Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Honolulu, Hawaii, 12/24/09
11:28 A.M. EST
MR. BURTON: Good morning, guys. Thank you for joining us. I asked the President if he had any special message for you guys -- he would like for you to relax and to not anticipate any public announcements or news-making events.
Q We've heard this lie before.
MR. BURTON: Well, we dispatched with the Ben Bernanke reappointment last time around so you don't have to worry about that.
Q There are some fed vacancies, though, so can we expect those this week?
MR. BURTON: I wouldn't.
Q Do you have anything for us -- reports are that Anwar al-Awlaki was taken down, he was suspected of having contact with Hannan. Do you have anything for us on that?
MR. BURTON: I'm not going to comment on the specific reports. As we've said previously, the President supports the government of Yemen and their efforts to take out terrorist elements in their country and we'll continue to support those efforts.
Q Does the United States have any knowledge that this was going to happen before it did?
MR. BURTON: Like I said, I'm not going to comment on the reports.
Q Can you tell us what the President was doing when the Senate voted this morning? And, you know, they're going to start to do conference by phone next week -- will he be involved in any of that, or is it strictly vacation?
MR. BURTON: The President was of course closely tracking the vote and as he said, was very pleased with the result. He's been involved throughout this process working with members of the House and the Senate; White House staff has been working with their staffs and you can imagine we're going to continue to work with those folks as we go forward to ensure that we get this historic health care reform done for the American people.
But, as you can imagine, even though it's the holiday season I think things besides sugar plums are going to be dancing in the heads of people like Nancy-Ann.
Q Will he be making phone calls, too, as the Senate and the House make phone calls next week?
MR. BURTON: I don't have anything for you on that. If he makes any phone calls I'll make sure that you know.
Q Where there high-fives going on at the White House? I mean, what was the feeling like when the vote happened?
MR. BURTON: People felt very good. This health care reform has the major elements that the President wanted to make sure that it has. For people who don't have health insurance it helps them have access to affordable health insurance. It has significant historic health care reforms for the insurance industry.
And so we've got two bills, one in the House, one in the Senate, they're 95 percent similar. We're going to be actively working to iron out the rest of the differences and get a bill passed and signed.
Q He did watch?
MR. BURTON: He was tracking it. I don't know if at the specific moment the vote was called that he was in front of a TV, but he was very closely tracking it. As you know, this has been something very important to the President.
Q Do you think the President might take steps in January to sell it to the public -- maybe a tour or go out with events -- because it's fallen in the polls somewhat as the debate has gone on.
MR. BURTON: Well, I would actually say that -- not being an expert in polls, but support for health care reform has actually been remarkably stable. And as we've gone through months and months of debate on this, attacks from opponents of health care reform -- some honest, some not -- that ultimately the American people very much want the kind of health care reform that's moving through the Congress right now. And so the President has been very actively talking to the American people about it. You can bet that he'll continue to do that in January -- but I don't have anything on that level of specificity as to whether or not he's going to go out and actually do events and that sort of thing on health care reform, but he will be talking about it of course.
Q There's some news out today that the Housing Authority has approved multimillion dollar pay packages for the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie. Do you know anything about this and does the President have an opinion, given how the public has felt about multimillion dollar packages for CEOs in general?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President's views on compensation are well known. But I will say that on this specific report I would direct you to Treasury for comments on the specifics.
Q Has the administration heard from states that might need help with their budget difficulties? I know California is considering asking the administration for some help as far as for -- I guess some leeway on federal mandates. Is that something that you can comment on?
MR. BURTON: I've seen the reports that Governor Schwarzenegger was specifically looking for aid and it's something that obviously folks at the White House are taking a look at. The President, through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law a lot of aid to states and as a result of that many of the jobs saved this last year were teachers and cops and firefighters and other folks like that. So it's obviously something that we'll take a look at, but I don't have anything further than that.
Q Do you have a reading list for this next couple weeks? What's he going to read, who's he going to visit with, how much golf is he going to play?
MR. BURTON: When I said that there were no scheduled public events, there also aren’t a lot of scheduled private events. I think the President is going to wake up and see where the day takes him. I've checked out the forecast for the entire time we're there: tomorrow it's 81 and sunny; Friday it's 81 and sunny; Saturday it's 81 and sunny. So I think that the weather ought to lend itself to some outdoor activity.
Q But what is he going to do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? I mean, how does the First Family spend those days?
MR. BURTON: I don't know specifically what's on their agenda this year. They obviously have dinner together and there's exchanging of presents. They'll enjoy some of the same traditions that they've enjoyed over the past years when they go to Hawaii. They see some of their friends. There will be some friends from Chicago who come, like the Nesbitts and the Whitakers. And I think he'll just try to enjoy Christmas the way his family has traditionally enjoyed it. This is an opportunity for the President to recharge his batteries, knowing that as President you never really get to power off all the way.
Q Is Rahm going to keep his job despite Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist?
MR. BURTON: I have the feeling that Rahm's job is very safe.
Q Did the President get the First Lady anything for Christmas?
MR. BURTON: If he did, I wouldn't be able to tell you.
Q Will you do a readout of the gifts?
Q Will you --
MR. BURTON: I think details about the First Family's Christmas plans are going to be on a need to know basis.
Q What did you get Mrs. Deputy Press Secretary? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: I can't tell you that either; she looks at the transcripts.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: Merry Christmas.
11:36 A.M. EST