Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest aboard Air Force One en route Toledo, Ohio
10:44 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: How are we doing this morning, everybody?
Q We’re fine, good. Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: I’m glad you could join us for the ride to Toledo this morning. I do have a -- I do want to start with some details about why we’re traveling to Toledo today, so if you’ll bear with me for this opening, just to give you a sense of what we’re hoping to accomplish on this trip.
The President is traveling to Toledo today because it demonstrates the impact of an important economic decision and economic policy that the President put in place more than two years ago. Two years ago, Chrysler was in a situation -- the larger auto industry was in a situation where they were -- basically they had run out of money, and there were many people in Washington, D.C., and other economic circles who were ready to give them up for dead. And the President faced a fundamental decision about whether to intervene and rescue them.
And what we’re looking at just two years later, thanks to that tough decision, thanks to the difficult sacrifices made by the stakeholders, by the employees and the management of the company, we’ve actually seen a remarkable turnaround that’s occurred much more quickly than anybody had previously expected.
What we’ve seen is that Chrysler has now repaid -- six years ahead of schedule -- the money that was lent to them by this administration. We’ve seen that the federal government has now exited our financial stake in Chrysler with the deal that was finalized overnight. And so we’ve seen a dramatic turnaround. And Chrysler the company itself is now in a position where they are gaining market share, they’re hiring back workers, they’re opening up plants, they’re profitable, they’re investing in old plants. So there is -- this is a very dramatic turnaround.
And the reason that I cite this and the reason that we’re going there today is this hasn’t just had a big impact on the families of people who are employed by Chrysler, but it’s actually also had a pretty significant impact on the employees of the auto suppliers. There are a number of jobs that are tied directly to the success, or at least the continued operation, of Chrysler. And it’s actually had an impact on the broader economy, when there are communities like Toledo that are fundamentally tied to the economic success of the -- of these auto companies.
So when the President is on this trip to Toledo, he’s going to go visit the plant, he’s going to talk to workers there, but he’s also going to spend some time talking to people in the community, talking to small business owners, talking to workers at some of these other facilities that rely on the economic activity that’s generated by the success of this local Chrysler plant.
And this is a broader story that we’re telling about the American economy; that if you looked two years ago where our broader economy was, we were losing 600,000 and 700,000 jobs a month, a little over two years ago. And we were in dire economic straights. And the President had to make some very difficult decisions, and we’re back on the right track, that even the jobs numbers today indicate that we’ve created about 80,000 private sector jobs just last month.
So this has been -- it’s a pretty dramatic reversal from where we were two years ago, and it gives us a lot of confidence about the trajectory, the current trajectory, of the U.S. economy.
So that’s where we’ll open today. Let’s take some questions, and at the end remind me and we’ll do a little week ahead.
Q Josh, in light of these numbers today, they’re still softer than they were before, is touting the auto industry a bit backward looking? I mean, does the President want to suggest that the answer to joblessness is more government spending, as it did for the auto industry -- $80 billion in taxpayer money?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what the President believes is that -- the reason that we’re coming to Toledo -- again, the reason that we’re coming to Toledo is that if you look at where we’ve come from, the turnaround is pretty dramatic; that if you look at where we were two years ago, that we were loosing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. And there’s no question that the -- we’ve got a long ways to go.
Every -- the first Friday of every month at the White House we get a report about the jobs that were created the month before. And every time we look at those numbers, we don't -- we don't get too excited by what those numbers say, and we don't get too disappointed by what those numbers say. What we’re looking at is the overall trends.
And if you look at the overall trends, over just the last 15 months, we’ve created over 2 million private sector jobs. In just the last six months, we’ve created about a million private sector jobs. And if you look even over the last four months, we’re on -- we’re averaging about 200,000 jobs a month of private sector job creation. So our trajectory is moving in the right direction, and we’re pleased about that.
But there’s no doubt that there have been some head winds lately, and that there have been some bumps on the road of this recovery. But if you look at where we’ve come from, we’re pleased that if we keep moving down the same direction, that that's where -- that we’re going to get to a full economic recovery.
Q Does the auto industry bailout provide a model for how to deal with it looking ahead?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President has actually been pretty clear about what he believes we need to do to strengthen our economy. Again, if you look at over the last six months, the President has put in place -- has worked with Republicans to put in place some policies that are benefiting Americans right now.
There’s a payroll tax that was a part of that bipartisan agreement on taxes at the end of last year, so that American workers today are -- every time they get their paycheck, every Friday they get their paycheck, they're getting a tax benefit. The President believes -- last year the President signed legislation that provided 17 tax cuts to small businesses as a part of getting our economy moving again.
There are some other things the President believes we should do. There’s some additional tax cuts that we can provide to business. We can make permanent the R&D tax credit. We can provide tax credits and incentives for electric vehicles.
The President has pursued a very aggressive trade agenda. He’s laid out a plan to double our exports over the next four years. Just in the last six months, we’ve signed trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that would create or support 70,000 American jobs here at home. Last week, the administration revealed the results of our regulatory look-back, so that we could eliminate regulations that are overly burdensome on businesses.
So there are a number of things that we can do moving forward. The President has even talked about a bipartisan infrastructure plan that would upgrade our roads, railways, and runways that could have a significant economic impact. So there are a number of things that we could do moving forward. There have some bumps along the road to this recovery, but if you look at the overall trajectory of our economy there’s a lot of cause for optimism.
Q Josh, what’s the White House reaction to the Moody’s downgrade threat? And then also, did this not come up at the meeting yesterday? Pelosi seemed to suggest that it didn’t come up, and it’s hard to believe that there wasn’t some talk about Moody’s at the White House meeting yesterday.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if it came up in the meeting. As I recall, I think this -- the Moody’s report came out after the markets closed, didn’t it?
Q It was during the -- no, it was during the day.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know about whether it came up in the meeting. But what I can say is that what the Moody’s report underscores is something that we’ve been saying for quite some time, which is that it’s critically important for the United States of America to fulfill our financial obligations, and Congress needs to act to do that.
Secondly, it also demonstrates that we need to act in bipartisan fashion to engage in some significant long-term deficit reform. The President has laid out a plan where we cut trillions from our deficit over the next 10 to 12 years. The Vice President is currently leading bipartisan, bicameral talks to try to confront this issue. We’re pleased with the progress that they’ve been making in those talks. And, again, this Moody’s report underscores the importance of making progress on both of those things, both in terms of Congress acting to fulfill our financial obligation, but also in terms of reaching a long-term agreement -- or an agreement about our long-term deficit challenges.
Q Josh, back to the economy, quickly. You’re talking about numbers 15 months ago, four months ago. In the last month, the economic indicators have clearly cooled and there’s mounting concern that the U.S. economy is beginning to lag, losing altitude. Does the President -- is the President concerned that there’s risk of a double-dip recession?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. If you look -- again, if you look at the trajectory, the overall trajectory of our economy, we -- there’s a lot of cause of optimism. Again, just in the last 15 months, we’ve created more than 2.1 million private sector jobs. And just in the last six months, we’re looking at about a million private sector jobs created. And the average over the last four months is 200,000 private sector jobs created.
So there are a lot of these economic indicators that are out there. What we’re looking at is not just the one-month numbers, regardless of what those numbers. We’re not looking at the one-month numbers -- we’re looking at the trends. And if you look at it over the last seven quarters, we’ve had seven consecutive quarters of economic growth.
So this is a long-term recovery to dig out of this very deep hole. But we’re moving in the right direction, and we feel confident about the direction that we’re moving right now.
Q Okay. But clearly the economy has lost a little bit of momentum. In this environment, how aggressively can you cut government spending without risking what gains you’ve made?
MR. EARNEST: The President has talked about this at length. There’s no question that the federal government needs to tighten our belts. And I should point out that the President believes that if the federal government does its part to tighten our belt, to reduce our deficit over the long term, that actually has significant benefits for the economy. There’s no doubt about that.
So that’s -- as if -- we talked about this in the context of the Moody’s report yesterday, but in terms of the overall health of the economy there’s a significant benefit to getting something done on long-term deficit relief.
But the President also believes that it’s critically important that in the context of that deficit reform, that we don’t undermine our ability to win the future; that we don’t undermine the continued economic recovery by cutting investments in research and development; that we can’t cut investments in education. These are the kinds of things that actually hold the key to our long-term economic success.
So we shouldn’t be cutting spending -- funding for that -- in these investments at this time. But there’s no doubt that the President believes that long-term deficit reduction is something that is good for the economy, in addition to being good for our deficit picture.
Q The situation in Syria seems to be worsening with the military cracking down and even reportedly a boy being tortured and killed. Is the President at all going to chance his stance and have a hardened position on Assad?
MR. EARNEST: You know, the President has spoken about this at length and the President obviously -- and other senior administration officials have condemned violence in Syria. It is also our belief that reforms need to be implemented to end that violence and bring some stability to that situation.
Q Does that include Assad stepping down?
MR. EARNEST: What the President has said is that these reforms need to be implemented. And if that means that President Assad needs to get out of the way so those implement -- so that those reforms can be implemented, then that’s what needs to happen. That’s what the President has said about this.
Q Josh, clearly -- in the House of Representatives there’s a vote today. Clearly in both sides of the aisle now there’s growing concern about mission creep in Libya, the lack of official notification in accordance with existing American law. What is the President’s thought about this vote today and is he concerned about a lack of support of Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you remember, Mike, congressional -- the administration believes strongly in the concept of consulting with leaders in Congress. That’s why the President himself consulted with congressional leaders before military action in Libya even began. And as this operation has continued, as we’ve shifted control of this operation to our NATO partners -- or the lead of this NATO operation to our partners, we’ve continued to consult with Congress all along. In fact, in just the last week, there have been three separate congressional briefings that have been convened by this administration’s national security team for leaders in Congress to keep them apprised of the progress and the situation there. So clearly --
Q -- not in accordance with the War Powers Act, in terms of official notifications and the 60-day expiration, which happened two weeks ago.
MR. EARNEST: It is the view of this administration that we’ve acted in accordance with the War Powers Act because of this regular consultation. We’ve been engaged in that consultation all along -- as I mentioned, three separate briefings have been held just this week for members of Congress. We’re committed to that moving forward. But in terms of the resolutions that you asked about in your first question, the President -- that continued consultation demonstrates why these resolutions are unnecessary and unhelpful.
Q In Europe, the President said that the U.N. mission of civilian protection cannot be accomplished as long as Qaddafi remains in power. So will the mission continue until Qaddafi is removed from power?
MR. EARNEST: The mission will continue to enforce United States resolution -- Security Council resolution 1973.
Q Which the President now interprets as having the end goal -- he conflates the mission with removal of Qaddafi. So will the mission continue until Qaddafi is removed?
MR. EARNEST: Who did you say conflated that?
Q The President. In Europe, he said the civilian protection mission cannot be completed until Qaddafi is removed.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not sure I necessarily agree with the context of your question, but what I will say is this. We are committed to -- we are committed to fulfilling the guidelines of that resolution, which is protection of civilians, which is an arms embargo that’s very important to protect those civilians. And that is something that we’re working obviously with our NATO partners to conduct.
Q On Google, the Wall Street Journal has a report this morning that some members of the White House staff’s Gmail accounts were interfered with. Any information on that? Is that accurate?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything additional on that. The FBI is leading this investigation. Obviously there are a number of government agencies that are involved in taking a look at this. But we don’t have anything new to say on that front.
Q Any contact between the government and China since yesterday on Google?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I know of.
Q And also, do you have any reaction to Mitt Romney today, after the jobless numbers came out, saying that this shows that we’re going backwards and that the President’s policies have made the recession worse?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that even elementary math indicates that our economic picture is significantly better than it was when this President took office. So, again, when this President took office we were losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs a month. And even the jobs numbers that were reported today indicate that we created last month about 80,000 private sector jobs. So that is cause for optimism. That is an indication that we’ve made significant progress digging out of this deep hole.
Now, the President remains dissatisfied with the current situation, the status of the economy. He believes that it is important that we continue to grow this economy, to create jobs, so that every single American who wakes up wanting a job, looking for a job, can find a job.
Q Josh, you mentioned earlier about the anemic jobs numbers. The things the President has proposed, like the R&D tax credit, is he considering any new measures to stimulate the economy further?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned, I think that there are a number things that Congress has not yet acted on.
Q Any new proposals, anything he has not yet talked about?
MR. EARNEST: Again, let’s have Congress act on the things that we believe that we need to do. This is ratifying these trade agreements with trade adjustment assistance; this is the consideration of a bipartisan infrastructure plan; this is making perm the R&D tax credit; this is a tax credit for electric vehicles, which seems particularly pertinent given the activities of the President today.
There are a number of things that Congress can do. There are also a number of things that -- patent reform should be added to that list. But there are also some things that the President has asked his administration to do in terms of the regulatory look-back that I mentioned earlier to ensure that businesses aren’t hindered by overly burdensome or outdated regulations. So there are a number of things that we could do moving forward. Congress should act and the President’s going to continue to be working on that.
Q Is there any consideration of making the payroll tax credit, tax cut, extending that past December 31st?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any announcements on that today.
Q Just quickly on Yemen, the reports of the presidential palace was shelled. Does the administration have any update on that the health of President Saleh, whether he was hurt? And anything further to what Jay said in the briefing yesterday about the message that John Brennan is taking to the region?
MR. EARNEST: I can tell you that we’ve seen those conflicting reports about what happened there. The President was briefed on this issue this morning. I don’t have anything -- well, let me just say this. I don’t have anything beyond what we’ve said before, which is that obviously condemn the violence on both sides, that we hope that there will be and that there should be a negotiated settlement in Yemen, and that we believe that President Saleh should sign the agreement transferring power.
Q How concerned is the administration about this second bailout for Greece -- the ripple effects for the rest of the U.S. economy?
MR. EARNEST: It’s something that we’re monitoring in our -- the Europeans have said that they have the wherewithal and the interest to -- and the resources to deal with this situation.
Q Has the President been briefed on it, or what’s he -- has he gotten any calls regarding the second bailout?
MR. EARNEST: I have nothing -- I don’t know of anything about any calls that he’s made on this issue.
Q Josh, back to the jobless numbers, one of the cohorts that's particularly hurt is young people -- 16.5 percent unemployment among them. They're coming off -- out of college into the jobs market, not finding jobs. That's one out of six not finding jobs. Does the President have a particular message for them? This is an important group for the President politically. What can he offer young people? Any hope for them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think -- what the President does is he takes a holistic approach to this, which is that the top item on his domestic agenda every morning when he wakes up is what we can do to ensure that Americans of any age, frankly, have -- if they're looking for a job, and they want a job, and they’re looking for a job, that they can get a job.
So there are -- that these are the kinds of things -- I went through the list before of the kinds of things that the President believes that Congress should do to try and enhance the ability of those Americans who are looking for a job to find one. And the President is not going to rest until we’ve dug our way out of this deep hole and until those Americans who are looking for a job can find one.
Anything else? All right, let’s do a week ahead here real quick. I’m going to -- we’ll send out a longer, sort of more robust version. They gave me a lot of language here.
The short version is, on Monday, the President will meet with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On Tuesday, the President and First Lady will host Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for an official visit at the White House. The official visit will celebrate the strong and enduring U.S.-German alliance. It will provide an opportunity for the President and Chancellor to consult on a full agenda of foreign policy, security and economic issues, including ongoing NATO operations in Libya and Afghanistan, democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, Middle East peace, Iran nuclear compliance and the global economic recovery -- they’ve got a full agenda, it sounds like.
On Wednesday, the President will hold an event in the Washington, D.C., area highlighting the importance of training and preparing our workforce to compete for manufacturing jobs across country. So preparing Americans to enter into the manufacturing sector will not only strengthen the economy and get folks back to work, it’s critical to our nation’s success as we compete in a 21st century global economy. We’ll have additional details on that probably over the weekend.
And then later that day on Wednesday, the President will welcome the Auburn University football team to the White House to celebrate their BCS national championship. That obviously is an event that's been rescheduled from last month.
On Thursday, the President will welcome President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon to the White House. We should have turned that one into a little quiz, right?
Q Is that the common spelling? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Exactly. It’s just spelled like it sounds. (Laughter.) The two Presidents will discuss strategic, regional and bilateral topics of mutual importance, including the latest developments in the areas of security, democracy, governance and economic growth.
And then we’ll have more details about the President’s activities on Friday later next week. And I think that’s it.
Q Will he talk about the jobs numbers today in Toledo?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q He will? Beginning, end?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q The beginning, end?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a good sense about when actually -- where in the remarks they’ll come up.
Q He’ll talk about the jobs numbers you said?
Q He’ll talk about the jobs numbers.
MR. EARNEST: The President will talk about the jobs numbers and the broader economy when we are there.
Q A state dinner with Merkel on Wednesday, or when she’s coming -- is that a state dinner?
MR. EARNEST: It is a state visit --
Q You said official --
Q It’s an official visit?
MR. EARNEST: I got a bad notepad -- it’s a state visit.
Q Oh, it is a state visit?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it is a state visit.
Q And there will be a media avail?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, there will -- there will. So they’ll do all of the sort of usual things. There will be a formal arrival ceremony, there will be bilateral meetings, there will be a news conference with the two leaders, and then there will be a formal dinner in the evening.
Q Josh, can you fill us in on some of the spots that are not on the schedule today? There seems to be some dead spots.
MR. EARNEST: You know, as I mentioned, the President is going to make some local stops while we’re there and we’ll have more details on those. Those are OTRs, as we call them. But we will do our best. We have a plan in place to ensure that you guys are informed about what the President is doing as he does them.
But as I mentioned, the reason for this -- and it’s important not to overlook this -- the reason for this is that the rescue of the auto industry has had significant benefits for the employees of Chrysler and for the company of Chrysler, but it’s also had a significant impact on small businesses in the Toledo area. And if Chrysler -- if we had let Chrysler die, the hardware stores, the grocery stores, the dry cleaners would have been significantly impacted.
And so the President is going to take the opportunity to talk to people in the community who even though they don’t work at Chrysler have significantly benefited from the dramatically prompt turnaround of that company.
Q -- the pool have access to, we’ll see him on these stops?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Okay. And is this your first gaggle ever on Air Force One?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q First one ever?
MR. EARNEST: Basically, yes. By myself, at least, I guess is what I should say. (Applause.)
Are we good?
Q Jeff wanted to ask you about Kyrgyzstan. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, I had my question all set up. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I’m glad you avoided it.
Q Any trips next week, any travel --
MR. EARNEST: No.
All right? Enjoy some Air Force hospitality.
Q Thank you.
11:07 A.M. EDT