By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
In a classic standoff, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today stared down the White House press corps over last night's reporting that President Obama had settled on an Afghan war plan to send in 40,000 additional troops—and keep them there for a long time. Aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to Fort Hood, Texas, to address the families of slain troops, Gibbs tried to push the gaggle of reporters back on the troop surge story. He even mocked them as they asked questions that put in doubt what they had previously reported as fact.
The bottom line from Gibbs: There has been no decision, and the president is still reviewing four options. His effort worked, as stories shifted to the line that Obama was still considering his options.
Here's the transcript of the exchange between Gibbs and reporters over news coverage of a troop surge in Afghanistan:
Question: The stories about Afghan troop numbers—does the president find it troubling that this kind of information, even if it's not final, is leaking out? Does it bother him, and does it make him concerned? And is he done with his decision?
ROBERT GIBBS: I think you may have summed up my answer in your question. I will say this—I will tell you what General Jones said and I think we said to a few of you last night: The president will have an opportunity to discuss four options with his national security team tomorrow. Anybody that tells you that the president has made a decision or—what was the artfully used term last night, "tentatively agreed to"—doesn't have, in all honesty, the slightest idea what they're talking about. The president has yet to make a decision.
I would counsel you all to—I got asked on Saturday about a story of approving 34,000 troops, only to be asked yesterday about a story of approving nearly 40,000 troops—this all two weeks after being asked about whether or not we were coalescing around an entirely different option. I don't know that it's annoying as much as it is generally amusing to watch somebody or some group of people decide they know what only the president knows. You know, it keeps me busy, and it's in some ways fun to watch two reports that contradict each other be reported virtually simultaneously.
Question: Does it bother him, though? Does it bother him?
GIBBS: He hasn't let me know that.
Question: ...presented him with the four options—is that the four options by General McChrystal or—
GIBBS: The four options that his national security team, including the Pentagon and General McChrystal, that the president will discuss with the team tomorrow.
Question: Can you describe those just real briefly, or—
GIBBS: (Laughter.) See my previous answer. And please note that the transcript should include me laughing. No, I'm not getting—I appreciate the opportunity to get into—
Question: Wanted to give you every opportunity.
GIBBS: You know, and I—Bloomberg is always fair like that.
Question: Well, just to follow up on that, in all seriousness, from your perspective, so you want us to know that he's considering four options, but don't want us to know what they are? What's the White House—
GIBBS: With all due respect, you guys reported last night with some degree of certainty that the decision had already been made. Am I sensing from your follow-up question that you don't think the story that you wrote last night on the AP wire was accurate?
Question: I have every reason to think it is. I'm trying to—
MR. GIBBS: Maybe we should ask you questions. (Laughter)
Question: I'm trying to figure out what the White House thinking is about saying there are four options—
GIBBS: I said yesterday, I'll say what I said last night after, with some certainty, AP and CBS reported a decision had been made, and I'll tell it to you now: The president hasn't made a decision. Now, I don't expect that will change the AP wire; it didn't this morning.
Question: I understand your point. I'm trying to move on, which is why—
GIBBS: I am—
Question: I have no personal animus with you—
GIBBS: I don't either. You have to understand my somewhat—my surprise that you'd ask a follow-up based on what you reported.
Question: I'm following up on your specific point of telling us tomorrow in this council meeting they'll discuss four options. I'm asking, why are you telling us that fact and not others?
GIBBS: Because, honestly, Ben, we've been—I think we've been very transparent throughout this process. We've let you all know when these meetings are; we've let you know who's in these meetings; we've put out pictures of these meetings. The president is doing this in a very purposeful and deliberate way to get the best decision. And I promise you that when he makes that decision, we'll let you know. And as I've said before, the president will take the time to explain that decision and its reasoning to the American people.
Question: That's still weeks away? You would still say weeks? Weeks or—
Question: Any more decision about how he would do that?
GIBBS: No, not yet.