Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 22, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
MR. GIBBS: Let me just make a quick statement on something that the First Lady is going to speak about later this afternoon.
Today the administration is kicking off President Obama's summer service initiative, United We Serve. United We Serve is a call to all Americans to join a volunteer effort this summer and be part of building a new foundation for America one community at a time. United We Serve officially starts today and runs through the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th.
During this summer the President is calling on all Americans to participate in projects that focus on four key areas where everyone can have an impact in their communities: energy and the environment, health care, education, and community renewal. The President and First Lady are calling on all Americans to visit the Corporation for National and Community Services Web site, www.serve.gov, to find service projects in their community.
To mark the kickoff today the First Lady, as well as 19 Cabinet Secretaries and senior administration officials, are fanned out across the country to participate in a wide variety of service projects to mark this occasion.
And with that, Ms. Loven.
Q Two topics, please. On the Medicare prescription drug agreement, is there still -- is there some glitch in that agreement, or still are negotiations going on and would that be why PhRMA wasn't represented there today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would direct you to the finance committee. I think as they say, I think in the story that you wrote, that they're still continuing to work through some of the details on that. But again, today's event was focused on --
Q What do you mean by some of the details? That sounds sort of sketchy.
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to talking to Ken, who you've already talked to, and to the finance committee.
But again, I think -
Q The White House is party to this, so can't you speak about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well -- but the legislation that's being written up on Capitol Hill -- I do think, though -- again, today represented the endorsement of this broad agreement by the largest group representing seniors in this country to make good not simply on helping seniors that fall into that coverage gap after Part D ends and before catastrophic coverage kicks in, but also to make good on several of the ideas that the President has outlined over the past several weeks in order to make health care more efficient.
Q And just quickly, could you be more clear than you have been about whether the President does still occasionally continue smoking?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't probed any deeper than the statements that I've given you all in the past several days, that, as he has told me, it's something that he continues to struggle with as somebody -- like millions of Americans have.
Q Robert, a question again on Iran -- two, actually. First of all, Iran has accused the U.S. and other Western countries of meddling in its responses or with the comments that have come out about the demonstrations. How do you refer to that, or how do you respond to that, because the President and the administration has been very clear that that's exactly what you don't want.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I think the President has been crystal clear, Jeff, and consistent in laying out for the international community the concerns that we had surrounding the election and the universal principles with which we believe people can and should be able to stand up, to speak out, to have freedom of speech, to have the freedom to assemble and demonstrate without fear of harm.
That's been what he's consistently laid out, and I think if you look at the statements over the weekend I think the President continued to watch the situation evolve in Iran and speak out forcefully on behalf of justice and to warn the government against -- continue to warn the government against the use of violence.
Q Okay. And on a separate foreign policy issue, the President referred to North Korea in his interview this weekend. Can you give us an update on that threat and how worried the people in Hawaii need to be about a potential long-range missile?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jeff, I can assure you and anybody listening, anybody in Hawaii, anybody in the United States, that the government is taking every precaution necessary to deal with threats throughout the world or threats that might be coming from the North Koreans. That's -- obviously the President's first task is to keep the American people safe, and I can assure you that steps have been and are being taken to make sure that's the case.
Look, in terms of the North Koreans, I'm not sure that we're a whole lot different than we were in the past few days or past few weeks. The North Koreans continue to make statements, bellicose statements, threatening different actions. Many times what they threaten they eventually do. That further alienates North Korea from the rest of the world. And I think that has helped the world take unified action, strong steps to ensure that we're taking all necessary action to ensure that there isn't the ability for North Korea to export weapons or export material that would lead to proliferation. That's been our focus.
Q And the President said, when he was asked in the interview, that taking contingencies did not mean a military response necessarily. So what -- how else can one understand that? What else could "contingencies" mean?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President -- what the President referred to is taking all necessary steps to deal with whatever threat comes out of North Korea.
Q What does that mean?
MR. GIBBS: What does that mean? I think I'd refer you to what Secretary Gates said last week about moving different systems out into the Pacific in order to ensure the protection of the United States of America.
Q That very language was used when we went into Korea -- I mean, in Vietnam.
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I was speaking more about the sort of the outer edge of the United States.
Q In the face of poll numbers indicating that the American people have increasing concerns about some of the policies of the administration, and Democratic senators, such as Dianne Feinstein, saying that she doesn't think right now the votes are there in the Democratic caucus for a health care reform bill to pass, what does the President plan on doing to firm up more public support and more support among Democrats on Capitol Hill for his health care plan and for other plans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President will continue to speak every day about the issues that he believes are fundamental to us laying a foundation for continued economic growth. Obviously throughout the week, the President is going to talk about the importance of cutting costs for families and small businesses as it relates to health care reform.
I think we've seen progress over the past many weeks on getting comprehensive energy legislation -- take steps to get that through Congress to deal with lessening our dependence on foreign oil; ensuring that we're taking steps to change the way education is delivered; and obviously to take steps to improve our economy through both the Recovery Act, through financial regulation. I think all four of those things is what encompasses the President's time and I think you'll see events throughout the week here at the White House on many of those topics.
Q Does the President feel, does the White House feel that there needs to be more of a public campaign made that the American people need to --
MR. GIBBS: Juxtaposing this with the people saying we're overexposed? (Laughter.)
Q I never said that. (Laughter.) Does there need to be more of a campaign outside the White House? He brought back some campaign rhetoric today, I think, escaping the notice of nobody in this room, for the first time. Does he feel like he needs to go out there and storm the country?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think we need to storm the country. I think the President will continue to use the opportunities that he has at the White House and on the road to talk about what he thinks will make America safer and stronger, ensuring that we get health care reform. And I think if you step back and look at some of the significance of today's events -- you've got the pharmaceutical industry and the largest group representing seniors in this country, who 16 years ago weren't at the table but were on the other side of the political debate. I think that represents progress and important steps towards real reform. I would say the same -- we've made progress on comprehensive energy legislation. And I think slowly but surely we're working to turn this economy around.
Q And one last thing. Has the President had a personal reaction to the images of violence that have come out of Iran this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he has -- I think throughout the course of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I think he has been moved by what we've seen on television. I think particularly so by images of women in Iran who have stood up for their right to demonstrate, to speak out, and to be heard.
Q Has he seen the image of the young woman who's called Neda who was about to be killed by
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he's seen that particular image. I know he's obviously watched some coverage of the events this week and has been struck by the passion.
Q Robert, just to follow up on Jennifer's question on smoking, why haven't you probed the President on his smoking habits?
MR. GIBBS: Just hasn't crossed my mind.
Q I mean, it just seems to me like today it would have been a good explanation point at the end to say, you know, I had this habit and I kicked the habit --
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan --
Q -- if in fact that's what he's done.
MR. GIBBS: I think that anybody that -- I'm not a smoker, I don't -- it's probably just one vice I don't have. I think the President has on any number of occasions discussed the struggle that -- the vice of smoking, what's that done to him and that he struggles with it every day. I don't honestly see the need to get a whole lot more specific than the fact that it's a continuing struggle.
Q On Iran, last week the White House was trying to send a message that there's no pressure at all from what's going on, on Capitol Hill -- no external pressure to respond in a more forceful way. But I noticed that statement over the weekend seemed to be a little tougher than the usual language from the White House. Can you say that the White House feels no pressure at all to change its current policy in terms of how it's responding?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Can I ask you, is he correct, though -- there is a perception out there that the President has ratcheted up -- you said earlier that his statements have been crystal clear and consistent, but there's a perception out there, I believe, among a lot of the pundits and others that -- I know, pundits, whoever -- that there's a perception out there that he has gradually ratcheted --
MR. GIBBS: Far be it for me to conduct our foreign policy based on pundits that we see on television --
Q And members of Congress.
MR. GIBBS: -- where's that gotten us? (Laughter.)
Q Wait, we're asking the questions here. (Laughter.) But that's the perception --
MR. GIBBS: I think I'm answering them fairly well today. (Laughter.)
Q Glad you're so confident.
MR. GIBBS: Sure, why not. I'm a pundit. I'm doing great.
No, but let me tell you, Chip --
Q But there's a perception out there -- (laughter.)
Q Well, let him finish the question.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I knew the answer almost before you asked it. (Laughter.) Like I said, I'm a pundit, I'm grading myself pretty well today.
Chip, this isn't about -- I think you've heard the President say this isn't about a foreign policy that makes us feel good; this isn't about statements that might make us feel good or sound good on television. This is --
Q But I'm not asking that. I'm asking has he ratcheted up --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand, but this is --
Q -- has he increased the pressure a little bit with his statement?
MR. GIBBS: I think obviously you've seen events -- I think anybody would say events on the ground have changed over the course of the last week. The President last Monday warned against the potential for violence -- and we've seen that escalate throughout the week.
But, again, Chip, this is about ensuring -- as the President said, that he is speaking out for universal principles. He said that last week. But, Chip, there are many in Iran that would love us to be the story, as the President said and as I have said. They would love to take this debate that's happening within Iran, by Iranians, about the direction of their leadership and the direction of their country -- and instead take that out and put us in. The President has said he recognizes that, he understands that's not helpful and, I think quite honestly, Chip, many of the experts that -- many people in this room, their organizations have talked to, many Republicans have denoted that -- or have noted that the President has struck the right response here. That's what's important.
Q And just one other thing, if I could follow up on Jennifer's question. You said she should call Ken Johnson, which of course she did and she did an excellent job of it -- here's a quote from it --
MR. GIBBS: Now who's grading who? (Laughter.)
Q Here's what Mr. Johnson said --
MR. GIBBS: She's going to let you do the first question more often. (Laughter.)
Q -- "There are a lot of discussions going on right now, there are a lot of moving pieces, there are a lot of elements to it that have not been finalized." Why would they even do this if a lot of elements to this agreement have not been finalized? Was it a slow day and they needed to fill a hole? I mean, don't you usually wait until you've got an agreement?
MR. GIBBS: I guess if Jennifer didn't get the answer to that -- that question seems directed toward them, and I'd encourage you to let them know.
Q But you know the answer to it, don't you?
MR. GIBBS: I know that they're continuing to work on aspects of the agreement, an agreement they felt comfortable enough to talk about and an agreement that the largest seniors' group felt comfortable enough endorsing
Q The President has used the word "justice" -- it's been noted quite a bit -- when talking about Iran. When -- right now the administration doesn't feel like the protestors are receiving justice. Is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Are the protestors -- so he has used the word "justice," and it's a -- apparently it's a -- in this case words matter, it's a specific choice of words that you --
MR. GIBBS: Not just words.
Q Not just words, apparently. If you could say -- so the President -- does the President believe justice has not been served yet in Iran, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think if you watch the images that are on television screens and are written about and the principles that the President laid out, I think that's clear that justice has not been achieved, absolutely.
Q And if justice is not achieved, does the administration believe that this regime needs to be held accountable in some way?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think this is precisely the argument that I'm making. I think they're being held accountable. In many ways you're seeing that accountability on the street each and every day in Tehran.
Q But what about the relationship with the rest of the world?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you asked anybody, including this government, you would say -- they would agree that Iran -- their image has suffered greatly in the images that we see on television. I don't think that that's anything that would ultimately come as a surprise to anyone.
Q But what is this going to mean down the road? Is this about sanctions? Is this about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think --
Q -- the ability to sit down and be treated as somebody worth negotiating with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we've -- obviously, again, the President has talked about the principles and obviously those principles are being violated. I think that -- it's hard for me to get into what's going to go down the road based on what ultimately happens here. Obviously, as I've noted, our long-term security interests as it relates to the support of terrorism and their pursuit of a nuclear weapon haven't changed. But our focus right now is not on that.
Q Another topic. The Supreme Court made a ruling on the Voting Rights Act. Does the President have a comment about the fact that the Court expressed serious concerns about the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into -- I have not gotten a specific reaction from the President or from Counsel on their interpretation of the ruling yet.
Q Okay, when will you have that?
MR. GIBBS: When they have to chance to interpret that ruling.
Q Is there a particular issue or issues that helped the President decide to have a press conference tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: The yearning to speak with you all on a intimate basis on a -- (laughter) --
Q Give us a hint of what his opening message will be?
MR. GIBBS: And in many of your cases, to boost sunscreen sales. (Laughter.)
I think the President will use the occasion, again, to discuss the progress that he believes the country needs to make on laying that foundation for long-term growth. I think you'll hear him talk about the cost, the skyrocketing cost of health care; use examples of why it's important, as you've seen him do on events on the road; I think the President will talk about progress that we've made and is being made on energy independence, legislation going through Congress; and I anticipate he'll also have comments on what we're seeing in Iran.
Q And one more thing. Yesterday on CNN, Dianne Feinstein suggested that an expansion of Medicaid that is in basically all the health care bills on Capitol Hill would break her state and that she doubted that the President had the votes right now. I wonder, is there any give to be had on the idea of covering some or a large proportion of the 44 million uninsured by expanding Medicaid?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, I think as it relates to California, one thing to bear in mind is that the Recovery Act has provided over $3 billion in increased Medicaid payments to -- just to the state of California as they have struggled with their budget. But I don't -- it's not up to me to sort of negotiate one way or the other on that aspect of the bill right here.
Q Robert, is it the President's belief that the results of the election in Iran are fraudulent?
MR. GIBBS: I think he continues, as the administration does, to have concerns and questions, as many in the international community do, about how that election was conducted.
Q Does the administration want a do-over of the election?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Mark, this is something -- as the President said, we did not have on the ground international observers. This is something that is playing out right now in the streets of Iran.
Q And on tobacco, he said there's more to be done on the issue. What does he have in mind?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think continuing -- I mean, obviously we have -- obviously, each and every day -- look, I -- let me start this way. I think, obviously, this is landmark legislation that is more than a decade in the making that takes some serious action on marketing, on trying to keep thousands and thousands of children every day from starting a habit that will greatly impact their health on the out-years. And I think obviously continuing to make progress -- obviously, the pitch for prevention and wellness are a big part of health care reform, because many of those long-term costs the government and taxpayers end up paying on the back end. Obviously, there is more progress on those issues to be made.
Q But he does not advocate a ban?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q With the Medicare agreement, can you spell out exactly how much of that $80 billion is going to go toward the "doughnut hole" versus how much is going to go to --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have those figures. I can see if we have any more information on that.
Q And this week with the President's press conference tomorrow, with a health care event Wednesday night, is the President trying to get more control of the debate?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think obviously this is a big priority for the President, and I think it's something that he'll continue to work and talk about in laying this -- as I've said repeatedly today, laying the foundation for long-term economic growth. Obviously, the President believes these are extremely important issues. And the opportunity to talk to you all and talk to the American people about them is important.
Q After the setbacks last week, is he trying to --
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean -- I think the town hall meeting you all knew about last week, and, in all honesty, the press conference has been our block schedule for several weeks.
Q Robert, what was unjust about the Iranian regime's actions that the President felt it necessary to note on Saturday? What specifically led him to use -- what is unjust about what has been happening?
MR. GIBBS: I think you have seen obviously over the course of many days and you saw this on -- you've seen violence ratchet up appreciably and you've also seen I think pretty red-line statements Friday, Saturday, even some today, about what actions would be taken against those that the President believes are fulfilling their universal principles.
Q So it was the increasing violence and the threat of more that was viewed -- so it's not just an order of magnitude that led the White House to say "unjust"?
MR. GIBBS: An order of magnitude?
Q Of the violence. Because obviously there have been those who have died in the streets before the President on Saturday used the word "unjust."
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I mean, and -- which is why the President, again, a week ago -- a week ago, remember, we were a day or so away from, maybe two days away from the election, the President was asked and responded to images on television that warned against increased violence. Obviously we saw that ratchet up throughout the course of the last several days.
Q Last week when I asked you -- I think it was maybe Tuesday or Wednesday -- if this administration was still open to negotiation with the ruling regime in Iran, you said, yes. Today, a moment ago when a very similar question was asked, you said, well, it's hard to say what's going to happen. Are you less certain about whether it is fruitful for this administration to consider negotiating with the regime now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not less certain about whether it's fruitful because I understand the fruit that was not borne or beared as a result of not engaging the Islamic Republic of Iran, right? We've gone from zero spinning centrifuges to several thousand. I think --
Q That was true a week ago. What I'm saying is, has what's happened and the injustice that this administration has taken note of changed its attitude about whether it would be worthwhile to pursue negotiations with a regime that is now, in its opinion and in the opinion of others in the world, less just than it was a week ago?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, as I've said and I said earlier today, our interest as it relates to our grave concern about the help that's provided to terrorists, the grave concern that we have about the pursuit of a nuclear weapon remain unchanged. I think -- I would point you to what Senator Lugar said yesterday in discussing the fact that -- the desirability of still continuing those discussions.
Q How much will the government save with this arrangement that was announced here at the White House today?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have that figure with me.
Q Zero is the figure, actually. So I'm curious why --
MR. GIBBS: I actually don't think that's the case.
Q No, that is the case, because in the "doughnut hole" there's no coverage, and so that's a benefit for the seniors.
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- but, again, let me --
Q At least that's how it's been explained to me.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I think as I said -- you've noted what I said earlier on different subjects -- as I said earlier, some portion of this is going to go to the pharmaceutical industry making good on the savings proposals that the President has outlined to make health care more efficient, which will impact the amount that the government pays. The President I think outlined almost $100 billion in savings through efficiency that he would like to see as a result of the pharmaceutical industry. So I guess it's somewhere between zero and, say, a hundred billion dollars.
Q But that's not a direct government cost, though. That may be an efficiency within a private sector, but it's not a government cost.
MR. GIBBS: No, no. The President can't lay on the table savings to pay for health care that the government doesn't pay. That's the whole definition of CBO scorability that makes our proposal --
Q We had a $2 trillion event here at the White House which isn't CBO scorable --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, but this isn't part of $2 trillion; this is part of the $948 billion that the President laid on the table as part of a down payment on health care reform. So this is -- the fact that this is zero money for the government is simply just not true.
Q You don't know how much, though?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an exact number with me.
Q On Iran specifically, is he looking at -- is the President looking at any videos, or is he going online himself to find out what's going on? Or how specifically is he following this outside of his meetings with advisors that we were briefed on over the weekend? I mean, how is he following the developments there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if he's looking on different Web sites or external information via the Internet that he is getting. Obviously, as you mentioned, he met with advisors both Saturday and Sunday on the topic of Iran. But I don't know what external information via the Internet or what sites he's on, on that. I don't know.
Q If I could ask one more thing on smoking. During the campaign, the President -- then-senator at the time -- and Mrs. Obama went on "60 Minutes" and used his smoking as part of his biography, as part of his sort of campaign narrative, if you will. He has used his biography in many ways. Why not use this as an opportunity, if he has or if he hasn't quit smoking, to discuss this with the American people or even offer a warning to young children about smoking?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think he was fairly forward today in discussing the fact that this is, as I've said throughout the last couple of weeks, something that he continues to struggle with.
Q No, he used about eight words in his speech, though, as opposed to saying something that --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the appropriate word count would have been in order to check the box. And, again, I think the President spoke about this in personal terms, regardless of the word count.
Q Is it something that still aggravates him, when he's asked about this?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe I should give you that opportunity to ask tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q I did ask him, and he turned away -- walked away.
MR. GIBBS: Well, go figure.
Q Thank you. The New York Times' poll says that support for single-payer goes through the roof, and why has the President totally ignored it then? Eighty percent.
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen that number. I think the President has discussed ensuring that there is a public option to increased choice and competition in health care as we seek to reduce costs for families and small businesses.
Q But he doesn't go for single-payer?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Thanks. The President said today that "as part of the health care reform I expect Congress to enact this year" -- and then talked about the agreement that he was hailing today --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that --
Q In discussing the $80 billion agreement that he was praising today, he talked about it in a context of the broader Medicare -- the broader health care reform he's thinking of passing. Is this in any way hooked to the passage of X, Y, Z, or does -- will this agreement stand alone even if everything else blows up?
MR. GIBBS: I think PhRMA is better to answer that, but obviously to get broad-based savings in health care we're going to need comprehensive health care reform.
Q Well, do you have any more guidance on Wednesday for us in terms of --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q The town hall, the health care thing, the Wednesday thing.
MR. GIBBS: Guidance in terms of?
Q How it will work. Other than ABC, is it just going to be pooled or --
MR. GIBBS: I think, without having worked this out totally, my sense is that we'll have a print pooler or two embargoed until the program airs. I think the video will come via ABC.
Q I'd just like to follow up on cigarettes. When you say he still struggles, does that mean he still smokes sometimes? Is that what that means?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to parse the President's words on this today.
Q So those were not how he describes it?
MR. GIBBS: How did he say it today?
Q He said, in the past, he had been one of the teenagers who had been -- or the current -- I just wanted to understand the --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I said last week -- I'd have to go back and look at my exact statement -- but I got from him that obviously this is a struggle that he continues to have.
Q Robert, on the issue of the DOMA brief, one of your colleagues over the weekend, Lisa Brown, said that she didn't think some of the language that was in that brief should have been in there. Can you clarify from last week whether that brief was clear here at the White House, whether it represents the White House's view?
MR. GIBBS: Lisa is the Staff Secretary. You didn't ask her?
Q It wasn't a press conference; it was a panel discussion. But can you clarify whether it was cleared --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that.
Q And do you know if there is any discussion underway about maybe modifying it or changing it?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q What do you see as a realistic timetable for getting immigration reform through Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as I talked about last week, the President is going to have a meeting at the White House on Thursday with those that have supported and opposed in the past what the President believes is comprehensive immigration reform. I think this is -- I think as I described it last week -- part of the ongoing and continued conversation, understanding that we've still got progress to make in order to get something like this through the House and the Senate.
I think the President hopes that later this year we can have and begin formal debate on that. And I think he hopes that it will happen soon, but doesn't have a crystal ball as to when that might happen.
Q With everything else that's going on you can see it slipping into next year?
MR. GIBBS: I can see the President's desire for it to happen, but understanding that the current --currently where we sit, the math makes that more difficult than the discussion.
Q Robert, there's a report by ESPN that's getting widespread pickup. This is a year out, but I have to ask the question nonetheless -- the President's plan on going to South Africa for the opening of the World Cup. Is this travel in the planning?
MR. GIBBS: Well, though you wouldn't know it from my physique, as a former college soccer player, I asked the scheduling office about this, as well. (Laughter.) What's so funny?
Q What position? Midfield?
MR. GIBBS: Goalkeeper. Go figure, right. (Laughter.)
Q Now it makes sense. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Sort of look, and I see it all -- I asked specifically that, as well, in order to get my seat early. I'm told from scheduling that the President has accepted a meeting with the head of FIFA World Cup, but we have not yet altogether made plans -- though I can assure you that a small group of us have assembled in order to move the President in that direction.
Q Tickets --
MR. GIBBS: Exactly. I've got four right up close.
Sorry, go ahead.
Q Back on health care. Yesterday former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said he was worried that the Obama White House had over-learned the lessons of the Clinton years -- deferring too much to Congress when it came to crafting legislation. What is your response to that critique, which I should add George Stephanopoulos seemed to agree with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to weigh into network politics on this. And I quite honestly don't want to -- don't think there's a whole lot of utility in me getting involved in a debate about tactically whether the pursuit of what we're doing versus how or when it was pursued 16 years ago is appropriate, except to say, as I said earlier, the President envisioned, as he said throughout the campaign, a big table of negotiations in order to get long-term, comprehensive health care reform that cuts costs.
Q Was their reform too messy?
MR. GIBBS: I don't see, based on the notion that the pharmaceutical industry who, again, was on the other side of the political debate, not even at the table 16 years ago -- I think if where AARP was 16 years ago -- I think regardless of what we have or haven't learned, I think the process that the President is moving forward with negotiations with all those stakeholders involved is making progress toward long term reform. I think that's what's important.
But, Sam, as I said, there's been a point throughout each of the five months where the pundits, as Chip talked about, like to talk about how everything is amiss, off the rails, and dead on arrival.
Q But these are people involved in the Clinton effort -- not just pundits.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, but not necessarily working each and every day on what we're doing to move that reform forward. Again, I don't want to get into a debate with Secretary Rice, but, again, I don't -- I think the announcement today of AARP thinking this is a step toward meaningful reform and supporting that is in itself different than what we had 16 years ago.
Q Yesterday Senator Feinstein said that she -- or indicated she wasn't satisfied with the intelligence on Iran. Has the President been getting good intelligence? Is he satisfied with the intelligence output on Iran? And is he learning things from the intelligence that are --
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to comment on the intelligence process or the specific intelligence that the President is getting.
Q Not even whether he's satisfied with what he's getting?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q And then, just let me follow up on the Friday question. I asked you if he was consulting with anybody outside the government.
MR. GIBBS: I will check on that today. I meant to do that on Friday and I apologize.
Q Robert, back on Iran. What is --
MR. GIBBS: Back on what? I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, okay, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.
Q What is the best-case scenario after watching the activities this week for the levels of engagement that you had hoped for prior to the elections? What's the best case scenario?
MR. GIBBS: In terms of whether they happen, the outcome, what --
Q Right -- to keep the levels of engagement the way you had anticipated prior to this election, what's the best-case scenario for this administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, obviously there are events that are happening, as we've discussed, on the ground right now that are the focus of the administration's effort. But again, our long-term interests and our long-term goals haven't changed. Whether or not -- whether or not the Iranians will accept all of their responsibilities is something that can only be measured when that starts to happen.
Q Well, we understand it's about levels of engagement after what happens this week. And my question is, again, I understand this administration wanted to have open lines with top officials, but what is the best-case scenario to keep that happening?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just say this. The P5-plus-1 has a request in to speak directly with the Iranians, and that's not a request that's changed or been withdrawn.
Q And what about the situation on the meeting for Afghanistan later this month?
MR. GIBBS: Is this the regional Afghanistan meeting?
Q I believe so.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I thought that had taken place, but I will --
Q I understand they didn't name who they wanted to come as of yet.
MR. GIBBS: We can check on that. I don't know.
Q Robert, beyond the explanation about not wanting to appear to be meddling, it's been suggested that the United States actually has the power -- very quietly, without giving that appearance -- to transmit via satellite a broadband access into Iran and help people continue to communicate. Any talks about anything like that going on that you're --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. But I want to make sure that I'm understanding --
Q There was a column in the Post over the weekend, I think David Ignatius talked about how the United States has the technical ability to transmit via satellite broadband capability into Iran to help Iranians on the ground communicate with each other.
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back and check on a technical measure whether that's -- what that means. This is a little out of my technical --
Q You've never heard of that discussion or issue then?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, but I'll go and see if there's others that have -- that are in more of the day-to-day meetings that might have a greater sense of the technical capabilities of that.
Q It may seem like a long way off at this moment, but in two weeks the President will be going to Russia, Italy, and to Ghana.
MR. GIBBS: Wednesday seems like a long way off. (Laughter.)
Q I know. I bet. What message does the President hope to deliver to the people of Africa, the African nations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we obviously have reminders, even as we speak, of the importance of free and fair elections; the importance of determining your leaders. And I think obviously Ghana is a shining example on the continent for that. And obviously there are a number of investments that our government has made in the continent, both in the previous administration -- I think the President has rightly given a lot of credit for the PEPFAR initiative to President Bush, whether it's the communicable diseases of malaria or diseases like HIV/AIDS that the -- that each administration has given great commitments to. I think obviously that, and I think just the overall development message I think will be important for this administration to continue to pursue, and I think you'll see that.
Q As you know, job losses are outstripping the jobs being created by the stimulus, and we expect to see unemployment at 10 percent or higher in 2010. But --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- let me be clear. I think the President has said this, and I would certainly say this -- I think you're likely to see unemployment at 10 percent within the next couple of months.
Q Okay, but when you talk about growing the economy, your answer seems to be health care reform, which --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think that -- go ahead, finish your question before I --
Q -- which is going to take a long time to complete. Absent health care reform, do you have a plan B or a second stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me sort of separate the two questions, because I think what I've talked about in terms of laying the long-term foundation for economic growth -- obviously, it includes health care reform. I think decisions that small businesses are making and large businesses are making each day about the premiums and their ability to pay for or not pay for their employees' health care is a very short-term problem, as well as something the President wants to seek a long-term answer to.
But the President, whether it's renewed commitment to education, whether it's clean energy jobs that will put people to work in high-wage jobs, help our dependence on foreign oil; make our country safer; make our environment cleaner; obviously, again, the commitment to education and ensuring a work force that's ready and able to take on the jobs of the future; innovation; a renewed focus on things like data and manufacturing. There are I think any number of things that the administration is working on.
I do think -- there were stories about this today -- you are going to see the jobless rate increase for a while. I think the President has said that; I've said that on a number of occasions. I think the figure that was in the paper today, which is accurate, is you have to create about 125,000 to 150,000 jobs a month simply to see the number, whatever level it's at, remain the same.
We've seen some positive changes in some of the inflections in the amount of joblessness each month. But, again, that's a long way to go to both creating jobs on the positive side and then creating jobs on the positive side enough to either keep the rate steady or bring that rate down. Obviously this is going to take quite some time. And it's a big focus of this administration and for this President.
Q On unemployment?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Thank you. In California, unemployment now has reached to 11.5. It's the highest jobless rate since World War II. This is the high-held -- the national average -- higher than the national average of 9.4 percent -- more than the states of Michigan at 14 percent, Oregon at 12.4 percent, and Rhode Island at 12.1 percent.
Now, I heard what you just said, and the question he just asked is related to this. But what else can the President do for the people now that the stimulus package and all of the things that you just said that you're doing, what else can be done for the people who have lost their jobs right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not -- I appreciate that you've accepted my answer on the Recovery Act, but let's not paper over what's involved in the Recovery Act that addresses the needs of states and localities. Again, California, as I said earlier, has gotten over $3 billion in increased Medicaid funds; nearly $4 billion in additional education funds. Many of the states that you mentioned have also gotten money. We've extended unemployment insurance. We have extended health care for those that are losing their jobs.
There's no doubt -- I think there's 14 or 15 of the states, some of which you mentioned, that exceed the 9.4 percent national average after BLS introduced their state-by-state statistics on Friday -- there's no doubt that many states are hurting budgetarily; many have seen industries close up shop. And that's exactly what the President believed and why the President believed we needed a strong recovery and reinvestment plan to begin to change the curve in many of those states.
Obviously we've discussed -- Michigan I think leads the country in unemployment. Obviously their situation in some ways is a little bit more unique based on the dependence on auto manufacturing, on auto parts supply, that the President has taken steps to address. But there's no doubt that the recovery plan is making important investments in both state budgets and in individual aspects of recovery, whether it's trying to use tax incentives to create clean energy jobs or create jobs through increased and quicker investment in transportation projects that have a two-fold effect: One, you're putting people back to work immediately; and two -- and I think Governor Schwarzenegger has talked about this fairly extensively -- and that is the infrastructure needs that his state has in the near term in order to lay that foundation for long-term economic growth.
The recovery plan is, in its investment in infrastructure funding, doing both of those things. Obviously the President understands that we've got a long way to go to turning this economy around and that's what his focus is.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.