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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Barack
Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
October 8, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Just one quick announcement before we get going. I want to give you a readout of a call between the President and Prime Minister Gordon Brown as part of their ongoing consultations and the special U.S.-U.K. relationship. They talked to each other this morning and discussed several key issues on the shared -- on their shared strategic policy agenda. The two leaders discussed the ongoing review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They agreed to remain in close consultation going forward, and underscored the importance of working closely with our allies and our Afghan and Pakistani partners. They noted the successful outcome of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh and discussed strategies to make progress in confronting the threat of climate change.

The President and Prime Minister also discussed the need to continue a unified international approach to address Iran's nuclear ambitions. The President thanked Prime Minister Brown for his leadership on a range of issues -- on a range of issues our countries face together and committed to staying in close touch going forward.

Mr. Elliott.

Q: Mr. Gibbs. No mention of Afghanistan during the call with Prime Minister Brown?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I said the two leaders discussed their ongoing review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Q: But anything more on that?

MR. GIBBS: Nothing more at the moment, no.

Q: Okay. Quickly, why is the President meeting with just -- with Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden today? Does he expect to hear opinions that he wouldn't have heard yesterday, or in previous days in the review, or tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: No, no -- I could check on the meeting with the Vice President, but keep in mind the President meets once a week with Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, to discuss a wide range of issues. I don't have any doubt that the pending issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan will come up. But this is part of a regularly scheduled series of meetings.

Q: Okay. And then, does the President have confidence in Secretary Geithner? Is he concerned at all that so many bank executives have shown up on the schedule, according to the AP review?

MR. GIBBS: No, we obviously have tremendous confidence in Secretary Geithner, somebody who has helped steer the financial sector back to stability; has worked on a range of issues and will be heavily involved in regulatory reform as we go forward. Obviously we have tremendous confidence in his stewardship and in his leadership.

Q: The President has had a Pakistan aid bill on his desk for most of this week and has yet to sign it. As you know, there's a controversy building in Pakistan with the army --

MR. GIBBS: Well, first of all, understand it's a -- first of all, it's an authorization bill, right? Congress has to approve an authorization in order to eventually appropriate money. So this is the authorization; the appropriations process obviously will follow.

Q: Right, but the President has yet to sign this, and I think you're aware of the controversy that's building in Pakistan with the army saying that the conditions attached to the aid would violate national sovereignty. When is the President planning on signing this, if in fact he will?

MR. GIBBS: The President will sign the legislation. Obviously it is posted on our Web site in accordance with our pledge to post legislation before the President signs it. Let's address the -- what's been out there in the news. This is part of what many believe -- this administration and Capitol Hill believe is important assistance for Pakistan. Pakistan obviously is a key ally of the United States. And the bill covers a wide range of civilian activities, including security assistance, and it's something the President will sign.

Q: But House Republican Leader Boehner is saying that the administration failed to do its leg work in preparing the way for this bill, that they -- the House, actually -- that it was approved by Congress based on the sense that the Pakistanis were happy with it. Any response to that?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think -- I think there are a lot of important measures in this legislation, in this authorization, to help the Pakistanis and to improve our relationship. In fact, I don't remember Mr. Boehner bringing this up when the President actually talked about the importance of this authorization ultimately leading to the importance of this appropriation in a members' meeting that included Mr. Boehner just a couple of days ago right here. So I don't -- unclear why he'd make that now.

Q: Thanks, Robert. Coming out of the Situation Room meeting yesterday on Afghanistan and Pakistan, obviously, what significance should we attach to the fact that the President's public words lately, a lot of people have been noting that he continues to talk about dismantling al Qaeda but seems to be talking less and less about Taliban. And people are reading that, that's sort of a significant shift and a signal of where the mission is headed. What do you say about that?

MR. GIBBS: I would tell folks to go back and read what the President said -- has said virtually every month leading up to -- and I would -- including the review and the speech coming out of the review from last March.

The President has always evaluated our policy, as I said here yesterday, based on those that pose a direct threat to attack our homeland or to attack our allies. Included in that group are any that would provide safe haven for those activities.

Though, as I said yesterday, we're not talking about the same type of -- they're not the same type of group. Al Qaeda is a global transnational jihadist movement that has conducted attacks on the United States homeland; conducted attacks on our allies; continues to plan, and has the intent and will to do so again. Again, some in the Taliban have similar agendas that have helped al Qaeda with safe havens. There's also a significant number of Taliban that are local warlords that have far different agendas. I think to look at them as separate entities, it's certainly not backed up by any of the intelligence.

Q: On another subject, the presidential helicopter, in the first hundred days, the President was very upfront in saying he didn't need a new helicopter, and the Pentagon ended up pulling the plug on the old system. Now there's Navy documents that have come out suggesting that the new program is going to cost even more money and take even longer. So at a time --

MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen it. I'm happy to look at the documents and have somebody take a look at them, but understand the decision for the prior helicopter -- when you have a -- when you have a -- this is written into law -- if there's a defense project that has a certain percentage of cost overrun in a contract that's been let, that it has to be reviewed by the Secretary of Defense to continue. I think the cost overrun was in excess of 50 percent. And based on that, the Secretary of Defense recommended and the President agreed that that program should be cancelled. I have not seen the new documents. I think the President spoke about -- has spoken about this many times. Obviously there's a safety argument that's always involved, but I think the President believes that we can do this in a way that doesn't cost the type of money that we've been talking about.

Q: The last thing -- the President plays basketball tonight, and the list you put out has about 15 members of the Cabinet, Congress. They appear to all be men. Did the President invite any women to --

Q: No, there's a woman.

MR. GIBBS: I think your appearance on the list appears to be accurate. I would say that the point is well taken. The President obviously is someone who, as the father of two young daughters, has an avid interest in their competing against anybody on the playing field. The President has certainly played basketball and other sports with women in the past, and I anticipate he'll do so in the future.

Q: Robert, I just have a follow to what Ed was asking. In these --

MR. GIBBS: Which of the three questions? (Laughter.)

Q: The first one, and then the last one too, actually.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, I got you. (Laughter.)

Q: But on the first one --

MR. GIBBS: Let's just add one in the middle and make it -- (laughter.)

Q: So in these meetings, is the President wanting to pursue al Qaeda and the Taliban as a duel enemy or as two separate strategies?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get into the Q&A involved in all these meetings, except to reiterate what I said to Ed, and that is that through the beginning of these -- each of these meetings we've had intelligence assessments, and throughout this process, not just in the last couple of weeks but going back through the transition, the President has wanted us to evaluate the threat that emanates from this region. I do think there is clearly a difference between an entity that, through a global, transnational jihadist network, would seek to strike the United States homeland. I think that's -- the Taliban are obviously exceedingly bad people that have done awful things. Their capability is somewhat different, though, on that continuum of transnational threats.

Q: Well, how do you approach that then if you're dealing with two enemies in the same area? I mean --

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's -- you've touched on part of what's being evaluated in the Situation Room.

Q: I mean, can you illuminate on that at all?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: And on Ed's last point, Secretary Sebelius said yesterday on Jay Leno that -- to "bring it on" with the President. Can we expect a little one-on-one with him?

MR. GIBBS: Like I said, I'm -- he's played -- I don't know if he's played with Secretary Sebelius before, but I think the President would be encouraged to play.

Yes. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Robert. Could you address the report this morning that in the course of these meetings, the White House is now reframing the strategy, shifting its thinking toward al Qaeda? Is that an accurate characterization of what's happening?

MR. GIBBS: I would go back to what I said a few questions ago to Ed. I would encourage you to go back and read what the President has always said, and go back and read what the President said specifically in March at the conclusion of the review on this.

Q: So are you saying there has been no reframing of the strategy and no shifting in the thinking in these meetings -- that it's status quo --

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not ready to talk about the meetings as being done, but I would tell you that the evaluation of the threats is not different.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert --

Q: Hold on there.

Q: Go ahead. Please.

Q: Well --

MR. GIBBS: He just sensed in that dramatic pause that you might have been done.

Q: I'm still trying to get a sense, though -- then are you saying that the report is inaccurate when it says that the --

MR. GIBBS: Which report?

Q: In The New York Times, saying that the -- they're reframing --

MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think I'm quoted in The New York Times -- I think I'm quoted in The New York Times as saying largely what I said yesterday, which is there are -- there are differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban

Q: That's not the question -- that's not the part of the report I'm asking about. I'm asking about the basic thrust, which is that in the course of these meetings, there has been a reframing of the strategy by the White House national security team, and a shift in thinking toward al Qaeda.

MR. GIBBS: No. We've always been -- we've been focused on al Qaeda as the primary, again, global threat that emanates from that region, based on its past attacks and its intent to continue doing so.

Q: You've been focused on that from the beginning?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely, absolutely.

Q: One other question, Nancy Pelosi today, when she was responding to a question about what the President's ultimate plan would be, she said, "When we see the President's suggestion, we'll respond to that." Is -- when the President comes out with a plan, is it a suggestion, or is that the way you see it? Or was she understating what kind of power the President has in this whole debate? Is it just a suggestion to Congress?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen her full remarks. I would say, obviously, the President is extremely mindful of the role that all in Congress will play in this upcoming debate, which is why he had the bipartisan, bicameral leadership here at the White House a couple of days ago, as well as relevant committee chairs and ranking members. Obviously, Congress will have -- as they've had on our policies and the previous administration's policies on Iraq and Afghanistan -- they'll have input into that.

Q: And last question, David Obey, who of course controls the purse strings to some extent, wrote a very long statement today, suggesting that --

MR. GIBBS: You've been busy reading today, Chip, haven't you?

Q: Absolutely -- saying that -- basically, he's saying that he does not see more troops being able to do the job. He says at one point, "It would drain the U.S. Treasury. It would devour virtually any other priorities that the President, or anyone in Congress, had." Has the White House looked at how much money, and has that been part of discussion, how much it would cost to increase troops?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.

Q: What would it cost for 40,000 more troops?

MR. GIBBS: I think the figure that I saw is for every thousand troops per year, it's a billion dollars. The comments by Congressman Obey are very similar to ones he made in the meeting with the President on Wednesday, and look, the President was mindful. I mentioned this yesterday. The President -- the President mentioned, as some in the room suggested -- reiterated their support for the President's decision in March to send an additional 21,000 troops and trainers to the region of Afghanistan. He did take the opportunity to mention that despite their statements of support, he did not remember as clearly the appropriations bill sliding through the House, as he said.

Q: So cost is a factor?

MR. GIBBS: Well, it's something we certainly have to be mindful of. We don't have unlimited money. We certainly don't have unlimited troops. And as we go forward, there -- I'm not saying this is the determining factor, by any means, but understanding that as we have a discussion about our spending and our deficits, and how they relate to our fiscal health, certainly the amount of money that we spend overseas has always played a role in that and I assume will continue to do so.

Q: I'm interested in this distinction you're making between elements within the Taliban, those who are more inclined to provide safe haven to al Qaeda and those who are more -- the generic warlord variety. Is the former group, those who would provide a safe haven, are obviously a higher priority, defeating them is a higher priority than defeating --

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously it is very safe to assume that this review will continue the policy of ensuring that Afghanistan and any extremists in Afghanistan are unable to provide a safe haven for which al Qaeda can plan and ultimately execute attacks, as I've said, on our homeland and on our allies.

I think if you look at -- the Taliban is not -- is not a homogenous group. I think you've -- certainly, as I said a minute ago, you've seen elements that have provided that support of safe haven. You also have, again, those with much more local interest. And again, you've got al Qaeda -- again, a global network -- versus the Taliban, something that's located exclusively in Afghanistan.

Q: Well, does it follow, then, that those who have local interest, as you put it, the United States would be less concerned about them operating and controlling --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say --

Q: -- being in charge of large swaths of Afghanistan?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, one, it's important to reiterate that there is not intelligence to back up, as some have suggested, the imminent fall of the government in Afghanistan.

Q: But they do control -- the Taliban -- largely autonomous regions --

MR. GIBBS: Right, and remember, our -- some of the strategic changes that were made in the last few months in Afghanistan were to focus on certain areas of the country. I think everyone would note that you have a country of size and scope in terms of population that's far bigger than, say, some analogies that people have tried to draw to Iraq.

Let me reiterate again, though, that there is -- there simply is a difference in intent among these groups -- among parts of these groups. And our primary focus, obviously, is to protect our homeland and to protect -- help to protect our allies.

Q: In the last several days, administration officials have been taking pains to point out that progress, you report, that the Pakistanis are making against militants in their own territory. How does that tie into the resource question in Afghanistan? Is there a connection there?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let me just leave it at this. Obviously the review that is ongoing and the review that started during the transition and up through March, the team here and the President believe it was important not to look at these as two separate contiguous countries, but instead a region of strategic importance, and we're making decisions that affect the region, not just one area.

Q: So that success lessens the need for more troops in Afghanistan --

MR. GIBBS: The President has made no resource decisions, and when he does we'll discuss them.

Yes, sir.

Q: Does the Finance Committee bill meet the President's standards for choice and competition in the health care --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if they've -- I don't know the degree to which Nancy-Ann and those guys have declared that. Obviously I think the Finance Committee, it appears, will conclude their work on Tuesday. Obviously important development yesterday was a score by CBO that demonstrated that health care legislation as written in the Finance Committee wouldn't add to the deficit and would cover 94 percent of those that lack health insurance -- or cover 94 percent of eligible Americans, I should say. And I think it's another step in terms of progress.

Q: But before -- between now and when the bill goes to the Senate floor, there's an effort ongoing right now to reinsert a public option in some form, probably managed by the states. And I'd like to know if the President -- if the White House is getting involved in that process.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jonathan, let me give the answer -- I'll try again the answer I gave you I think two days ago when you asked me largely the same question. The head of that process is obviously going to be the Senate Majority Leader working with members of the relevant committees in the Senate, and I presume that we'll get a chance to look at and have some comment on those bills.

Yes, sir.

Q: Back on Afghanistan, Robert. You would agree that the Taliban, or at least elements of the Taliban, are a threat to U.S. forces on the ground, right?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think I've acknowledged that obviously that's the case.

Q: What are the administration's concerns about the support that Iran is giving to Taliban elements, support in both money and weaponry?

MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously without getting into a lot of specifics, the administration continues to be concerned about a range of activities that the Iranians are involved in.

Q: And has it used any of the approaches to Iran recently to put them on notice about this in any way?

MR. GIBBS: I could check with Bill Burns on that, but not that I'm aware of.

Q: One domestic question -- real domestic question --

MR. GIBBS: As opposed to all these previously fake domestic questions --

Q: No, I mean domestic, here in the White House itself. The story about Mrs. Obama's family history that appeared in the Times today, the genealogy, was this news to the family? And what do the President and Mrs. Obama make of these findings?

MR. GIBBS: I talked to the First Lady's spokespeople this morning. They simply told me that they -- that she was -- she enjoyed reading -- I don't believe she knew, or had known all of this, but enjoyed reading about her family history. That's all I got.

Q: Has the President reflected on it at all?

MR. GIBBS: I've not talked to him about it. Yes, ma'am.

Q: Speaker Pelosi today said that the House is going to consider extending the first-time homebuyer tax credit. In the meeting yesterday, did the President give a preference, one way or the other, whether he'd like to see that extended just for first-time homebuyers, or that it would also apply to other purchasers?

MR. GIBBS: This was not something that was discussed in yesterday's meeting.

Q: Well, Pelosi is saying that she'd like the House to bring it up. Did that lead the President to support that extension even more?

MR. GIBBS: I think obviously there's an evaluation going on, as has been going on for several weeks, about measures that are expiring between now and the end of the year, and they're still evaluating that. But this was not a topic that was discussed yesterday.

Q: This extension, it never came up during the meeting?

MR. GIBBS: No.

Q: Okay. Returning -- returning to basketball, earlier in the year, the President said that he had extended an invitation to LeBron James and other NBA players to come once the nets went up on the court. Is that invitation still open? Is there any update to that?

MR. GIBBS: You know, I think these guys -- I'll ask Reggie this. He would have a better sense of this than I would. I think a lot of those guys are now in training camp, so that may have to wait until it gets warmer at the end of next year. Maybe that will give the President a little bit of time to practice before taking on the likes of LeBron and others on anyone's basketball court.

Q: You are going to play tonight? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: No, no. I played with -- I played a few weeks ago with the President, and about 15 minutes into the whole affair, I turned my ankle and spent the next five days with it sitting in a bucket of ice. And except for the amazing honor of that, I've decided to skip it this time.

Q: And just one more on basketball.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: I believe there were two Republicans on the list today. Were any other Republicans invited?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think part of this list follows a game that's played up on the House side fairly regularly, and I think those are -- Congressman Flake and Congressman Shimkus are two that participate right now.

Q: House Republican leaders sent the President a letter yesterday declaring the stimulus to be unsuccessful, and blaming business concerns about the health care debate and energy legislation for freezing job growth right now. Give me a reaction to that.

MR. GIBBS: That's a series of analysis that in all honesty, Wendell, greatly escapes me. Energy legislation would create, through clean energy investments, tens of thousands of jobs.

Q: What they say is it would create --

MR. GIBBS: I presume the economist that came up with the economic plan that got us into this mess may have penned some of that letter.

Q: What they claim is that it would create a national energy tax, and that --

MR. GIBBS: I think --

Q: -- health insurance reform would --

MR. GIBBS: Which I think has been debunked by the same CBO that up until -- at some point mid-yesterday, they liked to -- they liked to make sure that people noticed. So again, I think this is --

Q: And they say concerns about whether the health insurance reform would raise the cost of health insurance is discouraging small business from hiring.

MR. GIBBS: Here's what I would suggest. I would suggest that the eloquent authors of that letter might want to pull from the CBO Web site the analysis of health care and energy legislation that will create jobs and provide affordable health care for millions of Americans. But let me also quote a Republican -- you can deliver this for me, but when Senate -- former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said yesterday -- reported yesterday that he didn't want his party to be the party of "no," to be the party of "we're not open for business," I think it's a good admonition to the letter writers on Capitol Hill that I think many are anxious to see their plan for creating energy jobs and providing health insurance for those that don't have it and cutting costs for the millions that are lucky enough to have it.

Q: On jobs, if I could. E.J. Dionne in a op-ed today says -- quotes a senior administration official as saying, "We've always known that additional measures for job creation were something the administration would support and plan for." He's talking about something short of a second stimulus plan. Considering that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I've said throughout this week, the recovery plan -- we talked about this -- was a $787 billion plan to fill in a $2 trillion hole in our economy, that the team here had since last December been working through and continuing to evaluate plans to ensure a strong economic recovery, and they continue to do that.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thanks, Robert. You had the March review on Afghanistan/Pakistan policy. You have General McChrystal's report. You've had hours of discussions over the past couple weeks. Does the administration believe it's possible to defeat the Taliban?

MR. GIBBS: I think -- let me get a better sense of -- let me say this. I think as we get into Friday's discussion, there will be a larger discussion about Afghanistan, particularly, and the threats we face there.

Q: Robert, following on Jonathan's line of questioning, in the Senate some senators are talking now about a compromise that would look like -- it would be a national public plan with the option for states to either opt in or opt out. Is that something the President could support?

MR. GIBBS: I have not -- I've not talked to them about that, but I can certainly ask if that's something that's been evaluated.

Q: So you're saying you don't know if the President would support that?

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that.

Q: And then, Congressman Raul Grijalva is quoted as saying that he's upset that the White House is considering a public option that would allow rates to be negotiated, as opposed to a more robust plan that would set rates at Medicare plus 5 percent. He says, "If the issue is who is going to blink first, and the assumption is that the progressive caucus is going to roll over, that's a test that leadership and the White House might want to reconsider." Do you think the White House has anything to reconsider in its dealing with Congress on this?

MR. GIBBS: Writ large?

Q: Yes.

MR. GIBBS: I think we are -- I've said this a lot because it's truer and truer each day -- we're closer to the goal of national health care reform than -- closer to that goal being reached than we ever have been. So there will certainly be time for navel-gazing when this is all done, but I think the President and many in Congress are pleased with the progress that we're making.

Q: But how do you respond to a loyal supporter, a fellow Democrat, saying the White House needs to reconsider?

MR. GIBBS: We're working with Democrats and Republicans from throughout the political spectrum. I think that when this bill -- when legislation comes to the floor to be voted on, when it goes to the Senate to be voted on, there will be a lot in legislation that we hope members representing a lot of different constituents can support. I think they will, and I think we'll get health care reform done this year.

Mara.

Q: A question about the meeting tomorrow. You said, I think yesterday, that they were getting to the point where they could start addressing resources, troop levels. Is that -- do you expect that to come up tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: I think tomorrow will focus a great deal on the assessment by General McChrystal and I'm sure at points will get into resource requests, yes.

Q: And that will be the first time?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. And also on the question of the Taliban, on Monday Gates -- Secretary Gates said that if the Taliban was to gain strength in Afghanistan it would be able to provide a safe haven for al Qaeda. I'm wondering, in the course of all these discussions in the Situation Room, if the President now has a clear idea of just how much harboring of al Qaeda might happen among the Taliban. You said that some of them would, some of them won't. Does he have a clearer sense of exactly the kind of -- the extent of the linkage, I guess, between or potentially between the Taliban and al Qaeda?

MR. GIBBS: Without getting into specifics, largely because they're predicated on intelligence that would be against the law for me to discuss publicly, it's a topic that is among the topics that have been discussed in the Situation Room.

Ann.

Q: There's some new spending figures, retail sales figures out, and forecasts that the Christmas season is going to be pretty flat, even though there's some spending regenerating now. Is the President worried that the -- because of the job situation and the lack of jobs extending into next year, that that will depress the season and make the recession run even longer than he had thought?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously there remains a lot of work to be done through both consumer confidence, through other elements of strengthening our economy, that -- work that has to be done before we're going to see the type of sales that we had seen in previous years before a recession was declared. I think that obviously elements of the recovery plan have worked to put money back in people's pockets, and we've seen fluctuations in consumer confidence. But I think -- it doesn't surprise me that there's some trepidation based on individual economic circumstances that affect the retail sales. We certainly are working on and looking at anything that can be done to strengthen the economy.

Q: Does the President and the First Family think that the story -- investigating the kind of ancestral trails for the President and the First Lady are appropriate? Do they think that's --

MR. GIBBS: I haven't heard them utter otherwise, so I can't imagine.

Q: Do you?

MR. GIBBS: No, I -- it's a -- it's fascinating history to read. I'm sure every one of us has a relative that charts where you've come from and who your ancestors are. My father does that, and they're always good stories. And I think you're always -- when this sort of -- when you read this sort of thing, whether it's produced by a newspaper or produced by a family member, I think not only is it interesting to read there and then in the short term, but as the years go on, it's something you treasure even more.

Peter.

Q: Robert, thank you. The President is obviously doing a great deal of outreach on Capitol Hill on health care. Is the White House incorporating concerns of Republicans, for example, on medical malpractice? Is the administration prepared to rebuff trial lawyers if necessary and commit to measures that would curb medical malpractice premiums and spare doctors from performing defensive medicine?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously, it's something the President talked about in front of Congress. Secretary Sebelius has taken some steps -- she was here to tell you all about that -- regarding that, and there are different proposals within existing legislation that would address part of that. And we're certainly amenable to solutions that improve the quality of care. And in terms of meeting with Republicans, I think Secretary Sebelius met with a group of 11 Republicans just yesterday on health care as well.

Q: Robert, why are the basketball games closed press? (Laughter.)

Q: In case the President makes a foul?

MR. GIBBS: For -- to protect the privacy and the statistics of any of those involved, I'm sure. (Laughter.) I got to tell you, it's not something I've -- but on behalf of this room --

Q: Would you consider opening them?

MR. GIBBS: Probably not, but I'll certainly take that under consideration.

Q: Who's the ref?

MR. GIBBS: I assume they call their own fouls, which I'm sure is a point of contention at any given point --

Q: Is it you?

MR. GIBBS: I will say this -- I will say this, I don't know if you -- maybe I'll bring this picture out here. It's -- recently, the President was playing with Reggie, I think it was in New York. Reggie is going to hate that I told this story, but I want to make sure I'm speaking directly into the camera. (Laughter.) And I think Reggie came back across the street, and the pool asked him what had happened, and he said he couldn't say anything because I had told him he couldn't talk to the press.

Q: He said you'd kill him.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I figured out why he apparently has finally started listening to me. The President told me that he blocked several of Reggie's shots -- (laughter) -- during this game, including one that was photographed by Pete Souza. There's now a very large print of that downstairs in the West Wing that the President asked Reggie to sign. (Laughter.) And it is prominently displayed for both Reggie and, I think more importantly, the President's enjoyment as he walks to and from meetings.

(The picture is brought out.) (Laughter.)

Q: Nice picture.

Q: Clearly he's --

Q: Robert, Robert, hold it up. Hold it way up.

Q: I think it's a foul. I think it's a foul. (Laughter.)

Q: What does it say?

MR. GIBBS: "Mr. President, nice block. Reggie Love." I will say this -- Reggie certainly is -- I don't think would call a foul in that play --

Q: It's a contact -- (laughter.)

Q: Was the President part of --

MR. GIBBS: Reggie is not now going to talk to me for the better part of the -- the remainder of the --

Q: Was the President part of the House side game when he was in the Senate?

MR. GIBBS: No, no.

Q: -- the wires would be good, though, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: I think they brought a photographer and I think Pete has -- Pete will probably as well take some pictures, assuming that they're clear with -- I'll come back to you and I'll go here first.

Yes.

Q: Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.

Q: The announcement in Chicago yesterday by Attorney General Holder and Secretary Duncan, they didn't mention guns, which are the primary vehicle for violent deaths in the country, and the access that kids have to guns. So I wanted to know if the administration plans on addressing the prevalence of guns in the national conversation on violence, and if there's a reason why it wasn't brought up yesterday.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the goal of the national discussion that Attorney General Holder and Secretary Duncan talked about yesterday was to talk about a full range of issues that affect values and youth violence. My sense is that the killings that -- and beatings that we've seen recently, the shocking videotape, obviously a result of individuals beating someone to death, didn't involve that -- my sense is that's -- that was what was addressed directly yesterday at the visit into that school, but I think obviously a national conversation is just that.

Yes, sir.

Q: For the President's meeting with the ASEAN leaders, which you announced yesterday, is he prepared to talk face to face inside that meeting with the leaders of Burma?

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe they will be in attendance.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: On unemployment insurance, the House bill was only narrowly targeted to high-unemployment states, but the Senate bill would do both but just limit the amount of weeks for states that aren't under that. Do you have a preference?

MR. GIBBS: Let me get a sense of that. I don't -- I also -- I think -- and I'm speaking a little out of my range here -- if I'm not mistaken, some of this had to be adopted as part of the recovery plan by states, but let me get a clearer sense of where that is.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Yesterday you said the President was working with the Pentagon to ensure a change in "don't ask, don't tell." In the past you've repeatedly said that congressional repeal was the only sort of durable solution to overturning the policy.

MR. GIBBS: Right, right -- well, go ahead, finish --

Q: A couple questions. So first of all, do you --

MR. GIBBS: I'm not -- let me clarify. I think I see where you're going --

Q: I wonder if your comments yesterday indicate a shift in policy. I also wonder, if not --

MR. GIBBS: No, no -- and I realize now that you bring it up -- the administration -- (laughter.) What are you talking about? I don't know what you're -- (laughter.) All right. For the remainder of the day, I'll be working back there just -- (laughter.) Sorry. I'm in trouble now.

I see -- what I meant was, working with the Pentagon on how to do through this through a statutory -- through Congress. The administration continues to think that that's the only binding way to remove a policy that he thinks is unfair.

Q: So in that case, are you guys in discussions with any senators at this point to introduce "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bills?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Legislative Affairs. I think -- I don't know if one's been introduced --

Q: It has not.

MR. GIBBS: Has not?

Q: It has not, and --

MR. GIBBS: Let me check on this discussion's --

Q: -- Senator Reid is looking for guidance with you guys.

MR. GIBBS: Let me get some clear direction from them. Again, I just want to repeat that this is a proposal that the President is supportive of doing statutorily.

Q: Do you plan to set out a timeline for a repeal at any point?

MR. GIBBS: Let me talk to those guys about that, but again --

Q: I mean, a timeline is something that you guys have continually said, if we don't have a timeline for -- if you don't have a deadline in this town, nothing gets done.

MR. GIBBS: Right. You should -- I should bring you up to the Senate. (Laughter.)

Q: The swine flu?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: A lot of the people are very afraid of having their children being vaccinated with the shot. I don't know what they -- maybe the President or somebody else can talk again about -- is it safe or not safe, and tell them a little bit more about it, because they're not sure.

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think it's a good question. Obviously Secretary Sebelius was -- did a round of morning show interviews yesterday to talk about the importance of -- the importance of the vaccine, as it's now becoming available; the danger that H1N1 poses; and hoping that parents will take the time to get their children vaccinated as we head into both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu season.

Thank you.

Q: Have the First Daughters had the shots?

MR. GIBBS: I'll take one more and then I'll go get beaten by Reggie.

Q: Have the First Daughters -- what did they --

MR. GIBBS: They have -- they have not, and I will check on -- we were in the process of doing this --

Q: Just before you go --

MR. GIBBS: It's not available to them yet, based on their risk, and I'll check on whether or not -- where we are with seasonal flu.

Mara.

Q: Just before we go, I just got a message to ask you about this AP story that says a senior administration says that the President is prepared to accept some Taliban involved in an Afghanistan future, and is inclined to send only as many more U.S. troops to Afghanistan as are needed to keep al Qaeda at bay. Can you just respond to that or confirm it?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't think -- the President hasn't discussed the resource request with his team yet, and obviously a decision at some point will be forthcoming. Again, I would encourage people to read what the President has said, particularly in March, about these threats.

Thank you.

Q: And that would involve -- the Taliban's involvement, that would involve accepting some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's future?

Q: I'm just reading you what the --

MR. GIBBS: I understand. Let me -- give me the benefit of looking at -- looking at the story.

Thank you.

END 2:01 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," October 8, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86739.
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