En Route New York, New York–(ENEWSPF)–August 22, 2012 – 3:15 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: I do have a couple quick announcements before we get started that I wanted to make you aware of.
In recent days, an increased number of cases of West Nile virus have been reported primarily in Texas and in communities across the southern United States. The President has been briefed on the increase in the number of West Nile virus cases. White House staff are in regular contact with the experts at the CDC, and the President will continue to receive updates as necessary.
The CDC is working closely with state and local officials and have sent experts to Texas to help local officials in their response, including providing technical assistance on prevention activities and disease surveillance.
The CDC will continue to provide information to Americans about how to protect themselves, and I would refer you to the CDC for more details about our response efforts. You can also find some useful information about West Nile virus by visiting CDC.gov/WestNile.
The second thing is the President, this morning, received an update from FEMA on their efforts to prepare for tropical storm Isaac, which appears headed for the Eastern Caribbean Sea. FEMA has been in close coordination with local officials and emergency managers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning. FEMA has already deployed IMATs — which are Incident Management Assistance Teams — to the U.S. Virgin Islands and to Puerto Rico, and they’ve already sent liaisons to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico emergency operation centers.
It’s still far too early to tell whether the storm could pose immediate threat to the United States coastline, so FEMA encourages coastal residents to monitor weather conditions closely and follow the direction of local officials. Folks can also visit ready.gov for more information. But I did want to point out that out of an abundance of caution, FEMA, through its Region Four offices, is in touch with states throughout the southeastern United States.
Q Will Vice President Biden go to Tampa or —
MR. EARNEST: Jen may have an update for you.
MS. PSAKI: Well, actually, it’s not specifically to that. As of now, yes. But next week, President Obama, the First Lady and Vice President Biden will all be out on the trail, laying out the choice the American people are facing in November, cutting through some of the political chatter. So I’m just going to run through some of the details of their schedules just so you have it all in one place.
President Obama is making a two-day college tour in Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia next week to talk to America’s youth about the choice in this election between moving America forward and going back. On Tuesday, August 28th, he will attend campaign events in Ames, Iowa, and Fort Collins, Colorado. And on Wednesday, August 29th, the President will attend campaign events in Charlottesville, Virginia. We’ll have additional details, as per usual, in the coming days.
Next week, on Monday, August 27th, and Tuesday, August 28th — and you already know this, but the Vice President will travel to the Tampa area and other cities for campaign events. He’s going to the belly of the beast and talking to Floridians, including seniors and Latinos, about the choice in the election between moving forward and going back.
And finally, the First Lady is also set to appear in her official capacity on the Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday, August 29th, as part of a back-to-school media tour that will include two other as yet announced programs she’ll also tape in New York on Wednesday. The interviews will air in mid-September.
Q — be more of a category 4 or a category 3 storm?
Q Oh, come on, you can answer.
MS. PSAKI: I think Biden is like a sunny day to the middle-class families across this country who are looking for someone who is going to fight for them in the White House.
Q Josh, two foreign policy questions. Today the foreign minister of Israel called on the international community to oust Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that he’s been an obstacle to peace. He wants new elections in the Palestinian Authority. I wondered if the President agrees.
And also, I wanted to ask you about the visit in September by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is coming for three days in September. Will the President meet with him?
MR. EARNEST: On your first question, Jim, I have not actually seen those comments, so I would refer you back to my colleagues in Washington who I’m sure are monitoring this more closely.
In terms of any foreign leader visits or meetings that the President may have, I know that he’ll have at least a couple of bilateral meetings when he’s at the United Nations General Assembly, but I don’t have any meetings to read out with President Morsi.
Q Also on foreign policy, do you have a reaction to Secretary Ban’s decision to go to the summit in Tehran?
MR. EARNEST: It is our view that the Iranian regime is hoping to capitalize on the international conference there, to try to distract attention from just how isolated they are from the broader international community, stemming directly from their failure to live up to their international obligations when it comes to their nuclear program.
There are some world leaders who have chosen to attend that conference anyway. And we hope they will use that as an opportunity to raise the concerns that have been expressed all across the international community about the Iranian regime’s behavior, and encourage them to — use this as an opportunity to encourage the Iranian regime to live up to their international obligations.
Q A separate question on the economy. The CBO today released a report about the fiscal cliff, that it will be even worse for the economy next year than previously expected if that — if a solution is not found. Any reaction from the President to that?
MR. EARNEST: Two separate reactions, I think. The first one is, it illustrates how damaging it is for House Republicans to stand in the way of a policy that enjoys broad bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., which is ensuring that taxes will not be raised on 98 percent of Americans, 97 percent of American small businesses next year.
As you know, this is something that passed the United States Senate, and the only thing standing in the way are House Republicans who are holding those tax cuts for middle-class families hostage in an effort to protect tax benefits enjoyed by millionaires and billionaires. The CBO report illustrates the damaging impact that that effort could have on the economy next year.
The second thing is the CBO report also illustrates the need for Congress to take action on a long-term deficit reduction package. The President put forward a specific balanced package that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. This is an important effort because of the broader economic consequences for failing to act. Specifically because the Budget Control Act that was passed with the strong support of a large number of Republicans in both the House and the Senate, there are — the Budget Control Act contemplates some pretty serious cuts to things like Medicare, to education, some investments in infrastructure, and also national defense — something that our national defense leadership has said could have an impact on our national security.
So the broader economic impact that’s illustrated by the CBO report illustrates just how important it is for Congress to finally act on a deficit reduction package — a deficit reduction package that’s balanced, that makes some difficult cuts to government spending, but also asks those at the top of the income scale to pay their fair share.
Q — that the Fed has signaled that it’s willing to do some more stimulus activity in the economy?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the reports on this topic, but as you know, we don’t comment on Fed actions or contemplated Fed actions. So at this point I don’t have a reaction to share with you.
Q The CBO report, though, seems to suggest that any deficit reduction that takes place here in this economic condition could have damaging effects to the economy. So is it the President’s position that you can still do deficit reduction and still raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans here in a downturn without having a worse effect?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President does believe that it is in our nation’s economic interest to finally deal with our budget challenges that have been put off for too long. The important part of that, though, is it’s not just a matter of dealing with that problem, dealing with that challenge, it’s how we deal with that challenge.
And if we deal with that challenge in a balanced way, where we ask those at the top of the income scale to pay their fair share, and protect the current tax cuts that are enjoyed by 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of American small businesses, and also continue to make very important investments in infrastructure, in clean energy, in research and development, in education — that we can have a positive impact on our economy by taking those kinds of measures, by adopting that balanced approach. That’s what the President thinks is so critical.
There is a fundamental difference of opinion, though — that there are Republicans who — too many — who are currently in Congress and even the President’s opponent in this election, who have said that we can deal with our budget challenges by slashing important investments in, as I mentioned, in clean energy and infrastructure. That would have a devastating toll on our economy, both in the short term, but also over the long term.
So the President believes that we can deal with all of these challenges and do it in a way that strengthens our economy. And the President hopes that the Congress will act. It’s something the President has been calling on Congress to do for quite some time now.
Q The last time the President played basketball off campus was May 11th with Tobey Maguire and George Clooney, height being 5’8 and 5’11. Today, he’ll be going up against Mourning, Patrick Ewing, 7-footer. Has the President been practicing?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if he’s been practicing. I know that he’s played at least a couple of times since then in Washington. I know that two or three weeks ago, he — a Saturday morning when he went and played a little bit.
Q Is that when he injured himself? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any updated reports on the President’s — on the health of the President’s knee.
Q Four years ago he made a name for himself by making a three-pointer while traveling and visiting US troops. Why won’t we see him today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a fundraising evening we’re about to embark on. Typically, we have press access, of course, whenever the President makes remarks. You’ll have access to his remarks this evening. And we don’t — when he plays basketball all the time, and there are special occasions, like when he visited the troops, where we do make that time available. But this evening it’s just one part of the fundraising event.
Q So it’s not that you’re not letting the cameras go in there because the President is injured?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. As Josh mentioned, we don’t have any update on that. I think this is a time for him to let loose and play with some supporters who are participating in the evening, and some NBA players, and many of them will be at the dinner earlier in the day — earlier in the evening and you’ll see them all there.
Q Will he change? I mean, how serious is this? Is he going to be in his loafers out there shooting, or is he going to change?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific wardrobe update, but I do believe he will be changing his clothing for the portion of the evening.
Q Does the President think it’s appropriate for Todd Akin to remain a candidate for the U.S. Senate?
MS. PSAKI: We leave that — the President leaves that, we all leave that up to the people of Missouri to make that decision. I will say, since you asked, the President addressed this on Monday and spoke about the fact that elected officials, many of them men, shouldn’t be making decisions about a woman’s — women’s health care. That should be a decision between women and their doctors. He’s always felt that way.
There is a real choice here. It doesn’t take a profile in courage for people to step away from the comments that Todd Akin made. The vast majority — 99 percent or more of people in this country, elected officials have all stepped away. We shouldn’t lose focus on the fact that there is a serious difference between the Romney/Ryan plan on women’s health and the Obama plan on women’s health.
Not only is it part of the platform for the Republican platform committee that they voted on yesterday — I think it was yesterday — that there can’t be any exceptions for rape, but Paul Ryan worked with Todd Akin on legislation in Congress that would redefine what rape is. So we shouldn’t lost sight of that.
Last night — I don’t know if you all saw this, but he did an interview — Paul Ryan did — with a Pittsburgh station where he refused to answer questions about whether he believed there should be exceptions. He also says that he never supported limitations on birth control, which we know is not true. So this is something they’re clearly struggling with, and there’s a clear difference between what the candidates represent.
Q Does the President think it’s helpful to his campaign if Todd Akin remains the candidate?
MS. PSAKI: — on women’s health, on his support for women having choices about their own health care, and Mitt Romney’s positions on those same issues are the same today as they were two weeks ago. And we’ll continue to talk about it that way.
Q But given the amount of attention that Akin has gotten, is it good for the President that he remains the candidate?
MS. PSAKI: You are all talking about this, and it provides an opportunity to continue to lay out the choice between the President’s position and Mitt Romney’s position. So in that regard, we’re going to do that on our own. We’re up in the air in several states, as you know, talking about women’s health. We think it’s a key part of the choice in this election, something the President will continue to talk about in the months ahead. But having this debate and having the conversation about it is one we certainly welcome.
Q The President talked today about the big checks, the $10 million checks, and how those color the election. You’re going to be collecting some $20,000 checks tonight. Can you just talk a little of what the funding disparity means for the campaign?
MS. PSAKI: You know that there are many people in this — there are not many — there are a handful of people in this country who are going to try to buy this election. We’ve seen millions of dollars spent, given to the super PACs on the Republican side. And we know that our campaign — we continue to be funded and supported by low-dollar donors and low-dollar checks. Remember, the last time we reported the average donation was still around $50; 98 percent of our donations were $250, or less than $250.
This campaign is still funded by grassroots supporters, people who are giving $3, $5, $10. We are incredibly grateful to those people, because that’s the reason we can continue to open offices in many states across the country. And we also know fundraising is a part of political campaigning. And we’re not going to compete in this election with one arm tied behind our back, which is part of the reason we also need to do fundraisers like the ones we’re having this evening, and why we’ve also encouraged people to give to the Democratic super PAC, even though we believe Citizens United is a bad precedent, a bad decision that was made months ago.
3:32 P.M. EDT