Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/7/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I am going to go right into questions. I don't have any announcements at the top. So, Mr. Feller.
Q I don't know what to do. I feel out of sorts here.
Q I'm not used to somebody being on time. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You don't have to air your personal -- (laughter.)
Q Thanks, Jay. Two topics. In Libya, the situation seems to have worsened over the weekend. The rebels, as you know, are taking a terrible pounding from air strikes. Is the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and NATO allies something that you think is growing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you heard the President just make reference to the fact that we are meeting at the North Atlantic Council -- at NATO -- today, discussing options that NATO can take. And those obviously include military options. I wouldn't characterize the likelihood of further options being pursued as greater now, but we have said from the beginning that those options were on the table and none of them have been removed from the table.
It’s important to note that there are a range of options that could be categorized as military including the substantial assistance that NATO could provide in the humanitarian realm, involving -- and I think that there was some focus on that in today’s meeting at the NAC on the humanitarian aspect that can be brought to bear.
Q Is the deployment of ground troops something that's being considered? Is that one of the military options?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say, Ben, that the -- no option has been removed from the table, but that ground troops is not sort of top of the list at this point.
Q One quick one on oil. The chief of staff, when asked yesterday about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said that it’s being considered, and he also made clear that it’s only used in rare cases. Can you explain the President’s basic thinking about that? What are the factors or conditions that would trigger a move like that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as the chief of staff said yesterday, it’s an option we are considering. But there are a number of factors that go into it and it is not price-based alone. There are -- it’s important to look at history about -- and the times when it has been used. So I wouldn't look to a price threshold. The issue here is disruption, is there a major disruption in the flow of oil. That's obviously a factor.
But I think the point that we want to make is that we're very cognizant of the fact that Americans are experiencing a sharp rise in prices at the gas pump, and that affects them and their family budgets. And we are monitoring that very closely. Meanwhile, we are in discussions with oil-producing countries, as well as the IEA, about the various options that are available in the global system to deal with a major disruption, should that occur.
Q Bill Daley’s comments on television yesterday -- is that an indication that you’re more actively considering the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t characterize it as more or less, simply that he was making the point that it is an option we are considering, and, again, within the broader context of the system that exists to deal with a major disruption, should that occur.
Q So it wasn’t any kind of a shift. And on Libya and the possibility of a no-fly zone, Britain came out today and said that they’re involved in the Security Council in trying to come up with a Security Council resolution for a no-fly zone. Is the United -- I saw just as I was coming -- is the United States involved in that effort? And also, does the President feel that he would need Security Council approval for establishing a no-fly zone, or would it be able to go ahead with just NATO?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are in consultation with our international partners. A no-fly zone option is certainly one that would be discussed at NATO. In terms of the procedures of getting there, should we want to pursue that option, I’m not going to elaborate on the paths, but only to say that it is being considered. It’s also important to -- as I think Mr. Daley got at yesterday on Meet the Press, it’s important to be clear about what a no-fly zone is, what it entails in terms of enforcing it. And if you were to pursue that option you would want to make sure that it is addressing the need at hand and that it -- because there are only -- there are some things that a no-fly can do in terms of air traffic, and things that it can’t do in terms of -- low-flying helicopter activity, for example, would be much harder to deal with in a no-fly zone.
So I think that what Secretary Gates got at last week, what Bill Daley got at yesterday was that this option is very much on the table, but people need to understand the complexities of it both in its implementation and what it can and can’t achieve.
Q And the Security Council effort that he was referring to --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just say that we are obviously in consultation with our international partners, and Great Britain would be one of them.
Q Just to follow up on that, is the United States working on draft language in the U.N. Security Council about a no-fly zone in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything, Jake, on the process that I can tell you, except that it is a live option on the table that we’re discussing with our partners.
Q But this -- there are reports alluded to just a second ago --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand that, but I don’t have anything more than to say that we’re reviewing that option as well as other options. Another option that NATO would be very much involved in is enforcing the U.N.-mandated arms embargo, which is another thing that NATO would be involved in. So, again, I just want to stress that the military options that we talk about are not limited to a no-fly zone, but include a no-fly zone as an option.
Q When the President and the administration send a message to those around Qaddafi, talking about how they’re going to be held accountability, they have to make a choice -- are there any specific individuals that they have in mind of individuals around Colonel Qaddafi?
MR. CARNEY: Well, certainly we know a number of the people around Colonel Qaddafi, and we are working to have a fuller list of people who can and will be held accountable for the actions that the regime is taking against its own people -- the brutalization of its own -- of Libya’s own people. And one of the points that I -- we have tried to make is we are using the full spectrum of our intelligence capabilities to assist us in identifying those who must be held accountable for the actions that they’re taking. And those who are around Colonel Qaddafi and making that existential choice about whether they want to be on the side of the Libyan people or on the side of a leader and a regime that no longer has any legitimacy, they should be fully aware of the fact that, broadly speaking, the world is watching what they do and they will be held accountable for their actions.
Q And just in terms of what has to happen for the U.S. to up the pressure even more on Colonel Qaddafi and those around him, we’re obviously several weeks into this -- he’s shown no inclination that he’s going to step down; he’s shown in fact greater defiance than I think we’ve seen from others in that region who have -- such as Mubarak and others. At what point -- with the U.N. reporting that more than a thousand people have died in Libya in these fights -- at what point does the U.S. say, okay, now we’re going to do something? How many people have to die? How many -- how much of a threat needs to -- does there need to be to our energy needs? What needs to happen for the President to say, okay, that’s enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jake, I would simply say that and remind you that when you say that this has been a couple of weeks already, that is a remarkably short period of time from a point where Colonel Qaddafi was perceived to be and was in full control of his country to the point where the international community is imposing substantial and punishing sanctions on him and his regime. And the international community, including in the Middle East, is speaking with one voice calling for him to step down and to cease the violence against his own people.
We are -- and we’re talking here a matter of days and weeks that all of this has transpired. We are monitoring the situation very closely, obviously, and aware of the ongoing violence. And as the President just did with the Prime Minister of Australia, we call again on the Libyan regime, the Qaddafi regime, to stop the inhumane, brutal, unacceptable assault on its own people; and for Colonel Qaddafi to step aside because he has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of both his people and the world.
Q I wasn’t talking about it in terms of days so much as I was in terms of lives. And as somebody who covered then-senator Obama on the campaign trail, who spoke with great eloquence about using U.S. force and the force of the international community -- not just words and not just sanctions -- but the force of the international community to stop slaughter. And I’m wondering -- more than a thousand people have died, according to the United Nations. How many more people have to die before the United States decides, okay, we’re going to take this one step of a no-fly zone, for example, or we’re going to arm the rebels, for example? What needs to happen? How many more people have to die?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Jake, it is understandable that as we watch the images that we are able to get about what -- that show us what’s happening in Libya, the urgency that we all feel to be able to move and do something quickly. And I would simply say the international community, with the United States in the lead, has moved with incredible rapidity to address the situation in Libya and continues to deal with this with great urgency.
The meeting today at NATO of the North Atlantic Council will be repeated daily this week as options are reviewed and considered. But I, again, would urge some perspective on the speed with which we and our partners have moved in reaction to this situation in Libya. And I think that comparative, when you talk about what the President said on the campaign trail, the comparative is instructive. When you look at other events where international action has been required and how long it has taken, and compare it to the speed that was pursued in this case, I think we have moved rather quickly.
Q Jay, can you confirm these reports that the U.S. is asking Saudi Arabia to arm the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing for you on that, no.
Q Well, in connection with that, even if you can’t -- actually, is there any other country that the U.S. might be asking to provide arms to the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. And, again, on the issue of arming, providing weapons, it is one of the range of options that is being considered. But I think that we, again, are talking about a matter of days and weeks here since this situation began. And when you talk about arming the rebels -- now, we have -- we are pursuing a number of channels to have conversations and discussions with the opposition groups and individuals as we try to learn more about what they are pursuing, what they want; and that they also believe what the -- we believe the Libyan people want, which is a government that is representative, that is responsive to the Libyan peoples’ legitimate grievances and respects their rights.
I think, again, speaking more generally, you have to be very cognizant of, when you pursue these options, what it is you’re trying to accomplish. And I think that it would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya. We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we’re pursuing. And, again, I would refer you to the fact that we are reviewing and implementing actions with great haste.
Q And just one on the rebels. I know it’s a disparate group, but has the U.S. had any -- let’s see -- coalesced view of who they are? Or is it still just a disparate group of people with very different motives?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would -- without getting into specifics about individuals or groups, we are using many channels -- diplomatic, the business community, NGOs -- to reach out to those in Libya who are working to bring about a government that respects the rights and aspirations of the Libyan people. For a variety of reasons, I will not, from here, discuss how we’re having those conversations or specifically with whom. But we are, obviously, gathering information and learning about the opposition.
Q Jay, on the no-fly zone, let me try -- you said ground troops are on the table but they’re not at the top of the list.
MR. CARNEY: What I mentioned is that we have not removed any option from the table, and I would -- and I guess what I -- without -- I don’t want to -- not to be over interpreted. I simply would suggest that we are actively considering every option, and that the military aspects of humanitarian assistance are being actively discussed. The no-fly zone is being actively discussed. The enforcement of the arms embargo that the U.N. has mandated is being actively discussed. And I’m not removing -- we’re not removing any other options, but I would point that out.
Q You said ground troops are not at the top of the list. Would it be accurate to say that no-fly zone is at the top of the list?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I just mentioned to you three areas that are being discussed today at NATO.
Q Could I pursue Jill’s a little bit more? Because there are actual -- there are reports overseas that Saudi Arabia has been asked by the United States to send weapons to the rebels. Is that specific option on the table, asking Saudi Arabia to send them weapons?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that the option of providing military assistance is on the table because no options have been removed from the table. So I won’t get into the means that that -- by which that would occur. I would, however, point you to my comments in response to Jill’s question.
Q CBS has been pursuing a story over the past week or so about gunrunning in Mexico -- hundreds and hundreds of guns going into Mexico, with the knowledge of ATF. They had hoped it would lead them to the big fish, but it didn’t work. And there are two developments on that today. There’s an IG investigation been ordered at Justice. And Mexico has asked for whatever details the United States can provide on that. Do you have any comment on the story and on these developments today?
MR. CARNEY: Chip, I don’t. Obviously, as the President pointed out when he spoke here with President Calderón, we take the issue of the flow of guns south very seriously, as we do the issue of the flow of drugs north. And -- but beyond that I don’t have any comments.
Q Is he aware of the specific allegation that --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q -- hundreds of guns went into Mexico with the knowledge of ATF?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know, Chip.
Q Final question, on the Strategic Political Reserve -- I mean, Petroleum Reserve -- is the price of gas a valid consideration in deciding whether to use that?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that the price of oil is one of a number of factors that is looked at -- that are looked at, rather, in making that determination, but not the sole factor.
Q But a key factor, would that be fair to say?
MR. CARNEY: I'd just say it’s one of a number.
MR. CARNEY: Let me take -- yes.
Q So on the budget, regardless of the numbers that both sides choose -- whether it’s $100 billion or $61 billion or $6.5 billion -- you got to agree that you’re pretty far apart still. And so the question is would you guys go for another short-term continuing resolution? And also, with Biden gone to Europe, who’s handling the negotiations? Are there more meetings scheduled, phone calls?
MR. CARNEY: There are continued conversations at the staff level that have continued through the weekend and through today, and will continue as the Senate begins to take action on the bills that are on the table, which, I think will be an important milestone as we make progress in these negotiations.
I would point out that depending on -- regardless of whatever number you want to start from, we have, beginning with the bill signed last December, which cut $41 billion from the President’s 2011 budget proposal, and the baseline upon with House Republicans built their demand for $100 billion in cuts, we have now, both the administration and the Democrats in the Senate have met the Republicans more than halfway at $51 billion and change.
We are engaged and will continue to engage in negotiations. We remain optimistic that there will not be a shutdown. But we do not believe it would be -- we believe it would be bad for the economy, would have harmful effects if we did this sort of tollbooth where every few weeks we’re reopening the questions of whether or not the government is going to be funded going forward. I think the uncertainty that creates would be very harmful for the economy at a time when we are beginning to witness very positive signs that the recovery is gathering some steam. We had a very positive jobs report number, as you know, on Friday. And I think that we all agree that the last thing we should be doing in these negotiations is taking actions that reverse the trend of the recovery.
So we remain optimistic that we can get a deal for a long-term resolution on the funding of the government with substantial spending cuts, which the President has made clear he supports. If we find that common ground we can get that long-term resolution and move on to some of these other big issues.
Q But if you have a short-term -- if you have to do short-term, two-week, you’ll do it, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to -- we remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement on the full year, fiscal year funding. And I’m not going to draw a line here in the sand about what we will or won’t do. What I will say is that it is unacceptable, it is not good for the economy and therefore a very bad idea to set up a scenario where we do this constantly every two weeks.
Q One more question on Libya with the whole -- you’ve talked -- you said, the President has said, that you want to send a message to people close to Qaddafi that they will be held accountable if the killing continues. How do you measure whether or not they’re getting that message? Are you -- is there anyone having direct contacts with some of these people? How do you know that they’re receiving it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have a broad range of contacts, including with members of the Libyan government in Libya. And then I would simply point you to what I said before about utilizing the full spectrum of our capabilities to make sure we are aware of the actions that are being taken by those around Colonel Qaddafi, and so that they can be held accountable by the international community.
Q Chief of Staff Daley said yesterday that a no-fly zone is not a video game. Is the President worried that some people pushing for this are underestimating the potential cost in blood and treasure?
MR. CARNEY: I would say simply that it is important to be very aware of the complexities of creating and enforcing a no-fly zone. It remains very much on the table, but everyone involved in the discussions needs to be aware of what that means, both in terms of the logistics and the implementation that I think Secretary Gates talked about last week -- and also the cost. Again, it’s on the table, it’s a serious option, but it is, literally, a serious option, and it’s not a simple one that you can simple say, oh, let’s have a no-fly zone, snap your fingers and it happens.
Q Isn’t it an act of war?
Q Is part of the complexity the potential to rally Qaddafi supporters behind him? Is there concern that U.S. military action could actually be counterproductive in that regard?
MR. CARNEY: Well, setting aside specifically U.S. military action, we believe it is both true and very important to have it be perceived true that the unrest in Libya, the drive to force Colonel Qaddafi from power, and the unrest throughout the region is organic; it is not inspired by the United States or other Western or foreign countries. And that’s an important factor here in the developments, the historic developments we’ve seen in these last weeks and months.
Q And in order to not change that perception -- or would it possibly change that perception for the U.S. to be involved in some kind of military action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to speculate. But I think that we weigh, as we pursue the options we’ve already enumerated and we weigh further options, obviously we want to be as aware as possible about the impact the pursuit of those options would have, both in the immediate effect -- we want to make sure they work in terms of our goal of ending the violence in Libya. And we want to make sure that they don’t have any negative ancillary pacts.
Q Senator Kerry called for cratering Libya’s runways. Senator Lieberman has also pushed for a more aggressive U.S. response. Are they contacting him privately? Are lawmakers contacting the President privately to try and --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that for you. I’m not aware of any private contacts between those lawmakers and the President. I would just say that, again, we are actively considering the very options that those senators are discussing.
Q Who would -- I guess two questions. First is who would hold Qaddafi loyalists accountable? The U.S. or --
MR. CARNEY: The international community.
Q The international community? And then to follow-up -- you listed some of the military options --
MR. CARNEY: I would just point out that the United Nations Security Council has referred this case already to the International Criminal Court.
Q Okay. And you mentioned or you listed some of the military options that are on the table, including ground troops, no-fly zone, military, humanitarian aide. What others -- what other options are there besides those? And arming rebels you also mentioned. What other options are on the table militarily?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, we could speculate endlessly about the options. I would simply say that those are principal options that are being discussed, at least the three that I’ve discussed: humanitarian assistance, enforcing the U.N. arms embargo, and contingency planning for a potential no-fly zone. Other options remain on the table, but I don’t have a list of them for you.
Q Following up on Chip’s questions about this gun strategy that the ATF was running -- given the President’s strong statements about the southward flow of weapons when the Mexican President was here, would he condone an ATF plan that uses -- in effect, uses guns as bait?
MR. CARNEY: Peter, I just don’t have anything for you on that except to point you to his statements about his concerns, our concerns about the flow of guns south. But this -- for other questions about this story I would point you to the Department of Justice.
Q Just to confirm, you don’t have anything because you weren’t aware of this or --
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have anything to add to what I just said.
Q Can you take that question and perhaps be able to elaborate on it for us in terms of --
MR. CARNEY: If there’s something I can find out about it, I will. But asking me a hypothetical about whether the President would or would not --
Q Oh, it’s not hypothetical. The program exists, or existed.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll see what I can find out about it.
Q I just want to follow up on Athena’s question on the CR talks. You say you’re optimistic, but Senator Durbin yesterday said that Democrats have been pushed to the limit in terms of the cuts that they’re prepared to offer. So where do you find compromise there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say, Juliana, that we need to see what happens when these proposals are voted on by the Senate, and we need to find a solution that can be passed out of Congress that this President can sign. And that’s going to require the finding of common ground. And that’s going to require all sides to move off their positions -- as, I think, we have and the Democrats have. And it’s a process that is not at it’s end; it is still sort of midstream here. And I think we need to wait and see how the Senate responds when it votes on those two measures.
Q Just one other question. You mentioned the jobs report from Friday. Unemployment is down but the administration is still calling on businesses to spend some of the $2 trillion in cash on hand that they have to help create jobs. Businesses are saying that they’d like to see -- a lot of that money is overseas, and so they’re calling for a repatriation holiday. Is that considered one of the loopholes that the President won’t consider as part of corporate -- of grander corporate tax code overhaul? Or is that something that the administration would support considering separately?
MR. CARNEY: I think that a repatriation holiday would be something that we would consider as part of an overall process. And I think as Secretary Geithner has said, the administration would not consider it outside of the context of broader corporate tax reform. So I’ll point to his comments as the expert on this and leave it at that.
Q I have a no-fly question and then a Peter King hearing question. On the no-fly zone, Senator Kerry said this weekend that he doesn’t consider the implementation of a no-fly zone to be military intervention or an act of war. Secretary Gates seemed to describe it just the opposite last week. Where -- how should it be seen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s -- as Secretary Gates pointed out, it’s clearly military action. The requirement, as he discussed, of taking some direct military action in order to effectively implement a no-fly zone is pretty clear. So I don’t know about the semantic debate here, but I think the point was to focus people’s minds on what the option would entail in terms of its implementation.
Q Would taking out their air defenses be an act of war?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to what Secretary Gates said on that.
Q On the hearings on Thursday, obviously Denis McDonough gave a speech to set the stage for this. Should we expect anything more from the President or other administration officials before Thursday to put those hearings in the context that you want them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I would say that the goal of the Deputy National Security Advisor’s speech was not to put a context on the congressional hearings. We welcome congressional interest in this issue. We think it’s an important issue. It’s one we’ve been working on for a long time. It was addressed early last year in the national security strategy. And Denis McDonough elucidated I think in great detail in his speech over the weekend what our position is on it. So, again, he spoke to it at length. I think that’s a pretty clear indicator of where we are on the issue.
Q Should we expect to hear from the President --
MR. CARNEY: So I would not expect --
Q Nothing else?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing to announce on that, and I think that Denis’s speech is a good place to go if you’re curious about where we are on that issue.
Q Following up two on the front row, could I?
MR. CARNEY: Let me get over here, and I’ll get to you, Lester.
Q Actually, if I could follow up specifically on what Mara asked. A number of Muslim groups think that the hearing themselves are singling out Muslims unfairly. I gather you disagree with that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would just point you to the fact that we welcome congressional interest. We also feel very strongly, as Mr. McDonough made clear in his speech, that we don’t in the United States of America practice guilt by association. Furthermore, the Muslim American community -- we are all in this together as Americans, and Muslim Americans are part of the solution here -- they’re not the problem. And it is their assistance that helps us address it. And it’s why we’re expanding our engagement with the communities to enhance our ability to deal with the issue of violent extremism in America.
Q Well, Congressman King thinks that the Muslim American community is not cooperating enough with the FBI -- that’s one of the reasons for the hearing.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just point you to the deputy national security advisor’s speech on our view of that.
Q Are you worried about creating false expectations among the Libyan people and setting them up for a slaughter? This has happened in our history before, during the Hungarian Revolution, for example.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’re being very careful about how we go about this process, as we look at and implement options and develop more options. Again, I would say that the speed with which the international community has reacted has been quite historic. But obviously we’re very careful about how we pursue this.
Q Thank you. A U.S. Geological Survey report dated 2008 said that there were 3 to 4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil assessed in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken formation. And my first question, do you know of any report that this oil is being extracted so we will no longer have to depend so much on North Africa and the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing for you on that.
Q Okay. A report three years later, this year, from the Energy Information Administration, estimates Bakken as the largest domestic oil discovery since Prudhoe Bay -- 530 billion barrels. And could you tell us, how is the Obama administration encouraging or discouraging this oil production, since there are reports of $4 and $5 a gallon gasoline?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would tell you, Lester, is that this administration has actively pursued the development of energy in the United States. In fact, since the Deepwater Horizon spill, we have approved 37 permits for offshore oil drilling, and last week, as you know, approved the first deep water offshore oil permit since that --
Q How about on the land? How about in Montana?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Lester, I don’t have anything for you on that. Maybe you should address that question to the Department of Interior. But I would make the point that we are pursuing an energy policy that enhances our domestic production of oil but also looks broadly at all sources of energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and that includes natural gas and nuclear, renewables. It is a broad-based strategy aimed at reducing precisely the dependence that you’re talking about.
Q Thanks, Jay. As a matter of principle, does the President think it’s important when gas prices go high that the government step in and intervene in the market process to protect American pocketbooks from that? And separately, does he believe that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, should that be used as a tool to moderate price as opposed to just being a stockpile for future emergencies?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you, Ann, to some of the answers I gave to related questions earlier. First of all, we are very mindful of the fact that the rise in oil prices has caused a rise in gasoline prices, which has had a direct impact on family budgets around the country and we understand and are concerned by that.
On the broader issue of using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, there are a variety of options -- I mean, a variety of considerations that go into whether or not to take action in that regard. It’s an option that's on the table. But remember, all the options that we consider here and the global system considers are aimed at dealing with a major disruption. It is not simply a price-based consideration. So I think that does answer your question.
Q Well, my question is, why should the government intervene in a market economy --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, what I’m talking about here is a major disruption. And I would say that when we have unrest in the Middle East, that that is not a market issue. It is -- it potentially could create a major disruption. It hasn’t -- I’m not saying that's happened, but that is the issue here. It is not simply the market setting a price.
Q Jay, you seemed --
MR. CARNEY: April. Could I go to April, please?
Q Jay, thank you. A couple questions. Can you talk about AFRICOM’s role as it relates to all the options that are still on the table when you’re dealing with Libya -- what AFRICOM will play in a role if there is a no-fly zone? What kind of role will AFRICOM play if boots are on the ground? Could you talk to us about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say that those are “if” questions that are about what would happen if we did certain things that we haven’t decided to do yet. We are very heartened in general by the international consensus that has been created here very rapidly in condemning the actions of the Libyan regime and the brutalization of the Libyan people by the Libyan government, and that includes obviously AFRICOM. But I don't have anything specifically about what role they would play in the implementation of options that haven’t been selected.
Q And the reason why I asked -- I know you’re saying they’re “ifs” -- but these “ifs” are on the table, and that's the reason why it is in play and the reason why I asked.
MR. CARNEY: I understand that. But the fact that we’re considering options that may or may not be pursued doesn’t -- it doesn’t make sense for me then to enumerate how they would be implemented in detail.
Q Okay. And when the President of Mexico, President Calderón, was here last week, did President Obama discuss with him an urgency about increasing the production of the sweet crude oil that we get from Mexico?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Correct me if I’m wrong. Are you walking back a little bit from what the chief of staff said yesterday about --
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. The chief of staff made clear that this is an option on the table, and it is an option that we’re considering.
Q But the reason I ask is there were -- a lot of people I talked to were surprised, quite frankly, it’s being considered. You mentioned looking historically when it’s been tapped --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we talked about it late last week as something that -- when I was asked about this that we’re looking at various options and that the system, the global system has the capacity to deal with a major disruption. So absolutely not. And I think that there was a move to make a story out of something that really wasn’t a story. And the fact that it’s an option is as true today as it was on Friday.
Q How much of a concern is it for the White House that this -- aside from the immediate political risk of high gas prices, how much of a concern is this might derail the larger economic recovery?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't think this is about politics. I think it’s about the impact on American families and their budgets. And I think it’s about the impact on the economy, which you’ve just addressed, and then broadly, the global system of oil supply and the potential for disruption. So all of those things are things that we’re looking at as we consider our options.
Q I have a question about -- President Obama about a week ago said that he agreed with Mitt Romney about the role that states would play in health care. On the other hand, Romney moved to clarify his statement by saying that he doesn’t believe that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and that the federal government has a role in that. Does President Obama still agree, in light of this clarification that Mitt Romney attempted to make this past weekend?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think our point is that Massachusetts and other states that have tried to deal with this issue are examples of the very reason that the Affordable Care Act was necessary. And as far as other statements that the former governor may have made about the plan he signed into law, I don't have anything for you on that. But we believe very strongly that our health care system needed reform to produce -- to increase the access that Americans have to health care -- affordable health care, to deal with the skyrocketing costs, and to address the deficits that health care spending has added to.
And as you know, the Affordable Care Act, as analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office, says that it will produce $200 billion in deficit savings over its first 10 years, and a trillion dollars in its second 10 years.
Q So was the President’s statement referring to the Massachusetts plan, saying that that was an example of what the federal plan intends to do? It seems like that's not --
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that it was a nod to the kind of recognition that states have had to deal with this issue, and that one of the reasons, as you know, going back last week, that the President announced the state innovation waivers and moving them up was precisely because he is interested in states -- if they have good ideas for how to achieve the goals set by the Affordable Care Act, that they pursue those -- and feels that it was -- that we could move that process up and achieve those goals even earlier than originally anticipated by the law.
Q I wanted to go back to the impact of the Vice President’s trip on the budget negotiations. It seems like an unfortunate timing for those talks. In his absence, who is the administration point person, and is there any effort to keep the Vice President involved in conversations by phone and from Finland?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that, again, I would point you to my answer to Athena’s question. The staff-level conversations are continuing. The Congress, specifically the Senate, is taking up proposals by -- produced by the House on the one hand, the Senate Democrats on the other, and we all are waiting to see the outcome of those votes. And then I would simply say that in the era of modern communications, it’s certainly possible that the Vice President could get on the phone with anyone here in Washington who needed to speak with him.
Q Who on the staff is the point person while he’s gone?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to specify, simply to say that a variety of staff members, senior staff members, have been in conversations with folks on the Hill about this.
Q Thanks, Jay. Was it a mistake for the last administration to resume diplomatic relations with Libya?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think we’re focused right now on the crisis that has unfolded in Libya in the last several weeks. The fact that the Libyan government took actions to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction was obviously a positive thing. But right now we are focused on the crisis at hand, and not the past.
Q Was it a mistake for this administration to keep those diplomatic relations going with the new administration’s policies?
MR. CARNEY: No, it wasn’t. And I would again focus you on the historic events that have occurred in the last several weeks, and explain that that's where our attention is right now.
Q What did we get out of resuming diplomatic relations with Libya?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the action taken by the Libyan government to deal with its weapons of mass destruction was obviously welcome. It does not buy you a free pass forever and does certainly not make the actions that the same regime has taken in the last several weeks in any way acceptable or palatable.
Q Jay, I'd like to see if I could establish as fact something we all take for granted. The President, Friday evening in Miami, said “We're here because we want to win NATO 2012.” So is the President now an official candidate for reelection?
MR. CARNEY: I have no election announcements to make from here.
Q But how can he go out and say we want to win in 2012? Is he an uncandidate, or what’s the status?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe he was there at the event you're referring to, campaigning for Senator Nelson and Democrats in general. So there’s a broad “we” there.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks very much, guys.
1:32 P.M. EST
May 23, 2013
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