Aboard Air Force One
En Route San Francisco, California
See below for a follow up to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing.
*To date, Chrysler has paid back $10.6 billion to the United States government, which includes all of the money committed by the Obama administration and some from the previous administration. GM has paid back $26 billion dollars to date; the United States Government still owns 500 million shares of GM stock.
11:57 A.M. PST
MR. CARNEY: Good morning to you. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I just want to mention a couple of things.
As you may have noticed, there was another milestone reached yesterday -- or today, rather -- in the resurgence of the American automobile industry. Today we learned that each of the Big 3 automakers posted a yearly profit for 2011. For the first time since 2004, all of those companies are operating in the black.
As Gene Sperling, the Director of the National Economic Council, notes, those aren’t the only milestones we've seen recently in the resurgence of the American auto industry or in the comeback of the American manufacturing sector. The January 2012 Jobs Report released earlier this month included another little noticed milestone, the number of auto industry jobs added since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy after June of 2009 now exceeds 200,000, marking the strongest period of auto jobs growth since the late 1990s.
The positive trend is particularly strong in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing sector, which has added 121,900 jobs, a nearly 20 percent increase, since June of 2009. And that growth is particularly notable given that some experts estimated that at least 1 million jobs could have been lost if GM and Chrysler had been liquidated, which was the preferred course of some people who were critics of the President's decision to save the U.S. automobile industry.
I also wanted to note, if you haven't seen, that this afternoon the Obama administration sent to Congress the Consolidating and Reforming Government Act of 2012, which would reorganize and consolidate the federal government. To guarantee the government reorganization will always result in a more efficient government, the President's proposal adds a new requirement that any reorganization plan must save money or reduce the size of government.
As you know, the President has put forward a proposal, a component of that, which would be the first stage of utilizing this reorganization authority to consolidate agencies that work to promote economic growth and trade abroad.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit about these three-way talks between the U.S., Afghanistan and the Taliban, and the status of the talks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Kate, almost all insurgencies come to an end through a political settlement, a political reconciliation. We believe that an end to the conflict in Afghanistan will come when there is a political reconciliation. We have supported an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and the principles we have put forward with regard to that process is that any Taliban who want to participate in that reconciliation process and in those negotiations would have to renounce al Qaeda, lay down their arms, cease violence, and pledge allegiance, if you will, to the Afghan constitution and its requirement that the rights of minorities and women are respected.
Q So are there talks between, though, on the U.S. side, and how long have they been going on for?
MR. CARNEY: We are obviously a part of this process that is Afghan-led. We keep the Afghan government abreast of any conversations that we have. But it would not be helpful to the process to name individuals or get too specified about it. The principles that we laid out for the process are very clear. What is indisputable is that the President’s policy in Afghanistan, his strategy, his military strategy, has helped prepare the ground for this process. But you should also be sure that the military campaign continues even as this process takes place.
Q Can you tell us about the process underway to find a successor for the World Bank President, who’s involved in it?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information to provide to you on that.
Q There have been reports that Tom Donilon, Jack Lew and Tim Geithner will be leading -- steering the process from the White House. Can you confirm that?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t confirm that, I’m afraid. Those gentlemen would certainly be appropriate to the task, but I can’t confirm that, no.
Q Is there a likely timeline, an estimate of when it would make sense for there to be a candidate?
MR. CARNEY: I only note that Mr. Zoellick -- his term ends in June and I think he’s leaving then. But other than that I have no timetable to give you.
Q -- need to have someone to start in July?
MR. CARNEY: No, you’re putting words in my mouth.
MR. CARNEY: I would note that, so obviously that is when the current person in that position is stepping down. But there’s a process that will take place but I don’t have any details on it for you.
Q Jay, auto bailout -- in October the White House predicted or estimated that the taxpayers would lose $14 billion on the entire bailout effort. Does that estimate still hold? Or what’s your current outlook on the cost of the whole thing?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take that question and get -- find out if there are new numbers on the overall cost. Obviously, GM and Chrysler have paid back significant portions of it. Again, I should get more details on it for you.*
Q Jay, what kind of calls is the President making on the payroll tax cut? Is he trying to secure votes right now? There was a report that he called Senator Cardin, for example, because the Maryland delegation had some concerns about how this would affect federal workers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he did speak with Senator Cardin -- I don’t have any readout on the content of the conversation. But he’s not making any calls today that I’m aware of. I believe, just reading the news reports by your colleagues, that the process is moving forward, and the President looks forward to signing into law an extension of a tax cut for 160 million Americans and an extension of unemployment benefits that is vital for people looking for work and vital to the economy and our recovery. As he said just the other day, as soon as Congress acts he will sign that bill into law.
Q Jay, you've talked about the -- in recent -- when you've been asked over the past month, couple months, about the President's schedule, that he's really focused on governing, he's not campaigning. This trip has seven fundraisers, two sort of official events to talk about the economy and jobs. How would you characterize it now? Are we seeing a new phase where more of his attention is focused on the campaign? And will that continue to ramp up in the coming days and weeks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're right that this trip involves a number of political events. I think as I probably noted back when we discussed this in the past, as this year progresses, the President will, of course, have to spend more time on the campaign, on the reelection effort, and that that would be a gradual escalation as required by the process. And I think that's part of what we're seeing in this event.
But it sort of ebbs and flows. We're consolidating a lot of events out here because he's here, and then there will be periods of relatively few political events and then more concentration, depending on what's on the schedule.
Q Just to follow on that, there are some critics talking about what these trips cost the taxpayers. There was a woman as we were driving through the neighborhood that yelled, "That's my tax dollars at work." What would you say to -- what would the President say?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this President follows -- abides by -- the White House abides by all of the rules that govern how campaign costs are picked up by the campaign, and that is absolutely the case with this trip. There's a fairly complex process by which campaign costs are allocated and picked up by the campaign. I would refer you to the campaign for more details. But we do it absolutely by the book -- in the same manner that President Bush did, President Clinton did.
Q A question on Iran. Iran's government sent a letter to Lady Ashton indicating interest in talking about nuclear weapons. Does the White House see that as an opening, or is it basically more of a stall tactic from Iran?
MR. CARNEY: We're reviewing the letter. You're accurate that there was a letter sent in response to Lady Ashton's letter on behalf of the P5-plus-1 -- or the P5. I don't have a review to give to you. We have certainly noted in the past -- I have and certainly others have -- that the Iranians needed to respond to that letter. So they have. But I don't want to make any qualitative judgments about their response at this time, except to note that, as the President said, there is time and space here for a diplomatic solution to this if Iran chooses to engage in constructive behavior. That has always been our position. If Iran chooses a path of honoring its international obligations and working with the international community to remove the world's concerns about its development of a nuclear weapons program, then there is an opportunity for Iran to work its way out of the corner here -- the corner that its behavior has led them into.
So when we have more to say about the letter, we'll certainly be ready to talk about it with you.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit about the Boeing trip tomorrow and how that fits in with the whole NRLB dispute earlier this year, criticism that the President didn’t weigh in more strongly on the South Carolina -- the whole plant issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I had this question not from you but from somebody else earlier this week when we were still at the White House. This trip has everything to do with the President's focused on manufacturing and on increasing our exports, and nothing to do with the matter that you just raised. So Boeing, as you know, for those of you who were on the Asia trip, is doing a lot of business overseas. That's very good for Boeing; it's very good for American manufacturing, American exports. And the President will certainly highlight that at his event tomorrow.
Q In terms of the Chinese leader Xi, yesterday, late last night, you sent out an additional statement about the fact that the White House did raise, the administration did raise the issue of the visa for Ambassador Cook with the Chinese leader. I'm wondering if you could characterize what his reaction was to that and whether you're pushing to continue to send the Ambassador on another trip to talk about religious issues.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I noted in that statement that the Chinese have assured us that they're working on a visit by the Ambassador. And would simply leave it at that.
Q Jay, Saturday, American icon Whitney Houston will be laid to rest in New Jersey. Has the President been following the news of her death at all? I know you said you hadn’t spoken with him earlier in the week. And does he plan to mark her passing in any way?
MR. CARNEY: I don't believe so. He certainly is aware of and knows about her tragic death, and as I said earlier this week, his thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially her daughter. But I haven't had any further discussions with him about it.
12:09 P.M. PST