White House Report | Joint Obama-Harper press availability, Biden-Al-Maliki joint statement, press briefing
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Prime Minister Harper and I have just had an excellent conversation, reiterating the extraordinary friendship and bond between the American and the Canadian people. We discussed both our bilateral relationship on issues of energy, our borders, issues of trade, and how we can continue to strengthen the already excellent relations that we have.
We also have discussed a range of international issues. Obviously we’ve been partnering with Canada on improving the global economy. We both agree that although we are not out of the woods yet that we have seen signs of stability and that both Canada and the United States are on the path to positive economic growth. We both agree that coordination still needs to continue at the international level and are looking forward to the G20, where we can both discuss how to sustain efforts to kick start the economy, but also make sure that we’re starting to look at exit strategies and what a sustainable growth model would be long term.
We had discussions about some of the international threats that continue to exist out there. We discussed climate change and preparations for the Copenhagen conference; Afghanistan and the need for us to move forward in a clear direction over the next several years; and the situation with Iran and the potential development of weapons and how we respond to the potential development of nuclear weapons in Iran.
So overall I just want to again publicly thank Prime Minister Harper for being an outstanding partner to the United States. We appreciate his excellent work. We very much appreciate the Canadian people. And we are looking forward to seeing them next week in both the United Nations context and the G20.
PRIME MINISTER HARPER: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. First of all, Barack, let me just say I really appreciate — this is our seventh time I think in some form or another we’ve had a chance to discuss some of these issues and we appreciate your time and of course both your and your country’s alliance, neighborliness, and friendship. It’s our most important relationship in the world. We’re always delighted to sit down and talk.
Once again we discussed three major subjects, as I indicated we would yesterday. First of all, the economy. The recovery is happening, but it is fragile and we really must redouble our efforts to apply stimulus measures and get those out the door, as we’re doing in Canada, to make sure we continue to fix internationally the problems of financial institutions. And I noted the President’s speech this week in Wall Street in this regard, which I think was an important message for everyone.
We’re planning for the G20; we’re looking forward to that. I think that’s well in hand. I think we’re going to have very useful and productive meetings there. And we discussed some of these irritants that arise in our trade relationship. Particularly I do want to mention this question of the charter flights, the NHL charter flights, which has been a difficulty in recent months. We think we’re very close to resolving that in the next very little while. I think we have some kind of a tentative agreement in principle and we’re working to finalize that in the next few days.
We discussed energy security and climate change. I remind all our American friends that Canada is by far the largest supplier of energy to the United States. And we are determined to be a continental partner in dealing with the joint — with the very linked problems of climate change and energy security. Our two ministers, our respective ministers have provided us with a report on the clean energy dialogue, which I think shows some great progress in identifying areas of joint action. I think the next step will be some specific projects that we can pursue.
Today, Canada is announcing a major hydroelectric project, a big transmission line in northwestern British Columbia, which has the capacity down the road to be part of a more integrated North American hydroelectric system that will be obviously part of dealing with both these problems of energy security and climate change.
And finally, as I said, we would discuss international peace and security. And as the President mentioned, we discussed the great challenge the world has in Iran. But we also did discuss, of course, Afghanistan. We have a joint mission there and we certainly have very much welcomed the renewed engagement of the United States in that country and always — particularly in our sector of the country. And of course we always value joint cooperation with the United States on defense and security matters. And our two militaries and our civilian people are working tremendously in southern Afghanistan and we look forward to some of that work continuing.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. All right, Ben Feller.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask both of you: At this point are U.S. and NATO forces winning the war in Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I think that what is clear is that we have lacked as clear of a strategy and a mission as is necessary in order to meet our overriding objective, which is to dismantle and disrupt and destroy al Qaeda and prevent it from being able to project violence against the United States, allies like Canada, our bases and operations around the world. So that has not yet occurred.
When I came in I had to make a series of immediate decisions about sending additional troops to ensure that the election could take place during the fighting season. But I was crystal clear at the time that post-election we were going to need to do an additional assessment. General McChrystal has carried out his own assessment on the military strategy, but it’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side; that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward.
My determination is to get this right. And that means broad consultation not only inside the U.S. government, but also with our ISAF partners and our NATO allies. And I’m going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions. So I just want to be absolutely clear, because there’s been a lot of discussion in the press about this, that there is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources. You don’t make determinations about resources, and certainly you don’t make determinations about sending young men and women into battle without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be.
So we are going to proceed and make sure that we don’t put the cart before the horse.
PRIME MINISTER HARPER: Just very quickly, to try and answer that question directly. I certainly don’t think, notwithstanding the continued problems in many parts of the country, the fierce efforts of the insurgency, I don’t think the Taliban in any way constitutes an alternative government or any immediate threat to replacing the government of Afghanistan. So I think in that sense, you know, we can see the progress that’s been made. Obviously, though, we are concerned about the strength of the insurgency. We, as I say, welcome the renewed American effort and effort of some NATO countries.
Our emphasis in Canada for some time now, particularly since we extended our mission, has been really the necessity of seeing the Afghan government accept and be able to handle greater responsibility for the day-to-day security of that country as we move forward.
Afghanistan is a very difficult country, I think. All of our military — Canadian, American, British, those who have been highly engaged — I think have done a tremendous job moving the ball forward. But in the end, we have to be clear that the security and sovereignty of Afghanistan can in the long term only be done by Afghans themselves. So I think whatever we do on both sides of the border and with our NATO partners has to have that as its long-term objective.
Q Mr. President, Prime Minister, in contrast to that smart, brief question I have a double-barreled question under the umbrella of security.
Canada and other NATO allies have set deadlines to leave Afghanistan. Mr. President, are you worried that the U.S. will be left to carry the burden in Afghanistan? What role would you like to see for Canada beyond 2011? Prime Minister, do you have any advice for the President, exit strategy or otherwise?
And then on economic security, Mr. President, despite assurances not to worry, U.S. protectionism is hurting Canadian businesses, according to Canadian businesses. And I just — we wonder if there is anything more you feel you can or that you should do about that?
And Mr. Prime Minister, your views at this stage now that we’ve seen “Buy American” play itself out?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me start with Afghanistan, and I’ll just reiterate what I said earlier. We are in the process of making a strategy — a series of strategic decisions that will be sustainable, and we’ll be doing so in close consultation with our allies and our partners.
We are tremendously grateful for the extraordinary sacrifices of the Canadian military. They have fought. They have had staying power. They have absorbed losses that we all grieve for.
And so I’m not worried about what will happen post-2011. I want to make sure that given the commitments that have already been made and that are continuing that we make sure that the Canadian presence there fits into a coherent whole, and that it’s accomplishing our goals. And our goals are to eliminate al Qaeda as a threat and, as Prime Minister Harper mentioned, I think it is important to recognize that ultimately Afghan security has to transition onto the shoulders of Afghan — the Afghan government and Afghan security forces. And so the degree to which we are training them and building capacity, that’s something that I’m certain will be part of any long-term strategy, sustainable strategy.
On the economic front, the issue of “Buy American” in the stimulus package, I’m glad to hear that Canadians see this as — the recovery package as being so significant. I’ve been trying to persuade the American public of precisely that fact, that we’re actually creating jobs and putting people back to work.
The “Buy American” provisions that were there, as I noted at the time, we made sure that they were WTO compliant. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a source of irritation between the United States and Canada. Prime Minister Harper, I want to emphasize, has brought this up with me every single time we’ve met, so he’s been on the job on this issue. And our teams have been working together. It appears that there may be ways to deal with this bilaterally, but also potentially multilaterally.
The provincial governments in Canada, my understanding is, are not signatories to the WTO government procurement agreements that would have preempted any of these “Buy America” agreements. That might be one solution. But in addition, we’re pursuing, on a bilateral track, efforts to make sure that these sources of tension diminish.
But I do want to keep things in perspective. U.S.-Canadian trade continues to be robust. Canada continues to be a huge trading partner to the United States. Businesses in the United States and Canada both benefit from that trade, as do consumers. There is no prospect of any budding trade wars between our two countries. These are legitimate issues that have to be concerned — have to be raised, but I think it’s important to understand that on the scale of our overall trading relationship, these aren’t the — these shouldn’t be considered the dominant element of our economic relationship.
PRIME MINISTER HARPER: Eric, first of all on Afghanistan, I think it’s important to rephrase your question, which is, Canada is not leaving Afghanistan; Canada will be transitioning from a predominantly military mission to a mission that will be a civilian humanitarian development mission after 2011. That transition is already in place.
As you know, Canada has had a very robust engagement for some time. We’ve actually, over the course of the last three or four years, as a consequence of that, increased our troop levels. I think you heard what I said earlier, that what’s essential is that whatever we in NATO and our U.N. allies are doing, that we make sure that eventually this country can stand on its own two feet, particularly on the security side, where they have their primary responsibility so we can help more and more on the development and humanitarian side.
On “Buy America,” we obviously had the discussions. The President indicated we have negotiators who are looking at a range of options. We talked about some of those today, and we’ll be giving more detailed direction to them in terms of the kinds of options they should look at.
As you know, I agree with the President’s assessment. We shouldn’t move the forest for the trees. These are important irritants; they are having some real impacts. But they are relatively small compared to the overall scale of Canadian-American trade. But I would emphasize that it is critical at a time where we’re trying to see a recovery in the global economy, where forces of protectionism are a very significant threat, that we continue to demonstrate to the world that Canada and the United States can manage trade relations in a way that’s extremely positive and a model for other countries.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody.
Joint statement from Vice President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
PRIME MINISTER MALIKI: (As Translated) In the name of God, most compassionate, most merciful, I welcome Vice President Biden in his visit to Baghdad. This is not his first visit. It is a continuation and a follow-up of previous visits and a follow-up on the issues of mutual interest to both countries.
And as in each time, these were beneficial and positive discussions and that continue with the discussions held previously during our previous visits or also during my visit to Washington. And we — he affirmed further the need to deepen the positive relationship between the two countries and taking them and advancing them.
We have discussed the steps that has been — have been taken so far with regards to the Status of Forces Agreement that are so far going on with a high credibility and taking their normal course. We also discussed the issues within the Strategic Framework Agreement which we have very high hopes and expectations.
And within the Strategic Framework Agreement, touching that issue, we focused on all the aspects of cooperation — economic, political, cultural, scientific and commercial — and the ways to foster and to support further the political process, this political process that has cemented the democracy in Iraq. And we also talked about the various challenges that we face.
And in steps on the implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we had started discussions early on in Washington during the work and the proceedings of the high coordinating — coordination committee between the two countries. We talked about that and we talked about — through which there was this conference that will be held on October 20th and 21st in Washington. We discussed that and the need for this conference to be a success in order to provide investments, opportunities for the companies and also in order to provide — and we spoke about how to advance the various legislative reform needed with regard to investments and so forth.
In that endeavor, the National Iraqi Authority for Investments will be putting forth some lists — lists about the needs for types of contracts and the type of investments that this conference would attract for the big corporations, the capital and the merchants to know what we need. And we ask also from the various relevant ministries in Iraq to put forth such lists to define other needs in contracting and opportunities.
And we also focused on the way to fight terrorism, this threat that is threatening the security and the peace — international security and peace. And we also talked about our ongoing efforts to pursue the terrorists who hit the lives of people and who hit the infrastructure.
And once more I welcome Vice President Biden, thank him for his visit, and hope for further good relations — mutual bilateral relations between the two countries.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you once again for the welcome. I’m delighted to be back in Baghdad to discuss with the Prime Minister and his advisers issues of mutual interest. And I think we concluded some very productive talks.
And once again, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for your hospitality as well as your leadership. And I want to assure — I’ve assured the Prime Minister that the United States’ commitment to strengthen our relationship with Iraq remains strong. President Obama emphasized that when the Prime Minister visited in July, and I repeat it again today: Our goal is to work in partnership with Iraq to help the Iraqi people build a country that’s sovereign and stable and self-reliant — and they’re well on their way. I want — we want a long-term relationship based upon mutual respect.
And we look at the accomplishments of the last several years and in recent months — I think we’re making steady progress mutually toward that goal. We’re determined to stand with our Iraqi friends as they address the challenges that remain and that —
PRIME MINISTER MALIKI: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I’m very tired. (Laughter.)
(The interpreter translates.)
My compliment to the interpreter. (Laughter.)
At the end of — at the end of June, we took a very important step by transferring security responsibility in Iraqi cities and towns to the Iraqi Security Forces. This transition was part of the security agreement concluded between our countries last November. And in accordance with that agreement, we will continue to provide training and support for Iraqi Security Forces.
And we’ll also move ahead in other aspects of the security agreement by removing all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August 2010 and all remaining U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
As the terrorist bombings on August 19th so vividly demonstrated, the enemies of national unity in Iraq are ready to murder innocent civilians as they attempt to re-ignite sectarian conflict. Once again, on behalf of President Obama and the American people, we extend our condolences to the families of the victims, and condemn such attacks. And we are confident — we are confident — the terrorists will fail.
The Iraqi people and security forces charged with protecting them have shown great courage, resilience and restraint in the face of this danger. And they’ll continue to reject the forces of division and destruction. I’m confident of that, as well.
We also discussed the Prime Minister’s efforts of his government to strengthen national unity. The Prime Minister was kind enough to discuss with us several of the issues that are in need of resolution if the Iraqis are to achieve the bright future that they have fought so hard for and deserve.
As the Prime Minister also mentioned, and mentioned just a moment ago, we discussed the status of the Strategic Framework Agreement. This agreement lays the groundwork for a strong and long-lasting relationship between our countries in cultural, educational, economic and scientific fields. And it will, in our view, allow us to partner in improving governance and delivering services and promoting the rule of law, as well.
The Strategic Framework Agreement is the foundation of our relationship, and we look forward to joining our Iraqi friends in developing and carrying out programs that will benefit both our countries in the near future and the long term.
We’re expanding our economic partnerships, and we very much look forward to the Iraqi Business and Investment Conference that was also referenced that is going to be held in Washington next month and which we believe will help bring together American and Iraqi businesses for additional economic activity in Iraq.
Iraqis as, as I might add, as well as Americans have made many sacrifices in the last six and a half years, and much hard work remains. But under the Prime Minister’s leadership and the efforts of the Iraqi people, Iraq is on the road to a better future. And we remain committed to cooperating with the Iraqi government and people as they work together to create a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.
Again, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your hospitality.
Press briefing with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, hope everyone is doing well. Take us away.
Q Thanks. The bill in the Senate, Baucus’s bill, is out now. I assume you guys are pleased that he’s put that out, but what does it say that there are no Republicans behind it after all these months of work and all the room you guys let him —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I do think — to step back for a second. I do think the introduction of the legislation is an important building block and gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform. Look, I think — as it relates to your second question, Jennifer, I think these — there will be a continued legislative process that will tweak and change legislation, as there always is. So I don’t look at — and I don’t think the President looks at today as the end. I think Republicans certainly on the committee will offer amendments to change the bill and we hope in the end that they’ll hear what their constituents are saying about the need to address the skyrocketing costs of health care reform.
I think it is tremendously important. I think if you look at the study that was — that’s out today from Kaiser — Kaiser Health, which shows that over the past year, right, general inflation on everything else is actually down seven-tenths of 1 percent; wages increased 3.1 percent and health care premiums rose 5 percent — again outstripping improvements in what Americans are making in wages at their work place. And even as everything gets — based on the economy has gotten cheaper over the last year, health insurance has continued to skyrocket. The cost of health insurance over that 10 year period increased 131 percent. Those are numbers that, whether you’re a family or a small business or a big business or a government, are simply unsustainable over the long course.
Q Now that five committees have bills is it fair to say — it seems to be fair to say that this bill is the one that tracks most closely to what the President wants.
MR. GIBBS: I think there are certainly some parts of it, but I don’t think this is a mirror of what the President has talked about and I don’t think that would be accurate.
Q Why don’t you?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that there are going to be those that want to have amendments to change certain things. It has some important provisions in it, and it’s made — I think it makes progress on the issue.
Q The President emphasized this morning that he had not made a decision on what additional resources might be needed for Afghanistan.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President started by saying we haven’t — not only has the President not made any resource — additional resource decisions, but commanders in Afghanistan haven’t provided the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs, or the Commander-in-Chief with a range of options about what they might or might not want in terms of resources.
So, just to back up the question a little bit, it would be hard to make a resource decision without even a resource recommendation.
Q But the question is, what is the time frame for all of this —
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has been clear on this, as I think others have — not immediate and not imminent. Caren, I think —
Q Does that mean weeks? I mean, what specifically does he mean? For example, he talked about wanting to make some consultations with partners abroad. Are those consultations going to be taking place at the U.N., and is that —
MR. GIBBS: I certainly think some of them will. Look, I think part of the consultation began or continued with Prime Minister Harper. Let’s take just a step back for a second. The President talked in the campaign about our lack of focus on a very dangerous part of the world that had sheltered extremists from al Qaeda and that caused what happened on September 11th and killed so many Americans. During the transition and throughout the beginning part of the administration, the President and his foreign policy and national security team reassessed where we were and made some decisions leading up to the election.
The President has also asked for a continued reassessment of where we are post-election. General McChrystal, a new commander, is assessing what he sees after two months in Afghanistan. All of this is progressing just as the President asked it to progress, starting not only in the transition but in the speech in March, authorizing, as I said, additional resources for the election period.
That having been said, I think you heard the President in the Oval Office today reiterate several things. He is going to not just listen to those military commanders — he’s going to talk to development and other entities that have equities in the decisions. We’re going to make an assessment first on what our goals are and what the strategy is before we start making resource decisions. I think we’ve seen in the past what happens when you make resource decisions and then try to follow it with some strategic decisions. That tends not to work.
Q While all of this is happening, skepticism about the war is growing with the American public and within his own party. Does he think that he can make the case for why this is important?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President, as he — as the President said clearly today, he’s going to get this right on a time table that allows us to fully evaluate where we are and where we want to go. The President is looking at this not through a political lens, but how do we get a very important national security concern right; how do we meet our objectives of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately destroying al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That’s in our national security interest and in the national security interest of many countries that have committed both military and diplomatic resources to our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.
Q Can I follow on that? Well, there may not be a resource decision yet, but obviously in open testimony yesterday Admiral Mullen told the Senate that he thinks there probably will need to be more U.S. troops sent. And the chairman of that committee, Senator Levin, a Democrat, obviously, is saying he wants the Afghan army to stand up first. Without prejudging the President’s decision long term, what does the White House think about the notion that the Afghan army should be sacrificing more, standing up more, before the U.S. gives more?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think there’s no doubt, Ed, and I think you’ve heard the President say this about any number of military decisions — the United States is not going to be there forever, okay? Just like in Iraq and just like now in Afghanistan, ultimately those responsible for Afghan security are going to be the Afghans, just like those ultimately responsible for Iraqi security are going to be Iraqis.
I think obviously a serious amount of resources have and will be dedicated to ensuring that the Afghan forces are properly trained in order to meet the security requirements that their country has.
Q But when you say U.S. troops won’t be there forever, the President also talked in the campaign about having a clear timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Why is he not using the same strategy for Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not saying we’re not following that strategy because, again, Ed, there’s a —
Q But there’s no timetable —
MR. GIBBS: Because there’s an assessment going on right now. This — the speech that he gave in March isn’t the totality of that assessment. That assessment is ongoing. And that’s precisely why the President said that the resource — any additional resource decisions are not immediate or imminent. The President is going to take the time that he thinks is necessary to listen to — hold on — to listen to each of those involved in this decision, to talk to a multitude of voices, and ultimately decide on the very best strategy moving forward.
Q But isn’t that what the Bush administration was saying in 2007, 2008? We can’t have a timetable for Iraq because it’s going to let the enemy know when —
MR. GIBBS: That’s not what I just said.
Q No, but they were saying basically that there cannot be a timetable because it’s an evolving situation on the ground and you can’t just have this arbitrary date to pull out troops. And the President, then senator, kept saying there needs to be —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s an accurate rendition of what they were saying in 2007.
Q They said it was an evolving situation, it was changing, you had to constantly reassess —
MR. GIBBS: I think what’s evolving was the — the answer you just gave me on the Bush administration.
Q They were constantly reassessing the situation. The President — then-President had the surge, et cetera —
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the analogy. I don’t think it holds in any way, shape, or form.
Q Why not a timetable?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Ed, I know everybody wants to fast-forward to weeks and months from now and evaluate where we are. We’re evaluating where we are right now in order to make decisions for several months from now. The President is not going to — as he was very clear today — the President is not going to make resource decisions and then have a strategy meeting. Okay? That’s where we get into never-ending open-ended conflicts without clear and definable goals about what our country is trying to accomplish and how we want to engage the rest of the world. The President is going to take the time to get the strategy right in order to meet our national security concerns.
Q In terms of health care reform, now that you have this two and a half page outline on the White House Web site, some of the bills in Congress, in terms of the insurance reforms that the President is pushing for, phase in I believe immediately — you can’t be cut off from your insurance because you get sick — but it takes a little bit longer for you can’t be denied care because of a preexisting condition and other insurance reforms. Do you guys have a timetable of when it is acceptable within — after health care reform passes — for these individual reforms to take place?
MR. GIBBS: Let me talk to Nancy. I don’t know if — I haven’t looked at other bills and what in the degree and the swiftness in which some of these are instituted. Obviously it’s our belief that these can be done rather quickly.
Q Okay. And I just wanted to get the White House reaction to a couple items in the news. One is former President Jimmy Carter saying that he believes an overwhelming majority of the intensely demonstrated animosity towards the President is because he’s black and those voters can’t accept the fact that a black man is President. And also an organization the President a long time ago did file that motor voter law for, ACORN —
MR. GIBBS: A larger group of legal entities —
Q Along with them, ACORN, a group the President has had some ties with over the years. The Census Bureau eliminated their relationship with that group for the 2010 census and the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut off housing funding. And I was just wondering the White House reaction to either of those.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s take a look at what former President Carter said. The answer that I’m going to give is the same answer that I gave on Sunday, when I was asked this question. The President does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin. We understand that people have disagreements with some of the decisions that we’ve made and some of the extraordinary actions that had to be undertaken by both this administration and previous administrations to stabilize our financial system, to ensure viability of our domestic auto industry. I don’t think that — like I said, the President does not believe that it’s based on the color of his skin.
You know, Jake, as it relates to ACORN, obviously the conduct that you see on those tapes is completely unacceptable. I think everyone would agree with that. The administration takes accountability extremely seriously. I think the Census Bureau evaluated and determined that this group could not meet the bureau’s goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010. And I assume others are evaluating to ensure, as we always are, that any grantee, whether that grant was let in this administration or in previous administrations — there’s housing counseling grants that were let in previous administrations; FEMA grants that were let in previous administrations — that we constantly evaluate to ensure that any grantee is living up to what has to happen in order to fulfill that grant application.
Q Are you saying that the President is not concerned about the climate of hate in this country today?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think that was — I think that was neither —
Q That’s a direct quote. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I think that was neither Jake’s question nor my answer.
Q You don’t think it’s race-based?
MR. GIBBS: No, I simply said I didn’t think and I don’t think the President believes that the majority of those that are upset at actions that have to be taken are —
Q Why are they so upset that people get health care?
MR. GIBBS: That’s a question for somebody that has that view. I’m somewhat in a bad situation to interpret that for them.
Q Do you think — on Baucus, do you think the response up there today might have finally driven a nail in the coffin of bipartisanship here, because Republicans have made clear — Grassley and Enzi — that they absolutely can’t support this thing unless it moves significantly to the right. And people like Jay Rockefeller have said they absolutely can’t support it unless it moves significantly to the left. He’s got to get Rockefeller and people like that. So if they move left, if Baucus ends up moving left, there is just no chance of getting Republican support.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, Chip, I think that’s the beauty of the legislative system. That’s a process that’s going to continue to play out as we move forward to get health care reform.
Look, I think the chairman has made a number of efforts to get Democrats and Republicans onboard and will continue to evaluate any causes and concerns and look at how that’s affected by the legislation.
Q A follow-up on a question that was asked earlier. Baucus said recently that after the President’s prime time speech he said, it sounds like my proposal, it sounds like we are in sync. Would the President —
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think — I think if you look at —
Q It wasn’t just like a few things, he was saying overall —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there’s a commonality in many of the proposals and what the President outlined. I don’t think — I don’t think they’re a hundred percent equal. I think obviously the President shares Senator Baucus’s concern that we have to get something done and get it done this year.
Q On Afghanistan, you said that he’s simply reiterating what he said before, but there are some people on Capitol Hill who believe that the tone is really different now, that he’s getting into a slower roll than he was talking of moving, rolling it more slowly now. And some are asking — and there have been some reports —
MR. GIBBS: In terms of?
Q In moving ahead on a decision on Afghanistan. And some have suggested that maybe health care plays a role in this and there have even been reports to this effect, that the administration just doesn’t want to get into a contentious decision over Afghanistan while they’re trying to round up votes on health care.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve said this a number of times; it obviously bears repeating again. This is an issue that the President has dealt with I think I could say accurately each and every day that he’s been President of the United States, and many days that he was simply the President-elect. I think this is obviously an issue that we have to get right and the President is going to take the time that he needs to make sure that we do get it right.
Q So could you categorically deny any suggestions that the delay in Afghanistan is due to the politics of health care?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I don’t think that — I honestly don’t think that people that are involved heavily in either of these efforts share that, as well.
Q I’m sorry, one more. John McCain is now saying that it is clear — even though there is no specific recommendation on the number of troops, that it is now clear that the troops on the ground — I mean, the commanders on the ground believe there should be more troops, and that the longer this decision process goes on, the more unfair it is to the troops now fighting who are risking their lives fighting outnumbered.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what we have to do is get the policy right, and the President is going to make sure that we do once and for all, after being involved in this country for now going on almost eight years, that we finally get this right.
Q Robert, did the President see President Carter’s remarks and read them, in full?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt it. Not that he doesn’t watch NBC, but —
Q No, but he did not — you don’t think he did?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q Did he talk to President Carter?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Has President Carter ever expressed his concern to him privately?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know when the last time they talked was, and I doubt that this was a topic of their conversation.
Q What does he say privately to — do folks bring this up to him? Do supporters —
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, let me — what the President says privately is what I just shared with you publicly —
Q Has this been brought up to him —
MR. GIBBS: — as is my role as his spokesperson.
Q Fair enough. On health care, this is Baucus’s bill. Sort of — not the whole thing, actually; I think he ran out of paper. There is not a similar version of the President’s plan. Are we going to see something like this or are we supposed to —
MR. GIBBS: I doubt it. I mean, I said this —
Q There isn’t going to be his detailed of a version?
MR. GIBBS: I said this — I think I said this last week, the President’s speech wasn’t to send up a truckload of paper, which — some of which you’ve printed. That’s just not the role the President played.
Q One of the things you had pointed to on Medicare cuts, for instance, on paying for this — in June he said $300 billion, that there was — identified $300 billion in saving waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare as part of the way to paying part of a down payment. Now the number is up to $500 to $600 billion. I guess my question is, where did the excess come from?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to look at some of these numbers and evaluate and get —
Q I mean, $300 billion is what he said in June in a radio address. Five to six hundred billion is what you guys rolled out last week. So what — where’s the —
MR. GIBBS: Let me look at the paper that you’re looking at and try to come to —
Q And let me follow up one other question. As head of the Democratic Party, is he going to direct the DNC and other affiliates of the Democratic Party to sever ties with ACORN?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that I’ve had a discussion about that with him.
Q On the Baucus plan — actually, yesterday, Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said that by holding the bill to $900 billion over 10 years, the President was going to make it very difficult to help middle-class people purchase insurance, because he was limiting the size of subsidies; and in fact he was actually hurting the cause of reaching some kind of consensus on the bill because it — just, the number was too low. And I wonder, Rockefeller, Jay Rockefeller also said that the bill, as Baucus (inaudible), works out to be a tax increase on the middle class because it does not have sufficient subsidies to go along with the individual mandate. And I wonder, first of all, do you have a response to those people?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Senator Rockefeller’s question is better directed to Senator Baucus.
Q Well, okay, so the — and then Representative Rangel’s point, that $900 billion simply will not provide enough subsidies?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think — look, I think if you go back and look at what the President — the way the President has talked about health insurance reform, dating back throughout the campaign, there was a vigorous debate, as many of you recall, about health insurance reform, particularly in the primary, that first and foremost the President talked about health care affordability. I can assure you the President does not have any desire to lump an additional burden that the uninsured can’t use to get health insurance reform. That would not make a whole lot of sense from any perspective.
And I think, again, I would simply highlight the study that came out today that shows just how much — it’s not just the uninsured. Understand that it is — that the hundreds of millions of people in this country that enjoy having health insurance have seen on average, in the last 10 years, their premiums go up 131 percent. The skyrocketing cost of health insurance is simply unsustainable for virtually everybody in the health insurance market. We have to take steps addressing affordability as the primary concern.
Q Does that mean he would want to see more subsidies or a lighter mandate, which is actually what he actually campaigned for?
MR. GIBBS: I think what the President believes that we can do, because we’re in the ballpark of these estimates, that we can find something that works on both cases, that we can find something that can include everybody in this country and do so in a way that’s affordable.
Q Robert, just two questions. Just two. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q Thank you very much. Attorney Robert —
MR. GIBBS: — so I had to give Lester at least two. Yes.
Q It’s only two, instead of three or four or five.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Two.
Q Attorney Robert [sic] Hyland, in his new book published by St. Martin’s Press in July, entitled, “In Defense of Jefferson,” quotes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright as claiming “Jefferson had intelligence, but he also had babies by a 15-year-old slave girl. I think judges call that pedophilia.” And my question: President Obama does not believe that his presidential predecessor was a pedophile, does he?
MR. GIBBS: When you say his presidential predecessor, do you mean one of the previous Presidents?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I have not seen the book, Lester. I don’t — I’m not afforded the opportunity, given I’ve got to read —
Q Would you look into it and —
MR. GIBBS: No, I won’t.
Q You won’t. All right. (Laughter.) When and why —
Q Are there any Presidents you want to have look into that? (Laughter.)
Q When and why did the President first decide —
MR. GIBBS: Who am I supposed to ask? (Laughter.) No, go ahead. I’m sorry, I’m indulging — stop, that was a bubble box. Go ahead, I’m sorry. I’m not the only one having a bubble box moment. Go ahead.
Q When and why did the President first decide to support the limiting of abortion?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
Q When and why did the President first decide to support limiting of abortion? He seemed to be in favor of all kinds of abortion before, now he’s put a limitation on it.
MR. GIBBS: I think if you go back and look at what the President has said, obviously he believes in the deeply personal choice of a woman’s right to choose, understanding that that consultation is made in a very personal way. And that obviously one of the things that he’s dedicated some time and resources to is ensuring that we do all that we can to avoid anybody having to make that decision.
Q May I follow up on Jonathan’s question?
MR. GIBBS: I’ll make my way back there.
Q David Axelrod has reached out to the Massachusetts Senate President and Democrats in Massachusetts, to say that the White House is putting pressure to fill the seat. How heavily is the White House lobbying for —
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, who —
Q I’m talking about David Axelrod is calling the President of Massachusetts —
MR. GIBBS: I think David has called to see where the process is in terms of replacing a vacant Senate seat, understanding that we have important debates that are upcoming in the United States Senate.
Q Are there more calls planned? I mean, how heavily is the White House lobbying to get that seat filled?
MR. GIBBS: You’d better direct — I don’t know what David’s call schedule is like.
Q Okay. And one more question. Should the $8,000 tax credit for new home buyers be extended past the November 30th deadline?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know that the White House economic team is looking at the tax credit and evaluating the impact that it has had on new home sales, and through that evaluation will come to something to give the President a recommendation on.
Q Robert, just to put a fine point on it, speaking for the President, do you believe he disagrees with what Jimmy Carter said last night, fundamentally?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean — I mean, again, I’ll just — I don’t know how to — I don’t know whether it’s a fine point or a not-so-fine point. As I said Sunday, the President does not believe that this is based on the color of his skin.
Q But Jimmy Carter’s folks (inaudible) Sunday, so — because it was elevated to presidential level, it’s —
MR. GIBBS: I guess I’m a victim of being consistent. I didn’t think it Sunday and I —
Q And the President —
MR. GIBBS: The President doesn’t think it — didn’t think it Sunday, doesn’t think it — what is it? — Wednesday.
Q Would the President regard statements from such a prominent American, a former President, a son of the South, as he described himself, helpful in the whole country’s understanding or comprehensive or conversation about this subject, of his presidency, race, and criticism of his policy?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think the President has seen the specific comments, and I don’t know — I haven’t talked to him about President Carter.
Q Answering Jake’s question about ACORN, I want to make sure I understand what you were saying. Is it fair to say now that the administration is reviewing other federal grants that are either current or that were approved by previous administrations because of the conduct of ACORN?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to specific — to specific agencies that have that —
Q Are they reviewing —
MR. GIBBS: That’s —
Q — and is the administration making a new judgment based on the new evidence —
MR. GIBBS: That’s my assumption, and I would point you to them.
Q Okay. Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, sent a letter to the White House yesterday about the question of czars. He’s the chairman of the Subcommittee on Constitution. He asked for more information about the czars’ roles, the constitutional authority, how they’re paid. The DNC today has sent out quite a few e-mails about czars have existed in previous administrations, this is sort of a phony issue. Could you just address for me what the White House thinks about, A, any questions about the czars’ authorities, roles, or function in the administration; whether or not there is anything more it should disclose about what they’re doing or what authority they derive? Any of those issues, raised by Russ Feingold and others.
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen Senator Feingold’s letter. I think — I don’t know if you or anybody else sent around Senator Bennett’s letter that several Republicans had signed.
Look, I don’t — like I said, I don’t know what Senator Feingold said. There are positions in the administration, there are positions in the previous administration. I think these are positions that date back at least to many, many administrations where there may be policy coordination between many different departments in order to make governmental responses more efficient.
I’m struck by a little of the politics in this, Major. I noticed on your network they asked one of the House Republicans, Darrell Issa, whether he objected to the so-called czars in the previous administration. His answer was, no, we didn’t.
You know, I mean, I think it’s — I’ve noticed that — you read Senator Bennett was pushing for a Y2K czar that he didn’t think was powerful enough. You’ve seen Lamar Alexander call for a manufacturing czar.
So, you know, somebody referred to in the Bush administration as the abstinent czar was on the DC madam’s list. Now, did that violate the Constitution or simply offend our sensibilities? But I think it’s been somewhat remarkable that in previous administrations so-called criticism of this has been a bit deafening — the silence has been deafening, only to have it come around as a political issue now. I think what the American people would like every branch of government to do is get about dealing with the problems that real people have each and every day rather than playing political games back and forth, day after day, and not solving or addressing their problems.
Q Since you asked, I can tell you what the letter says — it’s brief; I’m not going to take a lot of time — “I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, provide the judgments of your legal advisors to whether and how these positions are consistent with the appointments clause. I hope this information will help address some of the concerns that have been raised about the new position.” Is this something the White House would be prepared to share with Senator Feingold —
MR. GIBBS: I would have to look at — read the letter and have Counsel give me an opinion on that. Again —
Q But based on what I’ve read you, does that sound objectionable or something the White House would be opposed to?
MR. GIBBS: I think the American people hold the President accountable. That’s what we would expect. And I think as it relates to, like I said a minute ago, any number of the political games that seem to be played each and every day in this little town — I think we’d best be set getting back to dealing with real business.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q To follow up on Major’s first question, there’s obviously —
MR. GIBBS: That was, like, six minutes — (laughter).
Q Yes. There’s obviously a national conversation going on about race and the role it has or hasn’t played in some of the hostility toward the President. Why is he or why are you so reluctant to talk about it? I mean, you were reluctant to talk about the House vote on Joe Wilson. You’re reluctant to talk about —
MR. GIBBS: I think we talked about it. I don’t want to quote Bill, but I think Bill said that the House vote was a House matter and that the President had accepted his apology.
Q Okay, I interpreted that as reluctance to get into it.
MR. GIBBS: You didn’t ask me about the House renaming a post office last week, but I don’t think that demonstrates our reluctance to — no, I’m not going to get into House business. That’s their business.
Q I guess my question really is that he gave this big speech during the campaign on race. There’s now a conversation that’s risen to the level of a former President about race. Can we expect him to talk about that, to address it in any way, or is your hope to keep him away from this conversation and focused on other things?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think most people that see him understand that he’s an African American. So this whole notion that somehow people won’t see or notice that has always, to me, been something of a peculiar line of either questioning or reasoning.
Look, I’m just simply saying I don’t think — that the President does not believe that — I forget exactly how the original question was — that the majority of this is based on that. I just don’t subscribe to that.
Q If the incident in Cambridge was viewed in the President’s eyes as a teachable moment for the country, why is this not a teachable moment, in terms of the role that race is playing in society?
MR. GIBBS: Which —
Q The discussion going on right now, from the House floor to the former President to those remarks. Why is this not a teachable moment for this President to lend his voice?
MR. GIBBS: Obviously the President has and has always had great concerns about race relations in this country. He’s talked about them in speeches. He’s talked about them throughout his career in politics; believes we’ve made great strides, and obviously we’ve got work to do.
But I don’t — I’m not sure I see this large national conversation going on right now.
Q Has the White House instructed any Democrats or asked any Democrats, either in the House or Representatives or elsewhere, to stop talking about race and to get back to the health care legislation?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Ann, do you want to —
Q What impact does it have when a former President of the United States, someone who came from the South, someone who worked against discrimination all of his career, says that the — what was it — an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity is because he’s black? What effect does that have on the country when a former President says that?
MR. GIBBS: Look, you know, it adds to — it adds to our dialogue. I’m just simply saying I don’t think the President agrees with that.
Q Why then — you’re saying — I mean, should he be participating in this — I think that seems to be what we’re all asking. Will the President — I mean, the former President is raising this. It’s, again, (inaudible), but, I mean, isn’t it, at this point, incumbent upon the President to say, you know what, no, I don’t agree with him?
MR. GIBBS: I said that on his behalf, Chuck.
Q Robert, health care communication strategy, I guess I’m struck by the President’s plans to do all five Sunday talk shows, Univision, and really rolling out the big gun, Letterman’s show Monday night — on top of the rallies, on top of everything else. Is there a point at which this much Obama is too much Obama, in terms of making his case?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think if you — I think if you look at the number of people in this room covering the administration, representing many different viewpoints, representing many different media outlets, representing many different mediums — dropping stuff — (laughter) — I think the American people clearly get their information from many news sources these days. And the President believes and has for quite some time that people deserve to hear the reason he’s making certain decisions and why he wants to do the things he does. And I think he believes that people get a greater understanding from those discussions.
I think gone are the days where one outlet is where everyone gets their news or one medium is where everybody gets their news. And I think this is just an attempt by the President to speak to as many different people as he can on an issue that’s as important as something like health care reform, or on Afghanistan.
So I think it will be just another opportunity for the President to walk the American people through where we are, some of the decisions that he’s made as President, and where he sees the country, the economy, health care, and our national security moving forward.
Q So there’s no point of overexposure or diminishing returns on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — I think the American people are dealing with more than one problem at a time, and I think they want to hear from a President that believes we can deal with more than one problem at a time.
Q Robert, on the Baucus plan, Republicans are opposed; the AFL-CIO just put out a statement saying it doesn’t like the plan; Senator Rockefeller, opposed. Was this time — was this (inaudible), this bipartisan — so-called bipartisan process? And would the President not have been better off very early on saying, this is my plan, I campaigned on it, I won the election, I’ve got a mandate, we’ve got Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, we’re going to drive this home?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, I think — I think we’re at a — I think we’re at a point in health care reform, as I’ve said and as others have said many times, that is closer to that becoming a reality for millions of Americans struggling with the high cost of health insurance than we have at any other point. I don’t think the President looks back and thinks we should have done things differently.
This is all part of the long process, and I don’t think — I don’t think that Senator Baucus or President Obama or others asking Republicans to be involved, to give us their ideas, is time poorly spent at all. I think the American people want to hear both sides’ ideas on this.
Q Thanks. If there’s no imminent resource decision on Afghanistan, then what is the purpose of what’s being reported as a “evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan” report being sent up to the Hill? Is that just sort of to buy time with lawmakers —
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, that’s — that is, again, that’s part of the process that we’ve talked about, which is we need definable benchmarks for our mission and our progress. The Hill and others will be briefed on — they’re classified — briefed on benchmarks and objectives so that as we’re evaluating our strategy and ultimately making any decision, that they go back to what our objectives are. That’s also required by law, and we’re meeting that.
Q I have a quick follow-up on Afghanistan. General Colin Powell is here or at least was here, probably still is here, to meet with the President today. Did President Obama request the meeting or did General Powell request it?
MR. GIBBS: I believe it was President Obama, but I can double-check.
Q And can you tell us, is he definitely — are they talking about primarily Afghanistan or is it Iran or is it a broad range of issues? Will we get any detailed readout?
MR. GIBBS: Not likely. But my sense is that the President greatly values the counsel of General Powell on a number of different issues. I think he’s been involved in, obviously, throughout his career in military affairs, national security, all the way to service, volunteerism, and education. So I think the President will seek his counsel on a wide range of issues throughout the day.
Q Robert, I thought you might have sounded a little bit lukewarm on the Baucus — you called it an important building block. I mean, does the President likes the bill? Does he support the bill?
MR. GIBBS: We’re not going to get into — the President likes the fact that the process is moving forward. I don’t know that the President has spent time reading Chuck’s printout in the previous few hours —
Q Oh, well, you all supposedly were involved in the negotiations. I mean, he had people up here. He doesn’t know what’s in the bill?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think I said that. I said I didn’t think he’s spent time reading the printout today.
Q So this is — I mean, this is — I’m sorry —
MR. GIBBS: But, again, this is a process. There are many bills out there. You heard the President outline very clearly what he wants to see, and we’re working toward that goal.
Q So you can’t say anything positive on the bill, just on the process — nothing positive?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I’m going to go somewhere — I’m not going to play games.
Q Wait, you won’t —
MR. GIBBS: David —
Q I mean, why are you going away? I mean, why won’t you answer that question?
MR. GIBBS: Because I’m not going to play games today.
Q On a different subject, just a little while ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that there wouldn’t be a cap and trade bill until next year, 2010. What is your response to this, particularly with Copenhagen coming up in December?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I obviously haven’t seen Senator Reid’s comments. I know the House took important legislative action earlier in the year. Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer are working on a proposal in the Senate. The President will take part in Ban Ki-moon’s discussion on climate next week at the U.N. And we hope to continue to make progress leading up to Copenhagen, understanding that we are one part of what has to happen internationally, and understanding that we are working through years and years of an issue that hasn’t been at the forefront of many different agendas here in the White House. We’re seeking to change that, and we have no doubt that that will take some time.
Q But is it a setback, given your expectations or hopes for making real progress at Copenhagen?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we can continue to make progress. We’ve got to make progress, and the international community has got to make progress getting China and India and developing nations and evolving world economies like Brazil on board. This is not just a one-country solution. There has to be an international effort to address this.
Q Back to Afghanistan and the fact that the U.N. commission there has ordered a partial recount — and what is your sense of that? And how concerned are you, how worried are you that the fact that you don’t — that people of the world may not know who the next leader of Afghanistan might be for a period of time? And how would that affect your ongoing strategy review, when you don’t know who you’re dealing with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there’s no doubt that that plays some role in moving forward. I think the administration strongly believes that the vote should be counted, and the fraudulent vote should be thrown out; that the Afghans who conducted this election, a very important stepping stone for them, that this process has to be fair and legitimate, and that the world has to have confidence in that result.
I’ll take one more. Yes, ma’am.
Q Thank you. Besides the public option, the other issue that’s really drawing a lot of criticism is the individual mandate. And I’d just like your comment on that, because they’re saying a lot of people are slipping through the cracks. And, secondly, Grassley —
MR. GIBBS: Slipping through the cracks? How so?
Q Right, because some of them are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but they aren’t in a position to wait until a tax credit to reimburse them for the expense of paying for insurance. So —
MR. GIBBS: I think as this moves forward again, I think one of the primary concerns that the President has on any legislation and on any part of the legislation is affordability, and affordability for those that have insurance and those that don’t have insurance. Obviously, we’ve talked about some of the insurance reforms. And I’d point you to what the President said at the joint session, which it is far harder to institute insurance reforms when you don’t have a pool — when you have a pool of people that is outside of the scope of insurance. You are, by definition, going to have a selection problem, whereby the healthiest may seek to be outside of the system, which makes it harder to spread and pool the risk the President has talked about.
I know that the President and his team will be working on ensuring affordability, structuring any benefit and tax credit so that it helps those that are looking for accessible and affordable insurance options; and to ensure that as we’re moving to health care reform, that we have a system in place that doesn’t make the problems of any family that doesn’t currently have insurance worse through an onerous penalty that simply compounds the problem. Obviously, the President talked about it on Capitol Hill that we have to have a robust hardship exemption.
Q So are you considering an additional tax credit, then? You said you’re looking at ways to structure —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that a tax credit is, by and large, the consensus for how one moves forward in ensuring that people have accessible, affordable insurance. Thank you.
Q Grassley has said to do a reinsurance pool, because it’s just drawing too much fire.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with Nancy. And I haven’t seen the — I haven’t seen his comments. Thank you.