Excerpts from the Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/28/2011

Q    Lastly, I wanted to get your feedback on a study that the Wall Street Journal wrote about today, based on -- my understanding, based at least partly on numbers tabulated by our unofficial statistician, Mr. Norwick, which is that President Obama seems to have traveled to battleground states more so than any other President before him.  And I'm wondering if you could respond to this.  It looks like the President is campaigning on the taxpayer dime more than any other President has done.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I reject the premise of that precisely because what happened in 2008 was Barack Obama, then-Senator Obama, expanded the political map dramatically.  And what is included in this article, and in this chart, is Virginia, for example. 

Now, every President who's occupied the Oval Office, just a few short minutes across the river from Virginia, travels to Virginia frequently to hold events.  When you look at George W. Bush's travel as President, that's not included on this list as a swing state or a battleground state because it was not perceived to be possible that a Democrat could win it.  But Barack Obama won that state, and he's made numerous visits to Virginia, just as most Presidents prior to Barack Obama have made numerous visits to Virginia.

North Carolina is another example.  It's not included in George W. Bush's tabulation because it was not perceived to be a swing state.  Barack Obama won it -- very narrowly, but he won it in 2008.  And if you take away those two states, and you look at, for example, Bush traveled more frequently in the same time period to Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Florida, President Obama has actually traveled less to the overlay battleground states than his immediate predecessor.

So I just think that, if you took off the map and said, the President of the United States can't travel to states that are perceived to be battleground states, you would severely limit the capacity of this President and any of his successors to travel anywhere.  Because the fact is, we live in a country that is very close, politically, in terms of which way states could go in any given presidential election.  And increasingly, we've seen that more and more states find themselves on the political map as potential battleground states and swing states. 

And if every President, whether it's President Obama or his successor, or any successor after that, were to simply say, oh, I can't travel to any state that might be contested in the next election, then the President would have to spend most of his time here in Washington, D.C.  And I don't think that any President should do that.  Presidents should travel, and they should be able to get out and speak to the American people about their substantive agendas, and that's what this President has been doing.

Q    He sure seems to spend a lot of time in states, though, that he's going to be --

MR. CARNEY:  He spends a lot of time in a lot of states.  And some of them, red, blue; some of them were declared red forever and ended up not being -- they're purple now; and states that maybe are considered blue or were considered blue but Republicans might think they have a chance of winning next year. I mean, I just think that it's a guessing game to suggest that we know what states are battleground states, necessarily. 

And if -- again, I think the salient point is, then-Senator Obama and his presidential campaign expanded the map dramatically, made states battleground states that had not been for a very, very long time.  And to then say that he can't travel to those states because he won them and made them competitive I think would severely restrict this President's ability to travel, and any future President's ability to travel, which I don't think is a good idea.

Q    Follow-up, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  You earned the right.  Yes, sir, Mr. Knoller.  (Laughter.)

Q    Can you tell us how it's decided where events, like the President going to Scranton on Wednesday, how is that decided that's where he would go?  I mean, Pennsylvania is a state that seems to me would be indispensable to his reelection, wouldn’t you say?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Mark, I think as you know probably better than, or as well as anybody in this room, a lot of factors go into presidential travel.  Proximity has a lot to do with it.  I mean, there is a concentration of travel in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania because they’re close by.  And if the President is trying to get out of Washington and communicate with the American voter, he can’t -- or the American people, rather -- he can’t always go to the mountain states or the plain states or the West Coast.  And so I think you do see a concentration in this time zone.

And I’m very confident -- I’ll offer my opinion -- that President Obama is going to win Pennsylvania.  He’s also going to win the election.  I think he won Pennsylvania by double digits, but that’s now, I guess by your estimation or whoever put together this list, a battleground state.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  We don’t take anything for granted.

The point is, is that these are subjective assessments, and again, if you decided that every state that was close or could be close were ruled out as a potential place for a President to travel, you would make it really, really difficult for any President to go anywhere in the country eventually.

Q    But you’re not saying that politics played no role in the decision, are you?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m saying that -- I mean, there are a lot of decisions that go into -- a lot of factors that go into the decisions.  And official events are made for official reasons.  And they’re made because we find places where the President can talk about the policy proposals he’s put forward that makes sense for a variety of reasons -- logistical reasons, as well as location in terms of schools or sites that if we’re highlighting his infrastructure proposals, then near a bridge, for example, or highlighting his proposals to help veterans, something that would involve veterans, or schools.  I mean, all of those factors go into deciding where the President travels.

*  *  *

Q    Jay, the President’s travel.  I thought -- I didn't think the criticism was that the President should stop traveling -- obviously he’s entitled to travel.  But as you make a fair point, that he’s expanded the electoral map, isn’t the criticism that the campaign and not the taxpayers should pay for it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, but the suggestion is that he can’t make official travel to any state that’s considered contested or close.  And we just utterly reject that, because the President has a responsibility, as the President, as Commander-in-Chief, as well as the leader of the country on domestic matters, to go out and meet with Americans, to have events in different states across the country, and to express his --

Q    -- four or five states --

MR. CARNEY:  But what you’re saying he -- again, you’re saying he shouldn’t go there because it’s close, and it was only close because --

Q    He can go there, but maybe the campaign picks up the tab at some point.

MR. CARNEY:  I see.  And, again, take away those states that he happened to win against all odds and probably against the predictions of various new organizations, that he then -- it was okay for previous Presidents to go there, but not for him because he won so convincingly in 2008.  That just doesn’t make any sense.

Q    So why does he go to North Carolina so many more times than he goes to Tennessee.  Why does he go to Pennsylvania so many more times than he goes to Georgia?

MR. CARNEY:  Jake, there are a variety of reasons -- of the decisions are made about where he goes -- and he goes to red states, he goes to blue states, he goes to states that are considered battleground states -- and those decisions are made for substantive reasons based on the policy issue that we’re putting -- that he’s addressing.

My point was that if you -- that the whole construct of the article was built around the idea that he’s done it more than his predecessors.  And if you take off states that weren’t considered battlegrounds when Bush visited them and they turned out to be battlegrounds because Barack Obama won them -- his predecessor, George W. Bush, traveled to these states significantly more than President Obama has. 

So the whole point being, Presidents need to be able to travel.  When he travels on -- when it’s political travel, political events, those are paid for by the book according to the rules that exist.  And when he does official events, those are paid for in the manner that official events are paid for.