or CARS program is 25.4 miles per gallon; the average fuel economy for trade-ins was 15.8 miles per gallon.  In gas alone, that's going to save a typical customer $700 to $1,000.  It's good for consumers.
It's good for dealers and auto manufacturers.  You've seen Ford talk about their sales being up as a result of this program.  It's good for our energy security and our environment.
Q    How long is it good for, Robert?  I mean, is the idea of artificial incentivizing of this automobile acquisition -- how long is that a good idea?  Is it a good idea for six months or for --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, the original proposal that we had laid out was for $4 billion as part of this program.  And again, we've seen the benefits of what that means in terms of savings for consumers and a decrease in fuel usage, which is good for our environment and our economy.
The Congress appropriated and the President signed $1 billion.  We think another $2 billion can take the program through September and that it's a good thing.
Q    Would it be -- well, first of all, what's your guidance from the Senate on the likelihood of that?  Do you think you're going to get that this week?
MR. GIBBS:  We're very hopeful.  Again, I think if it doesn't happen this week, it's unlikely that we'll make it to the weekend with a program that can continue.
Q    And is your message to those who are contemplating buying a car this week, they should go do it and expect that they'll get the money one way or the other?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  The program is up and running.  Again, if they meet the requirements of the program, the certificates that are filled out at the dealerships will be honored.
Q    Even if the Senate doesn't act?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, at a certain point -- again, if the Senate doesn't act by the end of the week, then we'll look at what we have to do with the program -- again, likely -- if the Senate hasn't acted by next Friday --
Q    This Friday.
MR. GIBBS:  -- right, this Friday, then I think obviously -- I would not give people the same assurances of going into a dealership over the weekend.
Q    So from now until Friday, if you're going to buy, expect that you'll get your certificate filled out and your rebate?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Robert, what's on the agenda for the President's meeting with Senator Harkin this afternoon?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't think there's anything specific other than a courtesy call.  He wanted to come in and see the President.  We'll get a fuller readout, though, for you.
Q    But he initiated the meeting?
MR. GIBBS:  That's what I'm aware of, yes.
Q    And also, what is the President going to do to celebrate his birthday?
MR. GIBBS:  I can get you -- try to get some more information on that.  I know the President spent a little time with some friends over the weekend at Camp David playing basketball and having dinner and bowling and having some fun with --
Q    Bowling?  What did he bowl?
MR. GIBBS:  I watched this -- 144.  No, no, no, I --
Q    Who was keeping score?
MR. GIBBS:  The machine was keeping score.
Q    How many frames?
Q    Is that a hypothetical?  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  No, no.  Are you a good bowler?
Q    Ten frames, right?
MR. GIBBS:  What do you bowl?  You might be -- I'm just saying that it's --
Q    Are we throwing down?  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  You seem to doubt the President -- again, the last four throws, three strikes and a nine.  I'm just saying.  I told the President, look, if you had done this Pennsylvania, my life would have been a little easier last spring.
Go ahead.
Q    How come you know the bowling scores but we don't have the midsession review yet?  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Because the bowling happened right in front of me.  There's a whole bunch of people working on the midsession review -- not an easy computer program, I think.
Q    Robert, this morning the President was out at George Mason.  He referred in his speech -- it was about the GI Bill for post-9/11 veterans, but he goes on about this age of irresponsibility and he's talking about easy distractions and the trivial.  He's made allusions before, but he said, "While so many were reaching for the quick buck, these were heading out for patrol" -- meaning the military veterans.  Who's he talking about here?  I mean, can you elaborate a little bit about what he means when he's talking about this age of irresponsibility and people going for the quick buck?
MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Well, look, I think -- I mean, I think -- I did not talk to him specifically about that phrase, but I think the way he has used many of those phrases in the past -- I mean, I think if you juxtapose the service that men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan here in this country and overseas in protecting our freedom, if you contrast that with some of the irresponsibility that we saw over the past -- over the course of the past few years on Wall Street, I think you get a very different vision.
And I think one of the important points about this new GI bill was it rewards and invests in the human capital that's so important for our country's security and its economic growth.  Obviously, the President's grandfather took advantage of an original GI Bill many, many years ago.  What this legislation did was update that program for the 21st century.  And it's not only a worthwhile program, but I think it underscores the deep commitment that we all should feel towards investing in those that have so selflessly protected us.
Q    So you're saying he's talking about Wall Street a little bit.  Is he also talking about Washington?
MR. GIBBS:  I think so.  I think that -- you know, look, I think you probably don't have to -- you probably don't have to go far into the newspaper each day to find candidates for irresponsibility for trying to make a quick buck, and those actions having put the economic fortunes of many and the economic security of all in jeopardy.  It's cost us hundreds of billions of dollars.
Q    So he would include -- when he's talking about Washington, would he include Democrats in that as well?  Republicans?  Is this --
MR. GIBBS:  I can certainly ask the President.  I mean, obviously, we've -- again, one of the reasons that we're talking about deficits and what to do about them is we have -- we have for far too long basically tried to sustain something that's not sustainable, and decisions are going to have to be made.
Q    Robert, not to belabor the tax thing, but when the President was talking to the team this morning, did he say to Geithner and Summers:  You guys should not have left this open, it should have been clearer?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  We talked about this going forward.  And there were -- Dr. Romer talked about the recent numbers on international manufacturing.
Q    But did the President reiterate his position on middle-class taxes?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    In that --
Q    In that meeting -- to them?
MR. GIBBS:  To all of them.
Q    To make sure there was no confusion?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Because there had been.
Q    Robert, can you give us a source --
MR. GIBBS:  Welcome back.  (Laughter.)
Q    -- the source of the information on the miles per gallon of the trade-ins?  And is the President satisfied that enough of those trade-ins are going to American Detroit manufacturers and not to Toyota and some of the other companies that aren't getting a deal?
MR. GIBBS:  We'll get you an updated fact sheet.  It's based on an analysis that was done by our folks with applications I believe through pretty late in the weekend.  Nearly half of the new vehicles purchased under the program are from the Big Three automakers.
Q    So less than half?
MR. GIBBS:  Forty-seven percent, which is more than by -- 45 percent is what their most recent market share was.  So it's slightly larger.  The top-selling vehicle in the program is the Ford Focus.  So I think we have seen this as something that will be a big benefit to domestic automakers.
Q    But why do foreign automakers at all?  Why not just concentrate the --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously you've got trade implications that would make that difficult/illegal.
Q    Is Ford Focus what he --
MR. GIBBS:  Say again?
Q    What kind does he have -- the President's --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, when they let him drive, he has a Ford Escape hybrid in Chicago.
Q    You offered assurances to buyers who might go into the showrooms by this Friday.  Same assurance to dealers?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    A lot of them are concerned about how long it's going to take to get reimbursed.
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  I mean, obviously the transaction -- the truth is the transaction is on them.  So, again, we feel confident, as I stand up here, that this program is continuing, it's working -- it's obviously working quite well.  I think for this program to be extended, for me to be able to give assurances later in the week, we're going to need to see the Senate act.  And I think that's what the President wants the Senate to do.
Yes, sir.
Q    A two-parter on health care.  There are a number of polls that have come out in the last 10 days or so and the general interpretation has been that, overall, the President's job approval rating is drifting downward and that, overall, public sentiment, approval for the main elements or contours of the plan on the Hill is also sliding downward.  My first general question, is that the basic analysis here?  Did you guys draw a different lesson?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think you can look at -- I think there were probably I don't know how many different polls out in the last 10 days, at least half a dozen.  I think you can look at, in some ways, conflicting numbers within the polls.  I mean, you've seen polls where a broad description of the program and its costs and what that means for the American people is a winner.  Obviously -- I think we've been in an environment where we've been focused on the process of health care reform, and I don't think coincidentally that has not been the most popular thing when people watch it on television, the sort of sausage-making aspect of this.
So I think what the President takes from these polls is that we have to continue to redouble our efforts to ensure that people are getting all the information that they need to make a conclusion about the fact that this will help families with insurance; it will give access to health insurance for those that don't have it; it will cut their costs; it will help the businesses that they work for; and it will finally put an end to some discrimination by insurance companies if you're too sick or you have a preexisting condition.  I think all of those are messages that the President believes need to be delivered each and every day.
Q    And I do have a --
Q    When does the message come out?  I mean, you haven't laid out any of the real priorities in the health care.
MR. GIBBS:  No, I think the President was quite clear on the priorities that he believed that Congress should focus on, and he's committed to those priorities, many of which I just outlined.
Q    Why don't --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think what we're dealing with too is misinformation on the other side.  I think that's what the President has hoped to try to deal with over the past few days.
Q    I do have a follow-up on this, but I would like this conversation recorded for on the record for the next time you say it, the President does not pay attention to polls.
MR. GIBBS:  But you asked me what my analysis was.  You didn't ask me to -- you didn't ask me if the President had pored over those polls.  And I can tell you the answer to that is no.
Q    Okay, that's fair.  But you guys have obviously noticed a downward drift in some of these numbers.  You just said misinformation is one of the major causes of that.  Is that the main cause, in your opinion?  I mean, is that the main reason that --
MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think there's competing goals.  I think the President has been out there trying to make his case.  He'll continue to do that.  I think -- we just have to continue to go out there and talk to the American people about the benefits of this important legislation, how it will lay that foundation for long-term economic growth.
Look, I also think we've talked about this before.  I think one of the things we have to do is talk about what happens if health care reform doesn't happen, understanding again, as I've said up here before, what does the status quo mean?  We know this -- we know that in the next nine years, at least your premiums will double.
If we don't do anything, if we fail to act -- if we fail to act, thousands will lose their health insurance today, tomorrow, and the next day.  Their costs are going to go up.  People will be discriminated against because of an insurance company deciding that they have a preexisting condition.  We know all of those things are going to happen if we don't act.  The President believes that now is the time to do so.
Q    Robert, two foreign policy questions.  One, Secretary Clinton is headed to Africa and she's going to be in Somalia -- I mean, she's going to talk to the Somalian transitional head, government head there, in Kenya.  And could you talk about what the mission is for Somalia from the United States' viewpoint as a lot of the extremists from the Pakistan/Afghanistan border are going to Somalia, and some of the other lawlessness that's happening in Somalia?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously Somalia is a place where we've seen people like Osama bin Laden set up camp before.  Obviously the President has talked about -- even before he ran for President, he talked about this in his trip to Africa in August of 2006 -- that you have instability, you have lawlessness, you have the breeding grounds for terrorism in places where there isn't a government structure, where there isn't somebody ensuring that the laws are being followed, ensuring that people have the basic necessities to survive, and that that lawlessness can breed the worst in extremism.
So obviously that's a tremendously important thing.  Kenya is obviously an important ally, and the President, when he went, discussed strengthening those relationships, but also ensuring that as we strengthen those relationships, the Kenyans and all of Africa have certain responsibilities.  I mean, the President gave a pretty high-profile speech on that trip about corruption, about ensuring that, as he's said before, that if somebody wants to start a business there, they don't have to pay a bribe to do it.
Q    Is there a thought that a U.S. military presence is needed in Somalia?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't want to get ahead of a determination one way or another on that.  I think obviously we have taken steps around that region, particularly as it relates to pirates and pirating and ensuring the safety of vessels that are traveling in that area.
Q    And lastly, on the hiker situation in Iran, is this somewhat a common-sense kind of thing, Americans going to countries and crossing borders by mistake?  What is the warning from this administration to people who are planning on going close to borders of countries that we're not --
MR. GIBBS:  All I want to say on this, April, is we've seen reports in Iranian media and we're working with the Swiss and the Swiss ambassador to confirm the information that we've seen in those reports.  But I don't have anything beyond that.
Q    What's the warning from the White House about crossing these borders, about potential crossing borders like North Korea and Iran?
MR. GIBBS:  I think I'd go back to what you said initially.  I think obviously people -- again, this is not a comment based on this case, except obviously to take great care and ensuring you know where you are.
Q    Just to close a loop on taxes, is there any time --
MR. GIBBS:  I was pretty sure I did that by at least the end of the second row, but -- (laughter.)
Q    I want to take one last crack at you.
MR. GIBBS:  Okay.
Q    Is there any time limit to -- because one of the things you said to the front row --
MR. GIBBS:  This is the hypothetical game I'm not -- again the President --
Q    No, but you said in this -- in this environment --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to say this.  I'm going to deal with this and I'll do this one more time.  The President was clear; he made a commitment in the campaign; that commitment stands.
Q    And he will never raise taxes on --
MR. GIBBS:  That commitment stands.
Q    But commitment doesn't mean he'll do it, Robert.  I mean, I can be committed to losing --
MR. GIBBS:  What else are you going ask then?  You asked if the President is going to make his commitment.  I'm saying he's made a commitment.
Q    But that's not completely shutting the door.  You can say I'm committed to doing something, but you may not do it.
MR. GIBBS:  Fine.  Ignore everything I've said in the last 45 minutes.
Q    Robert, back on health care, yesterday --
MR. GIBBS:  If you don't trust what I'm going to tell you, then I don't know why we do this.
Q    Well, you keep using that "commitment" word -- if someone says yes or no -- is he closing --
MR. GIBBS:  The President made a commitment in the campaign.  The President made a commitment in the campaign, he's clear about that commitment, and he's going to keep it.  I don't know much more clear about the commitment I can be.
Q    Then why didn't Geithner and Summers say it?
MR. GIBBS:  They left it to me.  (Laughter.)
Q    Back on health care, yesterday Senator John McCain complained that the administration has not been bipartisan enough in seeking a solution.  So a twofold question:  Do you think it's a fair criticism?  But I know the President has talked to some Republican senators -- has he ever personally talked to Senator McCain about health care?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- they obviously talked about a range of issues when they met back in Chicago in December.
Q    But since then?  Recently have they --
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if they've talked specifically about health care.  I do know this, and I would -- I'm not sure I would subscribe to the comments as a whole for several reasons.  One, the President has spent quite a bit of time working with members of both parties to get a solution, particularly in the Senate Finance Committee.
Two, I don't think it makes a lot of sense that we haven't been working in a bipartisan basis since I think one of the things that the President would hold up as an accomplishment, something that wasn't able to happen in this town in years past, and that is working with Democrats like Carl Levin and Republicans like John McCain to not add to the F-22 program.  That was a vote that was had on a strong bipartisan basis a few weeks ago, not to add an additional almost $2 billion to that program.
And lastly on bipartisanship, I would simply say that it's a two-way street.  The President has made overtures, has made offers, and has worked with Republicans.  I think -- was it relating to this question -- there's an interesting vote that we'll see in the next couple days on the Supreme Court and we'll see where everybody is on bipartisanship.
Thanks, guys.
                     END                        1:57 P.M. EDT