White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, February 15, 2012

En Route Milwaukee, Wisconsin–(ENEWSPF)–February 15, 2012 – 11:25 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thanks for joining us on this first leg of our three-day, multi-state trip with the President.  As you know, we are headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the President will visit Master Lock Company, where he will discuss the importance of American manufacturing.  He will highlight insourcing and new investments in improving the skills of American workers.  

Master Lock is a great American company, as you know, the largest manufacturer of padlocks and related security products.  And it’s leading by example and bringing jobs back to the United States.  Since mid-2010, Master Lock has returned approximately 100 jobs back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin that had previously been offshore.  Master Lock is improving productivity at their plant in Milwaukee by upgrading equipment, and the company plans to continue to bring back jobs to Wisconsin.

As you know, the President has been highlighting a trend in America’s manufacturing that has seen a rebound in that sector.  The sector has added more than 300,000 jobs since December of 2009.  He’s also been highlighting a trend of insourcing, where American companies have made assessments that it is a smart economic move, smart business move for them to bring jobs back from overseas and relocate them in the United States.  And that’s something the President very much — is a trend the President feels is healthy for the American economy and healthy for American workers and essential to building a foundation for our economic future.

This is all part of the American blueprint — the President’s, rather, blueprint for an “America Built to Last,” which, as you know, has four pillars, one of them American manufacturing; the others innovation, skills for American workers, and American values.

I also wanted to just note something, if I could, that caught my attention, which is today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Affordable Care Act has provided approximately 54 million Americans with at least one new preventive service — or did provide those 54 million Americans with at least one new preventive service in 2011 through their private health insurance plans. 

This report is particularly important given the proposal under consideration currently in the United States Senate.  That proposal being considered in the Senate would allow any employer to restrict access to any preventive health service they say they object to.  It is not limited to contraception, and it applies to all employers — not just religious employers.  As the report makes clear, this proposal could affect tens of millions of Americans.  And as I said yesterday, or maybe the day before, it is dangerous and it is wrong.

With that, I will take your questions.

Q    Robert Zoellick is going to be leaving the World Bank in June.  Has the President talked to Zoellick?  And has he begun vetting candidates for the post?

MR. CARNEY:  I do not know whether the President has spoken with Mr. Zoellick, and I don’t have any information for you regarding possible successors.

Q    There have been reports that Hillary Clinton and Larry Summers could be potential successors.  Are those names that have been floated around on a staff level?

MR. CARNEY:  There’s been a lot of speculation in the press about this and other jobs, and I’m not going to confirm any of them.

Q    Do you have any reaction to Zoellick’s decision to step down?

MR. CARNEY:  None beyond our obvious appreciation for his service to his country and to the international community through his work at the World Bank.

Q    Are there any qualities that Larry Summers and Hillary Clinton have that would make them good fits for the job?

MR. CARNEY:  Excellent try, Kate, but I really don’t have any information for you on potential successors at the World Bank.

Q    Jay, Iran has announced that it’s going to cut oil exports to six European countries in response to sanctions — I wonder if you have a response to that, and whether you fear that this could really ultimately come back and damage the President’s push for creating jobs and the economy?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll make a couple of points on that, actually.  With regard to those threats, we don’t know what Iran’s intentions are, but we are watching closely and consulting with our partners.  The European Union’s own ban on new contracts for Iranian oil imports took effect on January 23rd, as you may know, and the ban on imports under existing contracts will take effect on July 1st.  What’s clear is that Iran is under more pressure from sanctions than ever before, and their economy is clearly being affected by those sanctions.

Q    But could it come back and hurt the European recovery effort and also the U.S.’s growth? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we made clear, as the President did when he signed the NDAA that included the new sanctions, that we would seek to implement those sanctions in a way that had the desired effect just to pressure and isolate Iran further, and did not have unintended consequences for any of our allies, or more broadly, for the international oil market.

Q    One more thing on that.  It sounded like, from what the state media is reporting, that the President of Iran has been sort of talking about a nuclear fuel reactors and things like that.  I’m wondering if you can respond to any other information you guys might have about that.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is apparently an announcement out of Iran today that it is loading Iranian-made nuclear fuel rods into its reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor.  We saw that announcement.  These activities remain under IAEA safeguards, as you know.  And we expect to learn more from IAEA inspectors on the ground in Iran.

Now, as you know, the United States has never objected to Iran’s peaceful and civilian nuclear activities.  In fact, back in 2009, the United States and others proposed to work with Iran to ensure a continued fuel supply for this specific reactor, which has been used to produce medical isotopes to treat cancer. After initially indicating acceptance of that offer, Iran reversed course.

And our interest is in Iran abiding by its international obligations, renouncing its interest in nuclear weapons and returning to the international community.  And that path remains open to Iran as long as it is interested in talks that — in which — that they would approach in a constructive manner. 

Q    Jay, both the oil move and the nuclear move could be viewed as a defiant act by Iran.  Is there any sense that the sanctions are not working?  I mean, is there — does this raise questions about the effectiveness of the sanctions?

MR. CARNEY:  I think quite the contrary, that what we see is provocative acts, defiant acts, statements that are designed to distract attention from the demonstrated impact that the sanctions are having, the demonstrated impact that the isolation of Iran is having.  We are very confident that the sanctions have put enormous pressure on the Iranian economy and on the Iranian regime. 

It is not unusual for Iran to try to distract attention from those uncomfortable facts and from its overall isolation by some burst of rhetoric or some announcement — making some announcement.

Q    Jay, the Associated Press is reporting that you guys are considering — the administration is considering how to reduce the nuclear arsenal.  I understand the plan hasn’t come to the President yet.  But can you talk a little bit about that consideration and what criteria the President might use to consider how to reduce the arsenal?  Is that something he would support generally?

MR. CARNEY:  I honestly don’t have anything to give you on that.  The President is extremely focused on nuclear security.  As you know, he hosted a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.  He will be attending a Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea, and remains committed to playing the leading role — or having the United States play the leading role in nuclear security around the globe.

Q    Jay, the Post reported that — today that the Chinese government declined to give a visa to high-level State Department Ambassador Cook for a recent visit to talk about religious freedom issues.  Can you confirm that?  And do you have a reaction to that?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department for details of that story.  I don’t have any information on that.  I would simply say that, as I noted yesterday and as others certainly did, including the Vice President, we are extremely candid in our conversations with members of the Chinese leadership about human rights and about the other issues of concern that we have in our broader relationship with China.

And I would note that, as you probably did, yesterday Vice President Biden said at the State Department luncheon held in honor of Vice President Xi’s visit, “We see our advocacy for human rights as a fundamental aspect of our foreign policy and we believe a key to the prosperity and stability of our societies.  We have been clear about our concern over the areas in which, from our perspective, conditions in China have deteriorated, and about the plight of several very prominent individuals.”

The President raised the importance of human rights and America’s commitment to universal values directly to Vice President Xi during their meeting yesterday in the Oval Office.  Specific human rights cases were raised in the course of the discussions at the White House, as was the situation in Tibet. 

Our commitment to being candid and direct with China about issues where we don’t agree or issues where we have concerns is part of an overall constructive approach to the relationship, which has many aspects to it.  And we are not combative or disrespectful.  We are frank and candid.

Q    Let me ask you — to follow up on that.  The Post also reported in that story that the Obama administration asked the Ambassador and others briefed on that scenario not to talk about it in advance of the Vice President of China’s trip here, perhaps because it would look bad.  Can you respond — do you have any response?

MR. CARNEY:  I have nothing on that, no.

Q    What’s the administration’s view of the deal, the tentative deal in the House and the Senate to extend the payroll tax cut to deal with UI and the doc fix?  Is that something the President can sign?

MR. CARNEY:  We’ll obviously wait and see if there is something for leaders in Congress to announce.  As you heard the President make clear yesterday, this is an extremely high priority for him and he welcomes positive signs of progress in Congress towards ensuring that 160 million Americans don’t have their taxes go up on March 1st, and ensuring that unemployment insurance is extended, and ensuring that doctors who are reimbursed through Medicare don’t have their payments slashed by something on the order of 27 percent — the so-called doc fix.

We have always believed, as the President made clear late last year and earlier this year, that Congress could — and should — handle this issue of extending the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance, and the doc fix without drama and without delay.  And hopefully that is what will happen.  But obviously we’ll wait and see what emerges from Congress.

Q    Jay, what’s the administration’s reaction to Assad setting a referendum for this new constitution on February 26th? Is that a positive step?  What’s the reaction to it?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s actually quite laughable.  It makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution.  Promises of reforms have usually been followed by an increase in brutality and have never been delivered upon by this regime since the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations in Syria.  The fact of the matter is the Assad regime’s days are numbered.  Members of his regime, senior military and civilian leadership, are demonstrating their own faith in the future of — or lack of faith in the future of Assad by moving assets out of the country, by preparing to send their family out of the country, and it’s clear that Syria’s future will not include Assad.  It’s not a question of if; it’s just a question of when.

We are working in a very focused way with an array of international allies and partners who are friends of Syria, friends of the Syrian people, to add to the pressure being brought to bear on Assad, to isolate him further, and to help bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria. 

Q    Right before we took off, Speaker Boehner, at a press conference, totaled up the deficits during the administration — said $5 trillion in deficits added to the debt.  And he talked about the new budget and said, “There’s no real activity here when it comes to cutting spending.”  Can you respond to that?  This budget is larger than last year’s budget, and of course, on top of that.  What’s your response to the Speaker?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, as you know, this budget includes more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.  And that’s a fact.  And as part of that $4 trillion, there’s the nearly $1 trillion in discretionary cuts that were signed into law by President Obama after negotiations with Republicans and Democrats in Congress last August.  And there is the guarantee of $1.2 trillion additional cuts that the sequester is designed to force Congress to agree on, and we hope that happens.  And then the President obviously has further reductions that come through reforms to our entitlement programs and through raising revenues on eliminating loopholes and subsidies to corporations, and raising revenues on the wealthiest Americans, who, as you know, saw their share of wealth in this country rise dramatically in the previous 10 years.  And the President does this because a balanced approach to getting our deficit and debts under control is the right way.

I would simply, in response to the Speaker’s comments, marvel at his silence during the years that President Obama’s predecessor was racking up huge deficits.  I’m pretty sure that Speaker Boehner went along with policies that put two wars on a credit card, that led to the passage of a wholly unpaid-for addition to the Medicare entitlement.  He helped lead the effort to pass two massive and unpaid-for tax cuts.  These are the policies that led to — a situation where budget surpluses were in place for as far as the eye could see in January of 2001, eight years later led to massive deficits.

That’s the situation President Obama inherited.  And not only that, he inherited what was the most catastrophic, devastating recession this country has had since the Great Depression.  The President’s policies have reversed the direction of the economy.  They have led to the creation of more than 3.7 million private sector jobs in the last 23 months, and to quarter after quarter now of economic growth.

I understand that Speaker Boehner is opposed to almost all of those policies that have led to that economic growth and job creation, which is unfortunate.  We hope that the signs of progress we’ve seen on the extension of the payroll tax cut might foretell cooperation in the future on measures to help the economy grow.

As you’ve heard me say a few times from the podium lately, this President does not accept the conventional wisdom that Congress can’t get anything done in an election year.  In fact, he hopes and expects that quite the opposite will be true.

Q    The President has raised more money from the tech industry than from Hollywood, which is a reversal from the same period in 2007.  Do you think he might get some tough questions at these fundraisers tonight from Hollywood executives about his stance on the anti-piracy legislation, which, seemingly, the administration cast doubt on the Hollywood-supported legislation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I believe the President enjoys support from people in both industries.  But beyond that, on the substantive issues of the SOPA legislation, we made our position quite clear, which was we are absolutely committed to working to find solutions to the problem of copyright infringement and intellectual property rights infringement, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t restrict Internet freedom.  We believe that that’s — it’s a both/and, not an either/or proposition.  And that’s the approach the administration is taking.

Q    Do you think it will have any impact on fundraising in Hollywood?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the campaign for questions about fundraising.

Q    Back on China quickly.  Did either President Obama or Vice President Biden raise the issue of the blocked visa in their candid discussions yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of, but I can check on that for you. 

Q    Jay, on a lighter note, is the President following at all the story of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks sensation — “Linsanity,” that kind of seems to be catching the world by storm?  I understand the Chinese are very interested in him as well.

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, the President is an avid sports fan, and a particularly avid basketball fan, and we were speaking about Jeremy Lin on Marine One as we flew here — to Andrews Air Force Base this morning.  If anybody caught the highlights from last night, they were pretty breathtaking.  It’s just a great story, and the President was saying as much this morning.  It’s obviously terrific for the New York Knicks, but it’s the kind of sports story that transcends the sport itself.  It involves people who don’t necessarily pay attention — I got my wife to watch the highlights this morning.  She was pretty amazed, and she doesn’t watch basketball.  So it’s a great story.  And, yes, he’s very impressed and fully up to speed.

Q    So had he seen —

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, yes.

Q    He’s seen the highlights?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  I know he’s watched Lin play already, and he had seen the highlights from last night’s game.

Q    Has he called “Linsanity”?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any calls to read out to you.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you.

11:45 A.M. EST