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Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest

October 27, 2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Hampshire

11:35 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we wing our way to the Granite State this morning.

As we speak, President Obama has convened a conference call with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Director Craig Fugate, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, and Dr. Knabb from the National Hurricane Center. The President has received regular briefings from his team on the updated weather reports, ongoing preparations and planning as the degree of coordination between FEMA officials and their state and local counterparts increases.

Preparation is critical for citizens as well. So, as always, we encourage folks all across the country to monitor weather reports and to follow the instructions of local officials.

We'll have a more detailed readout of the call that will be sent by the White House probably shortly after we land.

MS. PSAKI: Just two quick things as we're on our way to New Hampshire. Today is the last day to register in person in New Hampshire or postmark your registration in New Hampshire. There is in-person registration on Election Day in New Hampshire, so that just means between now and then.

Also, we sent out a blog post from Jeremy Bird, our National Field Director, because early voting also begins in Florida today. And I just wanted to highlight a couple of quick points on that. Since 2008, Democrats have dramatically cut into Republicans' advantage in vote by mail, an area where Republicans have historically been stronger. At this point four years ago, the Republican advantage exceeded 250,057 votes. But this year it's just over 33,500 -- an 87 percent drop.

Let's see -- one second, please. Also, Florida's electorate, just like the rest of the nation, has grown much more diverse since 2008. Of the over 300,000 Hispanics who have registered to vote since President Obama was elected four years ago, nine out of 10 signed up as Democrats or independents, and only 10 percent registered as Republicans. More than 100,000 African American and Caribbean American voters registered since November 2008. And among those who have cast mail ballots already, 14 percent are African American, Latino, or Latino -- Democrats or independents, up from 12 percent at this point in 2008. We estimate minority voters will make up more than 30 percent of the vote in Florida this year, up from 28 percent in 2008.

I wanted to point those out because I know there was a rumor mill earlier this week pushed by allies of our opponent that we were somehow giving up on Florida. That makes pretty clear this is a state that we're not only contesting but we absolutely believe we can win. And Mitt Romney is there today for three events -- that's not the kind of steps you take as a candidate if you think that the state is in the bag.

With that, we'll take your questions.

Q: How are you guys trying to adjust the President's travel schedule because of the storm? And also, what are you doing in places like Virginia and North Carolina in terms of early voting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple of things. One, obviously we defer to state and local authorities, as the administration has been encouraging people across the country in those states that will be impacted to do as well. We're closely monitoring the storm, and we'll take all necessary precautions to make sure our staff and volunteers are safe.

And as you know, we have a historic organization, grassroots organization already underway in many of these states, encouraging people to participate in early voting between now and Election Day, absentee voting if the law allows in the state, and also persuading undecided voters. We're continuing to focus on that.

We can't predict, just as no one can predict, exactly how the storm will impact local communities. And early voting is important and an opportunity because it provides flexibility. So whether it's the storm, or whether it is people having to take their kids to soccer practice, or working double shifts, it's something we're continuing to encourage people to be a part of. But we're monitoring this day by day, just like the administration is, and just like local and state authorities are.

Q: Josh, what is the President's schedule? Has it been impacted by the storm, or will it change?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that the one change that we've already announced is that the President will depart the White House on Sunday evening in advance of his campaign activities on Monday. But other than that, I don't have any scheduling announcements to make. As Jen pointed out, we'll continue to watch the weather reports and make decisions on his schedule moving forward, as needed.

Q: Is there any concern that it's going to look weird for President Obama to be campaigning at rallies in the middle of the storm?

MR. EARNEST: Well, we began this gaggle by talking about the President's focus on -- on talking to his national security team and his homeland security team to ensure that all the preparations are in place for the storm. That is something that began a couple of days ago and it's something that's still ongoing. That's something that the President is focused on and is something that will continue to take up time in his schedule, even as he does campaign.

This is an example, yet again, of the President having to put his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief and as leader of the country first, while at the same time he pursues his responsibilities as a candidate for reelection.

But at this point, the President's priorities are clear, which is ensuring that state and local officials have all the support they need from their federal counterparts to prepare for the storm and to prepare their communities to weather the storm. But we'll certainly continue to watch the weather reports, and we'll certainly watch -- stay in close touch with local officials to assess the consequences of the storm, to assess the impact of the storm, and to make sure they have all the support they need from the federal government to respond to it and to keep their communities safe.

Q: Are you concerned about the possible --

Q: -- you guys could theoretically lose a couple days of early voting in Virginia, other swing states. Given the emphasis you've put on early voting, how big a concern is that?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we're not going to get ahead of where we are now. As Josh has mentioned and I have mentioned, we're closely monitoring the storm. The safety of not only our staff but also our supporters and volunteers is the top priority.

There is a great opportunity to early vote for many days in many of these states. It's something we have been encouraging people to participate in. But safety comes first, and that's the case with early voting as well.

Q: -- possible politicization of the storm response?

We're a week out from the election. Governor Romney might say something about how you guys are responding to it or going to rallies and that stuff.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to predict what Governor Romney may or may not say. He certainly does have an interesting track record on this. I can tell you where the President's focus and attention is on, and right now his first priority is making sure that his topnotch team is taking advantage of the opportunity they have now to prepare for the storm before it makes landfall, and to make sure they're in close touch with state and local officials who are -- who ultimately will be responsible for directing the response to this storm.

But there's a role for the federal government to play, to lend resources to those efforts to make sure that they're successful and responding promptly to the storm and keeping people safe. And that's where the President's focus will be for the next few days as we watch -- as we assess the impact of the storm.

Q: You guys have a small ad buy in Minnesota; Romney has got a small ad buy in Minnesota. And I know the campaign said yesterday that it was targeted at Wisconsin. Can you say definitively that you're not trying to go after Minnesota at this point, that it's solid for you guys?

MS. PSAKI: I will repeat just so everybody has it that the ad buy was -- we have spent money in that particular market before because a great percentage of it -- a large percentage of it goes into Wisconsin, which is the strategy behind it. Minnesota is a state that we feel confident about going to Election Day, and not only because we have volunteers and supporters on the ground, but because the President's record on issues like fighting for the middle class and helping the manufacturing sector recover resonates strongly in the state. And I'll leave it at that.

Q: Josh, is the White House crafting an alternative to the payroll tax cut, as The Washington Post reported this morning?

MR. EARNEST: I saw the -- I read The Washington Post story today. I can tell you that the report is not correct -- the administration is not contemplating at this time a tax cut as the way that it's described in the Post.

What I can tell you is that when the President ran for office in 2008, one of the central planks of his agenda was cutting taxes for middle-class families. That's a promise he made good on. Middle-class families over the course of the President's first year [term] in office have enjoyed a tax cut of about $3,600.*

Moving forward, the President does believe that cutting taxes for middle-class families is an important part of his economic agenda. It's something he'll continue to push for. And if we see Republicans in Congress sharing the same commitment to cutting taxes for middle-class families that the President has, then the House will do what the Senate has done, and that's to extend tax cuts for middle-class families. In fact, it will actually cut taxes for 98 percent of American families, 97 percent of American small business.

That's something that we should all be able to agree on pretty quickly. It's a way that would provide certainty to middle-class families all across the country. And it's exactly in line with the President's -- with the emphasis that the President has placed on reducing the tax burden for middle-class families.

Q: Given your emphasis on the phrase "as described," is there something new in the works?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not trying to be clever. I'm trying to be as clear as I can, which is to tell you that that Post report today is not correct.

What is accurate is the President does believe that we should have as our priority tax cuts for middle-class families. There are a variety of ways to do that, and it's something that the President will continue to push for. The most important way right now, in the President's view, is to extend the Bush tax cuts for middle-class families. That's something the Senate has already done.

And again, if Republicans do share the priority that the President has for cutting taxes for middle-class families, then what they'll do is they will come back into session, either before Election Day or right after, and move quickly on legislation that the Senate has already passed, to pass tax cuts for middle-class families and 97 percent of small businesses.

Q: Governor Romney and his campaign have accused you guys of running a negative campaign. What kind of campaign do you think they're running?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first I'll say I'm 5'3", as you know. I could tell you I'm 5'10" in this gaggle, but you know the truth and will report that I'm actually 5'3". And I would use the same discretion as you take their talking points and figure out if they're actually factual. Because you -- many of you cover the President every single day. Many of you have covered Mr. Romney every single day. Ninety-five percent of the President's remarks he delivers to the American people every day is about his positive vision for the country, moving forward, and the steps he's taken to bring the economy back from the brink and fight for the middle class.

On the flip side, Mitt Romney and his team are working overtime to spin that he has momentum, that he has a positive plan for the middle class. But facts are not their forte. And as far as I can tell, the economic speech he gave yesterday that was supposedly laying out his vision was a nothing burger. And they go out every single day and question the President's record, the President's plans, when we've had full back-up by private-sector economists, by people from the outside, saying many of the steps the President has taken have worked.

So we rely on the smarts of the American people. We know they're paying attention. We know they're looking closely at the records and the visions for -- and the differences between the candidates moving forward. And we have every faith that they'll see through the bluff and bluster of our opponent.

Q: Is it negative, though, what they're doing -- are they running a negative campaign?

MS. PSAKI: I think there is a contrast laid out in every election. The President does that. That's part of what the President talks about every day, too, because he thinks the American people deserve to have someone they can trust in the White House.

But when you have a candidate like Mitt Romney and his team suggesting that they're not running a negative campaign, when they've questioned whether the President understands America or freedom, and they have surrogates questioning everything from his record to his place of birth, you have to question whether they have -- they should be throwing stones from their glass house.

Q: Thank you, guys.

MS. PSAKI: All right, appreciate it.

END 11:49 A.M. EDT

* Correction

Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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