Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One en route Holland, Michigan
1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: How’s everyone?
Q Good. How are you?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. I love you guys.
Q Which one of us do you love most?
MR. CARNEY: Is that a Sophie’s choice? (Laughter.) Sorry. No more film analogies today.
Today, as you know, President Obama is traveling to Holland, Michigan, to tour the Johnson Controls, Inc., advanced battery facility. While at Johnson Controls, the President will highlight the key role innovative technologies will play in helping automakers achieve the historic fuel economy standards, establishing U.S. leadership in advanced vehicle manufacturing, spurring economic growth and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America.
That’s obviously from our handout. I’ll also read this from an article that I liked this morning. It says, “People who actually care about what Presidents do might be interested in Obama’s trip to Michigan on Thursday.” This is a quote. “He’s visiting a factory that builds batteries for electric vehicles, a factory that exists for three reasons: one, because President Obama saved the U.S. auto industry; two, because President Obama has ratcheted up fuel efficiency standards, boosting demand for green vehicles; three, because President Obama created a U.S. advanced battery industry from scratch.”
Q Where is that from?
MR. CARNEY: Time Magazine.
The point is -- I mean, obviously it’s the opinion of one journalist who focuses on these issues -- is that the President today is focusing on something, an industry and a strategy that he has pursued as President that is focused on building our economic future. And our economic future depends on us building industries that -- in which we can be highly competitive, important industries like clean energy that will allow us to -- or auto industry, for example -- to hopefully dominate the 21st century the way it dominated so much of the 20th century.
So he feels very strongly that we have to build a foundation for the kind of economic growth and job creation for the future through the kinds of investments that this administration has made in its first two and a half years.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q On Syria, is the President moving any closer to explicitly calling for President Assad to leave office?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve been extremely clear about our feelings, our position on President Assad, what he’s been perpetrating on his people, the fact that Syria would be a much better place without him; that he has lost his legitimacy, and now long since lost his opportunity to lead the transition that the Syrian people are demanding take place.
We have acted aggressively to isolate the Syrian government and figures within it through financial measures. We continue to ratchet up the pressure on the Syrian regime, on the Assad regime with our international partners, as I said yesterday. I don't want to get ahead of anything else right now.
Q Is the U.S., in fact -- I saw an article today -- preparing for the eventuality of civil war in Syria? What do those preparations entail?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that a transition needs to take place in Syria, and that Syria will be better off without President Assad. And we support those who are seeking a peaceful transition in Syria. That is why the Secretary of State met with Syrian oppositionists last week, why Ambassador Ford is on the ground in Syria and has traveled, as you know, to Hama, one of the areas where there’s been the greatest number of protests and crackdowns, and why we are working so aggressively with our international partners to put pressure on President Assad to get him to stop brutalizing his own people.
Q How concerned is the administration about open sectarian war in Syria? Is that part of the reason why --
MR. CARNEY: That’s just the question I answered, so --
Q I couldn’t hear, sorry.
MR. CARNEY: That was pretty much my answer. I’m just, again, spelling out what we’ve done, why we believe that President Assad’s opportunity to lead the transition has passed, why we believe Syria would be a better place without him, why we support those in Syria who are seeking a peaceful transition to a more democratic and brighter future in Syria -- the actions we’ve taken, including the Secretary of State meeting with Syrian oppositionists last week, having Ambassador Ford on the ground in Syria, where he has met, as you know, in Hama, with the opposition and witnessed what's going on there, and why we continue to put pressure, working collectively with our international partners, on Syria.
Q But the President still has not explicitly called on President Assad to step aside. Is that because at the end of the day, once he does that, we’ve used up all our leverage?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve made very clear what our position is on President Assad and the fact that Syria would be better off without him.
Q The CEOs meeting tomorrow -- can you tell us anything more today about that meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Just that it will be a small group of CEOs. We’ll have more information about the attendees. I think we’ve done that in the past on the day of the meetings. So we’ll have more information about that. He wants to discuss the economy, the industries that the business leaders represent, and what they’re hearing and seeing, and ideas they have.
Q About a half a dozen or so -- when you say a small group, is that about right?
MR. CARNEY: Roughly accurate, but we don’t have a final count right now.
Q Cross-section of sectors and industries or some one specific niche?
MR. CARNEY: It will be diverse. A small and diverse group.
Q Could you tell us about conversations that are taking place between the White House and officials in Europe about the debt situation there and how much concern is there that there might be a spillover with big effects in the global economy from this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s clear that some of the turbulence that we’ve seen here in the United States has been due to the -- some of the economic headwinds emanating from Europe.
As I said yesterday, the President has made -- has been in contact over the last several days with the German Chancellor, the French President, the Spanish President, the Italian Prime Minister and the -- and Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain. And obviously Secretary Geithner has been and is in regular contact with his counterparts in Europe.
We believe that Europe and Europeans -- Europe’s institutions have the capacity to handle this situation, and they’ll continue to monitor it, obviously, very closely.
Q Jay, is the speech tonight -- or today -- is that enough to convince Americans he has a jobs plan? There was a poll out today from The Washington Post showing only a third of Americans now think the President has leadership on the economy. Is today’s speech going to be enough to turn that around?
MR. CARNEY: We’re obviously very aware of the fact that Americans feel economic uncertainty as we continue to emerge from the greatest recession -- the worst recession since the Great Depression, and growth has not been fast enough and job creation not been significant enough by our standards and by any standard, as far as we’re concerned, which is why this President is so focused on and has been focused on doing everything we can to -- and that he can to grow the economy and create jobs.
And he’ll continue to do that. You have heard him in recent weeks talk -- the fact is we do have a divided government, but he has talked very explicitly about the measures that this Congress could take and very easily pass because they have bipartisan support -- and have had bipartisan support in the past, including passage of free trade agreements, passage of patent reform, infrastructure fund -- ideas for creating an infrastructure fund where we could leverage a relatively small amount of public money to put private companies to work, hiring out-of-work construction workers to build our infrastructure --
Q -- new proposals, concrete --
MR. CARNEY: You can be sure -- you can be sure that the President is working on -- working with his economic team every day, and that they are constantly evaluating new proposals and different ways to -- different ideas for growing the economy and creating jobs.
Q Jay, is the Israeli approval of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem going to make it more difficult for the White House to convince the Palestinians not to seek recognition at the U.N. next month?
MR. CARNEY: I think our position on that has always -- has not changed, which is that we obviously urge both sides not to take any action that makes it harder for the two sides to come together and negotiate. But I don’t have anything more on that for you.
Q Jay, he used to do these events almost weekly, and it’s been months since he’s been out for an event like this. Can you just talk about his mood going into this?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that he is absolutely looking forward to this trip today and to the bus tour next week -- for three days through the Midwest -- because, as you say, he has been pretty much full-time in Washington for a sustained period of time as he has dealt with Congress on the debt ceiling negotiations.
And he thinks it’s really important to get out and talk with Americans from around the country and hear what they’re seeing and feeling about the economy, hear their ideas, explain to them what his views are, his principles, the things that we’re doing -- why, for example, today, that the measures that he’s taken to help grow this vital area of the economy and clean energy are so important. So he’s really -- he’s in a great mood. He’s looking forward to this.
Q What are the other two stops on the bus tour? Only Iowa has been announced. What’s the Minnesota stop and the Illinois stop? Do you have that?
MR. CARNEY: It hasn’t been announced. I don’t have it for you, sorry. I actually -- I would probably get it wrong. Well, I’m sure we’ll have that for you soon.
Q Did he have any thoughts on Mitt Romney’s approach toward S&P reported today? And also, any words about Iowa tonight?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken to him about those two subjects. I did note with some interest that report that you mentioned. Look, I think -- speaking not for the President, but I think in general, that what I’m curious about is whether or not anyone participating in the debate tonight will have any concrete proposals for growing the economy and creating jobs that aren’t retread ideas that didn’t work in the past. I mean, one of the -- going back to what the President is doing today, the investments that this administration made to help undergird an advanced battery market in this country that we can be highly competitive in is a concrete step that has resulted in a growing segment of the economy and the creation of real jobs. And that’s how America is going to win the future. That’s how America is going to be globally competitive. It’s not -- we’ve tried a lot of ideas in the past, including just giving very large tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and that didn’t work out so well.
Q There’s only about 75 jobs created from the Recovery Act investment there in Holland, and how many millions of Americans out of work. How would you make the -- I’m assuming the President would want to make the case that a small number of jobs now would become a large number later, but --
MR. CARNEY: -- the amount of job creation overall, and clean energy has been -- this is one place, one factory worth highlighting because of its success and the importance in the industry. And what I think has been obvious from the approach that President Obama has taken from the beginning is that you have to -- you have a multi-pronged approach to growing the economy and creating jobs, and it includes a variety of measures, including, in this case, our investments in clean energy.
Q Jay, tonight’s fundraisers in New York City, are you worried that that’s going to send the wrong impression, that he’s with these very wealthy people at a time when Main Street is especially hurting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that Americans understand that our political system functions the way it does, and that candidates have to raise money. And I certainly expect that members of Congress are doing the same thing, as well as presidential candidates.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: All right? Thanks.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT