Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 12, 2011 – 10:15 A.M. EDT
Q There’s no jacket for the cameras.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m glad you guys came out on casual Friday today. (Laughter.)
So we thought we’d do this a little early today so that we could expedite your weekend.
Jay had a couple of meetings with the President this morning, so he suggested that I mind the store, and he promised that you would all be nice to me. (Laughter.) So we’ll be evaluating that proposition over the course of the next 20 minutes or so.
So I’ll try and jump around a little bit. We’re going to do this gaggle-style, so hopefully we’ll just — we’ll move around here relatively quickly.
So, Ben, we’ll go ahead and start.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two quick questions about — (laughter) —
MR. EARNEST: Old habits die hard.
Q Did I say Jay? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Next time you can call me Robert. (Laughter.) Or Dana, I guess. (Laughter.)
Q You’re on a roll, West Wing weekend. So yesterday the President said over the coming weeks he’ll be rolling out jobs proposals week by week. Can we expect to see any of these in August? For example, next week on the bus tour?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t want to get out of — ahead out of what the President will do on the bus tour. Obviously the bus tour is an opportunity for him to travel through three states in the Midwest, to get outside of Washington, D.C., which he’s not had the opportunity to do very often over the last several weeks, and hear from Americans in local communities about how the difficult economic recovery has impacted them in their community and their businesses. But I don’t have anything specific to preview for you now about what he might say next week.
Q Or about the timing of these —
MR. EARNEST: That’s right.
Q Okay. And he also said that there are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win. Pretty damning statement there. Who’s he talking about?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the frustration that the President articulated yesterday in Michigan was frustration that you had seen him articulate several times over the last month or so.
And I think that there’s no question that the President was frustrated that there were a small number of people in Congress who were willing to put their party ahead of country. And that is something that he was profoundly frustrated by. It is something that has had a — clearly has had an impact on the economy, and it’s something that he was not pleased by. I think he even described it yesterday as a self-inflicted wound. And I think that the — that’s something that he hopes — I guess I should say it this way: I think that he views that as something that the American people are pretty frustrated by, or at least the vast majority of the American people are frustrated by, and he’s hopeful that we can bring about a change in tone.
Q Just to follow a little bit on that. So when he rolls out his ideas, does he mean specifically that every week there will be ideas, or was he speaking more broadly that over the next several weeks he’ll be rolling out ideas?
MR. EARNEST: I think that he was speaking more broadly. I don’t think he was committing to a 9:30 a.m. Monday morning announcement for the next several weeks. But rather I do think that he was talking about — and Jay mentioned this from the podium here earlier this week — that there are a number of things that the American people expect of their President in these difficult economic times. Certainly, that is continuing to advocate for policies that have bipartisan support that could be beneficial to the economy right now. Certainly, that involves interacting with policymakers and talking about the economy. It certainly involves talking to his counterparts in other countries, the leaders of other countries, about the international impact of the recent volatility we’ve seen in the economy.
But another of those things is offering up even more ideas and continually being on the hunt for the kinds of ideas that will create jobs and strengthen our economy moving forward. And I think that’s — this falls pretty cleanly in line with that.
Q And also, the meeting with the CEOs, can you just tell us how many? Any names?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have names later this afternoon, but I can tell you that the meeting that the President is having today is similar to the meetings that he’s had pretty regularly over the last — frankly, since he took office two and a half years ago — because he does view this as an opportunity to talk to these business leaders, to these leaders in the private sector, who will ultimately be the venue where our economic recovery is driven; that he’ll talk to them about how the — about how the economic challenges are affecting their individual companies, but also their broader sectors; and that this is an opportunity for that dialogue to take place.
Q Is the President looking forward to Tim Pawlenty mowing Mitt Romney’s lawn? (Laughter.) Or maybe your lawn? If you could spell out for him the President’s economic —
MR. EARNEST: Well, I live in a condo, so it might be a little awkward. But I can tell you that I caught a little bit of the debate yesterday. I understand that the President did not have the opportunity to watch the debate last night. I have not had a chance to talk to him about it yet this morning. I do anticipate that he’s read some of the news coverage, but I haven’t spoken to him about that.
Q So what is the sense here at the White House about it? I mean, one thing Jay set up as a marker on the gaggle yesterday was that you’d be looking — the White House generally would be looking to see if Republicans have any new ideas, if they’re not — in his words — “retreads” of old economic job plans. What’s your sense? I mean, were there new ideas? Are there things the President might take seriously?
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the things that I was struck by, and there were others at the White House who were struck by this, that the — was the moment when they were asked about whether — these candidates were asked about whether they would consider a proposal on a 10 to 1 ratio in terms of $10 in spending cuts for every dollar in revenue increases, and all of them raised their hands indicating they would not even consider a proposal like that.
That’s something that I think indicates that — well, let me say it this way, the American people — that’s clearly not where the American people are. That is a position that would require — that basically puts these candidates in a position of not even asking corporate jet owners to assume one-tenth of the burden that we’re asking college students to bear; that middle-class families — that they would not even consider asking millionaires and billionaires to bear one-tenth of the burden that middle-class families would be asked to bear in a deficit reduction package.
And that’s just something that is — does not reflect where, frankly, the majority of Democrats, it doesn’t reflect where the majority of independents, and it doesn’t reflect where the vast majority — or I should say a large number, if not a majority of Republicans.
Q Last quick thing — on “Good Morning America,” David Axelrod seemed to be hedging about whether the President is going to Martha’s Vineyard. He said his family is going on vacation; he may join them.
Q If he can.
Q If he can. So is that sort of if there’s something going on with the economy he will not go? Or are you —
MR. EARNEST: Well, you’ve covered the White House long enough to understand that any time that Presidential travel plans are made that they are subject to change. But I’ll tell you at this point that this President is planning to spend some time with his wife and two daughters in Martha’s Vineyard before his two daughters go back to school later this week.
Q Can I follow up on that? Any chance he would travel outside of Martha’s Vineyard for any kind of economic events while here’s up there?
MR. EARNEST: There’s no current plan for that.
Q And on the bus trip next week, he’s going to Iowa, where the Republicans are having their straw poll tomorrow. Is that a political choice? Why isn’t the bus trip next week considered a political event?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because the President views it as one of the chief responsibilities in office to spend some time outside Washington, D.C., talking to people all across the country about the economy and about how they’re impacted by the policy decisions that he’s making here in Washington, D.C. That isn’t just an appropriate thing for a President to do, it’s something that a President should do. So he’s going to spend time in Minnesota, in Iowa, in Illinois doing exactly that.
Q Why Iowa?
MR. EARNEST: Why Iowa?
Q Because of the Republican events this week?
MR. EARNEST: No, the — there’s obviously a very robust debate about the economic policies in this country that’s ongoing in Iowa. That’s something that the Iowa people are paying very close attention to. But it’s also a debate that’s happening in Minnesota. It’s also a debate that’s happening in Illinois. And he’s going to go to all three states to talk about it.
Q To go back to what Ben said earlier, when the President talked about some in Congress who would rather see their opponents lose than America win, he never said the word “Republican.” Does he think there are any Democrats who feel that way?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. I mean, what the President was talking about was, he was talking about the dysfunction in our political system, primarily in Congress. And I think that he was frustrated by the way that that debate was conducted, even — here we are, almost a week and a half after those discussions were concluded.
I think the President is hopeful that when Congress comes back from its recess that members of Congress will have heard from constituents, much like the President has heard, which is that this political dysfunction is not what the people voted for. The American people voted for divided government but they did not vote for a dysfunctional government. And I think that that has left the President pretty frustrated. And he is optimistic that when Congress comes back that — or at least he’s hopeful that when Congress come back that we’ll detect a noticeable change.
Q Does he think there’s blame to share across both parties, or does he think all the blame belongs within the Republican Party in Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it’s pretty clear from the rhetoric that you’ve seen from Republicans that they were the source of the intransigence in this debate. And I — and, frankly, that’s the sort of intransigence that the President thinks is not helpful; that we need to be in a position where we can put the country above a political partisan affiliation; that there is an opportunity for us to find common ground on a range of things, not just on deficit reduction, which the President and the Speaker obviously had a vibrant dialogue about, but also about a number of these other job creation opportunities, whether it’s passing these free trade agreements, whether it’s extending the payroll tax cut, that there is an opportunity for bipartisan action to put in place policies that will be beneficial to this economy not just in the long term but also in the short term.
Q Thanks, Josh. The President has some specific policy ideas for job creation: infrastructure bank, trade deals, renewing the payroll tax cut, et cetera. If he’s now considering some different economic proposals, is that — does that suggest that he doesn’t believe the package that he’s put together is adequate for the economic crisis?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. I think the way — I wouldn’t describe it as him looking for different economic proposals. I think this is a situation in which he’s looking for additional economic proposals, additional things that we can do to get our economy moving again.
There’s no question that there are a number of things that Congress can and should do right away, and things that the President would sign right away. But the President, as I mentioned, he views it as his responsibility to be on the hunt for new ideas all the time. That’s certainly something that he’ll talk about with the business leaders in their meeting today. It’s certainly something that he’ll talk about with small business owners and other folks that he meets along the trail of the bus tour next week. And it’s something that he’ll continue to be engaged in moving forward.
Q And just to follow up, given the polarization in Congress, is it realistic to think that the President can get a jobs package through that would create jobs on the scale that’s needed to reduce the unemployment rate 250,000 a month, given that the House in particular shows no appetite for spending programs?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not in a position to make economic predictions or even projections from the podium here, but what I can tell you is that there are some — there’s no doubt about the fact that there’s bipartisan support for some policies that would no doubt do some things that are very constructive for our economy. And the President is hopeful that folks will get on that right away.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. EARNEST: Sure. Kara.
Q The President earlier this week, he talked about — repeated his calls for more infrastructure spending, extending unemployment benefits, and the payroll tax cut. And the cost of those alone would be more than $150 billion in one year, and I’m wondering if you guys proposed offsets for those costs, or do you plan to insist on offsetting the cost of those proposals?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, obviously this is something that the Congress is going to have to work out, and we’ll be engaged in a dialogue with Congress about how exactly to implement those policies. But these are clearly policies that can have a significant impact on growing the economy both in the short term and in the long run.
Q Back to the CEO meeting, was this meeting at all in response to the market turmoil that we’ve seen this week and in general sort of the economic troubles around the world?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Laura, these are the kinds of meetings that he’s had many times with business leaders in the private sector since he took office two and a half years ago. So I would not describe those meetings as a reaction to that, but I’m confident that they will be discussing those kinds of things in the meeting.
Q But was it set up this week after you knew about what was going on in the markets?
MR. EARNEST: I got to tell you, I don’t know exactly when this was put on the President’s schedule, but, again, this is not as if — this is not — obviously he’s done meetings like this pretty often and pretty regularly because he does believe that it’s important to consult with leaders in the private sector on these kinds of issues.
So I don’t know when it was added to the schedule. I can tell you that they’ll certainly talk about those — about these issues and about this market reaction here at that meeting.
Q What does he want to hear from them about the market?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned, I think that he’s interested in hearing about their perspective on the economy, about the way that sort of our slow economic recovery has impacted their individual business. He wants to hear from them how it’s impacted their broader — the sector that they are operating in, and I think he’s open to ideas. If they have suggestions for things that we can do to get our economy moving, then he’s open to hearing those as well. I think that he expects this to be a genuine dialogue.
Q Thanks, Josh. Going back to the bills that the President has asked Congress to pass right now, some congressional leaders are saying there really are a number of steps or changes to these bills that have to happen before they get through both chambers, so are there discussions going on right now behind the scenes to try to get these bills into a shape where they could actually pass through both chambers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the kinds of proposals that the President and others in this administration have talked about at length are the kinds of things that already have bipartisan support, and it’s the view of the President — as my answer to Kara alluded to, there are certainly some things to be worked out, but there’s no reason that these aren’t the kinds of things that should pass pretty quickly with strong bipartisan support. Both because, frankly, if we’re going to act in the best interests of the country, and if we’re going to put that ahead of party, and if we genuinely are in a circumstance in which we are more interested in seeing America succeed than our political opponents lose, then the kinds of things that are going to be beneficial to our economy and have bipartisan support are the kinds of things that should move pretty quickly through the Congress.
Q And also — okay, really quickly — there are fresh signs that Elizabeth Warren might run for office in Massachusetts. Has the President spoken to her about this? Is he encouraging her to run?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t know the last time that they spoke. My guess is that he’s got a lot of things on his plate that involve something other than recruiting candidates for the United States Senate.
Q Thanks, Josh. You’re doing great.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you. (Laughter.) Appreciate that. One person in here is nice.
Q I already tweeted that you sound like Jay and Robert with your comment about not making economic predictions. (Laughter.) I just — why does the White House keep telling Congress to move on the free trade bills if they haven’t even — if you guys haven’t even sent them over?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t — have we not sent them over?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there have been — (laughter) —
MR. EARNEST: There you go. (Laughter.) I withdraw my “nice” comment. (Laughter.)
Q Come on.
MR. EARNEST: I will say this — I mean, there has been an active dialogue that’s been underway between the United States trade representative, other members of the administration, with the appropriate congressional leaders in the committees of jurisdiction. We are in a place where we have seen Republicans advocating for passing these free trade agreements for quite some time. As you know, the President was engaged in a pretty difficult exercise in working with the South Koreans and the Colombians and the Panamanians on these trade agreements, to put them in a place where we could be sure that these are trade agreements that would be in the best interest of American business and American workers. I mean, these three trade agreements combined would create or support about 70,000 jobs here in the U.S. So there is bipartisan agreement about this, and there’s no reason —
Q Well, when are you going to send them over?
MR. EARNEST: I mean, look, clearly the legislative mechanics are something that I’m not intimately steeped in. But I can tell you that there’s no reason — I mean, there’s agreement here about the benefits of these trade agreements getting through the Congress, both here at the White House and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
So I’ll refer you to either Congress or to the USTR about the legislative mechanics of this. But there is bipartisan agreement on this and it’s something that we should move on really quick.
Q Jay, back to the Vineyard briefly. Did you suggest —
MR. EARNEST: You called me Jay, too. (Laughter.)
Q Sorry about that.
MR. EARNEST: That’s okay. I’ve been called worse.
Q All right, I’ll not think of a few other examples. Did you mean to suggest that the President is considering delaying going to the Vineyard or maybe even shortening his plan to stay there?
MR. EARNEST: All I meant to do was to state the obvious to those of you who have covered the White House for such a long time, which is that the President’s travel schedule is always malleable. But in this case we anticipate that the President’s plans to spend time with his family in Martha’s Vineyard will move forward as scheduled.
Rebecca, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you. When the President arrives on the bus tour next week, what kind of reception is he expecting from the people, and what — and economic conditions, what is he waiting to see down there? What is he expecting?
MR. EARNEST: It’s a good question. I anticipate that he’ll see a couple of things. I think one is, I do think the President will be pleased — or I should say it this way, the people will be pleased to see the President outside of Washington, D.C. I do think that Democrats, independents and Republicans expect to see their President of the United States outside of Washington, D.C., out from behind the podium, spending time talking to the American people in their communities about the economy and the range of other issues that are being discussed here at the White House and how they’re influenced by those policy debates.
I think that — so I think that the American people, regardless of whether, frankly, they’re supporters of the President or not, will be pleased to see the President outside of Washington, D.C., and out among the people.
I do think that the President does anticipate that he’ll detect a little frustration about the dysfunction in Congress, and the strident position of some in Congress to put their partisan affiliation ahead of the country. I think that there will be people who are frustrated by that.
I also anticipate that there will be some people who are supporters of the President, who voted for him last time, who will have some questions for him about the compromises that he was willing to make in the context of this deficit debate. But that is something that the President believes is an important part of leadership, and an important part of resolving this problem is moving off our maximalist positions and demonstrating a willingness to compromise.
But I think — there will be — we’ll have more on this. Secretary Vilsack and Dan Pfeiffer are doing a conference call later today. So if you have additional questions or need some additional language on this, then I would refer you to that call.
Before I go, we will do a week ahead, although I think everybody sort of knows largely what’s included here. So — but I’ll go ahead and do the reading here.
On Monday, the President will travel to Minnesota to begin his three-day bus tour in the Midwest. While in the Midwest, the President will discuss ways to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and accelerate hiring in communities and towns across the nation, and hear directly from Americans, including small business owners, local families, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials.
The President knows we must do everything we can to promote economic growth, restore confidence in our nation’s future, and enhance the sense of optimism for future generations.
After arriving in Minnesota, the President will host a town hall event in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, at Lower Hannah’s Bend Park. Later that day, the President will hold a town hall in lovely Decorah, Iowa. I highly recommend it for those of you that have not been there.
On Tuesday, the President will hold a Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa.
On Wednesday, the President will hold town hall meetings in Atkinson and Alpha, Illinois, before returning to Washington, D.C.
Q Can you say those cities —
MR. EARNEST: Yes, Atkinson and — I hope that I’m pronouncing this correctly — Alpha — it’s spelled like the Greek letter –- Illinois.
Q Those are both in Illinois?
MR. EARNEST: Both in Illinois, yes.
Q What was the Iowa town, one more time? Not Cannon Falls, the other one.
MR. EARNEST: Decorah, Iowa. Cannon Falls is in Minnesota. And then Decorah, Iowa. Those are both on Monday. On Tuesday the Rural Economic Forum in Peosta.
Q What do you mean World Economic Forum?
MR. EARNET: Rural.
Q Oh, rural? Sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I was like, the week ahead has never been more screwed up than my first time here. (Laughter.)
Q Four town hall meetings? Two on Monday and two on Wednesday?
MR. EARNEST: And then this Rural Economic Forum that I think will include some exchanges that would be similar to a town hall meeting.
Q But there’s two on Monday and two on Wednesday?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q And this weekend he’s in D.C.?
MR. EARNEST: This weekend he’s in D.C., and on Wednesday, as I mentioned, he’s planning to travel to Martha’s Vineyard with his family.
Q On Wednesday or Thursday?
MR. EARNEST: Thursday. (Laughter.)
Q Any events scheduled this weekend, or just —
MR. EARNEST: There’s no public schedule planned for this weekend.
Q Are you sure you don’t want to comment on the strength of the dollar? That usually — (laughter) —
MR. EARNEST: I know that most people who stand behind the podium look forward to that opportunity, but I’m going to pass this time.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Can I ask about when the meeting with the CEOs was set up, just because it’s important for — particularly for my readers?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I don’t think that the scheduling logistics here are as important as what it is that they’re going to talk about and who he’s going to talk about with — who’s he’s going to talk about those things.
Q Doesn’t help. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: So it’s a no, but I’ll get you those two important things.
Q Will there be a stakeout after the meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t anticipate that there will, but you never know. So they’ll make that decision on their own.
Q You are going to get back to us on when the meeting was scheduled?
MR. EARNEST: I will get back to you with the people who participated in the meeting and what they talked about.
Q One of our wire service friends got the list of companies beforehand, so did you just —
MR. EARNEST: I’m not sure that they did. We’ll add a little drama and we’ll wait for the full release. All right?
Everybody enjoy your weekend.
10:39 A.M. EDT