Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cleveland, Ohio
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: I don't think either Jen or I have anything to start, so we'll just take a few questions.
Q The President today sort of seemed like he was running through a litany of things that he could have or would have said at the debate. Was there any sort of reset in the campaign as far as the President either taking responsibility for his debate performance or coming out with a -- promising a more aggressive tone starting today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we learned on Wednesday night, Mitt Romney is willing to say and do anything to become President, and we've certainly taken that into account over the last two days. If he's unwilling to tell the truth about his record, tell the truth about his plans and the fact that he wants to put in place a $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires, and leave the burden on the middle class, then we're happy to do the work for him.
You heard the President talk about that yesterday and again today, and I expect you'll hear him do the same thing this afternoon.
Q Why didn’t he reference the "severely conservative" and the 47 percent, the Lilly Ledbetter law during the debate on Wednesday night?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President was answering questions he was asked. Obviously women's issues are an area where there's a stark difference between what Mitt Romney represents and what he has said he stands for, which is going back to the policies of the 1950s, preventing women from being able to make choices about their own health care, not fighting to make sure women have equal pay for equal work. This is an issue that we know women across this country are concerned about. That's why the President brought it up this morning, why he did an event with women in Colorado just a few weeks ago.
We know that -- I would say, 99 percent of people paying attention know that Mitt Romney made the comment about the 47 percent. We can tell just by the fact that it's become a shorthand thing, the 47 percent, and they know exactly what you're talking about. We also saw last night -- since you brought this up -- that he tried to back away from it, again, showing that he's playing fast and loose with the facts this week about his record.
The problem with that is that he has -- is that those comments he made are backed up by his policies. And when he's talking about -- he gave a long litany, a long description of actually how he felt about half the country, whether it's seniors or students or veterans, and his policies back it up.
So you know he's going to say and do anything over the next 28 days and we're prepared for that.
Q The jobs number -- unemployment rate fell a lot more than expected today. Was there any sense of relief that this didn’t present sort of the double whammy of having to rebound from the debate performance that got some criticism as well as a poor jobs number?
MS. PSAKI: As the President said this morning, this is encouraging that we're back to the lowest rate since he took office. He also said that we've come far enough that we can't go back to the same policies Mitt Romney is proposing that led us to this crisis to begin with. And that's why you heard him talk about all of the plans that he has and his plans for moving the middle class forward.
This is a -- we don't think people at home -- and I think I said this last month, too, so just for the sake of consistency -- are clicking refresh on their BLS website. People are focused on how issues impact them. Are they going to have access to affordable health care? Do they have a job? Are their taxes -- who's protecting middle-class taxes? That's why the President is talking about the issues he did today and while he'll talk about them again this afternoon.
Q During the debate, was he surprised that Romney took a turn for the moderate? After all, Romney had advertised that he would have this sort of Etch-a-Sketch moment, and yet it seemed to catch the President off-guard that he would take this turn for the moderate.
MS. PSAKI: For the moderate? Well, you heard the President say this yesterday, the Romney that showed up at the debate as the Mitt Romney who was denying the policies that he's been talking about for months and months. And so, yes, I think we were all surprised by his unique relationship with the truth on Wednesday night, and that’s why we’ve been pointing out what the facts are over the last two days.
Q The unemployment rate is still relatively high, and the Romney campaign says that to tout it is simply settling. What’s your take on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we also saw Mitt Romney say that this was the result of people removing themselves from the workforce. That’s false. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise given this week he’s been playing pretty fast and loose with the facts, day in and day out.
The truth is, as the President -- you heard the President say, we need to be doing more. That’s why we need to be investing in education and hiring math and science teachers. That’s why we need to be helping small businesses. That’s why the American -- why we need to be doing more to help the manufacturing sector.
The President is the first one to say that we need to see more job growth at a faster rate. That’s why he put plans on the table. And I can't name three things that Mitt Romney would do for the middle class. Maybe he should focus more time on that than lying about the cause.
MR. EARNEST: Let me add one thing about the jobs report that’s important. One of the things that you hear from us regularly when these jobs numbers come out is that we don’t get too excited with one individual jobs report over-exceeds expectations, and we don’t get too disappointed if there’s one individual jobs report that doesn’t quite meet expectations. What we’re looking at are the longer-term trends. And the longer-term trends indicate a couple of pretty specific pieces of evidence that demonstrate that our economy is beginning to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Two of those things that I would point out is that over the course of the last 31 months, 5.2 million private sector jobs have been created. And if you look at the last 12 months, the unemployment rate has declined 1.2 percent, which is actually the largest 12-month decline in the unemployment rate since 1995.
So there certainly is a lot more that can be done and that needs to be done. The President believes, for example, that Congress should pass a tax cut for middle-class families that would extend the tax cuts for them. This would guarantee, provide some certainty for middle-class families and for 97 percent of all small businesses. He believes that the Congress should pass a common-sense refinancing plan that will allow responsible homeowners to capitalize on the historically low mortgage rates. So there are some things that we can do to keep this recovery moving forward.
Q With regard to those numbers earlier today, a number of conservatives -- commentators, businessmen and at least one conservative congressman -- have suggested those numbers were somehow tampered with or cooked to benefit the President’s reelection campaign. Can you speak to those allegations at all?
MR. EARNEST: They're utter nonsense. Anybody -- any serious person who has any familiarity with how these numbers are tabulated understands that these are career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are responsible for compiling and analyzing these numbers, and they do that on their own.
Q -- arrest of the suspects in the Chris Stevens killing?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen those reports but we don’t have a comment on them at this point.
Q ABC News this morning had an email about -- suggesting that the Libyan consulate had requested more security and that it was turned down. I'm curious if you could speak to the veracity of that email and what the White House response to it is.
MR. EARNEST: I can't speak to the veracity of the email. It’s a State Department email. As you know, the State Department is conducting an investigation into the security arrangements that were in place at our diplomatic facilities in Libya.
I do, however, want to read a line from the fourth paragraph of the report on ABCNews.com today, which is that, “No one has yet to argue that the DC3 would have definitely made a difference for the four Americans killed that night.”
So I would encourage you to take these reports in the proper context, but also to know that there is an ongoing investigation of this that I’m not going to get ahead of.
Q On Turkey and Syria -- I mean, does the U.S. believe that Turkey is justified in retaliating because of this mortar attack that killed five people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that the United States condemns the violence and the aggressive actions of the Syrians. We certainly express -- the United States government certainly expresses our sympathy to the Turkish people for the lives that were lost.
As you know, the United Nations Security Council condemned this attack. And the North Atlantic Council at NATO issued a statement indicating that we’re going to stand with our ally, Turkey, and demand that the aggressive actions of the Syrian regime come to an end.
We also understand that the Turks have taken some actions that are designed to ensure that their sovereignty is no longer violated by Syrian aggression, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they take those actions. They're certainly appropriate.
Q Does the U.S. support Turkey's -- the parliament's decision to authorize a cross-border military presence?
MR. EARNEST: As I mentioned, it’s our understanding that the measures that they have taken, the steps that they have taken are designed specifically to ensure that those acts of aggression that violate the sovereignty of that nation come to an end. And we do certainly stand behind Turkey as they take that action because we believe that action is appropriate.
Q The President has sort of made some fun with the Big Bird comment, but in 2009, he proposed ending some tax breaks for high-income charitable deductions from people that would go to places like Public Broadcasting. Does he stand by that effort in 2009? And would any tax reform from the President reduce that high-income charitable deduction?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to provide you with details about any negotiations that may have taken place at the time. Certainly the President has demonstrated his willingness to close some loopholes in the tax code for people making more than $250,000 a year to deal with our deficit challenges. Part of that is certainly motivated by the idea that people who are contributing to PBS aren’t doing so solely for the benefit of a tax break, but rather because they believe in the mission of Public Broadcasting.
It is a worthwhile mission. It is certainly something that the President supports. But there will be a time and a place for us to have a debate about a balanced deficit approach -- I should say, a balanced approach to our deficit reduction. And the President has been very specific and pretty clear about what it is that he believes we need to do to ensure that the middle class doesn't take a hit so that we can deal with our balance -- so that we can deal with our deficit challenges.
MS. PSAKI: And just to add, I think the larger point here is Mitt Romney made a big to-do about how he was going to make tough choices about what we can do to bring down our deficit, and the example he gave was going after Sesame Street and Big Bird. So it’s just -- it kind of highlights the absurdity of his -- the seriousness of his plans. But also he said in the debate earlier this evening -- earlier this week -- and highlighted his plan for protecting Wall Street and doing away with reforms that the President has put in place while he wants to do away with Sesame Street and Big Bird -- and who’s next? Maybe Elmo. So that's the point that we’re trying to highlight here.
Q Josh, there was a report that some senators have begun to meet -- Democrats and Republicans -- to talk about how to handle fiscal cliff issues in the short period that Congress will have before the end of the year. Is the White House also abreast of those discussions, participating in them in any way that you can tell us about?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not able to read you into any discussions at the White House that may or may not be ongoing. We certainly are aware of -- I have seen those reports.
The President does believe that bipartisan cooperation will be required to deal with these challenges. The President has put forward his own very specific plan that's modeled on other bipartisan plans that have been put forward -- Simpson-Bowles, the previous Gang of Six proposal, even the Rivlin-Domenici commission all advocated an approach that's in line with what the President has advocated that's a balanced approach to deficit reduction, that includes making some tough choices when it comes to cutting government spending without actually gutting important investments in clean energy, in education, but also asking those at the top of the income scale to pay a little bit more, to do their fair share -- because the President believes that we can't just ask the middle class, we can't just ask seniors to bear the burden dealing with our deficit challenges.
So if there are bipartisan efforts underway to make progress on a balanced approach to deficit reduction, that's certainly something that we're supportive of. I don't have any specific conversations to read out to you at this point.
Thank you, guys.
1:02 P.M. EDT