CHARLOTTE CONVENTION CENTER, 501 SOUTH COLLEGE STREET
MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s briefing center here at the Democratic National Convention. This will be our first briefing of many that we will hold during this week. And I just want to say welcome, and the introductions will be done by our team here. So without further ado, I’ll turn it over.
MS. HARF: Great. Thank you. Thank you so much, everyone. My name is Marie Harf. I’m the associate policy director for national security at Obama for America at the campaign. And we want to say thank you for having us here. We’ve going to be doing a few briefings over the course of the next few days, so I just wanted to give you just a little information about that and then what we’ll be talking about this morning. Kristie Greco from the convention and Brent Colburn from the President’s campaign will walk through overall convention information, what we’re going to be focused on throughout the week with certain themes, and then a little bit about the program this evening. So they’ll talk about that in a minute.
This afternoon, we’ll have a briefing on foreign policy and national security issues with two former senior Pentagon officials, and then tomorrow we’ll do a briefing on economic policy and the campaign tax policy, so for any of those substantive questions, we’ll be covering those this afternoon and then tomorrow, and we’ll let Kristie and Brent handle what we’re going to be talking about this morning. So again, thank you so much. We’re happy to be here, and we’ll have a good few days. Thanks, guys. I’ll turn it over now to Kristie Greco.
MS. GRECO: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to Charlotte, and welcome to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. I’m Kristie Greco; I’m the Chief Communications Officer with the DNCC. And on behalf of the entire convention staff, I’m honored and excited to welcome you to Charlotte.
This week represents the culmination of more than a year of planning by convention organizers – planning that began with three primary directives from President Obama to make this year’s convention the first of its kind, to think outside the box, and to find ways to include as many people as possible in this historic event.
On all three counts, I’m proud to say that this convention has already been a success. This convention will be the most open and accessible in history. We began our planning not with venue blueprints or transportation logistics but by reaching out to the American people. Nearly two years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama emailed our supporters to ask what we could do to make this their convention. More than 2,000 people wrote in and we read every response. What they wanted was clear: more ways to participate in our democracy.
Yesterday, we started to make this request a reality. For the first time in convention history, we kicked off the week with an event that was open to the public, CarolinaFest, a free, family-friendly festival in uptown that celebrated the Carolinas and the region, and the turnout was amazing.
The public is also invited to attend our official caucus and council meetings that happened Monday through Thursday this week here at the convention center. We have a record number of students and young Americans attending, and in many cases, this will be their first experience with our political process. And our convention will benefit from having their voices at the table. And on Thursday, we’ll close out the convention with tens of thousands of Americans watching President Obama and Vice President Biden deliver their nomination speeches at Bank of America Stadium.
While all of this is happening on the ground in Charlotte, we’ll be engaging people online and around the world like never before through our livestream, our website, our official convention mobile app, or one of eight digital media platforms where we have a presence. For example, millions of Americans will be gathering, more than four – or – at more than 4,000 watch parties in neighborhoods across the country to watch the President speak on Thursday night.
We are a vibrant and diverse party and we’re proud to showcase to the world what a convention looks like to America. We’ve transformed this convention into one that engages more Americans and bring us together and we’re excited for you to help share the story of the convention with the world. We all look forward to working with you this week.
And now I’m pleased to present Brent Colburn, who is the communications director for the President’s reelection campaign who can talk a little bit more about the issues we’ll focus on this week.
MS. GRECO: At the end.
MR. COLBURN: Yeah. Great. Thank you, Kristie. I haven’t been presented before. That’s quite an honor, so I appreciate it. We’ll speak briefly and then have time to take some questions. I just want to talk a little bit about the convention, put it in some context, and talk a little bit about the program that we’ll be hearing this evening. And I know that you have traveled from all over the world to be here, and many of you probably traveled from Washington, D.C. to be here, so thank you to all of you for joining us.
Political conventions in America are a great tradition, and they’re really about bringing people together and into the democratic process. I know that many of you probably covered the Republican Convention in Tampa last week, and after what we saw last week in Tampa, I’m proud to say that this convention will be very different. Republicans held a convention that was closed to – that had its doors closed to the public. We, on the other hand, are opening our doors to the very people who make our country great, the American people.
It’s no surprise that the Republican National Convention stuck to the traditions of the old guard. They’re advocating for a top-down economic vision that would take us backwards, the same one that crashed the economy, punished the middle class, and created the economic mess that the President inherited in 2009. We believe that a party’s convention reflects its vision for America and its values. That’s why in every way the Democratic National Convention reflects the diverse cross-section of our country and President Obama’s vision for an economy that’s built to last, one that’s built from the middle out and built on the middle class.
We’re also going to be bringing into focus the choice in this election. Our convention won’t be about just rallying our base. I think you saw a lot in Tampa of Republicans talking to Republicans. It’s also not going to about leveling petty attacks or tearing down our opponent. It will offer a clear vision for what we need to do as a country to move forward, not backwards, and to build off the progress of the last four years.
We’ll be highlighting President Obama’s history of fighting for working-class and middle-class Americans. I think you’ll hear a lot from the podium over the next few days about the tough political choices that the President has had to make in the last four years, decisions that in many cases were politically unpopular at the time, including rescuing the American auto industry, pushing for the Affordable Care Act, and ending the war responsibly in Iraq. And again, we’re going to hear a lot from the speakers, especially the First Lady tonight, about how those decisions are really rooted in his values and his character.
We’ll be telling the story of the last four years and what the President has done to lead us through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And we will be highlighting some of the advancements we’ve made in America’s foreign policy. We’re going to be highlighting President Obama’s strong record of keeping our nation safe and of restoring our standing around the world. We’re looking forward to discussing the important issues with the American people and with people across the world.
In particular on the foreign policy front, you’re going to hear about a few things. You’re going to hear about how the President kept his promise to responsibly end the war in Iraq, how he refocused our resources on al-Qaida and Afghanistan, where we have a plan to end the war, and how he rebuilt our alliances and partnerships across the globe to confront our shared challenges.
And speaking of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think you’ll also be hearing a lot over the next three days about the President’s commitment to veterans and to our men and women in uniform as they come back to the United States and the things that he’s been doing to make sure that they are taken care of and honored in a way that is appropriate.
Tonight, we’re going to have our keynote speech from Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, Texas, a rising star in the Democratic Party. His personal story reflects the President’s story and the American story and the values that we hold dear as a party, that if you work hard, play by the rules, that this is the land of opportunity and you can get a fair shot and a fair shake, no matter who you are or where you come from.
And tonight obviously culminates with the First Lady’s speech, and no one knows the President better than Michelle Obama and no one knows the values and experiences that they’ve shared in their lives together. And I think you’re going to see her really talk about the President, not just as a leader, but as a husband and a father and a friend and someone who she shares a set of core values with that really drive his decision making.
President Obama on Thursday night will lay out his vision for what we need to do as a country to strengthen our economy for the long run. I think in Tampa last week one of the things you didn’t hear from Mitt Romney in the Republican Party was what they were going to do to face the challenges that we have in front of us as a nation. The President is working on those challenges every day as President and Commander-in-Chief. And you’re going to hear about the plans that he has in place to build off of those successes and those advancements. He’ll be laying out a roadmap of where he thinks America needs to go and he’ll make it clear what his focus is for the second term.
So with that, Kristie and I would be happy to take any questions that you might have.
MODERATOR: Can you just wait for the microphone please?
MR. COLBURN: Oh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to go around protocol there.
QUESTION: Anna Guaita, Il Mesaggero, Italy. My question is: How optimistic are you that you will be able to fill the stadium for the President’s speech?
MR. COLBURN: Kristie, you want to take that?
MS. GRECO: I think we’ve seen strong enthusiasm here in the city of Charlotte and around the region since I arrived here last June. We had a kick-off event a year out from the convention – a year from now, a year prior to this date – where we had over 2,000 people show up at the Time Warner Cable Arena to join us to kick off the convention. I think you saw at Carolina Fest yesterday a huge turnout. The streets were full of people that were excited to, for the first time, have an opportunity to participate in a convention in ways that they’ve never been able to do before.
We also saw that in the distribution of community credentials, the public’s ticket to attend the convention, we saw lines, thousands of people line up to get their chance to attend the convention. People slept in their car the night before, stood in line for four and five hours so they could watch the President and the Vice President accept the nomination. And then the campaign also launched a program that helped build organization.
Do you want to talk about that?
MR. COLBURN: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll just use this as an opportunity to talk a little bit from a practical perspective of what the convention means for us.
Traditionally, political conventions in the United States have really been a platform for the candidate to talk about his message, but we see conventions as more than that. And we saw this in Denver in 2008. They really are organizing tools and a way to bring people into the process. And that means not just supporters, but also volunteers. We had a program on the ground here in North Carolina that was called the 931 Program. And what that basically meant was that any person who wanted to attend Thursday night’s speech could volunteer their offices for three shifts of three hours, so nine hours of their time total. And I think we had 6,000 people at last count who received tickets through that system and that program. So if you think about that, that’s nine hours for 6,000 people of making phone calls, knocking on doors, and really getting out there and supporting the President.
And what we found – we did a similar program in Denver in 2008 – is that these were recurring volunteers. So once we had them once to help volunteer, to attend the event, they were with us through Election Day. So I think we’re going to see a really strong legacy left by this convention is the state of North Carolina. It’s going to be key to us winning the state of North Carolina. And I think you see that same enthusiasm reflected across the country.
MR. COLBURN: 6,000. Yep.
QUESTION: Hello, good morning. Marta Torres from La Razon newspaper from Spain. During the last week, we heard that Romney’s team is planning to go after the disappointed voters. You just said that you are going to knock down on their doors. But what are you going to say to the Latino community, who some of them are on the deportation process, or to the gay community, who haven’t seen legalized gay marriage? What are you going to do with those people? How are you going to keep them in your team?
MR. COLBURN: Sure. So, look, we think that the choice is clear for all Americans in this election, but for the two communities that you mentioned it’s particularly clear. The President has been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform throughout his entire first term. He’s met resistance in Congress, and that’s unfortunate, but he has taken steps that he can take as President and order the agencies and departments that are in charge of immigration to take the steps that they can do to implement his priorities and vision when it comes to our immigration system.
The most important one of those steps is the recent decision to allow individuals that we call dreamers, or DREAM Act students and young people, to remain in the country if they meet certain requirements. So obviously they have to have no criminal record, have been brought here as a young person through no choice of their own, be in a certain age range. But again, we don’t think that individuals should be punished for choices they didn’t make. These are individuals that have basically grown up as Americans. They see themselves as Americans, and they see this as our home country.
This isn’t the solution that we need for the long term, but it’s the right thing to do now. And again, this is one of those moments where the President made a choice that may not have been politically expedient, but he did it because it’s based in his values and what he believes. And so we’re going to work in a second term to tackle the larger problems of immigration.
I think you see the same type of contrast when it comes to the LGBT community. Obviously, the President has commented on his own personal views when it comes to gay marriage. But more importantly, we’ve seen real changes in policy that have opened doors for LGBT members of our community to be more included in our communities, and more importantly, to have the same opportunities that every other American has.
MR. COLBURN: Sure. Well, we’re going to talk about our record. I mean, I think we have a strong record for both communities, some of which I just laid out. We’re also going to talk about what we want to do moving forward. And again, we’re going to make sure that there’s a context understood about where we were at the beginning of the term, where we are today, and the things we need to do to build off of those successes for the next four years.
MODERATOR: Next question, we’ll take the gentleman right here.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming here. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Can you give us a sense of what on the front of foreign policy and national security what message you are – this convention is sending to overseas to your partners and allies and also to your enemies? And secondly, since elections here always attract a lot of attention overseas, can you give us also – if you give us a sense the kind of response or emails that people coming to your website from other countries, Asians, maybe list countries?
MR. COLBURN: Sure. On the first question, the Romney campaign had a different challenge in front of them for their convention. They really needed to introduce him as a candidate, and from our perspective, reinvent him as a candidate after a spring and summer in which I think that Mitt Romney failed to break through with his message with the American voter. We are not in that position. Obviously, the President has been the President for a last four years. He campaigned for the presidency four years ago. So I think that American voters and our allies and partners abroad know who the President is, know what he has to offer from a policy perspective, and have a sense of who he is as a person and what his character is.
So we’re going to be talking about the accomplishments that we’ve had in the foreign policy arena. I know we’re going to talk about more of those later this afternoon. We’re also going to be talking about what we need to do to continue to move forward and build off those successes. But again, this is really just a larger stage for us to continue the conversation both at home and abroad that we’ve been having over the last four years.
In terms of the second question – and forgive me if I get the answer wrong in terms of the question – well, forgive me if I get the answer wrong either way – but in terms of individuals coming to our website or to other platforms, one of the great things about technology is it’s created a way where people, no matter where they are in the world, can really be involved in the process here in the United States. We’ve heard from Democrats abroad that it’s really changed how they interact with political conventions and campaigns. They can keep up on a day-to-day basis as if they were back in Columbus, Ohio when they’re in India, Tokyo, wherever they happen to be stationed abroad with the military or living abroad for work or family reasons. So we see it as a huge advantage for us.
We’re going to be using technology a lot through this convention. We have eight different digital platforms. You’ll be seeing a lot of our technology highlighted on Thursday night, especially, in the stadium. And I think it’s also a great way for people who are just kind of fans of American politics to follow along as well. So we encourage everyone to come to our website. We encourage them to check out all of our news sites and your news sites and really be a part of this as much as possible. And again, that’s what our convention is about. It’s about bringing people into the process and making sure that they’re informed for their decision in November.
QUESTION: I wanted to know – I am from Clarin, Argentina. I want to know: What can we expect of Clinton’s speech tomorrow? What will be the issues he will touch?
MR. COLBURN: President Clinton?
QUESTION: Yeah. President Clinton.
MR. COLBURN: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of President Clinton. Obviously, his words will speak for himself. But he is – obviously has a legacy within our party and for this country that we’re proud of as Democrats. We believe a lot of the values that he implemented in the economic recovery in the 1990s are similar to the values and programs that we are trying to put in place and have put in place to help address our economic crisis that we are building our way out of. And he’s also just credentialed and has a unique background in his ability to talk about where President Obama’s vision fits in the history of the party and the history of the country. So I think you’ll hear a very personal speech from the President, but you’ll hear one that really talks about the future and the role that President Obama will take in extending his legacy and continuing to build off his legacy.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, we’ll go here, and then we’ll go over there.
QUESTION: Hi. The Slovenian Press Agency. Just a short question. Is President Obama still planning to close Guantanamo?
MR. COLBURN: I would push that to our foreign policy briefing this afternoon.
MODERATOR: All right. Next question we’ll take right here in the front.
MR. COLBURN: Okay. And then probably just one more.
QUESTION: Hi. From Korea. You said last week Republicans spoke to Republicans. First, I want to hear what made you say so. And secondly, I want to know how this Democratic Convention will be different in terms of that.
MR. COLBURN: Sure. So on the first question, I mean, I think if you watch the coverage, and if you were there in Tampa, you saw a convention that was really about bringing the party base together, people who were longtime supporters of the party. And what you also saw – from what I saw on television and have heard from reporters – are people that were there for the party more than they were there even for Mitt Romney, and party in the sense of the Republican Party, not all the events that go on around a convention.
This convention is very different in terms of how we’ve tried to build it, and Kristie talked about a lot of these elements earlier. By having a public event yesterday, we throwing the doors open and saying to people in North Carolina, who just want to travel here, come be a part of this experience. Obviously, on Thursday night, we’re doing everything we can to get as many people into that stadium as we can so they can be part of that.
And then technology, again, is another way that we’re trying to do that. Not everyone can come to North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean they can’t participate in our convention and be a part of what we’re trying to talk about with the American people. So I think we have over 4,000 house parties across the country, so almost every community in the United States, there will be a place that you can go and watch with neighbors, friends, and fellow community members. And we’re also going to be, again, using tools like Twitter or Facebook, livestreaming video to make sure that if you’re in your living room or if you’re on the floor at the stadium, you can still be a part of that experience.
MS. GRECO: And the Republicans had no public events in contrast.
QUESTION: Do you have time for one more question?
MR. COLBURN: Yes.
MODERATOR: Okay. So one more question? Someone who hasn’t asked. We can go to, right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. A basic question about the role of foreign policy on this convention. According to the program, there was a huge foreign policy part that you published yesterday, but the last week, Republicans’ platform has mentioned about foreign policy a couple of paragraphs. Normally, Republicans was focusing more on foreign policy, which I don’t know. What’s the main difference between two platforms and why you are more focusing on foreign policy?
MR. COLBURN: Okay. I’ll do a little bit at the top, and then I think Marie can probably take the more substantive piece of it. I think it is important to note – and we have noted before – that Mitt Romney did not talk about the war in Afghanistan during his speech. That seems like a – if it’s an oversight, it’s a large oversight. And if it’s not an oversight, that’s a real reflection on his priorities. The United States is at war, and we need to be serious about how we talk about that, and these conventions are the right place to talk about that, because we’re talking about the choice that the American people have, not just on economic issues here at home, but on things that we’re going abroad. We are going to have a very strong foreign policy presence here.
I think we’ve already talked about the fact that Senator Kerry will be giving a speech on Thursday night. Obviously, Senator Kerry, member of the Foreign Relations Committee – long-term member of the Foreign Relations Committee – can speak to these issues with a breadth of understanding that I think will really shine through. So we’re looking forward to that. But it’s not just that speech on Thursday night. You’re going to hear about foreign policy and our commitment to our foreign policy priorities, and as well, like I said, to our veterans as they come home from some of these combat situations over the next three nights. So we don’t see foreign policy as just one thing we do as one part of one night during the convention. It’s part of the President’s priorities. It’s part of his overall vision for the country, and it’s going to be baked into every night of the convention.
MODERATOR: Did you have an announcement or conclusion?
MS. HARF: Yeah. I just wanted to remind folks at 1:30 today we’ll be back here to talk more in depth about the foreign policy and national security issues. So feel free to ask your question again then, and we’re happy to dig into a lot of the substance on those then. So thank you, and we will see you later this afternoon.
MR. COLBURN: Thank you all.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
# # #