Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Cape Cod, MA
1:28 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Thank you for joining us on our trip to Martha’s Vineyard. For starters, I just wanted to ask, and for folks who read the transcript of this, that the privacy of the First Family is respected. And, you know, the girls will obviously be out and about and the First Family will be doing things -- you know, it’s just like last year. We appreciate the hospitality of the folks at Martha’s Vineyard. And the First Family had such a great time, they’re looking forward to a great time again. We just hope that the local and national reporters respect the privacy of the girls, especially.
So with that, I’m happy to take some questions.
Q The economy, the numbers this morning were very bad. I know the President has come out and made a statement, but how bad does the White House think this is? I mean, is the economy -- did the economy really hit a wall in August, as it looks like? Do you think there’s a real risk of a double-dip recession?
MR. BURTON: The President’s view is that there are going to be a lot of indicators that show some movement in different directions, but there’s no doubt that we have not done everything that we can to keep moving the economy in the right direction. That’s why he was out there pushing for the small business bill as soon as the Senate gets back. We’ve been able to make some progress but the President isn’t satisfied with the pace. And that’s why he’s doing everything that we can to get the economy moving at a strength that is going to keep -- that is going to get Americans back to work.
Q But, I mean, how bad do you think the outlook is for the economy? I mean, how high would you rate the risks of a double-dip recession?
MR. BURTON: I’m not an expert economist, but I will say that if you’re an unemployed family right now you’d think that the economy is in pretty bad shape, and those are the kind of folks that the President is out there fighting for every single day to try to create jobs and create a stronger economy.
Q Did those numbers surprise you -- 500,000 jobs?
MR. BURTON: You know, these indicators -- there’s economic indicators that come out every single week and you don’t know what they are before they’re announced, so what do you know what the numbers would be.
Q Bill, how effective do you think the President’s statement is going to be, because he’s giving it -- he’s going today, he’s going away for 10 days. The Senate isn’t coming back obviously until after the August recess. I mean, that’s a lot of time in between now and when the Senate is actually going to take this up, or when the pressure is really going to need to be on. Are we going to hear more from him? And how effective is what he did today?
MR. BURTON: The President has been trying to -- has been applying pressure on this issue for a while now, and it’s been Republican obstruction that’s stopped it from going forward. So he’s talked about it out on this trip that we took previously, he talked about it today, and he’s going to continue to when he gets back because it’s critically important that we create an environment where these small businesses can create jobs and make America’s economy stronger.
Q The Pew poll came out today and there’s some numbers on there that are interesting -- one showing that the number of Americans who believe that the President is Muslim has gone up, while the number of Americans who believe the President is Christian has gone down. What do you guys make of that?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think you have to understand that for most Americans, they’re not reading a lot in the news about what religion the President is and anything other -- what they’re focused on is, you know, what you guys are focused on, which is important issues like what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, what’s going on in the economy, what are we doing to create jobs -- all these different issues.
And so the President is obviously a -- is Christian. He prays every day. He communicates with his religious advisor every single day. There’s a group of pastors that he takes counsel from on a regular basis. And his faith is very important to him, but it’s not something that is a topic of conversation every single day.
Q So why do you think the American public has got these opinions of him that he’s a Muslim and not a Christian?
MR. BURTON: I just think people are focused on other issues and not paying all that much attention to exactly what the President does with his spirituality. But as you all know and have covered extensively, he is Christian and his faith is very important to him.
Q Could the White House have -- could the President speak more about his religion to counter this perception that he isn’t Christian? He has talked about his faith in the past. Could the White House have him come out and talk about it more?
MR. BURTON: He has spoken about his faith extensively in the past. You can bet that he’ll talk about his faith again. You could always play the “would-of, could-of, should-of,” but the President’s top priority here isn’t making sure that Americans know what a devout Christian he is, it’s making sure that we’re getting the economy on track and we’re creating jobs in this country.
Q Is it frustrating to him though that so many people have this misperception? Did he have a reaction to these poll findings, do you know?
MR. BURTON: I didn’t talk to him about it, so I don’t know what his reaction was. But I can’t imagine that he is all that focused on some poll like this.
Q It suggests that the Americans -- the American people don’t really know him. I mean, is that something that bothers him?
MR. BURTON: I think that’s extrapolating too much from one poll, one day, and one of its questions.
Q Do you have any update on the CEA head or the consumer agency head coming out during the vineyard trip? Any meetings coming up at the White House with potential heads -- Warren?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have any update on timing. I would say that you shouldn’t expect anything any time soon.
Q Like in the next two weeks or any --
Q That’s soon.
MR. BURTON: I’ll keep you posted on any new timing. I’m not trying to be coy about saying that it’s like right around the corner, but it’s not in the immediate future here.
Q Can you give an idea of who they’re looking at for the CEA?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have anything new for you on that.
Q And on Iraq last night, can you clarify what happened? Was that indeed the last combat brigade brought out of Iraq last night? I mean, 50,000 troops is still a considerable amount to have there anyway.
MR. BURTON: Right, well, there’s significantly more than 50,000 troops still in Iraq. And as we move towards the end of the combat mission in Iraq, there are a lot of reporters who are embedded in with units that are leaving Iraq, and more will be leaving over the course of the next couple of weeks.
And the President obviously thinks our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who have served there and have achieved the objectives of the United States. We’ve decreased violence there. We’ve got the Iraqi army in a place where they can take care of their own security. And politics has broken out all over the country, and that’s what people are using to solve their differences.
So as we get to the end of the mission on August 31st, September 1st we’ll begin a new one. There will be a change in command there and you’ll see the United States move to a new role, which is advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces.
Q There were reports that those were the last troops. Were those incorrect last night?
MR. BURTON: There are more troops that will be leaving Iraq over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Q So were they wrong in reporting the last combat brigade was leaving the country?
MR. BURTON: I think that you should talk to the Pentagon about the specific troop movements and who is where. I can’t say that I saw every report that was out there on this. But I can tell you that there are more troops that are going to be leaving the country over the -- leaving Iraq over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Q Can I change -- stay with foreign affairs?
MR. BURTON: Sure.
Q There’s some talk that there may be movement on the Middle East peace talks. Is there a possibility that during the course of the Martha’s Vineyard holiday, there may be some news from the White House on progress to direct talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
MR. BURTON: I saw those reports, and as you all know and have covered, George Mitchell, Secretary Clinton and the President have all been working very hard to make progress and get to a place where there are direct talks. I don't have anything to announce for you on that. If there’s any change, then I will let you know as soon as possible.
Q Any update on Pakistan aid?
MR. BURTON: I went through this yesterday quite a bit. Today Secretary Clinton and the USAID administrator Rajiv Shah are at the United Nations, talking about what we’re doing, what else can be done to help the people of Pakistan. This is an ongoing crisis and we don't know exactly -- hold on one second -- what we can do to help them mitigate some of the problems that they’re facing as a result of these floods and the rains.
We’ve already given tens of millions in assistance. American helicopters and C-130 planes are helping in the effort. We’ve delivered hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies, and we’re going to continue to help as requests come in through the Pakistani government.
Q Bill, could you say something about what the appeal is that Martha’s Vineyard has for the President -- like what is so great about it?
MR. BURTON: Well, it’s a beautiful part of the country. It has really nice beaches and the folks are really great. The food is terrific. And it’s some place that the President went before he was President and likes to go back because it’s a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit.
Q Can you talk a little bit about his workload? I mean, he’ll get his daily briefings, but anything else scheduled?
MR. BURTON: Well, he’ll continue to get his intelligence briefings, and he’ll also be getting briefings on the economy and other issues as they come up. But as any of you guys who have covered these vacations before know, there’s other things that come up and he’ll obviously attend to those as necessary.
Q What’s he reading?
MR. BURTON: Still don't have that for you. I know, it’s crazy.
Q I’m going to jump back to one another topic, and that is, does the President think that the use of the word “mosque” in the whole controversy down there near 9/11, is it being reported fairly, is it being treated fairly, or is -- or are people overplaying the use of the word “mosque”?
MR. BURTON: I haven’t heard him say that.
Okay, thanks for the good times.
END 1:38 P.M. EDT