Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/2/12
Las Vegas, Nevada
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for being here in sunny Las Vegas. We are about to start the gaggle, Jen Psaki and I. Before I turn to questions, I have just something that I wanted to make you aware of. As we all know, travel and tourism to the United States is a major driver of our economy. Recognizing the importance of travel and tourism, President Obama, through an executive order, directed to the Departments of Homeland Security and State to expand our work to attract and welcome international visitors while maintaining the highest security standards.
A key element of the President’s travel and tourism strategy is the Visa Waiver Program, which allows eligible passport holders from 36 countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for visits up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes. This is a program for those foreign partners who meet the highest security and immigration standards.
Today, Secretary Napolitano, in consultation with Secretary Clinton, designated Taiwan as the newest member of the Visa Waiver Program, a step which will enable secure and expedited travel by eligible Taiwan passport holders to the United States. Taiwan’s designation for participation in the VWP represents a logical development in the close security, economic, and people-to-people relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan.
And I think Jen has something also at the top.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know you all have many questions about debate prep and how that’s going. We were going to do a little livestream into debate prep, but technology didn’t work -- so blame Pat for that. (Laughter.)
I did want to highlight two things that are new reports this morning that Mitt Romney won’t be able to avoid if they come up. One, Mitt Romney has been telling all of you for months that he has not financially benefited from his offshore holdings and tax havens in places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Today, The New York Times reported that, in fact, he has benefited financially. This raises a lot of questions that the Romney campaign should have to answer -- he should have to answer tomorrow evening. We look forward to hearing what he has to say.
The second piece is there’s a new report you may have seen that came out this morning from The Commonwealth Fund that says that 72 million people would be uninsured under Mitt Romney’s health care plan. I believe that’s more people than are uninsured now. So basically, his slogan is "make things worse for health care across America."
As a reminder, he’s also said he would veto the Affordable Care Act, which means costs would go up for seniors; cancer screenings, mammograms that are happening for women would not happen; and people with preexisting conditions would be left without options. So just wanted to highlight those two pieces.
Also, early voting starts in Ohio today. There are great pictures out there. We’ve seen a great response already. And as you know, that’s a big focus of ours as we look forward to the next 34 days.
Q Jay, what’s the message to China on this Taiwan opening?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no message to any other country. It’s simply a new development in the visa waiver program -- another member of the program, Taiwan, which, going forward, Taiwan passport holders will be eligible to make secure and expedited travel to the United States, which is part of this effort, a broad effort to enhance tourism and travel to the United States, because it’s such an important industry for our economy.
Q Do you have any reason to believe that any of the tax maneuvers that Mitt Romney used were against the law?
MS. PSAKI: We're not suggesting that. What we're suggesting is -- and frankly, this is an issue where the ball is in Mitt Romney's court. We've only seen, as you know, two years of tax returns. If we saw additional years, something that his own father said was the way for the American people to be able to see what somebody invests in, what somebody takes part in as a business leader, then we'd have more answers.
This is an issue where I think, again, he's been telling people for months that he didn’t financially benefit. And it's clear that because of some of the steps that his company took, he did. We're not suggesting that's illegal. It's more that it's a call for the need for tax reform, and it raises the question to people who will be watching at home tomorrow night why they're paying a higher rate than one of the presidential candidates.
Q Jay, Darrell Issa and Congressman Chaffetz sent a letter to Secretary Clinton today about Benghazi, and I just wanted to quote from the letter and get your response. They assert that "Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that prior to the September 11, 2012 attack the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests to increase security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these requests by officials in Washington." In addition, the committee and Congressman Issa cite 13 security incidents leading up to the attack ranging from IED and RPG attacks to a Facebook posting highlighting Ambassador Stevens's runs throughout Tripoli.
I'm wondering if you could shed any light for us on this. Have you heard the assertion before that people -- that the U.S. embassy in Libya made repeated requests for increased security? Is that true?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Jake, embassy security is a matter that has been the purview of the State Department. Secondly, Secretary Clinton instituted in the immediate wake of the attack in Benghazi an accountability review that is underway as we speak, and there's an investigation of the attack itself by the FBI, and then there is the security review that Secretary Clinton instituted to look at matters of security in Benghazi and elsewhere.
So I'm not going to have very much to provide to you on the security situation on the ground in Libya. I can tell you that from the moment our facility was attacked in Benghazi, the President's focus has been on securing our diplomats and facilities in Libya and around the world, and on bringing the killers to justice. At every step of the way, the administration has based its public statements on the best assessments that were provided by the intelligence community. As the intelligence community learned more information they updated Congress and the American people on it.
It's natural, obviously, as this investigation continues and more information is learned in that process, that new information is presented and we endeavor to convey that to you where appropriate and possible.
Q When you tell us to talk to the State Department, the State Department says they're not commenting on any of this until the accountability review is done, and it ends up being just that we don't know anything, the public doesn’t know anything, about this, at least when it comes to official statements from the White House. I would think that just a basic yes or no, were there warnings?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I'm not going to get into a situation that's under review by the State Department or by the FBI in its investigation of what happened. It is certainly, broadly speaking, a known fact that Libya is in transition. It is a known fact that in the eastern part of Libya there are militant groups, and in the country as a whole but especially in eastern Libya, a great number of armed individuals and militias -- that is one of the legacies of the revolution there and the civil war.
So beyond that, I'm just not going to be able to comment on what is a matter under investigation and review by both the FBI and the State Department.
Q Governor Romney gave an interview to The Denver Post in which he seemed to be saying that he would maintain the President's executive order on immigration for children who were born to illegal immigrants but inside the U.S. And I was wondering if I could get both of your reactions to that, both from a policy perspective and a political perspective.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I'll start. So we put deferred action -- the President[‘s Homeland Security Secretary issued an enforcement directive] signed an executive order putting deferred action in place more than a hundred days ago. Mitt Romney has not spoken to this in more than a hundred days. He's had ample opportunity to speak to it.
The interview he gave also raised more questions about what exactly the policy is he would support. He didn’t make clear whether he would -- he has changed position on his commitment to vetoing the DREAM Act. Does he still believe the Arizona law is a model for comprehensive immigration reform?
So there are a lot of questions that were raised about that interview, and again, it's not really showing a huge amount of courage to come out and give a confusing answer on an issue that's been around for more than a hundred days.
Q And, Jay, on the policy point?
MR. CARNEY: As a matter of policy, the executive order [enforcement action] that the President[’s Homeland Security Secretary put in place] signed, which allows DHS to exercise prosecutorial -- or enforcement discretion is a temporary measure, as the President made clear. The solution to the problem of the DREAM Act kids, as they're known, or the DREAM kids, is passage of the DREAM Act, which, unfortunately, Republicans have blocked and, unfortunately, Governor Romney has said he would veto if elected.*
It is also a fact that the broader issue of comprehensive immigration reform remains unaccomplished and a top priority of this President, as he has noted on numerous occasions. It has been disappointing that some of the leading advocates for comprehensive immigration reform -- bipartisan immigration reform in the Republican Party abandoned their support for it after President Obama took office. Hopefully, that, in his view, will change if he is fortunate enough to be reelected and there will be an opportunity to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in a bipartisan manner in the near future.
MS. PSAKI: And just one thing to add. As people who care deeply about this issue, including many people in Nevada, look at Mitt Romney's record, Mitt Romney's statements, their concern is going to be about the fact that he's taken the most extreme positions of any candidate in modern American history on immigration, on, again, saying that the Arizona law is a model, vetoing the DREAM Act. I think people are pretty clear where he stands on these issues and I think that's what people will be looking at in the next 34 days.
Q Do you think he's pandering to voters in Colorado?
MS. PSAKI: It's hard for us to attribute what his motivation is. I think there are a lot of questions I encourage you to go back and ask him about where he feels -- how he feels about the DREAM Act. Is it something he'd now support? Where he stands on comprehensive immigration reform -- there could be a lot to delve into there.
Q Jay, those of us who covered the immigration reform debate in the 2009 through 2011 time period talked to a lot of Democrats on the Hill and a lot of immigration advocates who believe the President is not putting the full force of the presidency behind reform. In fact, it was very low down on his list of priorities. Does the President have any regret about not using political capital from that time period? And what do you say to people who think that the issuing of the executive order was politically opportunistic?
MR. CARNEY: I'd say a couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question very similar to yours during his Univision interview. I would refer you to his responses about the inability of Washington to get immigration reform passed in the last four years. It remains his --
Q But at the time, when we talked to Democrats at the time, and we covered it on the Hill, they said the President --
MR. CARNEY: I think you saw the President give a number of full answers in response to this question. And since the question is about him, I think those answers are even better than the ones I might provide that would echo those answers today.
The fact of the matter is, as you know -- and I know, because I covered the original effort at immigration reform that was led by John McCain and Ted Kennedy and supported by President George W. Bush -- there used to be broad bipartisan support or at least bipartisan support at the highest levels of both parties for that effort. And, unfortunately, there was a turn against immigration reform by the Republican Party and by the leadership of the Republican Party. And that contributed mightily to the circumstance where we find ourselves now, which is with immigration reform not yet passed.
It remains absolutely a priority of the President. It's essential for the country. And as I said earlier, the President looks forward to, if he is reelected, the opportunity to work with members of both parties to get it done. I think it is -- if I may observe as a political matter -- essential for the Republicans to view the necessity of immigration reform and passing it because it's right for the country and it needs to get done.
Q The President, though, made similar commitments during the last election and didn't necessarily follow through with political force. Why should we believe that sort of thing now?
MR. CARNEY: As I said, the President answered very similar questions from Univision, and I would refer you to those answers. The necessity of passing immigration reform remains. It requires bipartisan cooperation. It requires the kind of understanding of the issue that was demonstrated by Republican leaders in the past. And the President looks forward to the opportunity of working with Republicans and Democrats if he is reelected in achieving this very important policy objective.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Ann.
Q An American border agent is dead on the Arizona border. Was the President's debate practice interrupted? Was he informed of that?
MR. CARNEY: He has been informed of it. I don't know at what point of his day or night, so I can't address the first part of your question. His thoughts and prayers, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family members of the border agent who was killed, as well as to the agent who was wounded.
Right now, this is obviously under investigation and I would refer you for further information to DHS.
Q Does the President have any -- this is an area where they thought that the security was very good --
MR. CARNEY: I would have to refer you to DHS for details like that.
Q Could I ask Jen a kind of related to that -- because the first debate is three segments on the economy, one on health care, one on the role of government and one on -- is there a danger of some issues that President Obama wants to talk about in this debate not coming up?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, I think obviously the moderator has a very powerful role in any of these debates to steer the conversation. While this is a huge audience and the President recognizes it as one of the biggest audiences he'll have between now and November -- obviously, the convention night was a huge audience -- and that's one of the reasons why he wants to use it as an opportunity to speak directly to the American people, directly to people who are sitting at home on their couches.
Will every single issue he cares about come up? It's hard to predict. But, fortunately, he'll be out there on the campaign trail Thursday morning. And he'll be able to speak to topics that didn't come up, topics that did come up. And we'll see you in Denver.
Q And will -- (inaudible) -- give a summation -- or will he try to expand on some of his answers during the debate?
MS. PSAKI: I don't want to get into specific strategy, because our friends in Colorado are probably reading into whatever we're saying. So, unfortunately, I don't have much for you on that particular piece.
MR. CARNEY: Ed.
Q On Libya, I just want to follow up on Jake on the question of when you refer to the FBI and the State Department investigations, it's been established that the FBI after several weeks has not even been in Benghazi. So when we keep getting referred to that investigation, does the President have any concerns that the pace of that investigation is not very aggressive?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is committed to ensuring that those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including our Ambassador, are brought to justice. He is committed to the investigation into what happened being full and comprehensive and uncovering all the facts that we need to know about that event.
In terms of the status of the investigation and personnel involved in it, I would have to refer you to the FBI.
Q There are some indications that later today, the administration might be announcing that you’re going to use some money that’s already in the Bureau of Prisons accounts to open the Thomson prison in Illinois that’s been very controversial. Congress has objected because there’s been suggestion you may move some Gitmo detainees there. Is the administration about to announce anything on that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that, Ed. I’ll have to take the question.
Q Okay. And final thing -- there’s this allegation out there that the White House somehow pressured Lockheed to not issue layoff notices related to sequestration ahead of the elections because it would be politically embarrassing. Did the administration pressure Lockheed or any other companies not to issue layoff notices?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. I think the WARN Act action has been thoroughly explained and described, and individual companies like Lockheed make the decisions according to their own interests. So I would refer you to Lockheed.
Q Can I follow on the sequestration?
MR. CARNEY: You’re going to follow on sequestration? Did we get to sequestration already? (Laughter.)
Q Yes, a question -- sorry -- a related question. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell both put out statements today noting that we’re now 90 days out from the sequestration deadline, and saying that the President hasn’t been involved in discussions over how to head off the sequestration. And Speaker Boehner said, "The President’s approach to this matter has consistently been marked by irresponsibility and a reluctance to lead." Can you explain what the President’s role is, has been, on trying to prevent the sequestration? Or do you think it’s mostly Congress’s responsibility?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Congress passed a law -- a bill and the President signed it into law, and which majorities of both parties in both houses supported -- some of them declared it a victory in the Republican Party at the time -- and that included the mechanism known as the sequester, or sequestration, that was designed specifically to be so horribly onerous in its cuts both in defense and nondefense spending that it would never come to pass. It would be so onerous that Congress and members of both parties would do the right thing and compromise and reach an agreement to cut our spending by an additional $1.2 trillion through the super committee. Now, the super committee failed to act; Congress has failed to act.
It remains the case, and this President’s belief, that the cuts envisioned by -- that would take place in the situation of a sequester are not good policy, and that’s why it has been disappointing to him and irresponsible by leaders of Congress, including Speaker Boehner, to insist that tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires are more important than adequately funding our national security; that tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires are more important than adequately funding education, infrastructure, innovation, research and development, border patrol and the like.
That has been the singular obstacle to a comprehensive deficit reduction plan passing Congress, resolving the fiscal -- so-called fiscal cliff. If Speaker Boehner is as concerned as he seems to be in this statement about the fiscal cliff, then he, as leader of the House of Representatives, should bring back the House and pass the bill that the Senate passed extending the Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. Everyone agrees -- Republicans and Democrats -- that those tax cuts ought to be extended. The President agrees they ought to be signed into law. And we can continue to debate whether or not the top 2 percent of the American people, American earners, should have tax cuts extended. That is clearly a matter of great debate between the two sides.
Instead of that, again, because of their absolute insistence that nothing else matters more than extending tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, we have had this stalemate. So I would urge the Speaker to reconsider.
Q -- the President’s role, does he feel that the best thing for him to do right now is to stay out of it and push congressional leaders to figure it out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think the President has made clear, others have made clear, that there is a debate about economic policy that is ongoing, that’s part of the election. What Congress could do now, what the House could do is pass the bill that the Senate passed that would extend tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people. Speaker Boehner, Leader McConnell refuse -- well, Speaker Boehner, rather, has refused to do that. Leader McConnell hasn’t supported it, but the Senate did pass it.
Secondarily, it is certainly a fact, if you look at the Simpson-Bowles commission, the Domenici-Rivlin commission and every outside, bipartisan, third-party, super-serious organization or committee or commission to look at how we need to tackle our deficit reduction -- our fiscal challenges and to reduce our deficit, everyone who’s looked at this has said we need to do it in a balanced way. That’s reflected in the President’s proposal that he put before the super committee. It’s reflected in the President’s budget that he forward to Congress this year. The obstacle to balance has been the adamant refusal by Republicans thus far to accept the principle that millionaires and billionaires need to pay their fair share.
MS. PSAKI: Just one quick thing to add. I mean, it shouldn’t be lost that this is all happening during the backdrop of a presidential election happening in 34 days. And those statements sound remarkably similar to the comments that are being made by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan out on the campaign trail accusing the President of having a lack of details. And that’s a piece of it that certainly plays in -- is a factor in the back-and-forth at this stage.
Q Are you guys monitoring this, though? Is Jack Lew or Nabors or Pete Rouse talking to these people? Because apparently Democrats are involved in this negotiation.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we have anything specific for you, but obviously, our team, the President’s team, his economic team, his congressional liaison are consulting with members of Congress on the host of issues that confront us in Washington.
Mark, and then Stephen.
Q I know you were asked yesterday about why the President is doing debate prep in Nevada. I’m wondering more specifically about this complex he’s staying at out there, which as you guys are probably aware, has this rather storied financial history. It’s been in and out of bankruptcy. There’s a lot of foreclosures on the houses there. The golf courses are abandoned. And it’s in some ways a fairly vivid symbol of everything that went wrong in this state. Has the President mentioned that? Is he aware of that? Does he see the metaphorical possibilities of him staying at a place like this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s a couple of questions in there, so let me unravel it slightly. One, we’re there -- and obviously we’re not going to get into issues like security and how advance decides where we’re going to stay. It’s a place where there’s ample space and nice peace and quiet for the President to spend some time preparing for the debate on Wednesday.
We’re in Nevada and in that particular area because of course it’s a suburb of Las Vegas. This is a state that we feel is -- we absolutely have the opportunity to compete and win. The President’s commitment to fighting for the middle class, his bullish commitment to continuing to improve the housing market, his commitment to making comprehensive immigration reform a priority in a second term are all issues that the people of the state care very deeply about.
The President is impacted by people. He’s impacted by places he visits. And that’s no different in when he’s here -- from the last couple of days he spent here. As you know, he had an event on Sunday evening, he went and visited a field office. This is one of the states that every time he comes back here he’s reminded that he wants to continue to find ways to help the housing market improve. We’ve seen prices go up a little bit -- not enough.
As you know, Nevada is one of the hardest hit states. That’s why they have benefited so significantly from the President’s programs in terms of an investment. And that’s also -- on Saturday, the President’s radio address was all about housing and how he thinks we need to make sure that people who are underwater who don’t have mortgages backed by the government have the opportunity to refinance and save themselves $3,000.
So I haven’t had any specific conversations with him over the last three days, but it is something that he is impacted by deeply everywhere he goes -- whether it’s conversations, or reports, or reading the Nevada newspapers in the morning -- and he knows -- and that’s why he goes back to his economic team and says, what more can we do?
MR. CARNEY: And I would remind you, Mark, that on a previous trip to this state earlier this year, he visited with a family that had been able to take advantage of his executive action that made it possible for those homeowners who are underwater but responsible in their payments to take advantage of -- but had GSE-backed loans -- to take advantage of these historically low interest rates and save a lot of money. And that, in turn, has enabled a lot of families to stay in their homes, both in this state and elsewhere.
MS. PSAKI: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our opponent here, because this is also the state where he said,my plan is to let the housing market hit bottom, which obviously doesn’t sit well in a state where more than 60 percent of the state is underwater. And I think that’s an issue people are looking closely at.
MR. CARNEY: Mr. Collinson.
Q How confident is the White House that anger over the rising deprivation in Iran in terms of food prices and rising inflation will be directed at the leaders of Iran over the new policies and not the United States?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. There is no doubt, as we have seen in the last 36 hours or so with reports on the plummeting Iranian currency, that the sanctions regime that has been put in place through international consensus, led by the White House, led by President Obama, has had a significant negative impact on the Iranian economy, as was intended.
And I think that the result of that has been to put enormous pressure on the regime in Tehran, and has made it starkly clear to the Iranian people that the obstacle to greater prosperity for that country and to Iran’s overall ability to rejoin the community of nations and end its isolation is the regime in power and their adamant refusal to abide by their international obligations. Iran has an option; Iran has a choice.
The whole purpose of the President’s approach to Iran has been to leave the door open for Iran to make the final decision to forego its nuclear weapons ambitions in a verifiable way, and thereby allow itself to rejoin the community of nations and end its isolation, and achieve some relief from the sanctions that have been so punishing, but as long as Iran has refused to do that, to continue to ratchet up the pressure, to continue to impose broader, greater, more punitive sanctions on the regime, and that has clearly had an impact.
The President believes, and all the information available to him makes clear, that there is time and space to pursue this diplomatic approach, to approach a diplomatic resolution to the problem. But the time is not unlimited and the window will not remain open forever. And the President, as he has made clear on numerous occasions, keeps all options on the table in terms of ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Q -- this President has made a distinction between the Iranian people and the Iranian leadership. Is there a danger now that this -- as this crisis kind of escalates, that that could be becoming muddy?
MR. CARNEY: No. The President believes and our partners believe that the sanctions regime is the right approach, and that the Iranian people are aware of who is responsible for the circumstances that have befallen the Iranian economy as a result of the regime’s intransigence and refusal to abide by its international obligations.
I think the fact that we’ve seen progressively the impacts on the Iranian economy demonstrates that the sanctions regime and other measures have been effective, while we acknowledge that the ultimate effectiveness of this regime will be Iran’s decision to forego its nuclear weapons program.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q According to The New York Times, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to ask leaders in France and Germany to step up sanctions on Iran. Has President Obama spoken to the Prime Minister about this? What is his reaction? And does the United States see this as a shift in policy in Israel?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a direct comment on that report about what Prime Minister Netanyahu might do. I can tell you that the President, as you know, has spoken on a number of occasions -- recent occasions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, in keeping with his ongoing consultations with the Prime Minister, in keeping with a relationship that has as a matter of fact resulted in more meetings and more conversations with that leader, the Israeli Prime Minister, than with any other leader during President Obama's time in office, and that that reflects the incredible commitment that the President has, the strong commitment that he has to Israel's security -- the strong commitment that this nation has to Israel's security.
It is certainly a fact, as I mentioned earlier, that the President, with our partners, has been pursuing a program of sanctions that continues to ratchet up, that continues to increase pressure. And the entire time I've been in this job, we have made periodic announcements either from the White House or from the Treasury Department or elsewhere about stepped-up sanctions, different targeted sanctions that have increased the pressure and isolation on Iran. And I can assure you that that process will continue.
Q And, Jen, for you -- can you give us an update on the debate camp? How many mock debates have they had so far? And one of the things you continually say is that the President needs to deliver shorter, crisper answer. Has he been working on that? How's that going?
MS. PSAKI: I'd love to give you some details. It's just we have no --
Q Really? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: If it were up to me and we'd never speak about it again and you wouldn't record it, it would be a different thing.
Look, we're not going to read out how the President's debate camp is going, what he's doing in debate camp or prep. That traditionally has never been the case of what happens at these debate preps.
He is looking forward to heading to Denver tomorrow to -- having the opportunity to speak directly to the American people to remind them of the choice in this election. That's what his focus will be during the debate tomorrow evening.
Q Let me try this another way.
MS. PSAKI: All right, go for it --
Q -- so when he's not in debate prep here in Nevada, can you tell us anything he's doing -- other than the OTR we did yesterday where he delivered pizzas -- to sort of unwind a little bit after he's been debating with Mr. Kerry?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know this may surprise you, I'm not spending time with him in his room at 11:00 p.m.
Q -- not back to his room until 11:00 p.m.? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to delve into further. Obviously, he's been spending time here working with his team. He talks to his family. But I don't have any other specifics to lay out. He likes to get out of the hotel. I expect, if we can, we'll try to do that again today. So stay tuned for that.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I would just say that obviously he also is receiving updates from his national security team, as well as his Chief of Staff and others, on various matters of policy and governance as part of his full-time job as President of the United States.
Q Has he been read in on the fact that Congress failed to reauthorize the U.S. military presence in Iraq? They did the CR -- the CR didn’t include the language reauthorizing that. That wasn’t the level of presidential concern?
MR. CARNEY: U.S. military presence in Iraq?
Q Yes, like the 280 or so trainers who are there -- the CR that they passed doesn’t include the reauthorizing language.
MR. CARNEY: I'd have to -- I'm not aware that he's been briefed on that. I'll have to take the question.
Q And he talked a lot about -- on the trail about ending the war in Iraq. As you look at Iraq today, it doesn't seem plausible to say that the war is over. It just looks like we're not in it. I mean, there are hundreds of people being killed each week. How concerned is he about the instability there now? And I realize that it's a big argument -- he promised to end the war in Iraq and he did. How concerned is he about the day-to-day instability and how often is he briefed about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he receives regular updates on the situation in Iraq, as does the Vice President, whom, as you know, the President asked to oversee Iraq policy. It is a fact, as you stated, that the President promised to responsibly end our war in Iraq, the United States military operation in Iraq. He did that and our troops came home.
We maintain an incredibly important and robust relationship with Iraq and the Iraqi government and Iraqi leaders. And we work with them all the time on both matters of mutual concern, regional issues, diplomatic issues, matters of economic growth and development, as well as matters where we can be of assistance on political reconciliation.
It is absolutely the case that there is still violence in Iraq. It is also the case that throughout the last several years since President Obama has been in office, at key moments when Iraq's leaders have had to make choices about the future they want to pursue in Iraq and that they want for the Iraqi people, they have chosen politics over violence. And that is certainly the direction that we encourage them to take in our efforts, diplomatic efforts, with the Iraqi government and other Iraqi leaders. And we'll continue to do that.
Mark, and then Jake.
Q Back on debate prep. You've seen President Obama prepare for scores of town meetings, hundreds of interviews, over a hundred press availabilities. How does that preparation differ from what he's doing now?
MR. CARNEY: I've never seen him prepare for a debate before, so it's different.
Q Can you elaborate?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Has he decided how he's going to address Mitt Romney? Will it be Governor, Mr. Romney, Mitt?
MR. CARNEY: Can I just say, having been on --
Q -- this side of the lectern?
MR. CARNEY: -- that side of the lectern and in those seats, that I completely understand the desire to find out more about the President's preparation process, as well as I'm sure Governor Romney's preparation process. As Jen mentioned, it's just not something that we're going to get into. And I know that can be frustrating. It just doesn't make a lot of sense for us to get into that.
Q First Lady Michelle Obama will be at the debate prep?
MS. PSAKI: I believe so. We'll double-check for you guys.
MR. CARNEY: Have we said that? Yes, the answer is yes.
Q And the Obama girls, they'll be back at the White House with Grandma, correct?
MS. PSAKI: We'll double-check. I think that's the case, but we can double-check for you.
Q Do the President and the First Lady have any plans for their 20th anniversary tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if we told you that, it wouldn’t be a surprise to the two of them. (Laughter.) I think they've said actually -- and we can find this for you guys -- that they were planning to celebrate it another day, either the weekend before or the weekend after. So he has spoken to that at least.
Q Will he get a walk-through of the site or sometime during the day before the actual --
MS. PSAKI: I believe that's pretty standard. But we'll check on the specific plans, if there's anything we can share along that front with you guys.
MR. CARNEY: Kristen.
Q Can you respond to the ruling in Pennsylvania about the voter ID law? Do you see this -- I mean, obviously Pennsylvania -- President Obama is leading there. He has a pretty hefty lead still. What's your reaction to -- given this will favor probably voters --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it's great news for the people of Pennsylvania. And this decision makes one thing clear for the people there -- if you're eligible to vote, you'll be able to vote on Election Day. We believe that the right to vote is an American value. It's something that people should have the opportunity to do if they're eligible.
So we're encouraged by it. And as we've done in many other states, we'll be focused on making sure people in Pennsylvania are educated on how they can vote, when they can vote and how to participate in the process.
Q Did he watch the Bears game?
MS. PSAKI: Did he? I'm not sure.
MR. CARNEY: I haven't asked him. I'm sure he's pleased with the result.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Do you have some of the details on the debate prep? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: It is happening in a suburb of Las Vegas called Henderson. That's all I have.
Q You guys started with an announcement on tourism. Yesterday you announced the President is going to go and dedicate the Cesar Chavez monument. I'm just wondering if the White House is timing these things for maximum political benefit.
MR. CARNEY: The announcement on Taiwan's participation in the Visa Waiver Program was made by DHS and the Secretary of State. It is just the latest country member to join that program as part of a process the President put into place earlier this year that has continued all year long.
So if your question is, has everything that the President has done, because it's been in this calendar year, been related to politics, the answer is no. This is good policy. It's important for our economy. It's important to do it in a way through DHS and State that ensures that we can have expedited travel that maintains all the necessary security precautions, and that is the process that they put into place.
In terms of the national monument, this is the fourth such designation made by this President, and it’s a process -- a designation of a national monument -- that is years in the making.
Q For either of you -- I’ve looked around to sort of try to find this out and haven’t really seen it anywhere. Has the President and Governor Romney ever had a really significant conversation before Wednesday? I know they talked I think at the end of the primary when the President congratulated him I think. But have these guys ever really had a significant interaction before?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t spoken to him about this specifically. I know there have been reports that are accurate that they’ve met on a couple of occasions. Beyond that I’m not aware of another lengthy discussion.
MR. CARNEY: I think that's right. As far as I’m aware of, none that have not been reported.
Q Will Mr. Kerry be on Air Force One to Denver tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: I don't know. We’re happy to check on that for you.
MR. CARNEY: Do you want him to come back and brief?
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: He can just come with the President, and they can just give you a little preview. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Is that it?
Q Would you liken debate prep to cramming for an exam?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t characterize it at all. (Laughter.)
Q Can you characterize how Senator Kerry is as a debate partner?
MS. PSAKI: I have not been sitting in on the debate prep, so I can't speak to that personally. Obviously, he has been working hard and is a valued member of the team. That's all I have to say.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.
10:30 A.M. PDT