Aboard Air Force One
En Route Portsmouth, New Hampshire
12:13 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Shoot.
Q: Any reaction to Suu Kyi's situation?
MR. GIBBS: We'll probably have a statement from the President a little bit later on, but obviously we share the same view as the Secretary of State. This is not somebody that should be tried and not somebody certainly that should have been convicted.
Q: Have you been in contact with Ambassador Rice on this? Has the President talked to U.N. Ambassador Rice?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if the President has talked to Ambassador Rice on this, but I'll find that out.
Q: Who has he been speaking with? Can you tell us who he has been speaking with?
MR. GIBBS: Just at the staff level at the NSC.
Q: Robert, is the White House confirming the reports about officials from the White House Counsel's Office asking a nonprofit organization to take down posters of the President -- referring to the President's daughters on the school lunch program?
MR. GIBBS: Without getting into the specifics, we've been very clear I think from even before the administration started that their two girls would have a very private life, and we want to protect that private life and their privacy. And we hope that others will be respectful, as many in the media have been, about not using the girls as a publicity stunt.
Q: On the Kuwaiti -- reports that Kuwait broke up an al Qaeda-linked cell, a White House comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything further on that.
Q: Back to Aung San Suu Kyi. Gordon Brown called her new sanctions or -- called for the U.N. to respond "resolutely," I think was his phrase. Where is the White House in terms of --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and see. Let me and check and see what conversations we've had with Ambassador Rice on that.
Q: On what we're going to get here in a little bit in New Hampshire, what are you expecting in terms of congressmen being burned in effigy, that kind of thing?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I've been to several hundred of these with Barack Obama. I doubt that I've ever been to one where everyone agreed with everything he said. I think he's always believed and I think the New England tradition is that you have an exchange of ideas and hopefully all sides become better informed about the issues that are affecting them. I think that's what the President has always looked at a town hall meeting to do. I don't expect anything to be markedly different in that sense today.
Q: What about his message? Is it going to be different -- is he tweaking it or --
MR. GIBBS: No, we'll talk about what we've talked about for a while. We'll talk about the importance of health insurance reform. The introducer today, which I think you guys have information on, is somebody who's been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. Twelve-and-a-half million Americans over the past three years have been denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. And I think most people recognize that it's time for that to change. That kind of discrimination has to stop and it's something the President will focus on in large measure today.
Q: Robert, is it safe to say that the level of opposition, especially conservative opposition that has hardened to the health care reform, that took the administration by surprise?
MR. GIBBS: Based on?
Q: Based on polls showing diminishing public support and also -- among the conservative -- the level of conservative animosity towards the reform. Has that taken the -- did that take the administration by surprise? Is that --
MR. GIBBS: That conservatives oppose health care reform is about as surprising as the sun having come up today in the east.
Q: I mean the sort of virulence of it, the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- just because somebody can yell at a health care town hall meeting I think is indicative only of one's personal lung capacity.
Q: Is there any danger of diluting the message? There are so many different facets to this. You're talking today, as you said, about preexisting conditions. Also you've talked about -- the President has talked about health care in the context of economic reform. Going from sub-message to sub-message to sub-message, is there a danger that none of them are sticking?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, I think if you're sitting at home, you're concerned that your health care bill is going up because it's gone up every year. It's doubled in the past nine years. We're in the midst of a tremendous economic downturn, which makes paying for the increasing cost of health care even harder. And if you lose your job or your employer has to cut your health care and you find yourself on a private market, as millions of people do every day, you might get discriminated against because somebody in an insurance company decides you have a preexisting condition.
I don't think that's confusing; I think that's the way millions of Americans live every day. I think that's what people are focused on in this debate. I don't think that people are -- no offense, but you guys cover a lot of process and you cover a lot of -- you cover noise and heat and light, but I think what people in America want to know is how is this reform going to help them or how is it going to affect them. I think that's what the President wants to do today, is discuss those particulars with the American people. I think that's what they're concerned about.
Q: Can you have light without heat?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q: I guess my point being, as you said, people want to know how this is going to help them, but each time the President goes out that message is substantially different to some people, who listen sort of occasionally.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the message is -- maybe I just -- maybe I missed it. I don't think the message is substantially different. I don't -- we've been talking about health care the same way for almost two-and-a-half years. We've been talking about the fact that it's not just about increasing coverage, it's cutting costs. It's about making sure that insurance works for people. I don't think we've changed messages at all.
Q: The typhoon in China, the President has been briefed on that -- any updates on that?
MR. GIBBS: He's obviously been briefed and knows about evacuations and things like that.
Q: But hasn't made any calls or hasn't --
MR. GIBBS: He has not made any calls today on it.
Q: Do you think the President is winning the message war? And if you feel like he is winning that war, how do you know?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think we are continually trying to let people know what this means to them. There's a lot of noise. I think about -- take, for instance, the whole debate about supposed euthanasia. Did you see the interview that the Washington Post's Ezra Klein did with Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson? Look, this is somebody who helped to author on the Senate side a similar provision as is in the House side.
Is there a constant struggle because you guys would rather cover Sarah Palin saying something that Johnny Isakson says is nuts? Sure, there's always a struggle in that. But for 40 years this has been tough going because there are a group of people -- we hear them, we seem them now -- that are for the same status quo; they're for the special interests that are making billions and billions and trillions of dollars on a system that works well for them, but not for millions and millions of Americans -- they want to keep that.
Our challenge each and every day is to go out and make sure people understand that doing nothing costs the American people more in health care -- more in health care spending; it makes our budgetary problems worse; it causes people to lose their coverage and lose their doctor. And we can change all that.
Q: Governor Palin's comments actually help the White House in some way, don't they, by being a shiny object that distracts from the actual debate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think we want a distraction from the debate. I mean, I think it's -- it helps in the sense that I don't think -- I think they serve to make a certain segment of charges outlandish, there's no doubt about that. But I think we'd all be served better if the coverage of that was less about the personality of the former governor and more about the fact that even Republicans think what she said isn't true.
And I think a lot of what the President will try to do throughout the next several days is make sure people understand what's really being talked about, what's really being debated, rather than have this all focused down on to a few seconds of a sound bite based on information that's just not true and that, quite frankly, I think most people that talk about it know it's not true.
Q: The Bozeman town hall, will Senator Baucus be there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if Senator Baucus is going to be there, but I'll check.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
END 12:24 P.M. EDT