The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/1/12

Westin Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada

3:17 P.M. PDT

MR. CARNEY:  Hello, everyone.  It's Jay Carney and Jen Psaki live from some resort outside of Las Vegas. 

MS. PSAKI:  Westin Lake Las Vegas.

MR. CARNEY:  Westin Lake Las Vegas.  Thanks for joining us. I just wanted, at the start here, to bring attention to a report earlier today about the plummet in the value of Iran's currency. And that situation is a direct result of the choices made by Iranian leaders.  Due to their poor choices and economic mismanagement, Iran's economy is under unprecedented pressure.

From the outset, our policy has been to sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders.  Iran can meet its international obligations regarding its nuclear program and rejoin the community of nations, or it will face increasing pressure and isolation. 

That's the only thing I wanted to mention at the top.  Jen might have something.

MS. PSAKI:  Two quick things, which you've seen reported, but just so everybody -- I'll highlight it for you.  One is last night the campaign reached our 10 millionth donation this year, which is obviously a huge milestone, historic record for grassroots politics and really emphasizes the fact that our campaign is being driven by low-dollar, grassroots donations.

And the second piece -- and you should all have this in your inbox and some of you have already written about it, but we have a new TV ad out today, "Since When," which highlights Mitt Romney's longstanding commitment to outsourcing.  When Mitt Romney led Bain Capital, they invested in a Chinese company called Global-Tech, which relied on American outsourcing for its success.  Even though Global-Tech promoted its practices of exploiting low-wage labor, Romney and Bain saw Global-Tech as a good investment.  So now when Mitt Romney tries to talk tough on China it's just embarrassing.  The American people know that trusting Romney to hold China accountable is like asking a fox to guard the hen house -- you may have heard that line before by someone who's a bigger bill than me.

It's running in seven states including Nevada where we are today.

MR. CARNEY:  And with that, we'll take your questions.

Q    Jen, even though I've lowered my own expectations for your answer to this question, any update on debate prep?  The President seemed to be bemoaning all the time he's having to spend inside when we were at the OFA office earlier. 

MS. PSAKI:  Debate prep is occurring inside -- I can confirm that.  As I said yesterday and as we've been saying, the President will obviously spend a bit of time in advance of Wednesday preparing for the debate with his team.  He believes that during this time one of the main focuses is to make sure he's sharpening his answers and shortening the time it takes to make them, but also remembering that his goal on Wednesday evening is to speak directly to the American people, to build on what he did at the convention and what he's been doing for months in laying out the choice for the American people.  And that's who his audience will be on Wednesday.

I will highlight that we've seen in reports again this morning that Mitt Romney and his team have continued to lay it on that this is, they expect, a game-changing performance on Wednesday, and that's what they're working toward.  I know one of the other pieces I think the American people -- we think the American people are looking for is specifics, and Mitt Romney and his team, including his running mate, and many of his surrogates have had ample opportunity to do that. 

This week hasn’t been the greatest week for that, on that front.  Yesterday his running mate, Paul Ryan, refused to provide specifics about how they'll pay for their $5 trillion tax plan, claiming that he didn’t have the time to do it.  It doesn’t matter how much time he has, the math doesn’t add up, as we know. And today -- I don't know if you all saw -- but Governor McDonnell was on MSNBC and was asked about the specifics and whether we could expect more specifics, and his answer was that that was a laughable question.

So that seems to be the message coming from there.  We know the American people are looking for more and we hope to hear more on Wednesday.

Q    You all said repeatedly that the President has spent less time -- or that Mitt Romney has spent more time preparing than any candidate in modern history.  So don't you have a comparison idea -- how many hours has the President spent, so we can sort of actually compare that to what we know that the Romney campaign has told us about what Romney has done?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Romney team has been clear, and I know you have these stats, but that he started preparing in July, that he's spent some periods of 48 hours doing five mock debates, that he has taken weeks off to spend preparing for the debate. 

We appreciate the opportunity -- we're not going to lay out the hours or specifics of what the President has done preparing for Wednesday.  Obviously he's here this period of time.  He has had to cut down because of events overseas and has had to change and cancel some of the scheduled preps over the last couple of weeks because of that and because of his busy campaign schedule. But we just don't have any plans to lay out specific hours or anything like that.  We'll leave that to our opponent's team to lay out for you.

MR. CARNEY:  I would add that there were a lot of football games on yesterday.

MS. PSAKI:  There were.  There was a lot of sports watching on the plane.

Q    Can you give us a sense of how the sessions are going and any color from the room, like who's in there with him, how many -- how much of the staff that are here are here to help him prepare, as opposed to do other things?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I apologize, because I know this is -- we’re all going to bang our heads against the wall here for the next 48 hours, but obviously he has close policy and political advisors working with him.  I’m not going to lay out how it’s going or what’s happening, because obviously our focus is on making sure he has what he needs in advance of Wednesday, and we don’t see any reason to lay those specifics out for our opponent.

Obviously, as you know, he just went and took a break, and went to a local campaign office to rally and excite volunteers and our campaign staff, because at the same time, we’re focused on early vote and we’re focused on getting people out to vote as soon as they have the opportunity to.  So there’s a balance we’re striking here as well while we’re in Nevada.

Q    A question for both of you.  Do you have a reaction to Governor Romney’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today about Obama’s foreign policy record?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me just start by addressing the President’s foreign policy record.  When President Obama took office, the Iraq war had been going on for years and he had campaigned with a promised to end that war, and he has done that. He promised during the campaign to focus attention on Afghanistan and on al Qaeda in the AfPak region, because that attention was lacking in the previous administration.  He inherited the policy in Afghanistan that was widely described as a drift with no clear focus and no suitable resources -- or a lack of suitable resources to execute the mission.  He kept his promise to refocus the mission in Afghanistan to take a fight to al Qaeda in the AfPak region as well as around the world, and I think you know the results of that. 

He promised to strengthened our alliances that had been frayed, and to restore America’s standing in the world.  He has done both of those things.

He made clear his belief that because of the focus on Iraq in particular and the Middle East more broadly, the rise of the Pacific Rim, especially China and other nations, have been neglected during the previous administration, and he promised to rebalance America’s interest towards the Pacific Rim, and he has done that.

This is a record that is very strong and is in keeping with the promises he made in 2008. 

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll just add that reading that op-ed, it was -- there’s no op-ed or no speech -- which we’ve heard he may or may not give at some point in the next few weeks -- that’s going to change the view of the American people that he has been reckless, erratic, and irresponsible on foreign policy issues every time he’s had the opportunity to speak to them. 

There was a lot of chest-pumping rhetoric in there.  There wasn’t a lot of specifics in that op-ed and how he wanted to go about leading the world, how he would do things differently.  And we don’t think that’s what the American people are looking for. 

If you look at his record -- which, obviously, Wednesday will be a domestic policy debate, but there will be plenty of time to discuss these issues -- he has opposed ending the war in Iraq, unlike the President’s position and President’s record on that, saying that he would have kept as many 30,000 troops there indefinitely.  He’s had an incoherent record and vision on al Qaeda.  He said he wouldn’t go after Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan if we had him in our sights, and that it wasn’t worth moving heaven and Earth to catch him.  Obviously, we disagree with that.  And he’s had some incoherent positions when it comes to Iran, saying he would move America in a different direction, but all of his ideas are things President Obama is already doing. 
So there’s a lot more to prove, and I don’t think that -- we don’t think that op-ed accomplished anything in terms of affirming the confidence of the American people.

Q    Can you address maybe some of his specific criticisms
-- too timid in response to the Syrian civil war, the election of the Islamist President in Egypt, the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll just say broadly that on all of the issues, the criticism reflected in that op-ed contains no specifics for an alternative.  What we know about, in this case Governor Romney’s foreign policy, is that on the very -- the areas that you mentioned, his actual proposals -- if he has any
-- are no different from what the President is actually doing, with the exception perhaps of Iran, where short of the most intensive sanctions regime ever put into place, the most intensive diplomatic isolation that Iran has ever been under, coupled with pursuit for a diplomatic solution to the problem, the alternative is war.  And as the President has said, if Governor Romney or other critics are advocating that as a position, they ought to say so clearly.

MS. PSAKI:  I just want to add one other thing on the debate, to make sure you saw it.  And we put this out over the weekend, but I know there’s been a lot of paper floating around. We’ve seen reports that Governor Romney is going to talk about his record in Massachusetts, his record at Bain during the debate.  And in advance of Wednesday, we’re going to have several Massachusetts officials out in key swing states across the country laying out the facts about his record.  So that’s just one other piece to look out for.

MR. CARNEY:  One other issue, because it was raised in that op-ed is -- and it broadly goes to the President’s policy record and so I’d like to address it, which is on the issue of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, what critics cannot contest is that President Obama and his administration have established the strongest relationship with Israel when it comes to helping protect Israel’s security that has ever existed. 

And that has been attested to by Israeli leaders, not just by members of the administration.  And there is an unshakeable commitment that this President has made clear, he feels, of the United States’ support behind Israel’s security.

Q    You guys have downplayed the idea that zingers would be a big part of his debate MO, but presumably there are some.  I just wanted to get on record, are you ruling out any zingers or are you just saying that they won’t be a big part of it? 

And there’s a draped basketball court out back.  Has he had a chance to get out there, and will he while we’re here?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not aware of him playing basketball.  I don’t know -- I don’t have any prediction of if he will or won’t, but not aware of any plans.

On zingers, I’ll say the reason why this is such an important point is that Mitt Romney’s team has previewed that he’s been working on one-liners and zingers for months -- as if that’s what the American people are looking for, and as if that’s what they’re waiting to hear from him.  He laid out his plans in his speech at the Republican Convention.  Clearly, the American people didn’t like what he had to say about everything from his plans to extend tax cuts to the highest income and leave the burden on the back of the middle class, to voucherize Medicare, to make dramatic cuts to programs like Pell grants.  And he has the opportunity to speak to that.

Obviously, there are always moments in debates that we’ll all remember.  It’s hard to predict what those will be right now.

Q    Especially without knowing what he’s doing inside that room.  (Laughter.)  It’s okay.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I have to say we could invite you guys in to participate in the prep session, and play moderator and play John Kerry, but that didn’t seem -- or play Mitt Romney -- but that didn’t seem like that was the best strategic choice for us to make as we’re trying to get the President prepared and make sure he has what he needs.  We do love transparency, as you know.

MR. CARNEY:  If I could just add -- I think you know, having covered him, and all of us having observed him -- the President’s inclination and preference when policy is being debated is to debate it substantively and discuss it substantively, and to explain and put forward his ideas for why he thinks -- or what he thinks is the best way to move this country forward, both domestically and internationally.  And that preference and inclination, given modern debate format, might be a liability, but it is the approach he prefers to take.

Q    So who’s winning the mock debates?  Has Kerry won one yet?  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  We can’t read that sort of thing out.

Q    The question is has he lost one yet.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, that’s right. 

Q    When you drive around this area, it’s pretty striking to see a lot of the homes that are empty and the golf courses that are abandoned.  And I’m wondering if the President has had any reaction to kind of the pretty obvious state of the economy in this area as he’s driven in and out.

MS. PSAKI:  I can’t speak to that specifically.  I just haven’t been riding in the car with him back and forth from here. Obviously, one of the issues -- and you touched on this -- that has impacted this state dramatically is the housing crisis.  And this is an area where of course -- we’ve seen prices go up a little bit, not enough.  This is an area, as is evidenced by the President’s weekly address he gave just two days ago, that he’s remained focused on. 

There’s a huge difference between the President’s plans here and Mitt Romney’s plans.  He put out -- Mitt Romney put out a policy a couple of weeks ago on housing, which he thought so highly of he did it on a Friday afternoon after he released his taxes -- and that always tells you something -- you guys are all reporters. 

But the President is -- every time he comes to a place like Nevada and he speaks with the people in this state, he’s very cognizant of the challenges they’re going through.  It’s one of the reasons why he’s proposed to expand his housing policy that, a year ago -- and this is just a little housing refresher, but it’s relevant here -- a little over a year ago he proposed a policy to make it so that homeowners who were underwater could -- that government -- that people who are underwater and had government-backed mortgages would be able to refinance. 

It worked so well that it’s contributed to many, many more people being able to refinance.  But there are many people in Nevada who don’t have government-backed mortgages, and that’s a policy -- as you know, because he talked about it Saturday -- that he’s thinking of.

So the short answer is, when he goes to events like he did last night, when he talks to the field staffers he did today, these are conversations and these are interactions that impact him deeply and he talks about frequently.

And the last thing I’ll say is, one of the stories he tells often in interviews and even when he’s just chatting about the challenges we’re facing, is a group of teachers he met in Nevada the last time he was here who talked about class sizes.  So as much as he’s not talking to people as he’s driving along, that’s part of these visits and part of why we wanted to come here and do debate prep here.

Q    What’s part of the reason?

MS. PSAKI:  That he has the opportunity to speak directly to the people of this state, have conversations with the field staffers and the volunteers and the organizers, and people along the rope line like he did last night.

Q    We saw the cyber-attack information from a background source.  But --  (laughter) --

MS. PSAKI:  Never heard of that guy.

Q    You never heard of that guy.  However, one newspaper reported that the cyber-attack was specifically on the White House Military Office, which supposedly controls the nuclear launch codes.  Any response to that specifically?

MR. CARNEY:  The attack you’ve mentioned was what’s known as a spear-phishing attack against an unclassified network.  Let’s be clear -- this is an unclassified network.  These types of attacks are not infrequent, and we have mitigation measures in place.  In this instance, the attack was identified, the system was isolated, and there is no indication whatsoever that any exfiltration of data took place.  Moreover, there was never any impact or attempted breach of any classified system.

Q    So what does the network control if it’s unclassified?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry?

Q    If that network is unclassified, then what does it control?  What is it in charge of?  What information is stored in that network?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to get into specifics about classified and unclassified networks, except that there are distinctions between those networks that have -- contain classified information and those that don’t.  And the attack was against an unclassified network.

Q    Jay, can you give us any sense of how the President is keeping updated on the investigation in Libya?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything specific beyond his regular presidential daily briefings on foreign policy, national security conversations.  I have nothing new for you on the attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.  He has made clear that he wants the perpetrators to be brought to justice.  And he wants the FBI investigation as well as the State Department’s security review to proceed and lead wherever they may.

Q    So any information he’s getting, he’s getting in that daily -- his daily briefing?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he certainly is getting his regular briefings, but he is -- he has national security staff with him all the time, and he also periodically checks in with Tom Donilon or Denis McDonough, other members of his national security team.

Q    Are either of them -- they’re not here?

MR. CARNEY:  Neither of those two are here, I believe.  Ben Rhodes is here.

Q    Is he still confident in how the investigations are going?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I just don’t have any update for you on the investigations.  The FBI is leading an investigation on what happened, and Secretary Clinton has announced that there’s a review -- a security review underway, and both are proceeding.

Q    If I can ask about the -- part of the reason for the President’s visit here to Nevada.  A couple of years ago, he made some statements about Las Vegas that a lot of people locally didn’t take to and are actually being used against him in ads right now by Romney.  So was there any thinking of coming here, spending some time to try to ease that -- some of those feelings, some of those thoughts?  Or to show, hey, look, I’m blowing some money in Vegas right now? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can’t read out what the staff is up to and other reporters.  But, look, the President has been here.  Those comments you’re referring to were, I believe, more than three years ago.  Since that time, the President has been to Nevada and I believe Vegas about a dozen times.  This is a state that he absolutely enjoys coming to. 

He’s here because we know that it is a very important swing state in our pursuit of winning 270 electoral votes.  And this is a place where he believes that his commitment to fighting for the middle class, his commitment to keeping at it and fighting to get the housing market up and running, his belief that we can get comprehensive immigration reform through, resonate with the people here.  And that’s exactly why he’s here.

I think more than a comment from three years ago, that Mitt Romney and his team are trying to make something of that it’s not, is the President’s record.  And he has done a great deal to work on travel and tourism and promoting that in this country, because he knows that it is a major driver of economic growth in places like Las Vegas and many other cities around the country.  And we’ve seen great progress on that front, working with his Jobs Council and with his economic team.  We actually put out a progress report a couple of weeks ago that I’m happy to get to you as well on that. 

And his record really speaks to his commitment to that, more than attempts by an opponent during a political campaign to make something out of a comment that it clearly doesn’t represent.

Everybody good?  Do you want to talk more about mortgages?  (Laughter.)  Joking.

Q    Thanks, guys.

3:44 P.M. PDT

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