James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:08 P.M. EDT
Q: Can you talk about the Afghanistan meeting tomorrow? You've had kind of an agenda for each one. What is tomorrow focused on, and what does he expect -- where does he expect to be after this set?
MR. GIBBS: Tomorrow's meeting, at least the most recent schedule that I saw a day or so ago was an additional three-hour meeting tomorrow morning, again in the Situation Room. I think the last agenda I saw was continued discussion of Afghanistan as the focus. I also believe that they're scheduling next week an additional meeting, but I don't have any information on that one.
Q: Okay. And why is it going to take so many more weeks to decide? He's had -- this will be now, what, 15 hours of in-depth meetings. What more does he need to do, I guess?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I hesitate to parse the words of the Commander-in-Chief. As he said in the Oval Office, we need a policy that works. And if that takes a little bit more time to get right, I think that's what the American people expect.
Q: Well, I'm not asking it as a snarky question --
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q: -- like, why isn't he done yet? But seriously, what more --
MR. GIBBS: But why isn't he done yet? (Laughter.) Same question without the proposed snark? No.
MR. GIBBS: Look, from the very beginning the President has wanted to analyze -- analyze this, starting with the region, focusing next on individual countries. And obviously it's a complicated region, complicated countries and the focus -- the renewed focus on Afghanistan in this meeting I think will give the President and his team a chance to answer any lingering questions from the previous meeting on Afghanistan.
Q: And what about the reporting that there's sort of a backdoor increase already?
MR. GIBBS: I read those stories. The President -- first of all, the President authorized, as you know, in his administration an additional 21,000 troops. I think there's a bit of a difference in the definition of what a combat troop is and what a support troop is. But the troops that were authorized by the President include both those that are directly involved in fighting as well as support.
So it's not accurate to say that -- the definitional problem is anybody obviously that serves in a theater of war is a combat troop. And the additional troop levels that are mentioned in that article are simply approvals by the previous administration for increases that were not filled by the time they left. So --
Q: So in other words they were in the pipeline already?
MR. GIBBS: They had been previously authorized.
Q: Is he going to wait until the Afghan election is resolved before announcing a new strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously both the outcome of the election, the type of partnership we have with the civilian government there is extremely important to the outcome of our policy in Afghanistan -- whether or not there's a wait, I think in -- I wouldn't necessarily set that as a deadline, understanding that in the next few days I think we're likely to hear from the different committees investigating the vote -- the previous vote and the degree to which ballots have or have not been thrown out.
Q: And is he trying to find a middle ground between some of this competing advice that he's getting from his advisors?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to characterize other than to say, as the President said today, looking for the best policy and the one that works.
Q: Robert, with the Senate Finance Committee moving forward on health reform now with at least one Republican vote, what's the White House reaction, how does the President feel about that? I mean, I know he just spoke about not counting his chickens before they hatch, but is there a feeling at the White House that you're finally moving much closer to actually getting a bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I, too, don't want to get ahead of the actual vote. I think the White House and the President are pleased that the likely outcome appears that we'll be one step closer to reform; that all five committees that have and share jurisdiction over the important issue of health care will have reported a bill out, which will be the first time that that's ever happened in our history.
So, again, I think that's an exceedingly important step. And I think as the President said in the Oval Office a few moments ago, obviously having the vote of Senator Snowe is important, believes that she's worked constructively throughout this process to address a problem that Americans face and her constituents in Maine face.
Q: Now, the bill does not have the public option in it. So when Rahm Emanuel goes up for -- he's expected to go up for negotiations with Senator Reid and other senators behind closed doors -- what will his marching orders from the President be? Is the President wanting Rahm to help bring the public option back in? Or how hard will he push for that?
MR. GIBBS: The President will tell anybody involved -- whether they work here or whether they're in the Senate or the House -- that we need a bill that has choice and competition. That's what has been the focus of this White House in ensuring that reform works and that will continue to be the case.
Q: Which is more important to the President, that the bill -- the final vote of the bill be bipartisan or that it include a public option?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me go back to what I just said to Ed. The President is focused on ensuring that whatever passes, whatever reform comes to his desk have choice and competition in it.
Q: It's increasingly clear that there's no way you're going to be able to get a Republican vote if there's a public option. So which is more important?
MR. GIBBS: Choice and competition.
Q: That's not the choice that I gave you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I know it's not the choice you gave me, but I'm not playing the box game. I'm telling you --
Q: It's not a box game, it's --
MR. GIBBS: But it is.
Q: Robert, it's very clear --
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q: -- from following what's going on, on Capitol Hill that you're not going to get a public --
MR. GIBBS: -- I'm following what's going on, on Capitol Hill as well as what Americans want. They want an insurance market, if they enter the private insurance market, where they have choices and wherein those choices generate competition that drive down costs and increase the quality of care. That's the test for the President.
And the President obviously hopes that --
Q: And that can be achieved without a public option?
MR. GIBBS: We will evaluate as these two bills on the Senate side get merged and as other bills get merged to see if they meet the President's standard for doing so.
Q: Would a state-based public option meet your definition?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously during the -- as I said, during the merging of this we'll begin to evaluate what happens.
Q: On Thursday the states are expected to give some reports on the stimulus funds and how many jobs they've created. I know that you don't have the final numbers and all that, but are you guys -- as the numbers are starting to be released what's the feeling in the White House on the stimulus package, how it has affected job creation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think if you look at the reports today you see that literally tens of thousands of jobs in the classroom have been saved alone by the recovery plan. I think you'll see projects that will talk about both saving jobs as well as creating them. As we've talked about here the last several weeks -- and, really, dating back to the very beginning of this -- the recovery plan was intended to cushion the deep downturn in our economy. We think that the plan has done that. I think we certainly are hopeful that in the growth numbers that will be coming out later this month you'll see positive economic growth.
Again, as the President has said many times, there is still a long way to go and we need to make sure that those that are looking for work can find it.
MR. GIBBS: Say again.
Q: The question I asked last month about the teachers in the District of Columbia that lost their jobs. Is the White House doing anything to help them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the stimulus plan gave an unprecedented amount of money to state and local governments in order to preserve as many of those jobs as we could. Obviously, just as we have experienced an economic downturn that has affected the budget deficit, so too has it happened for state and local governments. That's what led in many ways for a big part of the recovery plan to include direct aid to state and local governments in order to cushion that blow.
Q: Now that all five committees will be at this -- passed it, can you envision a scenario where health care reform would not become law this year?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that he will sign health care reform into law this year.
Q: It's a sure thing? I'm playing the box game.
MR. GIBBS: I know you are, and that's why I'm grinning and nodding my head and saying -- repeating again that the President believes he's going to sign health care reform this year.
Q: If I could follow up on the state-based public option question -- and I know it's early, but has the President been talking to people like Senator Harper, has he been studying these other options, state-based public option --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure staff has looked through -- as they have throughout this process -- looked at different proposals. I don't know in particular whether that one has been evaluated. Obviously we're going to get to this process of merging legislation and there will be a better chance to look at what's out there.
Q: But is the President, himself, deeply involved in this to the point where he's actually looking at options like that?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously he's been involved with staff from the very beginning in looking at different options that ensure choice and competition.
Q: In the discussion in Senate Finance Committee today one of the things that Ron Wyden, Senator Wyden kept coming back to, one of his concerns -- that even though he's a -- he voted -- did they have -- did the vote actually happen?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it the vote has happened yet.
Q: It has not. Anyway, all expectations are that he'll vote for it. But he says that after seven years something on the order of 90 percent of people will not be able to get into the exchange. That seems an extraordinarily long time. Is the White House doing anything to make this move more quickly?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look into the basis for what he's talking about. Obviously the implementation of this is obviously not going to happen overnight. But I'd have to look at the exact reasoning for what he's coming up with. Obviously putting people into an exchange that provides options will drive down costs.
Q: And finally, on Jennifer's question, once the President is done with all these meetings -- and you're saying there may be another -- or there is another one next week, and then it's several weeks -- does there come a point where the President just has thinking time, where all the meetings are over and is that what a lot of the time is?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to get ahead of what the President may do in his time in three weeks, except to say that, Chip, this is a question that he's spent time thinking about throughout each day probably in office.
I think what the President's charge is and what his team is focusing on is getting a policy that works best for this country. I mentioned this before, Secretary Gates mentioned this -- I repeated what Secretary Gates said on a news show a few weeks ago, that -- and Secretary Gates is somebody who's been involved in a number of administrations, dating back to the early 1980s -- when he says, we're in the midst of developing a strategy for the country of Afghanistan for the first time since then. I think the President wants to ensure that we get this -- that we get this right and that we do this in a right way.
Q: And it's him alone in a room thinking about all --
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously he's going to get a chance to take all of the recommendations and advice -- he's the Commander-in-Chief and he'll make that decision. But I think -- I think anybody that's been involved in this process would tell you that the outcome of this will be better based on the fact that they have done a lot of thinking on this and gone through a lot of different scenarios and options in a way that I think the American people will ultimately be quite proud of.
Q: I actually want to follow up on that. Can you describe -- I mean, the first meeting -- this is -- tomorrow is going to be the fifth meeting of this group. And I know the first one you talked about how 17 people spoke.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me --
Q: And I understand that not everybody speaks in these meetings.
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back to the ordering of this. The first meeting was on a Sunday morning here. I was -- it was a small meeting; I was not in that meeting. I think you're referring to -- the way I do the counting, the second one.
Q: The second -- yes, I got it, okay.
MR. GIBBS: But you're right, in that one 17 people spoke.
Q: Is it a lot of Q&A, do people -- do members say, you know what, boy, under this scenario these are three potential outcomes. I mean, can you at least give us some sort of, like --
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I mean, look --
Q: How about the back-and-forth --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- I think everybody thinks that there is a lot of people that pick different sides of the table and go back and forth at each other, and I've been in now three of these three-hour meetings -- that's not what happens.
What we go through is an assessment, in many of these meetings, starting with the intelligence, the latest situational updates. And then obviously there are a number of factors that go into our policy in the region, individually with Pakistan, with Afghanistan. And we talk about all the different aspects and how they're brought together and what that does for the policy.
Q: Is it more reporting on facts from everybody or -- how much of it has been -- like, are half of each meeting reporting on facts and then the other half debating potential scenarios?
MR. GIBBS: I think a lot of this stuff is just sort of done in -- there's not time set aside for that. There's just I think a pretty wide-ranging discussion of all aspects from the intelligence standpoint, from the military standpoint, from our diplomatic and civilian standpoint -- all of which have to go in on a continuum into making that decision.
Q: This is part two of an Afghanistan meeting. Was this -- will there be things on there that says, okay -- that was almost like a homework assignment for any of the members that they had to go -- hey, look, we need to know more information about X; can you give me X, Y, and Z --
MR. GIBBS: Certainly there are questions that are asked throughout the meeting that people want to have a larger conversation about.
Q: But we're still in this question-and-answer mode? We haven't --
MR. GIBBS: Well, that happened, but that happens as a matter of routine. There's not a Q&A period. It's not like --
Q: -- the question that Jennifer asked, which is what piece of information is missing that the President doesn't have?
MR. GIBBS: Well, but -- guys, there's not -- this is larger than that. There are many pieces that all have to fit together -- as I said, militarily, civilian, diplomatically -- all of which have to work together to ensure a policy that works for our allies and for our goal of destroying al Qaeda.
Q: When's the last time the President talked to Senator Snowe?
MR. GIBBS: Some time I believe last week, but I don't know the answer to that. Probably last week.
Q: And you guys are getting a lot of criticism in New Orleans for the short stop that you're making down there; that the President is not spending enough time and then he's immediately leaving for San Francisco. Do you got any response to this criticism?
Q: And no stop in Mississippi.
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President -- I think you can be judged on what you've said you're going to do for New Orleans and for the Gulf, or you can be judged on what you've done and what you're continuing to do. I think if people judge us on the latter, which is what matters to people that live in that region, I think they know the difference.
It's been one of the most highly visited areas by senior White House officials and Cabinet folks. The President has been down there over the past several years. I think this is his fifth stop. This isn't something new to him. This isn't -- I think the criticism -- I don't think the President is worried about that as much as he's worried about making sure that we're doing what has to be done to ensure that the Gulf is rebuilt and revitalized.
And I think quite frankly if you look at what different people have said, I think the Governor of Louisiana last week was quite complimentary of our efforts in ensuring that that region gets what they need, and we're immensely proud of that.
Q: Robert, two weeks ago in a conference call with the nation's governors, Vice President Biden mentioned that he was concerned and they expressed their concerns that the job figures that they'll report on the stimulus will be significantly lower than what the administration has already said was created.
MR. GIBBS: I think part of that is -- as I understand it, the reports themselves do not count a multiplier effect for jobs, which --
Q: Right. The states have to report auditable jobs only.
MR. GIBBS: Right, that when we obviously know that in order to pave a road it's not the person paving the road. Somebody has got to make the pavement. Somebody makes those orange cones so we don't crash into the people paving the road. So, you know, we feel comfortable with our estimates.
Q: Well, the Vice President doesn't, because he used the term "mouse-trapped" when he talked about how the administration and the states could be captured by this discrepancy in the figures. So I want to ask, how did the White House get itself into this box, given that jobs creation should be enough to be the key part of a partisan debate on --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think -- I don't think what the Vice President is saying is different than what I'm saying. There are different measures for different things. We feel very comfortable that the estimates that have been made are completely accurate. These reports measure something different than that. It's just two different measurements. But we feel comfortable with where we are.
Q: Is that number one million jobs saved or created?
MR. GIBBS: That's whatever the CEA last reported to you guys.
Q: Well, it's what I believe Vice President Biden said last week. So you stand by that?
MR. GIBBS: Everybody does, yes.
Q: States don't, though. They will report less.
MR. GIBBS: Again, because they're not reporting multiplied jobs, right? So let's say -- well, I won't use that example, that will just get me in trouble. I'll go back to my example --
Q: Come on.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no --
Q: Come on. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no -- no, no, no, no -- (laughter.) The angel won, the devil lost.
No, no, again -- again, go back to my example. Go into the example of virtually everything that if you're creating jobs for clean energy jobs, there is a process along the way. There's many different components, not all of which are measured in these reports. That's -- what I'm telling you is --
Q: But would there have been a way to resolve the discrepancy that will emerge when these reports come in on Thursday?
MR. GIBBS: We're not worried about whatever discrepancy it is you're trying to make into a much bigger story.
Q: Robert, election day --
MR. GIBBS: That time the devil won. (Laughter.)
Q: Election day is in three weeks. How much more politicking will President Obama do?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a schedule that goes that far out, or I haven't seen it. Obviously I think toward the end of that -- of the cycle, we have some days blocked off for stops. But I don't have those stops with me.
Q: Corzine and Creigh Deeds?
MR. GIBBS: Those are two of the races, sure.
Q: New York 23.
MR. GIBBS: That's the third.
Q: After today's vote, as we head into the next stage of the health care debate, can you describe the role that the President is going to be playing? Will he be doing town halls? Will he be drawing lines in the sand that he hasn't drawn before?
MR. GIBBS: I just had this image of the President sitting in the sand drawing lines. (Laughter.)
I don't think our public posture on this will change. I think obviously the President will continue to make the case for health care reform this year in public and in private. I think if you look at -- I think one of the unique things about if you look at a lot of the public polling that's being done, one thing is certainly clear and that is people want something done this year. They understand that we're at an important point, that something has to be done about cost, something has to be done about accessibility, something has to be done about insurance reforms. And I think the President is going to do all that he can to make sure that it happens this year.
Q: Is he hitting the road?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate we'll do some trips on this, yes.
Q: And just in terms of the timeline now, is there -- what would the White House like to see between now and the end of the year?
MR. GIBBS: What we'd like to see?
Q: Well, in terms of the day-to-day --
MR. GIBBS: Passage of a bill. (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, but what -- I mean, is it still the same calendar that you've been working with?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I mean, you know, obviously -- I don't know how long Congress is going to be here this year, but we expect before they go home, we're hopeful to have a piece of legislation.
Q: As soon as the bills are merged, you'll see if they meet the President's standards. Does the bill the Senate Finance Committee is considering today on its own meet the President's standards?
MR. GIBBS: The President is happy that it's -- when it's voted out, as we hope it will be, we think it's an important step in the process. Obviously there are different proposals out there to do different things, and I think what's important is when these two bills -- when all these bills get merged, we'll have a chance to evaluate them.
Q: But at the risk of asking you the same question twice --
MR. GIBBS: Don't worry, that happens all the time.
Q: Does it alone --
MR. GIBBS: At the risk of giving you the same answer for a third time.
Q: Does it alone or do any of the bills alone meet the President's standards?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look -- I mean, look, I think we're -- obviously some of this is going to get merged and we'll have a chance to evaluate it then. I don't want to get ahead of that.
Q: You don't want to weigh in on any particular bill, in other words?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we're doing just fine.
Q: Is that Sheila E. I hear out there? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think you just showed your age by saying Sheila E. (Laughter.)
Q: I could talk about Tito Puente, her godfather. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Sheila E. I'm with you, but --
Q: On other matters, there's been some pushback from Afghanistan on the strings attached to the U.S. aid package --
MR. GIBBS: Pakistan.
Q: Pakistan, I'm sorry, not Afghanistan. How is that figuring into the President's overall attempt to craft an Afghan strategy, given that the Pakistani --
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, look, I think the President continues to believe, as do the Secretary of State, as do the members that crafted the legislation, believe this is a very significant part of our relationship with Pakistan; ensuring support, but also ensuring that that money goes to being spent on what it's intended for. All of that is very important and the President believes this is an important piece of legislation and will sign it soon.
Q: Are the conditions substantially stronger than they have been for aid to Pakistan by previous administrations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think these -- I'd have to go back and look at different aid for Pakistan in particular. I know a number of countries have conditional aid based on meeting certain important criteria. I think this is -- the President believes this is appropriate and I think the opponents of this bill, as one of the sponsors said in the newspaper today, either are misinformed or are characterizing this in a different way for their own political purposes.
The President believes this is an important step forward and looks forward to both signing it -- but also understand, Wendell, that this is an authorizing -- this is a piece of authorizing legislation. This allows Congress to appropriate $7.5 billion over a five-year period. It's still up to Congress, and the President mentioned this in his meeting with Congress last week, that it's important that we give lift to the promise of helping the Pakistanis.
Q: To make sure I heard you right on Mark's question, did you say that the President is going to campaign in New Jersey, Virginia, and New York?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I think I just mentioned those were the three primary races. I don't have a schedule in front of me so I don't have particulars, except to say that I know there is some time held on his schedule toward the end of the election season.
Q: Okay. On the meeting he had with the Spanish Prime Minister today, Spanish officials have said they had hoped to close the dossier on Guantanamo in this meeting today by accepting three prisoners potentially. Did they close that dossier?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into private discussions beyond what you heard the two leaders talk about in the Oval Office.
Q: Has there been any progress made on the plan of getting other countries to accept --
MR. GIBBS: I believe there were transfers just last week.
Q: Can I follow up Ann following up Mark, you said the time held on the -- for campaigning --
MR. GIBBS: I still don't have a schedule in front of me so I don't --
Q: No, no, I know, but Creigh Deeds campaign says that they've asked the White House and that the White House hasn't agreed to do any campaigning for Creigh Deeds. Is there any hesitation therefore to campaign in Virginia?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen what he's said, and I will go -- to follow up your question to follow up Ann's question to follow up Mark's question, I'll follow up with his schedule in order to answer Mark, Ann, and Peter.
Q: And on another front, Robert, the Russian Foreign Minister said today in Moscow that sanctions would be counterproductive. Does that cause any concern in terms of Iran --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think --
Q: -- concern of how much you touted Medvedev's statement in New York?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President -- the President sat next to Medvedev. The parties at the G20 agreed as well to a similar statement, including Mr. Medvedev. And we are continuing to make progress on that and don't think that there's been any change.
Q: Robert, just want to revisit an issue from last week. Congressman Bart Stupak has talked about possibly holding up the bill, unless there's --
MR. GIBBS: I know you asked this question twice last week, so we're on like --
Q: This is a different question, this is a different question.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sure it is.
Q: The (inaudible) language is already in the bill would there be any reason for Democrats not to support this language if it's --
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen what Congressman Stupak said most recently. I would refer you to the answers I gave you on this question just twice last week.
Q: Did the President, or anyone from the White House, reach out to Senator Snowe in the last day or two? And what will the President do to try to bring in any other Republican -- Senate or House?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe that -- I don't believe he made -- I don't believe he talked to her directly in the last day or so. I don't know if others here at the staff level have. I believe he talked with her some time last week, late last week.
Q: Is he disappointed the other Republicans just can't see their way through to this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, yes. I think by many accounts you've got legislation that does many of the things the President had hoped it would do, and quite frankly as I said earlier, what many in America want to see in health care reform. We understand this is the first step in that process. And we hope as we go forward that you'll have members in the House and senators that will continue to work constructively, like Senator Snowe did, in getting a solution for their constituents.
Q: Does one Republican vote make it a bipartisan vote?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: McClatchy had a story yesterday that said that there -- they had polled 15 or more officials from intelligence, diplomatic, and military that said that the White House is ignoring warnings that a limited strategy, or a strategy I guess that doesn't fulfill the full request put in by General McChrystal poses dangers beyond just al Qaeda and safe haven, sort of regional instability, that sort of thing. Do you guys have any response to that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the piece. And I don't -- I don't know what -- I don't know what they're basing that off of.
Q: Interviews with 15 or more officials.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but I mean, I don't -- I don't know what their opinion is based off of, in terms of seeing intelligence or understanding what our goals are. It's hard for me to project that. All I can say, Jon, is that the President and his team are going to work to ensure that we get a strategy that works best for this country; that fulfills the goal of disrupting and destroying al Qaeda; that ensures -- that ensures that we continue to address violent extremism in that very dangerous part of the world, and that's what the President is focused on.
Q: One other thing, on that region there's been some pretty horrific bombings over the last couple of days. Does the White House feel like this is -- this is in any way connected to the Afghan -- to the policy review here about what to do in Afghanistan, and by extension, Pakistan?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think that -- I think the motives of violent extremists that would detonate a bomb in a market is the type of cowardly act that one could only expect from these types of people. I don't think that's related to anything that's going on here. I think that's related to an exceedingly distorted view of the world.
Q: Robert, can you say anything about the fundraiser in San Francisco on Thursday night? Who is the President raising money for --
MR. GIBBS: I admittedly don't have anything on that. But I will -- Bill is going on that trip, and I will get Bill to get some information and give it to you.
Q: And how about previewing the message at College Station?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously, the President looks forward to participating with former President George H.W. Bush in talking about service. And we'll have more on that as we get closer to the event.
Q: Robert, back with health care, you said earlier you didn't want to be put in a box, but as he seeks to merge two somewhat different bills, you can imagine that Senator Reid doesn't want to do so in a vacuum. So isn't at some point he going to want to be seeing some kind -- he's going to be wanting to see -- get some kind of cue from the President on all this legislation?
MR. GIBBS: I said last week -- well, I'm pretty sure the whole world got a cue when we stood up in front of Congress and spoke for an hour. Maybe that was -- maybe --
Q: Well, you make it sound like you -- you earlier, though, made it sound like he may have to do this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, but you also make it sound like, we've been just like, whoo, look, we woke up and, wow, we're in the fifth committee, isn't this cool.
I mean, obviously, the White House has been involved in this for -- since the beginning. I described the process last week as is in the Senate the Senate Majority Leader, members of the committee are going to be in charge of merging these two pieces of legislation together.
Many that have worked on this legislation here and have traveled to and from Capitol Hill will continue to be involved in that process. I don't want to prejudge it or get ahead of it, but obviously, the White House will be involved. There's no question about that.
Q: Is there some point where the President says, this is it, to Senator Reid, you know, to give him the guidance he --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate -- my guess is there are no shortage of opinions in all of this as we move forward, and I will -- we will be involved very much in this process.
Q: First of all --
Q: Chris Wallace --
Q: Is your name Bill?
Q: No. (Laughter.) Chris Wallace called you the "biggest bunch of crybabies I've seen in 30 years" --
MR. GIBBS: I thought it was "whiners."
Q: -- "in Washington." That was in the New York Times. What's your reaction?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't cried yet. (Laughter.)
Q: I just have a clarification for Jennifer's question, the first one. Is the total number of troops that President Obama has sent to Afghanistan 21,000 or 34,000?
MR. GIBBS: Twenty-one thousand.
Q: So the 13,000 is included in the 21,000?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. Thirteen thousand -- there are -- there were previous authorizations --
MR. GIBBS: The former administration -- to add troops to Afghanistan. They may not have physically gone during --
Q: I understand.
MR. GIBBS: -- that previous administration. The additional number of troops that the President has authorized into the theater are 21,000 through this process.
Q: The Times also quoted the President -- (laughter) -- as saying, "I've got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration." My question: Did he mean to say one television network, or was he informing this opinion, watching one station, a FOX network?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President was clear in what he said. And I think, based on your question, you understand the answer too.
Q: I actually have two questions. The first one is about FOX, though. What would you -- how do you respond to criticism that the administration's posture towards FOX News constitutes some sort of bullying or chilling of speech?
MR. GIBBS: We get questions throughout the day, seven days a week, about policies here at the White House, questions that you guys want answered. And our goal is to make sure that you have the facts as you do your job. That's what we do for everybody.
Q: Well, specifically, the comments by Anita Dunn about FOX not being a real news network?
MR. GIBBS: I have watched many stories on that network that I've found not to be true. I think everybody in this room has been likely on the other end of a phone conversation with me when I've had issues with your stories. I don't think that's new.
Q: And my second question was on --
MR. GIBBS: Actually, your third question, but go ahead.
Q: -- sorry -- was on the health care --
MR. GIBBS: See, it's all about the facts. (Laughter.)
Q: I don't want to put you into a box, but on the public option, is the President --
MR. GIBBS: Can I just say this, we've been doing this question for what, 10 weeks?
Q: No, no, this is new, this is new.
MR. GIBBS: Longer, I'm informed, longer. But go ahead, take -- let's make it 11, or longer.
Q: You said that the most important thing is providing choice and competition, more important than a bipartisan vote. So what I want to know is, is the President --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we had today a bipartisan bill, so we seem to have checked both boxes.
Q: Nice. (Laughter.) Is the President willing to sign a bill that has something that he considers to be weaker than the robust public option that he feels is -- strongly feels is the best way to provide a public option?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there may be additional ways -- there may be a number of ways to ensure that when you enter the private insurance market -- or if you were on the private insurance market -- that you have many options, and that those options create a competitive environment that improve the cost and the quality. The President is not interested in signing anything for the sake of simply signing it. We have to make progress on making the promise of health care reform real for Americans that are watching their premiums skyrocket, for small businesses that are having to drop coverage that they've provided for years, and to ensure that if somebody gets sick, they don't have to worry about their insurance company leaving.
Q: So it has to be something -- the President feels that at least as strong as the public option?
MR. GIBBS: It has to ensure choice and competition.
Q: Can you explain how the President is deciding what to do with the Nobel Prize money? Is he talking to different charities? They said that he would give it to charity, will that be more than one? Will the foundation --
MR. GIBBS: He mentioned specifically to me on Friday that the money would be donated to charity. There will be a process to evaluate that from his perspective. I assume it will be many different charities. But he has not told me, or anybody else here, the specifics of what that -- what those might be.
Q: Is there a timeline? Does he want to have it in place by the time he goes to accept the award, or before that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about that, but I can.
Q: Then I assume we can rule out ACORN as a recipient. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: And a lifetime subscription to CongressDaily. (Laughter.)
Q: Anything on the agenda for the meeting with Senator Bayh.
MR. GIBBS: I think they will talk, obviously, about health care, as well as the economy and foreign policy. We'll try to have some readout afterwards.
Karen, I'm sorry.
Q: Senator Lieberman's office confirmed yesterday that he has had talks with the White House about a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill. Have you asked him to carry the bill, to take the lead on the bill? And have you been in discussions with any other senators about doing the same?
MR. GIBBS: Let me ask. I meant to do this last week, and I'll find out that answer today.
Q: The President pledged on Saturday night to repeal -- or to end "don't ask, don't tell" was his exact words. Do you have a -- I mean, is there any sense of timing on that? Do you guys have any sense of when you're going to start moving forward with legislation, et cetera?
MR. GIBBS: I don't. Let me get a better answer. I should have done this last week. I'll reiterate again, the President obviously, as he said on Saturday, believes that the policy is unfair. He said that when he was a candidate for the Senate in 2003 and 2004, as well as a candidate for President. He has a strong belief on this. I also think -- we talked a little bit about this Friday -- I think also Saturday gave the President an opportunity to reiterate another important priority of his that will soon become law, and that's hate crimes legislation, which is long overdue in ensuring people protection.
Q: As far as weighing in on the House and Senate bills, normally OMB puts out a statement of administration policy as each bill is ready to hit the floor. So are you planning to do that again?
MR. GIBBS: I have not been told otherwise, but I will double check with them.
Q: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House is shoveling plans to raise more than $200 billion in new taxes on multinational companies following a lobbying blitz from businesses. And I'm wondering if you have any information on what's behind that decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President -- going back to the answer I gave a second ago on "don't ask, don't tell," the President supported closing tax loopholes when he was a Senate candidate. The President was an advocate of doing this as a presidential candidate -- both times, business were opposed. When he announced his policy proposal here earlier in the year, business opposed it.
So the notion that somehow business opposition is new, I certainly don't think is all that accurate, given that they've been opposed to this legislation for quite some time. That doesn't change the President's -- I think Jen has given you guys all statements -- the President still believes that in order to get tax fairness, we need to close these loopholes, and that's what the President intends to do.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
END 2:52 P.M. EDT