Lots of LGBT issues discussed in the Presidential briefing today... From Obama's planned announcement on federal benefits to LGBT employees to DOMA and DADT, the reporters kept Robert Gibbs hopping.
After the jump, I've cut out the pertinent parts in order from the released transcript of the briefing. Keep in mind that multiple reporters are called on so it's not the same person asking all the questions. The briefing transcript, unfortunately, doesn't give you the name of the reporter asking the question.
Q Switching topics. There's a same-sex benefits announcement this afternoon. There are a number of folks who feel like this is too little too late. Can you talk about why people should see this as more than kind of an empty gesture or just a symbolic move on his part?
MR. GIBBS: This, I think as you'll hear the President say later today, believes this is a matter of fairness. The President is committed to ensuring that fairness, as well as working on and fulfilling other promises that he's made in the campaign around things like DOMA and "don't ask, don't tell."
Q But wouldn't it also be fair to extend benefits such as the right to have health insurance -- a health insurance plan or pension plan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that requires not an executive order or presidential memorandum but a change in the law.
Q And is he going to push for that?
MR. GIBBS: That's -- part of what he's promised on repealing DOMA would have an impact on that.
Q Does the President stand by the legal brief that the Justice Department filed last week that argued in favor of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, as you know, the Justice Department is charged with upholding the law of the land, even though the President believes that that law should be repealed.
Q I understand that. But a lot of legal experts say that the brief didn't have to be as comprehensive and make all the arguments that it made, such as comparing same-sex unions to incestuous ones in one controversial paragraph that's upset a lot of the President's supporters. Does the President stand by the content, the arguments made in that brief?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, it's the President's Justice Department. And again, we have the role of upholding the law of the land while the President has stated and will work with Congress to change that law.
Q In terms of the timing for the President signing the memorandum, was there any pressure at all on the White House from gay rights groups, and especially in light of the language that Jake was referring to?
MR. GIBBS: No. This is -- that was something that the White House and OPM have been working on for quite some time.
Q So the White House hasn't been feeling any pressure, even beyond just signing this -- pressure in general from gay rights groups?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I would say there are any number of interest groups that express their concerns and opinions. We respect those. I think the President has outlined a series of very ambitious legislative proposals that he will work with, in some cases, the Pentagon, and with Congress on on "don't ask, don't tell" and other things that he hopes will become law.
Q On Iran --
MR. GIBBS: Ann, you got a follow-up --
Q A follow-up on that. Does the President support any change in the law that would allow him to -- allow federal employees to get more substantial medical benefits or retirement benefits that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think part of that is involved in the repeal of DOMA that would cover that.
Q And his position is?
MR. GIBBS: He has advocated since his Senate primary in early '04 on behalf of that.
Q And will he propose that officially as President?
MR. GIBBS: He is supportive of that, yes.
Q One other question. What is the timeline on DOMA and "don't ask, don't tell"? Can you understand the frustrations of gay and lesbian groups who feel like you're slow-walking these issues?
MR. GIBBS: Well, of course I can understand their frustrations. That's why the President is committed to changing both DOMA and "don't ask, don't tell," which have been, respectively, the law of the land since 1996 and 1993, I believe. Obviously they've waited a long time for policies that are either not in our national interest or hurtful to be changed.
We are working on a large amount of things. The President added financial regulation to that large plate of things just this afternoon and this morning. But it is a priority of the President to get done.
Q Robert, on that topic, yesterday, Senator Reid said he'd welcome a legislative proposal from the White House on "don't ask, don't tell" -- "welcome a legislative proposal from the White House on repeal so as to provide clear guidance on what the President would like to see and when. With presidential leadership and direction, I believe we can find the time to get repeal done in this Congress," not this session, but this Congress. Is the President --
MR. GIBBS: What you just referred to. (Laughter.)
Q But does the President feel that that's -- that being supportive of repeal is enough, that he doesn't have to send something up to make it clear to Congress what Reid is asking for. He says he wants to know what the President wants and when.
MR. GIBBS: Well, and we are, as I've stated multiple times in here, working with members of Congress, as well as with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military to get something that represents durable change. We're going to continue working on that and we're pleased that this is a priority not just of the President's but of those in Congress, and we're hopeful that something can get done.
Q Okay. And on -- just one more time on DOMA, "don't ask, don't tell" timeline, does the President want to see that overturned in this Congress? I mean, is there a plan to do that in this Congress?
MR. GIBBS: I think, as Senator Reid said, it's something we can do in this Congress and it's something that the President is working with members of Congress, working with -- on "don't ask, don't tell," working with the Pentagon to ensure that that happens.
Q Has the Pentagon (inaudible) the issue?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we're working through a process.
Q Thank you, Robert. Back to DOMA and "don't ask, don't tell" -- I've got a few questions -- but I've talked to a number of congressional staffers, none of whom say that these issues are anywhere on anybody's radar on the Hill. There's still no Senate bill for repealing "don't ask, don't tell." There's certainly no DOMA bill in either the House or the Senate. As you guys have done with health care reform, with the stimulus package, with immigration reform, will you identify Senate sponsors and move forward -- I mean, not Senate sponsors but congressional sponsors, for both of these bills, and move forward with them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I will reiterate the President's commitment to getting this done. I can talk to Congressional Affairs about meetings. I don't know who they've talked to or who you've talked to. Again, I know the President continues to be committed, as he was as a Senate candidate, as a senator, as a presidential candidate, and now as President, to repealing both of those -- both those acts.
Q Thanks, Robert. Did the President see the Justice Department brief defending DOMA before it was filed?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don't know the answer to that.
Q And I know Jake asked about the inflammatory language that he -- that some critics see used in that brief. Does he endorse that language, did you say?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- before I answer the follow-up to the first question that I would check on, let me get an answer to the first question.