Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton en route Madison, Wisconsin
En Route Madison, Wisconsin
3:35 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: So, two things. For starters, President Obama spoke with President Carter. Sounded like he was doing great, to the point where he’s going to get back on his book tour tomorrow. So we’re all very encouraged by that news.
And then secondly, I wanted to point you guys to my colleague Jennifer Psaki’s blog post about the small business owner where the Republicans rolled out their pledge last week coming out with some pretty supportive comments about the small business bill that passed and was signed into law, that all those Republicans who were at his business voted against that day.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Bill, in the Rolling Stone interview, the President told Democrats to buck up and basically to stop whining, which is the Vice President’s words. What is it that caused him to make those kind of comments? What’s concerning him?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President is making an argument to Democrats that it’s critically important that we focus on the choice that Americans have before them this November between the policies that have helped put us in the right direction and those that are going to go back to the past.
What the President is saying is a very practical -- what he’s making is a very practical argument about making sure that people get out and vote, and that’s in large part his -- what his comments to the students in Wisconsin are going to be today. He’s going to say a lot of these young men and women are responsible for the fact that he won in 2008. But this was never just about him winning. It was about being able to make the kind of changes that the country so desperately needs right now. And if folks sit on the sidelines, and if Republican leaders in Washington get more votes come this November, then the impact on the lives of Americans, from tax cuts to the strength of our schools to the strength of our economy, will be profound.
So the President is trying to say we’ve done a lot in this administration and a lot that we’re proud of, but it’s not enough to be proud of our accomplishments. It’s going to require hard work to continue to move in the right direction, to continue to do the things that are going to keep our economy growing and creating jobs.
Q Does he feel that too many Americans don’t appreciate or recognize these things that you guys have accomplished?
MR. BURTON: No, I don’t think that that’s his point. The President doesn’t travel the country thinking about whether or not people are appreciating what he’s doing. He’s doing the hard work of being President because he feels like there are certain policies that need to be enacted, there are certain things that need to be reversed in order to get our economy -- keep our country on the right track.
So what the President is doing is making sure that people know, whether you’re on the left or the right, that we’ve done a lot, we’ve got a lot more to do. And if you’re on the left, if you’re somebody like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or one of the folks who helps to keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values, then he thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service. But at the same time, we need to focus our energy and our efforts on the choice that Americans have this fall.
Q Does he really think that message is going to rally voters, though, by telling Democrats to stop whining? I think a lot of progressives have had kind of a backlash to those who come out strong against them.
MR. BURTON: I missed the last part of your question, but --
Q People are coming out against him -- him and Biden equally -- saying these sort of things, saying buck up and, you know, don’t -- stop whining. Is that going to rally voters?
MR. BURTON: You know, I think it’s easy to take a couple words out of a transcript and, you know, use them against any particular politician. But if you look at the full arc of the argument --
Q Do you think Rolling Stone takes some arguments out of -- words out of context?
MR. BURTON: I’m saying if you ask about two words from a long answer about how the President’s views on our political position is, I think that takes it out of context. But what I’m saying is that --
Q Are you sympathetic to General McChrystal now?
MR. BURTON: What I’m saying is that the arc of the President’s argument was a much bigger one than just we need to buck up. The argument was we’ve done a lot. We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a lot at stake in this election. And if folks don’t go out and vote, then the changes are going to be profound.
Q Should that have been made earlier, though? Because right now a lot of it’s, you know, selling the accomplishments, telling people, like today, what they’ve done, what the administration has done with education. But should that have been attempted earlier before the midterm elections?
MR. BURTON: A lot of that work has been actually over the course of this last year. But the point here is not necessarily just to go out and sell all the things that have been done. It’s what’s this choice about in November; what’s going to happen for our country moving forward? Are we going to continue to keep moving with policies that are going to grow our economy or are we going to choose what the Republican leaders in Washington want to do, which is blow a huge $4 trillion hole in the budget in order to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.
The President thinks we need to go in a different direction. We need to be more fiscally responsible. We need to keep our economy growing.
Q Has the President spoken to his chief of staff today?
MR. BURTON: Not that I know of. But they do speak most days.
Q Well, yesterday the President said that Rahm didn’t tell him -- hadn’t said he made any decision. Just wondering if the White House expects a different decision from Rahm, and if they expect a final decision from Rahm this week?
MR. BURTON: There are about a million ways to slice the salami. I don’t have any news for you on Rahm Emanuel. As a lot of the reports have indicated out there, in fact a lot of the reports that you guys have written, there’s going to be a decision pretty soon. But right now, Rahm is focused on making sure that the White House is run the most effective way possible for the American people.
Q Why did you pick the backyard to pick apart the Republican Pledge to America? Why this setting?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s view is -- well, the President has been having a very long conversation with the American people ever since his campaign started. And these backyard events have allowed him to have a full conversation that isn’t just 30-second answers, but are instead questions and discussions with neighbors and regular Americans all over the country about issues that are important to him.
And if you looked at the event today and all these events, you get a lot of questions about what’s happening with the economy, what’s happening with education. And I think it’s -- the President thinks it’s an effective way to have a back-and-forth conversation with the American people.
Q Anything on the Middle East? It looks like Abbas has decided to delay a decision on whether or not to leave talks. Does the President have anything new on this? Do you guys have anything knew on the settlement freeze?
MR. BURTON: Well, we’re obviously disappointed that the moratorium wasn’t extended. Mr. Mitchell is on his way to the region to continue talks. And we’re going to keep doing the hard work that we need to do in order to make progress on what is a very important issue for the folks in that region and all around the world.
Q Is the President getting any -- what kind of updates is he getting about some of the tighter House and Senate and gubernatorial races around the country? Does he have sort of a regular update?
MR. BURTON: He gets briefed on a regular basis about what’s happening around the country. But he’s not -- I know previously we’ve had presidents who really dig down deep into poll numbers and what’s happening across tabs and things like that. He’s a lot more focused on other issues over the course of his day, but he does keep track of what’s happening in some of the races all across the country.
Q Who generally keeps him up to date or briefed on those races?
MR. BURTON: Well, it’s a function of what the political director does to do that sort of thing.
Q Did he watch the Bears game? Did the full Bears game, did he watch it to the end?
MR. BURTON: I’m almost certain that he did. I’m not 100 percent certain. He was very enthusiastic about the outcome this morning, but I’m not sure how much of it he saw.
Q Do you think Rahm Emanuel was also enthusiastic about the Bears outcome this morning?
MR. BURTON: I’m not in a position to comment about Rahm Emanuel watching the Bears game -- just haven’t talked to him about it.
Q Also in the Rolling Stone article he indicated that the U.S. energy policy would be his top priority next year and that he’d have to do it in chunks. What does he mean by like maybe doing this, forming an energy policy in chunks versus something more comprehensive?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s views on energy and the things that we need to do in order to get onto a path of a cleaner environment, take on global warming, and create jobs of the future -- so he was basically discussing what we’re going to do going forward. There’s not a fully formed plan just yet on what’s going to happen in the next legislative year. Obviously there’s a lot of things that are going to happen between now and January 1st, and I think that we’ll figure out the best way forward possible.
Q Do you know if the President put 20 percent down on his first home?
MR. BURTON: I don’t.
Q Could you get back to us on that?
MR. BURTON: I’ll see if I can get back to you on that.
Q Thanks, I appreciate that. (Laughter.)
Q Bill, the House is voting tomorrow on the China currency bill and the administration hasn’t really spelled out a clear position on it. What is it?
MR. BURTON: We are of course reviewing all the different proposals that are in the -- that are before the House and Senate. But I would encourage you to talk to Treasury about that.
Q One final thing on the deficit commission, this FBI investigation and Andy Stern. Is Andy Stern still in good standing in terms of being a member of the deficit commission?
MR. BURTON: I’ve seen some of the reports about that, but I don’t have a lot of information about what’s actually happening. So we’ll try to get back to you on it.
All right. Enjoy the rest of your flight. Oh, you know what, I also wanted to mention a that key University of Wisconsin-Madison alum in the White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco -- I was trying make sure folks know who the White House -- Alyssa Mastromonaco.
3:46 P.M. EDT