Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One en route St. Paul, Minnesota
10:54 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Okay. I have no announcements to make, so let’s get started with your questions.
Q Okay, so on the bus tour, anything that the President is going to roll out on jobs? Republicans say he’s run out of ideas.
MR. CARNEY: Republicans would say that. I think you’ll hear the President speak quite a bit about the need to grow our economy, to accelerate hiring, and he looks very much forward to getting out in the country and talking to workers, small businessmen and women, other private sector actors, local government officials to hear from them what’s happening out in this part of the country and what ideas they have to continue economic growth and job creation.
Q The President did say he was going to roll out a new idea every week. Now, this is the start of a new week, but we’re not going to take that literally. This isn’t going to be that --
MR. CARNEY: I would just -- I think you’ll hear a lot from the President on the things we can be doing to improve economic growth and job creation. I don’t have a specific proposal to tell you that he’s going to announce at a certain time and place, but I think you’ll want to pay attention to what he’s saying on this trip, because he will be focusing exclusively on the economy.
Q Can you talk a little bit about this visit -- the districts that we’re visiting and how those were chosen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, we can talk more about that. I think that what this trip allows him to do is visit some communities in three different states that, in some cases, would be very hard to reach. And that’s why having a bus is so helpful. The President needs to get out in the country and meet with real folks in real places. And as you know, a plane this size is hard to get into small communities and small airports.
So he’s really looking forward to this; we all are. It’s an opportunity to get out and hear from people. He’s got town halls, a number of them, as you know, and he expects to hear a lot about the real economy out here and to be able to explain to folks here or in the states where we’re going, where he thinks the country needs to go, what the federal government can do working with the private sector to grow the economy and create jobs, which is his number one priority.
Q Jay, any new special significance to going to Minnesota today, given the results of the straw poll in Iowa this weekend? Michele Bachmann --
MR. CARNEY: Unrelated. I mean, this is about a part of the country where we’re able to hit three states with interesting economies and places that we can visit. So it’s certainly unrelated to that.
Q Now, Minnesota does have a significantly lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country. What does he expect to hear there that would --
MR. CARNEY: One of the things that he expects -- he wants to hear about is to find out what’s working in those communities where, as you say, unemployment is lower, where there have been economic successes, where businesses are starting or businesses that existed are growing and hiring. He very much wants to hear about that and see what we can learn about applying ideas that may be effective in some parts of the countries to other -- in some parts of the country to other parts of the country.
Q Since you mentioned Republican politics, do you have any reaction to Rick Perry’s entering into the Republican race or what he’s running on?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t, and I haven’t spoken to the President about it.
Q Jay, the mood in the country right now seems particularly dark. The President’s approval rating in the latest Gallup poll dipped below 40 for the first time. What does he intend to do to sort of buck people up, and also to sort of get people to understand that he really does have a plan for them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he’ll talk -- well, first of all, I would just say that the economic uncertainty that exists out in the country explains the way people feel, and economic security is what this President is very focused on providing -- helping provide to the American people.
So what he will do, as you saw him do last week in Michigan, and he’ll do here in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, is talk very specifically about what we need to do going forward, what we need to do in Washington and around the country to improve -- promote growth and accelerate job creation.
So I think he looks very much forward to it.
Q Do you think at this point that that’s getting through, and is he --
MR. CARNEY: A lot of people -- we went through a process that was -- for anyone out in the country who have -- which is everybody, almost -- who has their own lives to pay attention to and making ends meet, they just saw a lot of political gridlock and they saw Congress -- in this case, the Republicans -- being willing to hold the economy hostage to a political agenda.
Now, fortunately, in the end, when the final issue on the table was the Republicans’ desire, insistence, absolute insistence, that we go through this circus again in a few short months and cause all that economic uncertainty, and the President’s insistence, absolute insistence, that that not happen, Republicans blinked and the President ensured that we would not go through this circus again and that the debt ceiling would be extended through 2012.
That’s a bottom-line, absolute essential accomplishment out of an ugly process. We also locked in deficit reduction, a trillion dollars, that both sides were able to agree on, and a process that will hopefully, if super -- if the super committee lives up to its name, that hopefully will create a balanced approach towards further significant deficit reduction.
Q So is it your read that out of those debt negotiations, the bottom line is the Republicans blinked at the end?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that this President --
Q On that issue.
MR. CARNEY: -- this President worked as hard as he could to try to convince -- work with Speaker Boehner and try to convince him, and they both negotiated in good faith to achieve a grand compromise with sweeping deficit reduction that would have affected our long-term fiscal health. Unfortunately, the Speaker walked away from the table. The President still believes we need to address those issues.
Once that was no longer a possibility, the bottom line was that we needed to ensure that we -- for our economy, for our -- so that we would not default on our obligations and create the economic uncertainty that the game of chicken had caused and would cause again, the bottom line was we had to make sure that we extended the debt ceiling for a significant period of time as opposed to letting this kind of economic uncertainty play out again in just a few short months.
That was the -- as you know, because you covered it, Republicans insisted that we do that again. The President insisted that that was not acceptable.
Q Do you think they’ve learned their lesson? I mean, do you think that the super committee will actually benefit by the fact that we have seen this pretty nasty dislocation in the markets? Is it your sense that this is going to be a better negotiation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see, because super is as super does -- (laughter) -- and the committee has an opportunity to take its assignment seriously and responsibly, and to achieve something significant that will allow -- send the message around the country and the globe that we’re getting our fiscal house in order by dealing with the long-term drivers of our deficit and debt, and addressing it in a balanced way that ensures that no sector of our society is unfairly burdened and has to bear all the sacrifice. I mean, it ensures that Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, has to contribute a little bit, has to share in some of the sacrifice, as he noted on the op-ed page of The New York Times today, that’s required to get our fiscal house in order.
Some people want to protect, or as Warren Buffet says, coddle the super rich, and we -- the President’s ideas for adding revenues to a balanced package of deficit reduction are entirely reasonable.
Q You guys spent a long time talking about compromise and made it very clear that the President was the one willing to compromise and that’s what he wants, is people to work together. And then last week in Michigan his --
MR. CARNEY: It’s what the public wants.
Q Okay, but let me -- but last week in Michigan, his tone was much sharper, where he was talking about who was to blame for this not getting done, and who was playing politics, and I’m wondering what we’re -- which tone is going to dominate the next few days.
MR. CARNEY: I think the American people, by any measure, any data that you might have looked at, understood that the President was trying to work in a spirit of compromise with Republicans to find a solution that was fair and balanced. And while polls go up and down, I would say that the historically low assessment that the public is giving to Congress is a reflection of how they felt that process played out and the role of some in Congress in that process.
The fact is that, again, in all the data that you can look at, the American people, whether they’re Democrats or independents or even Republicans, are saying they want compromise. And we feel like that message should and will get through to the people who were sent here by the American people -- were sent to Washington by the American people to represent them in Washington, and that, if that happens, then the super committee has the potential to be super and to do something significant and balanced that represents a compromise approach to deficit reduction.
So I think by pointing out the dissatisfaction with Washington and pointing out what the public wants, I think the President is making clear that everyone -- every one of the elected leaders in Washington, Congress and in the White House -- need to be responsive to what the public is demanding in this case.
Q Jay, I want to go foreign policy and your assessment of the developments in Libya over the weekend.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that Qaddafi’s days are numbered, that he’s -- his isolation is -- grows more extreme as each day passes, and as we have for a long time, we believe that the people of that country, of Libya, need -- deserve the right to choose their own future. And we have obviously done a lot to support their efforts to ensure that Qaddafi’s regime no longer had the capacity or has the capacity to attack the Libyan people. And we, as I said, note the fact that the pressure on him continues to increase.
Q Jay, the President also spoke to foreign leaders since Friday over Syria; I imagine what any new developments there -- what’s the President thinking about Assad and the continued violence on the Syrian people?
MR. CARNEY: President Assad has to cease the systematic violence, mass arrests, and the outright murder of his own people. By his actions he has demonstrated that he has lost legitimacy to lead, and the President has no doubt that Syria will be better off without him. The Syrian people deserve a peaceful transition to democracy; they deserve a government that doesn’t torture them, arrest them and kill them. And we are looking, together with a broad array of international partners, to increase pressure on President Assad.
Q Back to the economy. There’s a report today in The New York Times also that says that among the options under discussion is extending the payroll tax credit to employers, and also another tax credit to encourage businesses to hire more. Are these some of the options that the President is considering? And then, how -- this week, how does the President explain sort of the idea of tax breaks to spur the economy but also knowing that that’s then going to create a deeper hole in the debt?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. The President has been explicit about some of the ideas that he thinks Congress should work with him to accomplish, including patent reform, passing the free trade agreements, extending the payroll tax cut that was implemented for this year -- extending it to next year. And we’re obviously looking at other options.
He’s also talked about the need to -- for Congress to act on an infrastructure bank or fund, leveraging a relatively small amount of public money to get the private sector engaged in rebuilding our infrastructure, rehiring -- hiring back construction workers -- out-of-work construction workers; we think that would be a very good thing. I’m not going to get into specific other ideas that the President may or may not put forward.
On the tax cut aspect of it, I think that as we’ve said about both the -- as we’ve said about the payroll tax cut extension on the employee side, I mean, I think it’s been amply demonstrated by economists wholly unaffiliated with the administration that it’s a -- one of the better ways or best ways to promote economic growth, because you are giving a tax cut to every working American that puts on average $1,000 in the pockets of the average American family. And that money tends to be spent, and the spending of that money both helps those families make ends meet, helps them make their house payments or their car payments, but it also gets injected into the economy, which then helps other businesses and helps growth and job creation. So we think that’s a very positive thing. We’re obviously considering a broad array of ideas.
And on the issue of -- I mean, we obviously have a two-pronged problem, if you will. We need to do what we can to promote economic growth and job creation, and we need to take necessary measures to get our long-term deficit and debt problems under control. They’re not mutually exclusive. I think that it’s -- but that’s why you have to do it wisely. You have to make sure that the things you do to promote growth and job creation are very effective, targeted, and you need to make sure that the measures you take to reduce the deficit and debt are not implemented in a way that actually constrains growth and job creation.
Q Jay, setting aside the political realities in Congress right now, would the President prefer to have the ability to enact a stimulus like he did in 2009, something that would put the economy back on a stronger --
MR. CARNEY: The President is very focused on what can be done to spur growth and job creation, and to unleash -- to get businesses hiring again and to increase the kind of consumer demand that helps spur growth, and that goes to the payroll tax cut extension that I talked about.
Q Well, when you say what can be done, are you including in that what the political reality is?
MR. CARNEY: I think the political reality is always in flux. And I think that a lot of this -- you cannot -- we obviously are aware of and have our ideas about what Congress may or may not be willing to do. But that reality is ever-changing, depending on the state of the economy and the state -- and the kind of -- and what members of Congress are hearing back from their constituents out in the country.
So we remain optimistic that if people return to work serious about the need to grow the economy and create jobs, as well as serious about the need to deal with our deficits and debt in a balanced way, that we can get a lot done.
Q Has the President been talking with Boehner or McConnell, or have there been staff contacts to sort of work out how all this will go down?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any communications like that that I’m aware of or to read out to you.
Q Could you talk about -- you addressed last week that this was an official trip and not a political trip, but could you explain what the difference is from what people see between an official trip and a political trip?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President, as you know, has taken some trips where he’s raised money for his reelection campaign. The fact is that the President is not engaged in a primary election and he is doing what Presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues. He’s having a Rural Economic Forum tomorrow, for example, as well as meeting with a host of local business leaders and private sector players in the economy -- local economy. And that would be -- to suggest that any time the President leaves Washington it’s a political trip would mean that Presidents could never leave unless they were physically campaigning on their own behalf, and he’s not; he’s out here doing his job and meeting with the American people.
I think that Americans are fully aware of the intensity with which the President was working in Washington, in the White House, during the days and weeks that led up to the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis. He’s also -- part of his job is not just sitting down with leaders of Congress or around the table in the Cabinet Room, but engaging with Americans from different parts of the country and different walks of life and different sectors of the economy to talk about his ideas to grow the economy and spur job creation, and to hear from them what they’re hearing and seeing, and their ideas as well.
Q Just an Iraq question -- you’ve heard about the various bombings in Iraq. Does that in any way change our posture there or our timetable?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them. The overall picture is one where violence has been down. And in addressing your question, it doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis. And if they make some kind of request we certainly would consider it. But right now we’re operating under the status of forces agreement reached between the two governments.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
END 11:16 A.M. EDT