Aboard Air Force One
En Route Manchester, New Hampshire
Please see below for corrections (marked with asterisks) to the transcript.
10:36 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being with us, and welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to the great state of New Hampshire. I have no announcements at the top of this gaggle, but perhaps my colleague does.
MS. PSAKI: Two very quick things. Early voting starts in North Carolina today, which we're very excited about. In New Hampshire, just so you know, you can register to vote up until the day of the election. So that will be a focus of ours, encouraging people to go register.
And also today, after the President’s event, the New Hampshire team will be kicking off -- I just want to get the title right -- “Around The Clock for Barack: the 24-Hour Tour for the Middle Class.” They’re kicking off with a phone bank, and they’re going to be making 15 stops in all 10 counties on an RV over the course of the evening. So if anyone wants to stay and doesn’t want to get on the plane, I'm happy to put in a good word for you.
Q It’s not called “Barack Around the Clock”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, that’s a suggestion, but they called it “Around the Clock for Barack.” It has a nice ring to it, too.
Q Jay, can you talk about the Washington Post story this morning where the President says that he’s willing to veto a fiscal cliff legislation that does not include a tax increase for those making more than $250,000?
MR. CARNEY: There is nothing new in that story. The President has long made clear he will veto an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans, wealthiest Americans. That has been his position, as you know, for a very long time.
If there is concern about what we can do right now to address the so-called fiscal cliff, the House ought to follow the Senate and pass the extension of tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people -- for the middle class. And that would substantially address some of the fiscal cliff, and that would provide reassurance to middle-class Americans that their taxes will not go up, and it is the right and responsible thing to do.
So again, the story this morning contained nothing new as I read it.
Q So win or lose the election he will veto anything that does not include a tax cut?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to speculate. First of all, he’s not going to lose the election. Second of all, the issue here is clear: We cannot afford tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. One of the reasons why we have the fiscal situation that we have is because the previous administration twice passed massive tax cuts largely benefiting the wealthiest Americans and did not pay for them. That's how, in part, this country saw its fiscal situation go from one of surpluses as far as the eye could see when George W. Bush took office to record surpluses [deficits] when George W. Bush left office and President Obama was sworn in. It’s just fiscally irresponsible and it does not help the economy.
As you know, economists agree that tax cuts for middle-class Americans are very effective in not just helping those families, but promoting economic growth; tax cuts for the wealthiest does not. So we cannot afford it. It is not the right thing to do. The President’s position has not changed.
Q Jay, is he confident, though, that he can get this done during the lame duck? Or can there be this -- does there have to be an accommodation in order to fix it down the road?
MR. CARNEY: As enticing as the proposition is to negotiate the many economic issues that will be worked out after the election, today, I'm not going to do that. But the President is confident, we remain confident that we can address these issues. There is near consensus about the need to take a balanced approach, to deal with our fiscal challenges. There is unanimity in Washington about the need to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of America’s wage earners and salary earners. And we ought to do that.
If Republicans and Democrats agree that 98 percent of the American people should have their tax cuts extended, well, that's great news; let’s pass it, sign it into law. That's good for the economy, good for those families, and would address right away some of the concerns about the fiscal cliff.
Q But the President remains --
MR. CARNEY: The President does remain confident that we can and we will resolve these issues.
Q Is it true that he hasn't met with Republican leaders in Congress since the summer? And shouldn't he be meeting with them to sort this thing out?
MR. CARNEY: The President has put forward very clear plans for how to address our fiscal challenges. The President supported and urges the House to support the bill that the Senate passed that extends tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. And again, that would address some of these concerns about the fiscal cliff.
There is one obstacle -- which all of you know, because you've reported on it -- to achieving a significant deficit reduction in a way that continues to invest in the economy, in education and research and innovation, infrastructure, and other areas so that our economy grows, that protects 98 percent of the American people from having their taxes go up.
That approach, as I said, has -- enjoys a broad consensus in Washington and around the country. But one obstacle to that has been the adamant refusal by Republicans, especially in the House, to accept the principle that there should be balance, that as part of a broad deficit reduction plan, we need to include not just spending cuts, not just entitlement reforms, but more revenue.
Q But the President has said in many of his stump speeches that it’s not that we were out of ideas, but it’s a political stalemate that’s been keeping things from getting done. And so he’s asked the electorate to break the stalemate. I know you said you’re not going to lose the election, but if for some reason there was a different outcome, wouldn't that also send a different message to the President that a different approach is needed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first, I'm not going to speculate about an outcome to the election. You know my view, and that is that the President will win reelection. And he said on a number of occasions that he is confident that since the electorate will have spoken on this issue and will have endorsed the broad consensus that we need to take a balanced approach to these matters, that that will compel Congress to move in that direction. And that will help us resolve some of these issues that have been tied up in a stalemate.
As I also said, we should recognize and acknowledge, as the President has, that some of these disagreements will have to be resolved by the electorate, and that's the disagreement over whether or not we need to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. The American people will decide that in this election.
But there is agreement that unless there are any millionaires and billionaires in this room, that everybody here and middle-class families across the country, 98 percent of American earners, should have their tax cuts extended. Republicans say they're for that. Democrats are for it. The President is for it. Let's do that right now and then address the things that we disagree over after the election.
Q Jay, is there any contingency planning to have Treasury retain the current withholding rates so that you do have time to work this out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we are confident that this will be worked out. I certainly am not going to talk about, like, Treasury contingency plans. I would refer you to the Treasury Department. But as I just said, the President is confident that we will resolve these issues. There is broad consensus that we need to do so in a balanced way and in a way that ensures that middle-class Americans do not have their taxes go up, but that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.
Q Jay, initial jobless claims are up fairly significantly today. How much concern is there that the economy may be losing any momentum that it did have?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve seen a broad array of positive economic data lately, including housing starts yesterday. On the jobless claims, what we say every time a weekly report comes out, or a monthly report comes out, is that we do not overreact one way or the other to any single piece of data. We look at trends. And as you know, the four-week trend, when it comes to jobless claims, is the one that economists look at. And the four-week trend that includes this week’s jobless report or unemployment claims report demonstrates that we are 13,000 lower than we were the previous four months.
That shows what Alan Krueger, the Chairman of the CEA, and other economists have said, and that is that we’re making steady progress. The economy is healing and continuing to create jobs and grow, but we have much more work to do. And that’s why the President, going to the President’s plans that include not just extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, but the elements of the American Jobs Act -- which outside economists all agree would put a million people back to work if Republicans in Congress were to pass it -- that’s another measure that we can take to help this economy grow and to help it continue to create jobs.
Q Jen, the President rattled off some of the positive economic stats yesterday, and I know you all have an ad. Is that something that’s going to be a bigger part of the President’s remarks in the days to come, touting some of the signals that the economy is mending?
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, the President’s remarks every day are a combination of steps we’ve taken, how well many of these steps have worked not only to bring the economy back from the brink of collapse, but to provide health care to millions of Americans, to help small businesses on Main Streets across the country, help more kids go to college. But also, part of that is explaining to the American people some of the good signs we’ve seen.
He’s mentioned a couple of those signs for the past couple of weeks since we received the last jobs numbers. He’s the first one to say, as he says every day, there’s more we need to do; we’ve come too far to come back. There are some good signs we’ve seen, and that’s why the stakes are so high, and why his plans to move the country forward are what he talks about also in his remarks and are much better for the middle class.
Q Jay, can you tell us when the President was informed that he could have been a target of this guy who is suspected of wanting to blow the Federal Reserve in New York?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t get into details of his security briefings. I can tell you that he was briefed on the specific matter. But beyond that, I have to refer you to the FBI.
Q Can you say how long ago he was briefed?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into timelines, but he was of course briefed on it.
Q Does he have any reaction to the arrest?
MR. CARNEY: He obviously is pleased by a successful law enforcement operation, but beyond that, obviously it’s a matter for the FBI and the courts, the Department of Justice.
Q Have either of you seen the Smith speech tonight? How funny is he going to be? And how much will he focus on himself versus his rival tonight?
MS. PSAKI: Well, stay tuned. We’re not going to get too ahead of the President’s remarks. I will say Mitt Romney has practiced for longer than any presidential candidate in history for tonight, and we expect him to be drop-on-the-floor funny. And the President will make his way through.
Q I did see Plouffe and Favreau were laughing as they got off the helicopter. Were they probably talking over the President's speech?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I will say the President attended, as you know -- and I think most of you know -- this event four years ago. He enjoyed himself. There's a long tradition with the Al Smith Dinner of bringing the candidates together, breaking bread, having a few laughs in the midst of a close race and a heated campaign. And so he's looking forward to doing that this evening.
Q How would you characterize his relationship at the moment with the Archbishop of New York? Obviously, there's been some tensions, although he did speak at the Democratic Convention.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I know the President appreciated his participation at the convention. I haven't had a conversation with him about it beyond that.
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to -- and I read remarks this morning that he made about how he's happy to sit down and have a meal with people he even has small disagreements with. And there are many areas where they do see eye to eye, and there are some where they have disagreements, including contraception. They've both been very forward about that.
But obviously, they extend the invitation to the President for the second time and he's happy to be here -- or happy to be going later this evening.
Q Today, they have a Bruce Springsteen concert. Will the President be able to watch that in any way?
MR. CARNEY: We're going to divert the plane. (Laughter.)
Q He’s going to be watching sports instead? (Laughter.) He's talked about, like -- I mean, Springsteen said he was going to sit out the election and not be political. Do you guys have to twist his arm, or how did that come about? If you could talk a little bit about that.
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think he was pretty clear in his endorsement that he's a strong supporter of President Obama, that he's happy to be out there rallying people in Ohio and Wisconsin [Iowa] and participating in the effort to get people engaged, this key part in the campaign. We're thrilled of course that he's out there. Who's better than Bruce Springsteen to get young people and people who are not young anymore excited. And I think it will be a great event with President Clinton today.
And the great thing for us strategically is that we have President Obama in New Hampshire today, laying out the choice, laying out for people of the state why the election is so important. But we also have a great event that will be well attended and covered in Ohio today. So we're --
Q How many are you expecting?
MS. PSAKI: I never get ahead of crowd counts, but it should be a good crowd.
Q Do you think Springsteen will outdraw the President? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I think that more American people have seen Bruce Springsteen over the years than have seen President Obama, and that's a pretty big feat, because the President has had some pretty big crowds. But Bruce Springsteen has had a pretty significant career, and we think he'll draw a good crowd today in Ohio.
MR. CARNEY: I just want to note for the record that when Jen referred to the not-so-young people who are fans of Springsteen, she was looking at Nakamura, not me. (Laughter.)
Q Jen, has Bruce Springsteen been practicing longer for tonight than the President has been practicing for tonight? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I don't think Bruce Springsteen needs a lot of practice. I think he's got his shtick down.
Q There’s a report that there's been a rhetorical shift in the President no longer saying that al Qaeda is on the run. Is that something that is intentional? Or is that a reflection of what the President believes to be the case?
MR. CARNEY: I was asked this question yesterday, and what I can tell you is that this President, when he came into office, made clear his intention of refocusing our efforts on those who attacked the United States of America and killed Americans on September 11th, 2001. And he has kept that promise.
Our efforts against al Qaeda have inarguably led to success and progress, but the work is not done. Al Qaeda central has --and a leadership there has been devastated by our efforts and the efforts of our allies. But al Qaeda remains our number-one enemy and our number-one foe. And that is why we focus so much of our attention on al Qaeda and its affiliates, because the struggle against al Qaeda continues, and the President has been focused on it since the day he took office.
10:55 A.M. EDT