Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/14/09
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 14, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let me give you guys a quick readout on the President's morning meeting. As you know, the President met for three hours with his national security team in the Situation Room. This was the fifth in a series of meetings assessing our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The meeting began with an update of the political and security situation in Afghanistan. The President received a report on our efforts to strengthen our civilian mission within Afghanistan, particularly as it relates to our effort to partner with the Afghan government. The President then received a report on our efforts to train Afghan security forces. And as usual, the President heard from many of his advisors, and was joined via video conference by Ambassadors Patterson and Eikenberry and General McChrystal from Islamabad and Kabul respectively.
Q Did Secretary Clinton not participate in --
MR. GIBBS: She was on a plane and was hooked up through audio. As well as, I assume the guidance said this, but Jim Steinberg and Jack Lew were also there representing the State Department.
Q So what was the most helpful piece of information, or how did the ball move forward in this particular meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think this was, again, a continuation of a series of meetings. Some of what we went through were questions from last meeting, as I read out, the -- an update on the political situation, and an update on security force training -- meaning ANA and ANP -- Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police -- obviously integral in ensuring that at some point the Afghans are providing security for their own people.
So like the other meetings, there wasn't one magic sentence or one magic phrase, but again a fairly comprehensive meeting to go through the remaining situation that hadn't been covered and needed to be covered more in depth in Afghanistan.
Q Will the President make a decision in an announcement on what he's going to do before his Asia trip, and do so whether or not the election has been resolved in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we back, as I've said before, a look into the situation by the Electoral Complaints Commission, as well as the IEC. It's our understanding that they're in the process of concluding that review of the election. I don't want to get out -- I don't want to peg a certain date, except to reiterate what the President said, a decision was coming -- would be made in the coming weeks.
Q Well, I guess what I'm asking, though, is will he make a decision and an announcement whether or not the election situation gets resolved?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to speculate on that based on -- I'll have a better sense of -- I don't want to speculate on what may or may not happen as part of the ECC, and we'll wait on that.
Q The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said today that his government is ready to send 500 more troops under certain conditions. And the BBC is reporting that the U.S. government told the British government that it was going to announce substantial increase in a U.S. deployment in Afghanistan. Can you comment on the veracity of that report --
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't -- the President has not made a decision, and when he does, I think that you can assume that the BBC will not be the first outlet for such a decision. I would not put any -- throw weight behind the fact that a decision has been made when the President has yet to make a decision.
In terms of -- let me speak just for a second about Prime Minister Brown's announcement. Obviously, throughout this process we have been coordinating our review with our allies. I think we read out a call last week between President Obama and Prime Minister Brown, where the Prime Minister communicated to us their decision to send more troops.
Obviously, the British people and those that serve there have borne an enormous price in casualties. Obviously, we're thankful for a strengthening of the coalition, and our assessment continues. But again, I think we're happy for their increase in contribution.
Q And on a related subject, now that Congress is issuing a statement meant to allay the concerns of Pakistan military, is -- when will the President sign the Pakistan aid bill?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a specific time. But we've said for at least the past week that the bill will be signed -- I think we have until midnight on Friday to do so.
Q Just given the controversy in Afghanistan with President Karzai and the election, how important is it to the White House -- before you actually make any announcements about your strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how important is it to you that you be seen as having a credible partner in the Afghan government?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take this in a couple of different directions, Jake. One, I think as the President has been clear to say, we're not leaving Afghanistan. So we certainly stand ready to work with what -- whatever and whomever win the election based on the review by the ECC, and the IEC, and others.
Secondly, I think it goes without saying that part of what has been discussed throughout this process is ensuring that we do have a strong partner. Whether that partner -- we have to ensure -- and that's why we have -- and discussed today an increase in our civilian capability in partnering directly with the Afghan government, why we talk about the path for training security forces, police and army, to ensure that at some point there is an entity that can absorb the functions of providing security and ensuring continued development and economic growth as we move forward.
So obviously having a strong and credible partner is extremely important to this process.
Q And then one other question. Does the President -- has the President any response to the news about the Wall Street bonuses -- Goldman Sachs and others -- at a time when there's severe downsizing, people are taking pay cuts? It seems to be going the other direction on Wall Street.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President would continue to tell -- to tell everyone that we -- the pay on Wall Street has to be -- can't be -- can't return to the speculative era that we saw last, specifically right before the economic collapse with which we deal with today; that pay has to be based on reasonable assumption of risk, not on speculation. The President appointed Ken Feinberg to assess and look through the pay structure for firms that have received an extraordinary amount of assistance from the government.
Just yesterday, plans were due to him for the next highest paid 75 employees -- the first set of plans he looked at were for the top 25. The next set of plans, which were due yesterday, examined the next 75 highest salaries. That's why the President has continued to push his legislation for "say on pay."
We can't go back to the type of pay structure that incentivized wild speculation like we had before this economic collapse. It also is important, as we see progress on Capitol Hill on making regulatory reform this year part of the law.
Q Is there any personal reaction the President had? In the past, you've talked about the President having a personal reaction to some of this news.
MR. GIBBS: I didn't have a chance to talk extensively with him about it today, because of most of what we were doing was the Sit Room stuff.
Q On health care, House Democrat Leader Hoyer today was saying that he thinks the House will hold its final vote by Christmas, but he couldn't guarantee that. Is the President planning -- would he leave the door open to the health care debate extending into next year, or does he want Congress -- is he going to be firm about the deadline of getting this done this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- I think everyone -- I think we believe confidently that this can get done this year. I think we've made a tremendous amount of progress. And now as -- as you heard the President yesterday, yesterday was an important step -- just one step, but an important step -- in making these proposals and plans reality. I think it's tremendously important, from the President's viewpoint, that we finish that this year.
Let me build on that though just for a second, because I think one of the things that we saw in the newspaper today -- and let me just read to you a couple of lines from a story in the Wall Street Journal, headline, "Big jump seen in health costs for employees. As companies begin unveiling their workplace benefits for next year many employees are learning they will have to dig even deeper into their pockets for health coverage. Such price increases have become a fact of life during open enrollment season where workers sign up for their health plans. But the jump is expected to be steeper in 2010 than this year, as employees struggle with the impact of the recession and continually rising insurance costs. Employees will pay $4,023 on average in premiums and out-of-pocket changes next year, up 10 percent" -- 10 percent -- "from 2009, according to a projection from Hewitt Associates, a benefits consulting firm. In dollar terms it's the biggest boost since the firm started keeping track of the data a decade ago."
So that's the story. So if you don't want to do anything this year, this is what you're for on behalf of the American people. Okay? A 10 percent increase in health care costs and out-of-pocket expenses at a time in which inflation is either zero or actually negative. Right? In addition to this -- the status quo ensures that you could still be discriminated against based on a preexisting condition, that you could still lose your health insurance if you get sick.
So the status quo is 10 percent next year without the benefits of insurance reforms. And I think that's the part of this debate that we now focus on. We're going through open season. I'm sure many of you are. I'm sure your families are, your friends are. And they're going to see, just as we see in this article, the skyrocketing cost of health care.
Q Given the skyrocketing costs and the President's belief that there's an urgent need to get it done, why has he still not gotten specific then -- like in the Rose Garden yesterday -- and said whether he's for the Baucus bill or not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Ed, we're now at a point in the process that has advanced past an individual committee. We've got members of the administration, at the invitation of the Majority Leader, who will blend bills together up on Capitol Hill today, just as we've had people involved in each of the markups of all this legislation. The President and his staff have been deeply involved and will continue to be deeply involved as we move forward.
Q -- Democrats continue to privately say it would be helpful for the President to steer it -- there's five different bills, as you say -- and say, here's the one that matches what I want to get through.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that process I think begins in earnest today and members of the staff will be up there taking part in, in conjunction with, a process that will be led by the Majority Leader with relevant committee chairs and participants from those committees.
Q You shot down the BBC report, but could I get a little more specific about it so that you can shoot down the specific numbers we're hearing --
MR. GIBBS: It's not true. I mean, I can be generalistic or I can be specific. I've seen the report. It's not true either generally or specifically.
Q The report specifically said 45,000 troops.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q And I just want you to address that. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me address both things. Well, first of all, the President hasn't made a decision. Right? So the fact that he's made a decision isn't true. And the fact that the decision that he hasn't made has been reported as a certain number consequently is also not true.
So it's -- I don't know where it comes from, but it's not true.
Q It's a good story, though. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: And, you know, by God, don't let the facts get in the way of it, just go with it.
Q On the -- were you in the whole meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I was. Well, except for about 15 minutes, but yes.
Q How much of the discussion was about troop strength and numbers and that kind of thing? Can you give us some kind of idea of how big an issue that is now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, obviously we're at a point in this assessment where we're going through training scenarios when we discuss -- I would certainly say the latter part of where we discussed specifically security forces, the resource request and the assessment blended in throughout that discussion.
Q As you move into resource discussions -- and obviously there are people who feel differently about that -- are you seeing more -- and I know you say people aren't raising voices; it's not confrontational -- but are you seeing more clear disagreement among some of the people in the room?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think at this point we have gone through different aspects of the assessment, laid some of the resource requests over the basis for some of those assessments, along with updates on the political and security situations in both countries.
So I think that's part of it, but I don't -- people are still not, you know, on different sides of the table with different numbers and that sort of thing.
Q Who -- could you tell -- who is doing most of the talking? Is it mostly McChrystal? Is it mostly Biden? Is it the President?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- let's see, I think -- I mean, look, the President obviously is an active participant in asking questions of the State Department, the Defense Department, General Petraeus, General McChrystal, General and Ambassador Eikenberry. A lot of what we discussed today -- the political situation, the civilian military capability that's matched, and the training, I think isolated on that -- obviously there's a lot of discussion; obviously Vice President Biden was active, as were the intelligence community.
Q And increasingly, as they get into this, are you seeing people express opinions more than they did initially?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is not a shrinking violets group. I think we've seen opinions throughout this -- again, I think as much as anything -- and certainly in earlier meetings we have gone through not just the assessment, that's certainly been part of it, but the intelligence updates and the political and the security situations in each country on the ground, which in some ways are addressed -- obviously in General McChrystal's assessment because he was obviously specifically tasked to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan -- but obviously Pakistan is something that was much more intelligence based.
Q And does the President tell people where he wants to go? Does he seek opinions or is he just a --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, he's asked -- I think a decent part of today's meeting were questions that -- a lot of which he had asked in the previous session that he wanted more information on -- you know, understanding that for each one of these meetings there's a pretty large notebook that goes along with the three-hour discussion. So there's a lot of intake and information here.
Q And I know you were asked about this yesterday, but we're hearing more -- we're hearing a mixed bag in New Orleans for tomorrow. We heard, you know, some people saying that there's been a lot more cooperation with this administration, but a lot of other people saying they're very disappointed that he's not doing more than these two quick stops --
MR. GIBBS: Again, understand that -- I think one of the previous visits that then candidate and Senator Barack Obama made -- I think one of the questions was -- there was some question this time about whether or not -- the appropriateness of a town hall meeting, when last time I think one of the complaints was we weren't talking directly to people.
Chip, don't judge anybody on the amount of time that they've spent there. Don't judge -- judge only what this administration promised that they would do, what they've done every day, and what they're continuing to work on. We feel enormously confident that if you judge us on that, that we'll come out well compared -- not just compared to previous efforts, but more importantly tangible improvements in the rebuilding and in the lives of people that stayed there.
Understand this President has been to the Lower 9th Ward. I was with him. We stood --
Q Not as President.
MR. GIBBS: No, not as President, but let me -- the Lower 9th Ward, when the President went -- I haven't been recently but I saw it not long after the storm. We stood on the empty foundation where all you could see next to this giant levee that had been repaired -- all you could see were the cement foundations not unlike the podium that I stand on, for as long as you could see. We drove through the city when, as you all remember, the symbols on the door -- the circle with the X and the four numbers that denoted how people were here, how many people were lost, whether or not -- making sure everybody was accounted for. The President has been to schools.
This President has been active. His Cabinet has been active. This has been a destination unrivaled by almost any other for Cabinet officials and for administration officials.
I think if we're judged simply on what we've done, which is all we'd ever asked that people do, I think they'll understand and see we haven't just made promises; we've delivered.
Q Robert, just a quick follow-up on that. This seemed to touch a nerve. I mean, this criticism, do you think it's beyond -- like it's beyond the pale, this criticism? Do you at all appreciate the criticism that's coming --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I appreciate everything that people have been through in New Orleans. We all remember -- we all remember those pictures. And we all understand that we said those pictures should never happen again, and that those that have been affected by those pictures should, through our efforts -- meaning the United States -- their lives should be rebuilt. That's what the President promised and that's what we're working to deliver.
Q When's the next meeting on Afghanistan, the next meeting of the War Cabinet?
MR. GIBBS: Sometime next week, but I don't have a specific date.
Q How many more meetings are we looking at?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I think -- I will check with scheduling, beyond the meeting next week.
Q Is it -- where are we in the process? Is it fair --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I --
Q Are we still in the middle of a process or are we now --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't -- I think the best -- I would just quote the President saying a decision would come -- a decision would happen in the coming weeks.
Q And based on your answers both to Jake and to Jennifer, is it fair to say, then, this election issue, you'd like to have more resolution before you came out with some sort of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to --
Q I mean, it does seem like you --
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I mean, look, again --
Q Well, certainly you will not say that the election issue is having no influence on this.
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, I don't think anybody, regardless of where they stood on the spectrum of strategies and numbers of troops -- there's nobody that could credibly tell you that the government doesn't matter -- was nobody -- going back to whatever historical example you want to use. I'm simply saying that there's -- we assume fairly soon that the commission looking into fraud will make a determination, as will the international commission looking into this. We're not leaving. We're not talking -- the discussion in the Situation Room is not X number of troops. We're not talking about the BBC versus zero. So we're -- Mark, I had to work that in for you.
Q Appreciate it. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: So we're going to work with whatever government is there, and we have to have a strong partner.
Q Have you guys talked about finding -- figuring out how to partner with other entities in Afghanistan that isn't necessarily the government, any tribal leaders? I mean, what is -- is there any of that? What is the status of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we did not get into that in depth today. We obviously talked part of the civilian -- the increase in civilian personnel partnering with the Afghan government, which the State Department discussed, is matching up our resources with their Ministry of Agriculture. Obviously Chairman Mullen has discussed our direct talking with the Ministry of Defense. So we have -- that is part of what the discussion is.
Q But that's not the central government. Is there any -- what about in sort of the --
MR. GIBBS: We got into a whole range of governmental discussions today.
Q And then quickly, Dow 10,000 -- good, bad, indifferent? What does it mean for the American economy? Where do you guys see --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I said this when I got asked about what was it, Dow 7,000 -- (laughter) -- that we don't measure the ups and downs of the stock market each day. I'll resist the temptation to do that on a day in which it's good, because seemingly somebody will come back on a day in which it's not as good. I think the President would be quick to tell you that's only one measure, obviously, of any sort of economic health.
Q How positive a sign -- what does the economic team -- obviously, in your economic briefing this morning, you knew this was possible --
MR. GIBBS: We didn't do the EDB today because of the Sit Room meeting. But again, I would say, look, there are statistics out today on retail spending that beat expectations. So you see -- you see statistics that in some ways are good, you see other statistics which you hope improve. And obviously, as the President said at his event this afternoon, that the middle class that built this country into what it is today has borne the enormous brunt of this recession. Millions are out of work that want to work. And the President will work each day to create an environment where we're creating jobs, so that people that want to find jobs will be able to do so.
Q The President -- I wonder if the President had had an opportunity to read and comment upon the statement that Gordon Brown issued in committing the 500 more troops? In it he mentions among reasons for being there, for Britain, a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would be a strategic failure for al Qaeda. And that would seem to be a point of disagreement with the council at the moment. Is there some downside in having Britain come out and make this kind of a statement? Are they espousing a certain view?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt the President has had an opportunity to review that. Obviously, I think we've discussed our main goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. One of obviously the primary things is ensuring that nobody has the ability, meaning the Taliban, to create a safe haven for the return of al Qaeda. That's obviously extremely important to not just our government, but obviously to our allies.
Q This seemed to go a bit beyond that in advocating for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, sort of taking a position --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to parse Prime Minister Brown's words.
Q Can I get a quick follow-up to that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Secretary of State Clinton, in an interview with Cynthia McFadden, made a comment about how one of the things going on in the Sit Room is discussing which Taliban do pose a threat. Obviously, Afghan Taliban are not perceived to pose a direct threat to the United States or its allies. But in trying to gauge which ones would ally themselves with the al Qaeda so as to provide safe haven -- how do you make that determination between which Taliban would aid al Qaeda or extremist allies, and which ones would not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously some of this is on the ground assessment based on their actions and what they've said, obviously. And we talked about this I think last week in relation to news articles. Obviously, there are some that have traditionally aligned themselves with the providing of a safe haven. There are others that have aligned themselves with a local warlord, but at the same time don't present the type of global jihadist characteristics that one might see out of al Qaeda.
Q Robert, would you now say that President Obama has spent more time in drafting an Afghanistan strategy than on any other subject since he's been President?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think he's probably spent more time -- I think he's probably spent more time on the economy. Obviously, Afghanistan is something that he has spent an awful lot of time on as of late. And as I've said before, Mark, I think probably spent some portion of each day since we started calling him President-elect thinking about it, and obviously even back into the campaign.
Q And did the President have any marching orders for Rahm as he went to the Hill today?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I heard him say. Obviously, we've been involved in this process, and we'll continue to be. Obviously, our desire is to get something done this year, that we're closer to getting it done than we've ever been. And we're reminded today the status quo is expensive, it's expensive and it's directly out of the pockets of millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.
Q Will the President's remarks tonight at the Kennedy Institute, will it include a health care component?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the remarks. I think it's rare that you speak about what Senator Kennedy spent a lifetime building without discussing health care.
Q Is that a fundraiser for that institute?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware. I think it was misconstrued on the earlier guidance. I do not think it is a fundraiser, but I'll double-check.
Q A couple of quick follow-ups, and then a thematic question I want you to take. The follow-ups, a follow-up to Chuck --
MR. GIBBS: We can try. (Laughter.)
Q Does the President see there's anything in a disconnect between Wall Street 10,000, corporate profits at the expense of not rehiring, or the continued unemployment problems -- does the economic team or the President see any disconnect between what appears to be a rising tide of prosperity on Wall Street that's not trickling down -- it's not being felt by Americans still looking for jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it just demonstrates that we still have work to do; that we still have progress to be made, even as again we see positive retail sales figures, as we see an increasing Dow Jones average, as we see stabilization in the financial system. Obviously, there are many different avenues of this, and we have to make it work for working Americans.
Q Is there any anxiety among the economic team that the retail sale numbers, which were better than expectations, were in some ways boosted artificially by the lateness of Labor Day on the purchasing of back-to-school supplies there and continued Cash for Clunkers auto --
MR. GIBBS: Well, in fact -- I mean, I think if you take autos out of it, I think many people looked at -- a number of times people examined these statistics minus auto sales and gas sales, because you could see an increase in retail spending just because the price of gas went up, which wouldn't be a good way of measuring economic health -- obviously there was a pretty large decrease in auto sales, largely because -- and not surprisingly -- people made those decisions based on an important incentive program that worked quite well.
And look, I think in terms of school supplies and stuff -- look, I remember when I was in school in Alabama, we went the Tuesday after Labor Day. This year, inexplicably -- well, they've been doing this for a while, but I think it was the second week in August they went back. So I think school supply sales are spread out over a decent amount of time.
Q When you said health care can be done this year, that's obviously true. Would you be unwilling to say it will be done this year?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it will be. I think the President of the United States will sign into law health care reform this year.
Q Will there be a public option? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We'll have choice and competition.
Q Robert, one thematic question I'd like you to address. In the last couple of weeks -- I was not here last week so forgive if you've gone over some of this territory -- there has become a small theme among some liberals that the President has either been indecisive, or lacks sufficient backbone or has failed to accomplish enough things on what progressives believe is their core agenda. I could give you --
MR. GIBBS: I'd say yes and no.
Q Okay. (Laughter.) Would you, as you often like to do, step back and evaluate that criticism --
MR. GIBBS: Well, what's -- I'm sorry, criticism based on?
Q Well, let's say the Middle East, asking the Israelis from settlements then backing away, or perceiving to have backed away; accomplishing less than they are satisfied with on gay rights agenda; having what they -- appears to them to be a prolonged deliberative assessment of Afghanistan that may or may not result in a definitive decision that they are going to be happy with. These sort of themes. I'd like you to evaluate that --
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't think the President believed that everything was going to be solved in the first several months of this administration. I don't think the President was under any illusion that after a really long time of discussing Middle East peace, that everything would get done in -- before October of his first year.
I think if you put any number of our accomplishments up against certainly what other administrations in their first year have accomplished, I think already we've done well. And look, I'm happy to revisit this question as we get closer to the end of the year when I think that will even be more robust.
Q With or without health care?
MR. GIBBS: But I said earlier that we would -- would get health care done. So that will be something we will talk about as an accomplishment.
Q Up in the House Armed Services Committee today Congressman Buck McKeon criticized the current state of the Afghanistan strategy, saying it's in a state of drift and lacking direction, and it's unfair to the forces to have this kind of drift while the review is going on. Can you respond to that? And can you talk a little bit about how the strategy is proceeding during this interim period while he's reviewing it?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the basis for some of those -- I don't know what the basis for what he said was. I don't know what -- I don't know what he said for nine months when General McKiernan's request for additional resources sat on someone's desk. I don't -- you could go back and ask him, and then I'd have a better avenue with which to comment on that.
Q Let me ask you about going forward. We saw from -- in that same interview --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just say this. I will tell you this, I mean, I'll reiterate what I think what I've said several times now, because of what Secretary Gates has said. Again, and I said this yesterday, he's been involved in a number of administrations going back into the '80s, where he said quite clearly this is the first time we've evaluated and had a comprehensive assessment of our strategy in Afghanistan since then. I think that is -- I think that is something that all should understand.
Q Secretary Clinton, in this -- in the interview that Jake mentioned, talked about making up her own mind in the next few weeks. Is he going to have -- is the President going to have individual meetings with some of the participants in these big meetings to flesh out their individual views?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, with somebody like a Secretary Clinton, he meets with her I think once a week in a standing meeting as he meets with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen. I think they talked yesterday. I mean, the President spoke either over -- I can't remember if it was over the weekend or on Monday with Ambassador Eikenberry.
Obviously, there's a -- there are these meetings that we've now had five of, but the President will continue to speak individually, or in smaller groups, with those in asking them questions, or in asking their assessment of where he believes they are. And I think -- I think certainly that didn't necessarily start with this process, and I doubt it will end now.
Q Let me ask you one final thing, yesterday you didn't have his political schedule in front of you --
MR. GIBBS: And I don't -- I continue not to today. I know, I know. But I hope I've answered your Afghanistan question. (Laughter.)
Q Well, wait a minute. I mean, so (inaudible) dismissive decision yesterday that you aren't going to schedule, or we are going to get it?
MR. GIBBS: No, I endeavored to answer your questions on Afghanistan today, of which there have been many. And I haven't talked to the scheduler about that, but I'll be -- I will not be dismissive of Ann, I might be more of some other suggestions. Go ahead.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I meant to call on you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He what?
Q You did say -- I thought --
Q So we're not going to get the schedule?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead. I'm happy to play semantic games. I just -- Chuck, I haven't looked at his schedule. I haven't looked at his schedule.
Q Okay, can you get back to us?
MR. GIBBS: I will get back to you, but not Chuck. Go. (Laughter.)
Q At the risk of (inaudible) the schedule (inaudible) discussion (inaudible) the President has until Friday at midnight to sign this Pakistan bill. He's going to be on the road the next two days. I mean, is he going to do that today then?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it's today, but I don't know over the course of Thursday or Friday when or where that will be.
Q -- do it in New Orleans or do on the plane?
MR. GIBBS: We could do that.
Q Has he been personally involved at all in talking with any of the Pakistani leaders, or people who are here in this building --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. I know that folks here, and certainly at State and on the Hill, have been in discussions about this. I think General Jones has been in discussions on this as well.
Q Did the White House ask for the statement that the House and Senate leaders --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that, and I'll get an answer on that.
Q Can we come back to health care, Robert, and the anti-trust discussion that Harry Reid took the folks on the Hill into. I know that there was a Justice Department official involved in that as well. Does the President think that this is the right time to remove these anti-trust protections from the insurance industry?
MR. GIBBS: I know that Christine Varney was set to testify. I have not had a chance to review her testimony or see where we are on that.
Q You can't even say that whether the timing has something to do with the insurance industry report that came out over the weekend? It just sort of seems --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know when the hearing was scheduled. My sense is that this has been something that Senator Leahy has worked on for quite some time. I don't -- you have to ask them on the schedule, the hearing schedule.
Q After the President was at the U.N., there was some confidence that Russia would be supportive of efforts to invoke sanctions on Iran if that was necessary. Now that the Secretary of State has been there, are there any further thoughts on whether Russia will be cooperative on that?
MR. GIBBS: I certainly saw the news reports from yesterday, but was in the room as many of you all were when Medvedev I think said quite clearly the time for that may come. And we have nothing that would suggest any different.
Q Robert, can you comment on a report that General McChrystal may actually be asking for as many as 80,000 more troops?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into any specifics on resource requests.
Q Can you address the question of whether that number might actually be moving during the discussions? Has the General been asked to revisit it, or --
MR. GIBBS: No, we have been discussing the assessment and the resource request that accompanies that assessment. To my knowledge, nobody in those meetings has said -- has called for a reassessment.
Q Can I follow up on that, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q It's clear to participants in these meetings, when you say -- and when the President says -- we're not leaving Afghanistan that it's not to be entertained, that option is not to be entertained or discussed or even brought up? I assume that is true, correct?
MR. GIBBS: The President laid that on the table and dispensed with that sort of straw man I think in -- again, I was not in the meeting that was held, the first meeting on Sunday, but certainly in the second meeting, yes.
Q Two Sundays ago, okay. Is it also true that it's not worth discussing a reduction in our current footprint, or is that an option that is alive and is being discussed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has addressed -- has addressed that and moved beyond that as well.
Q So it's basically where we are now or something larger? Those are -- that is the essential resource question before the President and this group?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Robert, two brief questions. Secretary -- former Secretary Kissinger last week said that along with following the recommendations of his ambassador and the generals in Afghanistan, President Obama should support an international conference and treaty that guarantees neutrality of Afghanistan in the long term, and he likened it to the Treaty of London that guaranteed Belgium neutrality. Is that something that's ever discussed in the meetings at all?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard that topic discussed thus far, no.
Q And the other thing I want to -- I mentioned last week about P.J. Crowley's comment referring to the Guantanamo inmates --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, yes. Let me see where we are on that. I know somebody checked, but I have not heard back from what that was.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q New Orleans, the word out of New Orleans -- the words out of New Orleans, expedite recovery. You talk about the President and this administration being active there. Could you talk to me about how you are looking at expediting the recovery?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think you have seen Homeland Security, HUD, and many other departments and agencies visit, resolve particularly housing issues down there, continue to focus on reconstruction, all of which has been a part of fulfilling -- continuing to fulfill -- and again, this is an active thing -- this isn't finished, this isn't something that's concluded -- ensuring that the focus is on rebuilding not just New Orleans, but the Gulf Coast area.
Q Some are saying, especially in New Orleans, that -- the critics that bureaucracy and red tape have prevented it from being restored, and also --
MR. GIBBS: They should talk to the governor. The governor was pretty clear that --
Q This is the current governor --
MR. GIBBS: The current governor. "As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to right the wrongs he said bogged down efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina." This is the lead, this is a -- "Seven months into the job, he is earning high praise from some unlikely places. Governor Jindal, Republican, Louisiana, says Obama's team has brought a more practical and flexible approach."
Q But do you think that --
MR. GIBBS: "Many local officials offer similar reviews. Even Doug O'Dell, former President George W. Bush's recovery coordinator, says the Obama administration's new vision appears to be turning things around."
Q Okay. Even with all of that, do you think --(laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: All right, I'm going to -- I ought to stop you before you ask that question. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no, no.
MR. GIBBS: Even with -- even with all that -- okay, let me take that caveat. Even with all of that aforementioned, unlikely praise --
Q I was not able to finish my question the first time.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, go ahead.
Q Thank you. The issue is, should the federal government have more of a part -- play more of a part to cut into the bureaucratic red tape that's happening down there to help expedite the reconstruction?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and we have, and we will, and we will continue to do so. This was -- this isn't -- this is a -- this is an American problem. This is a problem for everybody, despite whether you live in New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. That was the President's pledge to that region, and that's what he's done and what other people have said he's worked on doing.
Q I wonder if you could just --
Q Robert, apparently people are not going to be able to go to an event if we don't wrap up --
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to --
Q Far be it for me to prematurely --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I'll take this and then I will disappear lightly into the night.
Q No, I was just going to follow up -- it was New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Why not also visit Mississippi, because it was also hard hit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously -- again, I don't think this is about rhetoric. I think this is about results and action. I think if you -- if you look, as many have done, into that area, into that region, about what's been helpful, I think you'll see state and local officials echo what I just read. I think that's what's important, and I think that's what the President, his Cabinet and his team will continue to focus on.
3:37 P.M. EDT
December 20, 2014
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