Aboard Air Force One
En Route Iowa City, Iowa
10:38 A.M. CDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way from Colorado to Iowa. As you know, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the President will be delivering remarks on the subject of the absolute, essential need for Congress to take action to ensure that Stafford loan rates for students -- millions of students across the country do not double -- the interest rate on those loans does not double on July 1st. So he will continue to make that case today at the University of Iowa.
He will also visit -- prior to delivering the remarks, he'll participate in a roundtable with five students who currently receive Stafford federal student loans -- five students from the university who -- seniors and juniors, I believe, the five of them are, studying in different fields, all of whom depend upon these loans to enable them to get the education they need to give them the best shot at a good economic future for themselves.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, does the President think that Democrats are under as much of a responsibility to extend the low rates as Republicans, since it was Democrats who basically built in the expiration date in the first place?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he thinks every member of Congress should vote to extend to -- work together and then vote to extend the lower rates. The fact of the matter is that up until we saw a bit of the dam breaking in the last several days, the opposition to doing this was on the Republican side. But it should not be that way. This is the kind of thing, as we've talked about all year in 2012, that should allow us to find bipartisan agreement so we can move forward.
I mean, there are -- even though it's an election year, there are a number of areas that we should be able to get things done on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the American economy.
I saw some stray remark yesterday about someone suggesting that -- a Republican suggesting that the President should stop talking about the student loan issue and focus instead on the economy. And I was just stunned by how narrow-minded those remarks were because this is absolutely about our economy. There is no more essential element to a strong economic future for the American people and this nation than investments in education that allow Americans to compete for the best jobs of the 21st century -- because we're competing not among ourselves anymore but the Chinese and the Indians and the Brazilians and the Europeans and others.
Q Jay, when the Secret Service story first broke down in Cartagena, the President, as you'll recall, said that he would be angry if he found out that the allegations proved to be true. So now that the Secret Service has decided the career fates of all 12 of these people, is he angry?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I think he said as much in the interview he did with Jimmy Fallon last night. But he also believes that the actions that -- of these individuals do not represent the Service as a whole, and as he said last night -- or yesterday afternoon on the interview that was broadcast last night -- that 99 percent of the men and women who work in the Secret Service are absolute professionals who do an extraordinary job protecting the President, protecting his family, protecting others. And that job, as I pointed out, it's important to remember because it’s not just about protecting an individual or his or her family, it’s about protecting the presidency and it’s a vital function in our democracy.
Q I didn't really see anger registered in what he said, the knucklehead comment and so forth, so have you seen him express anger about it?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President said that he -- if the accusations that had surfaced at the time turned out to be true, he would be angry. And of course, he is angry that -- about what he made clear even on that Sunday in Colombia was inappropriate behavior, behavior that is not acceptable for people who work for the United States government, who are representing the American people abroad on trips of the President or other -- on trips by other government leaders, whether they're administration leaders or members of Congress.
Q Does he believe that people in supervisory positions who have not been sanctioned so far ought to bear some responsibility for this?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to comment any further on what remains -- I think it’s important to note that the Secret Service said that its investigation continues. So questions about broader subjects that relate to this and the culture of the Service and sort of a higher altitude review I’ll leave to the Secret Service for now. They continue to take the lead on this matter.
Q -- have any other briefings from the director of the agency?
MR. CARNEY: I know of none that are planned at the moment, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Q -- election results and reports this morning as we were heading to the plane about Newt Gingrich’s plans. Does the President see that the general election campaign is sort of -- that we’re moving into that phase? Does he have any reaction to Romney’s performance last night? Will he address that at all today in his comments? And will it affect how he begins talking to voters in the actual reelection campaign?
MR. CARNEY: Specifically to the question about events yesterday and -- none of the conversations I had with him last night or this morning suggested that he was watching television or caught any remarks. He’s certainly aware of it, and I think -- I would point you to the campaign for a more detailed comment, but our position has always been that we’re observers of this process. This President certainly knows from experience that primaries can take a certain amount of time. This primary process has taken a certain amount of time. Once it’s wrapped up, then clearly there will be -- and there seems to be a Republican nominee, then the President will engage in a debate --
Q -- there’s a Republican nominee now, you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: I am reading your stories or the stories of your colleagues that suggest that, and there seems to be a general acknowledgment that the process has moved to that stage if not formally, then informally, that assessments are being made that the race is over on that side.
Q And if you could segue from election to student loans -- (laughter) -- I know it's all week --
MR. CARNEY: -- because after all, that’s why we’re here.
Q So President Obama won the youth vote with like a two-thirds margin in 2008. Polls show he has a pretty strong lead in early polling now with 18 to 29. Does President Obama believe that he is in danger of his support from young Americans eroding, and why?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry?
Q It's a question about whether -- does he feel like he has something to prove to younger voters in terms of his policies?
MR. CARNEY: You're talking about campaign tactics and stuff, and I’ll refer you to the campaign for that. The President is embarked on a trip here that is focused on a specific policy and a specific call to Congress to take action on a specific policy that affects young people, millions of them across the country. I mean, that’s just a fact.
And he has been calling in very clear terms on Congress to act on this measure, because failing to take action would result in interest rates on these student loans doubling, which would in turn have a very negative impact on millions of students across the country. That’s bad for the students. It’s bad for their families. It’s bad for the economy in the near term and in the long term. So these are very serious economic issues.
Q Can you address the challenges that the President faces in making his case to young people this time around and engaging them not only in the political process but in recognizing his accomplishments over the last four years? You know, there’s a widespread perception that in 2008, he energized the youth vote with this sort of one-time message that would be very difficult to replicate. This is not an election, necessarily, about change, it's about here's what I've done and here's what we still have to do. How do you engage the youth and what are your challenges there?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. There was no attempt even within it to pretend that it was anything but a campaign question so I’ll refer you to the campaign. The President is focused on -- as President -- pursuing the policies that he thinks will help the American economy grow and help the American middle class stabilize and grow. And that includes students across the country who depend on these loans, who depend on Pell grants, which would be slashed dramatically under the Republican budget.
I want to note that while we have seen expressions of support for the President’s insistence that we take action to prevent these interest rates from doubling by Republicans, that is not reflected in their governing document, the Ryan/Republican budget, which would allow these rates to double, which would slash Pell grants, which would devastate other investments in education.
So at a policy level, the President feels very strongly that his commitment to students and to education -- higher education as well as obviously primary and high school education -- is profoundly documented by the action he’s taken and the policies he’s supported.
Q There are reports today that Iran is considering altering its nuclear program, perhaps allowing more U.N. inspectors in to avoid the tough EU sanctions. Have you guys seen those reports? Do you have any intel about it or any comment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly don’t have any comment on intel. But I would simply say that there’s a process in place through the P5-plus-1 talks, which have been through one round now and are scheduled to resume in Baghdad. And that’s the forum in which to discuss steps forward. But there are clear lines here about what actions the Iranians need to take. They need to be serious in these negotiations about focusing on their nuclear program, on their weapons program.
And the goal here is -- the policy of the United States is prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The approach by all the nations involved in this process is focused on Iran forsaking its nuclear ambitions in a verifiable way, demonstrating that their intentions are not military in nature, and then moving forward.
So I'm not going to -- incremental proposals that are thrown out there outside of the process I'm not going to be able to focus on. We're focused on holding the Iranians accountable, which the sanctions regime that is in place and the one that you mentioned that’s going to kick in is all about, and that doesn’t change. Promises of better behavior down the road, given the past, won't change our position, and I don’t believe it will change anyone's position.
But having said that, the first round of talks were promising, and the fact that there's a second round is also promising. But we're very clear-eyed about this, very clear-eyed about Iranian behavior and the need for them to demonstrate their willingness to forsake their nuclear weapons ambitions through action and not just promises.
Q And is the United States aware of any shift in position or tactics from the Iranians?
MR. CARNEY: I just have no comment on that particular issue.
Q In the President's interview last night he suggested that in previous campaigns he's at least had some relationship with his opponents, some degree of contact. And he said that he didn’t really have an occasion to get to know Governor Romney. Do you expect that at some point he'll call Governor Romney to officially kick off this race? Will he reach out and initiate contact in that way?
MR. CARNEY: I have no -- necessarily any expectation of that. I mean, you could ask the campaign. I think he was responding to a question specifically, do you know Mitt Romney? And he was being honest that while they had met, he did not know him well, because unlike in his race against Senator McCain -- he and Senator McCain had served in the Senate together, and he had served in the Senate with Secretary Clinton and then-Senator Biden -- Vice President Biden-- and others. So he knew a lot of his opponents.
He made the observation that within party primaries you’re more likely to know your primary opponents, but he was just making an observation.
Q Can I ask a follow, too? There’s a new ABC-Post poll out today on favorability ratings of the First Lady and Ann Romney and Hillary Clinton among others. The First Lady has very high favorability ratings -- 69 percent. Do you guys -- I mean, as she becomes more involved in the President’s reelection effort, is there any concern that as she kind of moves into that campaign role that she might lose some of that?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a purely campaign-related question, and I’ll refer you to the campaign for that.
Q Were you there when the yogurt got spilled?
MR. CARNEY: I was within 10 or 15 feet, but I didn’t see it happen.
Q Oh, you didn’t see it?
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is that -- the young woman was on television this morning -- is that she placed her yogurt down on the ground because she wanted to shake hands with the President, and there was sort of a press against that ropeline, and somebody kicked the yogurt, and there was a spoon in it that kind of flipped and a little -- but she was extraordinarily -- I didn’t actually see it, but I heard about it, she talked about it on the Today Show this morning, I think, and she was very gracious.
Q I’d ask the campaign but they’re not on this trip so -- so much of 2008 was big college rallies -- 8,000 people in a stadium, 10,000 people in a stadium. Has the President talked at all yesterday or this morning about being back out there with students in a big room, whether it reminds him of 2008? Sort of how it feels compared to doing smaller policy events?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say, setting aside the campaign nature of the question, the President really enjoys getting out of Washington and meeting with Americans across the country. He always enjoys meeting with students at universities, which he’s done throughout his time in office. And there’s nothing new about that as it relates to this trip.
I mean, young Americans have enormous amounts of enthusiasm and hope and energy about their own personal futures, about the country’s future. And there’s no question that -- and anxiety about their futures and the economy. And I think the President believes that -- and he's not unique in this and he wouldn’t suggest he was -- but that’s why you get involved in politics, because it’s as much about the future as the present day. And students and Americans who are younger than that even, than college students, really are -- those who engage in -- take public office and engage in policy debates and try to get things done are motivated by a desire to make the future better for younger Americans. And I think the President always feels that especially keenly when he is with college students or younger Americans.
Q -- foreign leader calls during the course of this trip? Any developments on Syria or North Korea that you can share with us?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, there’s various things in the news. I don’t have anything -- the President obviously gets his briefings and was making some calls from Air Force One, but not foreign leaders.
Q Has he responded at all to the Mad Cow scare? There was a report today that South Korean retailers are going to stop importing U.S. beef. Has he been in touch with Secretary Vilsack? Is he following that at all?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe he's been in touch with Secretary Vilsack. He's certainly aware of the incident. I would refer you to the Department of Agriculture and note what Secretary Vilsack has said, which is that American beef and dairy are safe, and the Agricultural Department has obviously been very focused on looking into this matter. But they have all the details.
Q Jay, can you tell us anything that we haven’t been told yet about the trip to Georgia on Friday? And also, specifically, do you recall when the last time the President and the First Lady traveled together on an official trip?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to take the question about the last time they were together on an official trip. I mean, I know I’ve been on them, so it's happened in my time here. I don’t know what we put out about the Georgia visit. It relates to veterans. But I’ll see what more we can preview.
Q That would be great.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks a lot.
10:56 A.M. CDT