Press Briefing 1/11/10

January 11, 2010 | 40:43 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 1/11/10

12:29 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  One quick announcement before we get going.  Tomorrow the President and the First Lady will travel to Wilmington, Delaware, to attend the funeral of Jean Biden.  We'll have details on press access for tomorrow's travel a little bit later in the day, but I just wanted to mention that.

Mr. Feller.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  On health care, would the President sign a bill that did not include the tax on the so-called Cadillac health care plans, or is that a mandatory revenue-producing for him at this point?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Ben, the President will meet with some of the organized labor community this afternoon to discuss health care and presumably to get into that topic, and we'll have more of a readout when we get done with that.

Q    Well, how would you say -- how would you characterize his stance at this point?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, he supported the Senate bill and that provision was in that bill for what it does in terms of changing the direction of health care costs.

Q    So what's his message to a constituency represented by the labor leaders today that clearly are opposed to this?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, that will be happening in the meeting and when that meeting is over we'll have a chance to talk about it.

Q    Is he confident about winning them over?

MR. GIBBS:  We'll tell you that after the meeting as well.

Q    Robert, there were a lot of reports out this morning that the administration is considering a fee on banks, and I was wondering if you can talk about that -- what you're thinking of in that regard?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have specifics to talk about what will be in the budget.  We'll do that certainly later in the month as we get closer to the budget.  I would simply say, Caren, that the President has talked on a number of occasions about ensuring that the money that taxpayers put up to rescue our financial system is paid back in full.  That's been the President's position.  I think that's the least that taxpayers are owed.  And we'll have more details on budgetary stuff as we get closer to the budget being released.

Q    Will we see something specific in the budget that ensures that taxpayers are paid back in full?

MR. GIBBS:  That's the President's goal, yes.

Q    Okay.  And just to follow up on that, you got a lot of questions last week about Secretary Geithner.  And one of the main criticisms there is that he's too close to Wall Street and the administration is too close to Wall Street, and I just was wondering what your response to that is.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President made a series of decisions with his economic team on what had to be done to stabilize our economic situation upon taking office -- an economic situation that veered quite honestly -- not simply the worst recession since the Great Depression, but an economy that quite frankly teetered on the edge of larger collapse.

The President has made a series of decisions to take steps to get our economy jumpstarted on a path toward recovery.  I think if you look at what people on Wall Street say about some of our -- either our economic decisions or our economic rhetoric, I think that alone disproves that this is all about Wall Street.


Q    In the middle of December, OMB put out a memo to all federal agencies about how to calculate the stimulus, how to calculate jobs created and saved, saying that, among other things, that there would be quarterly instead of -- updated more frequently than that, and that also that if somebody were paid even -- two employees of a library who were already working there are paid with stimulus dollars, those two individuals should -- that should count as jobs created by or saved by the stimulus, even if those jobs existed already.  Do you have any further explanation about why --

MR. GIBBS:  Jake, I haven't seen the memo but I'm happy to talk to them and put you in touch with them.  I haven't seen the memo and don't know what the details are.

Q    Okay.  To follow up on a question I asked last week about the freeing of Qais Khazaali, do you have any more on that?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't.

Q    Okay.  And then -- all right, that's it, I'm done.  (Laughter.)  Get back to me when you can.  (Laughter.)

Q    On Harry Reid, the President put out the statement over the weekend accepting his apology, and I'm wondering why the President didn't talk in that apology, or in that conversation I guess that he had with him about unfortunate language that was used -- no mention of that at all.

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?

Q    When the President put out the statement or you put out the statement on behalf the President, this conversation that he had with Senator Reid, there was no mention at all about the unfortunate language that was used.  It was more --

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think that phrase was in the statement about the fact that -- the unfortunate choice of words by Senator Reid.

Q    Well, it didn't seem like he went into sort of anything more than just, I accept his apology and we move on from here.  Is there anything more that the President --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, no -- I mean, I don't have the statement in front of me, but I think the President's statement said that Senator Reid had called him about these comments that the President called unfortunate; that he's worked with Senator Reid, he knows Senator Reid, the type of values that he has, the agenda that he's pushed in the U.S. Senate; and didn't take offense at them.

Q    Has the President said anything more about that in light of just that what we've been hearing, it's been dominating the various shows over the weekend and even this morning?

MR. GIBBS:  No, it wasn't something I've heard the President talk more about today.

Q    And on the -- in light of what has happened with terrorism, the terrorism threat, is there anything at all that the administration had planned to do, maybe a second-tier priority, that has been put on the backburner now because there's been sort of the ramped-up efforts with terrorism, the attention, and so much of the air sucked out with terrorism at the end of the year?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  You mean an agenda item that the President would be focused on -- focusing on that he's not because of the --

Q    Is there anything -- right, exactly.  Is there anything else that the President was planning --

MR. GIBBS:  Dan, this question has sort of come in different forms throughout different times.

Q    It's not the juggling or the are you handling too much question.  But it's just that is there anything that you said, listen, we weren't planning on spending so much time focused on terrorism at the beginning of the year.  Now we have to; there are some other things, some other priorities, that have to be put on the backburner.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't understand.  That's not the juggling question?

Q    I'm not saying are you -- I'm not --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not trying to be sarcastic.  I'm just trying to get -- I'm lost with the premise of the question.

Q    I'm not saying, are you juggling too much -- is it just realize, hey, you know, we have to focus so much on terrorism; let's put something else back a bit, let's move something off the front burner.

MR. GIBBS:  I think that is the juggling question, but --

Q    It's a balancing question.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Ahh, thanks for the crystal clear clarity of that.

Q    It's not the typical question that says, are you guys --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how I didn't get that.  (Laughter.)

Q    I'm not saying are you guys juggling too much?  That's not the question.  The question is just have you decided to --

MR. GIBBS:  You're saying are we not doing something because we're doing something in lieu of that?

Q    But my question wasn't, are you juggling too much.  I'm just asking you, is there anything you've decided to put off for now because there are these other issues you weren't planning on spending so much time on?

MR. GIBBS:  Maybe I should have just said no and gotten out.  The answer is no.  (Laughter.)

Q    Why didn't you say that in the first place?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I did, and then I sought to understand the premise of the -- never mind.

I would say this, Dan, that the notion that -- well, let me say this, I think inherent in your question is somehow now the President is having to spend so much more time on something like terrorism that he wasn’t -- that there wasn't spending time on that prior to --

Q    No, you -- I understand you --

MR. GIBBS:  Right, right.  And I would just say that, you know, again, the President's PDB goes over the security situation and threats.  The President has spent quite a great deal of time dealing with this.  So there's no issue that has not been discussed or worked on because of that.

Q    Anything going on behind the scenes on immigration reform at all?

MR. GIBBS:  I can't remember if the President has had any meetings on this recently, but I can certainly go back and look through the schedule.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    When is the President going to hold a news conference?  Not that you're not adequate.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I appreciate that.  (Laughter.)  Chip asked this question on Friday --

Q    Yes, but she'll get an answer.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Well, she is nicer than you, Chip.  (Laughter.)

Q    I mean, he's gone an obscenely long time, not holding one.

MR. GIBBS:  But again, not the word "adequate."  (Laughter.)

I don't see one on the schedule at least in the short term, which is precisely what I said --

Q    Is he avoiding us?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Again, the last time we had this conversation here about the President's media strategy I was informed by many of you that the President was overexposed.

Q    But you don't have a good reason for not holding one.

Q    Who in this room said that the President was overexposed?  One person in this room that said he was overexposed.

MR. GIBBS:  No, we had a whole round of questioning on that.

Q    Let's take a vote.

Q    Seriously.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Okay.  Who at some point --

Q    Raise your hand if you do not believe he's overexposed.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Okay, so that's one.

Q    That was very confusingly phrased.

MR. GIBBS:  No, that was actually quite well-phrased and one person --

Q    And that is not the answer.  The answer is accountability.

Q    Who wants a news conference?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Right, who wants to win the lottery?

Q    Are you saying our chances are just the same?

MR. GIBBS:  Scratch and win, Major.  Scratch and win.

Q    Seriously, one person in this room that said he was overexposed, just one.

MR. GIBBS:  That's not true.

Q    Just name one person who said he was overexposed.

MR. GIBBS:  I will go back and look at the transcript and we can --

Q    Well, we have questions about pundits.  But we're not pundits; we're reporters.  There are pundits out there who were saying -- (laughter) --

MR. GIBBS:  Do you have a question or an opinion, Mr. Pundit?

Q    I actually do.  Going back to Wall Street firms, three firms:  Goldman, Morgan and Chase have set aside $47 billion, I believe the number is, on bonuses.  Does the President think that's appropriate and is there anything he has talked about or hopes to do, to do something about that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, Chip, I think you heard Dr. Romer this weekend and I think you've heard the President throughout the past year talk about the continued divergence from, in all ways, reality of what's going on, on Main Street and what's going on in some of these firms on Wall Street.  There are folks that just continue not to get it.

Q    Is he doing anything about it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has discussed ways of -- well, we can -- we have done stuff relating to banks that have received extraordinary assistance from the federal government.  There is a lot less, as you know, that we can do with somebody that's not tied in terms of a direct correlation between money that's given through TARP.  The President has repeatedly pushed, and the House passed as part of their financial reform, a say on pay.  We have greatly encouraged anybody that's giving out bonuses and executive compensation to tie it not to short-term risk-taking but to the long-term health of the company, as most stockholders and taxpayers would prefer; and that is, give that compensation in stock, have it vest over a series of years so that the health of the firm is first and foremost, not short-term risks that might have people making different actions.

Q    But despite everything the President said and everything that he's proposed and everything that's been done, this may be the biggest year yet for money falling from the sky for these guys.

MR. GIBBS:  Chip, there's just -- like I said, there's a limit to what the President can do for firms that don't receive assistance from the American government.

Q    Use the bully pulpit more effectively, just get out there?  I mean, he could pick up the phone and call these guys.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I can assure you the meeting that we had not recently -- not too recently with the bankers in the Roosevelt Room included a discussion about executive compensation.  I think they know where we are on this issue.

Q    Is it fair to say they're just not listening to him?

MR. GIBBS:  I think they're not listening to the American people, Chip.  I think -- like I said, I think there's a divergence in reality as to what's going on in this economy if you talk to somebody that is in line for a huge cash bonus at a Wall Street firm and a small business on Main Street that's trying to get a loan, that's trying to get some help, and trying to get their business and this economy back on track, absolutely.

Q    When the President talks about this, does he still get visibly angry about it?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.  I mean, I don't -- the truth is -- I think the story that you were referring to was the one in Sunday's paper.  I don't know anybody, save for a few that work for those banks, that don't get visibly angry and in reading those stories, absolutely.

Q    Do you think these banks have been forthcoming in their assets?  Why did they need these big bailouts, and they paid them back almost immediately?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't have any reason to question the financial straits that they were in at the time in which they received TARP recovery money.  I will say this, Helen, and the President strongly believes this -- is that was in many ways of their own doing, which I think is what gets people that much more exercised about this.  And I think what the President has discussed and the reason why the President has pushed financial reform is to ensure that we have rules of the road that doesn't let the type of activity that caused this to happen to ever happen again, forcing the American taxpayers to have to make decisions about the financial system collapsing or providing TARP money for these guys.

Q    But on the $47 billion, is he basically throwing in the towel and saying there's nothing I can do?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, no, no.  I mean, again, there's little we can do legislatively.  I think you'll -- the President will continue to talk about this both in public and in private with these bankers.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Real quick on Mrs. Biden's funeral.  Will the President speak at that funeral?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't believe that's the case, but I think he and the First Lady are just going, but I think they're working on logistics.

Q    Okay.  On the meeting of Labor leaders today, is the President's message to them essentially, tough luck, we're going to tax the Cadillac plans?  Or can he be persuaded?

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, I think the point of the meeting is to have this discussion.  We'll have more to say about that discussion at the conclusion of the meeting.

Q    So his position could move.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President -- obviously the President has a position, and I think we'll talk to them about why he sees this as something that's important in the bill.

Q    Okay.  I think last week some senior aide said we should expect more of a focus on the economy this week, and I wondered how we might expect that to manifest itself.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think on Wednesday we'll have an event in the local area to talk about some jobs ideas and some economic numbers.  I don't have the rest of the week's schedule in front of me, but I think over the course of the next several weeks you'll see a number of economic events on our plate.

Q    How involved are you guys, then, in shaping the jobs bill that's happening in the Senate?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the -- we've certainly been in communications with the House and the Senate about different jobs packages as the President outlined in December here in Washington.

Q    Robert, just to follow on the bank fee issue, isn't the bank fee being considered as part of the budget?  Isn't this something -- a way to sort of address this question of bonuses?  And I had a question on calibration, given that there are 8,500 banks in the country and a large majority of them would come in for a fee that would be levied on banks.   How would you square this --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get into details and specifics on a budget that will be released at a later day.

Q    It's at the printers?

MR. GIBBS:  And when it comes back from Kinko's, we'll be able to talk about it.  It's not really at Kinko's, though, I was just -- go ahead.

Q    What is your assessment of the situation in Yemen now as a terror hotbed, if you will, a source of the kind of plots that we saw on Christmas, especially considering the comments that have come out of there in the past couple of days from the President of Yemen and from a leading cleric there talking about foreign intervention and what it would be bring?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, as you well know, this has been on the President and the national security team's radar for quite some time.  The security situation there obviously remains quite perilous.  There are vast areas of largely ungoverned space that have attracted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other extremist allies in Yemen and throughout the region.  I think the President and his team have been and still are acutely aware of the threats that could be emanating and are emanating from that region.

Q    Do you think this is for domestic consumption, these comments about -- whipping up comments about foreign intervention, and why did the President find it necessary to say what he did in the magazine interview about the prospects for U.S. --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that, you know, whether it was General Petraeus or President Obama, I think discussing whether or not boots, American boots on the ground was something that was -- something the administration was planning I think is something the President simply put to rest is not happening.

Q    Can I follow up on this one, on Yemen, please?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    The President also said that he's willing to talk to al Qaeda member, if they repent -- the President of Yemen.  And his national security advisor said that Yemen is not a haven for extremists.  Does this undermine the administration and the President's effort to combat terrorism, especially in Yemen?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I mean, our position on disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda is not any different today than it was several days ago.  We have worked closely with the Yemeni government to address threats that have come out of Yemen, the security situation there, and we'll continue to do so.

Q    But he wants to talk to them.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, our posture as it relates to al Qaeda has not changed.

Q    Let me make another pass at the banking one, but in the context of the deficit we've heard a lot from the President on the course of reducing the deficit.  Are you guys ruling out any sort of transaction, tax, or bank fee as a way to lower the deficit?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to add more in specificity to what I have yet to add to the previous four people that have asked.

Q    Two people.

MR. GIBBS:  Two.

Q    So you're not ruling it out?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not ruling it in or ruling it out, how about that?

Q    This is like a new jobs bill.  (Laughter.)

On START, where are you guys on that?  Are you guys getting closer?  I mean, are we --

MR. GIBBS:  We continue to work with our Russian counterparts on trying to find an agreement that, quite frankly, that works for both sides.  I need to go back and look at some notes about whether it was this Friday or the previous Friday that we had a negotiating team that headed to -- headed over to make some headway on that.  But nothing as of yet to report.


Q    You said in answer to Ben's question about the Cadillac plans that the President supports the Senate bill.  Well, the President also supported the House bill.  He put out statements on both, and they have divergent points of view on this question.  Is the White House open to in any way reshaping the level at which the surtax in the Senate bill would apply to the Cadillac so-called health benefits?  I mean, is that something that is negotiable --

MR. GIBBS:  I think --

Q    -- within the contexts of these conversations --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the President looks forward to speaking with leaders today about their ideas and about their concerns, and I certainly think the level is one of the topics that will come up.  We'll have more to say about the meeting after the meeting.

Q    I know that the level would come up.  I'm just trying to find out if the White House is open to having that level adjusted.

MR. GIBBS:  We're certainly open to having that discussion, which will happen today.

Q    But not adjusting it, necessarily?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't think we'd be having the discussion if we weren't interested in hearing their viewpoint.

Q    Very good.  On Senator Reid's comments, the President and other advisors have said it was a poor choice of words.  I'm just wondering if you could tell us what would have been a better way to express what Harry Reid was actually saying?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I appreciate the opportunity to not just speak for an elected official but speak as the Senator from Nevada.  I just think that would be a weird place for me to go given -- I'd be up here doing impersonations all day, Major.

Q    Well, I guess what I'm getting at is, there was nothing that the President found objectionable or untoward about what he was saying, just the way he said it?

MR. GIBBS:  The President didn't take offense personally, but believes that, as the statement said, this was an unfortunate choice of words.  I think that's what the statement said.  He knows --

Q    Not an unfortunate observation about his particular political strengths going into the campaign -- that's what Harry Reid was talking about.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think Senator Reid -- I have not read the book -- later in the book makes the point that -- not only does he not think race is going to detract from, but that it will be a positive for the campaign.  So obviously it's a very poor choice, a very unfortunate choice of words.  The President got that apology from Senator Reid, didn't take offense to it, and has moved on.

Q    Did you want to react to any Republicans calls for him to step down or asserting that there's a double-standard here vis-à-vis the Trent Lott situation?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I think you need to go back and -- I think it's helpful to go back and see what was said in the previous instance.  I don't -- I appreciate that some are drawing a direct analogy.  I don't understand exactly how one draws the analogy to a former Majority Leader expressing his support for the defeat of Harry Truman in 1948 so that Strom Thurmond would be President running on a state's rights ticket.  I don't see how that's analogous to what Senator Reid was saying.  I don't -- I mean, I understand what people have to say on TV or to get themselves on TV.  I would suggest they spend about 20 seconds reading a little history and figuring out that to draw that analogy strains any intellectual enterprise or any real reality, in all sense of the word.

Q    On politics, there are indications the Massachusetts Senate race is tightening up.  The DNC sent -- top staff were there today.  Does the President have any intention of going up to Massachusetts to campaign on behalf of Martha Coakley?

MR. GIBBS:  The President doesn't have any travel plans to campaign in Massachusetts.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Robert, given the meeting with the Labor leaders later today, do you think the President has done right by a movement that was so much a part of his victory in November, the Labor movement?  Is he -- has he done right by them?  Has he advanced their agenda in the way that he should?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the President has represented working men and women in this country in everything that he's worked on, whether it was making a decision to save two companies from going bankrupt, whether it was pushing a Recovery plan, I think a whole host obviously of legislative initiatives that have benefited working men and women in this country, absolutely.

Q    Robert, just one quick question on a timetable on Iran sanctions.  You said last year that we're looking, once the end of the year came, we'd be looking at a decision.  Do you have -- when do you hope to have a coalition together to move forward on Security Council --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, we continue to work with our partners in the P5-plus-1, as you heard the President say last year, in putting together the next steps moving forward.  I don't think there's some magic day in which that all happens at the U.N. -- at least I don't have that day.  But we continue to -- we will continue to hold Iran responsible for living up to its international obligations.

Q    So you don't have a deadline in mind?  The administration isn't --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the administration is working both internally on ideas that it could do, as well as working with the P5-plus-1 in a broader series that would have the support of the international community.

Q    A couple of quick bookkeeping -- or scheduling issues.  Is the President going to be going to the Democratic issues retreat this week?

MR. GIBBS:  I got that last week here; I will look at -- that's Thursday and Friday or so?  Let me find that out, scheduling-wise.

Q    And any closer to a State of the Union date?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q    And one of substance, if I may -- North Korea, they're suggesting -- (laughter) -- well, process and substance -- North Korea's assertion today that the United States and it should settle on a treaty by the end of this year to finally -- the peace treaty that would finally end the Korean conflict, and how that is important in terms of settling the nuclear issue, as well.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the North Koreans are well aware of what they need to do to come back to talks with -- to six-party talks in dealing with this issue, and that is give up the idea of a nuclear state on the peninsula, just as it agreed to do several years ago.  If they're willing to live up to those obligations, then we will make progress in those talks.  But this is -- this isn't a step for us to take, this is a step for the North Koreans to take in living up to -- living up to those obligations.

Q    Your position is six-party talks and solving the nuclear issue first, then we'll talk about a peace treaty?

MR. GIBBS:  I think the way to have the most constructive talks is for them to come back to the table living up to the obligations that they agreed to and then walked away from, absolutely.

Q    Robert, a question on the labor meeting -- are you going to put out a list of the attendees in advance of the meeting?

MR. GIBBS:  I can get that -- we'll send that out to you as soon as we're done here.

Q    When you keep on saying you're going to have a readout or you'll tell us later, in what form are you going to tell us whatever?

MR. GIBBS:  Just a little e-mail.

Q    Just a little -- okay.  And a question about the meeting itself:  A lot of labor leaders have been saying recently that it's going to be very hard for them to motivate their members and their kind of mid-level leaders to do the kind of foot-soldiering the Democratic candidates are really going to depend on in the fall if they don't see progress either on the Cadillac plans or the Employee Free Choice Act, other things that are very important to them.  There's a lot of kind of disillusionment in their ranks.  What can the President say to help change their minds?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, the President looks forward to having this discussion today.  I don't -- I think working men and women in this country will be plenty motivated in 2010 about the choices that they have in front of them.  I don't --

Q    Can I have a quick follow up?

MR. GIBBS:  -- let me finish the answer and I will -- I don't think working men and women --

Q    How many working men and women are meeting with labor leaders?  I mean, they're part of the Democratic infrastructure --

MR. GIBBS:  I understand that.  We're talking about the same group of people, yes.

Q    You're saying they'll be plenty motivated because -- if you could finish that last --

MR. GIBBS:  Because of the -- I think when one looks at what the President's agenda is, and one looks at the lack of an agenda on the other side in dealing with any problem that somebody in -- a working person in the middle class deals with, I don't think it will be a hard decision to make when one looks at the agenda on the President's side:  what we've done to get our economy restarted, to make college more affordable, to bring health care to those that don't have it and to correct insurance imbalances for those that do, versus -- I mean, I hesitate to discuss what's on the other side, because I haven't heard anybody on the other side discuss it, except for a series of decisions that want to take us back to the same place we were in before the 2008 election.

I think working men and women will ask themselves who is on the side of insurance companies and who is on the side of taking insurance companies on.  I think that will be an argument that will be front and center, and I think working men and women will make that decision.

Who had a follow-up on that?

Q    I did.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir. 

Q    Robert, I think the question that some labor leaders are asking is that during the campaign, candidate Obama accused candidate John McCain of wanting to tax Cadillac health plans.  He said, "McCain will and I won't."  So, why the change in position?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.  But understand, Bill, because I know you paid attention extensively during the campaign.  Understand -- remember what John McCain wanted to do, right -- any plan was a Cadillac plan, because we were taking the tax deductibility of health care out, away.  And that was going to be met -- that would be fulfilling your health care needs by handing you a $2,000 voucher if you were an individual or a $5,000 voucher if you were a family.

Now, we've had a long discussion about health care in this country over the past eight or nine months.  We're not talking about $2,000 insurance plans.  We're not talking about $5,000 insurance plans for families of four.  There is a difference between what the President has supported, which is at a $23,000 level, taxing an insurance company that offers a plan in excess of that amount, versus what John McCain proposed, which was to end the tax deductibility completely for health care that's provided in this country.  I think they're fundamentally different -- well, I don't think it, they are fundamentally different ideas.

Q    He said, "What if you're one of the steelworkers who are working" -- this is Obama -- "What if you are one of the steelworkers who are working right here in Newport News, and you've given up wage increases in exchange for better health care."

MR. GIBBS:  I read that on your blog, too.  It's the -- the point I just made to Bill is the same.  There's a difference between --

Q    So it's not inconsistent?

MR. GIBBS:  It's not inconsistent because what he was talking about was two fundamentally different things.  Removing the tax deductibility of any part of your health care and capping for -- taxing insurance companies that offer a health care plan in excess of a $23,000 limit -- they're not in the same ballpark, they're not in the same state.

Q    But you don't dispute what the -- about the here and now point that the unions make, that one in four of their rank and file workers could be affected by the tax structure in the Senate bill negatively; you don't dispute that, do you? 

MR. GIBBS:  And that's something I'm sure will come up in the President's meeting today.

Q    That's why he's meeting today --

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    -- to try to tease that out, right?

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  But the notion that somehow --

Q    So you don't dispute -- you acknowledge that that's an implication of the Senate bill.

MR. GIBBS:  If you will acknowledge that what the President has talked about and supports and making the point that somehow that's analogous to what he opposed with Senator McCain's proposal isn't also close to being reality, right?

Q    Sure, I mean -- but I've never -- I've not gone down that road.  I'm just asking --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.  But in the event that you were to travel down that road.  (Laughter.)

Q    He doesn't answer hypotheticals.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  Right, he doesn't do hypotheticals, right, yes.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Thank you, thank you.

MR. GIBBS:  Your spokesperson there saved you on that one.

Q    You're saying the President would abide by basically what he said in the campaign, which is those workers who did negotiate so that they have better health care instead of wage increases, they would not be impacted?

MR. GIBBS:  That's something they're going to discuss today.

Christi.  I'm sorry, I'll go back -- go to Christi, and then I'll come back.

Q    On two different topics, if I can.  First of all, has the White House Chief of Staff signaled to the President that he's entertaining the idea of leaving to run for any office or to do anything else?

MR. GIBBS:  I think he addressed this on --

Q    I'm glad you mentioned that.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  -- Savannah's new cable show seen daily at 9:00 a.m.  (Laughter.)

I think he committed to Savannah to be here through 2010.

Q    He did, indeed.  That's MSNBC.  (Laughter.)

Q    Are there any other high-level personnel changes coming that -- (laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  None that I'm aware of, no.

Q    And back to the Yemen transfers or the Guantanamo transfers for just a minute.  You halted the ones to Yemen.  Are you still going forward as before with repatriations to other countries?

MR. GIBBS:  We are continuing the process whereby the task force evaluates all that are there for the status of their case and to understand how, in closing Guantanamo Bay, they'll be dealt with.

Q    Okay.  So there's no other kind of hold on any other country?


Q    Are people going into rehabilitation programs in any country at all?  Is that being --

MR. GIBBS:  Because we're not -- you know, we've -- this is like the third -- we just aren't going to get into the specifics of agreements that are ultimately made in terms of transfer.

Q    Okay, but can you say, are you reviewing the Saudi rehab program right now?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, we're making determinations about -- making determinations about each case at Guantanamo Bay.

Q    And is any one of those determinations that you are suspending possible transfer into their rehab program in Saudi Arabia?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sure they continue to evaluate but there have not been any pronouncements on that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, last week Governor Schwarzenegger urged his congressional delegation either to make sure California got the same Medicaid deal as Nebraska or else vote against the health care bill.  Does the White House support extending the Nebraska payment system nationwide?

MR. GIBBS:  I would say this, that the President obviously understands greatly the fiscal situation the governors find themselves in.  I think a pretty good understanding of how the President feels is a big chunk of the Recovery Act was for FMAP Medicaid funding to go to help states out of their fiscal situation.  And the President wants to work with governors in understanding in tough economic times and in tough budget times taking on new challenges.  So we're going to continue to work with governors.

Q    So he would be open to the idea?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that's certainly part of the discussion.

Yes, sir.

Q    Back to Yemen, the fact that the President of Yemen is even talking about talking to al Qaeda seems to sort of have thrown quite a large conflict with the administration's policy.  Is the White House confident that the President of Yemen is -- can be relied on to help combat extremism there?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, as evidence of the steps that he's taken over the last many months to deal with it, absolutely.  And we believe -- we believe that the President is taking the necessary steps, and we continue to support his efforts to combat extremism.

Yes, sir.

Q    I have two questions, Robert.  On Friday you addressed Rudy Giuliani's comments that there were no domestic attacks under Bush.  And since then he revised his statement to say that he meant to say no domestic attacks on American soil by Islamic terrorists since 9/11.

MR. GIBBS:  I think that's accurate.

Q    Okay.  And my second question --

MR. GIBBS:  I mean, you know --

Q    Okay.  That was fast.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, no, no, I mean, I think what was missing was --

Q    Well, I mean -- right.

MR. GIBBS:  What was missing from --

Q    There are several examples, though, that don't fit that, so I wanted to see --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would say this.  I haven't -- I can go through the -- look at vast numbers of examples.  My point was that the mayor of New York had forgotten about an attack that happened in New York during that administration, and I was caught off guard by that fact, as I think anybody that might have been watching was sort of caught off guard by what he was saying and what he meant to say.

Q    Are you satisfied with the clarification in that --

MR. GIBBS:  I'd have to look at what other instances he's -- again, my point of contention was September 11th, which I thought it was weird that he'd forgotten.

Q    And the second question.  There's a story on the front page of the Daily Caller today, says something like --

MR. GIBBS:  What's that?  (Laughter.)  Where's Jon?  Is he not -- that joke's no good if he's not here.  Sorry, go ahead.

Q    The story -- the headline is something to the effect of that the Christmas bomber was singing like a canary until the Obama administration read him his rights.  And I remember there was a briefing last weekend, John Brennan said something like -- I don't know if he put this fine a point on it, but is it true that the FBI is satisfied that they've gotten all the information that they could out of the suspect before he lawyered-up?  I thought I heard him say something like that.

MR. GIBBS:  I think what I've said and what John has said is that the FBI questioned the terror suspect after the incident, and were satisfied with what they -- the usable information that they got, absolutely.

Q    There's no feeling like they left something on the field there?

MR. GIBBS:  Or on the table.


Q    Robert, why isn't the President going to campaign for Martha Coakley?  It's a tight race, very important to his agenda, potentially.

MR. GIBBS:  It's just not on our schedule to go to next week.

Q    All right, then why is it not on the schedule?

MR. GIBBS:  It's just not on the schedule.

Q    Has he been asked by the Coakley campaign to come?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.

Q    Has he been asked to stay away?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.  (Laughter.)

Q    Is he concerned -- is there concern that his -- I mean, it just doesn't make any sense -- is he concerned that his current popularity ratings --

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.

Q    -- if he goes up there that he might hurt her campaign?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.

Q    So just not -- it's just not on the schedule.  It's the scheduler, actually, who has decided not to send him?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  No, I didn't say it was -- you didn't ask me that.  We just -- it's not on the schedule as a trip the President is going to make.

Q    Thanks, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  Ken.

Q    Robert, it looks like Harold Ford is very serious about jumping into the Senate race in New York.  What's the White House's position on having a candidate like Harold Ford run for that Senate seat?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think the White House is quite happy with the leadership and the representation of Senator Gillibrand in New York, and as many are in the DSCC, we're supporting her reelection.

Thanks, guys.

Q    And how would you handicap the chances of Rahm and Senator Schumer to clear the field this time around?

MR. GIBBS:  Stay tuned.

1:20 P.M. EST

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