What Vice President Joe Biden meant and what he actually said about traveling and the swine flu are two different things, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told a somewhat snickering press room on Thursday.
The explanation came after Biden, on NBC’s “Today” show, said that in light of concerns over the swine flu, he would not travel in “confined places,” such as an airplane or the subway.
That goes beyond the precautionary measures cited by President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – all of whom have advised people to wash their hands and to cover their mouth if coughing and nose if sneezing.
“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing,” Biden told co-anchor Matt Lauer on “Today.” “If you’re in a closed aircraft, or closed container, or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”
When asked what he would advise his own family members to do if they were traveling by commercial airline to Mexico, Biden said: “I would tell members of my family – and I have – I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now.”
“It’s not that he’s going to Mexico – it’s that you're in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft,” Biden said. “That's me. I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway."
Fielding questions about Biden’s comments, Gibbs said that the vice president was not departing from the Obama administration’s advice to the country.
“I think what the vice president meant to say was the same thing that many members have said in the last few days,” said Gibbs, “and that is, if you feel sick, if you are exhibiting symptoms, flu-like symptoms, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, then you should take precautious, then you should limit your travel.”
ABC reporter Jake Tapper then said, “With all due respect, and I sympathize with you trying to explain the vice president’s comments, that’s not even remotely close to what he said.”
Gibbs responded, “I understood what he said. I’m telling you what he meant to say.”
This prompted loud laughter through the press room as Gibbs maintained a straight face.