Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wisconsin
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us on this Saturday as we make our way to Wisconsin. One thing I do want to flag for you -- and this may be in your in-boxes now -- a statement from the President on the 150th anniversary of the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. So it's an historic day -- it's nice to share it with all of you.
Jen, do you have something?
MS. PSAKI: I just wanted to flag one thing. Overnight the campaign released a new web video raising questions about what else Mitt Romney is hiding, as a follow-up to his release of one year of his tax returns yesterday. Not only did he not meet the bar that his father set several years ago of releasing 12 years, because as his own father said, one year could be a fluke -- the same number of years the President has released -- but his release also confirmed what we already knew, which is that he pays a lower rate than most middle-class families because of a set of complex loopholes and tax shelters, and raised more questions than provided answers.
Some of those questions were: Why were more than 65 percent of pages related to overseas investments? Why did he have investments in a Chinese oil company? Why did have dozens of foreign accounts and millions stashed away in tax havens like the Cayman Islands? So those are questions that it's in his power to answer.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Q Is Scott Walker going to be greeting the President on the tarmac?
MR. EARNEST: The greeter that we have today is just a military representative. The President is landing at the Air National Guard part of the airport, so it's just one military greeter.
MS. PSAKI: I will note, since you mentioned Scott Walker, that yesterday Scott Walker did an interview with a Wisconsin radio station where he raised questions not only about the Romney campaign's use of Paul Ryan, but also the lack of details that the Romney/Ryan team has put out about their budget. So I don't know if anybody will --
Q Walker raised the lack of details, or the interviewer?
MS. PSAKI: Walker raised the lack of details. I'm happy to send you the --
Q I look forward to it.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, perfect. So he raised that. That was kind of interesting. I just thought I'd point that out.
And also, I sent this to you, but I will note Hank Aaron will be at two of our events today. We'll take Hank Aaron over Governor Walker any day of the week in our trip to Wisconsin.
Q Jen, the President hasn’t been here since February when he went to Master Lock. It's been -- the public polls seem to show you with a lead. Why is he -- what's important about coming back to Wisconsin and not spend it in a state that's more of a battleground?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we've always thought that Wisconsin would be harder for us this year than it was four years ago. That's why we've had a ground operation on the ground here for over a year. As you may remember, we won by 14 points four years ago. It's only natural that when Paul Ryan, a native son, was announced, the Romney team tried to create some buzz around their potential in Wisconsin. What we've learned over the past few weeks, despite the fact that Paul Ryan has spent an enormous amount of time here, the more people in the state learn about their plan to voucherize Medicare, their plan to extend tax cuts for the highest income while leaving the burden on the middle class, their plan to cut Pell grants, the less they like what they're hearing.
At the same time, we're going to run here just like in any battleground state, like we're five points behind, until Election Day. And today is about energizing our supporters, reminding them of what's at stake in the election, making sure they're getting out registering their friends, getting to the polls. So that's why the President is there today. And he's been there -- I think I sent this to you guys -- but nine times since he was elected, so although this year has been a little shorter on visits, he has been there several times over the last few years.
Q Can I ask about Libya? Yesterday and overnight there were these reports of pro-American people out on the streets trying to get militias to give up their arms. I just wonder how the administration interprets that. Is that all, as it appears to be, upside, or is there any danger that this could lead to, even if it's pro-American, to further unrest and violence in the country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what are being called "Save Benghazi" protests overnight are something that we have watched and learned about. It's the view of this administration that it's a pretty clear sign from the Libyan people that they're not going to trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob. It's also an indication that the Libyan people are not comfortable with the voices of a few extremists and those who advocate and perpetrate violence to drown out the voices and aspirations of the Libyan people; that they seek freedom, that they seek democracy, and that the protests that we saw are a pretty clear indication of that and it's something that we're encouraged by.
Q Do you have any new information on the investigation? Have you gathered any new details that would help you understand what happened with the initial attacks?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any new details that I can announce at this point. We obviously are awaiting the ongoing investigation, the results of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the FBI. In the last couple of days you saw Secretary Clinton talk about a general accountability review board, I believe it's called, being appointed to take a look at some of the issues that are at play here. So we're going to wait for the conclusion of those reviews. But I don't have any more to share this morning.
Q The President and Mitt Romney had this little back-and-forth about "inside" and "outside" leadership. Does the President really think outside campaigning is going to be an effective tool on the big problems that he's going to face if he gets a second term?
MR. EARNEST: -- talk about this generally. I think if you take a look at the President's record, there's some indications that we've already seen the success of that strategy. I think by far the best example of this was the extension of the payroll tax cut that we saw about nine months ago, that there was resistance from Republicans in Congress to extending the payroll tax cut and we were at loggerheads in Congress. This was something that was -- that could possibly have consumed the entire holiday season for members of Congress.
But what we saw was a pretty clear signal from the American people that this was the right policy. And we saw that they used a variety of methods, including social media, to make their voices heard in Congress, and we saw that Republicans in Congress eventually dropped their opposition to that proposal, that we cut taxes for an average of about $40 a paycheck of every American -- or the average American worker.
So I think that's pretty good evidence that the President has been able to capitalize on having the support of the American people to accomplish important objectives. And I think that's been true in a legislative context, and I think a lot of our -- the strategy of our campaign -- that I'll let Jen speak to -- is predicated on these outside voices of the American people being heard.
Q You did it with the payroll tax cut; you did it with the student loan rates. But I mean on something like immigration reform, are you going to have hashtag "pass the citizenship for long-term" -- on complex legislative issues, can you really expect people to weigh in the way they did on those two issues?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think issues like immigration reform, issues like dealing with our deficit challenges are examples where there are strong feelings that the American people have on these issues. There also is, despite the obstacles that Republicans in Congress have erected, there are actually a pretty healthy majority of Americans who believe that we should finally solve our immigration challenges, that we need a comprehensive solution to immigration reform, that we need a balanced approach when it comes to deficit reduction.
This isn’t just a point of view that's held by some Americans; there's actually plenty of evidence to indicate that a majority of Americans agrees with the President not just that we need to solve these problems but agrees with the President's approach to solving them.
And the President's leadership style -- a hallmark of the President's leadership style has been mobilizing and channeling the opinions and views and sentiments of the American people to bring change to Washington, D.C.
MS. PSAKI: I'll just add, when Mitt Romney and his team decided to once again rip the President's remarks out of context the other day, we saw that not as an obstacle for us but as an opportunity. And that's why the President talked about it yesterday and he'll talk about it again today -- because our belief and his belief is that this is a fundamental difference between how they would govern. The President believes that the will of the American people, the voice of the American people is a vital and essential part of the process. Mitt Romney seems to believe that he can wave a magic wand and tell people what they need to do within the walls of Washington, and that that's going to make change happen in this country.
So that's a fundamental difference. The President will talk about it today in Wisconsin and I expect he'll continue to say that change comes from engaging people from outside the walls of Washington. And that's how we're going to make things like immigration reform happen, and more investment in clean energy, and all the change that he's talked about since he came into public life.
MR. EARNEST: I can note one other example, which is Wall Street reform. And the reason this is a good example is because we're talking about the voices of the American people up against entrenched special interests in Washington, D.C. that are used to calling the shots. But we had a situation where we mobilized the voices of the American people to ensure that we had, for example, a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would be an advocate for the voices of middle-class families.
This is something that succeeded and has made it into law because of the strong support of middle-class families all across the country. One of the President's priorities moving forward is making sure that we implement this law in a way that will ensure that Wall Street isn’t allowed to write their own rules again. There are significant resources being expended on behalf of special interests to fight that effort, and the President is counting on middle-class Americans all across the country making their voice heard, and encouraging Congress to fight attempts by special interests to water down Wall Street reform.
Q On Wall Street reform, did outside pressure at all influence the President's change in position on the Volcker Rule?
MR. EARNEST: No.
Q No? So the President changed on the Volcker Rule because his advisor told him to do that, or because of the outside pressure that you're talking about?
MR. EARNEST: The President's view on Wall Street reform all along has been putting in place the kinds of regulations that will ensure Wall Street is not allowed to write their own rules.
Q But he shifted on the Volcker Rule, so why did he shift?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, we can relitigate announcements from a couple years ago or --
Q You're using this as an example of like outside pressure forcing Washington to change, and I'm asking if it's ever forced the President to change.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it's an interesting philosophical question that we can probably have a discussion about --
Q But your argument --
MR. EARNEST: The argument actually is, is whether or not the President is going to work with Americans all across the country, middle-class Americans, to fight special interests who are trying to water down Wall Street reform. That's what the basic debate is in Washington, D.C. The President is on the side of the American people, and the President's argument is enhanced by the strength and voices of the American people.
Q In that debate, you seem to be suggesting that outside pressure can force Washington to change. That's what you guys are arguing -- that was your example of tax cuts. That was your example of payroll tax.
MR. EARNEST: I mean, I think Mitt Romney, for example, might -- I'll let him speak for himself -- might suggest that outside pressure would be lobbyists for Wall Street banks, lobbyists for oil companies who are looking to protect their subsidy. The President, when he's talking about outside voices, he's talking about the voices of the American people. Those are the interests that he's representing, and he's capitalizing on the position and interests and values of middle-class families all across the country to fight the voices of special interests that are trying to protect tax breaks for oil companies, that are trying to water down Wall Street reform. And the President is happy to have that debate.
Q Today Paul Ryan, campaigning down in Florida, accused the administration of appeasement toward the Castro regime. I wondered if you guys had a reaction to that. And also, do you still think that the anti-Castro sentiment among Cuban Americans is strong enough that it can be determinative in a state like Florida?
MS. PSAKI: I can start. President Obama has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island. At the same time, he's put in place common-sense, family-based reforms that allow Cuban Americans to visit their family members still living in Cuba. Keeping these families apart would do nothing to weaken the Castro regime. If that's what the Romney/Ryan ticket wants to do, they need to explain to the hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans who've been reunited with their families why they want to keep them apart.
I'll say on Florida, as you know because I know you've covered this closely -- and some of you who've covered the President in 2008 may remember when he went to Little Havana and gave a speech there, in part because the younger generation of Cuban Americans are certainly changing their views on a lot of these issues. And this is an ongoing -- and I can let Josh speak to this more specifically -- but obviously this is an issue that's continuing to be debated, continuing to be discussed in Washington. But the demographics have changed a bit in Florida.
So it's hard to predict where that will land in November, on November 6th, but we know that over the last several years, even beyond when the President ran for the first time, the younger generation in Florida has kind of shown more movement on this issue than they had in previous decades.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it's also worth pointing out that the policy that was in place for such a long time that Congressman Ryan appears to be advocating, one that doesn’t allow Cuban Americans to visit their families in Cuba, that doesn’t allow so-called family remittances -- that doesn’t allow Cuban Americans to send money to their families -- was a policy that was put in place to try to pressure the Castro regime. But we've seen that that regime has been in place for 50 years now. So the changes that the President is advocating and has put in place reflect his desire to make sure that Cuban Americans who have family members back in Cuba aren't the ones who bear the brunt of his policy.
But the President does remain as committed as ever to forcing and pressuring the Castro regime to respect basic human rights, and when they haven’t the President has spoken out aggressively. And he'll continue to ensure that that pressure is felt by the Castro regime until such time as they start to demonstrate basic respect for universal human rights.
Q ABC News reported yesterday that Prime Minister Netanyahu dispatched an emissary to meet with Rahm Emanuel to assure him -- or reassure him that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not trying to politically undermine President Obama during an election. Are you aware of this contact? And isn’t it curious that the Israeli leader is speaking to a former chief of staff at the White House about a matter that's so central to the U.S.-Israeli relationship?
MR. EARNEST: I saw the report that you're referring to, but I don't know whether or not it's true. I can't confirm it. As you know, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu -- well, I'll say it this way -- President Obama has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu on more occasions and for a greater length of time than he has any other world leader. He did it as recently as last week. That's an indication of the strength and close coordination that's in place, particularly when it comes to security issues; that the United States is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel as they confront many of the challenges across the globe, including the challenges of holding nuclear Iran responsible for their international obligations.
And I'd just point out that when Prime Minister Netanyahu himself was asked questions about American domestic politics last Sunday, he pointed out -- well, he declined to weigh into the specifics of the election, but restated something that the President himself believes is an important tenet of our relationship, of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which is that there is strong bipartisan agreement that close security cooperation with Israel is a fundamental part of American foreign policy and is clearly within the interests of the United States of America, and it's something that the President has demonstrated in his leadership on this issue.
MS. PSAKI: And he indicated in the same interview that he had no desire to get involved in presidential politics in the States and that the reason they weren’t meeting next week is because their schedules didn’t align, which is also --
Q -- believes that -- President Obama takes the Prime Minister at his word that he's not getting involved or interfering?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q -- if we can take a departure from this topic. Last night before Congress left, the Senate passed a bill that would basically prevent U.S. airlines from having to pay for their carbon emissions to and from flights to Europe. And the House has passed a similar measure. Would the President sign such a piece of legislation if it came across his desk?
MR. EARNEST: I have to admit I'm not aware of that one, but let me check on it and see if I can answer on that today.
Q Since Hammerin' Hank is going to be at the fundraisers, does the President have a position on whether his home run record should stand as the real record, considering Barry Bonds is under suspicion for performance-enhancing drugs?
MR. EARNEST: That's a good question. I haven’t had that conversation with him about it. But we can ask him.
Q On the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary, any other than the written statement, or --
MR. EARNEST: I don't think we're going to have anything beyond the written statement.
All right, thank you.
1:24 P.M. EDT