En route Detroit, Michigan–(ENEWSPF)–September 5, 2011 – 11:41 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Hello, everybody. How’s everybody doing? Happy Labor Day. We’re obviously headed to Detroit this morning, where the President will speak to the Detroit Metro Labor Council at an event that is a Labor Day tradition in the great city of Detroit. The UAW and the AFL-CIO and the Metro Labor Council help host this event.
The President, as many of you — some of you may remember, spoke at this event in 2008, when he was a candidate for president. I did not have the pleasure of attending that particular year’s event, but I’ve heard that it’s a pretty impressive display. So, looking forward to going there here in a few minutes.
On the plane with the President today is Senator Levin and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Also joining us is AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, and UAW President Bob King.
Q Will they be speaking?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know the exact lineup. I know — I don’t know the exact lineup for who will be speaking today.
Q Josh, labor has been pretty critical of the President. Is he expecting a warm welcome today? Is he expecting them to get on board with the reelect?
MR. EARNEST: I do anticipate that the President will receive a warm welcome today, primarily because working men and women across the country know that they have a President who wakes up every morning in the White House thinking about policies that this government can put in place to strengthen our economy and create jobs. They also know that they have a President who’s not going to be satisfied until every working man and woman who’s out there looking for a job — who doesn’t have a job, who wants a job, who’s out there looking for a job, could get one. That is the central focus of this President’s domestic agenda, and that is why I do anticipate that we’ll get a warm welcome.
In terms of the campaign, I’d refer you to my colleagues in Chicago to answer that question.
Q To what extent is he going to preview the Thursday speech today?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President will once again use this opportunity to challenge Democrats and Republicans to come together behind the set of principles that — the set of policies that he will lay out on Thursday to create jobs, strengthen the economy, to support the private sector as they lead the way to a stronger economy. But in terms of specifics, I don’t expect him to preview any specific policy proposals in today’s speech.
Q Any new initiatives that he’ll mention today?
MR. EARNEST: Not today. I don’t expect anything like that today.
Q Any new rhetoric? Any new phrases? Any new twists on anything that he’s said previously about jobs and the economy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do anticipate that you’ll hear the President talk about his view, a strongly held view, that the United States economy — or I should say it this way — that the United States of America won’t have a strong and growing economy until we have a strong and growing middle class. That is a central tenet of — I guess I should say that that’s forefront in his mind as he’s thinking about what kinds of policies can be put in place that Congress should pass that can further support our economic recovery. So you’ll hear him talk about that a little bit today as well.
Q I haven’t heard him speak yet about Friday’s employment numbers. Will he specifically talk about that report today?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t anticipate that he’ll have anything specific to say about that today.
Q Josh, the AFL-CIO president has called for the President to be “bold” in Thursday’s speech. Would you use that word, “bold,” to describe what he will propose on Thursday? And will he come close to the $400 billion a year in infrastructure spending that Trumka has called for?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do anticipate that — well, I should start by saying I’ll let you describe the speech after you’ve heard it so you can rate that for yourself. I do anticipate that — the President believes that it is time for the government to take serious action and that there’s no reason that Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t get behind the set of proposals that he’ll lay out to strengthen our economy and create jobs and support the private sector in that — as they lead the way in that endeavor. In terms of the specific proposals that he’ll outline, I’ll let him do that on Thursday.
Q Nobody asked Jay this yesterday and we really haven’t seen anybody since Friday when the jobs numbers came out — are we in a recession?
MR. EARNEST: Well, my guess is that’s an economic analysis for economists to point out. Clearly, though, while economists say that the economy is growing, it’s the President’s view that the economy is not growing quickly enough. And that’s why Congress needs to take immediate action on the proposals that he’ll lay out on Thursday — because there is more that we can do to support the private sector and strengthen the economy and stimulating job growth. So, clearly, there’s more that we can do to strengthen our economy, and that’s what the President is focused on.
Q Will the trip the following day to Richmond be the start of any sort of sustained campaign to sell his vision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do anticipate that over the course of the fall the President will spend a decent amount of time traveling across the country, talking to men and women in communities across the country about what he believes that we need to do to get our economy going; that he believes that we need to put in place policies that have bipartisan support — or that should earn bipartisan support — to support the private sector’s effort as they create jobs and strengthen the economy. So I do anticipate that the President will spend a little bit of time this fall traveling across the country to make that case.
Q While we’re in Detroit is he going to talk about autos?
MR. EARNEST: He will. As you know, when the President first took office he was faced with a very difficult policy challenge of trying to support — lend some support to an American auto industry that was in dire straits. But thanks to the courageous decision that this President made to support the auto industry, thanks to the men and women in that industry who have been tenacious, we are seeing — we have seen in just the last couple of years a dramatic turnaround in that industry; that we are now in a place where we are seeing GM and Chrysler, in particular, are the two companies that got support from — significant support from the government make a dramatic turnaround in terms of the market share that’s increasing, in terms of the number of jobs that they’ve created, and in terms of the advances that are made in putting out the kinds of automobiles and other vehicles that the American public and people around the world are interested in buying.
So I do anticipate that you’ll hear the President talk about that today, because it’s a testament, frankly, to the tenacity of the working people in the Detroit area that we are seeing a turnaround in that industry.
Q Again, why did he decide to split the jobs portion of the proposals off from the deficit portion? How quickly will the deficit side come together? And when he does his fall trips, his series of fall trips, will jobs and deficits all be part of one discussion?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’ll let you listen to the speech to hear sort of — to draw your own conclusions about the President’s views on those two topics. I can say broadly what the President will be delivering on Thursday is a jobs speech, but the President thinks that part of dealing with strengthening our economy is also addressing the midterm and long-term deficit challenges facing this country; that the President believes there’s more that we can do. He has some ideas for the things that the super committee can do to go beyond that $1.5 trillion deficit reduction mandate.
He’ll talk about that a little bit in the speech, but the speech will be primarily focused on jobs. That is the policy challenge that the President is confronting with the most urgency. But the President certainly believes that there’s more that we can do and he has ideas for what more we can do to address our midterm and long-term challenges as well.
Q On the deficit side, how soon after to expect that?
MR. EARNEST: He’ll talk about it in the speech on Thursday.
Q Is addressing the housing market part of addressing the jobs situation, given that it’s one of the Achilles’ heels of the economy right now?
MR. EARNEST: There’s no question that there are far too many working families who are concerned about the challenge of affording their mortgage payment every month. So that isn’t just a statistic that is of deep concern to this President, it’s also something that is of deep concern on a very human level, that owning your own home is a central part of the American Dream, and that is for far too many working families a much more difficult challenge than it previously has — than it should be, and there are far too many working families that have a rather tenuous hold on that goal.
So this is obviously a very difficult policy problem and it’s one that the President and his advisors are working on and certainly remains an important part of dealing with the broader economic challenges that are facing the country.
Q Does that mean it will be in the speech?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t want to preview exactly what the President is going to get into in the speech, but I can tell you that whether it’s in the speech or not, that it’s something that is a high priority for this administration.
Q Josh, can you talk about the mood in the White House these days? I mean, the numbers in the Mid-Session Review revisions, the unemployment numbers Friday, the President’s unemployment — I mean, excuse me — approval numbers — I mean, is there a feeling at the White House like things need to turn around quickly?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is a desire at the White House for things to — for the economy to strengthen. And there’s no doubt that that’s one of the reasons that people have been working so hard this summer. I mean, you’ve heard me talk about, when we were in Martha’s Vineyard, that there is an economic team at work at the White House working on formulating some of these policies that the President will lay out on Thursday.
So it is an urgent focus of this White House to put in place policies that will strengthen the economy. But I think that there is — that the President — and you’ll hear this from him today — that the President is optimistic about our country’s ability to bounce back from these difficult challenges; that certainly a place like Detroit is a pretty good example. This is a place that built probably as strong of a middle-class economy, or middle-class sector, as ever existed in the history of the world. They’ve faced some very difficult challenges, but they’re on their way back.
And I think that’s an appropriate metaphor for the rest of the country; that we face some very difficult challenges, but if we band together, if we put our party’s interests — or put our country’s interests ahead of partisan interests, that this is a challenge that we can face, that this is a challenge that we’ll confront, and this is a challenge that we’ll bounce back from. And I think you’ll hear that kind of optimism from the President today.
Q New subject? Does the administration have any comment to the comments from the ISI in Pakistan that the arrest of three al Qaeda operatives, including Younis al-Mauritani, were done thanks to cooperation — unusual cooperation with the U.S.?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports this morning. I’m not in a position right now to confirm those reports. I can tell you that the United States continues to work with our partner, Pakistan, to achieve our central goal of dismantling, disrupting, and defeating al Qaeda; that certainly the al Qaeda elements that are in place in Pakistan are a threat to both the Pakistani people and to the American people and our allies, and that’s an effort that we will continue to cooperate on with them moving forward.
Q If you confirm later, would you let us know?
MR. EARNEST: If I’m able to get more on that today I will connect with all of you on that.
Q Is there a Syria update while we’re all here?
MR. EARNEST: No additional specific updates. We’re obviously seeing some of the continued reports about a crackdown that is apparently underway in Syria, and that is something that we continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms.
Q On Qaddafi, any update on discussions with world leaders or on his whereabouts, on —
MR. EARNEST: I don’t actually have any Libya updates this morning.
Q Will he meet with Aretha Franklin at the event?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q Will he meet with Aretha Franklin at the event?
MR. EARNEST: If he does I’ll let you know.
Q In 2008, he sang a little Aretha.
MR. EARNEST: Oh, at this event — in 2008?
Q Yes, Don keeps a little audio on his notebook. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNET: Maybe we’ll get a little reprisal today.
Q That would be nice, yes.
MR. EARNEST: The President is in a pretty good mood. We’ll see.
Q Are the three labor leaders with him on the plane, did you say?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, they’re here on the plane with us today.
Q Trumka, King and — oh, Mary Kay Henry.
Q Mary Kay Henry is SEIU?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q UAW and SEIU — okay. Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: All right?
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: See you guys.
11:55 A.M. EDT