Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wisconsin
10:50 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to many places. Before we take your questions I just wanted to let you know that this morning before leaving the White House, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate updated the President with the latest details on the ongoing response to Sandy, including efforts to restore power.
Throughout the day, the President will stay in regular touch with Administrator Fugate and the rest of his team to ensure that bureaucracy and red tape are not impeding efforts to respond to communities recovering from the storm. The President will also convene conference calls today with local elected officials from affected areas to ensure that available federal resources are being provided in support of local response efforts. We will provide readouts of those calls after they are conducted.
At the direction of the President, the federal government continues to lean forward to support state and local partners as they recover from this storm. On Tuesday, as you know, the President provided major disaster declarations for the states of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. These declarations build on the emergency declarations provided earlier this week for these three states and many others leading up to the storm. These specific three declarations make additional federal support available to states as they respond.
These declarations also make federal assistance available directly to affected individuals, including temporary housing assistance, low-cost loans, and other resources to help cover uninsured losses. As of 7:00 a.m. this morning, more than 36,000 disaster survivors from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have applied for federal disaster assistance, and more than $3.4 million in direct assistance to these individuals has already been approved. These are resources, as I said, like housing assistance and to support immediate needs.
We continue to urge, as we did yesterday, affected individuals in eligible counties to apply for assistance by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov, or calling 1-800-621-FEMA. That's 1-800-621-3362.
Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is scheduled to travel to Connecticut and New York to meet with state and local officials and view ongoing response and recovery efforts to Hurricane and Storm Sandy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in unwatering activities in support of state and local efforts, including in New York City. The Corps has also deployed the 249th Engineering Battalion and other temporary emergency power assets to provide support to areas impacted by the storm.
Coming out of the President’s call with utility companies Tuesday night, FEMA has established a power restoration working group, which you know about, which includes representatives for the utilities at the National Response Coordination Center to cut through the red tape, increase federal, state, and local and private coordination, and restore power to people as quickly as possible.
Led by FEMA, this working group includes representatives from private-sector utilities and includes government reps from the Departments of Transportation and Energy, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and representatives from local law enforcement, among others.
At the request of state and local officials, FEMA has deployed approximately 50 industrial generators to the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to provide support in areas where power has been lost. Those generators are the kind that can put hospitals back online, and other facilities that are critically in need of power.
There are currently nine federal Urban Search and Rescue Teams deployed to impacted states that have helped support hundreds of rescues. Currently, over 2,300 FEMA personnel are deployed to affected states up and down the East Coast, and that includes 14 Incident Management Assistant Teams, as well as FEMA liaisons embedded in state emergency operation centers.
Additionally, the National Guard has more than 11,000 forces activated to support governors of affected states. Other federal agencies continue to provide resources -- provide support, including medical equipment and other resources. Also, as an example, today more than 60 power restoration vehicles and crews from private utility companies on the West Coast are being air-lifted, using DOD assets from California, to the East Coast to support power restoration efforts in New York and New Jersey.
With that, I turn it over to my colleague.
MS. PSAKI: Two quick things. One, I’m sure you saw, but just to highlight for everybody -- we have a new ad on the air today featuring the powerful endorsement by General Colin Powell. It’s running in 10 states. If you need a list, please let me know.
Second, because we’re on our way today to three states -- four if you count where we’re sleeping -- I just wanted to highlight where we are in those states and give you a couple of new additional facts.
Wisconsin, our first stop -- in Wisconsin voters in Democratic counties and precincts are turning out at higher rates and outvoting Republican counties and precincts by a margin of more than two to one; 161,787 -- to be exact -- ballots have been returned from wards won by Barack Obama in 2008; 78,876 from Republican wards. And 87 percent of new registered voters are women, youth, minorities.
Second, we are headed to Nevada as you know. Take off your sweaters. Nearly half of Nevada voters’ votes have already been cast. And the President has an eight-point lead among these voters, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. This means Romney needs to win the remaining voters’ votes by 54 percent just in order to tie up the race. Democrats have an early-vote lead of 40,000 over Republicans, and the Democrats have the largest registration advantage ever of 15 percent compared to 2008.
Finally, we’ll end our day before flying to Ohio in Colorado. Nearly half of Colorado votes have already been cast, and the President leads by 10 points among those who have already voted, according to recent polling. Now, remember, Colorado is a state where 78 percent of the vote was cast by mail or early vote in 2008, so to give you an indication of how important that base is.
Democrats are doing better in early voting this year than we were two years ago when we swept the U.S. Senate and governors race. Turnout is up 25 percent among African Americans and 34 percent among Latinos compared with four years ago.
With that, we’ll take your questions.
Q Jen, can you talk at all about what we should expect from the President’s tone today, coming off three days where he was really immersed in the storm effort? Is it going to basically be game on in terms of criticizing Romney, or is he going to try to temper his tone a bit?
MS. PSAKI: Well, two things I’ll say. The first is that obviously the President has been focused the last few days on exactly what the American people elected him to do, which is to serve as Commander-in-Chief and manage the country in a state of crisis. This week, that’s been the hurricane, Hurricane Sandy.
At the same time, there’s another reality happening, which is the election that’s happening in five days. And as Jay mentioned, he will be receiving updates throughout the day, receiving briefings on calls, constantly monitoring, and he’s already put a robust recovery process in place. But he will be out there today, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Monday making the case to the American people.
As you may have seen overnight, and I forwarded to all you, he’ll also be laying out his closing argument to the America people today in his remarks. That's something that he has always planned to do. It’s been in the works for weeks. And in his remarks today, he’ll be -- these are the last five days of his last campaign -- ever. So you will hear many of the themes -- much about the fight that he’s been waging throughout his public -- career in public life on behalf of the middle class.
And I think people who have been covering him a while -- and I know most of you have not been covering him back to his state Senate days, but back to 2008 -- will hear a lot of the same themes, and you’ll hear a lot of the same message to the middle class, same message to the American people, about the choice they're facing.
Now, part of that is laying out the choice between him and his opponent. And what he’ll say in his remarks today is that there’s a difference between real change -- real change that he’s brought about, real change that he’s not done delivering on -- and the change Mitt Romney is promising, which is going back to the same policies that led us into this mess and calling it change. So to that degree, he will laying out the choice.
Q How important did the Jeep have -- the Jeep ads in Ohio How have you seen that impacting voters in Ohio and other Midwestern states? Is it moving the needle at all with swing voters, or is it more mobilizing the base?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I mean, just to reiterate, these Jeep ads that the Romney team have been running are a Hail Mary pass by the Romney team. There are two major issues with it: One is the facts. You have the CEOs of GM and Chrysler making a very rare step to come out and say these ads are false.
But the second, which I would argue is more important, is this raises a character issue. Mitt Romney is closing the campaign in Ohio with an ad of fear -- scare tactics to scare the workers in the state about -- with false statements about what’s going to happen at the Jeep plant, when we all know, and the plant has made clear, what the facts are.
With that, the race in Ohio has been very stable. It’s been a four to five point race in most polls for weeks now, and we think that's because, one, the people of the state are responding to the tough choices the President made to save the auto industry -- one in eight jobs in Ohio dependent on the auto industry. That's something he’s been talking about a great deal. Also, the President’s record on manufacturing.
And the people of Ohio aren’t looking for a President who is going to support tax credits for companies that ship jobs overseas, or support incentives to help millionaires and billionaires and not the middle class.
So the race has been very stable. Whether or not this ad specifically -- obviously, we’ve been up on the air with a response ad. This has been dominating the media in the state for eight days now, and it’s also trickled into other states -- the Denver Post wrote an editorial about it, and The New York Times, many papers. And the truth is this isn’t a step you take, running an ad like this full of false statements, if you think you’re winning the state. This is a clear sign that they’re worried that they haven’t been able to crack the nut in Ohio because it’s been so stable.
Q Jay, are those readouts of the President’s calls today, are they going to come on paper or are they coming --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll provide them. I mean, we --
Q To the pool?
MR. CARNEY: To the pool, yes. A lot of them will happen in the air.
Q Really quickly on this -- obviously we’re a week out; we’ll be post-election and everything is going to turn towards the fiscal cliff. Is the President doing anything at all to prepare for that in advance? Or has that all been pushed off until after November 6th?
MR. CARNEY: The administration, under the President’s direction, is always working on the issues of budget policy, and that work continues. The challenges posed by the so-called fiscal cliff are well known, and the opportunity that Congress has had -- the House of Representatives in particular -- to mitigate some of those challenges has been available to Republicans in the House for many months now, ever since the Senate passed an extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people.
Unfortunately, Republicans in the House have refused to pass that measure, choosing instead to hold hostage tax cuts for the middle class to the wealthiest 2 percent of the American people. That’s bad policy.
The President has said and believes that after the election we will be able to come together in a bipartisan way to resolve these issues and to deal with our deficit and debt challenge with a balanced proposal that reflects an overwhelming consensus among experts and the American people about how we should get this done. And he looks forward to tackling those issues after the election.
Q Any more thought to the idea of a “secretary of business”? Is that something that he’s likely to -- I mean, one of the things that he’s talked a lot about is that he wanted to continue the conversation with the American people, post-election, in a way that he maybe didn’t, according to him, in the first couple of years. So is he going to pivot immediately off the election to try and sell some of these ideas to voters?
MR. CARNEY: The President will be engaging directly after the election in moving forward on the number of --
Q I mean, holding events, those kinds of things.
MR. CARNEY: I have no schedule announcements to make for you. We’re obviously focused on the President’s schedule in the next several days. And as you’ve seen, changes come about very quickly in response to events -- some of them unpredicted.
The point I’ll make is that the President is committed to working to find solutions to these challenges. There is a clear path to resolving them, when we talk about our budget and fiscal issues, that has broad support among the American people, broad support from Democrats, independents, and Republicans, except those who are leaders in the House of Representatives, by and large.
On the issue of his approach to streamlining government -- and specifically, to asking Congress for the authority that every President from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan had to make proposals to streamline government -- he very much wants to see action on that. And his initial proposal has to do with consolidating agencies that deal with business and exports and commerce. So he’s very committed to that proposal. That’s the proposal that has the support of the Chamber of Commerce and has the support of John Engler and others from the Business Roundtable because it’s the right thing to do.
And it would save money -- $3 billion over 10 years. And it would consolidate a lot of agencies so there’s one location, one website, one phone number, one agency that handles all these different issues that have to deal with supporting American business and supporting exports.
Q Jen, earlier this year, the President didn't spend a whole lot of time in Wisconsin while he was going to many of the other swing states. Now that it’s really close here, looking back, does the campaign regret that he didn't spend a little bit more time in Wisconsin up until the end?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve always known the state would be harder for us than it was in 2008. We won by 14 point in 2008. Obviously, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, he’s a native son, and they’ve tried to make a big to-do about that. He’s basically moved into the state and spends a great deal of time there. They’ve put in money there; we’ve put in money there. And races change always as time goes on. We’ve obviously -- we’ve had an organization on the ground there since 2008. We think that continues to be helpful, and is one of the reasons that we’re going to win Wisconsin on Tuesday.
But, no, we certainly don't look back and have any regrets about where we spent time or where we spent resources. Any campaign, you always need to be flexible and always need to be moving with where the state of the race is going. And when the Romney team put in money there, when they decided that Paul Ryan would pitch a tent, move into his home state, we knew we weren’t going to cede the state, and we knew we were going to spend money, and fortunately we had the resources to do that.
Q Tomorrow is the final jobs report before the election. It’s the last snapshot that voters will have of the jobs picture in this country. Do you think it’s going to have any bearing on voters when they head to the polls on Tuesday regardless of what the numbers show?
MR. CARNEY: I, of course, do not have the numbers, so I have nothing to provide.
MS. PSAKI: We don't know what the numbers are. No one does. Regardless of what they are, the President is still going to feel there’s more we need to do to help the economy recover at a faster rate, put more people back to work. As he says every day and he’ll say today, until everybody who wants a job has a job, his job is not done. And that won’t change.
We also know that people at home are making their decisions based on where we take the economy from here. There’s no question any nonpartisan economists will tell you we’ve made progress. The numbers tell you that story -- 5.2 million jobs, 31 straight months of private sector job growth. But the President is the first to say there’s more we need to do. That is the same thing he’ll say today, I expect the same thing he’ll say tomorrow, and the same thing he’ll say on Monday.
Q On Benghazi, overnight, FOX News had a report on another cable. But the question is not about that. These cables have been coming out, news reports have been coming. How closely -- I know an investigation is ongoing -- but how closely is the President reading these reports, following them? Is he asking questions? Even the ones in The New York Times, elsewhere -- is he engaged in the investigation and receiving updates on the investigation, or is he waiting until it’s complete?
MR. CARNEY: These investigations are being conducted by both the FBI and the Accountability Review Board, and he is not participating in the investigation. He is anticipating results that show us exactly what happened, who was responsible and what lessons we can learn from it in terms of how we ensure that it never happens again.
Q Is it safe to say he’s withholding judgment and getting involved and asking questions and follow-ups until something comes out?
MR. CARNEY: The President was asked in interviews as recently as when he spoke with Brian Williams of NBC about what he expects. He expects the investigations to be rigorous. He is extremely focused on making sure that we find exactly what happened and who was responsible, and tracking down those who were responsible and bringing them to justice.
And his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief is for the men and women that he sends into harm’s way. And that is often thought of as just members of the military, but it includes members of the diplomatic corps who serve in countries that are dangerous, but who do extraordinarily important work and who serve their country bravely in doing that work, in promoting American values and building relationships that help our national security interests.
So the President is very committed to letting the facts come through and ensuring that we find out exactly what happened and who is responsible.
Q Jen, can I ask you about Bill Clinton? He’s barnstorming the country, 13 events in four days, seven states. Does he help you guys in tight races in some of these battlegrounds? And does he have -- is he something of a super surrogate? Does he have an influence that other surrogates for the President -- and for Mitt Romney, for that matter -- don’t have?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we’d rather have President Bill Clinton out there than Newt Gingrich or whomever the Romney team has on their side. But, look, there’s no one better to make the case for the middle class, for why the American people should send the President back for another four years, why he’s the better fighter for the middle class than President Bill Clinton.
He made that case during his convention speech. He’s been a tireless advocate for the President out on the campaign trail, day in and day out, event to event. And he’s an incredibly powerful asset for us to have out there campaigning, and we’re incredibly grateful for that. And if you look at the fact that the President today will be hitting three states, he’ll be hitting one state with three stops tomorrow, countless events this weekend, and we have the First Lady out there; we have the Vice President out there; we also have President Clinton out there -- it’s a huge added bonus for us to have such a powerful advocate out on the trail.
And when they campaign together this weekend, that will be an even more powerful argument for why it’s important to take a look at what’s worked in the past and where we need to take those lessons and use them moving forward.
Q Is Chris Christie an added bonus also?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think Jay gave -- has given many readouts over the last couple of days. I’ll leave it to all of you to analyze the last couple of days. I will say the President was very laudatory of Governor Christie and the steps he’s taken in New Jersey -- are well-deserved. And they have a shared commitment to making sure that the state has the resources and the information they need as they recover.
Q Thank you.
11:14 A.M. EDT