The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Kansas City, Missouri

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Kansas City, Missouri

10:42 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  All right, I've got a little opener, and then we'll get to your questions -- and a week-ahead, don't let me forget.

Good morning, and welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to the heartlands.  The President will visit a Ford auto production plant on the north side of Kansas City, Missouri, where he will highlight the important progress our country has made in recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a recession that was precipitated by the financial crisis that struck five years ago this week.

Since then, thanks to the grit and determination of American workers and American businesses, both of whom got strong support from policies put forward by this President, we're coming back.  We've created 7.5 million jobs.  The housing market is stronger. The economy is growing again.  The manufacturing sector is a particularly bright light.  In fact, the plant that we'll visit today has added shifts, and the trucks being produced are driven off car dealership lots at a rate of every 38 seconds last month.

But there’s more work that needs to be done to grow the economy faster and to create more jobs.  That's why threats from congressional Republicans to shut down the government and risk the full faith and credit of the United States of America come at a particularly bad time.  We continue to urge Congress to quickly fulfill the responsibility that they have been enshrined with in the Constitution, which is to pass a budget and pay the bills on time.

Then we can get to work on legitimately bipartisan ideas like investing in infrastructure, strengthening our schools, allowing responsible homeowners to refinance at these historically low rates, and expanding access to college.  We don't need another self-inflicted crisis from Congress.  We need policies, including ideas put forward by this President that are in the best interest of the economy and ensure a better bargain for the middle class.

So, with that, we'll take some questions.

Q    Josh, a top Iranian official told the Times that Iran wants a swift deal over its nuclear weapons -- I'm sorry -- over its nuclear program in order to get rid of the sanctions.  What is the U.S.’s response to that interview?  And is the U.S. open to a quick deal?

MR. EARNEST:  I saw the story that you're talking about, Josh.  We've seen a number of comments over the last several weeks from the Iranian regime.  We welcome those comments as they do indicate a willingness to act constructively -- to work constructively with the international community.  But the fact of the matter is actions are what are going to be determinative here. 

We have seen this President lead an international coalition to put in place a very strong sanctions regime against Iran.  And the reason for that is simple.  The Iranians, for a number of years now, have been unwilling to live up to their obligations to the international community as it relates to their nuclear program.  And these sanctions have tightened around the Iranian regime, further isolated them from the international community, taken a significant toll on their economy and put pressure on them to come back to the bargaining table.

So the United States, as the President has indicated on a number of occasions, stands ready to engage with the Iranians on the basis of mutual respect.  You’ll recall that this was a topic of extensive debate during the President’s first campaign for this office where he demonstrated -- or he signaled a willingness to engage with the Iranians. 

When this President took office, you will recall, the international community was divided about how exactly to confront the threat that was emanating from Iran.  But thanks to the President’s leadership, the international community is now united and can present a united front as we deal with the Iranians.  And over the course of these talks, the Iranians will have an opportunity to demonstrate that they are willing to live up to their promises and prove to the international community that the nuclear program they are pursuing is for exclusively peaceful means. 

Q    But, Josh, a lot of Iran experts say that there may be a really limited window before Rouhani gets sidelined by more hardliners who aren't opened to a deal with the U.S.  So are you worried you could miss out on an opportunity?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  As you’ve seen, the President -- like I said, the President has demonstrated a willingness to engage with the Iranians, and has done that for some time now.  You're aware of the fact that we have engaged with the Iranians through the P5-plus-1 process.  There have been some other contacts that have emerged in the news, including an exchange of letters between the American President and the Iranian President.  So this is an indication that there are some ongoing conversations.

But again, it’s actions that will be determinative here, and it’s actions that we need to see from the Iranians to demonstrate their seriousness of purpose as they come back to the international community and take advantage, we hope, of the opportunity to demonstrate in no uncertain terms to the international community that their nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful means.

Q    Josh, what are those conversations?  Is the President going to meet with his new counterpart next week at the U.N., or are there going to be any other bilats at different levels between our government and their government?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have any specific meetings to read out to you.  I know that there’s been a lot of reporting on this, but at this time there’s no meeting on the President’s schedule right now while he’s at the United Nations with anyone representing the Iranian regime.

But I'm sure that many of you will be up there to cover the President’s activities at the United Nations and we'll certainly keep you posted on all the President’s activities.  We do anticipate that he’ll do a number of meetings up there, including a couple of bilateral meetings with other world leaders who are in New York for the General Assembly. 

We're going to do a conference call later on this afternoon. There’s still some aspects of the President’s schedule that are being locked down, and so they’ll be prepared to discuss those aspects of the President’s schedule at the conference call later this afternoon.

Q    One of those could be an Iranian schedule to be locked down, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Not necessarily.  We'll have more in terms of the President’s schedule later on today.

Q    Do you think you’ll have -- in this afternoon’s call, will you have the outline of the bilats and who they are?

MR. EARNEST:  I do anticipate that that would be the case, yes.

Q    During this period where there is some indication of a thaw with Iran, how willing is the United States to reduce some of its sanctions or ease back on some of its sanctions as a sign of good faith?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t want to get into previewing any sort of negotiations that may or may not occur.  But what I will say is that it is clear that the reason that the Iranians are demonstrating this willingness to approach the international community is because the international community is united in our belief that the regime needs to fulfill their obligations to the international community when it comes to their nuclear program. 

So the point is the pressure of this sanctions regime, that includes, I'll remind you, the Russians and the Chinese and others, is what has brought the Iranians to the table.  And what we would like to see from the Iranians beyond just some of the encouraging words that we've heard from them in the last few days are some demonstrable actions that demonstrate the seriousness of purpose as they pursue conversations about coming into compliance with international standards.

Q    So you need to see -- the United States needs to see action before there's any easing back on any sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we're going to have -- we have had a number of engagements with the Iranians and we'll continue to have conversations on the basis of mutual respect.  And over the course of those conversations, there will be an opportunity for the Iranians to demonstrate, through actions, the seriousness with which they're pursuing this endeavor.

Q    Is there anything you'd like to see in particular from Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not prepared to get into any sort of the details of the specific conversations that we're having with the Iranian regime at this point.

Q    On another question, is the President planning to meet with House and Senate leaders next week on the budget?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any meetings to read out to you at this point.  As Jay mentioned earlier this week, I do think that you can expect that the President will have conversations with congressional leaders in the days ahead, but I don’t have any specific meetings to talk to you about right now.

Q    Has he had any conversations this week with congressional leaders?  Has he had -- talked to anyone on the Hill about the CR, about the debt ceiling?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any conversations to read out right now.

Q    The EPA this morning announcing new regulations to have power plants at least curb 40 percent of their output, contain 40 percent of their output -- critics say it's overly burdensome and will lead to higher electricity rates.  Where does this fit into the President's all-of-the-above plan?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  There was an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency about some new standards that the administration is working to put in place that will, for the first time, put some limits on carbon emissions. 

Power plants, as you may have seen from some of their materials, are the single largest emitter of carbon pollution in this country.  They do account for about 40 percent of the carbon pollution that’s emitted into the atmosphere.  This is something that poses a significant health risk to American citizens and it's something that the President is concerned about. 

The President has talked about this issue as early as his inaugural address back in January.  The President talked a little bit more about his Climate Action Plan in the context of the speech he gave at Georgetown back in June.  And I think you can expect that we'll continue to take steps to implement that plan.

This does fall in line with the President's all-of-the-above approach to our energy production that certainly this would provide an incentive for power companies to consider other sources of energy, including renewable energy like wind and solar.  So those incentives are in place.  It also includes some incentives for power companies to consider some new technology that would allow them to use coal in power plants, but do it in a way that’s better for the environment and better for the public health of the American public.

So the President believes that there is a way for us to pursue these kinds of rules in a common-sense fashion that will prioritize both the economic interests of the country as well as the public health interests of families all across the country.

Q    Josh, this won't come as a surprise to you, but Mitch McConnell says it's a war on coal and jobs.  How do you respond to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I'd repeat what I just said, which is there is an opportunity for us to make good decisions that prioritize both the economic interests of the country as well as the public health interests of the country.

So the President -- or his administration, I should say, has announced the beginning of some important steps today that would, for the first time, place some limits on carbon pollution emitted by power plants.  Power plants are the largest emitter of carbon pollution.  And there's an opportunity for us to work with the industry to make power production more safe without damaging the economy.

Q    Manufacturers say that the CCS technology that you're referring to isn't commercially available yet, and manufacturers in particular are worried about the added costs this will bring to their businesses.  Is it kind of ironic that the President's going to a manufacturing plant today the same day that these are being announced, these regulations?
MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I actually do think that there is an interesting parallel here.  You'll recall that early in his administration, the President worked with the auto industry to put in place tough rules that actually increased some fuel-efficiency standards by American-produced automobiles and trucks.  We saw a lot of the same naysayers who said that this would be really bad for the auto industry.  But over the course of time in which those rules took effect, we have seen the auto industry strengthen significantly in terms of creating jobs and putting forward better products and improving sales and revenue. 
So there is an opportunity for us to work with the industry to put in place these kinds of rules that make their products better, that make their products safer, that encourage them -- incentivize them to innovate -- that that can have benefits not just for consumers, but also for the general public and for the broader economy.

Q    Josh, is there anything you can say about the Navy Yard memorial service on Sunday, what the President is going to talk about, who else might be there?  Any guidance here?

MR. EARNEST:  We put out some details last night that the memorial service will take place late Sunday afternoon at the Marine barracks in Southeast D.C.  The President will make remarks late in the afternoon, but I'm not in a position at this point to give you a preview of the President's remarks.

Q    Josh, can you talk a little bit about the House vote on the CR today, including defunding Obamacare?  Just about 10 days out, what does this say about the prospects for averting a government shutdown?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned at the top, Josh, the United States Congress has a responsibility that's enshrined in the Constitution, a responsibility that was granted to them by the Founding Fathers of this country to pay the bills.  Congress should pay the bills on time.  And given how we have seen our economic recovery start to get some traction, threats not to pay the bills on time from Congress -- and from Republicans in Congress, I should point out -- are particularly poorly timed. 

Now, you've often heard me and others lament the lack of bipartisanship in dealing with some of these issues in Congress. And, unfortunately, that pattern will continue with what I expect will be -- and I think what most people expect will be -- a party line vote in the House of Representatives.  But there is one glimmer of bipartisanship in all of this.  I'm not the only person -- this administration is not the only group that has concerns about shutting down the government in protest of Obamacare. 

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said it was "silly" to do so.  Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, called it the "dumbest idea" he’d ever heard.  Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire said it would be -- described it as not productive.  And even Senator Roy Blunt, whose state we're about to visit, said that he didn't support this idea.  And there was also an interesting news release from the Chamber of Commerce saying that a shutdown protesting Obamacare would not be in the best interest of America's businesses and it wouldn’t be in the best interest of America's economy.

So I do think there is actually bipartisan agreement that the tactics we're seeing from congressional Republicans are bad for the country and are bad for the economy.  And we are eager to sit down at the table with congressional Republicans and work out a solution that doesn't involve threats to shut down the government, that doesn't involve playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

We need Congress to fulfill their basic obligations, to fulfill their basic responsibilities, so that we can actually get about the hard work of putting in place the kinds of policies that are going to strengthen our economy.  The last thing we need is another self-inflicted crisis.  We actually need to get to work putting in place policies that we know are going to be good for the middle class -- things like opening up the doors to a college education to more families, reforming our schools, investing in infrastructure -- many of the things you've heard the President talk about before and many of the things that you'll hear the President talk about again today. 

Q    Josh, on a separate subject, Ron Binz, nominee for FERC, in confirmation hearings, the math is not looking very good.  Even Joe Manchin says that he will vote against him.  Are you guys going to still stick behind him?

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  Mr. Binz is a highly qualified nominee who would do a great job at the FERC.  And we continue to work with Congress to ensure that he gets a fair hearing and gets confirmed in a timely fashion. 

Q    In terms of the week ahead, can you tell us whether the President will announce his pick for Fed Chair in the week ahead? 
MR. EARNEST:  I don't have any updated timing for you in terms of any personnel announcements, let alone the personnel announcements that many people are legitimately and understandably interested in.

Q    Can you rule it out?

MR. EARNEST:  I can't.  I'm just not in a position to offer additional timing at this point.

Q    Anything else for the week ahead?

MR. EARNEST:  On Monday, the President and First Lady will travel to New York City for the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly.  The President and First Lady will remain overnight in New York City. 

On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks to the U.N. General Assembly.  The First Lady will attend.  Later in the day, the President will attend the Clinton Global Initiative, where he and President Clinton will engage in a conversation about the benefits and future of health care reform in America and access to quality health care around the globe.  In the evening, the President will attend an event for the DNC before returning with the First Lady to the White House.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the President will attend meetings at the White House. 

And then on Friday, the President will welcome Prime Minister Singh of India to the White House for a bilateral meeting.  The meeting follows the Prime Minister's visit to Washington in 2009 and the President's memorable visit to India in 2010.  And it will highlight India's role in regional security and stability, and provide an opportunity for the two leaders to chart a course toward enhanced trade, investment, and development cooperation between the United States and India.

And there will be more detailed information about the President's schedule in New York during the U.N. General Assembly, including a handful of bilateral meetings, during the conference call this afternoon.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  All right.  Thank you, guys.

11:02 A.M. EDT

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