Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/16/10By USGOV
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
1:47 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. I think as the weather gets nicer we might want to move this — like class, we should move this outside and –
MR. GIBBS: Oh, wow, everybody is –
Q Go for it.
MR. GIBBS: All right, I will — wow, I didn’t think that would be so easily accepted. (Laughter.) Without objection, so ordered, and I will have WHCA start setting that up. That sounds like a great idea. Wow. That sounds good.
Q Thank you, sir.
MR. GIBBS: Now we’ve broken all the news, let’s move forward.
Q On health care, a few questions. Does the President support the idea of the House passing the health care bill without actually ever voting on it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think as you’ve heard the President discuss repeatedly over these past couple of weeks, this week there will be a final vote on health care. There will be an up or down vote on where we are on health care, on the President’s plan to reform our health care system. And I think that is — that’s what he’s focused on. That’s what — that’s why he’s talking to members to gain their support for.
Q But there’s a scenario unfolding in which the House would vote on the fix it bill, as you know, but never actually vote on the underlying Senate bill. And the House Speaker has been candid about that. If that happens, would the President be okay with that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Ben, I — there’s going to be a vote on health care reform this week. You’re going to know where people are on health care reform. There, I’m sure, are those that are going to want to make this about the legislative process rather than the heart-wrenching stories of people like Natoma Canfield that the President discussed yesterday. But the vote that we have on health care this week — and I’m not under the impression that the House has made up its mind on what that process is going to be, I haven’t read it — but I don’t think there’s any doubt that people — this would be a final vote on health care. You’ll know where health care is.
Q Well, the President, along with policy, has said that process is important, too, to the American people — transparency. So when you say a vote — I think — don’t you think it’s important that there be a vote on the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t think anybody is going to be — I don’t think anybody is going to misinterpret the outcome as to where people are on health care. I anticipate I’ll get questions today on who the President is speaking with and who’s he meeting with, and you’re going to ask me –
MR. GIBBS: Right. But — and you want to know that –
Q That’s what –
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish my point. And you’re going to want to know where they are on health care. When you do your whip counts, you’re trying to figure out who’s where on health care. I don’t imagine there’s many Republican strategists that you all will interview this week that will say — we won’t look at the vote that’s going to be had on Friday or so and it’s not about health care.
So, again, the President is focused on, after having worked on this for a year, getting this done; focusing on the stories that he repeated yesterday outside of Cleveland on behalf of people like Natoma Canfield; and believes that the stakes are higher than the next election or somebody’s poll numbers next week.
Q So just to follow, who’s the President meeting with and speaking with?
Q Since you brought it up.
MR. GIBBS: Undecided members of Congress who will vote later this week on health care reform.
Q And what is he — just to follow up on that, when he does meet with lawmakers, particularly one on one, what is he offering them in exchange for their votes, if anything?
MR. GIBBS: Offering the case for why health care reform should be passed this year; offering the case of why 60 percent of small businesses will receive a tax cut in helping provide their employees with health care; offering the case for why the mother of a young child won’t sit on the phone anymore with an insurance company arguing about a so-called preexisting condition.
Those are the types of anecdotes that the President will be offering members of Congress about why it’s important to put aside the day-to-day politics, put aside the next election, put aside your poll numbers, and instead focus on the problems that the American people have.
Q So you’re saying he’s just making that case for the bill? No quid pro quo?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Is he making headway?
Q On China –
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, a quick follow please?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get around. We’ll be here for a while, I presume.
Q I’d like to move to China, and if the administration has any reaction to the bill that’s being put to the Senate by Schumer and Graham.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that we’ve seen the text of the legislation. I think you saw the President mentioned just a few days ago that he wished and hoped that China approached their currency using a more market-based interpretation, and I would point you to the Treasury for any further announcements on that.
Q And there does seem to be rising rhetoric here. I mean, is the President concerned this could undermine efforts to get China to collaborate in the G20, or even escalate into a trade war?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President, as I’ve said before, believes that diplomatic relationships sometimes come with disagreement. We’ve been reading about a few recently. But that doesn’t curtail our ability to work on problems of mutual concern like the global economic recovery.
Q But does the President still believe, as he said in the campaign, that China does manipulate its currency?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would refer you to what the President said just a few days ago.
Q Thanks, Robert. I just want to push a little bit on this up or down vote. I mean, just again yesterday the President said, “So look, Ohio, that’s the proposal. And I believe Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote.” He didn’t say a final up or down vote plus — using a deem and pass procedure. He is promising the American people repeatedly in the last couple of weeks, including in the East Room with the doctors in the white coats, a straight up or down vote. Why are you not being clear with the American people about what you want the House to do?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, we’re being clear. We’re being clear with the people of the United States and with Congress that there is going to be a vote this week, and you’re going to know how people are — where they stand on health care.
Q But it may not be a vote on the actual legislation.
MR. GIBBS: Again, this I think is a legislative process game that people play –
Q It’s a process –
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Let me just –
Q Why won’t Democrats go on the record about this legislation?
MR. GIBBS: But, Ed, let me just make this point. I am sure that CNN is going to be filled with stories between now and when that vote happens about where people are on that vote. You’re asking people where they are on health care reform. You’re trying to get — find out what meetings are happening here so you can ask people where they are on health care reform. That’s what this vote is going to be about. That’s — you’re going to know where people are on health care reform, on where they are on the President’s proposal on health care reform, not on where they are on a rule.
Q Sure, but it’s also — that part is true, leading up to the vote, but it’s been a fundamental part of this republic that basically at the end of a long debate like this, there is an up or down vote –
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost, let’s understand –
Q — and the American people want to know what people are doing.
MR. GIBBS: Let’s understand this is a — again, I’m not under the impression the House made a final decision. That announcement, a decision –
Q — off the table then?
MR. GIBBS: Because I’m not the Speaker of the House. She’ll make that announcement. She’ll make that decision. But understand, Ed, again, we hear the same process arguments from the same people that used very similar arguments on their side of this in many previous Congresses. So again, it’s a little bit like reconciliation — I was against it; before I was for it; and now you point out that it’s –
Q But if the weight of your arguments are so much on the right side of history, why not just go before the American people and say here’s an up or down vote on legislation?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Ed, I don’t think you’re going to — I don’t think when you go out into the public next week after the legislation passes and ask people how they feel about their congressman’s vote — you’re going to be asking them how they feel about their congressman’s or congresswoman’s vote on health care reform. That’s what you’re going to be asking them because that’s what this vote is about.
Q Robert, without getting into specific numbers, can you tell us what percentage of the President’s day he’s actually devoting to making these calls and what kind of a reception he’s getting? I mean, is he getting a lot of pushback? Are these long conversations? Are they short? What are the nature of these calls?
MR. GIBBS: Longer with some than others.
Q In English?
MR. GIBBS: Pardon me?
Q In English? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: As opposed to other words? No, this is children-approved programming, Helen. Let’s be good.
I have not gotten a list of members that he’s called today, but I know he reached out — well, obviously he talked with Representative Kucinich yesterday on Air Force One. He’s talked with and called — either met with or called members over the past several days and, again, made the case for why reform is important now; why this has to be the time where we finally do something about health care.
Q And how is that argument being received?
MR. GIBBS: I think we are making steady progress toward passage of the bill this week.
Q Do you think that this is — his entire day is devoted to making these calls? Is it half the day? I mean, I’m just trying to get a sense since we’re not seeing him at all.
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to go back and look at his — at the in-depth schedule to give you an educated guess on percentage, but — no, I mean, look, the President, again, has a PDB every day; we had a senior advisors meeting and he’s got stuff later today that doesn’t deal with health care.
Q Has the President considered pulling out of these horrible wars where innocent people are killed, and take care of the desperate needs in this country — in the cities, on health, education and welfare?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, obviously relating to Iraq, we have — we’re on a path to getting our combat troops out of there by the end of August. You’ve seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan we obviously are — we have apologized on numerous occasions for the loss of innocent life.
Q — replace a human life?
MR. GIBBS: No, it certainly does — those are the type of actions that you obviously regret. I think that you’ve seen Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal say those exact things to civilians in Afghanistan. But I would say that we would not be in Afghanistan if the President didn’t think it was in our strong national interest to do so.
As it relates to the other part of your question, I think the President has outlined a robust agenda for improving health care reform in this country — or improving health care in this country for — we’ve laid out many ways to improve our educational system and make our children more competitive and ready for either a career or college at the end of high school, and to address other problems that the President believes have been neglected for quite some time.
Q There’s no money for these needs, no money.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’ve made some tough decisions about how to pay for health care reform, different than has been done in the last few years in Washington. We believe there are priorities the President should pay for, and we have.
Q Thank you, Robert. You talked earlier about what the President is offering people when he makes these calls. Is he offering to campaign in their districts and to come out and raise money for them?
MR. GIBBS: The President is focused on the case that he will make and the case that he hopes everyone makes on why this legislation is important for the American people, and important for the constituents of their district.
Q There have been numerous reports that he and/or the White House have made specific offers to campaign and raise money for wavering Democrats. Are these reports incorrect?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there’s also been reports that we won’t campaign for people that don’t, which are also –
Q Are those incorrect?
MR. GIBBS: Those are incorrect.
Q So the President has not made any –
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not been in every meeting, Chip. Again, the President is focused on outlining the merits on behalf of the legislation and the policy that, again, will cut costs for the American people, make health care more affordable and –
Q I understand he’s focused on that, but is he also, at the end of the call, saying, hey, I’ll campaign for you, I’ll raise money for you?
MR. GIBBS: I assume we’ll campaign for many people. Some will vote for it, and some will vote against it. The President doesn’t spend his time doing scheduling and political events.
Q But is there a quid pro quo?
MR. GIBBS: No. I said that earlier to Ben that that was not the case.
Q Absolutely not a quid pro quo?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And he’s not going to make campaigning or raising money contingent upon how they vote?
MR. GIBBS: He is focused on the legislation at hand.
Q You said Speaker Pelosi will make the decision or will announce the decision on how the House proceeds procedurally on this. Is the President involved in any way in making that decision?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q And are people in the White House involved in making that decision –
MR. GIBBS: I assume that we have been involved for many, many months on getting health care done. I don’t know of all the conversations, whether they’ve weighed in on process.
Q You say the final decision is hers, though, not the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think the final decision is the Speaker’s.
Q Finally, on the special deals, last week one day you went through the different states where there had been special deals — Nebraska and Louisiana and Vermont and Montana. Do you stand by the list of deals that were taken out of the legislation last week?
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to look at it again. I don’t have any reason to believe –
Q Is the President still fighting to keep those special deals out of this?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve taken quite a bit out of there and have asked the Senate to take anything else out that, again, I think as you saw people outline, would benefit one place or one state rather than something that can be — that can affect a broader group of people.
Q How about Montana, for example? Does the President support keeping that in?
MR. GIBBS: I think I addressed that last week on that.
Q Right, but do you stand by it now still?
MR. GIBBS: I do.
Q Do you believe this deem and pass scenario constitutes an up or down vote?
MR. GIBBS: I think that — I think that you’re going to ask people how they stand on health care. You’re not going to ask them how they stand on deem and pass. You’re going to have a vote count that constructs not the process for the rule but where you are on health care.
Q But you guys would be satisfied. Since you’ve extolled the virtues of an up or down vote, you would be satisfied with this deem and pass scenario?
MR. GIBBS: I think this is — I think that — again, I think there are many that would want to conflate this process into something that’s different than the product; that is different than the heart-wrenching stories of people, as I’ve said, like Natoma Canfield, who made decisions to give up her — who made a decision to give up her health care to keep her house, a gamble that she’s lost.
Q Well, I ask about the up or down vote because Speaker Pelosi said — I’m quoting — “I like it, this scenario, because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.”
MR. GIBBS: I would ask one of her –
Q I’m interested in how you would square those two concepts.
MR. GIBBS: I would ask one of her capable spokespeople on what she had to say.
Q Okay, but wait — all right, but would you agree that there seems to be some inconsistency between what she said and the notion of an up or down vote?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t talked to one of her capable spokespeople.
Q Another topic?
Q Okay, then real quickly, just — do you — would you agree that it exacerbates the perception –
MR. GIBBS: No, I wouldn’t.
Q — that this is a dirty or underhanded process?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Another topic?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. There’s been some reporting today that the Israelis are considering even more settlement activity after their announcement during the Vice President’s trip there last week. What is the reaction of the Obama administration to this latest increase in settlement activity?
MR. GIBBS: These are reports of? I don’t want to base my comments off of would-be reports of. I’m certainly happy to comment at some point based on whether or not the “reports of” are actual.
I would say this. I think that last week, the Vice President was in Israel to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and its people. As I said earlier mature, bilateral relationships can have disagreements. And this is one of those disagreements. It does not break the unbreakable bond that we have with the Israeli government and with the Israeli people on their security.
We have, throughout this process, hoped to engender the type of trust between the two sides that would lead to sitting down and discussing directly these issues. Events on either side that complicate that we condemn on either side. And we’ll continue to do that.
Q May I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back around.
Q The President has said that the problem with the politics of the health care bill is not with policy but with process. So what is the difference between a deem and pass or a self-enacting rule, and the kind of process that the President was condemning when he made those statements?
MR. GIBBS: I think we were — I think the President was talking about the end of the Senate bill on some of the deals that Chip asked me about that are gone.
Q So the deals are different from the final enactment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jonathan, this is a process that has been used — again, I’m struck by the richness with which people can pivot to believing what they used four out of 10 times in a previous Congress to pass things now have great objections to using so.
Q I thought you guys wanted to hold yourselves to a higher standard.
Q And the fact is –
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m not holding — I’m not changing the standard we’re holding ourselves to. I’m pointing out the, quite honestly, low standards with which many of the people that you’re asking me about have been quoted as saying. When Republicans use these types of rules four out of 10 times in a previous Congress and then vociferously object to the use of that rule now, I think that is — I think that is — again, the standard is to embrace something and then find it objectionable a pivot that requires something few figure skaters in the Olympics are able to pull off.
Q But is this the first — is this the most significant social policy legislation to pass in 30 years, or is this just another run-of-the-mill bill going through a process like that has been used –
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s a quantitatively different argument I would assume you’re making now, right? So you’re saying that it’s –
Q You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say it’s the same –
MR. GIBBS: No, no — no, but neither can — Jonathan, but neither can somebody else have the argument. So you’re saying that it’s not whether that is used; you’re talking about — you’re saying that the use is based on the scope — is that right?
Q Yes, that’s what I’m saying.
MR. GIBBS: So that it doesn’t any more have to do with the use of the rule. You’ve now switched the argument to be the rule can only not be used if the scope exceeds some arbitrary barrier, right?
Q Would you agree with that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, it’s not whether I would agree with it.
Q No, I’m asking you.
MR. GIBBS: I’m asking you whether your agreement to the previous scenario extends to the latter scenario.
Q Well, I mean, if you look at the –
MR. GIBBS: I’ll come back to you. (Laughter.) You can think about that and we can — yes, go ahead.
Q On the Schumer and the China currency stuff, Schumer and Graham said today it helps to put pressure on the Chinese. Do you guys agree that this congressional pressure helps go towards the goal the President has been very clear about, which is to have a more market-oriented appreciation of the yuan?
MR. GIBBS: Again, not having evaluated the legislation or their proposal — again, I think the President has been clear recently, the President was clear with the Chinese in Beijing, about a market-oriented approach to their currency. So I think that –
Q Well, without getting into the specifics of the legislation, just the language, the body language from Capitol Hill, is that helpful? Does the President think that helps with leverage with the Chinese?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the most leverage that the President has is sitting face to face with leaders in Beijing and telling them that a market-oriented approach to their currency — I think that’s about as much leverage as one can bring to bear in a single sitting.
Q So would you prefer that some of the rhetoric gets toned down from Capitol Hill?
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t pass judgment on their proposal.
Q Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel a couple of days ago, asked him to tone down the rhetoric –
MR. GIBBS: I think it was yesterday.
Q — against Israel. He said when you scold Israel, basically you take some of the pressure off the Palestinians to do their own negotiating. Do you disagree with that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said earlier today and as I said last week when asked about this, there are actions that each side takes that hurt the trust needed to bring these two sides together. The State Department reiterated — or I will reiterate what the State Department said yesterday about the deep concern that we have around inflammatory rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem. That’s not helpful on that side of the ledger.
Again, Prime Minister Netanyahu has apologized and found regrettable the timing of the decision that was announced during the Vice President’s trip.
I think what is important to understand — and I believe Congressman Cantor understands — is that despite a disagreement that you might have, our commitment to Israel’s security is unchanged. Our commitment to its people is unchanged. The Vice President –
Q How about the Palestinians?
MR. GIBBS: The Vice President reiterated that at the beginning of his trip. That was the reason for his trip. He reiterated that in a speech — after the Prime Minister found cause for regret, the Vice President reiterated our commitment to Israel’s security.
Q Also on health care, in order to get the Senate bill through the House, if there is a specific vote, you’re going to have to change the minds of some of the 31 Democrats who voted against the House bill in November. What gives you confidence that you can do that? What gives you confidence, especially since there are a number of Democrats who voted in favor of the House bill who now say they can’t support the Senate bill?
MR. GIBBS: On?
Q Health care.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but based — you’re talking about somebody like a member who is more — well, I’ll say this. Look, there are — I think there are those that voted against the legislation for any number of reasons — not believing that there was enough cost control in the legislation, or disagreeing with the mechanisms that were set up around choice and competition — that they may find the Senate bill more to their liking in terms of that.
I think that — again, I think the case that the President will make — I also think the case — one of the strong cases the President will make, as we get to the end of this debate, I do think it becomes far more crystallized in people’s minds that this is the last chance to do something. And what does our health care system look like if we do nothing? We know. Letters come with skyrocketing rate increases on the individual market. Families will see over the course of the next several years average premiums for a family go from $13,000 to $24,000. That’s what happens if we walk away. And I think that, in many ways, is having a positive effect on the idea of doing something now.
Q Is that the case the President made to Dennis Kucinich?
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s probably part of the case that he made to him. And then he was helped by somebody in the crowd that the President asked that person to repeat so the congressman could hear.
Q Robert, by your way of thinking, by the end of the week, Friday or Saturday, we’ll have a vote and either health care will have passed or it will have failed. Is the –
MR. GIBBS: I think that — just, by the way, I think — I’m not going to go way out on a limb here, but I moderately believe most in the room would agree with that.
Q Okay. So given that, is the President prepared then for his voice to be largely absent in the week following that as the reverberations from whatever happens on — one way or the other, that he will be halfway around the world?
MR. GIBBS: You all will be asking him, ad nauseum, about Indonesia and Australia and democracy over here and exports and –
Q Well, it’s more –
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly, all the –
Q I’ve got my questions written –
MR. GIBBS: I — we better get a much better Indonesia briefing for the President. (Laughter.)
Q Tell us about the yuan –
Q But I mean, he is prepared to be there during that week, whichever way it happens? You’re not thinking about –
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And I’ll say this, Michael, more seriously, that when the President — as I said last week, when the President talked to the Speaker and the Majority Leader, while there was an agreement to give both sides a few extra days of the President’s time to help passage, the President was also — the President and the leaders agreed also of the importance of this trip.
I went through some of that reasoning last week. Indonesia is critical to — and we’re critical to Indonesia — in helping on counterterrorism and, ultimately, in protecting our country; the type of trading relationships that we have with these two countries, and that we hope to expand with these two countries; help grow our economy. So it is — it is an important trip that the President will take and I think he looks forward to it.
Q Can I just follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Are there people that you all are leaving behind that you would normally — who would normally take that trip, but are staying here to deal with that week? And do you have any plans for the trip to make adjustments to allow –
MR. GIBBS: I hope the schedulers aren’t watching. (Laughter.) Your scenario might have caused some heart palpitations in a certain few rooms. No, look, I — the Vice President will be — obviously be here as this next goes to the Senate. And I think, obviously, the President believes that’s enormously important. I do believe that — I’m not sure, honestly, whether some of the staff that will stay would necessarily have gone.
Q Some of them?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the Chief of Staff will be here and I don’t know that the Chief of Staff had plans — in fact, certainly under the previous trip schedule, he was not planning on going for a whole host of commitments.
Q Two things, Robert. It’s Sunshine Week and the President has –
MR. GIBBS: I noticed the beautiful weather.
Q The beautiful sunshine outside and the President has –
MR. GIBBS: Coordinated by Ben LaBolt in order to –
Q — has praised his administration for openness. So in that spirit, I’m wondering if you will release in real time a list of the people that the President is talking to about health care this week. Can we have the names?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President will meet with undecided members of the House, meet with senators –
Q Is that a no?
MR. GIBBS: — looking to make the strongest case possible for health care reform.
Q A follow-up — I’m taking that as a no, you won’t — you won’t be giving us the names of the people that he’s talking to.
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to sit in on some of your assignment meetings just as I’m sure you would like to be the pool reporter for some of the Oval Office –
Q Well, you usually know what I’m working on, so why can’t it be in return? It’s not — I’m mean, why not? Why not tell us who he is reaching out to? And he’s talked about opening the process.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve read many of your stories and I think you’ve narrowed down many of the people that the President is likely to see this week.
Q And as a follow on that, I understand he’s going to be on FOX News, talking about health care reform. And the administration’s tussles with FOX News are well known, so can you talk to us a little bit about why he’s going on FOX now and what he thinks he can accomplish by reaching out to their audience in particular?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously they have a pretty big audience share and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of members that are undecided are going to be — they watch and their constituents watch this news. So we’re happy to continue the argument on why health care reform is important to pass this year on FOX.
Q Does he really think he’s going to change the minds of FOX viewers, many of whom I suspect are opposed?
MR. GIBBS: It’s certainly worth a shot.
Q You partially answered this, but Israel claims over the years it’s tried to protect holy sites — Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites. Have you ever discussed this with the Palestinians and asked them to refrain from attacks on either people’s holy sites?
MR. GIBBS: We have — I would say — I’m taking this a little bit broader — I would say the types of things that you’ve heard us and, quite frankly, administrations in the past discuss as unhelpful to moving this process along are — is any call for the incitement of violence. Again, I mentioned the State Department — reiterated the State Department’s guidance on what we believed was unhelpful rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem as a real-time example of the type of action and rhetoric that is not in any way productive and undermines the trust that’s needed for both of these sides to sit down and directly address their issues and move forward on peace.
Q To be precise on health care, when you talk about an up or down vote this week, you are talking about the Senate bill passing the House, or being passed in some way by the House. Would the President then sign that? How quickly could he sign it? And would he wait for secondary — the fixed legislation to come along?
MR. GIBBS: As I understand this, that’s a decision that will largely — that will be governed largely by a decision by the parliamentarian to — that might require that signature prior to the taking up of reconciliation — if that’s, as I understand it, that’s what the President would do.
I will say this, and I said this over the weekend, that the President has and is spending time talking with senators, understanding that, again, this is a two-step process; that they have a very important role to play, and the President has and is continuing to work with the Senate on their part of this, as well.
Q And the Senate language as it was passed last December, would he be able to sign that right away?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q The Senate language, if it goes to the House, would he be able to sign that right away, like before he’s wheels up on Sunday morning?
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s — this is a better question for the House. The President would make himself available to do that, yes.
Q If he was told he needed to by the parliamentarian, you’re saying?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Otherwise he would wait for the reconciliation?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Again, I’m going to — this is — I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. Again, the answer I outlined — let me — I think I can break this up and answer your question. The procedure outlined, as I understand what the parliamentarian has either — has decided or is likely to decide — what I was saying a minute ago on the second part, pushing back, is I assume that bill can be gotten down here quickly, though. It will take some time to enroll and what have you. But if the President — if that process requires that the President sign that bill, he’ll be happy to do so prior to leaving.
Q Will he sign it –
Q The President — and did the President offer –
MR. GIBBS: Say it again?
Q He’ll sign it in this country, then?
MR. GIBBS: Again, a lot of this would depend first and foremost on the parliamentary decision, and secondly, on the quickness with which a bill can be enrolled and moved down here. It’s only Tuesday. We’ve got plenty of time to get it to that.
Q Did he offer Tim Kaine a job during lunch?
MR. GIBBS: I think he offered him salt. (Laughter.) I don’t know. He had — I would say this. I would say that he offered Governor Kaine a job a few years and he gladly accepted it, and he is doing a great job.
Q Can I — just one little housekeeping thing, then a subsequent question on health care. Is he going to have another public event on health care this week? And what might it be?
MR. GIBBS: Let me double-check with scheduling. I believe — I believe he will — I believe he is likely to have at least one more, if not more than one.
MR. GIBBS: In town, yes. We’ve got a lot of assets overseas. We’re not — nobody would go and say –
Q No, I mean –
MR. GIBBS: — we’d love to fill up the bird and go somewhere.
Q — not overseas, I meant –
MR. GIBBS: Yes. No, no, even outside, even in the continental United States, I think they would look at us like we were crazy.
Q In terms of your arguments about this deem and pass scenario, what you’re kind of saying is this discussion is kind of silly, because everybody is going to look at their votes as either for or against the health care bill.
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s not only how they’ll look at it, I think, quite honestly, that’s how you’ll look at it.
Q Yes, absolutely.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q So what you’re saying is it’s kind of a silly exercise to pretend that you’re not voting for the Senate bill and the Cornhusker Kickback when you vote for the rule?
MR. GIBBS: Just as when you vote for the reconciliation that corrects that, you will have done that.
Q Right. But so anybody who votes for the rule –
MR. GIBBS: And since those, I think, in this bill will be simultaneous, I’ll leave to you and your editors how you would work that out.
Q Except for the reconciliation part won’t be finalized for quite –
MR. GIBBS: No, the corrections — some of the corrections — right.
Q — for quite a while — quite many days after that.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe you’ve proved my earlier point. (Laughter.)
Q So Nancy Pelosi can’t — what you’re saying is that she can’t provide any cover for her members to act as if they didn’t vote for the Senate bill?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the process, Mara, again, as I mentioned to Ann, is a two-step process — right? They’re going to vote on legislation; they’re going to vote on a series of corrections. The President will sign — looks forward to signing all of that and reforming our health care system.
Q Thank you. If or when the legislation passes, if it comes under the sort of cloud of controversy — very tight votes, criticism over the whatever — at what cost is that going to be to the President’s ability to govern going forward, and to the Democrats’ position heading into the midterms? I understand it’s a risk you’re willing to take that getting this done –
MR. GIBBS: Flesh out for me just a little bit. I don’t — I didn’t –
Q If this passes, but it’s ugly, right — if the health care overhaul becomes law but there’s a lot of bad feelings about it, and all your Republican friends are mad at you and — don’t feel good about it and all this sort of stuff, will it impair the President’s ability to govern going forward, and to what extent — and the caveat being that from where you’re coming from, it’s better to have this than not to have this — totally get it — but if it’s sort of not clean and everyone’s unhappy at the end?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that — taking this in two separate ways — again, I think the President has made clear through his commitment the importance of getting this done. That having been said, we will wake up next week, next month, several months from now with many critical and important issues. Senator Dodd introduced financial reform yesterday to put in place strong rules governing the way our financial system should work that it didn’t 18 months ago when we watched Wall Street collapse and the dreams of many in America collapse. That’s an important issue that is going to be on the plates of legislators, regardless of the outcome of health care.
We’ve mentioned in here over the past several days the Supreme Court case around Citizens United that the President has serious reservations about. In financial reform, we have — the President has outlined a fee on banks to pay taxpayers back completely for the money that they lent financial systems through the TARP program.
Regardless of the outcome of health care, those problems still exist and they have to be addressed throughout the remainder of the year.
I think that those are important issues not just for Congress and the administration but I outline them as important issues for the American people. And I don’t think that — I don’t think that they want that process to stop because of health care reform.
Q But as you look to build coalitions that you’re going to need both within the Congress and the goodwill of the American people on all these issues — on financial reform, on cap and trade, looking maybe way down the road now — what I’m saying is do you think that your ability to get the votes that you need on those things and to have the goodwill you need on those things will be somehow impaired because of sort of the political costs of getting this big, important bill through?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don’t — I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t think that’s true either in Congress and I certainly don’t believe that’s true on behalf of the American people. Again, there are important problems that will exist. There will be important solutions that the American people will want to see their Congress act on. I cannot imagine that we want to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the collapse of our financial system because of reckless behavior by announcing that we’re not going to have new rules of the road going forward.
I don’t — and I think that elections — I don’t think anybody wants to go — I said this last week — I don’t think people want to go home saying that those rules of the road haven’t changed, and it’s — we’re back to the wild, wild west. I think the American people, their constituents, are not going to accept that a disagreement that was had in March affects your ability to institute strong rules of the road on Wall Street in September.
Q Robert, to sort of follow up on that, SEIU had a poll that was released yesterday that sort of talked about the bad taste people have in terms of some of these process issues — the Cornhusker Kickback — and said that was actually more dangerous to the Democrats in the midterms than what was actually in the bill. And that comports with what we heard out of Massachusetts from voters who voted for Scott Brown. Isn’t there a very real danger, if not for the White House, but for Democrats on the Hill, that the spinning of this, the deals — we’ve gotten this torrent of press releases from Republicans in the last two days — kickbacks, deals, this kind of talk harms –
MR. GIBBS: Again, the one you mentioned specifically is the one the President specifically has taken out of the legislation. I don’t think you would — I don’t think the President would disagree that the process that ended late last year didn’t affect the way people viewed the product at the beginning of this year. That’s why the President has asked that that type of stuff be taken out. That’s why the President has engaged Republicans and Democrats alike in a process that puts the focus back on what the legislation does for the American people. I do think that the rate increases by the insurance companies have had a galvanizing effect in letting people know what happens again if we walk away.
Q Is this perception, though, that you were talking about last year into this year, is that informing these conversations you’re having with undecided members? I mean, if they’re coming to you and asking for specific things, is the President now more likely to say, no, I’m not willing to make those kinds of deals?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President is making the case based on the legislation. And I think the process that the President has been engaged in over the past several months has in many ways been to clean up where that process went wrong at the end of last year.
Q Just a clarification on the FOX News thing — he is going on with Bret Baier? Is this going to be live?
MR. GIBBS: Likely taped.
MR. GIBBS: Tomorrow.
Q On financial reform, the President has met recently a few times I believe with Jamie Dimon. Has he asked him, and other executives, to ease up on their opposition to having a consumer financial protection agency? And also — I’ll do two at once here — has Larry Summers and Tim Geithner been brought in to talk to their former Wall Street colleagues about their opposition to having such a bureau or agency?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll just say this. The President used the occasion of them being here last year on small business lending to talk about not only the consumer financial protection agency but also overall financial reform. We believe it is in the interest of the American people to set rules of the road to give — to empower consumers with the information they need, and to do so in a way that doesn’t carve out certain lenders like payday lenders or things like that in protecting consumers.
I don’t know whether Larry and Tim have talked with anybody on Wall Street in the past 24 hours since Senator Dodd introduced his legislation. I do know that the NEC and the Treasury Department were indeed working with, and have been working with, Senator Dodd over the past many weeks on the legislation that he introduced yesterday.
Q But you do know there’s a tremendous lobbying effort on the part of banks and other Wall Street firms targeting this.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Will the President continue to sort of try to beat that back?
MR. GIBBS: The President, I think you saw in his statement, is committed to a strong consumer agency. He will seek opportunities as it relates to the overall bill to strengthen it, and will fight, as he said yesterday, any effort to weaken the legislation that he believes, again, provides very clear, common-sense rules of the road so that the American people are never on the hook for the excesses of Wall Street banks.
Q Robert, talk — I want to ask you a question about tradeoffs for the health care reform bill. HBCU has been saying that they got word from Hill leaders last week that funding — $2 billion worth of funding for HBCUs over 10 years — was on the chopping block, and it was put back in yesterday. Now, there’s a concern that this President put all this money in, had this big ceremony to help fund HBCUs — Historically Black Colleges and Universities — and the money was –
MR. GIBBS: Right. I know what — Tuskegee being here –
Q Morgan State, we had Hampton — okay, anyway — Howard — but going back — going back to the issue, they are concerned that if it was able to linger and be on the chopping block once, what’s to say it’s not going to happen in the next few days before a vote?
MR. GIBBS: I get where you’re going. I don’t — I guess I’m lost on the — I’m lost on the — you said why it was on the chopping block, why it was added back in, and why it would –
Q The Hill leaders were saying that they had to shave some money for reconciliation, and that was one of the areas that they tried to shave — HBCU money, that the President is definitely — he said he was standing by, and he even reiterated that to the CBC.
MR. GIBBS: Let me get DPC to look into — I just don’t have enough on the HCBU process on this.
Q But this President — but does this President stand by HBCUs and the funding that he put in –
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q — and would he stand up to these lawmakers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, let me — I want to get — obviously the President is supportive of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Around the specific instance that you mentioned, let me get some guidance from DPC.
Q Robert, perhaps a sore point, but Congressman Darrell Issa has accused you, Robert Gibbs, of being part of a cover-up because you will not say whether the White House offered Joe Sestak a job for not running against Arlen Specter. Guilty or not guilty?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’ve talked to several people in the White House; I’ve talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I’m told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is — whatever happened is in the past, and he’s focused on his primary election.
Q Did the White House Counsel’s Office look into whether this was a crime –
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to my previous lines.
Q Sestak says he was offered something.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll refer you to what I just said a minute ago.
Q Are there any plans for anyone from your administration to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu next week while he’s in town for AIPAC? The President is away but the Vice President might be around.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we are obviously away while they’re here. I will check with NSC and see whether it’s the Vice President or whether others in the administration –
Q Thanks, Robert.
Q About the relationship with the Turkish administration, Turkey recalled its ambassador two weeks ago because of the genocide resolution passed, and Turkish Prime Minister said last week that unless they see some steps taken by the U.S. administration, Turkey is not going to send its ambassador. So my question is, absence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington, is it a matter of concern for the U.S. administration? And second, are there any steps being taken by the U.S. administration to assure Turkish administration?
MR. GIBBS: Let me — on the second part, let me check with the NSC on that. Obviously we believe that Turkey is a valuable partner. The President traveled there on one of his first trips abroad to demonstrate the importance of that partnership; on that trip, worked on a process that has now resulted in — or resulted in the announcement of more normalized relations, pending parliament passes a protocol, and we’re certainly hopeful that that will happen.
2:37 P.M. EDT
Tags: Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse