Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ohio
1:34 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to the great state of Ohio. I have no announcements on the official side this morning. I'll turn it over to Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Just a very quick one. As I think I've reminded all of you, today is the voter registration deadline in Ohio. We're going to Ohio State today to remind the students, the faculty, the community that today is the day to register and they can also early vote today. And you’ll hear the President say that in his remarks as well.
Q Jen, can you give us some perspective with a month out about the state of play in Ohio, how the campaign sees it, its importance, and whether you have any metrics to show how it’s going?
MS. PSAKI: So, Ohio is Obama Country. We absolutely feel that. We’ve built the campaign in the state around two premises: One is building the largest and best grassroots campaign across the state in history -- I have some metrics on that I’ll go into in a second -- and the second is laying out the stark choice for the people of the state.
On the metrics, we’ve opened -- we’re about to open our 120th office in the state. We’ve been on the ground organizing for three and a half years, since the last campaign, with campaign staff building up over the course of time.
This is an inherent ground game advantage because we’ve been building relationships. We’ve been signing up grassroots leaders and organizing neighbor-to-neighbor programs. And ultimately we know it’s more than what the ads are that are on the airwaves. It’s more than the phone call that someone gets from the campaign staff to remind them to go and vote. It’s hearing from your neighbor -- we’ll call her Esther -- that it’s important to go vote, what the stakes are, and that's always been a focus of our ground game. We also have hundreds of volunteers in all four corners of the state. Even areas where we didn't win and didn't win by large margins four years, we have offices and staff. And we have knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors across the state.
The second piece is the choice, of course, that the voters in Ohio are facing. And we feel when you lay that out for people, as we have been doing for months and months, that you’re looking at a choice between President Obama -- who saved the auto industry, accounting for one in eight jobs in the state of Ohio, who's been a fighter for manufacturing and creating more manufacturing jobs, who has made clear that he will fight for continued access to affordable health care for Ohioans and for middle-class tax cuts -- and Mitt Romney who has said, let’s let Detroit go bankrupt, let’s fight for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, let’s support tax benefits for companies that ship jobs overseas -- and that's a pretty clear choice, one we’ll continue to make over the next 28 days.
Q Jen, on the Pew poll, aside from the overall on likely voters, one thing it said was that more people like Romney than they did in September and more people think he seems to have new ideas than they thought in September. What kind of -- how do you -- what do you think of that? Does this cause you any kind of concern?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get into picking apart any individual poll. I know we have -- we’ll have many, many -- many done by all of your news organizations over the next couple of days. The one thing I will say is that we’ve always felt this race would be close. That's not a new approach from our end.
Bear with me, I just have a few quotes. "We think it’s going to be close to the end. That’s why we have such an active schedule. That’s why the President is out there campaigning." Second quote: "We’re going to run like we’re five points down, no matter what the polls say." Third: "We always thought this race was going to be close. We still believe that."
Those are three things that I said -- September 1st, September 27th and October 7th.
Q Did you just quote yourself?
MS. PSAKI: I did. I am the spokesperson for myself in addition to the President. I just wanted to make the point that we’re always run this race like we’re five points down. We know that there are going to be many ups and downs, some that you referenced, over the next couple of days. We have blinders on. We’re implementing our own game plan. We’re focused on getting our supporters out, communicating the choice, and we’ll sleep on November 7th, not October 7th.
Q There was a Michigan poll yesterday that has the President’s lead significantly narrowed there. Is it the campaign’s sense that the battlegrounds are -- are the battlegrounds expanding at this point rather than narrowing, and are there any strategic decisions being made to reflect that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we feel that the race and the states in play have been entirely consistent. They were a couple of weeks ago; they still are today. I’ve also seen reports that the Romney team is moving some staff out of Pennsylvania, and I’m sure you’re asking them about that.
This is a race that is being competed every day -- about seven to nine states. That’s where we’re up on the air. That’s where our focus is. And so I don’t have any changes or updates on the strategy beyond that.
Q Is the vice presidential debate important at all in terms of helping voters to decide which ticket they should vote for? And can you talk to us a little bit about how President Obama and the Vice President have been talking in the last couple of days, and how they’re trying to coordinate, what they want to accomplish with the VP debate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, any opportunity you have to lay out the choice the American people are facing to a large audience is a good opportunity. The vice presidential debate is certainly one of them. We know that the Vice President and Paul Ryan certainly come to the table later this week with experience arguing their own positions -- their positions, the positions of the different tickets, and we expect they’ll do that later this week.
The question here is which Paul Ryan is going to come to the debate later this week. Is it going to be the Paul Ryan who has been misleading about everything from his marathon time to details and specifics he included in his convention speech? Or is it going to be the Paul Ryan who has eagerly embraced voucherizing Medicare and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?
Of course it’s an important opportunity to lay out the choice. We’ll all be watching. The President will be watching. And we’ll see which Paul Ryan comes to the debate.
Q How are they coordinating? Have they been talking by phone or in person about this? Is the President’s campaign staff working right now with Vice President Biden on debate prep? And can you talk to us about who's involved in prepping the Vice President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President and the Vice President always have -- they speak regularly. We’re not going to read out the specifics of those conversations. Obviously they speak about a range of topics, and their focus is on governing. There are a number of people who are involved in both of their preps, and that was always the plan -- including David Axelrod, who was always planning to be a part of the Vice President’s debate -- debate prep -- and the President’s debate prep. So he’s there with him in Delaware. But, other than that, I don’t have any further details to read out to you about his debate prep.
MR. CARNEY: Let me just, if I could, about the Vice President, because I, as you know, worked for him for two years. There is a -- there really is -- it really is the case that the Vice President is an exceptional spokesman for the principles that are the foundation of the President’s policies when it comes to his economic agenda and the need to build our economy from the middle out.
The Vice President has throughout his career spoken passionately about middle-class families and the need for government to take action to ensure that the middle class is strengthened, that middle-class security is enhanced. And when the Vice President stands on any stage and talks about auto workers in Ohio and Michigan who have a job because the President decided to, against a lot of advice, save the American automobile industry, and that family has enough income now to make sure their kids are taken care of, and maybe an elderly parent who's living at home is taken care of because the President made that decision, they're able to have older children on their insurance policy because of the decisions and the policies the President put forward -- they know that the President is pushing hard for an extension of tax cuts for middle-class families because he believes that's essential to our economic growth. They know that he believes that we need to have a balanced approach to our budget and deficit reduction to ensure that we're continuing to invest in education.
The Vice President speaks passionately about these issues because they reflect where he comes from and what he believes and what his values are. And I expect anytime he stands before the American people to talk about the President's record on these issues he'll do so in a forceful and compelling way.
Q Over the weekend in California, the President gave every indication that he had by now completely absorbed all the feedback he got on the debate. How is he converting this into approaching -- preparing and approaching the next debate in terms of is there more time being built into his schedule? Has it changed the way the method of approaching this? Can you give us any sense of how, going -- looking ahead to the next debate, he's assimilated the lessons of the first?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President will spend some time in advance of the debate preparing with his team, as he did last time. I think one of the big take-aways -- or the biggest take-away perhaps from the first debate is what kind of a debater Mitt Romney is and what he will -- and the shaky relationship Mitt Romney has with the facts. And that certainly is something that the President will take into account as he's looking ahead to the next debate. Beyond that, tune in next week.
Q Jen, back to the Vice President debate for a second. How is the preparation against Paul Ryan different from Sarah Palin four years ago? And has the strategy changed in the wake of the last debate in terms of the tone the Vice President is going to take against Paul Ryan? Are we going to see a more aggressive Vice President Biden than originally expected?
MS. PSAKI: Look, the Vice President's number-one priority going into the debate is communicating the choice to the American people. He'll have the opportunity, of course, to talk about the contrast he has with Paul Ryan -- Mitt Ryan -- Paul Ryan. I know it's a tongue-twister. And as I mentioned earlier, I think the question is which Paul Ryan comes to the debate later this week.
We're not going to delve into specifics on strategy or what lines the Vice President may go into. As Jay mentioned, there's no more passionate advocate for the administration's approach to the last four years to the challenges the middle class is facing. And we expect he'll make the case for sending the President and himself back for another four years.
Q I feel a little odd saying this, but I have two questions about Big Bird. (Laughter.) The first is that as you know, Sesame Street has asked for the ad to be pulled on the grounds that it's not a political organization and doesn't want to be drawn into this kind of debate. Will the campaign honor it and pull down that ad?
MS. PSAKI: We have received that request. We're reviewing it. I will say it doesn't change the fact that there's only one candidate in this race who is going to continue to fight for Big Bird and Elmo, and he is riding on this plane.
And the larger point -- I don't know if this gets to the second question you were going to ask here -- is aside from our love for Big Bird and Elmo, as is evidenced by the last few days, the point that we're making here is that when Mitt Romney was given the opportunity to lay out how he would address the deficit when he said, I will take a serious approach to it, his first offering was to cut funding for Big Bird. And that is absurd and hard to take seriously his specific plan.
So if we go back to the larger point here, that's what it is. If we have an update on the first question you asked during the flight, I will certainly come back and let you all know.
Q That largely answers my second question. But I guess one element is that, thinking back to the last campaign of '08 and this time, too, the President has bemoaned at times the focus on trivial things. And even though you made the point about cutting the deficit, a lot of people will read about it, hear about this ad -- we're a month away from the election and we're talking about Big Bird. Is this the kind of focus that the campaign should have?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you've been out with the President the last few days, all of you have been. And 99 percent of his remarks are about his plans for fighting for the middle class, his plans for making sure that young people have the opportunity to go to college, to have access to affordable health care. You heard him last night and you'll hear him again today lay out the difference between his view on Iraq and the right steps we took in drawing down troops there, and Mitt Romney's doubling down on maybe we should have left troops -- a few troops in Iraq -- not a few -- several thousand troops in Iraq, instead of what the President's approach was.
This election is about serious issues. That's what the President talks about every day. That's what his focus is on every day. We understand that when your policy plan is a vapid collection of dusting off the Bush playbook on economic policies that would lead us to the same crisis we just have been going through, and embracing the extreme, out-of-the-mainstream foreign policy positions that have also caused us problems as the Romney/Ryan team has, that you don't have a lot to talk about and you're going to attack us on Big Bird. But we're going to go back and you'll hear the President today continue to lay out the choice and continue to talk about all the substantive policy issues that we think people are making their decisions about.
Q Where is the ad running? It's my understanding it's not in any of the swing states or really on the cable news channels, only on a couple of comedy --
MS. PSAKI: It's running on national cable. And we fully expect that people in swing states will see that, since people in swing states do get national cable.
Q Why not the normal swing state rotation as with other ads?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to go into the specifics of our strategy. Obviously, we have a number of ads that are up in every different swing state. They're different in some swings than others. And this was just -- there's been a strong grassroots outcry over the attacks on Big Bird. This is something that mothers across the country are alarmed about and we're tapping into that.
And as I mentioned before, the larger point here is that this is about priorities and choices. And when your first offering for your plans to bring down the deficit is a combination of a $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires and cutting funding to Big Bird, it’s hard to take your plan seriously.
Q Can I make a gentle segue to North Korea and ask the following question?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, you can.
Q Oh, God, it’s so early still. North Korea says that it has missiles that can reach the U.S. Does the U.S. accept this conclusion, and if so, what steps, if any, is the U.S. taking to step up precautions or to respond?
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, Margaret. As you know, the United Nations Security Council passed two resolutions -- 1718 and 1874 -- that require North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programs. Resolution 1718 also requires the DPRK to abandon its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.
And as to your question about our assessments of their capabilities, I’m not going to get into intelligence matters or intelligence assessments. I would note, however, that their most recent test of a ballistic missile was a notable failure.
Q Also in the foreign policy area, Mexico has killed the leader of the Zetas, the drug gang, although his body apparently was snatched. Do you or does the White House have a reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: I saw the reports. I don't have a reaction to both the announced death of this particular drug leader or what happened to his body. I will simply say that the United States has stood with Mexico in their efforts to combat narco-traffickers and to reduce the high levels of drug-related violence that the Mexican people have long endured. But beyond that, I don't have a specific response.
Q Jay, I had a foreign policy question follow-up from yesterday on Syria. Governor Romney said in his speech that he would identify -- if elected, he would identify the opposition elements that share American values and then "ensure they attain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets." Now, that's obviously a serious commitment and a huge undertaking to have that kind of military commitment. What does the President think of that policy statement from Romney, that he would work with allies in some way to get that kind of armament to the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. We have been all along working with elements of the opposition and identifying elements of the opposition that support a democratic transition in Syria, that support a future in Syria that is inclusive of all elements of Syrian society and a future government of Syria that is responsive to the aspirations of all the Syrian people.
I’ve discussed that many times from the podium. The President, the Secretary of State and others have discussed that. We provide substantial humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. We provide, with our partners and allies, significant, non-lethal assistance to those elements of the Syrian opposition that we believe are working for a democratic future in Syria.
We have also said that other nations who support the effort to see Syria have a brighter, post-Assad future are providing assistance in different ways. We continue to believe that the United States -- it is not the right policy for the United States to supply arms or other forms of lethal assistance. But other nations have obviously -- are obviously making assessments on their own.
I think, broadly speaking, this is another case where a critic of the President’s foreign policy is asserting a great difference in approach at a broad level, but not demonstrating any different approach in any specificity. That’s true when it comes to Iran, when it comes to Syria, and in other areas.
Q Well, he's outlining a difference, maybe not with great specificity, but outlining a difference in terms of arming the rebels -- some sort of international effort to do that, right?
MR. CARNEY: Our position is that it is not the right approach for the United States to provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition. That has been our policy and is our policy today. If Governor Romney is suggesting that he wants to deepen -- engage in Syria militarily, he ought to say so and he ought to be clear about that.
We are providing substantial assistance, non-lethal assistance to the opposition. We’re working with the Friends of Syria and working with other allies and partners to isolate and pressure the Assad regime, to starve it of resources, and to hasten the day when Syria can build a future that does not include this tyrant, who has for the past year waged a brutal assault on his own people.
Q Let me ask you a semi-technical question. Does the White House have any comment on the House Intelligence Committee recommendation that U.S. government systems and contractors should exclude -- I don’t even know how to pronounce it -- Huawei or ZTE equipment or components?
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to have to take that question.
Q Can I ask a follow-up to Bill’s question earlier? The President talked last night about the fact that he’s been hearing from people reviewing his performance. Would it be fair to say that he feels a new urgency with regard to his campaign, his performance in it? And does he feel that he needs to step up his game?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the President has been pretty clear that he's looked back at his debate performance and looked back at the debate performance of Mitt Romney, and he’ll take that into account moving forward.
At the same time, our focus and the President's focus has always been putting on blinders, implementing our ground game, implementing laying out for the American people the choice in this election. And that’s exactly what he's doing every single day. And if you look back to the morning after the debate, we had two -- I think what most people would say were two of the best events we've had in a couple of months -- in Denver, and then 30,000 people in Wisconsin.
The President is often energized by people that he -- not just crowds like that, but people he meets on the ropeline, and people that he even sees at events like the past couple of days. And the truth is, most of those people are saying to him, we're with you; we want you to spend another four years; we're not worried about the reviews of the debate; we know that you're a better choice for us. And that’s what he hears, and that keeps him energized looking ahead not just to the debate but to the next 28 days.
Q Jen, one last one on Ohio. You talked about the ground game at the start and obviously speaking to students on the day of the voter registration deadline. Should we look for him to basically call for them to lead this debate and go register right then? I mean, is he calling for like a mass action today?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And when -- and everyone can encourage them to do the same, whoever they vote for. That’s exactly why we're here today. We're here because there are a couple more hours today for students to register. We know they're just back at campus for a little over a month. We know they have lots of different, competing interests. But today is the final day they can register -- not only can they register but they can also early vote today. And he'll be making a strong call for them to do just that before the registration offices close at 9:00 p.m. tonight in most places.
Q There seemed to be a conscious decision not to mention Romney's tenure at Bain Capital in the last debate, which was a little peculiar given the commercials, and his stump speech is heavy on Bain. Can we expect to not hear anything about Bain in the next debate as well?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to get ahead of where we are in the next debate. As you know, the next debate is a town hall meeting, so people in the audience will be asking the questions. We have no control over that.
And in the last debate, the President answered the questions that were asked of him. We still continue to believe that Mitt Romney's experience and time at Bain, the deals he was or wasn't involved in depending on how long he was there, his investments, the short span of which we know about, are important because it offers a prism for the American people into what he's all about and what kind of a President he will be.
We'll continue to make that case. We'll see what comes up in the next couple debates.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
1:58 P.M. EDT