The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/24/2011
Mansion House Press Filing Center, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
11:57 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. All right. Just a couple of updates before we get started. As usual, this morning the President received his Presidential daily briefing from John Brennan. Mr. Brennan is the President’s top homeland security -- top counterterrorism advisor. Mr. Brennan updated the President on a couple of issues. The first is he updated him on overnight developments in Libya. Mr. Brennan also updated the President on the preparations that have been underway for several days over at DHS and FEMA, in preparation for the -- for Hurricane Irene.
As you know, FEMA has been in close consultation with state and local officials all up and down the Eastern seaboard to ensure that communities are prepared -- that could be affected by the storm are prepared.
In addition, the President also was briefed this morning by Brian Deese. Brian is the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. Brian updated the President on overnight developments in the international markets. Brian also talked through the President the CBO report that was released today with -- that included some deficit projections. And Brian also updated the President on the ongoing policy process that’s underway back at the White House in preparation for the major economic address that the President will deliver shortly after Labor Day.
A couple of you over the course of the week have asked for a photo of Brian briefing the President, and that’s just been put up on the White House Flickr site. So if folks are interested in that, you can take a look.
In addition, the President conducted a conference call today with General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and American Express CEO, Ken Chenault. Mr. Immelt and Mr. Chenault are the chair and co-chair of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness. They discussed a number of the proposals that the Jobs Council has been developing. And the President solicited their input on the policy -- again, on the policy process that’s underway related to the major economic address that the President will deliver after Labor Day.
A couple of things that the Jobs Council -- that Mr. Immelt and Mr. Chenault flagged for the President were a couple of initiatives that they’re reviewing. One is, they’re looking for ways to increase the number of engineers that graduate from American institutions of higher learning. The second thing is they also spoke with the President about some different initiatives that involve putting more construction workers back to work by putting them to work retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient. So they talked about a couple of these ideas.
There are actually a couple of Jobs Council meetings that are coming up on August 31st in Portland, Oregon, with Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, where they’re going to talk about the engineering issue. Secretary Chu and the deans of some colleges and universities will also be there. And then on September 1st in Dallas, Texas, there will be a conversation about investments in infrastructure and the impact that that could have on job creation. So they had that conversation today.
So with that, I’ll go ahead and open it up for questions. Darlene, would you like to get us started?
Q Yes, sure, thanks. Josh, what’s the latest information the U.S. has on Qaddafi’s whereabouts?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously we are monitoring the changing conditions in Libya and the developments that have occurred there overnight. There are a number of ways we’re doing that. Certainly, one of them is by monitoring the good work that your colleagues in the media are doing, who are reporting live on the ground in Libya, in Tripoli and across that country. We’re also monitoring open-source reporting methods -- so Twitter, Facebook, other social media tools that are providing some insight into what’s happening on the ground there. And then we’ve also -- and probably most importantly -- have been in close touch with the leadership of the TNC about what’s happening on the ground there. So we’ve been in close consultation with them for some time, and that has continued.
What I can tell you is that the developments that we’re seeing are an indication that the Qaddafi regime’s 42-year grip on power in Libya is slipping. And that is frankly a testament to the resolve and courage of the Libyan people, that in the -- over the course of the last six months, that they’ve been able to make significant progress on that front. And that progress has no doubt been aided by the efforts of NATO and our partners in the region who have provided some pretty significant support on that front.
Q Where does the U.S. think he may be hiding? Do you think he’s still in Libya? Not in Libya?
MR. EARNEST: As I mentioned on Monday, there’s still no evidence to indicate that he has left.
Q Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Alister.
Q Thanks, Josh. What can you tell us about the additional sort of level of support the United States is prepared to commit for the post-Qaddafi period to (inaudible)? There’s reports of 1,000- to 2,000-strong bridging force being put together by sort of the UAE, Jordan and Qatar. Would the United States consider providing (inaudible)?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any information to provide you on that front in terms of that kind of support. As you know, there is an effort that the United States is currently working on to try and freeze up -- or to free up some of the Libyan assets that were frozen as a part of the embargo that the United States put in place several months ago. So they’re working to free up about $1.5 billion in those funds, in those resources, to provide some humanitarian assistance and to provide some support to the TNC that’s in the -- that’s sort in the early stages of trying to put some governmental infrastructure in place there. So that is obviously a meaningful support that would be helpful to them. But in terms of any sort of additional commitment of resources, I don’t have anything for you on that at this point.
Q And just one quick thing. There’s some concern of weapons from the Qaddafi armory, shoot-down capability, shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles falling into the wrong hands. Does the administration have concerns about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s certainly something that we’re monitoring closely, and that’s one of the things that we are obviously closely consulting with the TNC about.
Q Yes, Josh. On the TNC, are there any concerns about their ability to really carry out this transition in a peaceful way and an effective way? Is there any concern at all?
MR. EARNEST: Sure, because this is -- the effort that is underway there is not something that will be easily implemented. But what I can tell you is that we do have confidence in the TNC. I mean, after all, it was this President who led the effort to -- several months ago, a couple months ago -- to recognize them as the proper ruling entity in that country. And we are encouraged by the way that they have conducted themselves so far. And we continue -- we intend to be a partner and to be supportive of their efforts to, like I said, put in a governmental structure and transition to a freer Libya.
Q And on the President’s jobs proposals, how far along is he in the plan -- in terms of reaching ideas and so forth -- how far along is he?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s fair to say that there are some detailed policy discussions that are -- discussions and evaluations that are being made at the White House in terms of considering the kinds of things that would be incorporated into that plan.
It is fair to say that those are detailed discussions. It’s fair to say that the President is in the loop on those discussions, that he is -- that he’s aware of the progress that they’re making and he’s weighing in and offering some feedback. That’s one of the reasons that Mr. Deese is in Martha’s Vineyard this week.
So that is -- that’s an ongoing process. I don’t have anything to add in terms of the details of the kinds of things that might be included. But it’s fair to say that they are -- that they are making progress and that they are reviewing those plans at a pretty granular level.
Q So would you say that there is a framework for a proposal that he’s going to be unveiling?
MR. EARNEST: Other than to say that the process is ongoing, I don’t have anything more to add to that.
Q Josh, on that point, that the process is still ongoing, you mentioned the President being briefed on the CBO mid-year report, which is saying economic growth, slow growth for the next several years, unemployment above 8 percent at least until 2014 -- why is the President still in kind of the policy formulating phase almost three years in when unemployment is so stagggering?
MR. EARNEST: Well, a couple of things about that. One is, there are a number of things that we’ve already done that have already been beneficial to the economy in terms of certainly the Recovery Act and the jobs that’s created and supported; certainly the efforts that the President took to strengthen the American automobile industry, that the number of jobs that were protected by that effort is significant. There are also a number of proposals that the President has laid out and has been -- that have bipartisan support that we’ve been urging Congress to act on. So this is everything from trade deals to patent reform to some proposals related to an infrastructure bill that would invest in the roads, railways and runways of this country that would create jobs but also enhance our economy by strengthening our infrastructure.
So there are a number of things that the President has put in place that could help the economy. What the President is talking about doing and will lay out shortly after Labor Day is what additional measures could be put in place to get that done.
Q The CBO report also talks about debt, and it seemed like some good news for short term, that maybe the budget deficit would be a little bit larger; it’s still well over a trillion a year. As a candidate back in the summer of ’08, the President said, as a candidate, that then-President Bush adding $4 trillion in debt was “unpatriotic and irresponsible.” This President has added a few trillion dollars in debt already two and a half years in. How would you characterize adding that much debt? Would it be unpatriotic?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let’s talk about how that debt was put on the backs of the American people. You basically had two wars that were unfunded, you had a prescription drug benefit that was unfunded, and you had a tax break for millionaires and billionaires that was unfunded, or at least that a significant portion of that tax break was unfunded.
Q Well, the President extended those tax cuts, and you also had the stimulus you mentioned a moment ago that was nearly a trillion dollars.
MR. EARNEST: But, again, that was in reaction to the kinds of -- the impact of some of those economic policies and a country that was on the brink of another Great Depression. Those are the kinds of policies that we had to put in place to pull us back from the brink.
I think what the report today actually indicates is -- it does indicate, as you point out, that some progress has been made, that based on the deal that Democrats and Republicans struck earlier this month, that that is having a tangible impact on our deficit in terms of reducing it.
But the report also makes it clear that there is a lot more that we have to do. And that’s why one of the things that the President is going to talk about next month, in addition to some of these new ideas about creating jobs, is actually a suggestion and some ideas for how the super committee can go beyond their $1.5 trillion deficit reduction mandate to actually do even more to address the longer-term fiscal challenges that are facing the country.
So, I mean, I think the report sort of validates the progress that’s been made and validates the President’s assessment that there’s actually even more that we should do to address this challenge.
Q And the last thing. The Vice President made a comment about some people thought he went to Asia to explain the U.S. economy, but said, “I didn’t come to explain a damn thing.” What do you think he meant by that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wasn’t on the President’s -- the Vice President’s trip, so I didn’t see the full context of his remarks. I can tell you that one of the reasons that the Vice President went to China and to Mongolia and Japan was to underscore the increasingly interconnected nature of our world and our economy. And one of the reasons that he spent so much time in China is because the U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies. So it is important that we continue to build the kind of -- or promote the kind of understanding and promote the kind of good working relationship because there are significant economic consequences for that back here in this country.
But in terms of the comments that you’re citing, I haven’t seen the full context of those remarks, so I can’t react to them.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, Wyatt.
Q With respect to the hurricane, even though this is a state-by-state and county-by-county reaction, this is a big storm, all the way up the East Coast, all the way up the major population centers of the United States. So what -- does the President have a plan to personally look at where shortages might be, where evacuations might be falling short, water shortages, food shortages, this kind of thing? And is there a chance as a result of that he cuts short his vacation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any scheduling updates to announce at this point. What I can tell you, though, is that the President’s FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, is a legitimate expert on these issues. So, as you may know, Mr. Fugate was the emergency management -- the top emergency management official in the state of Florida and was responsible for leading the recovery effort and response effort to a number of hurricanes in that state. He was actually appointed to that job by Governor Jeb Bush.
So this is somebody that is a legitimate expert on these issues. These kinds of logistical issues are an important part of that effort. That’s why we’re so closely -- in such close communication and consultation with state and local officials up and down the Eastern seaboard.
I can tell you that there are a couple of things that FEMA has already done. They have pre-deployed incident response teams to both Virginia and North Carolina. And they actually have some stores of commodities in Atlanta -- bottled water, food rations and those kinds of things.
So they are looking at the very detailed logistical effort to ensure that we’re going to have the proper resources pre-deployed here. And I’ll be honest with you, the President has complete confidence in Craig Fugate’s ability to handle those responsibilities, and the President has been briefed on these issues every day since Monday. He also had an opportunity to talk to Administrator Fugate yesterday on the phone, where they were talking primarily about the earthquake but they also, at the end of that call, had a conversation about the preparations that have been underway at FEMA to prepare for Hurricane Irene.
One other thing that I would say -- well, two other things I would say about this. The first is, we would strongly urge residents of these communities that are in the line of the storm to pay very close attention to state and local officials and the advice and instructions that they’re offering. State and local officials will be the ones who will make decisions about evacuation orders. And so what we would encourage people to do is to not just listen to the instructions and advice and orders that are given by state and local officials, but to actually follow those instructions. So that’s really important.
The second thing is, is if there are people who are out there who are wondering what it is they should be doing to get ready for this storm, they should visit ready.gov. This is a very important online resource that FEMA has put together to give people information about the kinds of things that they should be doing to prepare for this storm.
Q One on jobs and one on Libya.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q It seems obvious that the President has spoken about it -- he’s going to suggest in this plan additional stimulus. The Republicans say the first stimulus plan didn’t work; stimulus is becoming a dirty word in Washington. Why even put it in a new plan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what’s going to be included in this plan are some reasonable ideas that could have a tangible impact on improving our economy and creating jobs, but there are also going to be the kinds of things that Republicans should be able to support. These are bipartisan ideas that the President is going to offer up.
I mean, even the ideas that I cited earlier, when it came to Ed’s question, in terms of an infrastructure bill, in terms of extending the payroll tax cut for middle-class Americans that the President actually brokered with Republicans last year, the trade deals -- all of these are the kinds of things that have bipartisan support. We’re going to have some additional ideas that should have some bipartisan support.
So there is no reason that the good ideas that the President is going to put forward to strengthen our economy and create jobs -- there’s no reason that that should get bogged down in political politics in Washington, D.C.
Q You’ve been saying that for six months, and you haven’t been able to get those kinds of programs -- things that you’ve been talking about --
MR. EARNEST: And the President has articulated his frustration about that. He’s pointed out that the American people voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for dysfunctional government. It’s time for us to put our partisan affiliations aside and actually put in place the kinds of policies that we know are going to be in the best interests of the country and the best interests of so many Americans out there who are looking for jobs.
Q On Libya, the President has said and you mentioned that humanitarian aid is going; some of that will be Libyan assets unfrozen, supposedly.
MR. EARNEST: That’s right.
Q The President has made a commitment, a long-term commitment, to helping the TNC, which is nation-building, again, that America is involved in. Can you tell the American people how long this country will be involved in helping Libya get on its feet, and how much it’s going to cost the American taxpayers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can say is that even the resources that were -- that are being unfrozen and that would be released to the TNC, this $1.5 billion in assets, is actually a significant -- should provide them a significant start in trying to build up the kind of infrastructure that they need to build and to provide some of this humanitarian relief that’s so badly needed.
So we are going to remain -- I mean, this is -- the truth is this is an easy way for us to stand on the side of the Libyan people, to be supportive of their efforts, to put in place a government that will acknowledge freedom, that will acknowledge democracy. And that’s something that will -- that we remain committed to.
In terms of predicting the future, that’s something I’m not going to get into from up here. But there are some things we can do, like releasing these frozen assets, that could be very beneficial to them, that actually doesn’t involve, at this point, taxpayer assistance.
Q But should the American public be ready for a five- or 10-year commitment, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the things that I would point out to you is -- certainly, one of the things that’s been different about this effort is that there are no -- there’s no American military presence, in terms of boots on the ground, in Libya. That’s one of the things that’s been remarkable about this operation, that the President was able to provide the kinds of leadership and support for the TNC in close coordination with our NATO allies and with our allies in the region, that we were able to make that kind of commitment without putting boots on the ground there. And that’s something that we remain committed to, and that does distinguish it from the situation that exists right now in Iraq.
Q Many American citizens probably think that once Qaddafi is found, flees, captured, killed, that America is done. But that’s not the case; this is a long-term commitment to the people of Libya from the United States.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it is a strong commitment from the American people to the people of Libya as they work to build the infrastructure that’s needed to have a free and democratic Libya.
Q The last estimate I saw placed the rebel control of Tripoli at 80 to 95 percent. Do you know specifically what it is right now?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to be in a -- I’m not in a position, certainly from this podium, to offer any play-by-play about the dynamic conditions that are underway in Libya. It’s clear that the rebels have made a lot of progress in just the last few days, but it’s also clear that there is some fighting that’s going on in locations there. It’s not a safe place right now.
Q And speaking about the short-term transition, there’s obviously a lot of chaos that we’re seeing right now in the streets. Top officials are meeting in Istanbul on Thursday. Do you know what message diplomats are giving to the rebel forces to help them bring order right now in the short term?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve obviously been in close consultation with the TNC. I can’t speak for the diplomats from other countries, but I can certainly tell you what we’ve been doing, which is we’ve been closely coordinating with the TNC to offer them the support and guidance that we can. There continues to be a NATO mission that’s underway in terms of offering some civilian protection, enforcing an arms embargo and those kinds of things.
And there also is a -- as we’ve talked about, releasing these $1.5 billion in frozen assets. So there are a number of things the United States can do to support the TNC as they’re engaged in what will be some very difficult work to put in place a kind of governmental infrastructure that, frankly, hasn’t existed for the last four decades. So there’s some hard work ahead.
Q Could you just give us a sense, since the transition did not happen as quickly as the President was hoping for, of exactly what the U.S. commitment is at this time on the ground or overall? And beyond that, I know that you’ve said that there won’t be any U.S. troops on the ground, but is the White House nudging Europeans or NATO to make that kind of commitment? And does the White House believe that there should be some kind of force, boots on the ground, even if it’s not U.S. troops?
MR. EARNEST: Those are a lot of questions. One thing that jumped out at me first is in terms of the timing here. And I do think it’s important for people to remember that Muammar Qaddafi was a tyrant that ruled his country with an iron first for 42 years. And in the space of the last six months we’ve seen a group of rebels, with the support of the international community and the United States, overthrow that regime.
So I think that timeframe is actually pretty remarkable, that you could see a regime that had been in place and in power for 42 years be overthrown in six months. So I think that’s significant. And I think the pace of that change is pretty remarkable.
In terms of the way forward, it will be a difficult -- there are difficult days ahead. There are difficult months ahead. There are difficult years ahead. But this is -- I should say this. As a tyrant in Libya, Muammar Qaddafi used the resources of his country to perpetrate horrible terrorist acts against Americans and people around the world.
So I think there is a pretty tangible interest that we have in putting in place -- in supporting the Libyan people as they put in place the kind of government that will support freedom, that will support democracy, that will allow them to be a constructive member of the international community. So I think there’s an important reason why we were going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Libyan people as they continue to move through these very significant changes.
Q And as far as whether the White House believes that there should be some kind of international force on the ground?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything for you on that. I would say, as I pointed out to someone earlier -- I guess to David earlier -- that the significant changes that have been wrought in Libya with the support of the international community have all taken place without American boots on the ground. And I think that’s pretty significant.
Q And did the President leave the golf course at all yesterday while taking that conference call to discuss the earthquake?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, the pool that some of you were probably in yesterday didn’t move. So obviously the President didn’t change locations in order to participate in that call.
Q Do you know what hole he was on? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don’t. I don’t. Carol.
Q So the jobs portion of the speech, the plan, is not --
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct. There’s an ongoing policy process.
Q Is the deficit reduction portion of the plan, the recommendations the President made to the super committee, has he wrapped that portion --
MR. EARNEST: I’ll have to check on that. I don’t believe so. As you know, there are a number of proposals that the President had weighed in terms of his conversations with Speaker Boehner about a grand bargain that would have led to a larger deficit reduction package.
So I suspect that some of the ideas that were part of those conversations are the kinds of things that could resurface in these proposals. But I don’t have the sense now that those -- that that policy idea or that policy proposal is locked.
Q And then, just on that same topic. Vice President Biden said in an interview with reporters while he was traveling that it’s going to be very, very difficult for the super committee to achieve $1.5 trillion deficit reduction and that there’s still a good chance that Congress would wind up having to pull the trigger. How does that square with the President’s desire to exceed $1.5 trillion?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have said throughout this process, Carol, that just because the dollar number is smaller doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easier to move through the Congress. It seems in the view of the White House that there is a significant benefit for members of Congress, from Democrats and Republicans, to move off their preliminary negotiating positions to seek out some common ground that probably will mean making some sacrifices and supporting something in the end package that you wouldn’t otherwise support.
But by reaching a compromise, we can do something significant for our deficit. And by doing something significant, that is what constituents -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, the American people -- are looking for. They want Congress to act decisively and significantly to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges.
So if there is an opportunity for us to do something even bigger than $1.5 trillion, I think you can make a pretty good argument that doing something bigger is actually something that many members of Congress would find easier to support and vote for than something smaller.
Q So he essentially agrees with the Vice President?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s fair to say that the White House and the President will lay out some specific ideas about how to enact something -- about how the super committee can go beyond their $1.5 billion -- trillion-dollar mandate.
Q And just one brief clarification on Libya. You said that Qaddafi -- the Qaddafi regime’s grip on power is “slipping.” So it’s the U.S.’s view that he’s still in control?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it’s pretty evident from the reports that we’re seeing and from the situation on the ground that he is -- that he certainly is not ruling in the way that he has. And we’ve seen that his compound has been overrun on the ground there. But there are a number of developments that indicate that his grip on power has slipped.
Q Has the President been briefed on this meeting between Kim Jong-il and Medvedev? And does the White House welcome it? And has there been any contact with the Russians either before or about getting the talks --
MR. EARNEST: I’m going to have to take that question, Stephen. I don’t know the answer to that. So we’ll get back to you on that.
Q Given the House Republicans’ track record on the President’s economic proposals, to what extent will this early September speech really be a political statement, a dare for the Republicans to oppose it so, as he kept talking about on his bus tour, he can take the fight to them and campaign against them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it’s fair to say that the President has been dismayed by the frequency with which people on Capitol Hill have tried to take this argument and turn it into politics, to put politics ahead of the legitimate debate that we should be having about the policies that should be in place to strengthen our economy and create jobs.
So I suspect that there will be some who will look at the President’s speech and dismiss it as a -- as politics. I can tell you what the President is aiming to do and what the President is committed to doing is putting aside politics, rising above partisan rancor, and putting in place the kinds of policies that have bipartisan support that will strengthen the economy and create jobs.
That’s what this proposal is going to be about. That’s what the President -- that, frankly, is what the economic team is working so hard to put together. And so we are hopeful -- and the President made reference to this when he was on his bus tour through the Midwest last week -- he’s hopeful that there will be members of Congress who, after a few weeks back in their districts, will come back to Washington, D.C., with a greater willingness to put the interests of the country ahead of their own political calculation.
And if they’re willing to do that, I think they will find lots of things in the President’s speech that they’ll like.
Q On Libya, a couple of quick questions. Do you mean to be stepping back from what the President said the other day? He said that Qaddafi’s control had unraveled, that his power had come to an end, and you seem to be indicating today that he still has some semblance of authority, some influence.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t mean to suggest that. I mean, the Qaddafi -- Qaddafi’s grip on power has slipped; there’s no doubt about that. And so our assessment is the same as it was when the President delivered his remarks on Monday.
Q And after 42 years under him, what makes the administration and those who have been in contact with the TNC think that their vision of democracy will be the same as our vision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t think that I suggested that that that would be the case. What I suggested is that we have established a good level of coordination and a good working relationship with the TNC. We are optimistic about what they are saying that they would like their government to look like, that the kinds of values that they’re espousing leave us with a lot of optimism about the future there. But we are committed to working closely with them as they work to put in place the kind of government they would like to see.
Q The week after Labor Day is looking sort of increasingly crowded with the debates, a speech from Romney, a speech from Palin (inaudible). Is there any discussion or chance that the President -- does the President still intend to make a speech that week or is there any discussion about moving it up or back or -- because of how crowded that week already looks?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any greater specificity for you about the timing of the President’s speech, except to say that it will be delivered after Labor Day. I don’t know if it will be that week -- I don’t know if it would be the day after Labor Day or the week after Labor Day or two weeks after Labor Day. But this is something that the President believes is pretty important, and it will be an opportunity for him to lay out some proposals and some initiatives that should garner bipartisan support, to strengthen our economy and create jobs.
But in terms of the timing of that, I don’t have additional details for you at this point.
Q Is that a consideration, how crowded that week is looking?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that there’s any doubt in the minds of the people at the White House who will be putting together the schedule that you and your colleagues in the news media will give that speech the appropriate level of attention.
Q Just on the jobs piece and this discussion of stimulus measures, are there new stimulus ideas -- tax cuts, credits -- that we can expect as part of this package, or does it go beyond --
MR. EARNEST: There will be some ideas that the President will lay out in this speech that I expect that you and others will consider to be new ideas. So that doesn’t mean that the President is in any way sort of backing away from some of the things that we’ve already talked about, that already have bipartisan support, that the Congress should be moving on. There are a number of things that are out there that would do some good for the economy. This speech is actually an effort to try to build on those ideas and to offer up some new suggestions about how to strengthen our economy.
Q You mentioned Republican senators -- Republican support for some of these measures. Is he talking to Republicans as part of this process, this stage of his decision-making? Does he see a need to do that? Is he doing that, either on the Hill or --
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know -- in terms of the last couple of days, I don’t know that he’s had any of those conversations. Obviously he’s spent a good portion of the summer talking with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill about the economy and about our long-term fiscal situation. So it is fair to say that he’s had extensive consultations with them. I certainly wouldn’t rule out future conversations. But it is our goal here -- again, let’s talk about what our goal is: Our goal here is to put in place policies that will strengthen the economy, that will create jobs, and that should earn bipartisan support in the Congress.
So it’s in our interest to make sure that we have a good sense about what it is that Republicans would like and could support. And that will be reflected in the speech that the President gives after Labor Day.
Q Josh, is the President considering a proposal or signing an executive order that would require that all new or renewed federal contracts -- contracts with the federal government contain a job creation clause? There’s been one specific proposal that would involve a net increase of 1 percent of payroll. Is that something that the President thinks makes sense or have you ruled that out?
MR. EARNEST: I have to tell you, Margaret, I’ve seen those reports, but I don’t have any information for you on those. So why don’t we connect afterwards and we’ll see if we can get you some information on that.
Q Okay. And the two -- the Immelt and Chenault proposals that you mentioned earlier, are those being discussed as part of what the President would roll out in his speech or completely separate from that package?
MR. EARNEST: Well, these are proposals that the Jobs Council is reviewing. The President sort of gave them this charge to go out and explore some ideas with the private sector that would create jobs. So the President will certainly incorporate the work of the Jobs Council into the policy -- the ongoing policy process related to the speech.
Again, I can’t necessarily say whether or not they’ll be included, because that process is still ongoing. But it’s fair to say that the President expects to draw on the work and expertise of the people who are serving on his Jobs Council into that policymaking process.
Q So it is right to say to say that at least we know that two of the proposals that he may be considering talking about in the package that he unveils after Labor Day are the two that you mentioned that he discussed with them --
MR. EARNEST: Sure, because he is taking some input from the Jobs Council as he puts this economic plan together.
Q And on the hurricane preparations, can you tell us, in addition to Mr. Fugate, who else he’s been talking to? Is he talking to governors or -- basically, who else is he talking to on a regular basis during this trip in terms of preparation?
MR. EARNEST: Mr. Brennan is the primary point of contact. He has spoken to Mr. Fugate, which he did yesterday. Mr. Brennan has been his primary point of contact, and at this stage, the most important thing is for the professionals at FEMA to be in contact with their counterparts at the state and local level, because that is where this preparation effort is being administered, and it’s where the recovery and response effort will be administered.
So that effort is underway. As I pointed out, there are a couple of teams that have been pre-deployed to North Carolina and Virginia. There are some commodities stocks that have been pre-deployed to ensure that they are in the area and can be delivered quickly after the storm if they are needed.
And so that consultation, that coordination is going on at a -- between federal emergency management response officials and state and local emergency management response officials. And so that’s an ongoing process; I don’t have anything specific that the President has done on that at this point.
Q I have one last one.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q Can you tell us, other than the readouts that we’ve seen, maybe some names of some business leaders or celebrities who the President has bumped into or is spending time with, who have come to visit him at his place during this trip?
MR. EARNEST: One of the -- I can tell you that one of the reasons that the President wanted to spend a little down time with his family here in Martha’s Vineyard was the opportunity to get away from the limelight a little bit. Certainly he can’t do that completely.
He’s obviously had some important decisions and some important conference calls to participate in over the last few days. But I think seeking to find other people in the limelight to spend time with has not been the principal objective over the last week.
Q Do you know the score on any of the golf games?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t seen that, so hopefully improving.
Q And, Josh, can you give us a sense of the work-life balance this week? I mean, how much time is he spending in all these briefings that you’re talking about versus actual vacation time with his family?
MR. EARNEST: Sure. I’m not in a position to give you an up-to-the-minute readout of that. But as you can tell from the readouts that we’ve offered, he’s spent a decent amount of time dealing with sort of the day-to-day responsibilities of being President, but also some of the emerging situations that we’ve seen in the last couple of days in terms of the developments in Libya, in terms of the earthquake, in terms of the preparations for the hurricane.
So there have been some things that have intervened, but it’s fair to say that he’s gotten an opportunity to spend some time with his daughters before they have to go back to school. That’s something that he’s enjoyed quite a bit.
Q Can you tell us if there are U.S. assets, intelligence assets, on the ground in Libya helping to try to find Qaddafi?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t. If you wanted to direct that question to the State Department or the Department of Defense --
Q Could you at least confirm that there are U.S. intelligence involved in it at all?
MR. EARNEST: I cannot.
Q Okay. And on the earthquake yesterday, he was not aware of it, correct, on the ground when he was playing golf?
MR. EARNEST: The President did not feel the earthquake yesterday.
Q When was he told that it had happened?
MR. EARNEST: I am not sure about that. He was told soon after. But in terms of the mechanics of how that occurred and who told him, I don’t know the answer to that.
Q What was the President’s reaction when he heard the strength and the scope of it?
MR. EARNEST: I wasn’t the one who told him, so I’m not sure of what his reaction was.
Q Josh, on the point of the President potentially changing his vacation plans, I know you said you don’t have any new scheduling announcements. Is it something that’s been discussed, though, that the President might go home early?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I don’t believe that it has. But we’re obviously watching the weather reports pretty closely for a variety of reasons. And if there’s an indication that that would factor into this as scheduling changes, then we’ll obviously take the appropriate measures. But I don’t know any conversations that have occurred like that at this point.
Q You talked about how the White House has been watching the developments unfolding in Libya on television. Has the President himself watched any of the coverage of what has been going on over the last 24 hours or so?
MR. EARNEST: I got to be honest with you, I don’t know if he’s seen any of the television coverage. I mean, he’s obviously keenly aware of what’s being reported on television. Because, again, one of the sources of information that we’re getting is from the good work of journalists who are putting themselves in harm’s way to try and report out this information and to get some greater clarity about what’s happening on the ground.
So he certainly is aware of what’s being reported on television. But I don’t know if he’s seen those -- if he’s seen those television reports firsthand.
Q Has he mostly been watching FOX? (Laughter.) Can I just ask two for colleagues back in D.C. since we may not get you back on camera? One colleague is working on a piece about the President’s environmental legacy. What do you think, heading into the reelection -- the economy is a big issue, a lot of big issues -- what does he think his environmental legacy is so far? What does he hope to do (inaudible)?
MR. EARNEST: Sure. I think one of the hallmark achievements of this administration -- and I think something that will have a tangible impact on the environment, but also on our economy over the long term -- are the CAFE standards, agreements that the President has reached with automakers and with manufacturers of large trucks and buses that some of the advancements that have been put in place in close consultation with the private sector are the kinds of things that over the long term will tangibly impact our environment for the better.
The truth is, it’s also going to have a pretty tangible impact on the strength of those manufacturing industries, too. So this is one of those policy decisions that falls in the category of a win-win. And I think that when people look back at some of the advances that were made on environmental policy over the last two and a half years, that’s probably one of the most significant things that has been achieved.
Q Another election issue are all these super PACs on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives have them, liberals have them; AFL-CIO has created a new one, trying to keep Democrats in office by protecting Democrats on the Hill. The President has talked about the influence of money in politics, wanting to reduce that. You seem to have super PACs on both sides of the aisle raising millions and millions of dollars. What kind of concern -- does he have any concern about that, given his rhetoric on cleaning up the system?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what the President has said is the President does believe that in the interest of good government that disclosure is what we should be looking for here, that as a principle, that principle of transparency in terms of who’s bankrolling these outside groups is something that the American people deserve to know and journalists like yourself should have the opportunity to review or at least investigate why those donations might have been offered up.
But what I can tell you is that the President -- again, this is sort of -- campaign finance reform is something that has fallen victim to political wrangling on Capitol Hill, that this -- that we’re in a position where because Democrats and Republicans have been unable to find common ground on this issue, we have a -- the result is a -- is a policy or an environment that isn’t in the best interests of the American people. So the President is interested in working with Republicans to try to resolve these issues. And we’ll see if we get a similar corresponding effort on the other side.
Q Josh, there was a lot of criticism before the vacation started, there has been a lot of criticism during the vacation -- with Libya happening, the earthquake happening. What does the President say when he hears this? What’s his reaction to folks saying, you should be back in Washington?
MR. EARNEST: My sense is, is that his reaction is that he’s going to be focused on doing his job. And as you know, this is a job that he’s responsible for doing wherever he is, whether he’s sitting in the Oval Office or whether he’s caught on the golf course when an emerging action takes place. And he has been satisfied with his ability to do his job even in these unusual locations, that he’s been able to convene these calls of his top national security team to ensure that their response efforts are proceeding apace; that he can be confident that the preparations that FEMA is putting in place in advance of Hurricane Irene are moving along at the rate they should be.
So the President has on a number of occasions sort of dismissed the notion of cable chatter. And I think he’s really focused on trying to do his job, which is something he recognizes that he always has to do, because he’s the President of the United States wherever he goes, but also, taking advantage of an opportunity at the end of summer -- at the end of the summer to spend some time with his wife and daughters. And I think that he’s satisfied that he’s been able to do both of those things over the last several days.
So is there one final question that we want to take? Way in the back.
Q You said the President has been consulting with a lot of people. But has he consulted with any former members of Congress or anything like that on how to get this kind of thing through Congress? Has he taken a historical perspective on this? Because everything else hasn’t been working all that well.
MR. EARNEST: Well, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a former member of Congress that the President has consulted with. But I can tell you that one of the things that we are committed to doing is making sure that we put in place the kinds of proposals that Republicans should be able to support.
There are a number of ideas out there that would be good for the economy that would create jobs. And the truth is the only thing that’s been holding them up so far is partisan rancor on Capitol Hill. Again, the President has said this repeatedly, the American people voted for divided government, not dysfunctional government. And it’s our hope, and it’s the President’s hope, that members of Congress will come back from the August recess and they’ll come back prepared to put aside their own political interests if they can act in the best interests of the American people and the best interests of the American economy.
And the President is hopeful that he can jumpstart that process by delivering this major economic address shortly after Labor Day. And we’ll move from there.
Q Do you think he’ll do that address in D.C. or somewhere else? Have you talked about that?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I don’t have any additional updates to provide in terms of the venue. But when we have that, I'll make sure you’re among the first to know.
All right, everyone enjoy the rest of your day.
END 12:41 P.M. EDT