Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route San Antonio, TX, 7/17/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route San Antonio, Texas
10:00 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us for this trip deep into the heart of Texas this morning. As we've done the past couple of weeks, I will be on hand to answer a couple of questions you may have about official administration policy, and my colleague, Jen, is here to talk to you about the President's reelection campaign and reelection activities.
Before we get started, there is one piece of official business that I did want to raise for you. Later this morning, the Office of Personnel Management will be releasing some specifics per a directive from the President last week about providing health insurance to the seasonal workers at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture who are fighting -- firefighters out West. This is something the President directed OPM to do in conjunction with the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture. So you should look for an announcement -- that should be out by the time we land in Texas in a couple of hours.
MS. PSAKI: And I just wanted to start with two announcements. One is, as you may have seen overnight, we have a new ad in Pennsylvania that will be welcoming Mitt Romney to the state today, called, "Makes You Wonder." It highlights the question of whether Mitt Romney paid his fair share in taxes. As we know, until he releases more years of tax returns we're not going to have additional information on why he had investments in the Cayman Islands, why he had investments in a company in Bermuda, and what decisions he was involved in.
The second announcement, I just wanted to highlight -- actually I just wanted to run through the schedule through the day just so everybody is clear on that.
There are four fundraisers today, two in San Antonio, two in Austin. So we start off the day with an event at the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. We expect about 1,200 people. The tickets started at $250. That will be followed by a private reception at a private home. We expect about 70 people. Those tickets were $35,800 per person. Then we'll go to Austin later this afternoon. He'll have an event at the Austin Music Hall. We expect about 1,100 people. Tickets start at $250. Then we'll have a private reception there where we expect about 80 people, and the tickets are $25,000 per couple.
With that, we'll take your questions.
Q Are you attacking the President on his income -- I mean Governor Romney on his income taxes? Is this something that we're going to see more of this week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Amie, when you hear the President speak today at several of those events, what you'll hear him do is lay out the choice the American people are facing, the differing visions he has from Mitt Romney for the future of the country, and his commitment to continue to fight for the middle class.
We have raised, as many people have raised, including many Republicans -- it’s been a growing number over the last couple of days -- Bill Kristol, Haley Barbour over the weekend. We saw the governor of Alabama just ask for Mitt Romney to release further years of tax returns, and this is a call that's not just being made by us, it’s being made by many people including people from Mitt Romney’s own party.
Q What about the President -- will he address that today at all?
MS. PSAKI: The President’s remarks will focus on what he wants to do to lead the country over the next four years, and his differing vision from Mitt Romney.
Q Jen, is it fair to suggest, however, as the ad does and as if you’ve been doing, that Romney may not have, in fact, paid any taxes, or may have hidden some, when we, in fact, don't know what those tax returns might show?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the ad raises the question that we won’t know, and it’s not possible for anyone to know, until he releases further years of tax returns and everybody is able to examine what is included in them.
Q Vice President Cheney is on the Hill today to talk to Republicans on how to avoid sequestration. Has he been in contact with the President at all?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any phone calls to read out to you between the President and the former Vice President. It does seem odd to me, however, that House Republicans would be taking budget advice from somebody who famously declared that "deficits don't matter."
The President obviously has a different view, which is that deficits do matter, which is why the President has laid out a balanced approach to dealing with our long-term deficit challenges. He’s hopeful that we’ll finally get Republicans to agree to work with him on that effort.
One of the reasons that the Republicans have continuously rebuffed the President’s efforts to reach this long-term solution is because they feel it’s very important to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The President believes it’s important for the wealthy to do their fair share, deal with our deficit challenges in conjunction with making some pretty significant cuts in government spending, as well as dealing with some of the challenges -- budgetary challenges posed by our entitlement programs.
So the President believes that this comprehensive balanced approach is what’s required, and we’re ready and waiting for Republicans to get onboard.
Q Does the President support Democrats who are threatening with the fiscal cliff?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned, the President believes firmly that there is a way for us to deal with our deficit challenges that doesn't involve the historic funding cuts that are included in the sequester. There is bipartisan agreement about the fact that the cuts that are included in the so-called sequester would not be good for our economy, and you’ve even heard the Secretary of Defense raising concerns about the impact that it could have on national security. Democrats and Republicans -- a majority of Republicans -- voted for the sequester in an effort to force Congress to act to reach a long-term solution to our deficit challenges.
The President has put forward an approach that mirrors the approach that has been taken by a wide range of bipartisan commissions that have looked at this problem, and the only thing that is standing in the way are congressional Republicans who are fighting tooth and nail to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The President does not believe that it’s just middle-class families that should have to sacrifice to deal with our deficit challenges. We’re all in this together, and that includes asking those wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, millionaires and billionaires, essentially, to do their fair share.
Q Josh, the Syrian ambassador who defected has raised the possibility that the Syrian government will use chemical weapons in Syria. Do you have any intel to back that up? And is that a concern that the White House is looking at?
MR. EARNEST: You’re talking about the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, right?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any comment at this point about intelligence reports about Syria’s chemical weapons. What I can tell you is -- this is something that the State Department has also expressed publicly -- is that there are certain responsibilities that go along with the handling and storage and security of those chemical weapons. And we believe that the individuals who are responsible for living up to those challenges should do so and will be held accountable for doing so.
But in terms of the specific intelligence reports that you’re citing, I’m not able to comment on those one way or the other.
Q All right. Is the U.S. concerned that Assad may use those chemical weapons against his own people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we have seen is inhumane brutality from the Assad regime, and that is something that has aroused the concern -- against his own people I should say -- and that has certainly aroused concern not just by the President and U.S. officials, but by the leaders of countries all over the globe, including a number of countries in the region.
Q Josh, the Fed Chairman is testifying on the Hill today. Some Democrats want the Fed to consider using monetary policy to prime the economy given continued slowdown. Does the President agree with that call?
MR. EARNEST: Jim, as you know the Federal Reserve is completely independent. And so I wouldn't want to comment on any decisions, any policy decisions they may be contemplating right now. As you point out, the Chairman is going to testify before Congress later today, and I'm sure that he'll have some thoughts on that.
What the President believes is that there are -- while it's the Fed's decision to decide whether or not to take action, the President believes Congress should act. And there are a whole range of policies the President has put forth that the Congress can act on right away -- whether it's tax cuts for small businesses that want to hire new workers, whether it's offering responsible homeowners the opportunity to refinance their homes at historically low interest rates, whether it's investing in our infrastructure.
The President has talked extensively, both in official events and on the campaign trail, about his view that we should take half the money that we get from bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, use half of that to pay down the deficit and use the other half to do some nation-building at home by investing in our ports, in our airports, in our railways and our runways and our highways -- that we can not only create construction jobs in the short term that would address the weakness in the construction sector, but also lay a foundation for our long-term economic strength in this country.
Q Will the President be closely following what Bernanke says?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President will certainly be interested to hear what Chairman Bernanke has to say when he testifies before Congress today.
Q Jen, can you give us more context for this trip to Texas, in terms of how often the President has been to Texas for fundraisers for the past year or so -- do you have any count on that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I'm happy to get you some numbers on that. I don't have it in front of me now. There are many Democrats who support the President in Texas, and we will see many of them today. He will have a similar message to what you've heard over the past couple of trips, in terms of laying out the contrast between what he is fighting for, who he is fighting for, and his vision for the future of the country.
But as you know, and as I mentioned, we expect to see a couple of thousand people here who are supportive of the President, excited to see him, and looking forward to sending him back for four more years. But I'll get you some specifics --
Q Is this the first time he has gone to San Antonio since he has been in office, do you know?
MS. PSAKI: I will check that for you.
MR. EARNEST: One thing I would add to that is anybody who -- having worked on the President's campaign in a private capacity in 2008, I actually spent about four really fun weeks in Texas in February of 2008. And certainly, there were a lot of very strong supporters of the President in Texas. Anybody who covered that race is certainly aware of --
Q -- tough primary, though.
MR. EARNEST: It was a tough primary. It was exciting. We were actually talking about this last week about what an exciting time in the campaign that was. I was the communications director for the Texas campaign down here that spring. But there are certainly a lot of very strong supporters of the President who were strong supporters of him in 2008 as well.
Q -- Marissa Mayer -- she’s a supporter of his -- did he reach out to her?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know of any phone calls that he may have made to her yesterday.
Q Jen, one of the events today I believe is co-sponsored by the Democratic Party’s LGBT Council. The other one features leading Hispanics in Texas. Does the President have specific messages to both those audiences today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, the President will be talking about his differing vision for the country. There are a number of issues he’s been fighting for, including access to affordable health care, access to education to middle-class families that are important to many different groups. He will be interacting with the audience and there will be some opportunities for them to ask him questions, so there could be issues that come up related to that. But I expect you will hear a consistent message of his differing vision for the country from his opponent.
Q Will he do a kind of a town hall-style thing that we’ll be able to see?
MS. PSAKI: You will be there for the remarks, which you will enjoy thoroughly, I’m certain. And the people who are attending will, I’m sure, enjoy the interaction back and forth.
That was my nice way of saying it. (Laughter.)
Q On a lighter note, Josh, did the President have a reaction to being on the Kiss Cam last night and being turned down at first by his wife?
MR. EARNEST: I will say that this incident was the subject of some high-level conversations on the helicopter en route to Andrew’s Air Force Base this morning. (Laughter.) I can tell you, based on a very good source, that reports the President was rebuffed are false. The President and First Lady enjoyed the basketball game yesterday. During the first half, they were sitting in the stands, noticed that their images were on the large screen, smiled, did not recognize that their images were on the screen in conjunction with the Kiss Cam. So it was not until halftime, when the President and First Lady saw their daughters and their daughters asked them why they didn’t kiss during the Kiss Cam segment. They remarked that they did not recognize they were on the screen during the Kiss Cam segment, and so during act two of the Kiss Cam promotion, the President took advantage to steal a kiss from his wife.
Q There were reports of people at the game, which I was not, and I think our sportswriter took a photo where it appeared on the Kiss Cam that the President was leaning in to try for a kiss. You’re saying that they were not aware at all that -- what was going on with that?
MR. EARNEST: That's correct.
Q The President also said he -- at the half time interview that he’d talked to the women’s team. What were the circumstances of that -- before the game, after the game? What did he say to them? And then did he talk to any of the men’s players or team at all?
MR. EARNEST: Before the men’s game, he was able to go I don’t know if it was into the locker room or one of the rooms in the Verizon Center where the President was able to greet the women’s team. He didn’t arrive in time to see their game. But he got a chance to visit with each of them, and he thanked them for the way in which they’re representing our country, that -- the President obviously has a very high opinion of the women's team.
And I think he noted in his interview with Mark Jones yesterday that he actually expected that the women's basketball team might be an even bigger favorite in the basketball competition in the Olympics than the men's team. So I also heard that he may have gotten a jersey from the women's team as well. So he had an opportunity to visit with them before he attended the men's game. I don't know that he had a chance to visit with any of the members of the men's team yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: One other thing let me just raise since you're all here. One story that came out overnight I would encourage all of you to read is a story in the Boston Globe that touches on the changing language that Mitt Romney's team and his surrogates have used to describe Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain. They're starting to refer to it as that he didn't manage the day-to-day, which raises some questions about what exactly he did do. I'm happy to provide that to anyone, but I just wanted to highlight it while we were all here.
Q One other thing about the President's schedule -- I mean, four days this week he is campaigning out of town. And I'm just wondering is that going to be sort of the norm from here on out, three or four days a week? And does that leave time for governing?
MS. PSAKI: I don't know the schedule weeks out from now. We are three and a half months from the election. While he is campaigning, he is reading briefing books, he is doing calls, he is having meetings with his advisors. And that's something -- he can walk and chew gum at the same time.
He will be campaigning later this week in Florida, as you touched on, for two days. And I think he looks forward to and really enjoys getting out there and having those conversations with the American people about what they're focused on. And, oftentimes, that does impact his governing -- when he hears from people on concerns they have about small businesses -- yesterday, he heard from somebody whose father needed to get a job and he talked about infrastructure. We had a conversation this morning about the drought and what we can do more on the drought. And those are all conversations he is having while he's out on the campaign trail, meeting with the American people. And he does take them back and discuss with his advisors as well.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, everybody.
10:16 A.M. EDT