Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Nashua, New Hampshire, 3/1/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Nashua, New Hampshire
11:23 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Well, welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way from sunny, warm Washington, D.C. to snowy, cold Nashua, New Hampshire.
The President looks forward to the event today where he will discuss again his all-of-the-above approach to our energy security. And I'll save the specifics for the speech itself, but he will talk about what's been accomplished so far in increasing our production of fossil fuels in the United States, reducing our dependency on foreign imports, diversifying our sources of energy, and investing in alternative energy sources. He will also call on Congress to take action on energy policy.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q How is this going to be different from what he did in Florida? Are there going to be any new initiatives that the President is going to be unveiling today?
MR. CARNEY: There will be a new element to the speech today, certainly. But I'll let you listen and decide when you hear it.
Q Is the President considering taking that $4 billion that he's proposed, that you take away the credits for oil and gas companies -- providing it as a direct rebate to consumers?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any pre-announcements to make about what the President will say today. You do bring up an interesting point, which is that despite the fact that we have very high prices at the pump that are very difficult for Americans, despite the fact that oil companies are enjoying again near-record profits, we are still subsidizing oil companies to the tune of $4 billion annually. The President has longed believed that that is unnecessary and something we can't afford.
Q So no plans to take that $4 billion and direct it --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I will leave announcements to the President.
Q Jay, the President said last night that his apology to Karzai over the Koran burning had calmed the situation in Afghanistan down, and yet today we see two more Americans killed. Does he feel like that assertion last night was premature?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President said what the commanding general in Afghanistan and others have said, which certainly that the statements by U.S. leaders had helped calm the situation down. But nobody has suggested that violence has ended in Afghanistan in general or in reaction to the unfortunate incident involving the inadvertent, unintentional burning of religious materials.
The loss of ISAF servicemen is obviously a terrible thing. And for more details on that I would refer you to ISAF and the Department of Defense.
Q Back to oil. One of the things that the President has in his power is a distribution from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Can you talk about the considerations that he's going to weigh as he reviews that option with oil prices high and gas prices rising?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q So, okay. Staying with oil, staying with energy -- the Republicans complained that the President's call to repeal the tax subsidies for oil companies raises taxes on them and is not going to help reduce gas prices. Are they wrong?
MR. CARNEY: They are welcome to make the argument to Americans who are paying very high prices at gas stations across the United States that oil companies should continue to receive preferential tax treatment and subsidies that they have been receiving for 100 years. I would simply suggest that we cannot afford to continue to subsidize oil and gas companies, and we do not need to subsidize oil and gas companies when they are enjoying, again, near-record profits as a result of the very high price of oil on the global market.
And I would say that if oil and gas subsidies were the answer to our energy challenges, they haven't worked. I mean, if anybody would suggest that they are the answer to our energy challenges, we've had them for 100 years and we're seeing spikes in the price of oil. They are not the answer. An all-of-the-above approach to our long-term energy policy is the answer. And that’s the approach the President is taking.
Q But raising taxes on oil companies is going to drive down the price of gasoline?
MR. CARNEY: Removing preferential tax treatment that the oil companies do not deserve, do not need, when they're making near-record profits is not wise policy. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money. We have to make choices in our taxing and spending. And the fact of the matter is, as the President has long believed, these subsidies are not necessary. Certainly, oil and gas companies are doing quite well. It doesn’t make sense for the taxpayer to cushion their already very robust bottom lines.
Q -- having a little bit of a disconnect understanding, because right now everybody is really concerned about the specter of oil -- gas prices going up to $5 a gallon, particularly this summer. How concerned is the President about that? And I don’t see -- there's no -- I understand you're saying there's no connection between eliminating tax subsidies for gas companies. It sounds to me, though, that that would send the price of gas even further up.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President has said is he is very concerned about and focused on the impact that a spike in the price of oil on the global market has on American families. It is one reason why it was so important to extend the payroll tax cut, because the added $40 on average in every paycheck that Americans will receive because of that payroll tax cut will help them deal with the higher-priced gasoline, and that is important.
The President has made clear that there are no quick fixes or silver bullets to the price of oil in the global market. We need to take an all-of-the-above approach that addresses our long-term energy needs, that reduces our dependence on foreign oil, so that in the future we are less vulnerable to spikes in the oil market and more reliant on domestic sources of energy, both fossil fuels and renewables and other forms of alternative energy.
What you haven’t heard is a plan from anyone else that would have any impact on the prices that Americans are paying at the pump. The suggestion that we should drill more may sound good, but it will not reduce the price of oil -- the price of gas at gas stations across the country. If it would, then why has the -- if that were the effect that more drilling would have, then the price would be lower because, as you know, over the last three years we have increased our output of domestic oil and gas. We have reduced our reliance on foreign oil, and we need to continue that as part of a long-term energy policy.
Q Is the President concerned, though, that the spike in gas prices will be a drag on the recovery?
MR. CARNEY: The President is concerned about the pressure that the high cost of gasoline puts on American families. One of the reasons why, in terms of -- one of the reasons why the payroll tax cut extension was so important is because it puts more money in Americans' pockets, allows them to deal with higher prices at the pump, and that, in turn, has a positive impact on the economy.
As we said all along, you have to take action on the things you can control, to insulate yourself from the things you can't. And that's certainly the President’s approach when it comes to energy policy.
Q The charts that you guys are circulating today, showing the dependence on foreign oil declining since 2005 -- it’s also apparently going to be a slide, we’re hearing, at the President’s speech in Nashua. And there it is.
MR. CARNEY: You're welcome to have one here, ladies and gentlemen. I’m glad you mentioned it. Multicolored.
Q How much credit does the President take for that? This trend started in 2005 --
MR. CARNEY: We have made clear that the fact that the production of domestic oil has increased and the reliance on foreign oil has decreased as a result of policies of the previous administration and this administration. What is demonstrably false -- or what are demonstrably false are the accusations by some critics that the President has blocked or stunted or halted in any way domestic production of oil and gas. The facts prove otherwise. It is a simple fact we have increased the private oil -- I mean, increased the production of oil. We have increased the production of natural gas. We have increased the number of oilrigs operating in this country. We have increased the number of leases being sold.
And the President has been very aggressive in that because he believes, even in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, that if proper safeguards are taken we can continue to explore -- exploit and produce domestic oil and gas.
Q Has the President made a decision on who to put forward for the World Bank job?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information on that for you.
Q On Syria -- when you with the other officials try to lay out the differences between Libya and Syria, you often cite Qaddafi's threat to attack and kill people in Benghazi. Now we have Syrian officials threatening to cleanse Homs of the rebels. Isn’t that fairly similar to what Qaddafi said, and does that in any way change the administration’s calculation in terms of stepping up possible military action in Syria or arming the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. I think that you’re right that that is -- when people ask about why isn’t Syria the same as Libya, that that is one point that is important to make about the military situation on the ground. Large portions of Libya had been liberated by the opposition. Benghazi was a free city not under the control -- the entire city not under the control of Qaddafi. Qaddafi was marching on Benghazi, threatening to kill everyone in the city, if necessary. And the United States with its allies and partners, with the sanction of the United Nations Security Council and with the support of the Arab League and countries in the region, was able to participate in a coalition to help prevent that from happening and saved thousands and thousands of lives.
So even the situation on the ground militarily between Benghazi and Homs is different. But it is one of several factors here that make Syria and Libya different -- one being the obvious fact that there was a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the action that was taken by NATO and other allies.
Q But given that Syrian officials are now saying that they want to cleanse this city of the opposition, does that increase the U.S. desire to try to get a U.N. -- a similar U.N. Security Council resolution to --
MR. CARNEY: We will continue to work with our allies, partners, and other "Friends of Syria" to mobilize the international community to take action to force Assad aside, to provide the Syria people the peaceful and democratic future that they so clearly desire and deserve.
The fact of the matter is China and Russia vetoed a resolution at the Security Council that did not call for authorizing military force, but simply went after the Assad regime. And we will continue to work with other members of the United Nations Security Council. We'll continue to consult with the Russians and the Chinese. We’ll continue to work through the "Friends of Syria" to provide humanitarian assistance, to pressure Assad, to further sanction the regime -- to do the things that we can do, working with our partners, to change the situation in that country.
Q Jay, 12 Americans are dead across seven states after the storms of the past 36 hours. Has the President been following this at all, been in touch with FEMA or any other members of his Cabinet about responding to this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he certainly has. He’s been briefed on it. We were discussing it this morning on Marine One. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of these terrible storms, the families of those who lost loved ones.
FEMA has regional offices that are working with the states that are affected and will take all necessary action as required by the situation on the ground. And I would refer you to FEMA for more details. But the President is very aware of the situation.
Q Does he still think he’s the underdog in this race?
MR. CARNEY: I have no update on that.
Q It seems twice in the last two days the President talked about things in five years. He talked about the Volt. He’s talking about welcoming the Bulls in his next five years. It seems a little incongruous to me that he’s so confident that he’s going to be here for five years if he’s actually the underdog.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the President believes that his record and his vision for the future is the -- will be judged by voters positively come November, and that he will win reelection. But neither he, nor anyone who works for him either at the White House or at the campaign, is under any illusion that -- this will be a tough election.
Q You haven’t heard him talk about his underdog status recently?
MR. CARNEY: I have no private conversations to report to you. But, look, it’s going to be hard. And you know it. Everybody who covers elections understands that it's the nature of our democracy and the nature of our political dynamic in the early part of the 21st century that elections are bound to be close -- national elections -- and this one will be no exception.
Q Is he going to win New Hampshire?
MR. CARNEY: I refer you to the campaign for strategies for the individual states.
Q Why are we going to New Hampshire? I mean, the speech is marginally different. You guys have not indicated that there’s a whole lot of news in this. Why are we going to New Hampshire?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would wait for the speech to make judgments about what --
Q On a scale of one to 10, how newsy is this speech going to be?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll let you make the judgments about how newsy the speech is going to be.
Q If it’s not newsy, can I assume that it’s a political trip?
MR. CARNEY: You can make judgments that you like and assumptions that you like. This is an official trip, the New Hampshire portion of it, where he will highlight important policy initiatives that he has put forward and the importance of --
MR. CARNEY: We can engage in this for as long as you want, but --
Q We could, yes.
MR. CARNEY: -- I’m not going to pre-announce anything the President might have to say in his speech. The fact that he’s going to New Hampshire, as you know, it’s one of the 50 states in the country that he represents as President of the United States. We travel all around the country to different states. And as I think I’ve said -- I’ll anticipate a potential question -- if the incumbent President of the United States were somehow not permitted to travel to all states deemed by the press as battlegrounds or swing states, that would eliminate practically half the country.
The President should -- any President of any party -- should be able to, and should and will, travel around the country meeting with Americans from different states to talk about his agenda. And he’ll be doing that --
Q So after the speech, we can all have a little conclave here on how newsy it was and why we went to New Hampshire. We can talk about it in the briefing tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: -- amongst yourselves.
Q A federal judge in Montana is apologizing for sending out a racist email about the President. Is the President aware of this, and do you have any thoughts on it?
MR. CARNEY: I saw that report. I don’t -- I haven't got anything really to say about it.
Q Did the President see it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q And I have one question on Iran. Yesterday, when you were asked about the red lines, you said pretty clearly that the red line is development of a nuclear weapon, not nuclear weapon capability. But in testimony in the House yesterday, Secretary Clinton seemed to say just the opposite -- nuclear weapon capability a few times. Is that a mistake? Is there some reason why this isn't clear?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think we're talking about precise language here. Our policy is to do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And obviously, its pursuit of nuclear technology in a way that flouts its international obligations and thwarts the efforts of the international community to divine Iran's true intentions is a huge concern for the President and for a broad coalition of nations around the world who have united with the President in his policy of isolating and sanctioning Iran for its failure to live up to its obligations.
He takes this extremely seriously and does not take any option off the table, as I've made clear and he's made clear. The option that he is pursuing, because there is still time and space for the diplomatic path to produce the desired result, is the right way to go, precisely because the best way to be sure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon is for Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions. And that is the policy that we're pursuing.
Q Is the President really taking credit for Blake Griffin's improved jump shot?
MR. CARNEY: I know the interview you're referring to. He didn’t take credit for it. He made an observation about Mr. Griffin's jump shot.
Q And after he made the call and offered advice the jump shot improved. And that’s not causation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think Mr. Griffin and others will be the judge of that. The President is a tremendous fan of basketball and a very knowledgeable fan, as well as somebody who likes to play and plays well, and offered an opinion. But I think Blake Griffin's a pretty good basketball player.
Q Can you go up and get some clarity on that for us, whether or not he's taking credit for it?
MR. CARNEY: I'll see what I can do.
Q I mean, he could be. You know, he coaches.
MR. CARNEY: I think it's your interpretation. It's not evident in the interview itself that he's taking credit for it.
Q No, it's a fair and honest interpretation of the interview. The President made a call -- he's claiming credit.
Q What are you talking about? (Laughter.)
Q There's a podcast where the President is rather robust in his confidence about giving basketball --
MR. CARNEY: He gave an interview to Bill Simmons yesterday, and they talked sports.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Always a pleasure.
Q Thank you, Jay.
11:45 A.M. EST