the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Aboard Air Force One En Route Denver, Colorado; 2/18/2010

3:10 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  All right, fire away.

Q    Any more details you can tell us about the plane crash?

MR. GIBBS:  No -- as I said earlier, John Brennan briefed the President.  We've gotten a number of updates on the flight from the Situation Room.  The President will get regular updates as well as local and federal officials figure out what happened on the ground.

Q    To follow up on my question earlier, there was some talk before we left that this might have been a case of domestic terrorism, that distinction that it might have been a domestic act of terrorism.  Is there any clarity on that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I took your question to mean an incident of foreign -- terrorism from -- that had threatened the homeland from somebody like an al Qaeda.  As I said earlier, we don't suspect that.  I am going to wait, though, for all the situation to play out through investigation before we determine what to label it.  Ben, I would say this.  You have -- again, I don't want to get ahead of where we are in the investigation, but obviously -- well, let me just do this.  Let me wait until we get a better sense of where we are on the facts.

Q    Do you think the President will address it?  Does it rise to that level?

MR. GIBBS:  I think some of it depends on sort of where -- what we learn and where this goes.

Q    Talking a little bit about the deficit panel today, has the President been in touch with Republican leaders in the House and the Senate about appointing members to it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President spoke with Congressman Boehner and Senator McConnell last week at the bipartisan meeting.  I know that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have been in contact with each of those individuals.  The impression that we got was in fact that they would appoint members.  I do not know if they have commented specifically on that since the President signed the executive order setting up the commission.

I would say this, that this is a panel that is very comparable to what statutorily would have been set up through Conrad-Gregg and the companion legislation in the House that Congressman Boehner was a co-sponsor of.  In fact, the ratios, as I understand it, in the House bill would have been four -- the ratios for appointments from Democrats and Republicans in Congress is actually stronger in the President's executive order than would have been called for under the legislation that Congressman Boehner co-sponsored.  I would -- I can only assume that those two individuals are equally as concerned about fiscal responsibility as the President.

Q    So your assumption, at least at this point, is that they will appoint members to the commission?

MR. GIBBS:  That's our assumption.  I have not seen anything directly, though, from them.

Q    Moving on to one other issue, do you have anything to comment about the IAEA reports today on Iran?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the reports again continue to demonstrate the failure of the Iranian government to live up to its international obligations.  The President has on a number of occasions talked about engagement, talked about the benefits of living up to those international obligations.  And the IAEA has been -- the IAEA has been charged with trying to seek agreement from the Iranian government on the Tehran research reactor.

And we've always said that if Iran failed to live up to those international obligations, that there would be consequences.  And I think this report is -- demonstrates for the world again the obligations they're failing to live up to.

Q    What about the fact that the President is out here so early in the midterm elections, in the primary process?  Some Democrats have complained about that, saying you're picking sides.

MR. GIBBS:  We're supporting incumbent U.S. senators -- in the case of Senator Bennet, somebody who has represented Coloradans admirably in the Senate and has their best interests at heart.

Q    When will the President post his health care plan online?

MR. GIBBS:  Soon.

Q    Sometime before the -- can you give any kind of --

MR. GIBBS:  As I said earlier, it will be in -- I don't have an exact date for you.  It will be within plenty of time for people to evaluate the ideas.  We do know that there have -- Senator Enzi has said that he will participate in the Blair House event next week, and we hope that the Republicans also will post their ideas online for bringing down health care costs.

I will say this, and I hope everybody has seen the press release and the report out of the Department of Health and Human Services today, which notes that the high increases in the individual insurance market that were proposed by Anthem in California are very much the tip of the iceberg.

We've seen this happen throughout the country.  And without a concerted effort to drive down costs through comprehensive health care reform, more and more people across this country are going to open their mail, open letters from insurance companies, and realize that, regardless of what they did last year and, quite frankly, regardless of what health care spending does, they're in for a big rate increase.  And I don't think that that's what those individual policyholders have in mind.

Q    Robert, can you characterize the status of the discussions between the White House and the leadership in Congress on merging the bills over the -- that's been ongoing over the last week or so?  Where do those stand?

MR. GIBBS:  All I'll say is this.  We continue to be in contact with the House and Senate on making progress on health care reform and look forward to a productive discussion next -- a week from today, next Thursday.

Q    And the bill you post is likely to be along the lines of what you guys were proceeding towards before --

MR. GIBBS:  I won't get ahead of what we may post and I'd be happy to characterize when we do.

Q    One other question.  Does the President have an opinion on whether the President of Toyota should testify before the congressional committees?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not asked him specifically about that, Michael, but I will.  I'll say this.  I think everybody in -- everybody I think is rightly concerned about the recalls that have happened.  Secretary LaHood and others have worked diligently to make sure that these investigations were taken seriously.  We’ll continue to only have the safety of those drivers in mind and hope that Toyota will do all that it can to rectify this dangerous situation.

Q    Will you try to ask him at some point and get back to us?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I will.

Q    (Inaudible) to the President's visit, what about poll ratings?  That's another thing that’s been brought up, and the fact that the President's polls aren't so good and it could actually be a detriment to those he’s trying to campaign for.

Q    Just turn around now, Robert.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I was going to say.  (Laughter.)

I can't follow the logic of that since I don’t think it’s a surprise that we’re going to land in Denver and help Senator Bennet today or go to Nevada later today.  If it is, the movie may be shorter than you hoped.

Q    How do you all see the political landscape in Colorado and Nevada?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I mean, in a presidential year they’re very competitive states, as they were just two years ago.  Look, I think the political landscape, not just in these two states but throughout the country, continues to be dominated by concern about the economy -- not surprisingly.

But I think the President will talk about ways in which he hopes that Republicans and Democrats can work together to make progress on issues like the economy, on deficit reduction, on health care.  Because most of all I think what the American people are looking for are not the same old games that get played in Washington, but somebody that's willing to deal with their concerns for the people that live in Denver or Aurora, or Henderson, Nevada or anywhere else throughout the country.

Q    He’s going to talk about Democrats and Republicans working together at the fundraisers?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that he is going to talk about the fact that we need to make progress for this country.  And, Ben, the only way we’re going to make progress for the country is to work together.  And what we need to do is move forward on the issues that we’ve talked about:  getting this economy moving again and creating more jobs; health care reform, so that individuals that run small businesses aren't opening those letters and finding their health care go up 39 or 40 percent, even though the cost of health care isn't going up nearly that much.

Q    (Inaudible) more chance for bipartisanship if there were more Republicans in the Senate?

MR. GIBBS:  How so?

Q    Well, I mean, you know, if bipartisanship is what you're after and if that's how -- then why, you know, I mean --

MR. GIBBS:  I'm going to give you a few minutes to figure out what you were talking about and then we’ll come back.  (Laughter.)

Q    Robert, could you talk a little about tomorrow’s events, the chamber event and the town hall?

MR. GIBBS:  First there will be a town hall meeting where -- look, obviously the President will take questions from the audience, something he very much enjoys doing; will then go over and speak to the Chamber of Commerce and the President will talk specifically about ideas that he’s had both in December and at the State of the Union to continue to get our economy moving.

Q    Is there a sort of opening theme or a focus of the town hall?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ll wait a little bit to get into that.

Q    Robert, the issue of campaign finance seems to be a big one in the Colorado election, specifically.  And Senator Bennet’s opponent seems to align himself more with how President Obama was as a candidate, in terms of refusing money from PACs.  Is that an issue that the President is following in this particular primary?

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.  Not that I'm aware of.

Q    Can you share any personal reflections the President had about meeting with the Dalai Lama?

MR. GIBBS:  I have not gotten those from him, but let me try to get them for a different leg on the trip.

Q    When will the President announce the other four members that he’s nominating?

MR. GIBBS:  The hope is to do that in the next couple of days.

Q    Who’s it going to be?

MR. GIBBS:  You didn't make the cut, I'm sorry.  (Laughter.)

All right.  Thanks.

END
3:23 P.M. EST