Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Seattle, WA, 2/17/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Seattle, Washington
9:21 A.M. PST
MR. CARNEY: I just want to say that for the first time in my year as Press Secretary I remembered that it's Friday and I'm supposed to provide a week ahead. But rather than torture you by reading it in its entirety, we're just going to hand it out, if that's okay.
All right. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way from the glorious Bay area of Northern California to Seattle, Washington, where the President looks forward to holding an event today highlighting his commitment to expanding manufacturing in the United States and to expanding our exports abroad with the goal of doubling our exports by 2015.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, do you have any response to Mitt Romney in a Wall Street Journal op/ed promising to designate China as a currency manipulator? He's accusing the administration of rewarding China and penalizing American workers because they haven't designated China as a currency manipulator.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Kate, as you know, this administration has worked very constructively with both China and others around the globe on issues that are of a concern to us, including the valuation of the Chinese currency. We always raise this issue in our conversations with the Chinese leadership. We continue to press Beijing on the need to appreciate the currency as part of an overall emphasis that we have on ensuring that there's a level playing field in trade.
As you know from the recent visit by Vice President Xi to the United States -- I guess the visit is continuing today -- we were very candid in our discussions with the Chinese about areas not only where we seek to cooperate in regional and global affairs, but also where we have disagreements and concerns, and this is one of them.
Q Why not designate them, though, as a currency manipulator? Because Romney says it's one of the first things he's going to do when he -- if he's elected.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know you know this issue pretty well, Kate, and you know that this administration has been very focused on pressing the Chinese to take the necessary steps to appreciate its currency.
Q Jay, on payroll tax, the House just voted in support of it. Are you guys concerned at all about the likely passage in the Senate today? And has the President been reaching out to any wary Senate Democrats to try to get their support?
MR. CARNEY: We look forward to passage of the bill -- the payroll tax cut extension, unemployment insurance extension, doc fix extension -- through the Senate. There was a good vote in the House, as you noted, earlier today. And the President looks forward to signing the bill right away. He has made no calls -- he made no calls yesterday or this morning on the bill that I'm aware of.
Q Are you confident, then, of its passage in the Senate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, nothing is done until it's done. But we feel cautiously optimistic.
Q Jay, the President's visit to the Chinese restaurant yesterday that apparently still serves shark fin soup has caused something of a ruckus in San Francisco. Was he aware of -- that it was still on the menu when he went there? And is there any concern about sending the wrong message to conservationists?
MR. CARNEY: Helene, he was not aware -- I, in fact, and I believe none of our team was aware of this report until you mentioned it to me this morning. The President enjoyed his visit to Chinatown, and, as you know, ordered a lot of dim sum takeout. No soup.
Q Are you encouraged by Iran's overtures?
MR. CARNEY: By?
Q Iran's overtures?
MR. CARNEY: Do you mean the response to the letter? Well, as I noted I think yesterday, we have long made clear that the Iranians needed to respond to the letter from Lady Ashton on behalf of the P5-plus-1. We have always said that talks remain -- we remain willing to engage in talks with the Iranians so long as they have a constructive approach to those negotiations, and that means a constructive approach that understands that the purpose is for Iran to live up to its international obligations and to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.
We’re still evaluating the letter and so I don’t have a detailed analysis of it for you, but the fact is that the policy this President put in place of both making clear to the Iranians that there was a path to reengagement with the international community through constructive behavior and adherence to their obligations on the one hand, and then an alternative path of economic destruction caused by the most severe sanctions regime in history and diplomatic isolation brought about by rogue behavior and a refusal to honor its international obligations. Those two paths -- that approach of making clear that these two options were available to the Iranian leadership has had the effect of putting enormous pressure on Iran. And we remain committed to a policy that aims to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q Can you link that to the sanctions that have gone into effect? I mean, clearly this is an effort by Iran to sort of derail -- they’ll offer to talk and talk. There’s no plan at this point for this administration to step back from the sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: That is correct. The sanctions have had a positive -- well, they've had a harmful effect on the Iranian economy, a disruptive effect on the Iranian regime, and that was the intention. We will continue to pressure and isolate Iran unless and until it changes its behavior.
Q Is the President going to be touring the Dreamliner today?
MR. CARNEY: Have we not put out any paper on what today’s event is?
Q I just didn’t see if there’s -- is he going on the 787?
MR. CARNEY: Hold on a second.
MR. LEWIN: we have background we'll send out.
Q I'm just curious -- it's a new plane -- if he's looking forward to going on it.
MR. CARNEY: He is definitely looking forward to it. That is part of the program event.
Q Has he been on there -- on one of those before?
MR. CARNEY: I'll double-check.
Q Since we're going to Washington, Washington State legalized same-sex marriage this month. And as you know, Governor Christie is promising to veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage that passed the New Jersey assembly. I’m just wondering what does the President think about Washington State’s decision and then Governor Christie’s vow to veto legislation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say only broadly, as I have said in the past, without weighing into individual states and their actions, that this President strongly supports the notion that the states should be able to decide this issue, and he opposes actions that take away rights that have been established by those states. But I'm not going to comment specifically on individual states.
Q Is his view on same-sex marriage, though, still evolving? Or how would you describe it?
MR. CARNEY: I have no update for you on that.
Q Is he having fun on this trip? Does he enjoy these fundraisers that he's been doing?
MR. CARNEY: He has enjoyed this trip. He enjoys talking to supporters, hearing their ideas, their sense of how it's going out there and how the economy is doing, how the campaign effort is going, in terms of the campaign side of this trip. And obviously he very much enjoys just getting out of Washington and engaging with people and hearing their views on what's going on in the country and the economy.
Q What has he heard from like -- I mean, these are pretty high-end fundraisers. What kinds of things is he hearing?
MR. CARNEY: Some of them are high end, some of them are very low-dollar events, as you know. I think -- I'd point you to the campaign, but I think my understanding is the support this President has received from small donors is quite indicative of the broad grassroots support that's out there for him and his agenda.
But I think there's a sense that is reflected among the people who come out to support him for these events that is true broadly, and we've seen it anecdotally as well as in public opinion surveys in your newspapers and others, that people are feeling marginally better about the direction of the country, and most specifically, the economy. There's no question that the recovery is progressing. We have had sustained economic growth and sustained private sector job growth.
And we take nothing for granted in terms of further economic progress. That's why passage of this payroll tax cut extension and unemployment insurance extension is so important -- because we are on the right path, we are moving in the right direction, and it is essential that Washington, A, does everything that's possible to further the recovery, and B, does nothing to muck it up. That's why, as I said, extension of the payroll tax cut is vital to continuing to grow the economy.
Q -- on the Zoellick replacement, the status of talks of who you guys are looking at? Is it at a staff level, or is the President actively involved in it?
MR. CARNEY: I have no further information on that process.
Q Jay, in light of the Boeing visit today, what does the President think of this contention from U.S. air carriers, including Delta, that the export policies have benefited foreign carriers in terms of financing planes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would have to get back to you with a more complete response, but this President believes that the policies that the administration has pursued, including with regard to his export agenda, have been broadly beneficial to manufacture and export of American products. And that would include large and small products.
Q Why didn’t we get to see Al Green's sing -- that was a bummer.
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry you didn’t. It was pretty amazing.
Q -- we could hear it.
MR. CARNEY: He has some serious pipes. He can sing. It was really nice.
Q Why didn’t the President sing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you heard the President make -- comment on that. I think he said it best. He was just there to talk about his agenda. But I know he enjoyed -- although he wasn’t in the room, he was down the hall, but he heard some of Al Green singing and I know he enjoyed it.
Q The people, they just all sat in their seats, there was no, like, dancing or cheering -- or what was it like in there? Because we didn’t get to see any of it.
MR. CARNEY: People were sort of clapping along and cheering and stuff. Nobody stood up.
Q It's kind of a slowish song, I guess, yes.
MR. CARNEY: He was good.
Is that it?
Q Thank you.
END 9:35 A.M. PST
MR. CARNEY: All of us, from the President on down, are greatly saddened by the news that Anthony Shadid had died while reporting in Syria. Anthony Shadid was one of the best, perhaps the finest, foreign correspondent working today, in my opinion -- for what it’s worth. And it’s a tragic loss to journalism, to The New York Times, most importantly to his family. And our thoughts and prayers, the President’s thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children.
Q Jay, did you ever (inaudible) with him?
MR. CARNEY: Not as a reporter, but he was in Iraq some when I was there with the Vice President. I just was a great admirer of his work. And the most important thing is that he took extraordinary risks in order to give voice to the popular movements within the Arab world, within the region. And it was because of some of the risks he took that leaders around the world were aware of things that were happening and changes that were taking place in the region.
And the fact that he was in Syria speaks exactly to that, where were it not for Anthony or reporters like him, we would know a lot less about the absolute brutality of the Assad regime and the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. It’s a great, great loss.