Things have been getting a bit testy of late between White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the press corps he deals with.
That testiness reached the boiling point yesterday, when I asked Gibbs about the controversial recess appointment of Donald Berwick to head Medicare and Medicaid services and how this represented a difference from the Bush Administration practices that President Obama’s top spokesman frequently refers to.
This led to a heated exchange between Gibbs and four White House correspondents —NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNS News’ Fred Lucas, Major Garrett of Fox News, and me—that could accurately be called a verbal shootout.
Gibbs told me that “sometimes after ten months of waiting [for confirmation of an appointment], that unanimous consent is gotten and the approval of the nominee is unanimous. And then one simply wonders why we waited ten months.”
When I asked if he meant that the Senate was too slow in dealing with Berwick, Gibbs shot back that “there are those in the Senate who had no intention of dealing with this nomination other than to play the political game.”
At this point, NBC’s Todd wondered to Gibbs: “How do you know that?”
“No, I’m not a cynical person,” replied Gibbs to laughter, adding that “[o]n 21 occasions, unanimous consent was blocked and cloture had to be invoked in order to get somebody a vote. Twenty-one occasions.”
An exasperated Gibbs went on to lecture my colleagues and me about the Bush Administration’s having “zero” of its nominees treated the same way in its first year and insisting that both CNS’s Lucas and I “knew the answer to that.” He then told us that Berwick was “amply qualifed” to oversee Medicare and Medicaid, and implement the healthcare act passed by Congress and “we’re not going to wait for those in the Senate who want this delayed and delayed and delayed.”
When Major Garrett asked if Berwick was so “qualified” why the White House couldn’t wait for a hearing, Gibbs said, “We’re not going to wait around for the same old people to play the same old political games time after time after time. We’re just not waiting around for that.”
Although a number of topics, including the anniversary of the Haitian earthquake and the visit of the president of the Dominican Republic were discussed at yesterday’s briefing, you can probably guess what my colleagues and I talked most about when Gibbs closed the briefing and went back to his office.
Cartoon courtesy of Brett Noel