Friday, July 17
– Press briefing by Tony Blinken, national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, on the vice president’s upcoming trip to Ukraine and Georgia
Thursday, July 16
– Press gaggle with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton
– Vice President Biden highlights Recovery Act progress in Virginia
– Statement from the president on the American Medical Association’s Support for HR 3200
– President Obama announces pick to head Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Wednesday, July 15
– Remarks by the president on health-care reform
Tuesday, July 14
– President announces Peace Corps director nominee
– Remarks by President Obama and Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
Monday, July 13
– Remarks by the president at Urban and Metropolitan Policy Roundtable
– Statement from Treasury Secretary Geithner on the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry
– Press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
– Obama announces Benjamin as surgeon general nominee
– Council of Economic Advisors releases labor-market report
Friday, July 17
Press briefing by Tony Blinken, national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, on the vice president’s upcoming trip to Ukraine and Georgia
MR. BLINKEN: Good afternoon, this is Tony Blinken. Thank you all very much for joining the call. I know it’s a busy day, so I appreciate it. Let me just note at the outset that as evidence of the importance we attach to our relations with Ukraine and Georgia, the Vice President is bringing with him a very, very strong interagency team, with senior members from the State Department, the Defense Department, the National Security Council staff, and the National Economic Council staff.
I thought what I’d do is I’ll give you a brief overview of the actual schedule of the trip, some of the high points, and then talk about some of the overarching themes, and then, of course, take any questions you have. So let me start with the schedule.
We depart Washington Sunday night, and arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday evening. We spend Tuesday in Kyiv, and the Vice President, among other things, will do the following: He will start the day by meeting and greeting the staff of our embassy in Kyiv. He will meet with President Yushchenko, and the two of them together, after the meeting, will make a statement to the press. Following the meeting, he and President Yushchenko will go to the Holodomor Memorial, a memorial to the victims of the Ukrainian famine. The Vice President will pay his respects at the memorial. He will then have a series of meetings with Prime Minister Tymoshenko, with Speaker Lipton; with Party of Regions Leader, Victor Yanukovych; and with Opposition Leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. And that will complete a busy first day in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, we start the day again in Kyiv. The Vice President delivers a speech about U.S.-Ukraine relations hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce. And then he will meet with Civil Society Leaders before departing Ukraine and being wheels up for Tbilisi, Georgia. We get to Tbilisi in the early evening on Wednesday. That night, President Saakashvili will host an official dinner for the Vice President. And I’m told the dinner will conclude with an outdoor concert.
That then brings us to Thursday. And the Vice President, on Thursday, will begin the day again meeting with our embassy team in Tbilisi. He will have an official working meeting with President Saakashvili. After lunch, the Vice President will sit down with representatives from some of the leading NGOs working in Georgia, as well as with a number of opposition leaders, including Irakli Alasania, Nino Burjanadze, and Levan Gachechiladze — excuse my bad pronunciations. He then goes to Parliament. He will meet at Parliament with the Speaker, David Bakradze, and with some of the opposition leaders in Parliament. And then, after those meetings, he will deliver a speech to the Parliament in Georgia.
After the speech, the Vice President will meet with schoolchildren who are participating in a program that’s funded by USAID. It’s a summer camp that’s focused on developing math and English language skills. And then we are that night wheels up back to Washington, D.C.
Let me, if I can, go through some of the broad themes of the trip, and then, as I said, take any questions you may have. To start with, of course, Ukraine and Georgia are very different countries facing very different challenges, and also very different opportunities. But we see some overarching themes to the trip that apply to both countries. And let me just say three of them.
First, the United States strongly values our partnership with Ukraine and Georgia. And the main purpose of the trip is to strengthen each partnership in very concrete ways. This week, I think, you heard the Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton, talking about the multi-partner world that we want to build. For the United States, we’re not seeking to build spheres of influence or to dominate a particular region. Rather, we are looking for strong partners to help us meet common challenges. And Ukraine and Georgia are perfect examples of exactly that. Each has been a partner for progress with us and with other countries in places like the Balkans, in Iraq, and Afghanistan.
So we see it as being profoundly in our interest to help Ukraine and Georgia become the most effective partners possible with transparent democratic and economic institutions, with a vibrant civil society, with modern militaries. And so the Vice President is going to be talking to leaders in both countries about some of the concrete steps we propose to take in the months ahead to deepen our partnerships.
And let me just emphasize, these partnerships, again, to pick up on the theme of the Secretary of State speech, they’re not going to come at anyone’s expense, but they can be to everyone’s advantage.
A second I think common denominator of the trip is that Ukraine and Georgia share the fact that each inspired people around the world, and in fact here in the United States, with the peaceful revolutions they went through not so long ago. But each revolution remains a work in progress. And in different ways, each country faces the challenge of fulfilling the promise of those revolutions. The Vice President is going to be talking to leaders and people of each country about those challenges, including in Ukraine, the hard work and tough choices that have to be made to advance economic and energy sector reform; and in Georgia, the need to deepen its democratic institutions.
Third, and finally, the President and Vice President thought it was important for the Vice President to go to Ukraine and Georgia to restate what the Vice President said at the very start of this administration in Munich, and what the President strongly affirmed in Moscow just this month. And that’s the following: Our efforts to reset relations with Russia will not come at the expense of any other country. This is not, for us, a zero-sum game. We will continue to reject the notion of spheres of influence, and we will continue to stand by the principle that sovereign democracies have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own partnerships and alliances.
As I noted at the start of course, Ukraine and Georgia are very different countries with different challenges. And so in each country, the Vice President will engage the leaders on specific issues in the bilateral relationship; and as to those issues, everything from economic and security cooperation, trade and investment, domestic reform, integration into the Euro-Atlantic community and institutions and so forth. I’ll let the trip and the Vice President speak for themselves next week.
So let me end with that. And now I’m happy to try and take any questions. Thank you very much.
Q Yes, Advisor Blinken, thank you so much for taking your time with us today. One of the big issues of course, is the Partnership for Peace, or the NATO arrangements that are in — right now that are going on. Are Ukraine and Georgia in that mix? Are they going to be involved in any joint ventures with us, militarily?
MR. BLINKEN: Thanks, Ron, for your question. And thanks for being on the call. What we’ve made clear and will continue to make clear is, first of all, the broad principle that NATO’s door is open to both countries, to Georgia and Ukraine. The decision about whether they want to pursue membership and join is of course up to them. But we believe firmly in their right to be members of the alliance if that’s what they choose to do.
But of course, with the membership in the alliance come responsibilities to be able to meet its requirements. And so where we are now and where the alliance is, is saying the door is open, and we want to help you and work with you to get you to the point where you can meet the requirements of membership. And that’s where we are with both our — both are engaged, both countries have commissions with NATO to work on bringing them up to NATO standards, and we’re going to be encouraging them to pursue their work with NATO in the months and years ahead.
Q Hi, thanks for doing this. My understanding is that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev went to South Ossetia since Obama was just in Moscow, and that it seemed as somewhat a tweak, if not provocative, given U.S. concerns that Russian not seem entitled to try to absorb South Ossetia. Can you talk at all about Biden’s concerns about that?
MR. BLINKEN: Yes, sure. As I noted a little while ago — and one of the messages of this trip in both countries is to reaffirm and restate what both the Vice President and President have been very clear on — the Vice President starting in Munich, and the President as recently as his trip to Moscow, which is that, in the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, first of all, the United States is not, will not, recognize them as independent states, and we stand firmly for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
More specifically, we’ve urged Russia and continue to urge Russia to implement the cease-fire agreements of last summer, which obligate Russia to withdraw its military forces to their pre-war deployments. We’ve called on Russian forces that occupy these Georgian regions to fulfill their obligations to uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights. We’ve urged Russia and continue to urge Russia to fulfill its obligations under the August 2 cease-fire agreement and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1866 to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
So those have been our concerns, they remain our concerns, and hopefully we’ll see progress on all those fronts.
Q Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. It has to do with the Ukrainian — with the Ukrainian elections. I’m just wondering if the White House has any position about the elections. Are they just standing by to see the results, or do they feel that this is an opportunity for some real change for some of the obstacles towards economic and political reform to be removed and for Ukraine to move forward? Thank you.
MR. BLINKEN: Thanks very much for your question. As to the elections, obviously we don’t have — we don’t have a candidate, we don’t have favorites. What we have is a strong desire for the elections to move forward in a fair and free process. And in fact, I think one of the highlights of recent Ukrainian history is having a very open, competitive political environment, as well as a very free and very vibrant press. And that’s been a tremendously positive development in Ukraine.
Less positive, quite honestly, has been some of the political paralysis we’ve seen in recent times, and hopefully in the months ahead, before the election, irrespective of the election, leaders in Ukraine will find a way to work closely together on the challenges that the country faces, that start with the economy and the very difficult situation Ukraine is in, the hard choices that have to be made.
We have tremendous empathy for the difficult times that people are facing in Ukraine, but we also believe strongly that the IMF program that’s been proposed is a very positive development, that if Ukraine will continue to make the hard choices necessary to secure and continue to secure that IMF support, that is the path to a more prosperous future, and that requires political leaders to come together to support some of these difficult decisions on economic reform and energy sector reform that need to be made.
So our hope is — and certainly the Vice President will be talking to all of the leaders he meets with about this. Our hope is that these leaders who really, many of whom were part of inspiring not only their own people, but the entire region — the entire world — not so very long ago, will, in their day-in and day-out action, live up to the promise of the revolution and make the hard choices and work together. And in many ways, people in Ukraine, with this incredibly open and free and vibrant society, seem to be a little bit ahead of some of the political leadership right now, and we hope that the leadership will do just that — lead.
Q Thanks so much for taking the time today. Earlier this month we saw a potential gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, with Ukraine’s seeming inability to pay for its monthly gas — (inaudible) — and I understand that transfer of the funds were being arranged from EBRD and the EU, and the standby loan from the IMF, of course. But I was wondering your thoughts on whether the United States needs to get more involved with energy security in the region with regards to Ukraine and Russia, or whether we’re taking a more laissez-faire approach.
MR. BLINKEN: Thanks for your question, Julie. I think you’ll hear — and I don’t want to get ahead of the Vice President — but I can safely predict that both in his meetings in Ukraine and in his speech he will, among other things, focus hard on the energy sector, because this is really critical. For Ukraine’s future, it’s not only an economic issue; in many ways it’s a national security issue. And we I think are going to be very engaged in encouraging Ukraine, and to the extent we can, helping Ukraine pursue some of the reforms of the energy sector in particular that are necessary in order to get the investment they need to upgrade their pipeline system, to purchase gas to store for use in the winter, and so forth.
So I think it’s safe to say that we don’t have a laissez-faire approach, that we’re going to be engaged on this issue because we think it’s critically important to Ukraine and obviously it’s important to Europe.
Q Thank you for your time. Two quick yes or no things on Ukraine and Georgia, to follow up on what you just said, basically. Are you willing to help the Ukrainians with money to pay for their energy needs? And are you willing to refrain from bringing weapons to Georgia, to make the situation there less tense?
And if I may, I also have a very brief question about the opposition in Georgia.
MR. BLINKEN: Why don’t you go ahead and ask that.
Q The opposition question is, I went to listen to (inaudible) when she was speaking yesterday at the (inaudible) and she said they face a choice, the opposition, between stability — a call for stability, and democracy. And she said at one point we chose stability, and we have failed because we got nothing — no stability and no democracy. In the West there is no democracy. Now, so she says now we face that same choice again. We want to have both, but can we? So my question to you is, what is your advice to them in this situation? Is it stability or democracy?
MR. BLINKEN: Thanks for the very good question and let me try to answer them in reverse order. There is no zero-sum choice between democracy and stability. To the contrary. Democracy to us is the very foundation of stability and a prerequisite. And so what we hope to see in Georgia is a pursuit of the kinds of things that we’re beginning to see happen, and that is a deepening of Georgia’s democracy. That would be good for Georgia, good for Georgia’s aspirations to join various Euro-Atlantic institutions.
There’s been an incredibly vigorous political debate and people have behaved in a largely peaceful and orderly fashion in the midst of that debate, both the protestors and the government. So that’s been encouraging. And now I think to move forward, the government, the opposition, civil society need to cooperate on constitutional reform, on electoral reform, and to prepare Georgia for the first end-of-term electoral transfer of power in its history when the President is eventually up for reelection.
So I think there’s a program there that can deepen Georgia’s democracy and, in a sense, give a lie to this false choice between democracy and stability. To the contrary. Democracy is vital to genuine sustained stability.
We are working with Georgia with defense reform and defense modernization, and I think it’s important that, as Georgia has been an important partner for us in different places around the world, that it has the ability to be a strong partner. Our focus is on doctrine, on education and on training, and preparing for Georgia’s future deployments to Afghanistan.
And finally, money for Ukraine — we think the IMF program is a very strong program that will bring much of the needed support. We have various assistance programs with Ukraine that are ongoing and that we’ll continue to support.
Q Thanks, I’m joining you from Moscow today. I just had a couple of contextual questions. The first one I wanted to ask you was, I know that — I believe that the last time Vice President Biden was in Georgia was right after the war. Can you confirm that, and can you confirm the last time he was in Ukraine? That’s sort of for the context.
And the Obama administration is at great pains to differentiate itself from the Bush administration. We know that Dick Cheney liked to take trips to what we call “New Europe” and made often quite — well, ruffled some feathers with the Russians. What can we expect in his speech that he’ll be giving during this trip?
MR. BLINKEN: I can confirm first of all that yes, the last time the Vice President was in Georgia was right after — actually, during the war in the sense that there was still military action going on. That was in August, almost exactly a year ago.
And as to Ukraine, I have to tell you I don’t know, and I’d have to get back to you on that. He has not been to Ukraine in recent years, and I need to find out when he might have been there in the past. However, he did meet — oh, I guess about five or six years ago in the Senate he met with President Yushchenko, before he was the President, and he’s with various Ukrainian leaders, but I’d have to get back to you on when he was — when he was last there. I just don’t know.
Let me let his speech — speeches, in both countries speak for themselves. I think I alluded to the different themes that he’s likely to sound in both speeches, in particular — and maybe I should just come back to this and emphasize this — our vision for European security and for the kinds of relationships that we have with both Ukraine and Georgia and with other countries is not to create, as I said, spheres of influence or a multi-polar world of some kind. It’s to create, as Secretary Clinton so aptly put it, a multi-partner world. And the partnerships that we’re building are not aimed against anyone. They are aimed at building up the capacity of the partner countries and of the partnerships to deal with the many challenges our countries face around the world. And as I said earlier, Georgia and Ukraine are great examples because they’ve been our partners in far-flung places — from the Balkans to Afghanistan to Iraq. And that’s the purpose of the partnerships; it’s not to get under anyone’s skin. It is simply to build effective relationships with countries that share our basic outlook and values and that can be strong partners for us in meeting all of these challenges.
So that’s the worldview that we’re trying to bring to life, and we’re doing it in a very practical way with Georgia and Ukraine — with them, not against anyone else.
Q Hi, thanks for doing this. Real quickly, with Moscow and Tbilisi right now, there’s a lot of talk about the fear or possibility of renewed hostilities come this summer, especially in August. The Georgians are saying that President Obama, during his trip, stopped the next war by telling Medvedev not to do that. How serious are you all worried about the possibility that there could be renewed possibilities. And can you tell us why the USS Stout is there now beyond the obvious training mission that it’s on? Is that meant to send any kind of signal?
MR. BLINKEN: Hey, Peter. No, no signal is being sent. But I think it’s fair to say that I don’t think anyone, anywhere, wants a repeat of a hot August. It’s not in anyone’s interest, and it is not something that I think any of us expect.
I mentioned earlier that we believe that Russia has certain commitments that it made after the war last summer that we’d like to see fulfilled. At the same time, we’ve been very clear with our friends in Georgia that their rightful aspirations to preserve and regain the territorial integrity of their country cannot be accomplished by force; that the best approach for Georgia going forward is to build the strongest possible democracy, the strongest possible economy, and to become what we believe Georgia can become, which is a very powerful role model and a very attractive country for all of its citizens.
So, in short, I don’t see a repeat of the situation of last summer, of the — we don’t see the guns of August, and we’ll continue to make it very clear to everyone that the best path forward is peace, restraint, and making good on commitments to protect the rights of people throughout Georgia.
Thank you all very, very much. Thanks for taking the time.
Thursday, July 16
Press gaggle with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton
MR. BURTON: So I don’t have anything to announce that you don’t already know. Phil, your tape recorder is backwards. Oh, it’s not.
All right. I’ll take your questions.
Q Tell us a little bit about what he wants to say to the NAACP tonight.
MR. BURTON: Well, the speech he’s been working on for about two weeks, and it’s about, in large part, the courage that it took to start the NAACP 100 years ago, and some of the things that they’ve gone through in the organization and in the community and what the next 100 years looks like.
He’ll look at the next — the way forward as — you know, in terms of the government will have a role, but also individuals will have to take responsibility as it relates to education, economic opportunity, and he’ll also talk a lot about issues like health care.
Q On health care, Senator Baucus said a couple hours ago that Obama is “making it difficult” in his opposition to taxing benefits; it’s “not helping us.” Can we get the White House official response from Bill Burton?
MR. BURTON: Well, we certainly appreciate working with Chairman Baucus and the Democrats and Republicans that we’ve been working so hard with on health care reform. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And there are obviously bumps along the way to getting to final passage of legislation in both the House and the Senate. But we think that we’ve been able to make a lot of progress. And those comments notwithstanding, this week has been a very great week, if you consider that the House bill and the bill that passed through the HELP Committee are very, very similar. They’re about 80 percent exactly the same. And we think that, you know, we’re making good progress with the Republicans who have come down to the White House to talk about the different issues that they have, and we’re going to keep doing it.
Q Does that mean that the President favors, and the White House favors, the HELP bill and the House bill and not what’s going to come out of Finance?
MR. BURTON: No, it doesn’t mean that. It just means that the House and the Senate and the different stakeholders working together are able to make some progress.
Q Does this mean, though, that the President is getting more comfortable with the idea of having this with Democratic votes only? Because that’s what Baucus is talking about. It’s harder for him to get a bipartisan bill if the President rules out these revenue sources.
MR. BURTON: Well, keep in mind that the President met with five Republican senators over the course of the last two days, so he’s still very committed to a bipartisan result to this process and he’s hopeful that we’re going to be able to get one.
Q What was the outcome of the talk with the Republicans that he’s had up?
MR. BURTON: They were productive. They were able to share some of the things that they were concerned about, some of the issues they had about moving forward. And the President heard them out, and hopefully we’re getting closer to some more common ground to get the kind of comprehensive health reform that we so desperately need right now.
Q At the White House today, Senator Snowe came out afterwards and said that a Senate vote before the August recess is “overly ambitious.” Is the President opening up any leeway — does he still want to see a Senate bill passed before the August recess?
MR. BURTON: Well, this isn’t the first time the President and his priorities have been accused of being ambitious. The President is still committed to trying to get a bill out of the House and the Senate by the time that we get to August and he’s still working to that end.
Q Bill, will there be an advance text or excerpts from the speech in advance?
MR. BURTON: Yes, hopefully middle to late afternoon we’ll be able to send you something.
Q Switching gears off health care real quick. RealtyTrac has a report out that says 1.5 million homes face foreclosure in the first half of this year; that’s 15 percent of homes. The White House has invested about $50 billion to subsidize home loans. Is more money needed?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think the President’s view is we have to let the programs that we’ve put in place have their full impact before we talk about spending any more money to shore up the problems that there are with foreclosure.
Q Bill, any update with the situation involving CIT? Has the government ruled out assistance for it?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President, when he came into office, was clear that he would have a very high standard for what companies received assistance from the federal government, from American taxpayers, and a lot of that had to do with whether or not they could show themselves to be sustainable in the long term. I don’t want to get too much into the specific aspects of one particular company, and I would encourage you to go to the Treasury Department to get more particulars. But the President is doing everything that he can to open up credit markets, to make sure that folks are loaning to businesses large and small. And we’ve seen some of that impact and some of the credit move forward.
Q Did the President make the decision, though? Did it rise to his level on not to bail out CIT?
MR. BURTON: No, he’s been up to date on the developments as they’ve proceeded, but —
Q But that wasn’t — it wasn’t his call. He didn’t — he wasn’t the decider on this one.
MR. BURTON: That’s right. Ultimately he’s responsible for the decisions that happen in his administration, but, no, he didn’t make that final call himself.
Q Who did make the final — who did make the final call?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know. Al Hunt. I’m just kidding. That’s off the record. I know he can’t do that.
Q Why is the Democrat — the DNC fundraiser closed?
MR. BURTON: Oh, that’s a small dinner. The President won’t be making remarks.
Q The Corzine one is open for remarks?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q Why is the President speaking so late in the day, and not doing a mid-day speech as his predecessors have done?
MR. BURTON: Well, the schedule today — he was at the White House meeting with Senator Nelson, Senator Snowe, did the economic daily brief and some other things. So there were just some other things in the morning that he was doing.
Q Do you know what he said to Major Grieves, the pilot, Marine One pilot?
MR. BURTON: I sure don’t. I’ll see if I can — I’ll see if I can get more on that for you, though. But I don’t know what he said.
Q What is the President doing to reassure moderate Democrats today as Republicans on the Hill are just screaming about this CBO testimony of Elmendorf?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say that — and I haven’t seen the testimony myself; it came out sort of as I was en route. But something to consider is that the HELP bill doesn’t have all of the — all the cost-saving measures in it. They don’t have jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid. And so we’ll take a look as we go down the road at how they score the different proposals that come out.
But I would say the President has been committed to getting stakeholders to the table, finding different ways to save money and produce the revenue that we need for comprehensive health care reform.
Q Can I just go back to Baucus’s comments earlier real quick, if the White House disagrees with Baucus’s characterization that the President is making it difficult, that his opposition to taxing — to ending the exclusion for tax on benefits is not helping?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say that the President is committed to a bipartisan result, and he’s done a lot to sit down with and listen to Democrats and Republicans about the different methods that they think that we can use to save money and find revenue to pay for our health care reform. If that’s disagreeing with Baucus, somebody else will have to make that determination. But he feels very good about the progress that we’ve been able to make.
There’s still a long way to go. We’re only about midway through this. But he feels very positive about the progress we’ve been able to make.
Q That comment of Baucus’s does create the impression that the White House is comfortable with the House bill as a kind of road map for how you pay for health care.
MR. BURTON: I wouldn’t go that far. I would say that the House bill and the HELP bill and the different proposals out there are positive steps forward; that we’ve been able to get a lot of people to the table and get actual proposals out. And once we get something through the House and through the Senate, we’ll be able to go to conference and really put the rubber to the road and get something done.
But I wouldn’t say that it means that he favors one thing or another. You’d have to talk to Senator Baucus about what it means.
Q Getting something from the Senate is exactly what Baucus is struggling mightily to do, because you need Republican votes to do that.
MR. BURTON: Look, this is a — this is a tough road. Health care reform is something that people have tried to do for the last 60 years, and nobody thought that this was going to be easy. This is one of many issues that we’re going to have to contend with as we move forward. But we feel like we’re continuing to move our feet. The President is optimistic. He’s energetic about how this is going. And we’re moving forward.
Q Bill, what does he think about the surtax on millionaires?
MR. BURTON: Well, like I said, this is just one idea that folks have about creating revenue for health care reform. He’s listening to everybody’s ideas. And he hasn’t come down on what the best ideas are yet on final passage.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: Thank you.
Vice President Biden highlights Recovery Act progress in Virginia
In a visit to the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College this afternoon, Vice President Biden highlighted the many ways in which the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is supporting the Richmond area. Vice President Biden was joined at the site by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones; Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood; Frank Cardella, president, Chesterfield Education Association; and John Fernandez, CEO of Daystar Desserts in Ashland, Virginia.
“Every day, I see how the Recovery Act is helping to revive our economy, bring back job growth and provide real relief for families, communities and states across the country,” said Vice President Biden. “And you don’t have to look too far to see what the Recovery Act is doing right here in Richmond. From helping schools, to improving transportation infrastructure; from supporting law enforcement to getting small businesses off the ground – the Recovery act is helping to build a 21st century economy in Richmond and the entire state of Virginia.”
Funds obligated to Virginia under the Recovery Act so far include $1.3 billion for education, $304 million for transportation and many projects in other categories. These investments are already lifting up Richmond by keeping class sizes down, reinvigorating small businesses, alleviating the strain on its roads and contributing to many other local goals. According to estimates, Recovery Act funding has cut state deficits by up to half, preventing tens of thousands of additional layoffs.
The Vice President today also reported that the City of Richmond is receiving $1.59 million in Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) to help keep police officers on the beat and keep crime off its streets. This grant will give law enforcement the tools they need to do their jobs, from training prosecutors to purchasing computers. The Commonwealth of Virginia has also received $24 million in JAG funds, allowing it to retain 685 jobs, including 611 full-time sworn deputy positions.
“By addressing Virginia’s economic challenges while simultaneously meeting the state’s public-safety priorities, these funds represent the best of what the Recovery Act can do for our communities,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “This vital funding will help fight crime and build safer communities, and we look forward to continued work with Virginia to address these criminal-justice goals.”
Across the country, $175 billion of the Recovery Act have been committed in its first 130 days, including $43 billion in tax cuts. One third of the act’s total funding is devoted to tax cuts for 95% of Americans. The act is also on pace to save or create 750,000 jobs in its first 200 days, or more than 3,000 jobs per day.
For additional information on the Recovery Act, including breakdowns by category, state and agency, please visit http://www.recovery.gov.
Statement from the president on the American Medical Association’s Support for HR 3200
“I am grateful that the doctors of the AMA have chosen to support health insurance reform that will lower costs, expand coverage, and assure choice and quality health care for all Americans. Along with the nation’s nurses, these doctors are joining the chorus of Americans who know that the time to reform what is broken about our health care system is now.
President Obama announces pick to head Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Jacqueline A. Berrien as Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
President Obama said, “Jacqueline Berrien has spent her entire career fighting to give voice to underrepresented communities and protect our most basic rights. Each of us deserves a fair chance to succeed in our workplace and make a contribution to this nation, and I’m confident that Jacqueline’s passion and leadership will ensure that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is living up to that mission. I look forward to undertaking this important work with Jacqueline in the months and years ahead.”
More on Jacqueline A. Berrien, nominee for Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Ms. Berrien has served as Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) since September 2004. In that position, she assists with the direction and implementation of LDF’s national legal advocacy and scholarship programs. Ms. Berrien served from 2001 to 2004 as a Program Officer in the Ford Foundation’s Peace and Social Justice Program, where she administered more than $13 million of grants to promote greater political participation by underrepresented groups and remove barriers to civic engagement. Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Ms. Berrien was an Assistant Counsel with LDF and directed the Fund’s voting rights and political participation work. For eight years before that, Ms. Berrien was a staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. Berrien has also taught in trial advocacy programs at Fordham and Harvard law schools and served on the adjunct faculty of New York Law School. She began her legal career clerking for the Honorable U.W. Clemon, the first African-American appointed to the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama. Ms. Berrien is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she served as a General Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree with High Honors in Government from Oberlin College and also completed a major in English.
Wednesday, July 15
Remarks by the president on health-care reform
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. I am pleased to be joined by not only some of my former colleagues and outstanding legislators, but also by nurses. And I think I’ve said this before — I really like nurses. (Laughter.) And so to have them here today on behalf of such a critical issue at a critical time is extraordinary.
Let me introduce a few of them. We’ve got Becky Patton, who’s the President of the American Nurses Association here. Raise your hand, Becky. We have Dr. Mary Wakefield, who’s a nurse and happens to be the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration at HHS, our highest-ranking nurse in the administration. We’ve got Keisha Walker, an RN, currently a senior research nurse at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. We have Dr. Rebecca Wiseman, nurse and assistant professor of adult health at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. And I’m also joined by Representative Johnson, Representative Capps, Representative McCarthy, Chairman George Miller, and my friend Chris Dodd.
I am very pleased to be joined today by the representatives from the American Nurses Association on behalf of 2.9 million registered nurses in America — men and women who know as well as anyone the urgent need for health reform.
Now, as I said before, I have a longstanding bias towards nurses. When Sasha, our younger daughter, was diagnosed with a dangerous case of meningitis when she was just three months old, we were terrified. And we were appreciative of the doctors, but it was the nurses who walked us through the entire process to make sure that Sasha was okay.
When both my daughters were born, the obstetrician was one of our best friends, but we saw her for about 10 minutes in each delivery. The rest of the time what we saw were nurses who did an incredible amount of work in not only taking care of Michelle but also caring for a nervous husband and then later for a couple of fat little babies.
So I know how important nurses are, and the nation does too. Nurses aren’t in health care to get rich. Last I checked, they’re in it to care for all of us, from the time they bring a new life into this world to the moment they ease the pain of those who pass from it. If it weren’t for nurses, many Americans in underserved and rural areas would have no access to health care at all.
And that’s why it’s safe to say that few understand why we have to pass reform as intimately as our nation’s nurses. They see firsthand the heartbreaking costs of our health care crisis. They hear the same stories that I’ve heard across this country — of treatment deferred or coverage denied by insurance companies; of insurance premiums and prescriptions that are so expensive they consume a family’s entire budget; of Americans forced to use the emergency room for something as simple as a sore throat just because they can’t afford to see a doctor.
And they understand that this is a problem that we can no longer defer. We can’t kick the can down the road any longer. Deferring reform is nothing more than defending the status quo — and those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is that they’re defending. Over the last decade, health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are skyrocketing. And every single day we wait to act, thousands of Americans lose their insurance, some turning to nurses in emergency rooms as their only recourse.
So make no mistake, the status quo on health care is not an option for the United States of America. It’s threatening the financial stability of families, of businesses, and of government. It’s unsustainable, and it has to change.
I know a lot of Americans who are satisfied with their health care right now are wondering what reform would mean for them, so let me be clear: If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them. If you like your health care plan, you can keep that too.
But here’s what else reform will mean for you — and this is for people who have health insurance: You will save money. If you lose your job, change your job, or start a new business, you’ll still be able to find quality health insurance that you can afford. If you have a preexisting medical condition, no insurance company will be able to deny you coverage. You won’t have to worry about being priced out of the market. You won’t have to worry about one illness leading your family into financial ruin. That’s what reform means, not just for the uninsured but for the people who have health insurance right now.
The naysayers and the cynics still doubt that we can do this. But it wasn’t too long ago that those same naysayers doubted that we’d be able to make real progress on health care reform. And thanks to the work of key committees in Congress, we’re now closer to the goal of health reform than we have ever been.
Yesterday, the House introduced its health reform proposal. Today, thanks to the unyielding passion and inspiration of our friend Ted Kennedy, and to the bold leadership of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate HELP Committee reached a major milestone by passing a similarly strong proposal for health reform. It’s a plan that was debated for more than 50 hours and that, by the way, includes 160 Republican amendments — a hopeful sign of bipartisan support for the final product, if people are serious about bipartisanship.
Both proposals will take what’s best about our system today and make it the basis for our system tomorrow — reducing costs, raising quality, and ensuring fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry. Both include a health insurance exchange, a marketplace that will allow families and small businesses to compare prices, services, and the quality, so they can choose the plan that best suits their needs. And among the choices available would be a public health insurance option that would make health care more affordable by increasing competition, providing more choices, and keeping insurance companies honest. Both proposals will offer stability and security to Americans who have coverage today, and affordable options to those who don’t.
This progress should make us hopeful, but it can’t make us complacent. It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess.
America’s nurses need us to succeed, not just on behalf of the patients that they sometimes speak for. If we invest in prevention, nurses won’t have to treat diseases or complications that could have been avoided. If we modernize health records, we’ll streamline the paperwork that can take up more than one-third of the average nurse’s day, freeing them to spend more time with their patients. If we make their jobs a little bit easier, we can attract and train the young nurses we need to make up a nursing shortage that’s only getting worse. Nurses do their part every time they check another healthy patient out of the hospital. It’s now time for us to do our part.
I just want to be clear: We are going to get this done. Becky and I were talking in the Oval Office. Becky just pointed out, we need to buck up people a little bit here. (Laughter.) And that’s what nurses do all the time — they buck up patients, sometimes they buck up some young resident who doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. (Laughter.) You look at Becky, you can tell she knows what she’s doing. And what she’s saying is it’s time for us to buck up — Congress, this administration, the entire federal government — to be clear that we’ve got to get this done.
Our nurses are on board. The American people are on board. It’s now up to us. We can do what we’ve done for so long and defer tough decisions for another day — or we can step up and meet our responsibilities. In other words, we can lead. We can look beyond the next news cycle and the next election to the next generation, and come together to build a system that works not just for these nurses, but for the patients they care for; for doctors and hospitals; for families and businesses — and for our very future as a nation.
I’m confident it’s going to get done because we’ve got a great team behind us. And we are going to be continually talking about this for the next two to three weeks until we’ve got a bill off the Senate and we’ve got a bill out of the House. Then we’ll deserve a few weeks’ rest before we come back and finally get a bill done so we can sign it right here in the Rose Garden.
Thank you, everybody.
Tuesday, July 14
President announces Peace Corps director nominee
President Obama today announced his intent to nominate Aaron Williams to be Director of the Peace Corps.
President Obama said, “America was built on a belief that the best progress comes from ordinary citizens working to bring about the change they believe in. Through a lifetime of service, Aaron Williams has embodied the very best of that American ideal. I am grateful for his service and honored to nominate him to direct the critical work of the Peace Corps.”
The announcement comes as the President prepares to throw out the first pitch at tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game and appear in a video with all five living presidents to spotlight the stories of five of Major League Baseball’s “All-Stars Among Us,” Americans who have undertaken extraordinary service in their communities. Answering the President’s call to service through United We Serve, Major League Baseball has dedicated this year’s All-Star Game and the events surrounding it to highlighting the critical importance of community service. United We Serve is the President’s initiative encouraging all Americans to engage in sustained and meaningful service in their communities.
Aaron Williams is currently a Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International, Aaron Williams has over 25 years of experience in the design and implementation of worldwide assistance programs. As a senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the US Senior Foreign Service, and as Executive Vice President at the International Youth Foundation, Mr. Williams established innovative public-private partnerships around the world. As USAID Mission Director in South Africa, Mr. Williams led a billion dollar foreign assistance program during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. In addition to his work in South Africa, he has extensive experience in the strategic design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East; including long-term assignments in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean islands region. In addition to his tenure with USAID, Mr. Williams served on the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid at USAID. Mr. Williams was awarded the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service twice. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the Board of Directors of CARE, and the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. Mr. Williams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic (1967-70). Upon completing his service, he became the Coordinator of Minority Recruitment and Project Evaluation Officer for the Peace Corps in Chicago (1970-71). Mr. Williams is fluent in Spanish. He is a graduate of Chicago State University, and has an MBA from the University of Wisconsin.
Remarks by President Obama and Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody — you guys all set up?
Well, let me just make a very brief statement. I am very pleased to have Prime Minister Balkenende here and his delegation. We are about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson, on behalf of a Dutch company exploring Manhattan and helping to lay the groundwork for the United States. And that’s going to be an incredible celebration that we’re all looking forward to.
With that history in mind, the United States and the Netherlands have maintained an extraordinarily close friendship for many years now. I wanted to express to the Prime Minister both the American people’s appreciation for that friendship generally, but also our admiration for some of the specific international obligations that the Netherlands has taken on and the leadership that it’s taken on.
We discussed the critical role that the Netherlands has played in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF operation there. The Dutch military has been one of the most outstanding militaries there, has shown extraordinary not only military capacity, but also insight into the local culture and the local politics. The review that we conducted in Afghanistan that emphasized the 3Ds of development, diplomacy, as well our ability to deploy troops effectively — that really was adopted from some strategies that had already been pursued effectively by the Netherlands.
We discussed a range of international issues that we have been working together on in the G20. And I extended my personal invitation to the Prime Minister to participate in the next G20 summit in Pittsburgh, because we think that the Netherlands not only is one of the world’s largest economies and most active internationally, but the Prime Minister has very specific expertise and experience in working with a whole range of world leaders and I think his contribution will be greatly appreciated.
We discussed the issue of Guantanamo and the importance of European countries working with us to assist in that process. And we’re grateful for the encouragement that we’ve received there.
And we discussed the issue of climate change. Obviously the Netherlands has a lot of experience in dealing with the battle against rising oceans, and they’ve got a deep investment in dealing with this issue. They’ve also taken terrific strides on issues of clean energy and we think that we can get some good advice there, in terms of how we can work together.
So, overall, we think that this partnership is strong and will continue to grow, and we’re grateful to the Dutch people for their extraordinary contributions to international peace and security. And I look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh.
PRIME MINISTER BALKENENDE: Thank you very much. Mr. President, I want to thank you very much for receiving us — this delegation and me here in the Oval Office. We’ve had a good meeting and you already referred to the fact that we are friends for centuries, the United States and the Netherlands, some 400 years ago when Henry Hudson arrived in the area of New York, Manhattan.
And it’s good to underline that we share the same values. We talk about freedom and human rights, and we talk about our common responsibilities. We talk about democracy, and we both are acting worldwide.
When you started as President, you brought the message of hope and hope for a new future, and we admire you for that. I want to thank you that you are taking up your responsibilities, domestically but also internationally. We met with each other four times, at several summits, and you played an important role, talking about the issues of today.
And we both are convinced that it’s important that we are talking about not only the financial crisis, but also about the Millennium Development goals, about the issue of energy, climate change. So the Copenhagen summit must be successful. And therefore, it’s important that we’ll have a very successful meeting in Pittsburgh. And I want to thank you very much for the invitation to be there.
I’m convinced that we can only solve the problems worldwide when we are working together. And we also spoke about the issue of public health and the health system. In my country, we’ve had a lot of discussions and now I know it’s now on the agenda here in the United States. So it’s an enormous responsibility to change things.
We also talked about the important issue of innovation and several fields of importance that we can do things in another way — innovation in the economic sphere, but also in health issues. We talked about the role of the private sector, issue of corporate social responsibility.
So I’m convinced we have so many things in common, we can work together. You already mentioned our work in Afghanistan, a complicated and dangerous area, but we also think that it’s important to work there together.
Mr. President, I wish you all the best with your responsibilities. It’s not an easy time to be President, but you show power and authority to change things. And I want to thank you very much for the friendship, and I’m sure, I’m convinced, that we will work together in the right way, in the interest of the people worldwide, in the United States, and in the Netherlands. And of course, you must come to my beautiful country.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.
All right, we’re going to take one question each. Representing the United States, Sam Youngman of The Hill.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. I’m curious, sir, you’ve said you expect unemployment to reach 10 percent in the next month or so. How high do you expect it to get in states like Michigan, where it’s already 14 percent? And if I may, sir, I’m curious if you’ve been practicing your pitching ahead of tonight’s game? (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think it’s fair to say that I wanted to loosen up my arm a little bit. You know, my general strategy the last time I threw a pitch was at the American League Championship Series and I just wanted to keep it high. Now, there was no clock on it, I don’t know how fast it went — but if it exceeded 30 miles per hour, I’d be surprised. But it did clear the plate.
With respect to the employment issue, obviously I don’t have a crystal ball. We have looked at a lot of the economic data that’s coming out right now. And as I’ve said repeatedly, we have seen some stabilization in the financial markets, and that’s good because that means that companies can borrow, and banks are starting to lend again; small businesses that might have worried just a couple of months ago about closing doors, they are now able to get a little more financing — that means they’re less likely to lay off workers. So that’s on the positive side.
What we have also said is that historically, even after you start moving into a recovery, positive growth, hiring typically lags for some time after that. That’s been the historic norm.
Now, this has been a more severe recession than we’ve seen since the Great Depression, so how employment numbers are going to respond is not yet clear. My expectation is, is that we will probably continue to see unemployment tick up for several months. And the challenge for this administration is to make sure that even as we are stabilizing the financial system, we understand that the most important thing in the economy is, are people able to find good jobs that pay good wages.
We had a problem even before this recession, even during periods of economic growth, where the pace of job growth, wage growth, income growth was not moving as quickly as overall economic growth. The last recession that we had, the recovery was termed a “jobless recovery.” We can’t repeat that approach.
And that’s why when I talk about things like health care reform or revamping how we approach energy and investing deeply in clean energy, when I talk about improving our education system, as I’ll discuss today when I go to Michigan, those foundations are so critical because we’ve got to find new models of economic growth, particularly at a time when consumers are just not going probably going to be spending as much as they were — and that has been driving a lot of the economic growth over the last several months.
Michigan obviously is a state that has just been battered, not only during this recession but in the years leading up to this recession. We’re pleased to see that GM now and Chrysler have gotten out of bankruptcy. They have an opportunity to compete internationally. Had it not been for the steps that we took with respect to GM and Chrysler, the situation in Michigan, I think it’s fair to say, would be far worse.
The same applies to the Recovery Act. We’ve made investments that early on have allowed a state like Michigan to lay off fewer teachers, fewer cops, fewer firefighters. Those are all jobs that would have been lost in the absence of the recovery package.
But it’s still not enough, and so I would argue that the single biggest challenge that not just the United States face but countries in Europe and all around the world are going to face as we come out of the recovery is how do we generate enough jobs that pay good wages to keep up with population growth.
And unless we are investing in energy, infrastructure, innovation, science, development, and eliminating the drag the health care system is placing on the overall economy, I think we will have a very difficult time generating the jobs that are necessary. If we make those investments, then I have confidence that we’ll be able to do so.
Q Mr. Obama, you mentioned the critical role that the Dutch are playing in Afghanistan. How important is it, do you think, that you will keep playing a role, even after summer next year?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as I said, I think Dutch troops have been some of the most effective troops in ISAF. I recognize that participation in the coalition in Afghanistan can be controversial in the Netherlands. It’s never easy sending our finest young men and women into a field of battle.
What I shared with the Prime Minister was the hope that even after next summer that there’s the ability for the Dutch to continue to apply the leadership and the experience that they’ve been able to accumulate over these past years.
And I think that all of us want to see an effective exit strategy where increasingly the Afghan army, Afghan police, Afghan courts, Afghan government are taking more responsibility for their own security. And if we can get through a successful election in September and we continue to apply the training approach to the Afghan security forces and we combine that with a much more effective approach to economic development inside Afghanistan, then my hope is, is that we will be able to begin transitioning into a different phase in — in Afghanistan.
The one thing I want to emphasize is that the issue in Afghanistan is not simply an American issue, it is a worldwide issue. And the vulnerabilities to terrorist attack in Europe are at least as high as they are here in the United States. If you look at how al Qaeda has operated, they consider the West to be one undifferentiated set of countries, and they will exploit whatever weaknesses are there.
So I think we have a common interest in dealing with this as effectively as possible. I’m grateful to the Prime Minister and the Dutch people for their extraordinary contribution.
PRIME MINISTER BALKENENDE: It’s good to underline that we are following the 3D approach — it’s always combination of defense, diplomacy, and development. We have experience on that. I’m very happy with the review of the American administration, because we can say we are exactly on the same line. So we have to go on with that.
Talking about (inaudible) and you’re aware of our decision, we will stop as lead nation in that province, but it’s also good to underline that the Netherlands will not turn its back on the Afghan people. We feel also responsibility. We will go on with (inaudible) cooperation, if there are requests we will consider them seriously. That’s also the way we have talked about (inaudible).
I also would like to underline what you said about economic issues. Last year we talked about financial issues, the financial crisis. We talked about financial architecture. It’s important that we are developing the same strategy, and I think that we have ideas enough; now is the question of the implementation. We are working on that, and therefore also the summit in Pittsburgh is extremely important.
But of the financial crisis, it’s also a matter of generating jobs. What do we do with the economic crisis? And therefore, also, we need to take coordinated approach.
And that’s also linked to the issue of confidence — confidence among consumers, confidence among producers. And therefore it’s important that we are working together and that we find the right (inaudible) just to give hope for people, because if people are losing their jobs, it’s a terrible situation, and we are aware of the fact that we have to change things. And that was your message, that’s my message, and that will also be the message of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Okay, thank you, everybody.
Monday, July 13
Remarks by the president at Urban and Metropolitan Policy Roundtable
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. (Applause.) A couple of quick acknowledgments. Where’s Greg — where’s Greg Nickels? There you are, Greg. Thank you so much for your participation today.
I understand Governor Rendell is here, or was here. He may have stepped out, but when he comes back in, I hope to have a chance to say hello to him.
Burrell Ellis, CEO of DeKalb County — it’s so nice to see you, Burrell. Kathie Novak — where’s Kathie? Hey, Kathie, good to see you. Henry Cisneros — where are you? The legendary — (laughter) — good to see you, my friend. Federico Pena, thank you so much — who worked so hard to help us get elected. Julia Stasch — where’s my friend from Chicago? There she is. Good to see you, Julia. And obviously you know our outstanding Cabinet that is so focused on these issues — Ray LaHood, Shaun Donovan, Lisa Jackson. Where’s — Ms. Mills, there. Great to see Karen, and Hilda Solis.
I just want you to know, as well as our new director of our office of — I always forget the full name of this — I call it the Drug Czar, but — (laughter.)
MR. KERLIKOWSKE: I’m fine with that. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, Gil. By the way, Nickels vouched for you. (Laughter.)
Thank you so much, all of you, for participating. I see a lot of friends, old and new. And it’s great to be back and it’s great to be joined by some of the finest urban thinkers in America for what I understand has been a critical conversation on the future of America’s urban and metropolitan areas.
Now, as you might imagine, this is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve lived almost all my life in urban areas. Michelle and I chose to raise our daughters in the city where she grew up. And even though I went to college in LA and New York, and law school across the river from Boston, I received my greatest education on Chicago’s South Side, working at the local level to bring about change in those communities and opportunities to people’s lives.
And I see a number of Chicago folks who were fighting with me — I mean, alongside me — (laughter) — for many years. I already mentioned Julia, but obviously there are a number of other folks, as well.
And that experience also gave me an understanding of some of the challenges facing city halls all across the country. And I know that those challenges are particularly severe today because of this recession. Four in five cities have had to cut services, just when folks need it the most, and 48 states face the prospects of budget deficits in the coming fiscal year.
And that’s one reason why we took swift and aggressive action in the first months of my administration to pull our economy — (Teleprompter screen falls) — oh, goodness, sorry about that, guys — (laughter) — to pull our economy back from the brink, including the largest and most sweeping economic recovery plan in our nation’s history. If we had not taken that step, our cities would be in a even deeper hole, and state budget deficits would be nearly twice as large as they are right now, and tens of thousands of police officers and firefighters and teachers would be out of a job as we speak. And I think that all of you are aware of that.
But what’s also clear is we’re going to need to do more than just help our cities weather the current economic storm. We’ve got to figure out ways to rebuild them on a newer, firmer, stronger foundation for our future. And that requires new strategies for our cities and metropolitan areas that focus on advancing opportunity through competitive, sustainable, and inclusive growth. And that’s why all of you are here today. And I know that there were a lot of ideas that were shared throughout the morning and afternoon.
Now, the first thing we need to recognize is that this is not just a time of challenge for America’s cities; it’s also a time of great change. Even as we’ve seen many of our central cities continuing to grow in recent years, we’ve seen their suburbs and exurbs grow roughly twice as fast — that spreads homes and jobs and businesses to a broader geographic area. And this transformation is creating new pressures and problems, of course, but it’s also opening up new opportunities, because it’s not just our cities that are hotbeds of innovation anymore, it’s our growing metropolitan areas.
And when I spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, I tried to hone in on this point that what I think traditionally had been seen as this divide between city and suburb, that in some ways you’ve seen both city and suburb now come together and recognize they can’t solve their problems in isolation; they’ve got to paying attention to each other. And these metropolitan areas, they’re home to 85 percent of our jobs and 90 percent of our economic output.
Now, that doesn’t mean investing in America comes at the expense of rural America; quite the opposite. Investing in mass transit and high-speed rail, for example, doesn’t just make our downtowns more livable; it helps our regional economies grow. Investing in renewable energy doesn’t just make our cities cleaner; it boosts rural areas that harness that energy. Our urban and rural communities are not independent; they are interdependent.
So what’s needed now is a new, imaginative, bold vision tailored to this reality that brings opportunity to every corner of our growing metropolitan areas — a new strategy that’s about Southern Florida as much as Miami; that’s about Mesa and Scottsdale as much as it’s about Phoenix; that’s about Aurora and Boulder and Northglenn as much as about Denver.
An early step was to appoint Adolfo Carrion as our first White House Director of Urban Affairs. And his team and he share my belief that our cities need more than just a partner — they need a partner who knows that the old ways of looking at our cities just won’t do. And that’s why I’ve directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Urban Affairs to conduct the first comprehensive interagency review in 30 years of how the federal government approaches and funds urban and metropolitan areas so that we can start having a concentrated, focused, strategic approach to federal efforts to revitalize our metropolitan areas.
And we’re also going to take a hard look at how Washington helps or hinders our cities and metro areas — from infrastructure to transportation; from housing to energy; from sustainable development to education. And we’re going to make sure federal policies aren’t hostile to good ideas or best practices on the local levels. We’re going to put an end to throwing money at what doesn’t work — and we’re going to start investing in what does work and make sure that we’re encouraging that.
Now, we began to do just that with my budget proposal, which included two investments in innovative and proven strategies. I just want to mention these briefly. The first, Promise Neighborhoods, is modeled on Geoffrey Canada’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone. It’s an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck effort that’s turning around the lives of New York City’s children, block by block. And what we want to do is to make grants available for communities in other cities to jumpstart their own neighborhood-level interventions that change the odds for our kids.
The second proposal we call Choice Neighborhoods — focuses on new ideas for housing in our cities by recognizing that different communities need different solutions. So instead of isolated and monolithic public housing projects that too often trap residents in a cycle of poverty and isolate them further, we want to invest in proven strategies that actually transform communities and enhance opportunity for residents and businesses alike.
But we also need to fundamentally change the way we look at metropolitan development. For too long, federal policy has actually encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development. And we’ve been keeping communities isolated when we should have been bringing them together.
And that’s why we’ve created a new interagency partnership on sustainable communities, led by Shaun Donovan, as well as Ray LaHood and Lisa Jackson. And by working together, their agencies can make sure that when it comes to development — housing, transportation, energy efficiency — these things aren’t mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand. And that means making sure that affordable housing exists in close proximity to jobs and transportation. That means encouraging shorter travel times and lower travel costs. It means safer, greener, more livable communities.
So we’re off to a good start. But the truth is, is that Washington can’t solve all of these problems that face our cities, and frankly, I know that cities don’t expect Washington to solve all these problems. Instead of waiting for Washington, a lot of cities have already gone ahead and become their own laboratories for change and innovation, some leading the world in coming up with new ways to solve the problems of our time.
So you take an example like Denver. Their metropolitan area is projected to grow by 1 million residents over the next 15 years or so. But rather than wait for a congestion crisis, they’re already at work on plans to build and operate a public transit system up to the challenge, and to surround that system with smart new housing, retail, and office development near each stop.
Philadelphia is an example of what’s been called “urban agriculture.” It may sound like an oxymoron, but one proposal is trying to make a situation where fresh, local food supplies are within a short walk for most city residents, which will have a direct impact not only on the economy and on the environment, but also make an immeasurable difference in the health of Americans.
Or Kansas City. One idea there focuses on transforming a low-income community into a national model of sustainability by weatherizing homes and building a green local transit system.
Three different cities with three unique ideas for the future. And that’s why they’re three of the cities that are members of my — that members of my Cabinet and Office of Urban Affairs will visit this summer as part of a ongoing national conversation to lift up best practices from around the country, to look at innovations for the metropolitan areas of tomorrow. Forward-looking cities shouldn’t be succeeding despite Washington; they should be succeeding with a hand from Washington. We want to hear directly from them, and we want to hear directly from all of you, on fresh ideas and successful solutions that you’ve devised, and then figure out what the federal government should do or shouldn’t do to help reinvent cities and metropolitan areas for the 21st century.
So I know that this change is possible. After all, I’m from a city that knows a little something about reinventing itself. In the 19th century, after a cataclysmic fire, Chicagoans rebuilt stronger than before. In the last century, they led the world upward in steel and glass. And in this century, under my friend Mayor Daley’s leadership, they’re helping to lead the world forward in newer, greener, more livable ways.
Daniel Burnam said, “Make no little plans.” And that’s the spirit behind his bold and ambitious designs unveiled 100 years ago this month that helped transform Chicago into a world-class city. That’s the same spirit which we have to approach the reinvention of all America’s cities and metropolitan areas — a vision of vibrant, sustainable places that provide our children with every chance to learn and to grow, and that allow our businesses and workers the best opportunity to innovate and succeed, and that let our older Americans live out their best years in the midst of all that metropolitan life can offer. Now is the time to seize that moment of possibility, and I am absolutely confident that, starting today with this conversation, you and I together, we’re going to be able to make this happen.
So thank you for joining us, and I’m looking forward to all of us getting to work. Thank you. (Applause.)
Statement from Treasury Secretary Geithner on the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today released the following statement from Secretary Tim Geithner as the government scales back its day-to-day involvement in the auto industry:
“With the emergence of both General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy, we enter a new phase of the government’s unprecedented and temporary involvement in the automotive industry.
“I am very proud of the work done by the Auto Task Force, under the leadership of Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, to help oversee the efficient, fair and commercial restructuring of two great American companies.
“With GM’s restructuring complete, Steven Rattner, whose leadership and vision were invaluable to the Auto Task Force’s efforts, has decided to transition back to private life and his family in New York City. We are extremely grateful to Steve for his efforts in helping to strengthen GM and Chrysler, recapitalize GMAC, and support the American auto industry. I hope that he takes another opportunity to bring his unique skills to government service in the future.
“Ron Bloom will assume leadership of the Task Force’s activities as the government transitions its role away from day-to-day restructuring to monitoring this vital industry and protecting the substantial investment the American taxpayers have made in GM, Chrysler, and GMAC.
“Because of the President’s commitment to this industry and the deep sacrifices of all stakeholders, GM and Chrysler have achieved a quick restructuring, and the economy avoided the devastation that would have accompanied their liquidation. Now, with day-to-day management of these companies in the hands of the private sector, the American taxpayers have a better chance of recouping their investment in these companies.
“There is still much work ahead to ensure that GM and Chrysler re-emerge as stronger, more competitive companies. President Obama has made it perfectly clear that it is the responsibility of their private boards of directors and management teams to deliver that result. And thanks to the hard work of Steve, Ron, and the entire Auto Task Force, they have a much better chance today of rebuilding those companies and making them once again symbols of American success.”
Press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Babington, take us away.
Q Thank you. Robert, Attorney General Holder reportedly is leaning towards having a criminal prosecutor look into whether U.S. interrogators tortured terrorist suspects. What are the President’s thoughts on the wisdom of doing or not doing this? And has the White House communicated in any fashion with Mr. Holder on this subject?
MR. GIBBS: I think my best guidance for you and others on this would be to look back at what the President has said over the course of the past many weeks, including at his speech at the Archives; that our efforts are better focused looking forward than looking back; and that the President, and I think the Attorney General, all agree that anyone who followed the law, that was acting in the good faith of the guidance that they were provided within the four corners of the law will not and should not be prosecuted.
Obviously, if some laws were broken, that falls into the dominion of the Attorney General.
Q So the answer is, no, that you don’t want the CIA’s secret operations revealed to Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, now, you’re talking about something fundamentally different than what Chuck is talking about. I don’t want to conflate two stories with the same initials CIA. So let’s just keep it a little bit more clear.
Q Yes, if I could just follow up — and you’re right. But you said just now that you think the Attorney General agrees that those who acted within the four corners of the law — I believe you said that —
MR. GIBBS: Yes. But let me — that’s not a new statement. That’s not based on some guidance I was given today. Obviously, if people — I think this was said at the release of the OLC memos, the release of the archives — or the presentation of the Archive’s speech — those that followed the law, acted in good faith with the guidance that they were provided should not and will not be prosecuted.
Q Some time and some developments have taken place between now and the Archive’s speech. Has there been any type of communication, either direct or indirect, between the White House and Mr. Holder about this topic?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q The President mentioned health care in his speech. Is there now a possibility that you won’t get legislation by August, as you had hoped?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe. I don’t know. I think the President, I think, was pretty clear last week, that we’re continuing to make progress, he thinks, towards that. I spent, obviously, last week out of town, but looking back at some of the coverage there’s always a little bit more drama over aspects of this rather than — negative aspects of this than positive aspects of this. I get that; that’s how this town continues to operate.
I think if you asked the President he would say we are closer to comprehensive, fundamental, cost-cutting reform than we have been at any point since we’ve had this debate over the course of the past 40 years. I think if you look at — whether it’s agreements with the pharmaceutical industry, the AARP, hospitals — people are at the table. Those are people that in previous attempts at reforming the system in a comprehensive way were at this point of the debate on opposite sides of the table.
So I think — obviously we’re — there’s a lot of legislative nitty-gritty that’s going to be handled out in the next three or four weeks, but I think the President sees good progress.
Q Will the President support the Rangel tax proposal?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have been asked virtually every week since being bestowed this job to comment on individual tax proposals, so I’ll begin whatever week of my tenure this is by saying that the President has laid out what he thinks the best proposals are. You know them because I’ve said them 483 times. But the President is also going to watch what plays out on Capitol Hill and see what happens.
Q The President has said that health care reform, he’d like it on his desk by the August recess, and he thinks —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President has talked about moving a bill forward. I don’t think anybody was under the illusion that the whole process would be wrapped up by the beginning of August.
Q Well, what does he want done by the beginning of August?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we can get a bill through the House and a bill through — hopefully a bill through the Senate, but I don’t think anybody is under the illusion that all of it is going to be wrapped up in a just a couple of weeks, but that we can make a lot of progress toward that goal.
Q I guess maybe I misunderstood, other people did too — so by August recess, he would like to have it through the House and the Senate or through the House and maybe the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll take either one — (laughter) — but obviously we’d like to see it through both Houses, but understanding that there’s a lot of work to be done.
Q Is that moving the goal posts a little bit? Did you just kind of — you sound a little bit more pessimistic about it — or I shouldn’t say “pessimistic,” you sound a little —
MR. GIBBS: Did somebody bring in goal posts?
Q Well, the baseball metaphors on Capitol Hill today, I thought I’d change the sport.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, okay. I was going to say, goal posts —
Q You sound a little less optimistic about this than we’ve heard —
MR. GIBBS: No, I —
Q You said, maybe, I don’t know, when he asked if it was going to be —
MR. GIBBS: While you were moving in your goal posts, I left my crystal ball back in — I think you heard the President say — (cell phone rings) — is that the President now? (Laughter.) That’s right, got to love it.
I think as you heard the President say just the end of last week, that’s his strong hope, that we get something moving through by August.
Q And also, there are some meetings today with Jewish leaders. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about that.
MR. GIBBS: We will give you a readout off of that. I know a number of people, many of whom the President has known for quite some time — Lee Rosenberg, Alan Solow, and others — are in to talk about issues that they’re concerned about, particularly long-term peace in the Middle East. But we’ll give you a readout of who is in there and what they discussed.
Q Robert, the President has always used strong language in going after critics who don’t think that health care reform can actually happen. But he sounded a little tougher today in the remarks when he was unveiling his Surgeon General. Is there a sense of desperation here that perhaps this is slipping away?
MR. GIBBS: No. Again, I — understand, Dan, that opponents of health care reform, the special interests that have lined up the same way every time this debate is had, over the course of the past 40 years. Delay is absolutely what they want. But the American people, American families, American small businesses can’t wait. They can’t wait for reform that cuts costs, they can’t wait for reform that provides the opportunity for millions of Americans to have the hope of quality and affordable health care.
I think the President was simply noting the stakes of this debate, that — again, I think if you look at this just from what happens in a subcommittee, not also what happens with, as I said earlier, major stakeholders involved in the business of health care at the table, negotiating productive agreements that move us closer to something that we haven’t seen in a long time. So I don’t think —
Q If they’re so concerned, though, why do you have this — specifically been addressed? Why did the President have to address his critics? I mean, you could just — if you think you’re going to win and you think you have this in the bag, then —
MR. GIBBS: Maybe you changed the entire premise of your question here in the follow-up. I think the President obviously is concerned that we need to get reform this year.
Q It’s not about the reform, but about the chances of getting the reform.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think that the President has talked about this for a long time and he’s talked about the stakes and he’s talked about what’s involved, and he’s going to work hard over the next several weeks to make sure that we get, from being as close as we are now, to something that’s productive for the American people.
Q And he’s meeting here at the White House later this afternoon with some key congressional Democrats. Can you tell us more about that? Is that supposed to be a private meeting, a secret meeting? We didn’t know about it —
MR. GIBBS: Have you been invited? (Laughter.)
Q We didn’t know —
MR. GIBBS: Did you not get your invitation?
Q Typically when somebody —
MR. GIBBS: Somebody call social —
Q I would like an invitation; we’d love to be there. But usually we find out about these meetings ahead of time, and this sort of seemed to be somewhat of a, I guess, closely held —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I was going to say, if it’s a secret meeting, we did a really poor job, but we’ll get —
Q I mean, was it intentional? Can you tell us more about it?
MR. GIBBS: I think he’s meeting with some of the Democratic leadership and Democrats involved in health care reform to discuss where we are and how we can move forward.
Q Is it more than Baucus and Rangel? I mean, who’s coming?
MR. GIBBS: I think leadership like Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi. I don’t have a full detail of that, but we’ll give you some kind of readout —
Q And what time is it?
MR. GIBBS: I haven’t the slightest idea.
Q Can I follow?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Just to follow on Jake’s question about the timing and how important it is that the Senate also pass something by August. It looks like the House will probably do that, and you weren’t so sure —
MR. GIBBS: I mean, look, our hope obviously is the Senate will get something done by August.
Q What I’m wondering is, do you think — does it make a difference whether or not the Congress goes on recess having actually passed two bills, or whether the — the fear of some of the advocates is that if the Senate hasn’t passed something the opponents of this have a whole month to take potshots at all these possible elements of the plan.
MR. GIBBS: They’ve had months and months and months to do that anyway, so I don’t —
Q You don’t think it matters whether the Senate passes something —
MR. GIBBS: No, I didn’t say that. What I’m suggesting that somehow if they go on recess there will be a proliferation of potshots, they seem to be in today and there’s a proliferation of potshots. That’s just the way the merry-go-round goes.
No, the President is — again, I think the President was pretty clear on this on Friday, albeit in Italy, that he wants something moved through this process by August. I think that —
Q But wasn’t he saying he wanted a bill to sign by August?
Q No, no, he never said that.
MR. GIBBS: No, no. I don’t think that’s —
Q He said, I really want it by August.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, getting this thing through the process — trust me, you guys are — yes, I would agree that we have a lot on our plate if we’re going to get the whole kit and caboodle done by the beginning of August.
But to your larger point, Mara, I mean, I think we’ve got — it’s July 13. We’ve got I think through the first week — we’ve got several weeks to go, let’s just put it that way, to continue to make the progress and build on the momentum we’ve seen.
Q But would he ask Congress, please stay in session — the Senate — stay in session until you pass this?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that — I don’t know if something like that’s been communicated. I think we certainly believe that there are plenty of days in order to get that progress going. And, look, if we’re not making progress, then I’m sure the President will encourage them to continue to stay and do what needs to be done in order to have that happen, understanding again that this is a big priority of the President’s. As I’ve said countless times, we have families that are struggling with the skyrocketing costs of health care; we’ve got businesses; we’ve got state and local governments — we’ve got the federal government that’s dealing with the skyrocketing costs, and we’ve got to do something about it.
Q Just to follow, what does the President say to lawmakers who say, look, this is legislation that deals with one-sixth of our economy; let’s not rush it through, let’s take the time to get it right? A year — our legislative year ends at Christmastime. What’s the rush to get it done by August?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first of all, I don’t — this is not a new debate to Washington, right? I mean, health care didn’t — this isn’t a debate that started, say, at or around March — well, it did, actually, it’s March of, like, 1960-something.
Q But this is a legislative effort that started with this Congress and this particular group of lawmakers this year.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes we can’t afford to wait on reform; that, again, we’ve got countless people struggling with the high cost of health care. I don’t think our — I doubt the President’s message is going to be, “Don’t worry, we can struggle through with the high cost of health care for several more months.” Our hope is to get something done.
Q Maybe it could wait until September, when they feel comfortable getting it done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, if you get your invitation with Dan to come to the meeting, I’ll let you impart that to the President.
Q If we’re going to do this following up stuff —
MR. GIBBS: Don’t worry, guys, I’m here the whole hour. You guys can —
Q My question is —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second, Helen, let me —
Q — will he veto if there isn’t a public option?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think we’ve laid anything down quite that definitively. I think the President has been — let me go to many of the principles that the President outlined, including the strong belief that for those who can’t get — who are not provided insurance through their employer or who can’t get it at an affordable rate as part of the private market, that they have the option to go into — or to have the option for a public plan. I think the President believes that’s very important.
I’d also address — I think the President — and I’ve heard him say this on a number of occasions and I think I’ve told you all this — if there aren’t substantial savings, if we’re not improving the way health care is delivered so that the budgetary expenditure for families, for businesses, and for the government isn’t changed, he’s not interested in doing something that’s just called reform in the title but perpetuates a system that finds America spending twice as much as the average industrialized country on health care with outcomes that are not as good.
Anybody else on health care? Go ahead.
Q Yes, I have —
Q There’s no “do or die” on —
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President has outlined very strongly his principles. But I’m not going to — it’s July 13, guys. We’re not going to get into drawing all these lines this early.
Q Well, he should have a —
MR. GIBBS: Oh, don’t worry, Helen. Fret not.
Q On health care?
Q Yes, well, my distinguished colleague, Bill Plante — Bill Plante asked what even the President said was an excellent question.
MR. GIBBS: I promise not to take some umbrage at your moniker there, William, but no.
Q He asked an excellent question, even the President said it was a good question — which he declined to answer it for whatever reason, which is: Why doesn’t the President get more involved on Capitol Hill and that senators are saying he needs to? Why didn’t the President answer it if he thought it was such a good question? And in his stead, could you?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we just talked about this very top secret meeting that we’re having today that unbeknownst to me is now part of the public domain.
Q Must have been a secret.
MR. GIBBS: No, it wasn’t. I mean, come on. Have you ever assembled six members of Congress in Washington and kept it a secret. (Laughter.) My God. That’s my dream, Helen. Come on.
Q I thought there were four. So it’s six? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I just pulled six out of the air. See, I — (laughter) — I missed you guys.
MR. GIBBS: I’m surprised I didn’t take you guys up on that.
Again, I think the President believes that we’re making progress. That’s what’s important. That we’re going to — and we’re going to continue to work toward that, understanding again, we know we have a long way to go and we’re going to keep working.
Q But the feeling among some Democrats on the Hill is that he’s just not involved enough.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I — given the amount of time that staff spend up on Capitol Hill or spend dealing with Capitol Hill, I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. I think the President has outlined some very strong principles about the reform he wants to see, and we’ll continue to work. Again, Chip, I think what’s important — again, there is a tendency to always focus on the negative.
There was a great headline out in one of the papers that we read over the weekend — “Despite Progress” — basically, the synopsis was: despite good news, health care lags. I mean, it’s kind of like — I guess in some ways I’m glad some of the people who do that aren’t weathermen.
But, again, I think if you look at the players that are involved, the people that are sitting around the negotiating table, they’re all still there, you haven’t seen sides devolve into the traditional debates that we’ve seen over the past 40 years that have delayed this type of comprehensive reform. So I think we’re making good progress.
Q I want to go into the $250,000 tax pledge the President went ahead and reiterated earlier today, at the nomination of the Surgeon General. For about three or four weeks we’ve badgered you on this issue of reiterating the pledge —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think it’s three or four, but yes.
Q And you wouldn’t do it. He did it today —
MR. GIBBS: Well, then quote him.
Q I understand. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: He did receive more votes.
Q Why for four weeks didn’t you do it, and then — I mean, is this a signal to Capitol Hill that whatever funding mechanisms that they’re coming up with on the House side, remember it’s got to stick with the pledge?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the most important thing, not to get away from your question, but the most important thing is that we have to have a plan that doesn’t add to the deficit. I think that’s — the President has outlined that, a series of things, including the very game-changers that I was talking about a minute ago that have to be involved in reform. We have to have — we have to change the arc of health care spending in this country for all of those that are involved, and I think the President is adamant about making sure that that’s in the legislation.
And, again, Chuck, I don’t even have to remind you that the President supersedes me in whatever he says.
Q No, I understand that, but it was clear that that had a been a lingering question and you guys wanted to put that to bed. No?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, it was more — my past statements on this have been I think not wanting to get into as much as you all have wanted me to get into, despite the fact that we don’t appear to be very involved in health care — you know, giving you guys a tally each and every day of every different proposal that comes up or down.
Q I understand that, but does that mean, okay — funding proposal, if you guys determine it’s going to raise taxes on families that make less than $250,000, whether it’s a soda tax or something, that — but this is a — so it’s a nonstarter for the President?
MR. GIBBS: I would — I’ll let you quote the President.
Q Picking that up, the President has made clear he wants this paid for. He’s also made it clear that he doesn’t want to tax people under $250,000. But you don’t want to engage us on whether he supports this idea of a surtax on incomes over $350,000. Now, the President during this campaign said — talked about a possible surtax on incomes that high to pay for Social Security. He’s already talking about rolling back the Bush tax cuts on incomes like that.
MR. GIBBS: No, I think — I think what we talked about on Social Security was not a surtax but — and I’ll go back and look at my notes — but if I’m recalling correctly, it’s at that $250,000 level that Chuck talked about. You’ve got this gap that once you’re at like $102,000, Warren Buffett and I pay the same amount of Social Security tax, up to $102,000, even though it might surprise you to find out I make less each year than Warren does.
So I think what the President talked about in terms of Social Security was making sure that the payroll tax didn’t disappear for the most fortunate.
Q It was actually like a 2-percentage point tax on incomes over $250,000. They even said that would be a difficult doughnut hole. But anyway — but the point is — my point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there’s just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know how that 1 percent of the households did over the past sort of 10 to 15 years, but my sense is pretty well, whether it was a pretty darn good economy for seven or eight years in the ’90s, or a tax system that — as I know, you have looked at the causes for the long-term deficit that we’re now working on and understand that some of those very tax policies make up a sizable portion of the current deficit that we carry.
So I think the bottom line is that I think the President believes that the richest 1 percent of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years.
Q On the labor — the meeting with labor leaders today, can you tell us anything about the subject of that? And is —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they’ll talk about the economy. Obviously, they’ll talk about health care. I think those will be — jobs, obviously. Those will be the predominant topics that the President will cover today.
Q Robert, this comment that he made in the Rose Garden about chatter about the health care plan while he was gone — to what extent does that reflect concern or frustration that perhaps some momentum was lost on this while he was out of the country?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I sort of — I think Dan asked a similar question. I mean, again, I think there’s always the tendency for the focus on the negative, not on the positive. I think, again, I think if you look objectively at where we are in this process relative to comprehensive reform, with all the stakeholders that are involved, you’ll find we’ve made a significant amount of progress and are closer than we’ve been in those four decades.
Q Along the same lines, why does the President find it necessary to ask people for more patience with the economic plan at this juncture, as he did over the weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President was doing was reemphasizing that the stimulus plan — as you know, because we went over this ad nauseam for several weeks — is not a four-week or four-month plan, right? It’s a two-year economic recovery act combined with many other factors that we ultimately believe will lay a foundation for long-term economic growth and ultimately get the economy turned around again.
Understanding part of that — when I mentioned financial stability system is — you know, we covered in some detail earlier in this process where we were with the health of the banks, right? Remember we had all these questions about how much more money are you going to need to give to the banks, right? So in a few months, now we figure out that banks that went through health testing, stress testing, actually could raise $50 billion to $80 billion by themselves. I think that’s a testament to the fact that a very important part of our economic framework, the financial stability, is making progress.
So I think we also understand that — again, we saw in the end of the 4th quarter in 2008 and in the beginning of the 1st quarter in 2009, job loss that exceeded anybody’s prediction; in fact, the job loss exceeded any number on record in history. We were heading toward falling off a cliff. We have pulled back from the edge of that cliff. We’re making progress, implementing a plan to stabilize our financial system and to begin — over the course of the past hundred or so days — to move spending out as part of the recovery plan that’s created jobs, that’s prevented layoff from people like teachers and firefighters, that’s given record amounts of assistance to state and local governments to stave off even deeper budget cuts. I think the President was providing an update for the American people on where we are, understanding what we got into and what it was going to take to dig out of that very, very deep hole.
Q Is that the thrust of what he’s going to say in Michigan tomorrow, too?
MR. GIBBS: The thrust in — more in Michigan — I think we’re going to do some briefings on this later on today. You heard the President in his joint address to Congress earlier in the year to discuss the need for continued education beyond high school; that many of the jobs that we’re going to create in the future — and I’d point you to the CEA report today on health care and energy — are going to require some post-high school graduation. So one of the things that he’ll discuss tomorrow is a plan to see that more to fruition as it relates to our community colleges up in Michigan.
Q Is this a speech, it’s not a Q&A or town hall or —
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s just a speech.
Q It was supposed to be a town hall and just got changed?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve always seen it as a speech.
Q We were told town hall originally. Do you know why the change?
MR. GIBBS: I guess we couldn’t find enough questioners. Maybe. (Laughter.)
Q How would the failure to pass — the ability to (inaudible) it through Congress in August affect the eventual health care passage — health care passage?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I hesitate to get into the prediction game too much. I think the most important thing is the President believes that in order to continue to make progress on fundamental reform, we need to continue to move expeditiously in that direction. And that what’s important is — obviously this is a process, but that we can’t afford to wait on. And, again, I don’t think the President’s message anytime soon is going to be “we can afford to wait on reform,” particularly as it comes to health care.
Q I just want a clarification on that point. You said to Mara earlier, if my notes are right: I’m sure the President would encourage them to continue to stay in session if there were not a House bill passed through the House and a Senate bill passed through the Senate by the scheduled August recess. Is he thinking about asking them to postpone their August recess if they don’t —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t want to get that far ahead of the process. Again, I think the President believes there’s ample time to do that. But if we’re not making progress, then the President will certainly ask for more.
Q Ask for more progress or for them to stay?
MR. GIBBS: Hopefully one would equal to other.
Q All right. Accentuating the positive, as you want to — (laughter) — we know that there are six people coming over here to talk —
MR. GIBBS: I would’ve picked on you earlier. (Laughter.)
Q Those six lawmakers are coming over to talk health care —
MR. GIBBS: Some number of lawmakers —
Q You said “six.” We know four. Will you positively identify the other two?
MR. GIBBS: I think honestly maybe four, but let me figure out who the exact —
Q Baucus, Rangel, Reid, Pelosi, anyone else?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, but I will —
Q Steny Hoyer?
MR. GIBBS: Maybe Mr. Hoyer puts us at five, which means —
Q Okay. Split the difference.
MR. GIBBS: — nobody wins the pool.
Q Okay. And no Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Okay. Rahm Emanuel said last week about public options, “a goal of this legislation on health care reform is to lower costs and improve competition. The goal is nonnegotiable; the path is” — leaving out the public option. And today you have said — you’ve not declared the President would veto a bill without a public option in it. Taken together, should we therefore assume, with those two comments on the record, that a public option is simply not essential, an essential component, of a finished product on health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President —
Q And if not, explain to me why not.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President, again — don’t quote Rahm, don’t quote me, quote the President. I think if you look back at the transcript from the press conference we did a couple of Tuesdays ago, I think the President addresses this.
Q Well, speaking of press conferences, Friday in L’Aquila the President laid out what he called his “clear parameters.” Public option was not listed among the clear parameters he mentioned.
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to go back and look at the transcript.
Q I can assure you that he did say —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t doubt that you’re wrong. I just don’t know — I don’t know what —
Q So since you’ve referred to press conferences and the President’s own words, I’m just — I’m wondering if that’s another piece of evidence.
MR. GIBBS: Your memory is better than mine about exactly what he laid out. I’d have to go back and look at precisely what he said.
Q So people should not come to the conclusion of taking these three things —
MR. GIBBS: No, people should let me go read what he said. I’ll be better able to address your question.
Q Since you wanted to make sure the CIA story did not get confused with the idea of a prosecutor at the Attorney General, what is your and the White House’s take, based on what it knows so far, about the allegation laid on the table, that the former Vice President had some direct involvement in the creation of or suggestion of a CIA program, Congress was not briefed, and there are members of Congress who believe that in itself could have constituted a violation of the law?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — let me first state what I know the President strongly believes, and that is — and I think you heard him mention this also in the Archives speech — the importance of strong American institutions like Congress, and like our court system that have protected our values and kept us safe.
The President believes that Congress should always be briefed fully and in a timely manner in accordance with the law. Those are his beliefs as it relates to any of those programs. I know that from what I’ve read, Director Panetta learned of this, learned that Congress hadn’t been briefed, terminated a program and briefed members of Congress. I know that he is also reviewing how that omission came to pass.
Q “He,” Panetta?
MR. GIBBS: “He,” Panetta. And I think that’s why.
Q So what is the degree of the President’s knowledge about this situation? How has he been briefed? What has he learned about this himself in the last couple of days?
MR. GIBBS: He has been — I’m not going to get into a lot of details, but obviously there have been —
Q Does he have a reaction that you can convey to us?
MR. GIBBS: No —
Q Was he briefed on the program?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into any of that.
Q A couple of questions. One, I’d like your assessment so far of the Sonia Sotomayor hearings. Do you have some sense of that it’s playing out as you all expected it? And then on — to follow-up on Major’s question, broadly speaking you’ve had a lot of issues now on — that involved, you know, the secrecy, the CIA, the Holder situation about prosecuting folks in the Bush administration, all of which are looking backward. And I’m wondering if given the latest series of events, the President’s thinking has shifted at all on this question of whether — that the Democrats want on the Hill, this question of looking backwards? And is he any more open now to sort of broadly speaking, looking back and the sort of need to go through again in some fashion, some sort of task force or something, to go through some of these secrecy questions?
MR. GIBBS: The President’s thinking on this has not changed since — and that’s why I referred in the beginning to the comments that he made at the Archives about looking forward and not looking backward. I think in that way his reaction to this has been very similar to the reaction that he had at the Archives.
In terms of the Sotomayor hearings, I watched some of them. Obviously it’s — tomorrow we’ll get down to questions, though it’s a little, I guess, harder to evaluate in terms of where everything is. I think it’s much of what we’ve said in the past, and that is that Judge Sotomayor is a judge who has had extensive experience following the rule of law. I think she’s gotten endorsements on that from conservatives, from Democrats and Republicans, from impartial observers like the American Bar Association, who believe she’s highly qualified to be the next Supreme Court Justice and we think we agree with that assessment.
Again, they’ll probably have a chance to discuss this more as the week winds on.
Q Can I just ask you, has the President watched any of it?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q You seem to be reacting more to how Democrats are portrayed in these opening statements. Any reaction —
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no — well, I think I share more of — I think the portrayal has been, on that side, has been more of the way we saw Judge Sotomayor and the reasons for the nomination.
Q Is the Republican portrayal an unfair portrayal?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think they’re going to do their duty in these hearings. We believe they’ll be fair and that people will have the ability to see the very same things, if they look at the record, that the President saw in Judge Sotomayor — again, somebody who has a background as a prosecutor and as a judge, somebody who has been praised by Democrats and Republicans, that follows the law when making judgments. I think a fair reading after these hearings for members of the Senate and for the public will be for them to understand that as well.
Q Robert, since —
MR. GIBBS: Let me go to — I’ll come back, Lester. Don’t worry, I’m feeling good today.
Q To follow up on Jonathan’s question, why does the President think it’s fair that someone who makes $50,000 should subsidize someone making $240,000 so they can get tax-free health care from their employer?
MR. GIBBS: You lost me on that.
Q You said the opposite.
Q You said $50,000 subsidizing the guy making $240,000.
Q Well, sure. The guy who makes $50,000 has to — is, in effect, subsidizing someone making $240,000 who gets tax-free health benefits from their employer —
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say —
Q — it’s an incredibly regressive — and it’s an incredibly regressive situation currently, which he wants to preserve. Right?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m happy that we entered the week with one more opportunity to discuss his well-known viewpoints on that.
Q I’m just curious, why is that a fair situation? People who make $249,000, under the President’s formula, can continue to get tax-free health benefits, whereas — and they’re paid — that is going to be paid for by people making $50,000-$60,000.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President has stated that he wants very much to preserve the employer-based insurance system, build off of what we know in our health care system works. And I think there is — there seems to be a lot of agreement that that’s not a real popular thing in terms of an idea.
Q Right, I get that. He’s always been for progressive — making the tax system more progressive, and this is one of the most regressive aspects of the tax system.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. I think his views are still the same.
Q Thank you —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on. Ann. You look smashing in that tie, but you’re not Ann. (Laughter.)
Q Robert, there is precedent for a President asking Congress to not — to delay a vacation, to delay a recess. What bar does the President set? What would it take for him to turn to Congress and say, “Stay, don’t go, and I’ll stay too.”
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s talk about that more in a couple weeks when we see where we are on progress.
Q But it’s important that they know —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand.
Q — that that —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don’t think that — I mean, I don’t think the President has been coy with August. I don’t think that — I think when the President said on Friday that he’d like to get something by August, I don’t think they’ll misinterpret that he really meant October. I think they’ll — I think they understand that. I think they’re going to work to make progress. I think that’s —
Q And is August the date because it will take so long to take different versions of this and actually get to a final —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that’s certainly part of it. I mean, obviously, when you hit that recess, everybody is gone for a month. And we come back with a lot of work to do in a shorter period of time — on appropriations bills; obviously the President believes we can and should get a bill to his desk lessening our dependence on foreign oil; believes the — the President believes we can and should get a bill to his desk reregulating the financial system to ensure that what has happened over the past many months doesn’t happen to us again.
So obviously the more progress we can make now, the more we can address not just the issue of health care, but any number of issues as we move toward the end of the year.
Q Thanks, Robert. I wanted to follow up on Major’s question and Chuck’s question. With the complete understanding that the President’s position hasn’t substantially changed since the Archives speech, he has always left open room for the Attorney General to make specific, narrowly tailored decisions in cases where he thought some prosecution or a criminal probe was warranted.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the standard was somebody that didn’t follow the law.
Q If the Attorney General —
MR. GIBBS: Which I think is largely the parameter of the job of the Attorney General.
Q If the Attorney General now has reason to believe that something like that may have been going on, will the President support him if he decides —
MR. GIBBS: Well, you’re, like, four hypotheticals down the interstate.
Q It’s valid. I mean —
MR. GIBBS: It’s not a hypothetical?
Q No, I don’t think that anyone thinks that Attorney General Holder is talking about choosing a prosecutor or launching the investigation just, you know, for the heck of it because it would be fun. He knows where the President stands. The President has told him where he stands.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I understand. But, again, my reticence to get into — to blow through four tollbooths on the hypothetical interstate — (laughter) —
Q Do you have EZ Pass? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, as evidenced by, like, the last 30 minutes of my life, I’d say I don’t have an EZ Pass. (Laughter.)
I think, again, you know, looking at the reports, the Attorney General is making determinations based on a number of different things; from what I can read, a number of different sources and reports. So, again, I just don’t want to get ahead of —
Q Until further notice.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, a little bit of the “what if” until we get the “what.”
Q Could I just, real quickly — there’s a July deadline — I don’t remember exactly what the date is — for sort of the next installment of the Guantanamo review. Is that still on track, and will that be made public, or are you looking at that to be an internal, private release now?
MR. GIBBS: I have to admit I didn’t check on that before I came out here. I know that there was a review process. There are several task forces as part of the President’s executive order. Let me see which of those refers to sort of a mid-July deadline and what the parameters are.
Q What’s the President’s reaction to the latest round of AIG bonuses? And is the administration taking any action there, given kind of what we saw a few months ago when this first came out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I believe the stories from late last week noted that representatives are talking to Ken Feinberg, who was appointed to look at pay issues, understanding, again, the parameters of what is involved for AIG were legally set down before — obviously before the administration took office and also before the TARP program was codified into law.
Q Was the President aware of this specific latest round —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they noted that — I think it was noted in — whatever, March or April, when the original set of bonuses came out that there were a series of retention bonuses that were coming throughout the course of the next calendar year. So I assume that was part of all that.
Q Part of the problem with health care, if there is a problem — I don’t want to emphasize the negative more than the positive — some people think —
MR. GIBBS: I like how you opened that question.
Q — that it’s just so large. And I’m wondering — some of the successful efforts in the past, notably Massachusetts, were not this big. Massachusetts didn’t really do cost containment; they’re debating that now. They didn’t have a public plan. And I’m wondering whether —
MR. GIBBS: They didn’t have to deal with Medicare and Medicaid in the sense of —
Q Well, they paid into it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess Medicare is more — when you take some certain segment of the population off of somebody’s board, it becomes a little bit different universe. But finish your question, but I want to talk —
Q The question really is — and it’s a bit of a hypothetical, I must admit — but does there come a time when you try to pare down this bill and get something — not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good — do insurance market reforms, cover as many people as you can, and not try to be as comprehensive? Because this bill in Congress is going to —
MR. GIBBS: I think you’re riding shotgun in Margaret’s hypothetical car. I mean, I do think that it’s a bit early in terms of where we are in the process. We’ve made a lot of progress and we’ve got a good amount of time to finish this up.
I do think you make a very, very good point, though. If you go back and you look at — you go back and look at something that many people have talked about as being a very good model in Massachusetts. I do think that it is important to underscore the point that you made, and that is — and the one I’ve made here today — which is without some real, measurable, enforceable cost-containment measures, all you’re doing is extending in perpetuity a system that we all already come to the table understanding we can’t afford and isn’t sustainable and is ultimately not providing the outcomes that are necessary for millions and millions of patients.
That’s why I think the President in those principles always emphasizes the notion that we have got to make measurable progress on this. If not, it is simply, as I said earlier, reform simply for the sake of calling it reform, but something that will not move the ball down the field and make discernible progress in the lives and the well-being of the American people.
Q A quick follow-up. You mentioned earlier AARP, hospitals, and — who else was it —
MR. GIBBS: Pharmaceuticals.
Q — pharmaceuticals as being stakeholders that are at the table. You didn’t mention insurers or business groups —
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no — I was simply limiting it to the people that are at that table that have made specific agreements with the finance committee.
Q And then you talked about opponents in general. I’m wondering if you’re beginning to see insurers and business groups as likely opponents because they obviously oppose the public plan.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think you have to —
Q Are they on the other side?
MR. GIBBS: You don’t have to quote me on that. I think you can find some very good quotes from some representatives in each of those baskets that have talked about the fact that we can’t have reform again this year. My sense is, if you took those comments and quotes and sort of did a search for them over each of the past 40 years, my sense is that the rhetoric has yet to change on a lot of that, that those that are seeking delay are doing so because they don’t want to see measurable progress on health care.
Q So those groups would be in the category seeking delay?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to lump everybody in together, because we discussed — I mean, I would certainly put Wal-Mart in the business section. And obviously, Wal-Mart has come out as the nation’s largest employer and discussed the importance and the need for health care that cuts costs now.
So again, I don’t want to generalize that every person involved in that basket of people for insurance or for business — I mean, obviously, there are examples on either side of that.
Q Thank you. Just to follow up quickly, can you explain why you can’t say whether the President has been briefed on the CIA secret program?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know the President has been briefed today. I don’t know — I’m not in the intelligence briefings, so I don’t know the exact detail of what he’s gotten today.
Q Is it fair to say that he knows what this is about, though?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me make sure that I can say that before I —
Q And secondly, this IG’s report that came out on Friday about the warrantless wiretapping program, I know you were overseas when that happened. Is that something that the President is briefed on, or actually reads himself?
MR. GIBBS: I saw a memo on that. I don’t know whether that’s a memo that he saw. But I can certainly — let me find out both the answers to those two questions.
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, Lester. Don’t worry, Lester, I’ll get to you. Don’t worry; you’re not going anywhere and neither am I.
Q Thank you.
Q Robert, back on the issue of the Holder investigation — a couple things. One, is it about making a case, or is it about just finding information?
MR. GIBBS: Are you asking me about Attorney General Holder? I think that’s a question better directed to somebody that works at the Department of Justice who is —
Q Well, the understanding of the White House, what is he doing? Is he making the case, or is it just to find out more information, giving the President more information about what happened?
MR. GIBBS: I think, again, if I read the stories correctly, he is going through a process about making such a determination as to whether or not something needs to be looked into. So I think my giving my opinion on what he’s ultimately decided, when the news stories denote that he’s looking into making that decision, I think is several steps —
Q What about for information internally, not through news stories, your information internally — that’s what I’m —
MR. GIBBS: I hesitate not to get away from all the knowledge I get from news stories.
Q Then also, on the same situation, some critics have said in the past when this administration was brand new and this was thought about — they said, what makes this country different from other countries who oust a President or who come back and try to charge a President? What makes this country different if we’re doing something possibly to present a case against a former President and administration?
MR. GIBBS: Well, see, if Margaret was, like, four hypotheticals down that hypothetical interstate, you’re like —
Q No, it’s not a hypothetical —
MR. GIBBS: — you’re in like a different — no, again, I appreciate the ability to get into the decision-making process about a decision that, best I can tell, hasn’t —
Q I’m asking what makes this country different from another if indeed this case is built. The case is being made, right, they’re trying to find information —
MR. GIBBS: Again, I appreciate the opportunity to take the bait, but I don’t know why I would.
Q Will Dr. Benjamin be playing a role in actually lobbying for passage of a bill? And also will her appointment encourage more family physicians, which is very much a dying breed in this country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously she has an outstanding background and outstanding experience in public health. I think obviously her first task is to get confirmed. And I think, leaving aside the debate that we’re currently having on health care, the role that the Surgeon General plays in ensuring that the American people have the best information possible to make their health care decisions less about their doctor and about a particular plan, but how to get the best types of treatment and how to — what to eat, what not to smoke — all of that sort of thing — obviously they play an enormously important role in educating the public about how to make healthy choices.
Q And what about family physicians?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q You said —
Q What shouldn’t be stressed? You said — (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I like getting — you guys, it takes like a couple questions, but you guys — every once in a while — I just again was alluding to some famous people, the Surgeon General — who have talked about — Mr. Koop who talked about the dangers of smoking. It was just a little —
Q — more family physicians.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, one more time?
Q Will her appointment encourage more family physicians?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think her — again, I think her background is deep and encompasses many different aspects of public health and health care. And I think everybody will be proud of the job that she’s done and what she brings to that job each and every day.
Q Robert, can I get you to comment on a bulletin just moved by AP? The federal deficit today tops $1 trillion —
MR. GIBBS: I think that sounds in line with estimates that we saw publicly reported earlier in the year. Obviously — two things, though, come most quickly to mind. One of the ways that we’re going to make progress on getting this deficit in order is to get this economy moving again. It’s to lay that foundation for long-term growth, it’s to create jobs, to stabilize our financial system. And I think the President has taken some strong action to make that happen and I think Congress has taken strong action in supporting the President’s budget that will cut the deficit in half over the next four years.
Q Thank you very much. Just two questions.
MR. GIBBS: It was probably only one when I passed over you the first time. (Laughter.)
Q Six or seven.
MR. GIBBS: All right, all right, easy on the first two rows. Les, you can’t sit in the second row and complain about all the questions in the second row. You got to go like way back and — I’m kidding, go ahead.
Q I appreciate it. While you and the President were overseas on July the 7th, there was on the Internet a copy of a letter on White House letterhead dated January the 24th, 2009, with the signature “Barack Obama,” which stated “The place of my birth was Honolulu’s Kapi’olani Medical Center.” And my question is, can you verify this letter? Or if not, would you tell us which Hawaiian hospital he was born in, since Kapi’olani, which used to publicize this, now refuses to confirm?
MR. GIBBS: Goodness gracious. I’m going to be, like, in year four describing where it is the President was born. I don’t have the letter at my fingertips, obviously, and I don’t know the name of the exact hospital.
Q Can you check on this?
MR. GIBBS: I will seek to interview whoever brought the President into this world. But can we just — I want to do this once and for all, Lester. Let’s just do this once and for all. You can go on this — I hope you’ll take the time not just to Google “President, January 24, Hawaii hospital, birth” and come up with this letter, but go on the Internet and get the birth certificate, Lester, and put —
Q It’s not a birth certificate.
MR. GIBBS: I know. (Laughter.) Just a document from the state of Hawaii denoting the fact that the President was indeed born in the state of Hawaii.
Q But it doesn’t say where he was born or who the doctor was.
MR. GIBBS: You know, Lester, I — I want to stay on this for a second, Lester, I want to stay on this for a second, because you’re a smart man, right?
Q Hypothetical. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: All right, all right, settle down in here. Only I get to make jokes like that.
No, Lester, let’s finish this one. Do all of your listeners and the listeners throughout this country the service to which any journalist owes those listeners, and that is the pursuit of the noble truth. And the noble truth is that the President was born in Hawaii, a state of the United States of America. And all of this incredible back-and-forth — I get e-mails today from people who inexplicably can figure out very easily the White House e-mail address, and want proof of where the President was born.
Lester, the next time you ask me a question I’m going to ask you what reporting you’ve done to demonstrate to your listeners the truth, the certificate, the state, so that they can look to you for that momentous search for the truth, and you can wipe away all the dark clouds and provide them with the knowing clarity that comes with that certainty.
Q Another question. (Laughter.) The Washington Times and gawker.com report that of the 60 or more reporters who regularly cover these briefings, only 30 were invited to the White House to watch the July 4th fireworks, and they were ordered not to report this. And my question, why does the President believe it is fair to exclude so many, including even Helen Thomas, who was invited — (laughter) — by so many previous Presidents to this event?
MR. GIBBS: Please note for the official record that Helen almost fell out of her chair laughing. I just wanted to note — that’s all —
Q This information was confirmed to me, she was not invited, Bob. Why?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I — ohhh. Les, we were — I haven’t the slightest idea what the invitation system is for the July 4th fireworks. I’ll do this. I’ll figure that out. You figure out the Hawaii birth certificate. We’ll meet here sometime next week and we can discuss it all over again. How about that, Lester?
Let me do Lynn one more question, and then we’ll go.
Q Robert, this is on the meeting at 3:00 p.m. with the American Jewish leaders. This is the first time that Obama has met with this group of presidents of major organizations. And some, but not all — there’s a division there about the President’s urging Israel to end settlements. So my question is, what is the message he’s trying to — what is he trying to accomplish in that? Does he want to just — does he feel he needs to explain more? By chance, if this subject matter is so sensitive, could there be a transcript of what happens made available to us? And —
MR. GIBBS: I could — go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q And this meeting, for some reason, was left off the White House schedule. It was just added on later in the day, though the people were invited last week. Is there a reason for that?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, I think the President will use this opportunity to have a discussion with major Jewish leaders about the progress that he believes we’re making toward comprehensive Middle East peace. And what he has asked each side in this process, the hard decisions that he’s asked each to evaluate as we seek to make more of that progress.
Obviously, this is a very influential group, and I think he looks forward to discussing with them how these efforts are ongoing, the progress that he sees that has been and what he thinks has to be addressed in order to see more progress. We won’t have a transcript, but we’ll certainly give you a readout.
And I know you know both Rosy and Alan Solow’s cell phone number. So I will check repeatedly your blog in order to find out as close to an official transcript as one might need.
Obama announces Benjamin as surgeon general nominee
Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Regina M. Benjamin as Surgeon General, Department of Health and Human Services.
President Obama said, “Health care reform is about every family’s health and the health of our economy. And if there’s anyone who understands the urgency of meeting this challenge in a personal and powerful way, it’s the woman who will become our nation’s next Surgeon General, Doctor Regina Benjamin. I look forward working with her in the months and years ahead.”
More on Benjamin: Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, is Founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and previously served as Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. In 2002, she became President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, making her the first African American woman to be president of a State Medical Society in the United States. Dr. Benjamin holds a BS in Chemistry from Xavier University, New Orleans. She was in the 2nd class at Morehouse School of Medicine and received her MD degree from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, as well as an MBA from Tulane University. She completed her residency in family medicine at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. Dr. Benjamin received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, and was elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees in 1995, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. Dr. Benjamin was previously named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.” She was also featured in a New York Times article, “Angel in a White Coat”, as “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and as “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning. She received the 2000 National Caring Award which was inspired by Mother Teresa, as well as the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Benedict XVI. She is also a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.
Council of Economic Advisors releases labor-market report
President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers released a report today, “Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow,” that offers an overview of how the U.S. labor market is expected to grow and develop over the next few years.
The report discusses the skills and training that will likely be most relevant in growing occupations, and the attributes of an education and training system designed to best equip the workers of today for the jobs of tomorrow.
The report can be found at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/cea/factsheets_reports/
The report discusses:
· The likely changes in the U.S. labor market as economic drivers shift from sectors like financial services to the growing sectors that are transforming our economy. The already-expanding health care sector and various environmental-related occupations, for example, are shown to be growing at a faster rate than the economy at large, creating opportunities in a variety of white collar and blue collar occupations.
· The expected rebound in construction and some manufacturing sectors as the Recovery Act continues to invest in projects around the country and the economy emerges from the recession.
· The importance of worker flexibility given the dynamic nature of the U.S. labor market. Of particular interest is the expected shift towards jobs that require workers with greater analytical and interactive skills. In addition, it highlights the most important attributes of a well-functioning education and training system designed to provide the U.S. workforce with the skills needed to succeed in the jobs of the future.
CEA Chair Christina Romer will also engage in a live video chat at 230pm through an innovative application on Facebook and WhiteHouse.gov. Americans will be encouraged to ask questions through the Facebook chat or a comment form on WhiteHouse.gov, and Romer will answer them via live-streamed video in a unique online conversation.
The Facebook live-stream and chat can be found at: http://apps.facebook.com/whitehouselive/