Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Davenport, Iowa, 10/24/2012
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Iowa
9:34 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One as we begin this awesome two-day journey across the country that the President is looking forward to, as I know all of you are. I have no announcements on the official side this morning, but Jen has something for you from her end.
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to quickly tick through the schedule. And also, when you all arrive in Davenport, there will be some lovely printed books for you that include facts of each of the states we'll be visiting, even a map, has visual aids -- very exciting.
So just to tick through, so the President will kick off his America Forward tour in Davenport, Iowa today. Following the event in Iowa, the President will travel to Denver, Colorado for a grassroots event. He'll then tape a Tonight Show with Jay Leno in L.A. He will then hold a late-night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Katy Perry will perform at the event.
We'll return here, all snuggle on the plane. The President will then fly overnight to Tampa, Florida for a morning grassroots event on Thursday. He'll travel to Richmond, Virginia, and then on to Chicago to make history by being the first sitting President to vote early. And then he will end the America Forward tour with a tarmac rally in Cleveland, Ohio.
Throughout the tour, as he's crisscrossing the country, he'll spend time on Air Force One calling undecided voters, rallying national team leaders and volunteers, and engaging with Americans across the country and reminding them of what's at stake in this election.
We'll also make some local stops as we tend to do on these sorts of visits, and we'll keep you abreast of those as they develop.
MR. CARNEY: Questions, please.
Q Jen, the President centered on a message lately that Governor Romney is untrustworthy, and I'm wondering if you have any concern that that line of approach at the end here might turn off undecided voters, not just on what the President is running on but the central theme that Romney can't be trusted.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Mitt Romney has made that case in this election on his own. He has been untruthful about his positions with the American people. He has hidden from the extremely conservative positions he's taken on issues ranging from women's health care to foreign policy. And the stakes are high in this election.
The President not only lays out every day when he's out there on the campaign trail his positive vision for this country, his plan to continue to help the economy recover, make sure people have access to affordable health care, the ability to go to college, but he also reminds people of the choice and why it's so important to get engaged and involved in this stage in the election.
And I think what we saw from Mitt Romney the other night at the debate was somebody who was not only uncertain but uncomfortable with his own positions on issues. And it's simply just a reminder that people in this country want a commander-in-chief who they can trust to deliver on what they promised when they go into the Oval Office.
Q Polling shows that the number of undecided voters is incredibly small. At this point in the campaign, is the President's goal still to try to sway people to his side, or have we shifted realistically to more of a mobilization of voters to get out the vote?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you're right, we agree that the number of undecided voters is a very small pool and has been for quite some time. So our focus is twofold: Obviously there are a far larger number of voters who have decided, who the President will be spending the next two days, crisscrossing six states, reminding them it's time to get out there to early vote, to get engaged, to door-knock, to make phone calls, and reminding them of what's at stake in this election.
But there are also -- we certainly are also still fighting for every single one of the undecided votes that we can get. We think there are persuadable people who are still out there, who are soft Romney supporters, but also people who haven’t yet made up their minds. And that's why the President goes out there every day, lays out his vision for the country. That's why we have put out a plan that the President has talked about for months, but now people can share with their friends and neighbors so they have a very specific understanding of what the President would do with four more years.
Q Jen, can you talk a little bit about the genesis of this trip -- how long has it been being planned, where did that come from, and why are we doing it now and not the last week of the campaign?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what if we do a 98-hour tour the last week? (Laughter.) I'm just joking. This has been a trip that has been in the works for weeks. It's something we've been very excited about for weeks. There are obviously a number of complicated logistics involved with moving Air Force One, moving a plane of reporters, events, local stops, phone calls involved. So it's taken quite a bit of planning.
We're doing this now because we feel this is a pivotal time in the election -- always has. On early vote, which is a big priority for us, people have started early voting; they're starting to early vote in places like Colorado, where we will be visiting today, this week.
As a reminder, four years ago, 78 percent of people in Colorado either voted by mail or early voted, which is a huge number. Nevada -- they just started on Saturday early voting. So -- and this is also not just about reminding people to go to the polls, which is a big part of it, it's about engaging our supporters, engaging volunteers. Maybe you're volunteering one night a week; we need you to do three. Maybe you are voting, but you haven't yet come in to make phone calls; we need you to make phone calls.
The President is going to be pounding the pavement over the next two days, visiting all these states because he feels this is a pivotal time, and every single extra doorknob, every single extra phone call could make all the difference in what we think will be a razor-thin election.
Q Jen, the only states that we're visiting, the polls are deadlocked. The President over the last few weeks has actually lost support in these states; Romney has gained support. Yesterday on a conference call, Jim Messina, David Axelrod said that they expect the polls to stay this tight until the end. So with no more debates, what are you guys looking for, what could change the dynamic?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would dispute one piece of that, and that is that we did see a slight bump in the polls for Romney after the first debate. We fully expected the polls would tighten -- for months we have. And we've long said that. And whether it was the debate or something else that caused it, we always knew they'd be closer towards the end. The race has been very stable over the past -- actually since -- for the past week plus. And there's a couple -- so what we want out of this, out of the next two days, is to spend time in these pivotal states reminding people what's at stake, what the choice is in this election, and that now is the time to get engaged, to get involved and to vote.
Q So you expect this trip to change polls?
MS. PSAKI: We expect the race to be razor-thin until the end. I will dispute a couple of things, since I have the opportunity here. I know that the Romney team is spinning overtime about their secret momentum. But the facts are not their forte.
And there are a couple -- three points I just want to make on that. One, we're tied or ahead in every single swing state. Two, we're winning the early vote in every single swing state and we're ahead of where we were in 2008 on the early vote. And finally, even though the Romney team has been talking down the potential for minority turnout -- African American and Latino populations in this country -- we think it will be a record turnout. And we've seen every indication of that up to date. And that disputes kind of some of the points.
So I know they've thrown out secret polls, but I haven’t seen any data to back up their points.
Q Then why aren't we going to North Carolina?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're going to six of the six to nine swing states over the next two days. We have 13 days to go. I can't even tell you what we're doing next week because we're still planning it, but we have plenty of time to go back there. We sent the First Lady there. We're up on the air. We have people on the ground. We feel very encouraged about the response to early vote that started just last week.
And I know, again, that the Romney team is trying to spin that we are -- that they're so over-confident that -- we hope they are. We hope they're over-confident there, because we're pounding the pavement there, we're getting voters out to the polls. That is one of our best ground operations in the country. We’ve registered hundreds of thousands of new voters. And as far as I’ve heard, they’ve pulled one person out to have them work in Ohio. That’s hardly backing up their verbal assertions.
Q Based on some of those stats that you just shared, would you say that it’s your campaign that has the momentum?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we feel great about the last two debates and that has certainly energized our supporters. We think we have a better candidate, that we have a ground game that’s second to none, and that we have a better deal we’re offering to middle-class families across the country. Those are all advantages.
But we know this race is going to be very, very close -- razor-thin in some of these states -- and that’s how we’re running. We’re going to run like we’re five points behind in every state, even when we’re five points up, because we have 13 days to go and we’ll sleep on November 7th.
MR. CARNEY: And as I can say as a matter of policy that fundamentally this is a choice about plans for the future. And Americans understand the depth of the crisis that faced this country when President Obama took office. They know the policies that precipitated that crisis. They recognize that those same policies are being offered up to them again.
And they know that the President’s policies have reversed what could have become a Great Depression; led to the creation of over 5 million private sector jobs; led to the salvations of the American auto industry; led to the resurgence of the manufacturing sector in our economy; led to historic investments in energy sectors that are crucial to our energy independence in the 21st century; led to a situation where we are importing less oil from foreign countries than in more than 15 years; led to the fulfillment of the President’s promise to end the war in Iraq, refocus our attention on those who attacked us on September 11, 2001; led to the decimation of the senior leadership of al Qaeda’s central, including Osama bin Laden. And I could go on.
There’s a choice here, a policy choice here. And the President feels very confident that the prescriptions he’s putting forward are the right ones for continuing to grow the economy, continuing to create jobs.
And in contrast, the alternative proposals out there -- his assertions are backed up by the analysis of independent economists. When plans put forward by the other side have been assessed by outside sources, they’ve been called, essentially, fraudulent. A $5 trillion tax cut that benefits disproportionately the wealthiest Americans coupled with $2 trillion in additional defense spending the Pentagon doesn’t even want cannot be paid for by closing loopholes without sticking it to the middle class. It is mathematically impossible.
And having done this a few times -- with Brian and others -- it’s important to remember that that’s what the issues are. It’s not the minutiae of momentum and ads and stuff. In the end, Americans go to the polls to make a choice about which direction they want the country to go in.
Q Jay, there are some emails that have emerged, which suggest that the White House and other areas of the government were told within hours of the Benghazi attack that an extremist group had claimed responsibility. How is that compatible with the idea that it was a spontaneous attack?
MR. CARNEY: There were emails about all sorts of information that was becoming available in the aftermath of the attack. The email you’re referring to was an open-source, unclassified email referring to an assertion made on a social media site that everyone in this room had access to and knew about instantaneously.
There was a variety of information coming in. The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgments about what happened and who was responsible. And I would refer you to what we’ve already said about, and what the DNI has already said about, the initial assessments of the intelligence community, and the fact that throughout this process, I and others made very clear that our preliminary assessments were preliminary, that an investigation was underway, and that as more facts became available, we would make the American people aware of them.
Again, this was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact -- that’s why there’s an investigation underway.
Q One light question to end -- how much sleep did you guys get last night?
MS. PSAKI: Not enough. (Laughter.)
Q How much are you going to get tonight?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ll probably be having a big party up front while you guys are sleeping. No, just a few hours. I think we’re all going to be going on adrenaline for the next 36 hours or so. That’s the fun of it. Nobody walk into oncoming traffic or into any glass-plated walls and we’ll be good.
MR. CARNEY: It’s going to be fun.
Q Did the President get sleep last night -- hours?
MR. CARNEY: Not enough. Not enough, but that’s okay.
Q How does the President feel about the trip and the physical sort of rigor on him?
MS. PSAKI: He’s excited about it. He loves being on the ground, spending time visiting people where they work, where they’re watching football, where they’re eating. He’ll have the opportunity to do that on this trip -- surprising people, which is always fun.
And he’s really energized by the crowds, the people he meets on the rope line and the people he meets backstage. And I think this is a great way, and he feels this is a great way to kick off the final two weeks.
Q Will he also be doing some interviews? Phone interviews?
MS. PSAKI: I will double-check for you. I don’t believe he has any scheduled.
Q And also, I’m just wondering, do you guys have any response to the Des Moines Register, what they’ve written about the President doing an off-the-record discussion with them?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, well, some important context here -- as you know, the President does interviews every single day, many of them you all use in your reporting, many of you have done interviews with him. He’s done many with the Des Moines Register, including one just a few weeks ago.
This was a call -- he’s done many editorial board meetings with them as well. This was a call that was meant to be a personal check-in with a publisher and an editor, one of whom he hadn’t spoken with in four years, one of whom he’d never spoken with before. They expressed a desire to put this on the record, make it public. We’ve said that’s fine and they’re going to be posting it this morning.
Q They will print it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Thanks, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Actually, can I add, since you didn’t ask -- I don’t know if you have all seen the comments of Senator Mourdock -- or not senator -- Mr. Mourdock from Indiana. That was a bad slip. But we obviously put out a statement from Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I also wanted to add that the President felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women. This is a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President, Mitt Romney, would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care.
And this is an issue where Mitt Romney is starring in an ad for this senator. And it is perplexing that he wouldn’t demand to have that ad taken down.
Q What does it say about Mitt Romney that he endorsed him to begin with?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think it’s clear that Mitt Romney, that many Republicans who are running office, including him -- including Mr. Mourdock, have very extreme positions on issues that women care deeply about in this country, and that if they have the opportunity to be partners in the White House and in the Senate, that that’s something women should have and will have concern about as they’re going to the voting booths.
9:52 A.M. EDT