4:40 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s nice to see you on our way to Chicago. Thought I would come by. I have a couple of quick things to flag for you. And then if you have a couple of quick questions we can do a couple of those as well. The first thing, the top priority on the President’s domestic agenda is strengthening the economy and creating jobs here in the United States at this make-or-break moment for the middle class. In the insourcing American jobs forum, he highlighted the decisions made by an increasing number of companies, both large and small, to bring jobs back and invest in America.
You heard the President mention a couple of ideas for increasing support and incentives for companies who are looking to invest in America, including ramping up the efforts at SelectUSA. He’ll lay out some additional ideas, including some good incentives for companies contemplating these kinds of decisions in the weeks ahead.
It reflects his unwavering commitment to working with Congress when possible, and acting unilaterally when necessary, to put in place a set of economic policies that reflects his vision for an American economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share.
The second thing is a scheduling announcement, and I wanted to give you a heads up on this but I would ask that you not report this until we arrive, which is that our first stop, once we get off the helicopter in Chicago, will be to travel to the Obama for America headquarters in downtown Chicago.
So again, this is an unscheduled stop. I just wanted to give you a heads up for your planning. Please don’t report it until the motorcade pulls up to the headquarters.
Q This is being piped back to the White House, though, right?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know whether or not it’s being piped back.
Q I think it is.
MR. EARNEST: But I’d ask that people not report until they see a pool report from Mr. Gillman or Ms. Parsons. Okay?
Q Josh, is this being piped back to the White House press room?
MR. EARNEST: I have no idea. So we’ll see.
Q What did she ask?
MR. EARNEST: Whether it was being piped back to the White House or not.
Q Presume that it is.
Q Why is he stopping by campaign headquarters?
MR. EARNEST: It would be an opportunity for him to say hello and thank the people in Chicago who are working hard on his reelection campaign. As you know, the President himself and his staff at the White House has been focused on the critical priorities and the items on his agenda as President of the United States, and that the people who are working in Chicago and have been for the better part of the last year have been focused on his reelection, have ensured that he’s had time to focus on his duties as President of the United States.
And so this will be an opportunity for him to swing by the office to say hello to the staff that’s been hard at work there and to thank them for their efforts.
Q It seems like a safe bet that people will read this as the President is, in fact, more focused on his reelection than on running the country. Would that be correct or incorrect?
MR. EARNEST: Well, essentially, they’ll see, in your stories, that he began his day by -- at an insourcing forum in the White House, and that reflects that -- that item wasn’t just the first thing on his schedule, it’s also the first thing on his agenda and it’s on the forefront of his mind.
As I began my remarks here, that the President is focused on his number-one domestic agenda item, is creating jobs and strengthening the economy at this make-or-break moment for the middle class, and that’s where his focus remains. And frankly, that’s why we have a separate operation in Chicago, so they can be focused on the reelect while the President himself is focused on his responsibilities as the Commander-in-Chief.
Q Has he been -- how many times has he been to the campaign headquarters? And does he have any -- what were his thoughts on the Republican primary, given the fact that Mitt Romney has now had two consecutive victories?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll have to check on the number of visits. I believe this is actually the first time that he will have visited the headquarters since the reelection operation got up and running.
In terms of the New Hampshire results last night, I’m not going to handicap the race from here. I asked the President, anticipating that one of you might ask me whether or not the President watched the returns last night. He did not. He has read about the race in the newspapers this morning, but didn’t have any specific reaction.
Q Has he heard any of the attacks that Mitt Romney has made on him? Has he started to formulate in his head what he’d like to say to those, if Romney ends up being the eventual nominee?
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly the President has been following the race by reading the newspapers. But I got to tell you, I think that the things that he’s formulating in his own mind are some ideas that he has for strengthening the economy and creating jobs. This insourcing forum is certainly one of them. I’m certain that he’ll have some ideas that he’ll lay out in the State of the Union address.
Those are the things that are at the forefront of his mind. It’s not the reelect at this point.
Q Does he consider Romney to be the likely nominee?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to handicap the race at this point. I have not heard him say that. But I’m not in a position to handicap the race. I’ll let you guys draw those conclusions.
Q Was the insourcing event designed to provide a contrast to the charges that Mitt Romney outsourced jobs at Bain?
MR. EARNEST: The insourcing event was designed to highlight the decision that’s being made by an increasing number of companies, both in America and around the world, that it makes sense to invest in the United States of America. We have the most productive workers, the most ambitious entrepreneurs and the greatest universities that prepare our workforce to compete in the 21st century. That’s what the President was focused on today. That was the reason for the event, because the President does want to encourage other companies to step up and take advantage of the opportunity that exists in the United States of America.
Q Can you give us any more details on the kind of -- the new tax breaks that the President plans to propose and what kind of incentives he plans to give companies to hire more in the U.S.?
MR. EARNEST: It’s a good question, but I don’t have anything on that right now. But we will in the weeks ahead.
Q You said the weeks ahead. Is that something we should expect out of the State of the Union, perhaps?
MR. EARNEST: It’s certainly possible.
Q Could it be before then, or will it not be until the State of the Union?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an exact release date for you, but certainly in the next couple of weeks.
expect that to come before the State of the Union address? And can you give us any more guidance or detail on how the President is formulating his decision, whether it’s already been made, who it will be and when it will be announced?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any information about personnel appointments at this point. Whoever will serve in that job as the director of the OMB will have big shoes to fill, taking over for Jack Lew. It’s obviously a very important job; it’s the senior member of the President’s economic team. But Mr. Lew will remain in that job through the end of the process that’s currently underway to formulate a fiscal year 2013 budget.
So he’ll be in that office for another couple of weeks until the budget is finished, and then -- but I don’t have any update for you in terms of timing about when a successor to Mr. Lew would be announced.
Q But the decision will be made from the inside the administration? You won’t be bringing someone else from the outside for that position?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any information about who Mr. Lew’s replacement might be.
Q Daley is leaving after the State of the Union address, so is Jack taking over directly after that? Or will there be some overlap there before he takes over?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding there will be some overlap, but that transition will occur at the end of the month.
Q Tonight’s events are all fundraisers. When do you expect the President will start doing campaign events that are not fundraisers?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a specific date for you. What I can tell you is that at this point in time the President remains focused on his number-one job, which is serving the American public as the President of the United States. And he’s focused on a wide range of things, from national security issues to certainly the strength and health and welfare of our economy, and putting in place the kinds of economic policies that will support an American economy that ensures everybody a fair shot and a fair shake.
That’s where his attention is devoted, and that’s at the forefront of his mind. I don’t have a specific date for you about when campaign rallies will begin. But at this point, there will be a time and a place for the reelection campaign to be fully engaged, but we’re not there yet.
Q Josh, on the Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed in a car bombing, what reaction does the administration have to that? And I guess does the administration consider this person an innocent victim here?
MR. EARNEST: We’ve seen the reports of the bombing. The United States condemns this kind of violence. I know there was a suggestion at some point that somehow the United States was involved. That is categorically not true, and in fact this is the kind of violence that we would condemn.
Q And in terms of Mr. Roshan, the person who was killed, does the administration consider him to be an innocent victim here?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have a lot of information about the victim himself. What I can tell you is, is that this is exactly the kind of violence that we unequivocally condemn.
Q Can you give us any updates about the Keystone pipeline project decision-making? The deadline for that is getting a little bit closer every week. How involved is the President in that right now, and when can we expect to see a decision?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any updates for you on the timing of the Keystone decision. As you know, the payroll tax cut extension legislation that the President signed gave him 60 days to make a decision. You’ve heard from the State Department about this, that it would be a -- they issued a statement back in December saying that 60 days would not permit them enough time to evaluate this project.
I’ve actually seen some reports that the company itself has not actually even proposed an alternate route at this point. So that sort of underscores the difficulty of evaluating and affirming this project within that 60-day window, considering that there’s not even a route for that pipeline that’s under consideration at this point, that’s been proposed at this point.
But in terms of any sort of presidential -- any sort of administration announcement on the project, I don’t have an update for you in terms of timing on that.
Q Josh, got a question from back here. On the first stop, will photo coverage be allowed?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll have to check on the press access for you.
Q Hey, Josh, this is the President’s first fundraising trip outside of D.C. in the new year. Is there any particular significance to it? Was he bent on getting back to Chicago to start the new year for some particular reason?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if it necessarily is pegged to the first trip of the year for fundraising purposes, but I can tell you that the President is pleased to enjoy a lot of support in his hometown for his reelection campaign; that there are a lot of Chicagoans who are -- who, as you’ll see tonight, are committed to the President’s reelection. And the President is looking forward to the opportunity that he’ll have tonight to visit with some of them.
Q And both Bill Daley and Valerie Jarrett are traveling with and will go to all of those events tonight. Will they take part in any way?
MR. EARNEST: I know that they will attend -- both Ms. Jarrett and Mr. Daley will attend the events this evening. I don’t know what sort of role they may have at the events.
Q Is the mayor going to be there as well?
MR. EARNEST: I would assume so, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the mayor’s schedule is today.
Q Is the pool not going into the HQ?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what the press access is going to be. We’ll check on it, we’ll let you know. Okay?
Q When we go wheels down, assuming that everyone is listening to this back home, if someone doesn’t honor the -- I’m a little concerned about everyone knowing something and it getting reported on.
; MR. EARNEST: Maybe I have more faith in your colleagues than you do. All right?
Q Josh, just on the payroll tax. I mean, is there any schedule in place to begin negotiations, begin discussions with the House Republicans on this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that the White House is regularly in contact with our counterparts on Capitol Hill. I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you. But certainly, Christi made reference to the beginning of the calendar year. In terms of the President’s legislative agenda, this is at the top of it for the beginning of this year, making sure that we extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year of 2012.
Q Thank you, sir.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you in a little bit.
4:53 P.M. EST