Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton Aboard Air Force One En Route Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
11:59 A.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Thanks for making the flight. It’s a short one, so I wanted to get back here early, so sorry to get between you and the food.
To start, I’ve got a readout for you on the President’s meeting with General Odierno, which he made -- which he had before we left. The President met today with General Odierno to review security and political progress in Iraq. General Odierno provided a positive assessment of the current security conditions and the ongoing transition of responsibilities to Iraqi security forces ahead of the change of mission of U.S. forces at the end of August. The President and General Odierno also discussed the encouraging step taken by Iraq’s federal supreme court to certify election results, as well as U.S. support for an inclusive government formation process. The President thanked General Odierno for his service to the nation.
And with that.
Q Is it going to be released in a statement form and email form?
MR. BURTON: It will be transcribed by some of the best professionals in the country.
Q On the Israeli-Gaza situation, Abbas said that when he comes here next week he’s going to ask the President to take bold action. Any indication about what he means? And is the President prepared to take bold action on the Israeli-Palestinian situation?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President thinks it’s critically important that we move in the process to find stability and security in that region. In terms of this incident, what’s most important to the President is that events like the one that transpired a couple nights ago don’t transpire again, that we’re protecting the security of Israel, and that we’re getting aid to the folks who need it in Gaza.
Q When he spoke with the Turkish Prime Minister, did the Prime Minister specifically ask him to condemn the Israeli forces’ actions?
MR. BURTON: I wasn’t on the call, so I don’t know.
Q Could you check on that?
MR. BURTON: Sure.
Q On the oil spill, can you talk a little bit about --
MR. BURTON: Hold on one quick second. But just on that point, I wouldn’t necessarily read out something that the Prime Minister of Turkey had to say. That would be up to their government to read out.
Q On the oil spill, can you talk a little bit about why Holder was sent to the region and why this probe was launched yesterday, about the timing of this and --
MR. BURTON: Well, in terms of timing, I would direct you to the Department of Justice. But what they’re doing is checking out what laws were broken and what possible steps need to be taken in order to make sure that the law is upheld, and if people broke the law, that they’re treated accordingly.
Q Is it important as part of this for sort of the public to know that, as a part of your message to the public that the White House is on top of this and is going to be holding them accountable?
MR. BURTON: Sometimes, when the Justice Department is checking out to see if laws are broken, they’re just checking out to see if laws were broken. That’s what’s happening here. They’re doing their function in terms of what’s important for the Justice Department to be doing and we’ll probably be hearing from them soon on what they’ve concluded.
Q What is your reaction to the Japanese Prime Minister’s resignation? And what does this mean for stability in the region?
MR. BURTON: Well, Japan is one of our best friends in the world. And that alliance is not going to change as a result of any change in leadership in that country. We’ll watch the political process take its course and be waiting like everybody else to see who the next Prime Minister will be.
Q Bill, last Friday in the Gulf, the President said he’s ultimately responsible for the crisis and that the buck stops here. Having cancelled a trip to Indonesia prior -- the first time because of what happened on the health care vote, would it not make sense to do it again as this disaster continues to unfold in the Gulf?
MR. BURTON: Well, obviously, there’s a lot of reasons to take the trip. And regardless of any discussions that might have been had on that, as it stands the trip is still on schedule.
Q It is under discussion whether to postpone?
MR. BURTON: I said regardless of any discussions that might have been had, it still is on the schedule.
Q What does that mean?
MR. BURTON: It means that it’s still on the schedule.
Q It sounds like you’re saying --
Q -- so there have been discussions about taking it off the schedule?
MR. BURTON: I can’t be responsible for every conversation that happens inside the White House, so I don’t want to say definitively who’s talked to who about what. But the bottom line is that it’s still on the schedule.
Q Bill, can you go back to the Gaza flotilla for just a moment? Is the U.S. in conversations with the Israelis about what happens the next time an aid ship tries to pass through the blockade and are there measures in place to prevent a similar incident from happening again?
MR. BURTON: Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the conversations that we’re having with Israel, but I will say it’s important to the President and to our country that we don’t see the same kind of events unfold like they did the last time. So we are talking to our partners and are hopeful that we won't see a repeat.
Q Does he feel confident then that they’re on the same page, that there’s a shared sentiment that something like this shouldn’t happen again?
MR. BURTON: He feels confident that we’re having productive conversations with them.
Q And also the flotilla report, the inquiry that's going on, the fact-finding effort, what’s the status of that? Do you know when that report might come back?
MR. BURTON: I don't have a timeline on when that report will come out, but like we said yesterday, the President supports a credible investigation into what happened here.
Q On talking to your partners, has the President spoken to the Israeli leadership since he spoke to them on that day -- I think Monday?
MR. BURTON: There’s, of course, conversations that happen at different levels in the government. I’m not sure as to whether or not the President himself has spoken to folks in Israel. I can check on that for you.
Q And on this trip, can you tell us who’s along with the President and who he’s going to be meeting there?
MR. BURTON: I think in your background guidance you have the list of folks who are going to be there. But it includes -- Senator Specter is on the plane. Congressman Ohlenmeyer will be there. I know the mayor will be there. But I don't have that list right in front of me right now, but I’m pretty sure that it was --
Q Was an invitation extended to Congressman Sestak on this trip, and is he here?
MR. BURTON: I had a conversation with Laura about this earlier -- there was a little confusion. He was invited to a political meeting before the speech with some other community leaders from around the state and was certainly welcome to stay for the speech if he was so inclined.
Q He’s not on the plane?
MR. BURTON: He’s not. Apparently he has a previous engagement.
Q So he’s not coming to any part of the event today?
Q Are you making a distinction between invited to the political meeting and invited to the speech? I mean, if there’s a meeting at the location of the speech --
MR. BURTON: Yes, I was just trying to help you square the circle on why there might have been a disconnect on that.
Q Okay. I see, okay.
Q Would he have sat in the same area with the President, with Senator Specter, for example?
MR. BURTON: I think if you look at the audience and how it’s set up, I don't know for sure, but it would be pretty obvious where all the political leaders would have sat.
Q Who is the audience for this? Is there some kind -- I don't know, is there a conference going on, or who is the group the President is speaking to?
MR. BURTON: Hold on one second. This is in Finkenbinder’s pocket. I’ll have it for you in a minute. (Laughter.)
Q He was not invited to come on the plane? I just want to make sure I was clear on that.
MR. BURTON: No, I don't believe so.
Q There’s a report out of the U.N. Human Rights and they're talking about making recommendations for countries to have to disclose when they use unmanned drones, in particular, to kill terrorists. Is that something the U.S. would support?
MR. BURTON: The President is focused on making sure that he’s doing everything in his power to protect the security of our country and to advance our strategic interests. I’m not going to get into an intelligence matter, but I will tell you that the President is going to continue to do everything that he can to protect Americans.
Q On the surface, that recommendation wouldn't present any problems for the U.S.?
MR. BURTON: I’m just not going to get into intelligence matters.
Okay, the audience is about 300 people; 50 percent of the tickets went to the school and then the White House distributed the rest. The audience will be comprised of students, faculty, elected officials and local community and business leaders.
Q Back on the oil spill for just a second. The inquiry that the DOJ is conducting, the target of that could be oil company executives, workers? Could it be regulators? Are there -- can you say anything about that?
MR. BURTON: I would direct you to the Department of Justice for the parameters of what they're looking into. I think the bottom line is they're looking to see if any laws were broken. If there were, they're going to act appropriately.
Q I mean, they wouldn't rule out the possibility that regulators may be implicated here?
MR. BURTON: You’d have to talk to those guys about the scope.
Q And also could you go back to the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister? Does this have any implications for the Japanese-U.S. alliance? I mean, apparently the Okinawa base was an issue in the Prime Minister’s decision.
MR. BURTON: No, our alliance is unshaken. In terms of the base, as their chief minister said this morning, that agreement will be honored.
Q Let me try on the economy and Europe. There’s been reports that the Obama administration is urging its European partners to conduct similar bank stress tests as the U.S. did. What would the White House say about that?
MR. BURTON: Well, the United States is confident that European leaders have been doing the right thing by putting in place reforms that help to keep their financial institutions strong and help to shore up their own economies.
I don’t know that I'm going to get into the specifics of private conversations that are had between our nation and other nations, but if you want more on that, I would direct you to the Treasury.
Q Not to belabor the Sestak thing, but you said he was invited to a political meeting prior to the speech? What kind of political meeting?
MR. BURTON: It’s the sort of meeting the President has at a lot of these events with local community leaders, often from different parts of the state.
Q This happens behind closed doors? I mean, it’s not something we're going to see?
MR. BURTON: That’s right.
Q And Sestak declined that invitation, as far as you know?
MR. BURTON: That’s right.
Q Does the President think that Mark Kirk misled people about his service record?
MR. BURTON: This is something I haven't talked to him about. I'm not sure if he’s even seen the reports about it.
Q Not sure he’s what?
MR. BURTON: -- he’s even seen the reports about it.
Q Is he following the Illinois Senate race?
MR. BURTON: He is following it, but probably not as closely as those of us who have a lot more time to just read the political news from around the country.
Q Back to the Sestak thing for one second. Do you think that part of it -- the campaign is not the reason that he’s not here, it’s because he had a prior commitment. But do you think that part of this may be lingering tension between the White House and the Sestak campaign, given the obvious?
MR. BURTON: Nope.
Q Could you elaborate?
MR. BURTON: Really, no. (Laughter.) Okay, let’s eat.
12:11 P.M. EDT