Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/11/2010
1:47 P.M. EST
Q Where’s the jersey?
Q Is that a jersey, or another pinstriped suit?
Q It’s a hockey sweater.
Q When --
MR. GIBBS: Soon.
Q Isn’t there free trade or something?
Q Another broken promise.
MR. GIBBS: There we go. (Laughter.) Don’t worry, we won’t disappoint.
Q Another missed deadline.
Q Is it here yet?
MR. GIBBS: The jersey is --
Q It has arrived?
MR. GIBBS: -- is in the White House.
Q Tomorrow, then.
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I will probably -- we’ll probably see this tomorrow. I do regret that -- it has my name on it, the Canadians were very nice about -- and I -- Marvin is a big hockey fan, a big Canadian hockey fan, and I told him today that I greatly lament that I should have gotten Nicholson put on the back of this jersey and given it to him. He’s pretty cool with just getting the jersey that says Gibbs on the back. So we’ll -- he’s altogether happy about that.
So we’ll probably do -- I will likely make good on my wager tomorrow.
Q Speaking of wagers, are we still betting on a March 18th deadline? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Good segue there. (Laughter.)
Q Speaker Pelosi only would say that the date is interesting. Hoyer is obviously not on board. We got a week -- is this really going to happen?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think whether you traveled with the President over the last few days or whether you saw his remarks, his great interest is in getting this done as quickly as possible. We’ve been working on this for -- the formal process of working on this for more than a year.
The President, again, said last night it is time for Congress to act; it is time for Congress to vote. That’s what the President wants. Quite frankly, that’s what Speaker Pelosi, that’s what Majority Leader Reid want. We are working toward that. We’re -- I know that CBO is evaluating different aspects of the legislation. Our hope is to get this done as soon as possible. If it takes a couple extra days after a year, it takes a couple of extra days.
Q So you’re backing off the 18th date?
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m -- I am saying that the President wants, as do -- as does everybody here -- wants to get this done as soon as possible.
Q Okay. Secondly, on the immigration meeting today, is there the political oxygen to get this done? I mean, you guys are fighting on cap and trade; your guys -- you’re fighting on financial regulatory reform that Dodd came out on; health care is not a done deal. Why add yet another priority that doesn’t have a lot of bipartisan support on it, when the White House’s priority has been said to be jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this. Our priority -- our main priority is jobs and on getting the economy focused on creating those jobs in both the short term and laying the foundation for long-term economic growth. The President had a very productive meeting, he believed, and I think many of the Democrats and Republicans left the meeting on comprehensive energy legislation -- left that meeting feeling positive.
Today the President will meet with Senators Schumer and Senator Graham, a Democrat and a Republican, to see where they are in building that bipartisan coalition, because I think you hit the nail on the head by saying this is not something that’s not going to pass without strong bipartisan support. So the President is anxious today to get an update from them on the progress that they’ve made on seeking and gaining that bipartisan support. That meeting, I think, is a little bit later on the afternoon. We’ll have -- likely have a readout after that.
Q Just to follow up on that.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q You say that -- is the White House aware that -- or you guys are working with Capitol Hill independently to build support for immigration reform? It has been more than a year since the President made the promise to present legislation to Capitol Hill, and so far there’s nothing.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the two primary sponsors that are working on this legislation now -- Senator Schumer and Senator Graham -- the President is eager to hear from both of them today about the progress that they’ve made, aspects that they’re working on in their legislation, but more than introducing a bill, more than outlining the specifics of this proposal or that proposal, as was mentioned a minute ago, the only way that -- the only way we get this through the House and the Senate is with bipartisan support.
So the President is going to ask each of them today the progress that they’ve made on lining that bipartisan support up. I think that’s the way the American people want us to deal with their problems, and that’s the update the President is anxious to get.
Q Speaking of bipartisanship -- how’s that for another segue?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ll see what the question is. (Laughter.)
Q What is the White House’s reaction to the breakdown on financial regulatory reform talks? Senator Dodd -- what does that mean for the chances of getting fin reg passed this year, both on a substance level and on a political level?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- look, I think obviously Senator Dodd has done a tremendous amount of amount of work on financial reform. Legislation has passed the House. First, talks broke down between -- with Senator Shelby leaving the process, and now Senator Corker has -- is going to continue to talk to Senator Dodd but Senator Dodd is going to put out a piece of legislation that can be marked up prior to the upcoming recess so that we can move this process forward.
Jeff, our strong hope is that instituting rules for the road, ensuring that we don’t face the type of crisis we did a few years ago, that we have protections for consumers that don’t have carve-outs for things like payday lending -- those are all important to the President on a substance level and I think quite frankly important to the American people.
So he’s going -- the President will continue to work, as Senator Dodd said he would, on getting the support necessary to get this through Capitol Hill. I don’t think anybody wants to leave Congress this year, more than two years after -- at that point, it will be two years after the economic collapse -- without putting into effect new rules that would prevent the same type of reckless activity that got us in the mess to begin with. I don’t think people want to leave Congress without that having been done.
Q But to do that, you have to have votes, right? And so what does the fact that this has broken down mean for that?
MR. GIBBS: I think it means that we’re still likely, again, to get something that gets marked up and moves this process forward onto the floor, where I assume there will be a myriad of amendments on different aspects of the legislation. But I think the President has outlined the priorities that are strongest for him, as the Secretary of the Treasury has as well. We're still very optimistic that this can get done. I think this will get done this year.
Again, I think it is going to be up to those that do not want to see rules in place to prevent what happened -- I think it’s going to -- if you're not supportive of those new rules you’re going to get a chance to explain that opposition to the American people. And I think given what the American people have lived through as a result of that economic collapse, I don’t believe many are going to want to go home and face voters next November not having done something as it relates to those rules.
Q The President has talked quite a bit about wanting an up or down vote for health care reform legislation in the Senate. There’s some talk now among House Democrats of using a certain kind of rule so that the Senate bill could be adopted without ever actually having a vote taken in the House of Representatives. They’re calling this the Slaughter rule, after Louise Slaughter of the Rules Committee.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not familiar with this, so I would have to check with somebody about --
Q Well, I guess the larger question is just, would it be okay with the President for this to happen, without there ever being actually a vote?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I have not looked at what the specifics of this are, so let me take a look.
Q One other question. In the House earlier today, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, who was on hand when President Bush introduced PEPFAR, said that over the last two years PEPFAR funding has flat-lined. He said new PEPFAR contract awards emphasize treatment for “only those already on it and only very limited slots for new patients. Currently my institution, which pioneered antiretroviral therapy in Africa and treats a large proportion of AIDS patients in Uganda, is not taking new patients due to lack of funding. We're forced to turn away desperate patients daily, often 15 to 20.”
There is a slight increase in funding for PEPFAR in the President’s budget, but it is less than the rate of inflation in Africa, which is why they say it’s flat-lined. The President, when he was running for President, at Saddleback said that he supported an increase of a billion dollars a year. Why has he chosen to break this promise?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the specific comments that you reference. The President obviously has been a big supporter of this program and I think when asked in the past has been very complimentary of former President Bush’s leadership in getting this type of program -- not just coming up with it conceptually but getting it through Congress. The President obviously is committed to that. As you mention, there’s an increase in the budget. I would have to take a look at the exact figures and get back to you on what the exact PEPFAR funding dollars are for that.
Q I can tell you if you want.
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to take a look at it and talk to the budget folks.
Q A $180 million increase, and that’s about 2 or 3 percent --
MR. GIBBS: Jake, I don't have the budget in front of me, but I’m happy to take a look at that.
Q I did the research before.
MR. GIBBS: I don't --
Q You don't go by my numbers?
MR. GIBBS: I’d prefer to look at the budget.
Q In the last few days the President has obviously launched on this road show to push health care reform and has been beating up on the insurance industry. Has the White House seen any benefit at all from that so far?
MR. GIBBS: Benefit --
Q In terms of support? Have you seen numbers just -- you know, hearing from people on the ground -- that people are starting to buy this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think people are starting to -- look, I think the insurance rate increases that people have seen over the course of the past four to six weeks, I think have crystallized this debate in a way that broke through and really localized what people were facing.
And we understood that as it looked like health care reform might not happen, we got a sense of what happens if we don't get meaningful health care reform. We are going to see the type of rate increases that patients have gotten in the mail when their insurers take their insurance rates and increase them exponentially seven, eight, nine, 10 times that of health care inflation. I think members are hearing from constituents who are getting those letters. I think you have seen media coverage of those increases in a way that I think has, like I said, really crystallized for many people the problem, because you heard the mantra of let’s not do this now, let’s start over. Well, as I’ve said here a lot, these insurance companies are not starting over, right? They’re not pushing pause on a health insurance increase of 40 percent or 39 percent when health care inflation is going up 4 or 5 percent. They’re not starting over -- they’re exponentially increasing what individuals in that market are facing.
So I think it has had a very positive effect for moving and providing some health -- momentum for health care reform.
Q And is the President still planning to launch his Asia trip on time? Any chance of a delay?
MR. GIBBS: I have -- if we have any changes in the schedule, we’ll certainly let you know, but the President believes it is an extremely important trip with -- it’s an important region of the world and these are important partners. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, obviously has seen, as many countries including ours have seen, the impacts of horrific terrorist activities. Australia is a country we enjoy a trade surplus with, something the President is anxious to highlight, as well as a strong supporter of ours in providing support for Afghanistan.
So it’s two important partners in two -- in a very important region of the world and the President looks forward to making the trip.
Q You seemed to back off on the March 18th deadline a bit there by saying it could -- if it’s a day or two -- but does the President still want this thing passed by -- that Senate bill passed by the House before he gets on the plane?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, if it takes a couple of days extra, Chip, we’d be happy to have it passed then, too.
Q Even if he’s already taken off on the trip.
MR. GIBBS: Even if he’s already gone.
Q So he’s not necessarily going to delay this takeoff.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t have any updates for you right now on the trip, except to say the President is going on that trip.
Q Henry Waxman has said that the goal -- the plan of Democrats now is to get this thing passed, get the 216 votes without trying to change the abortion provision; simply include the Senate provision, and if Stupak and company vote against it, so be it, if they think they can get the votes without that. Is that your understanding, and is that the strategy the way --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if Nancy-Ann or others have spoken with Congressman Waxman about that or not.
Q Nancy Pelosi today said -- getting back to the issue of the 18th and when this thing gets through -- she said, “We” -- meaning the House -- “will spend at least a week on it among ourselves.” And a week from today is the 18th. Are you concerned that she seems to be in less of a rush --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think she’s in less of a rush. I think everybody that’s been involved in this for more than a year is plenty energized to get this done.
Q Are you concerned -- has the President expressed concern or have Nancy-Ann and other people that if it doesn’t get passed buy -- get signed into law by the 26th, then people go home for recess, that it will be another August all over again?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think you saw the support for health care reform, if you looked at the polling in August, increase, so I don't think that’s a fear.
Q So you wouldn’t be worried about people going home --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q One other thing. Indonesia has been portrayed by some, in some articles, as more of a vacation trip than a policy and diplomacy trip. How much of it is vacation, taking the family along?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not a vacation at all. I don't -- I have not seen the criticism that you’re referring to.
Q It’s not criticism. Nobody is criticizing. They’re simply saying that part of what he’s doing is taking the family to show where he grew up for four years of his life. It’s kind of an educational trip for the family.
MR. GIBBS: This is the -- as I mentioned earlier, it’s the largest Muslim country in the world. The President will build off the speech he gave in Cairo. The President will attend a democracy conference in Indonesia; will highlight counterterrorism. That’s the focus of the trip. This is not a -- that’s the focus of the trip, not anything else.
Q It’s not a family education trip, too?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, not at all.
Q Is there anything about the trip that couldn’t be delayed if you needed to?
MR. GIBBS: Sorry?
Q Is there anything about -- is there something on the trip that you have to do in that week, or could you put it off a couple of weeks to finish up health care?
MR. GIBBS: The trip won’t be put off a couple weeks. The President will be traveling to Indonesia and be traveling to Australia.
Q And the President doesn’t have a concern about leaving here if it hasn’t been completed?
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate all the hypotheticals, but I’m -- we’re trying to get health care done, and we’re going to go on an important trip.
Q But he’s willing to leave before the Easter recess if they’re not done.
MR. GIBBS: The President is going to go on the trip, yes.
Q On the financial reform, is there a concern that the same thing that happened -- that you could lose the trust of Corker -- Corker is the one Republican you guys are negotiating with right now -- is there a concern that if you have this dual track of a bill, that you could lose the --
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean a dual track?
Q Well, if Dodd does his own bill himself sort of without --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Chuck --
Q -- without Corker completely, are you concerned that you lose Corker?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, if Senator Corker -- if Senator Corker can’t agree to some adjustments in his positions in order to sign on to a bipartisan bill, this is a better question for Senator Corker in terms of what he’s willing to meet people part of the way on.
Again, you --
Q Were you concerned with a delay tactic, is that --
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I -- look, I think many of us read yesterday’s newspaper about carving out payday lending from consumer financial protections, and I don’t think many people in the White House or at the Treasury Department thought that was a great idea.
Q Do you have any other Republicans that you think will come on board on financial reform? Because you need at least one, assuming --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the better question is, to Republicans, why would you filibuster financial regulatory reform? Why would you -- why would you, when lobbyists are being hired hand over fist to kill financial reform, why do you seem to side with high-priced lobbyists instead of putting strong rules in place to prevent what happened before? If that’s -- I can’t imagine that’s a fight they really want to have.
Q There’s no bipartisan support of a bill that comes out of that committee -- is that okay with the White House? Obviously you want bipartisan support, but if you don’t get it, you’ll accept --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think Senator Dodd has, first, spent an awful lot of time with the ranking member, Senator Shelby, and then at some point Senator Shelby decided he couldn’t be part of that process anymore. He spent a lot of time with Senator Corker, and now Senator Corker has decided he can’t be part of that process.
Q You don’t think he’s negotiating in good faith anymore?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I didn’t say that. Senator Dodd and Senator Corker are going to continue to talk about these problems. But, again, this is a better question for Senator Corker about what is it that -- what is it that he has to see to come on board.
Again, I think Republicans in the Senate are going to have to ask themselves why they would stand in the way of financial reform.
Q I want to follow up on Jake’s question. Do you think it’s appropriate that the House find a way not to pass -- to make sure the Senate bill doesn’t become passed if they don’t do the reconciliation?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any -- I have not read what Jake was talking about, so --
Q It’s been reported for two weeks.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not seen it and don’t have any comment on it.
Q On financial regulation, how would you respond to Senate Republicans who say that the use of reconciliation on health care has poisoned the atmosphere out there and that’s hurting bipartisan cooperation on this issue?
MR. GIBBS: It’s the same old tired spin they were using last week and the week before. I’m always struck by comments like when Senator Gregg says 51 votes is 51 votes, unless he’s on the other side, apparently, of 51 votes. I mean, these are -- it’s helpful -- helpfully contrived answers to justify delay tactics.
Q And on immigration, you said that the President wants to hear what they’ve been doing to build a bipartisan coalition. What has the President been doing to build a bipartisan coalition? To what extent does he view this as his responsibility to bring some other Republicans on board?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, he’s been -- the President worked in the Senate in both 2005 and 2006 with a bipartisan coalition to see comprehension immigration reform happen. The President is strongly supportive of comprehensive reform. I think he’s anxious to talk to Senator Schumer and Senator Graham as to -- some of the colleagues that he worked with that they’re in contact with each and every day, where are they on -- where are they now on reform? Where are Republicans that were for reform in 2005, in 2006, in 2007, in 2008 -- where are they now in 2010?
Q But just how actively is he personally working it or is he leaving it to his allies on the Hill at this point?
MR. GIBBS: Look, he’s going to get an update and we’ve had -- we’ve certainly had meetings, several meetings, here. He’s meeting with activists on these issues and he’ll talk with the CHC later today about it.
Q And one more thing, just on the scheduling of the trip, just ask you one other way I guess -- I understand you’re not going to put it off by a couple weeks, but are you aware of any contingency planning to move it back even a day or two if necessary?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any announcements on today’s trip.
Q Robert, if the House were to pass the Senate health care bill, would the President sign it right away or wait for a fix-it bill to be enacted?
MR. GIBBS: I think this gets into parliamentary issues that may well be decided by the parliamentarian on Capitol Hill, not by the President of the United States.
Q If a bill arrives here, though, wouldn’t he sign it or --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t see why we wouldn’t, no.
Q And did the President react in any way to what Chief Justice Roberts said yesterday about using his State of the Union speech to take a swipe at the Supreme Court decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President, in many ways, responded to the Supreme Court decision at that State of the Union address. Look, we -- we're heading into an election season, and to open up and change the -- the President fundamentally disagrees with that decision, as, I would say, do the vast majority of the American people. And I don't think the President thought it was anything but perfectly acceptable -- I mean, they’re there, but he and the American people disagree with the decision that they made. And we're actively working with Congress to close any of the loopholes that have been open to ensure that the special interests don't have a greater hold on our electoral system.
Q Do you know if Chief Justice Roberts and the President spoke to one another since that night?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, not that I’m aware of.
Q What Roberts complained about was the fact the State of the Union has become a political pep rally and he said -- “wonders why we're there. We can't respond to it.” I don't believe the Chief Justice --
MR. GIBBS: I think Mr. -- if I'm not mistaken, many of you showed footage of Justice Alito responding to it.
Q Well, let’s go back to the question that Mark asked, though. He said -- he asked about Chief Justice Roberts. Does the President disagree with Chief Justice Roberts? Does he think it has not taken on a pep rally political air in the State of the Union address?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that the State of the Union is an important venue to lay out his agenda for the year and to update the American people on the work that the Congress and the President do.
Q He doesn’t see any reason for the justices to sit there and feel uncomfortable?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know why they’d feel uncomfortable. They made the decision. I don’t -- I guess I don’t understand the criticism of feeling uncomfortable if they’re -- look, the President disagreed and polls show 80 percent of the country disagrees with that decision. The President would have said that in that room had they been sitting in that row or not been there at all. The President is -- the President just disagrees, quite frankly, with the decision that they made.
Q But he also disagrees -- he doesn’t think the State of the Union has become just a political rally?
MR. GIBBS: He’s only done one of them. We did obviously address the first year -- it didn’t seem like a pep rally to me.
Q Robert, can I just follow up on something Mark asked about?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just try to get through a few more.
Q You may have just made news and I’m not sure if you’re aware. I mean, a lot of members of the House are very worried that what’s going to happen with health care is that they’re going to sign the Senate bill and the Senate is never going to pass the fix. You’re saying the President would sign the -- would sign it.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think Mark’s question was if the bill was here --
Q You’re assuming the bill won’t get here.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, what I said earlier was that I think likely the parliamentarian will make some rulings about how bills go and where they go, and we will wait, certainly, for those rulings.
Q Is the White House concerned that during the Senate confirmation hearing Eric Holder didn’t disclose that he signed a brief asking the Supreme Court not to uphold President Bush’s claim that he could imprison American citizens as enemy combatants?
MR. GIBBS: I think the Justice Department has said that they take responsibility for that not having been included, and I think they addressed that in a statement yesterday and I would point you over to them.
Q Why didn’t he include it?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a question for the Attorney General and the Justice Department.
Q And is there a chance of reviving a standalone consumer protection agency now that Dodd is introducing his own legislation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we’ll see what happens I think Monday when Senator Dodd rolls out a piece of legislation. I think what’s important is not simply where and the address of an agency that would protect consumers but what’s the scope, what’s the independence, what’s their ability to set their own budget and make rules. That’s what we’ll evaluate. And if the President believes that the legislation that leaves the committee doesn’t meet those standards, then we’ll seek to strengthen the bill on the floor of the Senate.
Q Would you be happy if it were at the Fed?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get ahead of where the bill might place it.
Q Robert, what side deals additionally would the White House like to see removed from the Senate bill in addition to the ones already outlined by the President on the Web site? There are ones in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire. Can you list any others? Would those be the three that we would be most directed towards?
MR. GIBBS: I know that the legislation that the President put on the Internet removed many of the special provisions that initially were in the legislation. And we've made it clear to the Senate that the President’s position in the final legislation should not contain provisions that favor a single state or a single district differently than others. Across the board we've -- I don't --
Q Can you list any others that I did not mention?
MR. GIBBS: Which ones did you --
Q New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont.
MR. GIBBS: I know that -- Massachusetts --
Q I'm sorry, I said New Hampshire --
MR. GIBBS: Massachusetts and Vermont I'm told are not in there. The Medicare Advantage stuff for New York and Florida is not in there. There’s a provision I think that benefited Michigan that is not in there, and I think as the story said today, and as I've said earlier, there are additional things like maybe Montana and Connecticut that we've asked the Senate to take out.
Q And how has that been communicated? Because when asked about that on the Hill today, some Senate leadership aides and senators involved were unaware of it. Was this communicated by the chief of staff in any of the two meetings that have gone on on the Hill this week?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if they talked about it specifically in those two meetings, but I'll see.
Q Okay. There was a Post story this morning -- I've got the survey here in front of me -- about employers and what they expect to have -- what they expect to happen as they deal with health care -- these are employers who provide health insurance -- with health reform: 69 percent say in a survey that they expect their costs to go up, and a third or more of them expect a decrease in the amount of employer-provided health care as a result of reform, not with things at the status quo. And I'm curious if those who are providing health care now, looking at reform legislation, as they understand it, fear their costs will go up, and in some cases, the insurance they’re able to provide will decrease -- what should American people conclude from their fears about what health reform will mean for them?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think we -- you’d certainly have to evaluate the individual businesses and the circumstances that are involved. I would say that as we set up an exchange that provides choice and competition, one of the provisions that the President added also was a rate authority to look at what’s happening to insurance as we've seen in the individual market and in other places, to assure that as insurance companies are looking at their customer base right now they’re not increasing the cost of their insurance at a way that isn’t justifiable. That's what the Secretary of Health and Human Services has asked those major insurers to provide actuarial data to demonstrate exactly what would justify those price increases.
Q Is there something they’re misunderstanding about reform, though? I mean, these are pretty solid numbers -- 69 percent fear that their own costs will go up as a result of what health reform will mean for them; their administrative costs, they say, they fear will go up because of health care reform.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there are strong provisions in health care reform that would require a lot less paperwork, a lot more of premium dollars going to cover health care and not to -- through a series of selection maneuvers -- try to figure out who not to cover and who to cover and whose rates to jack up and how to try to game the system a little bit. I think there are strong provisions in the legislation that would prevent that.
Q They just misunderstand this --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to them, Major. I don't know what -- I don't know, again, what they’re basing some of that on.
Q Two other issues. This is related to Justice Roberts and the Supreme Court decision. One of the things that appears to have happened as a result of that is the Chamber of Commerce is now growing in its lobbying efforts and raising money and exercising a more aggressive political voice in the entire process. Is the White House concerned about the Chamber, and does it see any result of its increased ability to raise funds, increased ability to get involved in grassroots political activity as an outgrowth of the Citizens United case?
MR. GIBBS: This isn’t -- our disagreement with the decision isn’t directed at one entity’s use of loopholes; it is directed at anybody’s use of enhanced loopholes. This is -- whether this is an organization that normally aligns itself with Republicans or with Democrats. The President fundamentally disagrees with a decision that provides more power in our elections to big money and special interests regardless of what side of the political spectrum they’re on.
Q Considering the clash, or the apparent clash, between the White House and the Chamber last year, does this --
MR. GIBBS: I think I dismissed the Chamber argument a minute ago.
Q One other thing, because last Tuesday you told us, “I don't have the update with me on Sestak.” Two things have happened since then. Two things have happened.
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any --
Q Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House Counsel --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything additional on that.
Q Are you ever going to have anything additional on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have it today.
Q A question about the timing of the immigration and energy meetings this week. Health care is in a kind of endgame here. Financial regulatory reform is about to take another step. And you’re having meetings this week, updates, as you describe them, on two major pieces of legislation. Why this week? Are you trying -- are you triaging in a sense of what’s possible for the rest of the year?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think -- I think two things that we’ve already discussed are big priorities for the President after we get health care reform done. First is financial reform, as we’ve talked about, and that’s moving its way through the process. Secondly, we’ve talked about the Citizens United case. We’ve got important elections coming up, and the question is, are the special interests going to have -- play a bigger role in those with their contributions than they normally would?
Obviously there are a series of -- a series of legislative activities around tax credits for small business and hiring, small business lending, and different job creation programs that the President is focused on.
Immigration is something that the President has supported for quite some time, and energy has made it through the House, and my guess is there will be a clamoring for an energy bill when gas prices go up, as they normally do, as we get closer to more driving as we get closer to the summer.
So I think the President is trying to get an update on each of these issues to see what the pathway forward is.
Q Robert, can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q It seems like you’re saying that immigration and energy, while important to the President, clearly aren’t on the top of his priority list for this year. Does he want to see something done on energy or immigration this year?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely, Sam, but again, what I said I think to the very first question, it’s got to be more than the President wants to get something done. The President is going to ask, as he did in the energy meeting and as he will when he meets with Schumer and Graham, to see what progress they’ve made in aligning their colleagues for the type of reform that all three support. That’s what’s going to be key to moving any of these issues forward.
Q Robert, a follow on the follow-up. (Laughter.) Senator Graham said to me a couple of days ago that he felt that the onus was really on the President and that he sort of wanted an update from the President and “the President needed to step it up.” How could the President step it up, and do you think -- and Graham also said that it was hard to line up that elusive second Republican without the President weighing in on, say, the biometric ID card. Does he have any intention of stepping forward on this stuff?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President is going to get an update specifically on the provisions that they mention on ID cards. We’re not -- my guess is we’re more than one more Republican away from immigration reform. So, I mean, I appreciate that the President is -- I’m pretty sure the President will be effective in talking to many of our friends on immigration reform. I think it is -- and I’m not lumping this all onto Senator Graham. We can all name many Republicans that have been for immigration reform at different parts in their career.
Q Can you name them?
MR. GIBBS: You can. But the question is, where are they? I think Senator Graham is certainly pretty well positioned to get -- to take their temperature and see what it’s going to take for them to make progress on this issue.
Q But are you open to the idea -- is the President open to the idea of the ID card?
MR. GIBBS: I think he’s going to get an update on that today and I think he will be interested in hearing from both of them on the nature of their proposal and whether that’s a proposal, again, that can garner increased bipartisan support.
Do you have anything?
Q On immigration, this has been going for many, many years, and this was really a Republican bill which President Bush pushed hard personally. And also, don't you think the President believes that immigration is related directly with health care and also economy because it will bring billions of dollars as far as these people living, almost 20 million plus, under a shadow, and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know how directly it’s linked to all those issues. I know -- as you mentioned, former President Bush was a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and we made progress on that issue. Again, I think the President is anxious to hear from others and from Graham and Schumer as to where they are.
Q Robert, on the Congressional Black Caucus meeting today, what specifically on health care is the President going to discuss with those members at that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he’s going to discuss and outline the proposal that he’s put forward, the reason that he believes that the time is now to get it done, and ask not simply for their support on that but also for them to talk to their fellow members and build support in the House to get this done.
Q Are there concerns about the lack of a public option? What does the President -- is the President going to be open to hearing them at that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we are at a point in the process where the President has outlined a proposal. Different aspects of that proposal are being scored by CBO and looked at and evaluated by others. The legislation does not include a public option. It does include strong provisions for choice and competition.
I think you heard the President pretty clearly the other -- last night. It’s time to -- it’s time to put the debate and the discussion to rest. It’s time to vote. I think he’s going to ask them to come to the table and support moving forward on this in a vote.
Q A follow-up on -- a follow-up on the CBC, please. According to reports and from hearing in the past, is there tension between the Congressional Black Caucus and this President, and does the CBC have the ear of this President?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I’ve read the same stories you have.
Q These stories have been circulating for a while.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think the President -- look, the President used to be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. I think the President -- I think the President has first and foremost used every bit of his power and done everything that he possibly could to help change the economic circumstances of this country.
Q On that --
Q Wait a minute, wait a minute, let me finish, please.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on. Lester, Lester, Lester, hold on, let me -- come on.
Q Let me finish.
MR. GIBBS: I was on a roll, too. (Laughter.)
Q Please let me finish.
MR. GIBBS: Don’t worry, I’m trying. No, the President has done everything in his power to do what he can to get our economy moving again, to put people back to work, to take the steps necessary to try to replace the jobs -- some of the jobs that we’ve lost, and build, as I’ve talked about before, a foundation for jobs in the future. We’ve talked about education. I think we -- I think the President has worked on -- worked on, throughout his time here, issues of great importance to the Congressional Black Caucus, and to many in the Democratic Party since being elected.
Q Now --
Q On that --
Q Wait a minute, wait a minute. One that note, on that note, though, many in the civil rights community are concerned that this President -- there’s word after that meeting that the President had with the civil rights leaders during the snowstorm that he was emphatic, saying, “I do not have an urban agenda.” Did this President say he’s not going to have an urban agenda?
MR. GIBBS: I was shoveling my driveway during that meeting. I don't know the answer to -- I, April, doubt seriously that the President said that, because I think putting people back to work, keeping their health care costs low, improving our schools, I think in every way, shape or form, that’s an agenda that helps urban America, it helps rural America. I think the President has been very proactive on an agenda that helps members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Q Robert, on that subject --
MR. GIBBS: I said I would take your question.
Q Robert, on that subject -- I think I was next.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, Lester. You weren’t, but anyway.
Q I was.
Q On immigration, after the meeting today, would the President say or give some kind of statement that’s going to be hopeful for the immigrants that are waiting for him to do something? They are saying that the President promised, and they really voted for him because they believed in him. Now it has been a long time, and they have gotten nothing. And what they’re saying is that it has gotten worse because the families are being torn apart, more now than before.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, look, we’ll have a readout after the meeting. I'll try to include something from the President in that. Look, the President believes that the system that we have right now is unworkable and unsustainable; that we have to have a comprehensive solution to a problem that we’ve dealt with for many years. His commitment to that is unchanged, and if we can see a path to getting this done in the Congress with bipartisan support I can assure you the President is anxious to get this and many other things done.
We’ll do one more, Lester, and then I’ll --
Q Thank you very much. A two-part. (Laughter.) Why is the President --
MR. GIBBS: How come -- it used to be two questions. Is this one question with two parts?
Q Yes. Why is the President meeting today in the White House with the racially segregated Congressional Black Caucus, which rejected the membership applications of Democrat Congressmen Pete Stark of California and Steve Cohen of Tennessee because of their white skin?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I don’t -- the President was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and looks forward to --
Q Does he approve of racial segregation like this? (Laughter.) Does he or not?
MR. GIBBS: The President is not in charge of the membership of the Congressional Black Caucus, Lester.
Q But does he disagree with it?
MR. GIBBS: He is anxious to meet with their members and --
Q That’s a very charming evasion.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate the compliment.
Q Wasn’t so charming. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: But I think -- I think given that charm, I’m going to skip on out on your second part.
2:35 P.M. EST
May 22, 2013
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