Aboard Air Force One
En Route New York, New York
11:07 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for joining us this morning as we make our way to New York. As you know, the President will travel today to New York to tour Hurricane Sandy damage and meet with local officials, first responders, FEMA staff, and families recovering from the storm.
His visit will include an aerial tour of storm damage, where he will be joined by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Secretary Shaun Donovan; a visit to a local FEMA disaster recovery center; and a walking tour of an affected neighborhood.
New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will travel with the President aboard Air Force One; they are with us right now. The President is speaking with them as I speak.
I wanted to also note that Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Donovan this morning were in Long Island meeting with local officials and viewing response and recovery efforts there. I’d also like to note that as this is my first Air Force One gaggle after the campaign, it’s hard to do this without my faithful companion, Jen Psaki, and I miss her, so we brought another Jen with us, Jen Palmieri, who’s aboard today.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Jay, on the trip, earlier this week, Governor Cuomo had asked -- or said he was going to request $30 billion in federal aid to help basically rebuild New York. What are the President’s thoughts on that? And what role will he play in that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we can't comment specifically on that plan, as we haven’t seen it, but the administration continues to provide all available resources to support our state and local partners, as well as affected families. The administration, as you know, has obligated more than $1.5 billion to support response and recovery efforts, which includes more than $600 million now, already approved in direct assistance to hundreds of thousands of individuals impacted by the storm. And we will continue to work with the governors on ongoing recovery efforts, including supporting their efforts to develop appropriate long-term housing plans for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
Q Jay, violence is escalating in Israel and Gaza. I know the President had a phone call last night, but what else is the President doing to prevent this from escalating into a full-out war?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to deescalate.
As you know, President Obama spoke yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President Morsi. In both conversations, the President reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense. President Obama also urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Hamas -- let me just finish here -- Hamas claims to have the best interest of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any close to achieving self-determination.
Q Jay, Speaker Boehner says that poll data indicates the public is actually on the Republican side in the fiscal cliff talks. He is citing, I guess among other things, some Gallup poll that says that people favor lower tax rates and tax reform, doing stuff to strengthen entitlement programs, and cutting government spending. I was wondering, do you agree with him, the public is on the Republican side? Do you have a response?
MR. CARNEY: We had a lot of debate about which polls were accurate, and we obviously believe that our reading of data about how the public feels has been consistently more accurate than others. But I would simply say that, as the President said yesterday in his press conference, even a greater majority of Americans than voted for him last week supports the idea that there has to be revenue in our approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, and that revenue ought to come from asking the very wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit extra. I think survey after survey reflects that fundamental fact.
And as the President said, we can solve these fiscal challenges if we take a balanced approach. And we can do that in a way that does not place the burden unfairly and unduly on middle-class families, does not place the burden unduly and unfairly on seniors or families with disabled children or others. It is simply unacceptable to go back to policies that failed that stuck the middle class with the bill in order to give very expensive tax cuts to the wealthiest in our country. We can't afford it. And the President will not sign under any circumstances an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of American earners.
Q Jay, speaking of wealthier Americans, have you had occasion to speak to President Obama about Governor Romney's phone conversation with donors yesterday in which he described the "gifts" that President Obama offered certain constituencies in his campaign strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Let me just say that I think that view of the American people, of the electorate and of the election is at odds with the truth of what happened last week. And as we talked about a lot and the President talked about a lot, making it easier for Americans to go to college, that's good for America. It's good for all Americans. It's good for the economy. Making health care available to young people who can stay on their parents’ plans -- that's good for those families, it's good for those young people, so that they aren't bankrupted in their twenties by an illness. And it's good for the economy, and it's good for all of us.
The President pursues policies that have at their core a desire to build the middle class, strengthen the middle class, make the middle class more secure, because that's what makes America more secure. So I think it's just not the view we take about the choices -- the decision the American people made last week.
Q Did you talk to the President about that?
MR. CARNEY: I talk to the President about a lot of issues, but I don't have a readout of any conversations with him on that subject.
Q Jay, yesterday, Governor Christie said that the President had called him every day, starting the day before the storm hit, through this weekend. Does the fact that he stopped calling him every day mean that New Jersey is fine? Or why did he stop calling him every day?
MR. CARNEY: No, the President, as Governor Christie has noted, has been in regular contact with both the Governor of New Jersey, the Governor of New York, the Governor of Connecticut, a state that was also hard hit, and other leaders in those severely affected areas. And he'll continue to be in regular contact with state and local officials who are still dealing with the aftermath of one of the worst storms in our history.
This is why we're traveling today. It's why he had a meeting yesterday on our recovery efforts. It's why you saw him throughout the campaign and since the election ended, focusing on this issue, because a storm passes and sometimes attention turns elsewhere. But the fact is, is that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to help New York and New Jersey and those communities recover from this devastating storm.
Q I’m just speaking of the aftermath yesterday -- he seemed to almost go out of his way to dismiss the idea of a carbon tax, kind of rule it out. Why did he -- why was he so --
MR. CARNEY: We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one. The point the President was making is that our focus right now is the same as the American people’s focus, which is on the need to extend economic growth, expand job creation. And task number one is dealing with these deadlines that pose real challenges to our economy, as he talked about yesterday.
Everyone rightly is worried about the fiscal cliff and the effect that going over the cliff would have on the economy. And as the President said yesterday, well, let’s do something that we all agree on that would mitigate over half of the potential damage caused by the fiscal cliff -- that would be caused by the fiscal cliff. Let’s pass tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. The Senate has done that. The only obstacle is the House, the Republicans in the House; obviously, the Democrats in the House are absolutely ready to pass that tax cut, the extension of tax cuts for 98 percent.
It is inconceivable to me, going back to I think the first question, that you could make an argument to the American people that it is right economic policy to hold the middle class hostage, to tell the middle class that their taxes are going to go up unless the top 2 percent of the American people, the wealthiest American people, the millionaires and billionaires get a tax cut. That's just bad policy, and it’s --
Q So if you don’t do anything with the carbon tax, what can you do about climate change in the short term? He talked about a national conversation, but beyond that, what does he want to do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President, as he spoke about yesterday, has already taken significant steps, including doubling our fuel-efficiency standards, including doubling our renewable energy production and the investments that we’ve made in other areas of clean energy that will improve the situation from what it would have been in terms of carbon emissions.
But there is more work to do. I don't have items that I’m going to lay out here on Air Force One for you, but I think the President gave a pretty expansive response to a question about this yesterday.
Q Can we expect climate change to come up in his speech today, in his prepared remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I would not expect that. He’s focused on the recovery efforts underway in New York in the aftermath of this devastating storm. The President made clear yesterday that we can't attribute any one single weather event to climate change. He’s going to focus today on the very important recovery efforts that are underway in a coordinated way with federal, state and local officials working together to bring relief.
Q -- and kind of federal investigation into why it’s taking so long to restore power? I mean, it’s more than two weeks out and a lot of people still don’t have power all through the New York region.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of a federal investigation or proposals for that. We’ve worked, obviously, very closely with state and local officials to, in advance of the storm, pre-position generators so that they could be surged into affected areas. We took extraordinary efforts to bring equipment from the West Coast using DoD assets, Defense Department assets, to the Northeast so that assets from -- the equipment from power companies on the West Coast could be brought to bear in the effort to restore power in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
We took, as you know and have written about, a number of measures to bring fuel to the affected areas, and we’re going to continue to do what the President has instructed the administration to do, which is cut through red tape, bull through the bureaucracy, make sure that we are doing everything we can to assist state and local officials in these recovery efforts.
Q Does he think the power companies are doing enough? In other words, if you had a threat of a meeting with the President, these power companies might be more responsive.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President with executives from power companies, both in the affected areas and around the country, in the immediate aftermath of the storm. And he made clear that restoring power is an absolute priority, and he continues to make that clear in the meetings that he has.
Q Jay, in the press conference yesterday, the President said he had been studying other second terms and had learned from --
MR. CARNEY: I think he said he’s familiar with the literature.
Q What exactly is he trying to avoid? What are the pitfalls of a second term?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President said very clearly that the mandate he received last Tuesday was a mandate to get to work, was a mandate to help the middle class. And so he doesn’t view the election as anything but a call by the American people for their President and their leaders in Congress to get to work to resolve the challenges that are very much right in front of them so that this economy can continue to grow and it can continue to create jobs.
I mean, we have big, big issues in front of us. And one of the first and easiest steps that can be taken to signal to the American people that Washington can work and can work in a bipartisan way would be the passage of an extension of tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. This should be easy. We all agree, Democrats and Republicans alike. The President said he’s willing to sign it the minute that bill gets to his desk. Let’s do that. That eliminates half -- more than half of the fiscal cliff, and would be a signal to the American people that we take these challenges seriously and that we can put ideology aside and get to work helping the economy and helping the middle class.
Q Can I go into the weeds for one second? We know you’re not going to sign anything that extends for the top 2 percent the Bush tax cuts, but are you willing to do something that still lets that sunset but lowers the tax rate for the upper income and sort of offsets that money somewhere else? Is there wiggle room in how you get that revenue from the top 2 percent?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I would say, as the President -- echoing what the President said. There’s no wiggle room when it comes to math. The math has to add up. The numbers have to add up. The President is absolutely open to ideas from any corner on how to resolve these issues, how to ensure we tackle our long-term fiscal challenges in a balanced way, in a way that includes substantial revenues -- revenues that need to come from those who can afford it most, and those who do not need tax breaks.
But the math has to add up. I think you heard Secretary Geithner make clear that you need -- one of the reasons why the President talked about during the campaign the Clinton-era rates for income taxes were a preferable way to go, or a good way to go, allowing that rate to rise, was because we saw, A, that would produce the kind of revenue that is necessary for a balanced approach; and, two, it has been tested by real-world experience, not magic imaginings about dynamic scoring.
So what we know about -- even though there were many at the time in the Republican Party, including some of those who are now leaders of the Republican Party, who predicted with absolute confidence that passage of the Clinton budget in 1993 would lead to massive unemployment and economic recession, and general decline of America -- what we saw was the opposite. We saw the longest peacetime expansion in our history; we saw 23 million jobs created; we saw deficits turned into surpluses.
Now, the President is not wedded to every detail in his plan. He has made that clear. He is willing and ready to compromise, and he welcomes the tone and content of the statements that many Republican leaders have said about their willingness to include revenues and to compromise. That is very important.
So he is open to new ideas, but he will not accept a proposal that has some vague promise of revenues produced from closing loopholes and limiting deductions from the wealthy that is coupled with very concrete burdens placed on the middle class and seniors. That’s not acceptable.
Q So, Jay, just to be clear on that point --
Q Who is on board today? Is he going to talk to --
Q Math adds up means no dynamic scoring, right? No dynamic scoring?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President talked about that yesterday.
Q What about -- Schumer is on board. Is he going to talk to him about a million dollars?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they were talking when I was here, but I think they were probably talking about the situation in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Q He doesn’t want to talk to Schumer about his idea --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say that at all. I'm saying that I'm here with you, so I'm not listening to that conversation.
Anybody else? Thank you.
11:24 A.M. EST