Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Offutt AFB, Nebraska, 8/13/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Offutt AFB, Nebraska
10:22 A.M. CDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for joining us this morning as we make our way from the great state of Illinois to the great state of Iowa.
I wanted to let you know that today, after the first event, which is a campaign event, the President will have an official event touring a farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa, where he will visit with the owners and see firsthand the impacts of the historic drought that is devastating much of the country. The President will reiterate that while Congress urgently needs to pass a farm bill to provide short-term relief and long-term certainty to farmers and ranchers, his administration will continue to do everything it can to mitigate the drought’s impacts.
He will announce that the Department of Agriculture will buy up to $170 million worth of meat and poultry, up to $100 million worth of pork products, $50 million worth of chicken, and $10 million each worth of lamb and farm-raised catfish.
In addition, the President is directing the Department of Defense -- which buys about 95 million pounds of beef, 65 million pounds of pork, and 500,000 pounds of lamb each year -- to explore ways to encourage its vendors to accelerate purchases of beef, pork, and lamb in order to buy more now and freeze it for later.
This is a win-win. Farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to sell more of their products at this critical time, and taxpayers will get a better price on food that would have been purchased later.
Today’s announcement builds on the steps the administration has taken over the past month, ranging from opening up more lands for haying and grazing, to providing emergency loans to farmers, ranchers, and small businesses, to providing assistance to get water to livestock and improve drought-affected lands.
The President has directed his administration to continue exploring every possible avenue to provide relief to communities struggling with this historic natural disaster.
I think Jen also has something for the top.
MS. PSAKI: And in his remarks this morning, you may have seen excerpts -- if you have not, you will get them shortly -- where the President will call on Congress -- he will reiterate the importance of Congress passing a farm bill that he can sign into law. The drought has had a devastating impact on many communities across the country, including many in Iowa. And this is an issue where he feels strongly that this assistance is needed. It’s needed now. And in contrast with his opponents and the Republican ticket, he’s doing everything he can to get the bill moving forward so he can sign it into law.
MR. CARNEY: And with that, we will take your questions -- unless there are none.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit to the fact of him announcing this and going to tour a farm? Does this give him advantage as an incumbent able to do these sort of things that his opponent is not?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll start simply by saying that the drought is a fact that is having a serious effect, negative effect, on ranchers and farmers throughout affected areas in the country. It’s the President’s responsibility, one he takes very seriously, to do everything his administration can to help alleviate these negative effects. He continues to be President, obviously, every day, all day, even as he engages in a reelection campaign.
MS. PSAKI: I’ll also say that the President has been talking about the drought -- the steps we need to take to address the drought, getting a farm bill through -- for the past several weeks as this has been an issue across the country.
In Colorado, just last week, he met with some rural reporters. This was the issue on the top of their minds. A few weeks ago he was asked by some radio reporters in Ohio. This is an issue that the President not only talks to his White House team about, but also hears about on the campaign trail when he’s meeting with voters, when he’s talking to people about the challenges they’re facing. And it’s one of those issues -- he comes back on the plane, he goes back to the White House, and wants to know what we can do so we can do more to help the people that he’s hearing from when he’s traveling.
MR. CARNEY: And I’m sure you’re aware of this, but, as you know, the Senate passed a bipartisan, broad, long-term farm bill. The House failed to do that before leaving town. So the House really needs to take action.
Q We saw the excerpts of his remarks. Does the President believe that Paul Ryan is one of the reasons why that farm bill is not being passed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Paul Ryan happens to be in Congress, as you may have heard. And he has not, as far as we can tell, taken steps to move the farm bill forward. There are a lot of people who need to -- who are involved in that process, we’re well aware. But as a leader in Congress, as someone who's going to be in Iowa today, and as somebody who's a part of a Republican ticket led by Mitt Romney, this is an issue, I'm sure they know -- if they don't, they should know -- is on the minds of people not only across the state of Iowa, but across the country.
So we're encouraging everybody, including Paul Ryan, to take action and move forward.
Q Jen, can you address the criticism from Romney on Medicare? He's been saying this morning the President cut $700 billion as part of the health care plan and that somehow -- that that's been a wrong approach. And then, just secondly, do you think it's reasonable -- does the President think it's reasonable for Governor Romney to have his own separate budget plan, separate from Paul Ryan's?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take the second one first. As the old saying goes, birds of a feather flock together, and Mitt Romney picked -- his pick of Paul Ryan tells you something about his own economic beliefs -- ones we knew, but this solidifies it and crystallizes it even more. They share a support for a radical budget that would extend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while balancing the burden on the backs of the middle class. They both want to take us back to the 1950s when it comes to women's choices. And it really tells you something about the ticket.
I will say that the choice we have in this election is between two different visions -- it's President Obama's vision and Mitt Romney's vision. And the selection of Paul Ryan just solidifies that further.
The last thing I would say is that you typically don't call something "marvelous" unless you think it's pretty great. So we know that Mitt Romney called Paul Ryan's plan "marvelous," and we also know that he has spoken in support of it many, many times. So to try to walk away at this point from that plan seems a little tough for him to do.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just add, that on the disingenuous assertions being made about the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, I think rather than take my word for it, I would point you to the AARP, which has said, first, that the Affordable Care Act "protects and strengthens benefits." And, second, the AARP has said the Ryan plan would "undermine these programs for seniors and lead to higher costs for seniors."
And it is, as you know, a ridiculous assertion to both criticize the steps in the Affordable Care Act that helped strengthen Medicare and the savings that were contained in that, and then, of course, in their own budget plans include the very same savings.
So, again, I would point you to the AARP, which I think many, many seniors across the country listen to and believe is a credible source on these issues. The President's Affordable Care Act strengthens and protects benefits for seniors. The Ryan plan undermines them. That's a quote from the AARP.
Q Jen, can you give us a sense of how many ads have already been cut and the process by which ads are being cut now that are critical of Paul Ryan as well as Mitt Romney? And also, Paul Ryan will be at the Iowa State Fair today. Can you tell us anything about the President's plans during his bus trip to make a similar visit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I'm sure will come as no surprise, I don't think we're going to get into specifics about strategy or ads that we're planning to run. I will say that this election is a choice between the two visions -- President Obama and Mitt Romney's visions -- and the contrast between them. And that is what people are -- the American people are looking at across the country.
So today, the President will talk about the difference between what -- who he's fighting for, middle-class tax cuts, making sure college kids have access to the assistance they need to go to college, and also the steps that need to be taken on the drought and moving the farm bill forward, and the contrast that that is with the vision of his opponents. And that tells you something about our approach and our view of the race at this time.
Q What does the White House think about the dismissal of Field Marshal Tantawi by the Egyptian President today? Is there any risk, do you think, that this could lead to more instability, a reaction from the military in Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. As you know, it is important for the Egyptian military and civilian leadership to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt. We hope that President Morsi’s announcements will serve the interests of the Egyptian people and maintain good relations with Egypt’s neighbors.
We had expected President Morsi to coordinate with the military to name a new defense team. And we will continue to work with Egypt’s civilian and military leaders to advance our many shared interests. In particular, we are ready to help President Morsi and the military as they continue to work to prevent extremists from operating in the Sinai.
We know new defense minister el-Sisi from his previous post, and we look forward to continuing to work with him now. Ambassador Patterson has been in touch with him, and the Department of Defense will also reach out soon. Further, we commend General Tantawi for his service, especially during the extremely difficult transition from President Mubarak’s leadership through the elections.
Q Just one thing about Syria -- is there any talk in the administration at all about the possibility of a no-fly zone in Syria? Secretary Clinton made some remarks, which were kind of -- had various interpretations overnight in Turkey.
MR. CARNEY: What I can say is that the President and his team have ruled out no options as we try to bring about, with all of our partners, and with the Syrian people, the political transition that is so desperately needed in Syria. We continue to believe that the course that we’re taking, which engages the international community in collectively putting pressure on the Assad regime, isolating the Assad regime and depriving it of resources to continue its attacks against the Syrian people, is the right course. But we review all options, as you would expect, and will continue to do so.
Q Jay, also on foreign policy, is the President alarmed about further leaks and, apparently, the renewed debate in Israel about the possibility of attacking Iran?
MR. CARNEY: We regret that Iran has not yet made a strategic decision to address the international community’s serious concerns regarding its nuclear program and the ongoing P5-plus-1 talks. However, we continue to believe that there is time and space for diplomacy. The opportunity remains for Iran to take advantage of this process by taking the necessary steps to come into compliance with its international obligations.
In the meantime, even as we continue P5-plus-1 talks, multilateral efforts to increase the pressure on Iran have not ceased at all. The United States continues to work with its partners around the world to increase the scale and scope on sanctions on Iran, as you know, making clear that such pressure will only grow until Iran changes course.
Continued diplomatic efforts are not inconsistent with expanded pressure. That is the essence of the two-track approach that we’ve taken, which is to step up, week by week, the pressure on Iran, the isolation on Iran, through sanctions and other means, in an effort to convince Iran that they need to make that strategic decision to abide by their international obligations and renounce their nuclear weapons ambitions. And we work with the Israelis as well as all of our partners in that effort.
Q But the question was specifically about Israel. Is there concern, or do you have -- are you having talks with them about their plans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we, as you know, have a robust, cooperative relationship with Israel on security matters; we share a great deal of information, and especially about Iran. And I would say that -- I would point you to remarks that Prime Minister Netanyahu made not that long ago where he said that they had not yet made a decision about taking action, kinetic action. And we believe, and certainly share this with our partners, that there remains time and space to pursue a diplomatic course that is backed up by the very firm approach we’ve taken on sanctions.
There is every reason to continue the P5-plus-1 talks while the time and space remains. But let’s be absolutely clear that the President’s policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q Are leaks complicating this whole issue?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President’s views and the administration’s policies towards Iran are clear. And I think, as I’ve said before, we have a shared interest with Israel, countries in the region and around the world in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and we cooperate accordingly.
Q Any foreign leader calls, including to Morsi in Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: None that I have to report.
Q Is the President inviting the Olympic Team to the White House at any time soon?
MR. CARNEY: I sure hope so, but I don’t have anything on that for you at this time.
Q Will we see Warren Buffett in Nebraska? We’re all looking for a Warren Buffett sighting. Any chance?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have no scheduling updates for you.
MS. PSAKI: The event is open to the public, so he’s more than welcome. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: But it is worth saying, one more time, what a fantastic Olympics it was. And I’m -- everybody, I just want -- who listens to this tape to know that Margaret is okay and did not harm herself when she fell down. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: We have not lost someone.
MR. CARNEY: But a remarkable accomplishment by American athletes, both men and women, in all the medals they won, all the Gold medals they won, and the grace and dignity with which they comported themselves on the international stage. I know the President is very excited about it, and he commends the British on their superb carrying out of the Olympic Games over these two weeks in such a -- with such a spotlight on London. They did an excellent job.
Q Did Mitt Romney’s remarks about the Olympics come up at all in his call to David Cameron?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
10:41 A.M. EDT