Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/18/2010
12:52 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Thank you guys for coming to class being moved outside. I hope you’re wearing your sunscreen. I put SFP 30 on three times, so that’s 90, for any of you keeping track at home.
This will not be a regular thing. I just thought it’s been a long winter and why not get outside and have a little fun for once in a while.
So let’s start with a few quick announcements. Obviously we’re enjoying some beautiful weather here, but out in the upper Midwest, there’s the possibility of bad flooding again this year along the Red River. Lots of good work and preparation have gone into efforts out there to prevent flooding and damage with state and local officials. And Administrator Fugate is traveling to the region over the weekend to ensure that all resources are there that could be necessary.
The President -- second announcement -- the President is pleased that the House will soon post the health care legislation on the Internet, and then a final vote is coming. Since the House rules rightly provide for a 72-hour public review period, it is clear that a final vote on health insurance reform cannot take place before Sunday afternoon. As a result, the President telephoned the leader of Indonesia and will call the leader of Australia later this afternoon, and told them that he must postpone his planned visits for a later date so that he can remain in Washington for this critical vote. The President now expects to visit Indonesia in June.
The President greatly regrets the delay. Our international alliances are critical to America’s security and economic progress. But passage of health insurance reform is of paramount importance, and the President is determined to see this battle through.
Lastly, want to announce that in recognition of the deep ties and strong relationship that President Obama has forged with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, President Obama and the First Lady will host President Calderón and the Mexican First Lady in a White House -- at the White House for a state dinner on Wednesday, May 19th. The dinner will take place in the context of an official visit by President Calderón, during which the President will have an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with President Calderón, including economic competitiveness, our growing security cooperation, clean energy opportunities, immigration, and other key issues.
And with that --
Q Thanks, Robert. Did the President have a hand in when this health care legislation was going to be posted? I mean, theoretically, he could have urged leadership to post this yesterday, getting him out of town on Sunday. Is this a delay that he welcomes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, this has, Phil, has been a long, hard process, taken more than a year. I think the President believes that the House leadership wanting to talk to the full caucus and get a CBO score was the right thing to do. Again, we greatly regret the delay in the trip, but at the same time have told the leaders this is an important priority for the President and have -- we'll reschedule that trip for June.
Q Does he still have confidence this is going to pass?
MR. GIBBS: The President still believes we will have the votes, yes.
Q How close are you? Are you within a handful, or a dozen votes? What do you think?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a number to predict. I think the President, in the calls and the meetings that he’s having with individual leaders, is making great progress. I will say I think today’s CBO score provides a significant boost to health reform. It proves that this legislation, if you look at it compared to the previous Senate legislation, provides better consumer protection, greater affordability, greater deficit reduction, and more coverage for the uninsured. So I -- again, I think the President’s case is strengthened.
Q And what is the President going to be doing over the next 72 hours to try to push this over? And kind of walk us through the flavor of some of these conversations, if you don't mind.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has spent in the Oval Office and on the telephone over the last several days -- he'll continue doing so today; met with more than two dozen -- met and called more than two dozen members of Congress.
But Steve, I think the case the President has made to them is very much the case that he’s made to the American people over the last couple of weeks. We know what happens if we do nothing. We know what happens to rate increases -- with rate increases. We know -- we know we have an opportunity to provide small businesses with a tax cut to provide insurance for their employees. We know what this does for families with children that are suffering from what an insurance company considers a preexisting condition.
I think all of those are -- all of those are part of the case that he’s making, as well as continuing to say that this is important to get done now.
Q Robert, just as more details about those conversations -- understanding you can’t give us the names of who he’s talking with -- but in terms of the content of those conversations, what is he saying that he hasn’t already said already? The President has been having conversations like this for over a year. There’s obviously a new sense of urgency; the foreign trip has been cancelled. Can you give us any kind of characterization of the specifics of those conversations? Has the President said, “Listen, the future of my agenda is on the line unless we get this through”?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President would be the first to tell you that there will be -- after health care passes, there will be many big issues with which we have to tackle. We’ve talked about a few just over the past week: Financial reform, obviously, is something that is going to take up a great amount of the administration’s time; the Citizens United case and campaign finance, again, being just two of those.
I think partly the urgency of getting this done now -- and this always happens as we get closer to a vote. And I would say this, and I’ve said it before: Undoubtedly the insurance increases that we’ve seen by WellPoint and Anthem over the past many weeks and many other insurance companies in the individual market where insurance coverage is -- where the health care costs are going up 4 or 5 percent but rate increases are going up 40 or 60 percent. I think that has crystallized people’s desire to get something done this year, because that’s a good preview of what happens if we don’t do anything -- more letters like that, more stories like Natoma Canfield get told. And I think the President believes these are the type of problems that he and his administration were sent here to solve. So I think that’s the flavor of that intensity.
Q So more of the same, he hasn’t articulated any kind of personal stake and repercussions if this doesn’t get through.
MR. GIBBS: Look, very clearly the President wants to get this done. I think -- I doubt any member that’s spoken with the President would in any way doubt his strong desire to see this through. So I have no doubt that that’s coming through as well.
Q Thanks, Robert. Democrat Stephen Lynch, who supported the health bill last year, is now saying he’s probably a “no” vote because he thinks it’s disingenuous to do this deem and pass maneuver. I know the Speaker has still not really told everyone how it’s going to work, but the President last night wouldn’t tell FOX one way or another whether he supports it. Can you just tell us, yes or no, does the President support using this maneuver?
MR. GIBBS: Ed, again, as I’ve said, and as you just reiterated, it’s unclear what legislative process the Speaker will use, and I’ll let her decide and announce that. I think the President was pretty clear yesterday, just as I was the day before that, that everyone knows what this vote is, everyone knows what this vote is about.
Q Why can’t he just tell the American people yes or no, I want the Speaker to do this or I don’t? Some Democrats are saying it will harm the credibility of the process.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President is of the strong belief, and quite frankly watching CNN it appears as if you all are of the strong belief that the vote that we’re going to have on Sunday is about whether we’re going to have health care reform or not. Again, I don’t sense that the stories that are coming out are where you are on the rule.
Q Okay. And the President also last night basically said everybody knows what’s in the bill, but as you said it’s just being put online now. We haven’t really seen it. Since he says everybody knows what’s in the bill, can you tell us whether some of these special deals are still in -- the Connecticut hospital, et cetera?
MR. GIBBS: I think what he stated, Ed, was that the outlines of what the national -- I’m sorry, the outlines of the exchanges and many of the things like that are based on the Senate bill. I have not had a chance and I will wait for something to be posted online to go through any of those individual aspects.
Q Last thing, on the CBO numbers that you were talking about, obviously the most important thing, it seems, to conservative Democrats who are deciding or still on the fence is the long-term budget projections, and specifically CBO says that these numbers are imprecise; even though they’re good in the short-term, they’re imprecise, especially in the long term “because there’s a greater degree of uncertainty” about the second 10 years of all of this. So how can --
MR. GIBBS: I think, quite frankly, Ed, in most cases the CBO tends to underfactor, quite frankly, the savings that you generally see on the back end of these things.
Q Well, but giving the spending that’s going on in Washington right now, how can the President assure the American people that these projections, which are so far off, are going to turn out to be true? I mean, we’ve seen numbers change in Democratic and Republican administrations repeatedly.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Ed, I think our reading of this is that CBO has tended to underfactor savings that you’re likely to see over the long term. This is their best estimation. It’s the guidepost with which Congress uses for each and every piece of legislation.
Chip. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Robert. In the meetings the President is holding with members of Congress -- and by the way, is he having meetings today?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Jason Altmire was here today. Is he meeting with him? He was here for the bill signing.
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked about names. Obviously there were -- I assume there have been a number of people that were at a bill signing that probably were spoken to by -- with staff. I don’t know who the President has met with today.
Q And Congressman Cao of Louisiana was here too. Were they invited to try to get them to vote for this bill?
MR. GIBBS: I think they played roles in getting the bill -- the very important legislation that the President signed right here just a few hours ago to provide tax credits for small businesses that hire the unemployed. So that’s why they were invited to that ceremony, I think, along with many dozen members of Congress.
Q It wasn’t to twist their arms on health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t doubt that somebody mentioned health care reform while they were here. I don’t -- my sense is there are probably not many conversations happening in any place in this town that don’t involved something about health care.
Q In his conversations with members, to what degree is he stressing -- is the President stressing the importance of passing health care to his strength as President, the health of his presidency?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chip, I think the -- I don’t think anybody doubts the desire for the President -- the President’s desire to see this through, the President’s desire to get this done. He spent quite a bit of time in the first 15 months of his presidency tackling a problem that he believes we have failed to deal with adequately for 70 or so years.
Again, after health care passes, I think that we will move on to many other extremely important issues. We've got several more bites at the economic apple in terms of small business lending, zero capital gains for small business on the economic side; as I mentioned, financial reform, the Citizens United campaign finance case, comprehensive energy legislation. I think there’s no doubt there will be many, many more big issues with which the President deals with. Obviously this is one he wants to see through.
Q There’s a report out there that says the President told some members that the fate of his presidency depends on passing health care reform. Is that true? Has he said that?
MR. GIBBS: I have -- I'm not aware of that, but I can certainly check again.
Q Would it be out of character for him to say that? Or is that one of the arguments that they’d make?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I think nobody doubts his desire to see this through.
Q On the trip, why not just delay it one day? If it’s going to happen Sunday, does that signal that he’s concerned about what’s going to happen in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: No. Scheduling worked throughout the night when it became apparent that the bill wasn’t going to post yesterday to see about moving the trip back. We looked through and pulled out what very little padding remained from having moved the trip from Thursday to Sunday, and without -- unless we took off basically extremely early in the afternoon on Sunday, it wasn’t going to be possible to do. And we had a speech to the Australian parliament that you don't want to call on Sunday and say, hey, is there a way we can move this back a day? So it just at that point seemed obvious to us that the best course of business was to reschedule Indonesia and Australia for June.
Q I talked to one expert on Indonesia today who said there’s tremendous disappointment there that the President had cancelled plans to bring his family. Do you think that might be reconsidered, given that he did spend four years of his life as a child there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I mean, obviously I think those plans will be made as we look toward scheduling in June. I think the President is disappointed based on the relationship that we have with a growing democracy, with an important country in our counterterrorism relationship, in a country that's the largest Muslim country in the world. The President looked forward to building off of what he talked about in Cairo. But we’ll get a chance to visit both the countries in June.
Q And final question. On deem and pass, or the “Slaughter rule,” the President is a constitutional law expert himself. Does he believe it’s constitutional? Would he sign a bill that --
MR. GIBBS: He would sign a bill, yes.
Q He’s not worried that it’s constitutional?
MR. GIBBS: He would sign that bill, yes.
Q Robert, are you worried that the sort of calendar vice grip that you have the House in, with this trip now being gone, that they will take advantage of this delay and maybe dilly dally a little bit?
MR. GIBBS: Well, judging from what I’ve seen on television and in news reports today, I think this is -- you’ll see a vote on -- the best I can tell you, you’ll see a vote on Sunday.
Q And then the Senate calendar, you feel confident that everything is going to get done before the Easter recess?
MR. GIBBS: That's our strong hope. That's our strong hope.
Q And delay -- not an option in your mind, or --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Chuck, I think the President would tell you that this has -- we’ve been working on this quite a long time. We want to get this done.
Q Are all of these calls right now to House members, or are there some senators now he’s having to call to get them to sign this letter, this potential letter that they would send over to guarantee --
MR. GIBBS: He has spoken with a handful of senators over the past several days. And as I said over the weekend, this is a -- the President is involved in talking to both the House and the Senate because this is a two-step process.
Q Are you confident you have the 51 votes in the Senate? You don't have it now -- you know you don't have the House votes, I know that. Do you have the Senate votes?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not talked with Legislative Affairs about the latest vote count, but again I believe that we will -- this bill will pass the House and then it will pass the Senate.
Q Did any Senate leadership ask you to delay this trip? We know plenty of House members have. Did the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of.
Q Can you rule out that the President has offered anything in exchange for a vote -- whether it’s a reelection campaign thing or some sort of bill that they want to take up or immigration or anything like this?
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, we will -- I expect this President will spend a lot of time on the campaign trail when it’s time to spend time on the campaign trail.
Q No, I understand that, but anything --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don’t think a member of Congress is going to say I’ll vote for health care if you come visit my district and campaign for me. I don’t -- I just don’t -- I don’t see that.
Q And finally, on the trip, sort of what it sends -- messaging, how concerned are you that a domestic political – “crisis” is not the right -- a domestic political issue, problem, whatever you want to call this right now, delays a international visit like this in a very important region in the world? Are you worried the message that sends to a China or to Indonesia, and how concerned is the President?
MR. GIBBS: The readout that we got from the calls that the President has made -- again, he’ll talk with Prime Minister Rudd later today -- the readout that we’ve gotten from those calls is that each of these two countries understands what the President has been working on, what’s been involved in, and the importance that he has in seeing it through.
So -- and again, we’ve outlined when this trip would be rescheduled, but I will tell you the President believes -- believed it was an important trip now and believes it will be an important trip based on many of the things that we’ve discussed, whether it’s counterterrorism, whether it’s our export agenda -- a whole host of things that --
Q I know I said that was the last question, but you largely have said before, the President can walk and chew gum at the same time. Are you worried that this sends --
MR. GIBBS: I can confirm that.
Q -- sends a message that in this case you guys are just choosing to stay here and do health care?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, again, I think that the President believed -- again, understand this, that we did not want to wake up on -- or we did not want at 10:00 on Sunday morning to make a call to the Indonesians and the Australians and say, I know we were going to be there in a matter of hours, but we’re not going to be there. That's -- I think that -- I think that would cause some problems just on common sense and manners. But, again, I think the President believed that this was something that was important to him. Both the trip and the legislation are -- I think the President believes that right now the place for him to be is in Washington seeing this through.
I'll wind my way.
Q Robert, this one is on the jobs bill. When the White House was unrolling these various initiatives, the point was made frequently that these were all interlocking integral pieces of one package to create jobs. This is a partial move. Is the White House concerned that given the health care debate and other items that are waiting on the agenda that this is just too slow in coming and that these integral pieces will in fact not be passed by Congress?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mentioned just a few minutes ago I think that the President will soon -- the President and the economic team will soon start working through the next step of this. I know there have meetings already here this past week to talk about the small business aspects, whether it’s, as I mentioned, zero capital gains, whether it’s depreciation, whether it’s $30 billion in lending to small businesses through smaller community banks.
So we talked about this I think many weeks ago, that the -- we understood that this was not all going to be engrossed in one big bill. And the President will continue to work through the plans that he’s outlined, either at the -- toward the end of December or in the State of the Union, about ideas that we have to create jobs and create an environment where businesses are hiring again.
Q The $30 billion lending facility sort of looms as the next big fight, given that the proposition is that TARP will be used. Do you think the health care debate sort of damages the landscape for that to pass? And now with the Easter recess coming, you’re moving it at least two weeks down the road.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I take everybody at their word. I think there is not a member on Capitol Hill that when they talk about the economy, doesn’t talk about small business. I can’t imagine that -- I can’t imagine that you’d truly want to see politics played with small businesses getting access to greater capital when that’s what many of them tell the President and I think tell members of Congress they need in order to meet their payroll and expand their business.
Q Why do you think that politics won’t be played with this, given the politics that are being played with health care for 30 million people?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the voters will have their say on the politics. I note that 11 Republicans decided not to play politics with final passage of a jobs tax credit, despite warnings of what happens if health care goes forward. Again, I think that the President was and the Congress were sent here to address the problems that people face in this country and that’s what voters want us to see -- want to see us do.
Q Robert, when Dennis Kucinich announced his decision to vote for health care reform yesterday, he said that one of the big motivating factors was his concern about attempts to check quote delegitimatize the President. Do you sense that?
MR. GIBBS: I did not -- I was in a meeting when Congressman Kucinich made his --
Q Those were his exact words.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what in its entirety that meant. Again, I don’t think anybody would question the strong desire of the President to get this done.
Q You keep saying that.
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s largely proven by events. (Laughter.) I don’t think -- I think his desire to get it done extends far beyond what I say.
Q Well, let me take another crack at the enormity of this challenge as viewed from the White House. How much does passage of all of the other future issues that you’ve outlined here today hinge on success on health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, at the risk of repeating myself, I think health care is going to pass the House on Sunday. I believe shortly it will pass the Senate and the President will be able to sign all of it into law. And we will wake up a week or two weeks from now with what we talked about a minute ago -- the need to get credit flowing to small businesses. We will discuss financial regulatory reform so that the rules of the road are different than what caused the type of greed and risk-taking on Wall Street. So we will wake up and there will be more to do. I think that's true and safe to say about every day you're here.
Q One more on the fallout from this debate. What are the legal and political assessments here of all of these actions by Idaho, Virginia, different states that say that they’re not going to accept rules that require people to have health insurance? And even on gun sales and other federal issues?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look specifically at what they’re arguing on gun sales. Certainly the belief here is that a provision that requires responsibility and accountability in health care is important, that that would certainly meet any constitutional argument.
And I would say that -- again, I think you’ve heard the President discuss this -- some people say, well, why don't you just do half of this? Well, in order to institute provisions that will phase in in the bill for preexisting conditions, ensuring that preexisting conditions don't affect anybody ever, you need to have people in the system. If not, you’d have the system be gamed -- you’d have insurance companies, even more than they’re doing now, pick winners and losers to the point where you wouldn’t have reform.
So, again, the President and the team believe strongly that what we're about to pass and sign into law will meet constitutional muster.
Q As Peter mentioned, there are -- a couple of states have actually passed measures saying that we're not going to let a universal mandate go through in our state. Dozens of others are poised to pass similar measures. So can you explain what the disconnect is? When the administration and Democratic leadership says this is going to save states overall billions of dollars, why don’t they see that? Where can you -- what’s the disconnect when they’re saying this is unconstitutional and dozens of states have lined up against it?
MR. GIBBS: You’re asking me to explain the physics of politics. I think the CBO discusses in great detail the type of savings that the system is going to see from this. Whether or not the politics is -- whether people’s political agendas are speaking more than what’s on -- what’s best for their constituents, I think that will ultimately be for voters to decide.
Q Thank you. Shift topic just a little bit -- Mr. Netanyahu is going to be in town next week. Now with the trip postponed, what are -- can you walk us through plans for bilats?
MR. GIBBS: We have not gotten that far down that road yet. We’ll have a week ahead tomorrow but I have -- I am not sure they’ve gotten that detailed into next week.
Q There will be some bilats, won’t there?
MR. GIBBS: Again, let me have a fuller conversation when scheduling has a chance to breathe a little bit.
Q The New York Times reported this morning some talk within the White House of a American plan in the wake of the stalled talks right now. Is that correct? Is there talk within the White House --
MR. GIBBS: Roger, our focus is on -- and our focus for the past several days has been on restarting the proximity talks and calling on both sides to take steps to return to the table and to refrain from any type of actions or announcements that would undermine the trust that’s necessary to get them there. That’s what our focus is.
Q No American plan?
MR. GIBBS: Our focus is on returning to proximity talks.
Q Robert, from the podium either indoors or outdoors you’ve taken the opportunity at times when the President has been misquoted or there’s been a misimpression left about what the President has said in a various conversation, and you haven’t availed yourself of that opportunity today to say he has not told members in their conversations about health care that either the fate of his presidency or the strength of his presidency rides on this. Do you wish to correct that impression?
MR. GIBBS: No, I have not asked him. I generally don’t --
Q So you don’t know?
MR. GIBBS: I think I said that earlier -- I generally don’t --
Q No, you just said that everyone understands he wants to get it done. I’m just trying to find out if it would be wrong --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think those are mutually exclusive. Again, I don’t -- I’ll leave it to your own reporting rules whether you want to -- how you want to report certain things. I have not talked to the President about whether or not -- whether or not he said that.
Again, the President strongly wants to get this done, Major -- wants to get this done in the House this weekend. I think we’re going to get that done. And as I said earlier, we will wake up sometime next week with a whole set of issues, some of which none of us were thinking about and none of you all were writing and reporting on that we’ll have to deal with.
Q And when you wake up, if health care is passed, will you wake up in a stronger legislative and political position or a weaker one?
MR. GIBBS: An equally sunny day as this.
Q Makes no difference, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: No, again --
Q Because I don’t think the American public, seeing the stakes as they’re playing themselves out, would naturally conclude that it makes no difference one way or the other to for the President’s legislative calendar agenda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t normally engage in hypotheticals and I think I’ve said from the sunny confines of the Rose Garden several times today that I believe that health care is going to pass.
Q Okay. On the issue of the CBO scoring, there are a couple of sentences in there that note this is a preliminary analysis and that full reconciliation language hasn’t been fully vetted. Isn’t that any numerical or political concern to the White House as it tries to get the final votes in the House? Do you think that has any implications?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not a budget expert, Major, but I think that this is a pretty strong indication of the type of sense this makes fiscally. I think that you see that in the first 10 years, this legislation will save more than $100 billion, and over the 10 years after that, more than $1 trillion; greater affordability; greater coverage for the uninsured; stronger consumer protections.
Look, I have no doubt that CBO will continue to evaluate and provide scores for a long time to come, but I think the President is and the administration are strongly encouraged by exactly what CBO reported today.
Q Did you also note the one caveat -- the additional caveat that this only deals with mandatory spending and has not had time or the requisite data to analyze these discretionary spending implications of this legislation?
MR. GIBBS: I have not read the full 25 pages that --
Q Is that a concern?
MR. GIBBS: -- that I’m sure many of you have. I have not talked to anybody on that.
Q Okay. Secretary of State Clinton is overseas in Moscow. There is some suggestion that perhaps the START talks are reaching a moment of culmination. Do you have a general bit of guidance, any readout on that? Should we anticipate something in the near future? Is this something you think will culminate closer to the summit here in mid-April?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have always talked about this in a way that -- the negotiations we want to see produce a deal that moves forward the President’s goal of nuclear security and reducing the amount of nuclear weapons in our world; at the same time ensuring that that works for the best interest of the United States. So that has clearly taken some time to do.
I think it is safe to say that the President has been more personally involved with these negotiations than you’ve probably seen in 20 or 25 years. So we're certainly hopeful that we get something done. I know the Secretary of State will go to Moscow; I have no doubt that this will come up along with the important meetings that --
Q The Quartet?
MR. GIBBS: -- that she has with the Quartet. But, again, I think the President -- the President has spent an awful lot of his own time working directly with Mr. Medvedev to ensure that we make the progress that we need on these -- on this START treaty.
Q On the trip, is it understood that it would just be a re-creation of this trip, you would not be expanding it to places like India or something like that in June, or is it a possibility?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to make any announcements about the scope of the trip beyond the two countries. That's not to say that it might not happen. I just know that --
Q It’s possible, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: -- that in discussing our cancellation with Indonesia and Australia we mentioned that -- we gave them a window for coming back in June.
Q This might be self-evident but I'm a bit dense -- is it necessary you think for the President to be here next week for the Senate part of this process? Because the reconciliation process is not guaranteed and there are some anxieties among House Democrats as to what they do will be replicated and passed in the Senate. Is part of his reason for staying here to be available for that process as well?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously that helps. I don't -- I think our focus was most immediately on the vote in the House, and understanding that as a result of the change -- as I mentioned to Chip -- as a result of the likely change in our departure time, that in many ways made the rest of the discussion somewhat moot. It was a very short meeting on whether or not, based on the available evidence we had to make that determination, despite the great importance of the trip. So as a result of it we have the opportunity to be here the rest of this week and all of next.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Major covered most of the ground that I -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Density aside, he covered it all?
Q Two quick questions on the trip. Did the President actually make --
MR. GIBBS: Now he’s got his sunglasses and his Coke out. Do you see --
Q Leaning back --
MR. GIBBS: I know, it’s -- margarita for Mr. Garrett, please, margarita. Sorry, go ahead. (Laughter.) Oh, double. Easy. It’s early yet.
Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q That's okay. The President actually made the decision to cancel the trip? And when was that made? Was that this morning or last night?
MR. GIBBS: About 9:45 this morning.
Q Okay. And both sides, all sides that have been working on the trip have been trying to produce some agreements on a variety of things, some of which had been, I guess, getting closer, and others had not. Was any -- was that any consideration in terms --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, this was --
Q -- of like not having time to finish some of the --
MR. GIBBS: Again, the only thing we discussed this morning -- it was, as I said, a very quick conversation based on what every -- the scheduling knowledge that we all brought to the discussion that pushing our departure past a very early window in the afternoon, a drop-dead time in the afternoon, would quite frankly have just -- would have affected everything else. We just didn’t have that kind of padding left.
Q Thanks, Robert. A couple of quick health care questions. First, did the President call Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid after he made the decision to cancel the trip to let them know that he was staying?
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten a readout that he has, no.
Q Okay. Secondly, I believe Representative Stupak was here earlier for the --
MR. GIBBS: For the bill signing, right.
Q -- for the bill signing. Is it safe to assume that he met with the President over health care or --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who he might have met with. I don't know.
Q Does the President think that he can still get Representative Stupak’s vote?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think over the past 24 hours, we have seen strong indications from those in the Catholic Church that support our belief that the legislation is about health care reform, and that it shouldn't and doesn’t change the existing federal law. The Catholic Health Association, the order of nuns support -- I think is very important. I think you saw Congressman Kildee’s statement yesterday regarding those developments and how it affected some of his thinking.
So, again, I think the President remains engaged on that issue.
Q And so that leads into my next question, which is that was very significant what the Catholic -- especially what the nuns said yesterday, and I’m wondering, is the President or anyone else from the White House engaging in outreach to groups like that? Did the President speak with members of the nuns group or the health associations personally?
MR. GIBBS: The President met earlier this week with Sister Keehan of the CHA.
Q Where was that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I believe the meeting was in the Roosevelt Room. I don't know if she also made it into the Oval Office as well.
Q And can you share with us any -- the pitch that he perhaps made to her or --
MR. GIBBS: The only thing that -- I did not get a detailed run-down of what the pitch was that he made. I know he was effusive about her support and about her as a person for making the courageous statements that she has.
Q And so fair to say, as a result of that meeting and the letter yesterday, that he does have in fact optimism that he could gain the vote even of someone like Bart Stupak?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President again remains very engaged on this in his discussions with members of Congress.
Q And then one last one, sorry.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q But part -- was part of the thinking of staying on, or is part of the benefit that he can be here to actually sign the bill? Because once the House acts, the Senate -- the bill will become law, and in fact it’s my understanding the parliamentarian has ruled that the Senate needs to reconcile two existing laws. So does he have a plan to sign the bill after the House acts?
MR. GIBBS: Again, we would -- I would describe this much as I have earlier this week that, depending on what the parliamentarian rules and depending on what’s driven down here, if the President need sign a bill, he’ll certainly do that.
Again, the discussion that we had about the trip was, as I said, very, very short, because what -- the developments of the timing of a likely vote and the President’s desire to be here for that, that there wasn’t a lot of discussion about different aspects of the Senate -- being here for the Senate or for the signature largely because, again, that was all mostly moot when we got to the point that -- with a drop-dead time it was impossible to move the trip.
Q So assuming passage, do you envision the big bill signing with all the hoopla after the Senate reconciliation or --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to get ahead of where the parliamentarian is. If the President needs to sign legislation for this process to continue, many of us would loan him a pen.
Q Robert, sorry, very briefly on the jobs bill again. I know you spoke and the President spoke obviously with delight about having 11 Republicans on board. That’s not a tremendous amount, and do you --
MR. GIBBS: For the Republicans this year, it is. (Laughter.) For where -- I’m somewhat struck reading a profile of the leader of the Senate Republicans yesterday -- I think many of you all or your news organizations have quoted his strong desire for bipartisanship, despite the fact that the profile led with what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated plan well before the President was ever involved in the economic recovery package at doing each and every thing humanly and senatorially possible to slow to a grinding halt the progress on the President’s agenda.
So I would say given the fact that the bar set apparently before the President was sworn in to not have any Republicans support anything the President does, I’d say 11 is pretty darn good.
Q So you accept that, that that has been the Republican plan all along to not support him on anything?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t -- Ms. Stolberg, has anybody from the leader’s office sought a correction on the beginning of that profile?
Q I’m not the author of that story.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll follow up later. (Laughter.)
Q But my question was about -- but my question was about the jobs bills going forward. Do you have any reason to believe you’re going to even get that number of Republicans for these other measures that you are looking to pass?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think if you look at virtually every -- every member of Congress, Democrat and Republican, talks about the importance of small business. If we have the ability to have community banks lend an additional $30 billion to small businesses to meet payrolls and to expand, it’s somewhat hard for me to think what your objection to that would be.
Q But have you had an actual indication from Republican leaders? Have they come down here and said, “But you can get on this possibly”?
MR. GIBBS: I think generally they’ve been supportive of small business, but I don’t know whether specifically there have been, to some degree, vote counts on that.
Q Robert, on the Democrats who have come in to see the President, what retribution have they been told they will face if they walk out of the West Wing, go back and vote against the health care bill?
MR. GIBBS: None. I mean, I addressed this the other day. There was this --
Q A lot has happened since the other day.
MR. GIBBS: Tell me about it. There was a much ballyhooed Internet report that the President wouldn't campaign or support anybody that voted against the bill. The President has never made any such declaration.
Q Have any of his advisors?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Robert, just to follow up on Sheryl’s questions. Have you -- has the White House made a request to the parliamentarian to find out if he has to sign a --
MR. GIBBS: I can check with health care staff. I have not -- I don't know the answer to that.
Q And you don't know when you're going to get an answer from him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if we've asked so I don't know --
Q But would you have to ask, or is this a matter for Congress to ask? I'm just wondering how it works.
MR. GIBBS: My sense is that they’ll make a ruling and nobody will have to ask. But I don't know what that --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I've simply said that we will --
Q Sign it if you have to to get the process to continue is what you said.
MR. GIBBS: I would not stray from those wise words.
Q But what I'm trying to get at is there’s a certain amount of awkwardness of the President signing a law that includes all the things that the Speaker has been kind of tying herself up in knots to avoid her members voting on.
MR. GIBBS: We discussed this yesterday, Mara. That's -- the corrections bill --
Q I know, but what I'm asking you is do you --
MR. GIBBS: -- I think deals with much of that almost instantly.
Q Right -- well, instantly in the House, but quite a few days later, perhaps, in the Senate, or not at all. So what I'm wondering is, does he consider health care passed as soon as the House votes?
MR. GIBBS: He will consider it passed the House.
Q Well, actually, that's not true. It will be passed, period, if they accept the Senate bill. It’s not passed the House; it’s passed, period.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm talking about -- again, we've always discussed this as a two-step process. The Senate will also be part of this process. Mara, I will let --
Q But legally, is it really a two-step process, or is it over once the House votes?
MR. GIBBS: No, the President has -- look, I wouldn't have made it through a semester of law school, so this is not based on some grand legal understanding except to say that there are -- the President has set out things that were in the original Senate bill that will not be in what is ultimately -- what he wants ultimately approved as law. So, again, I don't know what --
Q So he won't be satisfied until the Senate acts? Is that what you're saying?
MR. GIBBS: Again, that's what we've -- I've talked throughout the weekend of the fact that, and mentioned to one of the questions up here, that he’s been actively engaged in discussions with senators. So again, this is something that we've always considered to be a two-step process.
Q But so should we understand that he will not be taking any victory laps or making kind of any statements about the historic significance of this until the Senate acts?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think in many -- I will say this, Mara, when the bill passed both the House and the Senate, the President found it be a historical act because that had never happened before. I think it’s likely that we will -- when this bill passes on Sunday, I think you’ll likely hear from the President, as you have at many -- many of the different stops in this process.
Q Hi, Robert. Last time around this year the President recorded a video message to the people and government of Iran in honor of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which happens to fall this Sunday. I’m just wondering how he plans to recognize that holiday this year. Is he going to do another video?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC on that.
Q Okay, if you could get back to me.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. Mark Levin with the Landmark Legal Foundation has prepared a suit against the President that if he signs the health care bill passed by the House without a recorded yea or nay vote required by Article I, Section 7 -- my question on that is, would the President rule out signing future bills such as immigration reform or finance reform you mentioned earlier that are not subject to a yea or nay vote in both chambers?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is -- I think we’ve discussed on a number of occasions, certainly the last time we met inside, that this was -- this is the type of thing that -- the type of rule that you’ve seen pass on any number of instances. So I understand that there are those that want to discuss this as being a unique thing. It is not. I stated earlier that when this bill passes the House the President will be happy to sign it.
Q Well, is that still a constitutional argument in favor of it, that it’s been done before?
MR. GIBBS: I’m unaware -- again, I didn’t go to law school -- I’m unaware that -- I’m unaware of legal suits filed by a similar organization when the Republicans did similar things on legislation.
Q So the President wouldn’t rule out signing future bills that didn’t pass both houses by a yea or nay vote?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into a series of legal hypotheticals that both of us seem unprepared to discuss.
Margaret. I’m kind of enjoying the sun. With my skin tone, I’ll probably have a golden tan by the time we’re done. Go ahead, Margaret. (Laughter.)
Q Has the President been in more than normal contact with the Clintons in the last few days as the passage of this approaches in terms of their experience? I mean, has that caused them to talk more with either President Clinton or with the Secretary of State? And I have a second question too.
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. Mike, do you remember if the President was over here -- she was -- I don’t know if she was over here earlier in the week or not -- I forget based on the schedule -- but I do not -- I have not gotten a --
Q Not about this.
MR. GIBBS: -- an e-mail that has -- that would denote that. Obviously he talked with Senator -- Secretary Clinton yesterday as she was over here with the Irish Prime Minister.
Q And in light of the legal challenges that are most likely expected, is the White House looking at putting together any kind of a special legal team to deal with health care?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of. None that I’m aware of.
Q Okay, thanks.
Q Robert, the Republicans -- maybe you can put this to rest too, I don’t know.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll try.
Q The Republicans put something out saying that Bart Gordon and John Tanner have been promised cushy government positions in exchange for their votes.
MR. GIBBS: And what were those positions?
Q Those positions are NASA administrator and U.S. ambassador to NATO. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s --
Q At some point.
MR. GIBBS: I think those are -- I think those jobs are currently filled, but -- and I’m not sure that anybody would think -- certainly the current occupants -- that those are otherwise cushy jobs. So that’s just not true.
Q Has the White House yet received the communication from Israel on whether it is willing to take the kind of steps that were laid out to show commitment to the peace process? And can you talk about the -- can you kind of characterize the ongoing negotiations, which the White House said the Vice President and the Prime Minister talked about in their phone call yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not aware of any conversations besides the one you mentioned with the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. So I don’t have anything else to add on that.
Q Robert, who, if any, beyond the President, is meeting here at the White House with other Hill lawmakers on health care?
MR. GIBBS: I imagine that the chief of staff is. I’m sure Nancy-Ann DeParle is. Those are the most immediate names that come to mind.
Q Axelrod, Jarrett, by any chance, as well?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Well, what’s the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I take that back. I know that -- I think Valerie has met with groups of people.
Q What’s the criteria to say who meets with the President or who talks with the President, versus talking to Nancy-Ann or Valerie or --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think in many ways it depends on -- it depends on what questions. You know, obviously I think sometimes members will come over. Their staff will meet with Nancy-Ann as members meet with the President. Legislative Affairs decides who meets with whom.
Q And on another topic, the last question, Black Farmers -- March 31st deadline -- they are very upset, they’re very antsy. They’re saying, you know, they can’t get anything through. The bill is -- the monies are attached in the Senate bill, but they’re saying they’re hearing very negative things; that Hispanics should be paid off as well from these settlements. So what say you?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with OMB on where this is.
Q Does the President still stand by this for the March 31st deadline?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Is he showing them that they’ll get their money?
MR. GIBBS: The President is supportive of the settlement that was reached.
Q Robert, in response to Ann’s question, you said that the President does not engage in any threats of retribution over this coming vote. Would you encourage Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to also forswear any kind of retribution?
MR. GIBBS: I would encourage news media not to do that too. I don't know what you’re asking me to do. I don't --
Q Well, I mean, typically during --
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I think the President is talking about and the team here is talking about the merits of making historic progress on health insurance reform.
Q Right, and my only question is, is there sort of -- could there be sort of a good cop/bad cop dynamic here? The President doesn’t need to make those threats because he knows that the leaders will.
MR. GIBBS: I have no evidence that that's -- that that's the case.
Q What is the line between appropriate persuasion and inappropriate pressure on a lawmaker?
MR. GIBBS: That's -- seems hazardous for me to get into different examples on. Do you have something specific?
Q Well, I'm thinking of the ’93 Medicare prescription drug vote. There were some questions --
MR. GIBBS: 2003.
Q I'm sorry, 2003, right. And so I'm wondering, in light of that and in light of past precedent, have you examined what might be appropriate pressure and inappropriate pressure?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the President has -- and the team here are focused on why this legislation is good for the American people, why it’s good for the constituents with the member that they’re meeting with. This is -- that's the focus of what these meetings are, not coercion or inappropriate -- I forgot what your term was.
Q Okay. And finally, on Sunday, how do you envision administration resources and people being deployed around? Do you expect to send people to the Capitol? Will the President be here physically?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President lives right there, so I can assure you he'll be here.
Q I understand. I mean, there’s no chance that he would go to the Capitol, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: I've not heard plans for the President to go to the Capitol --
Q And what about Cabinet Secretaries and so forth?
MR. GIBBS: I can check with Legislative Affairs on that.
Q Robert, Stephen Lynch, the congressman from Massachusetts, yesterday mentioned that he was getting calls from administration folks wanting to talk with him and that he was not particularly eager to engage in those conversations. Have you found -- either the President personally or any of the surrogates that have been reaching out to members -- that people are just simply trying to duck you and don't want to talk?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, again, the President has had an otherwise pretty full schedule on this.
Q Robert, a couple of questions. First of all, while we've been out here, apparently Lieutenant Dan Choi has handcuffed himself to a fence on the White House grounds, according to a report. I was wondering if the White House was given any heads-up that there would be any kind of civil disobedience like that and whether or not the President has any plans to meet with him?
MR. GIBBS: No heads-up that I'm aware of, and I don't believe there’s any meeting scheduled today, no.
Q To follow up on Ann’s question, some labor unions have said that they’re willing to take some pretty rough steps, if necessary, going so far as to run a third-party candidate against some folks who would vote -- Democrats who would vote no. We have one up in the city who feels that -- who’s going to vote no, and may face some pressure. What’s the White House opinion of this kind of tactic and is this something the President would support?
MR. GIBBS: Ken, I can only speak for what the President has actively tried to do to get members to support a bill that he thinks provides small businesses and families with far more affordable coverage, reduces our deficit over the next 20 years by more than $1 trillion and covers 32 million more people.
Q Robert, when -- you said you’d given Australia and Indonesia a window for rescheduling. When would you hope to have this nailed down?
MR. GIBBS: Scheduling has been busy nailing and un-nailing for the better part of several days, so I don't -- I think, again, we’ve -- we have communicated to them our strong desire to come back quickly, to do so in June. I don't have the dates of that specific window, and I doubt that we would have that trip completely laid out, even at this point -- at this point anyway.
Q I have two quick questions.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q First, earlier this week -- sorry, I have two questions. First, earlier this week, both Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore pointed out that the preexisting condition provision of the legislation doesn’t take effect for another four years, and I’m wondering if you could tell us, was that a concession, and if so, who fought for that and what did they -- what did you get in return?
MR. GIBBS: There is --
Q For adults, that is.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, again, the -- as I described earlier and as the President has described, there are certain things that cannot be instituted until you have everyone in the system. Obviously this is a piece of legislation that phases in over the course of many years those changes. And as a result of that phasing in, when that's done, preexisting conditions for adults will be outlawed. But understand this -- when this becomes law, an insurance company will no longer be able to discriminate against a child that has -- that they believe or says that has a preexisting condition.
Q That’s on day one.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q Children. And so it’s pegged to the mandate then, is that fair to say?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q And my second question was, during the President’s interview with Bret Baier last night, he seemed rather perturbed by both the number of interruptions and to a lesser degree the process-heavy nature of the questioning. I was wondering if you, watching that interview, what your reaction was to the conduct and the substance of it.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I will simply say that I think it’s always better if you -- when you interview the President that you let the President give his answer. I’ve always found that to be the most effective way to conduct an interview.
1:52 P.M. EDT
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