the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/18/2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Manchester, New Hampshire

10:48 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us aboard Air Force One as we make our way to New Hampshire. I think Jen and I both have a couple of introductory remarks, and then we'll take your questions this morning.

I first wanted to flag for you, before we get started, the contents of the President's weekly address that was released last evening on an embargoed basis for this morning. The President pointed out in that weekly address that since the recession ended in June of 2009, more than 300,000 teachers and other education staffers in local school districts all across the country have lost their jobs.

This is a kind of policy change that will have an impact on the ability of our kids in schools all across the country to thrive. And even this year, there are several thousand fewer teachers and educators going back to school than even last year. This is something that the President is concerned about both as a local economic matter -- that these education jobs are good middle-class jobs, and having fewer of them will have an impact on local economies all across the country. But at least as importantly is a longer-term impact that it will have on the opportunities that are presented for our kids to thrive.

And if we expect to have a workforce that is going to compete in a 21st-century global economy, we need to be maximizing educational opportunities that our children have. And I want to remind you that the President himself has put forward a plan -- he did this last year -- to help states and local communities afford to rehire these teachers. And there's only one reason that this plan hasn't passed the United States Congress, and that's because Republican members of Congress have put protecting tax benefits for millionaires and billionaires ahead of rehiring these teachers. That's something the President strongly disagrees with, and it seems like this back-to-school time is an appropriate time for us to highlight this issue.

So I hope that as you guys are reporting on this over the weekend and during this back-to-school time, you'll give it its due attention.

Jen.

MS. PSAKI: So this morning in New Hampshire, the President will again play out the choice between his record and his plan and Mitt Romney's, specifically the Romney/Ryan plan to extend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires -- their $5 trillion tax cut plan, that, according to the Tax Policy Center, would raise taxes on middle-class families. The President will also highlight the fact that under Paul Ryan's plan, Mitt Romney would have paid less than 1 percent in taxes. What an interesting coincidence that is.

And the second thing I wanted to just highlight -- you may have seen overnight, so this should be in your email -- but we just released a new campaign ad that highlights the President's commitment to women's issues, women and their families. The new ad is called “The Same.” It draws a stark contrast between President Obama and the Romney/Ryan ticket's record on women's health.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have taken extreme positions on issues that matter to women and their families, from promising to get rid of Planned Parenthood to backing proposals that would take away a woman's right to choose. Women recognize they cannot trust the Romney/Ryan ticket to stand up for them.

And, in contrast, President Obama has consistently been committed to protecting women's health because he knows that women are capable of making their own choices when it comes to their health care. He has repeatedly fought back against Republican efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and believes that women -- not politicians or the government -- should be in control of their own health decisions.

The ad is running in six states -- Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Iowa.

With that, we'll take your questions.

MR. EARNEST: With that, I think we'll take your questions.

Q Hey, Josh, any reaction from the White House to Julian Assange being granted protection by the Ecuadorians? And also, Britain's initial attempt -- their threat to say that they could go in and retrieve Assange from the embassy?

MR. EARNEST: At this point, the United States views this as a matter to be resolved between the British government, the Ecuadorian government, and the Swedish government. At this point, we have not intervened in this matter and I don't have any guidance for you right now about whether or not that's something we would intervene in.

Q Jen, do you have any concerns that Republicans have been so aggressive in terms of framing the Medicare debate early on, and now it seems like the President and Democrats are on the defensive on Medicare? Do you have any concerns about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the President spoke about Medicare last Wednesday in Iowa. He'll speak about it again today. And you don't have to take our word for it in terms of the difference between their plans. AARP has said that the President's plan would strengthen Medicare and extend the solvency of the program; that the Romney/Ryan plan would undermine Medicare and would pass along the cost to seniors.

We are up with the campaign ad, as you probably know, that we put out yesterday. And the President, as I said, will talk about it today. If the Romney/Ryan team was confident about their economic plan, their tax plan that, as I mentioned previously, would pass on the cost to middle-class families an average of $2,000, we suspect they'd probably be talking about that. As they've said, they want to be talking about the economy, and we're happy to be talking about the economy.

But they put forward this debate. We're happy to have the debate. We know, today, Paul Ryan is down in Florida talking about Medicare, talking about health care. We know Florida seniors are smart, and when they look at the details of the plan and they look at the fact that not just us, but many outside organizations, including the AARP, are saying that the Romney/Ryan plan would increase costs for them, middle-class taxes would be increased, we know they're going to take a close look at that, and we feel good about what the result will be.

MR. EARNEST: And just as a matter of policy, there's one thing I want to add to that. Certainly, I agree with everything that Jen has said. But as a matter of policy, the reforms that the Obama administration has put in place for Medicare extended the life of the program by eight years. But what Governor Romney and congressional Republicans have proposed doing would actually shorten the lifespan of Medicare. And, in fact, if Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan were elected into office, Medicare would become insolvent even before the end of their first term.

So there is a very stark difference when it comes to the record of the two candidates on these issues. And, as Jen pointed out, it's certainly something we anticipate that voters across the country who rely on Medicare on a daily basis will carefully consider.

Q You've probably heard there's been some conflicting reports about whether the Syrian Vice President has or has not defected. Has the White House or the administration been able to get any clarity on what's happening here?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not in a position to be able to confirm those reports, though I have seen them. At this point, whether or not those reports are true, we have seen in the last several weeks the increasing isolation of the Assad regime; that even those closest to President Assad recognize that he has lost his legitimacy to govern, and that is largely due to the heinous acts of violence that he is perpetrating on his own people.

So it is our view that his continuing loss of support and his increasing isolation are a clear indication that the momentum is on the side of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition. And we hope that it will hasten a transition -- a democratic transition in Syria to a government that reflects the will of the Syrian people.

Q Josh, even as a new special envoy comes in to replace Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, all the monitors, the U.N. monitors are leaving Syria. What does that say about the stage of the international community's ability to effect change?

MR. EARNEST: Well, we've articulated our concerns before about the continued violence of the Assad regime and the impact that's having on the ability of these U.N. monitors to do their job. We've also expressed concerns about the Assad regime's multiple broken promises in terms of the commitments they made to Kofi Annan, the previous U.N. official who was responsible for trying to broker a solution there.

So we're certainly concerned about it. We are pleased, as I mentioned to Matt, in response to his question yesterday, that Mr. Brahimi has agreed to take on these responsibilities. He is somebody that the United States has worked with in the past, and we certainly are pleased that he has taken on this difficult assignment. And he has our support as he works to resolve the ongoing challenges there.

Q Josh, the President, when he was walking towards the plane, looked a little gimpy. Is he injured?

MR. EARNEST: Not that I know of at all.

Q His right -- he appeared to be favoring his right leg, and he didn't bound up the steps, as is his tradition.

MR. EARNEST: I haven't noticed it. I can check with him today if you want.

Q Because, I mean, he's got an important basketball game on Wednesday -- the Obama classic, playing with NBA stars. I don't know, maybe he's trying to psych them out. (Laughter.) But I just want to know whether or not the President is in fact injured. As a left-hander, he would probably jump off his right leg when he goes for a layup, not a dunk, according to Maraniss. (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: I'll check on the health of the President's right knee and get back to you.

Q But right leg in general -- he could have rolled an ankle.

MR. EARNEST: I'll check on the health of the President's lower right extremity and get back to you.

Q Thank you.

Q Inform the pool, too.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. You clearly caught him in trying to hustle and prearrange the game for Wednesday. (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: Anybody else?

MS. PSAKI: If I can add just one thing about New Hampshire, just for all of you to look out for -- this is the second time the President has been here campaigning this year. This is obviously a state where -- it's Mitt Romney's backyard. If anybody knows Mitt Romney, it's the people of New Hampshire. He even has a vacation home here. And there are a couple of interesting things about the dynamic of the state.

The Republican legislature there has brought up social issues, women's health issues, and other kind of conservative social issues that Mitt Romney is on the same page of. It's engaging and energizing our supporters and our base, and it's not typically what the New Hampshire legislature is focused on.

And, of course, today -- a week from today is Josh's wedding. So I just wanted to make sure that that made it into the reporting, and that nobody asked him any hard questions for the remainder of the week. (Laughter.)

Q It's really inappropriate for Jeff Mason to start asking about what sort of bachelor party activities there will be.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we'll leave that to you.

Q -- always gets picked on.

MS. PSAKI: I know, it's mean. (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: We're definitely not going to put any of those details on the record.

Q So no radio address next Friday? (Laughter.)

Q Actually, Jen I got a --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q Traditionally, Presidents kind of stay low during the opposition's conventions. Is he trying to steal some thunder next week with his own campaign trips?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'd have to look back and remember what we did four years ago. We know that this is a close election and we need to compete for every vote that we can compete for. And that's one of the reasons the President will be spending some time on the campaign trail the week of the Republican convention. And he'll be reaching out to voters, having conversations about the economy, middle-class taxes, affordable health care and having access to that.

We know that there will certainly be a lot of attention paid to the Republican convention just like there will be to the Democratic convention the week we have it. But we're not going to give up any precious time or precious time with voters when we have it.

Q Is the President as energized by New Hampshire as he clearly was in Iowa last week?

MS. PSAKI: It's like picking between children -- he loves them equally. They both were important parts of his journey to where he is today.

Q Does he think New Hampshire voters are likeable enough? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: He is excited to be back in New Hampshire; loves the people of the state; can't wait to talk about taxes in New Hampshire, an issue he knows the people of the state care deeply about.

Q I couldn't help myself. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: You've got to be like the adult in the room here. (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: Are we good?

Q Thank you.

MR. EARNEST: Thank you, guys.

END 11:01 A.M. EDT