Barack Obama photo

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney

January 19, 2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orlando, Florida

11:03 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: Okay, everybody ready? We can't wait. Thank you for coming today on the President's trip to Orlando, Florida. As you know, he will be visiting Disney World, Main Street USA, where he will be announcing an executive order and other initiatives, new initiatives, aimed at significantly increasing travel and tourism in the United States.

As I'm sure you're aware, the U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment. It represents 2.7 percent of GDP and 7.5 million jobs; that was in 2010. With international travel alone, the United States supporting 1.2 million jobs.

The industry, the travel and tourism industry, estimates that more than 1 million jobs could be created over the next decade if we increased our market share of the international tourism market -- share of the international tourism market.

That's why the President is making the announcements he is today, because making the United States the number-one destination for international tourists is a job creator. The fact of the matter is that when so-called long-haul tourists, foreign travelers come to the United States, they spent on average $4,000 per person here. So that's business that we want to capture here in the United States.

So through an executive order and some other initiatives, the President is calling for a national strategy to make the United States the world's top travel and tourism destination. The number of travelers from emerging economies -- and this is one of the targets of the President's initiative -- emerging economies with growing middle classes such as China, Brazil and India is projected to grow by 135 percent, 274 percent and 50 percent respectively by 2016 compared to 2010. So there's an enormous opportunity there.

I won't go into too many of the details -- I know you have paper -- but the President has signed an executive order tasking the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to co-lead an interagency task force to develop recommendations for national travel and tourism strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities. He has tasked the Departments of State and Homeland Security with increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012, and ensuring that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.

There are a variety of other initiatives attached to this and I think you have the paper on them.

With that, I will take your questions.

Q: Jay, does the President think that his administration could approve an alternate route for Keystone before 2013, knowing that that might ease some of the anger from unions and Republicans? Or is 2013 still the earliest that you could foresee approval?

MR. CARNEY: Julie, as you know, this is a process conducted by and overseen by the State Department -- the State Department in accordance with many years of precedent, many administrations, because it involves a transnational pipeline. The State Department, in reviewing these kinds of things, determines the duration, the amount of time that is needed to do the proper evaluations of a permit request -- permit application.

I think that it's important to remember -- because I heard some reporting this morning that just missed some of the facts here -- that the State Department made the announcement because of the decision to change the route and there needed to be a delay, more time allowed for a new route to be developed and then a new route to be reviewed. That was in November.

So two months ago, Republicans, in a purely political move, inserted an extraneous provision in the tax cut -- payroll tax cut extension bill back in December calling for an arbitrary 60-day deadline, insisting that the administration make this decision in that timeframe. So it's been two months since the original decision by the State Department.

TransCanada, the company involved here, has not even identified an alternate route yet. Not because they're moving slowly -- in fact, they're not -- but because this is a process that requires careful consideration and study to ensure that it makes sense for the company, to ensure that it makes sense for the United States and the equities that we have to weigh when considered this kind of project, including economic security, the health and safety of the American people, environmental impacts, job-creation impact.

So it is a fallacy to suggest that anything besides the arbitrary insistence by House Republicans on setting a false deadline is responsible for the decision that the administration made yesterday, and the President conferred with.

Q: So, given all that, it would --

MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department about what -- what kind of timeframe would be required to review a new permit request that would establish an alternate route through Nebraska. I mean, remember -- and again, this is another thing that needs to be corrected because there was some -- I think Ed Henry was talking about how the governor of Nebraska was now in favor of an expedited process. Let's be clear, the governor of Nebraska wrote the administration asking the State Department to deny the permit -- wrote in August on the proposed route and requesting an alternate route.

He has said that he is in favor of an alternate route, and that being approved once an alternate route is identified. But that route itself has not even been identified, let alone been reviewed, so I think that needs to be clarified.

Q: Was any consideration given to a partial permit process perhaps that would let work start at each end, knowing that there would be some alternate route in --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you again to the State Department, which oversees this process in a nonpolitical, substantive way. It seems to me that you can't -- if you pre-approve portions of a permit, you're basically guaranteeing -- you've made your decision ahead of time. The issue is that the entire -- a proposal for a pipeline needs to be submitted, reviewed appropriately, with all factors weighed and considered before a decision is made. What the Republicans did in a moment of political pique -- because they were upset about the fact that the President was insisting that they extend the tax cut for 160 million Americans -- inserted a provision within that bill to arbitrarily set a deadline that has resulted in what the State Department made clear what happened, is that they had to deny the permit because they had no -- there was no way to review the request. There's not even an alternate route proposed yet.

But in terms of how the review process works, I would refer you to the State Department.

Q: The Iranians this morning made what you can only describe as rather threatening comments, warning that allies of the United States in the Middle East risk placing themselves in a dangerous situation because of their close collaboration with Washington. What assurances is Washington providing to your friends in the Middle East that it would shield them from any reprisals from Iran for that close collaboration?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, I don't have any specific assurances, except that obviously we have important relationships with our allies and friends in the region as we do around the world. I think this is another example of provocative rhetoric emerging from Iran that's designed purely to distract attention from the fact that the Iranian refusal to abide by its international obligations has resulted in the most extensive and effective sanctions regime ever applied to Iran, that has caused great pressure to be put on the Iranian economy, and has created divisions within the Iranian leadership.

So I think this is just another example of that kind of attempt to distract attention from the impact of a policy approach that this President put into place when he came into office that has united the international community and put a spotlight on the fact that it is the Iranian leadership that has refused to negotiate in good faith and has refused to live up to its international obligations.

Q: Do you guys have the news on up front?

MR. CARNEY: I did in my cabin, yes.

Q: Has the President seen Perry's dropout?

MR. CARNEY: Well, he was in the cabin speaking with Secretary Bryson with the TV on, so he might have noticed it, but I didn't discuss it with him.

Q: So no reaction from the President on that?

MR. CARNEY: None to report.

Q: Is Bryson with him?

MR. CARNEY: Bryson is on board. Yes, Secretary Bryson is on board.

Q: Anyone else we didn't see?

MR. CARNEY: No, I don't think so, but I could check.

Q: Jay, I know you've said you don't want to get ahead of the President's State of the Union address, but could you talk sort of in a more maybe a broader sense about whether -- the fact that the President proposed a big jobs bill, a $450 billion plan, that has had moderate -- only small parts of it or modest parts of it be adopted by Congress. And now you guys are rolling out continued sort of smaller-scale actions on this, "We Can't Wait." Are you going to see like a big visionary kind of speech that sort of sets a big agenda? Or is it going to be something a little more realistic of, here's what we're able to do right now over the next several months to get this economy moving on this sort of smaller, more dedicated scale that he's been rolling out these plans?

MR. CARNEY: I won't preview any specifics of the President's State of the Union address. But if your suggestion is that the President is going to give up in his efforts to convince Congress of the absolute necessity to take action to put Americans back to work and grow the economy, the answer is no.

Q: But I mean, he's still going to talk --

MR. CARNEY: And it is incumbent upon the Republicans in Congress who blocked portions of the American Jobs Act; who refused to vote yes to putting 400,000 teachers and first responders back to work; who refused to vote yes to put tens of thousands of construction workers back to work rebuilding our infrastructure to either explain why to their constituents, or, we hope, do the right thing -- reconsider their position, and take up those initiatives and pass them.

Q: So he's going to continue to harp on that theme, even next week and the --

MR. CARNEY: He will continue to focus on his number-one priority, which is doing everything he can, working collaboratively with Congress through the legislative process, and also using his executive authority, as he is today, to promote economic growth and job creation. There is no higher priority for the President, and no more important task for the United States government to undertake.

Because we suffered a tremendous body blow in this country -- the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, terrible unemployment, terrible shrinkage of our economy. And we've been steadily recovering, but it's a long -- it's a long path, and we need to keep moving.

Q: The President's said month after month, through the fall and even now, proposing new actions. I mean, what more can he offer next week?

MR. CARNEY: Let's review. Because of the President's focus on -- because of the President's focus on and unrelenting focus on that, we've forced the Republicans in Congress to agree to a payroll tax cut, which they initially said they didn't want -- ironically, because in theory anyway, it is supposed to be a priority of Republicans to cut taxes. But for some reason, they were more fiercely devoted to protecting the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans than they were to extending a tax break to 160 million middle-class Americans.

And I think -- I would just point to the analysis of everyone here and every one of your colleagues on how successful politically the Republicans' approach was to the payroll tax cut debate. We look forward to the Congress, without drama, extending the payroll tax cut for the full calendar year and to working with the President and his team on other bipartisan measures.

Q: You guys have called that the last -- the full extension of the payroll tax cut the last must-do legislation. Is that it, then? Is the President going to make clear that that's --

MR. CARNEY: It's not even close to it. We will be pushing Congress to take action on a variety of measures, including the other elements of the American Jobs Act and I'm sure other things for which you should stay tuned.

The point was simply that it is with absolute necessity that the payroll tax cut be extended through the calendar year, because we're confident that even as perplexing sometimes as the positions are that some members of the Republican caucus take -- in the House in particular -- we do not believe that they want to face reelection in November having to explain to their constituents why they raised taxes on almost all of them.

Q: That's not the full review I thought we were going to get. I mean, there was a big windup there.

Q: That was good, that was good.

MR. CARNEY: You want more? Because I got more.

Q: Hey, Jay, can I just have you clarify one thing in the tourism report? That jobs number that's at the top, that's just sort of a general estimate of jobs that could be created, but that's not --

MR. CARNEY: That's the tourism industry --

Q: Right, but that's not specific to what the President is proposing?

MR. CARNEY: No, not -- because obviously there are a lot of moving -- it's a complex industry with a lot of moving pieces to it. But the tourism industry itself says with an increase of market share over the course of a decade, it could lead to an additional 1 million jobs. And our interest is doing everything we can because it is such a growing and significant industry that contributes already to our gross domestic product and to jobs in America. We want to take advantage of that.

I mean, this is the United States of America. We have just -- including Orlando today, but all over the country just fantastic places for tourists to visit in all 50 of our states, and we want -- I think that the United States has not done what a number of countries have done, which is really promote what we have to offer here to international tourists, and we're going to take up that cause to bring more visitors here so that they can enjoy all that America has to offer.

Q: Is the President more of a Disney World or a Disneyland kind of guy? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I actually did talk with him about this. He's visited -- he grew up the western part of the country, he's visited Disneyland, but I think this might be his first visit to Disney World.

Q: So just for the record, the President prefers the theme park in California, where there are fewer electoral votes that he has a chance of actually -- that are contested electoral votes -- than Disney World?

MR. CARNEY: The President is very excited about visiting Disney World today.

Q: His second-favorite Disney theme park, in the state of Florida with 29 electoral votes.

MR. CARNEY: That's not at all what I'm saying. I'm just making the point that I believe -- I'll have to double-check, we had this conversation this morning that when he was a child he visited Disneyland in California.

Q: Tourism is a big industry in both Washington, D.C., and New York, and the President is headed to New York later today for campaign events. Why not do this event in either of those two places?

MR. CARNEY: You make a great point that there are premier tourist destinations in a lot of places across the country. There may be -- there are few as iconic as Disney World. It's a --

Q: The fake Statue of Liberty is more iconic than the real Statue of Liberty?

MR. CARNEY: Not at all. I don't want to rank them. But I think it's certainly I think an apt choice given how familiar folks are around the world with Disney World.

Q: Could you talk about how the four airports were -- or the four cities were chosen for the airports to have these global entry kiosks to --

MR. CARNEY: You know, I --

Q: They just happen to be in battleground states.

MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for that.

Q: I have an oil question that's not Keystone. Settlement talks with BP -- have those bubbled up -- if you'll excuse the pun -- to the White House level yet?

MR. CARNEY: I would have to take that question. I don't know.

Q: Okay, thanks.

MR. CARNEY: Anybody got anything else? Anybody have a favorite ride, experience?

Q: I want to go on Magic Mountain.

Q: Alister Bull of Reuters was just talking about Magic Mountain since the first thing he arrived at Andrews. (Laughter.)

Q: Did the President say --

MR. CARNEY: Space Mountain, right? Isn't it --

Q: There's Space Mountain and Magic Mountain.

MR. CARNEY: I did Space Mountain a lot.

Q: Space Mountain is in the dark. That's a good one, too.

MR. CARNEY: You know what's great is the -- is it the Tower of Terror or something -- like the one with the -- what is it called?

Q: -- with the drop?

MR. CARNEY: Yes. What's that called?

Q: It's Tower of Terror.

MR. CARNEY: Yes, I always -- with the Twilight Zone theme? Fantastic.

Q: Did the President say anything about what his daughters' reaction was to his coming for the first time to Disney World without them?

MR. CARNEY: He didn't. I know I didn't tell my kids because it would be --

Q: Have the girls been to Disney World before, or Disneyland?

MR. CARNEY: I have to check. I don't know.

Q: Is there any chance the President is going to do a ride?

MR. CARNEY: We have no plans for that.

Q: OTR to Space Mountain.

Q: Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: All right, good to see you all.

Q: Thank you.

END 11:20 A.M. EST

Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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