Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cleveland, Ohio
12:39 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One. Thank you for being here as we make our way to Cleveland, Ohio, and onward from there.
As you know, the President is giving a campaign speech about the economy and about the debate over our economic future. I know you'll ask, but don't expect me to preview in any detail that speech because I want you to hear it from the President himself. He looks very much forward to making this presentation.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Jay, the speech has sort of been framed by the campaign as a chance for Obama to lay out his vision on the economy and draw a contrast with Romney's vision. But does the President really think that at this point, after more than three years in office, that the public doesn’t understand or know already what his vision on the economy is?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the President does believe -- I know the President does believe that the American people understand his overall vision of what we need to do to continue to move the economy forward. But what elections are about is, in this case, a choice on the dominant issue of the day, and that is what should we do, what is the right plan, what is the right vision for having the economy grow and create more jobs.
The two candidates here are in agreement on that issue that this is the number-one focus of the American people and will be the issue around which the election will be decided. And what I have said, and the President certainly has for some time now, is that we need to grow the economy by investing in the foundations of a 21st century economy that would be built to last. And that includes investments in education, in innovation, infrastructure, in energy and elsewhere -- not to adopt a proposal or a vision that essentially says we're going to do exactly what we did in the first decade of this century, only more so, even though we know what the results of that approach were -- an approach that said let's let Wall Street write its own rules; let's let insurance companies write their own rules; let's give huge tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest people in the country and hope that that trickles down to have a positive economic impact; let's cut investments dramatically in education and innovation and infrastructure and energy, and cross our fingers that that doesn’t adversely affect our potential for economic growth in the 21st century when, in fact, we know it will do just that.
We've tried that. It didn’t work. Overwhelmingly, Americans share the view that it did not work. And that's what this debate will be about.
Q Two speechwriters on the plane today. Are there last-minute changes going on with the speech? And anything new in the speech? I mean, we've been told that there is probably nothing -- no new proposals.
MR. CARNEY: A couple things on that. The President, as you know, always works on his speeches and this is no different -- continues to refine them. The second point is -- I've addressed this. We have had a lot of debate and discussion about what the right policy choices should be for our economy over these last three years.
There are a number of proposals out there about what we should do. There is the Ryan budget, which Governor Romney has embraced wholly, has said is "marvelous." There are Governor Romney’s own proposals for an additional $5 trillion tax cut. There are the President’s proposals, which include a balanced deficit reduction plan that would reduce our deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years, as well as his proposals for near-term economic growth and job creation.
I think the Speaker of the House offered an opinion today, prior to the President’s speech, where he made yet again the claim that the numerous bills that the House Republicans have passed that they call jobs proposals are what the economy needs right now, ignoring the fact -- and you guys can do this -- do not take my word for it. Ask economists to assess those plans. Ask them if they would have any positive effect on the economy right now. Ask them if they would create jobs right now. And the answer is no. It’s just not accurate to suggest they would.
And that’s why it was a fantastic piece a number of months ago when they were making this argument, when they were arguing about how we needed to -- against the President’s proposal -- we couldn’t raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans because it would hurt small businesses -- and you know their refrain about small businesses -- when, in fact, the small businesses that pay income tax rates at the highest level are hedge fund managers and corporate law firms.
And they could not -- the reporter went from office to office among House Republican leaders and not one of them could come up and name a small business that wasn’t a hedge fund manager or law partner or something like that who would be affected by that change in the tax code. So it’s not on the level.
And what the outside economists have said about the President’s proposals that have not yet been passed -- or have been blocked by the Republicans in Congress, is that they would create jobs now; they would spur economic growth now. So if the debate is, what can we do to help the economy now, the President’s proposals are clearly a better answer than what the Republicans have put forward thus far.
Q It’s been almost a week now since the President, again, called on Congress to take these steps. Not really any movement. What’s the carrot; what’s the stick? I mean, as we go forward, does he just keep saying -- calling again on Congress to do something? Or is there something he can do between now and the election?
MR. CARNEY: You’ll hear the President address that issue. I mean, there is no question that there is gridlock in Washington. There is no question the Republicans have decided, by and large, that their preferred path is to do nothing, to sit on their hands, and hope that the fact that the United States is still recovering from the worst recession in our lifetimes, hoping that because there are still far too many Americans out of work and growth is not where it should be, that they’ll squeak out a victory in the fall election.
And the people who pay the price for that approach are middle-class Americans who are struggling right now in the economy. And it’s the wrong approach. We’re very confident the American people want an end to this kind of gridlock and stalemate. And that’s why this election, I think, will be focused on this debate about what our economic future should be.
It’s simply appalling to accept the idea that Republicans simply refuse to take action on things that can help our economy grow right now and help it create jobs.
Q Jay, can you speak to the juxtaposition --
MR. CARNEY: Before I get to that -- because I know Michael here has probably read it, somebody of you may also -- there’s a Robert Draper book about the House Republicans. It’s worth a read. There’s a great scene in the beginning of a dinner of Republican Senate and House Republican leaders I think on the night of the inauguration of the President. So this is at time when, as you know, America was in unbelievable crisis. The economic crisis was in full bloom. The potential for a full-blown global meltdown was being discussed daily, and a new President had been sworn in. This is a time when Americans expected their leaders in Washington to come together and figure out ways that they could cooperate to help stave off a depression.
And the content of that discussion at dinner was, what can we do to defeat President Obama? What can we do to oppose everything that he proposes? And I think that tells you everything about the stalemate we have in Washington right now.
Q Jay, could you speak to the contrast between this morning’s -- or this afternoon’s economy speech in Ohio and the fundraisers in New York later today, which are more high-end and celebrity-focused? I mean, is there a way to reconcile that? I mean, how do you --
MR. CARNEY: That is an interesting question. The President is campaigning for reelection. It requires any candidate who would do so to raise money. A simple fact not mentioned in your question is that by comparison to his opponent, the President’s reelection campaign -- and I would refer you to the campaign itself -- I’ve just read this in the press, they have the details -- relies overwhelmingly on small donations under $200. The difference is staggering.
So I think that it is incumbent upon everyone who views this to recognize that fact. There’s no question that running for President is an expensive proposition and requires efforts by the candidate and the campaign to raise the money necessary. But to answer your question about where is the support coming for these candidates -- I think a glance at the numbers will tell you everything you need to know.
Q I guess the question is not so much where is the support coming from, but is it difficult -- are there two different messages that transmit from those two events?
MR. CARNEY: The President has supporters among all income groups, and so he’s clearly raising money, in this case, at least at one of the fundraisers, from those who are more affluent. But, again, the President’s campaign receives an overwhelming percentage of its donations from average Americans who are donating less than $200. Compare and contrast that with the Romney campaign. And this is something that I think the campaign is best suited to address.
Q Jay, what are the expectations for the bilateral in the G20 with Putin, given the circumstances this week with the back-and-forth on the attack helicopters in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President looks forward to his first bilateral with President Putin. Our relationship with Russia has been since the President took office and changed our approach one where we cooperate in areas where we agree -- and there have been many of those, and that has been productive and useful for both countries -- and we are clear and transparent and frank about the areas where we disagree. Syria has clearly been one of them. I’m sure that Syria will be among the topics that are discussed, but not the only topic.
Q Jay, one quick logistics question on the speech. Favreau is on the plane today -- did he and the White House speechwriting team write this speech, or did the campaign team write it?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m not sure. Since I know I didn’t write it, I’m not sure. I think the President was --
Q Did a lot of it, but --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Back to Russia really quickly. Because of Russia’s support for the Assad regime, is there any concern that they shouldn’t be allowed to join the WTO this summer? That normalized trade relations with Russia are something that’s going to come up at the G20?
MR. CARNEY: We support Russia’s accession to the WTO and we support measures that need to be taken to help bring that about. I think your point further illustrates what -- more fully illustrates what I was just discussing, which is the fact that we have disagreements with Russia on some matters -- Syria being one of them right now -- does not mean that we cannot move forward with the Russians on areas where we agree or where we are able to see more eye-to-eye. And on Syria, we are going to continue our conversations with the Russians about the need to abandon Assad, if you will, because he has so clearly written in stone what his legacy will be.
Q But why not give them an ultimatum then? Why not say that they can’t join the WTO if they continue --
MR. CARNEY: You’re creating a connection here that I am not suggesting exists. I think that we have very frank discussions with the Russians and will continue to have them about Syria and other issues. And I know that other countries have those same discussions.
Q Do you have any reaction to Sheldon Adelson’s announcement that he could give up to $100 million? And does it send -- or should it send a message to the President’s more well-heeled supporters to get in the game?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into what supporters of the President should or shouldn’t do. I think that your question could be asked to your colleague here who just asked about optics. And there’s a reason why the President believes that the Citizens United decision was -- created an enormous problem for our country with regards to the way our campaigns are financed. And I think the story that you just mentioned is a perfect illustration of that.
I mean, think about how many people are trying -- are placing their support behind a candidate by writing a $50 check or a $100 check, and think how they feel they’ve been heard or that their support will matter when somebody is writing tens of millions of dollars in one check, or two checks.
I’d note that, since we’re on the theme and we’re talking about the economy and the comparing visions here, that Governor Romney is in Ohio today. And I think that one fact I am sure of is that Ohioans understand very well that the President’s decision to save the American automobile industry, to take action to prevent Chrysler and General Motors from liquidating, has been of huge benefit to workers in Ohio and across the region.
And I think that those who opposed that approach, who decreed or declared that Detroit should be allowed to go bankrupt, and that the major American automobile industry should potentially disappear, have a hard case to make when it comes to whose economic policies and which economic policies would best benefit the people of Ohio and the region.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, thank you, guys.
12:55 P.M. EDT