Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
President Obama Calls Commerce Secretary After Crash
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 02:52 PM
President Barack Obama called Commerce Secretary John Bryson today.
It was a short conversation, and the President encouraged Bryson to "focus his thoughts on his own health and his own family," according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
It was the first time the two spoke since Bryson's double hit-and run over the weekend.
Bryson is now undergoing medical tests for what's being described as a seizure. No further details about what caused the crashes or Bryson's condition at the time have been made available.
There is no timetable for Bryson's return.
Here's a full transcript of the relevant portion of Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest's Q&A with reporters:
MR. EARNEST: I actually don’t think I have anything off the top. We obviously have a series of fundraisers, many of which you will cover over the course of the day today. And I don’t have any announcements. If you want to -- so you can go ahead and get started.
Q What’s the update on Secretary Bryson? Do we have any better idea of what happened to him and what’s the prognosis?
MR. EARNEST: As you saw last night, Secretary Bryson had a statement indicating that he ended up taking a medical leave of absence. Before leaving the White House this morning, the President had an opportunity to speak to Commerce Secretary Bryson on the telephone, where they had a short conversation.
The President encouraged Secretary Bryson to focus his thoughts on his own health and on his own family. And the President indicated his confidence in Dr. Blank, who is somebody who could lead the Commerce Department in Secretary Bryson’s absence.
Q I’m sorry, you said he did express confidence in him?
Q In Dr. Blank.
MR. EARNEST: In Dr. Blank -- as somebody who could lead the Commerce Department in Secretary Bryson’s absence. And the President encouraged him to focus -- I’ll speak up a little bit, I apologize. And the President encouraged Secretary Bryson to focus on his own health and getting that care and medical treatment that he needs.
Q Josh, is there any update as far as exactly what the Secretary’s condition is or what type of seizure he had?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any updates on those factual details about what happened over the weekend. But obviously, the medical tests that Secretary Bryson will undergo are related to that.
Q Was this the first time they had an opportunity to speak, the President and --
MR. EARNEST: Since the weekend?
Q Yes, since the weekend.
MR. EARNEST: Since the weekend, yes.
Q Josh, can you go over a little bit more of the tick-tock beginning with when was the White House first informed of the incident? And the President wasn’t informed until Monday morning. How come the gap in time?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a whole lot -- I mean, you have the details right, that the White House was informed late in the day on Sunday and the President was briefed on Monday morning. But in terms of more details, I don’t have a whole lot more light to shed on those details at this point.
Q Was it -- Jack Lew talked to him when? Sunday or Monday?
MR. EARNEST: I believe that Mr. Lew spoke to him on Monday.
Q Monday morning.
Q To Bryson?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q To Bryson, Monday morning. And so it was -- and the President wasn’t informed until Monday morning. So it was
MR. EARNEST: The President was briefed on Monday.
Q So Lew had decided it wasn’t -- well, he didn’t speak to him until Monday morning, so the President wasn’t informed until Monday morning.
MR. EARNEST: The President was briefed on Monday morning.
Q So we don’t know why there was a lag on why Bryson didn’t report in or what happened?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any more details for you on that.
Q Do we know who -- I’m sorry.
Q Do you know if Mr. Lew called him later in the day to --
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have the minute-by-minute tick-tock.
What we -- what Jay broadly discussed yesterday in terms of the tick-tock is -- continues -- is an accurate portrayal of the events over the last 72 hours or so. I don’t have any more details to add to that beyond the President's phone call to Secretary Bryson this morning.
Q Josh, a medical leave of absence is unusual. Why didn’t Secretary Bryson decide to step down, fully resign? And do you have a timetable for his return? Does the President expect him to return?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a timetable for his return, primarily because I don’t want to pre-judge what the results of a medical examination that was referred to in the statement last night might reveal.
But what the President -- I can reiterate to you what the President reiterated to the Secretary this morning, which is that his -- that the Secretary's attention and interest and priority at this point should be his own health.
Q But can you say why he chose to take a medical leave versus just agree to resign?
MR. EARNEST: I can't speak to that at this point.
Q Was it suggested to him by anyone that he take a medical leave?
MR. EARNEST: You have to refer to -- you have to check with the Commerce Department on what went into his decision, in terms of --
Q But do you know if Lew or anyone else in the White House suggested to him that it would be a good thing to do?
MR. EARNEST: Even if I were privy to the conversations that took place, I probably wouldn’t have much to share about them.
Q So it's sort of open-ended for when he can return as far as the President is concerned.
MR. EARNEST: That’s true, primarily because the time that he's taking here will be devoted to his -- an examination of his health and some medical tests. And he's going to take the time that he needs to focus on those priorities, those things that should be his priority, those things along with his family.
Q So it wasn't Bryson himself that informed the White House on Sunday night? Or was it someone else?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe we've gotten into the details about who was on either end of the phone during those conversations, and I don’t have any more on that.
Q So it sounds like his return hinges on the results of his medical exam.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don’t want to pre-judge into all of that.
Q And who notified the White House initially, Sunday?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I just said, I don’t have any more details on who participated in those phone calls.