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November 10th, 2009
11:00 AM ET

Dear President Obama #295: Dodging the questions

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
AC360° Correspondent

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?

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Tom in Tennessee

    There are more questions that need to be pursued with this white house. Like where did all that transparency and bipartisanship you promised go? Why do you refuse to help small business with tax cuts and loans to get the economy going again. Why do you insist on running up the deficit to numbers we will never be able to repay. Why do you have so many radical self avowed marxists as advisorsd in your administration?

    November 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  2. Tim Gibson

    It appears Obama is better at dodgeball than basketball as he is quick to dodge and short on hooping the ball.

    Promise of change has quickly became a well worn dance shoe in need of replacement, and soon.

    November 10, 2009 at 11:59 am |
  3. Lori

    Thanks Tom. It sounds like he isn't sure if he will get the chance to sign it this year.

    November 10, 2009 at 10:46 am |
  4. Conserve' for USA

    Hopefully the senate is a lot smarter than congress and will turn this bill down. How about all parties writing a bill together? How about one that doesn't allow babies to be killed? it's funny that you have a health care reform bill that allows babies to be killed and pays for them to be killed. How do you like that for delegation? You and you can live, but you over there, nope you get killed!
    We get to pay for health care for illegal aliens too. Do you think we can build a fence large enough to keep people from crossing the borders illegally to get free health care? I don't think so. Look how many are here now, wait until everythings free!

    November 10, 2009 at 10:43 am |
  5. meenas17

    Speaking relatively is the easiest way to get out o the problem. We will do it shortly. We will see. These take us away from the core. it is beating around the bush.
    This may seem clever,but will prove risky in the long run.

    November 10, 2009 at 9:49 am |
  6. Anna

    Fantastic and right on base!

    I've just started reading your letters thanks to Anderson Cooper tweeting them and just love the way you put things! Keep up the fantastic work!

    November 10, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  7. Maheen

    Hey Tom,

    Your arguments are very strong and persuasive. Every respected journalist has the right to ask for a deadline set for healthcare reforms, and a sweet tap-dance by the Mr. President and a chuckle by Mr. Gibbs is not going to answer things. If this is D.C double talking and an attempt of mere procasination on Mr. President's part, then that certainly can't be good. The weather on my end is dry/hot/sunny.. 🙂 I have to catch up with ac360, have missed a few episodes, oh well will catch up with it..you take care Tom, the caffeine kick did wonders for you, you just wrote a great piece.

    -M

    November 10, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  8. Tony

    The President can't answer your reasonable
    question because he doesn't know the answer.
    You are doing your job though by being the press and
    pressing for the truth on
    behalf of the people.
    May the press continue to be free.
    Thank you

    November 10, 2009 at 9:08 am |
  9. Cindy

    Tom,
    Obama and his team have been giving that old D.C. double talk from day one. Heck, they were even doing it during the campaigning before he got elected. So this little scenario you described here with Gibbs should be old hat to you and the others by now.

    Isn't Obama the one that ran on transparency of the government and everything that he did if he won? UMM..what happened to that?

    Cindy....Ga.

    November 10, 2009 at 8:47 am |