The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Gaggle by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One en route Andrews AFB, 1/17/10

6:40 P.M. EST

Q    Did the President accomplish today what he hoped to?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.  Look, I think you've got, by all accounts, a very close race.  The President was happy to lend his voice in a race that he thinks is going to be about, as you heard him say, whose side are you on.  I think he delivered that message today.

Q    Robert, tell us a little about the thinking in the White House, about contingency plans about how to get health care done, if you should lose this race.  Folks have said they're really working on that.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chuck, the plan to get health care passed is to continue to do what we're doing in ironing out the differences between the House and Senate.  I said this on Friday when I was asked, and I'll say it on Sunday on the ride home -- we think Martha Coakley is going to win this race.    

Q    The President didn't stress health care in his remarks today.  He seemed to be talking more about the bank tax.  Is that a strategic decision?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, look, I think he set up -- and all the speakers set up -- whether you're going to be on the side of a bank, whether you're going to be on the side of the insurance industry, whether you're going to be on the side of big oil companies, or whether you're going to be on the side of, in this case, the people of Massachusetts.   So, look, I think it was -- that was the theme of what this race has been, I think what the President will talk a lot about for the next year.

Q    Can I ask you a contingency plan question?  (Laughter.)  Can you talk about --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, first of all, let's turn this around where the mic is -- (laughter) -- and then -- so I can tell you that we think Martha Coakley is going to win the race.

Q    Can you talk about this AP story that says that one of the contingency plans would be having House Democrats vote for the Senate bill?

MR. GIBBS:  We should have a private conversation about what I think of the AP.  (Laughter.)  Guys, we're focused on two things:  ironing out the differences in the bills, which you know the President has spent a lot of time working on over the past few days; and we think Martha Coakley is going to win this race.

Q    Has he been working on ironing out since the Friday meeting -- has there been more --

MR. GIBBS:  There haven't been more joint meetings, and there weren't any scheduled today.

Q    What about this coming week?  Has the President planned any more meetings?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not seen the schedule, but my sense is -- I know staff is continuing to work out differences, and I have not seen the schedule in terms of what is upcoming this week, but I assume there will be.

Q    How close do you sense they are?  Maybe one more week would do it?  Or do you have any feelings --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think so.  I don't think there's much -- I mean, look, I think they spent -- just on those two days alone they spent many hours working through a lot of the differences that remain, and I don't think they're that far from finishing that task.

Q    Can I just ask you to clarify -- you said you do expect in the coming week that there will be some further directive by the President?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen the schedule, but I assume that if it's not finished by staff, then they would get together.

Q    Is there actually a deadline that you are setting at this stage to get this done in coming days?

MR. GIBBS:  Just as soon as -- I mean, look, I think we're all hopeful to get this done as soon as we can.

Q    In addition to the volunteer project tomorrow, what's on tap for the President --

MR. GIBBS:  The volunteer thing is the big thing.  He's going to go -- I think it's the Kennedy Center for the concert.  And then there will be a short ceremony in the Oval Office, and we'll give -- send out some information on that, relating to Martin Luther King Day, a little bit later.

Q    Will be there anything else -- on election day in Massachusetts -- additional robo calls or anything else on get out the vote?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.  Obviously he recorded a robo call earlier last week.  The Vice President has -- I don't know of any additional stuff that he'll do between now and election night.

Q    Senator Bayh said that Obama is wasting precious political capital with health care.  What would you say to his -- he said that in the New York Times today.

MR. GIBBS:  I thank Senator Bayh for his support on health care.  I don't -- look, as we've said many times, the President came in and had to deal with issues that were on his plate.  The issues that we've -- some of the issues that we've had to deal with are fiscal issues, the fact that health care is costing too much for companies and for small businesses.   The best way to address our fiscal issues in the short term was through changing the cost curve of what the federal government and what state and local governments are paying for health care, and to ensure that people had accessible coverage that businesses can afford.  I don't -- I certainly know the President doesn't believe that the time we've spent dealing on health care has been a waste of anybody's time.

Q    Robert, do you have a sense of how much time the President might start spending in the next month, two months, before November -- you know, helping raise money, campaigning, that sort of thing?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have a -- I have not seen a longer-term schedule on political travel.  But, Chuck, I presume he'll spend a decent amount of time, as he has, raising money for the party committees and in campaigning for individual candidates.

Look, I say this, I think if -- look at what the President said today.  I think that's a lot of what 2010 is going to be about, to be honest with you.  I think it's going -- you know, people are going to have to decide whether the people they have in Washington are on the side of protecting the big banks, whether they're on the side of protecting the big oil companies, whether they're on the side of protecting insurance companies, or whether they're on the people's side.  I think what he laid out today is what you'll hear him talk a lot about.

Q    Is he frustrated that health care has become such a divisive issue, that what he said is so great in the bill is not translating to people, and it's really -- is Massachusetts kind of the issue --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'd keep in mind one thing.  Massachusetts went through this exercise, and because of it has health care, right?  So, I mean, I do think that's one backdrop when you come to Massachusetts.  I mean, it's the state that has understood the importance of ensuring health care for the people who live here. 

But, look, do I think an outsized number of issues that have exceedingly little to do with the real scope of the bill have taken up most of people's times and imagination?  Undoubtedly.  Undoubtedly.  That's not to say that it wasn't time -- it was -- overall the issue of health care wasn't well spent.

And look, once the bill passes, the President will spend a lot of time talking about what's in that bill.  The minute he signs that bill into law, a child with a preexisting condition will be able to get health insurance for the first time in that child's life.  That's a big deal for that person.  That's a big deal for that family.

Q    Well, the President, in his speech, really didn't focus too much on health care.  He focused on other issues -- banking fees, Wall Street's greed, that sort of thing.  Was there a purposeful reason behind that, in that he's mindful of this is a divisive issue and there's a -- polls are showing it's not a very popular thing right now for many in Massachusetts?

MR. GIBBS:  We addressed this a little while ago, but, no, this is -- I think if you look at what he said and what other speakers said, there was a hefty element of whether you're on the side of insurance companies or whether you're on the side of the people.  So I think he addressed it.

This election -- the election on Tuesday is more than about health care, right?  That's not the only issue that people are concerned about.  They're concerned about jobs.  They're concerned about whether we're free of foreign oil  -- or free of our dependence on foreign oil.  They're concerned about the banks and our financial system.  So there's a whole lot of issues on their plate.

Q    Sounds like a more populist theme than you ran on last year -- or two years ago.

MR. GIBBS:  No, go back and read what -- I mean, go back and read what the President said at the Iowa J-J dinner.  I think it was very much the theme of putting Washington back on the side of average, everyday, working Americans, because I think for -- I think throughout 2007 and 2008, leading up to that election, there was a pervasive feeling on the side of people in this country that Washington wasn't on their side. 

I actually think that goes back much further than the election year.  There are people in this country that were struggling with jobs and the economy long before there was a financial crisis on Wall Street.  And they wanted to know if Washington was going to help them, or continue to work to help the special interests.  So I think he spent a lot of time talking about it then, and he'll spend a lot of time talking about it now.

Yes, sir.

Q    One of the themes that he had during the campaign was sort of we're all in this together.  And there were other Democratic candidates who of course, ran -- it was an "us versus them," or a "Wall Street versus Main Street."  Is he adopting a little bit more of a "two America"* strategy? 

MR. GIBBS:  I think that, look, there's no doubt that we all are in this together, that we're -- I don't think the President believes that -- as he would say, you rise or fall -- you rise or fall together.  We don't -- go back to "red America, blue America," as he said in Boston in 2004.  I think what angered people, though, was this pervasive sense that Washington either didn't hear what was going on in the country, or didn't care.  And I think that's what drove people to look at a guy like Barack Obama and make him President of the United States.

All right?  All right, I'll let you get back to that buffalo dip.  (Laughter.)  

END
6:52 P.M. EST

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