Notes from a briefing room press insider…
Bipartisan Reform? Ole!: Press Secretary Robert Gibbs competed with a South Lawn rehearsal for tonight’s WH-hosted Fiesta Latina (Fox’s Wendell Goler, interrupting his own line of questioning: “Is that Sheila E. I hear?”) as he tackled a number of health care questions on d-day for Senate Finance. WH’s Republican godsend Sen. Olympia Snowe tallied her committee vote just in time for RG to gloat, “We have, today, a bipartisan bill,” in response to a question about whether the oft-cited “choice and competition” was more important than bipartisanship. (POTUS had just given a shout-out to the Maine Sen. in pre-briefing remarks with Spanish PM Zapatero.) RG says (again) that WH will wait for Congress to merge bills before weighing in, and that POTUS remains confident he’ll sign reform this year.
The New Af- Strategy: The Afghanistan Sit-Room strategy sessions (a 5+ -part series) were the focus of several questions as the WH preps for another three-hour meeting tomorrow morning. RG continued to beat back impressions that the WH is stalling on firming a new plan, explaining that analysis of the region and, separately, of individual countries has made for a long process. “There are many pieces that all have to fit together,” he said. While RG rejected that the Afghan election outcome might be a deadline for the strategy announcement, he underlined the importance of that result on the new policy. As for today’s WaPo story highlighting some forgotten troop numbers, RG said the 13,000 support troops were allocated under the previous admin.
As for the “-Pak” Part: Pakistan is clearly pouting as the Kerry-Lugar bill is set to fly toward POTUS’s desk, charging that it infringes on sovereignty in attaching too many strings to aid, including increased civilian control over the military’s budget and officials. RG stood by the legislation, calling it a “very significant part of our relationship” and paraphrasing a bill sponsor in saying that the bill’s opponents “either are misinformed or are characterizing this in a different way for their own political purposes.”