Abortion Center Stage at White House Briefing

Abortion Center Stage at White House Briefing


Unbelievable. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs needed the flak jacket today in the briefing room after getting pummeled with questions about abortion and the right to privacy. The Brody File counted more than 40 questions and follow-ups from reporters about the topic.

Inquiring minds want to know details of the discussions between President Obama and Sonia Sotomayor when it comes to where she might be heading on Roe V. Wade. More to the point, reporters are a tad bit exacerbated about why the President wouldn’t just ask her straight out about whether she sees a right to privacy in the constitution. The President did say during the campaign he wouldn’t appoint somebody who didn’t believe in a right to privacy so the logical question is, ‘So did he ask her and if not, why not”

But look, here’s what this comes down to. Pro-choice groups are going to have to trust the President on this one. Hey, they voted for him partly because they were confident in his ability to find a judge who would uphold Roe and find a right to privacy in the Constitution. Now they have to wait and hope that he’s right.

The President never promised to specifically ask a Supreme Court Nominee the right to privacy question. Robert Gibbs handled it well and c’mon folks, if you’re a liberal what else do you really want Gibbs to do? He pretty much said that the President and Sotomayor see eye to eye on judicial philosophy and how they view the Constitution. Umm, ‘nuff said right? If you’re a liberal, you have to be feeling more confident after that answer. If you’re a pro-life conservative, you’re more worried.

We are entering the “Fear of the Unknown” stage when it comes to abortion and Sotomayor.  It’s somewhat ironic that the Obama administration ended up picking a nominee that didn’t give the pro-lifers the ammunition they wanted but her lack of judicial rulings in this area are giving them a little heartburn anyway from the pro-choice crowd.

Below are ALL THE QUESTIONS posed to Robert Gibbs today at the briefing. I don’t know where he is now but maybe he’s at CVS looking for Extra Strength Excedrin.

(By the way, I wasn't at The White House Briefing today because I was in New York City working on a Sonia Sotomayor profile story. I visited her Catholic High School in the Bronx. Very interesting stuff. The piece airs Tuesday next week)

Article on Gibbs remarks here.

Q    I wanted to ask you about the concern among several -- many people in the abortion rights community about Judge Sotomayor, and I'm wondering if you can respond to that and talk about -- I know you said there was no litmus test and no demand of an answer when the President interviewed her, but did he talk with her at all about her views on the constitutional right to privacy, sort of talk around the issue at all with her?

 MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously -- and we talked about this throughout the process -- the President obviously is familiar with the Constitution and the teaching of constitutional law.  In their discussions they talked about the theory of constitutional interpretation, generally including her views on unenumerated rights and the Constitution and the theory of settled law.He left very comfortable with her interpretation of the Constitution being similar to that of his, though the bulk of the conversation was about her approach to judging.

Q    Can you put that into non-lawyer language since I'm not a lawyer?  Does that mean that he feels comfortable --

MR. GIBBS:  You should have seen the language that I had earlier.  (Laughter.)

Q    Let's progress a little bit further.  Does it --

MR. GIBBS:  Stare decisis was in the original --

 Q    I mean, would unenumerated rights be sort of code for the right to privacy, since it's not enumerated in the Constitution?

 MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think there was, as I said a minute ago, a general discussion about the constitutional interpretation, about how one viewed the document, and the President left very comfortable with the fact that -- she says a similar interpretation that he does. 

Q    Does that mean he feels comfortable that she believes in a constitutional right to privacy?

 MR. GIBBS:  I think he feels comfortable with -- comfortable that she shares his philosophy generally on the Constitution.

Q    Does he think she should be asked about these issues at her hearing, whether she -- she should be asked about how she would rule? 

  MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that the President was careful not to, as previous Presidents have been careful not to ask and I think others have been at hearings careful not to, ask specifically how one might rule when a case comes -- in a case that could come before the Supreme Court.  So, again, I think the President felt comfortable with -- generally with her view and with, again, with her approach to judging.

Q    A couple questions, one following up on Jennifer's question.  During a Democratic primary debate, November 15th, 2007, then-Senator Obama said, "I would not appoint somebody who doesn't believe in the right to privacy."  And yet you're telling us right now that he has a general comfort with her view on the Constitution, but not necessarily with that quote -- not necessarily with the right to privacy?

 MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, let me be specific that he was not -- he did not specifically ask, as we've stated for the past several days, but as I just said I think he feels -- I know he feels comfortable generally with her interpretation of the Constitution being similar to that of his.

Q    Well, does that mean that when he said "I would not appoint somebody who doesn't believe in the right to privacy," he didn't mean it?

MR. GIBBS:  I think -- again, Jake, I think he feels comfortable with where she is.

Q    I just want to follow up again on the abortion issue and privacy.  Mark Knoller yesterday asked you a question about what the President may have said on the campaign trail.  You said you would look that up.

MR. GIBBS:  I think Jake helpfully did that for us all today.

Q    Right, I mean, this one was a little different than the one that Jake presented here, but it was talking about the campaign promise -- the President made it a campaign promise about this issue.  And the President said at this event in Florida that he "will stand up for choice."  He says, "I'm a President who understands -- who understands that five men on the Supreme Court don't know better than women and their doctors and their pastors."  He goes on to say that, "that's why I'm committed to appointing judges who understand how law operates in our daily lives."

Q So if the President is talking about it in these terms on the campaign trail, why wasn't it important for him to ask her about where she stood on abortion?

 MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President believed it was exceedingly important to get her views on how she interprets the living document of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Q    But on that one question, why wouldn't he bring that question up?  I mean, you've said for the last couple of days that he didn't ask the question.

 MR. GIBBS:  Right, because I think he feels comfortable in asking her to describe the way she interprets, to describe her views on that.  He felt comfortable that they shared a philosophy on that interpretation.

Q    -- on the same issue, on the Roe v. Wade privacy issue, you mentioned stare decisis.  That actually -- and I understand it's a legal term and maybe it would take some explanation -- but if they talked about stare decisis in the context of unenumerated rights and perhaps even the right to privacy, that might have given us a lot more information about what went on in this meeting.  So could you go back to that legal explanation?

 MR. GIBBS:  Let me tell you, Chip, I'm not going to get deeply into all the conversations that the President has had in private with prospective nominees. 

 Q    But you said the President has been careful, and you're right, Presidents have been careful and they've been careful on the Hill, too, not to ask -- well, they ask, but they don't get answers -- on cases that come before the Court.  But asking about a right to privacy and whether you agree on the right to privacy in the Constitution is not asking about a particular case that might come before the Court.  I don't understand why you can't simply confirm that he did what he said he was going to do during the campaign, which is appoint somebody who believes in a right to privacy.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chip, I feel comfortable with -- as the President feels comfortable with her philosophy, I feel comfortable with my answer in having answered your question.

Q    Would it be possible to get that stare decisis quote that you were talking about earlier?

 MR. GIBBS:  I don't believe there was a stenographer in the meeting with -

 Q    Well, would you go back to them and -- I mean, if they were willing -- that sounds like it went further than what you're talking about -- than what you're giving us now.

 MR. GIBBS:  In what way?

Q    You were talking about stare decisis in the context of unenumerated rights; that's like big code for not overturning Roe v. Wade in the eyes of many.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would refer you to what I said.

Q    Just to pick up on what Chip was saying, what I think everyone is getting at is, the President, you're saying, is comfortable that she believes in a right to privacy and shares that view that he holds, and yet --

MR. GIBBS:  What I said is comfortable with her interpretation and the way she interprets the Constitution.

Q    Right.  But I still think what people are wondering is why -- it strikes -- it comes across as a little bit of artifice, or people talking in code or talking around this issue.  And yet you're saying he's comfortable that she shares his views.  I guess, what would be wrong with him asking, hey, do you believe the Constitution encompasses the right to privacy?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think, as Chip noted that -- my statement in saying that many past Presidents have not done that. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss some set of precedent in order to discuss the Supreme Court, but I'm simply telling you what the President did in those meetings?

 Q    There's a difference between asking somebody how they would rule on a case that might come before the Court and how one views whether there's a right to privacy -- that's a matter of judicial philosophy --

MR. GIBBS:  And the President is comfortable with her judicial philosophy.

 Q    How comfortable with it if he doesn't want to ask the point-blank question that would elicit her views?

 MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he feels comfortable in being able to talk to her about her judicial philosophy, the way she interprets the Constitution.  I'm not burdened by the knowledge of being a constitutional law professor, but obviously they're having discussions and I feel comfortable relaying to you that he feels comfortable.

Q    Can I try it a different way?  Is the President --

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  (Laughter.)

Q    Is the President at all concerned that she could be part of a 5-4 majority overturning Roe v. Wade?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven’t talked to him about that.

Q    Could you?

 MR. GIBBS:  He's in California or somewhere over the continental United States.Yes, sir.

Q    One more time, and then I have to ask you a Germany question.  (Laughter.) You mentioned settled law. 

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  I'm going to get into settled answers in a minute.

Q    Was the issue of settled law in the context of Roe versus Wade?

MR. GIBBS:  Jonathan, I was -- not only was the stenographer not in this, I was not in that interview either.  So I have --

Q    But you said back to back, they talked about unenumerated rights and the concept of settled law, which everyone understands to mean Roe v. Wade, the super precedent, and unenumerated rights referring to the right to privacy.  So I think that's why everyone is wondering if there was some talking around this issue.

 MR. GIBBS:  I'm simply conveying to you what was discussed. The President feels comfortable with her interpretations of the Constitution. 

Q    Is there any chance you could go back to those lawyers and recreate what they were telling you about stare decisis and unenumerated rights?

MR. GIBBS:  I will endeavor to see if they're likely to give me anything more, and I'll predict that the chances of that are somewhere between slim and none.

Q    Do you doubt that she'll be asked on the Hill?

MR. GIBBS:  Do I doubt she'll be -- I don't know what she'll be asked on the Hill.  Obviously she -- we believe that when the Senate gets back next week -- I don't have specific information yet on her appointments, but I assume she'll start those visits sometime relatively early next week

Q    Robert, I just want to make sure I'm not missing what might be an obvious step in this process, the conversation with Judge Sotomayor.  I understand the President didn't ask her opinion or thoughts on Roe v. Wade, or the underlying abortion rights embedded in the privacy rights of the Constitution.  Did she volunteer an opinion or an evaluation of her thoughts on that to the President without him asking?

 MR. GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

\Q    So what would be the source then of the comfort on this question?  If he didn't ask and she didn't volunteer, what's the source of the comfort?

 MR. GIBBS:  The general -- as I said earlier, the general way in which she interprets the Constitution.

Q    So it has nothing to do with a conversation in particular about privacy rights?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know how many different times I can say this  --

Q    No, I just asked if she volunteered; you said no.  You said he hasn't asked.  So apparently, taking your words, there was not a specific conversation about privacy rights.  And I'm just asking --

MR. GIBBS:  I said that three days ago.

Q    -- what's then the source of the comfort level?

MR. GIBBS:  And I repeated for about the eighth time in a very short of period of time, their general conversation about their philosophy, their approach to the Constitution, and her approach to judging.

Q    Robert, do you know if anyone other than the President in the White House asked the Judge any questions relating to abortion or the right to privacy, or these issues?  And -- wait, I'm not -- different question. 

MR. GIBBS:  Oh, good.  I'm sure this will change the whole answer.  Go ahead.

Q    -- and whether the reports that were generated -- we've seen 30-, 60-, 70-page reports that were generated for the President on each of these nominees -- whether they came to any conclusions or made any recommendations about what they believe, based on their sort of investigation of her background, her position might be on these issues?

MR. GIBBS:  I have no reason to believe that if the President didn't ask, that others did.  And I don't know -- if they didn't ask, I'm not sure how they could have put it in a report based on their not asking.

Q    There was an investigation done of her background.  They could ask other people, talk to people about what -- you know, sort of what her views are generally on --

Q    She does have more federal judiciary experience than any other nominee in the century.

MR. GIBBS:  I am glad that after countless number of times of saying it, it seeped in.  I'm hoping we have the same sort of luck with my previous answer.

 Q    Robert, simply, granted the abortion issue didn't come up in the President's meeting with Judge Sotomayor, what leads you to believe that her decisions or her thought process is consistent with the President's, as we see this opinion from the Mexico City case?  I mean, that dealt with funding, U.S. funding. That had nothing to do with an actual decision on abortion.  So what leads you?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not -- I have not read that particular opinion.  It didn't lead me to believe that; it led the President to believe that.

Q    Did he read the opinion?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know exactly what he did or didn't read. Based on his teaching of the Constitution, though, I think he feels -- I know he feels comfortable with where she is.

Q    Well, within her six hours when she was here at the White House, what staffer talked to her about the issue of abortion?  Because he feels the way he feels --

MR. GIBBS:  I think I answered this.  Did Mike -- did you try this one?  Yes.

Q    But I'm going back to it again.

MR. GIBBS:  I would refer you to the answer I gave two rows earlier.

Q    You can answer it again.

MR. GIBBS:  I think I said, correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Shear, that I'm under no belief that anybody here asked her what the President didn't --

Q    You said you have no reason to believe that anybody talked about it.  (Laughter.)  But why can't you say nobody talked about it?

 MR. GIBBS:  Because I said I have no reason to believe.  Have I asked for a complete download of all seven hours?  Unfortunately, it's not on YouTube.





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