The White House
For Immediate Release
August 31, 2012
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route El Paso, TX
Aboard Air Force One
En Route El Paso, Texas
11:31 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for your patience. Thank you for joining us as we make our way to El Paso, Texas, where, as you know, the President will be meeting with -- first with troops and their families in a roundtable session. Then he will be addressing troops at Fort Bliss. As you know, two years ago, the President visited Fort Bliss and spoke about the commitment that he was fulfilling to end the war in Iraq. Two years ago today, the combat mission ended and full security was transferred over to Iraq security forces.
What the President has always said, what he said then and what he has said since, and what he will say today is that our commitment to our military personnel and their families does not end when they return from war. It must continue. And we must serve our veterans at home as well as they served us abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As you probably are aware, this morning the President signed an executive order directing key federal departments to expand suicide prevention strategies and to take steps to meet the current and future demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, servicemembers, and their families. This executive order builds on steps this administration has already taken to treat the unseen wounds of war -- PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury -- by increasing access to mental health treatment and to screening for those conditions.
The EO strengthens suicide prevention efforts across the force and in the veteran community. It enhances access to mental health care by building partnerships between VA and community providers. It increases the number of VA mental health providers serving our veterans. It promotes mental health research and development of more effective treatment methodologies. And it will launch a government-wide collaborative effort to address these issues through a military and veterans mental health interagency task force.
Q How much money are we talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I will have to refer you to the VA for that. I believe this is being funded through existing resources. The priority here is to make sure that these unseen wounds of war are being diagnosed and treated, because that is our -- part of the commitment the President has made to our veterans who have served us so valiantly in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Q Was this trip scheduled for the second anniversary of the announcement of the end of combat in Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's significant that that anniversary coincides with this visit because it reinforces the point the President will make and has been making about extending our commitment to our military personnel and their families beyond their time in service. The war in Iraq is over. Members of our military have returned home to their families who served in Iraq. But our service to them cannot wane. And that's very important. And the anniversary of the end of the Iraq war is -- coincides with this as a way to reinforce that point.
Q But it's a coincidence? It's not planned?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's meant to reinforce that point, because we can't forget. It is -- obviously this country has been engaged in military conflicts now for more than 10 years abroad, since our first forces went into Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and a tremendous number of men and women have served in those two countries.
Q Has the President made any mention of the fact that Mitt Romney made no mention of Afghanistan in his acceptance speech last night?
MR. CARNEY: He has not to me.
If I could, I just have one more announcement. On Monday, the President will be visiting Louisiana and meeting with officials there who are dealing with --
Q Who is he meeting with?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have details for you later today about individuals -- but assessing the impact of hurricane and tropical storm Isaac, and making sure that unmet needs are being met and that the federal response led by FEMA is helping citizens in the affected areas, and the state and local officials who are responding to the storm.
Q What will that mean for the Toledo and Cleveland visits?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have a week ahead for you at the end of the briefing. But on Monday we will be going to Toledo for a campaign event, and then to Louisiana.
Q You have seen that Governor Romney will go to Louisiana later today. Does the administration have any thoughts, and has President Obama said anything that you are aware of about whether this trip is too soon after the storm and could get in the way or be a distraction? That's something that the White House has said it is cognizant of as it plans the President's travel after disasters.
MR. CARNEY: To answer your question about the President, no, he has not. But the broader question is one I think you would need to address to state and local officials. I just don’t have any way to assess that.
In terms of the President's travel, obviously when you're President of the United States, coordinating travel carries with it I think unique logistical challenges. And it was the assessment of the President's team, working with all the people involved in operations as well as people on the ground that Monday would be -- was a good day for the President to visit.
Q Did he consider going today?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, as has been the case with previous natural disasters and other events similar to that, there are assessments being made all the time about whether the President should visit and when, and always the caveat is introduced that we want to make sure that we're not affecting response efforts.
Q Had the decision to go to Louisiana on Monday been made before the White House learned that Mitt Romney would be going today?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it had.
Q What can a private citizen do -- I mean, on his trip, Mr. Romney is going there today. What do you think a private citizen can really accomplish?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure how to answer that. I think that it's always important to draw attention to the fact that individuals and families and business owners are profoundly affected by storms like Isaac, and that’s an important thing to do.
Q Can you go back to Jackie's question about Afghanistan? What's the view from the White House about the fact that Governor Romney didn’t mention it at all in his speech? And the only mention that I could find of the military was in the context of blaming President Obama for the fiscal cliff.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can simply speak for myself that I was surprised not to hear mention of the 70,000 men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, executing a mission that is profoundly important to America’s national security in a conflict that was the direct result of an attack on the United States by al Qaeda.
Q Did you say the current number on the ground is 70,000?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it's a rough estimate. I can get you more specifics, but I believe 70,000 is roughly the number of troops currently in Afghanistan.
Q Jay, on Romney’s speech last night, number one, did the President watch any of it at all?
MR. CARNEY: I spoke with him this morning. He did not have an opportunity to watch any of the convention coverage last night. The only thing I would read into that is what I have been saying for the last several days that the President tends to consume his news the old-fashioned way, via print. And by that he means no disrespect to the professionals in the broadcast media business. But he’s certainly aware of in general terms what was said.
Q And can you give us a little bit of his reaction based on your talks with him this morning?
MR. CARNEY: He's focused on the event today. There are few things he looks more forward to than meeting with troops, so an event like this is always one that he looks forward to. And he’s very focused on the important work that we need to do to ensure that our veterans are being taken care of, especially, in this case, those who are suffering from the unseen wounds of war. And he’s also, of course, anticipating his own opportunity next week, next Thursday, to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
Q Did he have any observations about Clint Eastwood’s speech last night?
MR. CARNEY: He did not. Or I have none to share with you.
Q Can I ask a follow-up about that, and ask you whether you or the White House saw any inappropriate disrespect in some of the language and the sort of looking down at the empty chair to sort of characterize President Obama? Was that inappropriate? Did that cross the line?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the campaign, and I think some of my friends on the campaign have answered questions about this today. I caught it and I’m a huge fan and admirer of Clint Eastwood’s work, both as a director and an actor. I wasn’t quite sure what I was watching last night.
Q Jay, any reaction -- oil prices are on the march again today, up, and they’ve been going up, as you know. Is there any assessment going on at the State Department or NSC or CEA concerning these prices and how far they need to go before the administration might do something?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Roger, the administration is constantly monitoring the supply situation in the global oil market as well as the price movements in the global oil markets. That was something that was made clear at the G8. We do that with our international partners because this is an international economic issue.
I don’t have any announcements to make about assessments that have been made with regard to the current situation or options that may or may not be pursued.
Q Do you happen to know how many people will be in the roundtable with the President and whether these are people who have suffered from PTSD or brain concussions or --
MR. CARNEY: Let me get more information on that for you. I know we’ll have it after, if not before. It is -- the focus of the roundtable is this issue of these unseen wounds of war, but I can’t say at this point whether participants have all been affected by that or how many -- I’ll have to check.
Q In light of the visit to troops today, does the White House have any additional comment on the coverage of the autopen signatures and whether or not the President has used autopens to sign any letters for families of soldiers?
MR. CARNEY: I think that was declaratively stated to be false yesterday. The President signs every such letter personally.
Q Going back to Romney's speech last night -- what did the President think about his statement that he's thrown Israel under the bus?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken to the President, again, about -- or I don’t have any assessments from the President to give you about any of the remarks at the convention in Tampa. I can simply say that, under President Obama, cooperation with Israel between our military and intelligence communities has never been closer, assistance provided to Israel by the United States has never been greater than it has been under President Obama. We have an extremely close relationship with Israel, which is appropriate given our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
It is the President’s firm commitment that we must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is why in the beginning when he took office, he took steps to organize an international consensus -- a consensus of approbation directed at Iran and its refusal to abide by its international obligations, its refusal to affirmatively demonstrate that it will not pursue nuclear weapons. And that effort has resulted in the most severe sanctions regime ever levied against -- or leveled against a country in history, with greater international consensus on this issue than has ever existed.
When President Obama took office, the world was divided on this issue, and Iran was united; the opposite is now true. The Iranian regime is under intense economic as well as political pressure, thanks to the efforts of the international community, led by the United States. It is the President’s belief that the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon is to achieve that goal through a diplomatic solution and a choice by Iran to forgo its nuclear ambition.
The opportunity to achieve that goal remains available, that window remains open. But it is absolutely the case that that window will not remain open indefinitely.
Q Jay, Mr. Bernanke said this morning out in Jackson Hole, he said that unless the economy grows more quickly than it has recently, unemployment is going to remain high "for some time." Do you folks at the White House share that view?
MR. CARNEY: I have no comment on the Fed Chairman’s remarks. I can tell you that this President and this administration is focused on the efforts we need to engage in to help the economy grow, to help it create more jobs. That includes the President’s insistence that Congress take action to put what outside economists say would be a million or more Americans back to work -- teachers and firefighters, police officers and construction workers -- a proposal that the President put before Congress in September of last year as part of the American Jobs Act. But because of their insistence that millionaires and billionaires should have another tax cut, unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have thus far blocked that legislation.
He will -- the President will continue to press Congress to take action. And he will continue to do everything he can administratively -- working around Congress -- to help our economy grow, to assist the middle class and provide it more security, whether it’s through actions he has taken to help homeowners who have underwater mortgages refinance their homes at these historically low interest rates, actions he took by pressuring Congress to allow, I believe, more than 7 million American students to continue to enjoy low interest rates on their student loans so that they could stay in school. These are the kinds of things that the President will continue to press forward on.
Guys got anything else? Come on, there's got to be something else. No?
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: The week ahead. On Monday, the President will travel to Toledo, Ohio, as Jackie Calmes noted, for a campaign event. The President will then travel to Louisiana and meet with a variety of people there as he is briefed on and updated on the impacts of hurricane and tropical storm Isaac.
Q Will he go to New Orleans?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t -- I'll have more details about the --
Q Will he skip Cleveland?
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct.
On Tuesday, the will travel to -- he will return to the White House in the evening on Monday. On Tuesday, the President will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, for campaign events. The President will return to the White House that evening.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he will remain overnight. On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The President will remain overnight in Charlotte that night.
Details about Friday's schedule will be released as they become available.
Q Is he going to go to the convention early -- going to the actual convention itself when he's there on Wednesday?
MR. CARNEY: I have no details on his schedule on Wednesday beyond the fact that he will travel to Charlotte.
Q Will he go with his wife and daughters?
MR. CARNEY: I have no other details besides that he will be traveling to Charlotte that day.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: You're welcome.
11:55 A.M. EDT