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FishPoolDC: Our Insider’s Notes from Today’s Press Briefing

Swine Flu is SO Yesterday: Even with the normal whitehouse.gov monitor on the briefing stage replaced by “cdc.gov/swineflu,” the dominant news in the briefing was Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s explosive party-switching announcement, which blew up the Capitol Hill lunch hour. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president learned of the news at 10:25, while in his economic briefing. Interrupting Gibbs’s own briefing was the news that Specter said the president would campaign for him, which Gibbs then confirmed. “‘Full support’ means ‘full support,’” he said later, before adding that it also means
money and campaigning for the new teammate.

You Feel Me?: The administration’s presumed elation over Specter’s development– which would bring them to a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate if Minnesota can officially make up its mind– was played relatively cool by the no-drama Obama team, as Gibbs used “pleased,” “quite pleased,” and “certainly pleased” to describe their reaction. Asked if he was “euphoric” or “ebullient” rather than simply “pleased,” Gibbs conceded, “I’ll go with ebullient… I’ll take it” and then noted that describing a “pleased” POTUS was the “understatement of the day.” “Thrilled” was also used in reference to Obama’s feeling. (In reference to Minnesota, Gibbs admitted: “I’m not entirely sure exactly where we are in Minnesota.”)

Grading Not Fading: With official report card distribution day approaching, Gibbs was asked to identify a ‘D’ or ‘F’ from the first 100 days. “Not surprisingly, I doubt I’m going to enumerate,” he said, again emphasizing the broader picture. When challenged on his “strong A” grade for the press corps, Gibbs launched into an I’m-with-you-guys explanation, saying “I’m not sucking up to people,” and pointing out that both press and press shop must deal with the fact that “the hours are not what we control.” Finishing up his response, Gibbs joked, “I’m going now with B+.”


Another Kleenex Moment?: Amid all the grading in today’s briefing, Gibbs reflected on a Senate campaign moment when the pre-POTUS Obama told his staffers that while the likely could find jobs that were more profitable or allowed more family time, few jobs would provide more opportunity to make a difference in the daily lives of others.

But Really, About That Swine Flu: Gibbs announced at the top that the president has requested that $1.5 billion be allocated to a “flexible” fund to be used in the event of a “possible spread of the outbreak” of swine flu. Again pressed on whether the many HHS vacancies (including the top one) has hampered the government’s response, Gibbs counted 65,000 career employees and around 50 or so confirmed political appointees in the department who were handling it. CBS’s Bill Plante wondered why, then, additional employees were necessary. “To provide a healthy answer to your questions,” Gibbs quipped, before asking his staff to find Bill his crossword puzzle.

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