|The American Presidency Project|
|• Robert Gibbs|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|August 21, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:29 A.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Normally we start with the week ahead, which is somewhat short, given the week ahead. I know we've changed this time a couple of times. The President will depart the White House this afternoon at 1:30 p.m., and have a brief statement on the Afghan elections at 1:20 p.m.
The schedule for Sunday, at 9:00 a.m., the First Family will depart Camp David en route to Andrews Air Force Base, arriving at Andrews at 9:40 a.m. Was somebody cheering for that in the back? (Laughter.) Somebody seemed particularly excited about that helicopter ride. At 9:45 a.m., the First Family will depart Andrews en route to Martha's Vineyard, arriving at approximately 10:55 a.m. at Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station. That is open arrival. Bill will gaggle on the flight up.
The President will return to Washington sometime -- right now in the late afternoon of Sunday, August 30. I do not have an exact time for you. But as that gets closer, we'll have a chance to talk about it.
And with that, take us away.
Q: Thank you. On the meeting with former Senator Daschle, can you tell us a little bit about what they're talking about? Is it just health care or other topics?
MR. GIBBS: The guidance I have, that they'll talk some about health care. I'm sure they'll touch on other things that are going on. The meeting started a few minutes late, so I don't have a readout on it yet. We'll try to get a couple of sentences for you on what they go over in the meeting.
Q: Does the former Senator have any sort of role for the administration in the debate over overhauling the health care system?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that Senator Daschle, along with former Senator Dole and others have put together ideas for bipartisan plans to get through Congress and to the President's desk. Obviously it's an issue that he's been working on for quite some time. He doesn't have a formal role at the White House, but the President certainly listens to his advice and counsel as he does to many others.
Q: I have a question on the economy. Ben Bernanke gave a speech today that was more optimistic than a lot of people had expected, and also the existing home sales were up more than 7 percent to their highest pace in two years. What do you -- what does the White House think of that assessment that things are getting better? And is it a sign that things are getting better and that housing maybe is healing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, not wanting to read too much into one day's statistics, I think if you look over the course of several months, it does appear that the housing market is bottoming out a bit, which obviously was one of the reasons we got into the severity of the economic downturn that we're in now.
Obviously there's an independence to the Fed that I don't want to get tremendously involved in violating on an August Friday. But I would simply reiterate what we've said before, which is the economy that the President inherited upon taking office was at the brink, as many said, of sliding into a far deeper recession or a possible depression. Actions taken to stabilize our financial system, to get our economy moving again through the recovery plan, to work to make the housing market work more for Americans, to deal and address foreclosures, pulled the American economy back from that brink.
Obviously, not unlike the housing statistics, we see -- you see some good and some not so good news, as the government releases its statistics throughout the week.
The President is pleased with the fact that it appears we're making some progress in stabilizing that economy, as I've talked about, but won't be satisfied until we get the economy fully back on track, and that we're growing the economy in a way that creates jobs for the millions of Americans who continue to look for work and thus far can't find it.
Q: Tell us how you see things playing out after the President returns in September. Yesterday again Nancy Pelosi said she couldn't pass the bill in the House without the public option. You've got people like Kent Conrad saying you can't pass a bill in the Senate with the public option. How do you see things unfolding in September? And eventually does it come down to a conference committee kind of resolving differences between the Senate and the House? Or just how do you kind of project things in the fall?
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, look, obviously you've got a myriad of opinions on either side. I know last night the six Senate Finance Committee members spent about 90 minutes, I'm told, on the phone working through and making progress on their ideas. The White House has gotten an update on that phone call. Look --
Q: How did you feel about that?
MR. GIBBS: The reports from the phone call were that they were making progress. I think they believe, as the President strongly believes, that they should continue to work on a bipartisan basis to try to get agreement on what's outstanding in order to get a bill to their committee and hopefully out of their committee in a timely fashion when Congress returns in September.
So it's hard to know exactly what's going to happen then. We hope that the Senate Finance Committee will continue to work to make progress on that side and we'll see what happens in the House. In terms of -- it's hard for me to peer too far into the future in terms of conference committees and all that stuff.
Q: How about this thing that was floated out there, splitting the bill and having reconciliation? Because that way -- with 51 votes you can get some things.
MR. GIBBS: You know, I've certainly read the reports on that. I haven't gotten a lot from in here about that. Our focus is, as we've talked about in this room over the past several days, our focus is on working with Republicans and Democrats to get agreement on something that the President can sign.
Q: As the President leaves for vacation, it's been a long month of August in the health care debate.
MR. GIBBS: It's been a long week.
Q: It's been a long day already for me. (Laughter.) What has the President learned this month, this make-it-or-break-it month, as he heads into vacation, in terms of the health care debate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to call August the make-it-or -- no offense to -- I know you guys have spent a lot of money on branding it the make-it-or-break-it month.
Q: It's been an important month in the debate.
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- right, but here's my hunch. My hunch is that -- I don't know which cable network will make September an even more important month than August, and then if this thing gets to October I can only imagine that that will soon be a more important month. My sense of that is that -- not to quote the President yesterday at the DNC -- but I think that -- I think that much is always made of where things are at a certain point in the process. The President's viewpoint is, as you said in here, not to worry too much about the 24-hour news cycle and focus more on the overall process and the overall policy.
So, you know, I don't -- I don't know that I would read a tremendous amount into any specific time period like August. I mean, I think if you look at -- if you look at the NBC poll, there's been obviously a lot of heat and light around town hall meetings. But the NBC poll showed that I think roughly an equal number of people were more favorable about health care based on town halls as they were less favorable, and three-fifths of the country it didn't make any difference.
So I do think the President has used August in the town hall meetings that we've had and the appearances, including the one we had yesterday, and we'll do again in September to continue to tell people about why health care reform is important, why we can't afford to do nothing, the stakes that are involved, and to try to push back on the mistruths and misrepresentations that we all know are still out there about health care reform.
Q: I know you love it when we do this -- so you're not saying that the President hasn't learned anything over some pre -- some determined amount of time, but --
MR. GIBBS: No, you know, we haven't --
Q: -- I mean, does he see it as he needs to be now more of a vocal -- more of a face out there in order to keep the message out there of what reforms he wants to see?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, again, you know, I'm balancing that against all that I read about how the President is overexposed. So, you know, look, I think the President is going to continue to be out front in September and October in trying to get something done. I think he understands, and I think we've made progress.
Again, if you look at what the NBC poll has, I think there's obviously -- the President has made some discernible progress on the mistruth about government making end-of-life health care decisions for seniors, which obviously isn't going to happen; it's not in the bill. And I think him being out there pushing forward on that rumor is why the American people and seniors, based on that polling, don't believe that that exists in the piece of legislation that's being considered now.
Q: So, just a side note before I get to my question -- (laughter) -- the polling numbers, the polling stuff that you cited makes it look much better than it actually is. The polling stuff shows a significant drop in support for a health care plan --
MR. GIBBS: The NBC poll did not show that.
Q: -- it shows a right track/wrong track that has gotten much worse.
MR. GIBBS: You want to help him out with the poll?
Q: It's a mixed bag. No, I would say it's a mixed bag. (Laughter.)
Q: All right, well, anyway --
MR. GIBBS: I'll give you 30 seconds to respond. (Laughter.)
Q: Despite official protests from this government, on every level, the Scots released the Lockerbie bomber. The President yesterday said he hoped that they would place him under -- in Libya under house arrest. Instead he gets a hero's welcome; people are outraged.
MR. GIBBS: Rightly so. I think the images that we saw in Libya yesterday were outrageous and disgusting. We continue to express our condolences to the families that lost a loved one as a result of this terrorist murder. We communicated with the Libyan government, and we continue to watch what they do in the days going forward about this individual, and understand that the video that you saw yesterday is tremendously offensive to the survivors that, as I said, lost a loved one in 1988.
Q: They're like blowing off the President. I mean, the guy who shook the President's hand at the G8, who runs Libya, is basically thumbing his nose at the President.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're watching the government to see how they respond.
Q: Has the President ordered any end of the contracts we have with the assassination mercenaries?
MR. GIBBS: Do you mean Blackwater?
Q: Or anybody else.
MR. GIBBS: I have -- I asked for an update, which I have not yet gotten, on where we are in different contracts. I would -- as it relates to CIA's use of contracting, I would point you specifically to them for responses on that.
Q: I don't think they would tell us.
MR. GIBBS: They may tell you, Helen. If you use that sweet voice on the phone, you never know what you could get. (Laughter.)
Q: I want them to stop killing people.
MR. GIBBS: You should let them know.
Q: You should, too. (Laughter.) You have the orders -- you have the power.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Did you say -- and I know you were going to get a read on this, whether the administration supports the idea of this split bill?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, like I said, almost all of Legislative Affairs is happily on vacation. Most of them are bad at e-mail when they're sitting in the building. (Laughter.)
Q: Is there really -- you've been trying but you cannot get an answer?
MR. GIBBS: Bill is at a house he described as a beautiful place in the mountains of New Mexico, and go figure that when my number comes up on his caller ID that it gets ignored -- it somehow goes to voicemail.
Q: So you have no idea whether the administration --
MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten any further guidance on that. Again, I would tell you, as I've told you all here throughout the week, our focus is on continuing the process that's going on now, and the focus that Democrats and Republicans work together to get a bill through the Senate, the House, and ultimately to the President's desk.
Q: Okay, on that issue, one of the readouts from the call last night suggested that the Gang of Six is looking at scaling back ambitions, in terms of health care reform. And my question to you is, is bipartisanship so important to the President that he is willing to scale back some of his plans to accomplish bipartisanship?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think you'd have to look at what ultimately any -- the President is going to evaluate ultimately any piece of legislation as to whether it meets his goals and his principles for health care reform. I've seen -- I'm told as part of the 90-minute call that there wasn't a large amount of time spent on this topic; that the focus was on continuing their negotiations around comprehensive reform.
The President's goal is not to print a banner and sign a bill just so somebody can say we've reformed health care. Specific goals and principles -- cutting costs, increasing coverage, ensuring that we have the type of insurance reforms that protect consumers against the type of practices that we've seen in the past -- those are part of the goals and principles that he has.
Q: Some of these members of Congress have talked about something of a change of heart or that they've learned something from attending these town halls, and that it's changed how they feel about what they should do with health care. And I wonder, has the President learned anything or taken away anything from the town halls? I mean, he seems to be in the same place he was on health care reform. So have they had -- seeing those constituents -- has that had no impact on what he thinks should be done?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I think -- I think the President's -- what the President has taken away from his town halls are, one, that we can have a discussion about a very important issue, as he said, not above each other but with each other. I think that was the case yesterday on the phone calls that he got from the radio show, the questions that he got in New Hampshire or Montana or in Colorado, and other events that we've done throughout the past few months on health care.
And I think he continues to be very resolved to getting something done on this issue. The President continues to believe that the worst possible outcome is doing nothing, because we know what happens when we do nothing, right? We know premiums are going to continue to skyrocket. We know 14,000 people a day are going to lose their health insurance. We know small businesses are going to be unable to afford their coverage. They're either going to drop the idea of covering employees, or drop the number of employees that they have employed by the small business. And we know that insurance companies are going to continue to discriminate based on whether or not they believe somebody has a preexisting condition, or make a determination about whether somebody is too sick to receive coverage. That's what doing nothing -- that's what doing nothing will do, and the President is determined that we're going to do something to move this process along.
Q: And real quickly --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: -- on vacation. You're probably aware that a conservative group took a shot at the President for his vacation on Martha's Vineyard. And I guess I just wanted to get your response to that, but also just the larger issue of him going somewhere -- the tony vacation spot, what your response would be to those who say it's not appropriate.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think this is the same individual that we've talked about in here who is the recipient of -- just so we do this, so everybody understands -- of the largest health care penalty ever issued by a federal government for fraud for a company he was the CEO of, right? So leaving that aside -- (laughter) -- I don't think the American people begrudge a President taking some time with his family that's well earned and well deserved for a few days to see and spend time with them.
Q: Robert, can you shed any more light -- you mentioned a couple of days ago that there might be some events during the scheduled Vineyard vacation, some conference calls. And second part, what is "wee-weed up"?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if I should do that from the podium. (Laughter.) It's a phrase I use, but --
Q: I'm not asking for a demonstration. I just --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I was going to have Bill do that. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Let's do this in a way that is family friendly. I think wee-weed up is when people just get all nervous for no particular reason, when they -- look, I think the way the President used it was -- and I've talked to a few of you guys about this -- in August of 2007, right, the rap on the President and the campaign was they can't -- first of all, they're doing poorly in Iowa; they can't possibly win the nomination, let alone the presidency, right, so I'll leave those predications aside. August of 2008, everybody was nervous about whether the entire presidential campaign was slipping out from underneath the hands of the President, who they previously didn't think would actually be the nominee.
So this is just -- this is sort of an August pundit pattern between people getting overly nervous for something that still has a long way to go. Bed-wetting is -- would be probably the more consumer-friendly term for -- (laughter.)
In terms of the first thing, I think -- I think we'll have some surrogates out doing stuff. I don't anticipate the President will break his vacation. The radio address later today that we'll release, embargoed for tomorrow morning, is on health care.
And I do anticipate, as we talked about -- have talked about throughout the last several days, that he'll continue to touch base with members of Congress in the House and the Senate on the Finance Committee to check in with them about progress that's being made.
Q: During vacation?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Okay. Getting back to Bill's questions about Libya, what effect is the show that went on there on the tarmac yesterday going to have on prospects for any improvement in relations with that country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we've registered our outrage. We have discussed with the Libyans what we think is appropriate, as we did with UK and Scottish officials in our opposition to the release to begin with. And all I can say, going forward, is we'll continue to watch the actions of this individual and the Libyan government.
Q: Would you acknowledge that the show that they put on yesterday when he arrived has set back prospects for improved relations with Tripoli?
MR. GIBBS: I'd feel comfortable saying that the administration believes that the images that were broadcast throughout the world were outrageous and incredibly offensive to Americans, and particularly offensive to those that lost a loved one on that flight many years ago.
Q: What was the President's specific reaction to the video when he saw it, of Megrahi returning --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think I'm conveying his sense and the administration's sense of what those images encapsulated.
Q: The President said the Cash for Clunkers program was successful beyond anybody's imagination. If that's the case, why are you ending it?
MR. GIBBS: Because this was a temporary program to assist consumers, manufacturers, car dealers, in replacing old, outdated cars that got far less efficient miles per gallon -- to trade that in for one that gets far better miles per gallon. The program was designed to be temporary and has been enormously successful, so much so that we're winding it down to ensure that all the applications will be funded with the $3 billion that Congress approved in two steps.
Q: So the money has been ran out to keep funding it?
MR. GIBBS: Right. The program has reached its limit. Again, this wasn't a program that was originally designed based on a time frame with an unending amount of funding; there was, as you all know, first a billion dollars appropriated through the supplemental appropriations. Congress then, concerned that the program needed more funding and was doing well, approved an additional $2 billion. I will say that thus far the government has approved and processed 170,000 applications in roughly a three-week period of time. The program, as it was originally designed, was to process about 250,000 applications in a three-month period of time. To address any concern about the backlog and the number of applications that we've received in that short period of time, as the President said yesterday, we've tripled the number of people that are processing those applications.
And I know there's been a lot of discussion out there about this, but the law states that a dealer should receive reimbursement within 10 days of a completed and approved -- meaning processed and approved -- application for reimbursement of assistance through the program. The program is meeting that deadline. What we're experiencing is you get these applications based on a sale, some of them are not completed, some of them lack information or have been filled out wrong. That takes some time. Once they're processed and approved, we're meeting the 10-day window of reimbursement.
And I would also mention that I think as of today, each of the -- or all major automakers are now supporting any liquidity problems that dealers might have, in that 10-day period of time, by covering some of the money that's been extended for the program. Again, I think the President was correct. The program has been enormously successful.
Q: Just picking up on that, Robert, and I may be wrong on this -- I thought when Congress originally authorized this, they imagined up to $4 billion.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we originally requested -- our original idea was to request $4 billion, right?
Q: Right, okay.
MR. GIBBS: Congress, as part of the supplemental appropriations, approved $1 billion.
Q: Right, of appropriation.
MR. GIBBS: Right. When that $1 billion was nearing its finality, an additional $2 billion -- so, again --
Q: I guess what I'm saying is, since you imagined $4 billion, why stop at $3 billion?
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q: It has been -- I mean, it has clearly been successful. People like it. Why not go up to $4 billion?
MR. GIBBS: It was designed to be a temporary program. And there's no way now to get -- I mean, in all honesty, there's no way to get additional money with Congress out of town. So, obviously, in order to -- in order to move that money, we'd have to --
Q: No, I understand the calendar. I'm just curious if once they do come back --
MR. GIBBS: It's more the Constitution, but yes.
Q: Well, calendars and Constitution, pick a C-word. When they come back, would the administration give thought to maybe seeking more money, an extra billion, to go up to that $4 billion or reassess that?
MR. GIBBS: At this point -- at this point we --
Q: Dealers should not expect anything, another go-round?
MR. GIBBS: No, they should not -- they have until I believe it's 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Monday. Based on the flow of applications that we received, the administration is confident that that's an appropriate time to end the program and be able to process and fund all the applications that have been involved.
Q: Okay. When Tom Daschle was with the bipartisan group that you mentioned on June 17th, he talked about the public option, and he said, "We're concerned the ongoing health reform debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue. So in order to advance a process of developing bipartisan legislation and move it forward, it is time to find consensus ¼ We suggest allowing states the option of establishing plans of their own." It goes on, but the bottom line was, even then in mid-June, when the polling data was a bit better than it is now, the town halls had not become a topic of conversation across the country, then Tom Daschle was saying the public plan is an impediment to a final product. Is the meeting today about talking the President into believing that, or talking Tom Daschle out of believing that? Or is this something that you'd like to evaluate in what he said then and where we are now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first let me get a readout on what is discussed, rather than predicting what might be discussed. But more importantly, I think, as the President said yesterday, said last Saturday, as others have said, we have to have choice and competition to ensure quality, to drive down cost. And to achieve that, the preference is the public option, but we're open to discussing other ideas like the one Senator Daschle, former Senator Dole and I think former Senator --
Q: So he would not disagree with that assessment then or now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he would -- I think he will use, no doubt, the opportunity to talk about where we are on health care, ideas for continuing to make progress, and I'm sure that's a topic that will come up.
Q: Following up on Bill's question, the Post poll this morning has 49 percent of the country believes the President can and will make the right decision; that's down from 60 at the 100-day mark. Fifty-five percent in the poll -- I know it's just one poll -- pretty seriously believe the country is on the wrong track. And I'm just wondering if the White House --
MR. GIBBS: I think that's down significantly -- what was that number in November of last year?
Q: I can't tell you. I don't know.
MR. GIBBS: I think it was in the 70s, but go ahead.
Q: It's different than it was in January or February, in a negative sense. I'm just wondering if you have any -- or the White House has any anxiety that the broader health care debate is not just changing the numbers possibly temporarily on the health care question, but is having a material effect on the way the entire presidency is being viewed, and the way the public retains confidence in the presidency.
MR. GIBBS: Look, the short answer would be no based on the fact that one of the numbers you didn't discuss is the President, in that poll, his overall approval rating is at 57 percent -- a fairly healthy number for a President's approval rating. But --
Q: -- gave you all the numbers you'd have nothing to say.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to fill in what's left. Look, I think the President would be the first to tell you, as he said throughout this, that this is a complex issue and that health care reform has never been easy and that this process is one that is messy. I don't doubt that -- look, if you look and just -- if you ask people -- again, going back to some of these other polling -- if you're seeing information that as a result of this bill 55 percent of the American people believe illegal immigrants are going to get health care as a result of this bill, despite the fact that the bill prohibits that -- I don't doubt that that weighs down on people's perception of the bill if a majority of the people think something that we know is knowingly untrue and that if people continue to hear that, something that's knowingly untrue is repeated.
Q: Well, I wasn't driving nearly so much as the poll numbers on health care itself, but on the overall view of the presidency and his ability to bring change or be effective or retain the confidence of the American people, because there is some indication that the numbers have dipped here, during the intensity of this health care debate. I'm just asking you, is there a broader effect here on the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we'll continue to evaluate that, but I'll tell you, Major, whether it's looking at -- I think you can look at any poll before the President made a decision about extending money to the automobile companies so they didn't go out of business -- not necessarily the most popular thing. Increasing our troop strength in Afghanistan wasn't necessarily the most popular thing.
Those are decisions, though, that the President believes was in the best interest -- in the automobile decision, about the economy; in the Afghanistan decision, about our national security and ultimately in our national interest.
So we'll certainly continue to look at them, but the President will continue to make decisions on what he believes is important and the steps that have to be taken on the economy or on our national security or on health care based on what he thinks is in the country's best interest. Whether or not it starts out or at the midpoint is less popular, that's our job to fix.
Q: So, Robert, in addition to being the President's friend and the former Democratic leader, obviously Tom Daschle is also a paid consultant to health care industries -- UnitedHealth -- there have been stories about that. I'm wondering, does that hinder his ability to give the President honest advice?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Is there a vetting process to know who exactly he's representing when he goes into the Oval Office to talk to the President on health care?
MR. GIBBS: We're not -- the President, as you mentioned, has had a relationship with Senator Daschle that dates back to 2003 and 2004 when they were both on the ballot. The President knows and expects that when he asks Senator Daschle a question, that he's getting the opinion of Senator Daschle and not anybody else.
Q: And how often have they been in contact on -- have they talked --
MR. GIBBS: Currently. (Laughter.)
Q: I realize that.
(Cell phone rings.)
Q: It wasn't me.
MR. GIBBS: I'm itching to take a phone right before vacation. I don't know when the last time they talked before this. I think it's been quite some time.
Q: And will we get a readout --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: I was having a conversation with Congressman Leonard Boswell a week or so ago in Iowa and he said that the President had told him and a group of other lawmakers that he was willing to be a one-term President if it -- if that meant getting health care reform through. Is that a message that you've heard him say and that he has said to other groups, other lawmakers, and is that his view?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know that I've specifically heard it around health care, Jeff, but I have heard him -- I have heard the President say that if making tough decisions in getting important things done that Washington has failed to deal with for decades means that he only lives in this house and makes those decisions for four years, he's quite comfortable with that.
The way he approaches this issue, the economy, Afghanistan, Iraq -- any of these issues -- is not in a mode of self-preservation, but in a mode of how best -- how best, given all of the information out there, how best can he make decisions that he thinks are in the best interest of the American people -- not what's in the best interest of his personal polling numbers.
Q: Does the President plan any policy announcement next month regarding the closing of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously we've got several task forces that are evaluating the detainees that are there and making determinations about what comes next in order to comply with the President's executive order of January 21 to close Guantanamo Bay within a year. I don't know of any specific timelines for announcements coming next month. Obviously we've had -- the administration had a multijurisdictional visit to a facility in Standish, Michigan, and despite the fact that no final decisions had been made and the principals committee on these issues continues to meet with -- meet as a group and meet with the President. I don't have in front of me any notion of a timeline for a decision.
Q: It's my understanding that the President needs to submit some sort of plan to Congress before the start of the next fiscal year, October 1. Is that your understanding, as well?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to double-check. I know there's some -- I know there's some requirements on -- task force requirements that relate to information that's in the -- that was passed as part of the supplemental. I'd have to check on where that is.
As we talked about earlier, or in one of the morning meetings, part of the legislation also requires that Congress be notified about any potential detainee transfers. I think I mentioned it on August 7, Congress was notified that up to six potential -- six current Guantanamo Bay detainees could be transferred within the next few weeks.
Q: There's a 60-day Obey language in the supplemental about a report on Guantanamo. But I believe that the deadline for that comes up next week.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I think there is -- there is some sort of -- I can't bring it out here, because it's a classified document. But it's a -- it's --
Q: Will any element of that be released?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- I will check on that. I know there's a deadline that looms. It may be next Monday.
Q: I think it's Sunday or Monday.
Q: One final question regarding this. Do you rule out the possibility of President Obama traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
MR. GIBBS: I don't see why he would. I don't -- I don't necessarily see the need for him to go.
Q: Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is the ranking Republican on the House Intel Committee, says that if Standish is picked as the eventual place to keep the Guantanamo Bay detainees, that it would be a magnet for terrorists. And the Michigan State Senate passed a resolution asking the administration to declassify information so that the governor and legislators can make the decision for themselves about the safety of communities. What is the administration's position on that?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly -- let me check on the declassification. Deb, obviously, we are working with local communities -- obviously, the multijurisdictional visit met with local officials to discuss the possibilities. As I said, though, no final decisions have been made.
And I think it bears repeating, you know, we -- I forget the number; I used to have this number in my head. But, you know, we -- there are a number of individuals that have been convicted of, or are being held because of, their involvement in terrorism in prisons throughout this country very safely. There's a supermax facility in Colorado that holds some particularly gruesome individuals that have yet to -- the conditions around that town have yet to devolve into what Congressman Hoekstra seems to predict might happen in a different part of the country.
Q: Robert, did the President tell rabbis on Wednesday that we're all God's partners in matters of life and death? If so, what did he mean by that? And are his religious convictions influencing his views on what should and shouldn't be in the health care --
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to go back and look at the transcript of the call. I think the President has talked, and I think the rabbis are a collection, a group, that invited him to be part of a call because of their moral and ethical beliefs and how they relate to health care. I think the President has talked about -- obviously we have a very healthy and longstanding separation of church and state, but obviously ethical and moral matters are part of decisions that the President makes. I'd have to --
Q: Do you think we could get a transcript -- look at the transcript so we could see what he was talking about?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly try to see whether that's there.
Q: Robert, I have seen --
MR. GIBBS: I can hardly hear you.
Q: I've seen many professionals with 10 years experience and making $50,000 in a year. These people have been terminated for things. So what is the U.S. government going to do about these companies -- hiring these people, hiring young employees to reduced pay?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I'd have to look at some of the instances that you're talking about to have a sense of what involvement the government would have in that.
Q: I know that Bill is on vacation, but have you spoken to the President about the idea of splitting up the two bills, since yesterday morning?
MR. GIBBS: Only, as I said yesterday, only that he reiterated to me that the focus is on seeking a bipartisan solution.
Q: At the DNC he seemed -- he very much seemed to open the door to reconciliation by saying one way or another we're going to get something done.
MR. GIBBS: Well, he didn't say -- he's said that for months. I mean, again, the President is focused on getting something done because we know what happens if something -- we know what happens if nothing gets done. We know --
Q: Is that a warning?
MR. GIBBS: No, it was reality.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Two things. Why did the White House not put out a statement on Bob Novak's death?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I'll talk to the press secretary about that. I know the President obviously -- look, I would say that --
Q: But you're the press secretary.
MR. GIBBS: I didn't know that. The -- obviously Mr. Novak was somebody who wrote for one of the local Chicago papers, and I think no matter how you felt personally about his political leanings, I think the President would agree with many that have said they had respect for his reporting and for his ability and his opinions, even if they didn't agree with him. And I think that's probably a good lesson for all of us, either in August for town hall meetings, or as we move forward on issues like health care or anything else.
Q: And unrelated, the -- in Afghanistan, reports of voting irregularities -- any reaction from the White House on that?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to step on the President speaking about the Afghan elections in a little bit. I'll reiterate what I said yesterday. Obviously, the President has tremendous respect for the courage of millions of Afghans that went to the polls in the face of threats of violence and to choose their leaders. And we will -- I think it will be quite some time, many days before we get preliminary results, but that we'll watch that as we move forward.
Q: Can you give us a sense of the President's vacation? We're hearing that he might golf with Tiger Woods. Is that in the books? Or what's he going to do with his time off?
MR. GIBBS: I have no idea if he's going to golf with Tiger Woods. I think he's going to spend a decent part of his time relaxing with his family. There are no official events scheduled in the week ahead. I anticipate that he'll play golf a number of times. I do not have anything that says though that he'll play with Tiger Woods in the next few days.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Did the White House make decision who might be sent to funeral for the former President Kim Jung -- I'm sorry, Kim Dae-jung in South Korea?
MR. GIBBS: I think there is a release going out, if it hasn't already, announcing a delegation that will be sent to that. If it hasn't gone out, it will go out fairly shortly. I don't have that list in front of me.
Q: Thank you, Robert. After several reports about Blackwater's involvement in CIA targeting programs and also armoring drones with bombs in the war on terror, where does the new Obama administration draw the line between the government's monopoly to military force and legitimate outsourcing of parts of this war business to private contractors? Generally, Western democracies are very skeptical about outsourcing to --
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President talked about throughout the campaign, and has instituted an openness and competitive bidding process for contracts as part of a new administration. It was something that he worked on as a member of the Senate with Tom Coburn. They first got involved in contracting around many Katrina-related issues. As I told Helen, I've asked for some guidance on what contracts we have and where we are with those in relation to the company formerly known as Blackwater. I would, again, as I told Helen, encourage you to contact individual governmental departments for specific comment on contracts that obviously had been let during prior administrations as part of that department.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
Q: The hurricane?
MR. GIBBS: Say again?
Q: The hurricane. As you know, there's a Hurricane Bill heading for Bermuda. And are we better prepared now for hurricanes so we don't have another Katrina?
MR. GIBBS: The President has received regular updates from John Brennan throughout the week on the progress of the hurricane across the Caribbean and has great confidence in the personnel that he's put in positions, whether it's in charge of the Department of Homeland Security or particularly in FEMA, to deal with whether it's a hurricane like Katrina that could come ashore, or any other natural disaster that the government and the American people could face.
Certainly it's our hope that the storm will avoid reaching the United States and turn back out into the Atlantic. I anticipate, as we've talked about in here, there will be a busy hurricane season and that we'll continue to monitor throughout that time.
Thanks, guys. Have a good week.
END 12:15 P.M. EDT
|Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", August 21, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86550.|
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