Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today said officials at the Department of Health and Human Services had to have known the Obamacare website wasn’t going to work, but then went ahead and launched it anyway.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that people at HHS and involved int his project knew this wasn’t gong to work,” Gibbs said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “It’s inconceivable that no one tested it.”
As I remember it, I was in the White House Briefing Room in February 2009 when I heard something shocking. I’d covered the White House since 1997, and I couldn’t really remember hearing something like this before.
The White House, in the person of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, was assailing a private citizen. CNBC reporter Rick Santelli had had the nerve to object volubly to President Obama’s mortgage refinancing assistance plan. And so Gibbs attacked:
Well, let’s go through this, because I do think this is very important. And I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives, or in what house he lives, but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgage, stay in their job, pay their bills, to send their kids to school, and to hope that they don’t get sick or that somebody they care for gets sick and sends them into bankruptcy.
I also think it’s tremendously important that for people who rant on cable television to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Many brushed it off because Santelli was on TV and presumably was used to rough and tumble and could defend himself. That he was on TV, of course, actually made Gibbs’ comments worse, because the president’s press secretary was chilling free speech.
Soon enough, Gibbs went on to others, sticking it to Rush Limbaugh and even an entire network, Fox News.
People got used to it. Attacking private citizens became the new normal.
But what a slippery slope Mr. Gibbs put us on. I hope you noticed this piece Friday by Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. The Obama campaign is busying itself looking into the private lives of donors to Mitt Romney. It is merely the logical extension of the thinking at the White House, which makes Obama enemies in the private sector – and their speech – fair game.
From her piece:
Three weeks ago, an Obama campaign website, “Keeping GOP Honest,” took the extraordinary step of publicly naming and assailing eight private citizens backing Mr. Romney. Titled “Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney’s donors,” the post accused the eight of being “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.” Mr. VanderSloot was one of the eight, smeared particularly as being “litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”
About a week after that post, a man named Michael Wolf contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records regarding Mr. VanderSloot. Specifically, Mr. Wolf wanted all the documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot’s divorces, as well as a case involving a dispute with a former Melaleuca employee.
This is the very worst thing a government – or its proxies – can do. It is the practice of the world’s small petty satraps and its totalitarian behemoths. It’s just not tolerable here.
And yet, it’s happening. The White House has gone from criticizing private citizens to investigating them. What’s next, arresting them?
What if Mr. Wolf comes up with some illegal activity on the part of Mr. VanderSloot. Well, it’s his duty – just doing his duty – to alert Mr. Holder.
And then we have our very first political prisoner. Hopefully Mr. Gibbs will bake him a cake.
Michelle Obama today said a new book alleging that she influenced President Obama’s choices on policy and staff was part of a long running effort to portray her as an “angry black woman.”
The book, “The Obamas” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, reports that Michelle was critical of President Obama’s senior White House aides, regarding them as insular and insufficiently devoted to the president’s vision of “transformative” change. Michelle was in particular concerned about former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and believed the president needed a new team.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Michelle said she had “never had a cross word” with Rahm but didn’t deny that she had found his leadership problematic and acknowledged that she in general made her views on matters clear to the president.
But the first lady also said the book’s author was trying to titillate by amping up the drama and was associating her with an unflattering racial stereotype.
I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and a – you know, but that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some angry black woman.
Michelle was magnanimous toward former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who cursed the first lady during a staff meeting, calling him a good friend and saying, “we could go day to day and find the things people wish the didn’t say to each other.”
Here’s the interview if you want to take a look-see.
President Obama’s conference on bullying Thursday was deeply ironic to some in the White House press corps. That’s because every reporter who regularly covers the place knows that President Obama’s staff has a policy – an actual, pre-conceived policy – of bullying.
It’s a tactic that amount to no less than suppression of speech. By the “openness” administration.
The White House bullies reporters to try to ensure favorable coverage. When White House officials, particularly members of the press office, see a story they don’t like, they often call and verbally abuse the reporter who wrote the piece.
In diatribes often peppered with obscenities, they complain of profound injustice, bias, lack of relevance – anything they can think of to get reporters to back off their story.
It’s not just a series of uncontrolled outbursts. It is a planned, methodical, and highly artificial effort to either squash a story or get inside a reporter’s head so they think twice about doing a piece next time that negatively impacts Obama.
That this is an actual policy is evident from the consistency of the practice and its implementation by nearly every member of the White House press office staff. They are all nice, affable people who suddenly switch into an unmarked gear and begin running you over at full speed.
I have been told by one Obama flack that a story was “horseshit” and by another that “you’re really going to win a fucking Nobel Prize for that one.” A third, while he was working on the campaign in 2008, told me he “almost fell out of my chair” when he heard I was working on a certain piece and proceeded with a profanity-laced analysis of its weaknesses.
A fourth, who I’d thought was the good cop among the bunch, had a sudden change of personality in his office one day when he tore into a rather routine article of mine that barely grazed the president.
And I’d never even heard from former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Even President Obama has acknowledged Gibbs could give reporters a hard time.
All this while I was a member of the mainstream press with Roll Call, before I launched this blog.
The problem with this kind of intimidation is not that it hurt reporters’ feelings. The problem is that it is an assault on free speech. The Obamaites know perfectly well that most of these are legitimate, fair stories. But because the articles don’t make the president look great, the press office employs a tactic to try to keep reporters from writing the things they must.
I have seen this done by press people from the Bush and Clinton administrations, which I both covered. But only on rare occasion, and generally with a legitimate grievance in hand. But never have I witnessed this type of bullying of the press in such a systematic, intense, and frequent manner.
Most White House reporters won’t talk or write about it, obviously fearing that sources and interview opportunities will suddenly dry up. One brave soul who got into it a bit was Josh Gerstein of POLITICO, who last year wrote a piece on the surprisingly bad relationship between the Obama press office and reporters.
There is some hope that newly minted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney will improve relations with the press. But while I never had to deal with any tirades out of him while he was Vice President Biden’s communications director, the rap on Carney is that he, a former reporter for Time, has in the past made every effort to ensure his Obamaland colleagues understand he’s with the program.
President Obama came into the briefing room this afternoon during White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ final go at the podium to thank him for his years of service to the Obama, as a senator, candidate and president.
“I don’t think we could have a better press secretary,” Obama said.
The farewell to Gibbs seemed perhaps a bit akward amid the extraordinary events occurring across the globe in Egypt, an incongruity Obama sought to diminish with a quip. “Gibbs’ departure is not the biggest one today,” he said to laughter in the briefing room.
Gibbs first came to work for Obama during the 2004 Senate race after he won the Democratic primary. “I still didn’t have a lot of money, so all I could afford was Gibbs,” he joked. Gibbs labored in the Senate press office and was a key player on Obama’s team during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Gibbs appeared somewhat emotional – not John Boehner emotional, but emotional – as the president offered apparently heartfelt remarks and presented him with a bit of history to take home.
The gift, albeit a bit self-referential – OK, actually, it’s really really self-referential – nevertheless seemed an appropriate and valuable bestowal that will be treasured by Gibbs and possibly fetch a fortune when his future grandson puts it up on Ebay.
Apparently, when Obama was preparing to hit the stage to deliver his career-making speech before the 2004 Democratic Convention, he hadn’t decided on a tie. After considering several, he grabbed one from Gibbs. Gibbs got the tie back today as part of a glass-encased plaque autographed by Obama.
Obama tells the story:
I mean, 10 minutes before we were about to go on stage we were still having an argument about ties. I had brought five, six ties, and Michelle didn’t like any of them. Axelrod didn’t like a couple of them, him being, you know, one of the best-dressed men in the world.
So we really valued his opinion.
And then somebody — I don’t remember who it was — turned and said, “You know what? What about Gibbs’ tie? What about Gibbs’ tie? That might look good.”
And, frankly, Robert didn’t want to give it up because he thought he looked really good in the tie. But eventually he was willing to take one for the Gipper, and so he took off his tie and I put it on. And that’s the tie that I wore at the national convention.
He has not said about – anything about this tie all these years. And so as a consequence, I wanted, here today…
Now that everyone knows he’s leaving, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is the subject of numerous articles people were afraid to write only weeks ago about how awful relations are between the press office and the White House, how Gibbs doesn’t return calls, how he’d rather be in meetings, and so on.
BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE NEED YOU IN WASHINGTON, THEY ARE AT YOUR KNEES. AND WHEN THEY DON’T, THEY ARE AT YOUR THROAT.
This morning Gibbs got a letter from the White House Correspondents’ Association scolding him for failing to open today’s signing of the New START treaty to anything more than still photographers, and for yesterday not having “a substantive update from the White House all day on the situation in Egypt.”
Now, this blog is all about openness and accountability. But I’ve frankly never seen a letter like this to a sitting press secretary, and it seems the wrong time to pick the fight.
Obama probably would not have answered any questions while signing the treaty. He never does. And the White House clearly decided that it was not in the interest Tuesday of the United States and the evolving situation in Egypt to have the press secretary answering questions and screwing up delicate negotiations to get Mubarak to step aside.
I like getting all the information I can get. But the lack of a briefing Tuesday seems to me, as these things go, a relatively understandable thing to do, especially when Gibbs tried not to answer questions anyway during Monday briefing and today’s. The harm to the republic was minimal.
My understanding is that there was a little more at play here than merely keeping the public informed. One big problem, it seems, is that TV needs videotape, and it can’t get that when there’s no briefing and no video cameras are allowed into the treaty signing. That helps inform, sure, but it’s not as essential as reporting.
If the correspondents were going to pick this fight now, they should have at least delved into the variety of problems related to this press office, including Gibbs’ inattentiveness – he was attentive enough to me, I’d say, but not to others – the browbeating of reporters – nicely outlined today in a piece by Dana Milbank on Jay Carney – the failure of Obama to answer questions during most encounters with reporters, the endless evasions, and so on.
Here’s the letter.
Good morning Robert,
We recognize that the crisis in Egypt is a quickly evolving story and you are working to get us the information we need in a timely manner, but we are concerned about several access issues on Tuesday and now today.
On behalf of the White House Correspondents Association we are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the White House’s decision to close the President’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and his signing of the START Treaty today to the full press pool.
The START treaty was held up as one of the President’s most important foreign policy priorities for almost a year dating back to the trip to Prague last spring. We are concerned that now his signing of it is open to still photographers but closed to editorial, including print and wire reporters and television cameras.
We know the President came out late last night to speak on Egypt, and we appreciate the email updates from NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor, but his emails have not gone to all members of the press corps and are not a substitute for access to the Press Secretary or the President.
Prior to the President’s statement Tuesday night, the press corps had not received a substantive update from the White House all day on the situation in Egypt. In addition, the press corps did not have an on-camera briefing, or an off-camera gaggle, with you yesterday to ask the White House about its decision-making process during this major foreign policy crisis. Now for two straight days the full press pool is being shut out of events that have typically been open and provided opportunities try to ask the President a question.
These issues are vitally important for all of our members – print, TV and radio.
We value our working relationship, and we hope you will reconsider and at least open the START Treaty signing to the full pool.
After days of White House insistence that it is not President Obama’s place to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs, Obama interfered in the most dramatic way possible, sending an envoy to Cairo to tell Mubarak he was finished. Soon afterward, Mubarak announced to the Egyptian people that he would not seek reelection in this September’s elections, but it is not clear if this will be enough for protestors who want his head – figuratively, at the very least – right away.
The message from Obama to Mubarak was delivered through back channels by Frank G. Wisner, a diplomat who is an old Egypt hand and who was sent into the country to serve as a direct conduit to Mubarak from the White House.
Soon afterward, Mubarak made his announcement.
Obama then spoke by phone to Mubarak and the made an unscheduled appearance at the White House. Here’s a portion of Obama’s remarks.
After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people.
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Obama made the right move, helping bring about the inevitable result while lessening the chance of violence. Nevertheless, his actions, which by his own description constitute a fairly aggressive U.S. foray into Egyptian politics, contrast sharply with repeated assertions by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Monday that Obama must not do exactly what he did.
Asked if Mubarak should be removed from officer, Gibbs said:
That is not for our country or our government to determine. I don’t think that people that seek greater freedom are looking for somebody else to pick what and how that change looks like. That is, quite frankly — that doesn’t adhere in any way to an open, democratic process that allows for a full discussion and negotiation about what that freedom looks like. Freedom of — many of the freedoms I just talked about — the greater economic opportunity, greater economic freedoms — that’s not for us to determine.
If the White House can’t be frank with reporters, it shouldn’t brief at all. There was nothing anybody learned in particular from this briefing. Except that today’s statements may no longer be operative tomorrow. But even that, we knew.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today said a decision on his replacement could come this week, saying the final moves in a broad White House restructuring are likely to be announced over the next few days.
The leading candidates to replace Gibbs appear still to be Biden communications director Jay Carney, a former reporter for Time Magazine, and Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.
POLITICO’s Carol Lee and Glenn Thrush have a good piece up this morning on who’s in the running for various positions in the West Wing. This amounts to the most sweeping turnover in a West Wing that I’ve ever seen. Almost everyone is changing jobs or leaving, except the president. It looks like Valerie Jarrett… Continue Reading
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was forced to intervene as Indian security officials – for at least the second time this trip – sought to limit U.S. participation in coverage of an event with President Obama. Gibbs’ heroic effort for the U.S. team included both physical intervention and an unprecedented threat to remove Obama… Continue Reading
In his briefing today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made two things clear: extending the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 is very on the table, but making them permanent is not. Continue Reading