THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 30, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:59 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Pink day in the front row. Nice.
Q Where's your pink dress
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, I should have -- certainly did not get the memo, and I wouldn't want to -- snappy tie, that is -- somebody get a picture of that, just for --
Q Someone already did.
MR. GIBBS: I can only imagine. Take us away.
Q So, polls. Two of them, one on health care, showing 46 percent disapproving of the President's handling of health care, and then on the Gates issue, with 41 percent disapproving -- different poll, but 41 percent disapproving of how the President is handling -- handled that incident. Is this something that --
MR. GIBBS: Forty, I'm sorry --
Q Forty-one disapproving of how the President has handled the Gates incident. Is this something that you are all worried about? They're coming at the same time. The Gates incident is pulling away from attention on health care; even the President has said that. How are you -- how are you going to get past this?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he -- well, I think he said that last week. I don't -- I haven't noticed that --
Q Actually he said -- I believe it was yesterday, didn't he? That people aren't talking about health care as much?
MR. GIBBS: I don't remember that.
Q Maybe I'm wrong.
MR. GIBBS: I know he said that last Friday. I don't think the President believes that that incident has posed a distraction; here we are next Thursday.
Q Well, it's pulling down his approval rating, particularly among working --
MR. GIBBS: The Gates situation?
Q Yes, among working-class --
MR. GIBBS: I think that's a lot to extrapolate into one --
Q I'm just telling you what the poll has said, so I'm wondering if you're worried about it and what you guys can do about it.
MR. GIBBS: I neither believe the premise nor am I worried about it.
Q Robert, two questions. First, in an interview that was released with the President in "Business Week," he said, "We now have even more potential for moral hazard where financial institutions think to themselves, we can continue to take extraordinary risks because we know that we are too big to fail." Does the President believe that big financial institutions are still taking extraordinary risks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is rightly concerned, as millions of Americans are, that the hard work of many people and the hard-earned tax money that was used to ensure that we didn't have catastrophic bank failures last fall and this winter and spring should not, now that we are seeing different earnings reports denote profits, that the President believes that we should not return to what some in that industry might think were the good old days.
I think that's one of the reasons the President has forwarded to Congress a very detailed and robust plan for financial reregulation to ensure that many of the things that caused the economic downturn as it related to financial institutions aren't repeated, and that we take those steps now in order to prevent that from happening.
Q But do banking profits mean that banks are taking extraordinary risks?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President -- not necessarily, but I think the President -- the President continues to want to ensure that the decisions that companies are making is done based not on short-term -- not with simply short-term profit-taking in mind but sound long-term investment, which I think will get America back on a path toward growth.
Q And just briefly, can you give us a flavor for what you expect the meeting with President Arroyo today to accomplish?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously this is a historic relationship. The Philippines have been a friend to the United States. They'll discuss a number of issues. We'll have a readout -- or you'll obviously get a chance to go in there and they'll have a statement to say about what they did discuss.
You know, I think that -- one of the things that Secretary Clinton came back just recently from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I think it demonstrates that not only is the administration focused on the bigger foreign policy issues that we all discuss in here each and every day -- nuclear proliferation, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, things like that -- but also on cementing and firming up the relationships that we've had with traditional partners like the Philippines.
Q Two questions, Robert, first one having to do with the Gates-Crowley meeting today. If we're not going to be able to listen to the conversation and the three men are not going to talk to the press afterwards --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know -- the decision by Sergeant Crowley or Professor Gates to talk to the press is entirely up to them.
Q Okay, but you're not going to orchestrate it here at the White House is all I meant.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I've not talked to them or their representatives. If they want to go to the stakeout they're certainly welcome to do that.
Q Okay. But I guess the question, as the President said -- the President said he wants this to be a teachable moment. How do you envision this being a teachable moment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- I think many people would have hardly imagined something like this happening this time last week. I think having them get together to talk -- the President talked to both of these men last week. They're decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you're not able to hear each and every word of it. I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of -- every level of our society if we're going to make progress on issues that have -- we've been dealing with for quite some time.
Q I guess I could just request I'm sure on everybody's behalf that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.
MR. GIBBS: I will try to get that -- like I said, I won't be there, but I will endeavor to see what I can get.
Q Right, but you're close with one of the guys who will.
MR. GIBBS: I know the President, yes.
Q All right. The second question has to do with the exportation of electronic waste to other countries. The General Accounting Office -- I'm sorry -- the Government Accountability Office last year said the U.S. lets this electronic waste, which can be toxic, flow virtually unrestricted to other countries such as Ghana, where we just were a few weeks ago. A critic of the EPA a year ago, Democratic Congressman Gene Green of Houston, says the current EPA is not doing any better job of monitoring the exportation of its electronic waste. As I'm sure you know, the United States is one of the few industrialized countries that lets this exportation happen.
What steps does the Obama administration intend to take to prevent this from happening?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, let me talk to EPA and try to get back to you on that.
Q On Afghanistan, how does this administration view a victory there? I mean, it's not removing a leader from power. It's sort of -- (laughter) --
MR. GIBBS: No. That would be novel.
Q Well, but, you know, it's not like in Iraq. How will this administration be able to say "mission accomplished," although we don't like that term -- but how will that be done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I was going to say, we haven't hired any banner makers, if that's what -- look, I think the President has discussed -- first of all, obviously the administration began by reviewing our policy and the President believing -- long having believed that we needed additional security in that country. The review denoted that the security environment was such that an increase in troops leading up to the elections was very important. We have a new commander, General McChrystal, who is also identifying and reviewing the policy. Our goal is to deal with the terrorist elements that are in that country and are making life for Afghans and potentially life for millions throughout the world more dangerous through their activities. Obviously the policy developed will have benchmarks in order to mark that progress.
Q But that could be long term. I mean, this could be very long --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's safe to bet that this is not something that -- not only are we not printing banners, but I wouldn't schedule a ceremony, say, this year.
Q And back to the Gates event today at the White House, why not allow the press to get closer to the table to be able to at least have some sort of conversation or something with the parties involved?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I mentioned to Jake, if those two gentlemen want to talk to you guys, there's no prohibition --
Q Right, but that's if they want to, but typically when you have events --
MR. GIBBS: In other words, shouldn't I just simply make them talk to you. (Laughter.) I appreciate the -- that's --
Q Well, no -- no, I do want to follow up on that. I mean, specifically, there are events that happen here at the White House, we're invited in, we get a chance to either ask questions of the parties there, and if they choose to come out we can get additional information from them. In this case, we won't have anything there and most likely won't get anything when they come out.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you'll have to ask them on the latter part.
Q But what about on the earlier part?
Q What about the President? I mean, why is the President in a cone of silence on this? (Laughter.) You're saying those two can come out and talk, but he can't.
Q He wants to make it a teachable moment. Why --
Q What's the lesson he wants to teach?
Q We're students, we're his students, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: The President feels comfortable with the way this is laid out, and looks forward to --
Q But why doesn't he see this as an opportunity, if he wants to make it a teachable moment, to come out and talk and teach what he learned, what he wants the nation to learn?
MR. GIBBS: You guys will have a chance to talk to the President -- one of you will later today, and maybe you can ask him.
Q On polling --
Q You mean in the Rose Garden?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think the -- isn't there a one and one with Arroyo?
Q Is he taking questions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, yes, one and one, sure. Teachable moment to learn the schedule. (Laughter.)
Q -- put it out. That's not on the schedule.
MR. GIBBS: Why not?
Q Well, that's happening before, which doesn't really help all that much.
Q It's news to me that it's -- that we're going to get questions.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q Well, just to stay on it for one second, I mean, not that I'm arguing against any coverage, but you are availing yourself of the picture, so presumably you want the photo but not --
Q Any substance.
Q -- any further content or substance?
MR. GIBBS: I feel comfortable and the President feels comfortable with our coverage plans as they're currently aligned.
Q Okay, now for my real question. On health care, I think we all can acknowledge the President has really vamped up his publicity efforts, trying to get this message out. And yet in our most recent poll, it shows that support for health care has dropped 10 percent just in the last month, essentially coinciding with that public relations effort. And I wonder what you make of that and how you reconcile those two things, especially when I'm sure you feel that he's your most effective advocate.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he is, and I think yesterday was a pretty good example. I think the President gave strong lift to things that I think in all honesty probably haven't gotten a lot of coverage -- insurance reforms, not allowing insurance companies to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, not allowing insurance companies to drop their coverage if somebody gets too sick.
Q But he just started emphasizing that yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but -- but that's been in the bill the whole time, right? So, you know, look, I do think the President is an able communicator, to say the least. I think there has been a lot of misinformation about the legislation, I think some of it unintentional; some of it, as we've talked about in this room, I think somewhat intentional. We talked about those examples.
Look, the President doesn't spend a whole lot of time focused on polling.
Q I was going to ask you, how often do you guys poll?
MR. GIBBS: We don't poll. I think the DNC polls. The President isn't fixated on the ups and downs in polling. If we were, we'd have quit two years ago this summer, if ever even run for President.
Q Does it cause any -- to the extent you do pay attention to it, is there any sort of soul searching? In other words, are you thinking maybe our message isn't effective, or is there any sense that maybe what we're trying to sell is not resonating and not --
MR. GIBBS: No, because I think in your -- I think in your poll, if you -- you know, in your polling, if you read the plan, what's one the numbers -- 56/38, right?
Q I don't have the exact numbers here -- (laughter.)
Q I thought you guys don't follow the polls. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, exactly.
MR. GIBBS: Once again, a series of teachable moments. Well, I watch NBC for God's sakes, Chip. (Laughter.) Chip missed the opportunity to ask me about his poll.
Q Forty-two percent now say the President's plan is --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I think if you read the full poll, it's different than the executive summary.
Q I did kind of give you that one.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I sort of took it. But I think -- a couple things, and I talked a little bit about this this morning. Obviously we've been having a series of these debates for decades. I think many of the same lines of attack that you see in some cases being used today are the same that were used as we debated the creation of Medicare, you know, big government-run health care program; doctors won't be able to make decisions.
So we understand that -- and you can go back 16 years ago, you can go back 40 years ago -- you know, there's a series of fairly tried and true phrases that are currently being employed by either people that don't want to see the American people get health care reform or special interests that have a vested political or monetary interest in the status quo that are using their megaphones, as well.
The President will continue to push on this because he knows it's the right thing to do for the American people. And I think whether it is explaining, as he did in the news conference, that doing nothing means thousands more without insurance, families are guaranteed to pay more money in premiums, continued discrimination on the basis of preexisting conditions; whether it's emphasizing in the bill insurance -- for insurance reforms for people that are lucky enough to have insurance that they like that's already affordable to them.
So I think the President will continue to do this and I think he believes he'll be successful.
Q Robert, today the New York AG's office released a report detailing 2008 bonuses paid by the original nine TARP recipient banks, and that totals some $18 billion. I wondered if you folks had a reaction.
MR. GIBBS: Eighteen?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the report, but I'll ask somebody to pull it so I can take a look at it. Again, I think -- I think the President has and continues to believe that we -- the American people don't begrudge -- don't begrudge people making money for what they do, as long as, as we talked about earlier, this is not -- we're not basically incentivizing wild risk-taking that somebody else picks up the tab for. I think that's what the President wants to make sure changes. I think you've seen the House take important steps in considering legislation that includes the President's proposal to provide a say on pay for that legislation -- or say on pay for executive comp legislation that he believes would use the very powerful -- will use the power of public opinion to dissuade outlandish salaries.
Q Shareholder opinion, right? Isn't it shareholder --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, shareholders would be allowed to, through a non-binding vote, register their approval or disapproval of the pay that was set on the companies in which they're investing.
Q Following up on that, will the President sign the House's executive compensation bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously this has got to go through the -- this will go through the process, go through the Senate. Obviously we're encouraged by many of the provisions that are in the House legislation, because I think it was just a little -- just about a month ago where we sent parts of this legislation to the Hill to act on, and we're pleased that it's moving forward.
Q If you could provide us with some more logistics of the event this evening, apparently you decided you don't want to splash beer on Malia and Sasha's picnic table -- probably a smart thing. Can you talk about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- (laughter) -- I don't -- yes, for any number of probably good reasons, that's a -- I don't know if -- I know there were a couple of different locations that were being talked about -- some of this, weather permitting. Obviously there's a couple of different tables, one right out by the Oval Office and then one down a bit in the Rose Garden, and I'm not sure where we landed on that yet.
Q The picture we're going to get appears to be the three principals, but there are a number of people coming here, by my understanding. Are they all going to get together? What are you doing with the other guys?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what -- I know that each of -- each -- Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley have family that are coming with them. I know there -- they will arrive here, be greeted, taken on a tour. They'll have a chance to get some pictures, they'll see the President. And I don't know if -- I don't know if the President will meet together with all of them as a big group or not. I can certainly check on the logistics of that.
Q You've got police union officials coming, as well?
MR. GIBBS: They may be coming certainly with Sergeant Crowley.
Q To follow a little on a question Jake asked a day or so ago, yesterday it became clear what kind of legislation is going to be coming out of the Senate and the House, with the Senate having a co-op, the House with its public option. Heard Senator Conrad this morning saying that there are not -- there just will never be votes for anything with a public option in the Senate. How will those two pieces of legislation be reconciled?
MR. GIBBS: Delicately. (Laughter.)
Q Are you planning for it? Who are you talking to?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean --
Q This will happen in conference?
MR. GIBBS: Right, well, no, I think -- you know, look, obviously we're going to -- well, I'm glad you fast-forwarded to the point where we've got the two pieces of legislation.
Q The contours look fairly clear.
MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously we're going to -- we will continue to evaluate each of those proposals, see what commonality there might be. Obviously the President's main goal -- you heard him reiterate his support for a public option yesterday at the town hall meeting in North Carolina -- is to ensure increased choice and competition in what can be and have been very restrictive private insurance markets, in order to provide Americans with the choice that they need and deserve. But this is part of an ongoing process that will take place over the next several weeks.
Q Do you believe there's any possibility of getting the votes in the Senate for a public option?
MR. GIBBS: I know the President and the team are in touch with the senators and their staffs about what's politically feasible up there, but I have not heard them come down on that one way or the other.
Q Robert, going back to Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates, what do you hope, tomorrow morning when you wake up, what do you hope you will have accomplished?
MR. GIBBS: No more questions about what kind of drink they're going to drink? (Laughter.)
Q Okay, but besides that, what do you hope you will look back --
MR. GIBBS: Small expectations.
Q -- what do you hope to -- what's your best-case scenario for looking back and seeing, we accomplished this last night; we were able to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think -- let me answer this not as the press secretary to the President but as a -- just as an average American citizen. I'll take my tie off and I'll be right back. Look, I think, again, just as the President said, this is -- obviously you had a situation many days ago that got a lot of attention, not the least of which was because of his word choice, which he's come out and said he wishes he hadn't used those words -- or that word; that each of these two individuals, again, are accomplished at what they do; they're honorable, decent men; that he believes this entire situation -- if we step back and have a better dialogue amongst each other and have a conversation about common hopes and common opportunities and common dreams, that we can make headway on some of the issues that have -- that we've been wrestling with for a long, long time.
And I think the President hopes that -- I don't think the President has out-sized expectations that one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the course of human history by any sense of the imagination, but that he and the two individuals -- Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates -- can hopefully provide a far different picture than what we've seen to date of this situation, and hopes, again, as I've said both today and before, that this is a conversation and a dialogue that happens not just because it's sponsored by or at the invitation of a participant or the President, but happens in communities, large and small, all over the country, in order to make progress through better understanding. And I think that's what the President wants to do today.
Q Robert, two quick ones about --
MR. GIBBS: You're usually sitting between Thelma and Louise up here. (Laughter.)
Q A couple quick questions about tomorrow. The policy retreat involving the Cabinet secretaries, et cetera, what's the purpose of it, the logistics of it? Does this indicate the need or the judgment that there is a need for a six-month course correction?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. This is something that's long been on the docket. This has happened virtually -- with virtually every President since Eisenhower. The retreat for us is probably a little less scenic since it's across a closed street.
It's an opportunity for the President, the Vice President, senior White House staff, and Cabinet officials all to get together and talk about the agendas both past and forward; how we can work -- how we can continue to work together to make progress. But it's not a mid-course correction or a report card or -- it's just an opportunity for everyone to get together on hopefully a little bit less hectic pace. Rather than seeing each other at a meeting for 15 or 30 minutes, it's an opportunity I think tomorrow to have dinner and then have a little longer discussion on Saturday over at Blair House.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second --
Q Yes, I just wanted to also mention that tomorrow we have GDP figures for the second quarter coming out. The President was saying yesterday how shocked he was to see this -- the news magazine, the cover saying the recession is over. Can I assume that means he and you expect further contraction?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me, for my friends at the Council of Economic Advisers, repeat to you that they haven't gotten the figures and I haven't seen and neither, to my knowledge, has the President. So I want to just -- that's my caveat so that they can breathe easier over there.
Look, I think -- I don't want to get into the realm of predicting. Obviously -- you know, I think as the President said in North Carolina, we, in taking office in January, were hurtling toward the edge. I think he quoted yesterday economists that discussed what the likelihood or chances are that we would go over the edge and end up in a depression.
I think -- but again, I don't want to get into predicting figures -- but the -- by all accounts, we've pulled back from that edge, yet we still have a very damaged economy that has lost millions and millions of jobs since this recession began in December of 2007. We saw for a long, long time a retrenchment from lending. We saw small businesses that were closing simply because they had -- even despite having a good credit record, couldn't get loans because you had a financial system that was seized up. You have a -- you had a housing market that was deteriorating rapidly.
We've seen some progress on getting that financial system restarted again and we've seen some positive figures recently on housing, that maybe we've hit a bottom on that. And I think as -- again, as the President said yesterday, we are -- we've probably stopped the bleeding, but in many ways you still -- I'll use a health care analogy -- you still have a very sick patient in the American economy; in North Carolina with 11 percent unemployment rate, gives you just one example of many of people that are continuing to struggle.
So obviously whatever tomorrow shows, I think it will denote that our economy has taken a tremendous hit, that the recovery plan has cushioned that blow, and that we're on the path towards laying that foundation for long-term economic growth, understanding that all this is going to take quite some time.
Q Can it be a teachable moment if the American people do not hear something that several of them -- several sides have asked for, including Professor Gates, I think, and that's the word "apology" during the conversation today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to get ahead of what may or may not be talked about. I think that's a bit premature, and I'd leave it obviously to individual participants, to Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley, to make those comments and conversation.
Q You don't expect them to --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to either of the individuals so I can't even surmise on what to expect.
George, do you have a follow-up?
Q I just want a logistical follow to Mark's first question. Are you planning any kind of readout or briefing of any kind on the Cabinet get-together?
MR. GIBBS: Let me see. I think it's going to be somewhat mundane, but we'll be happy to provide such a mundane readout.
Q I've a question on the health care event yesterday. But on the Gates thing, the President has said he wants this to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, are we on health care or Gates -- I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I'm sorry.
Q So he said he wants it to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who first proposed it, he, through his surrogates called these guys to the White House. But is he the teacher in this teachable moment?
MR. GIBBS: I think all of us are participants in a moment that we hope can teach all in this country that dialogue and communication will always improve the situation. I don't think today is -- I don't think the President looks at himself as, and I don't think today the President believes or the situation will be that one will be the teacher and others will be the students. I think the President believes that, hopefully through the example of communication and dialogue, that that can be a positive and lasting lesson for others.
Q Dialogue about what?
MR. GIBBS: About the situation that happened in Cambridge.
Q But how is that teachable for everybody? How is that teachable for the nation if it's just an incident between two men?
MR. GIBBS: Jake, it's something that's been covered quite a bit. I think it's something that has been -- you all have spent an awful lot of time covering. I don't think it's about an incident just involving two men. I think if it was an incident involving just two men you might not have done so many stories.
Q Well, some people think it's an incident about racial profiling; some people think it's an incident about disrespect for police; some people think it's -- I mean, there are a million different things that it could be a teachable lesson about, and we're not getting any --
MR. GIBBS: Not a million, but I don't doubt that there are more than just one.
Q We're just not -- you say it's a teachable moment. About what? Communication? I mean --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's a -- well, I think communication will help be part of -- I don't think -- again, Jake, I hate to surmise -- I hate to sort of move backwards in a hypothetical. I doubt you could have imagined a week ago in reporting this story that you'd have these two individuals here drinking beer with the President, right?
Q But we wouldn't have imagined that they'd be here and we wouldn't hear anything that's going to happen -- from the President. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think you're feigning surprise on that one, Mr. Reid. But I think --
Q No, I really -- he's not using this as an opportunity.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate --
Q The only thing we're hearing that's a teachable moment example is we're going to get a photograph out of it or some film. I don't understand -- I mean --
MR. GIBBS: We don't have to do that.
Q Do you think the coverage has been -- it's been good that people have been covering this issue? You said there's been a lot of coverage. Is that a good thing?
MR. GIBBS: Some of it I think has, sure. I think --
Q Think how much more you could get if he came and talked to us.
MR. GIBBS: I feel like I'm trying to -- I feel like I'm buying a car.
Q Was the President speaking literally yesterday when he said that he would go over the health care bill line by line? Because there's a representative from Tennessee, if I'm not mistaken, who sent out a press release saying he'd like to take up the President on that offer in September.
MR. GIBBS: I will forward -- if you'll give me that letter I'll forward it to scheduling so we can get that done. Unclear if it will be pool coverage.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, one on Sotomayor. Is the White House disappointed that only one Republican on the Judiciary Committee backed her and only five in the Senate appear to be --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's six in the Senate now.
Q Six in the Senate.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that included Senator Alexander today. You know, I think, without getting into whether or not we're disappointed, I think the President believes, rightly, as many have said, Democrat and Republican, that this is a judge with a tremendous amount of legal experience as a prosecutor, as a judge on two different levels of federal court; somebody who has that very background that is eminently qualified to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and hopes that she's evaluated that way.
Q But any reaction to the failure to attract more Republican support?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think that's a question to ask some of those who have decided, for whatever reason, to vote whatever they want -- whatever way they wish to vote. But I think the President feels like he has as experienced a nominee as anybody has sent forward in a long, long time; somebody whose rulings from the bench show that she follows the rule of law. And I think soon we'll have a new justice and somebody that all of America can be proud of.
Q On health care, assuming legislation is passed and the President signs it, will the American public be feeling positive results from that before November 2010?
MR. GIBBS: Will they be feeling positive results --
Q Yes, either in terms of cost, in terms of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in many ways I'd answer that when we have a better sense of what the President is about to sign and some of the deadlines for when that's ultimately implemented, whether it's on the insurance side or the cost side or even on the coverage side.
Q You've said before that you're not drawing any line in the sand as far as the mechanisms for meeting this goal of choice and competition, and that you're going to be evaluating the non-profit co-op as well as the public option. So are you saying if the non-profit network or any other mechanism meets this goal, that it would be acceptable to the President and it would have to be --
MR. GIBBS: Wouldn't that be drawing a line in the sand the other way? I don't want to get ahead of the policy people doing said evaluation and getting a sense of where we are on this legislation.
Q There was a bill introduced today in the House to extend by an extra 13 weeks unemployment benefits in hard-hit states with unemployment rates above 9 percent, obviously Michigan being one of those. Would the President support that bill?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly have our guys evaluate the specifics of legislation. Obviously one of the things that is contained in the Recovery Act, as you heard the President describe yesterday, is an extension of unemployment benefits. It also helps -- the recovery plan also helps those struggling with -- be able to keep their health insurance when they're unemployed.
Obviously I think -- obviously Michigan is a poignant example, with an unemployment rate now, I think, at over 15 percent, that dealt with economic distress far before a recession officially started. You've got the tremendous amount of pressure that that puts on an infrastructure that can be helped with extending unemployment. I'd have somebody look at the specifics of the exact legislation, but I know the President believes that one of the most effective things that we can do to get toward recovery and to stimulate the economy is to ensure that those that are unemployed continue to get benefits.
Q Well, the advocates say that -- of the bill on the Ways and Means Committee say that without the additional 13 weeks, that unemployment benefits are going to start running out by the end of the year.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I mean, there's no question you've got over the course of the next several months folks that are going to be bumping against even extended deadlines. I think the President would agree with them, and we'll certainly look at the specifics.
Q Robert, I know that the White House doesn't pay attention to polls, but one of the defining features of the numbers I counted yesterday is that fewer people now think the President is ably working with the Republican Party. The White House obviously prides itself on --
MR. GIBBS: Which polls?
Q The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Do your people now think that --
MR. GIBBS: Can you read me the question?
Q Can I read you the -- I don't have it in front of me unfortunately, but the question essentially said, rate the President's ability to do X, Y and Z. One of the questions was, work with the opposition party. Fewer people now than one month ago think that the President can work ably with Republican officials.
And obviously you pride yourself on bipartisan outreach, especially on health care. I'm wondering why you think fewer people think you're doing a good job on that.
MR. GIBBS: I blame the media. (Laughter.) No. (Laughter.) No, I'd have to look at the specifics of the question, but I do think, as you said, that the President -- I think without having seen it, I don't know the exact data or what the deterioration is, but I know that when it's come to dealing with particularly the Finance Committee in the development of a health care -- a piece of health care legislation that can go through that committee and get to the floor of the Senate -- I think the President has spent a lot of time reaching out to Republicans on the committee, calling them -- and Democrats, quite frankly, and calling them regularly about hoping to make progress.
I think the President believes if you look at the HELP Committee, I think that's a good example of -- despite the fact, as we've covered, that there weren't Republicans that supported the vote to move the bill out of committee, you did have more than 160 amendments offered by Republicans to improve that bill accepted by Democrats on that committee. The President believes that -- and will continue to work with anybody that's interested in reforming health care to meet the principles that he's outlined.
Q Both in the AARP appearance a couple of days ago and yesterday's town hall, the President began to lay out sort of some guarantees for Americans about things that would be in whatever the ultimate bill was, whether they be the preexisting condition, end of that -- or whether it be the idea that you couldn't get dropped if you got sick, the idea that they're looking into lifetime --
MR. GIBBS: See, it's working. (Laughter.)
Q That I do know. (Laughter.) So I guess my question -- are these lines in the sand now for you guys? I know you don't like to talk about veto threats. There's going to be two essentially shell bills that will come out of conference, but are there a couple of hard and fast lines that you absolutely will not sign if these things are in there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- the only word I'd use -- the only thing I'd use veto on today is some of the House -- is the House defense legislation that's come out with continued spending for the presidential helicopter, the additional jets, additional F-22 jets that Secretary Gates doesn't want, as well as the F-35 engine.
In terms of health care, I think the President has been clear both in the principles that he sent to Congress, but also in these discussions -- and I've said this before, too -- the President is not -- this is not about just getting something done; this is not about just making sure there's something at some point on his desk to sign; that if we're not making genuine progress in dealing with costs, in dealing with insurance reforms, in dealing with coverage for the uninsured, then he's not interested in either calling that reform or signing that.
I think when it comes to -- I think the President's been clear about the fact that the plan can't add to the deficit. That's another thing I think the President has talked about over the course of this time that's important -- is an important part of any piece of legislation that ultimately works its way through the process and gets to the President.
Q Sometimes rhetoric has some wiggle room. Like when the President has said that you wouldn't have to give up your own doctor, he's acknowledged that what he means is the government wouldn't make you give your own doctor, but if your company dropped your coverage, you'd have to look for a doctor. What I'm asking --
MR. GIBBS: In many ways, Margaret -- not to interrupt, but in many ways, Margaret, that's exactly what the President -- that's what the President is trying to fix, because in many ways --
Q But I'm trying --
MR. GIBBS: I just want to pull my soapbox out for 10 seconds -- well, probably more than 10 seconds. But the reason that -- why are companies dropping coverage for individuals?
Q Because it's too expensive.
MR. GIBBS: It's too expensive. They have to change the way we pay for health care.
Q -- tell the public, under what Congress is going to do, you will not be able to be denied coverage for blah, blah, blah; you will not be dropped for blah, blah, blah. That doesn't intimate wiggle room. What that intimates is, there are some places where I'm going to take a stand. And what I'm asking you for is clarification. Is that where he's going to take a stand -- co-op, public option, whatever --
MR. GIBBS: No. No, again, without getting into the co-op/public option debate that we've had, the President is very clear and was very clear yesterday that there are insurance reforms that must be and need to be in a final product that he considers to be called health care reform.
Q Or he won't sign it?
MR. GIBBS: Or it's not going to be reform and he's not interested in enacting it.
Q Robert, you said that the President's program had kept us from going over the cliff. We've spent trillions of dollars in trying to beef up the stocks on Wall Street and things are going pretty well for them. But in the country as a whole --
MR. GIBBS: -- spent trillions of dollars to beef up stocks.
Q Well, it's effectively the so-called recovery, which has not made its way to Main Street. You've got the unemployment figures. You have probably 40 out of 50 states which are in a state of bankruptcy. And between now and October, at the end of the fiscal year, you're going to see firemen get laid off and policemen get laid off and schools get shut down, and the President has said no second stimulus package. What does that say to the American people in terms of the intentions of the administration to really deal with this depression, effectively a depression, that people are feeling when everything is falling apart around them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- this could be a longer answer. Don't make any afternoon plans.
Let's take a few of the examples. The President -- you mentioned that states that are struggling with potential layoffs, cutting back of important services, health care -- that's one of the reasons the President wanted a third of the stimulus that was passed to effectively be aid that goes directly to states to ensure that it's aid for education so we're not losing teachers; aid to states for Medicaid so they're not having to make as drastic a cut as they might have to. Understand states are dealing with the very same problems that we are and the very same problems that families are.
So, look, the President understood that in many ways those states are going to be struggling, and has acted effectively to ensure as much as he could to prevent the types of things that you're discussing. I think the President -- in terms of the second stimulus, the President has discussed that -- or has said that the economic team will evaluate where we are. We do that each and every day. Our main focus is on implementing the recovery plan as we've passed it to ensure that the states that you mentioned get the aid that they deserve; to make sure that extended unemployment is paid for; to make sure that the assistance that people get through extending their COBRA benefits when they're -- when they unfortunately lose their job; ensuring that we continue to get out the door the tax relief for 95 percent of working families.
If somebody on the economic team -- or that the team or the President believed that there's other things that we can do, we'll certainly evaluate them. Nobody has ruled anything in, nobody has ruled anything out. But I think the President has taken steps not just in the recovery plan but, as we talked about, to unfreeze the credit markets, to stabilize our housing market, and to do a series of things to prevent the car from going over the cliff.
And I think there's no doubt we have a long way to go. There's no doubt that millions and millions of people are hurting. We see those each and every day. The President reads their letters. He sees them at events and as we're going to events, and understands the tough times that they are going through, and is working each and every day to make it -- to make this downturn less severe and get us back on a track toward economic growth as soon as possible.
Thank you, guys.
2:47 P.M. EDT