News from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Remarks by President Obama honoring 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. Please have a seat. Welcome to the White House.
Just before I begin, there are a couple of acknowledgements I want to make. First of all, we’ve got some Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Center, and I want everybody to give them a big round of applause. We are grateful to them. (Applause.) They’re big NASCAR fans.
I also want to thank a good friend and a terrific governor, Brad Henry from Oklahoma is here. Stand up, Brad. (Applause.)
You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn. (Laughter.) Fortunately, we got Jimmie to agree not to do any burnouts or tear up my backyard. I also suggested to Jimmie that, in exchange for free parking, he should let me take the 48 out for a few laps. (Laughter.) He said that was fine — but Secret Service didn’t think it was fine. (Laughter.)
But that’s okay, because I’m just glad Jimmie could be here so we can honor him for winning his third consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. Give him a big round of applause. (Applause.) Jimmie got his start racing in motocross events at the age of five and has been racking up trophies and titles for nearly three decades now. But like me, I think his greatest achievement is probably just how far he married up. I had a chance to meet his wife, Chandra, and I’m so glad that she could be here today, as well. Congratulations for your family’s success.
We want to keep — everyone who keeps the 48 up front — we want to congratulate all of them: owner Rick Hendrick, the crew chief — (applause.) Rick deserves a round of applause. Crew chief Chad Knaus — did I say that right? And all the folks at Hendrick Motorsports, because we all know NASCAR, winning isn’t just about who’s behind the wheel during the race, it’s also about who’s got your back in the pit and everyone back at the shop who preps these cars week after week.
With these folks at his side, Jimmie is hoping for a fourth series championship in a row this year. But I think there’s another group of guys back here who may have something to say about that — Jeff, good luck in your “drive for five.” And good luck to all the other chase drivers joining us today. I’m extraordinarily grateful to them.
We’re also joined today by one of NASCAR’s all-time greats, “The King,” Richard Petty. Sitting right here. (Applause.) With a family tradition that’s generations strong, the Pettys are about as close as you can get to a NASCAR dynasty.
And finally, I want to recognize Mike Helton, NASCAR’s president, for his dedicated leadership, and, of course, Brian France, NASCAR’s chairman, and his wonderful wife, Amy, who’ve done so much for the sport. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And let me also take the opportunity to say that our thoughts are with the NASCAR community at the recent passing of Tom Murphy, a man who put his heart and soul into NASCAR over the years.
You know, it’s fitting that you’ve all come here to the White House — the American people’s house — because NASCAR is a uniquely American sport. Since its humble beginnings, when moonshiners raced on the sands of Daytona Beach during prohibition, it’s grown into a sport with tens of millions of fans here in America and around the world.
But NASCAR is about a lot more than just racing cars. It’s as much about what you give back off the track as you give on the track. It’s about what you’re doing to protect our environment and help America become energy independent — using solar energy, and working to offset carbon emissions, and even hiring a director of green innovation to take your commitment to the next level.
It’s about supporting our troops and our veterans, from flyovers and red, white and blue paint jobs on Memorial Day to your visits to Walter Reed and Iraq and Afghanistan that show our appreciation for the brave men and women who are serving our country.
And it’s about all the foundations NASCAR has started to support schools and hospitals, combat hunger and homelessness, and work to help folks in our communities — like the campers here from Victory Junction; kids who can teach us all a thing or two about courage and hope, and I hope had the time of their lives at summer camp.
After all, one of the core values of the NASCAR community is the belief that service isn’t just something you do once in a while when it’s convenient — it’s a way of life. I think Jeff Gordon put it best when he said, simply, “Any person out there should do something some way to give back to their community.”
And that’s what folks from more than 150 countries see around the world when they tune in to your races — not just your speed and your skill, but also your compassion, your dedication to your families and our communities, how much you love this country and how strongly you support the heroes who serve it. That’s the face of America that you show to the world.
So today, I want to thank all of you for that and for everything you do to make this country a better country. And I wish you all the best of luck in this year’s chase.
God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
I think I’ve got to take a shot next to the cup here.
Press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir. Take us away.
Q Valerie Jarrett, on the weekend, was talking to liberal bloggers, and she said about the administration’s overall, I believe, legislative agenda, “It’s an uphill battle and it won’t happen unless we energize our base.” What are you folks doing right now to energize that base, which seems fairly quiet in relation to what one hears daily from those who are opposed, for example, to health care?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think I would dispute the beginning characterization. I think, again, particularly at the events that you saw the President do, I don’t think you noticed a lack of support for providing health care reform among those that were outside of the President’s events.
I think the President will just continue to do just as he promised to do in the campaign. I think that’s what’s important for the American people to know, and that’s what’s important for the people that sent us to Washington to know, that we’re committed to getting our economy back on track, laying a foundation for long-term economic growth, addressing the urgent needs for energy independence, reforming our health care system, making our schools the very best, and making this country and our homeland safer by changing our foreign policy. I think all of those things are exactly what the President promised to do and what he’s busy doing in Washington.
Q So you’re satisfied with what you’re hearing from whatever this base is, especially on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I think there are millions of people out there that know that — that are, Steve, quite frankly, part of our political base, and others that are independents or Republicans that believe it’s time that the health care system change; that we need reform and we can’t continue to do what we’re doing now. I think that’s precisely it.
Q There are others inside and outside your base who think you’ve lost control of the argument and who wonder if the President has the political muscle to see this through.
MR. GIBBS: Stay tuned.
Q Well, I mean, would you — how do you respond to the suggestion that you’ve lost control of the argument?
MR. GIBBS: This is — the argument is not over. The discussion is not over, the debate is not over, the legislative process isn’t over.
Q You didn’t expect to have this back-and-forth within the party about the public option.
MR. GIBBS: Again, contrived almost entirely by you guys.
Q Why, why do you say that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, because I said this this morning — that this notion of changing the position on the public health care plan, or the public option, was —
Q Is absolutely wrong?
MR. GIBBS: — was not something that any of you all picked up on Saturday when the President said it. We did this this morning. None of you did that story.
Q Why don’t you say it flatly right now so we’ll all write it?
MR. GIBBS: Do you have your pen ready?
Q What do you mean, what do you mean no one did that story on Saturday —
MR. GIBBS: “The President” —
Q Right here.
Q — when the President for the first time in public said — or not —
MR. GIBBS: I missed yours.
Q There was a lot of people that did this story.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll be happy to look that up. Nobody volunteered that this morning.
Q So he’s not going to cave at all?
MR. GIBBS: No, I’m going to reiterate what the President has said all along, Helen. The President believes we have to have choice and competition. In a private insurance market where people are entering, they have to have the ability to choose among insurers that will drive down their costs and improve their quality. His preference is for a public option. If there are others that have ideas about how we can institute choice and competition, he’s happy to look at those.
Q Will he fight for the public option?
MR. GIBBS: We will fight for whatever is best that brings about that choice and competition. That’s what the President always maintained and that’s what we’ve continued to say.
Q Before we dig in any further on health care, just a quick question on Iraq. There are — nearly a hundred people have died in the latest bombings in Iraq. It’s the bloodiest day in a year. It comes just weeks after U.S. troops — combat troops pulled out of the urban centers. What, if anything, does this say about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to take over responsibility? And is there any concern that the U.S. pullout from the cities was premature?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think that — again, remember, that was a — this was determined by the Iraqis as part of agreements that were made. Look, I think it shows you the degree to which extremists will always go to wreak havoc through senseless violence that harms innocent human lives.
I think the President talked about this in his speech in Cairo, that not only is the violence, the shocking violence, certainly the different venues — not only is that shocking, but when you factor in the fact that it’s Muslim-on-Muslim violence, the degree to which that underscores the deplorable and shocking nature of it — that I would point out that the number of attacks is at or near an all-time low. There will always be those that believe they can or should be heard only through this type of violence. It’s obvious that the vast number of Iraqis believe and want to live in peace and security.
We will continue to assist the Iraqis in securing their country until the agreements denote that it’s time for us to go.
Q Any concern that the Iraqi security force is not up to the task?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think the — I think you’ve heard General Odierno talk about this in the past, and I don’t believe it’s changed.
Q On July 19th in his weekly address, President Obama said that health care legislation must include a health care exchange with a public plan as part of that exchange. Are we all wrong in assuming that the word “must” also applies applied to “public plan”? Did it only apply to the exchange?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to go back and look at the exact phrasing.
Q I can’t believe that you haven’t looked at the exact phrasing of that phrase. I mean, it’s one of the most — it’s one of the most cited quotes, in terms of people saying this is why people think that President Obama is backing off a public plan.
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t looked at it in the last —
Q We’ve all got it cued up.
MR. GIBBS: What?
Q We’ve all got it cued up, ready to go.
MR. GIBBS: I will pop popcorn and watch your newscast. No, again, Jake, we can quibble about whether he phrased it one way that time. We can quibble about the way he phrased it when he stood here in front of you all in June and talked about not drawing lines in the sand. Again, I think the President has stated his position on that.
Q Okay. And in terms of comments made recently by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee whether — or in negotiations, not necessarily in the Finance Committee — whether Senator Enzi in USA Today talking about the public plan, Senator Grassley’s recent comments — it is still the intention and hope of this White House to have a bipartisan bill in the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. The President believes strongly in working with Republicans and Democrats, independents, any who seek to reform health care, that want to see costs cut, coverage increased, insurance reforms implemented that no longer discriminate against families and individuals. The President strongly believes that we’re making progress; has had conversations with members of the Finance Committee, as I said, Friday in Montana, and others. And our preference is to work through this process and hopefully come out with a bill that has agreement among both parties on that committee.
Q Are you expecting any Republican votes for this bill in the Senate or the House?
MR. GIBBS: I think there are many that would like to see some health care reform, and I trust that the three Republicans that are working in the Senate Finance Committee are doing so in good faith. I have no reason to believe they’re not.
Q The question is, how is it that you think you can achieve a bipartisan bill when it seems you’re having trouble achieving a partisan bill, with the divisions between the Democratic Party right now, between the Blue Dogs and the Progressives in the House, between the —
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s sort of — there are Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee that voted out a bill in the House side before we left for recess. So I think this notion that there — it’s impossible even to get agreement on our side on what a health care plan looks like belies the notion that this is a piece of legislation that went through not one, not two, but three committees on the House side. I think the notion that we can’t get something done like that just isn’t true.
Q I guess I mean more the divisions between the House and the Senate, what can make it through the Senate according to some Senate Democrats such as Conrad and what came through the House.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has talked to it and that’s what we’re going to spend the fall doing. That’s what — and, look, I think part of that progress is going to be what progress the Senate Finance Committee itself can make, working — Democrats and Republicans working together to come up with what we hope is a bipartisan solution.
Q This morning — I just wanted to clarify something that you were asked in the gaggle. You said, in response to this question, “Have there been discussions here, strategically, about going all Democratic when it comes to health care reform?” And you said no.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we’re focusing on how to get bipartisan support, on how to get members of both parties who want to work on comprehensive health care reform. That’s what we’re focused on.
Q But even reading some of the comments that you’re hearing from Republicans, you mean to say no one in the administration is looking at strategically the possibility the having to go —
MR. GIBBS: We are focused on process that continues in the Senate with both parties. The President, again, met with Senator Baucus on Friday in Montana, and they discussed the progress that was being made among Democrats and Republicans on the Finance Committee. That’s our focus.
Q No Plan B?
Q Senator Grassley this morning said, in response to a question from CNN, talking about broad-based support for health care legislation, said, “So far no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House. That doesn’t mean we should quit. It means we should keep working until we can put this thing together that gets widespread support.” Has the White House failed to get widespread support?
MR. GIBBS: No, the White House completely agrees with what Senator Grassley says there. I mean, that’s why I said this morning that our preferred option is to go the route of getting all those involved, that are at the table, to agree to something that can be supported by both parties.
I can’t speak to what Republicans will ultimately end up doing. The President doesn’t have control over every person’s vote on this. He can, and will, continue to work to try to get agreement on both sides of the aisle on this. The President believes this issue is far too important to not try, to walk away from a perfect opportunity to bring both sides together in order to make progress on an issue that we’ve seen fail time after time after time. That’s why, as I said today, the President goes at this not wedded ideologically to different things, but how do we get the best reform for the American people. And that’s what his focus is on.
Q Robert, would you say — you were just talking about lines in the sand — would you say that $250,000, not raising taxes on anybody making $250,000 or less, as far as health care is concerned, is a line in the sand?
MR. GIBBS: The President reiterated that just the other day.
Q Is the administration’s commitment on the public option as equally as strong as the commitment by the administration to sign a bill?
MR. GIBBS: I think I’ve answered this like 12 times. I will restate again —
Q For the 13th time.
MR. GIBBS: Here we go, ready?
Q So the answer is no —
MR. GIBBS: You got your pen, write it — “The President” — I’ll go slow — “The President believes we should have” — keep writing — “choice and competition” —
Q Luckily you’re on camera —
MR. GIBBS: Good — “choice and competition.” For people entering the private insurance market, in order to hold down costs, in order to provide quality of coverage, we have to have choice and competition. The President’s preferred way is a public option. If there are others that have additional viewpoints or other ideas in policy that institute that choice and competition, he is and we are ready to hear it.
Q So is it wrong or is it correct to say, then, the President’s commitment to not raising taxes on $250,000 or less in this health care bill is equally as strong as having a public option?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into ranking all those things.
Q Well, that’s a line in the sand you’ve drawn.
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I —
Q Public option is not a line in the sand? Yes or no.
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into — the President addressed that in here, and I’m not going to get into ranking different priorities like the pre-season college football poll.
Q Why don’t you have him come down here and tell us again?
MR. GIBBS: It didn’t work the first time? (Laughter.)
Q When you say “preferred,” you’re not saying he’ll fight for it?
MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that’s his preferred option.
Q “Preferred” means —
MR. GIBBS: His preference exceeds that of others.
Q — take it or leave it. It means take it or leave it.
Q On the messaging front, do you guys accept any responsibility on the fact that you haven’t — that some of these other issues on health care that you’ve had to fight back against, whether it’s on incorrect interpretations of the bill, other than — do you guys accept any of that responsibility, or is it all just the media’s fault?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. I don’t think anybody here believes we’ve pitched a no-hit game or a perfect game. I don’t think that’s the case.
Q What do you guys need to do better, then?
MR. GIBBS: I think we just have to continue to be out there. I mean, look, I think in your poll — one of the biggest myths two weeks ago was this notion of the government making end-of-life decisions on behalf of seniors, right? Your poll shows that that myth is not actually believed by the American people. I think the President has had an impact on people’s perception about what the health care bill means for those decisions. Obviously we have —
Q — if that number is only at 45 percent is a moral victory?
MR. GIBBS: Forty-five — 45 percent is not half the country. If you get 45 percent in an election, you don’t generally get sworn in. But I think we’re heartened that a majority of the country — and I think the same number of seniors believe that that’s — that is exactly a myth that the President has dealt with. Does that mean the President is going to have to deal with other misconceptions and myths? Sure. I don’t think there’s any doubt. That’s why he’ll — he’s talking to faith leaders today. He will do a radio call-in show tomorrow and continue to try to make progress on this issue.
Q Do you expect the issue of abortion to come up with faith leaders?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if it did on one of the earlier calls. I don’t know if it will or not. But we’ll see if it does.
Q Robert, when you talk about — not to belabor the point too much further — but the President is open to anything that will do a number of things, including bring down cost. Has he seen anything outside of the public option that would do that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we sort of had this question yesterday. And I don’t — I think most people have said that it’s hard — they have not yet seen full details of what a co-op would look like in terms of being able to fully evaluate its effectiveness.
Q First, is the radio call-in that you just mentioned, is that the OFA call that you’re talking about?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. This is the Smerconish show.
Q Okay. Second, Senate Democrats have been meeting for more than a month now plotting out — trying to figure out what can be done through reconciliation, what can’t be done through reconciliation. They feel like they’ve made a lot of progress on their gaming out the parliamentary options here. Are you saying that the White House has not participated in those conversations?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly check. Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q Would you check that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q They certainly think you have been. I mean, they still call it Plan B, but they’ve been doing that.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, I’ll — again, our focus is not on what happens if; our focus is on the here and now.
Q And do you believe that you can do a significant health care bill with 51 votes —
MR. GIBBS: That’s not our focus.
Q A couple of questions on Afghanistan, Robert. What’s your sense of the security situation there, just hours leading up to the vote? And what are the stakes for the President’s strategy in this election?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, as the President has long said, that this is — that the presidential and the provincial elections are the most important event that will happen in Afghanistan this year. We wish the Afghans well in their election tomorrow. As I said, I think this is an important event in choosing their own leaders. In terms of the security situation, obviously the President increased our troop commitment to Afghanistan based on a belief that the security situation for these elections was tremendously important. We certainly continue to monitor that.
I think this is an important event and the President’s policy is one that he is focused on getting right through a new and comprehensive strategy that he announced to defeat, dismantle — I’m sorry — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies. This is important for our national security, our homeland security, and for the security of the rest of the world.
Q What would you like to see changed in the way the Afghan government works, no matter who wins?
MR. GIBBS: I will — I don’t want to do that before tomorrow. We’ll have some comment about elections when they’re completed.
Q Are you still confident that this could be a legitimate election tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: We look forward to observing what happens tomorrow and hope that it’s safe and secure.
Q Robert, could you talk a little more about the phone call the President will make this afternoon on health care? Is there some discrete message or more targeted message that he’s trying to get across, or is it —
MR. GIBBS: No, I think he had a — he already has completed a call this morning with rabbis that he was invited to join as they get ready for their important holidays and the messages that they and their congregants will have; the importance of, for faith leaders, the importance of health care and health care coverage for millions of Americans. But, Ed, the message isn’t any different to them than it is to those that go to a town hall meeting or listen in on a radio call-in show. His principles are the same. His desires to see comprehensive reform cut costs for families and small businesses, to make it more manageable for budgets of the federal government, state and local governments, and the important insurance reforms that he’s discussed through the West over the past few days.
Q Robert, Rahm is quoted in The New York Times this morning as saying the Republican leadership “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important to their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.” Is that Rahm’s view only? Is that the White House view? Is it your view, the President’s view? Have you made a conclusion about the strategic decision the Republican leadership has made on this issue?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are many in the leadership that appear not to support reform that does the very things that I just told — talked to Ed about. I go back to a number that’s also in the NBC poll, when they asked the approval rating for Republicans in Congress on health care. I think it was 21 approve, 62 disapprove.
It is very important — and we’ve heard this from Democrats and Republicans — that the American people know something has to be done. They can’t continue to watch their premiums double. They can’t continue to watch small businesses either have to go out of business or drop the coverage that they want to provide their employees. The federal government can’t continue to watch health care costs skyrocket and hope to get on a path of fiscal responsibility. And we can’t have — any more than we can have government bureaucrats in charge of health care, we shouldn’t have insurance company bureaucrats in charge of health care. I think the vast number of people in America know that we have to do something to get out of this spiral of health care that we’re in.
Q Does the President agree with his chief of staff that the Republican leadership has made the strategic decision to oppose him?
MR. GIBBS: I think that — let’s just say I haven’t seen anything that would persuade me otherwise.
Q Then, if I may allow — be allowed to follow up — what is the utility, from the White House perspective, of continuing to pursue a bipartisan agreement?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because we take very seriously the fact that there are Republicans, three of which are on the Finance Committee, that have said they’re committed to and dedicated to health care reform. And we’ll believe that unless or until we’re told that’s not the case.
Q So the assumption is they’re defying their leadership?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t read a lot of comments from Senator McConnell that would lead me to believe that he’s supportive of their efforts.
Q Before we go, since you’ve been mentioning polls, Quinnipiac did a survey late in July, early August, asked, should Congress approve a health care overall plan, even if only Democrats support it? And I know that’s not your focus; I just want to read you these numbers. Fifty-nine percent said no; 36 percent said they agree. Of those who said no, 63 percent were independents. How does this factor into the White House, this public opinion approach, factor into the way you look at this issue and will deal with it going forward?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it factors in precisely as I’ve talked about this today, that our preference is to move forward working with Democrats and Republicans. We think that’s important. We believe that those that are working to try to get that agreement are doing so because they think health care reform is important. And we’ll continue to try to make progress on those issues.
Q But to button this up, that preference does not overtake the desire to achieve some legislative result this year, does it?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has been clear on that.
Q It does not?
MR. GIBBS: Does not.
Q Robert, you said that there was an indication that the three Republican negotiators on the committee have said that they’re in favor of health care reform. More recently they’ve said things that sort of depart from that. Specifically, what was the President’s reaction to Senator Grassley’s comments this week that he would not vote for a bill if — even if it had things that he liked in it, that could not draw support of other Republicans? What was the President’s reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: I’m trying to remember what — whether we talked about it and what he said. I mean, obviously, Jeff, that we take — we take it on face value that Senator Grassley, Senator Enzi, Senator Snowe, and others are working to find a solution to comprehensive health care reform.
Q Why do you take that on face value since they have said things —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not going to tell you that we haven’t found some confusion in what’s also been said in setting a bar differently than how they might sometimes be negotiating. But we believe that those three individuals and others are working right now in good faith.
Q Does the White House believe that the Republican leadership in the Senate and/or the House is purposely obstructing this bill for political gains?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would refer you to what Rahm said in a story you wrote — (laughter) —
Q Does the White House believe that the Republican leadership is being obstructionist here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not seen — I have not seen a lot of action on the part of Republican leaders to enunciate clearly what they want to do to cut health care costs, try to cover those that are unfortunate enough not to have coverage, what they want to do on insurance reforms. I have not seen them overwhelmed with that as a focus.
Q What is the President’s view of some of the conciliatory moves we’ve seen from North Korea in the last month or so?
MR. GIBBS: Well, stepping back for a second, obviously the President had a good meeting yesterday with former President Clinton. I think the — look, our goals have not changed as it relates to North Korea, largely because the responsibilities of North Korea have not changed. They entered into agreements, signed agreements that require them to end their nuclear weapons program. Our continued goal is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We are certainly hopeful that whatever signals they may or may not send, that that leads them back to the process of living up to the responsibilities that they entered into. That’s always been our focus.
Q After listening to former President Clinton yesterday, is he more optimistic that that might happen? Can you tell us anything more about what they talked about?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) Good try, though.
Q You know, a couple months back, the President asked Secretary Gates to look into ways of relaxing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Have you guys heard anything back from the Secretary on that?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don’t have anything with me.
Q Does the President feel any sense of urgency about that, as there’s a buildup in Afghanistan; as the Secretary asked for 20,000 more troops to increase the Armed Forces; we’ve got 13,000 folks in stop-loss?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President has long believed that the policy didn’t work for our national interest, doesn’t work for our national security interest. I will check with those guys on what progress has been made.
Ann, just to go back to yours for a second, I do want to say, just to reiterate one thing, that pathway for them to come back and live up to those responsibilities is open. That door is open for them to walk through. We hope that whatever they’re doing, regardless — as I said, regardless of the signals that they send, that they’ll walk through that door and live up to those responsibilities. I think one of the messages that we’ve had and others have had in dealing with the North Koreans is their belief that a nuclear weapons program will raise their international stature rather than — it’s our strong belief that that program in defiance of the agreements that they’ve signed diminishes them and further alienates them from the world.
Q Robert, are you aware of this delegation, North Korean delegation from the U.N. that’s been meeting with Richardson — last night and again today?
MR. GIBBS: Aware from news reports. Obviously the State Department has to approve travel outside of a certain radius in New York for diplomats that are acting — that any of these meetings is independent of the administration. And I would, as I said this morning, ask you to talk to their mission in New York and to talk to Governor Richardson specifically about reasons why and for what’s being discussed.
Q Robert, after the President and former President left the Situation Room yesterday, they went into the Oval Office. Did they speak about health care?
MR. GIBBS: They continued their discussion on North Korea.
Q There was no discussion about health care? You said this morning you would check.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and again, I said this yesterday, I’m not going to get into what private conversations are had between this President and former President Clinton or other former Presidents.
Q Why not? They’re dealing with issues that affect us all. Even if the issue came up —
Q Were there more topics than North Korea in that meeting?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q Robert, pardon me if this has come up before, but the pay arrangements next week on the Vineyard — are the Obamas splitting the cost with the government for both the house in Martha’s Vineyard and the transportation up there?
MR. GIBBS: I’m barely trying to figure out my vacation. I don’t know what — I know that the Obamas are paying for their vacation, like they have paid for — like they paid for a vacation last August in Hawaii and last December in Hawaii, as well.
Q Robert, can you talk a little bit about tomorrow’s online event? Does the President feel that his base, supporters, needs a little pep talk or might be a little bit more proactive to counter some of the efforts that opponents —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, relating to also what Steve asked, I think the President just wants to update those that have been involved with him for a long time in where we think we are on health care reform and how we can continue to keep them involved as we discuss important issues throughout the fall. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a while, and the schedule had an opportunity to do so.
Q Is there any sense that they could be more involved than they have been?
MR. GIBBS: Look, we know people have busy lives. I think many of these people have been greatly involved and given of their time and money and their energy in this and other efforts, and we hope that they continue to do so.
Q Is the White House concerned that the Afghan government has threatened to expel journalists for reporting Taliban violence ahead of the election?
MR. GIBBS: We have expressed our concern and displeasure about that policy, and believe that journalists should have the freedom of access in fully covering tomorrow’s elections.
Q I have two quick health care questions. First, I wanted to know if you got an answer on the poker question.
MR. GIBBS: I neglected to ask the poker question. I will — I’ll double-down and try that today.
Q And also, actually, when you do ask him, what’s his favorite game? Is he a Texas Hold’em guy?
MR. GIBBS: I will — I have a lot of questions to go ask the President about.
Q On health care, you were talking about Chuck’s poll earlier, that — I mean, the good news that most Americans no longer believe in death panels. But the fact remains that Section 1233 was taken out of the House bill. So what can you do to reassure voters that the same fate won’t befall other provisions of the bill if some rumor like the death panels gets started about the public option?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — I’m not following the thesis of your — the section that’s been pulled out.
Q Section 1233 about the end-of-life care.
MR. GIBBS: It’s been?
Q There was a report earlier this week that it’s been dropped.
MR. GIBBS: Well —
Q Is that not true?
MR. GIBBS: This is in a Senate Finance Committee bill that nobody has seen? Look, what I’m saying is, I think the President is going out there and explaining what those provisions are and what they’re not — regardless of whether they’re in what section of what bill at what time, I think it’s something that the President has been focused on doing and correcting the record. I think it has more to do with a sustained dialogue in dealing with the misrepresentations as it has whether or not a provision may or may not have been dropped.
Q And the second one was, there was a meeting on July 7th between the White House and PhRMA and the Senate Finance Committee. As far as I know, the attendees of that meeting have never been released. Can you say who was at that meeting for the White House, and specifically for the other parties?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to — let me look at — if we put out participants at meetings and I’d have to look at what that says first.
Q Robert, is the White House looking at it as positive, negative, or just neutral about Richardson meeting with the North Koreans?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what’s on the docket to discuss, so it would be hard for me to discuss. Look, I think, again, without understanding the agenda or the reasoning for this meeting, it’s our strong hope that the North Koreans will pick up the responsibilities that they entered into in hopes of seeing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. If that furthers — if anything furthers that goal, that would be a positive thing.
Q Are you saying this administration gave the green light for this meeting without knowing what it was going to be about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the State Department has to approve the travel, but it’s a meeting that’s happening independent of the administration.
Q Robert, on the Guantanamo closure issue, there was this group of about 30 federal government folks who went up to look at that prison in Michigan last week. Has that group or a similar group been sent to look at Leavenworth in Kansas, at the Colorado Supermax? And does that mean that the Michigan site is the only one under consideration?
MR. GIBBS: No —
Q And can you also say, in terms of transparency, do communities around the country have a right to know what sites are being looked at, or will it just be a fait accompli, this is the one we picked?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. Understand that this was — part of this was a meeting with local officials. This wasn’t — let’s not perpetuate this notion that somehow somebody swooped in and nobody knew.
Q No, I’m saying you — it was pretty clear you were going to Michigan. Have you gone or are you going anywhere else?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I have no information that we have done a site visit or an evaluation anywhere other than the facility at Standish.
Q But, I mean, that’s the only — that’s the only option on the table?
MR. GIBBS: No, no final decision has been made. This wasn’t — this wasn’t a visit intended to — this was an evaluative visit. This was not a final decision or anything like that. I think there are obviously certain things that — aspects in a facility that anybody would like to see, and we’re evaluating a facility that many of those locals believe would be a good fit and provide gainful employment on a prison that has closed.
Kirk, and I’ll take one more.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two things. Are the two upcoming gubernatorial races a referendum in any way on President Obama’s performance?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think in many ways, state elections are — have a lot of — a confluence of a lot of factors that determine how people might vote. I’m a Virginian. I’m reminded that — I say I’m — I live in Virginia. I don’t want to — I’m an Alabamian by birth. I think if you go back to it’s either 1982 or, let’s see, 1970 — I think I have my dates right — it’s either the last ’70s or the either ’80s —
Q Call someone.
MR. GIBBS: — that the party that occupied the White House, the opposite party has held the governor’s mansion in Richmond. I can do this back to at least I think it’s ’86, but I could — I think it’s quite a while.
Q And on health care, did the White House anticipate the ferocity of the attacks of the opponents as a development strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll say this, Kirk. If you go back and watch any — if you go back and watch what Senator McCain’s critique of our health care plan was in April or May of 2008, it’s not any different than it was — than you hear opponents making now. I’d also say, too, that if you go back — if you participated in the debate in 1993 and 1994 and then somehow disappeared from anything political, and were sealed off from news for 15 years, and came back and decided you wanted to critique a health care plan, you’d probably pick what they’re saying, which is not true.
I think the attacks are standard. They’re tried and true. They have in the past, because of the backing of certain interests, won the day. I think the President has entered into this discussion with all of those involved in the health care debate in a different way, and hopes and believes that the outcome this fall will be different than the one we’ve seen over the past many years.