It wasn’t an apology, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did clarify remarks made last month by President Obama relating to corporate meetings and incentives. The remarks upset local leaders in Las Vegas, including Mayor Oscar Goodman, who had demanded an apology from the president, according to published reports.
“I don't think the president said, "Don't go to Las Vegas" or "Don't go to Hawaii" or "Don't go to the Super Bowl,” said Gibbs at a March 12 press briefing at the White House. “It's getting warm; if you've got the desire and the wherewithal to travel to any of those places, to quote a famous Southerner, Lewis Grizzard said, ‘Delta is ready when you are.’”
Gibbs’ comments came a day after travel industry leaders met with the president, and roughly one month after the Las Vegas mayor fired off a letter to Obama concerning remarks the president made at a town-hall meeting in Indiana on February 9, where he was discussing the government bailout of banks and financial institutions. Obama said that until the money’s paid back, companies receiving federal bailout money aren’t going to be able to give out big bonuses, fly around on corporate jets, or “take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”
In his letter to the president, dated February 10, Goodman said the comments reinforce the stereotype that meetings, events, and incentive travel are wasteful and that any trip to Las Vegas is a junket. “Meetings are the foundation for any successful business venture. The meeting and event industry creates 2.4 million jobs, injects more than $200 billion into the national economy every year, and generates $39 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue,” wrote Goodman in the letter.
Initially, he had demanded an apology from the president, but according to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, he backtracked on his apology demand but hoped that Obama would “straighten out the record.”
In the March 12 press briefing, Gibbs elaborated on the issue of tourism. “What the president expressed some concern about was companies that are getting large amounts of public funding, taxpayer funding, through a financial stabilization plan,” said Gibbs. “But the president believes it's important to have a strong tourism industry and that it's important that, as the president said earlier—that he would encourage people to travel. The concern that he specifically expressed had to do with the use of money by institutions that have received a lot of assistance from the taxpayers.”