Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews
12:11 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Okay, welcome to the sort of final leg of this journey. I know you have all the fact sheets and stuff on the President’s college affordability proposals that he talked in front of a very enthusiastic University of Michigan crowd this morning, marking the end of a -- what he feels was an excellent trip around the country talking about the proposals he put forward in his State of the Union Tuesday night.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Jay, a number of economists are saying that beneath today’s GDP numbers, it shows that we’re not going to hit 2 percent of the first quarter of this year, and some are calling -- saying it shows we’re still in a danger zone. Does the President agree that we’re still in a danger zone?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t want to use that language, but I would say simply that this President has made clear, at least since he introduced the American Jobs Act, that while our economy has been recovering and our economy has created over 3 million private sector jobs in the last 22 months, we need to do everything we can to boost growth and boost job creation. The recovery, as the President has said, remains fragile. And we -- and that’s why we need to pass the elements of the American Jobs Act that have not yet been passed, and that begins with Congress passing, without drama, without political theater and sideshows, debates about extraneous issues, the full extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.
Q What’s the President’s message to Democrats going to be today?
MR. CARNEY: To work with him and with their colleagues in Congress to pass important initiatives to get the economy moving, growing jobs. He’ll certainly talk about some of the other initiatives in the State of the Union address -- the push to boost American manufacturing, to boost the trend towards insourcing, the need to develop American skills so that we have the workforce necessary for the jobs of the 21st century economy, the need to make college affordable for as many Americans as possible, which he discussed today.
So his State of the Union agenda will pretty much be the focus.
Q Some Democrats sometimes get upset when he refers to the obstructionist Congress, and they feel that he’s lumping them in with Republicans, and I’m wondering if he’s going to make a distinction --
MR. CARNEY: I certainly don’t think you’ve heard that kind of concern expressed by Democrats in any -- in recent memory. I think we’ve made pretty clear, because the facts are incontestable, that the unfortunate obstructionism the country has encountered in passing common-sense, mainstream measures to get the economy going, in passing a balanced approach to deficit reduction and long-term control of our debt, have been Republicans exclusively.
So let me be clear: The obstacles that we face, the obstructionism we face in Congress have been thrown up by Republicans, unfortunately, and House Republicans in particular. I mean, we saw at the very end of December with the back-and-forth over extending the payroll tax cut for two months. What happened then has been the case on too many occasions, where a section of the House Republican caucus has been causing a lot of problems when it comes to getting common-sense, mainstream measures passed that could help the economy and boost job creation.
Q Yesterday, when the President was announcing his clean energy initiatives, there was a Las Vegas manufacturer of solar panels that had received stimulus funds that announced that 200 people working for it are going to be laid off. Does that undercut his message?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the economy remains -- or the recovery, rather, remains fragile, as we’ve discussed. I’m not familiar with the details of this particular company, but I’m sure -- I know, of course, that when you do a report on that story or when you have done a report, you will note the 3.2 million private sector jobs that have been created in the last 22 months overall in the country.
There are obviously -- even as overall payroll -- the workforce has expanded and unemployment has been gradually ticking down, some companies contract as others expand. We need to do everything we can to continue to grow the economy and create jobs. We need to pass the American Jobs Act, the portions that haven’t passed yet. We need to -- Congress needs to act on the measures that require congressional action in the State of the Union address and the President’s agenda, so that we can build on the progress we’ve made already towards digging ourselves out of this terrible recession.
Q Other than the payroll tax cut, which I guess is at the top of the agenda, how does the President prioritize the various legislative initiatives that he’s been talking about? I mean, where does he put manufacturing? Where does he put the tuition assistance in controlling costs? What does he want done first by Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, payroll tax cut, as you know, extension is the pressing matter because of the deadline that is approaching, again, on that issue. As I made clear and he’s made clear, the overarching priority that he has are the things that he can do with Congress and through his own executive authority to grow the economy and create jobs.
So the broader impact of making college more affordable is building a foundation for long-term economic growth to ensure that we have a workforce that’s educated, prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. And that’s more of a long-term.
Q So that’s not an immediate priority?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you want to rank things. I mean, these are all -- the things that he discussed in these past three days are his absolute top priorities. But the thing that he focuses on more than any other every day is economic growth and job creation.
Q This -- I know this trip is official business, but this last rally felt kind of campaign-y, with a big cheering crowd, “four more years.” He was certainly in the mode where he was making his case in a very passionate way. What would you say to people who would look at that and say that this looked like a campaign rally?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I mean, obviously the President appreciates the enthusiasm of the crowd, but the President came and spoke about policy initiatives. He didn’t deliver a campaign speech. Throughout this three-day trip and five-state trip, he's been discussing the substantive and sometimes quite detailed policy proposals that he put forward in the State of the Union address. So, I mean, that’s a fact. I mean, again, we can’t -- we're not going to tell people not to applaud or be happy to see him.
Q When the President watches this bruising Republican primary contest that’s going on, has he expressed any concern that he might be stepping into a general election that will be equally as rough-and-tumble?
MR. CARNEY: He hasn’t to me. As you know, because you've heard him say so, he doesn’t really watch the Republican primary. He reads about it, he just doesn’t -- you haven't asked me yet if he watched the debate last night, but he didn’t. Not because, again, it’s just he doesn’t watch a lot of TV.
Q He hasn’t watched a lot of the debates?
MR. CARNEY: He hasn’t watched any of them. He doesn’t watch a lot of TV, except for sports. But he certainly reads about and keeps up with what's going on. But he hasn’t expressed that concern, no. I mean, he --
Q Newt Gingrich, does he have any preference?
MR. CARNEY: -- the President has had his own experience with tough campaigns, certainly in 2008, the primary campaign in particular. I mean, that campaign, what was notable about it was it really was -- both that and the general election were focused primarily on the issues. And he looks forward to having a debate about the issues in the general election when the time comes. Right now he's going to focus on doing the things he needs to do for the country as President.
Q Jay, the President, during this trip, has also been talking to Spanish-language media about immigration, for instance. Yesterday in the debate, there was a big brouhaha between Gingrich and Romney on that issue. Does he believe that any of the Republican candidates is anti-immigrant, as Gingrich has characterized Romney?
MR. CARNEY: The President is committed to comprehensive immigration reform. He's also committed to enforcing our laws and dealing with illegal immigration, as you’ve heard him say. Under his presidency, there are more boots on the ground on the border than before and fewer illegal crossings.
I think a distinction that he has made and you in the media have made has to do in particular with the DREAM Act, which both leading candidates in the Republican primaries have said they would veto. The President strongly disagrees with that position, and you’ve heard him say so in interviews with not just Latino media but general press conferences and others. So that’s a very stark difference, as is the fact that setting aside the presidential race, but the comprehensive immigration reform used to have the support of some extremely high-profile Republicans, elected officials, including the President’s predecessor George W. Bush, including the President’s opponent in general election 2008, John McCain, senator from Arizona -- including a number of others.
It requires that kind of bipartisan support to get it done. And the President certainly hopes that Republicans in Congress will once again acknowledge that we need a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. The President has demonstrated through his actions his commitment to enforcing the law, to putting boots on the ground on the border.
Q Would he describe him as anti-immigrant, though?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, that’s -- I’m not going to wade into the Republican primary.
Q Can you give us a week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I should have said at the beginning that we do not yet have a week ahead, but we’ll get it to you. It will be a great week.
Q There will be a week ahead?
Q Do you have anything on the fundraising event tonight?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that. I’d have to check. I didn’t even see that in my schedule.
Q You’re probably not going to know the answer to this, but is the President planning any purely campaign swings in the next -- at anytime soon, just like -- I don’t know how you would define it, but is that on the horizon?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any travel -- I don’t have any travel to announce, and I don’t -- I’m not aware of any upcoming travel like that. But that -- I don’t know when our next trip is, so I’m not much help to you.
Q Can you just describe his mood at all at the end of this -- at the end of this trip after the State of the Union? With some good news, again, polling news from this week, just how he’s feeling about his standing right now politically in the campaign.
MR. CARNEY: I would -- I’m not going to talk about the campaign. I mean, I’ll answer questions about charges and stuff because I speak for him and defend him, obviously. But he’s certainly in a very good mood, and those of you who have seen him up close I think can confirm that. He always enjoys getting out in the country. And this was I think a particularly rewarding trip because he was able to go a lot of different places, a lot of different audiences, speak about very substantive issues that matter to Americans on the ground in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Iowa. Where else did we go?
MR. CARNEY: Arizona. Did I say that?
Q Is he talking about Arizona? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I love Arizona, and so does the President. I think I said Nevada, didn’t I? I can’t remember. Anyway, five states. So he’s in a very good mood. Obviously the State of the Union address seems to have been very well received, both it was well received in the hall and it was well received broadly across the country. And the initiatives that he’s put forward seem to have a great deal of support, which he thinks is a good thing, because they’re important to growing our economy and creating jobs. I think that -- when you’re President, that makes for a good week. And obviously the super performance of our special forces on Tuesday night added to the week.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys. We’ll get you a week ahead.
END 12:27 P.M. EST