James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Ms. Sidoti, you've got poor attendance on the front row, but we'll start.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Here comes Chuck.
Q: Still getting dressed. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Fix your collar, there -- just trying to help you out there.
Q: What's the White House's sense of the situation in Honduras at this point? Are we on the cusp of a true meltdown? It seems to be spiraling.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's best for me to characterize what actions have happened here. Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon, who deals with the Western Hemisphere at the Department of State, and Dan Restrepo from the National Security Council, met yesterday at the OAS with President Zelaya. I think you've seen the OAS take some actions and set some deadlines for the restoration of President Zelaya before actions kick in, and I think that's where we are.
Q: But with the Pentagon suspending joint military operations, how far-reaching is that and are there next steps that are under consideration as well?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we continue to monitor the situation and will respond accordingly as events transpire. But, again, as I said, we're watching closely what's going on.
Q: Another kind of meltdown, this one California. The legislature there failed to agree on a balanced budget plan and they're on the verge of having to take the extraordinary step of issuing IOUs to their creditors. How concerned is the administration about this development in California -- and possibly in other states, as well -- and what, if anything, will the federal government do to help them out of it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the biggest step the federal government can do we have done, as it related to the recovery plan. I think about $144 billion is the amount of money in the recovery plan for states, as many of them struggle with the downturn in the economy and how it affects each of their state budgets.
As you mentioned, there are a number of states that find themselves at the end of the fiscal year and required to pass budgets. We're certainly watching -- I know in California's instance they had sought many weeks ago a designation under TARP, which I think the Secretary of Treasury said, based on the law, wasn't possible.
But I think the major contribution from the federal government has been an increase in Medicaid and education money to go to helping to close some of those fiscal gaps.
Q: But that really has only been a drop in the bucket for the problem they have. The stimulus plan hasn't really given them enough to make ends meet. Is the administration considering anything further than that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I forget the exact number of budgetary shortfall, but understand $144 billion represents a pretty large chunk of total state budget shortfall. It's not the whole thing, but I think it's an important step that we took, understanding that an economic recovery had to include individual state governments. And we've certainly taken, I think, important steps to cushion as much as possible that blow.
Q: Does it concern the administration that the largest state is about to start issuing IOUs and what kind of message that sends to international credit markets?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we continue to watch the situation, and we'll see as it develops.
Q: Robert, I know you don't like polls, and tend not to like --
MR. GIBBS: Depends. (Laughter.)
Q: You like the positive polls, but any negative polls typically are dismissed. But in this new CNN poll, when it comes to health care --
MR. GIBBS: Some CNN polls --
Q: We actually like those and think they're quite credible. But it shows that there is some resistance among the public for the President's plan. They believe that their health care costs will go up under the President's plan, and only a bare majority, 51 percent -- 45 percent approve of the plan. Any concern at all that there's some resistance, perhaps, among the public to the President's plan on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, you might elicit a different answer if the poll was 45-51, rather than 51-45. So --
Q: But to the question, then, of concern that their health care costs will go up.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that's why we have to do -- continue to do the job of telling people what will happen if we change the rate of spending on health care; that if we seek greater efficiency, seek treatments not simply -- when we approach people's health care, we seek to treat them, not simply to provide more and more treatments. That's certainly one of the things that the President has talked about. Changing the way we spend money on health care is extremely important. That's obviously something the President has dedicated a lot of time to doing.
Millions and millions of Americans right now are paying a premium every day for the millions of people that don't have health insurance but have to seek medical treatment in an emergency. There are tons of hidden costs in our health care system that have to be addressed through comprehensive health care reform.
I think yesterday, though, there was some important developments relating to this, right? The nation's largest employer, Wal-Mart, is supportive of aspects of our health care plan because they understand, as a business, they are seeing the crushing effects of skyrocketing health care costs -- just as families are, just as state governments are, just as the federal government is.
So I think the President you'll see today continue to describe for the American people the positive aspects of health care reform and the reason why doing nothing just isn't an option.
Q: So then -- is it an issue, then, of the President having to better explain himself to the American people? Perhaps they're not --
MR. GIBBS: Or the news media. No, I'm just kidding.
Absolutely. The President -- I mean, I don't think the President -- one of the reasons the President is out there today is for people to get a better understanding of what his health care plan will do, how it will help and impact them, what it will do to change the cost for their family or for their small business. All of those are aspects of what the President will seek to do -- has done and will do, certainly later today in Virginia.
Q: Just one more point on that, though. But does he have to change anything at all? I mean, he's been talking about holding town hall meetings, and now, of course, going online, interactive. But does anything have to change to sort of ramp it up, to better explain it to the American people if, at this juncture, there's still some confusion perhaps, they're not buying into it?
MR. GIBBS: My sense is a lot of this is frequency, and I think that's why you've seen us frequently do more events on health care.
Q: Follow up on Wal-Mart. What did Rahm Emanuel say to Wal-Mart's people on Tuesday to get them to issue that letter yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think this was something that -- I think Rahm would appreciate you denoting that he might have twisted or broken an arm, but I don't think that's the case.
What happened was this is something that I think the nation's largest employer, as well as one of the nation's -- if not the nation's largest union -- I think they both understand the same thing. They're watching skyrocketing health care costs.
There was a -- I wish I would have brought it out -- there was a great quote in the Wall Street Journal by the head of the retail association who said that he was surprised that Wal-Mart had traded -- had abandoned their previous position on an employer mandate for the promise of health care savings. The ridiculous notion that a business would make a business decision; that a business that's suffering the crushing cost of health care increase year after year after year might eventually year after year after year come to the conclusion that the status quo was unacceptable. That's precisely where the President has come to.
I think a lot of the American people have come to that conclusion and I think that's why Congress is making significant progress on health care reform.
Q: Can I follow on that, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: In its letter, Wal-Mart said the commitment to rein in health care costs must be the strongest possible and endorsed the idea of a trigger mechanism that would automatically enforce reductions in medical expenditures. What's the White House position on the concept of a trigger in the ultimate health care reform legislation?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if what that is explaining -- and I'll find out from Nancy-Ann -- I don't know if what that is talking about are some of the MedPAC recommendations that the White House has also endorsed. I think you've heard Peter and others talk about this notion that -- set up as a result of, I think, the balanced budget agreement of 1997 -- there is a board that considers options to rein in unnecessary health care costs from the government -- from the government's perspective.
And each and every year, almost en bloc, these recommendations are gathered and moved aside. Obviously the President and his team believe that this is a key component of health care reform; that ensuring -- and again, I want to make sure that these two things are similar, but --
Q: They specifically mentioned the Baker/Daschle/Dole approach to this, which may be different than MedPAC, I think it's a slight variation on that.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on the differences. I mean, again, I think the President -- to underscore --
Q: There are some Democrats who are not in favor of this at all, and that's why I wanted to get the specific --
MR. GIBBS: Sure. Again, I think you've heard the President say that -- remember this isn't a bill for a bill's sake, this isn't reform for reform's sake. This has to be something that's meaningful. One of the meaningful aspects of any of this legislation has to be something that significantly reins in the costs of health care. We can't -- if all we do -- right, if all we do is take what's happening now with those skyrocketing exponential costs and simply add to that, you're just creating a system that can't sustain itself. Obviously we've got to change the arc of health care spending.
Q: But, Robert, what about the smaller businesses? I mean, obviously Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the country. What does an employer mandate really look like and what level could be able to opt out? What does the White House want to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously there's going to have to be discussion on this. This is not -- without having the details in front of me, this is not something that is going to be -- there are certainly going to be exemptions for business size in this. There's no doubt about that.
Q: So, ideally, what size?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll leave that up to some health care negotiators rather than picking a number here. But I think, again, I think what's important is -- you know, I think this represents a pretty big mindset change on behalf of the nation's largest employer, and it's a recognition first and foremost of the notion that health care costs are increasing at a rate that cannot be sustained even by the largest employer. So you can imagine the crushing impact that it has on people that are not seeing gross revenues like they are.
Q: But those same people say that this will crush them even more.
MR. GIBBS: Who says that?
Q: I mean, the smallest businesses having some kind of a mandate like that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that's why the smallest business is not going to fall under that scenario. There's obviously going to be some carve-out as it relates to that.
Q: Can I ask you just one -- on a lighter note, Sarah Palin in an interview with Runner's World said that in a one-on-one with the President she thinks she has more endurance. Would he consider going for a run with the Alaska Governor?
MR. GIBBS: That's an interesting question. How's her jump shot? I guess it depends on where they were going to run. Maybe there's a terrain advantage in a place like Alaska. But I will certainly ask him if he's got any free time in his summer to do that.
Q: At today's town hall meeting, questions coming in on YouTube and Twitter and such -- who decides what questions will be asked?
MR. GIBBS: I think a group over at New Media is shuffling through questions. I think if you go on -- I did not do this today, but I think if you go on our Web site you'll see some of those questions. And I think, Chip, at the end of the day, when you -- I think the questions that will be read to the President -- obviously he'll take some questions from the audience there -- I think will be a representative sample of the issues in this debate that we're dealing with.
Q: And the audience is all preselected, right?
MR. GIBBS: No, we usually just generally hand out tickets on a first come, first serve basis.
Q: Well, I think in this case, the people were invited either by the White House or by the university -- I mean, invited by this community college, as it was explained to us.
MR. GIBBS: Well, if the university is --
Q: It just feels very tightly controlled. It feels -- I mean, the concept of a town hall I think is to have a open public forum, and this sounds like a very tightly controlled audience and a list of questions. Why do it that why? Why not open it up to the public?
MR. GIBBS: How about we do this -- how about you can ask me that question tomorrow based on what questions were asked rather than preselecting your question based on something that may or may not come through.
Q: But why pre-select? Why not just open it up for people and allow any question to come in?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I think if you get on your computer from your e-mail address --
Q: I have. I have.
MR. GIBBS: Have you sent in your question?
Q: I think that would be inappropriate. This is for the public.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, I'm confused -- are you not a member of the public?
Q: Well, I think if you were going to allow questions from the press you'd have us in a prominent position over there and allow us to ask questions -- you haven't done that.
MR. GIBBS: Let's not get into the notion of where you'd be sitting -- (laughter) -- if I let you ask a question, but --
Q: Well out of shouting range.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but you could e-mail.
Q: Would you put my question in there? I don't think so.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe. Have you e-mailed?
Q: I mean, this is a town hall.
MR. GIBBS: It's a little -- if you haven't e-mailed.
Q: This is an open forum for the public to ask questions, but it's not really open.
MR. GIBBS: I couldn't agree more.
Q: But it's not open.
MR. GIBBS: Based on what?
Q: Based on the information that your staff gave us on how the audience and the questions are being selected.
MR. GIBBS: The questions are being selected by people that e-mail on Facebook and Twitter.
Q: Well, they're not deciding what questions actually get in.
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I appreciate, again --
Q: It just feels completely controlled --
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate, again --
Q: -- in a way unlike his town meetings all the campaign and --
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the pre-selected question on your part.
Q: Will there be dissenting views --
Q: Yes, how about that?
MR. GIBBS: I think that's a very safe bet. But, again, let's -- how about we do this? I promise we will interrupt the AP's tradition of asking the first question. I will let you ask me a question tomorrow as to whether you thought the questions at the town hall meeting that the President conducted at Annandale --
Q: I'm perfectly happy to --
Q: That's not his point. The point is the control --
Q: -- we have never had that in the White House. And we have had some, but not --
Q: This White House.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say, I'll let you amend her question.
Q: I'm amazed -- I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency and --
MR. GIBBS: Helen, you haven't even heard the questions.
Q: It doesn't matter. It's the process.
Q: You have left open --
Q: Even if there's a tough question, it's a question coming from somebody who was invited or was screened, or the question was screened.
Q: It's shocking. It's really shocking.
MR. GIBBS: Chip, let's have this discussion at the conclusion of the town hall meeting. How about that?
MR. GIBBS: I think --
Q: No, no, no, we're having it now --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'd be happy to have it now.
Q: It's a pattern.
MR. GIBBS: Which question did you object to at the town hall meeting, Helen?
Q: It's a pattern. It isn't the question --
MR. GIBBS: What's a pattern?
Q: It's a pattern of controlling the press.
MR. GIBBS: How so? Is there any evidence currently going on that I'm controlling the press -- poorly, I might add. (Laughter.)
Q: Your formal engagements are pre-packaged.
MR. GIBBS: How so?
Q: Well, and controlling the public --
Q: How so? By calling reporters the night before to tell them they're going to be called on. That is shocking.
MR. GIBBS: We had this discussion ad nauseam and --
Q: Of course you would because you don't have any answers.
MR. GIBBS: Well, because I didn't know you were going to ask a question, Helen.
Q: Well, you should have.
Q: Thank you for your support.
MR. GIBBS: That's good. Have you e-mailed your question today?
Q: I don't have to e-mail it. I can tell you right now what I want to ask. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that at all, Helen. I don't doubt that at all.
Q: Actually, could you pass along a question to the President from all of us, is he going to support a tax increase on the middle class?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- if you get on your computer you can ask him that yourself.
Q: I think you're a more direct pipeline than --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. I was just told that you guys have a pretty good -- go ahead.
Q: So, ADP, private employers, they've released their estimates on what the job loss figures on private payrolls -- they have it at 492,000 for June. Obviously we know we're going to get the public number tomorrow. Worse than expected. Wall Street just concluded -- stock market just concluded its first positive quarter. I know we hear all this time that unemployment --
MR. GIBBS: Lagging indicator.
Q: Lagging indicator on this stuff. But it is just such a stark contrast: Wall Street recovering; Main Street, not. I mean, there it is. What do you say?
MR. GIBBS: I think we've probably had this discussion more than virtually any other. And I think I have long said, despite your questions, that I don't equate what's going on necessarily each and every day in the economy to the ups and downs of the stock market. I never have.
Q: A full quarter they had positives, though, which means they're on an uptick, so --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q: -- but it goes to this concern that somehow that you've done a lot to help Wall Street with the financial bailouts, and it hasn't trickled down to Main Street.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think you can go back to any number of your questions about what was going on as it related to the recovery and what was going on in Wall Street. I wasn't the one making that connection -- many of you were. So I'll leave that largely aside.
This is not -- as I've said before, this is not going to happen overnight. This is not something that we got into recently. This is a recession that I think statistically dates back to December of 2007, and I think if you look at the job loss figures, specifically in the last six months, you see a real change in the number of figures -- a real jump in the size of those figures.
Q: But it's clear the number is not moving the way I think you guys thought it was going to --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, we've always said this was going to take time. I said last week that I would -- I think that either this month or next month we'll hit 10 percent. I think if you go back and look at economic forecasts around November, December, and January, you'll find that a lot of people were surprised at what we ultimately learned in November and December, which was the level of growth -- I forget the numbers -- were less than -- we were contracting at less than a percent, and then all of the sudden, I think the ultimate revised figure for the last quarter in 2008 was negative 5.5 percent growth.
Q: Should the public feel better? They should feel better, we're going to have -- shed a half-million -- another half-million jobs? But Wall Street --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm going to wait for --
Q: I understand the statistics stuff, but, I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to wait for --
Q: -- should the public feel better about this?
MR. GIBBS: I think that the public rightly, as the President will be, rightly anxious until we see job creation, not job loss; positive economic growth, not negative economic growth. I think that's going to take some time -- not simply because it's a lagging indicator, but I think for the economy to turn around from the depth that it has been in is not going to happen over the course of one or two months but the course of many, many, many months.
Q: Sixty Senate seats -- your party has them.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: The no excuse -- Republicans saying no excuses now, everything is on the Democrats, everything is on this White House, you know, if you fail to get something it's because you can't get unity in your own party. Is that fair?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's a little -- I don't know who said that, but it's a little odd from -- it's a little odd if --
Q: The Chairman of the -- I think Michael Steele said it. I just set you up -- (laughter.) That's okay. There are others saying it, it's not just Steele. It's Republicans saying, hey --
MR. GIBBS: Wasn't he complaining last week about bipartisanship?
Q: Don't ask me.
Q: He wanted to meet with the President about health care last week.
MR. GIBBS: Well, apparently it's all on us. Why does he need to meet with us?
Q: But is that fair? I mean -- but you have the 60 Senate seats. You have a huge majority in the House. You have the White House. Your agenda -- it is in your -- it's in your party's hands, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Look, there's no doubt -- I don't know that 60 -- I don't know that the seating of one senator changes the notion that Democrats control both Houses of Congress and the White House. I hope the implication by Chairman Steele is not that addressing America's problems isn't the priority of all Americans that serve in government, it's not simply one party. That is a follow-up you could ask him. This President is going to continue to pursue the policies that he believes are important to turn our economy around, to lay that foundation for long-term economic growth, to change our image throughout the world, and continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans to make that agenda happen.
Q: You say it's one senator. I have heard from plenty of -- from you, from others -- 60 senators -- understand how the Senate works; if you don't have 60 votes, you don't have it. Well, you now have -- your party has 60 seats, and I understand that it's still always difficult to get the 60. You don't have that excuse anymore, though.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's math, there's -- look, I will say this, as I've said many times, I think we don't get everybody from every party on every vote. That includes the Democratic Party. But where we'll continue to make progress -- I think that -- I think all of us, Democrat or Republican, have a unique responsibility serving in government in times like this to work as much as we can together to address and solve these problems. I don't think one party can simply say, okay, it's all yours. That certainly doesn't seem to be the message, again, in prior weeks about making sure that they're part of the solution. I think that's the outreach that the President will continue to do in order to restore our economic growth and get this country back on track.
Q: Are you saying you don't see 60 votes as a rubber stamp in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you can -- I assume there's about 60 U.S. senators that would confirm that for you, yes.
Q: Has the President changed his mind about sending more troops to Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Changed his mind how?
Q: Well, when he has spoken about Afghanistan, he has spoken about upping the U.S. military presence. Yesterday on Iraq he said forces that come out of Iraq could be used in Afghanistan. And yet General Jones is making it sound that your emphasis will be on economic development in Afghanistan rather than military victory.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are several hundred years of evidence that military might alone is not likely to solve all of your problems in that country or that region of the world. Understand that the troop increases that the President ordered upon coming into office are in the process of phasing in. Not all of that has been done. The President was concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan, as were commanders on the ground, and additional troops have been approved in order to stabilize the security situation as we head into those important elections.
But I think the important point that General Jones was making on that trip throughout the region in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India is, in order to -- and I made this point yesterday in Iraq -- in order to stabilize that country, to get it back on track and to solve some of the long-term problems, you're going to have to have more than just military might. You're going to have to have more than military power. The onus is also going to have to be on the Afghans to improve their security situation, which is why a portion of the additional troop increases go for training the Afghan police and the Afghan military, which is tremendously important.
But if we don't get good governance and improvement in governance, if we don't get an increase in development and a change in the economy, I think the President, and I think General Jones would agree, that no amount of troops are going to leave that country in a situation that is sustainable.
Q: Can I follow up on that, please?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish. Yes, you can. But I think that's the point, much as the point I made yesterday on a couple of questions as it related to Iraq. I think it's pretty clear that an increase -- or I should say a decrease in the amount of violence, and in some ways an increase in troops to change the security environment, while extremely important, isn't going to get us all the way until there in Iraq is political reconciliation, until you see a government that is able to economically create jobs and things like that in order to promote sustainability and security there.
So I think this is -- the President strongly believes this is something that, as he said before, this isn't either/or. It's not military or economic. It has to be both.
Q: President Obama, in his remarks yesterday on the community solutions agenda, he was commenting on Iraq, and he said that by 2011, that all of the U.S. troops will be out of Iraq. Did he mean all, there will be zero, not one troop left in Iraq, especially since in legislation that he sponsored before as a senator, said that we need to leave some amount of troop presence there to protect civilians, to fight terrorism, et cetera.
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand there's two different deadlines I think that we're talking about here. The plan that the President has and that commanders on the ground and commanders here are implementing is in about 14 months, you'd see the removal of all combat brigades from Iraq. There would be trainers and a residual force that's left. But understand, when the President says all our troops will be out of Iraq, that's in accordance with the deadline established in the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the previous administration and signed by the sovereign government of Iraq.
So I think --
Q: Is there flexibility on that? Does it mean that there could be troops there after 2011?
MR. GIBBS: I think the agreement -- I think there's an agreement that's been signed between two countries that denote the end of military involvement at the conclusion of 2011.
Q: Concerning the trip next week, has the President spoken with Medvedev since he met with him in London in April?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. They spoke yesterday about the importance of the upcoming summit and in making progress on issues that will be on their agenda.
Q: And we have the briefing at 3:30 this afternoon -- that's on the record, right?
MR. GIBBS: I think it is. We have Denis, Michelle Gavin, Mike Froman, and Mike McFaul, who will walk you guys through each aspect of the three stops.
Q: Could you elaborate a little bit on that phone conversation?
MR. GIBBS: Just to say that they spent a few minutes discussing the issues that they're going to discuss in the upcoming summit.
Q: What issues --
MR. GIBBS: The reduction of nuclear weapons.
Q: The arsenal stuff?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Missile defense, could that come up?
MR. GIBBS: Only in relation to the notion that will be discussed next week.
Q: Robert, for a couple of weeks now, the internal report from the CIA put together by its inspector general on the interrogation techniques of that agency has been delayed. There are concerns among those -- specifically, the ACLU has been fighting to get this -- that it will be dumped late this week or right before the holiday weekend and sort of missed or lost. What is the status of that report? Why is it being delayed? And will it meet or exceed what you have set as a standard of transparency on this particularly sensitive national security topic?
MR. GIBBS: My standard or Helen's standard?
Q: The administration's.
MR. GIBBS: I think -- here's what I know of the report, and I would refer you to DOJ because I think part of this is obviously based on Freedom of Information Act litigation involving the ACLU and in some ways an outcropping of what you saw in the OLC memos that were released earlier this year in the President's term.
It's my understanding that the interagency review of the document and what can be released is continuing and I don't anticipate that that's going to be released today.
Q: Today? This week?
MR. GIBBS: It's my understanding that it's doubtful that it will be released this week.
Q: Doubtful. And this interagency review process, is part of it to increase the amount of information that's available? Obviously the first report was almost thoroughly redacted. Is part of that process, part of the delay, to make this as transparent as possible or is it principally legal issues --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say it's a -- in some ways, it's a combination. Obviously part of this report, as I said, is an outcropping of that Freedom of Information Act litigation that resulted in the release of the OLC memos. Obviously some of the information that's out now can -- you can go back now through the older IG report -- in a sense, I don't know if this is a word, "unredact" some of that material. That's what -- I think that's a decent part of what's going on interagency-wise right now.
Q: Quickly, the Iranian police has conducted an investigation into Neda's death and concluded it was staged. I don't know if you had a chance to look at that, if you have any reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that is the ongoing campaign of misinformation about what's going on. I think the notion that the death of an innocent woman would be staged is -- even with them it's shocking that that would be what would come out.
Q: Follow-up on Iran? Follow-up on Iran, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Mousavi earlier today put out a statement in which he called for protests to continue. He also said that he considered the government now to be illegitimate. He demanded the release of political prisoners. Does the President have a reaction yet to that statement? And has the President himself talked to the release of people who've been detained in Iran?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and see if that's something that we've done or not. Obviously, David, you've heard the President speak on a number of occasions that the President strongly believes in the right for people to gather in protest without fear or harm or violence. Obviously there are still a lot of questions that surround the most recent election. And I think I'll leave it at that.
Q: On Honduras? One of the triggers of the coup was President Zelaya's attempt to alter the constitution to allow for reelection. Does the White House believe that the President -- that President Zelaya shares an element of blame in his ouster, and what message does the White House have to other leaders in Latin America who seek to alter the constitution to further their political ambition?
MR. GIBBS: You know, let me get a little guidance on that. I don't know, except to say -- let me just say that obviously we were working in order to prevent what happened from happening. And I think -- I don't want to stray too far from just the notion that obviously at OAS there's an inter-American charter that establishes rights, rules, and responsibilities as it relates to democratic governance. That's obviously something that's been violated. And the OAS, with the help of the United States, has reacted to that. But let me get some more guidance on the other question.
Q: A quick follow-up? Was one of the -- did you ask President Zelaya, in your attempts to stop this from happening, to not hold -- to not proceed with --
MR. GIBBS: We'll reach out to those guys --
Q: On Honduras? Just to clarify, Micheletti, the (inaudible) President has said that he's planning to send some representatives to Washington to talk with the U.S. government. Is the White House or the State Department planning to talk with them?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Micheletti has also said that if Zelaya returns to Honduras, he's going to be put in jail. Do you have any comments to that?
MR. GIBBS: No, except I think, again, I would simply reiterate that I think the OAS has laid down some fairly strong conditions and a timeline that we're supportive of and think that should be met in order to restore the democratic rule of law.
Q: Why hasn't the President seen him -- having deplored the coup?
MR. GIBBS: I think he's in Panama.
Q: With regard to the health care debate, obviously this is going to be controlled more by Congress than the White House, but does the White House have a good sense now of the pace at which things will proceed, the pace at which each chamber will probably have a bill, and the pace at which, on the calendar, negotiations will proceed?
And as a follow-up, the President, during the campaign and since taking office, has emphasized his desire to have the policymaking play out in the public eye. And so far there have been sort of town halls or a meeting at the White House with cameras and a transcript. But in terms of how the actual policy is being crafted, that's going on in Congress behind closed doors. What can you do to make sure that he's able to have this play out in public as he's promised, as things go forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to interject too heavily into the committee process, but, I mean, obviously -- and I've been asked about them on any number of occasions, reactions to different aspects of bill mark-ups, obviously that are done in a very public way. I think what the President has talked about and I think what -- particularly what the step taken by Wal-Mart demonstrates is that as I've talked about a lot this week is unlike previous attempts to reform our health care system in a way that is comprehensive and brings down costs, those players are still at the table, those players are actively participating in working in finding a solution. And the President thinks that's how we're going to get enduring comprehensive reform to an issue that we've been debating for 40 years.
Q: But do you think the sausage-making part is public enough? For example, one of these questions that --
MR. GIBBS: For me? Yes. (Laughter.) I've been asked about it I don't know how many times. I think it's -- I seem to be dealing with it -- yes.
Q: -- issues such as the possible partial taxation of insurance benefits and these sort of things, which are yet to be determined. The way legislation often works is everybody says, well, we'll talk about it when we get there, and then like, you know, suddenly it's done and it's in the bill. And I know that's something you're trying to avoid in this process. How will you make sure that this is done publicly?
MR. GIBBS: Since I've been asked about it about 10 times in the last two weeks, if it's being done in secret, somebody is doing an awfully poor job of keeping it that way.
Q: I'm doing a poor job of asking my question.
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to render an opinion on that.
Go ahead, yes.
Q: Well, first off, for the record, I did submit a question through the Web site today about public options, so --
MR. GIBBS: Excellent. Well, I'll --
Q: But my question today is about -- the Justice Department didn't appeal a ruling in this discrimination case involving a potential Library of Congress hire who was planning a gender change. Why not, and is that part of the President's promise that he made during the LGBT meeting last --
MR. GIBBS: That I don't have any -- let me find something on that. I don't have anything on that.
Q: Then another health care one then. How does the President feel about some of the liberal groups like MoveOn targeting Senator Kay Hagan and Senator Mary Landrieu on public option, the fact that they said they won't support that in the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that I -- the President has much to say about what the groups are doing, except to reemphasize the principle that he has that -- of the importance of providing that public option to give those that are not able to buy insurance through their workplace or that are having trouble in the normal health insurance market go through a health insurance exchange that will provide greater choice, greater transparency, and more competition in a way that we believe will be effective and cost-effective.
So I think -- I mean, obviously the President is a big believer in an option -- in that option.
Q: Are these ads helpful when you've got senators who -- he was trying to convince them to support what you just said, and you've got these groups that are saying we're going to withhold your money, we're going to pressure you with your citizens back home to support --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure how much money Mary gets from MoveOn. But I don't have any general reaction to that.
Q: Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Medicaid is a big part of the health care problem, and I think it's costing $300 billion a year, and that's a big reason the states need help. Last year the state of Rhode Island became the first and so far only state to get a waiver on Medicare. And of course --
MR. GIBBS: Medicaid?
Q: Medicaid, sorry, on Medicaid. As it is, they'll allow Washington to put a cap on Medicaid funding and, in turn, if they can determine eligibility, put limits down and reform the system. Allowing states to have waivers on Medicaid, is that something that's on the table with the President now?
MR. GIBBS: Let me talk to the health team. I don't know the degree to which that's something that -- how much they've gotten involved in that. Obviously, I think you mentioned Medicaid represents a growing fiscal component for states, especially in harder economic times, and that obviously is something that has to be looked at and addressed in anything that's comprehensive.
But again, I think that also strengthens the argument for changing the way health care is done and ensuring that it's done in a way that's affordable, again, not just for families and small businesses but for state governments, as well.
END 1:11 P.M. EDT