Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cincinnati, Ohio11:56 A.M. EDT
Q: And no pastel tie that I read about in The New York Times?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to a Labor Day picnic, Hans, we're not going to the floor of Wall Street. (Laughter.) Can somebody get Hans an outfit to change into? I'm not sure the white collar with the blue-patterned shirt is going to go over real well at the labor picnic. But don't worry, we'll stick close to you so they don't confuse you for a Wall Street banker.
Q: This is all great for my profile. This is just fantastic. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Please make sure this is in the official transcript.
Q: And Robert's bow tie, it's an odd color. Are those naked girls on there? (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, Israeli government went ahead and approved the building of 445 new settler homes that they were floating last week. Any reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: No, I would point you to the statement that we put out on Friday in expressing our opposition to the move, even as continue to work to make progress on bringing the two sides together for longer-term peace in the Middle East.
Q: Had you not hoped that they would back off from -- after you made the statement last week?
MR. GIBBS: I think the decision had been made before that.
Q: Yesterday you called the public option -- or said the President thinks the public option is a valuable tool. Same time, Mr. Baucus's committee doesn't have -- his draft bill doesn't have a public option in it. What are your thoughts on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not -- I mean, I've seen reports about a Finance Committee proposal. Obviously we'd be pleased if the Finance Committee, throughout the course of the next few days, came up with a proposal to -- that can get through their committee, hopefully with bipartisan support.
Q: Would you be displeased if they didn't?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we're in a process at this point where the President will speak on Wednesday, and as I also discussed yesterday, pull together the strands of many different pieces of legislation to come up with a plan that improves health care for all Americans.
The reason the President thinks it's a valuable tool -- and let me -- I'll try to explain this as I did yesterday. For 160 to 180 million Americans that get their insurance primarily through their employer, the public option will not in any way affect them. What we're talking about is the increased choice and competition that is needed in an individual -- in the individual and small business market that often is dominated in many areas and states in the country with only one insurance carrier.
The story I used yesterday was a friend of mine who lives in Alabama who started a small business. One of the first things he had to do was go out and get insurance for he and his family. And he's lucky. His family is healthy. And 89 percent of the market in Alabama, the individual market, is controlled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield -- one insurance company.
He was lucky. But he's talked to a lot of friends, other people in small business, that have started small businesses or that are working in small businesses, that haven't been as lucky; they were denied coverage. He understands, my friend does, that if somebody in his family gets sick or for some reason if he loses his insurance, he's going to have a very hard time covering his family.
For markets where that is the case, having an option, government option, public option, that provides increased choice and competition and that provides a check on insurance companies, the President continues to believe is an important part of this proposal.
Q: Robert, what else is the President doing today?
MR. GIBBS: What else is he doing? I don't have anything, other than going to Cincinnati. But I can certainly check.
Q: And Secretary Solis is on the flight?
MR. GIBBS: I believe that's the case. But I was eating grapes when I walked through the cabin, so I wasn't looking around.
Q: On Afghanistan, it seems like every day we're getting new accusations of fraud in this election. Isn't that -- doesn't that undermine your -- the U.S.'s goals in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the -- look, obviously it is -- the Afghans are counting votes and this is an Afghani election and they've got to address any allegations that are out there and ensure -- convince people that there is -- ensure people of the legitimacy of this election, and that's their job to do.
Let me -- and I also should make one point. I think we passed out the latest draft. At noon -- I don't have my watch on -- at noon the final version of the President's speech that will be delivered tomorrow to school kids throughout the country will be live on the Internet so that anybody that had questions about what the President was going to say or what message he had for teachers, for parents, and for students would be pretty clear for all of those to see.
I wanted to give you guys, since we're in the air for part of this, a little bit of a look as to what -- again, please check the Web site for the final version; it should be up I guess when we land.
And I would just have one comment on that. I think it's a sad, sad day that the political back and forth has intruded on anyone speaking to schoolchildren and teachers and parents about the responsibilities that they have as we enter a new school year. If one kid in one school hears one message and goes from being a D student to a C student, then the speech is worth it. If one kid decides not to drop out of school, then the speech is worth it. Right now nearly three in 10 kids in school will not walk across a stage and get a high school diploma. If anybody thinks that's the recipe for long-term economic growth, I've got news for them.
It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an "Animal House" food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard, to engage parents to stay involved, and to ensure that the millions of teachers that are making great sacrifices continue to be the best in the world. It's a sad state of affairs.
Q: Robert, on Iran and Ahmadinejad saying that he's ready to talk, will that happen at the UNGA? What are the plans for talking with the Iranian government? Where do things stand?
MR. GIBBS: We saw reports of that last week on Iranian TV, but best of my knowledge, at this point we've not heard anything officially from them.
Q: So you've not -- the Iranians have not communicated with the White House?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Okay. And then on the letter that Brennan supposedly delivered to the Yemenis, offering them help on counterterrorism -- Yemenese newspapers are reporting this. Can you confirm the existence of the letter?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to talk to somebody at NSC. I don't --
Q: Robert, is Ron Bloom on the flight?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if Ron is on the flight, and I'll get a manifest for you guys.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
Q: Is the President asking the union leaders not to draw lines in the sand about the public option?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the President thinks it's a very valuable tool. I think the President thinks we have to have choice and competition. So I think we're -- we all understand the importance of getting health care reform done quickly and getting it done this year.
Thanks, guys. I'll get you guys a manifest.
END 12:04 P.M. EDT