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Tuesday's White House Briefing

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefs the press Tuesday. Photo by Major Garrett.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held his daily briefing Tuesday, in which he admitted there appears to be a disconnect between the White House and House democrats over the President's goal of having heath care legislation passed by the end of next week.

 
Read Gibbs' comments on health care, retired Congressman Massa and the administration's reaction to new settlements in Israel below: 

     MR. GIBBS:  Apologies for the delays, guys.  Mr. Feller, take us away.

 

     Q    Do you still believe that the House will vote on the Senate health care bill by March 18th?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I do.

 

     Q    What are you basing that on?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  The information I gave out last week was based on conversations with staff that I’ve had here in the building, and I’ve been given nothing that would change that advice that I was given last week.

 

     Q    Majority Leader Hoyer apparently has a different opinion about that.  Has the White House been in touch with him about the deadline or the timeline?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I’m sure we’ve been in contact with members of Congress and the leadership.  I don’t know if they’ve had a specific conversation with him yet or not.

 

     Q    Is there a particular significance to the House taking action on that day before the President goes overseas?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Again, just that the President will -- is scheduled to leave town on what we believe is an important trip to both Indonesia and to Australia.

 

     Q    On the matter of what’s happened with the visit here from the Greek Prime Minister, does the White House support a bailout of Greece in any form or fashion to help that country get out of its debt crisis?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, Ben, what I think the Greeks have said, what I think the Europeans have said, and what we’ve said from this podium, is that this is an issue for the European Union.  We believe they have and possess the capabilities to solve that.  And the President has, on a number of occasions prior to the meeting today, been briefed on the situation, but again, believe that this is something that the Europeans can and should resolve on their own.

 

     Q    So the administration then, in the White House view, doesn’t have a role at all?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously I think the global economic recovery will be discussed in the meeting today.  I think the -- I think they’ll go out to the stakeout after the meeting, and you’ll see the President this evening at the event in the East Room.  So there’s no doubt that in addition to our cooperation on Afghanistan through NATO, that global economic recovery will no doubt come up.

 

     Yes, ma’am.

 

     Q    Just following on that, is there any situation in which the U.S. would provide them any help directly?  I know you said that it’s something for the European Union to deal with, but is there any --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  But, again, that’s not simply my statement, Caren, that’s what all of the actors in Europe have said as well. I think the Europeans possess whatever ability they need to solve -- or to help in solving this problem.

 

     Q    So are you ruling out any U.S. aid?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I do not believe they’re here to talk to us about that.

 

     Q    Okay.  And then on health care, the President made an impassioned plea to Democrats who are wavering to take a courageous vote and vote for the health care bill even if they think it may not be politically popular for them to do it.  What kind of outreach is he doing behind the scenes with Democrats who may be on the fence?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously he’s had meetings -- as we talked about last week, he’s had meetings in this building with different members.  I do not believe he’s made any calls thus far this week.  I was not on the trip yesterday, but I’m sure he had an opportunity to talk to folks on the airplane.  And we’ll continue to push, through public events -- obviously, we’ve got one tomorrow in Missouri -- to discuss health care reform.  We may add more stops before the President leaves for Indonesia and Australia, and continue to make a forceful case for reform. 

 

I think what the American people saw the President talk about yesterday was that we needed a system that worked for the American people, not just worked for insurance companies.  And he thinks the time to act is now.

 

     Q    But how aggressive is he going to be behind the scenes?  Is he going to be working the phones this week?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I think he will meet with members later on in the week.  I think if calls need to be made to convince people of the benefits of supporting comprehensive health care reform, he’ll do that as well.

 

     Q    Okay.  And one question about tomorrow.  What is he going to say different from what he said yesterday on health care?  Is his message going to be largely similar to that?  Is it going to be attacking the insurance companies?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Some of it will be -- look, some of it will be similar.  We’ve been discussing the role of insurance companies for many, many months.  I also believe the President will have additional things to say on aspects of waste, fraud and abuse as it relates to health care.

 

     Ed.

 

     Q    Robert, as long as we’re asking about lobbying members of the Congress, I have to ask you whether you’ve had a chance to talk to Rahm Emmanuel about whether or not he lobbied Congressman Massa in the nude in the House gym and whether that’s a standard practice or not?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I have -- you’re happy to email him.  I have not asked him.

 

     Q    But can you speak to the larger issue that Congressman Massa -- I understand that he resigned.  Obviously a lot of Democrats don’t want to talk to him.  He has shifted his story about what exactly is the reason why he’s left.  But he’s leveling these charges, broadly speaking, that Democrats, the White House, Democratic leaders wanted to push him out because he’s a “no” on health care.  Can you deal with that?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I addressed this largely this morning, Ed.  Keeping in mind that on Wednesday he announced he would not seek reelection because of a health problem that he said was a recurrence of cancer; on Thursday he said he wasn’t running because -- not because of cancer but because of his use of salty language; on Friday he seemed to take some responsibility for his actions at a different event, and we learned that the ethics committee was looking into his actions relating to sexual harassment -- so I don’t know why I would give any weight to what he said on the fourth day any more than I would on the previous three days, Ed.  The notion that somehow the White House had anything to do with the series of events that have caused him to not seek reelection and ultimately leave the House -- the notion that somehow we were involved in that I think is, as I said this morning, is silly and ridiculous.

 

     Q    Let me just ask you about a different story that is also a bit confusing.  A couple of days ago Pakistani sources -- and now they continue to say even today -- that they believe Adam Gadahn, the American al Qaeda official, has been captured.  Various U.S. officials have insisted, no, he has not been captured.  Can you categorically say there he has not been captured?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I will say what -- I will say we have no confirmation that he is in custody.

 

     Q    Okay.  Just broadly speaking about U.S.-Pakistani relations, we’ve heard for months that things are very bright and that U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials are working together cooperatively.  This episode seems to suggest that the U.S. and Pakistani officials may not be on the same page.  How do you square that?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t -- Ed, I don’t know the events that transpired late Saturday and Sunday.  We’ve maintained -- we’ve always maintained that we did not have independent confirmation that he was in custody.  I would refer you to the Pakistanis if you have further questions about that.

 

     Q    Okay, last thing.  The last couple of days we’ve had two world leaders here -- a leader from El Salvador and now from Greece today.  It’s been traditional here at the White House that when world leaders are here, the President of the United States will take questions from both the U.S. and international media.  We’ve had two leaders here in 24 hours, and no questions taken.  In fact, today’s meeting is closed to the media altogether.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has a public event this evening I think at 5:30 p.m. in the East Room.  We did not want to take time from the meeting today to do statements when the President will do statements in public --

 

     Q    -- questions from the media, not statements.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Yes, we made the determination, based on time, to handle these events as we did.

 

     Q    Robert, why is the President hitting the road?  I mean, what’s his objective in getting out of Washington?  If he believes that everything on health care that needs to be said has been said, what is he trying to add to the conversation?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President has -- I think over the past several weeks we’ve seen in announcements that insurance companies have made, as rates have skyrocketed, as letters have gone out saying “your insurance is going to go up 39 percent,” or 60 percent, or, just in Virginia -- I think there was an article today -- an additional 20 percent increase.  The President wants to make the case again for what happens if we walk away, what happens if we start over.

 

     If we walk away and start over, individuals continue to get letters watching their health insurance go up, again, 39, 60, 20 percent.  The President believes it’s important to demonstrate again for the American people why health care reform is so important.

 

     Q    But hasn’t he made that case over the last year?  I mean, isn’t his time better spent here in Washington perhaps trying to work on the Hill and getting those votes together?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No, we’ve got phones that work quite well on Air Force One.

 

     Q    Coming back to Steny Hoyer, is it a problem for the White House to have the Majority Leader saying that the deadline that you set is not in their timeline?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Not that I can think of, no.

 

     Q    I mean, you have a limited amount of time to get a bill passed and it feels a little bit like déjà vu again or that there’s a lack of communication between the Hill and the White House.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Again, I can only impart to you guys the information that was given to me based on conversations that they had with Capitol Hill.  So I don’t -- I got no better guidance on what Mr. Hoyer is saying today.

 

     Q    And then in the State of the Union the President said his number-one focus was going to be on jobs, and now we’re seeing a move towards health care.  And this week he also scheduled a meeting on immigration and he has a meeting scheduled today on energy.  Is there any concern about muddying the message that he started the year off -- the year with, in terms of --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I think the Senate has an important vote today on moving forward on the second piece of legislation that they will consider this year that relates to creating an environment for renewed economic growth.  The President will speak later in the week on our export strategy and what that does to helping to create good-paying jobs for the future.  But, look, the President also had a meeting this morning on Haiti.  The President will have -- has other national security meetings after he sees -- he’s in his current meeting with Greece.  So, look, the President is going to have meetings on a number of different topics throughout the day on any given day. 

 

But again, we talk about economics and jobs being most important.  If you’re a small business owner and you’re having to decide whether or not you can continue to provide benefits for somebody, that’s an economic issue; that’s a jobs issue.  If you’re getting that letter in the mail that says your health insurance is going to go up 39 or 40 percent, that relates very directly to your own economics.

 

Chip.

 

Q    I think you said the President has not made any calls this week on health care to members of Congress.

 

MR. GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of.  I can go back and check my call --

 

Q    Why would that be?  Because we’re getting emails constantly from both sides up there about Democrats who are wavering, and on his signature issue you would think he would be calling them up constantly.  Is this an indication that he thinks he can’t change their minds, so why bother?

 

MR. GIBBS:  No, I don’t think we would have flown to Philadelphia if we didn’t think we would make a difference.  I think the President laid out a very forceful case for the need for health care reform and --

 

Q    What specific members were you working on in Philadelphia?

 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t -- I mean, I don’t --

 

Q    But why not call specific members?

 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chip, I think more than just members in one geographic region watch the news.  I think their constituents watch the news. 

 

Q    But it seems to suggest that he feels powerless to change their minds with direct phone calls --

 

MR. GIBBS:  No, I would --

 

Q    -- he’s got to go in directly. 

 

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think that’s the case.

 

Yes, Chuck.

 

Q    A couple things --

 

Q    I guess you didn’t like that one.

 

Q    Is Indonesia -- the leaving on Indonesia, is it flexible at all?  Do you think you’re close on a House bill, on a Senate bill?  Are you guys -- is it possible you guys would stay here --

 

MR. GIBBS:  Again, our information suggests that that vote can happen before we leave. 

 

Q    Meaning, though, that that -- is there any flexibility there, or are you going to leave as is even if the --

 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- we’re planning on, and have made plans to leave as scheduled.

 

Q    A couple things on today.  The lunch today -- any significance in the fact that all four CEOs are from the Chicago-area companies?  Are these old friends or --

 

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I think just we’ve gotten -- different groups of people have come in at different times --

 

Q    Well, what do you learn from -- I mean, these are all  -- it was sort of -- they were all Chicago CEOs.  Is this something that Penny Pritzker put this together?  Is it --

 

MR. GIBBS:  Penny was here I think on something separate and was added today to the lunch.  But I think it’s nothing more than a good cross-section to get -- for the President to get feedback and an understanding from them on what they’re seeing in our economy.  I have not -- he’s been in the meeting, and I have not gotten a readout on that yet.

 

     Q    Why is -- is Robin Carnahan, the Democratic -- likely Democratic nominee in Missouri, going to be at tomorrow’s fundraising events, or are all these events just for Claire McCaskill, not --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  It’s my understanding, in checking yesterday, that these are joint fundraising events in conjunction with the DSCC, which would go to help --

 

     Q    Will she be there?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have that answer, that I can check.

 

     Q    And finally -- just came up -- the Nobel money.  Any update on --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I have not gotten the recent update on that. 

 

     Q    Where is it?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I assume it’s --

 

     Q    Greece.  (Laughter.)

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Good answer.  I assume it’s with the committee.

 

     Q    The President doesn’t have it yet?

 

Q    He does not have the money yet?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

 

     Q    Has he asked for it?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No.  Then I guess we’d have it.  (Laughter.) 

 

     Q    What do you mean -- doesn’t he want it to give to a charity?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  That’s what we’re working on.  That’s quite perceptive.

 

     Q    Is it earning interest?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Guys, this is a better question for the Nobel Committee’s interest-bearing account.

 

     Q    They still have the money?

    

     MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

 

     Q    Nobody in -- (laughter) -- the President’s circle doesn’t have the money?  (Laughter.)

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Bill, give the money back.  (Laughter.)  You know, I thought it was weird that Bill wanted to buy my lunch, and, you know, I thought the fish was not as good as I had hoped it would be, but I would -- no --

 

     Q    -- give you the check right away.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  They don’t, they don’t.

 

     Q    But who gets the interest in the end?  Have you inquired?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have the slightest idea because I haven’t thought --

 

     Q    But somebody is making some money on this.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I have -- well, it’s somebody’s -- it’s based on somebody’s will, so I assume it’s the committee with which the prize is named.  But I --

 

     Q    But not from Nobel’s will.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Can you guys all get together and maybe you can -- and I don’t know what interest rate they give. 

 

Sorry, go ahead.

 

     Q    The chief reason that the Prime Minister of Greece is here -- he’s trying to round up an international posse to go after short sellers and CDS traders.   He’s got Sarkozy; he’s got Merkel.  Is President Obama going to become a member of the anti-short-selling posse?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  We discussed at the G20 in Pittsburgh increased regulation of derivatives trading.  And certainly I think you all well know the President’s great interest in enacting financial reform this year.  I have not seen the proposal that he’s put forward and I haven’t gotten a full readout.  Obviously, the meeting is ongoing.  To the degree to which this was discussed, again, I know the list of topics was likely to include the economy, but also to be much broader than that.

 

     Q    The Greek Prime Minister spoke at the Brookings Institution yesterday and he seems to think that the reason that Greece can’t go out on international markets and borrow at a lower interest rate is because short sellers are manipulating the market.  Does the White House agree with that?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have guidance from -- I’d have to check with the economic team.  I know that Greece has had to make some decisions about its spending.  I don’t believe that was going to be something that was addressed directly in this meeting, but I can wait and see what the readout says.

 

     Q    Robert, it’s really unusual for a President to comment about the internal communications of a corporation or a business. I’m wondering what led to his comments yesterday about this Goldman Sachs conference call and what the source was for that.  He didn’t attribute it to --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, that’s been on the Internet and that’s been in newspapers that -- and I think I had last week here a report by some on Wall Street saying specifically that WellPoint, which owns Anthem, was set to be a winner if health care reform didn’t pass.

 

     Q    So do you expect him to continue to comment on internal communications, conference calls and so forth, other businesses?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, if -- I think you can believe that the President will continue to do that if -- there are those on Wall Street that believe that insurance companies stand to gain in a big way if health care reform doesn’t pass, because I think that’s in the interest of millions of policyholders that possess individual insurance on the individual market from these different companies and how it affects their bottom line.

 

     The President, again, in meeting -- the President went into a meeting that Secretary Sebelius was having to discuss, as we read last week, a letter that the President had received precisely by one of these companies and how that impacted a 50-year-old woman who was having to make a decision between whether or not to give up the house that has been in her family for several decades or continue to purchase health insurance, even though she had changed her deductible in order to try to get a more affordable rate.  I think that’s exactly what health care reform is all about.

 

     Q    Robert, you had some questions about aid to Greece but that was in the form of U.S. aid.  What about IMF aid to Greece?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I’ll get a readout from what their discussions have been.  I don’t know if this is going to come up or not.

 

     Q    All right.  On a related point, the European Commission President wants the G20 to curb swaps and derivatives.  Chancellor Merkel today said she wants to go beyond the G20 agreements.  The President has endorsed tougher regulations, tougher -- more tools to crack down on stuff like that.  Would the President be willing to go beyond the agreements he’s already been --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I’m not sure that the President has had an opportunity to look at what Chancellor Merkel has proposed or has in mind.  Again, I know they discussed, as you mentioned, discussed these topics in Pittsburgh only a few months ago, and we believe that the underpinnings of financial reform are setting about a new series of rules on how our economy can and shouldn’t operate in order to prevent the type of collapse that we saw in September of 2008.  I have not seen the specific recommendation.

 

Q    Is it on the agenda with Larry Summers or Christina Romer?  Are they looking into this or anything?

 

MR. GIBBS:  I will check with them and see what --

 

Q    One last question, separately.  Does the President have a standing invitation to join the broadcast of the NCAA?

 

MR. GIBBS:  I’m sorry?

 

Q    Does the President have a standing invitation to join the broadcast at the NCAA tournaments?

 

MR. GIBBS:  I hope so.  (Laughter.)  I don’t -- Chip is going to email somebody right now back at HQ and see -- (laughter.)  I don’t know.  I know he greatly enjoyed a little play-by-play at the Duke-Georgetown game.

 

Q    Will he use the phrase, “and the kiss off the glass”?  (Laughter.)

 

MR. GIBBS:  But I don’t --

 

Q    Will he have a bracket this year?

 

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.  As I assume you will.

 

Q    Yes, indeed.

 

Q    Can you check --

 

MR. GIBBS:  I will check on the NCAA.

 

Q    Will he release his bracket before he leaves for Indonesia, or is this going to be -- (laughter.)

 

Q    Only if the House votes.

 

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Well, of course you release your bracket before the first game, right?

 

Q    He has to, to be eligible for -- you’re taking away our NCAA --

 

MR. GIBBS:  We can smell out the trick questions.

 

Q    Robert, I presume March 18th is important not just for House action, but for the Senate to have time to deal with whatever fixes need to be arranged after that to act before the scheduled two-week recess.  I mean, I believe that’s why March 18th is important in the eyes of the White House.  So I guess what I’m asking is, the House leadership does not endorse March 18th, doesn’t feel its practicable.  If, in fact, this schedule slips, is the White House okay and open to the idea of this debate stretching into April and possibly even into May?

 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t want to get into a series of elongated hypotheticals except to say, Major, again, the information that I passed on last week about March 18th, the day the President leaves for Indonesia and ultimately Australia, was something that we gleaned from conversations had with Capitol Hill.  In terms of --

 

Q    -- be shocked if on March 18th they’re not ready and the bill flops over the next week, like, okay, it’s coming off the rails, it’s no longer doable?  Is March 18th something America, watching this debate for a year, should circle on its own calendar, and say, wait a minute, this is not the moment of action as defined by the White House?

 

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve watched graphics on cable TV about the defining moment of health care virtually every third day going on for more than a year.  So I’ll stay out of the Chyron-writing business.

 

Q    But this is something you said --

 

MR. GIBBS:  Based on conversations that we had with Capitol Hill --

 

Q    That have now been contradicted by Capitol Hill.

 

MR. GIBBS:  And I still think --

 

Q    What does March 18th mean?  That’s what I’m trying to get at.

 

MR. GIBBS:  I still think based on the -- I have not been given any updated information that leads me to believe that March 18th isn’t a doable date.

 

Q    Why are they giving all of us this updated information and not you guys, I guess would be the question.

 

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the answer to that, Chuck.

 

Q    Is there no communication?

 

MR. GIBBS:  It is weird to talk through you guys sometimes but -- no, I’m joking.

 

Q    We’re happy to oblige.  (Laughter.)

 

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think that --

 

Q    Because there does appear to be a disconnect -- you don’t deny that, do you?

 

MR. GIBBS:  There seems to be a disconnect in the -- but, again, Major, this was information that I was given based on conversations that people had in this building with Capitol Hill.

 

Q    Is that information still weeks old or is it still fresh information that’s now --

 

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve not been given any information today based on anything that anybody has seen that is different.

 

Q    Risking another hypothetical, let’s just say for the sake of argument the House passes the Senate bill; something derails with reconciliation.  Would the President sign the Senate bill passed by the House and that would be it?  That’s something on the minds of a lot of House Democrats.  They wonder if that’s -- if things don’t work through on the reconciliation process --

 

MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- the President has outlined a series of -- and put on the Internet -- a series of fixes to that legislation that I think are important for health care reform.

 

     Q    But nothing short of that would get his signature?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I think we’ll get all of that done. 

 

     Q    Robert, East Jerusalem settlements question -- Vice President Biden did not talk about it today.  There are Palestinian officials speaking on behalf of those negotiations, saying this is a -- this undermines the trust that they were hoping was being rebuilt by the indirect talks.  I’d like your comment on the situation.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  The proximity talks?

 

     Q    Yes.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Look, I believe the -- as you know and as you said, the Vice President is in the region.  I think the Vice President will have a longer statement on this shortly.  I would say this -- that the United States condemns the decision today by the government of Israel on advanced planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.

 

     Q    Do you all see that as kind of a slap in the face, considering the Vice President is there --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I do not believe that it is -- neither the substance or the timing is particularly helpful and I think runs counter to the very productive talks that the Vice President was having in the region.

 

     Q    Was this communicated in any way, shape, or form before the Vice President arrived in the region --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Not that I’m aware of.  I will -- I can check on that.  And like I said, I will --

 

     Q    -- does that add to the sense of irritation --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, our viewpoint on this and the viewpoint of the United States, going back decades on this topic, I believe, is well known throughout the world.  Again, the Vice President will have a longer statement on this.  It may even come while I’m standing up here.

 

     Q    A couple of quick political ones.  On the Sestak issue, Arlen Specter said on another -- this afternoon that Sestak and his opinion on this allegation that he was offered a job not to run against Specter, needs to prove it, needs to back it up, and claims that Sestak’s accusation is hurting the White House, damaging its reputation.  You told us a couple of times you’d check back on this.  Can you give us an update, number one?  And number two --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have the update with me, but let me check and see if I do have anything --

 

     Q    Do you have any evaluation of Senator Specter’s comments on this?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No, I don’t.

 

     Q    Alexi Giannoulias is here today, seeing Axelrod.  Is he also seeing Mr. Gaspard?  And was the luncheon with Chicago folks in any way coincidental to Alexi’s appearance here today, as far as the politics and --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No, I think he’s going to see --

 

     Q    -- what’s the purpose of the meeting with Ax and other folks here in the White House?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously he knows David from Chicago.  I don’t know whether he’s going to meet with Patrick while he’s here.  Alexi Giannoulias is the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate and has the support and the backing of the White House.

 

     Q    Just a quick question on the START II negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that he expects a deal in the next two or three weeks.  Do you agree with that?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I know that the negotiations started again in Geneva.  I have not seen from our guys a timeline on that.  Obviously they’re working on the last few remaining issues to a new treaty, and we are certainly hopeful that that can get done in short order.

 

     Q    Do you think it needs to get done before the President’s nonproliferation summit in April?  Is that a --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President and the team are of the mind-set that if it only -- if it were only to take a day to get a deal that is in our interests, then we hope it doesn’t take longer than that.  But if it takes, quite frankly, many more weeks past April to get something that we believe is in our best interest, then -- we’re not looking to rush the negotiations in order to meet -- to have a signing ceremony prior to that important meeting with countries throughout the world.

 

     Yes, sir.

 

     Q    Thank you, Robert.  On Friday and Saturday, The New York Times and The Washington Post, respectively, wrote front-page stories about the recent events involving Congressman Massa, former Chairman Rangel, and Governor Paterson, and said this was fueling the Republican midterm election charge of culture of corruption.  Is this something that the President is concerned about or has discussed in any way related to the midterm elections?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  This relates -- this has been a hallmark of and an issue that the President has worked on, as I said I think last week, as a state senator, as a United States senator, and as President.

 

     So I don’t -- the President doesn’t work on ethics reform because it may or may not be a strategy for the midterm elections.  The President has believed since coming to elected office in Illinois that, as I said here, that rules are in place for a reason; that everyone must follow those rules regardless of who you are or what your name is; and that if those rules are breached or broken, that each of those -- each person that breaks those rules can and should be dealt with by whatever respective body they belong to -- whether it’s a governor or whether it’s a member of the House or the Senate.  This is, again, an issue that the President has taken seriously for a long, long time.

 

     Q    The other thing is that right now on Capitol Hill rumors swirl that Congressman Rangel will soon announce he will not seek reelection.  Has he had any private conversations with the President in the last week?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No, he has not.

 

     Q    Robert, around the hotel where the insurance industry executives are meeting, a group of demonstrators who support the President on health care reform surrounded the building, threatened to make citizen’s arrests of the executives, and many of them managed to get arrested.  Does that kind of civil disobedience help the President’s message on health care reform?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know the public relations value of that.

I will say this:  I think that the last many weeks have highlighted the developments in and for individuals in dealing with a very uneven insurance market.  Secretary Sebelius has asked to speak to the insurers tomorrow morning --

 

     Q    Why didn’t she accept their invitation when they first asked her?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know when they invited her --

 

     Q    They invited her for a day and she said no; now she’s writing to them saying she wants to speak tomorrow.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I know she’s anxious to speak to them as she was here in the Roosevelt Room about the type of rate increases that we’ve seen over the past many weeks.

 

     I think, again -- I think many people have become far more aware of the struggles that individuals and small businesses have in the fluctuating cost and price of health insurance and the real-life ramifications that it has.  Again, the letter the President read to the executives last week about having to make that decision about whether to keep your house or -- even as you’ve changed the amount of money -- even as you’ve changed your co-pay and your deductibles, watching your premiums skyrocket to the point where you’re having to make that decision.  I think the President believes that, as you heard him say I think quite passionately yesterday, the time for us to act on this is now.

 

     Q    What’s your response if they do not allow her to come speak tomorrow?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with -- I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that yesterday she released a letter asking many of these executives to justify the type of rate increases that we’ve seen

even as, by all accounts, their companies are doing quite well profit-wise.  I hope that it isn’t related to that and I hope it doesn’t mean that, as they send letters to individuals and increase their insurance by 39 percent, that they won’t take also the time to actuarily justify those increases for their policyholders and for the American people.

 

     Q    Robert, you said the President is going to talk about his export initiative later this week?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I believe there’s a speech Thursday on -- a little bit about what the President spoke about in his State of the Union on exports.

 

     Yes, sir.

 

     Q    Robert, do you know when we can expect a decision on the KSM trial?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t expect a decision on that for several or many weeks.

 

     Q    Will it be the President’s decision?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  The President obviously has gotten involved because Congress has actively been involved in venue options for any trial involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  The President’s obviously strong equity in this is seeing that after many long years that justice is brought.

 

     Christi. 

 

     Q    Robert, obviously the Vice President is the highest-ranking of this administration to travel to the Middle East.  Is the President planning to go this year?  Does he have --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t have a calendar in front of me if there’s something -- there’s nothing that -- certainly obviously nothing that we’ve announced, and nothing that I can recall from memory in the next couple of months.

 

     Q    Will he do it this year?  Is that in the general plans?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Let me check and see if there’s plans for that.

 

     Steve.

 

     Q    Robert, at the event in Philadelphia yesterday, reporters were prevented from talking to the people.  I mean, they set up barriers six feet wide to keep us from the people. Security guards kept --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  That was for the benefit of the people.  (Laughter.)   

 

     Q    Pardon me?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I was not on the trip.  I don’t know what --

 

     Q    We were prevented even after the event, after the President had left, security guards kept reporters from talking to anyone in the room.  What does the White House think of that, and will you work to stop that from happening at future events?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I will try to find out more information about the series of events that you’re talking about.

 

     Q    Well, wait a minute, you would know that -- I mean, that should be standard policy.  It’s not standard --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Chuck, I don’t --

 

     Q    You don’t want -- but I assume you don’t want security preventing -- because that’s a pretty serious issue.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on.  Let me just find out -- I don’t know whether that has to do with transportation -- I don’t know what that has to do with.  I’m certainly, as I just told, willing to look into -- willing to look into what surrounded that and what that is --

 

     Q    If the reports are true, though, you don’t want --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, if the reports are true --

 

     Q    -- something that’s unacceptable?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chuck, let me -- I know you’ve got a show at 9:00 a.m., and you might want to do a segment on this, but let me just get an answer before we get into a series of --

 

     Q    But it is contrary to White House policy, right?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely, yes.

 

     Q    What is the purpose of today’s energy meeting, and what are the real prospects of cap and trade, given all the political problems on the Hill?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  The President, as he’s going to do -- had hoped to do yesterday and then a plane with Senator Graham  -- a flight got canceled for immigration -- the President wants to get an update from bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate on a series of proposals and get an idea of where those are.

 

     As it relates to cap and trade, obviously the House has passed legislation relating to cap and trade, and the President’s strong belief is that in order to transition ourselves away from our dependence on foreign oil and into a clean energy economy, that we need a strong incentive to do that.

 

     Senator Graham, Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman are all working on a proposal like that in the Senate, and I know the President is hopeful to get an update not just from them but from others, again, in the House and the Senate that are working on these issues.

 

     Q    But given the situation in the Senate, is cap and trade really doable this year?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I think putting together a coalition of somebody like Senator Kerry and Senator Graham, who represent obviously different political philosophies, demonstrates that, yes, it is certainly possible to do that.

 

     Bill.

 

     Q    Robert, the President didn’t go to the Gridiron dinner last year and he’s not going again this year.  Is there any message the President is sending to the media or to the Gridiron Club?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  He’ll be in Indonesia -- that’s the -- I think that’s the message from this year.

 

     Q    But he’s not going to the Radio-TV Correspondents dinner.  Is the scheduling --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he went to the Radio Correspondents dinner last year and I think he’s going to the White House Correspondents dinner as well.

 

     Yes.

 

     Q    Just to follow up on David’s question, the energy meeting today, it’s not as specific as -- we shouldn’t expect the -- if health care passes, we shouldn’t the President to pivot and really start pushing cap and trade in the coming days and months?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, let me not get ahead of the update that the President gets today from those involved in these negotiations and in these talks.

 

     Look, I know that the President believes strongly that we need to get something done.  I think you’ve seen the President has already demonstrated a willingness to -- with his announcement on an additional -- on a loan for the first nuclear reactor built in this country in three decades, that we have to look at how we address and tackle the problems of our dependence on foreign oil with a broad approach that includes, as I said, a strong incentive to move toward a clean energy economy.

 

     Sam.

 

     Q    Two health care related questions.  The first is, Congressman Stupak said he felt more optimistic yesterday about the process of negotiations on abortion language.  Does the White House share that optimism and can you enlighten us about what sort of legislative language is being crafted?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know whether Nancy-Ann has spoken directly with him.  We took our optimism in many ways from I think the same article, Sam, that you read.

 

     Q    And the second question is sort of a follow on Major’s, which is a lot of what is holding up the process is a distrust between the House -- that the Senate Democrats would be able to pass reconciliation.  There was sort of an informal count about which senators have agreed to do reconciliation, with the 50th being Mark Begich, over the weekend.  Does the White House view that as a commitment of any sort from Senate Democrats to House Democrats that they will act on reconciliation?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  I’m sorry, say the last part again.

 

     Q    I’ll slow down.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  No, you’re good, you’re good.  I just -- I didn’t catch I think one -- did you say “act”?

 

     Q    Yes -- Mark Begich being the 50th vote --

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Is that a signal that --

 

     Q    Yes.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  -- to the House that the Senate will act?  Okay, I’m sorry, I just didn’t hear the last word.

 

     Q    No worries.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Obviously I think the commitments from the 50 that you mention demonstrate what we believed all along, which was obviously we -- these two pieces of legislation needed to work largely in tandem as a correction to the bill that had previously passed the Senate and we are hopeful passes in the next few days in the House.  I believe it does demonstrate the Senate’s willingness to move that proposal forward and to enact those corrections into law.

 

     Q    Thanks, Robert.

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Thanks, guys.

 

     Q    Immigration?

 

     MR. GIBBS:  Let me address that in the next couple days after the President has his meeting on -- in the next few days.  Thanks, guys.

 

                                                END            3:07 P.M. EST