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The White House
For Immediate Release

Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One en route Norfolk, Virginia, 10/27/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                 October 27, 2009
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Norfolk, Virginia

2:19 P.M. EDT

     Q    Hey, Robert, some of the moderates in the Senate -- moderate Democrats -- are really balking at the health care plan that Senator Reid announced.  What's the President going to do to try to help him line up the support he'll need to get that through the Senate?

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously right now, I mean, the President is working to ensure we get this through.  I don't -- I have not heard of any specific calls that the President has made, and obviously Senator Reid is working this through the caucus.  But I'm sure we'll get involved in due time. 

     But look, I think we've been -- we've been working through these issues for many months, and we'll continue to do so to make progress.

     Q    Does the President not feel that this latest development is sort of an important point at which he might get more engaged?

     MR. GIBBS:  Chuck, we wouldn't be working on health care if the President wasn't engaged.  So I don't think I would -- I'm not sure I buy the premise of --

     Q    I said more engaged, more directly -- you know, more active, doing more --

     MR. GIBBS:  I mean, look, again, I think the President has been pretty involved in this, and as this works its way through we'll have more to do on it.

     Q    Does the President think that it can work its way through without the support of Olympia Snowe?

     MR. GIBBS:  That's a better question for Olympia Snowe.  I don't know what the dynamics are.  I don't know what the vote count is in the Senate.  That'd be a question, too, for Senator Reid.

     Q    Politico is reporting that Joe Lieberman is saying he'll join Republicans on a filibuster.  Is Obama confident he can get the Democrats to beat back a filibuster in the Senate?

     MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen the report from Senator Lieberman or why he's saying what he's saying.  I think Democrats and Republicans alike will be held accountable by their constituents who want to see health care reform enacted this year.  We see it in the polling that you guys do every day that they want the system, as it is now, to be fixed to ensure accessibility for those that don't have it, for cutting costs for those who do, and for important insurance reforms like preexisting conditions to be addressed.  And we know that if that doesn't happen, people say they'll be very disappointed by that, and we think people will make progress to ensure that this gets done.

     Q    One more question on Afghanistan.  Has the President read or does he plan to read the resignation letter from Matthew Hoh?  He's the Foreign Service Officer who was in Afghanistan who's resigned.

     MR. GIBBS:  I think the -- I think the President has seen the story.  I don't believe that the President has seen the letter.  I know some people in the White House saw the letter when it went around several weeks ago.

     Q    Have you seen it?

     MR. GIBBS:  I had not seen it, until this morning's paper.

     Q    Any more updates on a timeline for when the President might make his announcement?  There were some reports that it could be just before he leaves for Tokyo, or even possibly after.

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would definitely narrow it down to either before or after Asia.  (Laughter.)  If you guys want to do a wire call real fast on that, we can -- I'll slow the plane down so that -- (laughter.)  Sorry, I had to -- sort of a -- when I get the softballs, in case I have to turn on them just to see if I can --

     Q    You don't let anything go by, do you?  (Laughter.) 

     MR. GIBBS:  Let me take two things on this.  First of all, the President will meet with the Joint Chiefs at the White House on Friday in a meeting that he requested to continue discussions on our assessment on Afghanistan and Pakistan and get input from other service branches on the proceedings thus far.  So that's the first point. 

     Secondly, in terms of timing, all I can do is reiterate that the decision will come in the next several weeks or in the coming weeks, as we've said.  But truthfully, I don't know when that will be.  And I think the President is in the process of evaluating, as we've said, where we are, and we'll make a decision in due time.

     Q    So it could be after he's back?

     MR. GIBBS:  It could be before, it could be after.

     Q    Is the meeting with the Joint Chiefs one of the last pieces of the decision-making process?

     MR. GIBBS:  I think we're getting certainly toward the end of that, yes. 

     Q    I'm sorry, you're getting toward the end of it, did you say?

     MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I would say that's probably getting toward the end of it.  Again, I think the President will take some time after these meetings to think through what he's heard, what we've all learned, and evaluate this process, both what's best for our country, what's best for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and for the region as a whole.

     Q    What's the back story to General Jones's trip to Moscow?  Is it a suddenly announced thing, or has it been planned for some time?

     MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how long it's been on the books.  I've heard about it for a while.  They're going to, I think, primarily to continue our discussions on renewing our START treaty, which expires I believe either the 9th or 10th of December, in hopes that we can get -- continue to make progress and get an agreement on something that we can sign this year to further cut the number of nuclear weapons that each side has.  I'll check on whether it's the 9th or the 10th, but I think it's right around that time period.  I think that's the primary reasoning for that.

     Q    Iran, as well?
     MR. GIBBS:  I'm sure they will.  I mean, obviously I think we continue to evaluate what's happening with the research reactor proposal.  And I think everybody saw -- I know we certainly saw the very strong statement that Foreign Minister Lavrov released last week as part of the IAEA proceedings on TRR.

     Q    If Creigh Deeds loses Virginia, what does that say about the President's level of support in that state, or his -- the organization that the campaign created last year?

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think obviously we've given -- the President has been involved, the Vice President has been involved.  You guys should contact the DNC for the level of involvement in helping to build a coordinated campaign that they've done.

     I saw in the Post poll this morning that I think 70 percent of the people -- check these facts -- but 70 percent of the people believe that they were not making a decision on their vote based on the President.  The remaining 30 percent were, I think, described by the Post as roughly divided between those that would and would not show their support for the President, which led the pollsters to agree that the notion that this was somehow a referendum on President Obama is just not the case.

     Q    Is it disappointing that, given that President Obama carried Virginia, that he doesn't have a bigger impact?  In other words, that of those -- I think you characterized it correctly -- those who sort of see it that way is a 50-50 split?

     MR. GIBBS:  Look, certainly at a federal level, I mean, we were happy to see the progress in the Commonwealth, but also understanding that Barack Obama was the first Democratic candidate to carry that state since 1964.  So I think everybody understands that it was -- you know, Virginia is a -- is probably as purple as it can get, certainly among a presidential state, given the fact that it's been in the red column for so long.

     Q    Will the President be coming back to Virginia after today?

     MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.  Not that I'm aware of.  And I know we have one more stop in New Jersey -- or one more -- one more day of stops in New Jersey on Sunday.

     Q    Well, what's your feeling about both Virginia and New Jersey?  Is it the case that these elections tend to turn on local issues or something else? 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, that's probably better left for those that have evaluated each of these at a more heightened level.  Obviously I think any number of factors go into what has happened in each state, and I think one of the factors that goes into Virginia is a Democrat that's been outspent.

     Q    But from just a year ago, obviously the President can appreciate the strength that surrogates can provide to a campaign, and was there more that the President could have done for Deeds?

     MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think if you look at our level of support combined with what the DNC has done, I think we are -- we're very comfortable with the level of -- the big level of support that the Democratic Party provided with the help also of the Vice President.

     Enjoy the remainder of your flight.  Thank you.

     Q    Thanks, Robert.

                          END              2:29 P.M. EDT