Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One en route Richmond, VA, 10/25/2012
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Richmond, Virginia
10:44 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One on the continuation of this epic journey, as we make our way from the great state of Florida to the fabulous Commonwealth of Virginia, where I was raised and where Jen Psaki went to college.
MS. PSAKI: I went to school -- go, Virginia! Or William and Mary -- sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: My father's family is from Norfolk, Virginia.
I just want to let you know at the top, because it's certainly been in the news, that the President has been briefed on Hurricane Sandy. As always, FEMA officials are in touch with their local counterparts in anticipation of a storm like this. FEMA and their federal partners are prepared to deal with a storm like this, because, of course, the hurricane season does not end until November 30th.
We encourage citizens living along the Eastern Seaboard to listen to local officials and monitor weather reports in the days ahead. The President asked his team to continue regular briefings on the storm as it progresses northward.
I turn it over here to Jen.
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to -- as you may have heard, the President will be early voting today in Chicago. This is the first time a sitting President is early voting in person. This is a major part of our on-the-ground program and focus, and we hope that having the President do this today will send a message to people across the country, in states where early vote is an option, that this is something they should do, too. He has a busy life; many American people have busy lives -- picking up their kids, taking their kids to soccer, working double shifts. And this is a great option to participate in the process.
Just some quick statistics for you guys. So we're out-performing our early vote margins in key states compared to 2008. We're ahead of where we were against John McCain, and most importantly, ahead of Mitt Romney. In fact, more people will vote early this cycle than in 2008, and more of them will vote for President Obama in the states that will decide this election.
Public polls show we're winning early vote in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. President Obama is winning overall by a 15 to 35 point lead among those who have already voted. And we're winning in-person early vote everywhere they have it.
So obviously, a focus. We feel good about where we are and looking forward to today.
Q Jen, does the campaign have any reaction to Colin Powell's endorsement today? And this late in the game, do endorsements even matter?
MR. CARNEY: I meant to mention at the top that the President, like the rest of us, learned of the endorsement while we were -- after we had just arrived I think at the fire station. And while we were holding before the event, the grassroots event, the President called and thanked General Powell for his endorsement and for his words not just about foreign policy but also domestic policy.
MS. PSAKI: And I just add, too, Colin Powell is obviously somebody who is well respected on not only foreign policy issues, of course, but he's been seen as a leader for decades in this country. In his endorsement this morning during the interview, as Jay mentioned, he talked not just about the President's leadership on foreign policy issues, but the Affordable Care Act and the President's steps he took to bring the economy back from the brink. And that really speaks to -- I think a lot of American people listen to him and look to him. It's certainly an endorsement we welcome and we're very excited about. And I'll leave it at that.
Q Do you think the Powell endorsement gives you some insulation against the Romney attacks on defense spending?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the insulation we have on the Romney attacks on defense spending is the truth, which is something that the President and our supporters are out there speaking every day, and that is that the only thing standing between getting a deal and preventing the trigger from taking place, and not having a deal and having those cuts go into place, are tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
That's something I think the American people understand. There's been certainly a lot of public discussion about it. We're happy to fight these false attacks with the truth. And you shouldn’t forget that his own running mate, Paul Ryan, has drafted and written and pushed budgets that have had not only triggers in them, but defense triggers in them.
Q Besides the sequester, Governor Romney has also attacked just the basic cuts that the Pentagon itself has endorsed. Does Powell kind of serve as a validator for that?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think -- I can't speak to what he will be out there doing. Obviously this morning's endorsement was strong and welcome and we're very excited about it.
I think the President has been very clear about why we need to modernize our military, the steps we need to take to modernize our military. I can’t speak to what Colin Powell will plan to speak to, but certainly we welcome his endorsement and we’re excited to have him on the team.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just make it about the policy itself -- what Colin -- General Powell said I think reinforced what the American people saw the other night when the President was in Boca, which is a leader on matters of national security and foreign policy who says what he means and means what he says, and follows through on his commitments even when it’s not popular.
General Powell noted that the President has been very, very solid on efforts to combat terrorism and counterterrorism and his overall leadership in foreign policy. And I think that whether it’s the President’s approach to making sure our military remains the most powerful military in the world, as well as a military that is structured in a way to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, or his approach to ending the war in Iraq and making sure we have the resources available to go after those who attacked us on 9/11, I think that, as matters of policy, General Powell’s words this morning reflected a vision the President put forward that is widely supported by the American people.
Q Did the President ask, or General Powell offer, to appear together, do anything in the next 10 days together?
MR. CARNEY: In the phone call this morning, no. I can’t speak to -- I was present when he made that phone call this morning. So he thanked him for the endorsement, for what he said about both the President’s foreign policy and his domestic policy.
Q Any request made through some other route?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Just to be clear -- it sounded like this was a surprise or not something that you all had an advance knowledge of.
MS. PSAKI: That's right.
Q Isn’t it unusual not to get a heads-up from somebody like that when he or she is going to endorse the President?
MS. PSAKI: Not necessarily. I mean, look, we welcome his endorsement -- we don’t care how it comes. We were happy to see it on the news this morning and hear the strong words he had to say about the President’s leadership on foreign policy and domestic issues. And we think it sends a strong signal about why he should be sent back for another four years to be Commander-in-Chief.
Q Jen, going back to early voting -- I think you all addressed this a little bit yesterday, but could you talk about the suggestion that maybe you’re cannibalizing votes from Election Day itself versus reaching out to people who might not otherwise vote, period?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, our view is that early voting is an opportunity to get people out who may not otherwise go to the polls on Election Day. This has been -- less likely voters is our target with early voting. We saw a lot of success with that in 2008. We’ve seen our numbers increase with early voting in a number of these key states. And it’s because of the reasons I mentioned in the beginning -- people are busy; they were working double shifts; they’re in school; they’re picking up their kids from soccer practice.
So a vote before Election Day can actually be more valuable than a vote on Election Day because these same people can make phone calls, they can drive their neighbors to the polls, they can participate in the process at an even deeper level, and we’ll encourage them to do so.
MR. CARNEY: As a former practitioner of the craft, I have to say that that sounds like awfully wishful spin that somehow getting votes early is bad. But just an observation.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a vote in the bank. And a vote in the bank is good on -- good for us, and a vote in the bank is someone that we can tap into and have them help us get across the finish line.
Q For either of you, I have a question on the pace of the campaign. Obviously we’re on a pretty intense sprint right now. Are there any factors that would keep you from keeping this up through Election Day, either infrastructure or presidential duties in Washington, just basic stamina? Or should we expect this to be the case throughout?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this trip, everybody should know, has been in the works for weeks and weeks. We’ve been talking about it for quite some time. It took an enormous amount of planning and coordination. We have always wanted to hit as many voters, as many states, as many communities as possible in the final stretch. And that’s what we see this as -- the final push to Election Day.
Of course, the President is always balancing his duties as President of the United States, governing, and as somebody who is running for reelection in a very close race. Jay mentioned he was briefed on the hurricane. As you know, he’s spent a great deal of time over the past couple of weeks focused on foreign policy issues. And he’ll continue to do that as it comes up.
But I would expect over the next 11 days -- I think I mess up the number of days every time I say this -- but 11 days, that it will be a pretty busy, pedal-to-the-metal campaign schedule, and he’s looking forward to that.
In terms of stamina -- I think that was another part of your question -- the President is -- actually, we were just talking to him up front -- he’s pretty energized by this whole last 26 hours we’ve been on. He’s seen people already in four states. He has been able to visit with firefighters. He’s visited with people at a diner. And he’s really energized by that. It reminds him of what this is all about.
At nearly every stop, he has a conversation with somebody who says to him, thank you, my child is now covered because of the Affordable Care Act; thank you, those tax cuts helped me pay my bills. And that keeps him going. He knows this is his last campaign, but he’s having a good time out here and I think he’s looking forward to the next 11 days.
Q Does he -- specifically as campaign advisors, you guys, schedule days like this, I mean, does he come back and say, I want a morning event, I want a night event? Does he get into that level of detail?
MS. PSAKI: Not that level of detail, but I think he enjoys when he can go out on a campaign day and spend time on the ground, really have conversations with people and really get the feeling of what’s going on. And so he enjoys days like this. They’re busy, they’re hectic, but we’ll all sleep on November 7th.
Q Any color about last night? Did he stay up watching SportsCenter? Did he go straight to sleep when he got on the plane? Any color?
THE PRESIDENT: He was up in the conference room for a short period after takeoff and then he retired to his bedroom.
MS. PSAKI: Lights were out quickly across the upper cabin. (Laughter.)
Q Is he taking anything for his voice? Is he drinking tea with honey or anything like that? He talked about today being hoarse, and everyone can hear that as well.
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, he’s obviously giving a lot of speeches and using his voice. Not as a political point, but just an observation -- if you saw -- I mean, his energy at the last event last night and the first event this morning I think demonstrates where his head and where his body are right now. He’s got a lot of energy and he’s having a very good time.
MS. PSAKI: And just a light story, but last night our van didn’t work so we missed the motorcade, a lot of the staff. Or, we didn’t miss the motorcade, but we were in the van -- and so we got to the Bellagio last night as it was ending. And so we’re all kind of doing jumping jacks and trying to stay awake, and thinking, okay, this is our last one. And we walk in, and he’s walking out and he’s kind of skipping along and saying, "Where were you guys? That was great. That was really fun in there."
MR. CARNEY: "It was a great event! It was a great event!" And he was very pumped, he was very excited.
MS. PSAKI: So we did quickly pep ourselves up.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Do you have any comment on his remarks earlier today that alluded to Mourdock’s comments? McCain revoked his endorsement of Mourdock yesterday. Do you guys have any reaction to the fact that Romney hasn’t revoked his endorsement? He’s still running ads --
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as the President said last night and this morning, this is a reminder of what’s at stake in this election. And there’s a fundamental difference between President Obama’s approach to women’s health care, access to affordable health care, his deep belief that women should be able to make choices about their own health care, and not male politicians, and what Mitt Romney and many Republicans running across the country stand for.
It continues to be perplexing to us that Mitt Romney would stand behind an ad that is for a candidate whose comments were so outrageous and offensive to women. That’s obviously a choice their campaign needs to make. We leave that to them. But in addition to John McCain and the comments he made, Haley Barbour made them, "kind of crazy," I believe was the quote. And so I’ll leave it at that.
Q -- on the AP poll today saying that the -- showing that the President and Romney are pretty much tied among women voters. Are you -- AP has a poll out today that the President and Romney are both tied among women voters. Are you concerned that this isn’t -- that the message isn’t getting out? Are you guys worried at all about your female vote?
MS. PSAKI: No. New polls come out every hour, as you know, because you all chase them down. And look, any poll that shows us tied with women and with men in this country is not a poll that we are placing bets on in Vegas.
Q You mentioned the hurricane. Do you expect the storm will impact campaign travel over the next 11 days, or is that something that you’re considering in the plans at this point?
MR. CARNEY: We leave it to the professionals to track storms and make predictions about where it will travel. The President’s concern about this storm is making sure that citizens in potentially affected areas are aware of it and taking the necessary precautions, and making sure that FEMA is working as necessary with local officials in preparation for a storm.
It’s obviously early, and as you know storms are not necessarily predictable in terms of their direction. But the President’s concerns as regards to the storm are about the potential impact it might have.
Q Do you anticipate it will impact campaign travel?
MR. CARNEY: That would suggest that I would know where the hurricane is going to end up, and I don’t.
Q That briefing was on the plane this morning?
MR. CARNEY: He received a briefing yesterday evening from his Deputy Chief of Staff and again this morning.
Q His Deputy --
MR. CARNEY: Alyssa Mastromonaco, who’s in touch with all the relevant officials.
Q Did you comment yesterday on the Benghazi emails?
MR. CARNEY: I did.
Q You did -- any more on the arrest --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything about that report. I can check into that for you.
Q Do you have any sense about campaign travel next week that you can share with us now?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. I’m happy to share it as soon as I have it. As you know, we’re going to New Hampshire on Saturday. On Monday, we announced this morning, the President will be making three stops with President Clinton. So if you don’t have those details, I’m happy to send them. I expect we’ll have more by tomorrow.
Q Is he making any calls on this leg -- is the President making any calls on this leg?
MS. PSAKI: Not on this leg. There will be later today. And as I did yesterday, as soon as he does a call, I’ll come back and give you guys an update on what happened.
Q Just for coverage, what's the coverage plan for the voting in Chicago? Are we going to get a -- is it just going to be stills, or is he going to make some remarks?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check on that. I don’t believe there’s any plans for remarks. It would more be a pool spray. I don’t know what it visually looks like, but I'll come back and tell you.
Q Can you send President Clinton back on Monday to brief us?
MS. PSAKI: President Clinton -- we’re thrilled President Clinton is traveling with President Obama on Monday. There’s been no better and more effective advocate for why President Obama should be sent back for another four years to fight for the middle class. I think it’s going to be a very fun day and I’ll leave that up to President Clinton and his team.
Q Hillary Clinton implied in a Wall Street Journal story this morning that she may be open to staying on after the inauguration. Do you know if there’s been any talks between her and the President about that, or if there's a position about her potentially staying on in the beginning of a second term?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President say very explicitly what an excellent job she’s done as Secretary of state and how he would, of course, like her to stay on. I have nothing more to say about that -- those remarks the President made just last night, right? Just last night.
So she’s done an amazing job, in the President’s view, and has been an incredibly effective Secretary of State and advocate for America’s interests around the world. And I can’t say it better than the way the President said it last night in terms of his interest in having her stay if she could be persuaded. But I think today’s article notwithstanding, she’s largely indicated that she’s likely to not want to stay on.
Q When he said it's time for her to spend more time with her family, he was just characterizing what he thought was her views, in other words, right?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. I mean, I think he characterized his views, is that she’s been one of the most effective Secretaries of State in our country’s history and he would certainly welcome having her stay.
Q Should the President win a second term, though, is he beginning to think about what he would want his next Cabinet to look like? Potential Treasury appointment, Secretary of State?
MR. CARNEY: He’s got a lot obviously that he’s focused on right now, both with his duties as President and with the campaign. And we have nothing to add to speculation about what personnel decisions might be made in a second term.
11:06 A.M. EDT