Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Miami, FL, 9/20/2012
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Miami, Florida
12:00 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Good day -- it's 12 o'clock noon. Thank you for joining us as we make our way south to the great state of Florida. I think you know what the President is doing there today, so no need to go over the schedule.
I just want to note that there was -- Senator McCain gave an important interview the other day, and I think it's an indication that there's still a possibility of bipartisanship, bipartisan cooperation and agreement, because Senator McCain pointedly complained about the fact that at Nationals Stadium, Teddy Roosevelt -- the mascot for Teddy Roosevelt has yet to ever win the race among the presidents. This is an outrage. I agree with Senator McCain. I'm comfortable saying that my boss agrees with Senator McCain. After all, it was President Obama who gave the speech I'm sure you all remember in Osawatomie, Kansas last year -- a place and a speech that is very resonant in the history of President Theodore Roosevelt.
With that, we'll take your questions -- unless you have a topper.
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to -- since we're on our way to the Univision town hall the President will be doing -- to take a moment just to talk about Mitt Romney's performance last evening. He spent 35 minutes, as I understand it, with the hosts at Univision. During that time he reminded not only the Latino community, millions of people across the country, but the middle-class families on why they can't trust him.
Just a few highlights. Last night he said again he'd veto the DREAM Act. He criticized the Obama administration's deferred action of policy, refusing to again answer the question -- I think it's been at least half a dozen times he's been asked by multiple networks -- whether he would continue the executive order -- refused to answer that, leaving millions of young people uncertain for months to come. He doubled down on self-deportation, saying he wanted a long-term solution but refusing to propose his own plan there, and also refusing to include the context of why people would self-deport, because his plan would make it so terrible for Latinos and immigrants across the country.
And finally, he also said he was happy to be the grandfather of the health care plan, which is interesting given that he continues to say he would veto it on his first day in office, leaving 9 million Latinos without health care. So I'm not sure how that squares, but just wanted to highlight that for all of you.
MR. CARNEY: Questions.
Q On this venue today, the thrust of Mitt Romney's argument is that the President's policies -- his economic policies have not helped Latino voters during the last four years. What's the President's response to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of issues that Latino voters care about. Of course, there is immigration policy, and if we start just with that, Mitt Romney has the most extreme position of any candidate in modern history running for President on that issue. He has endorsed the policy of self-deportation. He has said the Arizona law should be a model for the country. He has said he would veto the DREAM Act.
So that alone is not a winning package of policies for Latino families. But if you take it to more broad issues, including health care, there are 9 million Latinos in this country who have health care because of the Affordable Health Care Act. Mitt Romney wants to veto that his first day in office. That's bad news for Latino families.
His budget that he supports would cut education by 20 percent. This is an issue Latinos care deeply about in this country. He has said his policy on middle-class tax cuts -- this is an issue that would impact, again, millions of families.
We're happy to line up any day of the week the President's policies, the President's vision on these issues and how they would impact not just middle-class families but Latino families. And I expect you'll hear the President talk about that today.
MR. CARNEY: Let me just add a couple of things -- that thanks to the President's policies, middle-class Americans have, on average, seen their taxes go down $3,600 since the President took office. And that includes obviously Hispanic Americans -- middle-class Hispanic Americans. The President has administratively taken action to allow millions of Americans to take advantage of historically low interest rates. Latino American homeowners have been able to take advantage of that.
The President is pressing Congress to take action to allow millions more Americans to take advantage of these historically low interest rates, to refinance and lower their mortgage payments, which would be a boon to Latinos.
Furthermore, one element of the American Jobs Act, which Republicans have adamantly refused to pass and allow to become law, was investments in infrastructure that would put construction workers back on the job. And as all of you know, the construction industry has a heavy Latino American representation in it. And if Republicans would, with Mitt Romney's support, stop blocking passage of that provision of the American Jobs Act we'd see many more construction workers back on the job, rebuilding the infrastructure of this country.
Q The Inspector General report is due out on the Colombia prostitution scandal. Does the White House have any comment and the fact that FOX News is reporting two White House advance team members will be implicated in that report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me tell you this. There is an Inspector General report that is not out, we do not have, and none of the people in that anonymously sourced story have seen, by their own admission. So I have no comment, again, on an IG report that nobody has seen.
Q So the White House has not seen this report at this time?
MR. CARNEY: Let me repeat -- nobody has seen -- we have not seen, FOX News’s sources have not seen, and we’ll await the report.
Q FOX is going to take that? You’re not going to defend your own reporting?
Q Jay, does the White House, though, stand by the White House Counsel report from last spring that no White House personnel were involved?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, as I said at the time, the White House Counsel reviewed and found no evidence of White House staff involvement.
Q Jay, can I ask you about the President’s call with President Karzai, whether you can give us any more of a sense of whether the President and Mr. Karzai made progress on the green-on-blue violence issue, or any other of the topics that have been kind of a source of some tension in recent months?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I can. Yesterday, the President held a videoconference with President Karzai as part of their regular consultations and following up on their phone call of last week. The two Presidents discussed a range of issues, including efforts to stem insider attacks on U.S. coalition and Afghan forces, the so-called green-on-blue attacks. They also discussed the importance of continuing to encourage restraint and non-violence in reaction to inflammatory materials, and continued implementation of the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement.
The President expressed his condolences and remembrances on the eve of the one-year anniversary of former Afghan President Rabbani’s assassination. And the two leaders agreed to continue our work together in support of an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
The President reiterated his strong support for Afghan sovereignty, and the two leaders agreed to take additional concrete steps to implement the Strategic Partnership Agreement, including launching the U.S.-Afghan bilateral commission in coming weeks, and beginning negotiations on a bilateral security agreement.
In terms of the green-on-blue attacks, as I said yesterday, this is obviously a matter of concern, and that concern has led to ISAF issuing a directive to heighten protection for -- and take measures to protect our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. And that has led General Allen to make changes in our partnering operation, changes that will enhance security for our forces.
Q Jay, we had some positive news in the housing market yesterday. Does the President get a sense that the housing situation is rebounding? Is he optimistic? Just give a sense of where he is.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Hans, the housing market was hit extremely hard by the collapse and the Great Recession, and it has proven to be a very challenging problem, one that the President has addressed with numerous initiatives. Any piece of data that indicates improvement in the housing market is welcome.
But our reaction to individual pieces of data is always fairly muted because we look at trends and we look at what works still needs to be done. And as I mentioned earlier, there are measures that would become law if only Republicans would support them that would assist millions of now homeowners in refinancing their homes and being able to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. And that would also help improve the housing market, the President believes.
So we welcome positive signs, but we know there is much work to do.
Q Are we going to get anything from the President on housing today?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a preview for you of his remarks or answers to questions that I don’t know whether he might get.
Q Let me ask it differently. Are we going to get anything from the President on piracy today?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have no preview of his remarks.
Q Jay, a couple things on Libya, a follow. FOX has some intelligence sources saying that al Qaeda was involved in this attack and possibly a former Guantanamo detainee. So I’m wondering if you have a reaction, comment on that. And then second, there was a counterterrorism official on the Hill yesterday calling it a terrorist attack. Any further administration clarification on what you’re classifying the attack?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- hold on one second, let me find this here. I think the sources that you cite I think include the open hearing with the NCTC Director, Mr. Olsen, in which he discussed indications of possible involvement of elements of extremist groups, including possible participation by elements of al Qaeda and particularly al Qaeda in the Maghreb, an al Qaeda affiliate.
It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self-evident. I would point you to a couple of things that Mr. Olsen said, which is that at this point it appears that a number of different elements were involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in Eastern Libya.
He also made clear that at this point, based on the information he has -- and he is briefing the Hill on the most up-to-date intelligence -- we have no information at this point that suggests that this was a significantly preplanned attack, but this was the result of opportunism, taking advantage of and exploiting what was happening as a result of reaction to the video that was found to be offensive.
Q So just to clarify, does the President see that it was an attack on 9/11, a terrorist attack on 9/11? Is that the administration or the President's view?
MR. CARNEY: The attack occurred on September 11, 2012. So we use the same calendar at the White House that you do, and, yes, he sees it. I will simply point you to the testimony of Mr. Olsen, in which he said, based on the information that they have now -- and this is an ongoing investigation -- their judgment is that it was an opportunistic attack in which elements including, possibly, elements of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, participated.
Q I want to go back to something you said, the self-evident part of that. Just help me understand that. It was a self-evident terrorist attack because acts of terror were committed? Or it was self-evident because you've -- because it actually happened on 9/11?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. I'm sorry. I meant it was self -- that had this happened on any day of the week in any month, this would have been a terrorist attack. This was an assault on our embassy, a violent attack on our -- I mean, rather our diplomatic facility there that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.
Q So it's the definition --
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q What's on the President's schedule for the U.N. meetings next week? Does he have any bilats scheduled with any world leaders?
MR. CARNEY: We have no bilats scheduled, as we've said all along. He will obviously be making remarks. And I have no more than that to provide to you at this time, but there are no bilats scheduled.
Q He's scheduled to do an interview with The View while he's up in New York. I mean, how should people look at that? He has time to do an interview like that, but he doesn’t have time to meet with world leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I think his engagement with foreign leaders has been, and will continue to be, extremely robust. We just simply have no formal bilateral meetings scheduled at this time. If the schedule changes, I will be happy to update you. As I said yesterday, his attendance at UNGA is in keeping with attendance by past Presidents engaged in a reelection campaign and we’ll be there overnight in New York.
Q Does he not have time for foreign engagements for leaders?
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm simply saying that we don’t have any schedule updates for you at this time. We have no bilateral meetings to announce. There are none on his schedule at this time.
Q The President on Letterman the other night and then Joe Biden in Iowa this week really sort of soft-pedaled their discussions of the Mitt Romney video where he talked about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes. Should we expect to hear sort of a tougher line on that from the President either today or going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what you heard the President say is absolutely what he believes, which is that when you're elected President, when you're running for President, you represent 100 percent of people in this country, and that the question that we should all raise about that video is, who is Mitt Romney talking about? Was he talking about military veterans returning from serving overseas who are receiving benefits? Is he talking about seniors who have worked 50 years and getting Social Security? Is he talking about students who work two jobs and have student aid?
But that’s absolutely what he believes, is -- well, what his response was, was just that it was disbelief that Mitt Romney was ruling out 50 percent of the country.
There were clearly many pieces of that video that you all have reported on and talked about in the past couple of days. I don’t want to preview what the President will talk about. Obviously, we've said we're looking at this for other forms of paid media. I don’t have any preview for that either.
But if you look even at the foreign policy pieces of that, in just the last few weeks alone, every time Mitt Romney has dipped his toe into the foreign policy pool, he has raised questions not only among Democrats but among Republicans and people in his own party about whether he's prepared to be Commander-In-Chief. He offended one of our closest allies -- I guess that’s more than a few weeks ago -- when he went to London. He failed to mention troops in his speech that he gave at the convention. He stepped over the line in criticizing, accusing the President of sympathizing with the attackers in Libya.
And again, this week we've seen further evidence that he says something different in public and private. And I think that just continues to feed into a narrative and raise questions about whether he's prepared on that level.
Q The Vice President said on Tuesday that there would be plenty of time to discuss the video. Does that mean that there are other plans --
MS. PSAKI: -- with us for another 47 days here.
Q Are there specific plans as far as how to -- what to do with it as this point, or how --
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to preview our strategy. Obviously, the large question this raises is why is Mitt Romney ruling out 50 percent of the country? Who are these people he's talking about? And the Commander-In-Chief question I mentioned. We have a lot of time to go. There's a lot of discussions, debates, paid media that will be had. And stay tuned.
Q Jen, there was a flap last week over the President not meeting in person with Netanyahu in the upcoming UNGA. Is there any concern that, given Netanyahu's relationship with Mitt Romney, that the Prime Minister may have taken sides in this election?
MS. PSAKI: I watched the Sunday shows last weekend, as many of you may have as well, and what the Prime Minister made clear during that interview was both that his schedule, as we said, didn’t match up with the President's schedule, and that’s the reason why they couldn’t meet; and second, that he had no desire to get involved or engaged in presidential politics.
The President enjoys strong support from the Jewish community in this country because they know he has been a steadfast friend of the Jewish state, and he has provided unprecedented security cooperation and assistance to Israel, and he has stood squarely with Israel on the world stage. And that was a lot of what you heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say on Sunday as well.
And there are a number -- just to take this to the political side -- there are a number of issues beyond that specific issue that Jewish voters in this country care about -- whether that’s access to affordable health care, making sure middle-class taxes are extended. And these are the issues that the President will continue to talk about as well as his steadfast support for Israel.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just add, if you look at what Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Sunday, he made clear that he believes that the President is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And this is obviously a top issue both for the Israelis and for the United States.
And he and Defense Minister Barak have made clear in the past that the level of cooperation and support for Israel’s security that this administration has provided is unprecedented in the U.S.-Israel relationship. And that’s part -- because of the President’s commitment to Israel’s security, and it will continue.
I would also note that the President spent an hour on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week and that it is a simple fact that he has spent more time in person and on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu than any other foreign leader since he took office.
Q The President met with Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday. Does he have any plans to visit Burma when he’s going to be in the region for the Southeast Asian nation summit in November?
MR. CARNEY: I have no foreign travel updates for you today.
Q Aung San Suu Kyi has called a couple of times this week for an easing of -- further easing of U.S. sanctions. I wonder, did that come up in the meeting he had and if so, did he indicate a willingness to move in that direction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there were -- it was a broad conversation. I’m not going to get into specific items that were discussed. But the fact is we are working with the government of Burma very effectively on a process that -- whereby reforms undertaken by the government of Burma are met with actions taken by the United States in terms of easing sanctions and other measures. And that process continues, as Secretary Clinton has discussed. But we are actively engaged with President Thein Sein on this issue and his government, and we’ll continue to be engaged in that process.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Can you -- have you called it a terrorist attack before? Have you said that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t, but -- I mean, people attacked our embassy. It’s an act of terror by definition.
Q Yes, I just hadn’t heard you --
MR. CARNEY: It doesn’t have to do with what date it occurred.
Q No, I just hadn’t heard the White House say that this was an act of terrorism or a terrorist attack. And I just --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think the fact that we hadn’t is not -- as our NCTC Director testified yesterday, a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda’s affiliates, in particular al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
He also pointed out that -- I’ll point out as well -- that the FBI investigation into this tragedy is ongoing, but according to the best information we have now, we believe it was an opportunistic attack on our mission in Benghazi. It appears that some well-armed militants seized on the opportunity as the events unfolded that evening. We do not have any specific intelligence that there was significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack.
Again, that is the best information we have right now. There is an ongoing investigation. As more information becomes available, we’ll evaluate it -- our experts will evaluate it and I’m sure we’ll brief the Hill and make people aware of it.
Q Okay. Thanks, I just -- I just wanted to clarify.
MR. CARNEY: No worries.
Q Does the President aspire to be in the President’s race some day?
MR. CARNEY: Let history decide.
Q Pandering to Teddy Roosevelt.
12:25 P.M. EDT