The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Dayton, Ohio, 10/23/2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ohio   

12:54 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Well, thank you for joining us on this leg of this trip as we make our way from Florida to the Buckeye State.  Always a pleasure to return to Ohio, especially Dayton.

I have no announcements at the top.  Perhaps Jen does.

MS. PSAKI:  So I know you’ve all seen this and your organizations have reported on this, but I just wanted to re-flag that we launched this morning a full-scale, multi-platform, organizational effort that will include direct mail advertisements and distribution at field offices to ensure every voter knows what a second term of an Obama presidency would mean for the middle class.  You saw the President do it this morning. The Vice President did it.  I expect this will be a consistent part of their stump speeches moving forward. 

And this is us using our -- enlisting our grassroots army across the country to remind their friends and neighbors, remind their cousins, roommates, brothers and sisters, the stakes in this election, why it’s so important to get registered, get engaged and, of course, to vote on or before November 6th.

Q    It’s two weeks before the election.  Is the move by the campaign putting out this blueprint an acknowledgement at all that the President hasn’t provided enough clarity on what he would do with a second term?  And if he had provided enough clarity, why would you have to put out something like this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, throughout the course of the last several months as the President has been out there campaigning nearly every day, and in his speech that he delivered at the convention, he laid out these exact specific plans, the exact specifics about what he would want to do moving forward.

We know that people are continuing to tune in.  We know that some people are still making decisions.  And we just feel this is a pivotal time to engage our grassroots supporters across the country, make sure they have the tools they need to do what the President does on his stump every day.  So it’s more about making sure we’re providing people with the information they need to encourage their friends, neighbors, cousins, brothers, sisters and roommates to do exactly what the President has been doing. 

Because we know, as much as he’s going to be out there every day, we have ads on the air, he does interviews nearly every day, people also get their information from all different places.  And this is an opportunity to really take advantage of our strength, which is the millions of energized grassroots supporters we have.

Q    Jay, the President last night -- I’m paraphrasing, but he said there’s not going to be a sequester.  And I’m just wondering, is that something new for him, or did you feel like that’s a continuation of what his position has always been?  How can he be so sure?  And is he saying that there won’t be one because he’s going to stop it, or because the Republicans will blink first?

MR. CARNEY:  What the President said last night was a reiteration of what his position has long been, which is that the sequester, which was designed and passed by Congress, was never meant to become policy.  It was never meant to be implemented.  It’s a designed trigger, a forcing mechanism to compel Congress to make the difficult decisions required to reach a balanced deficit reduction package. 

The President is confident that Congress will take the appropriate action to achieve a balanced deficit reduction package in order to avoid these onerous cuts in both defense and non-defense discretionary spending that were written into the law by Congress.

I would simply note when it comes to the enforcement mechanism here, the trigger, that the President’s position throughout the negotiations last summer, when the final preparations for the Budget Control Act were being worked out, has always been a trigger to include revenue.  That was the President’s position.  If the trigger had been balanced, if it had included not just cuts in defense and cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, but also revenue, the cuts would have been less deep in both non-defense and discretionary spending.

As they have consistently, Republicans, especially in the House, adamantly refuse to include balance in the triggering mechanism.  They made a decision that they would rather see steeper cuts in defense and non-defense spending programs than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a single dollar extra.  And I think that is unfortunate, but the President remains confident that we will be able to move forward, there will be a balanced deficit reduction package, because there is a growing consensus behind that very proposition that we have to have balance.  We have to have serious cuts in our spending, but also we have to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit extra.

One step that the House of Representatives could take tomorrow, if they saw fit to return to Washington to do a little work, would be to pass the bill the President proposed and the Senate passed, which would make sure that 98 percent of the American people did not see their taxes go up on January 1st.  That would alleviate some of the so-called fiscal cliff.  And if Republicans were serious about addressing that issue, they would pass that bill tomorrow.

Q    I have a question for Jen.  So as we discussed this morning, there’s a perception among many that this race is in dead heat and that Governor Romney could actually win.  How does it feel to be in a race like that?  Or do you reject that premise?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we always thought this would be a very close race.  It is a close race.  And that’s why we’re out here pounding the pavement every single day, speaking to as many voters as possible, upping our phone calls and door-knocking out of our field offices.  And we’re exactly where we thought the race would be.

I do want to dispute a couple of points that I know our friends on the Romney team are making.  One is, we’re out-performing our early vote margins in key states compared to 2008. We’re ahead of where we were against John McCain.  That’s a really important point. 

Two is, the electorate is bigger this year and our vote margins are, too.  So in every presidential election since 1984, the turnout in the presidential year -- and many of you know this, as political reporters -- has eclipsed turnout in midterm elections.  In every presidential election since 1996, the voter turnout has increased significantly over the previous election.  We don’t think this year will be any more different.  In fact, more people will early vote this cycle than in 2008.

Another important point, my third point, I will say, is that the Romney campaign has said in all their chatter about their momentum that young people and minorities won’t turn out.  That’s not what we’re seeing in any stretch of the word.  One, early vote helps us get out low-propensity voters, people who haven’t voted before, less likely voters, and frees up more to get out the vote -- and our resources later on, especially leading up to Election Day.

And two, the electorate has become consistently more diverse.  And minority voting, as far as we estimate, will probably reach an all-time high this year, which is contrary to what our opponent is predicting.

So we know we have 14 days to go.  This race is going to be incredibly close -- razor thin in some places -- until the end.  But we’re up or tied within the margin of error in every single swing state.  That’s exactly where we thought it would be.  We feel good about the resources we have.  We feel great about our second-to-none ground game.  And we think we’re going to feel good when we’re sleeping on November 7th.

Q    One quick follow-up.  What do you think the effect of last night’s debate will be, especially given that the economy seems to be the major issue?

MS. PSAKI:  I think everyone agrees on that.  The President had a very strong and steady performance.  I think there’s broad agreement on that by people who were watching.  And people watching at home I think saw the Commander-in-Chief who they elected four years ago -- who promised to end the war in Iraq and did; who promised to lay out a timeline for winding down our presence in Afghanistan and has; who has restored our presence in the world, brought together a coalition to hold Iran accountable; and remains committed to holding China’s feet to the fire when they’re not evening the playing field and keeping -- evening the playing field for American workers.

There were a number of economic issues that were discussed last night, as you know -- some that were linked to foreign affairs, some that were not.  I expect when we go to Ohio later this afternoon that people watching in Ohio last night, one of the pieces that was most interesting to them was the discussion on China.  The President has a very strong record he stands behind.  He’s put in place more than twice the number of -- he’s taken more than twice the number of trade enforcement actions than the past administration. And he has acted tough, not just talked tough. 

He’ll talk this afternoon -- I expect to hear more on autos than he even said this morning, and why this is important, and why this matters to the American people. 

But just to sum it up, I think a strong performance like the President had last night energizes our supporters just like the second performance did.  They see a Commander-in-Chief who’s going to stand up for them, who’s going to keep this country safe, and also a Commander-in-Chief who wants to make sure that America is continuing to lead in the global economy.  And that means being tough on China when we need to be tough.  That means making sure that the playing field is even for workers across the country, including in Ohio.  And I expect you’ll hear him continue to talk about that today and in the days ahead.

Q    Jay, is the United States interested in having bilateral talks with Iran?

MR. CARNEY:  You heard the President say last night that it has been his policy since he took office that he is open to considering bilateral talks with Iran in order to assure that Iran meets its international obligations.  His red line is that Iran cannot and must not acquire a nuclear weapon, and he reiterated that position very strongly and forcefully last night.

His approach, which he launched when he took office, was to rally the international community behind a set of sanctions and diplomatic isolation that has put more pressure on Iran than it has ever felt; has caused great damage to the Iranian economy -- and the Iranian people have their leaders to blame for that -- and has isolated Iran like never before.  When he took office, as you know, the world was divided on this issue and Iran was resurgent.  The opposite is true today because of the President’s policies. 

His approach has always been dual-track -- increasing pressure, increasing isolation, increasing international consensus against Iran because of its failure to live up to its obligations, because of its refusal to give up its nuclear ambition, on the one hand, on the one track.  And on the second track, a willingness and openness to engage in serious bilateral negotiations -- either bilateral or through the P5-plus-1 -- that has always been his approach.

But the President made clear the window of opportunity here will not remain open forever, and he will not tolerate -- if we get to the point of negotiation with Iran -- endless negotiations or negotiations that serve merely as a stall tactic.  The President’s red line is the President’s red line.  He will take every action necessary to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.

Q    On the second track, can you tell us what types of steps are being made or taken right now to achieve the bilateral talks between the two sides?  How close are you to getting to that point?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have no talks on the schedule.  We have no agreement with the Iranians.  We obviously are and have been interested in pursuing negotiations with the Iranians through the P5-plus-1.  We have been open to considering negotiations that are bilateral, but we have none scheduled and we have no agreement with the Iranians to do that.

What the President made clear last night is that he will continue to apply relentless pressure on the Iranians, on the regime, until the Iranians make the fateful decision to abide by their international obligations and to give up their nuclear ambitions -- nuclear weapons ambitions in a verifiable way. 

And that position has not changed.  And I think that it was quite clear last night in the debate that we have gotten to a situation because of the approach the President took that Iran is in dire straits economically; divided politically; its exports of oil are down dramatically.  And that has created a situation where Iran needs to make a decision.  Because this President’s commitment is clear:  As long as he’s President, he is committed to ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. 

Q    Are there informal talks going on right now between U.S. officials and Iranian officials to set something like this up after the election?

MR. CARNEY:  There is nothing scheduled.  There is no agreement.

Q    Are there talks going on --

MR. CARNEY:  We are constantly in conversations with our  P5-plus-1 partners.  We are and have been open to pursuing negotiations if and when the Iranians are serious about having negotiations.  But we have nothing to announce and there is nothing scheduled or no -- and there is no agreement.

Q    Jen, can you tell us what the President is doing while he’s in transit -- anything about taking phone calls?

MS. PSAKI:  Wednesday and Thursday, on our trip tomorrow, the President will be -- and we’ll have more details for you on this tomorrow -- but part of his America Forward trip we’re kicking off bright and early tomorrow morning -- I don’t know how many of you are lucky enough to be joining us -- but is reaching out to undecided voters.  He’ll be making some phone calls on the plane.  We’ll have more details for you on that tomorrow. 

And he’ll also be making some local stops and meeting with supporters, some undecided voters, some people that are going to be pivotal to our plan to win 270 electoral votes, and getting them out and participating in this process. 

So that’s -- as you know, it’s not just every event on the ground.  It’s also moments when he’s on the plane and moments when he’s in the car.  And we’ll have more details for you as it progresses on Wednesday and Thursday.

Q    Are there any firewalls you have to build in terms of his campaigning from the plane?  Is there anything, like, if you get a special phone or anything like that?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take that question.  I’m not sure how that works, but I’ll take the question.

Q    Did either of you or both of you speak with the President last night or this morning?  And can you talk to us about his reaction immediately after the debate and how he thinks that changes the momentum or whatever -- how he approaches the next couple of weeks?  Was he surprised by anything last night about how Governor Romney approached the debate?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we both spoke with him.  We both spoke with him.  He felt that he was able to articulate his vision for America’s role in the world; that he was able to forcefully explain the decisions he’s made, and make the important point that when you are Commander-in-Chief you have to be clear and decisive, even when you’re making decisions that aren’t popular. And I think he felt good about his performance last night.  I know that we all felt very good about it.

MS. PSAKI:  I agree. 

Q    Can I ask one more question about the new plan for today?  So the folks who cover this regularly, more than I do, analyzed it and said that there’s really not much new in it, since it’s stuff that he’s said before, and you sort of said that, too.  So my question is, what’s the strategy behind that?  Was there a concern that the criticism that he didn’t have a second-term agenda was starting to take hold?  Is that at all why he did it?

MS. PSAKI:  No.  One, I have a manila envelope I’m ready to offer to the Romney campaign that he can put his $5 trillion tax cut plan in, which is one page.  Ours is a --

Q    In a binder?

MS. PSAKI:  No, doesn’t even need a binder.  A manila folder will do just fine.  Two, the President has accomplished a great deal in his first term, which he talks about on the campaign trail nearly every day -- making sure people have access to affordable health care; passing the biggest tax cut for middle-class families into law; giving more kids the opportunity to go to college; taking steps to reform our education system.  But his job isn’t done yet.  There’s more he wants to do.

And that’s part of his message to the American people.  We’ve seen great progress in our manufacturing sector, he made tough choices to save the auto industry, but we need to do more. That’s why he wants to create 1 million manufacturing jobs.  It builds on the success he’s had to date.  He has taken tough steps, including putting in place the car rule, bringing together many different, opposing, sometimes adversaries to get that done, which has helped us increase [sic] oil imports.  That’s something he thinks we can do more of.

He’s laid out a plan to wind down our troop presence in Afghanistan.  He’s going to follow through on that, and use some of those savings to pay down our deficit and also continue to rebuild here at home.

So he’s building on plans that he’s already had some success in, but there’s more work he wants to do.  And he says this almost every day, but we’ve come too far to turn back now.  So his message to the American people is, send me back; I’m going to be the fighter for you in the White House.  I’m going to continue to build on the successes we’ve had.  And I’m a better choice than the guy that I’m running against.

MR. CARNEY:  Can I say, as a matter of policy, throughout this year and prior to that, the President has put forward concrete proposals that you in the press and others have been able to evaluate, have been able to take to outside, independent economists and have those economists judge on the merits.  That stands in stark contrast to the proposals that have been put forward by Republicans, including Governor Romney.

The President put forward an American Jobs Act that outside, independent economists to this day say if the portions that weren’t passed were passed tomorrow would put a million more Americans back on the job.  The President supports a policy that -- supports a bill that passed the Senate and is languishing in the House that would ensure that 98 percent of the American people would not have their taxes go up on January 1st. 

Independent economists will tell you, because it is a fact  -- it is an economic fact that tax cuts for the middle class help those families, but they also help the economy.  Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires are not economically effective when it comes to creating growth and jobs.  That is a fact.

The difference here, when you look at the assessments made by independent economists of alternative plans, could not be more clear.  The President has put forward a proposal that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.  In principle, it mirrors the balance that was put forward by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, by the Domenici-Rivlin Commission.  It has been poked and prodded and assessed by outside economists and it has judged -- it has been judged to be true, in the claims about it that the President and his team have made.  

That could not be more different from the proposals put forward by Republicans, including Governor Romney.  And I think at some point, it’s important to acknowledge that, as a matter of policy, there is a great deal of substance and fact behind what the President has put forward, and that is very different from what we've seen from the other side.

MS. PSAKI:  And one thing to add.  After the convention, when he laid out his specific five-point plan that builds on his accomplishments and goals in the first term, we saw a bump in the polls.  People were paying attention.  They liked what they saw. They liked what they heard.  And we know that we need to keep reminding people across the country of what the differences are between what they’re presenting.  So that's a big part of our strategy here.

And if everybody on November 7th has a copy of the plan and has it in their backpacks, has it on their iPad, is looking at it online, then great, then that's been a success.  And then people will be with us as we're pursuing a second term.

Q    Is part of that also a desire to have a positive message and agenda to sort of go with Romnesia, some of the attacks that he’s made?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I know you haven’t spent a ton of time with us out here.  The President -- the rest of his stump speech nearly every single day -- and I've been out here almost every single day since July, and Jay far longer than that -- has been about his positive agenda for the country, what he wants to do moving forward.  He talks about the pieces in this plan every day.  He talks about the importance of fighting for access to affordable health care every day.  He talks about the middle-class tax cut every day.

There is a difference and there is a choice in this election.  And that's part of what people will be making their decisions on.  And certainly we feel it’s appropriate and right for him to be laying that out, so that certainly is a part of what he talks about as well.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Have you had enough?  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  We can talk more.  Let’s talk housing.  (Laughter.)  Joking.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you, guys.

1:06 P.M. EDT 

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