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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
______________________
For Immediate Release                          September 3, 2012

PRESS GAGGLE
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY

Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Orleans, Louisiana

3:16 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for joining us aboard Air Force One as we make our way from Toledo, Ohio to New Orleans, Louisiana.

As you know, later today the President will visit an area of Louisiana that was affected by Hurricane Isaac in St. John the Baptist Parish.  He will get a tour of some of the damage.  He will also be briefed by local officials and emergency responders.

Among those he will be meeting with are Governor Jindal, Senators Landrieu and Vitter, local members of Congress, as well as parish presidents.

With that, we can take your questions.  I don't think Jen has anything to open with.

MS. PSAKI:  Just one thing.  I sent this to all of you this morning, and I know it's mid-afternoon now, but just -- we have a new ad out there on the air in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia that highlights the choice the American -- the middle class is facing between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  So you should have that in your inboxes.  And, as you know, tomorrow we'll continue on the road to Charlotte in Norfolk, Virginia -- getting closer to Charlotte.

Q    I believe you started talking about this yesterday, but what's your response -- the Republicans have said they're going to bookend the convention with this “are you better off than you were four years ago” message.  What's your response to that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, are we better off?  Are the American people better off than they were in September of 2008 when we were losing 432,000 jobs a month?  That’s how many we lost in September.  I would say, yes.

And if you talk to one of the 250,000 autoworkers the President mentioned today who has a job because of his effort to save the auto industry, if you talk to a young person who is on their parent's health care because of the effort he made to pass the Affordable Care Act, or a senior who is saving hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs, somebody who was able to stay in their home because of what he did for the housing sector and all the assistance for refinancing -- then, yes.

Is there more we need to do?  Absolutely.  And the President has spoken about that at nearly every event he's done.  He'll continue to talk about it in the months ahead.  And part of this choice that he'll lay out this week is also a question of who will the American people be better off with in the White House.  Will they be better off with Mitt Romney, someone who thinks tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires are more important than reducing taxes and reducing the burden on the middle class, or President Obama, who has clearly laid out that improving the economic security of the middle class is his top priority?  And you'll hear more about that in now fewer days than it was yesterday.  

Q    Jay, one of the themes that the President has had in his reelection campaign is that he's looking out for everybody, uses government as a force of fairness, tax fairness, whereas he thinks Governor Romney is more of “you're on your own” -- portrays Governor Romney as “you're on your own” philosophy.  Does that kind of vision apply in a situation like this when we go to disaster relief, where the President is there to have a presence and explain how the government can help people?  Does that apply in this kind of situation?  Or do you think disaster relief is sort of apolitical?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that disasters are apolitical.  And I think that the way we respond to disasters should be apolitical.  And from the day he took office, this President has been very specific in terms of directing those in the federal government, who have a responsibility for responding to natural disasters, to do their jobs as professionally as possible.

When it comes to the kinds of choices politicians make in Washington about what their priorities are, it is worth noting that last year there was an effort to underfund the money that's used to provide relief to Americans when they've been hit by disasters.  And that effort was led by Congressman Paul Ryan, who is now running to be Vice President of the United States.

I think that when you travel around the country and visit Americans who have been affected profoundly by tornadoes, fires, storms and hurricanes, it's a reminder that we're all in this together and that it's sort of fundamental to the American experience that we help our neighbors.

MS. PSAKI:  One thing just to add -- and I completely echo what Jay said about disasters being apolitical.  Obviously, Governor Romney was down there on Friday, hearing from the state, taking information back to his team.  And the President is doing the same today.  Don't take our word for it -- Mary Landrieu, the Senator from the state, issued a very strongly worded statement -- I'm happy to get it around to anyone who hasn't seen it -- about the impact that those budget priorities have had on places like Louisiana.

So as much as this trip and Mitt Romney's trip on Friday were about speaking directly to the people there, there also are some clear differences in what the different sides in this election are presenting.

Q    Jay, did the White House have any interaction at all with the New York Attorney General's office on its private equity investigation?

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I'm aware of.  I think that's something that I would refer you to Treasury on.  But I'm not aware of any interaction.

Q    Jay, following up on yesterday, the President seemed to change his phrasing a little bit on Afghanistan in the speech today.  He didn’t say that all the troops would be home by 2014. Did he do that for a reason?

MR. CARNEY:  I'd like to take this, because there's been some profoundly unsophisticated reporting about this.  As anyone who has covered the President's Afghan policy, who traveled with us to Bagram, who covered Lisbon and the NATO conference there understands it is the policy of the United States, it is the policy of NATO that the mission will end in 2014.  And we are transitioning, even as we speak, to Afghan security lead.

It is the President’s policy, which is being implemented now, that is resulting in 33,000 troops -- the so-called surge troops, U.S. troops -- coming home, and they will be home before the end of this month.  And it is the President’s policy to continue to draw down American troops -- which will be roughly at a 70,000 level after those 33,000 are drawn down -- steadily through 2014 when the mission will end, and all those troops, American and otherwise, who are there in Afghanistan associated with the NATO mission, will come home.

     It is certainly possible that we will continue to have a relationship with Afghanistan that involves one or both of two things: counterterrorism and training.  But that is something that would have to be negotiated with the Afghan government, much as there were negotiations with the Iraqi government when we ended our mission there.  But the President has been crystal clear that we are winding down the war in Afghanistan, that we will transfer security responsibility entirely to the Afghan Security Forces in 2014, and the mission will end.

     And we have cooperative security relationships that involve things like training with a number of other countries.  But that is wholly different from the very specific and concrete fact that his policy is to wind down the war and withdraw our troops.

     MS. PSAKI:  One thing just to add, while the President speaks on a regular basis, on the campaign trail, about not just his plans to wind down our troop presence in Afghanistan, but also what he wants to do for veterans when they return home, his support for and value for military families -- when Mitt Romney had the opportunity to have the biggest platform he will have between now and November and probably since he’s ever entered public life, he failed to mention this, or discuss his plans.

     So this is also a serious contrast between what they feel are important, what their priorities are, and who has a more -- a better plan for winding things down.

     Q    With Romney doing debate prep, can you give us a sense of where the President is on that?

     MS. PSAKI:  Well, I appreciate the opportunity to lay out our debate prep calendar for you today.  We aren’t going to -- I’m sure it comes as no surprise -- we aren’t going to lay out what our plans are for debate prep.  Of course, at some point, we will be doing some.

I will say that nobody should forget that Mitt Romney has had a lot of practice in recent months.  He has done -- I’m not sure, I think more than a dozen debates in the last year with his former Republican competitors; talked about all the issues that we’re going to be talking about over the next couple of months.  So one thing we know is he’s had a lot of practice.

     Q    Are you saying he doesn’t need any right now?  What do you mean by that?

     MS. PSAKI:  I’m saying that while the President has been governing and he has been campaigning for a few months, Mitt Romney has been campaigning for more than a year and has spent a fair amount of that time debating many of the issues that the President and Mitt Romney will be debating over the next couple of months.

     Q    Can I just follow up on the politicization of this trip -- Louisiana, Mitt Romney going?  I mean, you mentioned Paul Ryan; you talk about the budget cut.  So as the President has been drawing these clear contrasts between him and Mitt Romney heading into Charlotte, is this one of those contrasts?

     MS. PSAKI:  I think we’ve been pretty clear that that’s not at all what today is about.  There is a difference in their budget priorities, and they have taken -- the President and the Romney/Ryan team a different approach to funding disaster preparedness.  So that is a real contrast in general.

But the trip today, just as Governor Romney’s trip was on Friday, is not at all about politics.  This is about what the people of Louisiana have been going through, what they’re still going through, the people who have lost their homes, who have applied for assistance.  And the President is looking forward to hearing directly from them, just as I’m sure Governor Romney was on Friday.

     MR. CARNEY:  I just want to reiterate that this is about the storm and the effect of the storm and the response, and the President wanting to see firsthand the impacts of the storm and wanting to hear from state and local officials, as well as others, about what is -- how the response has been thus far, what needs remain unmet.  And he wants to make sure that the various disaster declarations that he issued are being utilized and that citizens in the affected regions are able to -- has allowed now, because of his actions, applying directly for that assistance.

     The point about disasters in general and making sure that we have the funds necessary to respond to them was raised by officials in the region.  I mean, it’s a simple fact that there was this debate, that that money -- the administration fought hard to ensure that that money was there, because it’s just reality, as you know, that we have these disasters across the country of various kinds, and we need to be able to respond and we need to have the resources to respond.

     Q    Thanks.

                                                END                3:31 P.M. EDT

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