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The White House

Gaggle with White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One, 3/18/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                              March 18, 2009


Aboard Air Force One
En route Long Beach, California

3:22 P.M. EDT

MR. BURTON:  Hey, guys, how's it going?  So don't ask me any questions I don't know the answers to.

I'll just let you know a little bit about what's going to happen when we hit the ground.  The town hall will be held at the Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, where the President's remarks will focus on restoring our nation's prosperity right now and making the strategic decisions to create sustained long-term growth.  He will then take one hour of questions from the audience.

The President will be introduced by Jerome Ruddins, he's a surveyor/construction manager who has worked on public works projects throughout southern California.  Jerome works at RBF Consulting, which is a medium-sized engineering/surveying firm that will work on S.R. 91, a job-creating highway expansion project in Orange County.  He'll be joined at the event by various local and federal officials, including Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

A couple of facts about Costa Mesa and California:  The latest job numbers in California show a 10.1 percent unemployment rate.  In Orange County alone, from December '08 to January '09 they've lost 33,000 jobs.  And in Orange County alone they've had 757 foreclosures in February of '09 -- that's according to the Orange County Register.  I can get you a list of the other folks who will be joining him at the event -- which include state officials and assembly folks.

And that's about it.  With that, I'll take a couple questions.

Q    Are you going to announce any new programs, initiatives aimed at responding to the particular problems in California?

MR. BURTON:  What he's going to talk about are his recovery plan as a first step and this budget at the next step in this process:  making important investments, being fiscally responsible by cutting the deficit in half, and getting this economy going again.

California is a place where the investments in things like education and health care are very important, but energy as well, where -- and tomorrow we'll talk about this a little bit more -- by encouraging growth in the industry of alternative energies we'll be able to create a lot of jobs and also save the environment, to boot.

Q    But no new programs beyond the stimulus plan, the budget, so forth?

MR. BURTON:  That's right.  This is part of the effort to talk to Californians and Americans altogether about what it is we're doing.  That includes -- you know, the President is going to be on Jay Leno tomorrow; he's going to sit down with "60 Minutes" for an interview on Friday that will air on Sunday.  So there are a lot of different things that we're doing, this is a part of that effort to speak with the American people.

Q    There's a story in The New York Times today about Predator missiles and possibly expanding the scope in Pakistan.  Is that completely accurate, and can you add any more details to the thinking in those reviews about Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. BURTON:  I don't comment about such issues.

Q    What's the timing on the -- getting to the end of the review?  We're hearing it's quite close.  Are we, sort of, within days of the President making a decision or --

MR. BURTON:  The President has said that he's going to -- that he's instructed folks to get to the end of the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy by the time they go to the NATO summit, and that's on track.

Q    Do you have exact figures on how much California is slated to get from the recovery plan?

MR. BURTON:  I can get you those numbers.  I do, actually, in the front of the plane.

Q    Okay.  And is Schwarzenegger planning to be at any events with the President over the next couple of days?

MR. BURTON:  I know that our offices have spoken.  I don't know that he'll actually be at any events, but I'll keep you posted.(*)  Not today.

Q    The President spoke before he left the White House about setting up a resolution authority.  When are we going to get details about how that's going to work?

MR. BURTON:  Well, he's working with Congress right now to get that done.  This morning he spoke with Chairman Frank.  Secretary Geithner is meeting with Chairman Frank later today -- actually maybe right now -- in Washington, to discuss the best way forward on this and broader regulatory reform.

Q    So why did it take two days for the Treasury Secretary to tell the White House and, subsequently the President, to be informed about the -- what were then the impending bonuses?

MR. BURTON:  Well, I'm going to refer you to what the President had to say before Marine One took off from the White House.  But he, of course, is taking responsibility for what we do here, and what he's making sure is that we get the tools that we need to make sure that this does not happen again.

As for, you know, timelines and different things like that, we've been through this for the past couple of days, and Gibbs and others and folks at the Treasury have answered these questions.  And for any more specifics on that, I'd refer you to some of the information that they shared with folks yesterday.

Q    Well, I mean, up until now, Robert -- until the timeline was released last night, we didn't exactly know what the sequence was.  So, I mean, is there any concern that it took two days for the Treasury Secretary to tell the White House about it?

MR. BURTON:  As the President said, he's very confident in how Secretary Geithner is doing.  And, you know, one of the things that we're going to talk about today in California -- because I imagine people are going to have questions about AIG, these bonuses, things that are happening in the economy.  The President, as he has said, shares the profound anger of the American people about these bonuses, about the folks who are getting them.  And we're doing everything we can to make sure that this doesn't happen again and to make sure that taxpayers are made whole on the money that's been paid out.

Q    Do you anticipate any change in the internal communication system, though, so that it will flow more smoothly, more quickly?

MR. BURTON:  As I said, the President feels good about how Secretary Geithner is doing, and we're looking forward at what we can do to make sure that we don't see these sort of egregious problems ever again.

Q    The bonuses that have already been paid at AIG, there's really nothing that can be done about that, at least from the executive branch -- is that the thinking?

MR. BURTON:  Well, the good news is some progress has actually been made on this, in the sense that -- and Liddy talked about this in his testimony today -- some folks at AIG have already paid back their bonuses.  Other people are being encouraged to do the exact same thing.

So some progress is getting made on that.  Secretary Geithner outlined how taxpayers would be made whole in his letter to Congress last night, and I can get that to you if you don't, by chance, have it.

And, you know, so we're going to be working with AIG to see what we can do here to make sure that taxpayers are getting exactly what they deserve from the investments that we're making in order to stabilize that company.

Q    Did the President see any of the testimony?  Did he hear about it?  Has he been briefed on it?  And more generally, what does the White House -- is the White House satisfied with what Liddy had to say?  He said things like, you know, we have to pay the bonuses to keep people -- good people onboard so that we can maximize the return to the taxpayer.  I mean, how does the White House sort of react to his testimony?

MR. BURTON:  Unfortunately, because I only saw a tiny little bit -- a tiny piece of it, I'm going to have to refer you to folks on the ground who actually watched the whole thing and were able to see it.

Q    Has the President been briefed?  Has the President been briefed on Liddy's testimony today?

MR. BURTON:  It just -- it literally just ended before I walked out here, so I don't know that that would be the case just yet.

Q    Weren't the prepared remarks out -- weren't the prepared remarks out before we took off?

MR. BURTON:  I guess I don't know if he had seen the prepared remarks.

All right?

Q    Thank you.

MR. BURTON:  Well, thank you all.

Q    Who else is he -- who else is he meeting with out here?  Anything behind the scenes, in terms of who he's going to see, that sort of thing?

MR. BURTON:  Well, I mean, some of the folks include local officials, like Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, she'll be there; the Lieutenant Governor.  I can get you some more folks.  John Garamendi; the Secretary of State Debra Bowen; Attorney General Jerry Brown; State Controller John Chiang; State Senator Jose Correa; Kamala Harris; Jack O'Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Miguel Pulido, the Mayor of Santa Ana; and Jose Solorio, who is another state representative.

All right.

Q    Thanks a lot.

MR. BURTON:  You bet. 

Q    See you later.

MR. BURTON:  Thanks, guys.

3:30 P.M. EDT

(*) Governor Schwarzenegger will join the President at the town hall in Los Angeles tomorrow.