(Below is a White House press pool report…it is self explanatory)
Subject: WH Travel Pool #2a: Gaggle highlights
*****As always, please check against trancript.
Josh Earnest & Jen Psaki gaggled for a half hour mid flight. Earnest began by reading out the WTO action and emphasized that the action was “months in the making,” both in the initial discussion and a back-and-forth on the political timing of the announcement.
“If you take a look at the record of this admin’s success in advocating for American workers and American entrepreneurs before the WTO, it’s clear that this is a long and consistent part of the president’s record,” The admin has won every single case it’s presented to the WTO. And has presented cases at twice the rate of the previous admin, he noted.
“I would point out that our opponents have sometimes criticized us for bringing these cases, and sometimes they haven’t.” The president isn’t focused on the politics of it, Earnest said, while adding: “This is something that you can expect to hear the president talk about, and this is something you can expect to hear the president continue to do over the course of the next 50 days. After all, it’s not as if because we’re in the midst of an election that we should just wait until next year to take these steps. Protecting the jobs of American workers, protecting the opportunities for American innovators is a top priority for the president. It has been since he took office and it is despite whatever claims are made by the president’s political opponents.”
Asked why these announcements always seem to come when the president’s going to Ohio, Earnest said they’ve happened here, the White House and other places. One of the actions the U.S. Trade Representative took today was tied to a 60-day calendar for hearing the WTO cases. “The president doesn’t believe that we should delay these kinds of important actions merely because we’re in the middle of a campaign,” Earnest said.
If it’s not political, why not announce at the White House, rather than at a campaign event?
Earnest: “As a candidate for election the president has a responsibility to balance his responsibilities, both as a candidate for election but also as president of the United States. There is particular resonance for this issue in Ohio.” Earnest later said the administration is “not looking for symbolic victories or helpful headlines. We’re looking for concrete action to level the playing field for American workers. And the president’s record stands up to that scrutiny.”
Psaki said the president is not new to this discussion, referencing tariffs placed on Chinese tariffs earlier in the administration. More broadly, Psaki said Mitt Romney has “a special kind of chutzpah that he is going to criticize the president on an issue that he has been such a strong advocate and fighter for.” One of two “chutzpah” references in the gaggle from the campaign spokeswoman. “This is a real debate … and one that we’re happy to have.”
Psaki also noted that Romney “was critical” of the tire tariffs, even though 1,000 workers are still employed. She also referenced a video that surfaced last week of Romney touring a company where he has investments in China, “where the working conditions are terrible, and he still continues to have this investment and benefit financially.”
POTUS will continue to stay in touch with his national security team, Earnest said. Over the weekend Obama called the chiefs of mission at diplomatic facilities throughout the region: Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. He “let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his. … This is something that is on his mind even as he has some responsibilities as a candidate for reelection.”
Psaki talked about how Obama is balancing campaigning with monitoring the unrest in the Middle East. She said Obama’s remarks today, though, will focus on the economy. Asked if there was a point based on developments there where the president may have to scale back his campaigning, Psaki said that if events were to dictate that were needed, “the president’s top priority is clear. But right now he’s out here in Ohio today, he’s able to receive updates, receive briefings” on the plane.
Psaki would not provide any readouts on the president’s debate prep, but suggested he’s working on his legendary long-windedness. She did confirm that he would indeed participate, but that he hasn’t participated in a debate in four years, while Romney has participated in 20 in the past year. “We know that Mitt Romney and his team have seemed to prepare more than any candidate in modern history,” she said, in a wonderful bit of expectations setting. “They’ve made clear that his performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign.”
Mr. Earnest talked about the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street movement, in response to a question, and remarked how Mr. Obama has made the middle class central in his efforts. He pointed to Democrats’ financial regulatory reform law.
On Chicago teacher strike: Psaki said not worried about any impact or distraction for campaign, contrasted POTUS and Mitt Romney’s education policies. Mr. Earnest said he had no calls to report when asked if Mr. Obama had spoken with Mayor Emanuel. “It’s everyone’s hope that this is resolved,” Psaki said. “We don’t expect that this is going to be an issue” beyond
On whether US agrees with Israeli PM Netanyahu that Iran will have 90% of what it needs to make an atomic bomb in six or seven months: Mr. Earnest said he had no update on US intelligence assessments that “if Iran were to break out of the current constraints and pursue a nuclear weapon it would take them about a year or so to develop.” … “It’s something we’re obviously monitoring.” … Mr. Obama still believes there’s time for diplomacy on Iran.
Earnest would not directly answer whether the US agrees with Mr. Netanyahu on the roughly six months time frame. “I’m not going to get into the details of our intelligence assessments.”
On Afghanistan: “We mourn the loss of those American soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan over the weekend,” Mr. Earnest said. He said POTUS and FLOTUS offer their condolences. He pointed to Pentagon efforts to mitigate insider attacks.
“Despite these insider attacks and despite the painful losses we’ve sustained, we will not let those attacks, that intimidation, diminish our efforts to achieve and succeed in this mission,” Mr. Earnest said.
Psaki ended by offering, unsolicited, her take on Mitt Romney’s readiness for being commander in chief: “Every president – male, female, no matter who it is Republican, Democrat – is going to face a crisis or multiple crises as the president has faced. What we’ve seen from Mitt Romney is a disastrous trip overseas; last week he criticized – accused the president of sympathizing with the attackers and mischaracterized a statement from our embassy; and then he had an adviser the next day go out and say that if Mitt Romney had been president this wouldn’t have happened. So this does raise a question of whether his team is ready for primetime when it comes to these issues.
Also, asked if the president had seen the new “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of him by Jay Pharoah, Earnest said he did not believe he had, but that he did take in a lot of football.
Would also note that Psaki at the beginning and at the end of the gaggle offered the pool home-baked cookies but no one took her up on the offer, at least not yet.