Subject: WH Travel Pool Report #4
Gaggle Report (Many thanks to co-pooler Reid Epstein of Politico)
The main headline from the Gaggle was the White House’s description of the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi as a “terrorist attack.” I’ve put that exchange at the top, with the rest of the Gaggle below it.
Q: Al-Q involved in attack and former Guantanomo detainee/terrorist attack
Carney: “The sources that you cite include the open hearing with the NCTC director, Mr. Olsen, in which he discussed indications of possible involvement of elements of extremist groups including possible participation of elements of al-Qaeda, particularly al-Qaeda in the Magreb.”
“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self-evidenct. I would point you to a couple of things that Mr Olsen said, which is that at this point…”
(repeats Olsen’s testimony from yesterday)
“He also made clear … that at this point based on the information he has … we have no information at this point to suggest that this is a significantly pre-planned attack. But this was the result of opportunism, taking advantage of and exploiting what was happening as a result of the video which was found to be offensive.”
Q: does potus see it a terrorist attack on 9/11?
Carney: “The attack occurred on SEpt 11, 2012, so we use the same calendar at the White House as you do and yes, he sees it, I will simply point you to the testimony of Mr. Olsen and he says based on the information that they have now, and this is an ongoing investigation, their judgement is that it was an opportunistic attack in which elements, including possible elements of al-Qaeda in the Magreb, participated.”
Carney: “Had this happened on any day of the week on any month, this would have been a terrorist attack. This was an assault on our embassy, a violent attack, rather, on our diplomatic facility there that resulted in the death of four Americans.”
Q: schedule for next week at the UN?
Carney: no bilateral meetings scheduled.
Q: he is doing “the View” but doesn’t have time to meet with foreign leaders?
Carney: “I think his engagement with foreign leaders has been and will continue to be extremely robust.”
Q: does he not have time?
Carney: “I’m simply saying that we don’t have any schedule updates at this time.”
Q: will there be a tougher line from potus on the Romney 47% video?
Psaki: “The question that we should all raise from that video is, who is Mitt Romney talking about? was he talking about military veterans returning from serving overseas who are receiving benefits? Was he talking about seniors… Is he talking about students who work two jobs?”
“I don’t want to preview what the president will talk about. Obviously, we’ve said we’re looking at this for other forms of paid media, I don’t have any preview for that either.”
Raps Romney for foreign policy issues – runs through London Olympics flap, convention speech, Libya.
“Again this week we’ve seen further evidence that he says something different in public than private and again, this continues to feed into the narrative and raise questions about whether he’s prepared.”
“I’m not going to preview our strategy.”
Q: not meeting with Netanyahu… concern that he has taken sides in the election?
Psaki: Netanyahu made clear he has “no desire to get involved or get engaged in presidential politics.”
Carney: Netanyahu and Ehud Barak “have made clear in the past that the level of cooperation and support for Israel’s security that this administration have provided are unprecedented in the US-Israel relationship.”
Q: After Suu Kyi visit, will the president visit Burma when he goes to ASEAN?
Carney: “I have no foreign travel updates for you today.”
Q: discussion with Suu Kyi of easing Burma sanctions?
Carney: Was a broad conversation, not going to get into specific items that were discussed.
Carney addendum: “According to the best information we have now, we believe it was an opportunistic attack on our mission in Benghazi, it appears that some well-armed militants seized on that attack as the events unfolded that evening. WE do not have any specific intelligence that there was significant advance planning or coordination for this attack.”
Jay Carney opened on a light note, noting Sen. John McCain’s complaint that at Nationals Parks, the mascot for Teddy Roosevelt has never won the Race of the Presidents
“This is an outrage. I agree with Sen. McCain, I’m comfortable saying my boss agrees with Sen. McCain.”
Carney noted that Obama gave a memorable speech in Oswatamie, Kansas, also famous as the site of a Teddy Roosevelt speech.
Jen Psaki started off with a critique of Mitt Romney’s appearance at the Univision town hall. Romney delivered a 35-minute presentation on why Latinos and middle-class voters “can’t trust him.”
He said he’d veto the Dream Act, he criticized the Obama administration’s deferred action policy on undocumented immigrants, refused to answer whether he’d continue the Executive Order, doubled down on self-deportation, and said he was happy to the grandfather of the health-care plan.
Asked about Romney’s criticism that Obama hasn’t helped Latinos economically, Psaki cited his administration’s immigration policy, saying Romney has “the most extreme position of any candidate in modern history running for president on that issue.”
“That alone is not a winning package of policies for Latino voters,” she said.
Psaki broadened out to health care, saying that 9 million Latinos have health care because of the AFA, which Romney would repeal. “That’s bad news for Latino families,” she said.
Romney, she said, would education funding by 20 percent and would pursue a less favorable tax policy for middle class families. “We’re happy to line up any day of the week the president’s policies,” she said.
Carney added that middle-class Americans had seen their taxes go down an average of $3,600 since Obama took office. “That includes middle class Hispanic Americans,” he said. Carney added that Obama has sought to make it easier to refinance home mortgages.
And he said the president’s Jobs Act, blocked by Republicans in Congress, included infrastructure investments that would benefit the Latino-intensive construction industry.
Asked about the forthcoming IG Report on the Columbian prostitution scandal, and a Fox report that it implicated two White House advance team members, Carney noted that the report was not yet public, and that WH has not seen it.
“I have no comment on an IG report that nobody has seen,” he said. “We’ll await the report.”
Carney said the WH stands by a report from its counsel’s office last spring that concluded no WH staff were involved in the incident.
Asked about Obama’s video conference with President Hamid Karzai, Carney offered a readout, saying the two presidents discussed “a range of issues,” including efforts to stem insider attacks on US and coalition forces and “the importance of continuing to encourage restraint and nonviolence in response to inflammatory materials,” and the importance of implementing the Strategic Framework and Partnership Agreement.
The two leaders, Carney said, agreed to continue efforts at reconciliation, with Obama affirming his commitment to Afghan sovereignty.
On green-on-blue attacks, Carney said, “This is obviously a matter of concern, and that concern has led to ISAF issuing a directive to heighten protection for, and take measures to protect our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Asked about some good news on the housing front, Carnet said, “any piece of data that indicates improvement in the housing market is welcome. But our reaction to individual pieces of data is always fairly muted because we look at trends.”
“Work still needs to be done,” he added, repeating his call for Congress to pass legislation making it easier to refinance mortgages.