Carney talks trade, the Saudi ambassador and more.
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: I apologize. I know we gave the two-minute a little more than two minutes ago. Something came up.
Q What? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Nothing newsworthy, I promise you.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I had that.
Q No, maybe it came up — (laughter) — thinking about coming out here, you know.
MR. CARNEY: Anybody else, any other one-liners?
Thanks for being here today. Before we get to questions, I just wanted to say that we’re very pleased that today Congress is taking up three important trade agreements that will help strengthen our economy and create jobs. As you know, the President has strongly supported these trade agreements and, in fact, worked very hard to get the best possible trade agreement with South Korea, and we’re glad to see that Congress is taking them up and hopefully will approve them tonight or today.
I would say that that’s an indication of the kind of cooperation that this President has had and will continue to have with Republicans on areas where they agree. Patent reform is another example of the kind of cooperation between Republicans in the Congress, as well as Democrats, and this President. That is a piece of legislation that Republicans said was very important. The President agreed; he has signed it into law.
Having noted that, I would say that instead of continuing to focus on creating jobs and getting the American people back to work, tomorrow the House of Representatives is scheduled to turn its attention to a divisive, politically motivated piece of legislation that unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today, and it is legislation that will not create a single job, when job creation and economic growth is the American people’s highest priority.
The House has also been focused on measures that would either eliminate or severely constrict our ability to keep our air and water clean. Again, these kinds of measures have no job-creating potential, certainly not in the near term, setting aside their merits. The priorities that the American people have right now are the economy and jobs, and that’s the priorities that this President is focused on, as you know.
The President is — going back to that piece of legislation that I mentioned before that comes up tomorrow in the House — the President’s senior advisors will recommend that he veto this legislation if it is presented to him. It’s time for Congress to meet its responsibility, put these kinds of divisive measures aside and take action on jobs right now.
With that, Ben Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two topics, please. On the failed plot to murder the Saudi ambassador, does the White House consider that an act of war?
MR. CARNEY: We consider it what it was, which is an attempted terrorist act to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here in the United States. I think it’s important to call things what they are. And the fact of the matter is that the United States disrupted a conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a plot that was directed by elements of the Iranian government. And the disruption of this plot represents a significant achievement by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
It’s a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government’s longstanding use of violence. And we consider an effort to assassinate a diplomat in the United States to be a flagrant violation of international law. As you know, we are committed to holding the Iranians accountable.
We have charged two individuals because of their involvement in this serious plot, and have sanctioned several others. We have imposed additional sanctions today on Mahan Air, which provides transportation, funds, transfers and personnel travel services to the IRGC, the Republican Guard. We are actively engaged in a very concerted diplomatic outreach to many capitals, to the U.N. in New York as well, to explain what happened so we can try to preempt any efforts by Iran to be successful in their efforts to try to deflect responsibility, and so we can enlist more countries in working together against this escalation by Iran.
Q Can you put in some perspective from the White House view how massive the response could have been by the United States had this plot succeeded? I mean, is there any doubt that there — is there little doubt there would have been some sort of military response to this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s speculating on what might have happened had we not succeeded in disrupting this plot because of the excellent work and coordination between our law enforcement agencies and our intelligence agencies.
In this arena, we take no options off the table. But in dealing with Iran, we are clearly focused on working through economic measures, sanctions, as well as diplomatic measures to isolate Iran. And we’ve had, we think, substantial success doing that. For the first time in a long time, the Iranian economy is not growing, and we think that is a result both of poor decision-making by the Iranian leadership, but also by the impact of the substantial sanctions that we and others have placed on them.
And this President has been very focused on holding up Iranian behavior so that it is clearly seen by other nations around the world. And that enables us to work cooperatively with our international partners to isolate and put pressure on Iran in a way that has never really been achieved before.
Q On that, one more quickly on that last point. What would be a satisfactory response from the world community?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said, we’re working with — in a bilateral way with other countries and other capitals to discuss what happened, the seriousness of this plot, and the involvement of the Iranian government in it, and working both bilaterally with other countries as well as internationally through the U.N. and other institutions, to continue to isolate Iran through a variety of means.
Q A quick one on the jobs front. We know the White House is working with the Senate on what happens now, when the pieces might come forward. Can you tell the American public that might be looking for action on some of these pieces when they can expect action? What might come first? What’s the plan?
MR. CARNEY: I will leave it to the leaders of the Senate — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — to fill in the details of what we hope will be a series of votes in the Senate on the component parts of the American Jobs Act — because, as you point out, there’s a lot of interest out there in this jobs act being passed.
And last night, let’s just be clear what we saw happen — a majority of the United States Senate voted in favor of legislation that is supported by the majority of the American people, that is paid for in a way that has the support of the majority of the American people, and it was blocked by Republicans who — none of them, not a single Republican senator voted for it, which would suggest perhaps that there isn’t an economic or jobs problem in the states that those senators represent. But I don’t think that’s the case.
Having been through that vote last night, we now expect the Senate to move forward and hold votes on individual component pieces on it. And we’ve said all along, we want Congress to pass it in full. If that doesn’t happen, the President wants Congress to take action on the individual components of it. And if measures come to him that have passed and are paid for and they’re paid for in a way that meets his principles, then he will sign them into law and he will say, “Where is the rest?”
Because one of the reasons — when the President, the Vice President, and their team, the team here, crafted this proposal there were two priorities: One, you had to have measures in it that would have direct and immediate impact on the economy, on growth and on job creation. And, two, they wanted it to have measures — they wanted it to be filled with measures that had traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, or the kinds of measures that had — which I think goes to the whole argument about whether or not this was a political exercise or a legislative exercise.
It was a legislative exercise, and it is a legislative exercise. And that is why it has within it things that Republicans have traditionally supported. And we hope, moving forward, perhaps by breaking it up, Republicans will support it and hear the call from their constituents that they want Washington to take action on their number-one priority.
I want to move it around. I want to go up and back — anybody in the back there? Yes, ma’am.
Q Yes. Just to follow on that, will the President be proposing which legislation comes forward, which piece, or is that entirely in Reid’s hand? Which one would start first if they start –
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously consult with and coordinate with Senate leadership as well as the House leadership regularly and I’m sure we’ll have those conversations. But it’s Senator Reid’s prerogative to make those decisions. And we’ll discuss that with him, but I’ll leave it to him to make any announcements that he might have in terms of how to proceed and on what schedule.
And then I’ll come forward — yes.
Q Jay, based on what U.S. officials know about the Iran plot, how high up does the knowledge and involvement go? Does it go all the way up to Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader?
MR. CARNEY: Clearly, the plotting of this attempted assassination happened at senior levels of the Quds Force. Beyond that, I can’t get any more specific. But it’s significant in and of itself that we believe it’s clear that senior levels of the Quds Force were engaged in the plotting.
Q Now, how broad are we thinking of Iran policies going on right now? You mentioned — you called this a “dangerous escalation.” Obviously, it’s of a different order than the types of issues that you were looking at when these sanctions were developed. Is this a time for a major rethinking of the policy toward Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are obviously responding to this with some of the actions that we’ve already taken and some of the efforts that we’ll be making working with our international partners. And we will hold Iran accountable for its actions here.
And I would simply step back to look at the President’s overall policy. He came in and he made it clear that we would engage with Iran if Iran was willing to change its behavior. And by taking that approach it made it clear to the world that Iran was the problem. And that has allowed us to rally international support behind efforts to isolate Iran, to put pressure on Iran, to sanction Iran or individuals within Iran. And that has had an impact, which I described earlier. We will continue to pursue those efforts and intensify them in light of this very serious attempted assassination.
Q But can you be any more specific about the next steps? Do you go to the Security Council? What are the next steps? Are there going to be sanctions –
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re going to work — I won’t be more specific, but we will work with, as the Secretary of State said yesterday I believe, with other capitals, as well as in New York at the United Nations, in talking with our partners and international institutions about what transpired here, what a serious thing it is to target an ambassador in a third country, and why we need to take action to ensure that Iran is held accountable. But I don’t have any specific steps to describe to you today.
Q Jay, The New York Times reported Sunday on a memo that the Justice Department gave the White House authorizing the assassination Anwar al-Awlaki. Can you confirm the existence of the memo, and will it be released, as Senator Feinstein has requested?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, as you know, I’m not going to discuss matters of that nature. I can simply say as a general matter of fact, that Mr. Awlaki was an operational leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was directly involved in plots to perform — that would have resulted in terrorist acts against the United States. And it is — I think it’s important to remember that when we assess this overall question.
Q Were there any other Americans or targets on that list?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to — as others who were here when this happened, I’m just not going to engage in a conversation about that.
Q You said that the environmental regulations that the House is talking about rolling back won’t create any jobs. But didn’t the President at the Jobs Council the other day talk about the very choice between environmental regulations and job creation, and how this was a debate the nation needed to have, to talk about 10,000 jobs that come with it, 10,000 new cases of asthma? Didn’t he acknowledge that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President does believe, as you know — because he launched the first ever substantial regulatory look-back so that this administration would scour the books to identify outdated or duplicative or overly burdensome regulations, and either minimize them or do away with them — that there is an issue here with regulation that we need to address in a smart way.
What my point is — and this is a point that was made I think even today by AP in a fact check — is that even if you agree with Republican policy proposals aimed at deregulation, there is no case to be made that if enacted those proposals would result in an immediate, positive impact on the economy or in job creation. And so my point at the top was simply that there is a problem now that needs to be addressed. The President has a plan to address the problem we have now, which is a need to grow the economy and create jobs.
Because, I mean, it’s simply — if the answer is there is nothing we can do, nothing we should do, then that suggests that there is a willingness to live with 9.1 percent unemployment and to live with fairly modest economic growth — the kind of modest economic growth that will not add to our employment rolls.
And the President is not satisfied with that, and that’s why he has pushed the American Jobs Act. And the contrast that I think is important to make here in terms of the jobs — what they have called the jobs plan that the Republicans have put forward contains within it in its cut taxes, cut regulations, cut spending, no measures that would have — even if you believe everything within that package was meritorious, no measures that would have demonstrable impact on the economy and jobs in the short term. And don’t just take my word for it; Macro Economic Advisors, Moody’s, they have assessed it, such as it is, and made that same point, even as they said that there are some positive proposals within it.
Q I’m not comparing it to the President’s jobs bill, but just as a matter of principle. The White House itself a few weeks ago decided not to go forward with an EPA regulation because of concern as to what the impact would be on the economy during a fragile time for the economy –
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that — let me just –
Q I’m just wondering why, when you do it, you guys are taking business and the economy into account, but when they do it, it’s something else entirely.
MR. CARNEY: My point is — on that specific one, I think the issue here was creating uncertainty for businesses when, in fact, we were going to revisit these standards in two years. That was the reason that the President laid out.
But putting aside that specific one, my point is not that there might not be benefits to some streamlining or even elimination of some overly burdensome regulations — the President has made that clear with his rollback — but that there is no — that is not a jobs plan. Even if there are elements within it that are worth doing, that’s not a jobs plan. And the point that we’re making, the President is making, I’m making today, is that there is a priority right now that’s widely felt by the American people that Washington needs to take positive action to help the economy grow and to help the economy create jobs.
Q One other question I wanted to ask is about whether or not the President agrees with his campaign manager, their strategy — speaking about the Republicans in Congress — their strategy is to suffocate the economy for the say what they think will be a political victory.
MR. CARNEY: Well, whether it’s deliberate or not, by not taking action, anemic or modest economic growth and 9.1 percent unemployment feels pretty suffocating to most Americans who are experiencing it. And this just goes to the point that I was making that there’s an opportunity here for Congress to act in a positive way to do what outside economists say would boost growth by up to 2 percent next year and would add up to 1.9 million jobs next year. That would be a substantial accomplishment for the American people — and do it in a way that’s entirely paid for, would not add a dime to the deficit — pay for it in a way that is supported by a majority of the American people; pay for it in a way that’s actually supported by a majority of Republicans, according to I believe Bloomberg’s poll.
So this is an opportunity that should not be wasted. There is a priority here that the American people have that is clear as day to anybody who looks at the data or has conversations out in the country with average Americans who are just trying to make ends meet: Let’s do something on the economy. There are proposals here that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past that should enjoy it now, and they’re paid for.
Q So the President agrees with the verb “suffocate,” just not necessarily that it’s a strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken with the President about that. I think we agree that inaction has a suffocating effect on the economy. No question.
Q What’s the White House reaction about soldier Shalit’s liberation in Israel, and does it help in the peace process?
MR. CARNEY: I was just discussing that moments ago. We are pleased by the reports that Mr. Shalit will be home soon with his family. The President, as you know, has called many times for his release and that his release is long overdue.
In terms of the broader — the question about the broader Middle East peace process, I mean, our focus is on, as you know — and you’ve heard me say many times that Palestinians and Israelis taking steps towards peace, taking steps towards direct negotiations, because the only way that the goal that they both seek can be achieved is through direct negotiations.
Q You said on the Iranian plot that clearly plotting happened at senior levels of the Quds Force. But both the intelligence chairs in the House and Senate said they believe that this had to have gone to the highest levels of the Iranian government. So does this administration believe that it’s possible this plot could have been carried out without the knowledge of the highest levels of the Iranian government?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, that’s a somewhat speculative assessment. I mean, what I’m prepared to say is that we know from the facts that it clearly involved senior levels of the Quds Force. I’m just not going to speculate or go any further on –
Q Could it have been rogue effort, in your assessment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s part of the government and I think that speaks for itself. But that’s as specific as I’m going to be.
Q Okay. Secretary Clinton has said that Iran must be held accountable. You talked about that. Do we have — have you heard yet from any European allies that they have agreed to step up their sanctions against Iran?
MR. CARNEY: We are working with European allies and partners elsewhere around the world to discuss this matter. This story just broke yesterday, as you know, and we’re having these conversations right now.
I think it’s important to make clear the seriousness of this, the substantial evidence described by the Attorney General and others yesterday, and why we think it’s important to hold Iran accountable, and we’ll be continuing to do that. I don’t have any actions to announce on behalf of other countries.
Q And yesterday you said that — we were told the President was first notified in June. Can you give a sense of how frequently the President was briefed on this and, over time, how much he was kept in the loop on the ongoing investigation? And then, the timing of it — it seems the arrest happened just days after the Americans in Iran, the hikers were released. Is that timing just a coincidence?
MR. CARNEY: That is just a coincidence. The President, as you know, was first notified about this in June. He was updated regularly on it and kept abreast of it, as you would expect. I mean, I don’t really have any more details than that.
All the way in the back, yes.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Republicans and Democrats have been making very different comments about those Occupy Wall Street protestors. I mean, given the fact that the American Jobs Act was defeated yesterday in the Senate, does the White House plan to communicate with the protest, enlist them somehow to push forward the elements of the jobs bill?
MR. CARNEY: What the President and others have said in the administration is that we understand the frustration that’s being expressed by the protestors on Wall Street and elsewhere. It reflects the kind of sentiment that is driving the demand that Washington take action on behalf of middle-class Americans.
And it does go specifically to the point of Wall Street in the sense that actions were obviously taken by the previous administration and this one to ensure that the financial sector in this country did not collapse. This President believes that was the right thing to do because it prevented an even more disastrous economic situation in this country. The President also believes very firmly and fought hard for legislation that put in place rules of the road for Wall Street that would ensure that the kind of financial collapse that almost happened in this country could not happen again, and it would ensure that we would not have a situation where taxpayers would have to bail out institutions as they had to in the past.
That legislation passed and was signed into law. And since then, some members of Congress have been actively trying to water it down and others running for high office has been calling for its repeal. We think that’s a terrible idea. We think the American people, when made aware of it, agree with us. It’s a terrible idea. The protections that are put in place through the Wall Street reform measure are designed to give consumers a fighting chance in that arena, to make sure that they’re not subject to abuses by credit card companies and to make sure that the kinds of actions that led or contributed to the recession could not happen again.
It goes right to the fact that Richard Cordray, the President’s nominee for the Consumer Financial Protection Board, is likely going to be held up by Republicans in the Senate, another indication that they don’t share the interests of average Americans out there who feel like Wall Street should follow the rules, and the rules are clearly set out in that legislation.
So I think that that speaks to the kind of frustration that you’re seeing through these protests. And it’s why the President feels so strongly that we have to ensure that the Wall Street reforms he fought so hard to put into place are implemented.
Q Thank you, Jay. It sounds like you don’t know how high this assassination plot went up within the Iranian government.
MR. CARNEY: I just said I’m not going to be any more specific about it than I have been.
Q Do you believe that it was more than likely that Iran’s Supreme Leader knew about this plot?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Norah, I can’t be more specific than I’ve been.
Q So how do you expect to rally the world, then, to further isolate Iran if you’re not willing to say what elements, other than the Quds Force, was involved or knew about this assassination plot?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear that the IRGC and the Quds Force is not some minor element of the Iranian government or military. Secondly, I think the fact that it was an attempted assassination of a protected diplomat would be — it will be and is a matter of great concern to nations all around the world who have their diplomats positioned around the world. This is a flagrant violation of international law. And we don’t believe that we’re going to have any difficulty in persuading other nations to agree with us that this is quite a serious, serious matter.
Q There’s no doubt from the Secretary of State and the Vice President, you yourself have said there’s going to be no doubt persuading these other countries to take additional steps. What additional steps are you asking them to take?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you see the course that we have pursued in terms of sanctions and other measures that isolate and put pressure on Iran. Other countries have been doing that as well and we have worked with them prior to this incident to do that. And it has dramatic effect, we believe, in Iran. It has contributed to the further isolation of the Iranian regime and put pressure on them. And those are the kind of actions that we’re continuing to work on both unilaterally and bilaterally and multilaterally.
Q Can you be more specific about what you mean?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think sanctions are pretty specific. We talked about –
Q There are multiple rounds of sanctions on Iran.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and they’ve had an effect, and we’re going to intensify the pressure and continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to hold up and make clear Iranian behavior — and also make clear that they have a choice to make in terms of getting right by the international community. And we’ve made clear what that would entail.
Q The Secretary of State said today, we’re going to hold them accountable. It sounds like you want to make the Iranians pay the price. What do you want done?
MR. CARNEY: Norah, I can repeat the answers I’ve given. You saw two individuals charged. You saw sanctions levied on several more specific individuals, more action taken today against an airline that is related to this. And we will continue to take measures to put pressure on Iran. And as I’ve also said, we don’t take anything off the table in these matters, but we’re focused on this and we know in the two and a half years plus that we’ve been here that this approach has had an effect.
Q Let me just ask one more. The President knew about this plot back in June. The President’s National Security Advisor informed King Abdullah about it two weeks ago. Why the lag time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mr. Donilon did discuss this with the King. I don’t know about any conversations that might have occurred prior to that or subsequent to that. We obviously cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia, an important ally, and we appreciate the statements the Saudis put out yesterday. I just don’t have anything more on that for you.
Let me go all the way in the back.
Q Thank you, Jay. If the plot truly was planned by the Quds Force it’s meant to be inherently provocative. So how, then, does the administration plan to respond in a way that doesn’t just fan the flames that the plotters would have been trying to fan themselves?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re responding very concretely with actions that we know will have an impact on Iran and will make clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and will further isolate and put pressure on Iran. We’re certainly not interested in downplaying the seriousness of this, as I’ve made clear and others have made clear. So I don’t think there’s any danger in that. We’re taking concerted action. We’re going to be working with our allies and partners, as well as the United Nations, to continue to isolate and put pressure on the Iranians and the Iranian regime.
Q Can you talk about that fine line, then?
MR. CARNEY: Can you describe it to me again?
Q Well, I mean, if the plot itself seems to mean to be provocative, attacking a diplomat, assassinating a diplomat is meant to be a provocative act. So how do you respond in a way that doesn’t just play into the attempts to be provocative?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think there is an alternative to holding Iran accountable for this. And that’s what we’re doing. It is a very serious escalation, a dangerous escalation of their behavior — behavior that has a long history. And we’re taking action that we believe is appropriate and that we hope will, through the intensifying isolation and pressure on Iran, change their behavior.
Yes. Oh sorry, one more.
Q Why isn’t the message from yesterday’s Senate vote that it’s time for the President and Republicans to compromise over the elements of the job bill that they can compromise on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I think I’ve said, and the President has said, is that if the Senate did not pass the jobs act in its entirety or as a single bill, that we would then move to elements, component parts of the jobs act. The Senate will do that, as Majority Leader Reid has said. And we hope for, and expect, Republican support for these individual members — measures, rather — as I think leaders of the Republican Party and the House and the Senate have said would be the case.
Now, we will insist that every measure here deserves broad bipartisan support because they’re the kinds of measures that have earned bipartisan support in the past. And we will not be satisfied — you can be sure — if only one or two or three of them pass — because all of them should pass. And the plan was constructed in a way to have the kind of collective impact on the economy that would be a significant net positive for the American people and the American economy.
Again, I point you to the outside analysis of the American Jobs Act, all of its component pieces, and if enacted what kind of impact that would be on the economy, in terms of job growth and economic growth.
But we will — we hope that the kind of expressions of support for some of the measures that we have seen, the individual measures, will be realized in votes for them as we move forward here. But don’t misunderstand me that we will not be satisfied if a measure does not succeed and reach the President’s desk.
Q But you could have passed a portion of the bill yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: Well, because we believe — I think you’re making assumptions about behavior in the Congress that can never — I mean, we heard last night, I believe, in Republican debate, suggestions that even the payroll tax cut extension and expansion isn’t a good idea — somehow a little Band-Aid. If you’re an American family out there, $1,500 is a lot more than a little Band-Aid next year. How you can be for — how you can support the Ryan budget, which would give an average of $200,000 additional in tax cuts to millionaires, and be against tax cuts for regular working folks in this country, 95 percent of Americans, is beyond me. But that’s what we heard last night.
So I don’t think that we can take anything for granted here. The fact is, is that the reason why we wanted a vote on the full measure is because we believe in every piece of it. And we don’t just believe in every piece of it, the President doesn’t just believe in every piece of it, but the vast majority of the American people believe in every piece of it, as data has shown.
So we’re going to keep at it. We don’t think there’s a more important priority right now. We certainly don’t think that ideological legislation that does not create a single job is the next order of business.
Q But officials say privately there’s no plan on breaking it down into its component parts this week. The President makes clear in his statements today that you want to see politically painful votes taken in the Senate. And the focus appears to be as much on that as it is on passing the elements that you could get passed.
MR. CARNEY: That is just — let’s just be clear. And I’ve seen some of this reporting and — we would like nothing more than for all of this to pass and for the President to sign it. And as the President said at the end of his press conference last week, he would like nothing more than for Congress to deprive him of the opportunity to run against a do-nothing Congress by actually doing something on the economy and jobs.
His interest is in helping the economy, and in helping and putting people back to work. You might argue, if you’re being crassly political, that economic growth and job creation would be good for him politically. So even if that were his motivation, it would be focused on getting all of this passed because of its positive impact on the economy and jobs in this country.
So the idea that this is some political exercise, again, is just a fallacy, because it was designed, put together with component parts that were seen to be, legitimately, the kinds of things that Republicans had supported in the past, as well as Democrats.
A huge portion of this package is tax cuts — tax cuts for working Americans — tax cuts for every American who gets a paycheck; tax cuts for small businesses, what I think will be, if passed, the 18th tax cut for small businesses that this President has signed into law; incentives for businesses to hire veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women with enormous qualifications who have sacrificed and done extraordinary things for their country and who are returning to a very difficult job market and deserve our help in getting jobs; as well as measures to put teachers back to work, 280,000 of them across the country who have been laid off.
One of the reasons why we’ve had the kind of smaller-than- hoped-for jobs reports is because even though we’ve seen consistent private sector job growth, we’ve seen layoffs in the public sector. And the layoffs have been largely of teachers. So I’m telling you, please, if Republicans in Congress think that this is a political exercise, they can deprive the President the opportunity to complain about their intransigence by voting for it.
Q Does the administration see the Senate vote on the China currency bill as actually harmful to U.S.-China relations?
MR. CARNEY: Cheryl, as I’ve said and others, we share the goal of the legislation in taking action to ensure that our workers and companies have a more level playing field with China, including addressing the under-valuation of their currency, an issue that I’ve spoken about and certainly Secretary Geithner and others have spoken about.
Aspects of the legislation do, as I’ve said, raise concerns about consistency with our international obligations, which is why we’re in the process of discussing with Congress those issues. And if this legislation were to advance, we would expect those concerns to be addressed.
Q Thanks, Jay. President Obama spoke earlier today at the Forum on American Latino Heritage and his support in that community seems to be slipping a bit. One recent poll showed it at 48 percent, down from about 60 percent in January. Why do you think that is?
MR. CARNEY: I think that every American has been frustrated by the kind of economy that we’ve had this year, the fact that it has not grown fast enough and that not enough jobs are being created. And I think that frustration is reflected in polls that measure the President’s support and job approval, and polls that measure Congress’s support and job approval — which I believe continues to hit record lows in every poll every organization takes and which — again, we hear you.
The American people want Washington to focus on what matters: jobs and the economy. The President is focused on jobs and the economy. And I certainly don’t think that Latino Americans are any different from any other Americans who are frustrated with what they’re seeing out there and frustrated with Washington, and the kind of dysfunction that we saw most vividly over the summer when one element of one party in the House of Representatives basically drove us to the brink and put at risk — raises the possibility of the potential that the United States of America would default on its obligations for the first time in its history. I mean, that is a case of the tail wagging the dog. And it’s certainly not helpful and productive for the American people.
Q What will the President do between now and the election to try to reach out to some of those voters who he’s lost in that time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, the President is, again, focused on jobs and the economy, and that is something that all Americans are focused on. He is also committed to comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that is obviously significant to many Americans. And I note, as I have in the past, that he hopes and believes that there will be at some point a return to the kind of bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform that we used to have in this country, led by his predecessor as President, Republican George W. Bush, and the Republican nominee for President in the last election, John McCain, Senator of Arizona. So hopefully we can rebuild that kind of bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform, and if we do, this President would very much like to see it passed.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Let me just make — you have been asking. And then Macarena. So, yes, you two.
Q I want to follow quickly on Cheryl’s China question, and then I have a South Korea question. There is not that much, it seems like, that the President and the House Speaker John Boehner agree on these days. Boehner today said that the China currency bill could set off a trade war. And what I want to know is, beyond the fact that the President is hoping that concerns will be addressed in the future, is the President also concerned that the implications of those could be a trade war?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President is concerned about is what I just described, which are that there are issues here about compatibility and consistency with out international obligations. And that’s why we’re talking to Congress and will continue to talk to Congress, and if this legislation were to advance, those issues would have to be addressed. The underlying goals of the legislation are things that we share and we need — there needs to be a level playing field for our businesses and for our workers, and China needs to address the undervaluation of its currency.
Q But you don’t think the posturing out of the Democratic caucus, that what they’re doing is –
MR. CARNEY: I really described it in what I think are pretty specific terms about our feelings and our approach to this, and we’re continuing to work with members of Congress on it.
Q And on South Korea, could you talk to us a little bit, with that trade pact about to be passed now into law, about what are the most important, outstanding issues that the President and the South Korean leader are going to be discussing? Is it going to be focused on China? Is it going to be focused on North Korea?
And with regard to Friday’s visit to Detroit, is Korea poised to make a guarantee that they are going to buy a certain number of U.S. cars? Is there anything like that that you can preview for us about why they chose — why you chose that plant and what in terms of the auto piece is going to come out of the state visit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start with — and I’m glad you asked. This is a very important, significant state visit. It comes at a time that’s really a high point in the bilateral relationship and in our alliance with South Korea. And it marks an alliance that has matured over the last two years into a partnership building peace and prosperity globally.
This establishment of a new economic partnership will create jobs and economic growth here in the U.S., as well as in Korea. And we’re very hopeful that Congress, as you said, will act to approve the trade agreement. And the President will obviously sign it if Congress does that.
As far as Friday goes, you’ve heard the President say many times that he wants — the fact that Americans buy and are able to buy Kias and Hyundais here in the United States is fine, but he wants Koreans — as well as others in other countries — to be buying Chevys, Jeeps, Fords, and other American cars, to be able to do that. So I think that the visit will highlight the trade agreement and the potential that the trade agreement creates for opportunities that American car companies in particular will have to sell their products overseas.
Q Will there be a specific deal or agreement announced? Will Korea buy Chevy Sonics or –
MR. CARNEY: I think the trade agreement is a pretty significant deal.
Last one — I promised you in the red. Yes.
Q Why do you think more pressure or more sanctions will work on Iran? What’s your evidence, what of the sanctions will work this time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I mentioned, the Iranian economy is not growing for the first time in years. There is almost a state of disarray economically in Iran. The isolation that Iran is under is apparent to anybody who is a global observer or expert on the region. Its closest ally, the Syrian President and the Syrian regime, is under immense pressure because President Assad has demonstrated that he is no longer fit to lead in Syria. And that is a sentiment not just held by this government, but by governments across the globe.
I think Iranian isolation has never been so intense and the pressure on Iran has never been so intense. And we intend to continue to work with our international partners to ratchet that up.
END 2:15 P.M. EDT