Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:38 P.M. EDT
Q: Robert, has he talked to Gates?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on. I have almost all the confidence in the world that whatever I say is not going to make the news tonight. (Laughter.)
Q: Week ahead? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: But in my role I am happy to answer questions. Actually, Marissa handed me the -- my folder and said, "The week ahead is in the front pocket." I said, "I have a sneaking suspicion we'll get to that toward the end."
Q: Has he spoken to --
MR. GIBBS: He has not spoken to Professor Gates, no.
Q: Did anybody from the White House reach out to Professor Gates to let him know that the President was going to do this?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Was there any form of apology from the President in this conversation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President characterized most of their conversation as something that he wanted to have with the officer, and I'll keep it that way.
Q: How real is this offer? He said a beer, I mean, that's one thing you just throw out there. But is it, like, how about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it was the suggestion of the Sergeant and I think the President in their probably about five-minute phone conversation --
Q: Is he inviting the Sergeant to come to the White House?
Q: Would you be quiet?
Q: Is he inviting the Sergeant to come to the White House?
Q: We did not hear your last words --
MR. GIBBS: Where did we leave it?
Q: Five-minute conversation.
MR. GIBBS: In about a five-minute conversation -- I have to go back and check my notes, I think it was Sergeant Crowley's suggestion about the beer and I think the President thought it was a good idea.
Q: Are you going to schedule it? I mean, is this a serious --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as he said, he doesn't know if it's scheduled but they'll work on it.
Q: So he is inviting the Sergeant to the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, hold on. You don't have to talk into the microphone, we all heard your question.
Again, I think as the President said, and I think that's why the invitation is a real invitation, is that a moment like this can be used to teach us and be used to have a communication and a dialogue that's constructive outside of the moment.
Q: Robert, when did the President decide to make this phone call and what prompted him? Was there any particular event or conversation that prompted him to do so?
MR. GIBBS: None that I'm aware of. Sometime earlier today, but I don't know the exact time that he decided. The call happened -- it lasted about five minutes. It was -- let's see, my watch is set ahead -- so it was probably around just recently, 2:15 p.m., 2:20 p.m.
Q: After he came back from the education event?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Robert, do you know if he plans to speak with Professor Gates?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know, but I will check on that when we're done.
Q: Robert, this is significant that the President had to come back and address a question from a press conference because of its nature of race. Why kind of communiqués or letters or calls have you gotten here to the White House and what kind of outpouring have you gotten from the community for the President to make this decision? And did police organizations from around the country help to make this decision for him to come out and make this statement?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I was on the road yesterday, April, so I don't know what engagement the White House had yesterday with groups or individuals. I think I did see on the correspondence chart that we get that health care was the biggest topic again yesterday, in terms of comments and concerns. But that's all the information I have on that.
Q: And a follow up, also. Since he acknowledges that race is still an issue and there are sensitivities still about race, as this issue has proven, is he thinking about possibly doing something along the lines of what Bill Clinton did, possibly having a conversation on race at some point?
MR. GIBBS: I think in many ways the question, the answer, the events, I think we're having that conversation. I don't think it's a separate initiative, I don't think it's an announcement. I think the President would say that these are important issues that play out in our daily lives and will and should be discussed in our daily lives.
Q: Robert, from listening to him it sure sounded like he had made an apology to the officer. Wouldn't it be fair to characterize it as that?
MR. GIBBS: I think he -- Steve, I think he understood that, as he told you all, that his words contributed to this being ratcheted up. I mean, I think there's a reason that the news media is on the Sergeant's lawn. I think -- and he wanted to make sure that -- to let him know that that word choice was not one that he thought was probably, in hindsight, the best choice.
Q: Were you in the room during the call?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Did you hear him issue an apology?
MR. GIBBS: I'm --
Q: We're not asking --
Q: Don't make us parse this --
MR. GIBBS: You don't have to parse it, you can quote me and you can quote him. You don't have to parse --
Q: But we're not asking you to characterize his remarks --
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand.
Q: -- we're asking what you heard.
MR. GIBBS: I feel comfortable with the answer I just gave Steve.
Q: But did you hear him make an apology?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get -- if the President doesn't want to characterize it in a conversation he's having with you all, I'm not going to get ahead of him.
Q: Robert, prior to the President going out for that press conference, obviously you sit down, you go over the questions that are going to be asked for the evening, and you rehearse answers or discuss how he will answer questions. Did this come up as part of the preparations, the Gates matter? And if so, was his word choice of "stupidly," did that -- was that ever --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into the process in all of this.
Q: What was discussed about that question? I mean, when that -
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into how we --
Q: Were you shocked when the President used those words?
MR. GIBBS: My opinion on that doesn't matter.
Q: Robert, do you anticipate that there will, in fact, be a meeting here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President hopes so. I think that the President hopes that, again, this is a moment that can be used to discuss these issues.
Q: And when do you expect them to reach out to Mr. Gates?
MR. GIBBS: I said I'd check on that, so I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Robert, what part of his statement would he take back -- anything other than the word "stupidly"?
MR. GIBBS: Again, you just heard from the President. I would quote him liberally, and I don't want to get into parsing him.
Q: One quick thing. He said that, "because of our history, African Americans are sensitive to these issues." I want to make sure he is referring -- is he referring to Mr. Gates and his response, or is he referring to the President's own response to the issue and to the question asked at the press conference?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he's talking about -- I think he's talking about writ large. I think he's talking about -- I think that statement -- well, I know that statement does not -- he's not speaking about an individual situation, he's talking about -- and the reason he came to work on an issue like this in a state senate was because of historical tension. But that's not an individual thing, that's writ large.
Q: What I mean is when Lynn Sweet asked the question he could have dodged it. He jumped into it. And I wonder if he is saying that it's because of a sensitivity -- he feels sensitive --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he addressed it up here in saying that he has heard those that said maybe because it was a local issue it's something that he should have or could have steered around, and I think he was clear on that here.
Q: Robert, two questions, sir, please. One, as far as health care issue is concerned, most of the Indian American physicians and doctors in this country they support President's initiative. But also (inaudible) his six months in office, most of the issues. The question is that as far as small businesses are concerned some of them have concern that how they will pay for their employees and now as far as the health issue and immigration both are related to them, that they want to hear from the President how they will deal with that issue.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me address health care and small business. Obviously this is a topic that the President has spent quite a bit of time on throughout the week in meetings with -- in town hall meetings, in meetings with the Blue Dogs, in meetings here today.
Obviously millions of businesses are struggling with the high cost, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance that gets harder and harder each day to provide for their employees. I think one of the things the President wants to see come out of health care reform are ideas that will cut costs for small businesses and allow those that are providing insurance for their employees to be able to do so more affordably for themselves and hopefully encourage others that want to do that, but have shied away from it because of the cost, to be able to do that as well.
Q: Second, as far as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to India, what kind of message -- what sort of message she was carrying from the President? She's now back and meeting with the President and reading the report. And do we have a new road map as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned in the future?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not talked with the Secretary of State. I know the Secretary of State met with the President for lunch today to discuss the trip, but I have not had a chance to discuss the trip.
Q: Robert, what's the lesson -- if this is a teachable moment, what does the President want the country to take away from this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as he said yesterday and I think as he said today, and I think as even he said at the news conference, you had a call come in and you had an officer respond to a call about a potential break in. And as I said yesterday as well, there was clearly a point sometime after that where both sides could have stepped back a little bit and maybe we wouldn't have had all of this play out the way it has.
I think he understands the enormity of the job that law enforcement has and I think he spoke today about the tension that has been there with -- in some African American communities with law enforcement, and that working together and having that dialogue and in communicating we can make things better for both involved.
Q: What is he going to do over the next month to try to keep up the momentum of health care?
MR. GIBBS: We'll go through some on the week ahead. I know we've got -- he'll travel on Wednesday to Raleigh, North Carolina, and a not-yet-picked-city in Virginia, to continue to discuss health care reform and the need to get it done. And I think it is safe to say that we had always assumed the President would continue to talk about this and other important issues like the economy and energy even while Congress was back at home. So there will be a busy month of that.
Q: You said in southwest Virginia? I'm sorry.
MR. GIBBS: It was this morning, and it's now not-yet-confirmed.
Q: I've never heard of a not-yet-picked-city, Virginia. Is there any place like --
MR. GIBBS: It's just south of southwestern, Virginia. If I knew where it was, Chuck, I would --
Q: We shouldn't even (inaudible) the region anymore, or we should back off --
MR. GIBBS: Not unless you can pinpoint not-yet-confirmed, Virginia.
Q: Thank you, Robert. One of the things that has come up since the President's statement at the news conference, the quote his health care plan will not add to the deficit, is the letter from six days before with the CBO study, signed by its director, Doug Elmendorf, who said that the plan, H.R. 3200, if enacted would add $239 billion to the deficit by 2019. What is the administration's reaction to the CBO scoring?
MR. GIBBS: Well, like -- I don't have anything specific on what they say happens in the 10th year of that 10-year window. I can simply reiterate for you what the President has now said on any number of occasions, that health care reform legislation that he signs will not add to the deficit and he means that.
Q: So he disagrees with Director Elmendorf?
MR. GIBBS: Why would he -- he's not evaluated from a budgetary perspective H.R. 3200, that's not his job.
Q: All right. One other question and it's a housekeeping matter. Based on this morning, are you going to restore the gaggle as a permanent part of the briefings?
MR. GIBBS: I look forward to and enjoy meeting with you all on an almost constant basis. (Laughter.) No, I hope so. I hope so in a way that we can meet some of your earlier deadlines, talk about issues off camera, and hopefully Margaret will continue to bring doughnuts.
Q: Can you tell us if the President has ever had any personal experience that he spoke about in the last couple of days from his time in Cambridge, when he was attending school at Harvard? Are you aware of any of that?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I have -- not that I've heard in the past couple days or that I have heard in the several years that I've worked for him, no. I think it was brought up yesterday when I was gaggling that there was -- there's a story in the Chicago Tribune from 2003, I think around the time he was working on the issue of racial profiling, that he mentions a suspicion of that but not -- I don't think it makes mention of a specific incident.
Q: The President has referred to Professor Gates as a friend. Do you know how long they've known each other and can you explain the nature of their friendship?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know -- I don't know how long they've known each other or the depth of that, but I can certainly -- I can talk to the President at the end of this.
Q: I was just wondering, do you know if the President has decided not -- if he would sign a health care bill that does not have a public option? He's never said if that is a line in the sand.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he has discussed in his principles the strong need to provide choice and competition and his belief that a public option provides that for millions of Americans who in different health exchange markets are not going to have access to competitive plans. And I think he -- as I said, outlined that in his principles and --
Q: Congress is coming under increasing pressure about the public option, and that's why I was wondering if --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, it seems a lot of issues around health care that are that way. (Laughter.)
Q: Based on my calculations, about half of the savings the President is counting on to fund two-thirds of the health care reform comes from Medicare and Medicaid, if you can follow my math --
MR. GIBBS: I think I do. (Laughter.) Half of two-thirds -- I think I got it, yes.
Q: A third.
Q: Yes, thank you, Chip. Much better suited than me, obviously.
Given that Medicare itself is in fiscal trouble -- I mean, 2017, the trust fund expires -- how can the President be counting on any savings from Medicare to expand the availability of health insurance?
MR. GIBBS: Understand, Wendell, the reason it's going bankrupt quickly is the amount of money that is in the trust fund and the obligations with which that trust fund is being drawn down on. I think -- I've heard the President talk a lot about what the status quo means. The status quo means that we're going to continue to spend -- or health care is going to continue to climb at a rate of roughly three times that -- increase three times the rate of wages; that we can't continue to spend the type of money we're spending on health care and then not expect it to bankrupt our government. So clearly we have to put Medicare on a different spending trajectory.
I think the President addressed the fact that -- on Wednesday, the fact that he believed that we could do that without in any way threatening the quality of benefits, and I think that's why the AARP has come out in favor of health care reform and why the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the drug companies have denoted that we can squeeze some savings out of the system and also put some money into actually filling the gap in Medicare -- that exists in Medicare Part D for seniors on drug expenses and actually do it in a way that's paid for, which would be unique for that program.
Q: Aren't any Medicare savings needed to save Medicare?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, if you are spending -- if your obligations are less, you're going to by definition take a trust fund and draw down on it less rapidly, and I think it will extend the life of that and put it on a path towards sustainability that we all recognize is tremendously important.
Q: Blue Dog talks on health care reform failed in the House Energy Committee. Can you comment on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they continue to meet so I think I'd be a little -- I don't know that I'd rush to the fact that they've failed.
Q: Well, Congressman Ross came out today and said that they failed, that talks are impossible.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know they're continuing to -- they'll continue to meet and I think everybody is -- I know that the meeting that was had here at the White House that lasted three hours was seen as productive and I think they'll continue to do that.
Q: Robert, on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Wednesday night the President said the only way you get anything done in this town is by setting a deadline. With August 7 no longer seeming to be an operable deadline, would he like to establish a new one -- end of September, a date in October -- would you care to -- by Christmas? But seriously, I mean, is there --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, I think --
Q: -- taking him at his word from Wednesday.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I think -- look, David, I think that we have made progress in many ways because the President did, as he has said in interviews over the course of the week, poke and prod and set some I think what he would think of as meaningful goals for achievement. I think the President characterized the fact that Senator Reid's announcement yesterday was okay because he sees that we're making progress. He's in regular communication with members of the Finance Committee. He met with Senator Reid and Senator Baucus here at the White House today in what I think both sides thought was a productive meeting.
Regardless of August, as I described just this morning, we're going to -- we were always going to have to come back in the fall and reconcile legislation, go through the process again before something got to the President's desk. I think the President continues to believe strongly that we can see health care reform this year, this fall.
Q: Does that mean the House deadline -- the House passing before the end of August is a nice thing if it happens --
MR. GIBBS: The end of August, or --
Q: No, the beginning of -- before recess -- the House getting a bill by next Friday would be nice to have but not a demand at this point?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is encouraged as long as he and the administration and those on Capitol Hill feel like we're making progress, and that's where we are.
Q: Would he like to see that bill passed if it meant taking it out of -- you know, sort of going around the Energy Committee because of the Blue Dog issue or would --
MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to our folks on that.
Q: Robert, what gave the President the impression that there was a media frenzy and his message wasn't getting through? He often says he doesn't read -- watch cable news much.
MR. GIBBS: No, but --
Q: Did you tell him, did staff tell him -- you need to address this; it's getting out of hand?
MR. GIBBS: I was with him yesterday -- I was with him yesterday, but the reports on cable TV were that this was taking up a lot of real estate.
Q: And you told him that; you let him know --
MR. GIBBS: A number of people I think --
Q: Did he speak to anybody on the outside about this issue?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q: So it wasn't one of these things where he was talking to an old friend or something?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q: And was there any discussion of him issuing a written statement rather than coming in? It's incredibly unusual, what he did here today.
MR. GIBBS: And miss the opportunity to see you guys?
Q: I know. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- the notion that the President wanted to come -- I don't know who's laughing back there -- (laughter.) If you laugh like that, we'll move you up to the front row, that's -- no, the decision to come in here and tell you all about it was the President's decision.
Q: Robert, just for clarification, the President has actually apologized to that Cambridge police sergeant, hasn't he?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I think I answered this three times for --
Q: Can you just tell us yes or no?
MR. GIBBS: I feel comfortable with -- I feel comfortable with my answer.
Q: Hey, Robert, on Baucus-Reid --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, go ahead.
Q: Could you tell us on Baucus-Reid, did the President leave the conversation thinking that -- or confident that there will be an agreement or something coming out of Senate Finance before August?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that's the way Senators Reid and Baucus, it's my understanding, have characterized the meeting, that they feel like they're making progress, and I think the President believes that, too. And again, I think that's the -- the President -- as long as the President feels like we're moving in the right direction, he feels good.
Q: The President noted over the last two days that Congress doesn't act unless there's a deadline, which he's got plenty of evidence to back that claim up over generations of congressional history. You put down your marker that you wanted a vote in both Houses of Congress some weeks ago. You pulled out all the stops. You had press conferences, town halls, impromptu statements and so forth. You were unable to meet that goal -- at least, leaders were unable to deliver. What is going to happen now over the course of August that's going to change people's minds and move votes?
MR. GIBBS: Press conferences, statements, speeches. (Laughter.) I mean, look, Mike, the -- August isn't being re-jiggered to address health care. We always knew for months that we would be discussing this issue and that it would be -- whether it made it through the House and the Senate before the recess or after the recess, that the recess itself would be a critical period of time in which we would mobilize the President's voice in travel to address what he feels like is an issue that we can't avoid addressing any longer.
I think you've heard him talk this week, describe in very personal terms, what the status quo means. And I described it today a little bit as -- on some legislative issues, the notion that if you don't do anything, if you don't get reform or improvement, then everything just stays where it is.
Well, I think the President has taken the last several days to explain to the American people that status quo on health care means more people lose their insurance, families pay more money for their premiums, more people are discriminated against based on preexisting conditions in trying to seek insurance. That's what doing nothing means.
I think he'll continue to press the case for what doing nothing means, and continue to press the case for the principles that he's outlined to cut costs for families and small businesses, make it affordable, make it accessible. And I think those are the things that --
Q: And yet members have heard these arguments over the course of the last three and four weeks and they're still reluctant to vote with the leadership, Democratic leadership.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but again, I think -- Mike, I think -- I mean, we, despite that, have had meetings here today that we think have been productive. I have no doubt that our staff will be working this weekend with committee members on the House and Senate side, as well as next week, on making progress. I mean, I think the President certainly is a strong believer in the fact that you can continue to talk and work some of these issues through; that sitting down and having that dialogue is important to try to make that progress, and he's still optimistic that we can.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Two quick questions. First of all, has the President expressed any disappointment that the outrage surrounding this, the Gates incident, has focused exclusively on his word choice and not on the circumstances of Professor Gates' arrest?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President -- I think the President explained in his statement what he felt like he had unnecessarily contributed.
Q: And my second question was, when talking to the President, has he ever talked about contrast between the Senate leadership, the majority leadership under his administration versus under the Bush administration? Has that ever come up?
MR. GIBBS: In what way?
Q: In terms of party unity, that sort of thing?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I have not heard him discuss that. I have not heard him talk about that at all.
Q: Can you give a little bit more of a readout on the Baucus-Reid meeting? Was it mostly logistics and planning and timetable, or was it also substance, talking about compromise --
MR. GIBBS: It was -- there was obviously committee process discussions as well as, as it was told to me, issues of substance dealing with issues that remain unresolved in the committee.
Q: May I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: In the last few days, he has expressed an interest in either taxing health care benefits and Cadillac plans or penalizing insurance companies that offer that. Did the President express still in interest in that or even say he supports those ideas?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know exactly whether or not that came up or in what form.
Q: Thank you. The swine flu -- at least 300 people have died in this country from the swine flu and many more around the world. How close are we to the medicine or to the shot or whatever they're going to have for it -- especially now the fall coming and we have the other flu coming?
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, I know that there are regular meetings here at the White House hosted by senior White House officials, including John Brennan and others, to continue planning for what the President and his administration talked about earlier this year -- that what we saw building up and that affected communities throughout the country and honestly affected countries throughout the world, hit in many ways at the back end of our own flu season, which in many ways probably likely gave us the preview of the depth and severity of what we'll face come fall.
We're taking steps, working with state and local officials, working with communities, working with school districts, to ensure that they have the best information about what steps can and need to be taken to get ready for what we know is coming. Obviously many countries around the world we've seen a preview of the taxing nature that this is going to provide -- the ability with which this is going to test our health infrastructure. And I know the team is working through decision-making on -- and the development of production for antivirals and developments for a vaccine.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
Q: What is the CDC doing and what are they saying?
MR. GIBBS: Their language hasn't changed much from in the spring, again, when we faced this situation. There are a lot of things that we can and need to do to get ready for what we know is going to happen. I mean, in many ways -- in some ways, we're fortunate that when we experienced this, again, like I said, it was at the end of our flu season. We're not likely to be that lucky in the fall, and I think the severity of the flu requires us to be ready at all levels of government to address what is clearly going to be a busy, busy flu season.
Q: Week ahead?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, week ahead. See, I almost forgot.
Q: Thank you for answering lots of people's questions.
MR. GIBBS: I'm happy to do it, Lester. It's my j-o-b.
Q: Can you bring him out every day?
MR. GIBBS: Do what?
Q: Could you bring him out every day?
Q: That would be fun.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, but I noticed attendance was kind of light for him today. I don't -- I'm going to tell him not to take that too seriously.
The weekly radio address is -- not surprisingly -- on health care, and I think there's a briefing call on that in about 20 minutes and we'll have that out fairly shortly.
The President will spend the weekend in Washington and has no scheduled public events. Obviously you guys saw the guidance a little bit later tonight with the parade at the Marine barracks.
On Monday morning, the President will address the opening session of the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner will chair the dialogue with the Chinese Vice Premier and State Councilor. Later the President will meet in the Oval Office with the President of FIFA, the international soccer body.
MR. GIBBS: Really.
Q: What are they talking about?
MR. GIBBS: Dribbling, heading --
Q: Health care?
MR. GIBBS: Good point. No, they'll -- I think the United States has a bid in on a future World Cup and they'll discuss that.
Q: We just had it.
MR. GIBBS: We just had it -- what are you --
Q: The World Cup --
MR. GIBBS: You're a football --
Q: Has he confirmed going to South Africa for the opening games?
MR. GIBBS: I know he wants to go, but I don't think anybody has confirmed it.
Q: The President said you wanted to go.
MR. GIBBS: Both of us do. (Laughter.) Both of us do.
The President will also -- really -- welcome the WNBA Champion Detroit Shock to the White House. In the evening, the President and the First Lady will host a reception for ambassadors.
No details on Tuesday, except attending meetings and an event here.
As I mentioned, on Wednesday the President will hold events on health care in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a soon-to-be-determined city somewhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On Thursday, the President will meet with the President of the Philippines here at the White House, and attend meetings at the White House here on Friday.
Q: Is there going to be -- is there going to be a joint event?
MR. GIBBS: I think we'll do something in the Oval on that.
All right, thanks, guys. Have a good weekend.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
END 3:20 P.M. EDT
Robert Gibbs, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/286694