White House Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, May 6, 2011

En Route Indianapolis, Indiana–(ENEWSPF)–May 6, 2011 –   10:36 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  I just want to mention a couple of things before I get started here.  First, as you all know, we had an employment report today that showed private sector payrolls increasing by 268,000 in April, which makes 14 consecutive months of private sector employment growth.  During that period, the economy added 2.1 million private sector jobs, including more than 800,000 jobs since the beginning of the year.

This is obviously good news.  The February number was revised upwards to 261,000 private sector jobs created, and the March number was estimated upward to 231,000 — very, very solid; an average of approximately a quarter of a million private sector jobs created each month for three straight months. 

We’re pleased about that.  We obviously have a lot more work to do.  The recession cost the American labor force 8 million jobs and we’re still digging ourselves out of that hole. 

Next I’d like to just remind you about where we’re going today.  The President will first visit Allison Transmission, which is a leader in hybrid technology and the world’s largest manufacturer of fully automatic transmissions for medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, tactical military vehicles, and hybrid compulsion systems.  This visit is meant to highlight the President’s commitment to diversifying our energy requirements, to reduce our dependence on imported oil, and to ensure that we are leaders in clean energy technology in the 21st century.

Finally, I just wanted to note that when we go to Fort Campbell today, the President and Vice President will be visiting with members of the 101st Airborne Division, which, if you don’t know, has such a remarkable history, beginning in World War II, where they were the first allied forces to set foot on occupied France territory; fought valiantly through World War II; were a vital division during the Cold War, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and then obviously in the Iraq war, and most recently in Afghanistan.  Extraordinary service, extraordinary sacrifice.

What is less known is that it was elements of the 101st Airborne Division who were sent by President Eisenhower to Little Rock to ensure that the “Little Rock Nine” attended Little Rock Central High School.  It was also elements of the 101st that were sent to help make sure that James Meredith was able to attend as the first African American at the University of Mississippi.  So it is a noble, noble history.  And both the President and Vice President look forward to that visit.

With that I will take your questions.

Q    Jay, the President has said he doesn’t want to spike the ball.  But he’s speaking to troops.  Doesn’t he expect a celebratory mood there in the wake of bin Laden’s death?  And does that kind of go against that mood that he’s trying to — a non-gloating mood?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t expect you’ll hear the President spiking the ball or gloating when he speaks to troops returning from Afghanistan today.  The point he will make is that while the successful mission against Osama bin Laden was an historic and singular event, it does not by any means mean that we are finished with the war against al Qaeda.  The fight goes on.

And one of the reasons why the President refocused our resources and attention on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, increased our commitment there in terms of troops — which these troops represent — is because he believed very strongly that al Qaeda central was the number one target — should be the number one target of that effort.

He’s going to speak to these troops to thank them for their service.  They have fought valiantly and incurred significant casualties in that effort.  So there’s nothing — there’s no intent to gloat at all in that regard.

Q    Is he meeting with members of the teams that carried out the operation to get Osama bin Laden?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can say is that he is meeting with special operators — some special operators who were involved in that, but that is all I can say.

Q    On the bin Laden operation, Al Arabia is reporting that al Qaeda is now — may not come as a shock — threatening to attack the U.S. in retaliation for killing bin Laden.  Is the President aware of that?  And what’s his thinking on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are aware of it, seen the reports.  What it does do, obviously, is acknowledge the obvious, which is that Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday night by U.S. forces.

Q    Is there any more concern now that there’s been —

MR. CARNEY:  We’re being extremely vigilant.  You can ask questions of the Department of Homeland Security as well, but the — we’re quite aware of the potential for activity and are highly vigilant on that matter for that reason. 

One of the things we saw I think last night was the notice that DHS put out with regard to the information collected about the consideration at least of a terrorist plot against American railways back in February of 2010.  The fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist might have been considering further terror plots against the United States is not a surprise, but it reminds us, of course, that we need to remain ever vigilant.    

Q    Jay, can you at least tell us whether this group of special operators that you referred to will include Navy SEALs or helicopter pilots —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to say anything more about that.  It is extremely important that I say nothing more.

Q    If we’re done with the bin Laden questions, or are you not?  On another matter, the Republican congressional leaders appear to be backing away from attempting to pass their Medicare plan prior to the 2012 election it’s widely reported today.  What does the President think about that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say simply that the talks that the Vice President led yesterday, the initial meeting of the members of Congress and team from the administration, was productive.  And we certainly think that it’s a good thing if those who are participating in those negotiations understand that in order to achieve compromise, we need to find common ground. 

We obviously have — the President has laid out his plan, and there are elements of stark contrast with the House Republican’s budget that passed.  What we’re looking for now is where we can find some common ground to achieve a goal that Republicans and Democrats share, which is reducing the debt significantly, getting our fiscal house in order and, as the President sees it, while making sure that we protect the investments we need to protect in order to continue to grow the economy, continue to create jobs and educate our children.

Q    Does the President have any reaction to the report today that CEO pay is up 25 percent over last year  —

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t heard him react to that, no.

Q    Jay, can you tell us anything about the President’s immigration speech next week and any other events from the week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can say is that the speech will reflect the President’s continued commitment to find a bipartisan way to create a bipartisan — rather comprehensive immigration reform.  As I think I said earlier this week, the fact that we were not able to achieve that in the first two years only means that we need to refocus our efforts and try to find that compromise.  In the past, obviously there has been Republican support for the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that is necessary and we hope that there will be again in the future.  

Q    — rest of the week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  I do have that, if you’re ready for it.

Q    Can you field more questions after?

MR. CARNEY:  Do you want to ask those questions first, and then I’ll do —

Q    In April of 2008, President Obama — or then candidate Obama appeared at a gas station in Indiana — gas was at $3.60 a gallon — said we need to vote for change, a new set of policies. He’s returning to Indiana now with gas well over $4.00 a gallon. What does it say about the success he has had over the last three years in dealing with the fuel issue, the gas issue?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you’ve heard the President speak quite a lot lately about the impact of high gas prices on Americans’ pocketbooks and wallets.  We’re very concerned about it.  We do note the steep drop in oil prices in the last couple of days.  And I would also note that one of the things the Attorney General task force will be looking at is coordinating with state attorneys general to make sure that we don’t have a what I’ve heard described as a “rockets-and-parachutes phenomenon,” where prices at the pump rocket up when oil prices rocket up, and yet they come down in a parachute fashion when oil prices go down.  So we want to make sure that a drop in oil prices is appropriately reflected in a drop in gas prices at the pump.

Q    Does the President believe gas prices will drop in the coming months?  The futures market seem to be indicating they will.

MR. CARNEY:  We don’t predict markets here, obviously.  And we have seen a drop.  We have — but they go up and down.  The President, as you know, has said many times that there are no silver bullet solutions here, no short-term solutions, and that’s why he is committed to — while we are doing the things in the short term that we hope can provide some relief, the big challenge is the long-term solution that weans us off our dependence on foreign oil, that diversifies our energy supply, that allows us to build clean energy industries in the United States that both enhance our national security and provide quality jobs in this country. 

So that’s been his commitment; you’ve heard him speak about that many times.  You’ll hear him speak about it again today in Indiana.

Q    What does the President think about all the Monday morning quarterbacking on the Osama bin Laden operation?  Does he think it’s helpful — all the criticism and the questioning about how it went down?  Does it —

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t heard much criticism about how it went down.  What I’ve heard is a pretty universal acclamation of the fact that a remarkable team of U.S. personnel conducted one of the most — one of the riskiest operations imaginable flawlessly, and limited collateral damage and civilian casualties, achieved their goal of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, and returned safely every single American.

So I think that is what most people have focused on, appropriately, because it was a remarkable achievement that was the product of years of intelligence work, years of training in the case of the personnel involved in the actual mission, and some very bold decision-making by the President and others to bring this about.

Q    Jay, how did he feel about yesterday’s events in New York?

MR. CARNEY:  He felt very good about it.  I think he — the meetings with firefighters, with the police, with families and loved ones of victims were powerful events.  And I think he understands that this is a bittersweet moment, especially for those who lost loved ones in 9/11, both in New York, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.  And he was very glad he made the trip.

Q    Jay, the President won Indiana by less than 30,000 votes in ’08.  Does he think that it’s as tough or even tougher political environment right now for him to get support for his agenda or even win reelection?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that it’s a long time before next year’s election, and he’s focused on the things that a President needs to be focused on — our national security — his focus on that I think has been quite evident in the last several days; and the economy, which is what he’ll be focusing on today in Indiana.

I think that the President firmly believes that making the right policy decisions tends to be beneficial come political season, but for him, at least, political season is a long way off.

Q    — we’re flying into another swing state.

MR. CARNEY:  The fact is that this — Allison Transmission is, as I just read to you, a major manufacturer of the kind of the technology that the President believes is going to help us win the future in the 21st century.  So I think we go where the action is, and in this case, this company is where the action is.

Q    Did the President watch the Fox News Republican debate last night?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t asked him.  I don’t know.  I think there was some basketball on last night — maybe there wasn’t, maybe that’s tonight — so I don’t know.  I think the Bulls are playing tonight, is that right?  Well, come on, guys. 

Yes.  Okay, I can do the week ahead if you don’t have any more questions.

On Monday, the President will meet with heads of the Chinese Strategic Economic Dialogue delegation at the White House. 

On Tuesday, the President will travel, as you know, to the El Paso, Texas area to deliver a speech on comprehensive immigration reform.  He will then travel to Austin, Texas, before returning to Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, the President will participate in a CBS Town Hall at the Newseum.  In the evening, the President and the First Lady will host a celebration of American poetry and prose by welcoming accomplished poets, musicians and artists, as well as students, from across the country to the White House.

On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. 

And on Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

Q    The town hall is Wednesday, not Thursday?  Initially it was —

MR. CARNEY:  That’s correct, it’s Wednesday. 

All right, thanks, guys.

10:52 A.M. EDT