Notes from a briefing room press insider…
Yep. What She Said: In an abbreviated briefing today (running against the seventh of the big Sit Room Af-Pak strategy meetings), Press Secretary Robert Gibbs backed Secy Hillary Clinton’s sharp comments yesterday that she finds it “hard to believe” that Pakistan couldn’t find al Qaeda if they really wanted to, calling Clinton’s remarks “completely appropriate.” Of today’s strategy meeting, RG said he certainly has not been told it’s the last; it is indicative the assessment is “nearing its conclusion”; there is no next meeting scheduled (but there could be one next week); and the decision “certainly could come earlier” than the Nov. 7 runoff, “but I don’t anticipate that it would.”
Econ with Prof. Gibbs: The WH’s rollout of Recovery Act recipient reports showing 640,329 saved/created jobs had several reporters embarking on math lessons. “Can we get a blackboard in here?” CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller asked while Fox’s Major Garrett tried to square numbers on WH reports of Cash for Clunkers and Recovery Act contributions to the GDP–to which RG said he’d have to check but called a truce by having Major agree that the economy was growing. “And some coffee?” NYT‘s Jeff Zeleny pleaded. (No coffee cart, but the class did get to pick from a bowl of Halloween candy served by the press office before RG’s briefing.)
Pretty Sure That’s a Made-Up Phrase: Less helpful was RG’s remark that the WH hasn’t determined “broad specifics” of what form POTUS’s Af-Pak announcement would take.
On Side Notes…: Responding to reports that Iran has knocked down a proposed deal on its nuclear program, RG said the WH still awaited details of the Iranian response to the IAEA. “The president’s time is not unlimited,” he added. And on Abu Ghraib, ABC’s Jake Tapper pushed on whether POTUS truly believed the Defense Secy’s concern for safety of troops was always justified in preventing release of detainee abuse photos. RG countered that such justification is “not something you would trigger lightly.” Tapper asked specifically about whether POTUS felt the Abu Ghraib photos put lives at risk; RG declined to answer directly. He scolded Tapper and Major in turn for “a deep hypothetical” and “using the word ‘could’ so many times.’”