Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/16/09
2:27 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Feller, take us away.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two topics, please. The climate talks in Copenhagen appear to be deadlocked, or at least in some trouble. Is that how the White House sees it? What's your take?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the White House sees where we are on those talks much like the White House saw these talks several days ago when Mark asked me that question, and I said I thought there were a number of outstanding issues that were present then and are certainly present now. We have, I think you know, have put an aggressive range on the table for a reduction in carbon dioxides from our economy. We have, in conjunction with the others, set forward some short-term financing goals that we believe internationally can be met to help some developing countries. We've worked with India and China to bring them along in enunciating strong targets for reducing the carbon intensity in their economies.
One of the issues that the President and the team in Copenhagen are concerned with is the transparency of any operational agreement, ensuring that what makes an agreement operational is able to be verified so that people are living -- we know people are living up to those agreements. That's, I know, an issue that is yet to be worked out, and it's an issue of great concern to the United States.
Q Can you offer some specific detail based on current events there, Robert, that the President specifically wants to get done? Does he feel that his stay there and his time there can help bring some of these issues to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- I think leaders representing developing and developed nations all over the world coming to Copenhagen gives an opportunity for some of those issues to be resolved and a breakthrough to happen. The President is hopeful that his presence can help that, and hopeful that, again, we leave Copenhagen with a strong operational agreement, even as we work towards something even stronger in the future.
Q I also wanted to ask you quickly about health care. Is the President as confident today as he was yesterday that he'll get 60 votes in the Senate for health care --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think his mood has changed on that at all, no.
Q What about Senator Ben Nelson? Is he confident --
MR. GIBBS: Is Senator Nelson confident?
Q Is President Obama confident that Senator Nelson --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think he's had conversations with a number of different senators. Obviously the caucus was here yesterday. I don't think his mood has changed.
Q What does the President think of Ben Bernanke getting named Person of the Year by Time Magazine? And is the President concerned about some of these proposals in Congress that the Fed thinks would rein in its independence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I've not talked to the President directly about the awarding of Time's Man of the Year.
MR. GIBBS: Person of the Year, excuse me. I guess you, writ large, didn't repeat from several years ago. Obviously the President has confidence in Chairman Bernanke's leadership at the Fed, which is why in August he re-nominated him.
I do think that the economic team here, the actions of members on Capitol Hill, and the actions of the Fed we all know helped stave off a much more serious financial crisis that, quite frankly, seemed like a very real possibility earlier in the year; and that through those coordinated actions and through some of those tough and even unpopular decisions, we've pulled our economy back from the brink. We're now on a road toward rebuilding that economy and eventually economic recovery.
So I have not talked to him, but I think his actions and the actions of many others certainly helped stave off something far worse.
Q Does the administration plan to speak out on some of these proposals, such as the one that would --
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to take a look at the individual --
Q -- require audits?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on some of the individual bills. I think our focus obviously is on getting a very strong financial reform package now through the Senate, working with Chris Dodd and Richard Shelby in order to make that happen, to set those new rules of the road and ensure that what happened and caused this great crisis doesn't happen again.
Q I was just wondering what your response is -- kind of a back and forth going on between the former head of the Democratic Party, Dr. Howard Dean, and the White House on health care reform. This morning he said that while there are many good things in the bill, there comes a point when there are enough bad things that he would -- that would lead him to oppose it. And he said, the lack of a public option, a mandate covering -- requiring people to get coverage, a fine in which 27 percent of the fine goes to insurance companies, means that this is "an insurance company's dream." And I was just wondering what your response was.
MR. GIBBS: If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo. Insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation. They've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television ads on networks and cable stations throughout our television to try to kill reform. If this is such a good deal for them I'm not entirely sure why they're fighting it.
Let me go through some of the things that I think Dr. Dean said on "Good Morning, America" this morning that quite simply weren't true. One, nobody will be required to purchase something they can't afford. There are hardship exemptions and subsidies based on income levels that help people afford insurance. I don't have the slightest idea where the fact of 27 percent came from.
He went on later in the interview to discuss the notion that the legislation contains -- or no longer contains anything about preexisting conditions. That's simply flat-out wrong. Later in the interview he said that he didn't see any cost control in the bill -- when every health economist that's evaluated the bill says that any idea that's out there to contain costs is actually contained in the bill. So I don't know what piece of legislation he's reading.
Let me tell you what is good in the bill that is true that Dr. Dean forgot to tell people about this morning. We will cut costs. This legislation will bend the cost curve. This legislation is not only deficit-neutral, it actually helps the deficit over the next 10 years. It will provide accessible and affordable insurance to 30 million Americans that currently lack it.
And then let's go through some of the insurance reforms. The insurance market reforms will prohibit abuses such as denying coverage for preexisting conditions. Charging exorbitant premiums based on gender, age, or health status; dropping coverage when people are sick; and imposing lifetime bans -- lifetime limits on benefits. Consumer rights are enhanced by requiring insurers to provide effective appeals procedures, including outside, independent review of health appeals. And the new insurance exchange will reduce premium increases by lowering administrative costs.
I think if you talk to members of the Senate that represent a similar viewpoint in the political spectrum that Howard Dean does, they seem to disagree as much with Howard Dean as I think we would. I think they've been pretty clear on that.
Q Back on climate change, and speaking with officials in Copenhagen, they're saying that this really is kind of crunch time and that the Chinese today were not willing to even see the text of a possible agreement, that they are being somewhat obstructionist. Is there any carrots or sticks that the administration is willing to offer the Chinese or is talking with the Chinese in terms of moving this forward?
MR. GIBBS: Remember, we've moved the Chinese forward to the point where it was unclear a few weeks ago whether they would even offer a target; they've offered a strong target on the reduction in carbon intensity for their economy. It was unclear whether they'd even attend; we know they're going to attend.
We have very specific concerns -- and I think they're fairly common sense -- I think the American people, and quite frankly, anybody in the world could understand. If we're going to enter into an operational agreement we have to understand and be able to determine whether each of the people involved in that operational agreement is living up to the aspects of that agreement by finding out through transparency whether each of us is keeping up our end of the bargain.
I think that's part of what's at stake here. I think if people are serious about coming to an agreement -- and I know the President is -- then I think taking up and approving a common-sense measure like transparency is a pretty simple way of moving past what some have said is a big hurdle.
Q Do you feel like you're making progress on that, or do the Chinese still seem to be pushing back?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think it's a very common-sense thing. I think the President strongly believes that we have to have that in there in order to make sure that an agreement is enforceable.
Q On another -- just on another topic, the Japanese have this Cash for Clunkers program that is similar to our own, and it doesn't include imports from American cars. There are some who are complaining -- Ford, GM, Chrysler are saying that this is discrimination and it's not fair. Does this administration agree? Have you registered a complaint?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen those comments. I'd be happy to have somebody take a look at it and ensure that whatever program they're doing is -- comports with World Trade Organization regulations.
Q Can I just follow on Copenhagen, please?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, the eyes of the globe will be on India and China in Copenhagen, and since President is going there and the Prime Minister of India will be also there, among other leaders, when Prime Minister of India was here at the White House last month, you think President had any agreement or any assurance from India what India will do and what U.S. wants from India, or what you think the two leaders will do in Copenhagen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Goyal, I think that what -- again, we saw similar actions taken by the Indians as were taken by the Chinese in the lead-up to this -- a target, again, that was unclear whether they would enunciate prior to going to Copenhagen, for a reduction in the carbon intensity of their economy; a specific commitment to attend the conference and to try to seek a solution for those issues.
I think it's important that -- the President and his team believe that without diplomacy and leadership in this, we might not be at this point. The President has worked hard to get an agreement, and certainly hopes that we leave Copenhagen having made that progress.
Q Was there any commitment during their meetings here at the White House, from India?
MR. GIBBS: Well, other than to work -- try to work constructively toward an agreement, nothing was locked in there, no.
Q May I follow up on carbon intensity?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q The Bush administration was widely criticized for trying to meets its goals using intensity versus just overall greenhouse gas emissions. And I just wondered why you are putting this in terms of greenhouse gas intensity, because basically --
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's the way their commitments came. Paula, I have not seen what the criticism was for the Bush administration using the term "carbon intensity", so I --
Q -- basically it means that -- it could mean that you're actually meeting the intensity goal, but you're not meeting -- it could mean you're not actually meeting the overall goal. It's not measured --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the administration wants to have happen, to reiterate my point, is if you set a goal but you can't look transparently into figuring out whether somebody is meeting that goal, then you have an unenforceable, non-verifiable "agreement." The President believes that if we're going to make progress we have to do more than just put a series of goals on a piece of paper. We have to also have a mechanism in that paper to ensure that transparency allows us to verify what each nation is doing. It's I think a fairly common-sense principle that we believe should be factored into any approved agreement.
Q Why did the President throw in the towel on public option and Medicare is one question. And do you see any connection on the suicide bombings in Central Asia? Does our presence mean anything -- I mean, have a connection?
MR. GIBBS: In Central Asia -- which bombings?
Q Several countries, the suicide bombings.
MR. GIBBS: I'll have to check with NSC if we have anything on that. In terms of the first one, Helen, I think that we have seen -- we're trying to get a piece of legislation through the Senate. The Republicans are filibustering and any solution is going to require 60 votes to go forward. Do I wish there were more on the Republican side except a few working with the administration to try to figure out how to solve one of the most complex --
Q Why can't he get his own party to --
MR. GIBBS: Because there's a difference of opinion even in his own party about how to move forward. There's differences in political perspective, there's differences in who people represent. The President is not often provided choices that don't include having to get something through Congress.
Q He could have let a filibuster go through.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q He could let them filibuster.
MR. GIBBS: If we did that, Helen, we wouldn't have health care. If you can't get 60 votes to move forward on the bill, then the bill goes away.
But don't quote me, don't quote the President -- quote many on Capitol Hill that believe, as I just told Jake, there is far more in this bill to like and to love than there is to oppose this bill. The notion that we would go -- the notion that the best step forward for health care is to kill the process we're on would simply do damage to what many people, including Dr. Dean, have worked many, many years for.
Q You mean preexisting illness, is that the only thing that --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, changing preexisting conditions and the way insurance companies deal with that is in this legislation, as is a path to get 30 million currently uncovered Americans covered by health insurance reform; lowering premiums for families and businesses; cutting costs for the government in terms of Medicare and Medicaid; dealing with the deficit by making that fiscal picture better. All of those things are what the President laid out in front of the Senate.
Quite frankly, that's all -- those are many of the things that people have campaigned on for a long time. I said this yesterday, see if this sounds familiar. In 2004, a presidential candidate wanted to add to the existing health insurance system of our country, which is private sector and employer-based, those that are currently uninsured and ensure that they have accessible, affordable coverage. That's what Dr. Dean campaigned on in 2003 and 2004. That's what this bill will do -- except, as I said yesterday, there's two differences in what Dr. Dean was doing in 2004 and what President Obama is doing in 2009. One, more people are uninsured and more people are losing their coverage because businesses can't afford it. Secondly, we actually deal with costs.
Q So he changed his mind then --
MR. GIBBS: Right, and I would ask Dr. Dean, is it -- how better do you address those that don't have insurance? Passing a bill that covers 30 million that don't currently have it, or killing a bill? I don't think any rational person would say killing a bill makes a whole lot of sense at this point.
Q There are a lot of people left out.
Q So is he irrational?
MR. GIBBS: I can't tell what his motives are, to be honest with you, Chip, but I will tell you, what he campaigned for in 2004 is what the President is doing, except what this bill includes are insurance reforms that weren't addressed then. The patient's bill of rights, in many ways, that Democrats spent a lot of time in the late '90s working on, are contained in this. We deal with costs. We lower premiums for families and we deal with the fiscal situation. So it's what he campaigned for in 2003 and 2004 plus.
Q Does the President get as frustrated as you sound when people like Dean say things like this?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, again, I think if you go through the transcript of the interview, there's a -- I think there are any number of instances where what is being said about this legislation -- which is nothing new, we've been dealing with this for months --
Q This isn’t only Dean, though --
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand, but what I'm referring to is --
Q -- there are people up on the Hill saying it's not worth it.
MR. GIBBS: Well -- who?
Q Several congressmen, senators.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but understand -- but understand, Senator Harkin, who shares many of the political views that Howard Dean has, supports the bill; Sherrod Brown; many other progressives in the caucus --
Q They had to compromise, they had no alternative.
MR. GIBBS: Because they understand that passing a bill covering 30 million Americans that don't have health insurance is a giant step forward.
Q On another topic, does the President -- is the President comfortable with Citigroup and perhaps others getting massive tax breaks as they pay back their bailout funds?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would encourage you to talk to the Treasury Department and the IRS and read a number of the stories that were written about this. This is -- the entire purpose of the law that you're talking about was written in the '80s to prevent a private company or an investor from evading taxes in owning a profitable company and then in purchasing one that was losing money in order to take significant -- to use those significant tax losses to lower its own tax rate. What prevented two private corporations -- or corporators from doing that with two private corporations -- that's obviously in this case the United States government is not a private corporation.
Q But still, if the IRS and the Treasury Department had not acted, these companies would be paying --
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand --
Q -- Citigroup would be paying billions more in taxes. By definition, that's a tax break.
MR. GIBBS: But again, this was a law that wasn't written as the United States being a member of the private sector. Nobody has certainly held that. And I don't think it makes any sense to punish a company that has lost money in its -- for its tax purposes, as Citi has, by discounting the use of those future losses.
Q But there are lots of ordinary Americans who would say, hey, this tax law isn't fair, that's not the way it was intended, and they don't get the IRS to go in there and say, oh, well, we'll change it for you.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, you don't -- you're not understanding --
Q I am understanding. I've read everything that's been written on it. And this is money that --
MR. GIBBS: I can assure you --
Q -- this is money that Citigroup would have had to pay had the IRS not changed the rule.
MR. GIBBS: Right, because the IRS -- no, because the IRS decided not to treat the federal government as a private company. Do you think the federal government is a private company?
Q The point is that changes --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I'm asking if you think the federal government is a private company.
Q -- under the rule as it existed, Citigroup would have had to pay billions in taxes.
MR. GIBBS: As the law was written -- as the law was written in the 1980s to prevent a corporate raider from taking a profitable private corporation, purchasing a corporation that was losing massive amounts of money, right, dumping the profits that you're making in that into one that's losing money and avoid paying taxes. That's a situation that doesn’t exist in this case because the United States isn't a private corporation.
Q It is still a fact that IRS changed the rule in order to allow Citigroup to --
MR. GIBBS: Because it doesn’t fit what the law says.
Q -- get billions of dollars more.
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I think if you go back and talk to Treasury and talk to the IRS --
Q So you disagree with all the reports that this is a tax break for Citigroup?
MR. GIBBS: I disagree with the fact that this was somehow changed in the way in which you're characterizing it, yes.
Q Is it a tax break for Citigroup?
MR. GIBBS: A tax break -- there are tax breaks in the law for companies that are losing money. That's been the tax law for quite some time.
Q So all the headlines are wrong that say Citigroup is getting a tax break?
MR. GIBBS: Citigroup is losing money; they can use that against their taxes. That is -- that's always been the case.
Q Are all the headlines wrong that are saying Citigroup is getting a tax break?
MR. GIBBS: I will use the same thing that you guys use with me: I don't write the headlines.
Q Are they wrong? Can you just say --
MR. GIBBS: I would just go back to Treasury; I think they can simplify what you don't understand.
Q I understand it, Robert, and I'm asking you to tell me, do you think these headlines "A tax break for Citigroup with payback of bailout" -- that's what all the headlines are saying -- are they wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the law doesn’t fit. The law was written for two private corporations so that a tax -- so that a corporate raider -- and this happened in the '80s -- would buy one unprofitable corporation, use their tax loss write-off to benefit the profits they were making another corporation. The example doesn’t fit because the United States isn't a private corporation.
Q But is the President comfortable with this tax break or whatever you want to call it?
MR. GIBBS: The IRS made that decision and it allows Citigroup to pay back the United States the money that it was owed.
Q If the health care vote happens on Christmas Eve, as is reported, possibly, would the President stay back from Hawaii and be in town for it?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Do you think Dean is having an effect on your coalition of Democrats -- his rhetoric?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Is he irrelevant?
MR. GIBBS: That's not a question for me to answer. I don't think -- I think if you look at what Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown and others have said, I think they can point out the benefits of the legislation. Again, I harken back -- no pun intended --
Q To Harkin.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, "e-n," -- to what Howard Dean ran on as President of the United States -- to be President of the United States. It was a bill that would do in many ways what the President is proposing.
Q I just wonder -- I mean, I can't imagine you'd waste your time talking about him if you didn't think he was having an effect.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if I would characterize Jake's question as a waste of time.
Q Well, I do care**, and I didn't, in fact. On Iran --
MR. GIBBS: I'm paid to answer questions whether or not they're a waste of time or not.
Q Okay. But you decide how long you answer, how much time you take to answer.
Okay, moving on. On Iran --
MR. GIBBS: What if I decide one of these is a waste of my time, can I go on to the --
Q That's happened before. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No doubt it will happen again. Can I just go to the next question?
Q Well, sure.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Okay. On Iran, this deadline is looming, it's 14 days away to the end of the year. Are you ready to declare this engagement track dead? And what is happening on the sanctions track? I mean, *** specific about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the sanctions track, I think it's important to understand that -- and I'm not trying to be flip and over-simplify it -- I don't think the ball is going to land in Times Square and there's going to be a dramatic declaration. Obviously this is going to have to go through a Security Council that reconstitutes itself on first of January.
But as I said yesterday to Matt's question, the track of engagement has led us to a point where we are now where our allies in the coalition of the P5-plus-1 are united in addressing what Iran has not lived up to. We have Russia prepared to take steps. You have seen the vote of the IAEA Board of Governors in condemning the actions of the Iranians. I think there's no doubt that, given this environment, missile tests do nothing but undermine the Iranian claims. They're not productive. The Iranians still have the opportunity to live up to their responsibilities. If they don't, then time will run out and we will move to the next step.
Q Robert, can I follow on Iran? These missile tests, do you feel they're an expression of internal infighting among the government of Iran?
MR. GIBBS: I can't speak to why the Iranians test missiles.
Q And the letter President Obama gave to the North Koreans, did that have to do with the Iranian nuclear test or parts from North Korea to Iran?
MR. GIBBS: No. The President -- without getting into the details of diplomatic correspondence -- the President's letter to the North Koreans coincided with and was delivered by Mr. Bosworth who was there to get the North Koreans, who are isolated, in a way that the Iranians will soon be, from the international community based on their provocative actions -- to convince them to do what is in their interest, and that's come back to the table and ultimately live up to the agreements they signed to give up and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. I think it's an example that is in many ways analogous to the Iranian one.
Q Can you tell us what is in the bill in the Senate right now, the health care bill in the Senate, that adds the choice and competition that the President is looking for?
MR. GIBBS: I would say two things. One is the exchange, and two, the provisions for OPM to set up a process similar to what they've done with the federal employees health benefits package.
Q Last week you said that the OPM provision and the Medicare buy-in were two pieces of the same puzzle, and now one of those pieces is gone. Does the President still believe that there is enough choice and competition?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. And again I -- what I would have neglected to have given last week is the fact that you've got now 30 million Americans that will join a health insurance exchange, and use the purchasing power of 30 million rather than a small business, say, of 10, to be able to seek the best deal possible for quality coverage, for lower administrative costs, and for cheaper health care policies.
Q Real quickly on Copenhagen. When we were in China, in Beijing, the joint statement from President Obama and President Hu had a section on transparency. In fact, you were touting that as a big breakthrough. So what happened between Beijing and now that transparency is back on the table?
MR. GIBBS: I'd ask President Hu.
Q Robert, can I try again on Chip's line of questioning? If a bank gets in trouble through its own bad judgment and recklessness, and is then bailed out through the generosity of the American people, does it deserve special tax breaks?
MR. GIBBS: It's not getting special tax breaks.
Q What are they? Routine?
MR. GIBBS: First of all, if a company loses money, being able to write off that in the future is part of our tax law. The treatment of this provision is different, as I said before, because the law was written in the '80s to prevent two private sector corporations and companies from being used for tax-evading purposes, okay? The United States is not a private sector company.
Q Well, if that's so clear, why did they have to change the rules?
MR. GIBBS: Because we -- I don't think that the rules in 1980 and the laws in 1980 envisioned some of the extraordinary assistance that the United States government would be handing out in 2008.
Q Is Chip going to get audited? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I like his wife too much. Just for anybody who's blogging, nobody gets audited based on the questions that they ask here. (Laughter.) So, Mark -- so I don't get in trouble. I'm sure there's -- gosh, people just pulled down their blog posts on -- no, I'm kidding.
Q What does the President think of Senator McCain and Senator Cantwell's** proposal to reinstate the Glass-Steagall** Act to make sure there are no future bailouts?
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I have not talked to him specifically. I don't -- I have not seen what specifically of that they've proposed. I would say this: I think the President believes that what the House passed in terms of financial reform takes many of the necessary steps that the President sees are important for ensuring that the type of crisis that happened can't happen again, and that we can address in ways -- potential catastrophes to our economy in a way that won't harm others, meaning through resolution authority that would allow us to deal with a problem -- break things apart and deal with a problem without it infecting larger parts of the economy. And I think that's something the President hopes will pass the Senate and come to his desk soon.
Q Should this have been included in the House --
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look through it and get a sense of it.
Q The missile the Iranians tested today is* one of those designed to be dealt with by the changed missile defense the President announced in September? Anything new that you see there? Was the test at all provocative?
MR. GIBBS: I think the test, given their actions recently on their nuclear program, is quite counterproductive to their proving that their nuclear program is for peaceful means.
Q Why, given that what I'm told is that the missile tested today could not carry a nuclear warhead? They don't have one anyway.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the provocative nature of just testing -- before you can light up an ICBM, you're going to have to go through some technological gyrations to get you to that point. I don't think that there's -- it's clear that this is not for satellite capabilities.
Q And will then the test have an impact on the sanctions push, and what is the status of that right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said to Savannah, we continue to work with those in the P5-plus-1 to move that forward and to develop sanctions that could be used next year.
What was the first part of your --
Q Whether the test will impact that.
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think it is -- I think when you're trying to prove to the world that you're taking steps that are -- you're trying to prove that your nuclear program is indeed for peaceful power means and not for other provocative means, I don't think it makes any sense to do what they did today.
To go back to your first question, as we have talked about missile defense in the past, what we needed was a system that addressed the idea of multiple smaller missiles, the type of technology which you see tested most frequently, a system that is more able and more quickly deployable to address that. That was one of the reasons that General Cartwright, the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense recommended we make the changes that were previously announced in our missile defense.
Q So what was tested today was envisioned --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the type of which -- the type of which -- the type of threat in which we are seeking to address more readily through a more rapidly deployable missile defense system.
Q They can carry dirty bombs. You're not denying --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm certainly not going to say that -- of course. I mean, there's -- they're not for satellites and they're not for fireworks.
Q Speaker Pelosi said today that she would not be asking members of her caucus to support the President's war plan; that the President would be on his own in selling that. Could you comment on that? How does this affect the White House strategy going forward with Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we will -- as the President started at West Point and certainly continues in interviews and questions that he is asked, lay out why he believes the strategy he set forward is the best way possible in Afghanistan. I think what he would say to -- what he would say in response to a question like that is, we have a plan that rapidly increases our -- the number of our forces there in order to more quickly train an Afghan national security force to deal with the momentum of the Taliban, and address both of those instances so that in July 2011 we can begin transferring authority and control for security to the Afghans and begin to bring our soldiers home.
The President looked at obviously a number of options that he believed did not adequately change the calculus of what was currently going on in Afghanistan, and that the best way forward was to do this. And I think the President may not get the agreement of every member of Congress or every Democratic member of Congress, but will certainly make the case for why he believes this is the best path forward.
Q Is her position surprising to the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look back at some of her previous statements in terms of -- I think she's made statements in the past -- and I hate to say this without having some of that stuff in front of me -- in opposition to adding more forces, as, quite frankly, a number of members of Congress have made.
Q House progressives are concerned about the Senate compromise, to say the least. Is the President open to eventually adding back some more of a public insurance alternative to the bill, or does he think that would --
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get ahead -- I don't want to get into a conference procedure. The President is working hard to get legislation out of the Senate so that we can get to that point.
Q Well, does he have any response to them? I mean, they're concerned right now.
MR. GIBBS: I think our response is what I gave earlier, which is, as many in the Senate have said that represent very divergent political viewpoints within the Democratic Caucus, that this represents a huge step forward for meaningful health care reform.
Q Copenhagen really briefly, Robert. We know about the phone call to Sarkozy and the others yesterday morning. Is the President still continuing to work the phones? Will he be out there tomorrow --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think -- I don't have the schedule in front of me -- I think there may be more calls today to countries as part of the developing nations and the G77, as there were, I think it was Monday, with Ethiopia and Bangladesh. And we will have a readout after that call is done. Obviously our negotiators there continue to work with nations in Europe, the larger developing nations and the G77 to try to come to some agreement.
Q It has been suggested already that maybe the conference should be extended. Is the President open to that?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President leaves on the 18th to come back. I think that's our current flight posture. (Laughter.)
Q Does he think the deadline will concentrate **4000
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think it will. I think you've seen in some ways people say that, God forbid, this is all that staff can do, and some of this is just going to get hashed out when leaders of these countries here to start hashing it out. And I don't -- I think that's in many ways how some of this stuff happens, and I don't think, in all honesty, that will be a lot different.
Q Tonight some of the leaders of AFL-CIO and SEIU are meeting to talk about whether they should either oppose the health care bill in the Senate or scale back their support for it. How damaging would that be if they did? Is anybody at the White House talking to them today?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure people at the White House and people on Capitol Hill and people in the broader political community are talking to them.
George, again, I think that -- I think there has been a lot of focus in the last 12 to 24 hours by certain individuals and others about what they don't like in the bill. I think if one steps back and looks at what is in the bill and what there is to greatly like in the bill, because it represents a great step forward in health care reform, I think they'll find many of the things that I've listed and many of the principles met that the President outlined in front of Congress. Again, I don't think it makes any sense to think that we're going to move forward on health care by not supporting moving this process forward.
Q Robert, can you address -- just related, but broadly -- growing concern on the left that the President feels he can take his base for granted? Is that true? Does the President --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what -- based on what?
Q Well, there's a lot of activity on the left-leaning blogs, on TV, there's a --
MR. GIBBS: They let you read that at the Washington Times? (Laughter.)
Q They let me read whatever I want.
MR. GIBBS: Good to know.
Q Is that a real concern, that there are people on the left who feel the President believes he can take their support for granted?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President is dealing with the legislative process. I said this earlier, I said this earlier in the week, we don't get -- the President isn't generally prevented [sic] with either/or options that are -- that always include everything he wants. That's part of the legislative process. We would not be -- we would not be where we were, we would not be spending -- what month are we in on health care reform?
Q Forty years, I believe.
Q Seventy years.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but I mean, in this term. We wouldn't be doing this for the eighth or ninth month in a row if it weren't for the President's leadership.
Q Right, but not just with respect to health care, but as Scott was asking you about the decision on Afghanistan, on gay rights, on a number of these issues, there is I think a growing concern that the President feels that the base is with him and that he doesn't have to be worried about that.
MR. GIBBS: I've never heard the President say, oh, I don't have to worry about that because these people are going to be with me. I've been with the President for six years and I've never heard him say something as silly as that. I don't think anybody would say that.
The President -- but I want to be clear, the President is not making political decisions -- or not making policy decisions based on a lot of weighing back and forth on different political ideas. The President is not making decisions about our national security based on looking at this through the political lens.
Q Robert, the President met with the NASA Administrator today to talk about the Constellation program. Are the two in agreement now about what to do with that program going forward?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten a readout from the meeting, but we'll try to see what has come of their discussions.
I don't know that we'll have a ton on this today. Obviously the budget here is being put together for next year. I know the most previous budget that was passed represented an increase in spending for NASA, and the President believes that NASA plays a vital role going forward.
Q Has that decision been reached yet and the two are talking about it? I mean, even like prior to the meeting.
MR. GIBBS: Let me get a readout from the meeting before I --
Q Any prospects for a Hu Jintao bilat in Copenhagen?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- I think China is being represented by Wen and not by Hu.
Q A Wen bilat?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if there is a bilat scheduled, but I'll certainly check with his schedule.
Q Thank you.
3:12 P.M. EST
March 4, 2014
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