Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Tampa, Florida, 1/28/10
11:35 A.M. EST
MR. BURTON: So, for starters, let me tell you a little bit about Florida. Upon arrival, Governor Crist, Mayors Dyer and Iorio and Senator Bill Nelson and Alex Sink will all meet us. The President will visit a hangar where crewmembers are doing work on a KC-135 Stratotanker. That's a plane that's used to refill other planes that are in the air that have been flying missions to and from Haiti.
After that we'll go to the town hall. That event will have about 3,000 people. The tickets were handed out by the White House and by the university. It was free and open to the public. There's also some groups in the area who received some of the tickets.
On Air Force One right now are Congresswomen Castor and Wasserman-Schultz and Congressmen Grayson and Meek. And just wanted to let you know that tomorrow the President will travel to Baltimore. As you know he's speaking to the Republican House Caucus, where he'll hit on some of the things that he talked about in the State of the Union, but he'll also visit a small business and lay out a program, the details of which will be described in a conference call this afternoon later today. And the conference call, we'll work with the schedule of the folks who are traveling on this trip.
Q Can you give us any details about the program at all?
MR. BURTON: Nope. Not at this point.
Q Is the meeting with Republicans -- how is that going to be covered? Is that going to be pool? Is it closed press? What is it?
MR. BURTON: I'm not a hundred percent sure. So I will let you know when we hit the ground.
Q Bill, Mayor Bloomberg in New York has expressed concern, in fact, reversed his position, on having the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Lower Manhattan. Is the White House reconsidering this? And is the White House given any pause given the change of support in New York for this?
MR. BURTON: Well, let me start by saying that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a murderous thug who has admitted to crimes -- who has admitted to some of the most heinous crimes ever committed against our country. And the President is committed to seeing that he's brought to justice.
Now, he agrees with the Attorney General's opinion that -- in November -- that he and others can be litigated successfully and securely in the United States of America, just like others have, like Richard Reid. Currently our federal jails hold hundreds of convicted terrorists, and the President's opinion has not changed on that.
Q Has he spoken to the mayor about this, or has the mayor reached out to the White House? And is the President open to advising his Attorney General to change policy?
MR. BURTON: Well, on the specifics of the trial and prosecutors and location, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Bill, a couple of State of the Union questions. The President made a clear call to reach out to Republicans; some of the reaction back has not been so friendly. Leader Boehner said that the President offered more "job-killing policies." Does the President -- what's his reaction to the reaction he's getting? And does he think Republicans genuinely want to work with him?
MR. BURTON: The President's view is that his door is open. If Republicans have ideas, if they've got thoughts on how they think that we can create jobs, how we can get this economy moving, how we can reform health care, he's open to that.
Now, I think the President also believes that what the American people sent him and members of Congress to do was to work together in order to take on some of these big challenges and actually make progress on these important issues.
So nobody thought that change was going to happen overnight, or that one speech or that one year in the presidency was going to melt away all the partisanship and gridlock in Washington. But we're chipping away at it piece by piece, and the President is committed to making progress because that's what the American people expect him to do.
Q Bill, how are we supposed to read into the length of time it took the President to get to health care last night?
MR. BURTON: Nothing.
MR. BURTON: The President -- in the speech last night, what the President did was lay out some of the serious challenges that face our nation, some of his top priorities. And that means creating jobs, getting the economy going again, but also reforming health care.
Now, there's been a lot of talk about who's up, who's down, what's in, what's out, as a result of what folks on Capitol Hill are saying or what happened in the special election in Massachusetts, but none of the reasons that the President took on health care -- the rising costs, the insurance reforms that so desperately need to be done -- changed just because of that election or what folks are saying.
So the President remains committed to making progress on health care reform, and I wouldn't over-read its placement in the speech.
Q What's the White House response to Iran's execution of these two people linked to the pro-democracy protest?
MR. BURTON: Well, I will say that the U.S. strongly condemns these unjust executions. We see it as a low point in the Islamic Republic's unjust and ruthless crackdown of peaceful dissent. Murdering political prisoners who are exercising their universal rights will not bring the respect and legitimacy the Islamic Republic seeks. It will only serve to further isolate Iran's government in the world and from its people.
Q Would the President support requiring shareholder approval before a company could spend money on ads, like in reference to the Supreme Court decision?
MR. BURTON: There are a series of reforms that the President is looking at and talking to members of Congress about. I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiations and what those are, but campaign finance reform has become a lot more important in the course of the last couple of weeks and the President and his team are focused on it.
Q What's the President's reaction to Justice Alito's reaction to his speech?
MR. BURTON: Well, this issue is something that many have serious concerns about. It's something that Justice Ginsburg brought up in her oral arguments. It's something that Justice Stevens wrote about in his dissent. It's an issue that the Court could have specifically addressed in its findings, but they didn't. And the American people deserve the right to know that foreign corporations cannot interfere with American elections.
So this is another one of the issues that the President is looking at in terms of campaign finance reform. In terms of the specific reaction to Justice Alito, one of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases. But the President is no less committed to seeing this reform.
Q Bill, on jobs, he called for getting a jobs bill to his desk very quickly. What's going on in the Senate, and what role is the White House playing in getting that jobs bill done in the Senate?
MR. BURTON: The President made pretty clear last night that this was a high priority for him. So you can bet that Phil Schiliro and Shawn Maher and his team of folks are working very hard to get some of his ideas that he laid out in his December Brookings speech into that Senate bill.
Nobody thinks that we're necessarily going to get every single good idea that the President has into one bill, and we'll continue to work with the Senate and the House in coming weeks in order to get more measures through, like on small businesses, that the President laid out, and other things.
Q What about the fact that there was very little mentioned in the speech last night about national security and foreign policy? I mean, I know that there was some, but there's also some criticism that it just wasn't enough.
MR. BURTON: Well, you know, when I woke up this morning, I opened up the papers and I saw some people said that some things weren't talked about enough, some things were talked about too much, the speech was too long, the speech was this in comparison to that. I just think that different folks have different opinions of what should be in and what should be out.
It should be obvious to everyone who observes the President that national security is critically important to him. He wakes up every morning wondering what he can do to keep the American people safe, what we can do to improve our systems of securing Americans here at home and all around the world. He laid out some very specific issues in terms of Iran. He talked about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He talked about some of the global threats that we face.
So he laid out what he thought was appropriate to talk about and continues to work on the issues that he thinks are important.
Q Bill, what was the White House's thinking about not getting more prescriptive on the issue of health care? He challenged the Congress to get the job done, but didn't get specific about how he wants it to get done. What was the White House thinking behind going that route?
MR. BURTON: Well, what the President has done is laid out his principles, what he thinks is the best way forward in terms of getting costs under control, in terms of getting insurance reforms in place. And his team of folks is working with the House and the Senate in order to find the best path forward, and those talks continue.
Q Can you talk about how high-speed rail will compare to, like, Northeast Corridor, just the regular rail? How much time will it save passengers? Do you have any data on that?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't have any specific data on the time that it saves, necessarily. But just as a little preview of what the Vice President will be talking about a little bit today when he introduces the President: This is an $8 billion program to states for a nationwide high-speed inner-city rail system. The program creates tens of thousands of jobs and is the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created.
In short, it'll create jobs, it'll use cleaner energy, it will help to stop the need to widen highways, like the I-4 and others all over the country, and it will get people where they want to go faster.
Q Why the joint appearance with the Vice President? Bringing out the big guns for a light-rail announcement? What's the thinking?
MR. BURTON: This is a huge program. It's going to create tens of thousands of jobs. And as you know, the Vice President has been tasked with making sure that the Recovery Act is working smoothly and creating the jobs that it needs to create, helping the economy the way that it needs to. So this is a big announcement, and so the President and the Vice President decided to come out and do it together.
Q Is President Obama planning on hugging Charlie Crist? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: I haven't talked to him about the specific greeting, but we look forward to seeing all the Florida officials who will be there when we get on the ground.
Q Do we know what the delay was in leaving this morning?
MR. BURTON: It just is one of those deals where Rahm wanted to speak to the President and everything sort of slowed down a little bit.
Q Did Rahm get fired?
MR. BURTON: This is awkward, but, yes, I'm announcing right now that -- (laughter.) No.
Thank you, guys.
11:46 A.M. EST