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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
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Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
August 7, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:12 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Happy Friday. Let's do a quick week ahead.

The President has no scheduled public events on Saturday. On Sunday the President will travel to Guadalajara to attend the North American Leaders Summit. He will return to Washington on Monday evening.

On Tuesday the President will travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to hold a town hall meeting on health insurance reform. The meeting will be in the early afternoon.

On Wednesday morning the President will host a reception for Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the White House. In the afternoon the President will host the Medal of Freedom ceremony here as well.

On Thursday the President will attend meetings here at the White House.

On Friday, August 14, the First Family will visit the Bozeman area of Montana. On August 15 they will travel to Yellowstone, Wyoming, and Grand Junction, Colorado. They will then travel to the Grand Canyon, and Phoenix, Arizona on August 16, and return to Washington, D.C., on Monday, August 17. The First Family's visit to the national parks occur during a fee-free weekend for our national parks.

Q: He'll create a fee anyway though, right? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: This is encouraging all people, including the many cynical people that sit on the right end of the front row -- my right end of the front row, excuse me -- to go and visit the national parks.

Q: But we don't have to pay either.

MR. GIBBS: You have to pay. Everybody else is exempted.

Q: Has he ever been to either park before?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check. I know he's been to Yellowstone, because he tells a story of coming to visit his grandparents that I believe includes both stops at Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, coming from Hawaii.

Q: Why is he going now?

MR. GIBBS: Partly to highlight our national park system, to highlight the weekend, where we hope millions of Americans will enjoy the national park system. And there will also be events in addition to some of the stops.

Q: Even where there are concealed weapons?

MR. GIBBS: We have -- fret not, Helen, we have the best security in the world.

Yes.

Q: Robert, two questions please, two topics. On the economy, the President said in the Rose Garden that the worst may be behind us. But earlier in the day you reiterated that he thinks that unemployment will still go up to 10 percent. I'm trying to reconcile those two. If the worst may be behind us, but unemployment might get worse -- isn't that a contradiction?

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, because, again, as we talked about -- and I think you've seen this happen -- taking out this month's statistics for the purposes of the percentage of those unemployed -- we'll get back to the largest -- each month since January, you've actually had fewer jobs lost, yet the rate goes up. We expect the trend of the rate going up to continue.

Going back to the actual numbers itself, again, if you look at the first -- if you take either the first quarter, the first three months of the year, or that January number, we're at negative 741,000; the average is slightly above 691,000 for those first three months. You see the rate of decline continues to improve. We've gone in that first quarter from 691,000, the second quarter at 436,000 -- and obviously as the President mentioned today, this month's number is a couple of hundred thousand less than the previous month's number.

We continue to believe and I think economists continue to believe that we can make progress, but the unemployment percentage is likely to continue to increase and we believe meet or exceed 10 percent, even as we are on a path toward recovery. Again, for that rate to come down, as we've discussed before, you're going to have some sustained positive job growth.

Q: So for the American people who are following this and might be confused about sort of which data point to follow, does the White House have one that it sort of prefers, or saying this is the best standard of how the economy is going?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Ben, I think if -- I think, look, throughout the week we get a series of statistics. The American people get those statistics. Some point to positive news, others point to not so positive news. I don't know that there is one magic figure that I would judge the entire economy by.

I know the President would tell you that if there are people in this country that are out of work, that are looking for work, and they want to work, if those people can't find a job, then we have more work to do for them. That's what motivates him.

Again, we have seen that decline in job loss. That's a good thing. There are numbers within this report that aren't as positive -- long-term unemployment is at its highest ever. Obviously, there's still a lot wrong with our economy. But I think if you step back and take it in the larger sense -- looking at the stabilization of the financial system, the possible bottoming out of the housing market, some improvement in the jobs picture -- I would describe today as the "least bad" report that we've had in a year. We still have a long way to go.

Q: And I also wanted to ask you quickly about the disruptions at some of the town halls on health care. Does the President believe that the Republican Party is behind those? And does he believe that in any way they reflect a genuine concern on behalf of people about the direction of the legislation?

MR. GIBBS: As I've talked about before, I don't in any way doubt that there are people that have honest policy disagreements with the White House, or with -- of Democrats, whether Republicans or vice versa. I think you've seen specific groups brag about being able to coalesce and manufacture the anger. We talked about one of the guys in here who happens to hold the title of running a health care company and having it be fined the greatest amount -- $1.7 billion -- ever that the federal government has levied against a health care company. I'm not entirely sure what part of his role he wanted to brag about.

I will tell you this: The President believes, and has always believed, that town hall meetings are a very useful place for the discussion of issues to talk about the decisions that are facing him and the American people. They ought to be able to be conducted without shouting and shoving and pushing and people getting hurt. I think we can have honest policy disagreements without being either disagreeable, or certainly without being violent.

And I think anybody that has a strong opinion should come to a town hall meeting, but also respect that others may want to also take part in the town hall meeting, or you know, may just want to listen to the debate. And if somebody is yelling, or if somebody particularly is being violent, I'm not entirely sure that helps the entire process for anybody involved.

Yes, sir.

Q: A couple of questions -- one economic, and then the other on a foreign issue. On the economy, the recession is already the longest since the Great Depression. And at what point do you think the President will be able to declare that this recession is over?

MR. GIBBS: Matt, that's a hard one for me to say. I don't -- obviously, that's a determination that's made by an economics board based on a series of data. I'm not entirely sure that the technical end from an economic board of a recession will in any way denote the end of economic pain for the American people.

I think that's what's important -- that the President wants to continue to see improvement, we want to get to the point we're creating jobs, we're laying that long-term foundation. I think you saw a pretty good example of it this week in the investment in the new battery technology as a way of taking communities and factories that at one time had produced something different in our transportation sector and now might create jobs producing something slightly different.

There may be a technical end to something, but I think that the President will still believe and I think the American people will see that there's still work left to do on the economy.

Q: How about just the resumption of economic growth? The administration has said before in the second half -- can you pin that down? Or has it already begun?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the last statistics that we have -- and nobody is going to confuse me for an economist and I don't want to get ahead of the math -- but I think we're certainly hopeful that, as you said, in that second half of this year we'll begin to see either the achieving of basically that even part or, with some good fortune, maybe some positive economic growth.

Obviously the output statistics that we released a week ago showed quite a variance between where we were in the first quarter and in the second quarter, attributed to the Recovery Act by many economists -- or partially to the Recovery Act by many economists, and we certainly hope that that trend continues.

Q: And has the U.S. government been able to confirm that Pakistani Taliban chief Mehsud is dead? And if so, what would that mean for the President's strategy of stabilizing the Afghanistan-Pakistan region?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we have obviously seen reports -- even by members of the Taliban -- that Baitullah Mehsud is dead. We can't, with a hundred percent certainty, verify that. What I will say is this: If the reports of Baitullah Mehsud's death are correct, there is no doubt that the Pakistani people are safer as a result of it.

The two points I made earlier I think are important. One, this is an individual whose title as a murderous thug was well-deserved. He is somebody who helped plan and execute the deaths of scores of individuals, innocent civilians -- men, women, and children -- through anything ranging from deadly suicide attacks to planning the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. So his demise is a good thing for the Pakistani people.

Secondly, I think this demonstrates the amount of cooperation that you're seeing between our government and the government of Pakistan in stamping out the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations that would seek to destabilize the area and do harm to, as I said, scores of innocent civilians.

The President is regularly kept up to date with what's going on with this, as well as our broader strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and continues to receive regular information.

Q: You say you're not a hundred percent sure, but are you probably sure?

MR. GIBBS: You know, the way -- it may be many weeks before you could determine something like that based on what's going on in that region, based on the remoteness of that region. So we don't have a hundred percent certainty.

Q: If President gets briefing every day on situations around the globe, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, is he satisfied with the way things are going on now, because now Pakistan is more cooperating with the U.S. comparing the last 80 years or whatever?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we're seeing -- as I said earlier, we're seeing a high level of sustained cooperation, which is certainly a good thing. We think it's a good thing for the Pakistani people, and it's obviously a good thing for the region.

Obviously, what this is -- his death, as I said, would be a good thing for the Pakistani people. Obviously this is a region of the world, with Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we have quite a lot of work to do, where our men and women in uniform are sacrificing each and every day to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the Taliban, al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and that's what we'll continue to do.

Q: Right now election is coming in Afghanistan. Is President going to escalate any kind of more troops or more help for the President Karzai or his government?

MR. GIBBS: We made a series of security decisions in the lead-up to the election in order to establish what the President, what military advisors and commanders on the ground believed was -- what was needed for a secure environment, to have an important election that will be run by the Afghans. And I think as the Pentagon said earlier this week, as we continue to evaluate that, what we will do -- I think the final report on that will come post the election.

Yes, sir.

Q: The group ProPublica earlier this week analyzed -- they published a result of a study, an analysis, of where stimulus funds were going. And they concluded that there was no relationship between a county or an area's unemployment rate and poverty rate and stimulus funds. And in fact some areas with the exact same unemployment rate, there was a vast disparity in how much the stimulus funds was going. Is this a problem in terms of which --

MR. GIBBS: Which stimulus funds?

Q: I assume the job-creating infrastructure funds, not the tax cuts.

MR. GIBBS: I'm not familiar with either the group or the report. I'm happy to take a look at it. Obviously there are -- different money goes to different places based on different formulas. Again, as you heard the President say in the Rose Garden, a third of the money is largely for tax cuts to go to 95 percent of working individuals --

Q: I mean the infrastructure funds.

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to take a look at where some of that is. I would underscore again, without having looked at the report, I think the notion that -- we're all a good example. We're in Washington, D.C. I live in the city of Alexandria. Some of you may live in the city of Arlington. Some of you may live in Fairfax County. Some of you may live in Prince George's County. Some of you may live in Montgomery County. Others may live in Baltimore or in the District of Columbia.

To say that money is going to Alexandria -- the city of Alexandria, but not helping anybody in the city or county of Arlington is to somewhat assume that between each of these government subdivisions there's some economic law that doesn't see money going from one to the other. I think it's entirely possible and very real that if you're building a bridge in Smith County you could easily hire people from George County to go work in Smith County.

I think there's a lot of slicing and dicing that I think doesn't necessarily reflect where individual recovery money may or may not be going and its economic multiplier effect. I will say, Jake, that if you look at the statistics that we've seen just in the last two Fridays, I think it is clear and obvious that the recovery plan is cushioning the blow in terms of our economic output; it's helping to save and create jobs; and is working as we believed and intended it to work in order to get our economy back on track.

Q: And just one follow up to Ben's question, just on the town hall meeting. This week there's just been an amplification in terms of the rhetoric. Some of the protestors against the President's position on health care reform have used Nazi imagery, a Democratic congressman said that the protestors were using Brown Shirt tactics; a Democratic senator called the protestors behavior un-American, although she retracted it; Rush Limbaugh went on a very long speech yesterday during his radio show in which he compared Democrats to Nazis and the President to Hitler. And I'm wondering if the President has seen any of this and has a take on it? Obviously the Nazi imagery has been condemned by Jewish groups, but I'm wondering if he feels anything about language being used this way?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he's certainly seen news reports about this. I don't know whether it's written or cable. I'd make a couple of points. I'll build on what I said to Ben, which is regardless of where we are, regardless of the differences we have on even an issue as important as health care, I know the President believes strongly that we can discuss these issues without personally maligning the person that we're discussing this issue with, that we're doing so in a way that respects the dignity of each individual.

I think -- I think any time you make references to what happened in Germany in the '30s and '40s, I think you're talking about an event that has no equivalent. And I think any time anyone ventures to compare anything to that, they're on thin ice and it's best not deployed.

But I think the larger point --

Q: I'm sorry -- that's not?

MR. GIBBS: That's not deployed.

But, again, I think the most important thing is we can have a discussion in our democracy about where we want to go and why or why not we want to take certain steps. The President strongly believes we can do so without yelling at each other, without pushing each other, without degrading each other and do so in a way I think that respects the difference in all of our opinions.

Q: The DNC put out a video earlier this week basically saying all of the protestors were birth-certificate-denying, angry mob hordes. I mean, it wasn't exactly a video that described the protestors in accordance with the respect and dignity you just spoke of.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think we've seen -- as you mentioned, we've seen some stuff that I think is -- I mentioned a week ago I think, or maybe it was earlier this week, it all sort of blurs together -- you know, that we've all seen imagery that really just shocks and surprises us. I think the best thing to do is to take that temperature down a bit.

Q: Robert, on health care, can you clear up whether or not the White House had some sort of behind the scenes deal with PhRMA. I know -- I think you were asked about it yesterday, but then, you know, there have been reports saying that the White House has told Democratic senators that there was no such deal, and yet --

MR. GIBBS: Well, we have -- there is an agreement between PhRMA and the Senate Finance Committee, that's supported by the White House, to seek savings from the pharmaceutical industry to use to both fill in the doughnut hole for Medicare Part B recipients that exhaust benefits and find themselves on their own, and to use part of the additional money for health insurance reform.

Q: But PhRMA is saying on the record that the White House committed privately that you wouldn't seek anything beyond what I think is $80 billion in savings, that's already been agreed to. But others, like Speaker Pelosi, want to squeeze more savings out. And I think it was Wednesday night Jim Messina sent an e-mail to The New York Times from the White House saying that in fact there was a deal with PhRMA and that you wouldn't squeeze it beyond $80 billion.

MR. GIBBS: Well, we feel like $80 billion is an appropriate amount, and I think the -- I don't have the statistic in front of me, but I think the House bill has $85 billion in it. So I would argue that we're all in the same ballpark.

Q: But so there is a deal that you won't squeeze anymore?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, I hate to blow our cover here, but we announced it publicly.

Q: Right, but there had been some reports saying you finally told Democratic senators that there is no such deal. Is that wrong?

MR. GIBBS: I can't -- I don't know where that's coming from. I don't know what that's being based on. I think it's -- I think the press release is on the Finance Committee's Web site.

Q: And then on the economy, what is a reasonable time frame for the President to reassess whether or not more action is needed beyond the original Recovery Act? I know there was a lot of speculation about there's a second stimulus. What is your timetable in terms of -- because even the President himself said today we won't have a true recovery as long as we're still losing jobs. So he's acknowledging that things obviously are not fully recovered. What's a reasonable time table, end of the year --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I can confirm the President does not think we're fully recovered. We do not have any banners out that says, you know, we only lost a quarter of a million jobs.

I think I would agree -- or I think you would get agreement from what the economic advisors and what the President have said about this, which is, first and foremost, our focus is on growing the economy and implementing about two-thirds of the stimulus program, the Recovery Act, that is yet to be spent -- 70 percent of that money will be spent over the course of -- or through the end of fiscal year 2010.

That's our first priority, and I think -- and the President would give the Vice President a lot of credit for how the bill has been implemented and the effect that it's had in stimulating our economy. I've also said and others have said, including the President, that we will continue to evaluate where we are. If there are things that can or need to be done in order to get our economy to grow faster then we'll consider that. Nothing is on the table, but nothing is off the table. We're focused more on implementing what we have and continuing hopefully to see continued positive impact from the Recovery Act that we've seen thus far.

Q: Can I do a quick follow up to what Ed said? In June you were asked about the deal and whether or not the deal with PhRMA implied that the White House signed off on no other legislation, such as allowing Medicare to renegotiate with PhRMA, and you said you didn't know the answer to that. Was it because you, personally, didn't know or because the Senate Finance Committee hadn't informed the White House of that aspect of the deal?

MR. GIBBS: You're asking me to recall why I didn't remember something in June. That I don't know the answer to. Obviously the agreement that we have is in the confines of health insurance reform that's being worked on right now.

Yes, sir.

Q: On the town halls again, what advice does the White House have for Democrats who are going home and are confronting this kind of hostility at their town halls? Should they cancel the meetings? Should they marshal forces on their side? Is there a way they should deal with this? What advice does the White House have for them?

MR. GIBBS: I think the personal advice I'd give somebody is to continue doing the town hall and ask those that participate to behave themselves, like your mom would probably tell you to do, and have a robust discussion of the issues.

Q: Are you aware of what Axelrod and Messina told members of Congress yesterday when they went up there --

MR. GIBBS: I was not there, so I --

Q: But do you have any knowledge of what went on?

MR. GIBBS: I've seen different reports that say they were up there talking about it, but I have no -- I have not talked to David or Jim about it.

Q: So you don't know what advice is being given to members of Congress -- Democrats when they go home?

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean -- again, I don't think it's much different than what I said. I mean, I think it's important that people be civil. We can discuss these issues without being uncivilized. It's the same thing I tell my six year-old --

Q: But if they're not civil?

MR. GIBBS: -- with varying degrees of effectiveness. (Laughter.)

Q: But if they're not civil? But if they're not civil, should they stand up to them, fight back, shout them down? What do they do?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that probably depends in some ways on the individual member. I think we can all conjure up images of how different people might handle these things differently. I think the best advice would be to finish your answer, make sure that -- I mean, look, I think a town hall meeting is always bigger than whatever one person asks a question, right? It's just like if you're asking a question, Chip, the answer is for the benefit of everybody.

I think continuing to discuss the issues that are important -- ranging from health care to the economy to the war in Afghanistan -- I think those are things that are of great interest to the American people. I think asking a question of those that represent you in Washington is a fairly time-honored tradition that --

Q: I'm not talking about asking questions. I'm talking about people who are getting booed and shouted down and chanted -- what do they do? Why hold it at all?

MR. GIBBS: Because I think you've got to continue to talk to people about where we are on the issues. I mean, you know, you may not convince the person that asks or shouts or boos or hollers, but, again, that's why I say I think that town halls are not necessarily for the benefit of just one individual question or one individual questioner.

Q: Robert, going back to the health care deal issue. What I'm trying to reconcile is on one hand you've had a hands-off approach on details on how Congress is writing this legislation on health care reform. On the other hand, you guys have been meeting unilaterally with members of industry and cutting some deals. So when you cut these deals, is it fair to say then you tell the folks in Congress, hey, we've agreed to this, so whatever you do -- or are you -- I mean, can you explain sort of how the processes work?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, the reason that the paper is on the Senate Finance Committee Web site is the Senate Finance Committee was involved in --

Q: But pharmaceutical isn't the only deal you cut.

MR. GIBBS: I understand.

Q: Okay. You haven't told the details of the other ones?

MR. GIBBS: We have worked through -- well, some time ago we had an event at the White House that talked about the fact that -- I forget, was it $2 trillion over some period of time was the health care savings that we were going to see. I mean, Chuck, this is exactly what the President talked about in terms of having stakeholders involved in the debate. And cost savings are going to come from somewhere; they're going to come from changes in the way we pay drug manufacturers, hospitals, and things like that.

Q: I understand that. But is it fair to say that in the way that this PhRMA deal now has -- you know, you can see on the Senate Finance Committee site, (inaudible) going out there saying, this is our deal, everybody seems to agree on what that number is. Is that how you've handled all the deals with industry, that you get it and then you tell the folks writing in the five committees, hey, look, we've made this deal with them to incorporate --

MR. GIBBS: Chuck, that's a policy level that's deeper than where I --

Q: Is that not -- I mean, I guess --

MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously, I think many people in Congress are aware of negotiations with those that are involved in the delivery of health care.

Q: One other follow-up on another topic. You had said before the President leaves for Mexico he's expected to have a longer debrief with President Clinton. Has that happened yet?

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, no, no, I'm sorry, I think I said yesterday that we expected by the time he leaves the NSC will have had that longer debrief with President Clinton. I thought it was unlikely that the two would see each other for a longer meeting because of just their busy schedule.

Q: I understand that, but the telephone is a powerful thing. I mean --

MR. GIBBS: I'm aware.

Q: No, but it --

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe they've had a longer conversation.

Q: And has the full NSC --

MR. GIBBS: Not yet.

Q: So that hasn't happened yet.

MR. GIBBS: No, not yet.

Q: So that's obviously in the next 48 hours?

MR. GIBBS: The initial debrief with the NSC was about an hour long that night, but nothing since then to my -- nothing since then as of this morning. I don't think anything has happened, they would have briefed me.

Helen.

Q: There's a perception among liberal columnists that you failed -- you've already failed and in selling Medicare reform. You don't clarify your points, you're turning the other cheek for everything the opposition is doing. And you seem very weak in your response. What I'm saying is you're not telling --

MR. GIBBS: Is that a question. (Laughter.)

Q: -- you have neither clarified your point of view or sold it.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen --

Q: And you can take one by one: on the euthanasia, on can't pick your own doctor, can't have your own surgery.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, I don't think there's a start and a finish line to this argument. At least if there is, we haven't gotten to the finish line. I think that's why I told these gentlemen that our advice would be to continue talking to your constituents, continuing to talk to them about why it's important that we get health care and health insurance reform, why it's important that we deal with things that aren't --

Q: Well, why is the other side gaining so much? There's going to be a hiatus now where they're going to have a free reign.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, I think the President's had a pretty good week. I think if you look back -- we'll take this week.

Q: On the Mexico summit, it would seem that this is a really broad agenda with the possibility of agreements coming further down the road and maybe not immediately. But the Mexican government points to a resolution of the trucking dispute as something which could be a deliverable, if not immediately then in the very near future. What are the obstacles to reaching that, and what are the chances that it will actually come to some agreement in December?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not get into back and forth on what has to be ironed out on that. We don't expect anything -- to announce anything big coming out of this weekend. Obviously it's something that the President, members of Congress on both sides of the issue are concerned about because of its importance to our relationship with Mexico and to our continued economic growth. But I don't want to get into a back-and-forth on what issues might be outstanding and how those might be solved. I think that's best to deal with at the events this week.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, the President sounded really wound up last night at the campaign rally for Creigh Deeds when he said, "That bank crisis didn't happen on my watch. Let's get history straight. I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way." Who was getting under the President's skin like that? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Mark, I think the President just gets fired up at these events. You know, he just gets -- it's liberating to get outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I guess. Maybe we ought to --

Q: It was McLean, it wasn't that far. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: You'd be surprised at how liberating it can be to just get outside the complex. I think the President gets fired up. I think the President wants to -- look, we get free advice every day from people that took the bus and rode it into the ditch and now want to give free advice on how to get it out. We get advice every day on how to pay the AmEx bill for a bunch of guys that ran up the bar tab. I think they'll all get a chance to pitch in some good ideas, to come to some resolutions and actually make some progress on the real problems that face America.

Q: Has he spoken with Judge Sotomayor since yesterday?

MR. GIBBS: He, I believe, called her after the vote yesterday. She will be sworn in tomorrow at the Supreme Court and --

Q: He won't be there.

MR. GIBBS: He will not be there. There will be a reception on -- as I said, on Wednesday for her here. But the event tomorrow will be the formal swearing in by the Chief Justice and then for family and friends. And then there will be a ceremonial, a more public one.

Q: What did he tell her in that phone call?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have a readout, but I'll get that for you.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thank you. Next week when the President meets with Judge Sotomayor --

MR. GIBBS: Justice.

Q: -- is that going to be open press? This is a very special day for me, because I was born in Puerto Rico, I would like to be able to see her. Is she going to talk to us?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if she's -- I don't know if it will be open mic night here -- (laughter) -- but the reception I think does have an open press component to it.

Q: Robert, the PhRMA agreement, you said the White House feels $80 billion is appropriate. To what extent will the President go to make sure it stays at $80 billion and no more and no less?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we're getting ahead of ourselves in terms of negotiating differences. Again, like I said, I think the legislation in the House is in that ballpark and I think we feel confident that we can keep important players involved, everybody at the table in support of health care reform.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, continuing our conversation from the gaggle this morning, I talked to some of the economists at the Labor Department and one of the things that happened in July is, as it routinely does, the Labor Department takes a survey of active participation in the workforce. And one of the questions they ask is, "Are you looking for a job actively?" About 775,000 Americans answered, "No," for various reasons and were taken out of the monthly survey. Would you agree, then, that that is partially to account for reduction in jobs -- 247,000 -- and yet the unemployment rate going down as an explanation of what happened?

MR. GIBBS: I think in many ways we talked about that this morning. Remember I --

Q: I just maybe understand it better now. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I have to give you points for honesty, that -- I think -- and I admit I may not have been as clear, but obviously we've talked about --

Q: That's why it's not such a positive from anyone's point of view. Because you have 775,000 people out of the workforce, you clearly show a smaller workforce --

MR. GIBBS: Now, why they left, I don't know if they said. I mean, obviously there are some -- there's no doubt that --

Q: They make seasonal adjustments, so this is largely not --

MR. GIBBS: A decent amount of them may be discouraged, without a doubt.

Q: Which is a bad sign for the economy.

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. Some of them may have won the lottery and are moving somewhere else -- probably very few. Some may be, as you said, seasonally adjusted, for the fluctuations as it happens month to month. That's why I noted up here earlier there are troubling signs with long-term unemployment reaching its highest level.

We've talked about the fact that we need to create and have sustained creation of positive job growth to see that number either hold the line or fall back in a way that denotes genuine, positive activity. Basically here you have -- my hunch is that if you hadn't taken that many people out of the workforce you might see something that's much more on the level than you would have seen as a decrease.

I will tell you this, Major, I think if you go back and look at our reactions to three months ago -- three reports ago when we went from negative 519 to negative 303, that's a revised number; last month when it went from 303 to the revised number of 443; well, this month, to go from that to negative 247, our response in many ways has largely been the same, because, as I said earlier, we've still got a lot of work to do.

We still have -- there were some positive signs. You had wages went up a little bit, which was good news. You actually had a level number on the work week, meaning that businesses weren't -- what sometimes will happen in these job reports, and that's why you have to look at some of the other numbers, which is why I hesitated to pick one number that defines overall genuine economic health -- if you look at the work week number, you may have a series of employers that decide I'm not going to fire you, I'm just going to have you work 35 rather than 40 hours, right? So that's denoted in some of these economic --

Q: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Thirty-five hours a week sounds tempting, though, I would be the first one to admit that we're all lucky to have gainful employment as several millions of Americans have watched their jobs disappear in this recession.

Q: I guess this is -- would partially explain why you think though the unemployment rate went down this month, it is likely to hit 10 percent by the end of the year. Is that a fair assumption?

MR. GIBBS: I think it could easily go -- whether it hits 10 next -- well, I don't know if it will hit 10 next month, but I think you could easily see it go up with a similar number of jobs lost if the denominator in that fraction simply holds constant.

And, again, as I said earlier, even as we've seen this chart go from negative 741 to 681 to 652, and as that job picture has gotten better from the standpoint of fewer jobs lost, you still see that unemployment rate go up, because you've still got to create those jobs in order to see that rating --

Q: Quickly, on the drug deal, I want to give you a chance to -- not the drug deal, the --

MR. GIBBS: Drug deal?

Q: Let me rephrase.

MR. GIBBS: I was going to say. All of a sudden, I wasn't sure what we were talking about now. (Laughter.)

Q: The legislative -- the tax for the legislative agreement with PhRMA, Senator McCain sent out a tweet earlier today, I know you'll be happy to know.

MR. GIBBS: I'm just glad to hear it's working again. (Laughter.)

Q: And it reads as follows -- and it reads as follows, "Drug companies cut deal with White House, Americans lose, special interests win, so much for transparency." Would you like to respond to that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that doesn't seem to make any sense. I don't know if I can do this in 140 characters or less. See, I'm learning.

First of all, again, there's paper about this because it was announced. So I don't understand the whole -- I don't understand the last argument.

What we're doing is looking for savings in a program in health care that will make health care more affordable and less expensive for all Americans. The agreement that was worked out will help seniors who fall into that doughnut hole in a program that expanded Medicare covering drugs for seniors and also use savings to make health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans. I think that is a win-win for everybody.

Q: So is this taming special interests or having them find their sweet spot for their own best interests?

MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, if you look back at the course of health care reform as an issue over the past 40 years, I think if you look at where we are in the debate and where others have been, and where different stakeholders have been in that debate on the other side, running TV ads, opposing health care reform or making it harder for it to happen, we have those stakeholders at the table making agreements that will make health care more affordable for families, for small businesses, that will institute genuine insurance reforms and make the lives of the American people better. I think that's a win-win for all of those involved.

Q: Robert, wouldn't the candidate Obama though have been very critical of a President sitting down with all these special interests and cutting these deals out of the White House?

MR. GIBBS: No. Remember, the President said we're going to sit down with these guys and negotiate health care reform. This is exactly what the President envisioned.

Q: Quickly, Robert, just on the politics side, did anyone in the White House, to your knowledge, have any role whatsoever in discussing Carolyn Maloney's potential run in the New York senatorial primary at all?

MR. GIBBS: I honestly don't have any idea.

Q: Will you check?

MR. GIBBS: I will check --

Q: Robert, only two -- two parts. There are media reports --

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, Lester. Are we going to cut a deal here on two, because this day --

Q: Absolutely.

MR. GIBBS: -- like a few days ago it was only two, and then you snuck in like three.

Q: I know, I apologize.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, all right. I just want to get an iron-clad agreement.

Q: An iron-clad. (Laughter.) There are media reports that the viewers of the President's July press conference were 50 percent less than at his first presidential press conference. First, has it occurred to the President that he might reverse this loss if he recognized more than 10 reporters for questions and gave less filibusterous answers?

MR. GIBBS: I will check with him on the filibusterous answers. He'll be interested -- he'll probably have a very long answer to that. (Laughter.)

Look, I don't think it's any surprise that fewer people are watching TV in the summer than they are in February, because -- that's why the networks that normally make a lot of money off of television -- that's why generally the best programs start in the fall and continue throughout the winter, and in the summer we get to go outside.

Q: Would he be willing to have a news conference where for every question from a reporter he would be able to ask that reporter a question about his or her media's coverage? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: How about we do this? How about he answers the question, and I get to ask the follow-up. How about that? I'm not entirely --

Q: That would be a real press conference, you know?

MR. GIBBS: With the President asking -- let's play the hypothetical. I'll play the hypothetical game today. I'll spin the big wheel. So --

Q: Are you --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, this is actually somewhat entertaining. (Laughter.) So if he asked you a question, Lester -- again, it's hypothetical -- then he would then get to ask you a question about WorldNetDaily's coverage?

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: You may be on to something, Lester. I will get back with a less filibusterous answer.

Q: Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: I'll go ahead and do a couple more here.

Q: If I could follow on Major's questions, can you --

MR. GIBBS: Which one?

Q: The big one.

MR. GIBBS: I didn't mean it like that. Hold on. (Laughter.) Lester hasn't gotten me all torqued up. (Laughter.)

Q: On the issue of Carolyn Maloney stepping out, why did the White House see that it was important or it had to play a role in joining Senator Schumer in trying to undermine some of these candidacies? Phone calls were made to Steve Israel; messages were carried to Carolyn Maloney. Why not let -- I mean, this is the White House that saw benefits for an aggressive primary.

MR. GIBBS: Well, absolutely. I don't think there's any doubt that -- I don't know that the two are analogous in terms of the primary that we had with then-Senator Clinton taking us to states that likely we would not have been as competitive in had we not spent a decent amount of time there in April or May or June --

Q: Well, the same thing could be said for Upstate New York, where, you know, those --

MR. GIBBS: Again, I --

Q: -- there are a still a few Republican --

MR. GIBBS: I hate to draw -- it's hard for me to draw some direct correlation to a Senate race without having a better knowledge of the area and the state itself. Let me find out --

Q: Can you answer at least why inject yourself into the Democratic primary?

MR. GIBBS: I think we want to have good, strong candidates running in the Senate and the House. And I think in many of these races in New York -- we've got a fabulous candidate now keeping her House seat, and a fabulous candidate we hope keeping her Senate seat.

Q: To follow on your answer on trucks, and it doesn't get you into the back and forth on the summit, but both sides on the issue say that Secretary LaHood has submitted the recommendation to the White House. Can you confirm that that recommendation has been given? And what's the timetable for actually a decision?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. To my knowledge -- I'm behind on my reading, I admit, but I have not seen a recommendation yet, but I can certainly check on that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thank you, Robert. On North Korea, former President Clinton has warned the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il to pay for their isolation if North Korea keep ignoring six-party talks. Will the United States continue to press North Korea to come back to the six-party talks?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you've heard the President -- you've heard President Clinton say many times in the past, and it's why -- and I don't normally do it, but I sort of spoke yesterday about this notion of if you look at the history of President Clinton and his involvement in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, I have no doubt that the advice he would offer to Kim Jong-il is the same he offered to his father, and that is giving up a giving up your nuclear program, coming back to the table, and living up to the agreements that you, as a leader and as a country, signed will bring you international benefit rather than further isolation.

That's certainly the goal that we have. It was the goal that the Clinton administration had. And it is our continued hope that we can seek that denuclearization and ensure that it happens.

Thanks, guys.

END 3:02 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," August 7, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86507.
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