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Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton

August 16, 2010

Aboard Air Force One

En Route Milwaukee, Wisconsin

9:58 A.M. EDT

MR. BURTON: Before we start, I just want to call your attention to something that I read in The New York Times this weekend. It is a quote from Republican Leader Mitch McConnell about his views on what he wished he could have done this past year.

"I'm amused with" -- this is to quote Senator McConnell -- "I'm amused with their comments about obstructionism. I wish we had been able to obstruct more. They were able to get the health care bill through. They were able to get the stimulus through. They were able to get the financial reform through. These were all major pieces of legislation, and if I would have had enough votes to stop them, I would have."

I think that's proof positive of how Republicans view their role here, and more -- another example of how they've stood on the sidelines and rooted for failure as opposed to actually getting involved to help move this economy forward again.

You've heard the President talk about this when he talks about -- you know, the story about driving the car into the ditch and all that. So I wouldn't be surprised if it came up again today.

Q: Hey, Bill, the President keeps framing this as a choice. But the comment you just read, whatever he's going to say today, is this the kind of back-and-forth that he thinks that the public wants to hear? I mean, isn't this the kind of partisanship that he ran against?

MR. BURTON: Choices are about pointing out what the different visions for the country are. And the choice here is what the President and Democrats in Congress have been able to do in order to help make progress on the economy. Obviously he's not satisfied with the pace of this recovery, but we have been able to make some progress. What you see here is the Democratic vision, which is continue to make progress, keep on with the policies that are moving us out of this crisis, or what we just saw here from Senator McConnell, which is the opposite. It's do nothing. It's obstruct the progress we've been able to make.

Q: But can't you make the point about a choice without taking shots? I mean, isn't there a way to do it at a higher level?

MR. BURTON: I would disagree with the premise of your question. I don't think that that's taking a shot. It's reading back the words and the -- with the sentiment that Republicans in Congress have.

Q: I'm sorry, I mean during the President's comments, he certainly likes to single out cases where he thinks Republicans are being hypocritical or he thinks they're falling down on the job. He's seems to enjoy that part of it. Is that not fair?

MR. BURTON: I would say there are moments where individuals say things to help to illuminate the choice that voters are going to have this fall. The President is happy to showcase those moments.

Q: What's the message of the event today? I mean, can you talk more about what he's doing today and why he's going there?

MR. BURTON: Sure. Well, hopefully you've already gotten the -- did you get the background on the event?

Q: Yes.

MR. BURTON: Okay, I just wanted to make sure it went out. The President is going to be talking about some of the pro-growth policies that we've put into place that are helping to create jobs and move the economy forward.

This particular plant is going to be adding, I think it's 80 jobs, as a result of new investment and the fact that they're manufacturing something that people abroad and domestically are interested in buying. So the President will be talking about what we've done here and what we need to continue to do in order to make sure that businesses like that can thrive and create jobs.

Q: Mayor Barrett's opponent for governor, the Republican opponent, is actually saying that the train that you guys -- the high-speed rail that you want to build between Madison and Milwaukee is a boondoggle that he wants to stop. They don't seem worried about running against these stimulus programs. What do you make of that?*

MR. BURTON: That's what this choice is all about. It's between what our vision of continued growth and moving in the right direction on the economy versus attempts to stop economic progress. I can't speak to this specific issue. It sounds like a Wisconsin issue to me. But --

Q: Is it a boondoggle? You used to live in Chicago. Will people take the train from Milwaukee to Madison?

MR. BURTON: I'm not an expert on transportation issues in Chicago and Madison. But I do think that these grants -- the investments that we've made on renewable energy, on infrastructure, are helping to make our economy stronger and are helping to create an environment where jobs are being created and people getting back to work.

Q: Why did the President decide to weigh in on the mosque issue? It seems like a local politics issue that -- and he keeps on wading into local politics and sort of stirring up a little bit of tension. Why did he choose to weigh into this issue?

MR. BURTON: The President thinks that it's his obligation to speak out when he thinks issues of the Constitution are -- when issues of the Constitution arise. And so, in this case, he decided to state clearly how he feels about making sure that people are treated equally, that there is a fairness and that our bedrock principles are upheld.

Q: Can I ask you, have you had any -- has the President heard from or reached out to any world leaders, especially in Arab -- in Muslim countries, about this mosque issue? Have you guys heard on the international front whether this mosque issue is having an impact abroad?

MR. BURTON: No. The President spoke to this because it's an issue domestically about our Constitution. But to the extent that our Constitution is something that is a real shining light about our nation and helps to give people around the world a better understanding of who we are, then, sure.

Q: I mean, is there a worry that anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States might be impacting U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Pakistan?

MR. BURTON: That's sort of a broader existential question that's separate from the issue at hand here, and not something that I've talked specifically to the President about.

Q: Republicans pushed back pretty hard against the President on the mosque issue. I mean, do you think they're running -- does the President think that they're running a risk, a political risk -- not a political risk internationally, but a risk internationally?

MR. BURTON: Are Republicans -- do Republicans have an international risk as a result of -- I can't speak to the politics of what the Republicans are doing. And the President didn't do this because of the politics. He spoke about it because he feels he has an obligation as the President to address this.

Q: Does he think from his perspective that the matter is done for now? He's said his piece and he's going to let it go its course? I mean, is this kind of a done issue for him?

MR. BURTON: I think we've had a pretty fulsome conversation about it. And unfortunately, me and Gibbs and Pfeiffer don't have any control over what happens on cable television or in your newspapers. So I assume that people will continue to talk about it, but I think that we've addressed this to a pretty full extent.

Q: Is this a debate, though, that you guys want to have? Is this a discussion that you think the nation should have about sort of the appropriate role and should this mosque be built?

MR. BURTON: I think that it's a debate that was had and we've weighed in.

Q: Can I ask you about Petraeus? He said yesterday on "Meet the Press" that he might recommend next year that the President slow down his -- not begin the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

MR. BURTON: I looked at that, and I think that that is a very thinly sliced parsing of what he had to say. He said very specifically that that deadline stands and there is no daylight between the President or his commanders on the ground when it comes to July 2011. As you saw with Iraq, when the President makes a commitment he keeps it. And he intends to do that here as well.

Obviously the scope and rate of withdrawal will be conditions-based, but the date is not negotiable.

Q: So you're saying that no matter what Petraeus says, might say next year, the President is going to begin a drawdown?

MR. BURTON: I can tell you about a lot of things, but I can't say what Petraeus might say next year. The date is the date.

Q: The Financial Times is reporting today that the President personally called Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and warned him that Turkey's positions on Israel and Iran could affect U.S. arms sales to Turkey. Do you have anything on that?

MR. BURTON: I really don't know where they would have divined that from. The President and Erdogan did speak about 10 days ago and they talked about Iran and the flotilla and other issues related to that. But we obviously have an ongoing dialogue with them. But no such ultimatum was issued.

Q: No warnings, no hints, no nuances?

MR. BURTON: There's no ultimatum.

Q: Any response to President Karzai's decision today to say that all private security contractors will have to disband in Afghanistan within the next few weeks?

MR. BURTON: I saw the reports of that, but we haven't seen any sort of edict or anything like that. I would check back, but we haven't seen that in other than the newspaper's report.

Q: What's the latest on BP with the well and the kill well?

MR. BURTON: Thad Allen is going to be briefing today at 12:30 p.m. I think you can get the latest information there.

Q: Do you have any details on the scope of the fundraising this trip? Have you heard any outer number about how much money is going to be raised across these stops?

MR. BURTON: I would point you to the DNC for that stuff.

All right. Enjoy breakfast.

END 10:08 A.M. EDT

Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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