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The White House
For Immediate Release

Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Houston, Texas, 10/16/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                             October 16, 2009



Aboard Air Force One
En route Houston, Texas

1:05 P.M.

MR. BURTON:  Hi, guys.  All right, well, let's start this thing.  Good morning -- or afternoon, depending on where you are.

Q    Can we start with Afghanistan -- before we go on to the "balloon boy," I'm sure?  The Washington Post have sources saying that the U.N. election monitors investigating the election fraud had cut Karzai's vote tally to 47 percent, and that would trigger a runoff with his closest competitor.  Is there any concern on the part of -- what was the U.S. response to that and is there any concern that this will further delay the President's decision on the Afghanistan war strategy?

MR. BURTON:  Well, there is a process in place for determining the results and outcome of the election.  And as the President and this administration has long said, the legitimacy of this election and of the leadership of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people.  And we continue to wait until we hear the final results, just like everyone else.  But of course, whether or not there's a runoff, and the final results will be factored in just like everything else happening in the region, into the final assessment of our strategy there.

Q    What does the President think about the Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who won't marry interracial couples?

MR. BURTON:  I've seen the story and I've looked into this a little bit.  And I found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good.  So in terms of anything else I just think it's something that they're dealing with locally.

Q    Can I go back to Afghanistan?  In an interview today, Secretary Clinton talked about decisions being made in Afghanistan by the White House, basically inferring that all these decisions are on the assumption that Karzai wins.  Are you guys -- you're fact -- going forward with troop increase questions, is that on the assumption that Karzai wins?

MR. BURTON:  No, I wouldn't say that as much as refer you back to what I said previously, that the legitimacy of this election and its outcome is in the hands of the Afghan people.  We're looking for them to get through this process, just like everyone else is.  And we don't have any favorites in this race; we're just waiting for the final results.

Q    Secondly, she also talks about how disappointed this administration is in the last eight years in the Afghan government.  What are your thoughts on that?  And do you think that maybe that that should be in the hands of the Afghanis and not so much a White House commentator -- commentary?

MR. BURTON:  Well, you know, the President has long said, as this administration has said, that we need to do everything we can in Afghanistan in order to ensure that there's a strong stable government and that they're able to make progress in such a way that extremist allies can't take hold in the region.  Of course the election and how that's handled was all up to the people of Afghanistan.  And we're going to continue to have a comprehensive view of our strategy, which includes both the troops that we have on the ground, as well as what we need to do from a civilian standpoint to ensure as much stability and security as possible.

Q    Is the White House willing to accept Senator Snowe's public option trigger for health care?

MR. BURTON:  The President has said that his goal here for health care reform is to ensure that there's choice and competition, that it brings down costs in the long term, and that whatever we do is deficit-neutral.  We're obviously in the middle of a process here, including Senator Snowe and a large number of Democrats and some Republicans and groups, and we're working towards a finish line where we can get this done by the end of the year.  But I'm not going to pre-judge what's going to happen during that process.

Q    Change of subject for a second.  What does the President think about the pay czar's decision to limit the pay for the outgoing Bank of America CEO?  Does he think that was the right way to handle that?

MR. BURTON:  Well, as you know, the President put in place Kenneth Feinberg to take a look at some of the compensation bonuses that executives at companies and firms receiving extraordinary assistance are scheduled to get.  The results of his analysis will be out I think on October 30th.  I don't want to get ahead of that.  But I've seen those same reports and it appears that Kenneth Feinberg has, indeed, been a pretty forceful advocate for the American taxpayer.  But we'll have to wait for the results, just like everybody else.

Q    And then in general on the issue of banks that have received federal support in the past now having huge bonuses for their executives and making large profits, how does the President feel about that?  And what does he think they should be doing with those profits and with those bonus pools?

MR. BURTON:  Well, as you note, you're talking about firms that are -- no longer have TARP money and have paid back the federal government, just as the President prescribed when he announced the program with Secretary Geithner early in the administration.  But I don't want to get into any specific firms or institutions and what they're doing.
Q    One more question -- have you -- do you any comment on Anita Dunn's belief that Mao is one of her favorite political philosophers?

MR. BURTON:  I caught some of that from the Glenn Beck show yesterday, but I don't think anybody takes it -- takes his attacks very seriously.  We're just -- you know, we go day to day in this White House trying to ensure that people know the truth about the policies and programs and positions that the President holds, and we're going to continue to do that.

Q    Do the attacks in Pakistan show a closer link between al Qaeda and the Taliban, do you think?

MR. BURTON:  Well, I don't want to get into those sorts of -- I don't want to get into any intelligence matters, but I will say that those attacks underscore the fact that the extremist elements in the region threaten both Pakistan and U.S. interests, and it's important that the United States have a comprehensive strategy as it relates to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is what the President set out to do at the beginning of this administration and is currently assessing with his commanders on the ground, including his top national security advisors in Washington.

Q    Back to the economy if I can, because I'm biased that way -- (laughter) -- how does the President feel about the Dow hitting 10,000 this week -- in a situation where we've got all these Americans still out of work?  And does he feel like the recovery is being spread evenly enough throughout the country?

MR. BURTON:  Well, the President obviously wakes up and goes to sleep every day thinking about how we can create jobs and get this economy back on track.  And though some indicators demonstrate some strengthening in some areas, he's not going to rest until Americans are back to work and our economy is as strong as it possibly can be.  There's a lot more work that we still need to do, and he's going to continue to work at it until everything is moving in the right direction.

Q    Okay, I'll ask it -- has the President been following the balloon boy story?  Any thoughts on it?

MR. BURTON:  He has not been following it as closely as any of you, I can guarantee that.  (Laughter.)  Or me, for that matter.

Q    Is there any White House comment on the whole subject?  It seems to have become a dominant factor of the news, overwhelming even the President's speeches recently.

MR. BURTON:  I think that everybody is happy that the boy is safe and -- but other than that I think this is an issue for those individuals to deal with.

Q    Thank you very much.

MR. BURTON:  All right.  Thanks.

1:14 P.M. CDT