Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One en route Schenectady, New York
11:55 A.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: What’s going on?
Q Can you confirm this story the President warned Hu Jintao that if China didn’t step up its pressure on North Korea the U.S. would have to redeploy its forces in Asia?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’ll say this. Look, I think we have, through the President, through the Secretary of Defense, through the Secretary of State, have worked to bring -- to express our concern about the aggressive activities of North Korea and to work to bring the Chinese effectively into helping us deal with some of those problems.
We were pleased out of the summit -- or, I'm sorry, out of the trip that, as I said yesterday, that the Chinese acknowledging for the first time in the statements that we put out the enrichment program that the North Koreans had and the steps that needed to be taken to deal with it. And we're pleased that the South Koreans and the North Koreans are beginning talks.
Q Robert, in the speech today, what are some of the highlights, maybe new points or new thoughts, new themes that we haven't heard before?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously the newest thing is the shifting from the Recovery Board to now one of jobs and competitiveness, which you all know about; the appointment of Jeff Immelt to lead that effort, which the President is extraordinarily pleased that Mr. Immelt has agreed to do this.
I think you’ll -- again, you’ll hear themes that the President has discussed as recently as our trip last month to North Carolina and to talk about the steps that we're going to have to take to continue our economic recovery, continue to create jobs as we have over the course of the past 12 months, and the steps, again, that we're going to have to continue to take to increase innovation and our competitiveness as we compete throughout the world.
Q Can you talk about why that concept of competitiveness is coming up? It’s in the title of this new panel; you’ve mentioned it; I'm sure the President will mention it today. Can you talk about why that's such an important theme?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think it’s a -- I mean, I think -- look, by definition, we are, as you’ve heard the President say really dating back well into the campaign and, quite frankly, in speeches he gave as a senator, we’re no longer -- this is no longer a competition that is being had among different parts of our country and how we compete with kids in another state or in another region, but it’s an economic competition that's taking place all over the world. And I think it’s important that we highlight GE today -- as the plane takes a little bit of a turn -- as the -- we highlight GE as a company that is creating in America manufacturing jobs, bringing those jobs back from overseas, which is tremendously important.
We'll see the home of what will soon be GE’s advanced battery manufacturing, an important step, again, to our competing in an international and a global marketplace. And how do we -- I mean, again, we’ve told the story before, but the battery manufacturing is a story that -- most people thought if the types of cars that would run on these types of batteries were to be driven in the United States, that we would bring them here.
Now, we’re building those components here. We’re building those cars here. We’re selling those cars here. And I think that's an important part of our story. The transcript will not necessarily note that at that point there appeared to be a large speed bump in the air. (Laughter.)
Q GE is still being paid to work on a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. And the Obama administration has threatened to veto that, but it’s still going on. Is the veto threat still stand? And why does the spending keep happening, given our economic times? Is it jobs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this -- look, the Secretary of Defense, the President have made the point that this is not something that we need. I think whenever the military tells you that something that -- the military is spending money on something the military doesn’t need, especially in these times, it’s important that we pay heed to that.
Look, we’re going to go through obviously another round of appropriations over the course of the coming year. And the President and the Secretary of Defense will again reiterate as we’re tightening our belts, as everybody is tightening their belts, we don't need -- there are things we simply don't need. And that's certainly one of them.
Q Does the veto still stand though, the veto threat?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, the AP has a poll out that says that more than half of the people disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy, and significantly more now feel that there has not been improvement than did a year ago. Does this refocusing today reflect that recognition?
MR. GIBBS: That we saw ahead to the AP poll? (Laughter.)
Q The poll -- the AP poll, yes.
MR. GIBBS: No, look, again, we’ve said this for -- we’ve now said this for two years and one day, that it’s going to take a long time to get out of this hole. We lost 8 million jobs in a financial and economic collapse that, God willing, we will never see again in our lifetimes. But it’s a significant hole in terms of jobs and in terms of income growth. We lost 8 million jobs on top of the fact that for most people -- most people spent a decade not seeing their paycheck go up despite the fact that they were working harder and working longer.
That's part of what we have to change. We have to create real economic growth that's not predicated on either the government spending money it doesn’t have in their credit card, or families spending money they don't have on their credit cards, and instead create good-paying jobs that build toward the future.
Q Can you tell us anything about the relationship between the President and Mr. Immelt?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think they got to know each other through Mr. Immelt’s work on the PERAB. The President has great respect for him. Obviously, I think -- GE is one of the most prominent, well-known corporations throughout the world. And again, I think there’s an excellent story in terms of the fact that you’re talking about a company that is building things, that are bringing those jobs back to the United States, and we’re pleased that he’s going to contribute to this effort -- as we land.
Q Hold on.
Q Do you hope he will -- that this will -- appointment will patch up relations with the business community? And is Immelt -- has he provided assurance he won’t pursue policies that advocate for GE?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously on the latter part -- hold on for a second, we’re all -- see, I could -- we should do this on briefings more often. (Laughter.) I could avoid thorny questions by having reporters hurled many rows away from where I’m standing.
Q I almost went flying. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I know, I was going to say -- a little easier on the brakes, guys. No, the -- no, first and foremost, I mean, look, obviously he’s here to help and has agreed to work through what makes our country more competitive, not something that is a benefit just to one company or to his company.
In terms of the first part, look, we had to do some extraordinary things. We pursued things like financial reform which some in the business community didn’t support. I think the President has always had a pretty good working relationship with business, whether it’s, again, working to ensure that our auto industry didn’t go out of business or taking some of those extraordinary steps.
But, look, we’re -- we look forward to working with Mr. Immelt and anybody who wants to work together, Democrat or Republican, to strengthen our economy, and we look forward to it.
Q So he is not going to necessarily recuse himself from something dealing with GE, or is that an issue?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on exactly that thing. I don’t -- I’m sure there are some rules governing that and I’ll get those to you.
Q Will you be increasing the number of meetings the council has with the President? The PERAB really didn’t meet that much with the President. You had some legal restrictions, as well. So are you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we didn’t have legal restrictions. We -- I mean, I think quite -- I mean, to be candid, we -- there are open meeting laws which we put you guys in for. But -- and we understood when, in setting that up, that we would do that, and we happily did. But I do think the President will continue to and probably likely meet probably more regularly with the new group.
Q Thank you.
12:05 P.M. EST