White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, October 26, 2011

En Route Andrews Air Force Base–(ENEWSPF)–October 26, 2011 – 2:32 P.M. EDT

        MR. CARNEY:  So let’s do this and then we can all eat.  I have no announcements to make.  It’s a great pleasure to have you aboard Air Force One as we leave snowy Denver for what I am told is sunny and warm Washington, D.C.  It’s been a great trip.  

        As you know, the President, this morning, was able to speak to a University of Colorado-Denver crowd about his new initiative to assist students, former students with the burden of their student loans, easing that burden a little bit through some initiatives he announced, the details of which you have.

        That’s part of an effort that he’s undertaken to do everything he can, broadly speaking, to help people in this difficult economy, put people back to work, and help the economy grow.  Because while he makes very clear that executive action is not a substitute for legislative action, he will do everything he can within his power to address the number-one priority that the American people have.  And so you can expect that he will continue to do that in the coming days, weeks and months.

        Q    Are you at all concerned that, when people start seeing the details of these actions, they might learn that they, by their very nature, are somewhat limited?  And, for instance, what he announced today is not going to alleviate the true burden of student debt for most people, so —

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it is — to suggest that an initiative doesn’t entirely solve a problem, that makes it not worth doing, is I think a faulty analysis at best.  When you tell it to what I think is 1.6 million students who would be assisted and see their burden reduced by this — by the initiatives that would simply move up the program that was going to start in 2014 and start it in 2012 — I mean, if our economic problems or challenges were solvable by two or three proposals, I think we’d be done already.

        But as the President says, the hole we found ourselves in, as a country, because of the great recession was very, very deep. And we didn’t get there overnight, and we won’t climb out of it overnight.  But we are climbing out of it.  And this President is committed to doing everything he can, through working with Congress and working with his executive powers, to assist Americans — middle-class Americans who are struggling in this economy to do better.

        Q    Jay, speaking of debt burdens, what’s the current level of concern about the seeming inability of the Europeans to come to terms with the issue there?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, we are very engaged in this. Secretary Geithner has been in constant contact with his counterparts.  The President, as you know, has also been in communication with a fair amount of regularity with European leaders on this issue.  And we have made clear that we believe that the Europeans have the financial capacity to deal with this challenge and they need to meet that capacity with political will that’s necessary to meet it, and that they need to take action that will conclusively deal with this challenge — which, of course, is important not just because these countries are all our allies, it’s a very, very important part of the world, but because the situation in Europe creates headwinds for the American economy.  And this President is, again, very focused on doing everything he can to grow this economy and create jobs.

        Q    What’s the assumption of where that situation is going to be when he gets to the G20 table next week?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to make predictions about the future, but we continue to discuss with and urge our European counterparts to take conclusive action to deal with this problem in a timely fashion.

        Q    They were having a big meeting today in Brussels.  Has he been briefed about that?  Is he going to talk to anybody about that?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any readouts to give you or previews to give you of phone calls or discussions he may have, but he is, of course, being kept up to date, as he is every day, on events around the world, including in Europe.

        Q    China has agreed to come out and help the Europeans, investing in the bailout fund.  Is there any sense that the U.S. might do that in the future?  Is that off the table, whether or not the U.S. would intervene?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t believe so.  I would ask that you maybe direct that question to Secretary — rather, to the Treasury Department.

        Q    Don’t believe so on what?  Sorry.

        MR. CARNEY:  That the U.S. would provide assistance directly to the Europeans.  But it’s not my understanding that’s our position.

        Q    Can I ask an Iraq question?  There have been some reports that the President didn’t get very personally involved in the negotiations.  Given that a lot of this had to do with Iraqi politics and unable to get to immunity, does it also show that ultimately the administration just didn’t think it was necessary —

        MR. CARNEY:  I’m glad you asked that, Scott, because that report is just categorically false to suggest that the President and the Vice President hadn’t been in communication with Iraqi leaders, and it turns out that’s wrong.  The Vice President had many, many conversations with Iraqi leaders over the time period mentioned in that story.  The President spoke with Prime Minister Maliki this summer.  And it’s simply erroneous.  

        The fact of the matter is, as we discussed and the President announced, the President is keeping his commitment to draw down U.S. forces to zero at the end of this year; to end the American war in Iraq in a responsible way that honors the remarkable sacrifice and service of our men and women in uniform, as well as our civilian personnel, and gives Iraq the best opportunity to build a prosperous and democratic future.  

        We will continue to have a vital and important relationship with Iraq in the years ahead.  The Strategic Framework Agreement, as you know, Scott, is very, very important to the Iraqis and it’s very important to us.  And we’re going to build on that.  We want a normal relationship, the kind of relationship we have with sovereign nations around the world — which is why we are so puzzled by those who suggest that keeping this commitment is somehow not the right thing to do, when it was a commitment signed by President Bush, first of all, and secondly, it is — by fulfilling this commitment, we’re demonstrating the fact that largely because of, or certainly in part because of the remarkable efforts by our American men and women in uniform and civilians, Iraq is now in control of its destiny, and able to secure its own country.

        That has been the case step by step in this process.  When the President said we would remove U.S. forces from Iraqi cities by the summer of 2009, people said, oh, well, that will be terrible, it will — these critics said that will be terrible and cause a dramatic increase in violence.  The opposite happened.  

        Same thing when the President said we’d draw down to 50,000 troops and end our combat mission — the situation improved.  And it improved because of the remarkable work that our forces have done with the Iraqi security forces.  

        So the President is very confident that this is a course of action that is good for the United States and good for Iraq.

        Q    Jay, why wasn’t there any record then of all these calls that you say occurred?  Because the McClatchy report looked at embassy logs —

        MR. CARNEY:  There was actually a readout of at least one of these calls that they seem to have missed.  But the fact is, as you know, Jim, we don’t read out every call we have, the President has or the Vice President has with foreign leaders.  

        The Vice President, as you know because he was asked to basically oversee our Iraq policy by the President at the beginning of this term, was throughout my time working for him and has continued to be in regular consultation and contact with Iraqi leaders, as well as other interlocutors who have worked with us on Iraq, including the United Nations and others.  So I’m puzzled by the piece.

        Q    In light of that, though, will you be producing some of the logs or records —

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know.  I mean, to produce — to prove an utterly false story, I mean, it’s just — and, again, some of this stuff has been read out.  I can tell you, as a fact, that the Vice President was in regular consultation with the Iraqi leaders.  The President had a conversation with Prime Minister Maliki this summer.  Again, I’m puzzled by it.

        Q    Jay, the President was interrupted today by some protestors about the Keystone Pipeline, and he responded by saying their concerns would be addressed.  What is the President’s position on Keystone and what role is he playing in the decision-making?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, you heard the President address this in his remarks.  I’m not going to get ahead of him.  The State Department is obviously the agency tasked with — as a matter of precedent — with evaluating this and making a decision.  The President said today that he understands the concerns of those who have expressed themselves, as some did today.  But I’m not going to get ahead of that decision or get ahead of the President.

        Q    — it will be by the end of the year like the State Department originally said, a decision —

        MR. CARNEY:  I just don’t know what the latest is on that.  I’d refer you to the State Department.

        Q    Is he weighing in on it at all?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything more for you on that.

        Q    Jay, Friends of the Earth have argued and have emails that show some relationship between the Canadian company and some State Department officials.  Is the President concerned about that, or has he looked at that?

        MR. CARNEY:  Again, I just don’t have anything more on that for you.  I haven’t had that discussion with him.

        Q    Can you respond to Paul Ryan’s comments today that suggest that the President has not lived up to the promise that he set out when he launched his presidential campaign?

        MR. CARNEY:  This is the speech that Congressman Ryan gave about — decrying the politics of division, which he gave at a conservative think tank, a very partisan conservative think tank, in which he then spent most of his speech criticizing and attacking the President?  That’s the speech you’re referring to?

        Q    That’s the speech I’m referring to.

        MR. CARNEY:  I do have something to say about that.  This President’s commitment to trying to overcome the kind of divisive politics is at the core of who he is as a leader and a politician.  The fact of the matter is, despite what Congressman Ryan says, the President’s approach, is viewed even recently — and I’m citing somebody else’s work here that I saw, a little item — even recently cited in a Fox News poll with a somewhat leading question about, do you believe that the approach the President is taking is bringing people together or is he deliberately dividing people — 56 to 32 said the former.

        Q    — what was that?

        MR. CARNEY:  Said that his approach is trying to bring people together.  This is his current approach to these problems. And that is the approach he’s taken.  This President, from the beginning, has tried repeatedly to work with Republicans, and has successfully worked with them on a number of issues.  

        I would simply remind Congressman Ryan that the Republican leader in the other body, the Senate, made clear in public statements that his number-one priority wasn’t to work with Democrats, wasn’t to work with the President, wasn’t to get things done in a way that the American people want them to get done, but to — his number-one priority, as he said explicitly, was to do everything he could to assure that President Obama was not reelected.  It sounds like politics of division to me.

        More importantly, again — and this is not about Congressman Ryan’s motives or sincerity of his beliefs, but he put forward a budget plan that would give an average of a $200,000 tax cut to the average millionaire, and through the voucherization of Medicare, heap extraordinary new burdens on senior citizens in America.  That seems pretty divisive to me.  It’s certainly not an approach that the American people support.  And I would contrast it with the kind of support the American people in survey after survey have shown for the approach the President is taking.  

        What else do we have here?  There’s a familiar refrain that we heard in the speech about going after small business and punitive tax hikes on job creators — something I always find interesting because by the way Republicans define small businesses, did you know that more than 200 of the 400 highest earning people in America, people whose average annual income is $271 million — that they’re small business owners because they’re in partnership with law firms and other things, and that those are the jobs — the small business owners that they say shouldn’t be paying a little extra.

        Q    — responded by talking about a lot of what Republicans have done that’s been divisive.  But what about just sort of addressing the core of what he’s saying?  President Obama came to prominence, his whole political rise was based on the promise of bringing people together, and at the end of the day —

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has been very candid about this, that it’s been — that it has been a very difficult task, but it is one that he remains committed to.  And again, I know because I was there, that he went to extraordinary efforts from the very beginning of his administration to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way to take the necessary measures to prevent what was a catastrophic situation for our economy from becoming a second Great Depression — and measure after measure where he sought Republican support.  And again, I think we know now from what we’ve heard quite explicitly from Republican leaders is that their priority was to prevent the President from getting that bipartisan support because they thought it was politically advantageous for them to do so.

        That’s unfortunate.  But the President still believes that we can work together because that’s what — not because he has some power to make it happen, but because the American people really are fed up with the continual dysfunction we find in Washington.  You see it again and again and again when you talk to folks out in the country and you see it in data — they’re just fed up with that dysfunction.  They’re fed up with people putting party ahead of country.

        And he believes that he’s going to keep taking a pickaxe to the rock and try to break down that kind of resistance to the sort of bipartisan cooperation that he believes the American people are crying out for.  

        And again, I mean, he could have crafted an American Jobs Act, a proposal that was filled with ideas that only Democrats had ever supported.  Democrats would have thought, perhaps, that was a good idea.  Instead, he put it — filled it with ideas that Republicans have traditionally supported as well, not just Democrats — because he wanted it passed because he thought it was the right thing to do for the country, and he was realistic about the need to put something forward that Republicans could support — because they have in the past.  And unfortunately, that, as of yet, has not occurred.

        Q    Jay, returning to the student loan question, just a kind of a technical question.  You said, the White House has said that it’s no cost to taxpayers.  But if you’re consolidating the loans and lowering the rate by half a point, don’t you end up with a loss — some loss of revenue out of that?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I believe that there is an overall actual savings, reduction to the deficit through this program.  I would — I’ll have to steer you to the policy experts on how that works.  But it is actually a deficit reducer, not a — no burden to the taxpayer.  And I know that there are GOP talking points out there that —

        Q    — an expectation that more would pay back —

        MR. CARNEY:  Let me see if I can find some data — I know that there’s been people out there discussing — conference calls that have been had and policy people talking to your colleagues about how this will work.  But we’re very confident that, contrary to the criticism from some quarters, that far from being a burden on taxpayers, this will be a deficit reducer — and a huge help to students all across the country who are heavily burdened by this student debt.  And as the President said, this has become a major, major problem for Americans, and he thinks it’s the right thing to do to try to help them.

        Q    Jay, can you tell us anything about the unpublicized meeting that the President had in L.A. yesterday with Hollywood executives?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has lots of meetings.  I don’t have — I saw that report, like a secret meeting.  Did that mean did he have a secret meeting with the motorcade drivers and the police officers that he does every time?  I mean, he has conversations that aren’t on the public schedule.  But I think it was just talking to supporters.  It was not a campaign event in the sense that it was not — there was no — it was not a fundraiser.  It was just a discussion — brief, very brief, like 10 minutes — with some supporters.

        Q    What do you think of Rick Perry’s flat tax, and the claim that his economic policies will create 2.5 million jobs if he’s elected?

        MR. CARNEY:  I confess I haven’t had a chance to evaluate it yet, or to talk to our folks here about it.  Our belief is that we need to, through tax reform, make sure that we don’t shift an even greater burden on the middle class.  I know that — going back to Laura’s question about Congressman Ryan — I think he was asked about — the new CBO report, the nonpartisan CBO report, that demonstrates the remarkable transformation that’s been happening in this country with a greater and greater concentration of wealth among the very, very top earners in this country.

        And you know what, the President’s approach is we want to make sure that more people have that kind of upward mobility; more people can move up from the lower rungs to the middle class, from the middle class higher and higher.  And, unfortunately, what we’ve seen is a reduction in the kind of opportunities, and in part because of some of the policies.  

        The middle class does not deserve new, added burdens.  They do not deserve tax hikes.  They do not deserve, we think, policies that actually would benefit those who have already benefited so greatly in the last decade — a time when middle class incomes stagnated or even declined.

        So I haven’t had a chance, again, to look at that particular plan.  I know that that is often the issue with so-called flat tax plans, is that what they end up being very, very regressive and even — I believe the flat tax plan proposed by one of the other candidates in the Republican primaries has been criticized by other Republicans for doing that, for shifting the tax burden away from — onto the middle class and giving greater tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.  

        Q    So what is the President doing right now?

        MR. CARNEY:  Last I — I talked to him right before I came out.  He asked me if I was going to gaggle.  I said, yes, I was. He said to say hello.  He hopes you enjoyed your trip.

        Q    Why does he so rarely come back here, Jay, and talk to reporters —

        MR. CARNEY:  I think he has come back a couple of times on my watch.  I mean, I think that he gives a lot of press conferences and I’m sure he’ll be back to say hello in the future.

        Q    He’s welcome.

        Q    Jay, do you have a comment on the State Department spending $70,000 on President Obama’s books?

        MR. CARNEY:  I saw that.  I would refer you to the State Department.  What I do know, because we looked into it — obviously the White House didn’t have anything to do with this –I think this is an embassy-by-embassy based decision, based on what they think is, in buying books, makes sense to them in terms of advancing American foreign policy interests.

        I mean, I see in some paper that a lot of these embassies have books by Colin Powell or George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.  But, again, in terms of this particular news story, I would refer you to the State Department.

        Thanks, guys.

END 2:56 P.M. EDT