the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

10:32 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Everybody ready?  Let me just start by saying thank you all for being here and for coming with us on this trip.  Second, I just wanted to remind folks that as part of our larger efforts to strengthen our nation’s preparedness and resiliency, the FCC and FEMA will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System this coming Wednesday, that’s tomorrow, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.  The test will last about 30 seconds.  The National Emergency Alert System is an alert and warning system that can be activated by the President if needed to provide information to the American public during emergencies.  The system is already tested and used frequently on the local level but has never before been tested on a nationwide basis.  For more details I refer you to the FCC and FEMA.  Just wanted to make sure everybody knows that it’s just a test.

Q    Jay, what can you tell us about the changes in the Chief of Staff’s duties?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, a couple things.  One, I think a little bit more is being made of this than in fact is happening.  The Chief of Staff Bill Daley has asked, as part of his efforts to make the White House run as efficiently as possible, has asked Pete Rouse, counselor to the President, to help streamline and make more efficient and effective internal communications in the White House and to help with some of the day-to-day management of the place.

Bill Daley, as the Chief of Staff, retains obviously all of his authority and ultimate responsibility for the White House operations and White House staff.

Q    Can you enumerate exactly what duties have transferred to Mr. Rouse?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, it’s less about transferring duties than it is about adding responsibilities without subtracting any from anybody else.  It’s about making the White House as effective and efficient as possible.  And this is actually a process that’s been in the works now for a number of weeks, even possibly a couple of months.  And what Bill announced in one of our meetings yesterday morning was simply that, as most of you know or a lot of you know, “I’ve asked Pete to take on these additional responsibilities to help us function better.”  But it’s mostly about internal communication, making sure that everybody has the information they need so we can serve the President as effectively as possible.

Q    So was the President involved in making this decision?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s Bill Daley’s decision.  But obviously --

Q    Was the President consulted?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t doubt that the Chief of Staff discussed this with the President.

Q    Jay, there’s a report out of Paris that Sarkozy told the President that he couldn’t stand Netanyahu.  Do you think this kind of bad relations may have any impact on the peace process?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any comment on the reported conversation that took place apparently in a bilateral.  But, again, I don’t have any comment on the conversation specifically.  I mean, stepping back, I will say that it’s well known that the President and that the U.S. and France did not agree on the UNESCO vote regarding the Palestinians and that we -- the President’s position, very firm position, has been that efforts to achieve U.N. membership or membership in U.N. agencies by the Palestinians were premature and counterproductive to the ultimate goal here, which is a negotiated peace between the two parties.

Q    Do you think, though, this reflects a growing frustration with world leaders with Netanyahu?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any comment on the specific conversation.

Q    The President said, “You’re fed up with him; I have to deal with him every day.”  So clearly there’s something that the President said, there’s dislike there.  What are we supposed to take away from that message?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don’t have any comment on the specific conversation.  What I can say more broadly is that this President’s position has been quite clear on the issue of efforts by the Palestinians to achieve through the United Nations what can only be achieved effectively through direct negotiations.  And the President believes very firmly that both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, need to take those steps that bring them closer together to direct negotiations and not ones that make it harder to have that happen.

Q    Jay, have you seen the IAEA report on Iran, and do you have any response to it?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t believe it’s been released, has it?  I don’t think I can comment on it.

Q    Okay.  Can I ask you if there’s any sign or evidence that Tehran has made a political decision to pursue making a nuclear weapon, or whether the view is that that decision has not yet been made?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, why don’t we let the report come out before we make assessments about what it means.  What I said yesterday is that we certainly expect it to reflect the concern that this government and the United States, this President have about Iranian behavior, and to reinforce the need for the international community to act collectively to put pressure and isolate Iran as long as it refuses to honor its international commitments with regards to its nuclear program.

Q    I have a question about Syria.  The U.N. in Geneva said today I think 3,500 Syrians have been killed in the crackdown there.  Just wondering, is there a sense from the White House that there needs to be a different approach from the United States or the West in dealing with Syria in response to that ongoing --

MR. CARNEY:  No, our position is well known.  We believe that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and that he should step down, and certainly that the regime should cease its violent actions against its own citizens, which are unacceptable and reprehensible.  We’ve worked with our international partners and allies through a variety of means to make that message clear to the Syrians and to put pressure on the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, to change its behavior and to allow the Syrian people to determine their own future.

Q    Jay, has anyone -- has the President or anyone at NSC reached out to Israel, to Netanyahu in particular, on Iran?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not -- I don’t have any specific communications to report, or that even that I’m aware of.  I mean, our administration, the State Department, the NSC and others are obviously in regular contact with all of our allies and partners about this issue, but nothing specific to report.

Q    Is Dan Shapiro there now, do you know?  Is Ambassador Shapiro --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure.  I’m not sure.

Q    On the veterans benefits bill, Republican leaders seem to be indicating that it has a good chance of being the first component of the President’s American Jobs Act that may get passed by both houses.  And they say a large reason for that is because the millionaire surtax was dropped.  Given that, and in the interest of passing other components of the President’s jobs act, is the administration -- does it feel that it’s time to drop the surtax altogether?  Or what’s the position there?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, obviously we look forward to passage of this very important provision of the American Jobs Act, hope it does pass, and the President will sign it into law.  The issue is if the Republicans want to put forward proposals, as they have, that are paid for by adding burdens to the middle class or by taking measures that would actually contract growth, would have a negative impact on economic growth, no, the President won’t support that.  The President believes that the proposals that he put forward and that the Senate Democrats put forward to pay for the American Jobs Act are entirely reasonable.  They also happen to be viewed as entirely reasonable by a significant majority of the American people.

The Republicans will have to explain if they continue to insist on protecting millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the up to 2 million people who could have jobs next year if the American Jobs Act were to pass and be paid for, why they make that choice.  The President doesn’t think it’s a wise choice.

Q    Jay, there’s a poll out this morning that’s saying that opponents of the President in Congress are simply just trying to sabotage the American Jobs Act in hopes that he won’t get reelected, and that the majority of the country out there right now, or half of the country, believes that there are those in Congress who are trying to sabotage the President.  Any comment on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly think that what is the case is that unfortunately Republicans in Congress are not taking the kinds of actions that they could take to help the economy grow and create jobs in the near term.  I mean, this is the fundamental problem with the proposals that they’ve put forward and called and labeled jobs proposals, because independent economists have looked at them and judged some of them to be fine policy, but none of them to be the kinds of policies that would grow the economy or create jobs in the near term.  I mean, that’s simply a matter of economic analysis.

So I think the American public, which has pretty overwhelmingly made clear in surveys that it believes that the number-one issue right now is economy and jobs, wonders why Congress doesn’t share its priorities, so -- their priorities. 

As to motivation, that’s obviously for the American people and constituents of the various elected members of Congress to decide. 

Q    Can you talk a little bit about the Head Start program?  I mean, is now the time to make cuts like this, as it’s going to -- the President is always talking about education and it seems like a strange time to make it harder for the most disadvantaged children to get --

MR. CARNEY:  No, in fact, this is about improving the program by reforming it by insisting that the lowest-performing ones compete for federal funds.  So this is about a reform measure that will improve Head Start around the country.  We’re visiting a Head Start program today that is exemplary and excellent, and that’s the kind of standard that the President believes programs around the country should meet.

Q    But won’t some lose funding, then, if they don’t meet the criteria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, for the specifics of it I refer you to the policy experts.  But I believe the purpose here is to lift the quality of Head Start programs to insist that in exchange for federal funding that high performance standards be met. 

Q    But if a third of these programs have to reapply, re-compete for funding, isn’t it possible that a lot of children could lose access to these Head Start programs?

MR. CARNEY:  This President’s commitment to expanding access to Head Start, commitment to early education programs, I think is well known and he has fought for them despite resistance in Congress.  So, again, efforts to improve a program, to reform it, to make it better, I think are to the ultimate benefit of American children across the country.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

Q    Thank you, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  All right, guys.

END
10:44 A.M. EST