Aboard Air Force One
En Route Springfield, Ohio
3:07 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us on this short flight within the confines of the great state of Ohio.
Let me just tell you that this morning, President Obama held a conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan, and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco to discuss the administration’s ongoing efforts to support state and local response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The President charged his team to focus on three key areas: First, he directed that especially in light of colder weather, temporary housing for those who have lost their homes, or lost heat or power should be a top priority. Temporary housing assistance is made available through the individual assistance that President Obama expedited overnight on Monday.
Second, he reiterated the need to restore power and alleviate gasoline shortages. To that end, as you may already have seen, the administration has waived the Jones Act to allow ships to bring fuel from other American ports to the affected states, regardless of the ship’s country of origin.
Q You announced that already, right, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: It was announced earlier today. That's why I said, as you may have already seen.
Q Yes, I'm just checking.
MR. CARNEY: Finally, or thirdly, the President ordered federal officials to lean forward in their interactions with local officials, not just waiting for requests but proactively helping officials process the situation and think about what they will need next and whether there are federal resources that can be brought to bear to assist them further.
With that -- let’s see if I have any more here on Sandy. I do. Some of the stuff that we talked about yesterday -- further, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of work to do, as we discussed. We've seen what happened in places like Staten Island -- homes lost, cars destroyed, residents stranded in their own neighborhoods. FEMA is on the ground in Staten Island, working with the state and local authorities there to try and get folks the aid they need. And we've helped a caravan of Red Cross relief trucks get through to Staten Island to help meet basic necessities of the residents there.
Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano will travel to Staten Island with FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, to meet with residents and local authorities to determine what more the federal government can do to aid the response. I believe also the head of the Red Cross is there today.
The President has repeatedly emphasized that the road to recovery will be long and difficult, but we are going to keep at it and we will not be satisfied until everyone who needs help can get it.
With that, I turn it over to my esteemed colleague.
MS. PSAKI: So real quickly, three quick things. One, today is Katie Hogan’s birthday -- very important. Hope you all wish her a happy birthday.
Q How old?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure. We'll get back to you on that -- 22. We'll make that up.
Two, as I did yesterday, just to give you guys a few quick stats on Ohio as we're focused there today: 23 percent of Ohio votes have already been cast. And according to public polling, the President leads 62-35 among those who have already voted. This means that Mitt Romney would need to win the remaining votes by 54 percent in order to tie the race on Election Day.
Voters in Democratic counties are voting at higher rates and outnumber voters in Republican counties. And finally, Democrats are doing a better job getting our non-midterm low-propensity voters to the polls than the Republicans are -- more votes from Democratic counties are non-midterm voters -- sporadic voters, as we like to say -- than voters from Republican counties.
The last thing I just wanted to add is, obviously the President has been talking about autos today; he'll do that again at the final event today. This is an important issue, as you’ve heard him say, not just because the facts are wrong in this ad the Romney team is laying out, but because this raises a question in the closing days of the campaign. You have a candidate, our opponent, who is using scare tactics to run his campaign in Ohio. And I think people across the state are questioning whether this is somebody with the character that they want to be commander-in-chief.
Q Jay, does the President believe that it’s appropriate for New York City to go forward with this weekend’s marathon, despite the fact that it will be a major logistical challenge and take potential resources from a city that’s still dealing with obviously the storm relief efforts?
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused on mobilizing an unprecedented federal response to one of the worst storms in our lifetimes, and to get as much assistance as possible to those affected by the storm as soon as possible, working with state and local officials.
We engage with state and local officials and rely on them to tell us what their needs are. That goes to the third point that I mentioned the President emphasized in his conference call this morning. And we are working very closely with New York officials -- Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and others, officials in New Jersey -- Governor Christie and others -- as well as in Connecticut to get this essential assistance to affected residents as quickly as possible.
Decisions at the state and local level are made, appropriately, by state and local officials.
Q Has it come up on any of these conference calls he was in? Because I know Mayor Bloomberg has pushed that it keep going forward. Other state officials, though, have said they don't think it’s a good idea.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, this is something that state officials and local officials discuss. It did not come up, as far as I know, on any of the calls the President has had.
Q What about the -- anecdotally, in places like Elmwood Park, New Jersey, rationing gas hasn’t happened since the ‘70s. Are they considering opening up Strategic Petroleum Reserves also?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any new measures to announce. I can tell you that the President has broadly tasked his team with thinking creatively about ways to get assistance and to provide support for -- assistance to affected individuals and provide support for the state and local recovery efforts as quickly as possible. And that effort continues. And one element of that was waiving the Jones Act, and we’ll continue to look at other possibilities.
Q Does tapping the SPR fall into that category of creative ideas?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think I have anything specific to relay to you that’s on the table. But I can certainly tell you the President wants his team to think creatively to make sure that assistance is provided as quickly as possible.
Q Jay, U.S. officials have provided new details about the CIA’s role in defending the Benghazi consulate on the night of -- or the day of September 11th. But the question has come up as to whether the White House focused in way on the sort of videotape in any way to sort of keep the CIA’s role hidden, I mean, because they didn’t want that to be the focus. Is there any sense of that at all?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t -- the video?
Q Yeah, I mean, that the attack on the consulate was based on this anti-Muslim videotape, that the focus would be on that, in any way to sort of cover up the CIA role.
MR. CARNEY: That suggestion, which I haven’t heard, is completely false. We provided information based on assessments made in real time by the intelligence community. And as we’ve had more information come available, we have made it available to the public, through you. And that process continues. There are essentially two investigations underway: one led by the FBI, one being conducted under the Accountability Review Board established by Secretary of State Clinton.
And this President is very interested in ensuring that those investigations proceed wherever the facts may take them, and finding out what happened, bringing to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans, and learning lessons from this incident to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.
Q Jay, there was apparently a death of a Secret Service agent yesterday in an apparent suicide. Can you give us any details that the White House knows about that? Has the President been informed? And what else can you tell us about that?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Secret Service for information about that. We, here at the White House, are aware of it, and the President is, but I don’t have any details for you on it.
Q The jobs reports -- obviously, this is the last one before the campaign. You guys have been anticipating this for a while. The President didn’t really mention it very much in his remarks. How do you feel it’s going to have an impact on the campaign in the next few days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, he did mention it during his remarks this morning, the President did. I think that there are two questions that the American people sitting at home at their kitchen tables are asking themselves as it relates to the economy. One is, how far have we come? Have we made progress? The facts are clear: nearly 5.5 million jobs created over 32 straight months. Manufacturing sector -- we’ve seen progress; we saw that in the numbers today. And we’ve seen progress in people reentering the workforce.
The second question is where we go from here. And as they’re looking at the choice in this election over the next few days, it’s which path do they feel is a better path. So in that regard, that’s how we think people are thinking about the jobs numbers. We don’t think -- and I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating -- that people are sitting at home, clicking refresh on their BLS websites. It’s how does it impact them; what does it mean; and who has a better plan for the middle class moving forward.
Q On the three states that Romney is trying to make a play for -- Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan -- are you guys still of the mind that the polls favor you there and that the President and the Vice President will not be traveling there between now and Election Day?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Mitt Romney and his team are desperately seeking a path to 270, and they’re looking for any possible way. At this stage in an election, four days before Election Day, you want a path that you can drive a Mack truck through, not one that you can drive mini scooter through. And they’re doing more mini scooter shopping than they are Mack truck shopping at this stage in the race.
If you look at any of those states, these are places where they’ve never been up in a poll. They don’t have a ground game. And they don’t have a clear path to victory. And they’re playing a bit of mind game here by trying to explore the ways they can get to 270 because they know Ohio is a tough nut for them to crack.
Q So no travel from Obama or Biden?
MS. PSAKI: Our travel has not changed over the next couple of days, nor has the Vice President’s.
Q -- early voting this weekend in Ohio in particular where that was a subject of some litigation?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. As you know, we won that court case, which, fortunately, ensured that the people across Ohio, including military -- members of the military, could vote early. That’s great because it enables people to vote for three more days than they would have been able to.
I mentioned the statistics -- more than 25 percent of people in the state have already voted. We expect more people will continue to early vote this weekend. As you know, the President will be back repeatedly and he’ll keep making that pitch this weekend.
Colorado and Nevada, today is the last day of early voting, which is one of the reasons we were there yesterday. But we feel good about where we are. We feel good about how it set us up going in Election Day. And we think it poses a challenge for Mitt Romney and his team to overcome our early vote lead.
Q -- the campaign to maximize the opportunity to vote?
MS. PSAKI: As to why we’re going back this weekend? Or --
Q In this litigation, just to have as wide a window? I mean, what’s the thinking there about having so many days to vote?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, our focus has always been ensuring that anybody who’s eligible to vote has the opportunity to vote. And we know people’s lives are busy. We want to provide as much flexibility as possible. That means expanded hours, expanded days where possible. And we were thrilled that we won the court case because it gives that many more day for people across Ohio to early vote -- just in case who know what happens on Election Day.
Q Just really quick before you go, can you -- how does the President plan to spend Election Day? Because he already voted.
MS. PSAKI: I’ll probably have to get back to you on that question. He’ll be spending some time obviously doing some GOTV, radio and satellite TV throughout the day; some time with his family. As of now, I don’t have any update on the schedule, so we’ll have to let you guys know as soon as we have more details on it.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.
3:20 P.M. EDT