Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Aboard Air Force One en route Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
4:52 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon. Do we have any questions? No questions? I like these kind of gaggles.
Q Is the President going to call Netanyahu, by any chance? Does he have any plans to call Netanyahu over the Israeli situation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you obviously saw that we put out a statement earlier today. I don’t have anything beyond that statement that we put out from Jay today. And I don’t have any calls to read out at this time.
Q Is the U.S. concerned about the situation in the Sinai, the security situation (inaudible)?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any general comments about the security situation beyond obviously the statement that we put out today, condemning in the strongest possible terms the violence that occurred there today.
Q Will the President be having daily economic briefings on this trip? How will he be sort of monitoring the volatility in the markets, the situation in Europe?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. Over the course of his time in Martha’s Vineyard, he will be getting updates from his senior economic team.
Next week, Brian Deese, the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, will be traveling to Martha’s Vineyard and will spend the week there next week. And he’ll be providing regular updates and regular briefings for the President.
But in addition to that, we do anticipate that the President will be touching base with the team back home and to the extent that we’re able to read out those calls, we’ll try to give you some updates over the course of the week as he does that.
Q What is the White House reaction to the market swings today and the warnings from Morgan Stanley of a potential recession here and in Europe?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, there have been a couple people who have stood on this spot and been asked questions about the markets. And they’ve resisted the urge to comment or speculate on the changes in the markets, and I’m not going to be in a position to speculate on those either.
Q With the recession warning, is there a concern that the jobs package you’ve proposed in September will come too late to have any real effect?
MR. EARNEST: No. What the President is going to put forward in September is a package of new ideas that builds on the ideas that we’ve already been talking about for some time, the kinds of ideas that have bipartisan support, including patent reform; we’ve talked about the trade agreements a little bit; the President has talked about this idea of extending the payroll tax cut for at least an additional year.
And there are some new ideas above and beyond that that the President will -- looks forward to talking about in September because, as you pointed out, the -- job creation remains the top agenda on the -- or top item on the President’s domestic agenda. And so that’s something that he continues to work on, and he looks forward to the opportunity to talk about those ideas in more detail after Labor Day.
Q Josh, what’s your general reaction to some of the criticism about the President taking a vacation now? Was there any consideration to canceling it or shortening it at all, given the state of the economy?
MR. EARNEST: No. I mean, look, the President of the United States is the President of the United States wherever he goes. That is -- that’s the job that he ran for, that is what the American people expect, and it’s the job that he’s doing.
You saw that John Brennan is traveling on Air Force One with us today. Mr. Brennan, as the President’s top counterterrorism advisor, is traveling on Air Force One, is going to be in Martha’s Vineyard for the duration of the President’s time there. And the reason for that is he’ll be providing regular updates to the President to ensure that he’s properly briefed on national security issues. I mentioned that Mr. Deese will also be in Martha’s Vineyard doing the same thing on the economic side.
So the President understands that he has important responsibilities to fill, and he -- it’s his job to fill those responsibilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
At the same time, he’s also a husband and a father, and I don’t think that the American people begrudge the President spending a little time with his wife and daughters at the end of the summer before his daughters head back to school.
Q How much time is he going to spend during the vacation working on his speech, the jobs speech?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mentioned that the President will, over the course of our time in Martha’s Vineyard, will be talking to his economic team, certainly Brian Deese, but other members of the economic team. So I anticipate that this is something that they will continue to talk about.
Many of you saw on the President’s schedule that he had a meeting with his senior economic team today in the Oval Office, where they talked about this a little bit as well. So this policy process is ongoing. And it is fair to say that he will be in touch over the course of the next nine days talking to his economic team about that speech, putting the policy -- making some policy decisions and preparing for that rollout shortly after Labor Day.
Q Could you tell us the dollar value of the Syria sanctions announced today? And do you have any update on the situation in Libya, Qaddafi’s position vis-à-vis --
MR. EARNEST: On the dollar value of the sanctions I’d just refer you to the Treasury Department, who’s responsible for putting those in place and enforcing them. So they should be able to get you some more detail on that at least.
In terms of Libya, I’ve seen those reports but I don’t have a direct response for you.
Q Josh, on Syria, some people say that in order for this pressure to be really effective you’ve got to get the Europeans to embargo the oil industry or to impose sanctions on the oil industry, as the U.S. announced today. Is the President confident that he’ll be able to get the major European countries to do that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that, based on the statements that you saw not just from the President of the United States but from the leaders of the EU and from Germany and from France and from Great Britain, that there is a united call among those leaders for President Assad to step aside. And that united front is an indication of the President’s personal efforts on this issue.
Obviously in conjunction with the statement that we put out today, we obviously put in place some extremely robust sanctions that will have a very significant impact on the Syrian government’s ability and on Assad’s regime’s ability to continue to perpetrate the actions that they’re doing.
In terms of actions that -- I should say it this way -- that we do anticipate that the Europeans will be announcing some similar actions soon. So I don’t want to get out ahead of any announcements they have to make, but it’s our expectation that we’ll see an announcement and some actions on their part here soon.
Q How long was this diplomatic push going on to bring these sanctions together? Because there was some talk that you might come out in this last week with a -- can you just talk a little bit about the --
MR. EARNEST: A little bit. The hallmark of this process is the President has remained committed to working with nations around the world to present a united front to increasingly isolate the Assad regime and to demonstrate that the international community is on the side of the aspirations of the Syrian people.
And it’s a very important part of this -- part of the action that you saw today. And this has been an effort that the President has been personally engaged with. You’ve seen a number of the readouts from calls the President has made to his counterparts. And I mentioned the calls to Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Cameron, President Sarkozy. But you also saw over the weekend -- we put out some readouts of calls that the President did with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, in which they discussed this issue.
So the diplomatic effort has been a very important part of this story and I’m sure it’s something that will continue.
Q Josh, the DNC is holding a fundraiser tonight on the Vineyard. Does the President have any campaign-style events or fundraisers planned while he’s on vacation this week?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I know of.
Q He’s not going tonight?
MR. EARNEST: He’s not.
Q On the vacation, is it going to be kind of like last year as far as he’s mostly with his family, kind of golfing, et cetera? And how much are we going to see him? Do you have any guidance on that sort of --
MR. EARNEST: I think that’s right. I think the activities during this trip to Martha’s Vineyard will be very similar to the activities from the last couple of years. This is an opportunity for the President to spend a little time away from the spotlight with his wife and two daughters. It’s an opportunity for him to play golf, a hobby that he enjoys. It’s also an opportunity for him to do some of the other things that you’ve seen him do -- go out and get ice cream and ride bicycles.
I don’t have a comprehensive itinerary for you, but those are the kinds of things that he’s done in the past and we expect that he’ll do again on this vacation.
Q Any early thoughts on the format of the September speech? Is it a primetime address or anything like that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do anticipate that over the nine days that -- the course of the next nine days that there will be a lot of legitimate questions like that that I’ll be asked, but I will say now -- and I suspect it will become a common refrain -- that I don’t at this point have any specifics about the content or timing of the post-Labor Day speech.
Anybody else? Okay, all right. Everybody enjoy the rest of the trip, and hopefully we’ll have a quiet few days here.
END 5:02 P.M. EDT