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The White House

Press Gaggle By Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 8/15/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                        August 15, 2009

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Phoenix, Arizona

6:40 P.M. MDT

Q Start with something easy like Burma.
MR. GIBBS:  Burma?  What do you want to know about Burma?
Q What's your reaction?
MR. GIBBS:  I think we gave a few of you all a statement earlier.  I'm not going to go past that.  We've seen the reports; we're monitoring the situation and hopeful of the release, and we'll have more to say about it --
Q Did you all know -- I mean, did you all coordinate with him ahead of time?
MR. GIBBS:  Not going to get into details right now.  Obviously this was something that he did independently.  As we talked about on Friday, he was briefed before he left by the State Department.
Q Has the President spoken to Senator Webb today?  You haven't?
Q But you are hopeful for his release?
MR. GIBBS:  We're hopeful for the American citizen's release, yes.
Q Have you got confirmation he's actually been released at this stage?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, as I read the news reports, that won't happen until sometime later on Sunday their time. 
Q So what do you think you've accomplished this trip on health care reform?
MR. GIBBS:  Look, again, I think these are excellent opportunities to talk to people about what is involved in health care reform and what isn’t involved in health care reform.  I think the President addressed both of those subjects today and in the Montana town hall meeting.  I think we've proved we can have a civil town hall meeting.  I'd point out that Grand Junction is a place where we got about 35 percent of the vote out of 100, so it's not exactly Austin, Texas.  So I think it proves that people want to have a genuine discussion about the issues.  I know the President was happy with both events and felt like it gave him an opportunity to talk about what's at stake.
Q It seemed like, when the President invoked his grandmother's story at this past town hall, that he really sort of matched the emotion more than he had previously in some of the protesters that we've seen.  Can you talk a little bit about that approach, that strategy?  Why hadn’t he come out with that kind of emotion earlier?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- look, obviously there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation.  I'm sure some of it is logically explained.  I think some of it is, as I've said many times before, perpetuated on purpose despite the fact that people know the truth by people who ought to be smarter than that. 
I think the President invoked the image because, as he said in the answer, it's ludicrous to think somebody who had struggled with losing a grandparent, one that meant so much to his development and upbringing, only a day before -- only hours before he's elected President -- the notion that he would then go around proposing something as has been discussed by people who know better is crazy.  So I think it gave him another opportunity to discuss it.
Q Can we expect to see the President on the road even more in September pushing health care?
MR. GIBBS:  I think he'll spend a decent amount of time on the road, yes.
Q Looking towards the VFW speech on Monday, how much of a component of this speech will the Afghan strategy be?  It seems that -- will he be talking to this group about the drawing down of Iraq troops and increasing U.S. presence in --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, he's certainly going to talk about the commitments that the men and women of our Armed Forces have made in Iraq and Afghanistan, their contributions to the betterment of those two countries.  He'll obviously touch on what we're accomplishing, what we hope to get out -- what we hope to accomplish.  He won't get into specifics beyond the -- as you know, General McChrystal is working on a plan that will be sent to the President after the elections that, as Secretary Gates said, will not include troop adjustments in that report.  But he'll talk about where we are currently in both those two conflicts.  He'll talk about what we owe the men and women in uniform, and talk about the choices that we've had to make over the past few months about precious resources in our budget and whether or not we're going to fund expensive weapons programs the Pentagon says we don't need, or give our men and women fighting in those two dangerous places in the world and other places the resources they need.
Q On Afghanistan, will he be talking about the strategy overall, whether it's working or not, whether -- what you see going forward?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't expect the President is going to lay out a detailed sort of where we are in Afghanistan, but certainly a little bit -- a less technical update on what's happening.
Q Will he talk about the election there this coming week, or will he just want to stay clear of that to not seem to be interfering?
MR. GIBBS:  The latest draft I saw did not have him getting a ton into that.  Obviously it's something that we and the rest of the world are watching and will watch.
Q Did you guys put anything out today on the blast right outside the -- why am I blanking here --
MR. GIBBS:  On the embassies --
Q -- right, the embassies and NATO?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  I mean, obviously the President is aware of the situation.  Look, I think, as many of our folks have said -- General McChrystal and others have said -- and you've seen what the Taliban has said -- they want very much to disrupt the first election that will be conducted by the Afghan people.  And we will -- obviously we've got tremendous resources there to ensure that there's a security situation that allows the Afghans to choose their leaders and we hope and expect to see a good, free and fair election and one that hopefully comes off without violence and bloodshed.
Q On Monday -- can you give us a week-ahead before he goes on vacation?  What's he got planned next week?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, we did a little on Friday.  I'll do some of this off the top of my head.  Tuesday I believe Mubarak is in town from Egypt.  Wednesday is the rescheduled NASCAR event.  Thursday he's at the White House.  And at some point on Friday he'll leave to go to Camp David.
Q On a lighter note, how do you think Obama is doing in terms of being kind of an outdoorsy guy this weekend? 
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I know he had a tremendous amount of fun at Yellow Stone.  You know, Governor Schweitzer from Montana had told him he'll never -- he said, you'll never forget the look on your girls' face when they see Old Faithful go off.  And so I think he was looking forward to that. 
Obviously -- we were talking about this on the drive back -- and he remembers coming -- when he was 11, his first trip to the mainland, they went to -- his family went to Yellow Stone, they went to the Grand Canyon.  So in a number of ways, I think he wants very much to see and share the outdoors and some of the beautiful places in the country with his daughters. 
Q Was Maya there also?
MR. GIBBS:  I assume she was, but I will ask that specifically.
Q He told Letterman last September that she was there and so was his grandmother and his mother.
Q It's been interesting to me to watch him, not being from the great American West, and how much time he's been spending at Camp David -- do you think the family in general has developed more of an appreciation for -- I don't know -- the outdoors way of life, hiking?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think he's always tremendously enjoyed being outside with his family.  I mean, I can remember him telling stories about -- during the campaign and in the months before the campaign, the summer before the campaign, one of the things he said he would miss the most was riding up and down Lake Shore with his girls on their bikes.  Look, he was dying to come here and go fishing.  Literally, we -- every time we'd been to Montana -- the primary, the general election -- every time we went he said, I'm going to come back here and learn how to fly fish.  He was dying to do that, and finally got a chance to do that, though was a bit frustrated he didn’t get to hold one of the fish.
Q Our driver from Montana said the Montanans consider Yellow Stone part of Montana.  Does the President want to wade into this controversy?  Is it in Wyoming or is it in Montana?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, best I can read the map, there appears to be parts in both states, as well as, from what I can see, some of Idaho. 
Q What is he doing at the Grand Canyon tomorrow -- any special endeavors?
MR. GIBBS:  I think they're going to go for a little bit of a hike.  I think the girls are going to do some stuff with the rangers, so they'll get a chance to go outside and -- I know he's excited about showing them the park.  I'll get you a little bit more of a download on what specific activities they'll do.  And I know, as I said -- I think maybe Katie told you all -- Michelle and the girls picked the peaches while we were at the town hall.
Q So did they end up going whitewater rafting, or not?  Because there was some --
MR. GIBBS:  They did.  They did. 
Q Okay, so that was what the press saw when they went down?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes -- I guess there was some rumor that the President had been whitewater rafting, but, no, he did not go.  But they went for about an hour and a half yesterday and --
Q In the rain?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, in the rain.  The rain and, I'm told, in the hail.  I'm told there was hail on the helmets as well.  But they had a blast. 
Q Do you know what his plans are tonight?
MR. GIBBS:  I think they're going out to -- they're probably going to go out to dinner with the family.  But other than that I don't know.
Q On the grounds of the hotel?
MR. GIBBS:  All of a sudden, I'm seeing facial expressions change.  I think that has very little to do with his enjoyment of the outdoors.  (Laughter.)  I will check on that.  I know that is an integral part of the pool report.
Q There's a great restaurant in there.  (Laughter.)  No reason to leave.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  I think this is the same place we stayed on the book tour a few years ago, which was -- it's a nice place.  But I will check on exactly where they think they're going to go to dinner. 
Q And if there is a motorcade necessity.
MR. GIBBS:  Exactly.  I think I'm on to where you're going with this stuff.
Q Just wonder for logistical reasons.
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q Tomorrow do we actually expect another camera spray of some sort?
MR. GIBBS:  I believe that's the plan, yes.
Q Anything else we should be expecting or watching for tomorrow in terms of news developing, or is this truly a family day?
MR. GIBBS:  Almost entirely a family day.  I mean, obviously if something were to require it we'll do it, but I think he's looking forward to spending some time outside with the girls.
Q What's the message we're going to hear from your surrogates on the morning shows tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think I'm one of them so --
Q Oh, really?  I didn't even look at the list. 
MR. GIBBS:  I think we'll spend most of our time talking about health care and the economy.
Q It was interesting, both Valerie and Podesta have made a comment recently in which they said they thought that the ultimate product was going to -- I believe this is what they said -- it was going to end up being more centrist than to the left in terms of the legislation that would come out.  I might be misinterpreting that, but the implication was that it was going to appeal to the moderate -- the more middle of America position on health care.
MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen the comments, I don't know what John or Valerie said.  Look, I think you're going to get a health care plan that -- well, as the President said today, you start with about 80 percent of agreement on what's going on in Congress.  Obviously the plan that went through Energy and Commerce on the House side did so after quite a bit of negotiating and bargaining with Blue Dog Democrats on Capitol Hill, and we're -- I know the President spent some time with Senator Baucus yesterday talking about seeing if the Finance Committee can also get an agreement before the 15th of September.
Thanks, guys.  I will find out the logistical question on your dinner.  Hold, please.  (Laughter.)
6:54 P.M. MDT