Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route to Galesburg, IL, 7/24/13
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Galesburg, Illinois
11:16 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One. It’s been a little bit since we've had the great honor and privilege of flying aboard this terrific airplane. We're headed, as you know, to Illinois, to Knox College in Galesburg, where the President will deliver a major economic address, laying out his vision for where we need to go in our economy to ensure that we have a rising and thriving middle class, because that is essential for the long-term health of our economy and for the American people.
So we've spoken a lot about that already this week. I wanted to let you know that later in the day when he travels to the University of Central Missouri, home to the Missouri Innovation Campus, he will note that the Missouri Innovation Campus prepares students with the education and skills they need to succeed at an accelerated pace while lowering costs and without student debt. Established in 2012, the Missouri Innovation Campus was developed through a partnership between the University of Central Missouri, Lee’s Summit School District, Metropolitan Community College, and local companies in order to drive growth in critical areas for the regional economy, including health care, engineering, energy and infrastructure.
The Missouri Innovation Campus provides an integrated academic experience that combines real-world, on-the-job experience with rigorous academics to graduate students from high school with a diploma as well as an associate’s degree, and then allowing them to earn a bachelor’s degree in only two years. This partnership provides students with a well-aligned education and prepares them with the skills they need to succeed in the Missouri economy and graduate with sought-after skills for high-paying careers, creating a pipeline for high school students to earn their diploma and degrees and get hired by local companies.
And I think it reflects the President’s firm belief that education is a cornerstone to the foundation we need to build economically. And that's why ensuring that as many Americans have access to higher education as possible and can afford that higher education is so important to the President.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, what is the latest information the White House has on the status of Edward Snowden? There were Russian media reports earlier today that he had gotten papers that would allow him to enter Russia, and then the latest update that we had was that his lawyer said that he was going to stay in the transit zone in the airport. So what’s the latest that you all know about him?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Darlene. We have seen reports of the nature you just described and of both kinds, and we are seeking clarity from Russian authorities about Mr. Snowden’s status and any change in it. But beyond that, I don't have any more information. And I can say that our position on Mr. Snowden remains what it was, which is that he is neither a human rights activist, nor a dissident. He’s been charged with serious felonies for the unauthorized leaking of highly classified information, and there is ample precedent and legal justification for him to be returned to the United States where he will face trial with all the rights and protections afforded defendants in the United States of America.
Q Jay, what steps is the President prepared to take today to stop Edward Snowden from getting somewhere if he should be on the move?
MR. CARNEY: We've made our position clear to the Russian government, to Russian authorities, and we'll continue to do that. It is absolutely our view that Mr. Snowden should be expelled and returned to the United States. And that's a message we've communicated both publicly and privately to the Russians, and I'm sure we will continue to do that.
Q I mean beyond -- if he were to leave Russia on a plane, I suppose, what steps is the United States prepared to take to stop him from getting wherever he goes? There was the incident with the Bolivian President’s plane and all that.
MR. CARNEY: There’s a series of hypotheticals in there that I don't think I should address or need to address because even today’s reports don't suggest that that is what might be happening. I think today’s reports -- which are contradictory, as Darlene noted -- suggested that he might be leaving the transit area of the airport and entering Russia proper. But again, we've just seen the press reports, both those that say that might be happening and those that say it’s not happening, and we're seeking clarification from Russian officials.
But again, we've just seen the press reports, both those that say that might be happening and those that say it is not happening. And we're seeking clarification from Russian officials.
Q Jay, you said you're seeking clarification. Will you be able to brief us or give us an update later today?
MR. CARNEY: We'll obviously see if further information is available. But I think it's certainly the case that your colleagues who are Moscow-based could also inquire of the Russian government if there's any new information to be imparted.
Q Any update on whether President Obama will meet with President Putin in Moscow on the sidelines of the G20?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the G20 is in St. Petersburg, so that would be a very wide sideline. But the President intends to travel to Russia for the G20 Summit, and as I've noted in the past, I have no further announcements to make about that travel.
Q Any announcements about the Fed secretary -- the Fed chair?
MR. CARNEY: Are you interested?
Q I am. There were reports yesterday that you guys were close to naming Larry Summers as the Fed chair.
MR. CARNEY: I have no personnel announcements to make or short lists to provide. That’s kind of a thing that the President assesses and decides and announces on his own.
Q As he sort of assesses that, though, how big a deal is his choice and the larger issue of monetary policy in terms of rebuilding the middle class that he's going to be talking about today? Like, is that part of it?
MR. CARNEY: You can pretty much count on the fact that any question about monetary policy and Federal Reserve actions policy will not receive a response from me. The Fed is independent, and I have no comment on that process.
Q This morning, Mitch McConnell -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that this speech is being hyped like a new Bond film, but it's actually just sort of a rerun of like an old matinee. What do you make of Republicans dismissing the speech before it's been delivered?
MR. CARNEY: I thought the last couple of Bond films were pretty good, first of all. But, secondly, there seems to be some effort to make hay out of the fact that the President is consistent when he speaks about what we need to do in our economy, and that consistency traces all the way back to the first speech he gave at Knox College in 2005, when he correctly identified challenges facing the middle class in our country that had been building for years and even decades, even prior to the great recession, and the recession merely exacerbated those challenges.
And even as we recover from the recession, and even as we create a substantial number of jobs -- 7.2 million private sector jobs so far over 40 months -- there is much work that needs to be done at the macro level in terms of overall job creation, but specifically when it comes to increasing the security and the size of the middle class.
A stable and growing middle class is essential to the kind of economic growth that we need in the country. It was the expansion of the middle class in the 20th century that drove the American economic engine, which was unlike anything the world had ever seen, and it firmly established the United States as the most powerful and most admired economy in the world.
And we need to take every step we can to ensure that the economy is being addressed in a way that serves the interests of the middle class and those who aspire to the middle class, because the alternative is to diminish the American Dream for millions of families across the country.
And that’s why the President believes it’s essential to refocus everyone’s attention on the preoccupation of most Americans across the country, which is making sure that there are high-paying, solid jobs available; making sure that they’re able to save a little bit for their retirement; that they can own their own home and that they can send their kids to college -- and afford to send their kids to college. These are the basic building blocks of what it means to be part of the American economy and the uniqueness of the American economy. So we think it is the most important thing we can talk about, and that’s why the President is giving this address today.
Q Jay, does the President have an opinion on whether it’s appropriate for Eliot Spitzer or Mr. Weiner to be elected to the offices that they’re seeking in New York, given the things they’ve done in their background?
MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed either situation with the President so I don’t have a comment from him on either.
Q Jay, we heard what sounded like some frustration from the White House yesterday on immigration. We saw Dan Pfeiffer’s tweet and you addressed this from the podium a little bit yesterday. Is the President discouraged by what’s happening in the House with immigration, particularly when you see comments like what Congressman King said yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, those are separate but related issues. On the first point, I think Dan’s tweet simply pointed out the strongly felt objections expressed in La Opinion, in a Spanish-language newspaper, about the approach House Republicans were taking on immigration reform. And I think it reflects the fact that House Republicans need to take seriously the views of the Hispanic media, and the reflection in those views, of the views of Hispanic Americans, as well as beyond that, the vast and diverse coalition in America that supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes business and labor, faith communities and law enforcement communities, Republicans and Democrats.
I thought that their reaction to that tweet was super sensitive, and it suggests that they still haven’t figured out how important it is to address immigration reform in a comprehensive way -- because it’s good for the economy, good for the middle class, and good for our businesses.
I thought Congressman King’s comments were extremely unfortunate, and I think a number of people have pointed out that they were offensive. They certainly don’t help any efforts by Republicans to improve their standing among Hispanic Americans, I would assume. But I obviously would leave those assessments to others.
Q On today’s speech, the last time the President was at Knox College, he joked that he was ranked 99th in seniority out of a hundred senators, and now he’s flying there on Air Force One. Have you heard him reflect personally on sort of the distance he’s traveled since he was last there?
MR. CARNEY: That's an interesting question. I have heard him reflect on the distance he’s traveled, but not in relation to this speech this week. I think it's a remarkable American story, “only in America” kind of story, where you have somebody like Barack Obama, who, it's fair to say, could have walked the streets of Washington, D.C. in total anonymity less than 10 years ago and is obviously now in his second term as President of the United States. It's a remarkable story.
But I haven't heard him talk about it in relation to the Knox College speech. But, obviously, that was right as he -- fairly soon after he had become well known nationally, after his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, so the world changed a little bit for him after that.
Q Today's two speeches are at college campuses. Tomorrow, it's at the port in Jacksonville. Will the remarks tomorrow be sort of the same as today, or should we read anything into it being at a port?
MR. CARNEY: I'm glad you asked because, as we've let reporters know, today's speech is sort of a higher-altitude speech that takes a broad look at where we've been and where we need to go with our economy in a way that's focused on the middle class. The speech at University of Central Missouri and then the speech in Jacksonville will largely amplify what the President says today at Knox College.
After that he will, as we've said, give additional speeches focused on aspects of the economy that we can address. And those speeches will have specifics and will have new ideas and both proposals that can be worked on together with Congress, and actions that the President can take using his executive authority and actions he can take through working with outside stakeholders.
So that's sort of the way this will roll out. And I think just to sort of help preview today's remarks, I would look at these in terms of their scope and duration in a similar vein as you saw when he spoke at Osawatomie or Georgetown, those two previous economic speeches -- similar in their altitude and in their scope.
Q Length of the speech -- about 45 minutes?
MR. CARNEY: -- is another way of saying roughly the same length as those two speeches, which obviously depends on applause, but in the 50 to 55-minute range.
Q There were some new staff names in a Wall Street Journal article this morning. I'm wondering if you can confirm those.
MR. CARNEY: I can.
Q You can?
MR. CARNEY: I can.
Q I'm sorry, what was the question?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm the personnel changes that appeared in the Wall Street Journal today. For the NEC personnel, right, the National Economic Council?
Q There was a couple.
MR. CARNEY: Wheeler and --
Q Deputy NEC and then, there was Wheeler -- and there was another one, too.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, they're all accurate. Yes.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right, thanks very much.
11:33 A.M. EDT