Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base
4:11 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Good afternoon. Welcome to the end of the Summit of the Three Amigos. Just fire away.
Q: Can you tell us about the town meeting tomorrow, how the tickets are distributed, who the audience is likely to be, and are you expecting anybody to come and attempt to shout down the President of the United States?
MR. BURTON: Well, the event in Portsmouth tomorrow is going to be at the high school. There will be about 1,800 folks in the audience. I'll get you the specific -- more specific information on how folks were invited, but it was similar to the other town halls we've had in that they're mostly just given out to the general public and they're handed out through members of Congress's office and through -- some groups help to give them out.
The President is going to talk about the economy, the importance of rebuilding it, and especially health care, and specifically some of the consumer protections that are in the health care reform that he envisions -- things like making sure that a health insurance company can't deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition; ensuring that we cap out-of-pocket expenses; things like not allowing insurance companies to water down or drop you from their coverage just because you get sick.
We expect that there will be a vigorous debate, as there have been at plenty of town halls that President Obama has had as President and as candidate, and we look forward to it.
Q: What did the President think of Pelosi and Hoyer's comment in the op/ed about the disruptions being un-American?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America. The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that, because people do have questions and concerns about --
Q: Does he encourage the disruptions?
MR. BURTON: Well, one second. And so if people want to come and have their concerns and their questions answered, the President thinks that's important. Now, if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn't think that that's productive. And as a country, we've been able to make progress when people actually talk out what our problems are, not try to shout each other down.
So he thinks that we're going to be able to have a constructive conversation tomorrow and he'll continue to do that at the town hall later in the week and throughout this effort.
Q: The advance people heard nothing about what the audience is likely to be tomorrow, no expectation about whether there is going to be any voices raised?
MR. BURTON: Well, at all these events you get a different kind of crowd, and certainly there have been events with the President where some people are livelier than at others. So the President is looking forward to going to New Hampshire tomorrow.
Q: What is the President's reaction been to the town halls in the last week? I mean, is he surprised by the sort of ferociousness and the contention? Is he -- what's his --
MR. BURTON: Well, there's obviously a lot of passion on one side of this, and that's why people are showing up and screaming. And again he doesn't think that that's constructive. But, you know, there's passion on the other side, too -- the people who want health care reform and who think that it's wrong that health insurance companies can stop you from getting coverage just because you have a preexisting condition, or drop you from coverage just because you get sick.
So the President's reaction has been that there's more questions to be asked, but there's -- the American people are foursquare behind getting some kind of health care reform so that we can change the way that it's delivered in this country, and he's going to continue to work towards that effort.
Q: Does he think people are being put up to it?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think less important than the motivations or the organizations or who's putting it together is that there's a lot of energy out there on this issue, on either side. And the President views his role as getting health care reform done for the American people and in order to do that, that means going out there and being prepared to have a robust and vigorous discussion.
Q: Are we going to hear any new news tomorrow in the speech? Does he have anything new to say?
MR. BURTON: There won't be any new policy proposals or anything like that. It will be the President talking about some parts of health care reform that he thinks are particularly important to the American people.
Q: -- insurance company reform and the preexisting condition stuff -- I mean, is there anything new beyond that?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't want you to get bored, but it will be some of the things that you've heard the President say that he's committed to.
Q: Bill, does the President have any reason to believe that many of the critics and opponents that show up at some of these town hall meetings aren't doing it genuinely and are not being orchestrated by some other group?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think that there's obviously been some orchestration of some of the folks who go out there, but I don't think that that is as important as the fact that, A, there are people who do have legitimate concerns and questions about health care reform and the President wants to have an opportunity to answer those folks and wants members of Congress to have the opportunity to answer those questions, as well. And that's why it's important that when people go to town hall meetings, if you want to have a tussle over an issue, that's fine; but screaming so that you can't hear the answer to whatever the complaint is isn't moving the ball forward for anybody.
Q: He doesn't think that the people who support his position on health care should shout back?
MR. BURTON: It's the President's view that shouting just so that you can't hear the other person is not constructive.
Q: Can I ask you about Afghanistan? General McChrystal gave an interview saying that the Taliban is advancing. There's a feeling that the Taliban has -- is gaining momentum, and what does that mean for U.S. policy?
MR. BURTON: Well, let me start by saying that the President feels like the troops in Afghanistan are operated under some of the most dangerous conditions in the world and they're doing it bravely and with a great amount of courage, and he fully supports what they're doing; and that we should keep in mind that the reason we're in Afghanistan is because the people who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 are still operating there and are plotting attacks against Americans even now.
And so when he came to office, he put in place a new strategy to ensure that we get the assets on the ground in order to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and break the back of the Taliban.
What General McChrystal said today -- and I encourage you to take a look at what Rear Admiral Smith on his staff has put out in response -- was something that I don't think is a surprise to anyone, which is that we are in a very tough situation in Afghanistan, but we believe that we have the strategy in place, are putting the assets on the ground in order to achieve the ultimate objectives that we're looking to do.
Q: But is this strategy -- is anything changing now?
MR. BURTON: No, the strategy is not changing and, there are pieces of it that aren't fully implemented just yet. The President authorized 21,000 new troops for Afghanistan -- they're not all on the ground just yet, but we believe that with the strategy and the assets and the infusion of resources, that we're going to be able to achieve our goals.
Q: What are the prospects of additional troops being sought for Afghanistan between now and the end of next year?
MR. BURTON: Well, like I said, the President's strategy hasn't fully been implemented just yet. But we do believe that with the strategy that we have, with assets that we're putting on the ground, that we are going to be able to achieve the goals that we're trying to achieve.
Q: Do the generals want more troops? I mean, what are hearing from them?
MR. BURTON: Well, General McChrystal is currently undergoing a pretty thorough assessment of what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan, and we'll see what that assessment turns up. But obviously the President is in close contact with his commanders on the ground, but again, thinks that the strategy that he put in place is a winning one.
Q: What is he doing tomorrow besides for the --
MR. BURTON: Just the town hall. He's got -- that's all he's doing in New Hampshire. I mean, he might have a couple of meetings while he's there with local officials, but -- like he does in every place. But then he comes back to Washington and he's got some more meetings at the White House.
Q: Can you give us a little bit of a sense of what he's going to be doing before he goes on vacation, in terms of health care events and stuff like that? I mean, I know he's also going out West, but is he going to be -- what kinds of events are we going to see him doing?
MR. BURTON: He is going to continue to talk about health care, the importance of getting reform done, getting out there --
Q: -- town halls?
MR. BURTON: He will have -- he'll have this town hall, he'll have another town hall later in the week. You can expect a couple of other town halls before he goes on vacation.
Q: This week?
MR. BURTON: Not this week, no, but before he heads out for good to Martha's Vineyard with some of you guys.
Q: Bill, why New Hampshire?
MR. BURTON: New Hampshire is a important state where people are feeling the pinch of --
Q: -- state that's not important, by the way? Which state?
MR. BURTON: New York is very important, my home state. Illinois is also very important, the President's home state. They're all ranges of important, really, if you think about it.
But New Hampshire is a place where people are really feeling the pinch of health care reform, and it's a place where he can talk specifically about getting real consumer protections in place, like making sure people can get covered if they have a preexisting condition, et cetera.
Q: Just to get back to Afghanistan for a minute, are -- you said they're looking at their options. Is -- are more troops on the -- is the possibility of even more troops on the table?
MR. BURTON: I'll have to check the transcript. I don't think I said that they were looking at their options. I said that General McChrystal was assessing the situation on the ground.
Q: Assessing the situation.
MR. BURTON: Right. And then, as we get to the end of that assessment, we'll obviously take a look at what he comes up with, and go from there.
Anything else? Thank you.
END 4:22 P.M. EDT