Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 3/22/10
2:50 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Settle down.
Q Okay, now what? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Now we wait for everybody to take their seats, right? Isn't that what the -- shuffle in, shuffle in. Paging Jake Tapper. Paging Jake Tapper. I know -- I know he’s coming, but I might as well twist a little bit while we’re waiting.
Phil, why don't we go ahead while we wait for Jake.
Q The White House wanted this bill passed so you guys could pivot back to jobs, and now we’re going Thursday to Iowa. Is pivoting to jobs still the plan? And how long are we going to be talking about health care now that it’s passed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take this a couple of different ways. One, I think the President has been working on the economic recovery every day that he’s been in office. We know that the President, in fact, signed a bill just last week to provide tax credits for small businesses that hire the unemployed and I think we’ll continue to talk about that going forward. We know there are aspects of small business lending -- zero capital gains for small business and the retrofit proposals that the President has made -- that he now wants to see also go through Congress.
Thursday the President will visit Iowa City where he outlined a grassroots health care reform plan in 2007 and have a chance to talk about what this legislation means for the small businesses that I was talking about, for families with children who are labeled by insurance companies to suffer from a preexisting condition, or to talk about what this means for seniors who will finally get help with covering the cost of their prescription drugs if they happen to fall into what’s commonly known as the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D.
Q Is this going to be the one health care event he does outside of Washington, or are we going to be doing a series of events outside of Washington and barnstorm in support of this bill?
MR. GIBBS: The President has a very busy schedule coming up on a whole host of issues. Phil, I assume the President will talk about health care for a long time, but the President has over the course of the past many weeks, even as the legislative agenda has been focused on getting health care done, which we did last night, the President also, I think as you’ll see over the next couple of weeks, has been working on a number of other issues that are at the forefront and that we'll have an opportunity to talk about.
Q Finally, a lot of Democrats switched their votes or took politically dangerous votes for themselves, frankly, to support this bill. What kind of support are those Democrats in the House going to be receiving from the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there’s no doubt -- and I don't have a political schedule in front of me -- I have no doubt that we'll be on the road extensively in the fall as it relates to health care reform and as it relates to helping those that supported health care last night and supporting Democrats, even some that didn’t.
Q Robert, did you mean to announce when the bill signing is?
MR. GIBBS: It’s likely to be sometime tomorrow. I don't -- they’re still working out some of the logistics. In terms of timing, I would plan as of right now for a late morning bill signing, weather permitting, outside, probably on the South Lawn.
Q Definitely on campus, nothing --
MR. GIBBS: As of the last sort of update I got, it would be logistically tough to go off campus but also if the weather doesn’t cooperate, it might also be logistically difficult to --
MR. GIBBS: I think each and every member of the House and Senate that supported health care reform will be invited. I expect that many of them will attend. I also believe that the President will have with him many of the stories that he’s given lift to over the course of the past year to help demonstrate exactly why the President did what he did for so long and who this impacts the most.
Q Robert, two questions, one on health care and one on -- a foreign policy question. What’s the White House’s reaction to the states that have threatened to sue over this legislation? Is that something that the President and the team are taking seriously?
MR. GIBBS: I heard Nancy-Ann talk a little bit about this, this morning on television I think. My sense is that a lot of big pieces of legislation are challenged in some ways. We certainly have -- you’ve seen the intent of some to do -- to challenge this legislation on grounds we don’t think will be very successful.
Q You don’t think their suits will be very successful?
MR. GIBBS: We don’t.
Q Okay. And is there any kind of a plan or a reaction to deal with that in the coming --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I assume there will be many things that we will deal with in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead as health care reform is implemented. But I think that -- you know, look, some of the states and some of the players might end up being kind of curious, but, again, I think there’s pretty long-standing precedent on the constitutionality of this.
Q My second question is on Google and China. If Google does decide to pull out of China, what effect would that have on U.S.-Chinese relations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not get ahead of something -- we’ll have a chance to maybe discuss that later on. Look, I think that you heard the President enunciate quite clearly in China a policy and a belief that open government and the ability to communicate among people without the censorship of government is tremendously important.
So it may be, as there are in some issues, that we in a mature diplomatic relationship have disagreements. But I don’t want to get ahead of something, but we may have a chance to discuss that later.
Q Did Google brief the administration on what it’s doing?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what the latest is this morning on that.
Q On Thursday you guys are going to Iowa to -- the President is going to talk about health care reform, and I know you recall 2007 when the President -- then-senator was there; he introduced his health care proposal. If you look at what he announced in 2007 and what is law or will be law as of tomorrow, there are a lot of similarities, but there are also a lot of striking differences in terms of whether or not there’s universal coverage, whether or not every individual’s family premiums will go down $2,500. Is this just what happens when ideals meet the pragmatic politics? Or why are there such differences between what the President proposed two years ago?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Jake, obviously what you propose and what goes through the system sometimes change. I think the promise that the President played out in May of 2007 and talked about even before laying out a specific policy was that we should not, in a country like the United States of America, have to have people deciding between keeping their house and keeping their health care; or we shouldn’t live in a country where people don't have access to affordable health care.
So look, I think always in this, it always goes through the legislative process, but I think what the President promised that day and what the President will sign tomorrow -- very much the promise of affordable, accessible health care that puts people back in charge of their health care rather than insurance companies; I think something that will have lasting benefit for tens of millions of Americans for many years to come.
Q Is there going to be a follow-up legislation, since the President had the goal of universal coverage in 2007? And the CBO says that current legislation will leave uninsured 23 million Americans. Is there going to be a follow-up attempt?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don't know if there’s been any discussions about that this morning. The coverage that --
Q Probably not.
MR. GIBBS: Right. The coverage -- I think CBO said somewhere between 94 and 95 percent of Americans will have coverage. And obviously we will, after the President signs this into law, get about to the important process of ensuring its efficient and speedy implementation.
Q Does the President feel any -- this, obviously, was a very long, hard fight; very bitter and divisive in a lot of ways -- does the President feel any obligation, as a man who campaigned on bridging the partisan divide, to reach out to Republicans for future legislation, for improving the spirit in Washington that has now been so poisoned by this very vicious debate at times?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that -- we’ll be able to look back and see whether the debate itself poisoned the atmosphere. I think that the President will do on financial reform, on campaign finance, on getting our economy moving again, all of the host of issues that -- immigration reform and energy -- that we’ve talked about still being on the docket, I think the President will continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans that want to make a positive effort on these issues.
Jake, the President -- I’m a little struck by the fact that everybody seems on one side to be talking about repeal today. So I’ll let them answer why, as Mitch McConnell put it in his profile in the New York Times, the anecdote of him having a plan even before the President came to the Congress with an economic recovery plan last January, that he had a plan to simply say no to each and everything that the President proposed. I think that's a little bit about what elections are ultimately going to be about.
And I think if people want to campaign on taking tax cuts away from small businesses, taking assistance away from seniors getting prescription drugs, and want to take away a mother knowing that their child can't be discriminated against by an insurance company -- if that's the platform that others want to run on, taking that away from families and small businesses, then we’ll have a robust campaign on that.
Q Can I just follow? What’s your reaction to some of the words that were thrown around just this past weekend? One Republican member of Congress shouting “baby killer.” You had Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, have the N-word shouted at him. What’s your reaction to that, first; but then how do you pick up the pieces from this debate for immigration and closing Gitmo and some of those other things?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, you have -- we have talked about on any number of different debates what happens when people say things that have no place in a legislative debate, let alone any -- I think any real place in our public or, quite frankly, even private discourse. I don't know that I would want to explain to my six year old why I had done or said some of the things that were done or said this past weekend. I think the President believes regardless of the passion of your views, which people rightly hold in a country as great as this, that we ought to be able to have that debate without the type of language and actions that we’ve seen in some places over the weekend.
Q To follow on Jake was asking about the speech in the campaign about covering all Americans, regardless of whether there was any talk this morning about a second piece of legislation, generally how do you view this? Is this the first bite of the apple? Does the President hope to complete this by the end of 2012?
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate you all constructing another mountain for us to climb. I’m quite frankly this afternoon just enjoying the view from where we are.
Q Okay. On another subject, Israel, you got the Prime Minister coming to meet with the President tomorrow. Ahead of that meeting we’re getting reports that the Prime Minister has suggested he might make some concessions, including sitting down for direct talks with the Palestinians, U.S.-brokered. It sounds like we need to hear whether the U.S. is willing to bring the parties together. How quickly do you think the President will receive those concessions and would he commence talks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is -- obviously is here, will meet with some administration officials today, and will meet privately with the President, like he did last year, tomorrow, early tomorrow evening. Our goal in any of this is to create an atmosphere of trust and open dialogue to bring these two sides together so that the discussions can be substantive in moving towards comprehensive Middle Eastern peace. I think that's what we hope tomorrow is in his discussions with the Prime Minister, and we’ll see what comes out of that.
Q Is the President prepared to start talks with the U.S. helping to broker --
MR. GIBBS: The President looks forward to having a good conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we’ll see where we go from there.
MR. GIBBS: No coverage. It will be in the dining room off the Oval Office.
Q What did the President learn about himself out of this debate and about the different parties? And what is -- I think it’s very legitimate to ask what is the next big mountain?
MR. GIBBS: It’s legitimate to ask. I didn’t want to climb a separate mountain on this. Look, I think what he learned about -- I think what all of Washington learned about him is that he is willing to make very tough decisions --
Q Why didn’t he go for the government plan then?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I didn’t even get five words out, Helen. (Laughter.) I think somebody who’s willing to make very tough decisions and see that through. I think there were many opportunities where he could have turned back, and I think he -- I think very much that what passed last night meant more to him than any election night could have, because I think he understands -- and the reason that he continued to push forward on something as important as health care reform is he understands just what it will mean, as I said earlier, for millions of Americans for many, many years to come.
They will -- just in the next -- within this year, small businesses will begin to get tax credits to help pay for the coverage they provide their employees. Seniors will get help in their prescription drug coverage, and we’ll begin to close that doughnut hole that I talked about. Maybe most importantly in all these immediate benefits, like I’ve said before, a mother doesn’t have -- won’t have to sit in her kitchen on the phone with an insurance company, worried sick that the decisions about her child’s health care are not going to be made by a doctor, they’re not going to be made by her or her family, but by an insurance company bureaucrat on the other end of the phone in God knows where, determining that that child had a preexisting condition. That’s all going to change. And that’s just what’s going to happen over the course of the rest of 2010.
So, look, I think he was -- I think he knew what he wanted to accomplish, and despite all of -- despite whatever he was told, he kept fighting for what he believed in.
Q So will that be his modus operandi from now on? He started out very slow and not really pushing --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say perseverance paid off. Look, I think the President rightly looks at the scorekeeping that happens on any given or individual day. And I doubt that anybody -- I doubt there’s not anybody in here that at some point declared health care dead, maybe multiple times. I think the pace that the President had was to see the long view and to get this done, and I think that’s what he did.
As for the next mountains, we’ve talked about some of them. There’s no doubt that finishing the legislation that the President has offered and ideas that he’s offered on getting our economy moving again, small business lending, zero capital gains for start-up small businesses, the retrofitting initiatives to, again, create jobs. There’s the outstanding case -- and the loophole that the case generated for Citizens United; obviously, financial reform, which Senator Dodd’s committee will take up today, and I think we feel there’s some momentum building for seeing that through, as well as big issues like comprehensive energy and immigration legislation are obviously still left for the President to do.
Q There are some who think -- who seem to think that the President’s health care reform bill will somehow fund abortions. Can you maybe speak to that?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, say that again.
Q There are some who think the President’s health care reform is somehow funding abortions. Can you speak to that?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, and I think the executive order makes this clear: The President stated throughout this process that health care reform should simply maintain the status quo. He believes that the bill maintains the status quo and he thinks the executive order reiterates that strong belief.
Q But that’s all it does, doesn’t it -- reiterates the existing law? There’s nothing -- there’s nothing in particular about the executive order that changed anything.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President and I think quite frankly many in Congress on both sides of this believed, as the President did, that this should be a health care bill; that it shouldn’t be a bill about other issues. And what the bill does and what the executive order does is underscore that the status quo is preserved.
Q It doesn’t change anything, though, does it?
MR. GIBBS: That was the whole point.
Q So tomorrow, will there be -- will the President have any new proposals to move the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations beyond where they are with the Mitchell talks right now? Is he going to -- any new ideas to push this forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’ll have a sense of what they discussed in the meeting after the meeting. I think the President is rightly focused on building the type of trust that's needed to get two parties back at the table to begin that dialogue.
Q Does he expect a further apology for the treatment of the Vice President?
MR. GIBBS: I think we've spoken clearly on that and I have no doubt that that will be a topic in the meeting.
Q Just to follow quickly on the Middle East -- so there’s no coverage, there’s going to be no public statement with the President appearing --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q This is the second time in a row that Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited and you guys have not had any cameras. Is there -- is this just a coincidence?
MR. GIBBS: I think over the course of -- this will be --
Q Is this the only world leader and now it’s twice?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- well, I don't -- you may have better -- Mark probably has better statistics on --
Q How did I do on that?
Q Well, King Juan Carlos, we didn’t get a picture of him.
Q Okay. (Laughter.) There you go.
MR. GIBBS: What do you have to say about that? (Laughter.)
I think this is the fourth meeting, if I'm not mistaken, with Prime Minister Netanyahu -- two were open with sprays, two have been --
Q This is the second straight visit to the White House, though, with no public statements. Not a coincidence, or it is a coincidence? Is there --
MR. GIBBS: I think they’ll have a good discussion.
Q Why do you want to play it down?
Q Yes, I mean, isn’t this a helpful thing to --
MR. GIBBS: You guys seem to be let in on a secret that the meeting is happening.
Q Secret? (Laughter.)
Q Well, why wouldn’t they both want to reassure the world that relations are not frayed?
MR. GIBBS: We said that a week ago.
Q Right, but why won't they go public -- the leaders?
MR. GIBBS: I can tell you that -- I can tell you that they’re not frayed and that our bond with the Israelis is strong.
Q So this is how an ally -- so an ally comes and visits, no picture, no back-slapping, hey -- relations with the Associated Press are great between -- I know, I mean -- it does seem odd --
MR. GIBBS: You lost me in that otherwise pretty good analogy.
Q No, it just seems odd -- no, that you guys have -- this is an important ally. You say relations aren’t frayed. So why not come out together and say that?
MR. GIBBS: This is how the coverage of the meeting is going to go.
Q Back to health care; I want to follow upon the legal challenge question. What has your Counsel’s Office said? Why do you have this confidence that -- you say there’s established law, established precedent. On what, what is it? What is the established precedent?
MR. GIBBS: On regulation of interstate commerce.
Q But how is a mandate on an individual part of interstate -- I mean, so --
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's -- I think, again -- look, I’m not a lawyer, right.
Q And neither am I. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Right, so we’re both in a pool where we can’t either see or touch the bottom. But as I understand the articles that I’ve read, the Attorney General, for instance, of Virginia, is going to sue because he thinks this violates that. I think that for many decades, the Supreme Court has recognized Congress’s authority under the commerce clause to regulate activities relating to interstate commerce.
Q But this is essentially going to say -- the argument is going to be, if you’re a human being and an American citizen, you have to get health insurance.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think they’re challenging the basis -- the constitutional basis of an individual responsibility requirement that --
Q On a federal level, as opposed to a --
MR. GIBBS: -- right -- that the President and the team do not believe. For instance, I think Utah is one of the states that's thinking about doing this. Senator Hatch and Senator Bennett have both been on legislation requiring some level of individual responsibility like this. Senator Bennett’s health care bill with Senator Wyden has an individual mandate. So again, I won’t get into why some of this stuff --
Q But that speaks to an advocacy question, not to the legal basis of it. They could advocate for it, and it could be wrong legally, too. I mean, that doesn’t answer -- that doesn’t solve the -- I’m not making a judgment on their policy points --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll let you ask Senator Hatch whether he thinks that he regularly believes --
Q Your advice from Counsel is there is no legal basis on which the --
MR. GIBBS: My advice from Counsel is that we’ll win these lawsuits.
Q And finally, confidence on this -- on what’s going to happen this week in the Senate? You’ve got your 51 votes, you’ve got them lined up, this is --
MR. GIBBS: I would say that -- look, I would point you to what Senator Reid told the House caucus on Saturday; that --
Q He seemed to hedge a little bit.
MR. GIBBS: I didn’t see that --
Q I mean, there was no letter, 51, right, he didn’t have a full-fledged, or the 51 signatures. I mean, is that --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think --
Q Do you expect --
MR. GIBBS: I doubt Senator Reid would have to -- if he didn’t have the commitment that he told many he would have and we believe he does.
Q You expect the Senate to pass this word for word, what they passed?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that the Senate will take this up at some point this week, begin the process, and, look, health care is going to become law tomorrow. I think that -- I can’t speak to all of the amendments or all of the shenanigans that will be tried on Capitol Hill over the course of the next many days, but we’re confident that this process is coming to an end.
Q Back onto abortion, there are some who believe that given the difficultly of complying with this separation of funds and the rules that are laid out, that a lot of insurance companies just simply won’t offer abortion coverage in the exchange. What’s the White House’s view on the likelihood of that outcome?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to Nancy-Ann about whether or not that’s a topic that they have wrestled with. Obviously that’s -- once the President signs this into law, there will be a host of implementation ideas and tasks that we’ll begin working on.
Q And on the broader question, the President entered office determined to sort of try to bridge the gap in the abortion wars and repeatedly has issued statements trying to bring the sides together, and yet it seems as though the abortion wars are as hot as they’ve ever been.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s true. I think if they were as hot as they’d ever been, we’d be talking about why this was an issue that wasn’t central to the legislation but it caused its demise. Instead, we’re here because groups worked together in order to ensure that a health care bill would be a health care bill.
Q So you think that the abortion debate has become less toxic over the last year?
MR. GIBBS: I think, as it relates to health care, it’s evidenced that -- it’s evidenced that the issue is one that even those that disagree on can find common ground to ensure that important policies like comprehensive health care reform move forward.
Q Robert, will the President sign the executive order tomorrow, as well?
MR. GIBBS: I’m told he can’t sign that until he signs the law, so whether that -- I don’t know whether that’s tomorrow or in the coming days. Bill handed me a note that said, likely because of the weather we are going to be over at the Department of the Interior tomorrow. And we’ll get you logistical information on all that.
Q Any reason for the Department of Interior?
MR. GIBBS: I think largely because of --
MR. GIBBS: -- space. Yes.
Q And on the trip on Thursday, is that a victory lap or is he trying to reach out to perhaps Americans that are upset about the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, Mark, he will take the opportunity to discuss the benefits that the law provides millions of Americans as a result of his signature. We can debate the polling and the politics on this. I think that as -- as we get away from the back and forth of a legislative floor debate and examine what is in the bill and how it affects families and small businesses and seniors -- and then we can talk about what’s not in the bill, despite what some people have said -- I think the President believes that more will -- more will see the benefits that he saw in making sure this legislation becomes law.
Q But does he want to try to allay the fears or concerns of those who are opposed to the bill?
MR. GIBBS: I think he will -- I think he will walk -- in all that he does, he’ll walk people through what he believes this legislation does. And I think you’ve heard him say over the past many months to address specific instances about what people say the bill does that it in fact doesn’t do.
So I think he will have and continue to have an opportunity to do that. And certainly the first -- I anticipate he’ll do a lot of that tomorrow; he did some of that last night; and will do even more of it in Iowa City.
Q Did he have any comment that the vote yesterday for the bill was entirely partisan, but the vote against it was bipartisan?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I remember anything specifically on that, Mark. I know that, again, this is a President that has -- I think by any account you could see that this is a process that took a little more than a year to complete partly because the process that the President and Congress went through was one in order to try to get Republican support, even when Republicans said even it’s likely if -- even if it’s likely that I can support -- I like what’s in the bill, I might not be able to vote for it. I think that just is the -- regrettably the times that apparently we live in.
Q Robert, since the briefing started Google has now announced that it won’t censor searches in China and is directing users to the Hong Kong servers. Now, can you talk about how the U.S. was informed --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I know that there were some -- I need to find out what discussions were had here this morning. I know there was some discussion over the weekend that something like this might be coming.
Q With NSC?
MR. GIBBS: With NSC.
Q Okay. And do you know what action the U.S. might take if China’s government makes any move against Google’s operations?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that I would get into a hypothetical on something like that.
Q Is it possible --
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to react to what’s happening, not what we think might.
Q On the talks tomorrow night, will the President be in kind of a listen mode, trying to understand the housing stuff last week, or is he going to offer up some proposal, some sort of way forward? Can you talk a little bit about what he’s going to be doing?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not under the impression the President is bringing new proposals forward. I think what we need to do is work to get and build the type of relationship between these two parties that allows them to get to the table and trust each other enough to have conversations. I think that's what the President’s intention has been, quite honestly, since the beginning of his administration in trying to get this done.
Q Will he ask them for specific requests?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I’m not going to get into what has been discussed with the Secretary of State or the Vice President over the past many days.
Q How about a readout?
MR. GIBBS: We’ll have one, yes.
Q Robert, a little bit of texture on yesterday. When was it that the President knew confidently that he had the votes -- Democratic leadership had the votes in the House? Was it the final resolution, the Stupak situation? Was it sometime after that? And can you take us a little bit into the Roosevelt Room for what I have to imagine was a more than mildly significant moment for him personally and for those closest to him?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- in terms of votes, I think obviously the members that Congressman Stupak had -- that shared his concerns, once the executive order -- once that all played out, I think obviously that's the point in which we felt good that the legislation would exceed 216 votes. The President --
Q Did you doubt up until that moment whether you could get 216 without that arrangement?
MR. GIBBS: We were trying -- the President spent a lot of time talking to a lot of different members, discussing the benefits of what this legislation did, in a lot of different combinations, to get to 216. So -- in terms of the Roosevelt --
Q The question is, could you have gotten there without Stupak?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not sure that that would -- is altogether knowable, since at a certain point yesterday it became that way. And I don't know what that -- I don't know what that does to other people’s votes, so I’m not sure that that's altogether knowable.
In terms of the Roosevelt Room, Major, he walked in, the Vice President was there, many staffers were there, and I think he very much wanted to -- he’d come down from the residence and very much wanted to be, as we wanted to be with him, be with a group of people that have spent many years, some people far longer than coming here, working on the promise of health care reform for millions and millions of Americans.
So as you always do, you anxiously watch, you wonder who the 24 people are that haven’t voted, with two-and-a-half minutes left, given the fact that it’s been what everybody’s been talking about for weeks. And then obviously when we hit 216, there was a lot of jubilation. The President went around the room, shaking hands and hugging and high-fiving.
As I said, there are people that have worked on this issue longer than there has been an Obama administration. There are people that have been with the President for many years throughout the campaign, like myself, I think that felt enormously proud of him for the type of perseverance I talked about earlier and not letting up and not giving up, and making sure that we drove toward what he saw as the outcome rather than listening to all of the noise in getting there. And that’s, I think, one of --
Q Any memorable quotes from that particular moment, either way, staff or President?
MR. GIBBS: I just remember him being very happy. I mean, again, when he walked around the room, I think we all had a chance to say stuff to him.
Q Was Mrs. Obama there?
MR. GIBBS: No, she was not.
Q Speaking of Iowa, Charles Grassley just said a moment ago that he would like to offer an amendment during the reconciliation process to require the President -- and all senior staff and all Cabinet secretaries -- to live under the guidelines and the requirements of the health care bill. First of all, do you stipulate that they do not? And second of all, do you consider that a flaw in the legislation and a legitimate point of criticism?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to look at the amendment and ask Nancy-Ann. I know that -- I think someone offered an amendment at some point in the process to make members of Congress, as the President has said, give the American people the same type of health care that members of Congress have. And, obviously, the President supported that. I just have not seen what Senator Grassley --
Q One more on another topic. Peter Orszag put out a memo last week on ACORN funding. Do you consider that just a response to the federal court order to reinstate that --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some information from OMB on that. I don’t have anything on that.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q What is the -- what kind of event is it in Iowa? A speech, a town hall?
MR. GIBBS: It will be a speech.
Q And as President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu resolve their differences, what’s the administration’s message to the Palestinians? After the administration called on the Israeli government to stop building in East Jerusalem, they said they’re not going to. It doesn’t seem to get at the Palestinian concerns at all. And it seems now that this is dissolving, but there is no real solution in their view.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President is hopeful that we will in this meeting make progress and get -- without getting into the intricacies of it -- get these two parties back to -- not just back physically to talks, but to the type of relationship that is necessary for those talks to bear fruit.
Q Thanks. Two quick questions, Robert. First, on the passage of the health care reform bill, there’s been a lot of talk about the effect this is going to have on Democrats in November. The Republicans -- I think Karl Rove said it was going to be devastating to Democrats. Most of the reporters I've heard on TV since -- even since the passage of the bill seem to be conceding it’s going to -- Democrats are going to pay some price. Is there any scenario that you or the President sees whereby Democrats could actually gain in November based on the momentum from this legislative victory?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to hazard a lot of guesses on what’s going to happen eight months from now, since eight months from -- eight months backwards from today I don't think many people thought today we’d be talking about what we've accomplished in those eight months. So I tend not to have a crystal ball.
Again, I think that as -- when the President signs this landmark legislation the American people will, in the next several months, begin to feel -- through small business tax credits, through protections against children being declared -- or having declared that they have a preexisting condition, seniors getting help with their prescription drugs -- the type of things that the President envisioned happening as a part of health care reform. And I think that will be beneficial.
The President I think was pretty eloquent in saying this over the past couple weeks, that when asked what happens if this fails, what does it mean for you politically, I think the President was pretty clear in saying that his far greater concern was what happens to all of those that are depending on us to change the status quo, and to do so in a way that helps them.
So I know there are a lot of folks that will want to prognosticate. I think the President’s strong belief is you make the decisions that you believe are right. You don't spend a lot of time looking at the polls or listening to the chatter, and good decisions and good policy often tend to make for good politics in the long term.
Q My second question was, there’s also been some talk on the left about how any Democratic senator could sponsor an amendment to put a public option in the reconciliation package. If that happened, would that be something the President would push for?
MR. GIBBS: I’m going to wait for the Senate to decide what they want to do in terms of amendments.
Q Robert, can we go back to Jake’s question and ask if -- in the obverse, about bipartisanship? The President endured months of negotiation in the Senate while his allies tried to get some Republicans on board. He went through town halls and meetings at Blair House, et cetera, and ended up with zero Republican votes. Why isn’t the lesson of this that bipartisanship is a fool’s errand?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, if your -- if the strategy on the other side is regardless of what the President proposes, to say no, then bipartisanship is going to be difficult. I think you’ve seen people to say -- people have said today, well, what this whole process means, we’re not going to work together with the other side for the rest of the year.
Well, I don't think that’s a real change in their schedule because I haven’t noticed that there’s been a whole lot of, gee, I know the economy is experiencing the worst downturn since the Great Depression, here are some ideas, let’s help.
I think that’s -- but again, I think the American people will judge whether or not people are doing what they’re doing because they’re just continuing the type of games that the American people hate in this town versus somebody who’s trying to honestly make some progress. I think the President spent seven or so hours at the Blair House. Incorporated in the legislation were more than a hundred Republican amendments. You’d have to ask them what it would take to get their support when, as the President has himself said, bipartisanship can’t be “none of my ideas and all of yours.”
Incorporated in the legislation were Republican ideas. People like Bob Dole and Howard Baker had proposals with Tom Daschle, very similar to what is proposed here. I’ve talked about the fact that this legislation looks an awful lot like what happened in Massachusetts, and I’m sure Governor Romney hates every time I say that. The only difference really is that we addressed cost, and Massachusetts didn’t do that, and it took them a while to get to that curve.
But what makes Republicans that two or four or eight or 12 years ago would have proposed something very similar to this now walk away from it is a good thing for them to have to answer.
Q Robert, my question was about what the President takes from this. Is he still willing to do the same sort of -- going for a year, for example, on financial overhaul?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think the President believes -- well, we’ve already been working a year on financial reform. We passed the House. We are likely to pass soon the committee of jurisdiction in the Senate. And I think the President believes that we are coming close to the two-year anniversary of the utter collapse of our financial system based on people gaming that system and there not being in place strong rules to prevent that from happening.
The President is not convinced that it is going to take another year to get those rules into place. And people are going to have to decide in the next few months, particularly on financial reform, whether you’re going to put rules in place to prevent this from happening, or whether you’re going to work on the side of the very same actors that caused many of these types of episodes -- this type of episode, calamitous episode, to happen.
Q Robert, is the President’s health care a communications challenge different than Iowa City and beyond than it was in Missouri or Pennsylvania or Ohio before the bill was passed?
MR. GIBBS: In what way?
Q Does he have a different message now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously, look, I think the President will now discuss -- look, obviously, up until yesterday we were discussing what happens when the bill passes. Now we’ll be able to talk about tangibly what people will see.
So in some ways it’s -- I mean, obviously, some of the verbs are a little different, but there’s no question that the basis by what the President -- I think what you’ve heard the President talk about for the past two weeks about what insurance companies are doing and what this reform does will be the basis for what I think a lot of what you’ll hear going forward.
Q Robert, just on some of the other issues on the President’s agenda, do you have a ranking of the most important things and the most gettable things you want, or --
MR. GIBBS: I picked Kansas to win the bracket, so I don't see any reason for me to begin ranking said priorities.
Q How will you decide what to go for and what to really invest in --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look --
Q -- financial reform or energy or education?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there’s no doubt that -- well, on education I think the President and Secretary Duncan have made amazing strides on reforming our educational system. I think there’s no doubt that financial reform is something the President expects to sign before the end of this year.
Q Thank you, Robert. You talked a little bit earlier about the tone of the debate, but from the members of Congress -- not just from people outside the hall -- there was some very excessive rhetoric. Connie Mack, representative from Florida, Republican, said -- put out a press release, saying literally, “Freedom died today.” If that's sort of the response you got from the other side, first, you know, what do you make of it, and can you work with people like that in other areas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, all the President can do is try. All the President can do is talk to members about what is important going forward, and getting our economy moving again -- is it helping small businesses with tax credits and lending and things like that. I happen to believe there is some overlap and commonality, at least in the rhetoric of what President Obama and some on the Republican side talk about. Whether or not -- again, whether or not they’re willing to put aside Senator McConnell’s plan to oppose everything and seek to be part of a governing solution, we'll just have to see.
Q On a related front, looking back at what happened with the stimulus and the political debate that followed for months afterwards, do you believe the White House has picked up any lessons on how to deal with the definitional debate that will come about after the passage of this bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think, as is the case with the Recovery Plan, I think there’s no doubt, as I said early on in my time here today, that the President will -- there’s no doubt the President will continue to talk about what health care reform is for the American people, what the passage of this law means. And as I said, I think people will also get a chance to see what some people have said the bill means -- they’ll get to see that's not what’s happened. And I think all of that will be beneficial for folks over the next many months.
Q Can I follow that?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on a second.
Q Is the White House ready for the implementation challenge that will come after the President’s signature? There are a number of positions at HHS, for instance, that are still vacant and will have a big role here.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I know that senior staff here this morning in our morning meeting as well as in our meeting with the President discussed beginning in earnest that process and what goes along with it -- undoubtedly a big challenge. But I think many of the same group of people that helped think -- helped get through Congress what many people thought was unattainable will begin the challenge of implementing what will be law on Tuesday.
Q Robert, it was really kind of a circus-like atmosphere in the House chamber at times yesterday. In addition to sort of the Neugebauer-Stupak issue, there were fliers placed on seats. There was one incident in which some -- there was an outburst in the gallery and some members on the Republican side seemed to encourage that outburst. Do you think the GOP leadership in the House is doing enough to rein in its own members and to instill a sense of decorum about the House?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I didn’t -- I was in and out of a lot of things yesterday. I did not see each and every instance. I have said here and I think many have said that we have to be respectful of each other despite the differences that we may have in our opinions and to conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates that respect. I think that goes for anybody in public life on both sides of the aisle as -- even as you’re debating something that has inflamed the passions like health care reform certainly has.
Q Do you think it says something, though, about the party and where they’re at, at the moment, that you’re seeing this kind of behavior?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think instead of being frustrated about a process, there were many avenues with which to become active in the legislative problem-solving part of the process that I think many wish they might have taken up.
Q Do the insurance -- are the insurance companies going to be expected to comply with the measures in the law from the moment the President signs them? In other words, you talked about kids and preexisting conditions -- will people notice that immediately on day one in talking to their insurance companies? Don’t there have to be regulations -- aren’t we really actually talking about many months before that actually goes into effect, or do you expect that they comply in the spirit from day one?
MR. GIBBS: Let me ask -- that’s a good policy question for me to ask Nancy Ann. The legislation on the three things that I discussed phases that in over the course of the remaining part of this year. The spirit of the law is something I’ve not talked to her about, but I’d say it’s a question worth asking.
Q President Clinton, on Saturday night, said that he was making calls to Democratic members of the House at the behest the White House, and then took a call from President Obama about 7:00-7:15 p.m. Can you talk about the role he played and what you asked him to do?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously, President Clinton has relationships with many members of Congress on the Democratic side going back to his time here. And we made use of his offering to do whatever he could to help pass this legislation. He asked for calls. Obviously, Rahm knows who the President -- President Clinton knows well. And we handed him members to reach out to. And I think, in the end, he was successful in helping us get some of those votes.
I will say this, too. Prior to coming out here, I was in a meeting in the Situation Room where Secretary Clinton was, and she was very happy to see what happened yesterday, and when the President came in, walked over and gave him a big hug for what had been accomplished.
3:46 P.M. EDT
April 11, 2014
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