The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One En Route Andrews Air Force Base, 10/29/2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
Returning From Florida

9:33 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks for being with us as we return to Washington earlier than expected.  I have a couple of statements I want to give to you. 

First -- and this just went out from me -- the President will no longer travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin tomorrow for a campaign event so that he can stay in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday and closely monitor the impact of and response to Hurricane Sandy. 

As he said at FEMA Headquarters yesterday, the President has instructed his team to make sure that needed federal resources are in place to support state and local recovery efforts. 

Additional details about the President's schedule will be announced as soon as they are available.

Separately, when the President gets back to Washington he will lead a meeting in the White House Situation Room, where he will be updated on the latest forecast for Hurricane Sandy and the extensive federal efforts underway to support the state and local response of this historic storm. 

The President will convene the meeting via video teleconference with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Fugate, Transportation Secretary LaHood, Energy Secretary Chu, and National Hurricane Center Director Richard Knabb.  Also participating at the White House will be Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Richard Reed, and other senior members of the President's team.

That's all I have at the top.

Q    Are we going to hear from the President today?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no scheduling announcements for you on that.

Q    Jay, could you tell us how the decision unfolded for him to return to Washington without the political event today?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  As you know, we had already made adjustments to our schedule because of Hurricane Sandy.  The storm overnight picked up speed and intensity, and a decision was made that in order to return to Washington to monitor and oversee the efforts to prepare for the storm and respond to it, that we needed to leave earlier than planned.

Q    You guys tell us often that the President can do his job as President on the road, while he's campaigning.  Why decide to actually go back to Washington and be at the White House for this event when he's stayed out on the road for campaign events in previous incidents this year?

MR. CARNEY:  The President's priority right now is the safety and security of Americans who are in the path of the storm and who will be affected by it.  It's essential, in his view, that he be in Washington, one of the areas that will be affected and where his team is, to oversee that effort and to be updated on it.

It is true that the President is President 24 hours a day.  This is one of the circumstances where, in his view, it makes the most sense for him to be in place in the White House fulfilling those responsibilities. 

Q    Just to clarify, the early departure today back to D.C., was that primarily for safety reasons -- would it have been unsafe to have flown in at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'm not an aviation expert, but it is the case that we had originally hoped to do the event this morning and then fly back, but because the storm was moving more quickly than was the case, as I understand it, yesterday evening, that it made it essential for us to leave earlier in the morning.
Q    So the President is losing two days of campaigning then?  It won't be either today or tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI:  That's right.

MR. CARNEY:  That's correct.

Q    And no calls on Wednesday yet, right? 

MS. PSAKI:  We have not made a call.  We're obviously closely monitoring the storm, relying on local and state authorities for their guidance, and will make adjustments to the schedule accordingly.

Q    Jay, some of the utilities are saying that the power is going to be out in some areas for up to 10 days, which would obviously include Election Day.  Is there any contingency planning to alter the Election Day schedule because of this?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that is not something I'm able to address.  The fact is the storm is just taking effect now and having an impact now and making landfall I believe tonight.  We have to focus on not the campaign and not the election, but on making sure that all federal resources are both prepositioned and in place to help states and localities respond to the storm, to help Americans who are affected by the storm.  That's our focus right now.

Q    Would the President have the power to adjust Election Day?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know the answer to that question.  I think you're getting way ahead of yourself here.

Q    Some of the utilities are saying 10 days of power outage, like Virginia, for instance. 

MR. CARNEY:  I just don't -- I think we'll have to take that question.

]    Q    Does the President have more confidence in Pepco, or Old Dominion Power?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is working with his team; FEMA is working with state and local governments who obviously liasse directly with utility companies to handle this kind of an event.

Q    So that means Pepco?

Q    Can you describe how the schedule changes are going to affect the get out the vote operation in Florida and elsewhere?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, sure.  As Jay has mentioned, our focus, the President’s focus, the campaign’s focus is ensuring the safety of the American people, of our volunteers, of our supporters.  That’s what the President is focused on every single day.  There are places where -- in Virginia, for example, the State Board of Elections is now allowing voters who may be affected by the storm to vote absentee in person.  That’s a step they took in response to this.  There are steps like that that obviously are encouraging. 

But we are -- where it is safe, our campaign is up and running in the places where our volunteers and our staff are safe.  That’s many parts of the country.  But that doesn’t intercede with the fact that the President’s focus over the next 48 hours, or however long it takes, will be on the storm and making sure people are safe across the country.

MR. CARNEY:  Also, before -- I meant to mention this at the top.  The President -- overnight, we announced several more emergency declarations, and that brings to eight the total of emergency declarations.  That includes Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland.  These declarations make federal aid available to make sure state and local responders have support they need as they work to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, as preparations and initial response efforts take place.  And as you know, emergence declarations are made in response to requests from states and also the District of Columbia.

MS. PSAKI:  And I'll just add, we’re taking it, and our team is taking it, day by day, because no one can predict exactly where we’ll be in 24 hours or 48 hours.  So decisions are made on a daily basis.  And that applies to the President’s schedule but it also applies to what’s happening on the ground where appropriate.

Q    Do you expect the President to campaign with Bill Clinton later?  I mean, are you going to try to reschedule that?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t have any updates on that.  As you know, or just to confirm for you, President Clinton is doing the event this morning in Florida.  He’ll be going on to Youngstown to do the event in Ohio.  Obviously we are big fans of having him out there advocating for the President.  So where possible over the next eight days we would love that but don’t have any updates on them campaigning together.

Q    Talk to us about the balancing act that the President obviously has to do right now.  We’re seven days out, eight days out -- what’s he weighing, how is he doing it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me just say that the balance tilts heavily towards, in a situation like this, his responsibilities as President.  That’s why we’ve made the changes to the schedule that we’ve made.  That’s why we’re headed back to Washington now. That’s why the President will be in Washington through today and tomorrow, and we will make changes to the schedule as necessary  -- if necessary, going forward.

This is a time not for politics, but at a moment like this, with a storm as severe as this, with likely impacts as consequential as we will see, the President is very focused on making sure that the federal response effort is comprehensive, that every state and locality has what it needs.  And that includes all the prepositioning of resources that FEMA has done in key locations prior to landfall.  It includes embedding FEMA officials in state emergency centers so that that communication is immediate.  And it includes at the presidential level, directing all responsible parties in the federal government to be taking the necessary steps to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the American people in a storm like this.

Q    Jen, you guys have lost two campaign days now.  How does the President make up for that lost time?

MS. PSAKI:  I think this is a case where politics takes a backseat.  And the President's role is governing the country and doing what he was elected to do four years ago, which is to make sure people have the resources and the information they need.  That will be his focus as long as it’s needed.  And we’re not worried about the other piece of this.

Q    At what point did you make the call not to attend the event this morning? 

MR. CARNEY:  This morning.

Q    And that’s not something that could have been made last night?  I mean, we were all looking at forecasts last night that made it seem like the storm was going to be in D.C. pretty early.

MR. CARNEY:  We’ve based on our decisions on the information that we’ve been getting about the storm and the recommendations of the various agencies that assess storms like these and also have responsibility for transportation and security for the President.

As of yesterday evening, the intention was -- based on what we knew about the storm’s trajectory and speed -- that we could have the event in Florida this morning and leave in time to get back to Washington.  The decision was made early this morning that we needed to leave earlier.

Q    Will the Vice President stay on the trail throughout the week during this storm?

MS. PSAKI:  The Vice President will be in Ohio today with President Clinton.  I don’t know beyond today what his schedule is, but we can get back to you on that.

Q    And what kind of role do you think Governor Romney should be playing during the storm?  Is it appropriate for him to stay on the trail with a full slate of events, or scale back as well?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll let the American people be the judge of that.  The President’s role as Commander-in-Chief is to be focused on making sure the American people are safe and have the information they need.  That’s what his focus is. 

We’ve also been encouraging our supporters to donate online to the American Red Cross through and through our Facebook site. Traditionally with emergency situations like Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross asks for financial donations so that they can manage the distribution, and so that’s what we’re encouraging people to do as well.

Q    What kind of pizzas did the President deliver last night?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll have to take that question and get back to you.

Q    Was the President upset that he went all this way just to deliver six boxes of pizza?

MS. PSAKI:  He was happy he was able to make some calls to some super volunteers.  If the President -- if the storm had allowed us to go to the event even early this morning, we would have done that.  And it just -- the circumstances just didn’t allow that to happen.

Q    Thanks, guys.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you.

10:07 A.M. EDT

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