"Compared to steroids, this is going to be a breeze," said President Obama, referring to special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell’s investigation of steroid use by Major League Baseball players in 2006 and 2007.
Mitchell leaves for the Middle East tonight; he will visit Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Riyadh, Paris and London. Gaza is not on the itinerary, at least the public one.
Sitting at a table with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to his right and Mitchell to his left, Obama praised the special envoy, saying "we’re fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated public servant who’s willing to take on what I think everybody understands is going to be a very tough job."
Across the table sat a number of National Security Council aides, from Obama’s right to his left: senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro, executive secretary of the NSC Mara Rudman, deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Antony Blinken, the National Security Adviser to Biden.
Not seated, but standing and present, Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications for the NSC.
"The charge that Senator Mitchell has," Obama said, "is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. And when I say progress, not just photo-ops, but progress that is concretely felt by people on the ground, so that people feel more secure in their lives."
Mitchell, Obama said, "is going to be fully empowered by me and fully empowered by Secretary Clinton. So when he speaks, he will be speaking for us."
Obama said the immediate goals would be to "solidify the cease-fire, ensure Israel’s security, also ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development that will be so critical in order for us to achieve a lasting peace,"
Turning to the reporters in the room, the president said, "what we’re now going to do is to discuss some of the details of the trip, so, unfortunately, I’m going to be kicking you out, alright?"
And with that, we were kicked out.