James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:27 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- just one very short announcement before we take questions today.
President Obama will attend the 17th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting, APEC meeting, in Singapore on November 14-15. APEC is an important forum that brings together the dynamic economies of the Pacific Rim. Singapore is an important partner on a range of regional and global issues. President Obama looks forward to working with APEC leaders to promote open trade and investment, support economic recovery and sustainable development, and address key challenges facing the region and the world.
The President expects to visit other countries during his trip to the region. Further announcements will be forthcoming when those plans are finalized.
Q: Should we assume it would be front-end or back-end or --
MR. GIBBS: Don't buy tickets based on any assumption.
MR. GIBBS: Again -- (laughter.)
Q: You can't go to one of those countries without going to all three of them.
MR. GIBBS: Let me see -- the President expects to visit other countries during his trip to the region, and further announcements will be forthcoming when those plans are indeed finalized.
Q: We have a list of countries in Asia. Should we just ask them all individually?
MR. GIBBS: You should -- let's go alphabetically or --
Q: I'm on the edge of my seat. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That's because you finished the crossword puzzle. (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, can you say whether it will be a rather lengthy trip, in terms of days?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, in many ways -- in all seriousness, in many ways some of that is going to depend on a number of factors -- obviously scheduling, where we are in any of the legislative calendar, what have you. The reason -- we wanted to get this out. Obviously we've got advance teams that are going relatively shortly to Singapore. And as we get -- as we get more definitive plans, we will certainly let you guys know. Obviously there are a couple of other possible countries, but I think at this point, getting into -- trying to look into that crystal ball would be hard at this point.
Q: Trip before or after the President signs health care? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Damn, that's not on my sheet. No, hopefully it is not too long after. Yes, ma'am.
Q: Can you talk about what the President is doing over the next couple of weeks on health care, other than the town halls, that you know about, the sort of public events? But what kind of role is he taking in terms of talks with lawmakers, negotiations? What's his -- what's his sort of game plan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously -- and I know you asked me in addition to or other than the town hall -- I would note we are doing those over the next couple of days in Montana and Colorado. We'll do some events not yet announced over the course of the next few days after that, and I do expect throughout both the congressional break as well as the time he gets to spend with his family, that there will also be some -- continue to be calls with different lawmakers about plans for what happens when we come back in the fall and continuing to make progress.
Q: Well, they're on a pretty tight schedule, right -- so they come back from this recess and there's this September 15 deadline. So you take a day like today, for example, where there's nothing on the schedule and it's pretty quiet, at least publicly. Can you sketch out, you know, what portion of his day is he spending kind of digging into this, whether it's calls to lawmakers, getting into the weeds --
MR. GIBBS: He's met with staff here today on health care. I don't believe -- I have not seen any notification about member calls. Obviously he'll get a chance, as we talked about yesterday, Senator Baucus will be in attendance at tomorrow's town hall. I'm sure they'll get a chance to talk about the progress and the talks that he's having with members of the Finance Committee. And as I said, I assume those -- I know those calls will continue, again, over both his and their breaks.
Q: Well, he told Time Magazine he was spending, what, like -- some portion of his day, every day, on health care -- I can't remember what quantity he put on it. Is that still true, say, over the next couple weeks, that he's going to spend this big chunk of every day --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I -- yes, I mean, look -- well, I will segment out for his benefit that I do think that as he's on vacation, he will concentrate on being on vacation. I do, though, assume -- not assume, that's the wrong word -- I do know that he will continue to talk to lawmakers as part of that. Obviously I think when he's up -- out of here, it probably won't be as much as he has been doing when Congress has been in town, but there's no doubt that he'll continue to talk to folks. I know they talked about that just a little while ago.
Q: At these town halls, does he feel like he's winning any converts?
MR. GIBBS: I think he believes very strongly, as we talked about yesterday, that it is important to address misconceptions or misimpressions that have been left out there about the bills. I do believe that the President feels strongly that when he makes his case, it helps the case for overall health care reform. So I think he feels -- he felt very satisfied with what happened in New Hampshire. He was able to address concerns that people have. I think he was able to take on, as I said, the misconceptions that had been out there in the legislation. So I think he feels like we have made progress.
Q: And this weekend, will the format be generally the same?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes. I mean, this -- you know, largely been the same for several years. He'll -- if you've got a question, raise your hand.
Q: Boy, girl, boy, girl. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He's been going girl, boy, girl, boy.
Q: No, no, no, actually, it's total -- it's a falsehood. He -- girl, boy --
MR. GIBBS: And then he went boy, girl --
Q: Then he went boy, girl.
Q: You know, so can you trust --
MR. GIBBS: I understand.
Q: -- can we trust that he's going to keep his word when he says that? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think he must have -- I think he just did sort of a Rain Man thing and quickly counted up there were, at this one, maybe more men than women, and hedged with the boy, girl, rather than the girl, boy.
Q: In all seriousness, has he thought about going Democrat, Republican, independent?
MR. GIBBS: We don't segment town hall meetings based on party ideology.
Q: You could ask for a show of hands for Republicans.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- he asked for a show of hands at the meeting about those that had concerns about the legislation. Again, I don't think we'd ask people to stand up -- the point of this is not to segment people by political party or political ideology but to address their causes and concerns. I think you could be of any number of political persuasions, support health care reform, and still have questions you'd like to ask the President. I think that's the point.
Q: What's the biggest misconception that you've found where you've been?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there's no question in New Hampshire the one he addressed the most is what has been I think addressed by some over the last few days, and that is this notion of, as some have called them, "death panels," that I think Senator Murkowski in Alaska yesterday addressed fairly clearly as well.
Q: Polls indicate that the American people are not -- or a plurality of the American people are not with the President on health care reform. He's obviously trying to change that by campaigning.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to quibble with -- I mean, again, I think --
Q: The majority of the American people are not with the President on health care reform, the bill that -- the legislation he's trying to get through Congress. How would you say it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at -- I think, not to mix networks here, but I think if -- I think your poll read --
Q: They disapproved -- more people disapproved of the President's handling of health care than approved, which I think is what Jake was asking about.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, that's the -- clarify the question, because the reason I was quibbling with the phrasing of the question -- not to get into the phrasing of polling -- but in your poll, if you asked just straight up here's what health care reform -- here's what you get, here's what it costs, the number was 58/38, something like that.
Q: Right, theoretically they're with what you think you're pushing, what you say you're pushing, but they're not with the President is what I'm saying.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if it is theoretical, but go ahead.
Q: The polls aren't where you want them to be. Would you quibble with that?
MR. GIBBS: On some of those questions, I would not quibble with it.
MR. GIBBS: We're just stuck on word polling.
Q: Why not? Why aren't they where you --
MR. GIBBS: Why are they -- why do I not agree?
Q: No. If the President is pushing for something that the American people, when you poll independently, support, why are they not with the President?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think part of it is some of these misconceptions. I don't doubt that. I think there -- I do think that people have questions. I think that's why -- I mean, the President isn't out doing town hall meetings just for his health. I mean, he wants to -- I think he understands the need to address concerns or misconceptions out there.
I think -- again, I think the President, whether it's the NBC poll, certainly other polling will demonstrate that people want to see health care reform this year. They want to see legislation that cuts costs. They want to see legislation that provides accessibility of coverage, that has insurance reforms, and that's what the President will continue to talk about.
Q: The fact that the American people are not with the President right now, does that indicate that this pushback, whether it's the viral e-mail you guys sent out today or the "Reality Check" Web site you set up or whatever, does it indicate that your pushback is late?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think so. Again, I -- largely because -- your question was based on polling. Polling is a snapshot in time. It's -- the debate continues, and we'll see whether numbers move or change as a result of the continuing debate.
Q: But doesn't the fact that you've started pushing back indicate that you realize that the initiative is in trouble?
MR. GIBBS: Well, one of the reasons we've pushed back is because of those misconceptions. Have some of those misconceptions contributed to the poll numbers? I don't doubt that. But at the same time, I mean, there's a little cause and effect here, but we're not going to stop pushing back on the misconceptions, whether or not the polling shows one thing or another. The President, again, strongly believes that, and has for years, that it's better to address what people's concerns are and take them on head on.
Q: Can I just ask one more question? I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, we can come back.
Q: The PhRMA deal. There's been some confusion I think about what exactly the White House has agreed to with Big Pharma, what they've not agreed to. Could you clarify what it is exactly that the White House signed off on, whether or not you feel that the Senate Finance Committee and Senator Baucus were up front with you guys about what he agreed to? And also, do you think that this was done, whatever deal this was, was this done in keeping with the transparency that then-candidate Obama promised?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, we had a little -- let me take the last part of that. I think the question a few days ago, something similar to this, which is we discussed bringing people to the table. We discussed making sure that stakeholders that are involved in health care are part of an agreement. Look, you can't -- you're not going to get health care legislation without involving the hospitals, without involving those that provide medications, without talking to groups that represent doctors or patients or seniors, nurses, what have you.
And we've talked a little bit about the PhRMA deal. You know, the Finance Committee and PhRMA agreed to $80 billion in cost savings, part of which goes to fill the doughnut hole for seniors as part of Medicare Part D, which I think we all know is at a certain point coverage for the purchase of those drugs stops until you basically reach a catastrophic level and the coverage kicks back in. Then some of the -- some of that additional savings would be used for health care.
Q: But the question is what the White House agreed to, bypassing most members of Congress? Did you agree to oppose importation of drugs? Did you agree to oppose rebates in Medicare Part D? Did you oppose a repeal of noninterference and oppose the opening of Medicare Part B? That is what some lobbyists are saying the White House has agreed to.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I think the same article that denotes that has denials from both PhRMA and us on that.
Q: But PhRMA said -- PhRMA said that the deal was $80 billion, that's it, no more, they can't give any more. Yet in Portsmouth, the President said that maybe you could get more.
MR. GIBBS: Well, maybe you could get more savings as a result of health care reform. I do not believe that the President meant we could take an $80 billion agreement and make it $95 billion. I've been fairly clear on that from here. I think as a result of the change in health care, you can see health care costs and drug costs driven down. That's not to say we were reopening it.
Q: So just to be clear, you're denying that the --
MR. GIBBS: I'm denying the --
Q: -- administration agreed to any of those things that I just listed?
MR. GIBBS: I am denying that the -- I'm reissuing the denial that I think is in the story that you're referring to, on our behalf and on PhRMA's behalf.
Q: Robert, what is the President hearing from lawmakers out in the field from these town halls? Is there a sense of frustration? Do they feel like they're getting through to the public in these town halls?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that the President -- I don't -- I don't have a list of -- I haven't seen a list of calls that he's made recently. I know staff have talked to a number of offices -- I hate to break it to you, I don't think all the town halls are as you're seeing them on TV.
Q: So tell us what the town halls are like, then. What kind of feedback are they getting from these town halls where -- that perhaps aren't --
MR. GIBBS: I think people are getting the feedback that they're having very good conversations about what's in the legislation -- what people would like to see, what options they want to have, why they think it's important. I said this yesterday and I'll say this again, while I appreciate that you all have decided that every town hall meeting ends in pushing, shoving, and yelling, I don't think many -- well, I don't know how many town halls you all have been to. They're not completely indicative of what's going on in America.
Q: Can you give us a list, Robert, of maybe some lawmakers who -- I mean, obviously, you feel that you have a --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have it with me, but I certainly can.
Q: -- broader span of knowledge of lawmakers who've had town halls --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have as many reporters as The New York Times.
Q: But you're obviously collecting information.
MR. GIBBS: I am.
Q: You say that we don't have a representative sample.
MR. GIBBS: I can maybe even direct you to attend a couple, since we sort of had this conversation yesterday. I don't know what your plans are next week.
Q: My plans are to travel with the President this weekend.
MR. GIBBS: Excellent.
Q: On immigration reform --
MR. GIBBS: Save you a seat. (Laughter.)
Q: -- I know the President mentioned in Mexico this is something that he wants to tackle in 2010. But until then, what is taking place in preparation of really jumping into this next year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President discussed in Mexico a more formal legislative timetable, understanding, though, that that does not mean that work doesn't continue. I think you've seen Secretary Napolitano work on aspects of a comprehensive immigration reform. She will continue to do that and meet with stakeholders and discuss along different border communities the challenges and the opportunities and what has to be done in order to make comprehensive immigration reform possible.
Q: And are there any groups that are being brought in to sort of help shape whatever it is that will eventually --
MR. GIBBS: I think there will be some meetings soon on all of that, yes.
Q: Stepping back a minute on the PhRMA deal, are we to believe that PhRMA didn't get anything for their agreement on the $80 billion; that they did not get anything in return from the White House, any pledges, promises, winks, nods, whatever? Are we to believe nothing was promised to them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm simply -- was responding to what the question was about a memo that I think both sides --
Q: Forget the memo a minute -- can you answer that -- can you answer that question? Were they -- can you say for sure they were promised nothing in return?
MR. GIBBS: I can assure you that we've come to an agreement to seek some savings from the pharmaceutical industry as part of comprehensive health care.
Q: And at what point are you going to release, then, the facts of the deal with them and with the hospitals and with a couple of these stakeholders that have come here and made these pledges and you guys have --
MR. GIBBS: I think some of this is going to be written into legislation that we'll hopefully see going through Congress relatively soon.
Q: Should we -- you know, why not release it now? Why not say what it is --
MR. GIBBS: Again, as I said yesterday, some of that agreement -- some of those agreements are up on the Finance Committee Web site.
Q: Speaking of the Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley was at a town hall yesterday and brought up the issue of living wills. Has the White House reached out to him and --
MR. GIBBS: Not that -- I don't --
Q: -- asked him why he chose to do this? Is this -- does his comments at all jeopardize -- in your mind jeopardize the bipartisanship that is -- you're trying to --
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I -- well --
Q: Did you see his comments?
MR. GIBBS: I watched your newscast.
Q: And what is your reaction to those comments?
MR. GIBBS: I would have him talk to Senator Murkowski, who said, just in case you didn't -- I didn't see it; it wasn't on your newscast -- but "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there is these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn't in the bill. There's no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill." That I think would be my -- I'd paraphrase that response.
Q: And that's what you'd want to say to Senator Grassley?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, I think, again, that's what Senator Murkowski said --
Q: But in your mind this doesn't jeopardize the bipartisanship right now?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we're continuing to -- obviously the President is continuing to talk to lawmakers and hope that the Finance Committee can come to some agreement.
Q: Besides the town hall tomorrow, what else is he doing in Montana? Doing something recreationally that you can --
MR. GIBBS: I hope we'll be enjoying Big Sky Country, but I don't have any announcements.
Q: Doing what? Hiking, fishing, hunting?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any announcements on that today.
Q: Robert --
Q: Any coverage?
MR. GIBBS: Probably not. (Laughter.)
Q: That you are sure about. Whatever it is --
MR. GIBBS: At least I can lean on that side of it, yes. (Laughter.)
Q: Whatever it is, we won't see it, is that what you're saying?
Q: Robert, I want to follow up on what Chuck was asking about Senator Grassley, because -- so he's the top senator on the Senate Finance Committee. The President has talked to him. The President wants a bipartisan bill. And yet, Senator Grassley came out and said no public plan option, no way, no how. He won't vote for a bill on it. And yesterday, he had a chance to clarify this death penalty thing, and instead he jumped on it and said people have a right --
MR. GIBBS: Death panel.
Q: Death panel, sorry. That people have a right to be -- the right to be afraid of it? So I mean, do you really -- can you still count seriously Chuck Grassley as an ally in getting your health care bill passed?
MR. GIBBS: I still think there is the possibility of getting bipartisan agreement through the Finance Committee in order to make progress on a piece of legislation that can pass the Senate, yes.
Q: With Senator Grassley's support in particular?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Senator Grassley, Senator Enzi, Senator Snowe are obviously the three Republican senators that are involved in this. We again will hope to quell the misconceptions that are apparently held even by some in the Senate about what the bill is and what the bill isn't. But we'll continue to hope that they can make progress. Now, whether or not it happens, you know, I don't know.
Q: He just seems to be playing "rope a dope" with the White House, leading you along and then slamming you down.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll -- I guess we'll see about that.
Q: Robert, on foreign affairs.
Q: Robert, Senator Grassley did, yesterday, specifically ask the White House or the President to say he's willing to sign a bill that doesn't have a public option. Is that something the President is willing to say?
MR. GIBBS: The President is willing -- the President is willing and will -- and wants to sign a bill that has adequate choice and competition for those that enter the private insurance market. Understand, again, the concept of this option was to provide exactly that, an option in an otherwise closed private insurance market that in some areas and different parts of the country that are dominated by -- might be dominated by only a couple, or in some instances only one insurance company that's offering the ability for coverage on a private insurance market.
The option of an additional plan is to simply provide some choice and competition to a group of people that can only get insurance that way, because their employer doesn't provide it, they don't work, or what have you.
Q: So you're saying there needs to be a public option?
MR. GIBBS: I'm saying there needs to be a mechanism that appropriately institutes choice and competition in a private insurance market that is normally, or can be at times, very narrow and closed in order for those concepts to impact people's ability to buy quality health insurance.
Q: And one other question. Do you know if the President has ever consulted on health care with Rahm's brother, Ezekiel Emanuel?
MR. GIBBS: Has he ever?
Q: Consulted on health care matters.
MR. GIBBS: I think Zeke has talked to -- certainly to staff and to others about health care. I've not been in every health care meeting the President has been in.
Q: Robert, you mentioned that some of -- back to PhRMA -- you mentioned that some of it would be written into the Senate Finance legislation.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's --
Q: Did I understand that correctly?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the -- that's the panel; if you're talking about getting different cost savings into the bill on the Senate side, that's the committee of jurisdiction.
Q: Pieces of the $80 billion agreement?
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q: Okay. But that agreement, the $80 billion, is not binding on Congress in any way, is it?
MR. GIBBS: Is it not binding on?
MR. GIBBS: All of Congress?
Q: All of Congress.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess that depends to some degree on what ultimately comes out of the Senate and what's agreed to in a conference committee, but I think that's getting -- that's projecting a tad ahead of ourselves.
Q: Well, is it binding on the Senate Finance Committee?
MR. GIBBS: It's the agreement that they entered into.
Q: Robert, a couple things on public option. It wasn't listed in the e-mail that David Axelrod sent out today where he was defining principal goals for health care reform. By my reading of it, I didn't see any mention of a public option as a mechanism of achieving what you just outlined. Was that an oversight or is this -- are there other --
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to go back and reread the e-mail.
Q: Are there other priorities that take a higher precedent --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again --
Q: -- for the President than a public option?
MR. GIBBS: Let me be clear -- I thought I was a minute ago, but I'll take another whack at it -- this is an option that provides choice and competition in an otherwise narrow or closed insurance market. That's the President's goal, is to ensure that if you didn't get your health insurance through your employer, you didn't have those type of options, that you would have something that might compete with the only game in town. That's -- I think that's in David's e-mail, choice and competition.
Q: Speaking of the e-mail, how was the list for who would receive it determined?
MR. GIBBS: I believe it's for people that have signed up to receive e-mail updates from the White House.
Q: The reason I ask is I have received e-mails from people who did not, in any way, shape, or form, seek any communication from the White House, who have never registered on OFA, who have never registered on a campaign Web site --
MR. GIBBS: Well, hold on, let's --
Q: Let me finish my question, let me finish my question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, but let's be clear, because --
Q: Let me finish my question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, but let's be clear before you -- I'm going to give you a chance to finish your question. You've done this a couple of times, Major, and I just want to be very clear, okay. OFA -- no, no, no, no, don't look funny. OFA, whether Obama for America or Organizing for America has nothing to do with, never has had anything to do with what -- if you sign up for, through whitehouse.gov, to receive e-mails, so let's just -- the reason I interrupted you is because I want you to rephrase your question that doesn't continue to assume that --
Q: Well, all I'm trying to get at is --
MR. GIBBS: -- somebody is violating the law and mixing up political --
Q: -- I receive e-mails from people who have never, ever signed up for anything related to this White House, Senator Obama as a candidate, Senator Obama as anything, and have received e-mails from David Axelrod. How could that be?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look at who you said got the e-mail.
Q: I mean, do you seek other pieces of information identifying who might be curious about health care outside of people who have asked for e-mails?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that again.
Q: Do you in any way seek databases or information about people who might be interested in health care?
MR. GIBBS: I will certainly check. I will certainly check. I am not under that impression. But again --
Q: I mean, folks have emailed me -- I just want to know -- would like to know how they get an e-mail from the White House when they have never asked for one.
MR. GIBBS: I'd be interested to see who you got that e-mail from and whether or not they're on the list. I don't --
Q: May I follow up politely on one of Major Garrett's --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- let me finish needling Major.
Q: -- this row, please.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I just want to be -- but I just want to be very --
Q: So what you're telling me is I need to give you these people's e-mails so you can check them on a list? I'm just asking.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you're asking me if they're on a list.
Q: No, they're telling me --
MR. GIBBS: If you can figure out a different way of checking without asking me to double-check the name, I'm happy to --
Q: Perhaps I'm not phrasing this correctly. They're telling me they're not -- they can't be on a list because they never asked for an e-mail from the White House.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but what I'm saying is I don't -- I'd have to look and see --
Q: So there's no -- you don't have an explanation for how someone who never signed up and never asked for anything from the White House would get an e-mail from David Axelrod?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to give you an answer, because you might impugn the motives of the answer.
Q: Why would you say that?
MR. GIBBS: Because of the way you phrased your follow-up. I'd have to look at what you got, Major. I don't -- I appreciate the fact that I have omnipotent clarity as to what you've received in your e-mail box today.
Q: You don't have to have omnipotent clarity. You don't have to impugn anything. I'm telling you what I got -- e-mails from people who said they never asked anything from the White House --
MR. GIBBS: And I'm simply saying --
Q: -- and yet they received something.
MR. GIBBS: We can -- let me go to someplace else that might be constructive.
Q: Robert, a couple of questions -- one on end-of-life care and one on the town hall. Senator Grassley just put out a statement a little while ago saying the Finance Committee dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly. And I'm wondering, would the President support a bill that does not have these end-of-life provisions in them -- in it?
MR. GIBBS: I have not asked him about that. I can't -- I don't know the answer.
Q: Okay, in other words, is it something he feels strongly about that is necessary?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to talk to him specifically about that.
Q: And then secondly, you talked a little bit yesterday about the town halls and how people sign up for them. And I'm wondering if you could just give us a little bit more information. I'm curious how many people do try to get in. How far in advance do you put a sign-up list up on the Web site? Or just how does it work if I were a citizen wanting to come to a town hall?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, the size is determined by the venue with which -- and the capacity with which the venue can fill.
Q: How far in advance do you advertise them?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know -- I don't know how far in advance the Portsmouth one was. I know that a lot of this stuff is done through the local -- local media outlets and the local paper that sends you to a Web site to sign up for.
Q: And does the White House find that there are many, many people wanting to go that can --
MR. GIBBS: Sure, always.
Q: -- can get in, and it's random, you said? Picked by computer?
MR. GIBBS: Random, yes -- was for New Hampshire, yes.
Q: Is it that way always?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, there's different sign-up for different populations, but, yes, that's the way it was done in New Hampshire.
Q: Is that the way it will be done this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: I admit I don't have clarity on how they're -- how it's done this weekend.
Q: Robert, may I ask a foreign affairs, please?
Q: Can we get that by the end of today, actually? I mean, I think that's something a lot of our --
MR. GIBBS: You want to sign up?
Q: -- a lot of our editors and producers are going to want an answer for, which is, can you give us clarity exactly how the Montana -- how the Montana tickets work by the end of the day?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I'll --
Q: And the Grand Junction, as well?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: First, one on Israel and one on Afghanistan. A majority of senators and also a large amount of congressmen have written to the President asking him to pressure the Arab countries to make more gestures toward peace. Does the President see these letters? Do they have any impact on policy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understand that -- I don't know whether or not the President has seen this letter -- understand that they're -- you can't have comprehensive Middle East peace without asking both sides for -- to live up to their responsibilities. Without having seen the letter, it's hard for me to comment on what exactly they wrote, but sufficient to say -- safe to say that the President, in talking with leaders throughout the region, have asked for different -- for them to live up to different responsibilities. This is not a one-way street.
Q: Also, on Afghanistan, I know you're reevaluating policy after the election. Do you have a mechanism to find out if a majority of the American people want this continued buildup of American troops in Afghanistan? Will public opinion influence your policy?
MR. GIBBS: We're e-mailing Major's list.
Q: Seriously, but will public opinion influence American policy --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think there's any active way of doing that. I will -- I think in the Washington Post poll not too recently, the President received extremely high marks on our policy toward Afghanistan. I don't know whether -- that's not something we're using to measure how we do the strategy, but it may denote how the public feels about some of it -- understanding, again, that we have a very dangerous region of the world that demands our attention in a way that we didn't focus on it previously. That's what the President said throughout the campaign, and that's what we have to do to maintain our security and make progress in the world, regardless of what any polling may show.
Q: Robert, can I ask about the visit by these federal officials -- Defense, DHS folks -- to the prison in Michigan today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Does that visit indicate that the administration has concluded that at the end of the day, some number of Guantanamo detainees are going to have to be housed in facilities in the United States, and that they can be done so safely and without undermining national security?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, this is a very preliminary sight survey. As I've said before, no final decisions about any of this has been made, as we continue to work through the caseload of existing prisoners at Guantanamo, how they can be evaluated for, as the President has talked about, bringing about swift and certain justice. For some, that may be a transfer to additional country because courts have deemed that they don't -- that they can't be held based on evidence. Obviously, some are -- some are going to be tried in either revamped military commissions, or in Article III courts. The visit to Standish is preliminary -- is to do a preliminary site survey. No final decisions have been made.
Q: So you really think it's possible to -- at the end of the day, that all of the other options, the non-bringing them back to America options, could eventually take care of the entire population?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure that's going to happen before the 20th of January. I think, obviously -- obviously, it is our hope that each one of these is going to be evaluated for how you bring about that justice. Obviously some of that is going to take some time. I will remind you that in the intervening six or seven years, I think three people have been through -- two or three people have been through some sort of loosely defined, I'm going to say, judicial process. I won't talk about courts or what have you. So obviously, we've got a number of options to look at.
Q: The 20th of January -- what is it --
MR. GIBBS: Twenty-first of January.
Q: Right. What is it that will happen by then? Might not happen by then?
MR. GIBBS: Well, whether or not each person has been moved out of Guantanamo by the 21st of January, I don't -- yes, sir.
Q: I did have a question on health care. But it does seem like that would be breaking the vow, or whatever, that the President made on his first or second day in office to close Guantanamo in a year's time? Is that what you're saying, that that's --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no, no. What I'm saying is that we're looking at options for -- the President intends to maintain and keep his commitment to close Guantanamo in a year.
Q: It just depends on what the meaning of the word "close" is, right?
Q: But if everybody's not out of there, how is it closed?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I'm saying that -- let me be -- let me be -- I see now where the confusion is. Obviously they're looking at the possibility of different sites for moving those that haven't been through a judicial process or have not been transferred or whatever out of Guantanamo. But I'm not suggesting that they would stay in Guantanamo past the 21st.
Q: Whatever happens to those cases, even if they haven't been finally disposed of, they won't be at Guantanamo?
MR. GIBBS: Right. That's the goal of the executive order, yes.
Q: I just have a question about whether the administration favors something in the House bill that would mandate a health benefits advisory committee to mandate essential benefits, even for private insurance plans.
MR. GIBBS: Without having a lot of knowledge of that section, let me have one of our guys take a look at it.
Q: All right, well, there's -- let me also ask just, how familiar are you with the language that some of the people are debating about -- or bringing up about the stuff that Zeke Emanuel has written?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say again?
Q: Zeke Emanuel has written some articles that people are using to say that the government will ration care.
MR. GIBBS: I think we've dealt with that as another one of the continuing misconceptions.
Q: Right, but in the context of talking about universal health care, he does talk about a scenario in which somebody with dementia would not get care.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, again, that's not what the President believes and that's not what the President's policy would be.
Q: I know that it's -- I know that the article is theoretical, but it's in the context of universal care and I think --
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is -- the President is -- I won't use the word -- but the President is the one that sets policy. I think he was pretty clear in New Hampshire that something like that is not involved in health care reform and isn't his policy.
Q: Just -- I'm sorry to belabor this, but -- (laughter) -- we're dealing with finite or limited or dwindling resources when it comes to health care and there are decisions that have to be made about who gets care and who doesn't. Does the President believe that individuals and their health care providers should make those decisions or the government?
MR. GIBBS: As he said in New Hampshire, not to belabor my answer again, he was very clear in New Hampshire that those are decisions that are made by the individual patients and their health care provider. What we want to do, and I think what the President was pretty clear about, is let's also not have those decisions made by health care bureaucrats and insurance company bureaucrats that have, as the President said, decided for 12.5 million people that they're -- they can't get an insurance policy based on what some one of them determines a preexisting condition. Let's not have a health insurance company decide that they get to change the rules on their premiums if somebody gets too sick.
Let's -- the President is a strong believer that those decisions should be made by the individual and their health care provider. They shouldn't be made by the government -- by a government bureaucrat, just as they shouldn't be made by an insurance company bureaucrat.
Q: Could you just speak to how the White House chose the sites for the town halls this weekend? Are they just conveniently located near the national parks, or is there something about the local health care market?
MR. GIBBS: No, we're not highlighting anything based on the local health care market. They were done as part of the swing for the national parks. So there's nothing new on that.
Q: So he decided to go to the national parks first and then decided to do health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this -- I don't know that one came before the other. This is a trip that we were able to do both.
Q: You've got a ton of ads coming out on health care. The Chamber has one out now, and a PhRMA-led group has another out. The evidence suggests that supporters of the President are going to out-spend critics by quite a margin this month. Do you think that barrage of advertising is going to help turn the tide on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if people get -- I think this goes with the same thing the President would talk about in terms of misconceptions. I think if people get a -- to use a health care analogy -- a dose of accurate information, that that will be a positive thing about what people understand what benefits them if they have insurance -- talking about the insurance reforms that I was just talking about with John -- if they don't have insurance how they can find an affordable insurance plan, and some of the reforms that we're making -- we're instituting that will cut costs and drive down health care costs. I think all those are important.
Q: How big a factor are the ads? How much of a help are they?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think if there's a healthy dose of accurate information out there, I think it will be helpful.
Q: A "healthy" dose?
MR. GIBBS: Healthy dose. Two tablespoons every four hours.
Q: Robert, what is the political cost for this administration and the Democratic Party if health care reform and insurance reform just doesn't go through?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not and I don't think the President has spent a lot of time thinking about political costs in any number of decisions that he's made since he's been here. I think the costs, both literally, to millions of Americans will increase, and the cost of continuing the status quo and stepping away from reform is great for millions and millions of Americans.
Q: Understanding that, but there are some ramifications inside the Beltway and around the country. Could it affect midterm elections for the Democratic Party? There are 50 marginal seats up.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, look, I don't doubt that everything we do has -- could have, ultimately, some impact on an election 13 months away, but understand, April, I think if you look at any number of decisions that the President has made, he's not making decisions based on what may or may not be polling well or politically popular.
It's certainly -- I don't know the last time people polled on ensuring the stability of the financial system, but it wasn't popular, though it was the right thing to do for the economy. I think if you look at assistance for auto companies -- not exactly the most popular thing in the world, but the President believed enormously important given where our economy was.
The President is making decisions based on what he thinks is the right to do, not based on some polling.
Q: The Southern Poverty Law Center reported yesterday detailing the rise of extremist militias in this country, and attributed largely the -- to Obama's presidency. Does the administration believe domestic terrorism poses as large a threat to the country's integrity as to threats outside her borders?
MR. GIBBS: I would be out of my depth in -- without talking to some security experts about that. Obviously the President is concerned about threats to our security wherever they may come from.
Q: Thank you.
END 2:12 P.M. EDT