Press Briefing

August 07, 2012 | 52:29 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 8/7/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:48 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks for being here.  I appreciate your flexibility.  I know we moved the briefing up.  And I have no announcements to make at the top, so I will go right to questions.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Just wanted to start with Syria.  Secretary of State Clinton said that the defection of Syria's prime minister increases the urgency of preparing for a post-Assad Syria.  What type of role should the U.S. have in those plans?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would point you, first of all, to Secretary of State Clinton's comments.  But it is certainly the case that contingency planning is the responsible thing to do.  I think we discussed a little bit of that here yesterday.  And we are, of course, actively consulting with friends, allies, and the opposition about a post-Assad Syria.  But I'm not going to get into the specifics of our contingency plans.

As Secretary Clinton said earlier today, we can't possibly predict a timeline at this point, but we know the transition will happen.  We know that Assad ultimately will not be a part of Syria's future.

I can say that in this transition we think it's essential to make sure that state's institutions stay intact and that we send very clear expectations about avoiding sectarian warfare.  We have to think about what we can do to support a Syrian-led democratic transition that protects the rights of all Syrians.  We have to figure out how to support the return of security and public safety, and how to get the Syrian economy up and going.  We are working with our allies, we're working with the "Friends of Syria" and we're working directly with the opposition in our efforts to plan for that eventuality and to help the Syrians make that transition in a way that gives them the best possible prospects for the future.

Q    Do you anticipate an increased aid package in the coming weeks?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can't get into specifics, as I said before, and I think it's premature, because we can't predict a timeline, to say what we will do when that happens except to say that we will be actively engaged in helping the Syrian people, together with a broad array of nations who have the interests of the Syrian people at heart. 

Again, this transition -- this day will come once Assad steps aside.  And it is essential that it does come because the longer Assad remains in power, the longer that he has the support of the Iranians, for example, or others, the more bloodshed, the more chaos there is in Syria.

Q    On a separate topic, the Romney campaign is out with a new ad accusing the President of gutting welfare reform, essentially saying that the administration has turned into a blank check for states without any work requirements.  From a policy standpoint, does the White House feel that offering these states this flexibility has somehow undermined the work requirement?

MR. CARNEY:  From a policy standpoint, let me say that this advertisement is categorically false and it is blatantly dishonest.  This administration’s policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job.  Under this policy, governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people -- more people -- from welfare to work.  And as we have made very clear under our policy, any request from any state that undercuts the work requirement in welfare reform will be rejected.

Now, the ad is particularly outrageous as Governor Romney himself, with 28 other Republican governors, supported policies that would have eliminated the time limits in the welfare reform law and allowed people to stay on welfare forever.  Those are not standards the President supports. 

It is also worth remembering that this waiver policy that we’re discussing was specifically requested by two Republican governors -- Governor Herbert of Utah and Governor Sandoval of Nevada -- two men, I think you know, who are supporters of Governor Romney.  And I don’t think if you ask them -- and I suggest you do -- that they believe that their interest in these waivers was guided by a desire to undermine work requirements.  Their interest in these waivers was to achieve more flexibility for their states, to innovate and to move more people from work to welfare [welfare to work].  That’s the purpose of this policy. 


Q    Thanks, Jay.  The British bank Standard Chartered is in hot water with New York financial authorities for allegedly hiding $250 billion in transactions tied to Iran.  I wondered if this was an issue that’s reached the President’s desk and if the White House has been in touch with British authorities on this.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me say that I’ve seen those reports, but I do not have specific comment on what is an ongoing investigation.  Of course, as you know, sanctions violations are something that this administration takes extremely seriously and has a strong record of action to this end.  The Treasury Department remains in close contact with both federal and state authorities on this matter, and I would refer you over there for further questions.

That’s it?  Julianna.

Q    Thanks.  The stock market seems to be rallying today, in part on some positive developments out of Europe.  Does the White House share that optimism?

MR. CARNEY:  Julianna, our view of the situation in Europe remains what it has been, which is that the difficulties Europe faces are not going to be solved overnight.  But we are working with European leaders, both at the presidential level -- I think yesterday I read out a -- or we read out a phone call the President had with the Spanish Prime Minister -- and at the level of the Treasury Secretary, to assist them and advise them as they seek to take, in their words, whatever steps are necessary to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area. 

What we believe is that it’s important that officials move quickly to make good on leaders’ commitments from the late-June summit in order to reduce immediate financial market stresses, even as they undertake longer-term reform and integration plans to promote growth adjustment and stability. 

This is all important to us because what happens in Europe affects our economy.  Europe, as you know, is our largest economic partner and we are closely linked in many ways, and we have a profound interest in Europe’s stability and growth.  And we’ve noted, the President has noted, that instability in the eurozone creates a headwind for the U.S. economy.  So it is very much in our interests to see European leaders take the steps that they said they would take to deal with the situation. 

Q    German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement yesterday that she’s accepting the bond-buying program, does that send any more optimism to think -- the White House, the President think that Europe is on track to meet --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, without critiquing individual statements or steps, because this is obviously something that European leaders are doing themselves, I would simply say that we encourage European leaders to, in effect, operationalize the commitments at the late-June summit.  And steps that demonstrate an effort to do that I think are welcome here and across the world.

Ann, how are you?

Q    Fine, thank you, Jay.  Back to welfare -- it is not just a campaign commercial.  Governor Romney, minutes ago in Illinois, stated the same thing -- that the President wants to take the work requirement out of welfare.  You called the ad categorically false and blatantly dishonest.  Is Governor Romney being dishonest about what he should know the truth is on welfare reform?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s his ad, and so as a matter of policy -- and my response to this utter misrepresentation of the President’s policy -- the answer is yes.  The attack is dishonest.  It is false. 

Look, again, this policy arose and was specifically requested by two Republican governors -- Republican governors who, I believe if you asked them, would not say that they sought or are seeking to undermine the work requirement in welfare reform. 

Secondly, because it seems to be the case these days that -- with charges like this, that hypocrisy knows no bounds, Governor Romney joined with 28 other Republican governors in support of policies that would have eliminated the time limits in the law and allowed people to stay on welfare forever.  So perhaps his argument is with his past self.  And I suppose that should not be a surprise.  (Laughter.)

Q    But President Obama, last night, talked about "Romney Hood" and Governor Romney wanting to take money from the middle class and apply that tax money to the upper class.  The Republicans say there is nothing in Governor Romney’s economic plan that raises taxes on the middle class.  Isn’t the President guilty of the same kind of stretching the truth?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not, because as independent analysts have said, as the Tax Policy Center documented last week, Governor Romney’s promise of a $5 trillion tax cut that is, as promised, revenue-neutral is a mathematical fantasy.  It cannot happen.  It simply will not work.  It is understandable, I suppose, in the heat of a primary battle that you would make fantastical promises about what you might do in policy.  But the problem is at some point someone is going to analyze your proposals and make the obvious judgment that it cannot happen. 

There is no way to give that kind of tax relief without, A, blowing a hole in the deficit; B, asking middle-class Americans to pay a tax hike, to pay more; or, C, radically savaging Social Security or Medicare.  It simply doesn’t add up.  There is no mathematical way to make it happen.  And assertions that it can happen without any kind of documentation to prove otherwise should be taken for what they’re worth. 

This goes -- I think it’s incumbent upon the referees here to say -- to not cover this stuff simply as a campaign tactic, but to assess fact from fiction.  Look at the policies of this President when it comes to welfare reform.  Look at the specific proposals for allowing states that request it more flexibility to implement welfare reform, provided that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work.  That’s fact from tactic.

And again, on the tax policy, it is simply a fact that you can’t cut taxes by $5 trillion, promise that it won’t add a dime to the deficit, that it will be revenue-neutral, without doing one of two things:  raising taxes on the middle class, or savaging Social Security and Medicare.  The money is just not there.  Or savaging defense, which Governor Romney claims he actually wants to increase spending on.  So at some point, it’s incumbent upon those who would govern or legislate to demonstrate how their policies are more than flimsy sheets of paper.

Q    Would the President entertain a head-to-head debate sometime earlier than October on something like this?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there is a schedule of debates set for -- set by the Presidential Commission on Debates.  The President looks very much forward to debating policy and his vision for America’s future, which is very focused on this whole question of how do we keep the economy growing, how do we keep it creating jobs, how do we make it grow faster and create more jobs, and what policies will work to get us there.  And we have some recent history by which to judge the different policy proposals that are on the table.

And the President believes -- not as a matter of wishful thinking, but as a matter of concrete fact -- that his policies of taking a balanced approach to our fiscal challenges, to deficit reduction, of making sure we continue to invest in education and innovation and infrastructure, research and development, are the right ones; that his policies of extending tax relief to the middle class while asking the wealthiest 2 percent of American taxpayers to pay a little more are the right ones; and that the policies that we tried in the eight years prior to President Obama taking office empirically, demonstrably, provably, did not work. 

Because, after all, when we all assembled here in January of 2009, those of you who were covering the administration from the beginning -- and I working across the street for the Vice President -- remember what those headlines were like -- economic calamity like none of us had seen in our lifetimes, job loss like none of us had seen in our lifetimes, like this country had not seen since the Great Depression.  That was the legacy of the very policies that are being put forward for a repeat performance. 

The President feels very strongly that they are the wrong policies.  And he looks forward to the debate about which way to go forward.


Q    Jay, the Priorities super PAC has an ad out today that features a man who used to work at a steel plant that closed in 2001.  This was after it was acquired by Bain Capital.  And the implication is that Mitt Romney bears responsibility for the death of this man's wife because he lost his insurance when the plant closed in 2001 and then, in 2006, his wife who was uninsured at the time, died of cancer.  I'm wondering if the President believes that Mitt Romney shares responsibility in her death.

MR. CARNEY:  I have not seen the ad, and I would refer you to the campaign or to the organization.  I can't comment on that when I haven't seen it. 

Q    But you just took a very vocal position on an ad from a conservative super PAC.

MR. CARNEY:  An ad that falsely and dishonestly represents the President's current policy.  I haven't seen this.  I can't respond to it.

Q    Will you look at it and then let me know?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think I would refer you to the President's reelection campaign.

Q    But if you see it and you're responding to ads by a conservative super PAC, couldn't you respond to one about the super PAC --  

MR. CARNEY:  By all means, ask me tomorrow.  I said, I'm simply saying that I have not seen this, so how could I possibly assess it without seeing it?

Q    But you can -- will you assess it later?

MR. CARNEY:  If you ask me tomorrow, sure. 

Q    There's been a lot of talk over the past 24 hours about the fact that Mr. Romney has outraised President Obama for the third month in a row.  Before that, the President was outraising Mr. Romney.  But at the end of the day, if both of these candidates and their supporters raise a billion dollars or $1.2 billion, does it really matter who raises more?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that qualifies as a question beyond my purview here that I would refer to the campaigns and to political professionals on the outside about how much money is involved in a presidential election cycle.

I mean, one thing we certainly know -- and this goes to policy, because of the President's position on Citizens United -- is that untold millions, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent by outside groups disproportionately attacking the President.  Much of that money will be spent by organizations that do not reveal to the public who their supporters are, who their donors are.  The President obviously thinks that is an unfortunate result, but a predictable result, of the Citizens United decision.  But assessments for how the money factor plays into the presidential election, I would refer you to the campaign. 

Q    But at this point, the President has had to attend so many more fundraisers than, say, George W. Bush had during this point in his reelection campaign.  Does that impact the President's ability to do his day job?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it does not.  It certainly is part of running for President and running for reelection.  But as we've discussed here, it is a simple reality that even as he is a candidate for reelection, he continues to be President of the United States, and the demands of the job restrict his capacity in some instances to focus entirely on the campaign.  He simply cannot do that.  So he and we carefully allocate his time working with the campaign.  And when matters of state trump campaign requests for his time, that’s a fact that he has to live with and we have to live with because that is his primary responsibility.


Q    The President of the Boston Fed is suggesting the Fed should again act because the economy is just treading water.  How do you respond to Republican criticism that it’s the Fed’s actions, and not the President’s economic policies, that are keeping the economy from going under?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t seen those assessments, but I would simply say, Wendell, that I don’t comment on the Fed.

Q    I’m not asking you to comment on the Fed.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re asking me to comment on comments about the Fed.  I would --

Q    I’m asking you to comment on people who weigh the Fed’s actions against the President’s economic policies in line with the President’s economic policies --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, if you’re asking me, am I surprised that Republicans are criticizing the President’s policies, I am not.  I am happy to access the President’s policies and point you to this simple fact -- that when the President took office, we were in a cascading economic crisis, the likes of which none of us had seen in our lifetimes. 

The President took dramatic action -- sometimes, as with the auto bailout, action that was deemed politically unwise and unpopular, but was the right thing to do. He took action working with Congress to pass and implement and sign the Recovery Act.  And his policies, once they began to take effect, have helped this economy reverse the course it was on when he took office, which was one of -- at the time, seemed like bottomless decline  -- and put us in a situation where, while we are far from where we need to be, we have been growing economically since the President’s policies have taken effect and we have been creating -- this economy has been creating private sector jobs, 4.5 million of them.

That stands in stark contrast to the situation that existed when the President took office.  And as I noted, it is instructive to look back at the result of the policies that are now being put forward as an antidote or the answer to our problems and see what they bequeathed to us in 2007 and 2008.

Q    Would you say it’s a combination of the President’s policies --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to comment on the Fed and its actions, its impact on the economy.  That’s simply something I do not do.

Q    The President’s comment about "Romney Hood" -- was that an ad-lib or was that in his prepared remarks?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t really talk about the President’s speeches --
Q    You were pleased with it, weren’t you?  And it got a predictable response from Republicans.

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President's point is a point that he's been making quite frequently of late, which is that policies that promise massive tax cuts, that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest of us, are not the right prescription for the economy and they are simply bad for the middle class, because as the Tax Policy Center made clear in its study last week -- a study which, by the way, reporters who wrote about it said, bent over backwards to be generous to Governor Romney's policy proposals -- simply cannot work without resulting in a tax hike for the middle class.

As I said earlier, the numbers don't add up.  The math is a fantasy.  And we are in a reality-based universe here when we talk about economic policy.  The economic crisis, the Great Recession that was in full bloom when President Obama took office was a real tangible consequence of policy decisions that ended up being wrong for America.  And the President took bold action, some of it at the time unpopular, to halt the economic decline that this country was experiencing, and to reverse it.

Now, the hole dug by the Great Recession is very deep, and we continue to climb out of it together as a country.  But one thing is quite clear, and that is that we cannot go back, that we should not buy any more magic potion that promises to cure the economy's ills by giving tax cuts to the wealthy.  We know that doesn’t work.


Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  You're going to relieve me with a little foreign policy, aren’t you?

Q    I'm not.  (Laughter.) 


Q    A little counter-programming.  (Laughter.)  Earlier this week, the President made a phone call to the women's gymnastics team.

MR. CARNEY:  I was with him.  He was very excited.

Q    Okay -- and said, "Michelle and I have watched and decided, of all the Olympians, you guys amaze us the most."  I wonder if he wants to revisit those after the awesomeness of the U.S. women's soccer team coming back -- (laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I have to say that time stopped -- I don't know where everybody here was -- but in upper press and lower press, it was -- and I think across the West Wing -- that last half hour of that game was just extraordinary.  And I haven't spoken about this yet with the President, but I know that he was extremely excited by the victory and looks forward to the final.

I mean, I think -- look, the President's comments about the women's gymnastics simply reflected his, as you've heard him say, he knows how to swim, he just can't swim as fast as our Olympians, and he knows how to run, he simply can't run as fast as our Olympians.  But it amazes him that those young women can do what they do on the balance beam and the parallel bars and the vault.  It's really quite extraordinary. 

He spoke with the members of the women's gymnastics team after they had won the team competition.  And I know he was very excited to see Gabby Douglas win the individual competition.  So it's been a great Olympics so far, I think we can all agree.

Q    Does he have a comment at all about Mrs. Romney's horse not making the semis?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't had a discussion with him.

Q    Sorry --

MR. CARNEY:  No, no -- I know you're really playing against type here, Scott.  (Laughter.)  But I appreciate the diversion.  I have not had that discussion with him.  But, look, I can tell you the President was strongly behind every American athlete and entrant into the Olympics and wanted all of them to succeed.


Q    You used some rough language -- "hypocrisy knows no bound", "blatantly dishonest", "categorically false" -- to talk about this ad from the Romney campaign.  And, yesterday, when asked about what Harry Reid is doing, you basically said, well, you guys know Harry Reid, he can speak for himself.  So what Harry Reid is doing is appropriate and what Mitt Romney is doing is inappropriate?  Is that --

MR. CARNEY:  I speak for the President.  This ad --

Q    I didn't say about the ad -- what about Harry -- what does Harry -- is what Harry Reid doing appropriate?

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on.  I explain and defend the President's policies.  This advertisement falsely and dishonestly represents the President's policy.  And so I very clearly made our views on that known in my response to questions about it.  I do not speak for Harry Reid.  He is fully capable, as you know well, and others who have covered him know well, of speaking for himself. 

I would simply say that it is certainly a fact that -- I mean, let me back up here.  When we talk about ads like this and we talk about other ads that have been aired in this campaign, I understand there's an eagerness to cover this as tactic, as will it work, will it be effective -- even if it's blatantly false.  And I urge my former colleagues to also cover -- I understand there's interest in who wins and what tactics are effective -- but to also assess things and to separate fact from fiction.

Q    It sounds like you're denouncing what Harry Reid is doing, because you don't like these -- you don't like these tactics.

MR. CARNEY:  No, no -- I'm denouncing ads that categorically --

Q    Well, why is the Harry Reid tactic okay?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, what I'm saying is we can point you to the President's policies and demonstrate that the ad is false.

Q    I understand that.

MR. CARNEY:  In terms of -- again, I don't speak for Harry Reid.  But there is a way to resolve this dispute, right, which is for the Governor --

Q    -- there's a responsible way to go about it.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it's for the Governor to follow a tradition that was established by his own father many years ago of presidential candidates releasing multiple years of their tax return.  So, again, I would -- I think the dispute here is between the Romney campaign and Harry Reid.  And Senator Reid doesn’t take direction.  He speaks for himself.

Q    But you could say, hey, you know what, this is the low road.  The President has been in an ad saying sometimes our politics are small.  Is this an example of one of the small --

MR. CARNEY:  As I said yesterday, the President believes that the broader issue of tax fairness is very important to this campaign.  The particular issue of a presidential candidate's willingness to be transparent about his or her background is important.  And as a matter of tradition, it dates back to 1968, as you know, or the '68 election actually, prior to '68.  And I speak to his positions. 

For the campaign tit-for-tat, at the purely political level, I refer you to the campaigns. 

Q    I guess I go back -- and you've been very hesitant, very tough when there have been unsubstantiated allegations that come about the President from people, whether it's a Donald Trump or somebody like that.  And you've called on Republicans to speak out against this.  Why is this -- explain to me why this is different, what Harry Reid is doing.

MR. CARNEY:  I really can't do anything but reiterate what I said both yesterday and today, which is, I speak for the President.  I explain and defend his policies.  And I am very clear, crystal clear, when I believe that his policies have been falsely represented, as is the case here or when his words have been completely mischaracterized.

Q    You stand by what Harry Reid is doing?  Do you think this is a good thing to do?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would refer you to Senator Reid.  I think that the issue could be resolved now if a tradition that's been in place since 1968 were honored.  I understand, as I've said before -- and everybody who has covered presidential candidates knows this and everybody who has worked on campaigns I'm sure knows this -- that the process of running for President, if you're a serious candidate, a major candidate, is not always pleasant and it involves a lot of revelation about one's past and the positions you've taken. 

And this is part of the process, as I said yesterday, that isn't always comfortable, that isn't what I think candidates leap up and volunteer to do -- here, look at all of my financial records.  But it's a tradition that as Governor Romney, Governor George Romney said back in the 1968 cycle is important to get a sense of --

Q    So you're comfortable with what Harry Reid is doing?  Is the President comfortable?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I'm not making a judgment on it.  I'm simply saying that this whole thing could be resolved in a minute.

Q    Let me ask you about guns.  You were very careful yesterday on the Sikh shooting and on Aurora, basically saying that it's too early to talk about policy.  When is it appropriate to talk about policy?  When does -- does the President believe we have a gun problem in this country, that access to guns is too easy?

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes we have a violence challenge in this country, a violence problem that we need to address and come at from a variety of fronts, because it is not a problem that is just related to gun laws.  The President believes that when it comes to firearms, that we need to take common-sense measures that respect and uphold the Second Amendment rights of the American people.

Q    Are there enough measures on the books?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I was asked about the assault-weapons ban, which the President supports reinstating.  So I think, in that regard, he believes that Congress has not, but should, take action on that.  But beyond that, he thinks that we are -- that we can, recognizing a stalemate in Congress, recognizing the difficulty of moving forward even with something like that, that there are measures he can take, directing his administration, his Department of Justice, to make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining them by improving and enhancing our background check system, on which progress has already been made, and by directing, as he has since he took office, his administration to work with local communities, local law enforcement, to address violence from a variety of angles, including through education and other means.

So I think the point the President was trying to make in New Orleans, and did make, and that I’ve reiterated from here, is that these horrific incidents, like we saw in Aurora and like we saw outside of Milwaukee, are terrible, but we should not forget that violence occurs in America too frequently all the time.  And it is a problem that needs to be addressed on multiple fronts.

Q    Jay, can I just follow please?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Two questions.  One, Sikhs are being -- demonstrating throughout India against violence and gun laws in the U.S.  And also, at the same time, on Sunday night they gathered outside the White House for a vigil prayer and also thanking the President for his concern.  Now, question is that they’re also frightened and scared throughout the gurdwaras in the U.S. and also getting support from India.  They’re asking the President what message he has for them for the future to put up protection because they are part of this society and President has place in their hearts.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can say that the President feels very strongly that in the wake of this shooting that we need to recognize the significant contributions of the Sikh community to the broader American community.  I cannot, as I said yesterday, comment on an ongoing investigation or on the motives behind the attack in Wisconsin. 

I did note yesterday that since 9/11 there have been occasions where Sikhs have been targeted for violence because they have been misidentified as Muslims.  And that is a terrible thing on two levels because obviously neither Muslims nor Sikhs should be targeted for this kind of terrible violence.  And again, I'm speaking in a broader sense here, not with regard to what happened in Wisconsin, because I cannot make judgments about motive there while it's under investigation.

The President, as he said in his statement, the President and the First Lady -- their hearts go out to the victims, to their families, to the broader community.  And as you know, the FBI is part of this investigation and, more broadly, the administration is certainly assisting in whatever way it can.

Q    And second, I see American flag is half-staff or lowered, and is that in connection with the victims in Oak Creek?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, it is.

Q    And also, is President going to make a phone call to Prime Minister of India, or going to visit the victims?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no calls or scheduling announcements, or schedule changes to announce to you at this time.  But the answer is yes with regards to the flags being lowered.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  I have a question -- there's a report out today, I think it's on the Drudge Report, that the President --

MR. CARNEY:  Be mindful of your sources.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I'm just asking the question.  That the President told someone he believes Mitt Romney wants to pick General Petraeus as a running mate.  Do you have any information on this?

MR. CARNEY:  I can say with absolute confidence that such an assertion has never been uttered by the President.  And again, be mindful of your sources.

Q    Drudge is wrong?  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  Apparently so.

Q    Would Petraeus make a good Vice President?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  General Petraeus was an excellent general and is currently serving very well at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Q    In these waning months, weeks, leading into November, how important are the polls?  I know you say you don't look at the polls, but we know for sure --

MR. CARNEY:  I've never said that.

Q    We know for sure that the Democratic Party and this White House are looking at the polls throughout the country, how Democrats are faring and what people are thinking.  How important are the poll numbers to you at this time?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that sounds like a question that would be best directed to the campaign.  I can simply say, speaking for the President, that --

Q    Then answer a campaign question.

MR. CARNEY:  -- that he has said all along that he believes this will be a close election.  And the President has said that and others have said that, speaking for him and his campaign. 

The President fully understands that this country is continuing to emerge from the Great Recession, that Americans continue to be concerned about the direction of the economy, the need to have the economy grow more, to have it create more jobs.  And that's why the President is so focused on the security, the economic security of the middle class, because he believes that that is, as he said back when he ran for office the first time, for this office in 2008, that the security of the middle class is elemental to his vision of America's economic future. 

And long before the Great Recession delivered a hammer blow, to use a recently used phrase, to the middle class, the middle class was suffering already.  It was being squeezed by economic policies that disproportionately rewarded the wealthiest of Americans but did not, as promised, deliver the kind of economic growth or job creation that we, the American people, had been told they would.  And so that's why we cannot go back to those policies, and that's why this President is focused with such determination on an agenda that expands opportunity for the middle class, expands security for the middle class, that takes a balanced approach to our fiscal challenges, that ensures that we are continuing to invest in education and innovation and research and development, so that our economy has the foundation to grow in the 21st century.

These are the issues that preoccupy the President, and they are certainly the issues that will be debated in this election.

Q    I talked to David Axelrod last week, and he -- I brought up the question about some Republicans are saying that there will be -- Mitt Romney will receive 40 percent of the vote in November at least.  And he said it would be tighter than that.  And he even likened it possibly to Gore v. Bush.  What do you say about that from the tightness? 

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I'm not going to predict outcomes.  The President has the economic vision that he believes and I believe and we all believe are the -- is the right one for this country’s future.  We need to move forward and not backward.  The election in the end takes place on a single day when Americans across the country cast their ballots.  I know that some of them will have cast their ballots ahead of time because of early voting, but we’ll know the outcome when we know the outcome.  This President right now is focused on the possibilities that -- you like that quote there, Chuck?  (Laughter.) 

Q    It is what it is.

MR. CARNEY:  Is it what it is.  But seriously, from now until then, you’re going to see the President focus on his responsibilities in office and on making the case about why his vision is the right one for our future economically, and why his opponent’s proposals are mirror images -- although slightly exaggerated in size and form -- of the very policies that contributed to the worst economic disaster of our lifetimes. 

Peter Baker.

Q    You left out “one day at a time.”  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  One day at a time.

Q    Jay, could I ask a question on early voters?

MR. CARNEY:  I called on Peter.

Q    Governor Romney has promised 12 million jobs in the next four years if he is elected.  Is that a realistic goal?  Is there a goal that the President has by number for how many jobs he would --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say two things about that -- that a single piece of paper or a couple pieces of paper upon which you base a representation like that I think should be judged accordingly.  I would also note that projections by outside economists as well as the CBO suggest a certain amount of economic growth and job creation over those years.  But I would -- let me go back to the first point because I think it’s most important.

It is not enough to simply make promises about what your economic policies deliver -- will deliver, and then not expect the policy specifics to be analyzed and judged for what, realistically, they can deliver. 

And that’s what we saw.  That’s why the Tax Policy Center’s assessment was so valuable, because it simply -- to quote I think one of the articles I read, the analysts there “bent over backwards” to be as generous as possible to Governor Romney’s plan, to insert all the assumptions that would be most generous to it, and yet still came to the irrefutable conclusion that you cannot have a tax policy like the one that has been proposed without -- that does not result in the wealthiest Americans getting huge tax cuts and middle-class Americans seeing their taxes go up. 

It just can’t happen, because you have to -- in order to give that huge tax break to millionaires -- I mean, what is it, $250,000 -- another $250,000 to someone who makes $3 million without then asking dozens and dozens of middle-class families to pay the bill for that tax cut.  So the money that’s being asked for here, the price -- when the plan says, you, middle-class America, has to pay more -- you have to pay more to pay for this proposal, it’s not, well, you need to pay more because we all need to contribute to bringing the deficit down.  It’s not you need to pay more to pay for our national defense or for education or for Social Security and Medicare.  It’s you need to pay more, on average, for a middle-class family, $2,200 more, so that a millionaire or multi-millionaire can get a massive tax break.  That’s not -- and that’s not our assessment.  That’s the assessment of an independent outfit.

Q    You segued nicely from my question to your answer.  I wonder if we could go back to the jobs question.

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Is it realistic to expect 12 million jobs --

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t assessed it.  I think it’s -- I would encourage you and others to take that promise and bring it to outside economists and see what they say.  I don’t have an assessment of it.  What I know is that the economic policies that have been put forward will result in massive tax breaks for millionaires and substantial tax hikes on middle-class families.  That’s not the right policy.

Q    Will the President give us his sense of what he expects us to see in four years before the campaign is over?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President has been very clear about what his economic policies are, what he believes we need to do, not just in the four years going forward.  I mean, he would encourage Congress to take this issue away from him, the middle-class tax cut, by coming back now during recess or immediately upon their return in September, and reaching an agreement.  Because if you look at what the Senate passed, the bill the President supported, and the tax cuts it extended for 98 percent of the American people, and you look at what the House passed, which was that same 98 percent, but tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, the overlap is pretty substantial -- 98 percent.

Well, let’s make that law.  Sign it into law and take that issue away.  Give the middle class the certainty that would be created by that.  Give the economy the boost that would be delivered by that.  And then, continue to debate whether or not the wealthiest 2 percent should be getting another substantial tax cut next year.

Q    Right.  Can I ask just maybe -- the President always says or likes to say we’ve created 4.5 million jobs.  Given his fascination with that number, can we get any expectation from him of what he thinks we’ll be able to create in the next four years?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t -- well, let me just say, I don’t have a prediction for you of future economic growth.  We have economists here who put forward policy proposals and assessments of the future.  You can also look at CBO and other analysts. 

What the President does is focus on his policy proposals.  And what you saw with the American Jobs Act is that rather than make predictions of -- like you’re seeing from Governor Romney of ‘my one-sheet plan here will create 12 million jobs’ -- the President put forward a comprehensive job creation proposal, legislation that went before Congress, and we made no assessments of how many jobs it would create.  Instead, we let outside analysts, outside economists assess it, and they made a judgment that the portions of the American Jobs Act that Congress has yet to pass would add an addition 1 million-plus jobs to the American economy right now. 

So Congress should pass that.  Put teachers back to work, firefighters and police officers back to work, construction workers back on the job.  That would certainly help those families.  It would help the economy overall.  And it would help build infrastructure in this country that would allow the American economy to continue to grow.


Q    Will the President be holding a full-blown press conference anytime soon, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Define “anytime soon.”

Q    Before November.  Before his vacation.

Q    Before the convention.

Q    Before the convention.

MR. CARNEY:  The President will be holding -- I’m sure the President will be taking questions from you in the relatively near future.

Mr. Collinson.

Q    Thank you.  You said that it was important that the institutions of the state to be maintained in Syria after the fall of Assad.  How much of this approach is informed by what happened in Iraq when the Ba’athist state institutions were torn up after the fall of Saddam Hussein? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s fair to say that that precedent is useful to look at.  There are other precedents to look at, and the experience that we’ve had and that the region has had in various countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring.

But it is also true, as I have said or tried to say frequently, that each country in the region is different.  And so I would not suggest that any other country’s past experience is identical to what we can expect or what we could expect in Syria if various decisions were made about the transition. 

We’re focused on, with our partners, what needs to happen in Syria in a post-Assad world there that’s best for the Syrians; that allows for, as you mentioned and I mentioned, the state institutions to stay intact; that allows for a transition that brings about a government that is inclusive, that is responsive to the Syrian people, and that acknowledges and enforces the liberties and rights of all Syrians.

Q    I think King Abdullah said that -- in CBS News today -- that he was worried that Assad -- if Damascus fell, Assad might retreat to an Alawite enclave, and that could lead to the kind of breakup of Syria and ethnic conflict.  Is that something that the White House is concerned about, too?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as we’ve said, the longer this goes on, the longer Assad remains in power, the longer he is helped in his efforts to remain in power by those who continue to prop him up, the more chaotic the situation becomes in Syria, the more violence, the more bloodshed.  And those are all bad things.  That is why it is so essential that Assad step aside and that the Syrian people be given the opportunity to determine their own future. 

There are all sorts of possible outcomes in Syria that are less than ideal.  The least ideal, the worst outcome is one that would somehow allow Assad to stay in power and to continue to butcher his own people.  That will not happen.  The Syrian people won’t allow it to happen.  And as we’ve seen in recent days and weeks, Assad’s grip on power continues to loosen.  His control over his government, of his military, of the country continues to lessen.  But there is no question that suffering continues as well due to his actions.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, last one.  Connie.

Q    On the chemical weapons -- do you have an update on where they are?  And could these be the weapons that were looked for and never found in Iraq?

MR. CARNEY:  I have not heard that suggestion posited.  I would simple say, as I have in the past, that we remain concerned about the stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria.  We have and our international partners have made clear that it is the responsibility of the Syrian government to safeguard those stockpiles, and that any -- that the government and individuals within it will be held accountable if those stockpiles are not safeguarded.

Q    And that cross-border raid between Israel and Egypt, was there al Qaeda behind it as far as you can assess?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have an assessment of that.  Perhaps the State Department can help you. 


Q    Jay, is Friday the relatively near future?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I have no scheduling announcements to make.

1:36 P.M. EDT

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