the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle aboard Air Force One en route WI, 1/30/14

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wisconsin 

10:13 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning.  Welcome aboard Air Force One.  Glad to have you with us as we make our way to the Badger State, the great state of Wisconsin.  The President, as you know, is traveling to Wisconsin today to discuss job-driven training and to continue to expand on the themes of his State of the Union address, discussing new ways to build economic security for the middle class and to expand opportunity for all so that every American can get ahead.

While in Wisconsin, the President will visit General Electric’s Gas Engines Facility located in Waukesha -- is that how we pronounce it? -- for more than 100 years, and acquired by GE in 2011.  The facility produces engines designed and built to perform in oil and gas fields, factories and utilities worldwide. And GE Energy works with the -- GE Energy, rather, works with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/BIG STEP, a workforce program that brings together employers, colleges, labor unions and other community-based organizations to develop training systems that shrink skills gaps in advanced manufacturing, construction and other industries.  Since 1990, GE Energy, previously Waukesha Motors, has relied on WRTP/BIG STEP for training its new and incumbent workforce.  The President looks forward very much to that visit.

Then, as you know, we’re going to Nashville where he will discuss the need to continue to make progress in education because getting an education, more than ever, is a ticket to the middle class.

With that, I will take your questions.

Q    Jay, what’s the White House’s response to Senator Reid yesterday on the trade promotion authority?

MR. CARNEY:  Leader Reid has always been clear on his position on this particular issue.  As the President said in the State of the Union address, he will continue to work to enact bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers and environment and to open markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  And we will not cede this important opportunity for American workers and businesses to our competitors.

Q    How big of a stumbling block is that to getting the two trade deals that the administration is working on?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Darlene, Leader Reid has always been clear on his position on this issue.  The President’s commitment was made clear again in the State of the Union address.  It’s a very important opportunity to expand trade, to not cede this territory to our competitors, and the President will continue to press to get it done.

Q    Leader Reid is obviously a very powerful figure in the Senate and a Democrat.  How does this affect the President’s desire to do this?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President’s commitment is --

Q    The President’s ability, is the word I should have said.

MR. CARNEY:  How does it affect his desire?  It does not change his desire --

Q    I’m correcting myself to “ability,” Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  And Leader Reid, his position on this issue has been long expressed.  

Q    That's not my question.

MR. CARNEY:  Right, so you’re saying how does his position


Q    No, how does that affect the White House’s ability to get this through?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it doesn’t affect it because Leader Reid has long expressed his position on this issue and --

Q    How could it not affect it if he controls the agenda?

MR. CARNEY:  -- and we'll continue to press to get it done.

Q    Okay.  What did he mean when he said people should be  -- would be wise not to push it now?  Was that waiting until after November?

MR. CARNEY:  Asking me what somebody else meant that I don’t work for -- I would refer you to Senator Reid.

Q    How did you interpret his message?  It’s a message to you.  How did you interpret it?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we’re not going to cede this important opportunity for American workers and businesses to our competitors, Peter.  Obviously Leader Reid’s views on this issue are well known, and we, of course, take that into account.

Q    On the skills training that the President will be talking about today, the Republicans released a letter talking about a skills bill that was passed in the House and also about a GAO report that they say would answer the questions that the President has asked Joe Biden to look into.  What’s the White House’s view on those two things?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re referring to the letter from the Speaker?  Obviously the President, as he has made clear, welcomes the credible input from anybody who wants to work with him to expand opportunity and to keep our economy growing, and we welcome that. 

The President is not going to -- let me back up.  The President will, as he said, work with Congress on a whole host of areas where Congress demonstrates its willingness to try to find bipartisan compromises and cooperate, but he will also continue to pursue his agenda through the use of his executive authority, through the use of his pen and phone.  And that is I think something that we’re highlighting this week and will continue to highlight in the days and weeks ahead.

Q    Regarding the executive authority, some analysts and other Republicans and critics are saying that these actions will not have a big impact.  What’s your overall strategy to make it more impactful?

MR. CARNEY:  So Republican critics, who --

Q    And nonpartisan critics.

MR. CARNEY:  -- it is fair to say, have helped drive Congress’s approval rating to 13 percent and sometimes into the single digits through their obstructionism, are suggesting that the President -- or this President or any President should not use every tool in his toolbox to advance an agenda that expands opportunity because alone that authority does not get the entire job done.  I think the President obviously recognizes that.  That’s why he works with Congress and presses Congress to take action on a whole host of issues, including raising the federal minimum wage, including comprehensive immigration reform -- two items that would go a long way toward rewarding hard work and responsibility, and to expanding economic growth and innovation. So he’s going to keep doing that.

But what he won’t do is let Congress get in the way of him doing his job.  And he will use the authority he has as President and the influence he has because of the office to take action wherever he can.  You’ve seen that -- you saw it yesterday and the other night in the State of the Union address with signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for new contracts, federal contractors, and you’ve seen it again and again, and you’ll see it again today.

Q    -- for the President to actually sign a memorandum to get the Vice President to do a review?  Why is a memorandum even necessary?

MR. CARNEY:  We’ll have to get you some more information about the process.  The fact is -- I think we’ve provided you a lot of information.  I’m happy to go through it with you about it -- about what the Vice President is doing at the President’s request, why it’s important.  And if you look at the event the President is having today, there is an enormous opportunity here to engage businesses, mayors, state legislatures, governors in an effort to -- and colleges and universities, including community colleges -- in an effort to create job-driven training and education so that Americans out there getting an education are learning the skills they need for the jobs that are available that help sustain a middle-class life.

Q    Jay, on the House bill that Jeff was talking about, the skills act, or whatever, is there anything the White House finds objectionable in it?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have an analysis of that bill.  I think we have put out statements and views on the bill in the past, but I don’t have anything -- any update for you on it.

Q    Can we get those, because obviously the --

Q    There’s been a lot of focus on the Olympics, but we also have the Super Bowl coming up.  Has the President been briefed on any security preparations? And also, what are his plans for watching the Super Bowl?

MR. CARNEY:  On the second question, as you know, the President, as has become the tradition, is giving an interview to Bill O'Reilly, in this case, because FOX is broadcasting the Super Bowl this year.  So he'll be in the White House and I think he is just going to watch it at the White House.

Q    Is he inviting anybody?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any updates on the President's weekend schedule. 

On the question of security around the Super Bowl, it's an excellent question, because I think as I and others have noted when we've been discussing the Sochi Olympics, major sporting events, especially in the post-9/11 era, present unique security challenges.  And this is something that our -- here in the United States, obviously, our law enforcement agencies work very hard on.  I don't have any details.  The President is always kept up to date around events like this. 

On the Sochi Olympics, we continue to maintain regular communication with Russian authorities about the security situation in Sochi.  The State Department issued a travel advisory on January 10th that continues to be a statement of our views about security for Americans looking to travel to Sochi, recommending that they take the kinds of precautions that are contained in the advisory, and that they register with the State Department so that they can be provided information very quickly, should it be needed.  But it is not a recommendation to not go to Sochi.

As more information becomes available, we will make it available.  And we continue to work with the Russians to get as much information as we can.  We also have the view that Russia believes that it is absolutely in its interest to have a safe and secure Olympic Games, and is taking every step to achieve that.

Q    Can you trust Russia to work on arms control if they're having missile tests that violate the INF treaty, as apparently, (inaudible) notified NATO?

MR. CARNEY:  I can point you to what my colleague over at the State Department, Jen Psaki, said about that story.  We take questions about compliance with arms control treaties including the INF Treaty very seriously.  When compliance questions arise, we work to resolve them with our treaty partners, and we'll continue to do so.  This is something that is under review and something that we monitor very closely. 

Q    Does the President still want to negotiate further arms cuts with Russia?  Can Russia be trusted? 

MR. CARNEY:  The U.S. is committed to maintaining strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and supports continuing its dialogue aimed at fostering a more stable, resilient and transparent security relationship.  And that includes the New START Treaty; it includes the INF Treaty, and it includes continued negotiations with the Russians on the implementation of previous treaties and other efforts we can undertake to increase the stability of that relationship.

Q    Can we go back to the job-training review the Vice President is going to do?  In what way will that be different from what the GAO did several years ago?

MR. CARNEY:  -- the GAO’s report.  What I can tell you is it is often noted that a demonstration of a White House's commitment to an issue is reflected in the kind of action the President took by putting Joe Biden, the Vice President, in charge of an effort like this.  So as I know from having worked with him, and the President knows from the experience they've had together, when the Vice President is put in charge of an effort like this it gets done and it will be effective.  And that's what the President expects.

Q    Jay, we're on our way to Milwaukee now and Governor Walker says he will be there to greet the President on the tarmac.  But Mary Burke, the Democratic challenger to Governor Walker, will not be there.  Allyson Schwartz was not in Pittsburg yesterday.  Kay Hagan didn’t appear with the President earlier this month.  Is the President concerned that Democratic candidates don't want to appear with him at public events?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is out there advancing an agenda designed to expand opportunity for the American people.  That's an agenda that should be welcomed by Americans across the country, regardless of how they vote, their political affiliation.  That's what the President is focused on.

He obviously supports Democratic candidates, both incumbents and challengers, across the country.  And I think we've amply demonstrated that support already, and he will continue to do so.

Q    Has he endorsed any of these candidates?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d have to refer you to the DNC or others.  I just don't have that information.

Q    Jay, back to jobs for a bit.  You're having an event at the White House tomorrow.  Are you in a position to preview that a little bit?  It has to do with the long-term unemployed and CEOs.

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you that the President will be having this event as we've announced and that it’s designed to focus, again, on what he can do using his unique powers and authority as President to bring together stakeholders around this challenge. 

As I think I mentioned earlier in the week from the podium, the unemployment level for those who have been unemployed for 26 weeks or less is now consistent with the past, so that the elevated level of unemployment that we still have at 6.7 percent is entirely, by this analysis, attributable to the persistent problem of long-term unemployed. 

And the President has spoken a lot about this.  It’s something he’s spoken about in the context of the urgent need for the Congress to extend emergency unemployment insurance, which the Congress, unfortunately, allowed to lapse.  But it’s also something that we need to work together on.  So the President will be bringing stakeholders together on Friday to demonstrate that we can tackle a problem like this that expands opportunity, that reduces unemployment, that deals with the specific problem of long-term unemployment not necessarily using legislation -- although in the case of extending unemployment insurance benefits, legislation is required. 

Q    Is he basically soliciting things from the CEOs on this?  And could there be an executive order coming out of this?

MR. CARNEY:  We'll have more information for you on it as we get closer to the event.

Q    On Syria, is the United States concerned about evidence that Syria is not progressing as fast as it should be in terms of getting chemical weapons out of the country?  And how do you plan to hold Assad accountable for that?

MR. CARNEY:  The international community is poised and ready to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons as soon as the chemicals have reached the Syrian port of Latakia.  It is the Assad regime’s responsibility to transport those chemicals safely to facilitate their removal.  We expect them to meet their obligations to do so.

We join the OPCW in calling on the Assad regime to intensify its efforts to ensure that its international obligations and commitments are met so that these materials may be removed from Syria as quickly and safely as possible.  We continue to work to meet the OPCW’s milestone for all chemicals to be destroyed by June 30, 2014.  We obviously recognize that there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.  The OPCW has set ambitious milestones for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and we continue to work to meet those milestones, including, importantly, the June 30th target date.

On the question of compliance, it is the Assad regime’s responsibility to ensure that those chemicals are delivered to Latakia.

Q    Jay, Angela Merkel yesterday said the United States can't be trusted because of the NSA surveillance.  Do you have a response?

MR. CARNEY:  Peter, as you know, we've been engaged directly with the Germans on this issue.  The President and Chancellor have spoken on several occasions.  And we continue to work on this issue through diplomatic channels. 

As you heard the President describe in his speech on our signal intelligence the other day -- or the other week -- on the matter of the kinds of surveillance specifically on heads of state, we've taken action, and we continue to work with our partners, including Germany, on this matter.

Q    She seemed unsatisfied by that.

MR. CARNEY:  All I can tell you is that we continue to have discussions.  There’s no question that the disclosures have -- especially -- specifically the disclosures themselves and often the context around them has caused tensions in relations with a number of countries, and we work very aggressively -- and have worked very aggressively through diplomatic channels to address concerns that countries have.

Q    Can you respond to the IG report on Afghanistan questioning that all the money that's gone directly to the government has been siphoned off for corruption?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a specific response to that.  I can tell you that we continue to have, and will continue to have beyond 2014, an important relationship with Afghanistan.  And that relationship is important because it’s related to the essential need to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for core al Qaeda. 

That’s the reason why we’re there.  That was the reason for the President’s review of our Afghanistan policy and the reason why he insisted on, in that review, that we narrowed and clarified our objectives -- first and foremost, the objective number one being disrupting, dismantling and ultimately defeating core al Qaeda.  And we’ve made significant progress towards that objective, but that effort continues.

I don’t have a specific response on the matter of the aid that you’re describing except that we continue to address concerns about these kinds of issues directly with the Afghan government.

Q    Jay, Chrysler and Fiat are merging, and there’s a good chance that the headquarters will be in Europe.  Everyone is smiling.  Does the White House have any position on where the headquarters is given the fact that the United States bailed out Chrysler?  Are you encouraging Fiat’s bosses to make the headquarters in the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  Actually, I haven’t heard any discussion about that specific issue related to headquarters.  What I can tell you is the action that was taken by the administration, while widely criticized and widely viewed as politically unpopular at the time, effectively saved the American automobile industry -- Chrysler and GM specifically, but overall the American automobile industry -- because if those companies had gone under, the impact because of suppliers on the rest of the industry would have been dramatic.

 So what we’ve seen since those initiatives were undertaken is a remarkable revival of the American automobile industry, an industry that’s now producing excellent cars, more fuel-efficient cars, and equally importantly, expanding its operations and its workforce, as has been noted quite frequently over the last couple of years.

Q    Do you know if the President been made aware of a fatal shooting involving two students at the school he’s going to speak at later today?

MR. CARNEY:  He is aware of that, and it’s a tragedy, a terrible tragedy.  The President will obviously speak about matters of education at the event, but I think you can expect he will have something to say about the tragedy at the top of his remarks.

Q    -- you might have for a number on this minimum wage federal contract, or how many might be affected?  I don’t know if you ever got a chance to check and see if there’s one.

MR. CARNEY:  Here is what I have on that.  While we are still working -- we are still working, rather, on the executive order so we won’t be able to give a specific estimate.  Our goal is to affect as many people as possible, and our best guess at this time is a couple hundred thousand will be covered when it is fully implemented.  This is an estimate, however, because the decisions some contractors make will affect the number, and the data collected in this area is imprecise. 

The point is we are acting where we can.  But as I said yesterday, this executive action is not a substitute for action at the state or federal level.  It reflects the President’s commitment to use the authority he has to expand opportunity and to reward hard work and responsibility.

Q    Is there an estimate of what that will do to the federal contracting costs?  The President has talked about reform in that area.  Will the unintended consequence of this be rising contractor cost payments by the federal government?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t seen any analysis along those lines. I think that what we’ve seen overall in economists’ analysis about the impact of raising the minimum wage, whether in states or across the country, is that it does not have the impact that you describe.  In fact, it has obviously contributed to elevating the circumstances of those making the minimum wage, and in the case of our objective here, of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, lifting hardworking individuals and families out of poverty when they work full-time, and having the resulting effect of creating more demand in the economy because minimum wage workers will be making more.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  All right.

10:39 A.M. EST