Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Arlen Specter and POTUS each spoke (in that order) before cameras for a total of about 14 minutes Wednesday morning in the Diplomatic Room. All three spoke about Specter's decision to become a Democrat, with POTUS saying Specter will have his full support in the Democratic primary. POTUS also spoke for several minutes about the swine flu situation. When it was over, the three left the room, and POTUS appeared a few minutes later on the South Lawn and departed on Marine One en route to the St. Louis area. Departure was just before 8:30 a.m.
On the flu, POTUS said, among other things, that schools with confirmed or suspected cases need to strongly consider temporarily closing and urged local authority to be vigilant in identifying and reporting any suspect cases to authorities.
He said: "We are closely continuously monitoring emerging cases of this virus," and he noted the overnight confirmation of the death of an infant in Texas.
"Our thoughts, our prayers and our deepest condolences go out to the family, as well as those who are ill and are recovering."
He said it is the recommendation of public health officials that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of H1N1 to strongly consider temporarily closing schools "to be as safe as possible." If this becomes more serious, he said, parents need to think about contingencies for child care if their schools close. In this case, he said, it is not a solution to send a child to a day care center instead.
He also noted that yesterday he requested $1.5 billion from Congress in emergency funding for vaccines and other needed responses.
"Every American should know that the federal government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to control the impact of this virus."
He said that Americans can take steps on their own: keep hands washed, cover mouth when you cough, stay home from work when sick, keep kids home from school when sick.
Regarding the man of the hour, Arlen Specter, VPOTUS spoke first and opened his remarks with a "point of personal privilege" as they say in the Senate, calling Specter a friend, confidant and partner in scores of legislative efforts. He said Specter had "been there every time things were tough for me." And he said he takes "great pleasure" in "officially" being in the same caucus after so riding the train together for so many years.
"I'm even more pleased that Arlen's independence, integrity and (inaudible) will now be sitting in the Democratic caucus. I think he'll be real added value. Anyone who thinks that Arlen is going to cash in his independence politically has another thing coming."
He the people of Pennsylvania are coming to continue to benefit from his "fierce commitment to the people of Pennsylvania and this country."
He then introduced him as "a man of immense personal courage and unmatched integrity, my friend, Arlen Specter."
In his remarks, Specter repeated some of what he said yesterday. He said he was "unwilling to subject my 29 year record in the United States Senate to the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate." He said he is "ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers in a general election."
"I have not represented the Republican party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania and I will continue to do just that. As I said yesterday, I will not be an automatic 60th vote."
He said there are areas where he disagrees with the traditional Democratic position but declined to mention them.
He did say that the administration is one that "I feel very comfortable with."
"I think I can be of assistance to you, Mr. President."
He said he was deeply interested in health reform and global warming issues but also "mindful of the deficit."
He recounted that POTUS, while still a senator, asked him once, "Tell me, Arlen, if a Jewish kid from Kansas can carry Pennsylvania, how can a black kid from Kansas carry Pennsylvania?" POTUS laughed at that.
POTUS then spoke: "I'm thrilled to have Arlen in the Democratic caucus. I have told that he will have my full support in the Democratic primary."
He segued from his flu comments (above) to Specter by mentioning the senator's own health battle. "Arlen Specter is one tough hombre," POTUS said.
"I have the honor of standing next to the newest Democrat from the state of Pennsylvania I know that the decision that Sen. Specter made yesterday wasn't easy... It required courage. It also reflects an independence that has been a hallmark of Arlen Specter's career since the days he arrived in Washington. He has never been in the Senate to fight for any particular party but for the men and women of Pennsylvania who sent him...
"I don't expect Arlen to be a rubber stamp. I don't expect any member of Congress to be a rubber stamp."
He said he'd like to think Specter's decision is a reflection that the administration is open to many points of view.
He said he hopes they can work together in areas where they do agree including health care, education, expanding the manufacturing base and medical research.
"I'm eager to receive his counsel and advice, especially when he disagrees."
"I'm grateful that he's here. I'm also grateful Joe Biden paid him a little attention on the train."
Watching the event from the back were advisers including Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
A few minutes later, Obama emerged from the south doors of the Palm room and walked across the South Lawn to the waiting Marine One. He smiled and waved at a crowd of cheering onlookers and pointed to his watch as if to say he was sorry that he couldn't come over but he didn't have time. Accompanying him on the helicopter were Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs and Mona Sutphen. By 8:30, the chopper was up and away.
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