Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton Aboard Air Force One en route Wisconsin, 6/30/2010
11:41 A.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Good morning. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Any questions?
Q So given that Obama and Medvedev say they’ve got this really close, candid relationship, has Obama reached out to him to talk about the arrest of the alleged Russian spies?
MR. BURTON: Not that I know of. There’s been contact at other levels of the government, but I don’t know of any contact between the President and Medvedev.
Q Is that something you might plan on doing?
MR. BURTON: Not that I know of.
Q Bill, why did the President decide to take on an aggressive tone with the Republicans today in his speech?
MR. BURTON: The President’s view is that there are these important moments where there is some clarity about how our view of the world contrasts with the Republican view of the world. In this case, the President is going to talk in stark terms about the difference in what we saw as the cause and cost of the financial crisis and what we needed to do about it, and what their view of the financial crisis was, which was that it was just an “ant.”
The President’s view is that it wasn’t -- it was no small thing that brought our economy to its knees and allowed some risky bets on Wall Street to cause millions of Americans to lose their jobs, that caused many Americans to lose their life savings, and put us in a really bad place that we’re just now getting ourselves out of.
Q How many Republicans do you expect to pick up in the Senate on the financial regulation vote?
MR. BURTON: I’m no vote-counter myself, but enough to get it passed.
Q Bill, can you preview for us his immigration speech at American?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s view is that there’s been a lot in the news about immigration lately. There’s been the Arizona law, there’s been meetings about it, there’s been protests about it. He thought this was a good time to talk plainly with the American people about his views on immigration. Most specifically, he thinks this debate is about accountability -- accountability for securing the border, accountability for employers who are hiring illegal immigrants, and accountability for those who are in this country illegally. And he’s going to talk about that tomorrow.
Q Is he going to give Congress a timeline at all?
MR. BURTON: I don’t anticipate a specific timeline, no.
Q Are you anticipating anything new out of that speech that we haven’t heard in one way, shape, or form?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don’t think you’ve heard the President give a speech on immigration reform before, so I think a lot of the elements will be familiar to you.
Q Is the President at all offended by Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Romanoff?
MR. BURTON: I have not talked to him about it. It sounds to me like just a difference of opinion in a primary.
Q Gibbs was asked yesterday if the White House had any heads up on that. He wasn’t sure. Do you know if you guys got any heads up?
MR. BURTON: We didn’t.
Q You did not?
MR. BURTON: No.
Q You all found out when everybody else found out?
MR. BURTON: That’s right.
Q Do you know what the reaction inside the White House was?
MR. BURTON: It was -- there is a lot of things that happen in the White House every day. This was just one of those things where, okay, we have a difference of opinion in this primary.
Q Along the -- since this is about the economy, what is the President going to say, if anything, about the fact that in the last few days the economic numbers, if anything, are getting worse? We’ve seen it reflected in the stock market. We’ve seen consumer confidence drop. What -- how does he deal with that given that this is something obviously he’s been focused on for a long time?
MR. BURTON: The President has been very focused on the economy since the beginning of this administration and he shares the dissatisfaction that many Americans have that progress is not happening faster. He thinks that we’ve done a lot to stand up the financial industry to make sure that it didn’t collapse, to put Americans back to work, to help our economy grow. But there’s a lot more work that needs to get done, and that’s why you see some of the proposals the President has continued to move through Congress, be it on financial regulatory reform or the extenders package that we think is important for a lot of separate issues.
So the President is going to talk about some of the progress that we’ve made, but also about a lot of the hard work that still is needed to be done.
Q But given the fact that consumer confidence index went down, people aren’t spending as much money, are there any conversations going on about changing course or trying to get some new policies? I mean, the consumers spoke pretty clearly in that report.
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s view is that there’s never a shortage of new, good ideas, so of course he’s always willing to listen to anything that can help spur faster, stronger economic growth. But, no, there’s no change in course from what the President thinks is an important American mission, which is to get our economy back on track, create jobs, and stabilize things for the future.
Q But why do you think that people don’t seem to be responding to that? Why do you think that the President’s approval ratings on handling the economy are not strong? More people disapprove of what he’s doing on the economy than approve of it. Overall consumer confidence -- even what you said, he’s obviously said those things before -- why is that the case?
MR. BURTON: Well, these are tough economic times for the American people. And like I said, the President shares the frustration of folks that progress is not being made as quickly as he wishes it were. He wishes that all the Americans who lost their jobs in the recession were back to work, but he’s not going to stop fighting and stop working to ensure that they get back to work until that happens.
So until Americans start to feel for themselves that the economy is getting better, it’s going to be a tough time. And I’m no expert in polls, but polling is going to reflect that. But regardless, the President is focused on doing everything that he can to strengthen the economy and to move us forward.
Q Bill, are you bracing for bad news on Friday when the Labor Department report comes out?
MR. BURTON: The jobs report is something where we don’t know the numbers in advance and you brace for anything being possible here. So we don’t know the numbers now. I obviously don’t know the numbers, but I will tell you that unless that report says that we’ve made back every single job that was lost during the recession, the President is going to be -- is not going to be satisfied and is going to continue to work as hard as ever to put Americans back to work.
Q What does he think about Larry King quitting?
MR. BURTON: I have not talked to him about it.
Q In terms of the excerpts that were released, obviously he still aims foursquare against Congressman Boehner. Is he trying to elevate this? What is it that he wants out of Boehner at this point? What’s the -- can you talk a little bit about his decision to go after him in a pretty direct, personal way?
MR. BURTON: I think you missed a little bit of this with a sneezing fit at the beginning of the gaggle. (Laughter.) It’s okay. But ultimately, the President thinks this is a moment that helps to illustrate some of the differences between what he’s been trying to do and what Republicans in Congress would like to do. He thinks that the financial crisis has actually been an enormous deal for the American people, especially those who have lost their jobs and have lost their savings as a result. Apparently on the other side, right up to the very top leadership, they think that it was basically an ant. So it’s a difference of opinion that the President thinks is worth talking about.
Q Just a quick McChrystal question. In his hearing yesterday he kept referring to this --
MR. BURTON: Petraeus?
Q Petraeus, I’m sorry. He kept referring to this enduring commitment that the U.S. is going to have in Afghanistan. So how does that square up with Obama saying that this isn’t going to be an endless war?
MR. BURTON: I think if you looked at the full arc of Petraeus’s testimony, and even on all the specific questions when he was drilled down on the July 2011 deadline, everybody is on the same page. Petraeus said that he supported it. He said that he will enforce it. When July 2011 comes, we’ll begin to transition our forces out of Afghanistan. It will be conditions-based and we’ll look at where we are at that moment and what’s the most appropriate number of troops to start moving, but that hasn’t changed. Nothing he said in his testimony suggested anything else.
Q An enduring commitment suggests a rather long-term commitment to Afghanistan beyond July 2011, even if we start drawing down at that point.
MR. BURTON: Our commitment here is to make sure that Afghanistan can take care of the safety and security of their people on their own. That’s why we’re working so hard on making sure that we meet or exceed recruitment and retainment numbers in the police force and in their military, which we’ve been able to do. That’s why on the civilian side they’re working to help the local communities be sufficient without American forces. That’s the entire purpose of what we’re doing here.
And our work will not be done until we are -- let me start that sentence a little differently. Our focus here is making sure that they can defend themselves, that we root out al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and that we do all the things that we can to support them in that effort.
Q So does the President agree with Petraeus that this will be an enduring commitment?
MR. BURTON: Not having seen the entire context of where he said that, I wouldn’t talk to that specifically.
Q Back to immigration for one second. Why is -- you said that this is the moment to do it because there’s a lot going on on immigration. But the conventional wisdom I think from the White House and everywhere else is that this is not likely to happen this year. So why now, given all the stuff that’s on Congress’s plate and the White House’s plate? Why are you talking about this now?
MR. BURTON: It’s an issue that’s important right now. It’s important at the border. It’s important for folks who are employing people all over the country. It’s an important issue the President thinks is -- and the President thinks that right now, given the focus on it, it’s important that he makes clear exactly where he stands on it.
Q Has he been keeping an eye on the Blagojevich trial?
MR. BURTON: I haven’t talked to him about it.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: You bet.
END 11:51 A.M. EDT