Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Portland, ME
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Hello. Thank you all for joining us on this trip. So just a little housekeeping at the top here. Upon arrival in Maine, the President will be greeted by Governor Baldacci and his wife Karen; Mayor Nicholas Mavodones; and Congress -- members of Congress Michaud and Pingree. At the speech he will be introduced by Mainer Karen Mills, the head of the Small Business Administration. The audience will be about 2,500 people. Two thousand of those tickets were made available to the general public. About 500 of those were handed out by local electeds and officials.
In Boston the President will be greeted by Lilly Ledbetter. And then as you know we’ve got the events with the DNC once we get there into Boston.
MR. BURTON: At the event, yes. So -- and at some point today the President will be addressing the floods that are having such an impact on the region. So with that, let me take your questions.
Q Hu Jintao and his decision to attend the nuclear conference -- do you have any reaction to that? Do you think it’s going to help you with your broader outreach with China? And is there any connection or is it going to influence your decision on whether you name China a currency manipulator on the April 15 report?
MR. BURTON: Well, obviously we’re pleased that China is coming to the event. As we have long said, we have an important relationship with China, one in which there are many issues of mutual concern that we work on together. But there also will be times where we disagree. I think this proves the point that despite those disagreements, we can work together on issues like nuclear proliferation. I think that China understands that it’s in their best interests that there isn’t a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and that’s obviously something that we’re going to be working on.
As it relates to currency, I would just point you to what the President said. I’ll just read his quote: “China moving to a more market-oriented exchange rate will make an essential contribution to global rebalancing.” But as for anything that has to do with the currency, I would point you over to Treasury.
Q So no connection? There is no connection? You don’t see it influencing your decision?
MR. BURTON: I would just talk to Treasury about their decision-making -- their process on that.
Q Is there any comment out of the White House on the decision yesterday on the warrantless wiretapping for the Islamic charity?
MR. BURTON: Well, the Department of Justice is still reviewing the decision. I would just point out that the Attorney General has made a -- has implemented a series of reforms that help to balance the importance of national security with issues of transparency. And they’ve made a point not to abuse this privilege and have made great strides in reforming it.
But I would direct you to the Department of Justice for when they get through their review --
Q Bill, can you gauge in any way what the President has to show for these post-bill signing trips?
MR. BURTON: Well, we’re in the middle of a long process. We’re just a week away from the bill being signed into law essentially, and the President thinks it’s important that we continue to make sure that the American people know exactly what they’re getting out of this bill in the short term; what it’s going to mean for their families, for businesses, and for the American economy in the long term.
And so the President’s objective is to make sure the American people know a little bit more about what the benefits are in the bill.
Q When or how are you going to know that you’ve closed the loop on this? He’s talking about the small business aspect today; he talked about the insurance companies. Is he just going to continue to hammer away at this for the foreseeable future?
MR. BURTON: Well, he’s going to continue to talk to the American people about it, and the American people are going to continue to receive the benefits as the bill gets phased in. Nobody thought that overnight that a bill would get passed and suddenly people would understand all the benefits. We went through a year and change of a long and contentious debate. There were a lot of mistruths out there. There were a lot of things that just frankly were not true that were said about this proposal -- well, this now law -- and the President is committed to making sure that people know what’s in it. And we’re in the middle of that process.
Q How much of it, though, is a calculation for the midterms? I mean, how much is he doing this to lay the groundwork for somebody who might be in a tough reelection fight?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say that this is a lot more about the policy than it is about the politics. The President didn’t get into this because he thought it would be the politically popular thing to do. I mean, if you look at the polling over the course of the last year, obviously that wasn’t what guided his decision to go about this.
But -- so I would say that this is really about making sure the American people know what they have at stake here and what they get out of this law.
Q Wasn’t that supposed to be done before it was passed?
MR. BURTON: Like I said, we went through a long process where there was a pretty contentious back-and-forth between the proponents of the bill and the opponents of that bill. Well, now that bill is law, and we have to make sure that we get in there and we dispel some of the rumors and some of the myths about it, and underscore some of the benefits the American people are getting out of it.
Q Bill, could you talk a bit about the timing of the drilling announcement? Some environmentalists say perhaps the President should have waited and used the drilling as leverage, maybe, in climate change negotiations.
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say, A, this was driven in part by a deadline that we were up against; and B, the President’s policy wasn’t a matter of horse trading over what he thought he could get out of this or that. It was driven by what he thought was the right policy for a comprehensive energy policy that puts our country on the right path towards more renewable energy, less dependence on foreign oil, and creating jobs of the future in the 21st century.
So I think that anybody who looked at what’s in that proposal shouldn’t have been particularly shocked that the President was for all those things. And I don’t know how you go about horse trading something that everybody knows you’re for already.
Q Bill, do you have any reaction to Karzai’s comments that foreigners were to blame for the fraud in the Afghan election last year?
MR. BURTON: We went through a pretty long and rigorous process in that election. International observers and folks on the ground in Afghanistan took a look at the elections. There were charges made of fraud; there were a lot of ballots that were disqualified. And at the end of the process ended up with a winner in that race, who is recognized both by the Afghan people and by the international community.
And so we’re satisfied with that effort. And I think that we’re just going to continue to work with the Afghan government on helping to strengthen it and helping to secure that country.
Q Comments like that don’t seem to be consistent with the message of the President to Karzai on Sunday. Has he got the message on corruption, do you think?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think that the President and this government have made clear that there are issues with governance in that country that could certainly be improved. We’ve been having conversations with them for months. I think that we’ve been able to make some progress. The President is glad for that progress, but there’s obviously a lot more work to do, and we’re going to continue to do it.
Q What’s the White House reaction to China joining U.N. talks on Iran sanctions? How important step is that for developing consequences for Iran?
MR. BURTON: It’s a very important step. The President feels that we’ve been able to have -- to unite the global community in a way that it hasn’t been united before in putting pressure on Iran and halting their drive towards nuclear weapons.
We’re going to continue that process, and the President thinks that this spring we’re going to be able to be in a place where there’s an agreement of those nations to apply real pressure to Iran.
Q Do you know if Snowe and Collins were invited to the event in Portland today? I know they’re not going to be there, but were they invited at all?
MR. BURTON: Yes, they were invited. No, they won’t be there.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: Thank you.
2:00 P.M. EDT