Aboard Air Force One
En route Green Bay, Wisconsin
11:10 A.M. CDT
MR. BURTON: When we land the President will be greeted on arrival by Governor Doyle, Congressman Kagan, and Mayors Schmitt and Barrettt of Green Bay and Milwaukee. At the high school he'll be greeted by the school superintendent, Gregg Mass, and Principal Brian Davis and his wife, Dawn, and their four daughters. He'll have a couple of small meetings, one before and one after, with grassroots activists and local political leaders.
A couple facts about Wisconsin and Green Bay: In Green Bay unemployment is at 8.4 percent; Wisconsin as a whole, 8.6 percent; Green Bay has lost 5,400 jobs since December of '07. Wisconsin is a state, 137,500; and the rate of uninsured in Wisconsin is 8.5 percent.
Q: I'm sorry, I didn't hear that.
MR. BURTON: It's 8.5 percent. I thought you had that in your story today. I guess not.
Q: The activists that he's meeting with afterwards, how long will that be and who are they?
MR. BURTON: It'll be pretty fast. It will be about 10 to 15 minutes and that's beforehand. They're just local grassroots activists -- he does it at most of these stops, just a normal meeting.
The meeting afterwards are leaders -- I don't have the full list with me, but it includes the Lieutenant Governor, Barbara Lawton and some others.
Q: I'm sorry, activists on health care that he's meeting with before?
MR. BURTON: No, no, no, just local grassroots activists, people who are involved in the community in different ways.
Q: Are they involved in Organizing for America?
MR. BURTON: Yes, some of them.
Q: And is he going to talk to them, given that that group is making a big push on health care now and he's here to talk about health care -- is that why he's meeting with them?
MR. BURTON: It's part of it, for sure. It's to check in with activists, to talk to them, listen to the questions and concerns that they have and encourage them for being involved in their communities.
Q: Before we get into all the health care stuff, can we just get a couple -- like, just White House reacts on pandemic level, World Health Organization -- do you guys have anything on that?
MR. BURTON: The President has always treated this as a very serious issue. And what the World Health Organization has done today is more an issue of geography than intensity. And so our response will be as aggressive as it has been in making sure we're doing everything possible to mitigate its spread.
Q: Okay. And then on consumer purchasing, an uptick for the first time in three months, more examples of green shoots in the economy? The Commerce Department report came out this morning on that.
MR. BURTON: I don't have anything on that, I'd refer you to those guys.
Q: Looks like there's a compromise on the Hill to deal with the Guantanamo detainees, that they'll be able to come to the United States to face trial, but if they're convicted they won't be -- they won't stay here. Where does the White House stand on this, and what's the role the White House has been playing in this deal?
MR. BURTON: Well, we've obviously been talking to folks in the Democratic and Republican parties in both the House and the Senate to find the best possible solution to ensure the safety and security of Americans, and to make sure that justice is done here on the detainees who are going to be criminal -- who are going to be prosecuted in criminal courts. And so I'm not going to get into the back and forth on what's happening in the negotiations other than to say that the President has obviously been talking to folks on both sides.
Q: But if justice is done here, where is that justice going to be carried out? I mean, if they get justice in a U.S. courtroom, where should they be sent to serve out their sentences, if convicted?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't want to prejudge the conclusion of a result that hasn't come to pass just yet.
Q: Both the American Medical Association today in comments they filed at a Senate Finance Committee said that it opposed the creation of a government health care --
Q: Public plan?
Q: Yes, public plan, and that's -- President Obama is going to be speaking to the American Medical Association on Monday in Chicago. Is he going to be making a push? Is this a big disappointment that the AMA has come out against this?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't want to get any further ahead of what Gibbs had to say yesterday about what the President will be discussing in Chicago on Monday in his address to the AMA. But I will say, obviously, people come to the table with different ideas, what they support and oppose, and the President is working with folks in the different groups and people in both parties on Capitol Hill to ensure that we've come up with the best comprehensive plan that's going to bring down costs, that will allow folks to keep their doctors and their health plans if they're happy with them, and assure that every American has access to quality health care. As it comes to the public plan, obviously, he supports it, and that's what he's made very clear to folks on Capitol Hill. So there's a wide variety of things to discuss with the AMA on Monday, and with groups all across the spectrum.
Q: Is he willing -- is he open to all of the various iterations of a public plan that are being discussed on Capitol Hill right now?
MR. BURTON: The President, as recently as yesterday, had Democrats and Republicans of the House to talk to them about their ideas, to hear their concerns and questions about comprehensive health care reform. And we're going to continue to do that from the White House. There's staff on Capitol Hill every single day meeting with folks on -- from both sides of the aisle, and I don't want to get ahead of any negotiation or prejudge where this is all going to end up.
Q: Does he think he can get the AMA on his side, or are they just a group that he's just going to have to kind of muscle past?
MR. BURTON: Well, he is going to continue to work with everybody, people who even oppose a lot of the things that we're for right now. But what's important is that we come to the table with a lot more common ground than there has been in the past, giving some momentum to health care reform happening this year.
And so we're just going to continue to work with doctors, with health care plans, with Democrats, with Republicans, to everybody who has got an idea to make sure that we come up with the best possible plan.
Q: Is he going to announce anything new here at this town hall?
MR. BURTON: Not in the prepared remarks. (Laughter.)
Q: Who is here with him today on the plane from his health care team or beyond?
MR. BURTON: Cecilia Munoz is here, Mona Sutphen. I'm here.
Q: Is this your first gaggle?
MR. BURTON: Second or third.
Q: And Bill Burton, for the record, what's your middle name?
MR. BURTON: Allen. William Allen.**
Q: Bill, did you and Gibbs clarify reading Miranda rights to combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MR. BURTON: I'm going to direct you over to the Department of Justice on that. They put out a statement on that yesterday, and I think that there's been some mischaracterization of what's happening over there.
Q: So Green Bay is an area that has managed to keep its health care costs down. Can you talk a little bit about why the President decided to come here today? I assume that's part of the reason.
MR. BURTON: Well, the President came here today -- the President decided to come because Green Bay is a community in the middle of the country that's feeling a lot of the pinch of the economic downturn that we're seeing all over the country. And he wanted to talk to folks about his plan, hear from folks about -- or questions that they have about it.
Obviously, that data that's come out about the efficiency in the Green Bay health care system is going to be talked about some today.
Q: Does he see something in Green Bay that can be replicated across the country?
MR. BURTON: Well, that's one of the things that the administration and folks across the spectrum are looking at right now: What is it about communities like Green Bay and others across the country where people are getting a lot more bang for their buck in the health care system? So to the extent that he's going to look at Green Bay as a model, he's going to look at all these communities to find what's really working out there and how we can replicate it across the country.
Q: What kind of tone are we going to hear from the President today?
MR. BURTON: The President's tone is going to be one of some urgency, that after decades of inaction, now is the time for health care reform. He's going to encourage folks to bring their ideas to the table, and he's going to talk about the importance of health care to our long-term economic growth and fiscal sustainability.
Q: Does the AMA's announcement give him any pause or cause for concern that he won't be able to achieve his goal?
MR. BURTON: He knew at the beginning of this process that people would oppose and support different elements that were on and off the table, and this is just one part of the process. He's going to talk to the AMA on Monday, and thinks that we'll be able to have an open and honest dialogue about the issues that we're all very concerned about.
Q: Bill, at the beginning of the process, you guys stressed that he has these three principles, and beyond that he was completely flexible, so long as the outcome met his principles. Now you've gone a little deeper by saying he's for a public plan. Are you saying that -- are you going to use the same formulation? In other words, any way that gets him a health care proposal with a public plan in it is fine? I mean, is he equally flexible on the details of a public plan as he used to be on the details of the whole health care overhaul?
MR. BURTON: I don't think you would hear the President make a statement that foreclosed ideas in the way you just formulated that. He's open to talking to folks about what their ideas are, and if people have a better idea on any different element of this than he has, he's open for business.
Q: So as long as it's a public plan, he's open to any way to actually get there?
MR. BURTON: That's actually what I did not say. What I said --
Q: He wrote that letter to Congress last week saying he was for a public plan.
MR. BURTON: He did say that he's for a public plan. He's made that crystal clear to folks in Congress and the different groups, and people are reacting in different ways to it. But he thinks that that's the best way to ensure that costs remain down and we're able to keep the health insurance industry honest as it relates to cost and care.
You guys ought to sit down.
Q: One other thing on the shooting yesterday on Tyrone Johns. Did the President speak to the family, at all, of the deceased security officer?
MR. BURTON: He has not just yet.
Q: And is it -- is it on the agenda for him to talk to anyone, or --
MR. BURTON: I will keep you posted on that.
Q: Okay. Thank you.
Q: Say again?
MR. BURTON: I said I'll keep you posted.
END 11:21 P.M. CDT