Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton Aboard Air Force One en route Kokomo, Indiana
11:17 A.M. EST
MR. BURTON: Okay, ready to go.
Q Does the President consider North Korea’s actions an act of war?
MR. BURTON: As you know, the President is outraged by these actions. And as we said in the statement earlier today, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally in South Korea. And as the President said in Korea, we're fully committed to their defense.
Our condolences go to the victims of this attack. And we'll be working with South Korea and the international community in coming days on the best way forward in securing peace and stability in the region.
The President will speak with President Lee at some point soon. They’re still working out the time at which they talk.
Q Any specifics on what we will be doing to stand with South Korea? Are we sending additional troops? Are we moving any ships into the area?
MR. BURTON: We're going to continue to work with them, but I don't have any news for you on any specifics.
Q Can you tell us how he heard, when he heard, what kind of discussions he’s had so far?
MR. BURTON: He heard from Tom Donilon this morning at 3:55 a.m. Secretary Gates spoke with his counterpart this morning and there’s been other contact between the governments. But we're continuing to work very closely with them.
Q Will he call President Hu?
MR. BURTON: I don't know that that's on the docket, but he'll do what’s appropriate.
Q Did he make any calls to anyone before leaving the White House this morning?
MR. BURTON: Not that I know of.
Q Does the President view this as an act of provocation?
MR. BURTON: It’s an outrageous act. The President thinks that North Korea is not living up to their obligations and they ought to live up to the obligations that are signed in the armistice agreement and international law.
Q So “outrageous act,” not a “provocative act”?
MR. BURTON: I mean, I don't want to get out the thesaurus on all the things that the President thinks are terrible what they’ve done.
Q What about involving the U.N.? Would the U.S. support some sort of emergency Security Council meeting or some sort of action by the U.N.?
MR. BURTON: We're going to work with our partners and figure out if that's the most appropriate way forward.
Q North Korea has been pretty clear all along that what they want is to get back into talks with the U.S. Is that on the table or a serious issue at all?
MR. BURTON: What North Korea needs to do is live up to their international obligations and make real progress in ending their illegal nuclear program. So the United States is obviously committed to security and stability in the region, and we’ll do what we think is appropriate to getting there.
Q Will we hear from the President today on North Korea? Will he make any statement or -- on camera?
MR. BURTON: I wouldn't anticipate that.
Q No comment today from the President?
MR. BURTON: I wouldn't anticipate that. Later today he’s taping an interview with Barbara Walters. I imagine it will come up, but there’s no plan for him to step to a podium and make a --
Q Will this change if things escalate? Will he make a statement today -- do you anticipate that?
MR. BURTON: I’m not going to get into an hypothetical -- anything can happen.
Q When you look at North Korea calling these American scientists to show off their new nuclear plant, and then this fusillade on this island in South Korea, I mean, do you guys think this is a cry for attention?
MR. BURTON: Well, North Korea has a pattern of doing things that are provocative. This is a particularly outrageous act, and we’re going to be doing everything that we need to do in order to make sure that we’re defending our ally in South Korea and that there’s security and stability in the region.
Q On this -- on the negotiator who was pretending to negotiate on behalf of the Taliban -- has the President been read in on this? What does he think of it? And does the White House feel burned on this at all?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think that questions about a specific individual who was in talks with the Afghan government should be directed towards the Afghan government. I think Hamid Karzai -- President Karzai addressed some of this earlier today. Broadly, I’d say in Afghanistan, we have been able to make a lot of security progress. We’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban, and, frankly, the President laid out in his 2009 speech on Afghanistan that he supported efforts for the Afghan government to work with -- to work towards reconciliation with the Taliban as long as they renounce violence, renounce their ties to al Qaeda, and abide by the Afghan constitution. So to the extent that they're doing that, he supports the effort.
Q There are reports that this individual in question received a large sum of money. Does the White House feel like that's a good use of U.S. taxpayer money?
MR. BURTON: No U.S. money went to this individual.
Q Can I ask you about Kokomo now?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q Is this the opening salvo of the 2012 campaign?
MR. BURTON: No. (Laughter.) This is a place the President visited during the campaign that's seen particularly tough times with unemployment getting as high -- getting over 20 percent. As a result of what’s happened with the auto industry and our efforts to turn it around, unemployment has dropped dramatically -- about eight points in the region. It’s still far too high. And the President is going to continue to work to make sure that we’re helping that economy grow, help getting people back to work, and help make those communities stronger going into the future.
Q Is the President going to mention the revised GDP figures?
MR. BURTON: That was not in the last draft that I saw, but maybe he’ll surprise us all. (Laughter.)
Q Can you talk about the November 30th meeting and what kinds of discussions are going on with Democrats to come up with a unified front in the talks with Republicans about the tax cuts?
MR. BURTON: Well, there is some unity among Democrats on what the best way forward is. Democrats agree that we have to act now, as soon as possible. Democrats agree that there should be a permanent extension to the middle-class tax cuts, that there shouldn’t be a permanent extension of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, but also that we’re willing to sit down and compromise in good faith with Republicans.
So as we get into the Christmas shopping season especially, there’s a real urgency to letting Americans know that they can depend on the fact that this tax cut is going to be extended. Because when you're at the mall and you’re deciding if this is going to be a really fun Christmas or kind of a more austere Christmas, you want to know if that tax cut is going to be in place. It’s to the tune of some $3,000 for the typical middle-class family, which is a lot of money. So the President is committed to moving as fast as he can to getting those tax cuts extended for the middle class.
Q So if the agreement on millionaires and billionaires not needing a tax cut, does that mean a compromise along the lines of putting a limit at $500,000 or something like that would be a strategy that you would follow?
MR. BURTON: Well, if I were Phil Schiliro and you were a Republican leader in Congress, we could have a good conversation about this. (Laughter.) But since we’re just in the back of the plane, I think we’re going to wait until we get to the meeting. We’re going to sit down, be willing to work in good faith with Republicans and Democrats on what the best way forward is. But our principle is that the middle-class tax cuts need to be extended permanently.
Q After the election the President emphasized a bipartisanship tone and wanted to reach out, talked about that. There doesn’t seem to be much indication from the Republicans in wanting to do that. Are you feeling like there’s not going to be a lot of bipartisanship coming up either at this meeting or in the coming year?
MR. BURTON: Well, look, the President is committed to sitting down and dealing openly and honestly with Republican leaders. The message that got sent from the American people, in his view, is that we need to work together to make the economy stronger. And if we don't, we’re not going to be able to make needed progress. And now that Republicans are going to control one House of the Congress, it’s up to them to be responsible members of this government.
So we’re going to -- the President is going to continue to be reasonable. He’s going to continue to be open and honest, and hope that we can make progress on things that are important to the American people, like extending these tax cuts for the middle class.
Q But what is your expectation regarding the Republicans?
MR. BURTON: The expectation is that we’re going to do everything that we can, and we can’t predict what they’re going to do.
Q What can you tell us about the President’s Thanksgiving plans?
MR. BURTON: He’s going to stick around the White House, eat some turkey.
Q So no Camp David?
MR. BURTON: No. I’m going to double-check that when I get back to the front of the plane, but I’m almost 100 percent positive -- yes, that's right, no Camp David. I just checked.
Funny pace to this gaggle, a lot of starts and stops.
Q What do you think about The Washington Post survey on TSA? It says that two-thirds of Americans don't mind the scans, but the pat-downs seem to be something that people strongly object to.
MR. BURTON: Well, the President’s overarching view here is that we need to do everything that we can to keep the American people safe. And if you’re getting on an airplane, you should know that TSA and the professionals who are working so hard every single day are doing what they can to stop any potential threat.
These procedures are in place to take on what some of the -- to take on some of the folks who would do us harm, and they are constantly adapting and evolving. And the President’s view is we’re going to continue to do what we can to use the best possible methods, the best possible intelligence to stop any harms coming to the American people.
Q On the insider trading stuff, has the President been briefed on that? Has that -- I know he didn't have an economic briefing yesterday. Has that come up? Has the President been read into that?
MR. BURTON: Not that I know of.
Q Thank you very much, Bill.
END 11:28 A.M. EST