Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 9/30/09
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 30, 2009
PRESS BRIEFING BY
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Elliott, take us away.
Q Thanks, Robert. Can you tell us about the format of today's meeting? Presumably, the President already knows where a lot of these folks stand, so is this going to be a debate, a discussion, a briefing? And are there going to be recommendations?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, as we've talked about, Phil, this will be the first of I think several meetings that the President will have with a range of advisors representing a military perspective, representing a diplomatic perspective -- I think today we'll hear from a number of different perspectives and hear the beginnings of going through the assessment that General McChrystal has sent to the Pentagon and to here about what our goals are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how -- what best strategy to implement to achieve those goals.
Q So is it going to be a discussion, or is he just going to go around the table and ask everyone for their --
MR. GIBBS: No, there will be a several-hour-long discussion. Again, we'll hear from several different people. I think you guys have the list of attendees at today's meeting.
Q Secondly, Republicans have been critical of the President and this review and its pace. Eric Cantor said the review is jeopardizing U.S. troops and the President should just take General McChrystal's report. Senator McCain was equally as critical this morning on a morning program. So I'm curious how much the political climate is affecting what's happening in that room.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the political climate seems to be affecting what people say on cable television. I don't recall Congressman Cantor saying that when General David McKiernan's request for 30,000 additional troops sat on the desk of the previous Commander-in-Chief, I don't remember him going to a newspaper or on television saying that that Commander-in-Chief was endangering the lives of men and women in Afghanistan. And I think if he didn’t say that under a somewhat similar circumstance, then it's a bunch of game-playing.
And I would say this to Congressman Cantor, and everybody else: The American people deserve an assessment that's beyond game-playing. The men and women in Afghanistan that we've sent to serve and protect our freedom deserve that. The men and women that might be sent to Afghanistan to serve and protect our freedom deserve that -- as do their families and every other American. We'd expect nothing less. And I look forward to his response on what he said to the previous administration when that request was sitting on the desk.
Q Two questions, Robert, the first one also on Afghanistan. Does the President still view the war there as a war of necessity?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes strongly that the goals that he outlined are still very key to our national security -- that we have to disrupt, dismantle and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies; that we have to prevent terrorist organizations from setting up safe havens -- having safe havens to set up terrorist camps to plot attacks on this country. There's no question about that. The President will, again, meet with advisors today to figure out the best way forward in doing that.
Q Is that the same as saying it's a war of necessity?
MR. GIBBS: I believe so.
Q All right. And on a second topic -- we saw the reaction that the President gave to the Kerry-Boxer bill on climate change. Has he had a chance to look at the details of the bill, and how does he feel about the specific -- (inaudible) -- and what's his overall reaction to the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Look, he has not had a chance to look extensively at the legislation. Obviously throughout the campaign and throughout our time here, the President has been a big proponent of a system that incentivizes clean energy job growth, reduces our carbon emissions. The House took strong action to deal with that, and now the -- with the introduction of this bill the Senate will begin that process as well. And we look forward to making progress on that throughout this year.
Q When would he like to have this bill passed?
MR. GIBBS: As soon as it can get passed.
Q That not very specific.
MR. GIBBS: It's not.
Q Would the White House be comfortable with parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban as long as they were not hosting -- providing safe haven for al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to get into hypotheticals -- what if, what if. The President is going to have a top-to-bottom assessment to ensure that we have a strategy that meets our goal, the goal that the President has outlined many times.
Q Does the Taliban pose a threat to the United States?
MR. GIBBS: I think there's no doubt that many believe that them controlling a large amount of area in a place like Afghanistan, as they did, provides safe haven for those that can reach in directly into this country and do damage. That's obviously part of what the President will discuss with advisors today.
Q And the book, "Lessons in Disaster," is being passed around and read by a lot of White House officials right now. What lessons are you guys getting out of "Lessons in Disaster"?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think a number of people have read the book here. Again, I think this goes to a larger perspective of the way the administration is viewing this assessment and this discussion, and that is: Let's get a firm strategy; let's discuss that; let's poke and prod it and ensure that we've done it the right way; then implement tactics to achieve that strategy. And part of those tactics are deciding resources.
I think we've seen what happens when thousands or tens of thousands of troops are moved into an area and then you come up with a strategy; or after that happens, then you come up with definable goals that you know when they're achieved and when it's time to go home.
So I think the administration wants to go through and ensure for the American people that we're making the very best decisions to protect our national security.
Q Afghanistan is getting a lot of the focus today, but what role does the administration see for Pakistan in this new strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think in many ways, I think Pakistan will play a big role in the discussions both today and moving forward. Obviously extremist elements that were in Afghanistan have now been pushed into the mountains and into Pakistan. We have continued to take the fight, and we think we've gotten greater cooperation from the Pakistanis in taking that fight to extremists in their country. That's something we'll continue to evaluate I think, though two separate areas, both extremely important to America's national security.
Q Another question on Chicago, the President and the First Lady obviously selling Chicago for the Olympics. But I'm wondering if the President plans at all to speak out about the ongoing violence that's been happening in Chicago -- something that really hasn't gotten a lot of attention, at least from the White House publicly.
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is something that the President has discussed with advisors as recently as this morning in a meeting in the Oval Office. And we'll have some announcements about that upcoming.
Q Can you tell us anything about what's in that discussion?
MR. GIBBS: I can tell you obviously that the reports of and the video that we have seen on television is among the most shocking that you can ever see. The killing of an honor student by others, who was beaten to death is chilling, chilling video. And I think this is something that the administration has been working on. This is not just a Chicago-specific problem, obviously. Youth crime and gang violence are something that this administration takes seriously and we'll have more on that soon.
Q Can I follow, please, Robert --
Q What does "on that soon" mean? I'm sorry -- today?
MR. GIBBS: It means I'll have -- I don't think that soon.
Q Robert, when you say this is not just indicative just of Chicago, but throughout the country -- the President has talked about fatherhood and not being present in some young men's lives, particularly gang members. Does this have anything to do, in this White House's opinion, of the fact that there is lack of fathers, broken kind of family structure, as to why these things are happening? Because that has come into play with many people making explanations of what happened to include the fact that, again, this happened to someone who had nothing to do with it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know the individual circumstances of those accused of taking part in the heinous crime. I think in many ways a lot of these crimes are amazingly hard to explain. I can't imagine why anybody would do what you see being done on that video. Obviously there are certain factors that we know have a tendency to contribute to dropping out of school, not being able to find work -- all those sorts of things. Obviously parental responsibility is a big part of that; fatherhood is a big part of that. It's not just about being able to father a child, it's about being able to raise a child. And not being present is certainly -- can tend to be part of that. I don't, again, April, presume to know the individual circumstances here, so I hate to generalize.
Q A lot of this is policy, but a lot of it is heart. How are you going to regulate the heart issue?
MR. GIBBS: You can't regulate the heart issue. And this is not a problem that government alone, as the President often says, at any level is going to be able to solve. This is going to take community involvement. It's going to take parental involvement. It's going to take the involvement of everyone to address what is obviously a sad and shocking problem.
Q Will the President pardon Polanski? Will he, or not?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know of any pending pardon request, Lester.
Q Does he believe pedophiles should not be prosecuted?
MR. GIBBS: The President believes pedophiles should be prosecuted, Lester.
Q Thank you.
Q I have a point of observation and inquiry.
MR. GIBBS: We shouldn’t have that. (Laughter.)
Q The observation is, it's very clear that the President has made up his mind to stay in Afghanistan and boost the troops, by your rationale today --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- if you'll give me a minute, I need to go free up a little time on the President's schedule apparently today. Helen, I think the President wishes to hear from a number of people, again, in the military and in our diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and assess our strategy. I don't think any decisions have been made one way or the other.
Q And my inquiry is, do we allow international inspections of our nuclear arsenal? And do we insist that there be inspections of all countries that have nuclear weapons or possible --
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to let individual countries speak for themselves. Obviously we are a signatory to, and live up to, our international obligations. And what we're asking the Iranians is to do the same. I think you've seen today, in stories both today and overnight, it is without a doubt that in dealing with the facility at Qom, the Iranians did not live up to any of their international obligations, either U.N. Security Council --
Q Have we? I'm asking you --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely, we live up to ours.
Q And so we allow international inspections?
MR. GIBBS: That whether it's a U.N. Security Council resolution dealing with Iran, or whether it's their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and with the IAEA. We look at the meeting that will take place tomorrow in Geneva as the opportunity and responsibility of the Iranians to show the world the intention of their nuclear program, to provide transparency --
Q So you state unequivocally that we allow international inspections?
MR. GIBBS: I will check on whether we have international inspections, but I know we live up to all of our international obligations. And in all of this, nobody has suggested anything other than that.
I think it's important now for the Iranians to take this opportunity, sitting across the table from the P5-plus-1 partners, and demonstrate for the world what their intentions are. And the beginning of that is full and unfettered access to this facility, but there are a lot of other steps I think they'll get an opportunity to take and we'll see what they have to offer.
Q Do we demand it of all countries involved in nuclear --
MR. GIBBS: I would let, again, individual countries speak for themselves.
Q On the Afghanistan meetings, do you anticipate these going on and on indefinitely with no time frame whatsoever? Is there any -- is it completely open-ended time-wise?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to take the time that's necessary to get the policy right.
Q Could that be into next year?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt it, no. I think I've said earlier, a number of weeks.
Q Could it be a number of months? Could it be two months? Can you give any kind of clarity on that?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q When you say several meetings, how many meetings do you anticipate?
MR. GIBBS: I know the President has already had one fairly long meeting in the Situation Room a few weeks ago. I think at least three more are already on the working schedule, and I assume there will be more after that.
Q And when you said some are diplomatic perspective, some are military perspective -- will some be outside of the White House, or will it all be Situation Room? State Department? Pentagon? Larger groups, military?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen an agenda for the next meeting. I know that this meeting is comprised entirely of people in the administration. Again, whether they're -- the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, the head of Central Command, General McChrystal, or General Jones, Leon Panetta, Denny Blair --
Q So further meetings will be basically the same people as today's?
MR. GIBBS: I honestly don't know the answer to that. I don't have an agenda for meeting three in front of me.
Q Do you think there's a possibility of an on-the-ground inspection that will be part of this --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of, no.
Q But you can't rule it out, though?
MR. GIBBS: If I could rule it in or out I wouldn't discuss it.
Q One other thing. There's a kind of conventional wisdom out there now I think that -- probably created by us, but still it's -- (laughter) -- that on one side you've got --
MR. GIBBS: I will lean toward more the conventional part of the wisdom, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q On one side you've got the Vice President and some supporters saying that we can do this through counterterrorism without more troops. And on the other side you've got the generals saying it's got to be a counterinsurgency and it's got to have some number of tens of thousands of more troops. Could you comment on that? Is that what is going on in that room?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll have a better sense of that around 6:00 tonight. But, look, I think these decisions tend to be a whole lot more complicated than that. I think obviously there are a number of factors even from the last few months that enter into this decision-making process. So I hate to get into characterizing that there's a line down the middle of the room and you're either on one side or the other. That just tends not to normally be the case.
Q One last one. Do you know when the next meeting is?
MR. GIBBS: Let's see -- I don't, but I'll try to find that out.
Q Next week?
MR. GIBBS: I assume so, yes.
Q So five meetings?
MR. GIBBS: That's currently what we're looking at.
Q And it's meeting two?
MR. GIBBS: This would be meeting two, yes.
Q Robert, considering what the President said during the campaign about open-ended commitments when it came to no exit strategy in Iraq -- is it fair to assume that whatever the new strategy is that's rolled out, it will be clear to the American people that there is an exit strategy, that there is an end date, without -- even if it's not a specific date of withdrawal?
MR. GIBBS: I think that, Chuck, what is crucial in this situation is that we get a strategy, that we get benchmarks to measure that strategy, to always and constantly reassess where we are in the progress we're making, and clearly define that for the American people. I think that is a hallmark of successful operations. I think the American people want it and will demand it, and I think, as will the President, to understand -- and for all of those involved -- to understand why we're there, what we're doing, benchmarks for measuring that progress, and moving forward.
Q Now, but is benchmarks for measuring the -- I mean, you obviously don't want to say "exit strategy," but is it fair for folks to interpret that it should be easy to understand what the exit strategy is based on the benchmarks?
MR. GIBBS: I think that it's -- will be important for people to understand what we believe needs to be accomplished so that we can measure when that is done, yes.
Q Health care -- yesterday the Senate Finance Committee voted down two different versions of the public option, and I don't believe we've heard from the White House officially on how -- is this -- is the President disappointed that the Senate -- that no public option has made it through Senate Finance Committee, since this is something that he's --
MR. GIBBS: I would say -- I would reiterate what the President said in front of the joint session of Congress -- it's a proposal he favors in getting choice and competition. We're working with all in Congress to figure out how best to provide that choice and competition. You've got one bill right now that doesn't include a public option; you have four bills that do. This is part of the legislative process in reconciling all these ideas.
Q So why doesn't he fight for it?
MR. GIBBS: We're fighting for choice and competition and --
Q But not the public option.
MR. GIBBS: -- and trying to get -- go ahead.
Q Max Baucus said his reason for voting against it is that he could count votes -- sort of implying -- I guess he was trying to imply that he's supportive of the idea, but because it didn't have the votes he didn't want to vote for it in committee. Does the President share that sort of same mind-set as Senator Baucus, that you can be -- you're not going to get everything you want, so -- he supports it, but if the votes aren't there, the votes aren't there?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the most important thing -- and you've heard the President say this -- the most important thing is choice in competition; that in the individual and small business insurance market, if you have a geographic region that's dominated by only one entity, you tend not to have -- you certainly don't have choice and it tends not to breed competition. We will work with Congress to find the best option for how to do that.
Q But you're not going to sign a bill that doesn't have something that in your mind -- take your state of Alabama example -- if Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama has still got 90 percent of the market, then you're not signing that bill?
MR. GIBBS: The President I think has made it extremely clear that without choice and competition you won't have health reform. We will ensure that whatever is passed in health reform meets that obligation.
Q May I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Among those options is the White House drafting its own legislation? Because it's been reported that you are secretly drafting something.
MR. GIBBS: I'd say if it was a secret then you wouldn't be asking me about it.
Q Wasn't a good secret. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Neither was it, in my opinion, a very good story.
Q It's not mine. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate that.
We have looked at for months, and helped work on legislative language. But nothing has changed about us drafting or introducing a bill.
Q But the President is really being criticized for not coming up with anything more specific than his own principles. And even in August he said he's be willing to have Congress come in here and look line-for-line -- you know, line-by-line at a bill. So does that mean one possibility --
MR. GIBBS: Well, keep in mind there's five of them. So we can choose between A, B, C, D, or E to go line-by line.
Q Well, what is your own?
Q What's the difference between coming up with legislative language and not having --
MR. GIBBS: Probably about 1,200 written pages.
Q So you're writing pieces of a bill?
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, again, we have been asked to look at and work with different committees on different pieces of legislation and aspects of them. Chuck, that's what happens all the time.
Q On Monday, Senator Lugar -- somebody the President has worked with and has complimented as a bipartisan voice -- was speaking to the Atlantic Council, and he was critical of the speed that the President has been moving on in Afghanistan. And he said, "It's a very, very unfortunate set of circumstances because much of the President's current enthusiasm is with regard to the health care debate we're having day in, day out, hour after hour, in the Senate, which shows no sign of going away."
First, do you think that the President is somehow being diverted from the national security issues by domestic issues?
MR. GIBBS: I'll remind you that just yesterday I was asked why we were being diverted so much by foreign issues and why we weren't talking about health care.
Q That was my next question. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I get asked about being overexposed and the next question, a week ago, is, how come he's not doing more to speak about this?
Q Could you just answer --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'd be happy to respond to Senator Lugar. But let me first say I would appreciate -- maybe you guys should huddle, maybe come up with one premise that we'll at least test for one day, rather than contradicting in a certain day multiple premises.
Look, in terms of Senator Lugar, obviously the President continues to have deep affection and respect for Senator Lugar. We disagree with what he said relating to missile defense. And I would point out what the NATO Secretary General said yesterday in the Oval Office, that the plan that the President and the Joint Chiefs outlined for missile defense actually involves a greater portion of NATO and protects a greater portion of our allies.
Again -- I'll go back to this on Monday -- not to mention if you watch what the Iranians are intent on testing and understand what our missile defense system is geared toward and what the previous one was geared toward, we are matching the threat that most threatens our allies, our forces, and our country right now with the flexibility to address it if there are technological advances by the Iranians.
So, again, I think General Cartwright, who, again, developed this for both this administration and the previous administration, is somebody who can, and has, spoken with authority on why the decision was the right one.
Q Well, more broadly, I mean, you must see that there's been a remarkable confluence of events kind of coming upon this White House just in the last week. I mean, we have Iran, we have --
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I've been here for eight months and I've noticed that each and every week I've woken up and come to work here.
Q So you think that this week that the Iran talks, the Afghanistan talks, the Mitchell talks, the health care debate, the Mitchell -- and the new Boxer bill -- this is not an extraordinary week?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think this has been an extraordinary eight months. What did we wake up to on the 21st of January? An economy that was sliding off the cliff; a banking system that your paper had written about that could fail; any number of international challenges. We were dealing with the Middle East peace process that first day. We were dealing with North Korea. We had Somali pirates that had taken U.S. service -- had taken Americans hostage.
Let me tell you, I told the President last week I hoped to wake up one day for a boring day in his administration -- it just hasn't happened yet. That's nothing new this week. You can throw a dartboard at an eight-and-a-half month calendar and my sense is, life is busy.
Q You're not really waiting for a boring day, are you?
MR. GIBBS: I am. (Laughter.) Indeed. I don't see one -- the truth is I don't see one in the future; I haven't seen one in the past.
Q They don't exist. There's always something.
MR. GIBBS: It's good to know.
Q Define a "boring" day.
MR. GIBBS: Let me think about that.
Q Robert, when the President says, as he did yesterday, that his objective is to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the al Qaeda network, is that a "whatever it takes" kind of objective, "however long it takes" objective?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, going back to what I said to Chuck, I think the President -- many and most in the administration believe we have to have discernable benchmarks to measure that progress. And as I've said here before, this is not -- we all know this is not something that we can stay there forever. We don't have the manpower, we don't have the budget to do that. That's one of the reasons why you have seen and talked about proposals that strengthen Afghan security and police forces. We will not be able to do this alone. That's why NATO is involved with a hefty number of troops that complement the number we have and have about 100,000 in the country.
Q Does the President believe it is an achievable objective?
MR. GIBBS: The President does, but believes we have to get it right.
Q Can you talk about what State Department talks with Cuba this month mean for the U.S.-Cuba relationship?
MR. GIBBS: Well, just that we have long stated that we would have talks that were in mutual interests to each side, and that's what these are. I think talks specifically about postal delivery is something that brings communication and information to an island that for a long time hasn't gotten -- hasn't been able, through freedom of the press and freedom of speech, to get that type of communication and information.
Q And what's on the agenda Friday? Are the President and First Lady presenting together? And who's going to be going over there that's not already there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who else is on Air Force One from the administration. I believe there are separate parts of the presentation, but I know the President will participate in the American bid on that day.
Q Is that in the morning, the two of them together, or --
MR. GIBBS: I truthfully have not looked at the schedule that far.
Q Is it like a campaign speech?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen a draft of the speech. I don't know if "fired up, ready to go" is how we end it or not. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, at the top of the briefing you talked about the White House going through General McChrystal's assessment, that it's gone up and gone over at the Pentagon and here. I just want to clarify, Defense Secretary Gates on Sunday said the troop portion of that request had not been sent to the White House. Is that still true, or does the President now have General McChrystal's request for additional forces as well?
MR. GIBBS: The assessment that I'm discussing and the assessments that will be discussed today, because the President has been very clear, as has Secretary Gates, that we're going to discuss a strategy before we get into tactics to implement the strategy. The assessment was what Secretary Gates delivered prior to the President going to Massachusetts.
Q Martha's Vineyard, right? I just wanted to clarify that. Okay.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q You mentioned Secretary General Rasmussen. I had an interview with him yesterday. He said a couple things I want to ask you about. One is, he believes the best way to define success in Iraq is transitioning to a position where the Afghans are in charge of --
MR. GIBBS: Iraq?
Q Afghanistan -- where Afghans are in charge of and implementing security with their army and the police. That implies that the Taliban could still be there, but the Afghans are in the lead and handling that themselves. I want to know if that's something the administration believes would be part of a way to define success in Afghanistan, or does the Taliban have to be defeated before the Afghans can take that kind of lead?
MR. GIBBS: Let me not get into a series of hypotheticals, except to say -- to reiterate that I think there is not a sustainable solution that doesn't include Afghans providing security for the Afghan people through an army and a police force.
Q He also said that after the election is resolved one way or the other, he would be in favor of an international conference that takes up not only the issue of future donations, but creates what he called a new contract with whatever Afghan government is in place that binds them to direct measures to reduce corruption and improve governance and increase the overall transparency and visibility of what happens to money in Afghanistan. He told me he didn't really think there would be a way to have a worthwhile donors conference absent that. Would the administration support that? Would it be something the administration would agree with?
MR. GIBBS: I've not seen the specific proposal that he discussed with you. But I think the administration shares strongly the notion that for whatever tactics you choose, whatever resources you put in, there is no doubt without the accompaniment of a willing partner that is able to provide some of that security, that is able to conduct a basic level of governance, without that -- without corruption and with transparency, is something that is going to have to be had. That's what I mean when I say we can't be there forever. We won't be there forever. And at some point, it is going to be incumbent upon the Afghans to be able to administer, again, that base level of government without corruption, with transparency, and do so in a way that provides the security that their people need.
Q Quickly on the P5-plus-1 tomorrow, P.J. Crowley at the State Department yesterday went into great length in talking about the need to create a process by which to work through these disputes. And what I want to ask you is, is process the goal of tomorrow's meeting, or is it more in line with a deadline and a final evaluation or a near-final evaluation of Iran's willingness to provide access and make changes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think in many ways this is somewhat dependent on what we hear tomorrow from the Iranians, whether or not they're willing to start to live up to those obligations and discuss how they meet those obligations. I don't doubt that there could be additional meetings, but I think you've heard the President and other leaders around the world say this is not talk for talk sake; there's a specific agenda and specific problems that need to be dealt with, and if they’re not dealt with responsibly by the Iranians that stronger measures will be developed and implemented to ensure that they do.
Q So an appeal for a process by which to negotiate this from the Iranians would fall on largely deaf ears?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think there's a -- I don't want to get into what the definition of "process" would be. I think tomorrow starts an important time for the Iranians, as I said earlier in the week, to live up to those responsibilities and to show that their interest in discussing this is genuine. The reason that we've gotten, in some ways, to this point was the President's willingness in many ways to give the responsibility to the Iranians to convince the world and be transparent. The world will know the beginnings of which tomorrow whether the Iranians are willing to step up to that or whether they're going to continue to do the types of things and hide parts of their program like they have done, and then I think that will show the world what the intention is. Again, the responsibility and the onus tomorrow in virtually every way is on the Iranians.
Q Hey, Robert, can you talk a little bit about the advice the President is receiving as he prepares to go to Copenhagen? I mean, how does one go about lobbying a hundred-plus member group that includes everybody from bankers to some handball champion from 1962?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think in many ways the President will approach this in selling the American bid as he's tried to sell America around the world, and that is obviously Chicago has an extremely strong bid. The U.S. Olympic Committee determined that in making it its American representative for these games. I think the President will continue to mention this in meetings and has and will continue to make phone calls leading up to the departure for Copenhagen tomorrow.
So it's some time on the phone, some time in meetings, and obviously we probably have already deployed our best weapon in Michelle Obama to talk also directly with IOC members.
Q Has he talked to Tony Blair?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he has. I know Valerie met with Tony Blair in New York last week.
Q Do you have any reaction to the firing of Peter Galbraith, the highest-ranking American in the U.N. mission in Afghanistan? Apparently he was pushing the Afghans on the corruption in the elections and --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some information. I have not seen that but I can -- I will try to find something right after this.
Q And then do you have any reaction to the EU report today which found that Georgia effectively started last year's war by firing on --
MR. GIBBS: Let me get guidance on that. I don't have anything on that report.
Q Thank you, Robert. I appreciate you answered my questions.
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Robert, just going back, you told Chuck on health care that you were working with all in Congress. Republican leaders in the House say that they haven't heard directly from the White House since mid-May. Is that right, or is there some effort being made still to work with Republican leaders in the House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, in some ways I would ask that of Republican leaders in the House. I mean, I think I saw one of the more popular Republican governors, Bobby Jindal, say today that it was time for Republicans to offer what they're for, not just talk about what they're against.
So, look, the President is happy to and will meet with Republicans. We talk to Republicans every day about health care. And we hope that members of the House Republican leadership will listen to the person that they put forward to talk about -- to represent their agenda just a few months ago in taking up the mantle of actually being for something, not just being against something.
Q It's right, though, that there's been no dialogue or conversation, even telephone calls, between --
MR. GIBBS: With the President? I don't know who staff has met with. But again, this is -- let me tell you, there are a series of two-way streets between here and Capitol Hill. There are plenty of ways to be constructive. We'd be happy to evaluate their comprehensive proposal to provide health care reform to the American people. If you want to get it from them, I'll be happy to take it over to Leg Affairs.
Q Robert, how important is it for the Senate to pass some climate bill before the Copenhagen talks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think obviously the United States is on record with the vote in the House on a strong plan to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. We're going to continue to make progress to get the Senate to do the same.
But I've discussed this before -- the climate change summit that will be had in Copenhagen is not just an American -- is not just a problem for America to be involved in and America to solve, right? We're going to need the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, and many others to show a willingness to also take the same steps that the House of Representatives is on record as taking to address this situation. This is not just -- there's not just one entity that stands between us and an agreement that would take real, discernible, measureable international steps to deal with global climate change.
Q But wouldn't it be significantly easier to bring those countries along if in fact the Senate had actually acted --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously we hope the Senate takes action on energy legislation, but I think you can understand that through the vote in the House, they're firmly on record as taking very strong steps. I think it's time also to see steps, equally strong steps, and a willingness by other countries to do the same.
Q But the House's being on record doesn't make it a law.
MR. GIBBS: No, it doesn't.
Q Or even the U.S. being on the record. It's just the House --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the U.S. is on record. The U.S. House of Representatives is on record as passing a very strong climate change bill.
Q That's just one part.
MR. GIBBS: And one of two. You can't --
Q That should suffice for the folks in Copenhagen?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no -- I never said that it would suffice. We don't have a law. We're taking steps to get a law. But what I'm saying is that this isn't just our deal, right? We're not -- again, we're not an American solution away from having total agreement in Copenhagen, right? We need the Chinese to come to this with some serious proposals. We need the Indians to come.
Q The Chinese came out with a proposal last week.
MR. GIBBS: Is it a law? Are they in?
Q It's a proposal to reduce their carbon intensity.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the analogous --
Q Well, you just said the House speaks for the United States.
MR. GIBBS: Then I guess the question is, yes -- the answer to the question is, yes. Right? Again, you guys get together, figure out if that's --
Q You said when the House votes, they've spoken for the United States.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, I said I think that puts the record -- the United States on strong record that they're going to take steps to curb our carbon emissions.
Q It's a new definition for putting the United States on record --
MR. GIBBS: Really?
Q -- when the House takes a vote.
Q The House votes on a lot of stuff.
MR. GIBBS: They do. They do.
Q So everything they vote on from now on is a U.S. position --
MR. GIBBS: Let me ask you a question, Chip. How do you get a law in the United States without the House voting on it?
Q That's one step.
MR. GIBBS: And that's what I said. It was one step.
Q No, you said the United States is on record because on the House vote.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes, they are. The United States is on record because of the House vote?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, they are. The United States is on record, yes.
Q About its intentions?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. To pass a law. Again, guys, I appreciate this. Like you can't get there -- if you guys can tell me a way you can get a law signed by the President that has to go through both houses that isn't voted on by the House, I'll be happy to add to how a bill becomes a law.
Q On health care, the administration has often talked about the 80 percent notion of accord. And President Obama said, during the joint session, "There's agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been." In light of yesterday's public option vote, do you want to downwardly revise that, or do you still think it's 80 percent? And could you clarify, do you --
MR. GIBBS: Keeping in mind that it's only one committee and one body --
Q -- in the chamber, right. But also --
MR. GIBBS: I'm still going to go with 80.
Q But also, just to revisit that, is the 80 percent meant as a rhetorical statement, or is it really the notion that there's sort of four-fifths agreement? What does the 80 percent represent? What does it mean?
MR. GIBBS: I think it represents a confluence by many involved in the health care reform debate on agreement as to how we get affordable, accessible insurance for 30 million Americans that don't have it; how we get important insurance reforms; and how we cut costs for millions of Americans that are fortunate to have health insurance.
Q Does it mean that when you look at the various bits of legislation, roughly 80 percent of it is comparable or the same? Or does it mean in terms --
MR. GIBBS: I certainly think there's a lot of overlap in any of the legislation. And I think we're about, as the President said, about 80 percent in terms of getting an agreement toward a full bill.
Q But not an 80 percent vote in the sense that if there was a full House vote or a full Senate vote, you wouldn't get an 80 percent majority in either chamber?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the President was making a vote prediction. I don't -- the 80 number wasn't to be used in any scenario. It was to be talked about in -- the President has never said 80 percent of the Senate or the House is going to --
Q So 80 percent represent -- it is sort of rhetorical in the sense that it's --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it represents the amount of agreement that the President, and the team see, and members on Capitol Hill see that all agree on that has to be involved in, and the details of providing health care reform.
Q Thanks, Robert. Does the President have any specific plans to meet with senators or House members who have already said that they don't want to see more troops go to Afghanistan, someone like Senator Russ Feingold or others? There are already people out there on record making a case against that.
MR. GIBBS: We will -- as part of any evaluation of and assessment of our strategy, we'll include consultation with Congress. The President -- without having a list in front of me of people that have or have not said where they are on additional troops -- I can assure that before any decision is made, that those senators will have an opportunity, or members of the House will have an opportunity to weigh in for or against additional forces.
Q Will there be a readout of the meeting today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
1:57 P.M. EDT
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