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 en route Columbus, OH, 8/21/2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Columbus, Ohio

10:33 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good morning, everybody.  I don't actually have any opening remarks, but my colleague, Jen, is here.  She'll give you a little preview of the President's remarks in Columbus, and then we'll take your questions. 

MS. PSAKI:  So I know we provided to all of you a story that was written in a Las Vegas paper this morning, as well as some background on today.  I just wanted to delve a little bit deeper into what the President will talk about.

As you know, the President has made education a top priority of his presidency.  He'll reiterate that again today and tomorrow at his events.  He has a personal stake in making sure education is available to all Americans, making sure people have an opportunity to go to college.  Not only does he believe that those who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, but he knows personally, as does the First Lady, that education can be a way to lift you up out of more challenging circumstances.

He'll also talk about the fact that 60 percent of new jobs in the next 10 years will require higher education, further emphasizing why this is a top priority.  And that's why, over the course of his presidency to date, he's fought to ensure 10 million more students can afford college with grants that go farther than they have before; why he's fought to make sure that interest rates this summer -- remember we were having a debate about this -- on federal student loans didn’t increase.  And that's why he fought to reform the student loan system that gave billions to banks and lobbyists, to ensure that those savings were going back to students.

In contrast -- and he'll talk about this today -- the Romney/Ryan plan has a couple of components.  One, their budget that they both support would slash funding by 20 percent, cutting 1 million students from getting scholarships, and cutting for 10 million students financial aid.  You've heard Mitt Romney talk about this, and the President will talk about this today.  His solution has a couple of components.  One is to borrow money from your parents and the second is to shop around.

The President just doesn’t think that's acceptable and he knows -- and he'll talk about this again -- why this is a central choice that people are facing in Nevada and Ohio and across the country.

So with that, we'll take your questions.

Q    Josh, the President, yesterday, drew what he called a red line on Syria and chemical weapons.  He said any movement of chemical weapons, any deployment of chemical weapons would change his calculus.  Why doesn’t he use the same kind of standard on Iran?  We haven’t heard that kind of red line language from him on Iran.  We see today that Ahmadinejad is talking about new short-range missiles that can reach Israel, that can reach U.S. bases.  Why not hear from the President on Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you have heard us say over the course of the last year and half or two years, that each of these circumstances is a little bit different, and it's important that we have a unique method and set of policies to deal with each discrete situation.

So as the President said yesterday in terms of Syria, we're watching very closely the stockpile of Syrian chemical weapons; that any use or proliferation efforts related to those chemical weapons is something that would be very serious and it would be a grave mistake.

There are important international obligations that the Syrian regime must live up to in terms of the handling of their chemical weapons.  And the officials who have that responsibility will be held accountable for their actions and will be held accountable for living up to those international obligations.

In terms of Iran, the situation is a little bit different.  There is a much tighter international coalition that’s in place to confront the threat that’s posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions.  The United States has worked in a multilateral fashion with our allies, with other countries in the region to put in crippling sanctions.  The Iranian regime has complained publicly about the significant impact that those sanctions are having on the local economy. 

And it does set up a pretty clear choice for the Iranian regime about whether or not they want to continue to pursue a nuclear weapon in violation of their international obligations, or if they want to rejoin the international community and live up to those international obligations that they have.

So I think you have heard the President speak pretty clearly about what the Iranian regime would do.  And he has backed up that talk with these sanctions that have been put in place both on a multilateral scale, but also bilaterally as well.  Those sanctions are having an effect and are posing a pretty stark choice for the Iranian regime about the way forward.

Q    Does the President have any concern about mobilization and rhetoric out of Israel right now regarding Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President took this on a little bit yesterday -- or maybe it was Jay earlier on in the briefing that Jay talked about the very close and deep security cooperation that exists between the United States and Israel --it’s never been deeper or closer. 

The reason for that relationship is the President remains committed to the security of Israel and he has directed his national security team to work closely with their counterparts in Israel to ensure that country’s security.  The United States has a legitimate and important interest in the security of Israel, and it’s in the best interest of our country and our national security infrastructure to ensure that we’re working closely with them to protect their security.  And that certainly is an important part of the reason why the President has led on the world stage to put in place these international sanctions against Iran.

Q    Josh, in response to the President’s comments about Syria yesterday, Russia has said -- or issued a warning of some kind saying the U.S. should not act unilaterally in Syria.  Is that something the President is aware of, and do you have any response to that reaction?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll be honest with you, Jeff, I haven’t seen those comments.  I don’t think I would want to go beyond what the President said yesterday on that front.

Q    Josh, on Afghanistan, the President said yesterday that he planned to raise the issue of green-on-blue violence with President Karzai.  Overnight, there’s been obviously reports of a rocket attack on the damaged General Dempsey’s plane.  Has the President spoken with President Karzai, first of all?  And secondly, has he spoken with General Dempsey regarding that incident involving his airplane?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any specific calls to read out to you.  I have seen the reports that the plane that General Dempsey was traveling -- was using was damaged while it was sitting on the tarmac yesterday by shrapnel.  General Dempsey, as you know, was not on the plane at the time; he was in his quarters, and he actually left Afghanistan Bagram Air Force Base a little later on a separate plane.

I don’t have any specific calls to read out to you.  The President spoke pretty clearly and candidly yesterday about the concern that he has about the pace of the insider attacks that are cropping up a little bit more frequently.

There are a number of things that our team has put in place to try to deal with some of these challenges -- some more counterintelligence measures, some closer cooperation with village elders who can vouch for the efforts of our allied forces there.  The President also referenced the Guardian Angel program.  General Dempsey himself was there in part to talk about some of the measures that we can take to deal with the threat and challenges posed by insider attacks. 

And I should say that, obviously, this is something the President is concerned about because these men and women who are serving in Afghanistan are some of the best that our country has to offer.  And certainly any time that any of these soldiers pays the ultimate sacrifice, our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to their families.

Q    Jen, can we talk about some of the assumptions that the press secretary of the campaign is making about the Romney/Ryan budget in drawing this contrast?  Because they obviously haven’t spelled out exactly how cuts would be parceled out.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, definitely.  I think if you look at the budget, we know that there are a number of questions -- and you kind of alluded to this -- that they haven’t answered about how they would specifically make domestic cuts.  So if you assume a 20-percent cut across the board to a number of these programs, you do get to devastating cuts.

It is clear, too -- and the President will talk about this today -- that if they want to move forward on their $5 trillion tax plan that gives tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, extends tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, that in order for the numbers to add up -- and it’s not just us saying this, of course; it’s outside groups like the Tax Policy Center saying this -- they’re going to have to make dramatic across-the-board cuts.

It’s also clear, this summer, when we had the whole debate about interest rates and making sure that they weren’t doubled for students, that wasn’t an issue we saw a lot of courage from the Romney/Ryan team on.  That was an issue the President fought whole-heartedly to make sure it didn’t happen. 

The President’s record also speaks for itself.  He’s made education a top priority from the first day of his presidency.  As I mentioned, it’s a personal issue for him.  He’ll continue fighting for it when he has a second term in office.

Q    On the events on Wednesday in New York, there’s a rally and then a basketball game?  And is the President going to play?

MS. PSAKI:  We do like to keep you on your toes and keep some things of interest for tomorrow.  I can go through a couple of the events for tomorrow.  So when we get to New York there’s three pieces of it.  There’s a dinner that’s $20,000 per person -- we’ve sold about 120 tickets.  There are two earlier events, including an autograph signing event.  Tickets are $250 per person.  And a skills camp, a shoot-around.  So I’ll just tell you, stay tuned.  The President does love basketball, but I don’t have anything to report yet.

Q    Do you have any more on his injury report and why he’s not bounding up the stairs as he has in the past?  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll just say I feel pretty good about where the President and how the President is going to play tomorrow.  He is playing with some NBA heroes.  So I don’t want to overbuild it.

Q    Well, to lay the rest of the questions about his injury, could you have him bound up the stairs, perhaps, when we’re leaving from Ohio?  Then I’ll stop asking.

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll see what we can do.

Q    Hey, Jen, we’re about to land in Ohio.  Over the weekend, the Ohio secretary of state decided to eliminate all weekend early voting in Ohio.  Does the campaign have a response?  And is that impacting the law suit?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve always believed that restoring equal and fair access to early voting should be a priority, and ensuring all people who are eligible to vote have access to vote and have the opportunity to vote.  It’s clear what the motivation is here.  It’s about numbers and it’s about votes.  And it’s some partisan motivation going on that is prompting the calls to limit access to voting in states like Ohio.  It is happening in other states.  It is something we’re paying very close attention to.  We’re involved -- in some places there are cases going on, which we’re heavily involved in, and other places we’re making sure we’re focused on educating our voters on when and where they can vote.

So I’ll just leave it at that.  It’s clear what the motivation is, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure everybody who is eligible has the opportunity.

MR. EARNEST:  Thanks, guys.

10:42 A.M. EDT