Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One en route Memphis, TN
10:30 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Memphis, Tennessee, where the President will deliver the commencement address at the Booker T. Washington High School, winner of the 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.
While in Memphis, as you know the President will meet with family affected by the flooding, state and local officials, first responders and volunteers.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, what is the President’s reaction to the violence along Israel’s borders and the violence and the killings of Palestinian protestors?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, we regret the loss of life, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those killed and wounded. Israel, like all countries, has the right to prevent unauthorized crossings at its borders. Its neighbors have a responsibility to prevent such activity. We urge maximum restraint on all sides.
We are also strongly opposed to the Syrian government’s involvement in inciting yesterday’s protests in the Golan Heights. Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government’s ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country.
Q Does the President think that Assad is doing this in order to deflect attention from his own problems?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly think that there's a history of that and it seems apparent to us that that is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expressions of protests by the Syrian people and from the harsh crackdown that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people.
Q -- the degree to the incitement yesterday is sort of heightened as a result of the Arab Spring, I’m wondering if you could sort of put the President’s address on Thursday in the context of that and also in the context of this week with Abdullah and Netanyahu being in Washington.
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously the President will deliver an address on the Middle East on Thursday and he will discuss, among several topics, the dramatic change we’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa this year. He will also discuss the Middle East peace process and the need for that process to continue and succeed. Beyond that, I don’t want to preview too much of what he’s going to say.
Q What does the President think about what’s going on with Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously won’t comment on a legal matter. I can say obviously that we -- I think I have something here on that. One minute, I thought I had something on it. We remain -- we note that the IMF has said that they have appointed an acting director and the IMF remains fully functional and we remain confident in the institution of the IMF and its ability to continue to execute its mission effectively.
Q Is the President worried that this will somehow hinder the efforts at securing certain packages for European countries that are --
MR. CARNEY: No, we’re confident that the IMF will continue to function effectively.
Q Given, though, that the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is still changing and evolving, is the speech going to sort of lay out where we are at this moment in time, the President’s sort of a broader vision for what he sees --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President will obviously address where we are in this remarkable period and will also address how he approaches the kind of historic change we’ve seen in the region and how -- where he thinks we’re headed, both as the United States in terms of our policy towards the region and the region itself.
Q Along those lines, Jay, the departure of Senator Mitchell -- former Senator Mitchell as a special envoy, does this signal a change in the approach that the President is going to take? Is there going to be a new Cairo speech that kind of outlines his vision?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all. I think the President is very appreciative of Senator Mitchell’s remarkable service and effective service, and -- but it does not signal any change in that regard.
Q Did the President watch the Endeavour launch?
MR. CARNEY: I think we were on Marine One. We don’t have a -- well, we did not watch it.
Q Does the President still think that --
Q -- area today?
MR. CARNEY: We are, as you know, meeting with first responders, families and others today, and that’s what we have on the schedule.
Q Does the President still think that we are in the midst of a new beginning with the Muslim world in terms of the relationship that the U.S. has?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that he does -- I mean, he believes that the history, as he said, of -- the future of that region will be written by the people of the region, and that what we’re seeing is an expression of long pent-up desire for greater freedom, greater prosperity, greater engagement in the political process in these countries. And obviously that has an effect on our engagement as the United States with the region.
He is optimistic. It’s obviously a very fluid situation, and every country is different. But he is optimistic about the potential for positive outcomes in the various countries in the region.
Q Can you preview the meetings with Abdullah and Prime Minister Netanyahu this week -- will he discuss specifically steps --
MR. CARNEY: I think at each case they’ll discuss the events in the region as well as the prospects for progress in the Middle East peace process.
Q Will the President address the flooding in his remarks today at the school? And what sort of updates has he been getting or receiving on the situation in Mississippi?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s been getting regular updates on the flooding in general, not just -- I mean, with regard to the Mississippi River, and the effects -- the impact it’s had down river, as you would say. And I don’t want to preview his remarks on that. I’ll do a readout of his meeting with the families and others, but beyond that, I don’t have a preview.
Q Jay, there’s some -- been downgrading on the economic growth numbers from 3.3 to 2.8 today. Any reaction to that and how that affects a long-term view for the recovery?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any reaction to the specific prognoses, except to say that we obviously focus very much, the President is, on continuing to do the things that promote economic growth. Obviously the growth that we’ve seen in the wake of the contraction has been very positive and beneficial. We are doing everything we can to ensure stronger growth, including investing in those programs that will -- and those areas that will allow us to grow and thrive economically and create jobs. But there’s nothing that matters more to him than that.
Q Any worries about gas-price-driven inflation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously focus very much on the impact that higher gas prices have had on family budgets. The President has spoken to this and continues to monitor that. He understands that for families that are, like the country, emerging out of a very tough economic time, and those who still are struggling, the sharp rise in prices at the pump is -- it was and is a very unwelcome development. And he’s very focused on that.
And obviously, I’ll note, as you all probably wrote about, the decision to speed up some of the leasing and the decisions he made to expand in development, oil development, in the United States is part of his long-term commitment to make sure that we produce as much oil as possible, safely and responsibly in this country. And that's part of that goal, to reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
Q I believe that today was the day the debt limit was supposed to hit. Is there any statement from the White House? And has the President made any calls over the weekend for the budget --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything on any calls he might have made. But it is true that we are now in that period where we have essentially some cushion provided by the extraordinary measures the Treasury Secretary is able to take, as previous Treasury Secretaries have taken in a situation like this. But it is a reminder that we need to have a vote to lift the debt ceiling because the consequences of not doing so would be quite serious, indeed. And those who suggest otherwise are whistling past the graveyard. It is a foolish thing to suggest that we could somehow as the United States of America default on our obligations and that it would not have seriously negative consequences if we suddenly stop paying our bills on a third of our obligations.
Q Jay, will the President take up AIPAC’s invitation to speak to them before he leaves for Europe?
THE PRESIDENT: The President will address AIPAC on Sunday morning, May 22nd, to stress the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Q On the debt limit, what has the President’s involvement been in the Gang of Six talks?
MR. CARNEY: We have been in regular consultations with those members of Congress who are approaching this issue seriously and looking at the need to address it in a balanced way. And that includes members of gangs and those who are unaffiliated with gangs. So I hope that’s vague enough for you. But obviously we’ve been in consultations with those members who are seriously interested in this issue.
And we see this -- just to address the broader point -- the President views the current situation as an opportunity. Some of you who’ve been in my office have heard me say for a long time that this President is committed to doing something significant and serious about our long-term deficit and debt problem and this is an opportunity to address that. That’s why he did the fiscal commission; that’s why he laid out his plan; and that’s why he asked the Vice President to oversee these negotiations.
And he really thinks that this is an opportunity for the President, for Republicans and Democrats, to come together, find some common ground, and do something about a problem that we all recognize, which is that we need to reduce our deficit and our long-term debt in order to ensure that we have the kind of economic vitality in the 21st century that will allow us to win the future.
Q If he’s addressing AIPAC on Sunday, does that mean that the speech on Thursday will have less on the Mid-East peace process? Would he be saving that --
MR. CARNEY: No, the major speech of the week is Thursday. I think -- I would not expect a major policy speech on Sunday. I think he looks forward to talking about the unshakeable bond between the Israelis and the Americans and the importance of that relationship.
All right, anything else? Great. Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
END 10:43 A.M. EDT