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Transcript: Robert Gibbs on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published March 15, 2010 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a rush transcript of the March 14, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: President Obama delayed his trip to Asia this coming week to help House leaders push through health care reform. How close is the White House to passing its top domestic initiative? We're joined by the president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
And, Robert, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me, Chris.
WALLACE: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been meeting with congressional Democratic leaders all this week on Capitol Hill. Does the president believe that they now have the votes to pass health care reform?
GIBBS: Chris, we'll have the votes when the House votes, I think within the next week. And I think whoever sits here this time next week, you all will be talking about health care reform not as a presidential proposal but as something that will soon be the law of the land.
WALLACE: But that it will have passed the House by a week from today?
GIBBS: I believe that will be true, yes.
WALLACE: why are you so confident?
GIBBS: Because I think the American people understand and I think there's growing momentum in Congress that we can't do nothing, that what happens if we walk away from reform right now is what has happened to millions of Americans who are getting letters from their health insurance companies that their health insurance premiums are skyrocketing.
The president's going to travel to Ohio tomorrow, near the home town of a woman named Natoma Canfield. She wrote the president back in December. The president gets letters and reads them. Her health insurance skyrocketed.
She had to make a decision, she said, even after increasing her deductibles and increasing her co-pays to try to keep her rates down — the insurance company increased her rates anyway. She had to decide, she said in that letter to the president, "Do I keep the house that's been in my family since the '50s or do I pick health insurance?"
Chris, she decided to keep her house. Miss Canfield's now in the hospital. She's going to get a huge, huge insurance bill because her health insurance jacked up her rates and she couldn't afford it.
The president believes, and I think members of Congress believe, that in a country as strong as the United States of America you shouldn't have to decide between keeping your house or keeping your health care.
WALLACE: Does the president agree with the Senate parliamentarian that he is going to have to sign the overhaul, the major overhaul, into law before the Senate can take up the reconciliation fix-it bill?
And if that is the case, what is the assurance that he and the Senate are going to be able to give the House that the fix-it bill will ever pass the Senate and become law?
GIBBS: Well, look, Chris. I'll let the Senate parliamentarian determine what has to be done and when on health care. I will say this. The president is talking to both members of the House and members of the Senate who passed health care reform with a supermajority late last year about making sure that the technical corrections and the fixes that the president wants to see as part of health care reform — a lot of the deals that were put into that bill are taken out. That's what we want to see.
And we think — we do think, again, that the House will pass this and the Senate and the House will take up those corrections. And that will all become law.
WALLACE: But is there a promise he can give the House that the fixes will go through the Senate?
GIBBS: Well, I think he can give assurances to the House that he's working just as hard to make sure that the Senate passes those corrections as he is in trying to get the House to pass the underlying bill.
WALLACE: We have been talking for months here about health care reform and the effect it has on real people. You just talked about this woman in Ohio. I want to ask you a different question.
President Obama put the prestige of his office on passing health care reform. Now this week you have raised the stakes by delaying this foreign trip by three days. If the House doesn't pass health care reform, doesn't that do tremendous damage to his presidency? GIBBS: Look, there are — there will be debates — I'm sure there will be later on this show — on the political effects of whether or not we should make sure that people in this country can afford health care, make sure that children aren't discriminated against by — on the basis of a preexisting condition.
But the president doesn't pay a lot of attention to pollsters. He's not looking at the political effects of this. He's doing, as he's done throughout his presidency, what he believes is right for this country, so that small businesses can afford to provide their employees health care, as I said, so families don't fall victim to an insurance company that tries to discriminate against them, or that somebody bumps up against what an insurance company calls a lifetime cap, when somebody says, "We know you paid your premiums, but we're saying that you can no longer be covered even though you're gravely ill."
Those are the types of things that when the president signs health care reform...
WALLACE: So he doesn't care that it would be a tremendous defeat for him and could weaken his presidency?
GIBBS: Well, one, we believe that health care reform is going to pass. And once it passes, we're happy to have the 2010 elections be about the achievement of health care reform. That's a debate I think we're obviously comfortable having.
But you know, Chris, being president isn't about doing what is just politically popular. If doing what was just politically popular — we have two auto companies that were bankrupt. We'd have an economy likely that fell off even deeper into a greater recession or maybe even the next depression.
The president has looked at the issues that are before him and done what's right. There were many in his party that didn't want him to send additional troops to Afghanistan. But he didn't pay attention to the polls. He did what he thought was right.
WALLACE: I want to switch subjects on you. Secretary of State Clinton reportedly had a very tough phone call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in which she said the announcement of a new Israeli plan to build 1,600 housing uniting in east Jerusalem at the same time that Vice President Biden was there on a diplomatic mission — that that was an insult and hurt relations between the two countries.
How seriously does the president take this? And what does he want Israel to do?
GIBBS: Well, that call happened in conjunction with a conversation that the president had with the secretary of state. Vice President Biden obviously, as you said, was in Israel at the time. He condemned, rightly so, the announcement of additional housing units planned for east Jerusalem, as is the policy of the United States and has been the policy of the United States for quite some time. The vice president reaffirmed our security relationship with Israel and the people of Israel. But there's no doubt that events like last week weaken the trust that's needed for both sides to come together and have honest discussions about peace in the Middle East.
So there's no doubt that that was not a bright spot for the Israeli government.
WALLACE: Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed regret today. Is that enough, or does — do you want Israel to do something? In effect, do you want them to stop building those 1,600 units?
GIBBS: Well, look. Secretary of State Clinton had a — as you said, a very clear conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, where she outlined some steps that we believe he's — he should take. I'm not going to get into them here. That was part of a private conversation.
I think the Israelis have a sense of what they need to do now. And I think — look, working together, we need to continue to build trust to get these two parties back to the table and not do anything on either side that would weaken the trust that's necessary to make important progress on peace in the Middle East.
WALLACE: Would it be fair to say that Netanyahu's expression of regret today by itself is not enough?
GIBBS: Well, I would say this. It's a — it's a good start. I think what would be an even better start is coming to the table with constructive ideas for constructive and trustful dialogue about moving the peace process forward.
WALLACE: Chief Justice John Roberts said this week that the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, and he questioned whether the Supreme Court justices should even show up. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering, while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless I think is very troubling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But you have kept the heat on Roberts and the court this week for its decision allowing corporations to spend money on campaigns.
And the Washington Post wrote this about the flap, "White House officials said the debate underscores the differences between the president and the conservative court and puts into relief what will be at stake when there is another opening on the bench." Is that what's going on here? GIBBS: Well, look. I think this is far more important than what there — when there might be a new opening on the bench.
What's important is that in the coming elections the Supreme Court has basically ruled that anonymous political contributions can be given, and those contributions can be used to weigh in specifically for the election or defeat of a member of Congress or a senator.
I don't think, Chris, that the American people that are out there watching think we have too much — too little special interest money in our political system right now. You know, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right. We believe that the president shares that First Amendment right to express what he believed was quite a bad decision by the Supreme Court.
Again, because I don't think what we want to have happen in the fall is for a corporation to go in to a member of Congress and say, "Hey, either you're with us on this vote or we're going to dump a million dollars here to defeat you in this election." I don't think that's the kind of thing that people believe will improve the political discourse.
WALLACE: I don't think anybody is questioning the president's right to disagree with the decision. We looked through the records. We couldn't find another case of a president directly confronting the justices about a recent ruling while they're sitting there right in front of him and all the members of his party stand up and cheer.
Does Mr. Obama think it would be appropriate for a president who felt strongly about the issue to confront the justices about a woman's right to choose and then have members of his party stand up? What Justice Roberts said is it was the setting that was troubling.
GIBBS: Well, look. I think the president believes what was troubling was the opinion. Many people showed one of the justices actually having some expression about what the president said. So I'm not sure that everybody sat perfectly quietly as they're saying here.
Look, there have been...
WALLACE: You're saying he'd do it again.
GIBBS: The president was elected to make, as I said, hard decisions and not just tell people all the things they want to hear but some of the things they need to hear.
And I think the president wanted to express on behalf of the American people his strong disagreement on a Supreme Court case, as I said, that could potentially open the flood gates to a lot of special interests.
WALLACE: All right. Finally — we have about 30 seconds left — you wore a Canadian hockey jersey — and let's put this up on the screen — to Friday's briefing because you lost a bet with the prime minister's spokesman about the Olympic hockey games, both men and women. Are you done betting, or are you done betting just on hockey games?
GIBBS: Well, I do hope you'll show some footage — underneath the Canadian hockey jersey is the U.S. hockey jersey. We're obviously enormously proud of our American team. It was — it was an exciting game to watch. I know the president stepped out of a meeting to watch overtime.
There is no doubt that maybe my track record in wagering the Canadians definitely needs a little work.
WALLACE: Well, I was just going to say, because if so, you know, we could do the NCAA brackets, Robert, and you could wear a Fox hat if you lose.
GIBBS: Well, maybe I — maybe I should consult some higher authorities before I make any more wagers. But like I said, we're all enormously proud of our American hockey team, men's and women's, and, quite frankly, all of the athletes that competed on behalf of our great country in the recent winner Olympics.
WALLACE: Well, hear, hear for that. Robert, thank you. Thanks for coming in. Please come back, sir.
GIBBS: Thanks for having me.
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