Barack Obama photo

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney

October 15, 2012

Kingsmill Resort
Williamsburg, Virginia

10:47 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for joining us this morning here in Williamsburg, Virginia. I have a brief statement to make at the top. I wanted to say that the United States welcomes the adoption today by the European Union of significant new sanctions against the Iranian government in response to the Iranian government's continued violation of its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.

This action, which includes additional sanctions in the financial, trade, energy and transport sectors, as well as additional designations on entities in the oil and gas industry, further strengthens international efforts to pressure and isolate the Iranian government for its continued refusal to comply with its international obligations and fully cooperate with the IAEA.

As you know, rallying the world to isolate Iran and increase the pressure on its leadership so that they stop pursuing a nuclear weapon has been a top priority for the President since the day he took office. Thanks to that leadership, Iran is under more pressure than ever before. The Iranian government is responsible for the state of Iran's economy and the isolation of the country. Iran's leaders have made conscious choices about how they manage their economy, how they prioritize their budget and how they respond to the concerns of their people. The regime has chosen to spend money to pursue nuclear activities in violation of its international obligations, to support Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime, to enable terrorist acts around the world, and to undertake destabilizing activities around the region.

Iran knows the kind of concrete steps we are looking for to bring it back into full compliance with its international nuclear obligations, to address the proposal tabled by the P5-plus-1, and to cooperate fully and transparently with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

MS. PSAKI: I have a couple of quick things that you may have seen but just to remind everyone. We have a new TV spot out today, "Main Street," that has average Americans discussing how the President's policies will help move the country forward. It's about 30 seconds, and I'm just going to play it here -- since we all love visual aids -- if my iPad will do it.

(Video is played.)

MS. PSAKI: As the President has been saying out on the campaign trail, you can expect him to continue to make the case that there's more work to be done, but we've come too far to come back -- to turn back now. And hopefully he'll have the opportunity to make that case tomorrow evening.

As a reminder, we've created 5.2 million jobs in the last 31 months. Consumer confidence is at a five-year high. Foreclosures are at a five-year low. This ad is running in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia.

You also should have seen a memo in your in-boxes this morning just highlighting the fact the Mitt Romney will say and do anything, regardless of whether it's true to become president. And no doubt over the last couple of days while he's been practicing and preparing for the debate he spent time memorizing deceptions and ways to hide from his "severely conservative" record -- positions I should say. So this is a translation guide of sorts for all of you and for people at home who are watching and can determine what he actually means by what he says tomorrow at the debate.

Just one final, third piece I wanted to flag -- a new report just came out from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation that finds that if Romney's plan had been in place -- if the Romney-Ryan plan, I should say, had been in place, 60 percent of seniors would have had to pay more today to get the same Medicare coverage. And just a specific example that was of interest to us in there: To get the same coverage, a senior in Miami, Florida would have had to pay more than $5,900 more because of their plan to voucherize Medicare.

So with that, we'll take your questions.

Q: Jen, the ad is kind of a full embrace of Obama's economic record, which a lot of Republicans say is his biggest weakness. How are you guys trying to balance what you see in terms of the public kind of slightly feeling better about the economy with the fact that you have millions of Americans that are still out of work? How does he balance that, particularly in the debate tomorrow, when he'll be taking questions?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I think you've all heard the President say out on the campaign trail, on the stump, in interviews, we need to do more. And he has a plan to do more. He makes the case at every opportunity he can to call on Congress to act on doing more to invest in infrastructure, doing more to help small businesses, doing more to help keep teachers employed. But we have made progress, and we've come too far to turn back.

And the fact is the American people in 21 days -- and many are already voting, as I've highlighted before -- will be making a choice between two different plans, two different visions for the country. Certainly the President would be happy to spend the entire debate talking about their different visions for the middle class tomorrow evening. And that's that difference between, as he's laid out before, his plan that would extend tax cuts for the middle class, make sure health care for Americans is protected, give kids an opportunity to go to college -- and the Romney-Ryan plan that would extend tax cuts for the highest income, a $5 trillion tax cut package that would balance the burden on the backs of the middle class.

So our message to the American people is: We've come a long way; we have a long way to go; we have a plan to do that, a better vision for the country moving forward, and we want -- the President is the one candidate who will fight for you if he's given another four years in the White House.

MR. CARNEY: And I think one thing we've learned, I can say as a matter of policy, is that consistently the American people are a lot smarter than some political entities give them credit for. They know -- and you've seen this reflected I think again and again in data -- that President Obama did not cause the recession that he inherited when he took office, the worst recession since the Great Depression and the worst recession in our lifetimes. They know how severe that crisis was, how deep the hole was that we needed to begin to climb out of. And they understand that getting out of that hole will not -- is not an overnight project.

And I think if you look at how Americans view the recession and the progress we've made -- stopping the decline and reversing it, they have a very sophisticated understanding of what happened and what we need to do to continue to move forward.

Q: You said consumer confidence is at a five-month [sic] high, foreclosure a five-year low. We see today that retail sales increased more than expected last month. And yet, with all this positive economic data, we're still seeing a tightening in the polls. Do you think that that means that impressions of the economy are now secondary in this election and that the changing perception of Romney after the last debate is having a greater impact on voters? And how does that set up the stakes then for tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me try to unwrap some of those questions. I think we've always believed this race would be close. We believe and we think the middle class believe the more they learn about the plans the President has for the economy and the more they learn about Mitt Romney's plans -- or lack of plans -- for the middle class, that they're going to choose the President. That's why we're trying to -- continuing to make that case.

But we know this election is close because we know that many parts of this country continue to be divided. We also know that the President is his own harshest critic and he knows that Mitt Romney had a better debate 10 days ago, 11 days -- however many days it was. And that's why he's looking forward to answering questions from the American people tomorrow night, some that will be about the economy, some that will be about many other issues, and of course we have no control over that.

But I would say we know that people aren't sitting at their kitchen tables at home focused on pressing refresh on the BLS website or looking at economic data every day. That's why it's so important for the candidates to lay out their specific plans for middle-class families.

We feel we've done that. We're continuing to do that. And we feel what the President has put out there is much stronger than what Mitt Romney has. But we also know this country has been through a hard time and that we have to ask people and remind people that change doesn't happen overnight and we've made a lot of progress, but we have a lot more to go.

And I think the warning we have for people is that Mitt Romney's plans are -- would be dusting off the Bush playbook and going back to many of the policies that led to this crisis to begin with. And those aren't the right options for this country or the right options for the middle class.

I don't know if I addressed every aspect of your question.

Q: There was a report late last night or early this morning that the Obama campaign, in concert with the Romney campaign, has pressed to have Candy Crowley not ask follow-up questions at the debate tomorrow. Can you address sort of what the campaign's position is on the debate format and whether the moderator should be able to ask follow-up questions?

MS. PSAKI: There are discussions around every debate. I'm not going to get into the specifics of those. I will say that the President is looking forward to the debate tomorrow night, looking forward to answering questions from the American people who will be in the audience. But he's prepared for and ready to take questions from wherever they come. And I'll leave it at that.

Q: So that sounds like a non-answer to that question.

MS. PSAKI: I think what I'm saying is that I'm not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations. And obviously, this is a town hall, which means the questions will be coming from the American people in the audience. But if questions come from other sources, he's happy to address those questions as well.

Q: So would the campaign prefer that follow-up questions not be asked?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to get into any more specifics than that.

Q: Can you tell us about the debate prep and just his weekend in general, and specifically what he did differently over the last couple of days from Nevada? And then also, besides debate prep, what else has he done while he's here -- did he bring his golf clubs, briefings -- what else he's done with his time?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I can take it from the campaign side. As you know, we arrived Saturday afternoon. He spent some time over the last 48 hours, I suppose, preparing with his team -- that means studying, that means practicing. As you know, he took some time yesterday to go visit a local campaign office and made calls with some volunteers there, and get them psyched up about the 21 days or 22 days we have left of the campaign.

Other than that, he spent a little time enjoying the grounds, walking around and taking in the beautiful atmosphere we have here. But his focus has been on preparing for tomorrow. And he's looking forward to it. He's excited for it. I know we've all seen him a bit -- he's calm and energized and just looking forward to getting to New York tomorrow.

MR. CARNEY: He is also receiving, as he does every day, his presidential daily brief and getting updates from his policy advisors where appropriate.

Q: Jay, a question on the meningitis issue that sort of popped last week. What steps does the President believe are necessary to keep this from happening again? And what sort of involvement or interactions is he having on this issue?

MR. CARNEY: Well, he's been briefed on it and he's aware of it and as concerned about it as you would expect, given the severity of the impact on some people who've either died or have gotten very sick. This is a matter obviously that the CDC and FDA are working on, so for more in terms of steps that might be taken I would refer to those agencies.

Q: Is he confident or pleased with how the CDC and the FDA have been handling it? I guess there's been some criticism of the FDA in particular.

MR. CARNEY: I haven't had that conversation with him. I know that he's fully aware of it and obviously wants to ensure that we're taking the appropriate measures on a matter like this. But I just don't have any policy specifics for you.

Q: Jen, you mentioned that the President didn't do as well as Mitt Romney in the first debate. Has he lost ground in the 10 or 11 days since the first debate? And you talked about the race being close, but is it your sense that he's in the same place in the battleground states in the country as he was before Denver? Or is he -- has the space between them grown or shrunk, or is he behind at this point?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you all see the same polls we see. And I think if you look at them across the board, the state polls have been pretty stable for the past couple of weeks. We always expected that the polls would tighten, and some of them have. And that's why the morning after the debate -- one of the reasons why, I should say -- the morning after the debate, the President is heading out to Colorado -- not Colorado -- to Iowa, to Ohio on Wednesday, to New Hampshire on Thursday, because we're going to compete for every last vote until the polls close.

So we feel good about where we are in the race. We'd rather be us than them because we're very confident in our ground game. We've been organizing on the ground since the last campaign ended. People are already voting in this country and have been for weeks, and we have a superior early voting program. And we feel confident that when people look at the choice between the two candidates, that the President is offering a better choice for middle-class families, and that's what they're going to vote on when they go to the polls.

Q: Do you feel that the debate helped your cause?

MS. PSAKI: I think the President himself has been pretty clear that Mitt Romney had a better night. But people aren't -- people across this country aren't voting on who is the better salesman-in-chief. They're looking for who is going to represent them better in the White House; who is prepared to be Commander-in-Chief; who is going to fight for middle-class values and middle-class issues. And we feel confident that the President is the superior choice on those -- by those gauges.

Q: Hey, Jen, so Obama is down, obviously, for a couple days during this debate prep. He'll be down for a couple of days before the final debate. Can you say anything about what his campaigning is going to look like coming out of that third debate through Election Day? Are we going to see more events every day? Is he going to be hitting multiple states in one day?

MS. PSAKI: I don't want to get too ahead of where we are, just because we're still in the planning process as well. I will say we're not taking a single vote for granted, and I would expect that the schedule for the last two weeks of the campaign will reflect that. And that means we'll try to see as many voters as we can, and visit with as many American middle-class families across the country as we can. And as soon as we have more details on where that is and what that means, we'll make sure you guys have it.

Q: I have a couple questions from Ann Compton. The "60 Minutes" ad where Romney was asked about the 14 percent tax rate, can you remind us what the President does propose in terms of capital gains tax increase? It's basically criticizing Romney for freezing the legal tax rate. How would the President increase the capital gains rate? Or is he just criticizing Romney for something the President has not proposed changing?

And then, secondly, the Ohio Attorney General has filed an emergency request with Justice Kagan to allow Ohio early voting three days early for civilian voters. Does it matter?

MS. PSAKI: So let me take the first one first. The President and Mitt Romney have several differences when it comes to tax rates. Mitt Romney wants to tax his own income at a lower rate -- he wants to lower the capital gains rate, I should say. We want to return the capital gains rate to 20 percent for high-income taxpayers by rolling back the Bush tax cuts above $250,000.

We also have a strong difference of opinion on the Buffett Rule -- something the President has strongly supported, Mitt Romney has opposed. And I mentioned -- did I mention carried interest -- and how carried interest is taxed.

So there are a number of differences. Also the President has named loopholes. He's been clear about ending tax cuts for the highest income, been clear wants to end tax loopholes for, say, companies shipping jobs overseas, for the highest income, and Mitt Romney has failed to mention those. So there's a number of -- I think the differences are an ocean wide there.

The second question, on Ohio, can you repeat that one more time?

Q: Yes. The Ohio Attorney General has filed an emergency request with Justice Kagan to allow Ohio early voting three days early for civilians voters. Does it matter?

MS. PSAKI: We think it's always in the best interest of the American people to have -- for all eligible voters to have the opportunity to vote early if they can, and to make it flexible for people, given challenging work schedules and all the obligations everybody has in their daily lives. We've been strong proponents of making sure that people in Ohio had access to early voting for those additional three days, which would be consistent with what the law has been.

Beyond that, I know this is an ongoing case and I'm not sure when the decision will be made. I'm sure we'll have a comment when it does. But we've always been strong proponents of ensuring people have the opportunity to vote -- eligible people have the opportunity to vote and the access to vote and the information to vote. And a big part of our focus in a lot of these key states has been making sure people are equipped with that information.

But it absolutely does matter because people have all sorts of -- whether it's taking your kids to soccer practice, or it's working a double shift, or it's helping your kids with your homework, providing more flexible hours is certainly something we see as a positive.

Q: You may not want to answer this, but I'm going to try anyway.

MS. PSAKI: Jeff, go for it.

Q: How is debate prep different for a town hall than it is for a podium-to-podium debate?

MS. PSAKI: You are right, I'm not going to answer that because -- (laughter.) Look, I will say that of course, the debate prep team and the President are preparing for the format that will be the debate tomorrow. His number-one goal tomorrow is to continue to lay out his vision for the American people for the next four years. I've said this before but it's worth mentioning again, we fully understand the large audience of any debate and the people watching at home who may not have tuned in and may be tuning in, and certainly see that as an opportunity.

So I would -- you should expect that he's going to be firm, but respectful in correcting the record in the times we expect Mitt Romney will hide from and distort his own policies. He's energized and I expect he'll also be making a passionate case. But the audience is the people in the room, but also the people at home, and certainly he takes that into account in how he's preparing and looking ahead to tomorrow.

Q: Can you say how it's going?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you heard him say it's going well. I think it was good to get one debate under his belt, and I think he's watched that back and looked at what he did well and maybe what he feels he could have done better. And as I said before, he's his own harshest critic and that of course informs his preparations looking ahead to tomorrow as well.

Q: In the Miami radio station interview, he said --

MS. PSAKI: -- Nicki Minaj. (Laughter.)

Q: I'm not going to ask about Nicki Minaj. He had said if you read the transcript of the debate it came off better than if you probably had seen it on TV. And he has referenced when -- his reactions maybe when he watched it on TV weren't as good. So I'm wondering, in the debate prep, are you guys videotaping his practice and is he going back and watching them?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to get into the specifics of that. I will say a great advantage that he has is that he feels fully comfortable with his policies and his record, and is happy to speak to them whether it's at the debate or to the people of Ohio and Iowa on Wednesday.

Mitt Romney has been clear he needs to and has a desire to hide from his "severely conservative" record, positions he's been running on for months and years. And that's probably a little more difficult in that regard going to the debate.

But I think the President has looked back at his past performance, as I said before, but he's really looking ahead and he's looking ahead to the performance tomorrow night. And even the day after the debate, last week or a week and a half ago, he was fired up in Wisconsin. He was excited to see probably the 40,000 or 50,000 people we saw that day.

We know there are a lot of -- the American people are making their choice on a number of factors and it's not just who has the slickest sales pitch at the debates.

Q: You mentioned -- I know you said you're not going into the specifics of debate prep, but is it the sense that he's taking it more seriously than the last time? I know in Nevada he said that debate prep was a drag and they were making him study, kind of a joke -- I think. But is he -- is his tone different? Is he approaching the debate, the prep and practice here, differently than he did in Las Vegas?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to get into the specifics of the debate prep. I would dispute the premise of your question, though. The President takes every task seriously, whether it's preparing for a debate, or it's discussing the options for helping small businesses, or meeting with his national security team. He was being honest that he'd probably rather be outside enjoying the beautiful weather or walking around than maybe studying for a debate. I think that's a pretty human response. But he took every moment of the debate prep seriously the first time around; he's taking it seriously this time around. I think he feels energized and calm, and he's really looking forward to it tomorrow evening. And it's a beautiful place. You all have been staying here.

MR. CARNEY: Anybody else?

Q: With early voting taking place now, can you just talk a little bit about the stakes for tomorrow night, and people talk about debates historically not altering the outcomes in elections but since there's such an emphasis on early voting now, why that could be different?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the debates have a large audience. We're very well aware of that. And that's one of the reasons why they're such a great opportunity for the President to speak directly to the American people at home and lay out the choice.

The President, though -- that's not the only way he's communicating with the American people. So he's going to be campaigning quite a bit this week. We're obviously up in the air with ads across the country. And I think our view is the American people watching at home are looking for the choice between the candidates. They're looking for, of course, their performance in part, but I think the advantage we feel he has is that his policies are ultimately better for the American people. And when they sit down and think about, well, would I rather have my Medicare voucherized, or would I rather have the plan the President is talking about, that if he has the opportunity to explain that, that's a plus for us.

So going into tomorrow night, his goal is to lay out the differences for the American people, do it in a forceful but respectful manner. And there will be a number of questions from the audience; he'll have a number of opportunities to answer many questions. But coming out of it, we think that the race is still going to be won or lost by who has the better policies and better plan for the middle class, who has the better ground game and better plans to encourage people and educate people to early vote and get them to the polls. And we feel confident where we are on both fronts. But we also feel good about where the President is going into tomorrow night.

Q: Specifically on the early voting, that this is taking place as voters are heading to the polls now. For both Romney and the President, how does that make it all the more important that they come out of these debates the clear winner or clearly articulating that choice for voters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think -- I don't want to overstate it. I think every opportunity you have to speak to tens of millions of people about your vision for the future is a good opportunity. And many people who are early voting may be watching at home. Many of them may have already made their decision. So that's a factor in this as well.

It is an important period of time in this election. The last couple of weeks have been important periods of time in this election. But it's not the only factor that people early voting are making their choice on. Obviously, in a state like Ohio, I'll take, the President has been there making the case for the importance of early voting, making the case for why people should go to the polls on multiple occasions over the past couple of weeks and speaking directly to them in their backyards. And tomorrow is another opportunity to do that.

But he hasn't wasted one moment making the case for early voting or making the case for why people should go to the polls. So it's one factor and it's a big audience, but certainly not the only factor in how people are making their decisions for early voting.

Q: Jen, I just got an email from Barack Obama.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, you did?

Q: Yes, I did. He says that this race is tied. And it seems like we hear two different things from you guys. Over the weekend on all the Sunday shows, we just kept hearing about you guys have an advantage in the battleground states, which implies that you're winning. And now Obama is telling people he wants to get money from that the race is tied. Is that just kind of a fundraising tactic? Or where do you guys really see this? Is it tied, or do you have an edge?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it's very, very close. And there are some states where we are up by a few points; there are some states where we're down by a few points. And across the country nationally you've seen a number of the polls -- which we pay far less attention to, as we've stated many times -- those show the race very close, too.

So I think the sum is where everybody -- we're all on the same page here is this race is very close. It's tightened, which we fully expected to happen. And has always been the case, the President, Jim Messina, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, whomever it is feels it's important to remind the American people that we have a long way to go here. We need everybody to register, everybody to get out to the polls. And that's the message that's ultimately sending. And we need every last dollar to make sure we can compete against not only our Republican opponent but the special interest money coming in still from the super PACs.

MR. CARNEY: Can I -- not speaking for the campaign, but speaking for him, because he said this in an interview after the debate, that the fundamentals of the race still give us an advantage, give him an advantage. And I think so both are consistent, that it is essentially tied, but some of the underlying fundamentals of the race give the President a slight advantage.

And I would point to those fundamentals to make sure that you understand they include policy. Overwhelmingly, when Americans are presented with policy options that are on the table here with regards to the economy, to Medicare, to energy, education, the President's vision is supported far more broadly than the vision put forward by his opponents. And I think those fundamentals matter a great deal.

Q: Did the President watch the Nationals game Friday night?

MR. CARNEY: Where was he? Where were we Friday night? I have spoken with him about the game, about the enormous pain I felt as if my heart had been torn out and stomped on, on the sidewalk at that terrible loss. And he sympathized with me.

He did comment last night on the restoration of faith in Washington sports teams created by RG III's remarkable performance in the Redskins game, which he was aware of, as well, having seen a few highlights.

MS. PSAKI: He was at dinner with his last contest winner, Dinner with Barack Obama, on Friday evening, but I'm not sure if he watched it.

MR. CARNEY: It was a late game, but I don't --

Q: -- getting to Nats Stadium?

MR. CARNEY: Is that right? Did you go to the game? Terrible. My son -- I made him go to bed because it was such a late game, and the first thing he said when he got up in the morning was, did they win? It was very hard.

Q: Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Thanks.

END 11:19 A.M. EDT

Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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