Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Virginia Beach, Virginia, 9/27/2012

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Aboard Air Force One
En Route Virginia Beach, Virginia

11:00 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Welcome aboard Air Force One.  We’re very excited to be headed down to Virginia Beach, part of the state of Virginia that is home to my people; my father grew up in Norfolk.  Great part of the state, great part of the country. 

The only announcement I have is on what might be the most dominant topic of the week for the vast majority of the American people, and that is the replacement referees.  The President is very pleased that the two sides have come together to resolve their differences and ensure that going forward, when we watch our favorite teams play in the NFL, we can focus on the players and the game rather than on the officiating.  It’s a great day for America. 

Q    Will he mention that in the --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t expect so, but you never know.

MS. PSAKI:  Just one thing to highlight.  As you all know, overnight, the Obama campaign released a two-minute ad where the President speaks directly to the American people and lays out his plan to keep America moving forward, get folks back to work, and make the middle class secure again.  By focusing on manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and a balanced plan to reduce our deficit, President Obama’s real and achievable plan will create jobs and expand opportunity for the middle class.  This ad will run in seven states.  You have the list.  I’m happy to read it or present it to you.

Also, you’ll hear him in his remarks today talk about the importance of economic patriotism and making sure the middle class gets a fair shake, a fair chance to continue to -- to make sure the middle class have a fair shot to compete.  With that, we’ll take your questions.

Q    Where was that video shot?

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll have to get back to you on that question.

Q    Do you know, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure, actually.  It looks like it might have been the Chief of Staff’s office, but I’m not sure.

Q    Just on the other topic of the week.  Is the President going to meet with Netanyahu tomorrow or anytime soon?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no scheduling updates.  As you know, the President was at the United Nations earlier this week in New York.  The Prime Minister was not in New York.  The Prime Minister is there today and tomorrow, I believe.  The Prime Minister is meeting with Secretary of State Clinton later today, this evening, and I expect the President will have a follow-up phone call with the Prime Minister probably Friday.

Q    On Benghazi, there still is considerable confusion over what the administration considers the attack on the U.S. consulate.  Can you say why the FBI still hasn’t been able to get into that crime scene?  And how aggressively is the United States looking for clues, and as the President says, bringing them to justice?

MR. CARNEY:  I would have to refer you to the FBI for specifics about the investigation that they’re leading.  I can tell you that the President is determined, as he has said many times, that the perpetrators of the attack that cost four American lives, including our ambassador, be brought to justice.  And he will insist that the agencies of his administration take all necessary action to bring about that eventuality.

Q    If the President does not call it, label it a terrorist attack as you and others have, is there some legal or diplomatic trigger that that brings?  Why hasn’t he said that?

MR. CARNEY:  I think you’re misunderstanding something here.  I’m the President’s spokesman.  When the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, in open testimony in Congress answered a question by saying yes, by the definitions we go by -- this is me paraphrasing -- this was a terrorist attack -- I echoed that, because this President, this administration, everybody looks to the intelligence community for the assessments on this.  And it has been since I said so, the President’s position that this was a terrorist attack.

There are broader issues here that the President has addressed in answering questions, and he’s obviously interested in, as we all are, in waiting for the final result of an investigation.  But let’s be clear about this.  Every step of the way, the information that we have provided to you and the general public about the attack in Benghazi has been based on the best intelligence we’ve had and the assessments of our intelligence community.  We have said all along that there’s an ongoing investigation and that as more facts come out, we will follow those facts wherever they lead and apprise you of our assessments as those facts come to light.

What has also been the case is that from the very first hours after the attacks and the unrest in Cairo, there has been an attempt, unfortunately, by Republicans, beginning with Governor Romney, to try to turn this event into a partisan issue, to try to score political points out of a terrorist attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including our Ambassador to Libya -- and that’s unfortunate.

This President is absolutely focused on finding out exactly what happened, who is responsible, and bringing those responsible to justice.

Q    Jen, could you weigh in on the Romney campaign’s criticism of Obama over how the Benghazi issue has been handled? Any political aspects to that that you see?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think every time Mitt Romney has attempted to dip his toe in foreign policy waters, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.  So if you look at the last couple of months -- I know this isn’t exactly your question, but I’m getting there -- he went overseas on a foreign trip that was built up, offended our closest ally.  He gave a speech that was his best opportunity to lay out his case to the American people on why he was prepared to be commander-in-chief, and he failed to mention our troops, failed to mention Afghanistan.  He jumped the gun in criticizing the President on the night that these tragic events happened, which is something that, as we know, is not traditionally what takes place in a political campaign given the tragedy and the seriousness of what was underway.

Look, I think the American people are going to look at the President versus Mitt Romney, and look at their records and look at their vision.  The President has been very -- from the beginning of his time in the White House he has said, before he went into office, I’m going to end the war in Iraq -- he did that.  I’m going to go after Osama bin Laden -- he is dead.  I’m going -- and al Qaeda is decimated.  I’m going to restore our place in the world -- he’s done that.  That’s how people are going to look at and evaluate the President’s record.

We know that Mitt Romney wants to change the subject, wants to get at a strength for the President, and it’s clear that that’s what’s going on here.

Q    Jay, you made a point of saying you’re his spokesman and so what you say is policy.  But there is a difference in weight when a spokesman says something versus when the President says something.  Is there a reason that that particular word hasn’t come out of his mouth?  He’s had a chance --

MR. CARNEY:  As I said yesterday, no, there is no -- he was simply answering a question and explaining that the matter is under investigation.  Again, he bases his judgments on matters like this on the assessments that he’s provided by the intelligence community.  The head, the director of the NCTC went before Congress and made clear what his views were about how he would describe this, which is that it was a terrorist attack. 

And I think it’s important to note, I mean, definitionally, what a terrorist attack means, and that’s why I say it was self-evident when you have an armed assault on a diplomatic facility that results in the death of four Americans.  That’s definitionally a terrorist attack.

In terms of the partisan criticism here that has been sort of all over the map, I think it’s important to note that key members of the Senate and House in the Republican Party have been briefed by the same intelligence officials that provide intelligence to the administration, to the President, and they’ve gotten the same information.  They're fully aware of the information that has been developed and what the views were as we’ve moved along since the events of that night in Benghazi -- or that day in Benghazi.  So it just underscores the fact that there’s an unfortunate attempt to politicize something like this.

What the President is focused on is on bringing those to justice who killed four Americans and ensuring, as he said at his United Nations speech, that our embassies and diplomatic facilities and our diplomatic personnel around the world are being provided the protection by host countries that those countries are obligated to provide.

Q    Jen, do you think the President is running ahead in Virginia polls?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we see the same public polls that you all see.  I’m not going to get into our internal polls.  I will say that we know Virginia is going to be a close race.  I would bet that when the Romney team was looking at their scope of states that they probably thought six months ago they might be in a stronger position in Virginia, and it’s very close.  It’s within the margin of error.

We’re going to run regardless of where the polls are in Virginia like we’re five points behind.  That's why we’re here today.  That's why we will be back, I’m certain, again in the next couple of weeks.  And we’re really focused on our own game plan.

I will mention that not in Virginia, but today early voting starts in Iowa, early voting is happening in dozens of states across the country.  It’s Game Day in America -- that's not just a play on the refs’ resolution.  And that's a focus of ours as well.  So that's not applicable to Virginia, but it is part of what we’re focused on -- making sure people know where to vote, how to vote; they can vote early at this stage in the race.

Q    I thought, Jen, Denise’s road map says that today early voting did start in Virginia.  Is that wrong?

Q    Absentee voting.

MS. PSAKI:  Absentee voting, it may.  Early voting does start in Iowa today though.

Q    Jen, a quick question.  Any reaction to this apparently perfectly legal method Romney used to greatly reduce the gift and estate taxes on the wealth he transferred to his children that was reported today?

MS. PSAKI:  I have not seen that report.  I’m happy to get back to you on kind of a response to it.  What’s clear -- that specific report aside -- is that Mitt Romney has not been shy about using tax loopholes and different ways to reduce his own taxes that he’s paying on a yearly basis.  So I’ll take a closer look and I’m happy to get back to you on a specific response.

Q    Jen, how long are you going to keep this run going where President Obama and Governor Romney are in the same state on the same day?

Q    Same moment.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  I know.  Well, look, we plan our schedule.  We all know what the close states, the swing states are.  Virginia is certainly one of them.  Ohio is certainly one of them.  And you never know, it could happen again.

Q    Jen, what’s the effect of the abbreviated debate prep schedule for the President going to be?  How is that going to affect his debate performance next week?

MS. PSAKI:  The President will have some time to prepare, and he’s been doing some studying.  But it is certainly less than we anticipated because of the events in the Middle East, because of his busy travel schedule, because of just the constraints of governing.  So it is less than we originally planned.

I will just take this opportunity to say that Mitt Romney on the other hand has been preparing earlier and with more focus than any presidential candidate in modern history -- not John F. Kennedy, not President Bill Clinton, not President George Bush, not Ronald Reagan has prepared as much as he has.  So there’s no question that he will have a lead on how prepared he is.

I’ll also say that we fully expect -- we’ve been -- a lot of us have been to this rodeo before; we know there’s going to be twists and turns, and ups and downs in the campaign.  We know we’ll have them in the next 40 days as well.  Mitt Romney has set it up that, and his team has set it up that they want the debate to be that moment for him.  They fully expect that moment is going to be their turning point.  And we know people want to write a comeback kid story, so we’ll see if that happens.

And I’m happy to send this to you, too, but John Kerry did receive a bump, a significant bump, when he -- after the debate, as did George W. Bush.  So that’s something that there’s historical precedent for.

Q    Given all that, what’s the worst thing from the campaign perspective that could happen at the debate for the President?  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  Well, he could fall off the stage.  I’m not going to speculate on what’s going to happen at the debate.  As you know, it’s 90 minutes where there will be a great deal of back and forth.  We also feel that Mitt Romney has 90 minutes to explain to the American people exactly how he’s going to fight for the middle class when his plan seems to be to just extend tax cuts for the highest income.  He has 90 minutes to give specifics, and so we expect that will be part of the conversation as well.

Q    Is there an area that you guys think you need to -- that you’re sensitive on, that you need to explain more?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as much as I’d love to detail our fears, concerns and hopes, I know that it will go straight to our opponent’s deck of papers, so we’re probably going to hold back from previewing our strategy before the debate.

Q    Romney has suggested that, at the very least, Obama will present untruths about his record at the debate.  And some Republicans have suggested that he’ll outright lie.  Could you respond to that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it is -- Mitt Romney and his team have a tendency to look at the President and make outrageous accusations about his truthfulness when, if you look at their record of ads, their record of mistruths, his nose would be Pinocchio, from here in Virginia to Ohio if that was part of what happened to Mitt Romney.  That didn’t make sense.  I'm going to say it one more time.  (Laughter.)  If Mitt Romney were Pinocchio, his nose would be reaching from Virginia to Ohio, with the number of lies and untruths in the ads that his team has put out. 

The President has laid out his plan, the choice in this campaign, the choice in this election for the American people.  He'll do that next Tuesday.  But this is the kind of ridiculous, absurd and unproven accusations by the Romney team that are just meant to distract and are not based on any record of the last several months. 

Q    Hey, Jay, are you starting to feel like a bystander in these gaggles?

MR. CARNEY:  Not at all.  I enjoy listening to my colleague field your questions.  It's most comforting.

Q    Jay, did you cover the ’08 debates, any of them?

MR. CARNEY:  I sure did. 

Q    What do you expect to get out of the comparison today?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think it's fair to say -- and this is as a former journalist and observer -- I mean, if you just look at the assessment of the debates in 2008, that Barack Obama became the nominee of his party, in some ways in spite of his debate performances, and Mitt Romney became the nominee of his party because of them.  And I think that -- because of Romney's debate performances.  And I think that, in terms of expectations, reflects my view going in.

Q    Is he doing any work to prepare for Romney potentially trying to get under his skin -- the President? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t want to preview what's happening or kind of read out what's happening in debate prep.  I mean, I will say that the President is familiar with his own loquaciousness and his tendency to give long, substantive answers, as is evidenced by his appearance at Univision and also at the NBC Education Nation interview.  And that is a challenge when you're in a debate and you have a limited amount of time to answer a question, to give feedback, to push back on your opponent's answers.  So that’s certainly something he and all of us are cognizant of. 

Q    Air Force One has landed. 

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks, everybody.

END
11:19 A.M. EDT