Aboard Air Force One
En route New Orleans, Louisiana
11:18 A.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Hi, guys.
Q: How are you doing?
MR. BURTON: Good. All right, good morning.
Q: Can you make some remarks about the attacks in Lahore?
MR. BURTON: Well, obviously the President is always concerned when there's a loss of innocent civilian life. But this shows once again that the militants in Pakistan threaten both Pakistan and the United States. And, you know, the President has been impressed by some of the courageous actions that the Pakistani military has taken to root out some of these extremist elements.
But early on the President said that he wanted to have a comprehensive strategy in the region that addressed both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I think this shows why such a comprehensive strategy is so necessary.
Q: Do you see any impact of these kind of attacks on the efforts to craft a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan by the administration?
MR. BURTON: Well, these militant extremists have obviously posed a threat for a while. Everything that's happening in the region is a part of the ongoing assessment. So to that extent people will be assessing the facts on the ground.
Q: Why such a short trip to New Orleans today? A little less than four hours long.
MR. BURTON: Well, the President has been to New Orleans since Katrina; he's seen the damage. As President he's sent more Cabinet Secretaries and senior administration officials to the Gulf Coast region than almost any other place in the country. He's freed up billions of dollars in aid to the region to help with the recovery efforts. He's helped to cut red tape to put people back to work, get kids back into the schools, to get people back into their homes. And he's going to continue those efforts. And it's his hope that he's judged not just by the words that he says but by the actions that he's done and that he continues to do over the course of his administration.
He's -- today, specifically, though, he is looking forward to hearing directly from the people of New Orleans about their questions, concerns and thoughts about the recovery efforts and what they're seeing and what the administration can do.
Q: Has he got anything new to announce, anything to offer them beyond his presence, or is it just a listening session?
MR. BURTON: The President is here to listen today.
Q: Do you guys have any plans to announce, like, a Gulf Coast recovery czar to oversee the federal effort down in the Gulf Coast?
MR. BURTON: There's no such effort that I know of.
Q: Is he going to --
Q: Before you move on, do you mind if I just ask, are there any dignitaries he's going to be meeting with? Is the mayor going to be there, for example?
MR. BURTON: Some of the folks who will be there include Mayor Nagin, Senator Landrieu, Lieutenant Governor Landrieu, Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter [Peterson]. Congressman Cao and the congressman from Louisiana 1 -- who's name escapes me for a moment -- [Charlie Melancon]. The governor will be there, Bobby Jindal. So you'll see a --
MR. BURTON: He'll be there when we land. And he'll also be at the town hall. And then Secretaries Donovan, Napolitano and Duncan will all be there as well.
Q: And they all have separate events also, those -- the Secretaries?
MR. BURTON: They do have separate schedules that they're doing, but they'll all be linked up with what the President is doing, as well.
Q: How significant of a threat was Zazi, considering he had contact with such a senior al Qaeda leader?
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't know about the premise of your question and I know that people are in direct contact with that reporter who wrote it. I would just direct all questions about this ongoing investigation to the Department of Justice.
Q: Any -- has the President signed the Pakistan aid bill?
MR. BURTON: You know what, I will check on that and get back to you. Not that I know, but he may have. But I don't know for sure.
Q: We were told he has until midnight Friday, so he might do it on the trip.
MR. BURTON: I will let you know. I'll check on that and come back.
Q: Bill, some union leaders say that they were asked by the White House not to publicly oppose the Senate Finance health care bill. Is that the case, do you know? Is that the message the White House meant to convey and is that of concern, then, that some have spoken out against it?
MR. BURTON: Well, let me say two things. One is that I don't know exactly what happens in every single conversation that happens between the White House and groups. But people who are our allies and people who oppose health care reform efforts know exactly where the White House stands and we've done our best to reach out to folks who are Democrats and Republicans, groups that are for us and against us to make sure that we do everything that we can to move health care reform forward this year. And I saw that what the union -- what some of the unions were doing with the advertising and that today.
And people come to this with strong feelings, and there's no doubt that even some of our allies are going to make their very strong feelings known. But I would also point out that even though the appearance of conflict is somewhat interesting, there was broad agreement on what we need to do in order to get health care reform done and what it should look like, including making sure that it's deficit neutral; making sure that there is choice and competition; making sure that we bring down costs in the long term. Those are things that we all agree on. We're just trying to work with everybody to get health care reform done this year.
Q: Is anybody in the White House angry with any union leaders for making that choice?
MR. BURTON: If they are, they haven't told me.
Q: The Dow over 10,000 -- reaction? And the jobs picture is still sluggish at best.
MR. BURTON: When I just checked, the Dow was at 9,944 -- when I walked back here. But I will say the President -- the stock market is one of many different factors. And the President and this White House isn't obsessed with the ups and downs of the market on a day-to-day basis. What the President thinks is important is that we put in place a comprehensive strategy in order to stabilize the financial system, in order to put people back to work and get this economy back on track.
We've made a lot of progress -- there's a lot of things that indicate that -- but the President will not rest, and he will not be satisfied, until the American people are back to work and this economy is as strong as it can be.
All right, thank you.
END 11:25 A.M. CDT