Press Gaggle aboard the Press Bus en route Davenport, IA
Aboard Press Bus to Davenport, Iowa
4:18 P.M. CDT
MR. CARNEY: I just want to start at the top to let you know that today at 1:18 p.m. Eastern Time, the President was notified of the shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington D.C., by his Homeland Security Advisor, John Brennan.
I spoke to the President following his being briefed by Mr. Brennan on this and the President expressed his concern for the individual injured in the shooting and his strong belief that this type of violence has no place in our society.
As you know, there is an ongoing investigation so there is not much more I can say about this specific incident. For additional questions, I would refer you, of course, to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and to the FBI. I have no other announcements.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any announcements, either.
Q Jen, you know the Romney campaign has been critical of the President -- Mitt Romney said in an interview earlier today that the President has been driven by division and attack and hatred, and that he’s running just to hang on to power. What did the President think of those comments? And does he think there might need to be some sort of detente in some of the rhetoric in the campaign?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President -- you all have been with us, most of you, for the last two and a half days. And the President has been focusing his time talking about the contrast, the difference he has with Mitt Romney on issues like the wind tax credit, on Medicare, on middle-class tax cuts. And frankly, the conversations he’s having with people, whether it’s on the rope line or behind stage and behind the scenes, are about those issues and that’s what they care about.
Mitt Romney has made a series of tough attacks on the President’s record, many of them, including that on Medicare and that on welfare, are full of bold-faced lies. The President has also laid out some differences he has with Mitt Romney on policy issues.
We know there’s a lot at stake in this election. We think that’s what the debate is going to be about. And I encourage all of you to remember and point out what he’s talking about out here on the campaign trail -- because it certainly is about policy issues. It’s about the challenges middle-class families are facing. And that is hardly a campaign as Mitt Romney and his team have described.
MR. CARNEY: I agree with what Jen said.
MS. PSAKI: Phew. (Laughter.)
Q Vice President Biden got a lot of attention when he said yesterday that Republicans "would put you all back in chains.” Did the President think that was an inappropriate comment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it was clear what the Vice President was saying. He later said again, this is what I was saying. He was talking about -- he often talks about the middle class and the importance of unshackling the middle class. He was using a metaphor yesterday and talking about Wall Street reform and the fact that we can’t allow Republicans to defund Wall Street reform, to go back to a day where there were no rules of the road, and a stage where middle-class families really didn’t have the protections they needed.
We know that’s what he meant. The President knows that’s what he meant. The Vice President reiterated that’s what he meant. So we do have a difference of opinion on that particular issue, but it certainly wasn’t what was portrayed by our opponent on the other side.
Q Did the President and Vice President discuss this comment at all by phone?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. As you know, the President and the Vice President talk all the time about everything from the economy to foreign policy. And I can -- but I’m not aware of any conversation they’ve had today about any topic.
Q May I ask a couple questions on a couple of court cases related to voting that were handed down today? In one of them, it was decided that Ohio’s counties are going to have uniform early voting hours so that Republicans don’t have an edge over Democrats in certain counties. But the other one I guess would probably go down in a loss column for you guys -- Pennsylvania’s voter photo ID law was upheld despite the challenge from the ACLU on photo IDs. So I’m wondering, do you guys have a reaction on either of the court cases?
MS. PSAKI: I will say on a general sense, our interest and the interests of all people in this country are in ensuring that people have access to voting, they have the opportunity to vote, they can early vote, they can vote on the day of, and that’s what we’re focused on. I’m going to have to get back to you because there may be some ongoing pieces of these cases, and I’ll let you know if there’s something more specific we can say about each of the individual cases.
Q -- talk about whether you're disappointed or anything like that -- nothing at this time?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll let you know if there’s something new to report.
Q Today Governor Romney said that he and Paul Ryan are on the same page with respect to Medicare, and he disavowed the $700 billion in Medicare spending cuts. So how do you read that? Do you feel like you can continue to say that the Romney plan is the Ryan plan? How does -- does that change that picture at all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’ll start and then Jay may have some thoughts here as well. We’ve known that the selection of Paul Ryan just further solidifies Mitt Romney’s embrace of a radical budget, including dramatic cuts to programs like Medicare and programs that people across the country rely on.
We know that it further solidifies his belief that we should go back to the 1950s when it comes to choices women have about their own health care. And I think his repeated statements that they’re on the same page further shows the stark differences between -- and you saw the President talk about this at the last event we were at -- between what the President and what this administration stand for when it comes to Medicare. They want to strengthen the program. They -- we -- we want to strengthen the program. We want to ensure a longer solvency of the program. And we don’t think it’s acceptable to voucherize Medicare, which would put the burden on the backs of seniors, raise the cost. And that’s a difference of opinion we have and we expect that will continue to be part of the debate.
MR. CARNEY: As a matter of policy, Christi, as you know, Governor Romney has promised, as, of course, has Congressman Ryan, Republicans, many of them, on Capitol Hill that they would repeal the Affordable Care Act. And as you know, that would instantly deprive seniors of the millions of dollars of savings that they’ve enjoyed on prescription drugs. It would deprive millions of young Americans who are now able to stay on their parent’s health insurance until they’re 26. It would deprive many, many millions of Americans of free preventive services like mammograms. And the list goes on and on.
It is simply preposterous to suggest that the central element of the Ryan budget, which, like many Republican leaders, Governor Romney whole-heartily endorses, has said is “marvelous” and “exciting” -- the central element of that is a change in Medicare that ends Medicare -- that voucherizes Medicare, and that the CBO says would result in seniors on average paying an extra $6,200 per year for their health care.
That’s their position. And it’s a position that they’ve held proudly; it’s a position that passed overwhelmingly among House Republicans, of which, obviously, Congressman Ryan is the -- as Governor Romney described, the intellectual leader.
Q Can you give us details about what the President is doing tomorrow and Friday -- anything campaign or policy-related?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to get back to you on -- I mean, I know we’re not traveling. But beyond that I’ll have to get back to you on his schedule. I don’t have it in front of me.
Q In Israel, Ambassador Oren has said now that Israel would be willing to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities even if to do only delayed the ability to produce nuclear weapons for a short number of years. And there are some civil defense preparations underway in the sense that Israelis appear to be girding themselves for the possibility this is going to happen. Does the U.S. perceive that anything has changes or shifted measurably in terms of what Israel is poised to do? And can you talk to us about what you’re doing in response and any behind-the-scenes discussions with Israel about this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Margaret, as you know, we have the deepest and broadest security relationship with Israel that this country has ever had under this administration. We are in constant communication about the situation in Iran. It is our believe that Israeli leaders have not, as Prime Minister Netanyahu said just a few weeks ago, made any decisions about taking military action.
What the Prime Minister said recently is that the window is closing, and we have said the same thing. While there is time and space, we believe, for the diplomatic course to be pursued in conjunction with increasingly stringent sanctions that are already the most stringent ever in history, we know, too, that there is not unlimited time. And that is why we are working so concertedly with our allies, with our partners around the world -- at the United Nations, through the P5-plus-1 and elsewhere -- to isolate and pressure the regime in Tehran so that we give the diplomatic course, the diplomatic option an opportunity, while there is time and space, to work.
Because -- and I think your question reflects this -- the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon is for this course of action, to work, and for Iran to make the strategic decision to forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions and to fulfill its international obligations.
Q Do you have any sense of why Israelis -- seem to be acting as if something has changed if you don’t think something has changed?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware specifically of the reports that you mention. I would simply say that Israel and Israelis are very keenly aware of their vulnerabilities and take precautions appropriately all the time because of that. And it is certainly -- absolutely Israel is right to protect itself and to protect its citizens, and to take the kinds of precautions that they have over the years taken.
Q Jen, how does the campaign feel about Iowa? Do you think -- what are your -- I don’t know if you can share any internal polling or -- what is your sense to how things are going for Obama here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously Iowa has an incredibly -- a special place -- it holds a special place in the hearts of both the President and the First Lady. This is where the journey began for both of them. This is where many people believed in them when nobody else did. I think he said today, when other people couldn’t pronounce his name -- I guess he was referring to one endorsement, but still, it’s true. And they have many, many fond memories of this state.
We also built a grassroots campaign, an organization here five years ago -- five years ago, wow -- that we’ve continued to build on. And along the way over the last three days, he’s seen familiar faces, he’s seen new faces, he’s seen people who weren’t married and now have a child that worked on the campaign or volunteered on the campaign.
We’re here because we know this is a going to be a close race. We know this is an important state. We also know that the people of Iowa have an important tradition and a valued tradition of being able to ask questions and lift the hood and kick the tire and get -- kick the tires and get to know the candidates. And that’s one of the reasons we’re spending so much time in the state.
And I’ll also say there are some interesting issues in this state that are going on in many other parts of the country that the President has been able to talk about over the course of the last few days. Of course, the wind tax credit, which is a huge issue in Iowa, but also in Colorado, where we were just last week. Clean energy is an important part of the debate in November and our approaches to it. Of course, middle-class tax cuts, the farm bill, and our approach to rural America and what we need to do to help people through the drought.
And he’s really enjoyed the time he’s spent over the last few days, not getting back on the plane, being able to get off and on the bus, going to coffee shops, meeting people.
But we know it’s going to be -- we’re not taking a single vote for granted. We’re not taking a single supporter for granted. And we know we need to not just spend time here, but remind people of the promises that he made here, the promises he’s kept, whether that’s ending the war in Iraq or putting in place access to affordable health care, passing a middle-class tax cut. Those are three things he talked about the night he won the Iowa caucus.
So that’s why we’re here. And I bet you we’ll be back before November.
Q Jen, with so much focus during the Republican -- on the Republican side during the caucuses, and also a lot of ads, a lot of anti-Obama ads air during that time, what are you detecting on this trip in terms of enthusiasm for the President? Is there some work to be done there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think the first thing you said is -- both are important, but let me touch on that first. The Republicans kind of had their free reign of the state for almost a year, debating over their issues, debating over who was the best choice on that end and gauging their base. We had our grassroots campaign going. We had our supporters with us, but we didn’t spend a year on the airwaves and a year driving around the bus -- driving around in a bus like they did.
We’ve seen I think over the last three days that Iowans are still fired up about President Obama. They’re still fired up about the First Lady. But I think there is an appreciation for the fact that they don’t underestimate -- or don’t take a single vote for granted here, despite the fact that it has such a special place in the history of their journey to the White House.
Q Are the President and the First lady going to campaign together more frequently in the coming weeks, or is this more of a unique circumstance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no one better as an advocate for the President and his policies than the First Lady. And she is such a tremendous asset to the campaign -- being out there, campaigning on her own and doing her own events, and she’s been doing a tremendous amount of that.
She’s also a mother and that’s a top priority. Her girls are coming home from camp later this week. She’s going to be out there a lot on the campaign trail. I know they enjoy campaigning together because they don’t always get to see each other when he’s campaigning a lot. But I don’t have any specific dates or anything like that.
I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I don’t have any dates, either. I would just echo what Jen said about what an asset the First Lady is. And as you saw today, the President is always extremely happy to be traveling with her and campaigning with her. I know that in addition to the girls coming home from camp, they, obviously, like kids around the country, have school starting up. And the First Lady, as Jen noted, makes being a parent her top and highest priority. And that’s something she’ll be focusing on as well.
Q -- on calling the gentleman who was the victim of the shooting -- when you talked at the top, that phone call didn’t happen? It was just the Brennan phone call, right?
MR. CARNEY: I have no other information to impart about that incident at this time.
Q And might there be a news conference before the week is up? We thought we would last week.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling announcements to make about that.
I wanted to point out, just as a general matter, on the conversation we were having at the top of the briefing -- that you heard the President focus today on what is a very serious debate about Medicare, a program that affects tens of millions of Americans; a program upon which tens of millions of Americans depend.
Yesterday you heard him talk about an entirely different substantive policy issue and high light it -- the wind energy tax credit that supports 75,000 -- 37,000 jobs and an industry that has 75,000 jobs across the country, and that -- let me just restate that. There are 75,000 jobs across the country, and the industry has estimated that 37,000 jobs could be in jeopardy if this tax credit is not extended.
These are the issues that the President of the United States is focusing on. And I know, having covered more campaigns than I can remember, that in every cycle there's an attempt to kind of distract attention from what the real issues are and what the real debate is. And usually those attempts to distract attention are driven by a concern that the person attempting to distract is losing the debate on the substantive issues. And the fact of the matter is when it comes to the distinctions between the President's substantive proposals that have, according to the AARP, protected Medicare and strengthened it, compared to the Republican proposal that the AARP says would undermine Medicare -- that we have a serious difference on this issue that affects so many millions of Americans, and so many Americans in this state of Iowa, and in states like Florida and other states across the country. And that's a debate that I know the President is eager to have.
Q Romney's campaign released a statement that said, as president, Mitt Romney will always protect this vital program for seniors and strengthen it for future generations. What do you think they mean, and why do you think they put that statement out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say as a policy issue, we know what the Republican proposal is. It passed the House. It was authored by the man running for vice president. It was endorsed wholeheartedly by Governor Romney. And as the AARP says, it would undermine Medicare. It would end Medicare as we know it by turning the system into vouchers, which would essentially shift the cost burden to seniors and leave them in the lurch, and would cause the traditional Medicare system to suffer what would ultimately be fatal weaknesses as younger and healthier seniors use those vouchers and went into the private market, and putting more and more pressure on traditional Medicare for older and less healthy seniors.
And that's not our -- I mean, that is our assessment, but it's an assessment, as you know because you guys are serious, substantive reporters, is backed by independent analysis from all corners. So it's just not credible.
MS. PSAKI: We also understand that when you're waking up every day, as they are, to headlines across the country, in states like Florida and states like Iowa, where people are expressing concern about their plan -- the Romney/Ryan plan for Medicare -- and what it would mean for seniors, why that makes them worried. Because it's now an issue we're discussing. The President is happy to have the discussion, as was evidenced by the remarks he just made. And the facts are clear.
So we're happy to have them continue to explain what that means. But as Jay said, AARP, other outside organizations have been out there laying out what it would mean for seniors. And it's not good.
Q A drought-related question, Jay -- are asking the EPA to suspend the production mandate for corn-based ethanol. Does the President have an opinion on this, and is this an issue that anyone has raised with him in Iowa this week?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know that anyone has raised that question with the President this week. I know that the EPA -- sorry I have this information here for you -- that the EPA, working with the Department of Agriculture, has a process in place for handling these issues, and they have said that they are in close contact with the Department of Agriculture as they keep an eye on crop yield estimates, and that they will review any data provided by states or other stakeholders.
EPA and the Department of Agriculture have more details on that if you want it. I would note that you heard the President in an official event earlier this week announce a very significant action that this administration is taking that will assist ranchers and farmers with this very problem by having -- by directing the administration, the government, to make advance purchases of meat, poultry and pork products.
Q To just clarify, but on ethanol, you're not making any news on ethanol today?
MR. CARNEY: I don't believe I did. (Laughter.) obviously, seriously, this is something that the EPA and the Department of Agriculture -- they look at these requests, they review crop yields, they evaluate the data. And that's a process that's underway.
Q We're still --
MR. CARNEY: That process is still underway.
Anybody else have anything?
Q It's sad, we're going to get off the bus soon.
Q Any calls to read out or anything like that?
MR. CARNEY: No, no foreign leader calls to read out. I don't think there's anything else.
All right, thanks, guys.
4:43 P.M. EDT