Aboard Air Force One
En Route Virginia Beach, Virginia
10:35 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Happy Friday, the 13th. I'm glad you're all here.
Q Thanks for inviting us. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: As we've done previously, Jen and I will be speaking together to save a little time. So I'll talk about some of the policy aspects of the President's activities today, and Jen will have some comments on the President's political activities -- there are quite a few of them because this is largely a political trip.
One thing I want to do and I’ll flag for you before we get started is -- in his remarks today, the President will highlight the need for Republicans in Congress to pass legislation that would extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, those making less than $250,000 per year. This will have a significant impact on families in Virginia, because if Congress doesn’t act, 2.9 million families in Virginia would see their taxes go up by an average of $1,600 per year -- again, 2.9 million families in Virginia by an average of $1,600 a year if their taxes -- if Congress doesn’t act.
Q Sorry, 2.9 million families?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Democrats in Congress have already articulated their strong support for this, and we're challenging Republicans, the self-styled party of lower taxes, to actually walk the walk and take advantage of this opportunity to act in bipartisan fashion to cut taxes for middle-class families and provide them some certainty going into next year.
Jen, I know you have some more. You want to add to that?
MS. PSAKI: Two things I just wanted to highlight for you. One is, as you all saw, Senator Warner and Governor Kaine are traveling with us today. They'll be with us just today. And they'll be at all of the events. They'll be introducing at different events throughout the course of the day.
The second piece, just to add to what Josh said, is you'll also hear the President touch on the fact that this week Republicans in Congress voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation that millions of families are already benefiting from, that three branches of government have said it is constitutional and that we're really focused on implementing. And they didn’t vote once on extending middle-class tax cuts for working families across this country, including many in Virginia.
He will also touch on the importance of taking care of military families, given the strong military presence in Virginia, and taking care of the people who serve. And you'll hear him, as he has been doing over the last couple of weeks, lay out the contrast of the visions between what he is -- what he will fight for if he's given another four years in the White House, and Mitt Romney's vision for the future.
Q Josh, can we start with the Syria -- the massacre in Syria, what's the White House reaction to that?
MR. EARNEST: Sure. We've seen the reports overnight from further atrocities that have been perpetrated by the Assad regime against the Syrian people in a community outside Hama. If there was any doubt before yesterday about the need for a coordinated international response at the United Nations, that doubt has been eliminated.
Through these repeated efforts, through these repeated acts of violence against the Syrian people, President Assad has lost legitimacy to lead. It is time for him to go. It is time for the political transition that is long overdue to finally get underway. And we want -- we are hopeful that we'll see continued unity on the international scale to press Assad to leave power.
Q Does that increase the burden on Russia, then, to support the U.S. and Annan's plan and its efforts?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly does build strong international support for -- to continue to ramp up the pressure on Assad, there's no doubt about that. As you know, Jim, there are some ongoing conversations at the United Nations about additional ways that we can build some international agreement and raise the stakes even further. But I don't want to get ahead of any of those conversations.
Q Josh, the President is going to have a military audience for a lot of what he says today. Will he talk about the impact that the sequester would have on the Pentagon budget? And what can he say about what he's doing to prevent those cuts from taking place?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it's pretty clear what the President has been doing. For more -- at least in terms of his specific proposals, the President, last September, laid out a very detailed proposal about what he's willing to do in bipartisan fashion to take a balanced approach to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. He has been rebuffed repeatedly by Republicans who say they don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy.
So I would remind you that the sequester was something that was actually passed with the strong support of Republicans, in both the House and the Senate. And the reason for this is that it’s an action-forcing mechanism to force Congress to confront the difficult budget challenges.
Nobody is in support of -- at least certainly the administration is not in support of the pretty significant cuts that have been proposed by the sequester, but that’s why the President believes that we need to take action on a balanced approach to do something serious about our deficit challenges. Not only is that good for this country over the long term, but it also would avert the cuts that we’re talking about here that would have a pretty significant impact on local communities economically across the country, but also have an impact on our national security.
Q So will he mention it today? And if --
MS. PSAKI: I can address this. So just to add to what Josh said, the President will talk about the importance of standing up for military families -- not just with the extension of middle-class tax cuts, but also in taking care of our veterans who return home.
On this topic, the reason why we’re in this situation is because Mitt Romney, congressional Republicans believe that putting -- making sure millionaires and billionaires have their tax cuts extended is more important and they’re more focused on that than making sure middle-class military families have the security they need.
Just a reminder -- Mitt Romney, as you know, supports the Ryan Budget. The Ryan Budget, if there’s across-the-board cuts, could include $11 billion in cuts to the VA that would have a dramatic impact on military families, especially those in Virginia.
He also has talked about privatizing health care for the VA. Those are areas where they should raise -- and I think do raise -- some serious concerns.
Q So wait, just to clarify -- I get that he’s going to talk about the tax cuts and he’s going to talk about the other ways in which he has -- his policies have helped military veterans, but is he going to talk about the sequester today?
MS. PSAKI: No, he will talk about the importance of fighting for military families, standing up for them, how the middle-class tax cuts will help them, and what we need to do to continue to make sure they have the economic security moving forward.
Q On the sequester, Leader Pelosi said in an interview yesterday that if Republicans accepted an extension of just the middle-class tax cuts then Democrats might be open to undoing parts of the sequester. Is that something that the White House is open to?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President believes that, as I mentioned earlier, that the sequester is an action-forcing mechanism. And he does believe that we should be focused on doing something serious to deal with our deficit challenges over the long term.
The President has laid out his view that a balanced approach is what is the wise course of action. Republicans have blocked that because -- solely because they say that they’re concerned about raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The President believes that what we should do is we should move forward in a balanced way in which we deal with the long-term budgetary challenges that are posed by entitlements, that we can make some reforms to those programs that will strengthen them in the long term, that we can go ahead and implement the significant cuts that are already in place to government funding. We already have non-discretionary -- or discretionary, non-security government spending down to the lowest levels since the Eisenhower administration as a percentage of GDP.
And yes, we need to ask those at the top of the income scale to do more. That’s the kind of balanced approach that we need to deal with all these challenges. And that’s what we can do to avert a sequester.
Q But this compromise would be doing that, because it would be extending the middle-class tax cuts -- Republicans would agree to that, and then Democrats would have to agree to some tradeoff. Are you saying that there is no tradeoff that the administration would support?
MR. EARNEST: What I’m saying is the President has been very clear about what he thinks we need to do to deal with the sequester, and we’re not going to negotiate anything else from here.
Q But don’t you think that people that we’re going to visit today need to see that the President is inviting Republicans over, figuring out how they’re going to deal with the sequester, especially when it comes to defense mechanisms?
MR. EARNEST: I think what the people of southern Virginia have seen is they’ve seen the President of the United States lay out a specific plan that would deal with our deficit challenges in a balanced way, in a way that doesn’t undermine our national security and in a way that doesn’t undermine the economic strength of communities like those in southern Virginia that are heavily reliant on the defense industry.
Q Josh, can you talk about the alleged threat by the D.C. police officer mentioning Michelle Obama, and whether the President and the First Lady are aware of this threat and what kind of investigation is being conducted or asked for by the White House or the Secret Service?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports. Any kind of investigation, if there is one, would be conducted by the Secret Service, so I’d ask you to direct your questions to them.
Q Is the President aware of this investigation?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Did he have anything to say about it?
MR. EARNEST: No.
Q Jen, on Bain, today Romney has a new ad out that quotes the President from his Colorado convention speech, saying if you don’t have a record to run on then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. Isn't that what the President is doing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Jim, first I will say that as we know, overnight -- or last night, new information surfaced about Mitt Romney in reports -- about Mitt Romney returning back frequently to Massachusetts for meetings and participating in conference calls.
I think the issue here is that there are serious questions that have been raised about what information has been public, what information has been released, and what the American people don’t know. What the President has also said is that when you run for President, people deserve to know you are who you say you are -- that you're an open book, that they know where you're coming from, what your investments are. And that’s part of the decision-making process.
Q Does the White House agree with Senator Reid saying that the Olympic uniforms should be burned because they were made in China?
MR. EARNEST: The thing that I would point out is the United States Olympic Committee has said that they are a -- they're privately funded. So this isn't a government decision.
The President's views on the high quality of American-made products is well known and something that he talks about quite extensively. That includes American-made clothing; that there are high-quality products that are made here in America. And maybe for future Olympics, those kinds of things will be considered.
What I would say is, at the same time, the story shouldn’t distract from the story of young Americans who are preparing to -- who have spent a good portion of their lives preparing to compete on the international stage. These are people who dedicated their lives to honing their athletic ability, becoming experts at their craft. And we're confident that when they go to compete on the international stage that they're going to represent this country very well. And hopefully this story won't distract from --
Q Okay, but was the President annoyed when he heard about it?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t ask the President specifically about this story, but I can tell you that his views about the quality -- high-quality, American-made goods that are made by American workers in the United States of America is well known.
Q Does the President insist on wearing American-made clothes?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't checked the label on his wardrobe today.
Q Jen, did Stephanie Cutter go too far by suggesting that Mitt Romney is a -- might be a felon in the press call yesterday about the SEC filings, and the date of his employment at Bain?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Amy, there have been many reports suggesting -- we don’t know the answers because Mitt Romney hasn't released not only his tax returns, he hasn't released documents around this. Today, he could release his minutes from Bain -- from the Bain -- or they could release the minutes from the Bain meetings and we could learn more.
What was being raised here is something that was raised externally, which is we don’t know. But if he did violate, if he did mislead the SEC, there could be -- that could raise questions, there could be legal questions that are raised about that. We're not the ones who can answer that. If he didn’t, then he was misleading the American people.
So what we don’t know is the answer to that question, and that’s why we're eager to see more documents from Mitt Romney and his team.
Q Josh, on the tax rates -- as you pointed out, Governor Kaine is here. He has said that the threshold should actually be $500,000 on one year extended. Doesn’t that demonstrate the lack of consensus on this issue on exactly where you define middle class, where you should draw that line?
MR. EARNEST: I think, broadly speaking, there is strong agreement among Democrats in Congress about providing some measure of certainty for middle-class Americans in terms of their tax cuts. Unfortunately, where we've seen consensus has actually been on the Republican side, who are basically threatening that kind of certainty, holding hostage tax cuts for middle-class families because they don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. I think that’s the consensus that we've seen.
Q Will Tim Kaine and Mark Warner be with you guys all day today?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, they will.
Q Could we invite them back to speak to us?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
Q From Hampton to Roanoke maybe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're going to talk -- we'll talk to them about that. Absolutely.
Q Okay, thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you guys.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, guys.
10:49 A.M. EDT