White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton and the president’s top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan took questions from reporters on Martha’s Vineyard earlier today.
TAPPER: On housing. President Obama originally said that his housing program — he wanted it to help 3 or 4 million Americans keep their homes. Less than half a million — I think it's 420,000 — have gotten the permanent housing loan modifications. And Treasury has backed off the 3 to 4 million number. This is a $75 billion program. How many Americans does the administration think it will help?
BURTON: I don't have a specific number for you. I would check with Treasury on their latest numbers.
TAPPER: They don't answer the question. They don't — they have been reluctant to answer the question as to how many millions of Americans, or hundreds of thousands, they want the housing program to help. And so I'm asking the White House.
BURTON: Okay. I understand. This is obviously a Treasury program. And I would direct you over there to get the specifics of how they're dealing with these specific issues around the program.
Any economic program that we put into place, we're constantly reviewing, seeing if there's ways that we can make it move faster, make it work more efficiently, make sure we're helping as many people as we possibly can at the least cost to the American taxpayer.
So they're obviously tracking this very closely, and I would encourage you to stay in contact with them.
TAPPER: Okay. I'll ask them to — so does the president think this program is a success, this $75 billion program that has fallen way short of the president's goals? Does he think the housing — and, you know, based on this number today — 27 percent down for July for existing home sales — does he think — does he think that the administration, that the Treasury Department is on top of the housing issue?
BURTON: Well, something to keep in mind is, a big part of this drop-off is as a result of the end of the first-time homebuyer tax credit. A lot of people rushed in to beat the deadline on that, and so the number is going to be — you know, the number is a tough number.
That doesn't mean that we're not dissatisfied with the rate at which we've been able to ameliorate the problem, but we're going to continue to work to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to help move this economy forward.
TAPPER: But is it — is it a success? Is Tim Geithner's housing program a success?
BURTON: I'll leave that to the economists and the pundits to decide. All we can do is everything we can to grow this economy.
TAPPER: Okay. And can I ask Mr. Brennan a question about al- Shabab? You have spoken in the past about the Americans who have traveled to fight alongside al-Shabab. What can you tell us about that? Are they still recruiting Americans? How much of a threat do you think al-Shabab ultimately will pose to the United States?
BRENNAN: Well, al-Shabab has a very violent agenda inside of Somalia, and as was seen in Kampala with the tragic bombing there concurrent with the World Cup, they have brought that agenda outside of Somalia. They also have recruited a number of individuals from outside of Somalia, including from the West, including from the United States.
This is something that we are very concerned about. A number of these individuals have gone to Somalia, and many of them have lost their lives.
So it is something that we're continuing to look at very closely, and that's why we're partnering with the countries in the area to ensure that al-Shabab is not able to carry out attacks in the region.
TAPPER: Are they still — are they still having success recruiting? They're mainly from Minnesota, right, the Somalis?
BRENNAN: There are a number of Somali communities in the United States where individuals have departed from. This is something that we're, again, looking at very closely. That's their effort to try to bring people into the country with, quite frankly, a mischaracterization and misrepresentation of what they find there. And I think a lot of individuals from outside of Somalia who have gone there have found it is not what it is, you know, cracked up to be.