White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, August 1, 2012

En Route Mansfield, Ohio–(ENEWSPF)–August 1, 2012 – 10:28 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome aboard Air Force One.  For those of you who don’t know, we are on a smaller airplane.  But Air Force One is a designation; it is not a specific aircraft.  If we were on the Delta Shuttle, it would be Air Force One.  But we’re not.

And with that I will make a quick announcement at the top just to remind you that as of today, on August 1st, 12.8 million Americans will benefit from $1.1 billion in rebates from insurance companies that were made possible by the Affordable Care Act.  Today is the deadline for these rebates to be delivered to consumers.  The law requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of consumers’ premium dollars on health care — not advertising, bonuses or overhead.  If insurance companies do not meet that standard, they must provide rebates to their consumers.

The rebates are just another example of how the Affordable Care Act is giving consumers a better value for their health care dollar and making our health care system stronger. 

With that, I’ll turn it over to Jen, who I think has a topper, as well.  It is $1.1 billion in rebates to 12.8 million Americans, who I am sure will be glad to have those rebates.

MS. PSAKI:  So two quick things before we take your questions.  One is the President in his remarks this morning will talk about a new report by the Tax Policy Center that found that if Governor Romney wants to keep his word on his $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires, he would have to cut tax breaks that middle-class families depend on.  I encourage you all to read the report.

It also states that the top 1/10 of 1 percent — 1/10 of 1 percent of people — people making more than $3 million a year would get a tax cut of $250,000, while families making less than $200,000 would get their tax — a tax increase of $2,000.  So to be clear, to summarize here, this is the one big idea that Mitt Romney has put out there, which is his tax plan.  His tax plan would give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires and people making $3 million a year $250,000 tax cuts while raising taxes on middle-class families by $2,000 per family.

The second piece, which you may have seen, but I just wanted to highlight for you, too, is that we put out a new campaign ad yesterday.  I know we weren’t traveling so you may not have seen it, but the campaign ad is called “Worried.”  It highlights the choice voters face between Mitt Romney and President Obama’s plans for the deficit.  It’s playing in six states around the country — Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Florida.

With that, we’ll take your questions.

MR. CARNEY:  Questions?  That’s it? 

MS. PSAKI:  Everyone happy?

MR. CARNEY:  Can I note as a matter of policy that — at least the story I read about it, the Tax Policy Center, which is an independent outfit headed by a Republican, according to The Washington Post that wrote about it this morning, the Tax Policy Center went out of their way to be generous to the Republican plan and its assumptions and still concluded, as you have heard us say, that the only way — and this is a matter of policy in contrast to the President’s proposals — that the only way that the plan put forward by a leading Republican could work and be revenue-neutral is — and provide all those tax cuts to upper-income Americans is to provide — is to cause significant tax hikes to middle-class Americans.

And as you know, the President’s proposals are quite different and focus on extending tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people and asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more so that we can build our economy in a way that expands the middle class.

Q    Jen, can you address the new Romney campaign ad that faults the President for closing car dealerships?

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  It’s pretty incredible and actually shocking that Mitt Romney and his team would go so far as to be critical of the President’s record on autos when he clearly isn’t familiar, or his team isn’t familiar, with the facts, which is that the President’s actions saved a million jobs — nearly a million jobs; 2,200 — let me just check this
— but 2,200 jobs, I believe, for dealerships in Ohio alone. 

And Mitt Romney is the same person who wrote an op-ed saying, “let Detroit go bankrupt.”  If we had done that, if the country had done that, if the President had done that, it would have been disastrous for not only Ohio but the country. 

Again, one other thing to mention is one in eight jobs in Ohio is dependent on the auto industry.  So I think we were surprised by the ad, and the facts are pretty clearly on the President’s side and the courageous steps he took to save the industry.

Q    Do you have any response to the emails that have been released that suggest White House officials were — outright say White House officials were holding meetings off-site to avoid the disclosure that comes with the WAVES system?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Republicans have spent a great deal of time and money on investigations which they themselves have characterized as political.  With regards to this particular issue, in a recent report from a Capitol Hill newspaper, a Republican on Capitol Hill said that it would be a good thing politically to go after Jim Messina because of his role in the campaign. 

That is not what the American people want their elected officials in Washington to be focusing on, especially at a time when Congress has within its power the opportunity to take action to, A, extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people; B, pass legislation proposed by the President that would put teachers, firefighters, policemen, construction workers back on the job, and grow the economy and add a million jobs to the bottom line.  That’s what Congress should be focusing on.

Q    Jay, but that doesn’t address the question of whether — of Messina writing in an email suggesting that a meeting be held off campus at Caribou Coffee, specifically to avoid being in the log book.

MR. CARNEY:  But you know from the facts and demonstrated by this is that Mr. Messina had a longstanding personal email account in which he got traffic.  In an effort to comply with all the regulations pertaining to emails, he would forward emails to his White House account or copy his White House account so that those emails would be part of presidential record.  And that is per guidance provided by counsel.

Q    Is it a White House practice to hold meetings off — outside of the White House to avoid people making it into the log book?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything on this specific issue.  What I can tell you is that Mr. Messina would copy his own emails into the White House account so that the record was established.

Q    That’s not — you realize that’s not what we’re asking about.

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything on that particular email or that particular meeting.

Q    Have you ever held meetings off campus to avoid people being in the log book?

MR. CARNEY:  I have had meetings with you guys off campus all the time, and it’s true that I don’t want people to know that I meet with you because I try to keep better company.  I’m joking.

Any other questions?

Q    Do you have anything more on the aircraft that are being decommissioned or are in line for being decommissioned at the base where we’re landing in Mansfield?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, the President made some very important policy decisions, keeping commitments that he made during the campaign to end the war in Iraq, to ramp up and refocus our efforts in Afghanistan, and then to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  As part of his foreign policy, national security strategy, he supported cuts that were passed and supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress that bring reductions in our defense spending. 

Regarding the air base, there is a redundancy in terms of the aircraft that this National Guard air base is home to at this point, but the President is committed to finding another mission for the National Guard unit at this particular air base.  But again, let’s be clear, the reductions in spending that are part of this effort are the result of policy decisions to end the war in Iraq, to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  And they were supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Q    What would be some possible alternative missions?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you the Defense Department.  I mean, there are obviously many missions that can be fulfilled by the dedicated members of the National Guard across the country.

Q    Jay, Panetta met with Netanyahu today.  Is there any
— does the White House believe that the U.S. and Israel are in lockstep on how to deal with Iran?  Netanyahu expressed concerns that the West may not be doing all that it can to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me provide you something on that if I may.  The President has been clear that he is committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  And as part of that goal, the administration has implemented what President Ahmadinejad said last month are “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” 

Sanctions are having a significant impact on the Iranian economy and the Iranian government’s ability to access revenue.  And that has consequences on what they can spend money on, including on technology for their nuclear program.  And we are seeing increasing cracks in the Iranian leadership.  And that is a result of the pressure that they are under as the consequences for making the wrong choices continue to steadily increase.

The purpose of sanctions is to affect the decisions the Iranian government makes.  And since Iran has not yet decided to come in line with their international obligations, we are disappointed — as Prime Minister Netanyahu is — that Iran continues to ignore its international obligations.  The United States remains committed to a diplomatic solution, but the onus  is on Iran. 

If the Iranian government continues to ignore its international obligations, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to hold Iran accountable.  I think you heard Secretary Panetta make clear that the effort to isolate and pressure Iran to reduce the resources it has available to spend money on programs like its nuclear programs will continue.  We announced — the President announced — new sanctions just yesterday.  That effort will continue.

We have also made clear that while we believe there is time and space for this sanctions regime and this effort to allow for Iran to make the choice it needs to make — which is to abide by its international obligations, to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions — that door is closing and it will not remain open indefinitely.  And the President remains committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we, of course, keep all options on the table as part of the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    Well, I think the heart of the question was whether the U.S. and Israel are on the same page.

MR. CARNEY:  The U.S. and Israel are — as we’ve seen in recent days, have an extremely close and cooperative relationship both militarily and in terms of intelligence.  We share information regularly on what is happening in Iran with regards to its behavior and its fulfillment, or lack thereof, of its international obligations.  And we agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Iranian regime has yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its weapons — nuclear weapons ambitions and fulfill its obligations.

But it is also the case that the sanctions regime is unprecedented in history, that it is exacting a toll on the Iranian economy and the Iranian government, that Iranian officials themselves have acknowledged bitterly.  And the purpose of the sanctions and the purpose of continuing to ratchet them up is to apply relentless and ceaseless pressure on Tehran and to force it to make a choice — rejoin the international community, abide by its international obligations or face the consequences.  And they are feeling consequences as we speak.

Q    Do you agree with Netanyahu’s statement that the sanctions have not deterred Iran’s nuclear program in his words “one iota” — he says “not one iota”?

MR. CARNEY:  I just said that he — there’s a point at which Iran makes the decision to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.  That’s the point of this broad international consensus behind the sanctions regime.  And it’s the point behind the effort to continue to ratchet them up, to put increasing pressure on Iran. 

We completely agree with the Prime Minister’s assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice, and that is absolutely a disappointment.  But the fact is the regime is having significant effect on the Iranian economy, having significant effect on the Iranian government.  It is making it increasingly difficult for the Iranians to access the resources necessary to fund various programs like the nuclear weapons program, its nuclear program. 

Q    So you disagree that it’s having no effect?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that the question is — obviously, there is one purpose to the sanctions regime, which is to change Iranian behavior, to make Iran make a different choice.  That has not happened yet.  But up and until the moment that it does happen — if it does, which we hope it does — obviously, they will not have had their desired effect.
But this is a process that we are undertaking, because the window remains open.  There is time and space to pursue this diplomatic option, even as we make clear that there is not unlimited time and space, and as we make clear that all options remain on the table.

Q    So you’re saying the sanctions have not yet had their desired effect?

MR. CARNEY:  They have not yet had their desired — of course, if the sanctions had forced Iran to make the decision to live up to its international obligations, Iran would have made the choice that would have allowed them to rejoin the community of nations and obtain some relief from the sanctions.  The purpose of the sanctions is to change Iranian behavior.  Now, that change has not yet come.  But that does not mean the sanctions are not having an effect on and an impact on the economy or on the regime.

Q    Jay, given the latest developments in Syria, just quickly, is there anything to announce in terms of the President’s foreign leader calls or any additional steps the U.S. is taking?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any new calls to read out to you on Syria, in particular, or foreign leader calls to read out to you.  I think some of you may have seen the statement put out by President Assad, and his recent remarks show him for the coward that he is.  He hides out of sight, encouraging the heavily-armed Syrian military to continue slaughtering civilians in his name.

There is no military honor in shelling a city full of innocent civilians.  There is no integrity in driving thousands of people from their homes, literally causing them to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs in an attempt to save their lives.  

The architect of this crisis in Syria is Bashar al-Assad.  Any attempt by the Syrian regime or its friends to cast doubt on that fact is nothing more than a smokescreen.

Recently, Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia called for the Assad government to “make the first move” in ceasing military action, as Assad himself agreed to do under Annan’s — Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.  Yet the Russians refuse to assign consequences to Assad if he doesn’t take this step.  Such calls would be much more meaningful if they were backed by consequences for noncompliance.

As you know, that is a reiteration of our disappointment at the decision made by Russia and China to veto all three attempts to pass a meaningful resolution against Assad at the United Nations Security Council.  We continue our efforts to try to build international consensus as we continue our efforts with the “Friends of Syria” and other partners to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.  At this point, I think we have provided $64 million of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, as well as non-lethal assistance to the opposition.

Q    And, finally, can you tell us — did the President watch the U.S. women’s gymnastics last night?  Has he spoken to the team?  Does he plan to call them?  Any other Olympic updates?

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you that we — the President and I and others — spent some time before and during the trip on Marine One discussing the remarkable accomplishments of American athletes yesterday in London at the Olympics.  He did watch.  He did have the opportunity to watch both the success of the men’s American relay team that resulted in Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian in history. 

And he also watched with extreme admiration the women’s gymnastics team.  He remarked that it is astounding what they are capable of doing, and the pressure that they are under, and the fact that any mistake — any single mistake can cost you everything on a stage like the Olympic Games is just a testament to their skill and their strength of character.  And he was quite impressed. 

Q    Does the President think the American people deserve to watch the Olympic Games live as they happen?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I know that he is just grateful that he had the time to watch some of the competition.  I have not had a discussion with him about the coverage. 

Q    Has he called Phelps or the women’s team?

MR. CARNEY:  He has not.  I have not — I don’t have any calls to read out at this time.

MS. PSAKI:  He did tweet back and forth with Phelps, though, you may have seen.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you saw him tweet.  Michael Phelps tweeted back — so some breaking news for all of you.

MR. CARNEY:  There you go.

Q    He personally tweeted or his account?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, yes.  He personally tweeted about Michael Phelps’ historic achievement.

Q    So when he decides to tweet something like that, does he run it by someone first?  Or does he just literally call up Twitter and type it in?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you’d be surprised to learn that we trust the President’s judgment and his communications skills.  And what he would like to tweet on Twitter, we let him just run free with that. 

MR. CARNEY:  True story.  Thanks, guys.

10:48 A.M. EDT