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 Orlando, Florida

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orlando, Florida

10:39 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Everyone ready?  Okay.  As you know, today the President will address the Disabled American Veterans National Conference in Orlando.  The First Lady will introduce him.  Secretary Shinseki is speaking this morning.  The President will discuss the five priorities the administration is focused on to ensure that we will fulfill our promise to all who have served -- first, ensuring that the resources our veterans deserve are available; second, delivering the health care they count on; third, ending the claims backlog; fourth, protecting veterans’ rights and dignity; and five, ensuring that all veterans, when they transition from service to civilian life, have a chance at the American Dream.

Specifically, he will note progress made on the VA’s claims backlog, a personal priority of the President, and that progress represents a nearly 20 percent reduction in the past five months. He will also announce a new national research plan to address Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD and veterans suicide.

With that -- I’m sure there will be more details and I know we gave you a fact sheet -- I will take your questions.

Q    Can you talk more about the PTSD thing, what exactly that is?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to -- I think we gave you information about it.  I’ll have to refer you to the VA.  Maybe we can get you more information on the ground.  I’m not steeped in the details.

Q    Jay, the 20 percent reduction that you said the President is going to talk about in the backlog claims, is there a hard number, like from what to what?

MR. CARNEY:  On March 25th there were 611,000; on August 9th, it was down to 496,000.

Q    Four-nine-six?

MR. CARNEY:  Four-nine-six.  And I can just say, I know, because I see it all the time, the President’s focus on this is intense, as is the Chief of Staff’s.  Denis McDonough has taken a personal interest in making sure that this issue is getting high-level and constant attention, and that’s exactly what Secretary Shinseki is giving it.

Q    Jay, after Florida the President and his wife are heading to Martha’s Vineyard for the next week’s worth of a vacation.  Can you talk us through what you expect on his schedule tonight or the rest of the week?  Who will he see at the Vineyard?  We saw Susan Rice and Rob Nabors aboard.  Who else is he traveling with?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m here.  (Laughter.)  Susan Rice is the national security representative for the trip.  As you know, there’s always someone from the NSS on the trip, and she’ll be here and briefing the President as necessary, as is the case whenever he takes a trip like this.  Rob Nabors is the senior representative from the Chief of Staff’s office.  As you know, there’s always one of those.  And I’m your press rep.  There’ll be some staff shuffling through the week as some of us depart and others come in.  But that’s essentially the complement at senior staff level.

In terms of the President’s schedule, I know he’s looking forward very much to some downtime with his family, with the First Lady, and I’m sure he’ll see some friends, but I don’t have a social schedule to offer you.

Q    And can you talk to us about how he balances the need for daily briefings with his right to chill out for a couple days at the end of the summer?  Is he going to get daily briefings?  Do you have a video link to the White House?  Are you expecting any major news this week?

MR. CARNEY:  We’re not expecting to make any major news this week.  I just want to repeat that my comment about a Fed chairman announcement was a joke the other day.

Q    I didn’t even hear that.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, sorry.  I think I just gave Mason some heartburn.  (Laughter.)  But, of course, news happens and it’s hard to predict.

The President receives briefings daily on both national security and domestic matters, and that will be the case.  I don’t have a schedule for that and I can’t brief you on technological capabilities, but as is the case on this plane and as is the case everywhere Presidents go -- this President and any President goes, he will be able to communicate as necessary with all the capacity that’s needed to do that.

Q    Jay, do you know what the impact is of sequestration on the spending for disabled veterans?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m afraid I don’t.  The VA might have that information.

Q    Do you have a vacation reading list for us?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have that, I’m afraid.

Q    Is the President reading any books on his vacation?

MR. CARNEY:  I expect he will and I will see what I can find out.  Most of the many hours I spent with him in the last couple of weeks, when he’s been reading, he’s been reading briefing materials.

Q    Where are the girls?

MR. CARNEY:  You have to ask the East Wing.  I’m not sure.  But they’ll be joining him at --

Q    They’re not on the plane, right?

Q    And Bo?

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t see Bo yet, but if he is, I look forward to saying hello.

Q    Send him back.

MR. CARNEY:  He’s a great dog.

Q    Are there any lawmakers or guests for the leg to Florida who are also aboard the plane?  Anyone --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll check.

Q    Is Shinseki on Air Force One?  No?  He’s already there.

MR. CARNEY:  He is already there.  He is speaking this morning.  I'll check on the manifest.  I don't believe we have any lawmakers or other guests.

Q    And with regard to the President, what he is going to read and everything, do you have any reaction to the American Booksellers Association calling the President highlighting Amazon "misguided?"  Independent booksellers are a little upset.  There was an open letter to the President.

MR. CARNEY:  I got that question at the time, and I can just tell you the President visited the fulfillment center of Amazon in Tennessee because it represents a businesses and an enterprise that is creating jobs in the United States.  And he used that location to give one of his jobs-focused speeches on his economic agenda.


The President is also a huge supporter of independent booksellers and makes a point of buying books at independent booksellers whenever he is able, given the constraints of being able to walk around as President.  But I know he has on his vacations in the past purchased books at independent booksellers. I wouldn't be surprised if in search of fulfilling the book reading list that Carol mentioned, he might visit one on this trip.

Q    Why is he only taking a week's vacation in a non-election year?

MR. CARNEY:  I think he is obviously looking forward to the time that he is able to take, but also will return to continue to work on the agenda that he has laid out to focus our attention on the middle class, what we can do to keep the economy growing, help it grow faster, and invest in those areas of the economy that will create solid, good-paying jobs for the middle class and give them greater security.

Q    Is he going to take any down time or anything else after this trip even back at the White House?  I feel like one year he did Martha's Vineyard, then he came back and then that next week wasn't a full working week.  I guess, Labor Day.

MR. CARNEY:  The week he is back will be a full working week.  But I don't have any schedule beyond that.

Q    Yesterday in the President's press conference, he mentioned that he had recently spoken with Speaker Boehner.  Can you give us a timing on when that was?

MR. CARNEY:  It was shortly before they went on recess.  I think it was within the last week.

Q    What was the topic and who called who?

MR. CARNEY:  As I think I've tried to convey from the podium, the President speaks with members and leaders of Congress with some regularity.  We don't read out every one of those conversations.  My sense is they spoke about a variety of the issues that are coming up for action by Congress.  And I'm sure that would include immigration reform, as well as some of the economic initiatives the President would like Congress to take up, those that require legislative action, and obviously, the budget issues that we have to deal with in the fall.

I don't have a specific readout.  I'm just making some assumptions here.  But as you know, the President put forward a proposition, a bargain for the middle class in which he asks Republicans and Democrats as well to consider coupling business tax reform with significant investments in areas that help create middle-class jobs.  And I'm sure that was probably one subject of the conversation.

But I can see if there's more of a read out.  But I think the point was -- well, the President answered the question because it was asked, had he spoken with the Speaker recently, and the answer was yes.

Q    Can you give us an update on whether there have been any foreign leader calls, including with President Putin, and whether there are any calls or briefings that you can elaborate on related to the AQ-AQAP revelations?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there have been no foreign calls that I have to read out to you.  The President has not spoken to President Putin since his press conference.  But as you I'm sure know, the Russian foreign and defense ministers met with Secretaries Hagel and Kerry yesterday and that was a constructive meeting in which the two Secretaries and their counterparts discussed ways to continue to engage in areas of importance, both on security matters and economic matters.

Q    -- condone his description of President Putin as a schoolboy in the back of the room?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department or Defense Department for more details on that meeting, but the President's press conference was public.  The point the President was making -- I think this is important to emphasize -- was that, understandably, in part because visuals are what they are, the press tends to focus on body language in photographs, and sometimes that body language doesn’t reflect completely the nature of the conversations and meetings that the President has had with his Russian counterpart.

Q    To go back to the vacation for a second, can you give us any sort of sense of what kinds of official business the President will work on during the vacation besides getting these daily briefings from Susan Rice or Nabors or whoever else will come in the briefing?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, the President is working on a full agenda, so in addition to the briefings that he'll get, he'll, I'm sure, do some thinking about and reading about how to move forward on the better bargain for the middle class, which he's been talking about a lot recently and you can expect he'll be talking about a great deal in the days and weeks following this vacation.  He'll also continue to, I'm sure, consider some of the issues that he talked about yesterday.  But there's nothing specific beyond the broader agenda that he'll be working on.  He does, obviously, look forward to some down time with his family.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a scheduling update.

Q    Just to follow on Boehner, should we read this as a meeting that the two of them are going to be negotiating on these budget issues going forward, or is this just a customary conversation?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the latter, though I don't have any updates for you on where we need to -- what meetings might take place.  I mean, you've heard me sort of have this discussion before, Carol, even before you were away, but the President has put forward, when it comes to a comprehensive budget proposal, a very detailed plan that represents by any measure compromise and an attempt to meet Republicans halfway.  And he has engaged with Republican lawmakers for much of this year, as has his senior staff, in conversations about how we can find that common ground, and they've been useful conversations.  But what we haven’t yet seen from Republicans is a similar proposal representing compromise from them.  And we look forward to that happening and hope it does.  But as of this time we haven’t seen that.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you.

END          10:53 A.M. EDT