Gibbs Tackles Questions About Afghanistan and Health Care

Posted August 31, 2009 at 2:54pm

The war in Afghanistan and the domestic battle over health care reform were the issues of the day at Monday afternoon’s White House briefing with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Gibbs was repeatedly pressed about President Barack Obama’s stance on Afghanistan and when the White House expects to receive a report from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander there.

The report has to be sent through the appropriate chain of command before the president sees it, Gibbs said, and there has been no official word on when that will be. When asked about the increasingly volatile situation in Afghanistan — one reporter noted that the region has become markedly more dangerous since the president announced his new strategy in March — Gibbs repeatedly said the war had been insufficiently handled for years.

“You can’t under-resource the most important part of the war on terror for five or six or seven years … and then hope to snap your fingers and have that turn around— right away, Gibbs said.

Gibbs was also quick to deflect criticism of the president’s role in the heated health care reform debate.

In an opinion piece today, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) described Obama’s current role in the health care debate as that of a “cheerleader,— and encouraged the president to take more of a leadership stance by presenting a fresh plan.

Gibbs responded to a question about Dole’s piece by saying that “to characterize the role the president is playing … as inactive is inaccurate.—

He also commented on remarks made by Republican Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) in the GOP’s weekly radio address this weekend, in which the lawmaker said the Democrats’ proposals would hurt the economy, among other consequences.

Enzi “has clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship,— Gibbs said. He then criticized Republicans who have been “repeating what’s not true in the bill.—

ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked about a letter from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, in which the Iowa lawmaker said he disagrees with Obama’s stance on health care. Gibbs replied that he had not seen the letter, but that the president is “firmly committed— to working with anyone who is serious about health care reform.

The president wasn’t the only White House figure who came up during the briefing. One reporter asked Gibbs about disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) claim that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wanted to put a “placeholder— in his former House seat, in order to return and pursue his ambition of becoming Speaker of the House in two years.

“I’ve barely covered with Rahm what’s going to happen the rest of the week, nor have I seen the book,— Gibbs said.

Gibbs dismissed former Vice President Dick Cheney’s accusation that new probes into CIA enhanced interrogation techniques are a political maneuver that endangers the country, saying Cheney had some of his facts wrong.

“This is the same song and dance we’ve heard since literally the first day of our administration,— Gibbs said.

He emphasized that the president has taken steps to repair the country’s image to the rest of the world, including closing American-run black sites and stopping the process of having detainees taken away “in the dark of the night— to be tortured.