Opinion: What the White House’s Gibbs said today about Scott Brown, Martha Coakley and Obama himself
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The idea, as proposed early this morning in a Ticket item readable right here, was to contrast what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to avoid saying yesterday about the special Massachusetts Senate race between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley with his answers to the same discreet questions today in the aftermath.
Voting was still underway then in the Bay State, and Gibbs really didn’t have much to say except that he would have something to say today.
That’s for sure!
And he knew it too, booking extra time for today’s press briefing and noting, at the top, that the briefing room was packed. In fact, the Massachusetts election -- including the president’s reaction to the stunning defeat and its ongoing political impact -- was such a constant theme running throughout the entire discussion on numerous subjects that we decided not to cut any parts.
Instead we are publishing the entire briefing transcript for loyal Ticketers to decide for themselves how much they want to read. One tip: It is very interesting and sets the scene for what you can expect out of the White House in coming days and weeks.
Turns out, President Obama admitted in an ABC News interview that he knew....
... a week ago that Coakley was headed to becoming the first Democrat to lose a U.S. Senate election there in decades. A list of recent related Ticket items appears at the end of this transcript.
Here you go, as promised, with the real thing as provided by the White House:
-- Andrew Malcolm
Robert Gibbs press briefing, January 20, 2010 MR. GIBBS: Packed house. Ms. Loven. What do you guys want to talk about? (Laughter.)
Q Maybe, I don’t know, an election in the Northeast?
Q -- currency exchange rate? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q The President told ABC it looks like that he’s suggesting that you guys coalesce around the things that people agree on in the health care bill, and he mentioned insurance reform, cost containment, and a couple other things. Does that mean that the approach the White House has settled on in reaction to the election last night is to scale back the bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jennifer, what the President talked to ABC about in the -- to take a step back on health care -- doing health care wasn’t -- he didn’t do it just because it was a hobby. He did it because in traveling around the country during the election he heard from families, he heard from small businesses, he heard from large businesses about how the current system was simply unsustainable. It was a priority then and it’s a priority now. We are working through the best way forward as the President continues his commitment to get health care reform done.
Q Well, he seemed to signal that you guys have settled or at least are getting closer to settling on a way forward.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think a lot of those conversations are ongoing. There are, as you mentioned, one path; we talked yesterday about other paths. And --
Q Well, I didn’t mention it. The President did.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand. Well, right.
Q I mean, I did mention it, but it’s because he -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You were channeling him. No, no, I didn’t mean to imply that it was -- your question was certainly based on something the President said. There are a number of different ways to do this. Again, those conversations are ongoing.
Q -- breaking the bill into pieces, is that ruled out or still on the table?
MR. GIBBS: You know, again, I don’t want to get into, I guess, delineating, except to say there are a lot of different paths forward. And I think we’ll get an opportunity in the coming hours and days to know exactly what that path is. But I think we mentioned yesterday health care continues to be a priority of the President’s. It was yesterday, it was a year ago, and it continues today.
Q Well, just one quick thing to follow up. Since obviously abandoning health care is not one of the options, what are the immediate plans for recalibrating the message or intensifying the message to explain better to the American people what you’re trying to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first and foremost -- and again this was something we touched on yesterday, the President talked about this in his interview, I think you heard some of us talk about this, this morning -- the anger and frustration in this country about where we are economically is something that we heard and saw last night in Massachusetts. The President heard and saw it last month when he traveled to Pennsylvania. He’ll hear it in Ohio. We’ve heard it for several years. The President, I think in his interview, takes it back even farther than that. People were working --
Q -- about the health care bill and explaining the health care bill and why it’s important, why he wants --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I understand, but this is -- I just want to --
Q -- a longer answer.
MR. GIBBS: Only a more fulsome answer, how about that? Because, again -- I will say this, Jennifer, I don’t think, and I think it would be inaccurate to just boil the results of yesterday down to one issue. Right?
Q But it is an issue.
MR. GIBBS: I agree. But -- it is certainly an issue, but I think both -- the candidate that won last night has said it wasn’t just one issue. The anger and the frustration that the American people have at the fact that a lot of work has been done and they don’t necessarily feel like their economic lives have progressed in the past year is understandable. As I said yesterday, that’s what brought candidate Barack Obama a year ago today to be inaugurated as President Obama.
We will continue to have him focus on the economy and jobs, continue to focus on dealing with the problems that he felt and talked about during the campaign that existed and have existed for quite some time that we haven’t addressed. Inherent in a lot of that, again, is, it’s job growth, it’s a foundation for economic growth going forward that’s not predicated on consumer spending or housing prices. All of those things that the President has worked on he’ll continue to work on moving forward. I think the American people expect that of their President and their Congress, and that’s certainly what they’ll get. Yes, ma’am.
Q To what extent do you read into the Massachusetts results a message on national politics? Is there a wake-up call, as some people have said, for the party?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think everybody -- I think there are a lot of people that bear responsibility for some aspect of what happened last night -- right?
Q Can you be a little more specific about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, yes -- I mean, we talked yesterday about -- I said that the President was surprised and frustrated. I don’t -- the President didn’t expect -- I’d certainly put myself in that category, not expecting to lose that Senate race. There’s no doubt we are frustrated by that. So I think everybody bears some responsibility, certainly including the White House.
But, again, what I talked about yesterday, what I talk about here today, is, I think there -- I think the anger that the President addressed more than a year ago to get elected, the anger that we’ve seen throughout this year, and the -- is very similar to the anger that we saw last night.
I think we have -- again, we’ve seen that for far longer than an election. We’ve seen, as I said yesterday, people that are working longer, working harder, that are more productive, and they’re watching their wages fall. They’re watching their jobs move overseas. They’re watching their families not have the same opportunities that they did, and they’re feeling insecure about their own future. I think that is a wake-up call for everybody in this town.
Q But what does that mean for him as he’s preparing for the State of the Union? Is he having meetings to discuss the theme? Are you looking at what you’re doing in a different way as a result of this -- looking at anything in a different way?
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, he will undoubtedly address the results and what they mean in the State of the Union. The agenda, though, that the President was going to focus on and is going to focus on in the coming year -- jobs, fiscal responsibility, many of the things that he’s talked about over the last several weeks -- will be what he focuses on during the State of the Union and in the coming year. We still have a lot of work to do to get our economy back on track.
Q Is there added urgency to get a near-term jobs bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I would simply reiterate what we’ve talked about before, which is everything -- we need to do everything possible to create an environment where the private sector is hiring again. We understand the depth of the recession, the more than 7 million jobs that have been lost in a more than two-year period of time. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. The President laid out some ideas in December and believes those ideas are -- still should be taken up now, and he’ll talk about that in the State of the Union. Jake.
Q Only about a third of the American people think that the President is doing enough on the economy; two-thirds don’t. Are they wrong?
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn’t question that that’s what they told your pollster and that they’re right in telling them that. I would say this: Having -- coming here to work every day, that the President works each and every day on making our economy stronger and putting us in a position to where we’re creating jobs, businesses are hiring again, we have that new foundation that is built on something like the clean energy jobs of the future. All that takes up every -- a little bit of every part of his day.
Now, again, whether we have to do a better job making sure people understand that, we certainly bear that responsibility. But I could certainly assure the American people that that is the chief focus of the President of the United States.
Q With the economy, just now and yesterday when I asked you about health care reform, it seems like the White House thinks that the issue disconnect that the American people have with the White House in terms of their disapproval of the President’s handling of the economy and health care reform is not that you’re doing it wrong but that you’re not communicating effectively. Am I understanding that correctly?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no, I mean, look, do I think we have done -- I’m not saying that’s the only thing by any means. I would certainly, again, take my share of the responsibility, as I’m sure many would, in ensuring that people had a clearer idea of what the President is doing each day on that. Look, Jake, some of this is not dissimilar to when you go back to the last really deep recession you look at the President’s approval ratings for Ronald Reagan during ’81 and ’82. I mean, it is not surprising to anybody here, I doubt surprising to anybody in the country, that there’s anger and frustration with 10 percent of the American people unemployed. And when you add in those that are unemployed but have stopped looking because they’ve been unemployed for so long, that number only gets greater.
So, again, I think you hear the President say quite clearly that he is among those that are frustrated. We all want to see us get our economy back on track faster. The President believes that we have taken some necessary, if at times unpopular, steps to do so. You don’t get credit for taking those steps and pulling -- you don’t get credit for what would have happened, which is fine.
But I think the President, at the end of his interview, says he is more optimistic about our country and about our economy today than he was a year ago, because, again, if you think about where we were a year ago, we were in meetings talking about what if these series of banks go under; what are we going to do if -- I mean, there were, you know -- these were eye-opening experiences. We were -- and we all remember from the first jobs report -- we were watching the economy shed jobs at a rate that had previously been unseen.
Q Just in terms of the politics of this, what does the President plan on doing -- you’ve talked a lot about the anger out there and the frustration, and the President did, too, when he was in Boston on Sunday. What do you plan on doing to convince these people who are angry that they need to trust the President and trust the Democratic Party? Because obviously many of them are turning away from the Democratic Party and the President.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that’s in many ways the result of -- that anger is now pointed at us because we’re in charge. Rightly so. Look, I think the President’s focus on jobs and the economy is one. I think we will have -- clearly financial reform is going to take and play a bigger role in what happens legislatively in the next several months; ensuring that we have honest rules of the road going forward, that we’re not rewarding excessive risk, that we have an independent agency that protects and looks after consumers.
You saw the President discuss last week ensuring that taxpayers are paid back in full for what was lent to banks in order to stabilize that financial system. I think both of those will certainly -- along with jobs -- will be a big priority for this President.
Q You said as part of that, that the President, dating back to 2008 and his own campaign, heard the American people about the economic pain, the falling wages, et cetera. Why then did he spend so much time in 2009 on health care, instead of even more time on jobs, more time on Wall Street reform, all the things that people worry about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we started Wall Street reform and we got that through the House, which is no small accomplishment. Look, the President, again as I said earlier, didn’t take on health care reform because it was a hobby. He took on health care reform because when we’re talking about wages, people were losing wages to health care. People were watching their incomes decline because their premiums were increasing. Families were struggling with the loss of health care.
So there were economic concerns that brought the President to dealing with health care. So I would not put, and I know the President would not put -- I don’t want to silo issues because I think if you’re talking about the economy and jobs, you’re talking about health care, you’re talking about education, you’re talking about a host of things that go to that security that the middle class clearly hasn’t felt in many years.
Q There’s no doubt they’re interconnected, but six, eight months ago there were a lot of people in this country raising questions about whether he had too much on his plate and how he emphasizes things. And so specifically, he could have, last summer, done a scaled-back bill like he’s talking about today in this interview. He could have done that last summer.
MR. GIBBS: Right, I think the difference that is true on this, Ed, is that the President would tell you if there were an easy solution it would, A, have been done, or, B, it would clearly be identified as not adequately addressing cost containment, deficit reduction -- all of the aspects that are currently in different bills that have passed the House and the Senate -- insurance reforms, a host of things that within health care are interconnected and have to be done as a broad package.
Q How much as factors does the President, does the White House put in terms of the loss on Martha Coakley being a bad candidate? How much of a factor percentage-wise is it the President, a referendum on him, on his leadership?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t want to get into the blame game. I said earlier I think we all bear some responsibility. I won’t do the percentages, as tempting as that might be. But, look, I -- again, we were -- again, there was a surprise and a frustration here. And I think we all have some responsibility on that, Ed, to bear.
Q Last thing on that. In terms of whether you call it a referendum or not, Anthony Weiner, a Democrat in the House, is saying that partly to blame here is presidential leadership, the President did not exert himself enough on health care; that he sat back for months, let this play out on the Hill. How do you respond to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I -- and we certainly talked about this before -- I simply just don’t agree with the notion that we wouldn’t be here were it not for the President wanting us -- even though it was hard, even though people said it couldn’t be done, even though it looked undoable at times, I honestly don’t believe and I don’t think many in Congress would tell you that they would believe we would be at this point were it not for his leadership.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get around and I’ll -- I’ve scheduled a bunch of time here today so I’ll -- yes, Chip.
Q Actually I wanted to follow up on that, on the presidential leadership and health care. Now that we’re at kind of a new stage in health care reform -- and I don’t know if you’d be willing to say it’s back to the drawing board but it is a new stage -- is the President going to exert more leadership now? Is he going to take control of what’s happening up there, or is he going to continue to defer to Congress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chip, I’ll give you a similar answer that I did to Ed. I don’t honestly believe we would be where we are, I don’t believe that we would be this far along in a process were it not for the President being very intimately involved.
Q But accepting that, do you think he’ll become more involved in a leadership function in terms of saying right from now, here’s what I want in this bill?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this: I think he will continue as he has to -- both with him and with key staff here -- play a very active role in that process, yes.
Q On the bigger picture, do you believe or does the President believe that the Massachusetts election was a sign that the White House needs to change course on its agenda?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- again, I think -- I neither want to under- or over-read; I don’t want to boil it down to one thing or one issue. I think that’s to oversimplify a lot of different factors that go into how people make voting decisions and the outcomes of elections.
I will tell you this, I don’t believe the President thinks that we should stop fighting for what’s important to the middle class; that we should stop fighting for an economic recovery, that we should stop fighting for what we need to do to create an environment for the private sector to hire, that we should abandon -- no doubt there will be calls to abandon financial reform, that there will be calls by some to abandon the notion of wanting taxpayers to be paid back for their loans to Wall Street. I don’t think the President would agree with those.
Q Do you see this election as a watershed moment in any way where the President is, from this moment on, is going to have to ratchet down his expectations for what he can get passed?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, again, I -- the President hears and understands the anger. It’s very similar to what he heard and understood -- has heard and understood for many years. It is important to the President that we continue to push forward on the priorities of fighting for what’s important to the middle class.
Q There are some on the Hill who say the President is in denial, that he just doesn’t understand that this is really a major moment that -- the Virginia election, the New Jersey election, now this.
MR. GIBBS: I mean, again, Chip -- I think you’ll hear in the interview later today that he hears and understands what’s happening. Again, it’s not flip, it’s -- it’s a lot of what we heard in Iowa, right? It was a lot of what we heard in the general election. It was a lot of what, quite frankly, he heard as a U.S. senator. I think it is another iteration of that, and I don’t dismiss or downplay that at all. I think it is -- it’s an important moment. I think it’s -- I think the President would tell you it’s an important moment for us to come together and work on our problems. There’s no doubt about any of that. Mike.
Q Debate has been going on over health care for largely the past year. The President has had a speech to a joint session of Congress. There have been town halls, press conferences. There have been Internet and Web addresses, any number of statements. Is it possible that the American people, the voters, have spoken, and they do not want this health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- Mike, I hesitate to read something out of an election that the candidate that won the election says he doesn’t read out of it, either by person or by issue. So there are -- are there aspects of the health care reform that are more popular than others? Undoubtedly. But I don’t -- we know this, Mike, that there are going to be -- there are people yesterday that got a bill for their health care and saw it go up. That’s true today. That was true a year, and two years, and four years ago.
If we don’t deal with this problem we know this: Tomorrow and next year, and the year after that, that problem is going to continue. Watching what we spend on health care from a federal budgetary perspective will continue to increase, and it will encompass a greater percentage of our budget every single day. People will get kicked off their insurance because the insurance company has decided what they have is actually a preexisting condition that they failed to report when they got the insurance.
All of those things will happen. All of those things impact middle-class and working-class Americans. And the President believes that’s part of the economic anxiety that’s taking place in this country.
Q The President has said several times over the last six months that we’ve got to do this now, meaning September, October, November, depending on when he said it, because we’re heading into an election year. If we don’t get it done now we’re going to be waiting a long, long time. Is that still operative?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Mike, I think you all know that the legislative pacing of this town is different the closer we get to an election; that the games that are played here are kicked off far earlier and far more as we get closer to even-number election years. I think the President strongly believes there’s time to do this yet.
Q This year?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that we can and should get health care reform done this year.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. I’m reading some reports from the Hill this morning that some people, some of the congressional members are talking about doing a scaled-back health reform bill, not something that is as comprehensive but something that would have more immediate benefits for the middle class, like the preexisting thing going into effect immediately. Would the President consider that a victory, to have a scaled-back health reform bill that wasn’t quite as comprehensive?
MR. GIBBS: Well, what I said earlier to Ed I think is the concern is that a narrow bill addresses a narrow group of concerns, yet doesn’t make progress on all of the issues that we’ve talked about. So insurance reforms are important; cost containment is important. So there are a host of things -- again, there are discussions that are ongoing here, on the Hill, as you mentioned, about what the best path is forward, and those will certainly continue.
Ben, you do not get a whole new set of questions. That is a tricky little maneuver by the Associated -- yes, Laura.
Q You just mentioned, when you were mentioning important things that are part of the House bill, insurance reform and cost containment. Do you think that measure has to cover a large number of the uninsured in order to be successful?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I certainly think that -- I did not mean that the two that I listed were the only two. There are -- there’s certainly accessibility issues. There’s affordability issues. There’s closing the doughnut hole for seniors and prescription drugs. There’s a host of things. Again, I’m --
Q Well, does the bill have to include a large number of uninsured to be considered a success for the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the best path forward is being discussed.
Q So you won’t say whether it has to include that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I --
Q I’m just trying to clarify exactly what your views are on this.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, I understand. The best path forward is being discussed. The President believes, and has believed, that we have to address this issue broadly; that -- again, you’ll hear him say in this interview -- that the -- focusing on only part of the larger issues only focuses on the narrow issue.
Q In this interview -- you seem to almost be walking back the President’s comments. In this interview he seems to clearly embrace a scaled-back version of the bill, and said something to the effect maybe we can do a bill on the things that are popular, there are a lot of things that are popular. That did not include covering the uninsured. So I’m wondering are you -- okay.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not walking back from what the President said.
Q So that is in fact something that would interest the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think there are -- I’m not opening or closing the door on a host of things. They’re working through what the best path is forward.
Q Who’s ‘they’?
MR. GIBBS: Many people that have been working on it since the beginning.
Q Robert, Scott Brown campaigned saying, elect me and I’ll be the 41st vote against the health care bill. Why doesn’t that tell you people wanted that? They want to kill this bill.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think that’s the only reason people voted for him. I mean, Mark, he didn’t run an ad on health care. He supported, in Massachusetts, a health care bill not dissimilar to what the President has supported; said on the trail he wouldn’t vote to repeal that. And again, quote him in saying there were a series of issues that he talked about. Was that certainly one aspect of it? Of course. Again, I don’t want to over-read based on what -- I’ll say this, Mark, I bet you can find three to four Republicans that took part in this race that will likely give you three to four different answers on what was the most important thing.
So I don’t want to say that I have a greater insight into that or a lesser insight. I just -- I think to simply boil down one issue as all-encompassing in one race would be to over-read what happened. That’s not to -- again, I want to be clear, that is not to not understand that there’s frustration and anger out in this country. There is.
Q Does that anger and frustration embrace the health care bill?
MR. GIBBS: I think there are certainly -- I mean, there’s certainly aspects of the health care reform bill that are less popular, absolutely.
Q You said that you’re leaving the door open to any and all options. So just to clarify, you are leaving the door open to a stripped-down bill that would just -- (laughter) -- that would just be limited to insurance reform?
MR. GIBBS: -- I’m just checking. Sorry, go ahead. Repeat the last part of the question.
Q That would just be limited to insurance reform.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t -- the reason I tell you I don’t have the broader answer to the path forward is they’re working on it. So I don’t -- I guess I would say don’t read too much or too little into that we’ll have -- that’s being worked through.
Q What is the status on talks about a debt commission possibly? Will the President sign an executive order?
MR. GIBBS: We have talked about a number of ways to address and deal with our medium-term and long-term fiscal problem. That is one aspect of what’s been discussed. I know there’s a vote in the next few days likely on this on Capitol Hill. It’s been discussed, but nothing has been structured or no agreement has been reached on that.
Q When you talk about the anger out there associated with double-digit unemployment, obviously some of that has to do with the fact that Americans are seeing their taxpayer dollars going to making Wall Street whole again. Do you think that the President and the White House and this administration as a whole has been consistent enough in its message to Wall Street this year?
MR. GIBBS: How so? I don’t --
Q That the American public are convinced that the White House isn’t too cozy to the banks and to Wall Street, that they think that the White House and the President is putting just as much effort into making Main Street whole again as it has the banks.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you asked folks on Wall Street, they certainly would tell you -- I certainly saw a number of blind quotes throughout the morning of Wall Streeters saying that our policies and being tough on Wall Street had backfired.
Q But that was just last week with the bank fee.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think last week and -- I think there are people on Wall Street that weren’t -- that didn’t become upset at us starting last week.
Look, I’ll say this, Savannah, there are -- undoubtedly the frustration in this country of watching those that caused the acceleration and the wreckage of this economy through excessive risk-taking that they were then rewarded for, then they were bailed out for, is a source of enormous frustration and enormous anger, a big percentage of what I think people have heard last night and over the past year, undoubtedly.
I think they have not fully felt the recovery plan that the President passed. And I think it will take, in all honesty, an improvement in the jobs situation for people to feel that. We’ve got, if you look at -- if you just look at what the bill did, as a result of that legislation, for the first time in four economic quarters we had positive growth.
Now, we still are losing jobs. So I think when you couple the two -- the frustration and the anxiety and the anger about personal situations, unable to get loans, while we watch bankers get bonuses, while we watch -- while the money that was loaned isn’t paid back in full -- absolutely they’re -- I think that makes them mad. It makes the President mad. I think that is a big part of that anger and frustration.
Q Knowing that employment is a lagging indicator, on an intellectual argument I’m sure the American people could understand that, but in their gut it’s harder to get. What more can the President do to empathize, to tap into that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it is -- I think it goes beyond empathy. I think the American people want to see action and they want to see jobs. I think that’s what the President spends a lot of his time working on. It won’t come fast. It took a long time to get where we have gone economically and it’s going to take some time to climb out of that. The graph of the sheer depth of the recession that we’ve shown here a few times means there’s a long, long way to go and a lot of work yet to be done. Wendell.
Q There’s been a lot of talk about what yesterday’s election will mean for the health care reform effort, but you have other issues before Congress now and I’d like to ask you what it will mean for the energy bill, cap and trade, for financial regulatory reform, for the creation of this debt commission, and in particular what it will mean for the Republicans’ claim that you are not willing to work with them, that you have excluded them for the process, and now that you no longer have the 60 votes in the Senate, that you would have to reach out to them.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President has reached out to them, Wendell. The President will go speak to -- I forget the date -- the House Republicans later this month. I’ve used this example before but it’s a good example so I’ll use it again. The President went to -- the last time the President went to talk to House Republicans was to talk about the recovery plan. Before we could get in the car to go to Capitol Hill, we were reading a press release about how the leadership in the Republican House committee -- or caucus were opposed to the plan.
This is -- I’ve said this before -- there are a series of streets between the White House and Capitol Hill -- almost all of them are in both directions. And it takes two willing partners to be able to do this.
Q You’ve also said today that you’re going to have to work together.
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So given that it takes two willing partners to do this --
MR. GIBBS: We’re certainly willing. I watched Mitch McConnell, whose party unity score in voting was 95 percent, talk about being bipartisan -- an interesting message. I’m happy and I know the President would be happy to work with them, but, Wendell, again, they’ve got to want to work. It has to be more than something that occupies seven seconds on television or two lines in a print story. It has to be heartfelt, right? It has to be, why are you going to filibuster the defense spending bill only to vote for it like 88 to 10? Is that bipartisan? Is that productive or counterproductive? Let me go to some of your --
Q You compromise. Energy -- what about cap and trade? That’s their big problem with the energy bill. Are you willing to compromise on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this, Wendell, we’ve got -- there’s a process working in the Senate right now that is a good segue to your earlier question. This isn’t a bipartisan effort, this is a tri-partisan effort, right? You’ve got an independent in Joe Lieberman, you’ve got a Republican in Lindsey Graham, and you’ve got a Democrat in John Kerry that are working through a proposal on comprehensive energy legislation. I think -- look, if we can get some momentum behind that, then the answer to that would be yes because you would have representatives of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
Q The answer is yes, working -- answer yes on the cap and trade part of it, or answer yes on the Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that’s -- I guess I’m adding those together, because what they’re working on is that measure.
Look, on financial regulatory reform, this is something that certainly the President wants to work with the Republican Party and others on, understanding -- but I think that the President has to have, and people on Capitol Hill need to understand that the President is not going to compromise because lobbyists tell somebody that we shouldn’t have an agency that protects consumers. That’s something the President is not willing to give up.
Q And on the debt commission, if I could try one more, would the President accept legislation -- a legislatively created debt commission that would have teeth and the ability to enforce spending restraints?
MR. GIBBS: Certainly we’d have to look at it, but I’d -- obviously, some sort of commission to deal with that is one of the things that we’ve looked at.
Q But you would rule out a legislative commission?
MR. GIBBS: No, no. Mike.
Q Robert, a couple of questions I’m tempted to ask without hands.
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead. I do it all the time.
Q In his speech, acceptance speech acknowledging his victory, Scott Brown said he was going to -- wanted to talk a lot about bipartisanship. Is the President -- has the President any plans beyond the call last night to reach out to him?
MR. GIBBS: It’s a good question. Let me check. I know that as you -- as the statement I put out, he talked with both candidates, including Senator-elect Brown. I will check on anything specific on that.
Q Robert, you talk a lot about the anger out there among the public. When does President Obama get angry? I mean, it seems like that might be part of the disconnect. He always offers such a sort of calm and cool and cerebral approach to some of these things. Is there any -- is there any sort of thought to needing to show a little bit more of that anger himself?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve seen it. Look, I think many of you all, in writing the story last week about bank fees, mentioned that the President seemed exercised; in several of the statements that he gave about our failures across government to deal with Flight 253. I think when it comes to bank fees and bank bonuses, I can assure the American people that he -- there are things that get him going.
Look, you’re not going to see the President pound on a desk for the sake of political theater. I think what is more important than anything is understanding the frustration out in America that the President has seen, and having that frustration and anger guide policies that will get the middle class back up on their feet with a sense of security. That’s why the President reads letters. That’s why the President, again, in Ohio, will speak with voters about their anxieties and concerns.
I think there are plenty of examples of people that will pound on a desk and not get something done. So I don’t -- it has to be more than just for theater’s sake.
Q One last one.
MR. GIBBS: Sure. I didn’t do so well with the hands, did I? No.
Q Given that some of the problems you guys have had has been surrounding elections and you’ve not done so well in that score, any plans that the President has to try to bring Mr. Plouffe back into the -- more into the fold, given that he’s finished with his book now?
MR. GIBBS: He’s finished with his -- I haven’t read his book, so, no. The President talks fairly regularly with David. I know that it is somebody whose advice and counsel he both seeks regularly and believes David is an exceptionally smart advisor who understands the type of anger and frustration that he’s seen. I don’t have anything specific on that, except I know that he continues to talk to David regularly. Yes, ma’am.
Q Robert, you talked a lot today about the anger and frustration that President Obama carried him into office and that has now carried Scott Brown into office. But part of that anger and frustration clearly was in anger at the partisan nature of Washington. And the President campaigned on a promise of bipartisanship, which he hasn’t been able to fulfill.
MR. GIBBS: Admittedly.
Q Now, I know it goes both ways.
MR. GIBBS: No, admittedly, right.
Q So does he interpret the results of this election as in essence a judgment on that failure? Are people now angry at him for failing to fulfill his promise? And on health care, specifically, will he invite the Republican leaders of the House and Senate in to talk to them about health care? Or will he pursue a course of bipartisanship that basically involves moderates like Olympia Snowe?
MR. GIBBS: Well, on your first one, look, I think the President would be the first to tell you that the pace in changing the way Washington works he is not satisfied in. We’ve been able to do some things. There has been progress on thing like earmarks -- not enough. We’ve instituted very tough ethics rules for those that serve in government. You now know who comes into the White House to see people in the White House, for the first time in the history of this country. The pace of that change, though, is not that that satisfies the President.
In terms of that bipartisanship, though, I think -- again, I think this has to be more than one person talking about that.
Q But he extends the invitation, so an invitation to McConnell and Boehner?
MR. GIBBS: He says in this interview that if there are constructive and substantive ideas about how to move health care reform along, obviously he’d like to hear them. But what he doesn’t want to do and I don’t think what anybody has any interest in doing, including Republicans -- go back to where we were last summer, remember when Senator Grassley said even if I get what I want I can’t vote for it. I mean, I don’t know what you do then.
You can talk and you can meet and you can extend a hand, but if what you construct working with the other party, the other party is then unwilling to support, you can’t -- that’s the example of just being unable to -- you can’t do that.
To be fair there have been credit card reform, children’s health insurance -- there have been a series of pieces of legislation passed by this President that enjoy bipartisan support.
Q So no plans to invite the leaders in?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, if there are those that have -- again, part of this, Sheryl, is you have to be -- you write a lot of health care stories, right? Do you sense that the people that you’re discussing have moved off of their universal opposition to health care reform?
Q I’m not answering the questions, Robert. You are.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand --
Q Well, let me ask you about something else the President said last week to the House Democrats. He said, ‘Let me tell you something, if Republicans want to campaign against what we’ve done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have.’ Does he still feel that way today?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, if you’re going to decide -- look, we’re going to go through -- we’re going to have legislative debates going forward. We’re going to have a debate on financial reform. We’re going to have a debate on bank fees. People are going to get to decide whether they’re for the banks or whether they’re for Americans getting paid back. They’re going to decide whether they’re going to side with the lobbyists on killing a consumer agency or those that want to support it.
On health care, you’re going to get a chance to decide whether the minute the President signs that bill into law an insurance company cannot discriminate against a child who can’t get health insurance because of a preexisting condition. You’re going to have to pick between an insurance company and that child. Those are decisions -- that’s what elections are ultimately about.
Q Robert, I know you said you don’t want to over-interpret the Massachusetts results --
MR. GIBBS: I think we may have exceeded that, but, yes. (Laughter.)
Q But when you hear Barbara Boxer say, ‘I think every state is now in play, absolutely,’ what do you think?
MR. GIBBS: I think that campaigns are run for a reason. I think that you have to -- nobody in this country is going to be given a seat in the Senate or a seat in the House. You’ve got to go out and work for it. You got to go out and earn it. You’ve got to talk to the American people about what you’re going to do for them and you’ve got to convince them that you’re there to work on their behalf. I think that’s what 2010 -- I think that’s what those -- many of those elections will be about.
Q So you agree, every state is in play?
MR. GIBBS: Whether if you actually looked at deeply into some of these places whether or not they’re in play, there are targeting magicians that can look into that. Do I think that the American people are hungry for a Washington that deals with their problems instead of dealing with the concerns of lobbyists? Yes. Do I think the American people want the bickering to stop and the solutions to start? Yes. If that puts more seats in play, then the answer to that would be yes.
Q Robert, you talked a little bit about bipartisanship. But specifically on health care, is starting over and writing the bill with Republicans -- I mean, is that an option?
MR. GIBBS: We did that. Go back and look at the Finance Committee. I don’t know how long Max Baucus spent with Senator Grassley and Senator Enzi and others. That’s -- there are, I forget the number, like 160 different amendments that had been adopted by Republicans into the Senate bill that ultimately passed the Senate. So the input of those that wanted input on the legislation, that’s -- their input and imprint is there.
Q Just one other quick question. Yesterday when I asked about the difference between 59 and 60, you insightfully pointed out it’s one. But it turns out that one is very important, particularly on an issue --
MR. GIBBS: I thought you were going to tell me I was wrong and that -- (laughter.)
Q I’m pretty sure that’s still accurate. But particularly on -- take nominations. Now it’s 41 votes. I mean, Republicans can slow-walk or even defeat, say, a judge they deem too liberal --
MR. GIBBS: That wouldn’t be bipartisan, though, would it?
Q So, I mean, is this -- are you guys going to change the way you go about nominations? I mean, how is this going to affect your strategy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that obviously the difference in having that 60 is if you -- if all you do is keep those that are your party and those that caucus with your party, you’ve got -- you exceed the number that it takes to filibuster. I don’t think, though, that the American people -- I don’t think one of the messages of the many that were sent were for this place to grind to a halt. I don’t think that nominations that are important -- I don’t think that the American people would say, well, the best thing is let’s just stop the whole process.
Now -- and don’t quote me on this -- there are, I mean, stacks of quotes from Republicans on judges just a few years ago on filibusters, on nominations, on the need for that process to go forward. It would be awkward for me to stand in the way of what they had said previously.
Q Does the Southers nomination fall into that category?
MR. GIBBS: Does the --
Q Does the Southers nominations fall into that category?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what you saw him say today in stepping back was -- it is clear that a job of great importance -- the head of the TSA -- was clearly held up by a partisan political argument. I don’t think the American people -- there’s no result in any part of yesterday that can be read to believe that injecting partisan politics into keeping people safe and ensuring that when they go through and get on an airplane, that that’s done safely -- there’s no message that says let’s inject some politics into that. Mark.
Q Robert, the President likes deadlines and he had one very big bite of the apple on health care with the address to a joint session of Congress. Is it likely that he’ll refine his notion of what’s achievable on health care in time for the State of the Union, use that as a forum to sell it?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I -- Mark, I have no doubt that regardless of what happens between now and the 27th, that the President will talk about health care reform in the State of the Union, whether that’s to nudge this process to finality, whether it’s to talk about what has been done and what’s he’s hopefully signed. I don’t envision any scenario in which he doesn’t spend some part of that speech talking about it. Margaret.
Q Thanks, Robert. Just to clarify, is it fair to say right now that the Senate bill as it passed is dead?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t remember saying that, no.
Q I’m asking.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think that’s the case, no.
Q Okay. So you think that although the President in the interview said he didn’t want Congress to try to jam it through, he’s not opposing the idea of the House passing the Senate bill?
MR. GIBBS: Let me be specific at what -- he says -- he said very clearly that we should not -- there’s no intention by this administration to go back through the Senate, in the absence of the will of the Massachusetts voters in selecting Senator Brown yesterday, there’s no -- there’s nothing, no plan here to have something go through the Senate before he is seated, before he is sworn in.
Q But he’s not saying let’s toss what the Senate passed this summer?
MR. GIBBS: No. His comments are specifically directed toward the notion that some people had suggested that we -- that Democrats might try to rush something through the Senate in the interim of certification and swearing-in. And that’s simply not the case, and I think the President dealt with that.
Q Robert, just two.
MR. GIBBS: But Margaret has got her second, so hold on.
Q A little bit more esoteric question.
MR. GIBBS: I lost control there in the middle of the third row, didn’t I? (Laughter.)
Q Anger and frustration. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Building for years. Go ahead, I’m sorry. Go ahead, Margaret.
Q President Reagan, sort of famously known for staying the course, and President Clinton, differently known for tacking toward the center and focusing on the economy, and I guess if President Obama were to use either as a model, which would it be, or both, or neither?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think that -- I think there are certainly -- I guess the short answer is, likely elements of both, in terms of I think the President will continue his focus on the economy, as President Clinton did; I think as President Reagan -- as you just said in your Reagan example, the President ran on a series of issues and concerns that the American people had that they continue to have -- one of them being the economy. So I think at this point, I wouldn’t break it into one or the other.
Q Robert, on Haiti --
Q Since much of the President’s schedule is planned --
Q Robert --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, we’ll come around. Just because he’s loud doesn’t mean we’ll not get to you. Don’t worry.
Q Thank you very much. Since much of the President’s schedule is planned months in advance, could you tell us if any of the 13 Democrat U.S. senators running for reelection in November have invited him to campaign for them?
MR. GIBBS: I can assure you the schedule is not planned nearly that far in advance. I know that --
Q Do you know of any?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the 13 Democrats up for reelection?
Q Yes, sir.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve announced a trip to Nevada. I don’t know what the -- if there’s a political component to that. We’ve been to many of these -- we’ve certainly been to those states before. I can certainly look through a list -- I don’t have a block or a schedule.
Q I’d appreciate it. Among all the nations who have sent help to Haiti, could you tell us which, if any, were Muslim nations?
MR. GIBBS: USAID can certainly talk about the size and the scope and the origin of the help that has come to help Haiti. April.
Q Robert, on the issue of -- that from that podium you had said this White House takes some of the blame for last night.
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q And also President Obama, in this ABC interview, he said that the American people feel remoteness and detachment. Where does the White House --
MR. GIBBS: Give me the whole -- can you --
Q I’m going to have to go back to it. I pulled out -- but basically, the President, in talking, he was talking about what happened last night -- he was talking about the election and things of that nature, what happened in Massachusetts. And primarily, with that the question comes in, what about the White House message, and what about the fact of listening to the American public? Where does all of that play? And is there going to be any kind of change there? And will you be bringing in -- will there be a shake-up here? Will you be bringing in new people to help deliver the message appropriately to the American public so you won’t have this later on this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know of no staff changes, April --
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of. I don’t recall the exact phrase, at what part of the interview -- I think at the end of the interview the President talked at length about that during this first year there were values that the American people have always had, that institutions, whether it were on -- whether those institutions were on Wall Street or whether those institutions were in Washington, had failed to live up to the values of the American people; that the gap that existed between those value sets had to be and needed to be addressed; that that gap had to be closed. And that’s something the President has worked on and something that the President will continue to seek to make progress on in the months and years to come.
Q Let me give you the quote real quick, though.
MR. GIBBS: OK.
Q It says: ‘that people will get it. And I think that, you know, what they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions -- maybe some of them are good, maybe some of them aren’t -- but do they really get us and what we’re going through.’
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President is talking about is a frustration towards Washington writ large; how are you going to have -- you have to create a government that understands and addresses the problems and concerns of the American people, rather than addressing the problems and the concerns of just one segment of the population, just those that are lucky enough to be represented by a lobbyist, just lucky enough to have a big piece of legislation in front of Congress. So it’s what I talked about there in closing that values gap that the President discussed. Connie.
Q If you could follow on Haiti, two things. Will the United States be prepared to give permanent asylum to large numbers of Haitian refugees? And why was it that countries such as Israel, or our county, Fairfax County, could get in right away and it took so long for the rest of the world to get their people and their supplies into Haiti?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, in terms of -- again, I’d point you to USAID and DOD in terms of -- I think many countries were able to get resources in quickly, understanding you had massive devastation, you have an airport that is probably taking on six to seven to eight times the number of flights that normally it took on. I think that all of those that have been involved from an international perspective have -- everyone has done an extraordinary job in hearing and seeing what was happening on the ground and responding appropriately and accordingly. In terms of -- are you talking about --
Q Will the U.S. give permanent asylum to thousands of Haitian refugees?
MR. GIBBS: Coming?
Q From Haiti to this country.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I would -- we’ve discussed TPS here. That only -- we have not seen the formulation of a mass migration. I would point you to State to give you specifics about things like orphans. David.
Q Thank you, Robert. Two questions. The first is, you phrased the phrase ‘wake-up call’ about the election last night.
MR. GIBBS: I think somebody used that.
Q No, I think you acknowledged that --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q -- as a wake-up call. Usually wake-up call means that you then do something differently. So what will this White House, what will the President be doing differently after hearing such a call?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think continuing to focus on and having people understand an agenda that’s focused on jobs and getting this economy moving again, David.
Q That’s no different than continuing.
MR. GIBBS: The frustration didn’t start last week. The frustration didn’t start last month. Right? Hold on -- when we go to Ohio, we’re going to talk to voters, you’re going to talk to real people that haven’t lost their -- some of them may have lost their jobs since the Massachusetts election, or maybe have even lost their job since Massachusetts called a special election. But the circumstances that exist in this country that cause anger and frustration about their economic situations isn’t new.
Q But why would you expect a different result if you are simply going to do the same thing you did before?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t -- again, I’m not overly -- I’m not going to over-read what happened in one place as happening everywhere, and I know the President will ensure that everyone has a very clear idea of what he’s working through.
Q My second question is a little more specific. A few days ago, Senator Dodd, it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that he was considering dropping the financial consumer protection agency. Now, he’s obviously a Democrat, not a Republican. Is that something that the President would actually get angry about, and has he conveyed that sentiment to Christopher Dodd already?
MR. GIBBS: He’s conveyed that -- well, Senator Dodd was here yesterday, as the guidance suggested, and the President addresses this morning in his interview that financial reform has to include a consumer protection agency. That’s what he’s talked about for quite some time, and that’s what he continues to want. Yes, ma’am.
Q You said several times that the President was surprised and frustrated at the election in Massachusetts. It’s a little surprising that he’s surprised. I mean, he’s the head of the Democratic Party. He’s presumably aware of the state of politics in the country. We’ve had Virginia, we’ve had New Jersey, both of which were bad for the Democrats. Why is he surprised? Is he a little out of touch with what’s going on in the country? Is he not being adequately briefed?
MR. GIBBS: No, we addressed your first question yesterday. When people are asked, does the President care about people like you, 70 percent of the people say yes. I list myself as being surprised that we lost the Senate seat in Massachusetts. I hope that’s not a surprise that I thought we’d win that race. I think many people thought that. I would like to be up here discussing a different result.
Q But the President himself being surprised.
MR. GIBBS: I think he would count himself among those like me that was surprised, absolutely.
Q Was it more hopeful, then, than it was surprise?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I don’t -- understand that we got here -- the surprise and frustration didn’t set in sometime around 8:30 p.m. yesterday. OK? That surprise and frustration has happened over the course of many days leading up to a surprising and frustrating result. Thanks, guys. ####
Scott Brown’s first speech as Mass. first Republican senator this century