Reporters devoted nearly half the gaggle to whether the administration’s announcement was timed to help the president’s same-day speeches in Ohio, a swing state that includes a significant auto industry.
“Of course not,” Earnest said earnestly. “These are decisions that are made that have been months in the making, that are the result of investments that the president has made in ITEC, the Interagency Trade Enforcement Task Force.”
Reporters questioned the timing and purpose eight times, but Earnest swatted away every question.
“The president, 50 days out from an election, has to balance his responsibilities, both as a candidate and as the President of the United States … and today, we’re doing both,” he said.
“As I’ve pointed out a couple of times here, these cases are months in the making, and the president doesn’t believe that we should delay these kinds of important actions merely because we’re in the middle of a campaign,” he said in answer to another question.
Only two questions alluded at all to the now-apparent damage to Obama’s “New Beginning” policy, but both were softballs about Obama’s campaign tactics.
“How will he continue to balance, sort of, his tone on the campaign trail with what’s going on across the world?”
“Will he continue to talk about [Arab-region events] in his stump speech as he did last week? And is there a point at which things become so complicated overseas where he might want to scale back his campaigning?”
Earnest and Psaki easily fended off both questions.
“The President will continue to stay in touch with his national security team throughout this week, as he always done … [and] he called the chiefs of mission in Sudan, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Yemen to let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his,” Earnest said in response to the first question.
“The President’s top priority is clear,” Psaki replied to the second. “But right now he’s out here in Ohio today; he’s able to receive updates, receive briefings — that’s a lot of what he’s doing on the plane.”
Reporters then asked five questions about Israel’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear development program and two questions about Afghanistan, none of which generated any news.
The transcribed event then included a series of additional softball questions.
“Do you see [the Chicago teachers’ strike] as a distraction at all just in terms of the ground game — not in terms of the policy, but in terms of getting people out, to be working, knocking on doors right now?”
“Do you have any update on his debate prep going forward? … Can you give us sort of any kind of sense of how that’s going to work going forward?”
“Did the president see the new SNL [Saturday Night Live] impression of him? And does he have any reaction to it?”
That question brought laughter from the press corps, according to the White House transcript.
Earnest responded jokingly, saying, “I don’t believe that he watched that Saturday Night Live this weekend. He spent a lot of time watching football, actually.”
No reporter asked why Obama was watching so much football instead of trying to understand the changing balance of power in the Middle East.
At the end of the event, Psaki offered cookies to the attending journalists.