Reporter's Note: President Obama is now pushing into Senate land with his health care reform hopes, and I’m pushing toward the 300th day of my letters to the White House.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/09/t1.gibbs.obama.jpg caption="President Obama and spokesman Robert Gibbs talk at a White House event in June." width=300 height=169]
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
Aghghhhh! (That’s the sound of me screaming) Your press secretary, Robert Gibbs, today did precisely the kind of thing that drives reporters and voters crazy. He was being pressed on a question: Do you (meaning you, the president… not him, the media flak) expect to sign a health care reform bill into law this year?
His answer, after tap dancing like the late, great Gregory Hines on a boardwalk, was, “The president wants to sign health care before the end of the year.” With all respect, that’s the kind of answer politicians give, not normal human beings. The question was direct and fair. You have made it clear that you see health care reform as an urgent matter. For a reporter to ask if that includes a timetable is reasonable. But when NBC’s Chuck Todd asked for clarity, he was greeted with derision. “How much clearer could I be?” Gibbs responded.
I’m going to go with, “a lot clearer.” The difference is vast between “The president wants to sign” and “The president intends to sign.” Or “expects to sign.” Or “is putting those Capitol Hill feather-weights on notice that he’d better have a bill by December 31st, or the Times Square ball won’t be the only thing being dropped on New Year’s Eve.” Saying the president “wants to sign” is clearly intended to push Congress; but it’s tough talk with a loophole; if you don’t get what you want, you’ll just say, “Well, we never set a deadline.”
The funny thing is, neither you, nor Gibbs, nor anyone else on your team owes us an answer to that question. You could easily and reasonably say, “I’m sorry, Chuck, but I’m not answering that. This president is not going to be cornered over artificial deadlines. We feel that health care reform is pressing, and important, but we’re not going to rush to get something passed just so we can sign it before the snow flies. If it takes longer to get it right, and get it approved, that’s o.k. with us.” That sounds strong, and is quite clear.
Instead, what we got was just the thing you promised to get rid of: That same old DC doublespeak. Ah well. I’ve had my say. And maybe I’ve had too much caffeine. It just really rubbed me the wrong way. Give me a buzz if you think I’m off base, or if you just want to chat things over. Nice weather here lately, huh?
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