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 en route Fort Bragg, NC

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Bragg, North Carolina

11:04 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for coming with us on this trip to Fort Bragg where, as you know, the President will be meeting with troops and addressing the troops.  He’s joined by the First Lady.

This is a trip in which the President will thank our servicemen and women for their remarkable sacrifice, their remarkable contributions, their incredible professionalism -- all of which has led to this day where we are now in the final weeks of bringing all American forces home from Iraq.  The Iraq war, an eight-and-a-half-year war, is over.  The President promised when he was running for this office that he would end the war responsibly, and he is keeping that commitment.

But the focus today is really on the extraordinary sacrifice that our men and women in uniform have made and their remarkable professionalism and success.

On another note, before I take your questions, I just happened to be reading before I came back here to speak with you an account of an encounter that the Speaker of the House had with reporters this morning, and I had to laugh because he was asked, the Speaker was, about whether or not he could name any small businesses that were affected by a surtax on millionaires and billionaires, the likes of which the Senate Democrats have put forward as a pay-for for the payroll tax cut extension and expansion.  He said a lot but he didn’t name any, and the fact of the matter is, it’s more evidence that the number-one talking point of Republicans in refusing to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay just a little bit more so that 160 million working Americans can get a tax break is bogus, even by their definition of small businesses, which allows for investment advisors and law partners and others who file their small business -- their business income under personal income at more than a million dollars -- it’s still fewer than 1 percent of all small businesses.

So I just urge everyone who reports on this, when they dutifully repeat the pushback from Republicans about why doing what the American public overwhelmingly supports is not a good thing to do, that their number-one reason for that is false.  Just not backed up by the facts.

Q    It’s clear that the White House and Republicans are still very far apart on this.  How do you see this all playing out?  Do you think it’s going -- the debate over this is going to drag on into next week, and is the President going to keep insisting that people stay here for the holidays?  Do you think that will be necessary for people to do that? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, if I had a crystal ball, I would have predicted that Denver would go on this remarkable run after Tim Tebow started as quarterback for the Broncos, and I would have made a lot of money in Vegas. 

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know what the endgame will look like, how this will all end.  What is the case is that there is still time for Congress to do all of its work; both finish its business and the American people’s business in time for their scheduled vacation by the end of this week. 

It really isn’t that complicated.  Democrats, Republicans, the President all support -- at least Republicans say they support -- at the very least extending the existing payroll tax cut to 160 million Americans into next -- for 2012.  They should pass a bill that does that -- that pays for it in a fair way, does not have within it entirely extraneous issues like pipelines and other things, and then get on with the business of wrapping up this omnibus spending bill.  It’s easily doable. 

Q    Can you tell us, at Fort Bragg -- he’s not there for that long today -- before he goes out on stage who he’ll be talking to, meeting with, and what else is not on the public schedule that you can share with us?

MR. CARNEY:  I know he has some meetings.  I’ll get that to you.  I mean, he and the First Lady are meeting with troops, maybe some Gold Star families.  But let me just double-check that. 

Q    Can you explain why you are supportive of a short-term CR in this case, while in the past you’ve been very critical of that approach and described it as “governing by tollbooth,” or words to that effect?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, it’s not ideal to engage in that practice.  But we’re long -- in the calendar year of 2011, we’re long past achieving an ideal in terms of congressional functionality. 

What I am saying is that there is no reason for anyone to talk about shutting down the government when this Congress has seven times previously this year shown its willingness to pass a short-term CR in order to allow for a little more time to get its work done.  We don’t even need to get to that point, but if we were, later in the week, to be in that situation, then they should just pass a short-term CR to ensure that there’s no disruption in the functioning of government, and then finish their business.

And it’s just that it’s a pretty straightforward and easy thing to do, as they’ve demonstrated in the past.  So that’s the reason why we’ve taken that position.  We’re not suggesting that it’s the ideal way for Congress to do its work.  But I think anybody who’s witnessed the dysfunctionality in Congress brought on by Republican obstructionism this year would suggest that this Congress is capable of achieving an ideal.  In fact, in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll I think -- wasn’t it more than 40 percent of Americans deemed this Congress to be the worst in history over these many, many years?  Many, many Congresses -- the worst -- the very worst in history.

I mean, I guess if they want to cement that role they could leave town without doing anything on the payroll tax and thereby ensuring that 160 million working and middle-class Americans have their taxes go up on January 1st.  We don’t think they’ll do that.

Q    On the Iraq war piece, two questions.  The first is, are you -- there was some suggestion yesterday that the message today would also be about returning veterans and economic issues.  Are you going to be trying to essentially put an economic message into what is sort of at core a national security speech?  But is the economic message part of this as well?

MR. CARNEY:  It is part of it.  And it’s part of the very important work that the First Lady has done and Dr. Biden has done.  And it’s very much a part of the President’s agenda to ensure that those veterans who have fought so bravely for us in foreign wars do not return home and have to fight for a job.  And that was why the President pushed so hard for the veterans employment component of the American Jobs Act, and why we were pleased that, thus far, that is the only element of the American Jobs Act that we’ve been able to get some cooperation out of Republicans on.  But there is still a lot of work to be done, and there are a variety of components to this push, including the -- working with private industry to pledge themselves to hire more returning veterans. 

Q    Given how dominant the economy is as an issue for most Americans, is that a way to make what’s happening this week a little more irrelevant to their --

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not, because this is a theme that we’ve been pushing quite aggressively for a long time, because it’s incredibly important to both the President and the First Lady, as well as the Vice President and Dr. Biden.  And it’s important to a community like the one surrounding Fort Bragg, because you have a lot of servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and who are trying to enter the workforce and facing the kinds of challenges that still exist out there in this challenging economy.

So our commitment to the men and women who put on our uniform should not end when they take it off.

Q    The President is going to talk about all the sacrifices that this nation has given for this war in Iraq.  Was it worth it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he was asked this question in the press conference he gave with Prime Minister Maliki and --

Q    Well, he wasn’t exactly asked that question; he was asked if it was still “a dumb war.”  He was --

MR. CARNEY:  So I think the answer is the same, which is that --

Q    And he didn’t answer that question.

MR. CARNEY:  -- history will judge whether the war was worth it.  The President’s position has not changed, which is that he did not support getting into this war, did not support the way that the previous administration led us to war in Iraq.  And he made that clear during the campaign and that’s not a position that’s changed.  But he committed, as a candidate, and has reiterated that commitment as President, to ending this war responsibly; to making sure that the steps he took as Commander-in-Chief were the right ones to ensure that America’s national security interests were protected, and that the incredible sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, of their families and of the broader American public in Iraq were validated.

Q    So does that mean -- if he still believes it was a mistake, does that mean that it wasn’t worth it?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I think history judges that.  His view --

Q    It’s a fair question to ask you guys.

MR. CARNEY:  No, I’m not saying it’s not a fair question, but I’m answering it as best I can, which is that the President’s position on how we got into the war hasn’t changed.  But he didn’t get to make that decision when he took the oath of office in January of 2009.  We already had more than 150,000 troops in Afghanistan [sic], and we were -- so it was two and a half years ago, entering the -- coming up on our eighth year of war -- or rather our sixth year of war there.

So his responsibility was to make sure that his policies created the best possible environment for Iraq going forward, which would thereby make the extraordinary sacrifices of the men and women in uniform, as well as the broader American public, validated, if you will; that it is his responsibility to put -- to pursue a policy that allowed us to withdraw our forces by the end of this year, which is happening, and to give Iraq the best chance possible to have a prosperous and democratic future.  And that’s what he’s done.

Q    Is it worth it for you to have a democracy there?  And do you think now -- I mean, looking back is it worth it to have a democracy like that in the Middle East right now?  And do you think that democracy will be able to be sustained with Iran influences that are infiltrating the country now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think -- I’ll start with your end question.  The President addressed this, too, as did Prime Minister Maliki, that the significantly overstated issue of Iranian influence -- I mean, the actions that the Prime Minister has taken, the government of Iraq have taken, that demonstrate the opposite and demonstrate I think a feeling felt broadly by the Iraqi people, which is a profound sense of national identity and a resistance to outside influence.

I think it was said at the time when the Vice President was making so many trips to Iraq and I was joining him that the elections in Iraq demonstrated that while the Iranians spent a great deal of money to try to influence the outcome there, they failed miserably.  So it’s impossible to foretell the future.  But as I said yesterday, what is a very positive sign is the fact that the major parties and players in Iraq have now for a number of years chosen to resolve their differences through the political process, through the democratic political process and not through violence.

And while there will be challenges, security challenges in the future as Iraq progresses, they are moving in the right direction.  There’s no question.

Q    How many more visits one-on-one with troops before year’s end, before the war is officially over?  Is this the last one?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any other scheduling announcements to make.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Why is tonight’s fundraiser closed press?

MR. CARNEY:  Because, as you know, when the President doesn’t give an address, we don’t have the pool in.  I can tell you as a veteran of many driveways in serving pool duty when we weren’t let in at all under previous Presidents that this White House endeavors to bring -- to give the press the greatest possible access and certainly greater than any predecessor -- or at least as great as any of his predecessors, so the vast majority of events that this President does -- campaign events -- include a print pooler.  But when he doesn’t speak, we don’t include it.

All set?  Thanks.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

11:18 A.M. EST