From: Memoli, Michael [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 02:19 PM
To: Velz, Peter T. EOP/WHO
Subject: WH Travel Pool #3b: Additional highlights from Earnest & Ashford gaggles
More from Rep. Ashford's pre-flight gaggle, including comments on the 2016 race, follows Earnest highlights on Trump, Haley and other SOTU residuals.
On Gov. Haley’s response: POTUS did not get to watch it live, but has read reports about it.
“At the White House we took note of it for the same reasons that you did," Earnest said. "She was willing to do something that a lot of other Republicans, leading Republicans, have been unwilling to do, which is to actually articulate a commitment to some core American values that some leading Republican presidential candidates are speaking out against. Or at least speaking in a way that contradicts those values. Her willingness to stand up and speak out against that took some courage, and it was rather conspicuous given the willingness of a lot of other leading Republicans to either ignore it or to try to sweep it under the rug. And in some cases we’ve seen leading Republicans been totally coopted by it.”
That’s not to say, Earnest added, that the White House agrees with Haley on everything.
“But her willingness to stand up for some important principles was noted and it took courage, and for that she deserves credit.”
Would POTUS have given a different address if Trump was not leading candidate? Earnest answered saying you “can draw a pretty straight line” from Obama’s 2004 convention speech through to his Iowa caucuses victory speech, to his two inaugural addresses.
“in each of those high profile addresses, the president offered up a fundamental optimistic vision for the country. And he delivered those addresses, at least a couple of those addresses, at times when people had reason not to be feeling particularly optimistic” – particularly the 2009 inaugural.
“Last night’s speech was a reiteration of that vision for the country, and the vast majority of those speeches were delivered before several of the current Republican candidates for president walked across the national political stage. Not just Mr. Trump, but even people like Sen. Cruz and Sen. Rubio.”
But it was hard not to connect comments to Trump? “It’s hard not to see the stark contrast in approach," Earnest answered. "I would readily acknowledge that. I think that was pretty obvious even to people who are only sort of paying attention to politics.”
While Democrats are big tent party, Earnest said, the core values of what it means to be a Democrat “are consistent with the optimism that the president articulated last night. And that does stand in stark contrast to the core message that’s being delivered by basically all of the Republican candidates for president. I don’t think that’s much of an exaggeration. I know that Mr. Trump gets most of the attention. But again, we’re seeing all of the Republican candidates make a rather overt appeal to people’s anxieties and fears and insecurities about the future.” Their kind of vision is quite different than what the president has been saying for a decade, Earnest said.
The president offered “a vision for governing the country,” one that wasn’t “rooted in opposition to another person or another politician or even another politician’s views.” He added that congressional Republicans have also struggled to articulate a vision, pointing to the repeated votes on Obamacare repeal.
On the proximity of Omaha to Iowa, where the campaign in the caucuses is raging in earnest, Earnest described the “geographic circumstance as an appealing side benefit of this trip.” Going to a state like Nebraska where he didn’t win any electoral votes in 2012 and only one in 2008 was an example of how POTUS wants to spend his year talking to people and groups that don’t always agree with him.
“I don’t know how much of an impact it will have on the ongoing political debate across the river. But look, if that geographic circumstance is a reason for more people to pay attention to what the president has to say today, then we obviously welcome that.” He added that it was a point of pride to the Obama ’08 team that they carried the 2nd district in Nebraska.
Asked if POTUS would meet with Warren Buffett, Earnest said it wasn't clear. But “if there’s an opportunity for the president to visit with Mr. Buffett today I’m sure the president will take advantage of it.”
Back to Rep. Ashford from his earlier gaggle:
He noted Nebraska has done a lot of work on juvenile justice reform and said the president’s message on that “resonates with Nebraskans.”
At the mention of the Keystone pipeline, Ashford said: “We thought we had come up with a responsible way for the pipeline to get off the aquifer. The president felt that that wasn’t the right way to go. So we’ll just see what happens in the future.”
Asked if Warren Buffett would attend, he initially said he thought he would not but then said he wasn’t sure.
More on his reaction to the SOTU: He noted that Nebraska had a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature and praised Obama’s message about improving the political debate.
“You don’t have to agree with the president on every issue to admire him, certainly for the example he set for the world,” he said. “You can disagree in an amicable way and find solutions. … The main thrust of what he was saying last night is we’ve got to be nicer to each other.” Put another way: adopt “the Nebraska nice attitude toward everyone,” Ashford added.
He noted Omaha has a strong military presence and said his comments on ISIL were “significant,” and said it was critical to have a new AUMF.
He also said Omaha is a very diverse community, and praised Obama for his comments on immigrants and Muslims.
“It needed to be said, and I think he’ll hopefully say that again in Omaha, because we have a tradition of that – a strong tradition of that.”
He was asked to remind the pool of whether he’s endorsed in the presidential race. He supports Clinton, but also said that Jeb Bush is the candidate on the Republican side he’d want to see. “I want to see a moderate, solution-based person as president.”
He praised Clinton’s experience, particularly on foreign affairs. “I think Hillary is steadfast. I’m amazed at her breadth of knowledge.” He called the rhetoric on the far right “not helpful.” “It divides us, and it does help our enemies. It does help ISIS and its propaganda machine.”
On Sen. Bernie Sanders, he said Omaha is not an area of the country “that would embrace the kind of tax policy is espousing.” “He’s an appealing figure. But I just think Hillary would be the best president.”
Lastly, when a reporter noted that Obama’s previous visit to Nebraska amounted to only landing at the air base to drive into Iowa, Ashford called this stop a “pretty robust visit.”
“It’s one thing to just sort of come to a state, stop and say hi,” he said. But this time he’s giving a “a major policy talk about the future of the country.”
“I think it's profound that he's coming for this. Even though it’s only one stop, I’d put it on steroids and maybe give him credit for 10 or 20 stops for this speech.”