Press Briefing 9/8/09

September 8, 2009 | 39:02

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing. (public domain)

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/8/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                   September 8, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me -- since I neglected to do this Friday when we met in my office, and then neglected to do it yesterday on the plane, let me give you a dwindling week ahead, since if I forget it one more time we'll be halfway there.
Tomorrow the President will travel to New York City, where he will attend and deliver remarks at the memorial service for Walter Cronkite. As many of you know, later that evening the President will address the joint session of Congress regarding health care.
On Thursday morning, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting at the White House. The President and Vice President will have lunch here also at the White House together. Later in the afternoon, the President will meet with the Crown Prince of Abu Dubai. In the evening, the President will host --
Q Wait, Robert -- Crown Prince who?
MR. GIBBS: Of Abu Dhabi. Excuse me -- Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
In the evening, the President will host the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. And on Friday, to mark September 11th, the President will hold meetings at the Pentagon, and then is expected to spend the weekend in Washington, D.C.
Q You said he'll deliver remarks at the Pentagon or --
MR. GIBBS: No --
Q Oh, at the memorial?
Q I'm sorry, Chuck interrupted your weekend part -- Camp David or --
MR. GIBBS: Spend the weekend -- the guidance I have is spend the weekend in Washington.
Q Is that a meeting on health care, or just broad subjects?
MR. GIBBS: Broad subjects, but I anticipate the topic will be one that is discussed.
Yes, ma'am.
Q Tomorrow night, will the President be definitive about a public option, yes or no, what he might accept, kind of in the middle?
MR. GIBBS: Let me discuss broadly what I think the President will talk about tomorrow. First, I think first and foremost the President will use tomorrow night to speak directly to the American people about his vision for achieving stability and security through health care reform for the American people.
Secondly, I think he'll lay out clearly what health reform means to Americans. For those that are fortunate to have health insurance but still struggle with skyrocketing premium costs or insurance abuses, he'll address those. For those that don't have health insurance, he'll obviously address the need to provide accessibility to affordable health insurance. And I think he will obviously clear up any confusion about what's not in health care reform. And lastly, I think he will answer many of the big questions about how we move forward on health care reform and what he considers reform to truly be. I think those are the three points that he set out to do. I will wait on the details for the President's speech.
Q Looking -- just want to look ahead to Friday, September 11th. What kind of message do you expect him to deliver? What is his focus that day?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously, first and foremost, it is to remember the events of September the 11th, 2001; to honor the memories of those that gave their lives in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. And then secondly, he will continue to talk about this notion of serving our country and of public and national service as a way of bringing our country together and getting some of our bigger problems addressed.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, two non-health care-related questions. First, has the President seen and does he have a reaction to the WTO's initial ruling last week on Airbus and Boeing subsidies?
MR. GIBBS: I do not know if he has seen that, but I will check.
Q Secondly and more broadly, you released a statement today with his comments about the G20. Aside from the goal of setting a pathway for sustainable growth, what else, broadly, would the President like to accomplish?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously there will be a long discussion on where we are in the state of the global economy, progress that we've seen made, quite honestly, since the group got together in late March. I know Secretary Geithner has outlined plans for financial regulatory reform and increased stability in our financial system globally, as what we need to do to move forward to ensure that the progress that we've seen made and that pulling back as we've often talked about from the economic abyss continues to happen.
I think it will be an important time as people get together to evaluate sort of how far we've come, but also to understand how much further we have to go to create the type of foundation, both in this country and throughout the world, for long-term sustainable both job and economic growth.
Q Is climate change financing still something he'd like to see progress on at the G20?
MR. GIBBS: I assume that's going to be a topic that's discussed as well as at the U.N. General Assembly earlier in that week.
Yes, sir.
Q What's the President's message for liberals or progressives who feel that a health care reform plan without a public option is non-negotiable, as he's been told; that it must have a public option or they will not vote for it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead -- too far ahead of the President in terms of the speech or drawing lines. I think I would reiterate what a number of us said over the weekend, and that is the President continues to believe that increasing choice and competition through additional options for people to get health insurance is tremendously important.
I think what you'll hear the President talk about, again, is sort of what we talked about over the weekend. Understanding what the public option is and what the public option isn't -- and I tried to do this some as well -- for the vast majority of Americans that get their insurance primarily through their employer or if they're on Medicare, Medicaid or receive their health care through the VA, the public option is not going to impact your health care.
What the public option will do is provide that additional choice and competition for people, primarily those in the private individual insurance market and in the small group or small business insurance market.
The story I used over the weekend was a friend of mine in Alabama who started a small business in January. One of the first things that he had to do was find insurance for his family. He went into the individual private insurance market, a market in Alabama that's comprised -- 89 percent of the market is comprised of one company, BlueCross BlueShield. He likes his insurance, and his family is healthy, and he was lucky enough to get it. Other small business owners that he's talked to haven't been as fortunate. They were denied coverage, or had trouble finding something that covered either their family or their employees. And he understands that if his coverage for -- if he loses coverage somehow, if his family gets sick, he'd be in a real tough spot.
So I think the President will discuss both what the public option isn't and what the public option is, in terms of bringing choice and competition.
Q But if he supports it, why won't he draw a line in the sand over it? And what's his --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of where the President will -- there will be an extensive conversation about this tomorrow.
Q Well, okay. Then one other question then. You talked about all the things the President is going to do in the speech. And with the exception of the last one -- how we move forward from here -- none of them are new. He's been making the argument about security and stability for health care reform, what it means to people who have insurance, what it means to people who don't have insurance, what's not in the bill. With the exception of how we move forward, we've heard this all before. The American people have heard this all before.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I don't know that they've heard it in as big a forum, as clearly, directly from the President as they will tomorrow night.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, there's a story on Politico, based on a speech that Steve Hildebrand, one of the President's former campaign advisors, delivered a couple of weeks ago over the recess, in which he expressed some concern on health care and other issues. And among other things he said that he believes the President needs to be "more bold in his leadership," that he's frustrated with the lack of performance in Washington in general, not just at the White House but Congress, as well. And specifically he said, "The problem is Obama isn't listening enough." How do you react to that kind of criticism from somebody who was a campaign insider?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we all know and love Steve Hildebrand. He was there for longer than the campaign. He was involved in the President's decision-making on whether to run. I think Steve said in that article, and it's true, because he's talked to a lot of us, there's nothing in there that we haven’t all heard from him.
But, look, I think Steve's frustration is the frustration of people not only in this town, but a lot of people outside of this town, and that is Washington's inability to address its big problems and get something done. That's what led the President to run for President and that's what led him to fight for reforming health care.
Q But he's specifically saying the President is not being bold enough.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll e-mail Steve and tell him which affiliate in Sioux Falls will be covering the speech so he can listen to the President. But, look, Ed, nothing that we haven’t gotten personally from Steve on our e-mail before.
Q A quick question on Afghanistan, another important subject. What is the status of the McChrystal report here in terms of -- I know you had said last week the President would probably bring it to Camp David.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, he did.
Q So has he had a chance to read it? Is he now talking to staff about it? What's sort of his timetable for making some important decisions about the way forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand that this was part of a rigorous reassessment of our strategy in Afghanistan that the President demanded when he came into office. Obviously he made some initial decisions to ensure a security environment for recent elections which I think most people will tell you were important for those to happen. He will continue to talk with staff here, and as I think Secretary Gates said last week, he will be getting from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, as well as General Petraeus, their thoughts on the McChrystal assessment. I think those meetings will be ongoing.
In terms of additional resource requests, I think General McChrystal and Secretary Gates have said that would be forthcoming in a separate document over the next few coming weeks.
Q So is this days or weeks, though, in terms of a presidential decision in terms of --
MR. GIBBS: We haven’t received a request for additional resources. That we don't anticipate coming for weeks, so I don't anticipate a decision before the President has had a chance to discuss General McChrystal's assessment with all of his team and all of those up and down the line of -- up and down the chain of command. I think one of the things that he will do as he has done on any number of these decisions is ask for everyone's opinion and take that into account as we move forward.
Q Can I do a quick follow-up? I'm really sorry, but how important is public opinion to the President's decision-making when it comes to the war in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously I think he will take into account the degree to which additional resources can be borne not just by the public but also by those who are providing the resources. Obviously there's been a tremendous strain on our military forces over the past several years that will be taken into account. I think he'll take into account assessments by commanders on the ground in the region, as well as those at the Pentagon. So I think a number of factors will go into his assessment on where we are in Afghanistan and what our way forward is.
Q Is the President going to give new specifics in the speech tomorrow night that he has never publicly stated before?
Q Can you give us -- (laughter) -- what they are?
MR. GIBBS: I thought I would just taunt you with that answer.
Q Yes, you did. Without telling us --
MR. GIBBS: If I do, what will we talk about on Thursday?
Q Oh, we'd find something. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That was my great fear. (Laughter.)
Look, I think the President -- I said this this weekend, I think people will come away understanding where he is on these big issues and these big questions.
Q So it's not just going to be a compilation of everything he's said before and doing it in a different forum and a bigger stage and --
MR. GIBBS: It is all those things, but it will be more than that.
Q And on public option, the door is still open to compromise?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if I can be clearer than the fact that the President believes it's a very valuable tool that has to be -- we have to have choice in competition. We can't have an insurance market where, in a place like Alabama, as big as a place like Alabama is, is controlled by 89 percent of -- the private insurance and small business market is controlled by virtually -- 90 percent of it is controlled by one company. It's hard to find options that are available to you if you have only one place to go for those options.
Q Would the President agree that August was overall a major setback on health care?
MR. GIBBS: No, not at all. I think he would disagree with that quite a bit.
Q Why?
MR. GIBBS: Because we're -- he'll say this tomorrow, this isn't new, but it's still true -- we're closer than we've ever been on getting health care reform. That was true the end of July. It was true throughout the month of August. It may be more true now in September.
Q But the debate was taken away, control of the debate was in the hands of angry people at town halls and conservatives focusing on issues, claims, some of them false, but they stole the spotlight.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, but I was struck by the fact that you have many Republican members of Congress, some of whom were on TV recently, saying they've talked to their constituents and they understand we have to do something. I think that's a great recognition that this is a problem that has been on the radar screens of the American people for a long, long time, and that they demand something be done about it. And I can assure you the President aims to be the person that does something about it.
Q Robert, you said that he's going to talk about how to move forward. Specifically, does that mean how he wants to see the legislative process work -- he's going to say, okay, you've heard what I want; here's my -- this is now my bill?
MR. GIBBS: I do not anticipate that this is going to be accompanied by truckloads of paper and our own piece of legislation. Obviously the team here has been combing through different ideas for months. There are many proposals out there. This has gone through multiple committees. And this is about --
Q So he's going to give his version of "this is what I think the best of all of it that's there?"
MR. GIBBS: I don't think you'll walk away confused about where he's --
Q Right, but is that a piece of legislation? Will that be considered a piece of legislation when he's done --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I --
Q -- the expectation that somebody --
MR. GIBBS: That's not my expectation. I don't -- I can't speak for yours. But, again, there's -- I think the President will outline his plan moving forward.
Q And it's a plan -- not just a plan on health care, but also the plan on how to get it passed?
Q Now, will he talk about -- when he talks about how to pay for this, because it's part of the conversation we haven’t had in a while, is he going to continue to talk about the plan he had to pay for it, or is he going to now look at the various -- well, because his plan seems to have been rejected, and which he acknowledges. He had done in all those speeches and town halls -- I wanted to do this; now Congress has come forward with Y. Is he going to --
MR. GIBBS: As long as your first two questions aren't competing against each other. I think he will outline ideas on how to pay for this, including some of his own that --
Q You mean the ones that have been through -- that Baucus and Conrad have said, hey --
MR. GIBBS: If there's a consensus on how to pay for this, I was previously unaware.
Q Mitch McConnell put out a statement saying, "Welcome back. Health care needs reform. We have to start over." Is there any way the President would ever consider starting over?
MR. GIBBS: No. No. We've been doing this for how long? The President said yesterday we've been -- this is an issue that was first raised nationally by Teddy Roosevelt -- not Teddy Roosevelt the IV, but Teddy Roosevelt. I mean, how much longer do we have to talk about it?
Q You believe there's enough strands out there to put together a bill?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. That's why I continue to say that we're closer than we've ever been before. I think it is good to know that Senator McConnell believes we've got a problem out there. I think he's heard that from small business owners in Kentucky. I'm sure he's heard that from families that sit around the table wondering how they're going to meet the cost of skyrocketing premiums, or what he must hear when a constituent calls his office to say, "I thought I had insurance, but I was just denied coverage by what I thought was my insurance company." I think it's a recognition that all of those things exist.
We're not starting over. We are a large way through this process. The President is going to pull those strands together and move this process forward and get something done this year.
Q The Finance Committee -- well, actually, Senator Baucus's draft has been now bouncing around for a few days on Capitol Hill. First, has the President seen it, his outline?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe anybody here has -- we've seen what we've read in the paper, but I do not believe that we've seen paper on the plan, no. I understand it's bouncing around on K Street, not surprisingly, but I have not seen it here.
Q Has there been any direct consultations between anyone at the White House and Senator Baucus, or anyone in the Group of Six since this outline began being floated on Sunday?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know how far back that would go. We continue to talk to all the players involved. Obviously, you know Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid will be here momentarily. So he's going to continue to talk all those involved.
Q What did you just mean by it's "bouncing around K Street"?
MR. GIBBS: I was told that K Street had a copy of the Baucus plan, meaning, not surprisingly, the special interests have gotten a copy of the plan that I understand was given to committee members today. It wasn't cryptic.
Q I mean, but who is that -- are you impugning somebody here? I mean, it sounded like you were impugning, like, "Well, K Street has it."
MR. GIBBS: K Street is normally where associations and lobbyists have their offices. I'm simply making a point to Chuck -- (laughter) -- that those people have gotten a copy of health care reform.
Q And why is that?
Q And you haven't?
Q Is it Max Baucus gave it to them? Is it the other members of the committee gave it to them? What are you saying here?
MR. GIBBS: Call some of your lobbyist friends, Chuck. I don't know how -- we haven't seen what was I think dispersed today, or what I'm told was dispersed today.
Q Are you saying K Street got it; you guys haven't?
MR. GIBBS: Not surprisingly, yes.
Q And just one last -- so can you tell us specific people that -- folks on the Hill that the President has spoken to, let's say, today, other than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know of anybody today that doesn't work here.
Q Robert, do you have a feel for how long the speech will be?
MR. GIBBS: Not at the moment.
Q Is it still being written?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I will have better guidance -- knock on wood -- a little bit later on today on that. My sense, this will all, from start to finish, will all be wrapped up within the hour. I assume the speech will go -- it's hard for me to judge applause and things like that, but my sense is the speech is probably 30-35 minutes in length itself.
Q And what are the stakes involved? Is this a do-or-die, make-or-break, now-or-never kind of speech for the President? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I thought that was yesterday. We just bounce from make-or-break moment to -- there are so many great sort of sports analogies we could use. You know, I generally think that for whatever purpose, we're always late in the fourth quarter with very few seconds left on the clock and a long way away from scoring a touchdown. But that simply sets everything up for one of those glorious "Hail Mary" passes that -- and a touchdown.
No, look, are the stakes important? Of course. It's a big audience and the President will get a chance to lay out clearly for the American people what's involved for them, again, if they have insurance, if they don't have insurance, some of the reforms that are there for -- that will govern insurance companies, his principles for health care reform. If we added up all the make-or-break days, we would -- you'd generally see the numbers of days we have on a calendar. I think everything gets automatically ratcheted to the point where everything is do or die at that particular event.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, you mentioned that Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid are coming, or maybe are here now. What kind of message does that send to Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, that he's meeting with only the two top Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President has throughout the past several weeks met with and talked to people throughout the political spectrum, on the left and on the right on this issue. I would not read everything into one do-or-die meeting. I don't think --
Q Even in the fourth quarter?
MR. GIBBS: Even late in the fourth quarter. (Laughter.) And I switched sports just because I felt we're here for college football now.
Q Robert, just a couple of things on the speech. Will there be any veto threats issued?
MR. GIBBS: I'm trying to remember. I think the President will outline what he believes would constitute reform.
Q Can you say yes or no?
Q Okay. (Laughter.) Will the President try to establish --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q What was that question?
Q In a weird way this is more information than we normally get. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm just having a little fun.
Q Will the President establish or seek from Congress a timeline sooner than the end of the year to move either a bill --
MR. GIBBS: I'm trying to remember what was in the latest draft that I -- I don't think we --
Q Is there something the American people should expect, something that would constitute a timeline that's more accelerated than they've heard so for?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President will outline what he thinks can get done this year. I think most of the American people would believe it's taken years too long to happen, but that's a timeline the President is comfortable with.
Q You'd invite us to look at what you and David said over the weekend -- you said on ABC, "If it takes doing whatever to get health care done, the President is ready, willing and able to go do that." What is "whatever"?
MR. GIBBS: "Whatever" is whatever. Talking to whomever, discussing ideas. I think what's always been a hallmark of the President is there is not a rigidity. There is -- he's focused on the end and he's focused on results. I think that's what the American people will see tomorrow night.
Q And you were asked about the public option in the same show. And I just want to make sure I understand what you were trying to convey because you interrupted at one point. You were talking about the vast majority of people. Then you said, if you're on Medicare -- and the host said something -- and you said you're not going to be affected in any way, shape or form by a public option.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Is that -- were you just meaning people who were on Medicare, or people who were in the private insurance sector across the board?
MR. GIBBS: No, what I meant was -- using the example I used at the beginning of the briefing when I was first asked about the public option: If you're one of the 160 to 180 million people that receive it primarily through your employer, if you are -- if you're on a program like Medicare, Medicaid, or VA, all of that universe together is not substantially at all impacted by the notion of a public option. Its primary effect is on that private individual and small group or small business market.
Q So that comment was limited to those within Medicare and Medicaid and the VA?
MR. GIBBS: And the 160 to 180 million --
Q So they will --
MR. GIBBS: Right. The vast majority of people in this country -- that's why -- I mean, I think one of the reasons the President is going to talk about this is -- and you've heard us talk about it in the last few days -- because I'm not sure everybody that's debating this topic has a full range of understanding about what it is. I think you heard the President address it before we --
Q And this will be part of the speech?
MR. GIBBS: -- before we left -- on Smerconish's radio show, there was a woman who called in who asked about this and he said, look, if you're -- if you've got insurance and your insurance is through your -- generally through your employer, this isn't going to affect you. So this notion of a government takeover of health care -- that's why the President continues to --
Q Last question. To continue on that point, you also said this will not be unfairly subsidized and compete against private insurers in an unfair basis -- at an unfair basis. Can you define that?
MR. GIBBS: I think, again, that there's a notion that -- and one of the so-called fears is that you're going to have a system that is so heavily subsidized by the federal government for even that small group of people that they can't possibly compete with -- you've heard this argument -- you can't possibly compete with private insurers. Well, I think the President will be fairly specific about, again, what it is and what it isn't, meaning this is not going to be some grandiosely subsidized, unlevel playing field --
Q Will he be that specific in dollar amounts, or is that the kind of specificity that you will leave to Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I think just outlining that example in specificity will probably be what he does.
Q Robert, could you just tell us a little bit about the nature of the meeting with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid? Is he seeking their advice on the speech, giving them a detailed briefing of what he's going to say?
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, I think he will get a legislative lay of the land. I think he wants to talk to them -- he talked to them over the recess and he'll talk to them again about where members are. And I have no doubt they'll talk extensively about what the President will outline. And we'll provide a readout from the meeting, as well, and I think they're planning on visiting you all outside after that meeting, as well.
Q Just a quick follow. Knowing that the President reads widely about, especially subjects like health care, he circulated that in the article earlier this year in the New Yorker -- has he read the recent cover story of The Atlantic, the argument made -- that was made in that article about catastrophic health insurance for all Americans and allowing procedures day to day to be put more to the market and paid for by individuals, rather than insurance claims?
MR. GIBBS: I have seen him with The Atlantic before; I don't know if he's seen or read that article.
Q -- not getting a lot of talk inside the administration? David Brooke I think wrote a column urging the President to read this over the weekend.
MR. GIBBS: I didn't see the column or the article. Let me see if he's had a chance to look at it.
Q When you're reassessing this, what does the President think that he has done wrong or that he could have done better over these last recent months to explain this better to the American people?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think in some ways -- look, to give you a little bit more of an inside baseball answer, I mean, look, in many ways this has been something that Congress has been working through, details -- this has obviously gone through four out of five committees. We've talked here about a fifth committee continuing to work on this progress.
I think what the President will do is, as I've said, take the strands that exist, the ideas that are out there and try to pull many of those together; outline in some specificity a plan moving forward. I think the President understands and always has understood that this was not going to be easy. So I think an additional forum, one of the size and magnitude of a joint address, I think he feels like he can speak more directly to a larger group of the American people and hopefully talk explicitly about what is in health care reform, not just what is not in health care reform, which has taken up a decent amount of all of our time.
Q In terms of the forum, why was a joint address picked over an Oval Office address, since he's addressing the American people first and foremost more than members of Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, just from a purely -- in many ways, I think what you -- the length of time, in all honestly, that you get with a -- I mean, obviously, I think most joint addresses are far longer than an Oval Office address is and I think this is a topic that probably takes some time to walk through.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, 16 years ago this month President Clinton chose this forum to deliver a similar message. What's going to be different? Is it just going to be the time that is different?
MR. GIBBS: Well, logistically, I mean, understand, I think, as best I recall, that was the beginning of a health care process rather than what we see as, quite frankly, close to the end. So, I mean, I think there are any number of -- I mean, I think that's probably the biggest and primary difference in those two speeches. My guess is that both leaders saw it as a venue and an opportunity to engage a big number of the American people in a topic that they thought was important.
Q Let me ask about tone also. Yesterday at the Labor Day speech, we really saw a feisty Obama, the one who said the opponents are out there spreading lies, we've got to stand up for what's right here. Are we going to see that tomorrow night, or is it going to be a conciliatory --
MR. GIBBS: Probably a little less labor rally and maybe a little bit more Congress. No, look, not to make a little pun, obviously the President was a little fired up yesterday, told a story that I know we certainly love to hear again and again. (Laughter.) I actually mean that. Having been at that event, I love that story. We told that story a lot in some of the darker days.
Q And he's telling it again.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're trying to get you fired up, Ed.
But I think the -- look, this is -- we understand the audience, which is directly the American people. And that is -- and Congress. And I think the President will use it as an opportunity -- less of a rally and more of walking people through, again, what's in it for them for health care reform.
Q Robert, the President has said many, many times, and you just repeated, that for people who have employer health care nothing is going to change. Yet one of the reasons that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, no, no, let me just make sure I'm specific -- that's related to the public option.
Q Yes, related to public option. But --
MR. GIBBS: We hope it changes because --
Q For the better, of course.
MR. GIBBS: Right. There's millions of people that get discriminated against by the insurance companies.
Q But I'm saying if you like your health insurance you're not going to lose it. I guess one of the reasons that the polls have slipped for you on health care is because people with health insurance are worried that employers will dump them into the public option if they have their choice. Will he say tomorrow night --
MR. GIBBS: But I think that's part of what he's going to address, the fact that --
Q There's going to be some mechanism to prevent them from doing that?
MR. GIBBS: Right, you can't -- I mean, again, that's why we explained sort of what is and what isn't involved in the public option. I know there's this great myth of the fact that hundreds of millions of people's coverage will be dumped into that -- that wouldn't solve a problem; that would simply --
Q He'll explain why that won't be able to happen?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes.
Q Okay. And my second --
Q Robert, just --
Q Wait, my second question on this is, I know you got a letter from these group of progressive caucuses in the House asking for a meeting with him. Has it been sent yet?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen the letter. I know there was a phone call Friday with the heads of many of the caucuses --
Q Okay, so he actually talked to them on the conference call?
Q Well, then my question about that is how does he interpret the statements of liberals in Congress who say that they won't vote for anything that doesn't have a robust Medicare-style public option in it? Are they just pushing hard for what they want? Are they really saying they'd rather have nothing than half a loaf?
MR. GIBBS: Is there a C?
Q No. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I'm not going to negotiate on behalf of the President up here before he speaks.
Q No, I'm not asking you about him. I'm saying how he -- what he thinks they're saying.
MR. GIBBS: I think he takes them at their word that what they're saying is what's on the paper. Again, I think it's important to -- the President will have a chance to address the concerns by some on the left, concerns by some on the right, concerns by some in the middle, as we get health care done this year. I think that's what he'll do tomorrow.
Q I was curious about a couple of things regarding the G20 statement. One, I was just curious why it went out today. Was there some sort of peg you guys were putting --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's just the process of getting a bunch of stuff out over the course of the next few weeks as we head into -- I mean, obviously this week and next week we're here, but then obviously we go into -- that Monday, the 21st, I think we're -- whether it's UNGA and the G20, there's just a lot of stuff.
Q Right. And then I found it striking that there was no mention of the word "protectionism," or the concept in the statement, which was really a bellwether of the summit back in Washington, and President Obama talked about protectionism a good deal in London last spring. So I was just curious why that was. Does he feel like --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think the totality of everything that might be discussed is necessarily -- was necessarily in that introductory statement. I don't doubt that trade and the global -- global economic health as a result of ensuring that commerce is happening like that will -- I think that will obviously certainly be a topic.
Q I mean, do you expect him, though, to rail against protectionism? Is he concerned about looking hypocritical if he imposes a tariff against Chinese tires and then goes to the G20?
MR. GIBBS: No, I would remove those as sort of separate issues.
Q How crucial is it to get a Senate Finance --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, what --
Q How crucial is it to get a Senate Finance draft or framework out there by the President's speech, because it --
MR. GIBBS: We'd be happy to have it.
Q Even if it doesn't have a public option and has a co-op in it instead?
MR. GIBBS: We'd -- we've got four out of five committees. If we can make it to five out of five committees, that would be great.
Q Thank you, Robert. One question.
Q Robert, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, hold on.
Q Thank you. President Sweeney, the outgoing President of the AFL-CIO --
MR. GIBBS: Les, I even have to -- I have to, like, look in your direction before I -- go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q -- said last week that when the President is finished with health care, he would put his support behind the Employee Free Choice Act for passage in Congress. I have not heard a lot of talk about that, and it seemed as though the President tried to downplay EFCA at this point. Is he still a strong supporter of it, including the card check provision?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to what the President said at a rather boisterous labor rally yesterday where he reiterated his support for that.
Q And so he will get behind it all the way after the health care debate?
MR. GIBBS: I hate to -- I'm certainly not going to stand up here and contradict the President less than 24 hours after.
Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
2:55 P.M. EDT

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