The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney
Aboard Air Force One en route Des Moines, Iowa
12:02 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Des Moines, I think. I just wanted to point your attention to -- if you did not see it -- the readout of President Obama's call with parish presidents, mayors, and county leaders from Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday. He made that call onboard our flight returning -- our return flight yesterday from Texas.
In that conversation, he directed FEMA to continue to bring all available resources to bear to support our response and recovery efforts. As you know, FEMA teams have been on the ground in both Louisiana and Mississippi since before the storm made landfall. And federal responders continue to move supplies, including water, meals, generators, medical supplies and other resources into affected areas in both states as conditions allow. Teams from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy are supporting power supply and restoration efforts.
As you know, at the request of the governors of those states the President approved emergency declarations earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, the President provided expedited major disaster declarations for both states, which make additional federal resources available to the state and local governments.
On the call yesterday, the President informed the Louisiana parish presidents and Louisiana mayors that today, i.e. yesterday, he approved the addition of individual assistance to the state's disaster declaration, making federal funding available directly to affected individuals in impacted areas. I just wanted to draw attention to that.
And, as you know, the President will be traveling to Louisiana on Monday.
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to highlight quickly, as you know, and many of you have written or read, we're going to be highlighting American heroes leading into the road to Charlotte. So I just wanted to -- and we'll send you this as well, but just go through the two people who will be a part of that today.
In Des Moines, Lucas Beenken -- I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly, but it's B-e-e-n-k-e-n -- was a member of the National Guard. He deployed to Iraq during the summer of 2007, was there until May of 2008. He used the GI Bill to get his degree at Drake University. And then, he ran for the Wright County board of supervisors. And he is serving on that. So he'll be a part of the event in Des Moines.
And then in Sioux City, Rob Hach, H-a-c-h, will be a part of that event. He's a small business owner. Rob and his wife, Tara, started a small business about 10 years ago focused on renewable energy and the renewable energy field. He's been involved in wind energy, in the wind energy business since 1994. And in 2010, their business was named Iowa's small business of the year. So they'll be a part of the event.
And then, also just to add, the President is obviously spending today in Iowa. Iowa, as you all know, was an important part of his journey to the White House five years ago. And it is an important part of -- and he felt it was important for it to be a part of his journey into Charlotte, his road into the convention this year.
You'll hear him talk about the choice that the American people are facing as he often does. You will hear him mention the events of last week, the convention and some of his thoughts on that -- as you've heard him say a couple of times over the last couple of days -- and talk about some of the issues you've heard him speak about frequently here, including wind energy and the tax credit, the impact on the state including the importance of extending the middle class tax cut, making sure people have access to affordable health care and kids have the opportunity to go to college and, again, the stakes in November and the choice the people of Iowa are facing as they look ahead.
With that --
MR. CARNEY: We'll take your questions.
Q I was just going to ask, Jay, do you have any information yet about where the President is going in Louisiana and what he wants to accomplish?
MR. CARNEY: We're still working on getting those details to you and when we do, we'll make them available. When we get them, we'll make them available.
Q Jen, could you talk a little bit more broadly about just the lead-up to Charlotte -- not just Iowa, but more broadly about the road to the convention?
MS. PSAKI: Well, over the next couple of days, as you know, we'll be in Iowa. We'll be in Colorado. We'll be in Ohio, and then, Louisiana on Monday. Then, the President will be going to Virginia on Tuesday. Clearly, these are all states that we feel will play a pivotal role in what we know will be a close election in reaching our goal of 270 electoral votes.
He will lay out the choice the American people are facing, as he will on Thursday, the stakes that are at play in November. And he'll talk about why it's important for people to get engaged, involved at this stage in the process. Many of these states, including Iowa and Colorado, have early voting, vote by mail in some of these states. And this is a pivotal time. He'll also encourage people to register, as he has been doing for the last couple of weeks on GottaRegister, the website – “gotta”, not “got to”.
And we know this is a period four years ago -- and I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating -- four years ago in some of these key states we're visiting, more than 50 percent of registrations happen between August and November. And we know that this is a time that people who want to be involved need to get involved. We are not taking a single vote for granted. So that's why he has such an active schedule leading into the convention on Wednesday and Thursday -- Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Q Jen, a lot of the President's comments have been to criticize his opponent. He has talked about “Romney Doesn't care”. He has talked about Paul Ryan's views on Medicare. When does he start to talk about what his own vision is, what he would do with four more years? Or is that not part of what he's going to talk about going into Charlotte?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mark, I know this is your first time out with us. And I will tell you that 90 percent, 95 percent of his remarks, every time he is out there talking to the American people, are about his vision for moving the country forward -- his commitment to fighting for the middle class, to protecting access to affordable health care, to making sure young people who want to go to college have the opportunity to go to college, to fighting for things like the wind energy tax credit, which is so important in places like Iowa, where we are today and Colorado, where we are tomorrow.
This election is also a choice. And he does lay out the choice and the contrast with his opponent. And that's part of the conversation as well. They do have some significant policy differences on a number of these issues, whether it's health care, where Mitt Romney and his team have made no secret of the fact that on Inauguration Day, somewhere between taking the oath of office and going to the Inaugural Ball, he is going to find a pen and take health care away from millions of Americans who would be receiving it, because of the Affordable Care Act.
So there are differences. And we believe that the American people need to know that. But when he is out there -- and you'll see this today, tomorrow and Monday in the time you're with us -- that the President talks about his positive vision for the country, moving that forward. And we absolutely think that's a central part of the conversation and the debate in the next few months.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just add as a matter of policy, Mark, I mean, I think it's established fact that the President has concrete proposals already presented before Congress or presented to the American people when it comes to job creation through elements of the American Jobs Act that Republicans in Congress refused to pass but Americans broadly support.
When it comes to health care reform, which the President put forward, his opponent promises to repeal that on his first day in office, which would result in seniors immediately seeing their costs go up, prescription drug benefits. It would result in millions of Americans, young Americans who because of Obamacare are now able to stay on their parent's health insurance, losing that possibility -- many seniors and others taking advantage of free preventive care would go away instantly if the President's opponent were able to repeal health care reform.
And while their refrain is "repeal and replace", they have, as far as I know, never suggested what they would replace it with, except for the absence of the benefits that Americans are now already enjoying.
When it comes to deficit reduction, the Tax Policy Center has evaluated the plan put forward by the Republican nominee and said that the $5 trillion tax cut that he promises, and that he promises will be revenue-neutral, can have only one result, which is that taxes will go up for the middle class in order to pay for tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
The President has a very specific detailed proposal that he put forward in September and, again, in his budget earlier this year that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion, strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, retain tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people, and make sure that we have the investments in education and infrastructure and innovation that are essential to economic development. These are very specific, concrete policy proposals that I think are far more specific and concrete and beneficial to the American economy than we've seen from Republicans.
Q Jay, I apologize if you were asked this yesterday, but yesterday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke used some pretty strong words to describe the state of the economy. He called for new measures to stimulate the economy. Is that anything the President might be referencing over these next several days? Or does he have any plans to make a new push for some of the jobs measures that you just outlined?
MR. CARNEY: I think I was asked yesterday in advance of the Fed Chairman's remarks, and I said then what I will say now, which is I never comment on the Fed or the Fed Chairman's speeches or reports or comments.
The President consistently talks about the things that we can do right now to help the economy grow, including some of the measures that I just talked about. We talk all the time about the fact that we need to do everything that we have in our control -- including legislative action through Congress, including administrative action, as the President knows -- as the President has taken on many occasions to help increase security for the middle class or help small businesses or help homeowners refinance.
So you'll hear him talk about that frequently, as he always does. And he continues to put the pressure on Congress to take this action. You will hear him talk about -- as he has in the past -- that in the very few days that Congress is actually back in Washington before they go on recess again this month they could do one enormously beneficial thing for our economy and for 98 percent of the American people, and that is extend the tax cut, that the House should pass the bill the Senate passed.
Democrats and Republicans, the President all agree that those tax cuts ought to be extended. The only area of disagreement is over whether or not tax cuts for the top 2 percent should be extended. So let's not hold hostage tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people, tax cuts for the middle class over our differences on the issue of whether or not millionaires and billionaires should have tax cuts. You know where the President stands. We know where Republicans stand. We can debate that in this election cycle and then sort it out after November 6th.
It is just partisan and unacceptable not to provide that assurance to middle-class Americans. And Congress has it in its power -- the House does -- to do it immediately this month.
Q Jen, one of the defining traits of this campaign so far has been how remarkably close and consistently close it is in the polls since Romney became the presumptive nominee with all the speeches, all the ads. Does the campaign essentially think that the map is set, and the argument and the choice is set? And if so, how does that affect how the President campaigns going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a of couple things. One, I'll just take this opportunity to remind you that Reince Priebus said that they might get an 11-point bump from the Republican Convention. We expect that at the end of next week, after the President has made the choice clear for the American people, brought the choice into focus really for the American people, they'll know what his road map is moving forward. They'll understand what's at stake and what the difference is between what the candidates are presenting.
But that the race will be -- as you've mentioned, it's been a pretty steady race to date. And we expect it will be in a pretty similar place following our convention as well. We know that it's going to be close. We know that there are states -- as is evidenced by the fact that we're going back to Iowa and going back to Colorado and heading to Florida next weekend -- where this race will be decided. We're always prepared, like a Boy Scout, to make changes if needed.
But we know this -- we feel that this race has been steady, it's going to be steady. The American people know a lot more about the President than they know about Mitt Romney. So in some ways, the stakes for Mitt Romney were a bit higher, because he knew -- and they spoke openly about the importance of him personalizing who he was and presenting to the American people what he could do for them moving forward. The President really is going to be just further solidifying and further bringing into focus that choice next week.
So long story short, we think it will be in a similar place. We think it's going to be close to the end. That’s why we have such an active schedule, that’s why the President is out there campaigning. That’s why he encourages people at every event to register, to get engaged and get involved. And that’s why at this stage it's so important we go to states where people are starting to vote soon. And that’s part of our focus as well.
Q You mentioned early voting. How much of an advantage do you feel like you have, early voting? Or is the same as sort of the general election in terms of this tight race? And if you have an advantage -- why, specifically?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this may surprise you, but I don’t have any insight into the Romney early voting campaign. I've asked for the plans, they have declined to provide them.
Q What's your plan?
MS. PSAKI: Early voting and encouraging people to vote by mail, get engaged and involved early has always been a big part of our focus. And our investment has focused on building our grassroots campaign, making sure we have staff on the ground to organize neighbor-to-neighbor programs, to get the community leaders involved at an early stage. And in many of these states we've had people on the ground since 2008, and that’s where we felt it was important to invest.
So in that way, we do feel we have an on-the-ground advantage; that our on-the-ground campaign is very strong. It is going to be a huge help and a deciding factor when it comes to November. There are states like Colorado, where we're going tomorrow, where 77 percent of voting in the state happened by vote-by-mail or early voting. So we know how pivotal it is. Iowa has had a long tradition of early voting and vote-by-mail.
And so if you're an eligible voter -- our view is if you're an eligible voter and there are opportunities in your state to vote, a vote on Election Day is not better than a vote before. A vote is a vote. And so we are spending a lot of time educating people, making sure they know when they can vote, where they can vote and enabling them to have the opportunity to do so if they're eligible.
Q Jay, members of the Non-Aligned Movement yesterday put out a statement expressing support for Iran's nuclear program and condemnation of the United States' sanctions. So do you have -- does the White House have a comment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things about that. The communique that you referenced endorsed a peaceful and civil Iranian nuclear program that conforms with Iran's international obligations. In fact, many of the countries that participated in the summit are themselves implementing sanctions against Iran. Some have voted in favor of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, and some consistently vote with the United States at the IAEA Board of Governors to insist that Iran fulfill its obligations. This comprehensive approach will continue to pressure and isolate Iran until it complies with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.
We said in the run-up to this conference that Iran would try to use it for propaganda purposes and we called on those who participated -- who were going to participate to use the opportunity to call on Iran to fulfill its international obligations to cease pursuing nuclear weapons, and to make clear that Iran's support for Bashar al Assad was not helpful to the cause of the Syrian people and their pursuit of a better country and a better life for themselves. And I think you heard a number of prominent individuals make that very strong case, especially with regards to Syria.
Q Jen, one more on early voting. I think in North Carolina it actually starts on the day the President takes the nomination, so is a lot of this die actually going to be cast even before, say, the last debate between the candidates?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it's at that die will begin to be cast, and that the period between now and Election Day is also a very pivotal period for voting.
Every state has different rules, as you know. So in North Carolina -- and this is sort of related to your question, but I just wanted to run through a couple of the programs we have going there, because I know it's of interest leading into the convention -- this is a state where we have one of the best grassroots campaigns going on in the country there. We've registered more voters in North Carolina than any other state, and it's a place where we feel great about where our campaign is. And our goal going into this week is to leave North Carolina in even a better state than it is now in terms of our campaign there and the energy and excitement and engagement of people.
We've had a couple of programs -- through the 9-3-1 program -- we've talked about this before, but this summer North Carolinians had the opportunity to guarantee themselves one community through credential by completing three volunteer shifts totaling 9 hours. This is something we started a couple of months ago, but the people who participated in this have been able to get a credential and have had kind of first get at a credential.
Last Thursday, volunteers who completed 9-3-1 were the first to receive credentials. More than 6,000 volunteers completed over 54,000 hours of volunteer work through the 9-3-1 program. So that obviously tells you that engaging and getting people involved in North Carolina is part of the benefit of having the convention there. This past weekend, credentials were distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis, and all North Carolinians across the state had the opportunity to line up to receive one.
So that’s a big part of it. That’s one of the reasons we're there. We feel like it's going to be a great energizer in the state, and we think we'll feel good about where our campaign there is -- is there on Friday even better than we do today.
Q Is the President working on his convention speech on this flight?
MS. PSAKI: He will be, yes. He'll be working on it the next couple of days, including this flight. I will tell you that the President and a handful of people around him are the only people who know what's in the convention speech, so I'll just put out there -- because I know there will be lots of reporting and lots of questions and a lot of people talking. But unless you hear it from the horse's mouth or a few people around him, it's unlikely you're hearing the specifics of what's in the speech. And he'll be ready by Thursday.
Q Want to ask Jon Favreau to come back and chat in a little bit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he's just making copies of the speech for you guys, so just give him a few minutes and you can send back your critiques.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. He wants your input.
MS. PSAKI: He wants your input.
Q He'll want yours specifically, David.
Q Yes. Well, we're very pithy.
MR. CARNEY: You guys are all writers, most of you.
Q Bloggers -- bloggers now, Jay.
Q Jay, back to Hurricane Katrina, I remember it was pointed out that a lot of National Guard assets were actually in Iraq and not available to do hurricane relief. Do you all know if it's -- if that’s made any difference this time around? Has the end of the war in Iraq actually freed up resources for efforts along the Gulf?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I think it is certainly the case that there are far fewer American troops abroad than there were because of the end of the war in Iraq and the coming home of troops from Iraq, and the now winding down -- or drawing down of troops from Afghanistan. But I do not know how that has affected specific National Guard units in the states that have been hit by the storm.
Q Thanks, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
END 12:24 P.M. EDT