We were joined at the top of the briefing by Judith McHale, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, who talked about the Obama administration’s outreach efforts surrounding his trip to Russia, Italy, and Ghana. (We’ll have more on that in a separate blog post.)
TAPPER: How do you guard against only reaching the elites, if you're using these new media methods?
MCHALE: Well, we're not just using new media. One of the points that I wanted to make in the Africa situation is that new media will work in certain places, but it's a tool, not a strategy, and I believe that quite passionately. And so we're going to use it where appropriate to reach certain targeted demographics. But, frankly, in the case of Africa, we had free cinemas. We had radio outreach. We understand that in — we know very well that throughout Africa radio is the predominant medium. And so we were very careful to be sure that the speech was accessible to the largest population by understanding what is the media infrastructure in each country.
And it's one of the strengths of the embassies, is that they understand that. They report it to us, and we tailor each of these initiatives to the available infrastructure. So it's designed to reach, you know, sort of less affluent populations. It is designed to reach deep into these countries. And I think, if you got to read some of the questions, you would pretty amazed at the reactions that we got and the feedback that we got from our embassies. It reached very, very deep into these areas.
TAPPER: How did that work with radio?
MCHALE: How did it work with radio?
MCHALE: Well, two things. One, the speech went out live. Secondly, we had a podcast, so people had sent in questions. The president answered questions. We downloaded the podcast. The embassies actually transferred it to a disc and bicycled it to local radio stations throughout Africa. I mean, that's literally the way it was done. And it is continuing to play now. So we — they — it has gotten multiple plays, and it's continuing to play.
TAPPER: Just would like to get your reaction to some comments that Democrats have made both on the Hill about the health care bill and also former President Bill Clinton recently said that he's basically in support of same-sex marriage. "I think it's wrong," he said, "for someone to stop someone else from getting involved in a same-sex marriage." Has President Obama heard these comments? Does he have a reaction? And why is Bill Clinton wrong about this issue?
GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get into — anybody's opinion, I'm not going to criticize anybody's opinion, least of all a former president of the United States, on something like this. I — I am not clear whether the president has seen that. I don't — I don't know where that was from, so I don't — I don't — I don't know if the president has seen that.
TAPPER: But President Obama holds a different opinion?
GIBBS: President Obama holds the same opinion he had earlier today.
TAPPER: Which is that same-sex marriage is wrong?
GIBBS: He does not support it. He supports civil unions.
TAPPER: Why does — why does he feel differently than President Bill Clinton?
GIBBS: Because they don't agree on the issue. I don't — I've not obviously spent a lot of…
TAPPER: That’s not an explanation of why he feels differently.
GIBBS: Well, I mean, I'm — I'm…
GIBBS: I'm happy to — I mean, I think — I think the president has answered this question a number of times. I can't form a basis for why former President Clinton — I've obviously not had a conversation with him on this issue, so I — I don't know what — it's hard for me to compare some of this, because I don't know the basis by which he's making that decision.
TAPPER: Some of the — some House Democrats, moderate and conservative House Democrats, are expressing concern about the health care bill that has passed, specifically Mike Ross of Arkansas…
GIBBS: This is the House or the HELP bill?
TAPPER: About the House — the House — the House bill. Congressman Mike Ross said, “last time I checked, it takes seven Democrats to stop a bill on the Energy and Commerce Committee. We had 7 against it last Friday; we have 10 today.” What is President Obama doing to talk to these moderate Democrats about any changes that might be necessary to get this bill out on the floor and passed in the House?
GIBBS: Well, obviously, we've had members down to the White House throughout this process. I know some moderate Blue Dog members were down here earlier in the week to talk with the president and his team about health care and to share the concerns that they've had. And — and we've taken — we understand what some of those concerns are. I think, again, this is a process that's going to unfold. And I don't think anybody expects that every aspect of every bill as it's introduced is going to be exactly like it might be as it gets through this process to the committee or out of the committee and ultimately onto the floor and, as the president hopes, passed on the floor.
I think one of the things — you know, we've — we've gotten into a sort of a daily measurement of where we are in terms of progress. And I've said repeatedly that we are at a point where reform is closer to reality than virtually at any point in probably four decades. And I think, if you go back and look at just the most recent major effort in the early to mid-'90s to reform health care, what happened — what has happened in the last couple of days never happened before, in the sense that the three major committees of jurisdiction all started from the same baseline bill.
Again, we understand that the process is going to take this through some changes. I think a good example is the HELP bill in the Senate, where over 100 — I think 160 different amendments from Republicans were adopted over, I think, a three-week process to change that bill. And I think that will continue, certainly, as these three committees on the House side and Senate Finance Committee continue work on this process.
TAPPER: During the campaign, the president said that these types of programs would be funded by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans at the same level that they were during the Clinton years. But my understanding is that the House bill would raise them even higher than that. Would the president be able to support something that goes beyond..
GIBBS: Well, the — the — we're going to watch the process unfold. As I just discussed, I think the — the president has said repeatedly recently that he outlined efforts to pay for health care legislation that he thinks are the best. And we'll watch, certainly, the process as it unfolds.