Aboard Air Force One
En Route Jacksonville, Florida
12:03 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One. Thanks for traveling with us today to Florida -- and tomorrow to Florida. Jen Psaki and I are together again, operating under the same idea whereby I'm here to field your questions on matters of policy and the presidency and the administration. Jen will take your questions related to the campaign and the election. And when there are questions that cover both areas, we'll answer accordingly.
I have no announcements to make, so -- go ahead, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Good morning. You should have in your in-boxes notes that we sent overnight about what the President will be talking about today. In addition to laying out the choice between Mitt Romney and himself and their plans for moving the economy forward, he will be highlighting a report we put out on the impact, the devastating impact Mitt Romney's Medicare plan would have on seniors in Florida. So just a few highlights for you.
There are more than 3 million seniors -- let me just make sure -- 3.4 million people, not just seniors, in Florida who rely on Medicare. As you may have heard, Mitt Romney wants to end the Affordable Care Act and all the many benefits. That would have a huge impact, including on the 200,000 seniors who will fall into the doughnut hole in Florida, whose costs would likely go up. He also has a plan to voucherize Medicare. Independent analysts have found that this could raise the cost by more than $6,000.
So I encourage you to look at the report and look out for the President to talk about the contrast on how they would handle Medicare at the events today.
MR. CARNEY: Actually, before we do take questions I want to make note of something you may have seen, which is that -- we put out a release on this -- the President yesterday announced action as part of his We Can't Wait initiative, under a program being run by OMB, to streamline the review process for permits on major infrastructure projects. There are seven nationally and regionally significant projects announced yesterday that affect four major ports, including Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah, New York-New Jersey, Charleston.
I would note that this is an action taken after a recommendation from the President's Jobs Council. And there was a lot of discussion about the Jobs Council yesterday, and I want to be clear -- the President is extremely appreciative of the initiatives and ideas that have been put forward by his Jobs Council. You should know that the administration has acted on 90 percent of those initiatives that we can act on -- that the President can act on through his executive authority -- 90 percent rate.
On the initiatives proposed and supported by the President -- proposed by the Jobs Council and supported by the President and put forward that require congressional action, Congress has acted on 20 percent. And that includes job-creating initiatives like infrastructure that are part of the American Jobs Act.
This President is focused on job creation and economic growth and he is using every tool in his toolbox to advance job creation and economic growth through his executive action. But we need Congress to act, too. Every economist whose Ph.D. is worth the paper it is printed on will tell you that the initiatives that Congress has so far refused to pass in the American Jobs Act would create at least a million jobs and would add to our economic growth. Congress ought to act on those initiatives right away.
MS. PSAKI: And one last thing. There are three members of Congress traveling with us on the plane this morning -- Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who is, as you know, head of the DNC; Congressman Ted Deutch and Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
MR. CARNEY: Questions.
Q Jay, on what happened in Bulgaria yesterday, is the administration concerned that this will instigate actions by Israel? And then also, are there any NSC advisors traveling today?
MR. CARNEY: There's always a national security staff representative who travels with the President, and there is one today.
Q Who is it?
MR. CARNEY: It might be Brian McKeon -- I'll check. But there's always national security staff traveling with the President wherever he goes.
The President, as you know, called Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan spoke with his Bulgarian counterpart yesterday. The President expressed his condolences for the loss of life and his commitment to work with Israel and Bulgaria in the effort to find out who was responsible for this. And he expressed again our country's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.
John Brennan, in his conversations with his Bulgarian counterpart, notes the exceptional cooperation and transparency in the Bulgarian effort to find out who is responsible for this and to hold accountable who is responsible for this. And we'll work closely with both countries in that effort and have offered both countries whatever assistance they might require in that effort that we can provide.
Q Netanyahu is saying, though, that Iran backed Hezbollah. If so, has the Israeli government shared any of that intelligence with you? And would the U.S. back Israel in any effort -- any sort of thing that they would do to confront Iran on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, we are still working with those two countries and waiting for assessments of responsibility. I would note as a general principle that Hezbollah has backed, and Iran has backed terrorist actions against innocent people in third countries in the past. And we condemn that, as we condemn the heinous assault that took place in Bulgaria and resulted in loss of life.
Q What's your response to China and Russia vetoing the U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would first recommend that you read the comments made by our United Nations Ambassador, and I will echo them, in saying that the decision by a very small minority of the Security Council to veto this action is deplorable and regrettable. We need to come together behind a simple proposition that the Syrian President is waging a brutal, murderous campaign against his own people and that we need to come together to do everything we can to bring about a future in Syria that does not include Bashar al-Assad.
Those who vetoed the measure -- those nations that vetoed the measure are on the wrong side of history. They're on the wrong side of the Syrian people. They're on the wrong side of all of those who hope for peace and stability in the region, and for democratization in the region.
And we find it highly unfortunate that it was not consensus and unanimity in support of this action, because it is absurd to send forth unarmed U.N. observers in the face of the brutality of the Assad regime if the consequences of failing to live up to their commitments, of the Assad regime's commitments, are non-existent. There have to be consequences. And that was -- the purpose of the resolution was to provide a mechanism that would have allowed for consequences through sanctions. Again, we find it very regrettable.
Q Jay, in light of the bombing in Damascus that killed some of the members of the Assad regime, is the administration concerned that Assad could use chemical weapons on his own people? And what steps is the administration taking to try to prevent those weapons from falling into the wrong hands?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we have said in the past, we are, of course, aware of and concerned by the stockpiles of chemical weapons that the Syrian government maintains. We have made clear to the Syrian government that it is their responsibility to safeguard those stockpiles and that they will be held accountable if they do not. And that would obviously include the fact that they would be held accountable if they were to use those chemical weapons against their own people.
We have no reason to believe at this point that those weapons are not in control of the Syrian government.
Q Can I follow on Kate's question? How concerned are you guys about Netanyahu's pledge to retaliate against Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we are in constant and regular contact with our Israeli counterparts. We share information all the time. We work together all the time on the issue of Iran and on the issue of broader regional stability. We are engaged in an effort right now with broad international consensus that is putting unprecedented pressure on the regime in Tehran to forgo its nuclear weapons ambitions and rejoin the community of nations by abiding by its international obligations.
The concerted efforts by -- both multilateral and unilateral through sanctions and other means have resulted on significant pressure on the regime, significant economic distress -- a fact that has been acknowledged by the regime's leaders. We continue to work to ratchet up that pressure. Sanctions continue to come online that will have greater and greater effect.
We believe that the window for a peaceful resolution to this is still open and that the right approach is to continue to put pressure on Iran to live up to its international obligations and forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Q My question was how concerned you are about what Netanyahu is saying.
MR. CARNEY: I think that we will work with and provide assistance to both Israel and Bulgaria in the effort to find out who was responsible for the attack in Bulgaria and to hold accountable the responsible party or parties. We’re still in the process of gathering information and working with our allies on that effort.
Q Do you have a timing on that?
MR. CARNEY: Not at this point, no.
Q Can we get your response to this morning’s latest poll from The New York Times and CBS -- it shows that Romney has a slight edge over the President, but also seems to show that fears about the economic recovery are -- appear to be the most powerful force in this election. Are you concerned that your strategy isn’t working and that these Bain attacks don’t seem to be sort of having the impact or aren’t changing the public opinion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a couple things. One is we’ve always known this election would be close. We’ve also known that three years ago, three and a half years ago, we went through the worst economic crisis and we’re still recovering from it. And the American people have been going through a tough time.
In the same poll, I would also point out that President Obama is leading Mitt Romney among when voters are asked the question of who cares more and knows more about the middle class, who knows and understands what you’re going through?
And we know that from -- we’ve also seen -- interesting -- from an ABC poll recently that people who were asked about Mitt Romney’s time in the business sector as a corporate buy-out specialist felt he did more to hurt the economy and hurt workers than to help.
So people are learning more and more about his record. There have been a lot of questions raised recently about when he was there, what decisions he was involved in, his record of outsourcing. And we know as more questions are raised, people's concerns are growing.
I’ll also point you to, today, a story you may have seen in the L.A. Times that raised additional questions about the birth of Bain and the fact that it appears that the same secretive, financial system that Mitt Romney has benefitted financially from has been -- was a part of the investors that helped create Bain. And that raises a whole new set of questions.
But I’d also encourage you -- my final thought -- to talk to people at the events today about what’s on their minds. And when we’re in Florida today, we know that not only Medicare and health care and how the election is going to impact them is something they’re concerned about, but also housing and the contrast between what President Obama is presenting on housing and the recovery of that sector, and Mitt Romney’s claim that we should just let the housing sector hit bottom. And those are issues that are on the minds of voters that he’s talking to.
Q -- talk about why you guys are deciding to highlight Medicare in Florida. When you talk about Florida, you talk about your advantages on demographics and the state is getting younger and more diverse. The President is not doing very well among the older voters, particularly, there. Is this a concerted effort to try and right that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, two things -- and you’re a Florida expert so you know a lot. One is there are still 3.4 million people in the state -- some seniors, some other young people --
Q The majority are seniors.
MS. PSAKI: Right, but who benefit from Medicare. It is true that the demographics in this state are changing. The Latino population especially in the central part of the state has been increasing, and that’s been helping the President -- or that is helpful we think to the President. Also in Jacksonville, where we’re going, an interesting fact is they just elected their first African American mayor, first Democrat in 20 years. So those are all pieces that we feel are good for us.
At the same time, we know that the impact of the health care system, that the large seniors population in Florida, and the -- that provides an opportunity to educate people on the choice between the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s fight for lowering the cost of prescription drugs, for making sure seniors still have access to Medicare benefits, and what Mitt Romney is presenting. And that’s why he’s talking about it today.
Q So what makes you guys think that that strategy is going to work this time around when it didn’t work when Democrats tried to use the similar health care issues against Rick Scott in 2010?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the health care issues, and especially the cost of prescription drugs and really the choice between the candidates’ positions on this issue is very stark. And we’ve been talking about it a lot given the debate over the Affordable Care Act and the decision by the Supreme Court. We’re obviously implementing the bill now, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. There are a lot of benefits we can talk about. And again, there’s a clear choice between what they’re presenting when they come into office.
It’s clear if Mitt Romney voucherizes the Medicare program that could raise the cost for seniors. Seniors need to know what’s at stake and we’re going to remind them of that. President Obama’s continued support for the Affordable Care Act and implementing the pieces of it we feel is something seniors need to know about. If you’re in the doughnut hole, this could impact you if President Obama isn’t elected and Mitt Romney is allowed to end the Affordable Care Act.
Q And lastly, do you have any response to the Crossroads ad-buy that’s going to go up in states like Florida and other swing states?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that there is a lot of special-interest money that’s being put into this campaign. We know that that’s going to continue, and we're going to be, in all likelihood, outspent on the airwaves, and that’s something we are aware of.
We also know in Florida that this is a place where four years ago we had just started our campaign a month ago. So we're way ahead of that, and we have been organizing on the ground since then. And we know we're going to have to rely on our grassroots campaign, on our Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, on getting people excited at that level. And we also know we're going to have to continue to draw on the contrast and use every resource we have to do that.
Q Jay, just to be clear, will the U.S. allow the U.N. mission in Syria to expire tomorrow, since China and Russia aren't going along with the sanctions? It's kind of a follow-up to Laura's question.
MR. CARNEY: The United Nations -- I mean, the United States does not support extending a mission without the necessary backup that a resolution would have provided had it passed earlier this morning.
Q Is that a yes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the United States alone doesn’t decide, but the United States does not support extending a mission where you send unarmed U.N. employees into Syria to try to observe the brutality of the Assad regime when there is nothing -- there is no mechanism within the resolution to create consequences for the regime for failing to live up to its obligations and its commitments under the Annan plan.
That was the whole purpose of the resolution that was vetoed today, it was the purpose of the resolution that was vetoed on two other occasions, and in all three instances, a highly regrettable decision that will I think have repercussions for the countries that vetoed the resolution for a long time, in terms of how they're viewed by the Syrian people.
Because there is no doubt that Syria's future will not include Bashar al-Assad. His days in power are numbered. And it is a mistake to prop up that regime in its -- as it comes to an end. It's clear from the events of recent days that the Assad regime is losing control. It's clear that the violence is escalating, as we have said all along it would. And that is why it is essential to take action.
And so the United States will continue to work with the multitude of nations that are within the "Friends of Syria" group and others to continue to pressure the Assad regime, continue to provide both humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and non-lethal assistance to the opposition, and also to assist the opposition as it organizes itself and continues the work of preparing for a transition that is inevitable. The only question is how soon it can begin, or how soon it can make real progress and move beyond the violence that we're seeing now.
The argument that it's necessary to support and prop up Assad to avoid chaos and avoid violence is being refuted every day by the chaos and violence that is engulfing that country because of Assad's actions. It is simply an illogical argument.
Q So did the Annan plan fail, then?
MR. CARNEY: It has failed thus far, yes. And the failure of the Security Council to support this resolution means that it can't go forward.
Q Vice President Omar Suleiman died in a Cleveland hospital. How long had he been in the United States, and how had the U.S. government facilitated his stay here?
MR. CARNEY: I'll refer you to the State Department for the specifics. I'm not sure of the answers to either of those questions. We can confirm, obviously, that he passed away, but he was here for medical treatment but I'm not sure for how long.
Q The DNC has issued a recent apology of sorts to Ann Romney for their video that featured the Romneys' dancing show horse. Mrs. Romney uses the horses as part of her MS therapy. Do you think the video went too far, and what, if any, involvement did you have in their decision to halt this video series?
MS. PSAKI: As you mentioned, it was a DNC web video that was released. They did issue a statement last night I'm happy to provide to anyone, saying that if Mrs. Romney was offended in any way that was not their intention, and they have no plans to use the visual of the horse moving forward. It was a DNC web ad, and they made the decision to pull it down. So there wasn't involvement from the Obama campaign or anyone, of course, in the White House along those lines.
We are rooting for the Romney horse in London.
MR. CARNEY: Anybody else? All right.
12:20 P.M. EDT