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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 6, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:43 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Ms. Levin.

Q: Can you tell us the current plans and the thinking about getting President Obama together with President Clinton about North Korea?

MR. GIBBS: We talked a little bit about this this morning. I know when the President -- let me make sure I'm specific -- when President Obama spoke yesterday morning with President Clinton, President Obama expressed his desire to get together fairly soon so the two men would have a chance to talk.

As we have described to you all, the members of the NSC briefed former President Clinton prior to his trip. There will -- there has been and will continue to be a formal debriefing process now on the back end of that trip. There were some communications between the former President and the NSC yesterday, and that will continue over the next several days. I know they want to get together. Right now we're just trying to coordinate the schedules of two rather busy men.

Q: So is it fair to say that the NSC staff will talk to President Clinton and gather all the information that needs to be gathered, and that after that point, then the two Presidents will get together and discuss whatever it is or --

MR. GIBBS: I don't have -- there's nothing currently scheduled. I would put these in many ways on two different tracks. They could certainly happen simultaneously. Obviously it's our desire to get whatever impressions President Clinton has.

Q: And is this happening in person, on the phone?

MR. GIBBS: Last night it happened on the phone. I don't know if future ones will happen in person or not.

I will say this, and obviously I was not part of the debriefing last night, but if you look at where historically President Clinton has been -- and I don't have any knowledge of what was debriefed or talked about, but I can only imagine that given his history on this issue, that he would strongly encourage the North Koreans to set aside their renewed pursuit of a nuclear weapon, come back and live by the agreements that they've been party to before, and to encourage them to understand that the acquisition of those weapons is not going to bring international prestige but further isolation based on his history on these issues.

Q: Just one more quick one on this. Do you guys have any indications, whether through the start of this debriefing with President Clinton or other channels, that North Koreans want anything in return for the pardon?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't been party to these negotiations and I haven't heard of anything.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, can you give us an idea as to the administration's timetable on reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and any details on the way you're leaning?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously as part of financial regulatory reform, GSE reform is going to be part of that. Obviously these were mentioned in the white paper that the administration released on regulatory reform -- there was a discussion of this on pages 41 and 42 of that reform. The story out today is light-years ahead of any decision-making process here. There's no meeting that's scheduled, and it's safe to say that many senior administration economic officials learned of this proposal some time this morning at the foot of their driveway.

Q: So does that mean there's not a proposal?

MR. GIBBS: Well, staff are certainly -- as I've said through financial regulatory reform, staff are aware of the problem and working on it as a part of financial regulatory reform. I think to assume that either this is at a point of even a decision by senior economic officials, let alone anybody that occupies the Oval Office, is way, way ahead of itself.

Q: Is there a time frame in mind specifically for those two companies for reform?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have a specific timetable. I can certainly look into that. Again, I know it's certainly part of a broader financial regulatory reform, and obviously both play an important role in the President's home loan modification program and overall housing policy.

Yes, sir.

Q: Some foreign policy experts have wondered about the precedence set by President Clinton's trip to North Korea, the humanitarian mission, as you guys describe it -- about whether or not it would mean that other rogue states making a similar request in a similar situation -- and it's not too hard to see a fairly close parallel with what's going on in Iran right now -- whether that would now merit a visit from somebody of President Clinton's prestige. And I was wondering, A, if that was a concern before you guys signed off on this trip, and B, what your response is to that criticism.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I've described this and others as separate from the concerns that we had about North Korea, its nuclear policy, its provocative international actions. And I think our policy to ensure that U.N. Security Council regulations are implemented is no different today than it was Monday before President Clinton left.

This was a private humanitarian mission with only the goal of bringing back two journalists to safety. I don't read a lot of precedent into it. I know the President is enormously thankful and grateful for the work that President Clinton did on this, and his willingness to undertake such an important mission. But that's what this was about.

I think the administration has taken very strong action relating to and responding to the actions of the North Koreans. I think what happened in the U.N. Security Council, the unanimous passage of those resolutions and the impact that they have already had on ensuring that the North Koreans are unable to move weapons out of their country, quite frankly is the best response for anybody's criticism.

Q: And then Senator Cornyn sent you guys a letter expressing concern about the tips at whitehouse.gov and what that meant, what exactly you were seeking in terms of disinformation. I got a statement from Linda Douglass earlier, and I assume that, just from what she suggests in her response, you guys are not going to be saving the names or the IP addresses, anything along those lines --

MR. GIBBS: Nobody is collecting names. This was -- we have seen and as I've discussed from this podium, a lot of misinformation around health care reform, some of it I think spread purposefully. We have used on many occasions the Web site to debunk things that are simply not true. We ask people if they have questions about health care reform and about what they're hearing about its effects on them to let us know and we provide them information to show that that wasn't true. But nobody is collecting names.

Q: But in -- is it misinformation that in 2003, President Obama, then a state senator, supported a single-payer health care system?

MR. GIBBS: I think, again, if you look at the statements that have been put up on other Internet sites that splice a bunch of stuff together, and I think if you look at the answers that state senator, U.S. senator, and President Barack Obama have given on that -- I think we hope to provide people with a full and accurate picture, not something that only the words opponents want might to see.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thanks, Robert. The President meeting with the six senators, bipartisan-group senators -- what was his message to them and what is the sort of expectation?

MR. GIBBS: The President invited the group to come to the White House today to provide an update and a status report of sorts on their negotiations amongst themselves in the committee. The President's message to them is to continue to work and find consensus on an issue that we know they've been working hard on and is very important to the American people. The President wants them to continue to work and make progress, and wanted to hear directly from them on where they were. It wasn't a negotiating session. The meeting just recently broke up and I don't have -- I have not had a chance to talk to the President since the conclusion of that meeting.

Q: So there's no sense as to how close they are?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have one yet, no.

Q: And in terms of -- I know in an interview yesterday, the President suggested that -- it appeared that he's losing patience when it comes to bipartisanship and getting the kind of bill that can be supported by Republicans and Democrats. Is he losing patience pushing bipartisanship in saying that he might have to forego that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, no. I think the President's actions today, the invitation that came from him to a bipartisan group of senators to come and discuss where they were on health care denotes that he's serious about getting something through Congress and he's serious about doing so in a way that brings about a large coalition. I'd say, Dan, that if you look at even some of the Finance Committee statements from earlier in the year, they had wanted to come to some agreement in June. Obviously we've reached warmer months than June without that. So the President simply wanted an update.

I will say this: I think the President is very serious about getting something done -- I know he is -- about getting something done this year. That's been his goal all along.

Q: With or without Republicans?

MR. GIBBS: With those that want to see health care reform.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Are you saying that the President doesnít see any potentiality for improving relations with this North Korean move? How come we don't know anything that led up to it, if there's any quid pro quo or anything else? We're so in the dark.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there was no quid pro quo. I think we, on a call, went through in fairly exhaustive detail, step by step, how the invitation came for President Clinton to go when we were notified about that. Again, Helen, whether or not --

Q: You let them make all the announcements, show all the pictures. They took total control of --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I didn't --

Q: Not you, per se. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, I have less control over the North Korean television cameras than even I had hoped.

Q: You, representing the United States, that is.

MR. GIBBS: Right, exactly. No, look, obviously we took great care while this was going on to ensure that our ultimate goal was success. Obviously the President and the team here will have a chance to hear directly from President Clinton about what he heard and saw. We're obviously anxious to get that.

But I'd say again, Helen, I think what is crucially important to understand -- whether or not North Korea wants a better relationship we'll certainly find out -- they have the power, though, to change that relationship. They have the power to come back to the set of agreements that they entered into to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. That's our goal. We think that's the international community's goal based on their reaction to some of the provocative, if not outlandish, statements and actions that the North Koreans have taken. They have the ability and the power to do that.

We certainly, regardless of this mission or not, we certainly hope that they'll come back to implementing the agreements that they entered into, while at the same time we will continue to take the steps necessary to enforce Security Council resolutions to ensure the weapons of mass destruction are not spread by the North Koreans.

Q: Well, in terms of -- just one more question --

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: -- of the policy, are we only against people who might get the weapons and not against those who have already gotten them and could use them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the spread of -- the President has said numerous times, the spread of a weapon of mass destruction, the spread of nuclear materiel and nuclear weapons is our number-one worry and cause of concern for national security. He has outlined a series of very aggressive steps as it relates to nuclear proliferation that we will continue to work toward and implement over the course of the next many months and years.

Obviously we have great concern in a nation that would try to acquire, as we would a group trying to get a hold of a weapon inside of a nation that already has those weapons.

Chip.

Q: Back on health care. You said the President doesnít want to draw any lines in the sand on public option, but doesnít that put Democrats in a quandary when they go home and they hold town hall meetings and they talk to constituents and they say, where do you stand on a public option -- they don't know what to say because they don't know where it's going to end up, they don't know what the President is going to ultimately -- if they say, yes, I support a public option, and they come back in the fall and it's not on the table anymore, then they've put themselves out on a limb for no reason. Arenít you making things politically difficult for Democrats by not saying, yes, he wants a public option in there, period?

MR. GIBBS: Again, we've outlined our principles. What's most important here is, as I've said here a bunch, we get choice and competition in what can tend to be a very restricted market for private insurance.

I have not noticed down the street a shortage of personal opinion, one way or the other. So I think if somebody is asked about where they sit or stand on that issue, I have no doubt that each member up there has their own opinion.

Q: Well, they do, but for Blue Dogs, for example, it's a very delicate issue and they're not going to want to go out on a limb on a public option and then have that limb sawed off when they come back in the fall.

MR. GIBBS: What I think is important, Chip, is if we continue to work and continue to make progress, we'll be able to go home by the end of the year and explain to every constituent the steps that were taken to get health care reform for every single American. I think that's the most important discussion. We want to see progress continue to move forward. That's why the President had the meeting here today, to get an update on where the Senate Finance Committee is.

Look, there are a lot of different opinions on a lot of different issues and we'll continue to work through those as we get closer to health care reform.

Q: Quickly on -- do you have anything on the unemployment benefits numbers that came out today? And in addition to that, you touched on this on Monday, but what is going on behind the scenes? How much work is being done and how dedicated is this White House to extending unemployment --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take the questions a little separately here. I mean, obviously -- look, I think as you see a lot of these statistics that come out each and every week, you can see positive signs and you can see continued signs for concern. Four-week average for first-time unemployment claims is down less than the market expected in first-time weekly claims. Again, we look at -- I think what's important to do also is look at some of that four-week average because that smoothes out particularly some of the seasonal differences.

At the same time, you continue to have a growing number and record number receiving those long-term benefits. That brings us to your second question, which is over the course of between now and the end of the year, you are going to have different people, based on the length of time on each of the receiving unemployment insurance, you will have people exhaust that benefit. We're very concerned about that. Obviously that's been a -- was a big part of the Recovery Act and something that we want to see, and I think there's bipartisan support to see, continued.

At the same time, we're also looking at working to continue benefits that were extended as part of the recovery plan itself. Two different -- both kind of a short-term and more of a medium- to long-term issue that the administration is concerned about and wants to work with Congress to ensure that we are continuing to help those that are victims of a struggling economy who are looking and actively participating in a job search to help support their families. And we're definitely committed to that.

Q: Is passing that a top priority?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Yes, sir.

Q: The President has said that when all is said and done he expects that the unemployment rate will top 10 percent. Does he still believe that?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. Whether that happens tomorrow, I don't know. Again, for my friends in the Council of Economic Advisers, I don't know anything on the specific numbers. I expect we'll see several hundred thousand jobs lost. I expect that we'll see an uptick in that unemployment rate come tomorrow.

You had a follow-up?

Q: Your economic advisors who had fanned out on Sunday across the talk shows, there was talk that the economic growth rate needs to be around 2.5 percent in order to see some of this -- these same jobs being built back into the economy. Is that the operating threshold that you're looking at?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what they were talking about in some ways were sort of historical mathematical conclusions. I know there have been articles, as well. You've got to see a growth rate at a certain level, and quite frankly, you've got to see job creation point at a certain level in order simply to maintain an unemployment rate. If it were to -- let's say it were to get to 9.6 or 9.7 -- in order to see that happening again, month after month, you'd actually have to be continuing to create jobs. That's why I think the President believes this will creep up and soon hit and exceed 10.

We are obviously working to do all that we can to create growth, to lay the foundation for long-term job creation in order to see jobs created and the unemployment rate come down.

Q: And a follow on health care. I'm new around here so I get a little confused.

MR. GIBBS: So am I. Go ahead.

Q: Is the President open to the possibility of utilizing the processes in place in getting 50 votes for his health care plan instead of 60, if that's what's necessary?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously the President meeting with Democrats and Republicans means the President is interested in doing this, first and foremost, through regular order. Obviously the option for reconciliation was contained in the budget agreement, and we'd certainly crossed that bridge when we got to it.

Q: So that's hanging out there like a sword of Damocles over these Senate negotiations.

MR. GIBBS: Unclear how it's hanging -- (laughter) -- but it's certainly out there.

Q: And the President is open to a bill that does not ultimately include a public option?

MR. GIBBS: The President is open to a bill that increases choice and competition. I've got to figure out how many times you guys have asked and I have said -- it's great discipline on both of our parts.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: You said that this meeting today is not a negotiation. But -- and he is going to get a status update presumably on all the various issues. Is he planning on weighing -- did he plan on weighing in on his views on any of the issues that are on the table?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't have a debrief from him or the team on what happened exactly in the meeting. I know that -- I have no doubt that they discussed where everybody is on certain issues --

Q: Including the President?

MR. GIBBS: Including the President. And I'm sure they discussed -- continued discussions on how to bridge some of those differences. I don't -- what I'm trying to tell you is this was -- this was not -- there weren't three envelopes where we opened all three and then figured out how to get from one to three and okay, that issue is solved and now the next issue. This was the President hoping to figure out and continue to monitor the progress that's being made throughout now, and quite frankly, hoping to ask them to continue to work throughout August.

Q: A monitor seems a little passive, as opposed to -- and I realize "negotiate" is very active, but is there -- is it somewhere in between?

MR. GIBBS: He's tired today. (Laughter.) No, I mean --

Q: Sort of -- are they just saying "this is where we are," and he says, "okay, thanks for the update," or is it, "have you thought about this?"

MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, the meeting lasted presumably longer than presumably what that would entail. I hate to get ahead of a readout just because I haven't gotten one myself. But I don't doubt that discussions continued on many of those issues.

Q: And then on a separate subject, looking just ahead to after the August recess, does the White House anticipate putting any new issues on the congressional agenda that are not -- you obviously have health, energy, financial regulation -- those are huge issues. Do you think that that's going to do it for the remainder of the year, or do you anticipate anything new?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I haven't talked to leg affairs specifically about this. Obviously, that is, as you mentioned, a decent amount. Obviously, we've got appropriations bills that we have to finish to get through the next fiscal year. Let me get a better update from them. I mean, obviously, I think there are a number of issues. Whether they make it to the floor this year or not we'll continue to monitor and work on -- or monitor and negotiate -- so that we can -- I'll take both the passive and the active voice on each of those.

Yes, sir.

Q: Just to clarify one thing going back to the Bill Clinton trip, kind of unusual for you to characterize someone other than your boss and you said this was based on his history, but do you have direct knowledge --

MR. GIBBS: No --

Q: -- that he did urge North Korea --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, and I think that's -- I think I -- I hope I previewed that enough. I mean, I think if you simply look at where he has always been on this issue and on the agreements and the work that he did with Kim Jong-il's father on denuclearization, I'm simply extrapolating from that. I have not been -- I have not heard the debrief on the specific conversations or what impressions the former President left North Korea with.

Yes, sir.

Q: I have kind of a clean-up question on that, too. Is it fair to say that the President would be getting his Clinton briefing before he leaves for Mexico on Sunday?

MR. GIBBS: You mean whether he will see President Clinton before then?

Q: See him, hear him, have his briefing before he leaves.

MR. GIBBS: Let me make sure I understand. Whether President Obama will -- I don't know whether President Obama will meet with President Clinton prior to leaving for Mexico. I have -- I do believe that extensive debriefing of former President Clinton will happen very quickly and that President Obama will be brought into that dialogue to learn what former President Clinton learned as quickly as possible. I assume that happens before we leave on Sunday.

Q: But the intention is to have President Obama and President Clinton talk to each other. Is it --

MR. GIBBS: I think they want to see each other at some point. Again, I don't -- I seriously doubt that's going to happen between now and Sunday, again, just because of the coordination of their schedules.

Q: Okay, can I follow up on another thing? A couple of months ago, the White House and the drug manufacturing industry reached a deal to cut drug prices. The New York Times has a story this morning, which I'm sure you've seen. How is the administration going to handle the House's demand to cut drug prices further and not blow that deal apart?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, to take -- I'm going to go back to the passive voice. I'm not going to get ahead of negotiating in a conference committee, though I appreciate the hopeful status update on where the negotiations are.

Q: But you could if you wanted to. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: It would be a little -- a little brave of me. I do think -- look, I think the goal of all of those at the table, particularly the President, is to see costs come down and to see progress made on that. But I don't want to get ahead of negotiating what might be bill differences.

Q: But what do you think of the House's demands for additional cuts?

MR. GIBBS: I think that everybody shares the goal of cutting costs of health care, but beyond that I don't have anything specific.

Major.

Q: Robert, Dr. Romer left the door open to a second stimulus in 2010, saying at one point, a good doctor always monitors the situation. Is that a fair assessment that the administration will wait until the beginning of next year before making any concrete decision about a second stimulus?

MR. GIBBS: Well, timing aside, I think the good doctor -- both Romer and the good mythical doctor they were speaking about -- said exactly what we've all said, which is, first and foremost, our focus is on implementing the Recovery Act that Congress passed. Secondly, we will continue to monitor the economic situation.

If there are ideas that the President or the economic team believe can and should be taken in order to accelerate the recovery and to lay that foundation, we'll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, I don't anticipate anything new in the near term, except as I said, the implementation of the recovery plan.

Q: Dr. Romer was also asked directly to say whether or not the President would raise taxes on the middle class in his first term. Her initial reaction was, "Can I go now?" Then she said, well, the first priority is to lower costs on government through health care. But at no point did she say the President would not raise taxes on the middle class in the first term. This would now be the third economic advisor of the President who, given the opportunity to say declaratively that would not happen, has not.

MR. GIBBS: Do I count as an economic advisor?

Q: So I'm asking you to help us understand why three people who are in every meeting with the President every day on the future of his economic policy would, after three times given the opportunity to say it's not going to happen, punt all three times.

MR. GIBBS: Major, in fairness to her and to me, I will be happy to take a look at the transcript.

Q: It's accurate what he said.

MR. GIBBS: I'm not questioning the veracity of Major. I do appreciate the ability to at least look at what the good doctor said. I'm going to give you the same answer that I gave you on Monday, which was the President's answer.

Q: And what would account for this what appears to be a repetitive disconnect between the President and his economic advisors, who meet with him every day on these topics?

MR. GIBBS: And I'll have a better answer to that when I get a chance to look at what she said.

Q: Following up on what Jake asked about the fishy e-mails, would it be more likely to assume, Robert, that the White House would be curious about people who would be e-mailing them about things that they'd consider either disingenuous or inaccurate in order to keep in touch with them as part of an ongoing dialogue about their support for the White House efforts on health care -- meaning you're not looking for people who are saying things that are not accurate, but you're looking for ways to always expand the number of folks who e-mail you or Organizing For America as a political tool to keep in touch with them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- hold on. Let me -- I'm not entirely sure what the question was, but let me put down some fence posts in the speech. OFA and the White House Web site, as you well know, are not in any way connected. Point number one.

Point number two, I think I was -- as Jake vouched for the veracity of your statement, I think he will equally vouch for the veracity of mine in saying that I was pretty clear that we're not collecting names from those e-mails.

Q: He was pretty clear. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I like the fact that, like, Jake is the arbiter here of --

Q: Well, I guess what I'm trying to figure out is --

Q: Ombudsman. (Laughter.)

Q: What I'm trying to figure out is why ask for them then? I mean, what's the goal here?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Major, as I said to you before, as I said to Jake before --

Q: And the staff that you have assembled here is obviously very capable of detecting all sorts of conversations in America about all sorts of issues and responding and putting together briefing points --

MR. GIBBS: -- we get stuff about what's said on FOX News all the time. (Laughter.)

Q: I wouldn't be surprised. I just don't understand what the particular goal is of seeking --

MR. GIBBS: The particular goal is to --

Q: -- e-mail the White House about things -- about this particular issue.

MR. GIBBS: Well, it's to get misinformation and to clarify for everybody what the misinformation is. I don't -- I hope that's not new. It doesn't certainly seem to be.

Q: What, the existence of so-called misinformation, or the White House soliciting --

MR. GIBBS: No, the --

Q: -- descriptions in e-mails?

MR. GIBBS: -- the White House looking to correct misinformation. When you make a mistake in your report, sometimes I e-mail you; occasionally I call; sometimes I just throw something against the wall. Occasionally it's all three.

Q: You ask Jake if Major makes any mistakes in his reports. (Laughter.)

Q: Never.

MR. GIBBS: That would be -- let's not put Jake in that position. But, Major, we've discussed in here seniors having a misimpression about what is contained in the bill. We've talked about all sorts of things that are misconceptions in here.

Q: -- all the thousands of people e-mailing the White House.

MR. GIBBS: And all we're asking people to do is if they're confused about what health care reform is going to mean to them, we're happy to help clear that up for you. Nobody is keeping anybody's names. I do have your e-mail. That is --

Q: As I have yours.

MR. GIBBS: Maybe I assume that's because I assume future mistakes, but I'm not going to say that. (Laughter.) But nobody is collecting information. Everybody is trying to give people only the facts around what we all understand is a very complicated issue.

Yes, sir.

Q: I know you said you haven't talked to the President about the meeting today with the Senate finance members, but did you have any sense going in what he thought of the proposal taking shape in the committee?

MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we've heard various reports. I think part of what he wanted to do was to get that update on where they were on different aspects of the legislation, and see how that comported with the principles that he's outlined. But again, as you said, I have not gotten a full debrief on that.

Q: Robert, on that same subject, if I may, the President is not frustrated with the pace of these bipartisan negotiations? And what did he mean yesterday by saying if there's not agreement by next month, Iím going to have to reassess?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we want to get health care reform done. We've had this debate, as I've said before, for four decades. The issues aren't different; they're the same. Cost continues to skyrocket for families and small businesses. People lose their health insurance and people fall prey to insurance companies that discriminate against preexisting conditions, kick you off your insurance when you've become too sick. All of those things the President wishes to change and to do it this year.

Q: He is frustrated with the pace?

MR. GIBBS: No, he's frustrated with the fact that millions of people are watching their costs go up; they're watching their insurance company dictate whether or not they're going to get medical treatment. I think that's a frustration to the President, members of Congress and members of the American people.

Yes, sir.

Q: Do you know how many e-mails have been sent to the flag at whitehouse.gov address? And, secondly, isn't the White House required by law to save all correspondence it receives, so will it be informing individuals whose e-mails have been forwarded that they might want to have a chance to correct the historical record about the alleged fishiness of their e-mails?

MR. GIBBS: I, for the life of me, didn't understand your question.

Q: Is the White House required to save the e-mails?

MR. GIBBS: Obviously, the National Archives documents correspondence with the White House.

Q: So the people whose e-mails have been forwarded, they won't be informed that their e-mails are being forwarded to the government?

MR. GIBBS: Maybe I'm missing something. I'm sure you're hashing some nefarious plot, but I, for the life of me, can't understand it.

Yes, sir.

Q: Yes. Thanks, Robert. Yes, just to go back to the 2003 video, and separately from any question as to whether those were mischaracterization of the legislation, President Obama did say in 2003 that, I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal health care plan. As recently as last June he said -- told the AMA there were some countries where a single-payer system works pretty well. And I just want to ask, is that the President's preference, or was it --

MR. GIBBS: I think the President --

Q: -- has it changed since that time?

MR. GIBBS: The President's preference on a health care plan he had an opportunity to outline, debate, and discuss in an almost two-year campaign for President from 2007 to 2008.

April.

Q: Robert, going back to two questions, one on unemployment, you said that you were still expecting the unemployment rate for mainstream America to hit 10 percent. Are you expecting the unemployment rate for black America to still hit 20 percent by the end of this year?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the number will be. Again, I expect that it is -- I think we've done briefings on this in terms of recovery and things like that, and expect that the unemployment rate will continue to rise for all Americans. I don't have a specific number. I don't know that the President has characterized a specific number for African Americans.

Q: For obvious reasons, there's a reason why the black unemployment is singled out. So you're saying it will go up. Do you expect, though, that it will stay double that of mainstream America -- mainstream Americans?

MR. GIBBS: Let me get some guidance from the econ guys on that.

Q: Okay, and then on --

Q: You need to call them anyway, don't you?

MR. GIBBS: Apparently. (Laughter.)

Q: Then on the issue of the Supreme Court, what is the work that the White House is doing now for the next possible Obama pick for another justice for the Supreme Court?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have any news to report on the notion -- on what happens next if there is another vacancy. I do know the President is -- as we talked about this morning, you will hear from the President today directly if, as we expect, Judge Sotomayor becomes Justice Sotomayor today. I think obviously you commend Democrats and Republicans for getting her -- hopefully -- confirmed in a very timely way in order for her to participate in the Court's activities in September with the hearing of the case that's been held over, and in the work that they'll do before the session begins, the Court's term begins, to pick the important cases that they'll work on next year. And we're enormously proud of the bipartisan support that she's likely to get.

Q: Once again, going back to the work that the White House is doing, is it possibly something -- I understand that the work was happening in the transition, possibilities if this President were to become President. So would it be just a continued --

MR. GIBBS: Well, in the transition it was pretty clear he was going to become President, but, yes.

Q: I mean, well, even before you guys officially announced the transition, before he was even President-elect, we understand you guys were working on possibilities. And what I'm saying is once he became --

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to check that. Go ahead, I'll play along.

Q: But is it just a continuation from prior to arriving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from the work that you did then to now for a possible next pick?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't -- I'm not trying to be squirrelly. I don't -- I have not heard any discussion about work that has happened above and beyond work that had happened prior to the President's announcement of Judge Sotomayor in anticipation of the possibility of additional picks. I think you've got -- obviously, there were a number of names out there and that pool continues.

Q: Middle East. Has the administration asked Israel to freeze settlements for one year in order to encourage the Arab states to offer concessions and normalizations? There's a couple of reports out there in Israel today.

MR. GIBBS: I think the President -- without getting into any specifics, the President has been clear in outlining the steps he believes that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states should take in order to achieve a lasting Middle East peace, and that includes a freeze on settlements.

Q: Robert, ahead of tomorrow's unemployment report, I just want to make sure I understood something you said before. You're obviously very concerned about helping everyone find a job, and yet when you describe the unemployment figure, you don't use the higher figure that reflects those very workers. I'm talking about the Labor Department's U3 rate, which is 9.5 percent. But isn't the real unemployment rate that reflects people who are really struggling and can only find part-time work -- that's 16.5 percent. So why don't you use the higher standard if it's more accurate?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know what Mike's question -- I think Mike's question was based on -- well, since Mike was asking me whether it was going to go to 10, I assumed the figure he was using was the one that hadn't at that point eclipsed 10, since that would be a little redundant.

Understand that unemployment figures only denote, as you said, people that are -- that have -- that continue to look for work and don't consider themselves so unlikely to find work that they've stopped looking. I don't know that one figure, whether it's those that have stopped, those that are underemployed, those that wish to be working full-time and are working part-time, or just those that simply the Bureau of Labor Statistics say are employed or unemployed -- I don't know that one number in and of itself can tell the story of economic devastation that we've seen and the concern that the President has for getting the economy back on track and creating jobs.

Q: But isn't the higher figure more accurate because if you're out of work and the only thing you can find is 20 hours a week at Starbucks or whatever, that's not exactly a full-time job. Why aren't people like that counted in --

MR. GIBBS: No, that's a part-time job. Again, I don't -- it's not for me to say or to judge the efficacy of each -- or what each figure delineates. The President will be concerned about joblessness for as long as there are people that want to work and can't find it. Whether that number is an unemployment rate, whether that's the number of people that can only find that 20-hour job at Starbucks and wish they could find a 40-hour-a-week job, the President will continue to be concerned about job loss.

Sam.

Q: I want to take one more whack at this New York Times article about the behind-the-scenes deal with pharmaceutical companies. What measures is the White House willing to take to ensure that this agreement remains in place and that no extra cost-saving measures are put in place by the House? Is the White House willing to do anything? Are you guys going to set a line in the sand? Can you move beyond this agreement?

MR. GIBBS: Well, we've not laid down any sand and I've not drawn in it. Again, the President has discussed throughout his time as a candidate and as President the importance of and ways that we need to cut costs for seniors. PhRMA, the Senate Finance Committee, supported by the White House, entered into an agreement that would cut the costs for seniors who -- millions of whom fall into the doughnut hole as part of Medicare Part D's benefit that was signed into law a few years ago. This will help fill that doughnut hole for millions of seniors, and some of that money will be used for health care reform. That's the goal of that agreement and that's the goal of our White House.

Q: If they extract money from pharmaceutical companies beyond that, is that something that the White House would --

MR. GIBBS: Well, we feel comfortable with the amount of money that has been talked about at this point.

Q: Robert, there is some unhappiness on the Hill among Democrats at the pace at which Senator Baucus is moving and sort of the way he is moving. Does the President share that impatience?

MR. GIBBS: Can you be specific?

Q: Well, that somehow in the end the Republicans are not going to be there and that he is being strung along by them. That's the sense.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President's main goal is to do all that we can to move forward, again, with that goal of getting something done for families, small businesses, and for people throughout this country this year.

I don't believe the President thinks that -- I know the President doesn't believe that he thinks this is -- that not meeting this August goal for the Finance Committee imperils in any way health care reform. It gives us all a chance to continue working toward progress, and change isn't going to happen overnight, and we certainly understand that.

Q: Do you know anything about the plans for the swearing-in of Judge Sotomayor?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't. I promised to check on some of what might happen here as a result of that. I'll look at that and try to have something in the week ahead tomorrow. I would also encourage you to contact directly the Supreme Court and they may have a better sense of when she would be sworn in.

Thanks, guys.

END 1:30 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," August 6, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86508.
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