White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest found himself repeatedly forced to deny that President Obama’s various World Trade Organization complaints against China are designed to appeal to Ohio swing voters this election year.
Earnest certainly wanted media to note the presumed benefit for Ohio workers of today’s complaint. “Today’s action will have particular resonance in the state of Ohio, where the auto parts sector employs more than 54,000 people directly, and where the auto industry as a whole supports 850,000 jobs in Ohio,” Earnest said during the press gaggle, en route to a campaign stop in Ohio.
He spent much of the ensuing briefing denying the obvious. “[T]he timing of these two announcements today, is that in any way connected to the push on China from the campaign side?” one reporter asked.
“Of course not,” Earnest replied. “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.”
Earnest then had to answer the question, “how is it that these announcements always happen to be made when he’s going to Ohio?” Earnest said that the complaints were “actually tied to a 60-day calendar that’s in place” for litigating complaints at WTO. “Having this announced on a day when the President was campaigning outside Toledo, it does seem like a pretty remarkable coincidence,” someone in the press corps noted.
Earnest got another question along that line: “If this is not a political move at all, then why is the President touting this in a political event at the start of a political campaign swing, rather than if he is speaking directly to American workers, touting this at an official event where he’s speaking to — not as a candidate for reelection but as President?”
“The thinking is, is that 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,” he said. “And one of his top priorities and top responsibilities as President of the United States is taking aggressive action to stand up for American workers. And today, we’re doing both.”
Both Earnest and campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied that they were turning China’s economic policies into a “political football” during the stretch run of the campaign.
Given the opportunity, though, Psaki used the WTO complaint to attack Mitt Romney. “When [Romney] was given the opportunity to speak to the steps the President took early in the administration to hold China accountable, he said these were the wrong steps. He was critical of the President’s efforts, even though we now know today that they’ve been very effective, that 1,000 workers in this country are working because of the steps the President took,” Psaki said.