Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/28/09
For Immediate Release October 28, 2009
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
12:31 P.M. EDT
Q Payments to President Karzai's brother by the CIA -- what can you tell us about how that -- or if that has caused any consternation here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I would refer questions about that story to the CIA.
Q So it's not true?
MR. GIBBS: The best person to ask that to is somebody at the CIA.
Q And what's the reaction here to the attack in Kabul today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think whether it's the events in Kabul or in Pakistan, obviously the President sends his condolences to those innocent victims of violent extremists. In Kabul, obviously there's an attempt by some to disrupt the will of the Afghan people in choosing their next government that this administration believes will not succeed. And I think the events in Pakistan demonstrate the lengths that extremists will go to when -- and the type of threat that they pose not just for this country but for the government of Pakistan as well.
Q Is there a rethinking here about either how much or what kind of security is needed over the next couple weeks there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously that has been discussed in this runoff process and the administration is confident that there are appropriate resources to conduct an election and that the will of the Afghan people won't be thwarted.
Q On health care, what is President Obama doing to help Harry Reid get to 60 votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President is obviously working to see progress continue to be made on health care.
MR. GIBBS: How? The President and his team are -- spend time on Capitol Hill and dealing with Capitol Hill each day in order to move this process forward.
Q Robert, I want to go back to Afghanistan. The President has said repeatedly -- he did again in Florida the other day -- that it's more important to get the strategy right than to get it done fast. But given the fact that there's been new violence pretty much every day this week in Afghanistan, October has become the deadliest month in the war, doesn't Senator McCain have a point when he says this has become kind of a long, protracted decision-making process and maybe it's time to act?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think -- I certainly wouldn't agree with Senator McCain on that, and I don't think the American people agree with Senator McCain on that. I think it's important to hear and get -- to get this right. That's the process by which the President has undertaken with his national security, and that's what's important.
Q Back in March, part of the rationale of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan was to help secure the country in advance of the election. There's a runoff coming up. By that same rationale, why not send more U.S. troops in the short term in order to secure the country if there's a runoff coming and there's all this violence --
MR. GIBBS: Well, because -- because, as I stated earlier, the troops that were authorized to go by the President to create a security environment that allows us to have an election -- we saw the same type of cowardly violence leading up to the first election. I don't doubt that there are going to be members of the Taliban or violent extremists that seek to disrupt, as I said, the will of the Afghan people. That's not going to be successful. The Afghan people are going to decide who their next government will be run by, and we're confident of that.
Q On another subject, The Washington Times is reporting today that the President has awarded big donors to the Democratic National Committee with various access to senior officials here at the White House. One donor got a birthday visit to the Oval Office. Obviously I know other White Houses, Democrats, Republicans, have done things like this. But the President last year promised to clean this up. What went wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, I think understanding what this President has done is institute the very toughest ethics and transparency rules of any administration in history. We're the first administration in history that will soon provide a list of each and every person that visits the White House, something that's never been done before.
The Democratic National Committee does not accept contributions from registered federal lobbyists or political action committees and hasn't done so since President Obama became the party's nominee last year. I think as the statement that we issued said, a contributor -- contributing doesn't guarantee a visit to the White House, nor does it preclude it.
Q It appears that people are getting special access because of these donations. If you've taken --
MR. GIBBS: Hundreds of --
Q -- those other positive steps, why not shut off access?
MR. GIBBS: Hundreds of thousands of people have visited this White House since the President came in, and I think the President has returned to a stance of transparency and ethics that hasn't been matched by any other White House.
Q The RNC is calling for the White House to release the names of donors who have gotten special access to White House advisors and perks like the bowling alley. Will you release those names?
MR. GIBBS: Every name of every person that comes to this White House will be released.
Q In the past, too?
MR. GIBBS: I think there soon will be some look-back list that will be released. But again, Chip, this -- this is something, again, that for the first time in any administration at any point in our history, we've undertaken releasing publicly those names. I would remind -- let me just also -- the Republican National Committee -- there's two political parties, two major political parties in this country. One party doesn't accept contributions from registered federal lobbyists. That same party doesn't accept contributions from political action committees. It's not the committee with which you just asked me the question on.
Q Are you saying the White House will release the names of any donors who come in, and then, say did they meet with particular White House advisors as -- in exchange for those contributions?
MR. GIBBS: Through an agreement that we announced in August, the names of people that come to the White House will be released, and any contributor's name --
Q But will we know what they did --
MR. GIBBS: -- is released as per the forms on the FEC.
Q Will it simply be a name on a list, or will we know that they came here to meet with a senior White House official in exchange for a contribution?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, as we did this briefing in August, I'll remind you that the WAVES records will denote who that person is, when they came, how long they were here, and who they met with -- again, a standard not met by any other previous White House.
Q We will know if they used the White House bowling alley, for example?
MR. GIBBS: There are only a couple of people that I know that have used the residence bowling alley.
Q -- bowling alley also.
MR. GIBBS: I can report to you that Ethan Gibbs, with the bumpers down, bowled a couple of games while eating some chicken fingers.
Q Was there a quid pro quo here?
MR. GIBBS: No, of course not.
Q Well, the DNC documents actually say those who raise $300,000 before the 2010 midterm elections get quarterly meetings with senior members of the Obama administration.
MR. GIBBS: I'll point you to the DNC on that.
Q But they're with White House officials.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'll point you to the DNC.
Q How can you point us to them when it's White House officials who the meetings are with? Can I have one other? Do you know if any of these donors have had a night in the Lincoln Bedroom -- reminding of an earlier controversy?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q In view of the escalation of deaths in Afghanistan is the President considering withdrawing and saving lives for a change?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, the President began the meetings on the assessment with saying we were not leaving Afghanistan. We understand that we have a role to play in ensuring stability in the region.
Q We also have a role to play to save lives.
MR. GIBBS: Which is why the President is taking his time to get this policy right.
Q Just to follow up on Chip's question, when -- the first round of these releases is December 15th, is when we're supposed to get them?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- it's sometime in late December, yes.
Q That will be for everybody going back three months? Is that how it's going to work, every three months we will get the previous three months?
MR. GIBBS: That's what I understand, yes.
Q On Afghanistan, I know you don't want to comment about Karzai's brother, but stories like this obviously don't just get consumed here in the United States. Is it a concern of the White House that a story like this can --
MR. GIBBS: You had it correct that I'm not going to get into this.
Q But are you worried about stories like them, having them -- influencing the environment in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I will say very separately from -- again, if you have questions about that story, there are places to go to.
Q Idle speculation like this, is it helpful?
MR. GIBBS: I don't necessarily do idle speculation, Chuck. (Laughter.) But I would say this administration is, as you know, conducting a comprehensive assessment as to where we are, and every participant in any meeting that's happened here as part of that assessment understands that we have to have and -- we must have a partner that addresses governance issues as we move forward. That goes from anybody that's here representing -- anybody that's a civilian or anybody also that's in the military.
Q Has Karzai's brother's business --
Q That sounds like a little bit of a slap-down.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q That sounds like a little bit of a slap-down.
MR. GIBBS: No, it's something I've said repeatedly in the past.
Q But how is that related to something like that story?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I said to Chuck, it wasn't related; if you have questions about that story, there are places to go.
Q Have Karzai's brother's business dealings come up in the Afghanistan review?
MR. GIBBS: I said I'm not going to get into this.
Q And wait, one other thing. On our poll, on these -- showed that there were dramatic drops in the public perception of whether the President is changing business as usual, achieving his goals, uniting the country. Why do you think the public doesn't seem him as doing very well on those markers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the public understands, as it relates to many of the questions in your poll, that we have work to do. We have not -- you guys take polls on fairly periodic basis. We continue to work on making sure that what the President asked have happen in this campaign, that the American supported, that we worked to accomplish. Not all of that was done by the time your poll was conducted, and we continue to work, though, to focus on the issues that are clearly important to the American people.
Q Why in April were they so -- were they high, all over 50 percent, and now --
MR. GIBBS: You're the one who called them, I didn't.
Q But, I mean, do you guys -- do you have -- do you guys worry that those numbers have dropped, that there is a sense --
MR. GIBBS: No, the President doesn't --
Q -- that the public is a little concerned --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, the President doesn't spend a lot of time reading your poll. The President doesn't spend a lot of time focused on only what's politically popular. The President didn't take an approval rating in January and put it up on the shelf for all of us to shine and admire.
Q Uniting the country -- this was something he just talked about with Senator Brooke and --
MR. GIBBS: And the President will -- Chuck --
Q -- it's something that looks like the public is saying, this ain't happening.
MR. GIBBS: It isn't happening. But I --
Q Does the President accept any responsibility for this?
MR. GIBBS: The President accepts a responsibility of reaching out every day to make sure it happens. He's done that. But as you -- as I've said -- if I've said it once I've said it two dozen times -- there are many roads that lead from this building to Capitol Hill; very few of them are one-way. I think you've had -- look, again, I would reiterate the story. When we went to talk to the Republican Caucus about the recovery plan, before the motorcade left the White House, they put out a statement opposing it. John Boehner I think came out several months ago saying he opposed health care reform, despite the fact that your same polls shows that if we leave the system as is, that will be a disappointment for the American people because they'll continue to pay for the high cost of health care; they'll continue to be discriminated against by insurance companies; millions more small businesses will not be able to offer the type of benefit that they know they need to offer to attract the type of workers they need to create jobs.
Q Can you tell us, between now and Tuesday what more activities, if any, the President and the Vice President are going to be having for Democratic candidates up for elections?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know -- I don't have the Vice President's schedule. I know the President, as was previously announced, will be in New Jersey for a couple of stops.
Q That's Sunday? And is that for a rally, or fundraiser, or both?
MR. GIBBS: I believe it's -- there's two stops and I believe one of them is a rally.
Q And what do you think this election means to the Democratic Party and to President Obama?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jonathan, we'll have a chance to dissect different results at different points. I'll reiterate what I said yesterday on the plane as we were in Virginia: I think that the pollsters at The Washington Post poll identified the fact that roughly 70 percent of the states said their vote had nothing to do with the President of the United States; that the remaining 30 was roughly divided evenly among those who wanted to use the vote to say something about the President, which led the pollsters to deduce that it had very little to do with the Obama presidency.
I would say the same thing -- I think the same polls showed that among likely voters for next Tuesday, voters in Virginia approved of his job at 57 percent, which is higher than the number we got in Virginia on Election Day. So we'll have time to go through this -- give us something to do next week.
Q What foreign fingerprints do you see on what's been happening in Afghanistan the past few days?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into discussing that level of detail.
Q Well, it's been documented, for instance, that Iran has funded and supplied weapons to Taliban. Do you think that they're helping them to coordinate the timing of the attacks?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into --
Q Where do you think it is being masterminded?
MR. GIBBS: I'm still not going to get into that here.
Q How come?
MR. GIBBS: I'm just not going to discuss intelligence matters from the podium.
Q Quick cleanup. On the disclosure things, the statement that just came out said they were coming out monthly. I think you said quarterly. Or did I get that wrong?
MR. GIBBS: I thought it was quarterly. I will double-check.
Q On the Joint Chiefs meeting on Friday, can you talk a little bit about that meeting and the general agenda, or any specifics? And also, is that going to be the last meeting before we get a decision?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know honestly if that's going to be the last meeting. This was a meeting requested by the President to see the Joint Chiefs and to have a chance to talk to them and to other service branches about the ongoing assessment in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I don't have an agenda beyond that.
Q Will he be meeting with anybody on this topic tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I can double-check with the schedule, but I don't have that -- not that I know of.
Q Robert, how, if at all, do the casualty figures from this month weigh on the President as he debates internally the strategy and the method to go forward?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think you've heard the President say on a number of occasions that the hardest thing -- the hardest task that he has on any given day is signing the condolence letter to a loved one who's lost a son or a daughter or a husband, a wife, in Iraq or Afghanistan, or serving our country overseas. The President, as I said, and the First Lady send their thoughts and prayers to those that have gone before us and sacrificed and paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom.
Q Does the President have anything to say to those who might think that a spike in violence might deter him from a less aggressive posture in Afghanistan? Does he want to formulate -- or through you -- articulate his approach to the policy there even in the face of heightened U.S. casualties?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think the President will take into account, as he has heard in meetings in the Situation Room and in other meetings that he's had in the Oval Office, take into account a broad range of advice and experience. But I don't believe he has any special criteria. He understands the amazing sacrifice that our Armed Forces makes; he understands the burden that our military has shouldered over the past many years, responding to crises all over the world.
Q In the conversations that have gone on so far, if you can in any way inform us, is it thought that casualties are increasing because counterinsurgency efforts are increasing and more things are being stirred up, the enemy is being dealt with more directly, or efforts are being made to wound and kill U.S. forces to make this war less politically popular, perhaps withholding the President's ability to prosecute it more fully?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard something relating to the latter. Obviously we have a force the size extensively larger than was in there just a few months ago and obviously we're in the midst of the fighting season in Afghanistan and obviously coming to the end of that. But increased number of forces makes an increased number of operations that sometimes result in the very sad news that we've heard this week.
Q From the podium could you address what we sort of left hanging a little bit last week, which is the sum total of what the Bush-Cheney transition left the administration regarding Afghanistan -- its questions it asked, policy pronouncements or suggestions it made, and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in depth -- obviously the documents that resulted in the assessments that happened in the latter months of the Bush administration obviously are top-secret documents. There were a couple of different assessments that were done. As you know, upon coming into the White House the President authorized an assessment of his own that led to the decision to add an additional 21,000 forces to create a secure -- more secure environment leading up to the initial election in August, and that the President said that at a point in which a government was chosen, after that election we'd have a chance to assess going forward in Afghanistan. And that's where we find ourselves now.
Q When Rahm was on a Sunday show he said there were a series of questions that were being asked by this administration for the first time: What can the Afghan government do or not do? Where are we on police training? Could this be something the Europeans could do? Should we take up the military side? Based on your understanding of what you got from the Bush-Cheney, is it still accurate to say none of those questions were raised or dealt with in those transition documents?
MR. GIBBS: I think if you look at what Rahm was saying, the question isn't whether or not somebody was asking those questions; the question was whether anybody was acting on any assessments relating to those questions. That's what the President evaluated between the time he was sworn in and March when he authorized additional troops moving to Afghanistan.
Q The decision is still several weeks away?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Does the administration share the optimism of private forecasters who say that when GDP numbers come out tomorrow, the economy would have shown to have grown for the first time in a year? Is that something that you guys think will happen?
MR. GIBBS: If not, call Tommy. No, we're -- as you mentioned, quarterly gross domestic product figures will be released tomorrow. It's certainly our hope that we'll demonstrate for the first time, as you mention, in more than a year growth in our economy. I think, as we move on through the week, we'll also be able to discuss the reports that are coming into the independent board that evaluates the recovery plan for direct jobs that have been created. And I think we'll be able to continue to evaluate the progress that the Recovery Act has helped make in spurring economic growth, understanding that we still have, in the President's mind, much work to do to ensure an environment that is helping to create jobs.
Q How do you explain the tepid feeling the public seems to have toward the Recovery Act given what you just said?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the American people understand fundamentally that we didn’t get here overnight and that one single piece of legislation isn’t going to cure all of the problems that were created over a long period of time. The Recovery Act was intended to cushion the blow of the -- and severity of the economic downturn, to help save and create jobs, one aspect of a larger recovery that includes financial reform which is making its way through Congress to ensure that the type of activities we saw don't happen again.
I think the American people understand that this is a process that didn’t happen overnight and is going to take some time to solve, understanding that the President spends more time thinking about the economy than on anything else that he works on each day.
Q Robert, since the administration has decided sort of in progress that you will release these visitors logs, it shows a willingness to --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry --
Q You decided sort of throughout the course of these last few months that you will release the visitors logs --
MR. GIBBS: This particular decision I think was finalized in August, yes.
Q Right, which indicates that as the administration goes along you're willing to sort of create new policies or change rules based on the optics of things. Does the President believe that anything should be changed going forward from here about the Democratic contributors coming to the White House? Does he believe that anything should change going forward --
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about that today. But understand that what the President campaigned on -- toughening our ethics rules, making more transparent our transparency policy -- was something that he was passionate about and is proud of the progress that we've made in ensuring that. We had 4 million contributors to a presidential campaign. Ninety percent of those contributions were in the form of small donations. The President was clear with all of us that as it related to those that came to the White House, that those names could -- or that those names should and would be public. And the President will continue to work on this.
Q Besides the aspects of the transparency, does the President believe that allowing donors to visit the White House, if their names are released or not, is in the spirit of what he was talking about during the campaign?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said, giving a contribution to the DNC doesn’t guarantee you a visit here, nor should it or would it prohibit that.
Q But does it help, obviously?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q But it obviously helps get the potential of a visit here.
MR. GIBBS: Four hundred thousand people have visited this White House since the President was inaugurated.
Q Robert, back to health care. If the public option, even with an opt-out, loses Olympia Snowe and Joseph Lieberman, aren't you back to square one?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's -- I think this is a debate that is and will go on for quite some time. I think we've got a decent ways to go just in this round of it and I think we'll see progress -- continue to see progress being made. So I hate to look two weeks down the road based on what somebody may or may not say today.
Q How is it changed if you still have Democrats insisting on a public option, Republicans refusing to have it, and still not enough votes to pass it in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: How has it changed? We're in a process where the House will soon introduce its own bill, because we're through the committee process; the same on the Senate side. And what's changed is we've never gotten to this point before in debating health care reform.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions on health care. One is, recently there have been some Republicans and some commentators that have raised the question about the constitutionality of a federal mandate to buy health insurance. And I wanted to ask you about that.
MR. GIBBS: I won't be confused as a constitutional scholar, but I don't believe there's a lot of -- I don't believe there's a lot of case law that would demonstrate the voracity of what they're commentating on.
Q Second question -- and I'll just ask that you let me complete the question first -- that is --
MR. GIBBS: Interesting concept, but go ahead, yes.
Q Well, last time you didn't.
MR. GIBBS: No, the last three times. Actually, it was four. (Laughter.) Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q Congressman Stupak has said that he has 40 Democrats to kill the health bill in the House if his amendment to bar abortion funding doesn't get a vote. And he said that he has personally asked the White House to intervene and ask Speaker Pelosi to call for a vote on this amendment. Will the President do that?
MR. GIBBS: I will see if there's any update from Legislative Affairs on that. I know that the President's position on this has been clear, that no federal money should be used to pay for abortions in a health care bill.
Q But Congressman Stupak, in an interview he said that in a conversation he had with the President, that the President told him he wasn't referring to the House bill, he was referring to his own vision of a health care bill.
MR. GIBBS: I can go back and see if I can get any more clarity on that conversation. I do know they -- I mean, obviously, they did talk about this when Congressman Stupak was here.
Q Can you get back to me on it?
MR. GIBBS: I will get some guidance from Legislative Affairs.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q And have you been asked about swine flu? Is the President satisfied that the federal government has done a good job --
MR. GIBBS: Did you want an answer to your previous question, or do you just -- go ahead, I'm sorry. (Laughter.) I only did that because they snickered, and I just thought I'd play along.
Q Is the President satisfied with the way the government has informed the American people about the availability of the swine flu, that it's gone smoothly enough?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think this was something that the President and his team identified many months ago, when we saw the initial outbreaks that were off of the normal or traditional peak flu season. The President took action with his team. Obviously, we have seen from manufacturers a delay in the production of the vaccine that we're working daily to help rectify. I think it's important that the public continue to take the precautions the President has long talked about, and repeatedly check Web sites like flu.gov to get updates on actions that they can take to minimize the risk that they and their families face as we head into a more peak flu season.
Q Well, the question is not -- you can't control how fast the vaccine comes out, but you can inform people on what to expect. And there are people in very long lines and very upset that they haven't -- they were led to believe they could get it. Has the government done enough to make that process smooth?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we're constantly working on that, understanding that we are layering on to a vaccine effort efforts that have to be conducted by many different levels of government. We're continuing to work on ensuring that the vaccine can get to where it needs to get and to the priority groups it needs to get to as quickly as possible. And it's a topic, I can assure you, that's brought up daily here.
Q Back on the visitor logs. Those logs, as I understand it, will be released on the 31st of December?
MR. GIBBS: I've got to check on the exact dates of -- I think they will come out on a frequent basis on a certain day.
Q But they only go -- but they only start with the visitors that came after September 15th. Why is that? And will the White House consider releasing records of visitors prior to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there is -- I think there are going to be requests that have been made for records that will be done -- that have been made and it will be released shortly on earlier visits, understanding that one of the things -- that this was a question fairly early in the administration, that I said the administration was working on a process for how to do this -- understanding that the computer system that you have to go through, that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have to go through in order to get into here, was not equipped to do what our administration asked of it to do. That process we put together in order to ensure going forward those names would be released. And if people have requests, they should be sent to the White House.
Q The 400,000, those are mostly, I'm assuming, East Wing and Residence visitors --
MR. GIBBS: Some of them are tours, sure.
Q We're not talking about West Wing meetings. The West Wing meetings --
MR. GIBBS: Some of those are -- you'd be surprised the number of people that come in and out of this building each day.
Q So you're saying, though, that the West Wing meetings, the records for those meetings prior to September 15 are not being released because there wasn't adequate records --
MR. GIBBS: I'm saying that all those names -- there's a process -- again, I appreciate -- everybody seems much more interested in this policy today than they were when we actually rolled out a policy that changed several hundred years of history. We should maybe --
Q -- had a reason to wait; now we have reason to ask questions. There's a big difference. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate that you all have perked up.
Q Well, contributors coming into the White House going to the bowling alley and places like that will make you perk up.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know what, Chip, I'm glad that it took only about three months for the perking to happen.
Q Well, if you told us about it then, we would have perked up then.
MR. GIBBS: From now on I'll start lacing in the news that changes several hundred years of precedent going forward in the White House with a shiny, dazzling object for which to hopefully perk up --
Q And you'll tell us when big contributors come to the White House and in exchange for their contributions have meetings with White House officials?
Q Can you just clarify real quickly, what is the reason for --
MR. GIBBS: Again, the process of accumulating those records.
Q So they will be released in mass?
MR. GIBBS: No. I've answered this now twice, Jon. If people have -- and I think your paper does -- have requests that look back, those requests are being entertained and fulfilled.
Q Robert, keeping with the administration's ethical tone, why not set a policy that says campaign bundlers and donors will have no more access to the White House campus or senior administration officials than the ordinary American?
MR. GIBBS: Peter, the President believes strongly in transparency, that people can determine whether -- who's here, why they're here, and for what course of business; that transparency in that way in the best policy. There are people that gave money that the President has been personal friends with since they went to school. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to preclude somebody like that from coming here simply because they gave money. David Axelrod couldn't work here if that were the case -- he's a donor.
Q The President shortly will be signing the Matthew Shepard legislation as part of the defense bill, and presumably he'll talk about it at the time. But many of the activists are comparing this potentially to the impact that the 1960 civil rights legislation had for black Americans. And I wanted to ask you, is it the President's position that this is also milestone legislation for gays? And also, can you give us a update on White House strategy with the Senate in terms of the "don't ask don't tell" policy? Have you figured out who you want to carry it yet and --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an update on that. I will tell you, Margaret, that obviously the President, as you said, will address this topic in signing the DOD authorization bill later this afternoon -- something that the Shepard family and others have worked on for more than a decade, and the President is proud that it's going to become law.
I'll tell you this, the President -- and you'll hear him talk about this later today -- the President is also proud -- Chip, you might want to perk up -- the President is also proud --
Q I'm writing down every word. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The President is also enormously proud that -- of the effort that was both made and that happened, Chip, in the DOD authorization bill that cut out unnecessary weapons programs as part of a larger procurement reform that the President, Secretary Gates, and Senator McCain have talked about throughout the year -- F-22 funding for almost $3 billion that was in a bill that has now been cut out; a presidential helicopter system that is no longer being funded after massive cost overruns.
I think the President has a lot to be proud of in this legislation because in many ways it is changing exactly the way Washington does business. We're no longer funding weapons systems that the Pentagon believes will do serious disruption to their current missions, or for programs that are not or no longer needed.
Q On just the gay rights stuff, does the President see himself having the potential to do what the Johnson administration did for civil rights, for gays?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President made a series of promises, including repealing "don't ask don't tell," ensuring that a hate crimes bill would come to his desk and that he would sign it. Those are promises that he made sincerely and takes quite seriously and is happy that one of them will become law today.
Q Robert, the hate crimes bill doesn't just deal, though, will the issue of anti-gay sentiment and things of that nature. It deals with hate on other fronts to include ethnicity and things of that nature. Could you speak to the fact that you have to deal with this and sign this into law in 2009 when you do have the first black President here in the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President -- I'd just reiterate that the President is enormously proud of the fact that a bill that he thinks should have become law quite some time ago before he was here, he's happy to make sure becomes law today.
Q Also on another front, has anyone from the White House, Legislative Affairs, anywhere, contacted Joe Lieberman by any chance about -- on a whole other subject, on the issue of public option and health reform?
MR. GIBBS: Today? I don't know whether they've talked to Senator Lieberman.
Q In recent weeks?
MR. GIBBS: The Legislative Affairs team is in touch with many on Capitol Hill. I'm sure they've talked to Senator Lieberman. I'm sure they've talked to others.
Q Is it a slap in the face for this administration, after they gave him a reprieve early on and for him to come around and say, I'm going against you?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- I'm not going to judge the end of this process by what people say today.
Q We're not talking about end, we're talking about what's happening right now.
MR. GIBBS: You can talk about what's happening right now. I'm focused on not necessarily what is happening on any given day but what the President is trying to do over the course of his administration to ensure affordable and available health care.
Q Are you surprised that he is making -- taking this step? I mean, he's still powerful no matter what party he's involved in. Are you surprised that he's taking this step?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President is going to work to ensure that choice and competition are in a final piece of health care reform legislation because that's what has to -- that's what we have to have in order to make health reform real.
Q Are you guys okay with Harry Reid's tactics?
MR. GIBBS: The President got an update on the tactics and is pleased that we're making progress going forward.
Q When did he get the update, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: When did get what?
Q Has he spoken with Harry Reid in the last 24 hours?
MR. GIBBS: No, he got -- I think they got a legislative update last week when they were here and you guys asked me why they were here.
Q Has he spoken with Senator Lieberman -- when was the last time the President spoke to Senator Lieberman?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of in the last week.
Q Is he in regular conversation with Lieberman?
MR. GIBBS: There's not a periodically scheduled call. Again, I don't -- it's not like, oh, gosh, it's Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., I've got to call Senator so-and-so.
Q You know what we're talking about.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, but do you remember who you called -- when was the last time -- if I started asking you when the last time you called a certain person, you could tell me within the week?
Q I could tell you. I could tell you. (Laughter.)
Q -- with Joe Lieberman?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, when was the last time you talked to Joe Lieberman? Was it last week?
Q No, it was actually three months ago. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: What day?
Q My follow on that --
Q To take my question back really quickly -- (laughter) -- will the President support Democratic groups such as Organizing for America or groups that support Democratic causes targeting Joe Lieberman politically?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into a series of hypotheticals.
Q Mine is on the same general topic --
MR. GIBBS: You mean the last time you talked to Joe Lieberman? (Laughter.)
Q It's been a couple of weeks, but we didn't talk about this.
MR. GIBBS: Don't give me "a couple of weeks" -- tell me when.
Q Would the President call Senator Lieberman -- consider that he would call Senator Lieberman to say, at least cast a vote to let this be voted on on the Senate floor and not block it procedurally?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the Senate -- I'm not Senator Lieberman's spokesperson, but I think if you talk to Senator Lieberman's spokesperson, Senator Lieberman said today that he would vote for the motion to proceed and have this bill come to the floor. I think that's the first part of this process.
Q The second part of the process, which is the vote --
MR. GIBBS: You can't get to the second before you get to the first. A motion to proceed and a motion to get a bill out is a little different.
Q Fine, but my question is just the substantive problem that Senator Lieberman has with the bill and I'm wondering if you agree with him. He thinks the public option is going to create a new entitlement program that is actually going to result in increased cost in the health care system.
MR. GIBBS: I think we would disagree and I think elements of the Congressional Budget Office would disagree with the analysis that Senator Lieberman has made.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
1:15 P.M. EDT