White House Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest aboard Air Force One, October 11, 2011

En Route Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–(ENEWSPF)–October 11, 2011 – 10:45 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good morning, ladies.  How is everybody?  Today the President is traveling first to meet with his Jobs Council.  The Jobs Council, as you know, was created by the President earlier this year to provide an outside perspective, a private sector perspective on things that — policies to be put in place to create jobs and strengthen our economy.  This includes business leaders, labor leaders.  The President will be — this is the third quarterly report that the Jobs Council will be presenting to the President this morning. 

We put out a news release today of one of the things from previous reports that we have already implemented.  So this was the executive order the President signed earlier this summer — I should say this summer — to expedite the permit reviewing process for a number of infrastructure projects.  We are hopeful that as these projects go through this permitting process we can gather some lessons learned that would allow us to make this process run more smoothly and more efficiently and we can get more of these projects going.

There are a couple of others that we have implemented already as well.  There is this idea that the President talked about a little bit last month in speeding up the payments to small businesses who are contracted to the federal government to ensure that they’re paid more efficiently and more quickly. 

And there’s one other one — oh, the regulatory look-back initiative that the President asked all the agencies to do, including from the independent agencies, to go back and look at all of the regulations that are — not just the ones they’re considering adding but also ones already on the books, to see if there’s red tape and bureaucracy that they can cut through to make government operate more efficiently and the private sector can create private sector jobs.

So they’ll be talking about that, including the report that they’ll offer up today.

The second thing I want to flag for you is when we’re in Orlando the President has a couple of campaign events.  In addition to those campaign events, he’s also going to take a little time out to visit with a handful — like three or four — unemployed construction workers in the Orlando area.  It seems like an appropriate thing to do on decision day in the United States Senate, where the United States Senate is going to vote on the President’s jobs package. 

They’ll obviously face a decision about whether they want to sign on to and vote in support of a bipartisan, paid-for plan that would put teachers back to work, put police officers back on the beat, put firefighters back on the job, but would also invest in our nation’s infrastructure and put back to work some of the one million construction workers who we know are unemployed at this point, and also make some pretty important investments in our nation’s infrastructure that will pay an economic benefit not just immediately but into the future as well. 

Q    Is there any coverage?

MR. EARNEST:  That will be a pool spray.

Q    Are they unionized construction workers?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll have more information on the workers’ background as we get closer to the event.

Q    How they were selected and that kind of stuff?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll see what I can get for you.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t tell you yet, but we will be —

Q    Do you know when —

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure of the exact time.  It’s either before or between.

Q    By all accounts, the House vote tonight on the jobs package is going to go down.  I know the President doesn’t like that, but is he reconciled with that and do you have your plan B for how you’ll move forward?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to be in a position to stand here and predict what happens on Capitol Hill.  That’s a pretty dangerous enterprise.  What I can tell you is we do expect to get the vast majority of Democrats on board with this plan.  And for the vast majority of Republicans, they have a pretty significant decision to make, which is are they going to stand on the side of, as I mentioned, a bipartisan, paid-for plan that would give a tax cut to small businesses, give a tax cut to 150 million working Americans, put teachers back in the classroom, put police officers back on the beat, put construction workers back to work investing in the infrastructure of this country, or are they going to stand on the side of millionaires and billionaires and protect the tax rates that they currently have? 

If I’m a Republican senator and I’m in a situation where I’m trying to evaluate what decision I’m going to make, I’ve got to think to myself that it’s going to be pretty difficult to go back to my constituents and say, look, I took a look at the President’s plan; I know it’s bipartisan, I know he had a specific plan to pay for it, but I just had to vote against it because I was really concerned about the tax rate that millionaires and billionaires would pay. 

So I’m not in the business of offering political advice to Republicans, but it does seem to me that that’s a pretty difficult case to make.  So we’ll see what happens today.

Q    When you say a majority of Democrats — 40, 45, 50?  Can you put a number on them at all?

MR. EARNEST:  Like I said, I don’t want to get in the business of predicting what’s going to happen on Capitol Hill, but I am confident that we are going to have the support of the vast majority of Democrats.

Q    On the Jobs Council report, is it the intention to try to implement all the provisions including immigration steps, green cards and so on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is obviously an independent report. The President certainly appreciates the perspective that the Jobs Council members bring to putting this report together.  So he looks forward to the conversation that he’ll have with them today about what kinds of things are recommended in that report and why they recommended them.  And we certainly will treat it very seriously.

I should add one other thing in terms of the jobs act.  Another thing that we put out today that’s relevant is we put out a letter that was signed by 25 mayors from the state of Florida who make the case about why the passage of the American Jobs Act would have significant benefits for their local economies, but also for the citizens who live in their cities.  And these are big cities like Tallahassee and Orlando, but even some smaller cities.

Q    Will the President — will he give us his reaction there in spite of what he might want to implement or not?  Or is this something he’s just going to think over, the report that they’re giving today?

MR. EARNEST:  The Jobs Council report?  It’s something that we’ll review.  I don’t know that we’ll have an immediate reaction today, but he’ll certainly have a conversation with them that you will see.

Q    Is the President committed to vetoing the China currency legislation — if it got that far?  Or is he withholding any threat because he doesn’t think it’s going to pass?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don’t want to get out ahead of the vote on Capitol Hill.  So we’ll see how that process moves through the Senate and then obviously has to move through the House.  But our position on the China currency legislation has not changed.

Q    On a different topic, will the White House release the memo justifying the killing of an American citizen, as some senators have called on the President to do?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in the position right now to comment on memos that have been speculated upon publicly.  What I can tell you is that there is a legal justification — well, let me also say before I get into this that I’m also not in a position to talk about the circumstances of Mr. Awlaki’s death, which is what prompted this round of speculation about a memo or a report that may or may not exist.  But there is a justification for taking action against the leaders of organizations that are plotting violence or plotting to kill American citizens.  Certainly through the authorization to use military force that’s granted by Congress certainly makes the killing of leaders of
al Qaeda and the Taliban and other associated forces legitimate.
And there are also international laws that govern rights to self-defense that come into play here as well. 

So speaking purely as a general matter, there are some — there’s justification.

Q    And on the story out there that’s — using records of lobbyists and different folks who visited the White House, it’s been determined that the administration has seemed to base their national health care plan on Mitt Romney’s plan, that Romney officials met in 2009 with administration officials.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not in a position to comment on specific meetings, but you’ve certainly heard the President himself say before that there were a number of very good ideas included in the health care plan that then-Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts that were incorporated into the Affordable Health Care Act — the Affordable Care Act — and so it’s clear that these are some ideas that we were interested in incorporating and we did in corporate.  But in terms of individual meetings and who participated and what the goal of them was, I don’t have that information.

Q    — a basis, would you say?  Was the Romney plan a basis for the administration’s plan?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President has talked a number of times about the significant influence that the good ideas that were included in Governor Romney’s plan and the benefits of those ideas that were incorporated into the Affordable Care Act.

Q    Josh, on a slightly different topic, how does the President plan to make the case that Americans should give him four more years when he’s acknowledging that they’re not better off than they were — now than they were four years ago?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what the President said last week is an undeniable fact, that four years ago last week was before the greatest recession since the Great Depression took hold; that even in — four years ago this week, or last week, we still didn’t have a sense of just how deep the depths were that we were sliding into.  But if you take a look at the progress that we’ve made since the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, it’s clear that the policies that this administration has put in place pulled us back from the brink of a great depression.

And we are on a focused effort to dig out of this very, very deep hole, a hole that we’re still — or I should say that we’ve just recently understood the depths of it.  Every time the GDP numbers come out, it seems that they’re revising downward even further the economic decline in that period of time.

The case that the President will be making four years from now — and, again, I should say, before we do that, that the election is still 13 months away.  So certainly there’s a lot of things that the President — that are at the top of the President’s agenda before we get around to politics.  There will be a time and a place for that.  But certainly the President does expect to be evaluated on his record and the policies that he put in place to strengthen our economy and create jobs. 

And there is no doubt that, certainly, even if you look at where we are now and compare it to the depths of the recession, that we are on a much stronger footing in terms of the financial market and in terms of the GDP numbers.  But there is no doubt that the President is the first one to acknowledge that we have a long way to go and there is a lot of fiscal work to be done.  And there are a lot of Americans who are clamoring for action from Washington, D.C.

And that’s why the President has been so aggressive and so committed and so passionate about encouraging Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.  This is something that independent analysts acknowledge would do something right away to strengthen our economy and create jobs.  And that’s why the President believes that it should be passed by the Senate quickly, and that, frankly, there’s no good excuse for inaction.

Q    — Afghanistan, reports that they’re not treating insurgents properly.  What’s the President’s reaction?

MR. EARNEST:  Is this the U.N. report on Afghan detainees?

Q    Yes —

MR. EARNEST:  This is a report that we are in the process of reviewing.  Anytime there are reports of human rights violations like this, it’s something that we take very seriously.  I know that ISAF has already deployed inspectors to some of these facilities where these atrocities were reported to investigate what’s taken place.  I know that ISAF has also stepped up their training policies to try to do more to prevent — if there’s an opportunity for us to try to improve and strengthen the training process to make it less likely that these kinds of things will happen, and they’re engaged in doing that.  But anytime that we hear reports like this, we take it very seriously, and that’s something that we’re reviewing.

Q    Still planning on withdrawing U.S. troops as the schedule you were previously planning on — has it potentially changed that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any changes to report to you.

Q    And quickly, can you tell us, is the President going to attempt to monitor tonight’s debate?  What is he looking, at this point, to hear from the Republicans?  And why has he been more aggressive in going after Republicans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I talked to him about it a little bit this morning.  I do anticipate that we’ll probably be tuned in to the Tigers-Rangers game tonight.  That being said, these kinds of debates obviously generate a lot of news coverage and I’m sure that the President will read about it.  What I can say is, in terms of my own expectations for the debate, I don’t anticipate that we’re going to hear any ideas from Republicans to create jobs and strengthen our economy right away.  In fact, I think we’re going to hear a lot more from these Republicans advocating for policies that got us into this economic mess in the first place.  So there certainly will be an opportunity for one of your colleagues to question them pretty aggressively on that topic, and we’ll be interested to see what the coverage of that is like. But I think we’ll probably be tuned into some playoff baseball tonight.

Q    — taking a more partisan — himself, the President?

MR. EARNEST:  The President has advocated an American Jobs Act that includes all ideas that are the kinds of things that Democrats and Republicans have previously supported.  And if you take a look at the pay-fors, there’s a Bloomberg poll today that indicates that even a majority of Republicans support that kind of tax.  So I think I’d dispute the notion that the President is getting more partisan.

Q    What did he say when you talked to him about the debate?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry?

Q    You said you talked to him about the debate this morning.

MR. EARNEST:  I asked him if he thought he would watch it, and he said that he probably would — that he would probably be watching the Tigers-Rangers game.

Q    And be campaigning.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry?

Q    And be raising money.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there certainly will be some responsibilities for raising money.  I don’t know exactly when the fundraisers will end and when the debate will start, or the first pitch will be thrown.

Q    Who does he favor, the Tigers or the Rangers?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I don’t know — I know that avid Tigers fan Gene Sperling is on board the flight.  So there will be at least one person loudly cheering.

Anything else?  Okay.  All right, thanks, everybody.

Q    Thank you.

11:04 A.M. EDT