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What the Veep Meant to Say, and a Non-Apology

2:15 PM, Apr 30, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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A lovely moment, and glimpse inside the audacity of the Obama communications shop, at the press briefing just now.

Jake Tapper pointed out that travel-industry officials had characterized Vice President Joe Biden's comments about swine flu and public transportation as "fearmongering." Biden made the comments on NBC's "Today" show this morning, prompting a federal-government backtrack that looked like a Moonwalk convention.

"I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places right now," Biden said. "It's not that its going to Mexico, it's that you are in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes everywhere through the aircraft. That's me."

Tapper asked for clarification and whether there would be an apology from the administration for Biden's comments. Robert Gibbs responded with a reiteration of the president's standard talking points- "I think what the vice president meant to say was," there's cause for concern, but not alarm, people should wash their hands, etc.

Tapper interrupted, saying, "With all due respect, that's not even remotely what the vice president said."

"I'm telling you what he meant to say," Gibbs said, sounding peeved as the press corps laughed somewhat incredulously. He added that, "if people felt unduly alarmed for whatever reason, we would certainly apologize for that."

Another reporter asked Gibbs if "we would certainly apologize for that" meant he was actually apologizing, and Gibbs referred him to the statement from the office of the vice president, which is notably without apology:

"The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways," said Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander.

"This is the advice the vice president has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week. As the president said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick," she said.

I'm assuming the White House will now be giving the administration credit for another "profuse" apology from the White House for scaring the mess out of people, for the second time this week.