Just to give you an idea of what life is like on the political fast track, here’s the transcript of yesterday’s press gaggle on Air Force One with presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs – somewhere over the Blue Ridge Mountains:
3:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. How is everyone? Welcome to our four-and-a-half minute flight from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Bristol, Virginia.
Go ahead, fire away.
Q What have you heard about the (House Committee on) Energy and Commerce deal? What has the President heard about it? And what does he think?
MR. GIBBS: I think staff has updated him largely on the notion that the committee has made some decisions — they’re going back into markup. The President is enormously thankful for members in the House and the Senate that are continuing to work together to make progress on getting health care reform for this country.
Obviously, the news is a big step forward. It incorporates — legislation that incorporates what the President was talking about today in reforming insurance, cutting costs for businesses and families, and providing affordable and accessible insurance to those that don’t have it. So I think it is a promising step for progress.
Q Does it advance the hope of an August — some progress before the recess?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we are making progress before the recess. I think the agreement includes the fact that the bill won’t be voted on in the full House by the time the House leaves for August, but again, I think it’s a promising development and we’re one step closer.
Q Secretary Gates said that Iraq, bringing home 5,000 troops, you know, if violence stays the same way it is or is being reduced — if violence is being reduced, the way you’ve seen it. Are you guys taking any concrete steps towards, I guess, changing the withdrawal timetable?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously the President, commanders on the ground, and folks like Secretary Gates laid out a timetable earlier this year to withdraw our troops. We certainly agreed that if conditions on the ground continue to improve, it’s possible that timetable could be accelerated, but we’ve done nothing concrete except continue to watch the situation. Obviously there are a lot of — lots of political reconciliation that still has to be worked on, and a security situation that we’re continuing to be mindful of, even as many in the world focus on things like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Q So did he get ahead of you then?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t think so. He’s the Secretary of Defense. (Laughter.)
Q What’s the thinking behind the recalibrated message today, or the tweaking of a message today to focus on the consumer protections?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I mean, I think we’ve always had — look, I think the legislative process tends to focus on the legislative process. There’s committees that people haven’t heard of, debating different aspects of the legislation. The President thought it was tremendously important to spend some time today talking about what he’s always said had to be an important component of this bill in changing the way insurance companies operate and deal with millions of consumers across the country. He’s talked literally since the beginning of me being with him more than five-and-a-half years ago as a candidate for the U.S. Senate talking about health care and mentioning his mom and preexisting conditions and dealing with health insurance companies.
It’s a problem that millions of Americans face each year, they’re losing their coverage because of it. Their coverage is — people may buy a policy that has an unwieldy deductible or a co-payment schedule that doesn’t really provide them the safety net they need.
So I think the President thought it was enormously important that we talk to the American people about the many aspects that are in the bill, including these important protections for American families.
Q Robert, what prompted his opening remarks on the economy? Was it the improving conditions or his deteriorating poll numbers or —
MR. GIBBS: Or the deteriorating conditions — no, I — (laughter) —
Q Well —
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President — look, I think the President has talked throughout the six months he’s been in office as — when he’s in an audience of people, he wants to be able to talk to them frankly about where we are. So I think he outlined today — I think he used the Newsweek example of “The Recession Is Over” cover to say we still got a long way to go. We’ve pulled back from that precipice.
We all have watched and we’ve all heard and read stories — some of which you all have written — where the discussion wasn’t whether or not we were improving of what have you, but how far — how much further we could fall; could we go off the edge of that cliff into what some are calling the Great Recession, or as some were betting that we could fall into a depression. We’ve pulled back from the brink. We’ve made some progress. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
We were in a state today where the unemployment rate last month was 11 percent, which is well above the national average, and one of the many states that are in double-digit unemployment. So even as we’re seeing progress, even as we’re seeing the recovery plan cushion the blow, like the President talked about it would, as we’ve seen the impacts of stabilizing the financial system, we’ve still got a long way to go to create jobs and relieve the anxiety that millions of Americans face. So I think he just wanted to provide people with an update on where we were.
Q Robert, on this, the emphasis today on health care insurance reform, is that an acknowledgment, in some sense, that the opening emphasis on cost containment was kind of a political bust?
MR. GIBBS: No, because if we don’t contain costs — if we don’t contain costs, then there’s no such thing as reform. If all we’re doing is taking a system that we can’t afford now — that families can’t afford and small businesses can’t afford and governments can’t afford — and simply extend that 10, 20, 30 years in the future, we won’t be able to afford it even more. If we don’t address cost, if we don’t address quality, if we don’t address insurance reforms, if we don’t address all of those things as part of comprehensive reform, I think we’re going to lose the promise of what the President believes we’re capable of doing.
Q Any news on the beer summit tomorrow? One specific question: Where are Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley going to be staying in Washington?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve got to tell you, I don’t honestly know. I believe the arrangements — their travel arrangements are being made privately. So I don’t know — I don’t know if they’re coming in and going home tomorrow. I don’t know if they’re staying — I love these little flights over the mountains in Virginia; we had one of these flights in the campaign — it was like this for about a half an hour, on a half-an-hour flight. So, yes, I was real excited to get back on that plane.
I don’t know if they’re staying or going back. All I know is, you know, we’ve got — we’ll see them tomorrow at the White House at 6:00 p.m. And I know — I don’t know if — who is accompanying Mr. Gates. I know Sergeant Crowley is bringing some members of his family.
Q And is that going to be — how is the press going to be handled on that?
MR. GIBBS: Delicately. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, is it going to be a pool spray at the beginning? I mean, what —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, my sense is what we’ll probably do is a pool spray at the beginning.
Q Wouldn’t a spray at the end be more useful?
MR. GIBBS: For who? For —
Q For America, it’s his teaching moment.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll take that under advisement.
Q Glenn Beck’s comments, any response?
MR. GIBBS: No. I would be a busy man if that’s all I did. I would say this: I think there are far more important issues than responding to somebody who is trying to get ratings.
Thanks, guys. Get buckled up.
Q Can I follow-up real quickly on the beer? All my folks are asking this. Any choices made on what beer the President —
MR. GIBBS: The President will drink Bud Light. As I understand it — I have not heard this, I’ve read this, so I’ll just repeat what I’ve read, that Professor Gates said he liked Red Stripe, and I believe Sergeant Crowley mentioned to the President that he liked Blue Moon. So we’ll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon. I think we’re still thinking, weather permitting, the picnic table out back. All right?
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Great picture right there.
Q What’s this [picture] —
MR. GIBBS: Well, that is — Broughton High School is about — is probably about a half a mile from where I went to college, NC State. That is a picture, I believe, provided, helpfully, from the NC State athletic department sports information director. It’s an individual picture. When we took team pictures — yes, that is an earring in my ear, yes. And did you notice that guy looks a lot more relaxed and a lot less stressed those days than he does now?
3:20 P.M. EDT