Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, 8/29/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome to the White House, everyone. This is your daily briefing. For those of you who were at Martha's Vineyard last week or on vacation, welcome back. That includes me. For those of you who were here, my condolences.
Before I get started on taking questions on other issues, I have with me today the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate. As you know, Mr. Fugate has extensive emergency management experience. He was the former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, appointed to that position in 2001 by then governor Jeb Bush, and then later reappointed by Governor Bush's successor, Charlie Crist. He held that position until President Obama asked him to lead FEMA.
He is here to take your questions and give you an update on Hurricane Irene and its consequences. So why don't we have Mr. Fugate make a few points, take your questions on all issues related to Irene, and then I will take your questions on other issues.
Thanks very much.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Well, good afternoon. I think first, our condolences for the families who have lost loved ones. Unfortunately, Irene was a deadly storm. Reports are still coming in -- I think open source -- we've seen in the media about 21. We also know that there are several people still missing. And one of the things about these types of storms we know, unfortunately, the death toll may continue to go up in the recovery phase through accidents and other things that happen.
It's been my experience from Florida where, again, as we urge people to use common sense and be cautious -- don't drive through flooded areas; we've got a lot of power lines down, and as crews are reenergizing, again, be very careful. We don't want any more people to lose their lives.
But to the families that have lost ones, our condolences and our prayers are with them.
Tropical Storm Irene dissipated and moved into Canada, but in its path as a hurricane we started out in the Virgin Isles and Puerto Rico, which most of the damages were in Puerto Rico. The President has declared Puerto Rico a major disaster area. We are providing assistance there. And then our attentions turned to the Carolinas as the storm began moving towards the East Coast.
Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irene we had what we call an incident management team -- these are federal employees of FEMA that are trained to go in, link up with the state prior to the storm getting there so that we are prepared to support them both in the preparation phase but also in the immediate response phase -- 18 of those teams deployed across the East Coast, as far south as Florida all the way up to Maine. And again, as we saw the track of the storm adjust we repositioned teams and we became increasingly concerned about possible impacts in the New England states. We put liaisons into those states as the storm moved north.
We pre-positioned water, food, generators, tarps and other supplies in incident staging bases based along the path of the storm. We were sitting, ready to activate our urban search and rescue teams. We put our teams on alert. Three of those teams have actually been now activated, on standby and support in New York and in Vermont, based upon the flooding there. But again, a lot of the rescue operations are being conducted by state and local officials -- National Guard, men and women that were called out by their governors, Coast Guard and other rescue officials in those areas.
As it stands now, we are still supporting in North Carolina requests for assistance as they go to the recovery phase and begin damage assessments -- a lot of power outages, roads that were heavily damaged by storm surge, particularly in the Outer Banks, as well as a lot of debris in the eastern part of the state.
As you move up the coastline, I'm sure you're all aware of the large numbers of power outages. Those numbers have come down since yesterday. The Department of Energy is working with the private sector as they track those numbers. But we went from over 6 million down to 5 million. And again, those numbers look to continue to come down, but some areas are going to have some time to get all the power back up.
Probably the real story was as Irene was exiting and many people were focused along the coast we did get some impacts of coastal storm surge but not to the degree that we were concerned about. But heavy rain did occur along the interior parts of the path. That was a big concern we had as the storm moved north, and so we have seen record flooding in Vermont, record flooding in New York. We still have rivers that have yet to crest. The River Forecast Center for the Northeast was reporting that some of these rivers may not crest for two to three days.
So the extent of impacts we still won’t know, but, again, many of these areas have been dealing with very dangerous flooding. Some of it has resulted in the loss of life. To give you some idea of how fast this occurred, the rivers and the flooding were so intense that the Vermont Emergency Operations Center, their state emergency operations center, had to evacuate last night and relocate. We had already been working disasters in Vermont, so we had a joint field office that they were able to relocate to, and so they were able to continue their operations after moving. But they did experience these damages and they are working to get their center back up.
But, again, from a storm that I think -- a lot of folks on the coastal areas also showed that inland the heavy rains produced quite a bit of damages and are continuing to produce damages. So we’re working with the governors now as they begin the assessment.
The question I’ve been getting a lot is how much damage. We don’t know; we’re still assessing. A lot of the states are just finishing the response operations -- are beginning that, particularly the further south you are, as you move north. But in Vermont and in New York, they’re very actively still engaged in response operations, as well as Massachusetts and New Jersey -- which are also experiencing flooding -- New Hampshire and Maine.
So with that I’m open for questions.
Q Do you have any figures to attach to the damage yet, any idea how much the storm will cost?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: No, and I don’t really estimate -- I don’t like to give estimates, because one of the things you’re looking at is a lot of power outages. You see a lot of damages that are not going to be covered by federal dollars -- we don’t cover insurance losses. So some of the numbers you’ll get from, like, insurance industry projects are actually what their exposure will be. Those won’t translate into what the federal cost will be.
So this will be -- we do formal damage assessments with the states. We go in and look at those things that would be the responsibility of state and local government. We look at those damages. We look primarily at the uninsured losses. So until we actually get out there and do the damage assessments, we won’t have numbers. But also understand that’s not the total dollar figure. So you’ll get lots of impacts.
You’re also going to have significant agricultural impacts in North Caroline and other states. And so USDA will be working with the state ag commissioners as they compile those costs. So the total dollar figure is actually from several different sources. What we will report will be the damages that will be eligible if there was a presidential disaster declaration for major reimbursement assistance.
Q What’s the total number without power?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: The total number -- and, again, this number is fluctuating and it’s coming down, but the Department of Energy at our 12:30 p.m. conference call was reporting a little over 5 million. And that number had come down from a number that was a little over 6 million. But Department of Energy is tracking that very closely, working with the states and utilities, and putting that number together as it changes through the days.
Q Did Vermont take you by surprise completely? And I didn’t hear any warnings about Vermont.
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: No, we knew they were in the area of heavy rainfall. And this is one thing that Director Bill Reed was trying to get people not to focus just on the center of circulation or on the coast. The heavy rainfall -- particularly this storm had a lot of rain ahead of it as it was moving ashore -- the concern was where we could expect rainfall.
In fact, if you went back to the Hydromet Prediction Center, they were putting out forecasts of these types of measures that we could see as far as rainfall, so it was something we were expecting. But the reality is with flash flooding, much of this occurred very quickly. In fact, in many of these rivers in Vermont, they’ve already gone back down. It was just a very quick response rate from the rain, the flooding, and now we’re looking at the damages.
Q What happened in (inaudible) New York?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Just -- I don't have anything specific right now.
Q Given that this is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and you’ve talked about some of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, can you speak specifically about what was learned then that helped you and the federal government to be better prepared for Hurricane Irene?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Well, you got to give credit to Congress who, one, passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that clarified and gave clarity to FEMA’s mission, but also cleared up some issues that were considered issues: Should we wait till a governor has exceeded all of their resources to then ask for federal assistance, and at that point do we respond? Or are we able to get things going earlier, not wait for that declaration without waiting for the state to be overwhelmed to get ready?
And this is I think -- one of the keys we’ve learned is when we know there’s a disaster that could occur -- and again, we’re working off that forecast -- is not to wait until the state says we’re going to need help. Part of it is by getting our teams into those states with the counterparts of the governor’s team working early. Not only are we there in case they need our help, we have a better idea of what to anticipate and we have built that team so if we do have the impact, we can right to work.
That, as well as the ability to pre-position resources, move them into areas before the states make formal requests. A lot of this was the mechanics that we learned from Katrina. But I think some of the other things that was directed into legislation was we needed to look beyond just what FEMA’s role is; that we’re not the team, we’re part of a team. We really had to look at things such as how do you better integrate the volunteers and the NGOs and their capabilities, as well as the private sector.
I mean, I was in Florida doing a lot of hurricanes. And quite honestly, when you get to the point where you find yourself setting up distribution points in the parking lot of an open grocery store because they brought a generator in, brought in emergency crews and got their store open, but you weren’t talking, I could have probably gone where there was a greater need.
So right now one of the things we’ve done in this administration is we brought the private sector into FEMA’s headquarters. We have a representative on a rotating basis in the private sector representing them, so we work as a team. And so right now we’re getting reports of stores opening -- first in Puerto Rico, when the initial storm hit, looking at big block stores that were able to get open -- had a better sense that a lot of the things that we were concerned about, the private sector was able to get up and running, so we could focus on the areas that were flooded, mainly smaller towns and communities in the more mountainous areas of Puerto Rico.
Q It was six years ago today when Katrina came ashore. FEMA’s reputation was not enhanced by the operation there. Is there one single lesson from Katrina that has kind of reshaped FEMA and their response to this?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: We can’t wait to know how bad it is before we get ready. We have to go fast. We have to base it upon the potential impacts. That's why we look at these forecasts we get from the Hurricane Center and we make the decisions based upon what the potential impacts could be. If you wait till you know how bad it is, it becomes harder to change the outcome.
Q And how good was the forecast? Did you expect Hurricane Irene to be what she turned out to be? Was the forecasting good enough?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: The track of the forecast, I think they’ve looked back and the National Hurricane Center will give you that update of what they saw, but I think the track was only about 10 miles off of where they actually thought it was going to come ashore.
But the intensity of the wind speed -- but that's something -- I’m going to be honest with you folks. Of all the things we know about hurricanes, the track forecast, we have the greatest -- we’ve seen the science has really improve that in my career to where if this had been 10 to 15 years ago, Florida would have had to evacuate based upon this track.
You remember seeing the satellite how big that storm was and how close it was to the state of Florida? We would not have been able to not evacuate. But the science is that good on track. But where we know where we still have a lot of work to do is intensity forecasts -- what goes up and goes down.
Remember Hurricane Charlie in Florida? It went from a category one in Cuba, crossing over, became a category four in less than 24 hours. We’ve seen a lot of these storms that the smaller storms, rapid anticipation. We also see storms that weaken. And that is an area that -- that skill we still need to work on. But based on the forecast, that's what we prepare for.
Q Looking at the current scenario, does Vermont need more federal resources?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Again, the response phase -- and we were talking to -- we have a conference call each day with all the state directors that are impacted. The state director reported they have what they need. They're beginning to look at their damage assessments, and it is likely we’ll be doing damage assessments with them to determine if they're going to need more assistance to recover. But in the response phase, they advised us they had what they needed, and they appreciate the fact that we had resources standing by.
Q Administrator Fugate, since you worked Katrina six years ago and this hurricane, what did you personally see the differences? Has the red tape actually been cutting up where you felt easier to be able to maneuver to get assistance to people this hurricane versus Katrina?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: You talk about the processes and a lot of mechanics behind it. I think in this administration, from my earliest events when I came onboard -- America Samoa, supporting USAID Haiti, the floods in Tennessee, and obviously this year -- the one thing that's been impressed upon me by the President is we go as a federal team and we bring all our resources together.
I think there is a lot of things that when we do it as a team and we understand that you cannot have separate -- you can’t look at local government, state government, federal government, the volunteers and the private sector as distinct entities and be successful. You got to look as a team.
And so one of the things that's been impressed upon me and the thing that we’ve learned and try to practice here is we’re not the team, we’re part of the team. We have to bring all of our resources together. We have to work as a team. We have to be focused on the survivors, and the emphasis on speed -- to get there, get stabilized, to figure out what the next steps are without waiting to ask all the questions, well, how bad is it, what do you need? We know generally in these types of events what most likely is going to be required. Let’s get moving it. If we don't need it, we can turn it off. But you don't get time back in a disaster.
Look at what was happening at Katrina in the first 72 hours, that once you got past that point, there was not much more you could do to change that outcome, and then things were just cascading one on top of the other.
Q So would you say that six years ago people weren’t working as a team?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: I think there was a lot of things at the federal level that Congress addressed in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that has certainly made my job easier to work in that team environment.
Q Do you have an exact figure on the amount that's left in the disaster relief fund?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: No, not today. I think earlier in the week we had gone below a billion dollars and were around $900 million. And I’m not sure what today’s figure is. But that's one of the reasons why we implemented immediate needs funding, was to preserve funding for the existing disaster. This is one thing I want to make clear: We said we went to immediate needs funding, and a lot of people thought, well, the people that had been impacted by the tornados and floods, we’re going to take that money away from them. The survivors that are eligible for assistance are still getting funds. Individual assistance programs were not affected by this, nor was any protective measures, or any debris clearance or any project that had already been approved.
The only thing that we have postponed is new projects that are permanent work that had not been started when we go into immediate needs funding. And that is to ensure that we still have funds to do this response, continue to meet the needs of the survivors of the previous disasters, while supporting the initial response to Hurricane Irene.
Q So the criticism from Congressman Blunt out of Missouri is inaccurate?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: Well, again, for the individuals that were helping, for the cleanup, and for the emergency costs, we’re continuing that. But for any projects that have not come in for approval, we’re not going to be able to fund those as this point. We’re going to postpone those. They're still eligible, but we won’t be able to start new permanent work such as permanent construction repairing damages from those tornados.
Q If I can follow up on the money question. I mean, we’ve had the earthquake, we had the tornados, now we’ve got this hurricane. Is there any risk -- do you have a bottomless pool of money for state assistance? Or do you run out?
ADMINISTRATIOR FUGATE: Well, that's one of the things we’ve been working on, and that's why we went to immediate needs funding. There was too much unknown about Irene, and looking at how many states were going to be impacted, we knew and we had actually -- knew that going into our end of the fiscal year, we were going to get close to the point where we would have to look at immediate needs funding at some point.
Our goal was to continue to be able to respond to the open disasters and maintain enough reserves for any new disasters until we get into the next fiscal year. But Irene was obviously something -- we felt it was just prudent. We weren’t out of money, but we wanted to make sure we had enough money available to continue supporting the survivors from the past disasters, as well as start the response to Irene.
Q Your goal was a billion, and then after that, you’re done?
ADMINISTRATOR FUGATE: No, we actually had more money earlier this year. We also had -- the Disaster Relief Fund is something that's an appropriation that we get. It’s also something that because of older disasters we close out, we put money back in. But it is -- we generally look at that -- when we get down to about a billion dollars, we want to make sure that we can continue supporting the survivors for all the old disasters, as well as any new responses. Going into September being the peak part of hurricane season, and with Irene, we didn't want to get to the point where we would not have the funds to continue to support the previous impacted survivors as well as respond to the next disaster.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Thank you all very much. Administrator Fugate, we appreciate it. Thank you.
Now, let’s go to other issues. Erica.
Q Can you talk about Alan Krueger’s appointment today? He’s a previous member of the administration who seems to be viewed as a continuity pick. Does that suggest that the President likes how his economic team is composed and doesn’t see the need to shake it up?
MR. CARNEY: I think he picked Dr. Krueger because he’s an excellent economist whose particular skills are more relevant than ever in the economic environment we find ourselves in. He brings a lot of experience to the table both as an academic and through his service in the Treasury Department of this administration, the Labor Department of the Clinton administration. His expertise in the labor market is particularly relevant as we focus on the need to grow the economy and increase job creation. So he looked for the best possible choice and found him in Dr. Krueger.
Q Do you believe that he’ll bring new ideas to the table?
MR. CARNEY: I believe that he’s an excellent economist and a dynamic economist with a lot of experience, and will be an important member of the economic team, yes.
Q And on the President’s job speech, he shared with us that it will be next week. What day is it going to be?
MR. CARNEY: We don't have a date to announce. I will repeat what the President said, that you can expect it next week, but I don't have a date or location to give to you today.
Q What is the reason for not telling us when it’s going to be?
MR. CARNEY: It could be because we haven’t finally decided. (Laughter.) And when we have an announcement to make, we’ll make it. That would be the --
Q Heated debate?
MR. CARNEY: No debate, just figuring out the best time for it, best location.
Q So you don't know when or where it’s going to be at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Actually, the decision has not been finally made.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Jay, does the White House have any more information or ideas about where Qaddafi is?
MR. CARNEY: No, we have no indication that he has left Libya. We are obviously working with the TNC and with our NATO partners on that. But if we have -- if we knew where he was, we would pass that information along to the opposition forces.
Q Will the White House and will the United States government ask the rebels to hand over the Lockerbie bomber?
MR. CARNEY: Extradition issues are something you should address to the Department of Justice. I think that he was tried in Scotland, not here. But we are monitoring that situation, as well.
Q On the scope of the jobs package, is this something that the White House thinks can have sweeping change on the employment picture in the United States?
MR. CARNEY: The President will propose, as he has said in the past, initiatives that will have a direct impact on economic growth and job creation -- substantial impact -- as measured by middle-of-the-road, unaffiliated, nonpartisan economists. They will be measures that should have bipartisan support and that he expects will have bipartisan support, because everyone's focus in Washington, whether you're a member a of Congress or a member of this administration, ought to be on getting this economy moving faster and the need to hire more people faster.
So it will have a measurable impact. And if the entirety of his proposals were passed by Congress and signed into law, that impact would be very beneficial to the economy and to employment.
Q Given that emphasis on the bipartisan nature of these proposals, has he consulted with Republican members of Congress as they develop these ideas?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have specific conversations or meetings to read out to you. The President has consulted widely, beyond the administration. He has spoken to you about a number of specific ideas that he has that you can assume will be part of this that would have a direct impact on job creation and economic growth. But there will be other ideas that will be new to you as part of this package.
Q And finally, given the administration's statements lately about the intransigence of Republicans in Congress, is this in any way a measure that the White House expects to be dead on arrival and is essentially a political package?
MR. CARNEY: I don't because -- it's not a political package because it is actually the precisely opposite of it. We're talking about September of 2011, more than a year before the next election. This package will be focused precisely on job creation and economic growth. It will be made up of components that should have, based on historical experience, bipartisan support.
And to the extent that politics is involved -- and we hope involved in a helpful way -- it will be in the sense of immediate urgency that members of Congress have upon returning from their states and districts, having heard from their constituents the amount of frustration that is so palpable out in America with the partisan posturing and political bickering that's taking place here, that's getting in the way of -- obstructing our ability to do the things that the American people want us to get done. I mean, we saw this during the deficit and debt negotiations, the debt ceiling crisis.
There's an enormous opportunity here to accomplish big things that the American people want accomplished and that could be done in a bipartisan way. And that includes job creation measures, economic growth measures, and fiscal soundness measures. And our hope and expectation is that the members of Congress from both parties will come back with a heightened sense of urgency to put the American people ahead of party, ahead of politics, and to do something right for the economy.
Q When will the President go visit any of the areas that have been hit by the hurricane?
MR. CARNEY: Ann, I don't have a scheduling announcement for you at this point. I don't have an announcement of that nature to make.
Q And he put out a statement on Katrina six years later. Does he feel that the federal government is significantly better in its reaction now than it was six years ago?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think Administrator Fugate addressed that and addressed it from firsthand experience, and I think his answer was, yes, basically.
Q But President Obama, particularly -- does he feel that on his watch -- yesterday he said he took -- if you need something, tell me about it. Does he really think that the federal government is in a keener position?
MR. CARNEY: He thinks that his administration has from day one tried to be proactively responsive in the case of national disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornados, and that that posture has been the right one to take. Others will judge whether or not FEMA's response, the federal government's response, has been adequate. We are certainly -- the President is making sure that all resources available, all aspects of the federal family, are focused on this, led by Administrator Fugate and, again, the assessments will be made by others. We have heard some positive ones, but as the President said yesterday and as Administrator Fugate made clear today, this is not over. There are still impacts to be felt in certain states and a lot of recovery to be done.
Q The President has given at least half a dozen job speeches already this year by a CBS News count. What's different about this speech?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you make a good point in that the focus on jobs has been unbroken in this administration since the day he was sworn into office -- the President was sworn into office -- in a month where the American economy experienced more than 700,000 jobs lost; where that quarter, that first quarter of 2009, the economy contracted at I believe it's over 8 percent is not the -- that was the fourth quarter of '08, but an incredible amount of shrinkage. So this has been the primary focus of this President and this administration since we came in January 2009.
We are constantly looking at ways to continue to grow the economy and create jobs, and we obviously -- for a variety of reasons, the economy slowed and experienced headwinds, and we have not been chipping away at unemployment at the rate that we need to be. And the President feels very passionately that we need to take new measures to ensure that jobs are created and the economy grows.
So your point is well made in that this has been a consistent focus of the President's. But that focus will not diminish at all in the coming months or years.
Q I was asking a question, not making a point. But his focus is unbroken on jobs, but unemployment is up 25 percent since the President took office. What's his record in terms of creating jobs?
MR. CARNEY: I understand that you're not making a point, Norah, but I think --
Q -- Jay, the question is what is different in this new speech? What is going to be different?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you will see what the President proposes to enhance growth, enhance hiring, and you will judge then what's different about the new ideas that are contained within it as well as ideas that you've heard about. But I can't let the premise go uncommented on when you talk about the amount of job loss in the time since the President took -- was sworn into office. I don't think anybody except the most fervent partisan would suggest that the 8 million jobs lost because of this recession were lost because of actions that this President took. Those jobs were lost within the four months -- in the months prior to his swearing-in, his inauguration, and in the months thereafter.
Since this President’s economic policies had a chance to take effect there have been more than 2 million private sector jobs created. The economy has grown, albeit not at a pace that satisfies him or any of us here in the administration. And that’s just a matter of absolute record and fact -- indisputable.
The fact is that we inherited a terrible situation, a terrible economy, and an economy that threatened to become far worse than it did become -- because of the actions that this administration took with Congress in 2009 and perpetually since then in different measures that have been taken, as well as -- including December of last year.
Q The President and you’ve made the case that the President inherited this economy. When does it become his economy?
MR. CARNEY: Look, he’s responsible every day for this economy. He absolutely understands that and makes it clear. And he’s responsible for working directly and with Congress to take every measure possible to improve the economic situation in this country to increase growth and job creation. But it has to be absolute --
Q Is he responsible for the economy?
MR. CARNEY: -- he is not -- what has to be clear when you phrase a question like that in the way that you did, it has to be clear the situation that we have been -- the hole that we have been climbing out of as a country -- Democrats, independents, Republicans -- Americans have all been climbing out of because of the terrible, great recession that this country has endured.
So he is on the job and responsible every day. And that’s why he is -- to go back to your first question -- why he is coming forward in the coming days with new proposals to further job creation and economic growth.
Q It appears the VFW is unhappy with the White House now over the decision to send Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs to address the convention in Texas. Should they be?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that.
Q The national commander called it an insult of the highest magnitude -- not getting a first-tier speaker from the administration.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take that question. As you know, the President has a speech tomorrow. But I don’t have any specific response to that.
Q There's no political connection here because Rick Perry is also addressing the same convention?
MR. CARNEY: I hardly think so, since we make scheduling decisions like this well in advance. No.
Q Given that Dr. Krueger has been a part of the administration before, how confident are you that he will be confirmed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we think it’s absolutely essential that Congress act quickly to confirm Dr. Krueger, precisely because of the importance of the economy, the need to take measures to grow the economy and create jobs. So we expect that Congress will do that and will act quickly. And it is also true that he has been confirmed in the past, so -- within the last few years as a member of this administration. So we’re optimistic that his confirmation will be speedy.
Q And I noticed we didn’t hear from him today. Do you know how soon he’ll be made available to do interviews or speak to the public?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t, except I would say that, as a matter of normal course, nominees do not take questions from the press or give interviews during the process of their being nominated. And in fact, the President today signaled his intent to nominate; I think the formal nomination takes place once Congress is back.
Q And I know -- I was on Martha’s Vineyard -- we talked about the fact that the President was working on his jobs plan while he was on Martha’s Vineyard. At this point, is he finished with his jobs plan?
MR. CARNEY: He is still having conversations and meetings as he works to finalize his plan. So the answer is, no, he’s not complete with that process. The process continues and decisions, aspects of it still need to be decided.
Q Any chance of you bringing on any new senior staff members during this period, while he’s working on his jobs plan -- this period of transition?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, within what -- it’s a big administration, so I don’t know. Did you have anybody in mind?
Q No, but I mean, just any -- is he thinking about bringing on anyone new?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he announced today a new member of his economic team. But beyond that, I don’t have any -- I don’t anticipate any announcements.
Q Just finally, according to the latest Gallup poll, the federal government’s -- the people who have a positive view of the federal government is at 17 percent, which is an all-time low. I’m just wondering what the administration’s reaction is to that.
MR. CARNEY: I think that is a measure of the frustration that the American people feel about the gridlock and partisanship that they witness when they pay attention to what’s going on in Washington. And it’s a frustration the President understands. He’s talked about it a lot recently, including on his trip through the Midwest -- the upper Midwest the week before last.
And that number sends the message or should send the message to everyone who is chosen by their constituents to represent them here in Washington to get things done, to do exactly what their constituents want them to do, which is to represent them and get things done. We have a divided government; we have one party in control of one house of Congress, another in control of the other, the President here in the White House. We need to work together to get things done.
And there is no -- we don’t have the luxury of -- at least the American people certainly don’t believe that we have the luxury of spending a lot of time bickering and posturing when there are obvious and essential things that we can do to grow the economy and create jobs. And that’s what the President is focused on. That’s what he will put forward next week, as he said. And he expects that, coming back from their recess, members of Congress will feel that sense of urgency as well.
Q Just quickly, back on that disaster relief fund -- will the White House request any additional funds for that?
MR. CARNEY: We are still in the process, as Administrator Fugate said, of getting a calculation for what the overall cost in damage is caused by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. So we don’t know yet, to be honest. So we -- it’s hard to say, until we know what the cost is, what kind of funds will be necessary.
Q Has the President talked about the concerns with the -- about the economic impact that this is going to have and also about what impact this is going to have on the recovery for some of those areas that --
MR. CARNEY: The President’s focus in the last week, as we’ve known this storm was coming and marshaled our resources to respond to it and then dealt with it as it passed up the coast, has been on the need to respond effectively. His concern has been focused on individual Americans and the risk to them, to their lives and their property, and then on the need to begin the process of recovery.
I have not heard him express a concern related directly to its overall economic impact. That’s obviously something that will be assessed once we know what the cost is. But his primary focus has been on the emergency response and making sure that Americans are safe.
Q Do you have an update on when we'll get --
MR. CARNEY: Later this week.
Q Do you have a date?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a date for you.
Q Jay, can you preview the American Legion speech tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I cannot. I confess I have not read it yet, so I don’t have any -- I don’t have a preview for it.
Q Could you send it to me so I can -- (laughter) --
MR. CARNEY: I could, but I won’t.
Q Just in the broad -- what’s the subject matter, just in a general sense?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m sure that he will talk about issues that are relevant to the American Legion. But I don’t have --
Q Duh. (Laughter.)
Q Is it a foreign policy speech or an economics --
MR. CARNEY: I think that there will be, obviously, a large national security component to it.
Q That's it?
MR. CARNEY: That’s all I have for you.
Q Did the House action this summer, coming in for pro forma sessions -- did it preempt any plans by the President to make any recess appointments?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q So Krueger has said that raising the minimum wage may boost employment. Is that something that the President agrees with and could that be part of the jobs package?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, without getting into elements of what may or may not be in the package beyond what the President himself has said already, the President sets economic policy. And any economist worth his or her salt has written extensively on a number of issues, had different proposals, examined different ideas. There’s not one or the other expressed by Dr. Krueger that the President is adopting over any other. He sets the economic policy. Dr. Krueger will be an important member of the economic team going forward, once he’s confirmed.
Q Does the administration, though, think that raising the minimum wage --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t heard anybody in the administration discuss that at all. So you might ask economists whether they agree with that assessment. I’m not even aware of that one. But, again, I think the important point to make here is that the President sets economic policy. He makes the decisions. And he believes Dr. Krueger will be an excellent member of the economic team.
Q A question about Irene. When the President was on his bus trip, before the hurricane, he was talking about the difference between government and politics and explaining that government is troops in Afghanistan, government is FEMA. Now that Irene has happened and FEMA has gotten widely praised for their response, is he going to use the Hurricane Irene experience to bolster his argument about the role of government, and how might he do it?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that conversation with him. I don’t know whether he will or not. I don’t think -- I think his overall point applies before and after any specific natural disaster. I think that the government does a lot of things that are important to the American people, whether it’s disaster relief or keeping our country safe through our military, or various other things that are important services.
Q -- use as an example that would drive the point home?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that we’ve been focused on the storm itself, recovery from the storm -- responding to the storm, recovering from the storm. I don’t have a -- I can’t anticipate that at this point.
Q Jay, last weekend an Associated Press report revealed that a $2.2 million federal grant went to an Iowa group in its efforts to undo same-sex marriage in that state. Does the administration have a problem with federal resources being used for this purpose?
MR. CARNEY: I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll have to take the question.
Q Just a follow-up on that. Does the administration see value in an executive order barring the use of federal funds to discriminate against LGBT Americans -- the use of federal money is unacceptable?
MR. CARNEY: Could you restate that? Sorry.
Q Does the administration see value in an executive order barring the use of federal funds to discriminate against LGBT Americans as a --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any -- I mean, you’re asking a hypothetical about an executive order that doesn’t exist.
Q Just one. Just one. Just one. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said -- and this is a quote -- “One of the reasons the President has moved so far to the right is there is no primary opposition to him.” And my question: Why is the President certain that Hillary won’t run against him? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You win the award for originality today.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused not on any election -- he’s focused right now on doing his job to grow the economy, create jobs, ensure that Americans who are in the path of this hurricane are taken care of. That's what he’s focused on.
Q I understand. You're running away from this question. I mean, can you guarantee that -- are you sure that --
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask --
Q -- Hillary is not going to run?
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask her. We’re fairly confident --
Q That she won’t?
MR. CARNEY: -- that we need to focus on the task at hand.
Q All right, thank you.
Q In terms of the jobs package, can you say how much it might be worth? Tens of billions of dollars or hundreds of billions of dollars?
MR. CARNEY: I could. Look, the President -- again, I don't have specifics for you -- or I don't have specifics I will give you today on what the President will propose. You’ve heard some of the ideas that are likely to be part of it. There will be other ideas that you have not heard. I anticipate that. I don't have figures for you. I’m not going to preempt the President by putting that forward.
Q And the new nominee for CEA, can he have -- since he’s just a nominee now, can he have any role, or has he had any role in the jobs deliberations, either before the nomination today or through --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s not had any role up to now. He’s been at Princeton University since he left the administration, the Treasury Department. And my understanding is the way this process works that he will not have a role until he’s confirmed. I can check that for you, but that's my understanding.
Q Jay, is New Orleans a special-case city six years out? Or is it an American city that still has challenges, a regular American city?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think New Orleans is a unique city in many ways that are separate and apart from what happened to New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. I’m not sure what specifically your question goes to. I think that it was an historically terrible hurricane with historically disastrous after-effects, and that's how it’s viewed by this administration even this many years after.
Q And also, last week with the earthquake, we never got word about if this White House actually was shaken. If there -- anything happened. Could you give us a readout on the earthquake effects here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to get back to you. I wasn’t here. I did get a phone call in the middle of the night where I was to learn about it. But my understanding is that, for those who were here -- I have friends who were in Washington -- you could definitely feel it. But I believe Secret Service -- there was an evacuation. Assessments were made that everything was fine, and people came back.
Q Did anything happen structurally to the building? That's what I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I can check on that.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Those new glasses? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: They are -- the better to see you with. (Laughter.)
Q Do we look any better, or worse? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You guys look great, actually. You see -- people seemed to have gotten a little -- I needed, as the ravages of age have taken their toll, I needed a new prescription, so I threw in new frames, as well.
Q But they're hipster.
Q They look good.
MR. CARNEY: Really? I thought they were sort of retro-nerdy. (Laughter.)
Q You look like Clark Kent.
MR. CARNEY: I like that. That's good.
Q Yes, you look like Clark Kent.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Jay, within a couple of minutes of the President’s announcement this morning, the RNC was putting out talking points, pretty much portraying Alan Krueger as a wild-eyed liberal, sort of leaning towards Lenin. (Laughter.) And so what I’m wondering is why would you think that the Republicans in the Senate would be wanting to confirm him, particularly considering how much gridlock there already is in the Senate with confirmations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, having confirmed him before -- that might be one reason. But another reason might be the assessment of former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, Greg Mankiw. Krueger, he said, is a “excellent choice.” And he endorsed the forthcoming announcement as “an excellent choice by President Obama.”
Another endorsement came from President Reagan’s CEA chair, Martin Feldstein: “His experience” -- this is referring to Dr. Krueger -- “at the Treasury will give him a running start in his new job. Alan is an expert.” And there have been numerous others who have weighed in with a similar assessment, that Dr. Krueger is an excellent economist, an experienced one, whose background is particularly suited to the current economic environment, and his advice will be very welcome.
Thanks very much.
3:06 P.M. EDT
January 19, 2015
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